A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
Mann At Work
"What have you got on this deal you're cooking up for me?"
"Commander Brown, I told you he'd be here this morning."
"As soon as he comes up from the academy. His orders are to report directly here."
"I'm not as sure about this deal as you seem to be. Where the hell is my coffee machine? What have you done now, Connell? What the hell did I need with an aide? My Goddamn wife can piss me off all I need."
"What's she done now, sir?"
"She wants a goddamn station wagon. Those things eat gas like pouring water down a rat hole. We can't afford a big boat."
"What kind of car do you want, sir?"
"I was thinking a Corvette. The kids are all gone. I've got a nice raise coming up. I'd sure look fine in a Corvette and they have great resale value."
"Commander Brown, you wouldn't fit in a Corvette."
"The whole worlds a critic. What's it to you if I fit or not? I want it."
"Then there's your wife, sir."
"Damn it, where's my coffee, Connell? You know neither one of us is any good without our coffee. I can't work without a coffee machine. I hope you know what I'm doing with this deal. I don't like working with rookies. Rookie's are pains in my butt and working with them just makes me feel old."
"His name is Robert Mann. He's part Indian. Interesting history. He's the guy we're looking for."
"Another minority? Jesus Christ, what's this goddamn police force coming to? All we got is minorities."
"He graduated third in his class. Deadly on the pistol range. He was an A student in high school and a B student in college. He took a lot of Police Science courses. The guy is right. He lives to be a cop."
"Let me get this straight, you're telling me I'm getting number three? Look Connell, I ain't all that happy working with a rookie. If I'm going to work with one I want number one. Hell, give me two. Three? Why the hell can't I have one if I got to take one? You're trying to piss me off, aren't you?"
"Two women were at the top of the class, sir. First time ever two women have topped the class."
"Goddamn minorities are going to be the death of us. They'll end up glorified meter maids or clerks. They can't be put in the line of fire."
"Yes, but women aren't a minority, sir."
"You telling me? My wife thinks I signed on to listen to her complain. Hell, if I wanted to listen to complaining I'd come in here and talk to you," the big black man said working his way down the long hall toward his office.
"I never complain, sir. In fact I'm pretty grateful for what I've got. I'm a lucky man and a happy one."
"Yeah, and don't think I haven't noticed that. Nobody's happy. I'm not happy. Why should you be happy? It pisses me off seeing happy cops. Makes me wonder if they're on the dole. You on the dole, Connell?"
"No, sir. I'm just happy and I don't have a thing to complain about."
"Yeah, I never trust someone that don't complain. Ain't natural. I wonder about you sometimes, Connell. I got my eye on you… I got my eye on you."
Commander Brown didn't bother to look back as he spoke. His voice echoed through the entire upper floor and down the dark hall as he walked to the last office, but Connell had no trouble hearing every word. Brown was from the old school. He thought cases were solved by good old-fashioned police work.
Commander John Washington Brown had started on the force back in the '40's. It was late in World War II and the severe manpower shortage made it possible for a black man to ease himself on to the DC Metropolitan Police Force. There were already rumors that President Truman was going to integrate the military and DC was the blackest city in the country.
Black cops walked the beats but they were never expected to do much more than to keep other "coloreds" in line. Brown had stuck it out in spite of the never-ending racial slurs and the pressures applied by bigoted cops. Then times started to change and he moved up in the department. He had become one of the few black men who rose through the ranks to a command position. His progress had started as tokenism and it was never easy. Even now, twenty something years later, there were still the bigots and those who expected him to fail.
While Commander Brown had considered retirement as an option, he was a "black" commander and as long as he was on the force, people saw him there and that was more important than his tired old bones. The new taskforce was set up to be his swan song. He was sure of it. It was an investigation that no one cared about and he had been selected to head it because failure would impact no one but him. He'd seen the detectives that were being assigned to him, and none of them worked well together.
They'd tried to force him into retirement before to no avail and this was just their latest attempt to make him look and feel ineffective. Being assigned misfits that no one else wanted to work with was just headquarters way of letting him know how they felt. It wouldn't do him any good to complain and so he'd have to work with what he had. That's why Connell's idea seemed so appealing, but the closer he got to implementing their secret plan, the more doubts Brown was having.
Officer Mike Connell had been severely injured during a shoot-out in Foggy Bottom. Much decorated and touted as a hero, the word came down he would be retired on disability because his new physical limitations were perceived as a liability. However, Commander Brown had met Connell and liked him and had asked for him to be his aide. Connell wanted to stay a cop and was quick to accept the only offer he had. Headquarters reluctantly agreed.
