runs concurrently with the opening date of "Requited"


                    ***October 9, 2021***

"Don't you dare," TJ objected.

"Hey, all I want is a hug," Shard responded, injured, as he finished locking and barring the back door of their restaurant and bar, the Dark Crystal, located on the corner of Main and Sycamore in the small town of Milbury, Connecticut.

"Not with you in that suit," TJ warned. He'd whipped off his apron but he could still see cooking residue upon his shirtsleeves. "We don't need the cleaning bills, man. You wait until we're both changed and then–" And he gave his partner a mischievous grin and suggestive wag of his eyebrows. "So how was the gate tonight?"

"A usual Saturday. Dinner crowd was a little small today, but the regular crowd for trivia showed up and I think we had a few more after-hours. We need to advertise after-hours more. Or," he joked, "see if Bobby will do adult trivia," and here TJ snorted.

They were doing their usual final patrol of the restaurant, checking the front door, examining everything for leftover debris despite Farouk's customary minute cleaning at the end of the night; they never found anything to call him on—by now it was just habit. The contents of the till were in the safe and would go to the bank in the morning, and Shard finished by shutting off the last of the lights and engaging the security system. Only then did they climb the stairs to their apartment over the business. The Dark Crystal was located in one half of a building that in 1904 had been built to house a grocery store, then it had become a Ben Franklin five and dime. The black-and-white photos of the Ben Franklin in the 1940s were framed in the hallway; Bobby Goren had found them at a local library and had prints made. They received many comments on the photos from older customers who nostalgically nattered on for hours about having shopped there.

Shard always had to grin when they walked into their home; Bobby called their decorating style "if William Morris had a love-child with Midcentury Modern." The apartment had wide-board hardwood flooring throughout and the same whitewashed tin ceilings as downstairs; their small kitchen featured Lucite and bucket chairs and 50s-vibe atmosphere while the living room had an oversized, carved, wood-framed fireplace, Morris chairs, Liberty prints, and comfy pillows, the only modern item the big flat-screen TV over the fireplace. The two bedrooms had natural wood frames to the windows and doors, and 50s striped wallpaper with a combination of wood furniture, floating Lucite shelves, and soft rugs, and their pride and joy was the newly-remodeled bathroom with the vintage tiles and the big walk-in shower which they enjoyed together every night, done in white, black, and purple (which, Shard would admit, wasn't period, but was his signature color).

TJ sat down in the ladderback chair in their bedroom to remove his shoes, shirt, and trousers, and gave Shard a curious look. "Bobby sound a bit...off tonight? Or was that just me?"

Shard looked thoughtful. "No, it wasn't you. He covered pretty well, but he was off his game." He made a face. "Literally."

TJ Gomes looked at him fondly. He couldn't say it had been "love at first sight" with Richard Carver. They'd met at a mutual friend's house and, fresh out of Johnson & Wales, TJ had considered Shard a bit "flash" at first. He loved bright suits and tipped his hair with one color combination or the other (with purple always as an element), and he was always the life of the party, while TJ was more introverted, his idea of a great evening side by side with Shard watching a movie and sipping some white wine. It had surprised him when, over a year later, he met Shard's parents and discovered one of them was a former New York City district attorney and the other was a CPA at a major NYC bank, both of them conservative socially and liberal politically. Ron Carver had even joked how "we gave birth to a son named Richard, but 'Ri-shard' had other ideas," but TJ could tell it was a loving chaff, not the way his single mother had rejected his lifestyle and abruptly departed his life. But chatting with Shard again at a couple of more parties, he'd discovered that while Shard was working as a clerk in his father's office, his real dream was to open some sort of business like a jazz club. TJ, supporting himself mostly by working insurance sales instead of working himself up as a chef, confided that what he really wanted was to open his own restaurant, and there they found common ground, and from there the relationship had bloomed.

TJ was confident in his cooking skills, and he knew the Dark Crystal's rep rested on his talent at the grill, in the oven, and at the fryer. But who would have thought the draw would have come from such an unexpected source? Sixty-year-old Robert Goren had wandered into their lives after the COVID-19 lockdown, newly retired from the FBI and looking for something to do to serve his restless, questioning nature. He knew Bobby had worked with Shard's father for five years, that he had sustained difficult periods in his life from childhood, and now that he was ostensibly retired and just doing some kind of consulting work—Shard said that he was still in the employ of the FBI, but he didn't know in what capacity—he was occasionally at loose ends. He had come to help them clean out the place when they bought the unused half of the old building (the other half was co-opted by a Rite-Aid drugstore that had been closed before they even considered a location in Milbury), a dirty, nasty job that involved a strong back and not much else. Bobby had compensated for the boredom by talking about some of the oddest facts TJ had ever heard, and it was then Shard had come up with the idea for a pub trivia game that was one step up from the usual. Bobby had been game to write the questions, but had initially refused to actually conduct the contest, and then had, finally, grudgingly, agreed to work as host until they found someone else.

