The Better Part of Valor
Strange Bedfellows: Queers Who Built America
copyright 1994 by Eva Taganov
The Better Part of Valor; A Life of Ichabod Crane
copyright 2001 by F.P. Bonnano
* * *
"Stand back! Don't touch the body!" the constable ordered the small but rapidly growing crowd. They responded reluctantly to the uniform and the authoritative voice.
He looked around at them all. "Did anyone see anything? Or hear it?"
A babble erupted, one man's querulous voice rising above the rest. "I found 'im, I was just walking home as I always do, and there he was, dead as a doornail--"
The constable nodded dismissively, turning his attention to the corpse in the alleyway. He studied it through narrowed eyes, carefully noting its position, looking for weapons, objects the murderer might have dropped, or footprints. There was nothing except a few drops of blood. At last he stepped closer.
"Was he like this when you found him?" he demanded.
"No, sir, he was lyin' on his face when I found him. I closed his eyes and laid him out properly."
The detective shook his head sharply. "You must never move the body!"
Everyone looked bewildered. The constable shook his head in exasperation and began ringing his alarm bell.
It was only a moment before Constables Green and Witherspoon appeared. "What've we here, Brom Bones?" Green asked.
Brom was bent over the corpse, checking the man's pockets. "Dead man. With his watch and his purse still in his pockets, so it wasn't a footpad. No weapon, no gunshot wounds... but a huge gash on his neck. Too sloppy to have been a knife; perhaps a jagged stone, or...."
Witherspoon shook his head. "Constable Crane's rubbed off on you, Bones. Stand back, let's get this corpse on the wheelbarrow."
"It's as I told you, anyone can use my methods," Constable Crane announced behind them.
"Oh, if Bones can do it, a trained bear can do it," Witherspoon conceded, indifferent.
They hefted it to the morgue, and Brom went in search of Ichabod to inform him. He found Ichabod on his patrol route; he was scrutinizing a closed shop window with what Brom considered unwarranted suspicion.
Brom quickly related what he'd found. "If you want to examine the body, you'd best get there before dawn. The man clearly wasn't a vagrant, so they shan't burn him, there'll be a decent burial."
"Are you certain there were no objects nearby that could have been the murder weapon?" Ichabod asked.
"Certain. And it was an empty alleyway, so there was nothing for them to knock over if there was a struggle."
"And those fools moved the body, so there is no way to tell if the man was killed on the spot or killed elsewhere and then dumped," Ichabod said, resigned.
"The man who found him said he was lying on his face, if that's any help." Suddenly Brom frowned. "Wait! I think he must have been killed somewhere else!"
Ichabod lifted an eyebrow. "Indeed? And why is that?"
"Because there was no blood! Well, only a few drops. And the man was white as a sheet, so he must have lost a lot of it."
Ichabod swallowed. "Mm, yes." Then his rising nausea vanished as a thought occurred to him. "Was there blood on his clothes?"
Brom tried to remember. "There was a little on his collar, right near the wound. That was all."
"Curious. There should have been more. Did the wound appear... cauterized?"
Remembering the bloody gash, Brom shook his head. Then he laughed. "I still can't believe I'm doing this. Messing about with clues and persnickety questions like you."
"And you are doing it," Ichabod said, looking at the other man with satisfaction. "You have learned to apply my methods and detect the guilty with them. You are proof that any constable can do this, with the proper training."
"Me and any other trained bear," Brom agreed. "Not just eggheads like you."
Ichabod gave his lover an arch look. "Did you imagine it was your brains that interested me?"
* * *
"Who's that?" Ichabod spoke sharply.
He and Brom stopped. Sitting in front of the door of their flat was a boy of about sixteen, pale-skinned and big-boned. When he saw them, he quickly stood up.
"Mr. Constable, sir," he said, obviously nervous.
More confident now, Ichabod progressed up to the landing with Brom protectively close behind. "Yes, what is it? Police business? Do you have a message for me?"
The boy swallowed. "No, sir, I--"
"Andrew!" Brom exclaimed, recognizing him. Ichabod was perplexed, but only for a few seconds.
"Young Masbath! What are you doing here?"
The boy squared his shoulders. He had grown considerably and was only a couple of inches shorter than the two men now, and showed every sign of getting taller. "I've come to -- to learn to be a detective. Like you, sir." When neither man spoke, Andrew plunged on, "I don't know anyone else in the city, so I thought I'd ask you to put me up. At least for a few days. I don't have any money, but I'll work for my keep, and... I thought I might learn from you." He said this last with clear trepidation.
Ichabod stared for a moment before collecting himself. "Of course you may stay for a few days. After that, we shall see -- at the very least, I shall make arrangements for you. Stand aside." He unlocked the door. "Come in, Young Masbath. Is that bag all you have? Do not touch any of the scientific equipment; it is very delicate."
The boy looked around the large garret, gazing at the experimental apparatus as if they were wondrous toys. Reluctantly he tore his gaze away from them to regard Brom.
"You're looking well, sir," he said. "I see you're still in the constabulary as well. The ladies of Sleepy Hollow missed you dreadfully," he teased shyly.
"I imagine they did," Ichabod said coolly, lighting candles and hanging up his jacket. "I expect Miss Van Tassel died of grief."