He had extra short, curly blonde hair and a baby face that made Commander Brown feel very old. They looked like the odd couple. They both had limps but their similarities ended there. Mike was new school and Commander Brown definitely was not, but this was a blend that worked well for both of them. Neither man took himself too seriously.
If Commander Brown could save a good cop's career that's what he did. He'd been assigned enough bad cops to know the difference. Taking Connell on had been one of his better decisions. The kid was okay. Actually he was a hell of a lot better than okay because he cared about the job.
Mike Connell knew, if not for the big gruff man in the back office, he'd be crying in his beer in some corner bar, living on a disability pension. He'd always wanted to be a cop. What else would he do if he couldn't do that?
All of this created a loyalty that joined the two men, odd as they might look to outsiders.
Commander Brown found the steaming coffee in a 7-ll cup that Connell had placed there for him five minutes before his predictable arrival.
"Thanks for the coffee," a sheepish voice came from the intercom.
"Yes, sir. I have a Bunn coming."
"Buns? You know I'm trying to lose weight, Connell," the voice bellowed. "What kind? Any jelly? I like those raspberry jobs."
"It's a coffee maker. That damn machine was older than you are and so was the coffee in it."
"Wait a minute. I ain't that old. What the hell is a Bunn, Connell?"
"It's a new type of coffee maker, sir. I can keep a fresh pot going all day. I got a nice deal on it. It makes good coffee."
"I don't pay you to be making coffee. What did that set us back, Connell? You know I got a budget. That damn machine might have been old but it was always ready with the coffee if I had a dime to put in it. It was dependable and I didn't have to wait for someone to decide to make me a cup."
"You don't pay me at all, sir. The mayor pays me. I work at his pleasure. I'm only assigned to this office because you asked for me and I paid for the Bunn out of my pocket."
"He must be paying you too much if you're springing for a new coffee maker."
"Well, sir, I figure what I give you in change each day will pay for it in about two weeks. It's all gravy after that, sir. So I'll come out ahead and the coffee will be drinkable for a change."
"Really! So, you got this all figured out and you don't even bother consulting me. Sounds a lot like this rookie deal you've sprung on me. I think you better come down here and square me away on this thing one more time. Find me something out on this kid so I don't look like a complete fool while I'm in here intimidating the little shit."
"Didn't I tell you to call me John up here?"
"What's in this crap? You know I only take a touch of sugar. I miss the playing cards on the cup. I could pick me up some spare change now and again."
"You always lost, sir. Besides, you never had change for the machine. You had kicked it so many times it was lopsided. That coffee tasted like something that came out of someone's shoe."
"Ah, the good old days," Commander Brown said. "Post come yet?"
"Yes, sir. I'm hiding it until you calm down a little."
"It's the Post, sir. We're the cops."
"Come down here, Connell. I'm tired of talking to this damn box. When did 7-11 start making coffee anyway?"
"Maybe ten years ago."
Connell collected a file, some papers, and the Washington Post to take to Commander Brown's office. He passed three empty offices before he stopped in front of the last one and tapped gently.
He moved toward the huge desk, placing the papers and file in front of the man behind it, who somehow made the very large desk seem small.
"That Mann's file? He's half Indian you say? He isn't some kind of a hippie activist is he, just off the reservation to finally kick the white man's ass? We don't need no activists. You know they like to work on the inside."
"He's had a rough past. Mother died and he ended up here. He was raised on a reservation in North Dakota for the most part. As I said, he's smart but a bit hot tempered and impulsive. A little experience should help. He's just the man we need, Commander. He looks the part and he'll fit right in."
Connell pulled a photograph from the file and placed it on top.
"Nice looking. I hate nice looking cops. He's young too. You trying to make me feel old bringing these young kids in here to work with me?"
"I tried to find someone your age, but not many of those, sir. We'll have to settle for Mann."
"Mother died?" He picked up the picture to stare at the wide blue eyes. "Looks like another honky to me," he finally said.
"Yeah, he'll fit in fine. He went to Hayfield High and has no connection in town. Most of his class will be spread out around the city, thirty-three in all. I briefed the class about undercover work and how important it is not to recognize classmates that might be on an undercover assignment. It's the best I could come up with on short notice. I don't think it's a big risk."
"Why this one, Connell?"
"He's a looker, an Indian, a loner, hard nosed, temperamental, and he doesn't look anything like a cop. And, he's ours before he becomes regimented."
"Means nothing to me."
"He might be able to relate to being an outcast. Indian cultures have a slightly different slant on gay men. He's unconventional because of how he was raised. He's not a trusting soul. He'll fit without much effort once he gets used to the idea. That's where you come in."
"Mike, I'm still not able to get into this the way you are. Why can't we just do a regular investigation?"
