I glance up at him. “Who stands to benefit if there’s a strike? No one. Are you crazy?”
“Someone always benefits from murder,” Cooper says, still looking thoughtful. “Always.”
“Well,” I say dryly. “I don’t see who’s going to benefit from having three feet of garbage piled up everywhere… and toilets backed up… and no security… because if the grad student union strikes, the housekeeping and security unions have to strike out of sympathy, as well. It’s part of their agreement. This place will be a zoo.”
“Private sanitation companies will have to pick up the slack,” Cooper says, nodding. “Private security and housekeeping companies, as well. Could be exactly what the owners of those companies were waiting for. Little mid-year pick-me-up.”
I gape at him while the meaning of his words sinks in. “Wait. You think… you think Owen’s murder was a MOB HIT?”
He shrugs. “Wouldn’t be unheard of. It’s New York City, after all.”
“But… but… ” I stand there, flabbergasted. “I’ll never figure out who killed him if it was a MOB HIT!”
Which is when Cooper drops his foot from the planter and swings around to grasp both my shoulders in a grip that, I won’t lie to you, hurts a little. Next thing I know, I’m pressed up against the red bricks Fischer Hall is made up of, my now mostly dry hair plastered against the circa 1855 plaque to one side of the front door.
“Don’t you even think about it,” Cooper says.
He isn’t shouting. He isn’t even speaking above a normal conversational tone, really.
He’s just very, very serious. More serious than I’ve ever seen him. Even that time when I accidentally dried his favorite sweatshirt from college and shrank it to a size small. His face is just a few inches from mine. It’s so close, it’s blocking out the blue sky overhead, and the leafy green canopy of trees below that, and the satellite dishes on top of the news vans, as well as the line of taxis going by on Washington Square West, and the stream of students walking into the building, going, “What’s with all the cops over there on Waverly? Somebody jump, or something?”
“God,” I say nervously, noticing from Cooper’s razor stubble that he apparently hadn’t had time to shave this morning. And wondering what it would be like to run my hand across that razor stubble. Which is ridiculous, because I already have a boyfriend. Who proposed to me this morning. Well, practically. “I was only kidding.”
“No,” Cooper says, his blue-eyed gaze never leaving mine. “You weren’t, actually. And this one, Heather, you’re staying out of. This wasn’t a student. You didn’t even like the guy. This one’s not your responsibility.”
Dorothy. From Golden Girls. We’re both Dorothy, from Golden Girls.
It’s weird what goes through your head when the lips belonging to guy you’re in love with are just inches from your own. Especially, you know, when you’re sleeping with someone else.
“Um,” I say, unable to tear my gaze from his mouth. “Okay.”
“I mean it this time, Heather,” Cooper says. His fingers tighten on my shoulders. “Stay out of it.”
“I will.” My eyes have, inexplicably, filled with tears. Not because he’s hurting me—his grip’s not that tight. But because I can’t help thinking of Magda and Pete. How much time have the two of them wasted, when they could have been together? When really, all that’s kept them apart is Pete’s basic male cluelessness… and Magda’s female pride. I mean, if Pete likes Magda back. Which I’m almost sure he does. Maybe if I just tell Cooper how I feel…
“I’m serious, Heather. This guy may have been into stuff you have no idea—no earthly idea—about. Do you understand me?”
True, I’d tried telling him before. But he’d mentioned something about not wanting to be my rebound guy.
Hadn’t Tad proven more than adequate in this position, however?
Still. Poor Tad! How could I do this to him? He has that question he wants to ask me, after all.
But come on. Tad doesn’t even own a TV! Could I seriously be entertaining the idea of spending the rest of my life with a guy who wants me to run five kilometers with him every morning, avoids all meat and meat by-products, and doesn’t even own his own television?
No. Just… no.
“Just let it go. All right? Any thought you might have of solving your boss’s murder yourself? Give it up right now.”
He loosens his grip on my shoulders and unhitches his own a little. “What?”
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about,” I say, after taking a deep breath.
I’ve got to do this. I’ve just got to swallow my pride and tell Cooper how I feel. Granted, standing outside my place of work the day of my boss’s murder may not be the best place or time. But where is the best place, and when is the best time, really, to tell the guy you love unrequitedly that you love him unrequitedly?After you’ve already accepted a marriage proposal from another guy?
“What is it?” Cooper asks, looking suspicious—as if he thinks I might break into some song and dance about how it’s important for the sake of my employment that I personally look into my boss’s murder.
“I,” I begin nervously, feeling as if my heart has suddenly leaped into my throat. He has to have noticed, right? Between my madly throbbing pulse and the tears in my eyes, he has to know something is up, right? “The thing is, I—”
I jerk my head around in surprise as a familiar figure lopes toward us from West Fourth Street. It’s Tad, his long blond ponytail bobbing behind him, a white paper sack in either hand.
Oh God. Not now.Not now.
“Heather,” he says, when he reaches us. His eyes, behind his gold-rimmed glasses, are concerned, his expression worried. “I just heard. Oh my God, I’m so sorry. You weren’t there when it happened, were you? Oh, hi, Cooper.”
“Hi,” Cooper says.
And then, as if suddenly becoming aware that they were still resting there, he drops his hands from my shoulders and takes a step away from me. He looks almost… well. Guilty.