"No, sir. She married Theodore Van Allen. I've been in their service these five years."
"Theodore! I knew it!" Brom laughed. "She always did have her eye on him."
"So did your employers...." Ichabod's voice trailed off, then he looked at the boy sharply. "If you haven't any money, how did you come here?"
The boy shrugged. "Walked. Sometimes a carriage gave me a ride for a few miles. And I got a little work at some of the farms, coming through."
Ichabod gave the boy that penetrating stare of his, then ordered, "Sit down." He opened the cupboard and frowned. "I'm afraid we don't have much here, and it's late, but we'll get you a good breakfast tomorrow. For now...." He put all the food in the cupboard -- the heel of a loaf of bread, some cheese, two apples -- onto a plate and set it before the boy, along with a glass of water.
"But you haven't dined," the boy protested, though both men had seen the way he looked at the food. Brom was appalled. Had it not been the middle of the night, he would have run out to buy the boy a huge meal on the spot.
"We dined hours ago," Ichabod answered firmly. Without further argument, the boy set to, taking large swift bites. "Slow down. Chew it thoroughly," Ichabod instructed. "Or you'll just get sick."
Suddenly realizing that Ichabod knew this from experience, Brom felt even sicker. Ichabod rarely spoke of his early years in the city, but Brom knew they had been a hard struggle. Protectiveness for both of them welled up.
After the boy ate, Ichabod cross-examined him in his usual way. It transpired that ever since Ichabod had brought Jonathan Masbath's murderer to justice, the victim's son had been determined to follow in his footsteps, to be a constable and a detective. He had wheedled his new employer, Katrina Van Tassel -- later the Lady Van Allen -- into paying the modest fee for him to continue going to school, which the kind-hearted girl had not minded doing. He had applied himself to his studies in preparation for the day he would be old enough to strike out, to join the constabulary and learn the skills of crime detection. And he tentatively explained that he had hoped that his own hero would teach him, and perhaps recommend him to the High Constable.
When the whole story was out, Brom and Ichabod shared a look. At last Ichabod said, "Of course you may stay here, Young Masbath. As for the rest... I shall see what I can do. I fear my word would carry little weight with the High Constable, and in any case you are still two years too young, but I have little doubt you could qualify on your own account."
"Yes, sir," the boy said, looking encouraged. "And... will you teach me? Train me?"
Ichabod looked at the boy for a moment. Then he laughed ruefully. "At last someone wishes to learn my techniques, and it is a servant boy from the hinterlands. No, don't be offended, young man. If after seeing the lay of the land you still wish to learn from me, I shall be more than happy to teach you."
Brom stood. "I'll see if the landlady has a cot we can borrow. It's late."
Andrew politely stood as well. "Then you'll be wanting to get home, sir. Do you live nearby?"
The boy wondered why he felt that the few seconds of silence that greeted his question were very long.
"He lives here," Ichabod said. He started to say something else, then stopped.
"Here?" The boy looked around at the large room, which took up the entire garret. "But you only have one bed."
"Well...." Ichabod started sorting through a stack of books that were near at hand in a distracted manner.
"We only have room for one bed!" Brom blurted out. Then he hurried out to ask the landlady for a cot.
Ichabod frowned deeply, calculating. Then he made himself give the nervous boy a little half-smile.
"Welcome to New York, Young Masbath," he said.
* * *
Andrew rose and stretched, but did not get dressed. His throat was horribly dry. He would get some water before dressing. Quietly, not to disturb the men if they were still asleep, he opened the door of his room.
His guardians were not asleep, but sitting at the table, bent over Ichabod's ledger. Without knowing why, Andrew stopped and stood still, studying them.
They were speaking quietly, probably trying not to wake him. Andrew caught enough words to realize they were talking about their plans to arrest some people. Brom and Ichabod were sitting close to each other, not quite touching, more at ease than Andrew had ever seen either of them. Brom's hand rested on Ichabod's shoulder as they both studied the sketches before them.
As Ichabod leaned over his ledger, pointing out something on the sketch and remarking on it, a lock of his eternally disarrayed raven hair fell over his forehead. Unconsciously, Brom's hand moved from Ichabod's shoulder to gently brush the lock out of his eyes, then settled back in its former place. Neither man seemed to notice the gesture; all their attention was on the ledger.
And between one second and the next, without any orderly chain of reasoning, Andrew knew.
Uncertainly, he began to move again. At his soft footsteps, both men looked up at him, promptly straightening in their chairs, moving apart ever so slightly. Brom moved his hand from Ichabod's shoulder to the table swiftly. That move dispelled any doubt which might have remained.
"Good morning, Andrew," Brom said.
"Good morning," he mumbled scratchily as he poured himself a glass of water.
"Is your throat all right?" Ichabod asked promptly.
Andrew took a long swallow of the water before answering. "I think it's just dry, sir."
Ichabod shook his head. "Too much salt on that food last night. I knew it. Let me know if it keeps hurting."
"I will, sir," Andrew said, feeling a bit more oriented at the clear concern in his guardian's voice. "Excuse me." He took the glass of water back to his room to dress for the day. But when he was only half dressed, he sat and stared out the window for some time, pondering.