"Whoever is killing these men knows the scene. The bodies are all found close to bars or places where gay men gather. Someone must know him. We don't have what you could exactly call cordial communication with the gay community. Having a man inside will give us eyes and ears we need."
"Rookies are disasters waiting to happen. You know that. What makes you think he'll play the game the way you want? What if he hates fags like everyone else does?"
"I know! I know! I'm projecting my own homophobia. Some things are difficult to get beyond. So there's no risk to him? He's just a loose cannon out there looking to go off, Lord knows when?"
"You're looking at this negatively sir."
"Mike, just once, call me John. You've been working for me six months. It's just the two of us up here most of the time. You can dispense with the formalities for a few minutes to humor me. I know you're a good cop and believe me, I've been called a lot worse things than John."
"I bet, sir. Yes, sir… John."
"Great! Now I've graduated to Sir John. Does have a certain ring to it. You think the mucky mucks down at headquarters would call me Sir John?"
"Yes sir, if that got you out of their hair, they just might."
"As I was saying," Mike returned to the discussion of his plan, "he'll be able to roam free. No one will take him for a cop. He won't be there to do anything but keep his eyes and ears open. That way we'll know what the real buzz is on the street. You know these people aren't going to open up to anyone in a uniform or with a badge. We're the enemy."
"So this guy has to be going into queer bars and places queers go? That's your theory?"
"Commander Brown, gay is the preferred word."
"Sorry, old habits…. Nothing personal, Mike. I'm set in my ways. What's our boy supposed to do? He's not…."
"Gay? No, sir, we couldn't be that lucky. I've checked him out. He's no socialite but he dated routinely and there was some talk about him and one of the female cadets. Just a rumor according to some of his classmates."
"You checked him out with his classmates?"
"Yes, sir. I've looked him over and I think he'll work if we give him a little time to adjust."
"How many women in this class?"
"Five. The best crop of women yet."
"What's this world coming to? Women cops! What male cop is going to work with a woman? All that training for clerks and meter maids, seems like a waste. We keep appeasing everybody by making them cops, everybody'll be a cop and what happens then?"
"It's the kind of thing they once said about blacks, sir. Women bring another dimension to the table. They think differently. It's bound to make a difference if we bust up the good old boys."
"What the hell are you talking about? I'm a good old boy."
"You're black, sir. Good old boys are middle aged, bigoted white men."
"That's why I never get invited to their parties. I knew there had to be a reason. I'm good and I'm certainly getting old."
"He's going to be here any time, sir."
"You know I'm not sold on this. I don't like it. We don't know if he can cut the mustard and we've got him going under in a murder investigation. I don't like it, Connell."
"What else have we got, sir? You asked me to come up with something. This is it. It can't hurt as long as he doesn't bend over in the shower with one of them."
"Not funny, Connell. Get the hell out of here so I can finish my coffee and think of how to browbeat this poor kid into doing what I want, what you want. It's your ass if he fucks this up."
"Yes, sir, but what if it works?"
"Commander, how are we going to know anything if we don't have someone on the street people will talk to? That's all this is about. Having eyes and ears on the street. He's going to be okay once you convince him to do it."
"We have plenty of experienced cops to do the leg work."
"Gay men aren't going to tell cops anything, and the ones assigned to this case are going to be like bulls in a china shop in queer bars. That's why they're scared of us. They've been harassed, beaten up, and intimidated as a regular course of business. They don't trust us, and you can't blame them. Mann will be just another pretty face. They'll love him, and just maybe we'll get lucky and he'll find something out that will lead us to the killer."
"Mike, I've been a cop closing in on thirty years, and you can get into trouble doing just about anything and a rookie can get into trouble doing nothing at all. You're smart but you're young. You haven't seen it all yet."
"Trust me, John. I've seen enough to know we aren't being effective because we're too far from the street. It's up to you to get Mann down there where the action is."
"He can't turn… you know? Being around those people can't make you… like them, can it? I'd hate to be responsible for a thing like that."
"No more than I'm likely to turn black hanging around you, sir."
"You better say sir when you say a thing like that to a man like me."
"Yes, sir. I'm only trying to help. You asked me to get involved, and that's it. It's what will work. I don't think there is any other way to get the information we need. I think if you got behind it you'd be a lot more convincing when you talk to him."
"Yeah, well, you know more about these people than I do. I think we make them all criminals again and we don't worry so much about them."
"Yes, sir, and then we'll make blacks slaves again, and take the women's shoes away from them and keep them in the kitchen and the bedroom, preferably the bedroom. Right, sir?"
"Yeah, yeah, so call me old fashioned. I know rookies and if there's a way for this guy to get into the shit, he'll do it, and I'm going to look like the big black buffoon they accuse me of being. I don't know why I let you talk me into this."
"Because you know I'm right, sir?"
