Night Portrait I
By S. E. Olson
 
She arrests Goren's attention like she's the corpse in the center of his crime scene.
Bobby studies her tranquil form lying naked, half draped over him. Under the faint light of the streetlamps filtered through the window of his apartment she glows incandescent in that unflinchingly honest way of a female nude in a Lucien Freud painting. With her eyes closed and her breathing slowing to a halting sigh she is somehow more alive than he's ever known her to be but he reaches out with two fingers and touches the place where her jaw ends and her neck begins, double checking her vital signs. When he feels her carotid artery still pulsing underneath his fingertips he allows himself to feel reassured and catches his breath.
Goren momentarily considers covering them both up with the tangled sheet beside them but he's too sated to move. He's also fascinated by the half-sprawling position she settled into several minutes ago. She looks uncomfortable to him but he reasons if she hasn't moved yet, she's unlikely to stir anytime soon. Her repose is awkward but natural; it makes her seem vulnerable and beautiful, a corporeal work of art. For now Bobby doesn't think she's too cold even if it is late February in Manhattan; he can feel the warmth of her cheek against his chest, her hand flat against his pectoral muscle, the side of a breast pressed into the center of his abdomen, a knee and inner thigh flung casually over his legs. It is a closeness with which he is gaining a kind of pleasant familiarity even if he's not yet at ease, as she appears to be.
They have been together like this at night for only two weeks now. Bobby searches his mental dictionary for the words to describe precisely how they relate to each other and comes up lacking. Her late husband like a lot of other cops might have called it 'boffing' but Goren knows he's never been much like the other officers, including the other detectives he's met. Goren values the nuances of language too much to fathom using a throwaway euphemism to describe what he's beginning to feel for her. But he imagines her listening to Logan being deliberately lascivious to amuse her and can almost hear her sonorous giggling, something like the musical laugh he heard earlier at her dot.com billionaire friend's salon that evening following one of John Munch's booming mid-rant non sequiturs:
"Modern life is rubbish..."
How she can pick out a fallacy in Munch's vaguely logical diatribe and laugh is as much a mystery to Goren as how she is able to be so unguarded with him so soon after what had to have been the lowest blow life ever dealt her. It had been hard just being on the force on that deceptively beautiful day last September but knowing your spouse and your two children and the plane they boarded are forever lost beneath a mountain of rubble is something Goren doesn't feel any more at ease with than using the expressions she uses to describe things.
She has already referred to their time together as 'being intimate' but Bobby can't bring himself to call it that anymore than he can get past the formality of calling her 'Catherine' and using the far more familiar 'Cat' like Munch or Fin or any of her other close friends. Catherine's words are exclusively her own, the stock in trade of a highly educated ex-scientist and ex-lawyer but they give him pause. Even when he's at work calmly relaying 'just the facts' sometimes his thinking stumbles and when he finally finds an adequate way to express himself, he often stammers as he utters his carefully chosen phrases. Unlike him even in an emotionally charged moment Catherine remains eloquent; words don't seem to fail her even when everything else has.
Once after the Uzielli debacle Catherine half-teasingly called Goren a 'state-sanctioned voyeur'. At the time it threw him off-balance, an exceedingly clever turn of phrase that pierced the illusion of him perfectly controlling the flow of information in a dingy green interview room. Bobby had gone in fully prepared to call her on the behavior he had witnessed, behavior that fell short of criminal but wasn't beyond reproach, ready to push all her buttons and apply several psychological ploys to confirm what he already knew just to watch her break. But instead he not only yielded too much knowledge of her, he revealed something of himself that Catherine could use against him. Then her mild epithet was a verbal thrust he had not anticipated having to parry, but these days it's a teasing term of endearment. It simultaneously delights and devastates him to be reduced to a few deadly accurate syllables but now his invitation to intrude into her world comes directly from her and not from a badge.
Their wordplay inevitably leads to a different kind of foreplay. Bobby thinks of the incident in an elegant hotel bar just before Valentine's Day where on a whim and a bet Catherine stood in front of him and a dozen other upstanding professional white men and removed her bra from beneath her sweater in just under five seconds and without uncovering a millimeter of skin, placing the undergarment on his trembling palm and forcing his fist closed around the fabric. It was the most unbelievably provocative legerdemain he had ever seen a woman do, the sort of thing he might try if he were in her place and the situation called for it. The ideas it suggested to him were far more unnerving than the warmth the piece of intimate apparel retained in his hand. The fact that that evening they ended up for the first time in a blissful and quiet moment of afterglow just like they are now shouldn't surprise him but it still does. There is an irresistible mutual seduction to the glances and gestures they trade in public places that leads them to further the conspiracy of intimacy when they are alone.
Bobby contemplates the steady beat beneath his fingertips and the warm breaths that graze his chest and marvels that although Catherine is still raw from events of the recent past, she has consciously chosen to go forward, embracing all that is to come and contemplating letting go of the past. He thinks briefly of rousing her to ask her what she really thought of Munch's curse, hoping for a little philosophical discourse to go along with another round of intercourse but he's content for the moment to let her lie still. The impulse to connect with her isn't strong enough or insistent enough for him to disturb Catherine even if she isn't asleep yet -- she's been troubled a lot these past few months and he would rather she took her time playing out the hand she's been dealt.
He is still figuring himself out, trying to identify the deep feelings he has about almost everything these days, much less trying to reconcile them with his rational nature. There is also a kind of enjoyment in prolonging their sexual tension; a safety in repression he knows will someday be resigned to a seldom-explored part of his conscience when what is happening is put into proper perspective. Everything Catherine represents especially in relation to him is mentally challenging, a paradox or trompe l'oeil on which an extremely active brain can meditate as Bobby waits for revelation to come.
When Catherine finally reaches for the sheet and lazily drapes it over them, Goren's fingertips stray from her neck and instinctively wander to the ends of her bobbed hair, gently but nervously raking them away from her cheek as the light cotton fabric falls against his skin. His touch is tentative, delicate as if he's an interloper in his own intimate moment with her. For now there's a modicum of the reclusive, an iota of solicitude, a hesitation as he remembers a cardinal rule of homicide investigation while he drifts off to sleep...
A victim can only be killed once but a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times.
end

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