His Secret Admirer (MM)
When the first note shows up at the restaurant where he works -- when he isn't designing costumes for a local theater -- Jim Foster laughs it off. When the notes keep coming, he doesn't find the fact that he might have a secret admirer quite so amusing.
Alan North, a lonely, bookish customer at the restaurant, is too shy to even think of talking to Jim -- as much as he wants to.
Then the killings begin. Two of Jim's friends are murdered in what appear to be muggings. However, the detective in charge of the cases believes they're more than that, and that Jim is either the killer ... or being stalked by one.
When Jim and Alan finally connect, can they help find and stop the stalker, or will Alan end up dead before their budding relationship can become more than friendship?
Jim was certain whoever his secret admirer was had given up when there wasn't an envelope tacked to the bulletin board the following morning, when he arrived at Bannock's. He sighed in relief and got to work. The restaurant was busier than usual, for whatever reason. That was saying something since there were always dozens of people waiting -- inside, and out on the sidewalk -- for Logan, the host on the weekends, to tell them their table was ready. By the time Jim's shift ended at two, he was more than ready to go home and collapse.
Which he did, settling on the sofa, with a cup of coffee, and Callie curled in his lap, while he watched some mindless sports show on TV. He was half asleep when the news came on. He snapped awake moments later when he heard Vic's name. The reporter was apparently recapping an earlier news story about the body of a man that had been discovered in the parking lot behind an apartment building, beaten to death. "The victim has now been positively identified as Victor Howe who lived in the apartment building where the body was discovered."
For a second, Jim hoped it was another Victor Howe. After all, it's a fairly common name. His hopes were dashed when the Vic's photo came up behind the reporter.
"It can't be. Why? A mugging gone wrong?"
According to the reporter, the police were considering that explanation but wouldn't confirm it until they had finished the investigation.
"It happened after I left the club last night," Jim said, getting a cocked head from Callie, who was sitting on the floor at his feet at that point. "Yeah, an obvious statement," he muttered as he got up. "I wonder if the police know he was there."
Probably, he figured. But he wanted to find out for certain. After changing out of his work clothes, he grabbed his keys and took off.
"You heard," Steve said, coming down to where Jim had managed to squeeze in at the end of the bar.
"Looks like everyone else has, too," Jim replied sourly. On his way across the room, he'd overheard several guys talking about Vic's murder.
"It, umm, has increased our normal Saturday night business ... unfortunately." Steve shook his head in disgust.
"Have the cops been here?" Jim asked.
"Oh, yeah. From what one of them said, someone tipped them off that Vic was here last night, so they descended in force around noon. They told the boss to get anyone who'd worked last night down here so they could talk to us."
Jim almost smiled. "Waking you from your beauty sleep."
"Or something like that," Steve agreed, with a ghost of a smile of his own. "Hang on, I'll be right back. You want a beer?"
Jim nodded, then watched as Steve took care of several customers who were clamoring for drinks -- and gossiping about Vic's murder. Steve filled their orders, ignoring their questions, then returned, handing Jim his beer.
"It's been like this since we opened," Steve grumbled, then muttered, "Oh, shit."
"They've returned. Or at least one of them has," Steve replied, nodding to a man in his late twenties, wearing a suit and tie, who was coming toward them. "Unless I miss my guess, he's looking for you, which is my fault. I told him you were the last person to talk to Vic, because he left right after you did. I didn't tell him where you live, because I don't know."
"Thanks," Jim said, rolling his eyes as he took a long pull on his beer.
"Mr. Ward," the man said to Steve. "Had Mr. Foster come in yet, tonight?"
"I'm Jim Foster," Jim said.
"Detective Baines," the man replied. "I'd like to have a few words with you, if you don't mind."
"About Vic, I presume. All right, but ..." Jim gestured to the crowded bar -- and room. "Maybe somewhere else?"
"I was going to suggest that. We can talk in my car."
With a nod, Jim followed him outside, then down to an unmarked police car parked half a block away.
When they were seated, Detective Baines said, "According to witnesses, you were the last man to speak to Mr. Howe before he left the club last night."
"I doubt that, knowing Vic, but I was probably the last guy with him, before that. We danced, then had another drink together afterward."
"You were friends?" The detective's tone of voice implied he meant more by that than his words said.
"Yes. Just friends. We have been for a while. And that was it. There was no sex involved," Jim told him bluntly.