"A redskin? Damn minorities! What makes you think he's going to want this turkey?"
"That's where you come in, Commander, but don't steam roll him. Mellow out and talk him into it. You're the commander. He's the rookie. Make a believer out of him. It is his duty to obey your orders."
"Yeah, about time you're noticing who's in charge here. I'm supposed to come up with the plan and you're supposed to implement it. I hope this works. I'll take it easy on him."
"What's in the Post you're keeping from me? I know he hasn't hit again."
"No, sir. Just the usual criticism of the police force for its inaction. They do mention your name. Three times in fact. I wouldn't cut it out for the scrapbook."
"Flattering I'm sure."
"Questioning your credentials for placement as lead on the taskforce. You've never headed a major investigation before. There aren't any clues and you are baffled, according to them. They say you're on the spot."
"You think I'm on the spot, son?"
"Yes, sir. No matter what you do you aren't going to win. Gays aren't too popular. Murderers aren't too popular. Cops aren't all that popular these days. You're on the spot because no one else wanted the gig. Better you than them, I think they're thinking."
"You do have a way with words, Connell. You know if I screw this up bad enough they'll force my retirement. They've been trying to get me to retire since I got my twenty. No man walks away from this kind of an investigation without it impacting his future."
"You're a pain in their asses, sir. It's a natural response, but you can look on the bright side, if you retire no one will keep me around, so I wouldn't suggest this if I didn't believe in it."
"Don't you ever have anything mean to say?"
"Not if I can help it, sir. I try to see things from all angles and I try not to jump to conclusions."
"Well, Mike, don't let my insecurities rub off on you. You did what I asked. We've got to do something."
"I know things are changing and I'll move over when it's time. I just don't feel like it is time. It's just that climbing up hill all these years, I thought once I finally got up here, I'd like the view better, but I'm still just looking up at bigger boy's behinds. There's always someone above you looking down."
"You could run for mayor, sir. There'll be an election soon. You'd look good in a three-piece suit."
"Jesus, I've worked all my life. I'm not ready to sit around waiting for photo oops. Show this kid in when he comes. I'll go easy on him but he better not piss me off. I'm really not in the mood. You're going to handle him. I'll give him his orders and then it's up to you to keep him straight, and that's not a pun."
"I think he's okay. He's a free spirit and he'll look good out there. He's the kind of guy that'll tell you to kiss his ass if you piss him off. I have a good feeling about it."
"Get out of here and leave me alone and bring me another one of these." He held up the 7-11 cup while looking down at Robert Mann's file.
Mike left the office, knowing the coffee was optional. He had high hopes for his plan. While there were certainly questions about Mann, he thought it was worth a shot since the case was going nowhere fast.
Shortly after eleven Connell walked Mann down the hall. He made an effort to set the rookie at ease. He wanted him to make a good impression.
"Who is this guy?" Mann asked.
"Commander John Brown," Mike answered.
"I can read. What's he want with me? Why am I here? How come I didn't get assigned like everyone else? I was third in my class."
"That's why you're here and I wouldn't mention you being third in your class. He wanted number one but technical difficulties made that unfeasible. He'll tell you why. Listen, don't speak unless he asks you a direct question. That's really important for you to remember. He's a bit overpowering at first but he's an honest up front guy. You shoot straight with him and he'll do the same."
Robert Mann knocked on the glass after Mike led him to the door. He waited nervously until the delayed response came. "In," the husky voice ordered.
Robert found the office too dark. Only faint light leaked in through the slats of the closed green blinds. One small desk lamp with a dark green shade offered limited light except for on the desk where the commander did his work. Robert's sunglasses made the man almost invisible.
He stood just inside the door, waiting. The big black man leaned over the huge mahogany desk, jotting quick slashes down on the folder open in front of him. He finished what he was writing, closed the folder, scooted back in his chair, intertwining his fat fingers on the top of his ample stomach, and stared at the rookie.
Robert followed Officer Connell's suggestion and said nothing while Commander Brown gave him the once over. Brown had read and reread the file. He knew the details. But here was the person behind all the forms and evaluations. He still wasn't convinced that this was the way to go with what was becoming a hot potato investigation. He also knew there was nothing else.
"You're out of uniform."
"I was told not to wear my uniform."
"I see why he selected you," Brown mused when he got to the young unmarked face. "You'll do, I suppose."
"Not important," Brown growled in a dismissive tone with a slight wave of one hand. "Has anyone said anything to you about why you're here?"
"What have you been told?"
"Shut up and listen, sir." Mann replied.
Commander Brown couldn't hold back the smile. It didn't last long.
"No one has told me anything about anything. I was told to report to you immediately. The officer out there said speak when spoken to and you'd tell me what I need to know."