There had never been "someone else," because after a month "The Wizard," as Bobby had christened himself, had already gathered an adoring fandom who loved his quirky nature and he'd not only reversed his initial opposition, but appeared to enjoy his new role. It had been a treat to watch him blossom from his previous somber nature. Shard had told him tales of when Goren had worked with his father, and it was difficult to reconcile the lively personality Ron Carver remembered with the current introspective man; TJ always wondered what had occurred in between. By now the restaurant's young staff saw Bobby as their own friendly eccentric uncle.

"So what's with Bobby? He sick? Looked okay when he came in."

"He was," Shard said, having already removed his suit jacket and pants and hung them up. He'd press them in the morning himself, always in his meticulous way, ironing knife-edge creases into his trousers and sleeves. "He seemed to lose it some time after your buddy Phil Cochran walked in with a different woman from his usual girlfriend."

"Why would Bobby even notice that?" TJ scoffed.

"Oh, c'mon, Teej. Bobby knows all his regulars. That's his level of detail."

"Besides, Phil's too stuck on Rebecca Balcer to be cheating on her." Cochran was an old friend of his from his time at the Hartford; in fact they had spoken just recently when Bobby had expressed interest in getting a life insurance policy.

"I think she was a relative," Shard considered, sitting at the edge of the bed still in his shirt and socks, which, typically of Shard, he held up the old-fashioned way, with garters. TJ never quibbled; he thought the garters were sexy. He loosened his tie, then added, "When I walked by one time, he was teasing her about how the family 'always said she was going to marry her partner.' You know anything about Phil's family?"

"Random junk. Had an uncle that worked at 30 Rock, somewhere at NBC. Another uncle he'd joke about who 'wished he worked at 30 Rock.' Dude's an accountant, I think. And an aunt who died after a stroke—I think it was a stroke; I don't remember—who'd been married to a police officer. John...Ames I think the name was."

Shard's eyes fixed on him. "NYPD? Could it be 'Eames'?"

"I guess it could. Why?"

"Shit. Shitshitshit."

"We cleaned this place yesterday, okay?" TJ teased, but Shard looked stricken.

Shard took a breath. "When I was thirteen years old, Dad took me on a tour of 1 Police Plaza. Introduced me to what seemed like everyone in the building—it was a helluva long day and I can tell you there were times I was bored senseless. But that was the day I first met Bobby, and his partner, Alexandra Eames, at the Major Case squad room. They were Mutt and Jeff, as my grandma might say—Bobby was thinner back then, which made him look taller, and she was five foot almost nothing, light brown hair—highlighted I think, brown eyes, tough lady but at the same time very warm. Dad used to tell me she and Bobby were practically joined at the hip. Not romantically—although Dad will tell you there were those at Major Case who thought differently—but as partners they were completely in sync. After Dad left the District Attorney's office, he still heard about them occasionally; once during one of Bobby's bad patches they had a falling out, but they worked it out, and when the NYPD initially fired Bobby, she quit, too. They made some deal to come back, and they did it together. After about ten, eleven years of working together, Bobby got a job offer from the FBI. Eames stayed with the NYPD; I think Dad said she made captain eventually."

"So what's this...oh." TJ's mouth opened. "You think she was the woman Phil was with tonight?"

"I'm pretty sure of it now."

"Did they...see each other? Talk?"

"Oh, I'm sure Bobby saw her," and here Shard let out a breath. "He's always gauging his audience. I know she was masked when she came in with Phil—I guess she was going to play trivia with his team. He might have recognized her, might not, but once she had a drink she was sitting directly where he could see her when she put her mask down. But the minute Bobby made his first announcement, she started coughing and retching. She ran to the bathroom and after she came back out ten or fifteen minutes later she left. You probably heard Bobby flub his fifteen-minute announcement. He caught up after that, but he was always about a beat off the rest of the night. He had to have recognized her by then. No wonder he looked like he aged ten years by the time he left."

"You figure she walked out deliberately?" TJ asked, appalled, rising and coming to sit by his side. "I mean because she was angry?"

"I dunno. I wasn't watching the entire time, but she seemed...upset more than angry."

"Phil." TJ suddenly exclaimed in realization. "Bobby faxed his application for insurance to Phil. If Phil is related to Alexandra Eames in some way, he might have known Bobby's name. Phil isn't the world's greatest diplomat. I'll bet he brought her here deliberately without saying a thing about who The Wizard was. Phil knew she'd recognize him once the game started."

"And then she heard Bobby's voice," Shard mused. "So...maybe she left because she was...embarrassed? Afraid of confronting Bobby again? She might not be angry?"

"I don't know," TJ said. "What do we do?"

"Nothing we can do. It has to work out itself. We can't make her come back."

"Phil must have realized...I could call..."

"Good God, no." Shard put his arm around TJ. "That's exactly what you can't do."

TJ said soberly, "Can't imagine being without you, bro. I wouldn't want to be Bobby right now."

"Yeah." Shard sighed, then put his hand over his partner's and squeezed it. "Look, now that you're out of greasy clothes and I've taken off the suit, I'd really appreciate that hug. Because now I really need it."


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