"That was good advice."
"You graduated the academy."
"It wasn't a question, Mann. I'll be looking at you if I'm asking you a question."
"Third in your class. What happened? I asked for the best."
"I can't answer that, sir."
"I'm used to getting number one is all. I'm a commander in case you don't recognize this insignia. I feel slighted because one and two got away from me."
"I don't understand, sir."
"No, that's because I haven't told you anything yet. Tell me about one and two," Commander Brown ordered. "Why would they send me three?"
"Both women. Sharp in everything. They beat me out in tactics and regulations. Damn near got perfect scores on the written exam. I aced most everything else."
"Could they kick your ass, Mann?"
"That's good to know or otherwise you might be better suited to this assignment then I thought. At least you've managed to explain why they sent me number three. It's a start." Brown let out a loud laugh as though there was some inside joke to which Mann wasn't privy. His hands jiggled on his stomach.
Mann was left feeling awkward. He did his best to get in front of the conversation. "I'm the best man. They're women. You need a man. It's obvious," Robert said, confident in his deductive reasoning, but he found no humor in it.
"Brilliant. I'm impressed Sherlock. In a manner of speaking you're correct but that's merely half the picture."
"Mann, what do you think of this desk? I just got it last week. Fine piece of furniture. Took six of my best men to get it in here. As soon as I saw it I had to have it. Isn't it beautiful? Do you appreciate craftsmanship?"
"It's fine for a desk," Robert said, waiting.
"No, I didn't think so. I can see you're the impatient type. You'll learn patience if you last long enough. Do you plan to last, Mann?"
"Yes, sir," Robert said, trying hard not to appear disinterested.
"We'll see, son. Mahogany stands the test of time. Come look at it. Get close so you can see the grain. Smell it. Yes, it has a smell. The finish is flawless," he said, caressing the wood. "You don't see workmanship like this any more. It's hand crafted. A desk like this is a find."
Robert looked down at the legs that curled out from beneath the heavy piece of wood. They looked like animal feet with the toes carved as thin lines. The wood was dark and he had just been told it was mahogany. He wasn't interested in the desk but he looked anyway when he wasn't looking at the man behind it.
"There isn't the appreciation for good furniture there once was. Every table and desk in my house was like this when I was a boy. My mother spent hours every week keeping the shine on each piece. I didn't appreciate wood either back then."
Robert Mann thought that must have been a long time ago. He'd grown up with chrome and Formica. The only real wood in his house was the wood they burned in the fireplace. What any of it had to do with why he was here and his first assignment as a DC cop, Robert didn't have a clue. He would just have to wait for the old boy to tell him.
He had burned to be a cop ever since Morgan Swift Deer let him ride in his jeep. They'd spent a lot of time talking about how Morgan had become the reservation deputy.
He was one of the few men that Robert knew who had a regular job. Even his own father had gone from job to job while hunting and fishing to keep his family fed. Breaking horses didn't provide a steady income. Until his mother got sick, she had kept a fine garden and canned things for the winter months. That's how they got by when his father had no work.
Robert had come east to live with his mother's brother after she died. It proved to be a difficult transition. His reservation ways clashed with suburban living. Academically he'd done well, but he had never felt secure in his new environment. No one knew his past and that was fine with him.
In spite of his difficult adjustment to this new life he had never forgotten Morgan or the desire to be in law enforcement. He'd attended several years of college before applying to the Washington D.C. Police Department once he had turned twenty-one. He had completed training at the academy and now found himself face to face with an old time cop who had asked for him.
"I'm like the desk," Commander Brown observed. "I'm old, I'm seasoned, and I have but one purpose. I've lasted as long as I have because I listened and kept my eyes open and my mouth shut." The commander dropped himself back into his chair. "Sit. You're going to need to be sitting down, when I tell you what I have in mind for you. You're curious? Of course you are. You were right. You're here because I need a man. Not just any man, a certain kind of man, a man like yourself.
"You're from Springfield area?"
"Do we need to get into that? From high school on I was in Virginia."
"South Dakota, am I right?"
"North." Robert corrected.
Commander Brown leaned over the open file as though he was checking his facts. "What's that about? You hiding something back there I should know?"
"I thought the point was for us to all be white. I'm white. I came off the res a long time ago."
"You sound angry."
"It's a long story," Robert said, tensing.
"Yes. What... is it proper to ask what tribe?"
"Enemy to the Sioux and the Crow."
"They stole our land."
"Our Land? You talk like an Indian. You do know your history. Lot of that went on back then. Didn't someone steal their land as I recall?"
"Whites took it all. We fought over what was left. The Arikara enjoy a good fight."
"I thought you were white," Commander Brown said. "We say Europeans back East. Causes less friction with the white folks."
"How do you know about the Arikara?" asked Robert as he connected to the conversation for the first time.
"I'm a commander. I know everything. I'm paid to know everything. I also have an aide who looks up these kinds of details. You met him. He's paid to do what I tell him and when he's trying to sell me something, he dresses it up. Napoleon used to do that, you know. His aides would look up information on one man, maybe two. The battles he'd been in and where he was from. Old Napoleon would call him out of ranks as though he remembered him. His men loved him for that. That's what made him great. His men loving him enough to die for him."
"Why stories about Napoleon and looking up my history? I'm going to do whatever it is you tell me to do. I'm already impressed. You're a commander and you asked for me. I can't guarantee I'm going to love you, but I'll follow your orders."
"Yeah, there is that. I can see you've had enough of the chit chat. You've heard about our little problem here?"
"Good point. This is the police problem. We've got us a mad dog killer on the loose in town and people are starting to get nervous. His potential victims anyway. He's a specialist."
"Murders?" Robert's interest increased.
"We found the fifth body Monday. We're sure they're all connected. There is a complication in the case and that's where you come in. Actually, that's where it gets more complicated." Commander Brown looked up over his glasses and smiled.
Robert was hooked but the smile made him nervous. "Why me? I'm green as grass. What's the catch?"
"And that's why you're here. I'm speaking off the record now. We'll be doing that from time to time if I like you for this. You repeat anything to anyone about what I tell you, I'll tell them you're a lying sack of shit. You get the picture?"
"There hasn't been much said about the deaths because the victims aren't exactly society's cup of tea. It's only starting to come together for us but the press will figure it out soon enough."
"Prostitutes?" Robert guessed.
"No, even more complicated than the world's oldest profession. Homosexuals! While we can't prove all the victims are homosexuals, the last three have definite ties to that community. All the victims have been found in or near highly frequented homosexual haunts; clubs, theaters, parks, etc."
"I see. So you think all five have been killed by the same person?"
"Yes! We've created a taskforce for the investigation. The cause of death and the way the bodies have been left are all similar. The homosexual angle is fairly recent. Investigative legwork has turned that up."
"Are you going to tell me what all this has to do with me?"
"Yes, and still speaking off the record, the taskforce is all made up of veteran cops. Like racism, there is a homophobia that runs through the department. Hasn't been that long ago it was a crime, being que… ah… homosexual, and cops, hating crime as we do, well we've never been very kind to our gay cousins. That complicates the investigation because the motivation may not be there to solve these crimes. I'm not saying my detectives won't do their job but they might not put their hearts into it."
"And Homophobia is?"
"In layman's terms, there are a lot of pigs who hate queers, and that's just the way it is. I'm no expert on all this you understand but even homosexuals have rights. Right to live being right up there."
"I wouldn't know." Robert squirmed in his chair as he spoke
"They still asking that "queer" question on the app?"
"Which one is that?"
"The one about being homosexual or having known associates that are homosexual."
"Yes, sir. It's still on there. Right up near the top as I recall."
"That's part of our difficulty. We say you can't be like that for whatever reason, and then we've got to investigate people who are like that. You can see how it complicates the effort once you've labeled these folks unacceptable. Even that question suggests people who don't deserve full protection under the law.
"Homosexuals are often hassled by the cops and so they fear cops. Now we are in a position where we need to protect them, only you can see how they might not trust us. A difficult assignment for anyone."
"We investigate crime against prostitutes and that's unacceptable," Robert said.
"Good point, but even knowing that, some cops might find themselves calling on prostitutes from time to time. Those cops are seen by their cohorts as being somehow manly. That's just my opinion, by the way. I suspect some cops are homosexual or at least know homosexuals and failed to answer that question on the application honestly. There is a percentage of people who are that way, you know."
"I don't know anything about prostitutes or queers," Robert said. "I'll trust what you tell me. What do you want me to do?"
"I think we call them gay now. That's how they refer to one another. It's probably best we try not to offend them if it isn't necessary."
"I try to respect everyone."
"That's a good attitude, Mann. We're getting around to why you're here. This has all the earmarks of being a major investigation. It's the kind of case that makes and breaks careers."
"I'm not following you," Robert said, leaning forward.
"The taskforce is set up so we look like we care. I'm not convinced we do care, but I am sure we don't like murderers more than we don't like queers. What I need is someone inside of this case that I can trust to tell me the buzz from the street, the gay street in this case. He can't be known to other cops or to anyone else. Do you know anything about DC?"
"I went to all the museums and the monuments when I was a junior in high school."
"You're slated to go into upper Northwest. It's a great neighborhood. It would be some of the easier duty in DC. Lots of ambassadors and congressmen who need pampering. If you say no to me that's where you'll end up. I'm interrupting that flow on my own and no one knows you are here. I've got your file and the assurances of the people at the academy. I've got all your records in fact. As far as anyone else knows, there is no Robert Mann in DC.
"You're young, attractive, and naïve enough to pull this thing off. You'd fit right into the street and no one is the wiser. No one will know you're there but me and my aide, Connell. You'd answer to me but take orders from him. Believe me, he's better situated to explain things to you."
The two men leaned toward one another as the conversation took on a serious and confidential tone.
"I don't know what you're asking me to do. I mean what good can I be?"
"It's not necessary for you to know anything right now. Your assignment is to get familiar with the street. Get your face seen up around Dupont Circle and down in Southeast. You'll need a place and we've arranged for that. We'll see to your needs and start with you living just outside of town in Bladensburg, Maryland, a small apartment on 54th Avenue. Once you've gotten your feet wet, we'll move you into a place closer to where the action is."
"There's something you aren't telling me. I can feel that much. Just being seen and looking good isn't much of an assignment. I signed up to do police work and this doesn't sound much like it."
"Just follow my instructions and when it is all said and done, I'll put in a good word for you no matter where you end up. I can see to it your next assignment is to your liking. Besides that, I'll forever be in your debt and you can read into that what you will. But, I'm making you no promises about advancement."
"I get the picture. I want to do what you're asking. I just don't know what you're asking."
"You take it one step at a time. Mike Connell will direct you. You'll have numbers to call if anything comes up. That's all you do for now. The man we're looking for is circulating inside the areas where you'll be hanging out. Once people are accustomed to you being around, you might pick up on something important. Cops aren't going to pick up on anything. If we can figure out how he gets the victims to go with him or where he finds them, we might be able to catch him. Right now we have few clues and no leads."
"That's all? I don't have to get too chummy with these types? I mean that's not what you're asking? I'm just there to hang around?" Mann's concern was obvious in the way he sat and watched the commander.
"You're a cop. You've been trained. I'm asking you to put those skills to work outside the uniform. You will be working undercover in the hopes you'll find out something we don't know. You get as chummy as you think is required but I'm not asking you to do anything outside your own moral beliefs. Judgment is what police work is all about and that's what you'll be using."
"Dupont Circle area and Southeast have gay clubs. And there's one right down across from the FBI building if you can believe that. That's a white-collar crowd. Southeast gives you drag queens and cowboys. Then there are clubs that attract the college crowd. Connell will give you those details."
"I don't know how to act around those people. What do I do if one of them touches me? I'm not sure what I'd do."
"I'm not asking you to bump uglies with these folks. Whoever is doing this knows where they hang and where they circulate. We don't. He's been able to take them off without anyone noticing so far."
"Are you telling me there are no leads at all?"
"None. With you we can keep an eye on the street but a cop gets within twenty feet of one of their hangouts and they know. Past experience has taught them what it means when the cops show up. That's where you come in."
"I want to do this. I'm not sure I can. I don't like the thought of the things they do. Can I have some time to give this some thought?" Robert asked apprehensively, not sure he would be given any time.
"Tell you what, you had lunch?"
"I've got a meeting in just a few minutes that will take about an hour. It's close to lunch time and there's a place down on Wisconsin, Georgetown Grill. Connell can give you directions. They serve sandwiches and beer for the lunch bunch. Lunch is on me but you got to eat there, son. Take two hours and do your thinking. We're depending on you to do this, so you can think about that as well."
Commander Brown rolled in his seat and it rocked back as he pulled the wallet out of his back pocket. He tossed the bill out on his desk for Robert to take.
"There's no pressure on you to take the job. I'll find someone that'll do it simply because they think doing it will buy them favor with me. I don't care about the reason, just so someone does it. I want to get this animal off my streets. We think you are our man. Enjoy lunch! Be back around one."
The Georgetown Grill had a fake dark wood front and big glass windows that looked out on to Wisconsin Avenue. Two men sat in one window with beer glasses in front of them. The other window was empty. Another two men sat at the bar four seats apart. A pretty blond woman followed him until he seated himself in the booth furthest from the bar and near the front windows. She stood at the corner of the table as he arranged himself on the bench seat.
"What do you want, Sweet Pea?"
"What do you have in the way of sandwiches?"
"Anything you like if you like ham, ham & Swiss, or Swiss. We have rye bread or dark bread. Mustard or mayo. Onion or no. Tomato or no."
"Ham & cheese on rye, mustard."
"What kind of cheese do you want?" the woman asked.
"Swiss is fine."
"Good! That's all we have today. Drink?"
"Sprite or Cola?"
A man in a leather jacket with a chain hanging almost to his knee came through the door and walked toward the bar.
"Hi Gil," the waitress said. "Eagle today?"
"How'd you guess?" Gil lisped and flipped his wrist. He leaned forward to kiss her on the lips before sliding onto one of the stools. A dark draft was set in front of him without him asking for it. He pushed his hat back on his head as he drank half the draft straight down, resting one arm on the bar.
The two men at the booth near the window leaned toward one another talking secretively. Robert listened closely but heard only mumbling as the cars rushed by just twenty feet away on Wisconsin. He imagined they were making a drug deal. He was put off that the street noise was so loud he couldn't overhear them.
Another man in a light suit sat with his jacket and the top of his shirt open under his tie. He read his paper through silver rimmed glasses and sipped coffee each time he turned to a different page. Three more men jostled into the bar in the middle of a joke. They all had on suits and seemed delighted to be there, like they'd come in out of the rain, only it was sunny out there. Robert examined them carefully as they stood in front of the bar.
"Refill. On the house," the waitress said as she leaned on the booth to slide a new drink in front of him. "You're new? You sure you're in the right place, handsome?"
"I was told this was the place to eat," Robert said, looking her over carefully for the first time. She was nice.
"I guess you are then. I'm Judy. If you need anything just whistle," she said, sweeping away from the booth. "You do know how to whistle, don't you?" she said seductively over her shoulder, but it was a playful jest.
"Thanks, I will," Robert checked out the back of her short black skirt.
"Judy dearest," sang out one of the new arrivals, breaking away from the two men he had entered with and giving her a hug.
Another man hugged her as she raised one leg and reached around his neck. The third man kissed her and hugged her. She was obviously popular, Robert thought as he sipped his new soda, like everyone's big sister.
"Oh, dear, did you hear Ricky Nelson's in town," the first man blurted out.
"Sure. He's staying across the street at the Georgetown Inn. One of you girls saw him last night after his performance," Judy said, as she leaned on the bar.
"Oh mercy," one of them said. "I'd love to go to his Garden Party."
"No weeds need apply, dear," another guy added. They all laughed and Robert knew they were obviously talking about things he didn't understand.
He finished the second half of his sandwich and paid the check, giving her the five and telling her to keep the change.
"You come again now, sailor," Judy said as he opened the front door. He waved and thought he might come again just to see her. There was laughter and loud voices as he stepped down onto the sidewalk. The lunch crowd was increasing, Robert thought.
He returned to the substation and went back to the second floor. Brown's aide nodded him back to the commander's office. He was invited in and took a seat. The big man finished reading from the papers in front of him before looking up over his glasses.
"You look fine," Commander Brown said after examining him carefully. "No worse for wear."
"I only went to lunch. The food was okay. Wouldn't write home about it."
"No, I meant you look fine after visiting the Grill. I wasn't sending you there to critique the menu."
"The food was okay. The waitress was nice. What am I missing?"
"You are naive. You've just taken your first journey into the homosexual world. Georgetown Grill is a gay bar, eatery, hangout."
"What was I supposed to do?"
"Get your feet wet, son. It was to give you something to think about. Look Mann, none of them are what they seem to be. They've lied all their lives about who they are and it isn't always easy to sort out the truth. A place like the Grill is where they go to be themselves."
"I'm not sending you out there to like anyone, but no one will let you know them unless you take the time to let them know you. Be honest except about being a cop. You won't be so different from them when it comes down to it. You too will appear to be something you aren't. You've got to actually get inside their world, make acquaintances, observe and most especially, listen to what's going on so we have some idea what gays on the street are thinking."
"I don't know if I'm throwing you into the deep end of the pool with no lifeguard or not, Mann. We need to get on top of this case and having you in the mix is a way of doing it."
"Like I told you, it's my job and I'll do what you tell me to do."
"Mann, what I'm asking you to do is well beyond the duties normally assigned to a rookie on probation. While I can tell you what I want, you've got to understand that you are responsible to figure out how to accomplish it. You'll have some help. Connell is making arrangements to get you in the door with a popular entertainer at one of the clubs. The rest will be up to you. We need to know anything that sounds suspicious or that might give us any clue to how this guy ticks. It's going to require a kind of skill that it takes most police officers years to acquire, and some never do. You don't have years, son. We need to stop this guy now before he kills anyone else."
"I'll do whatever you tell me. I can do it. You know, I wondered about a couple of those guys. One flipped his wrist at the waitress, you know, funny like, but he was dressed like a motorcycle gang member. That's confusing."
"Well, flipping his wrist doesn't necessarily mean he's a gay boy. If that's all you have to go on I wouldn't jump to conclusions. You can't really tell a gay man from a regular guy, if they don't want you to know. Any thoughts you have that you can recognize one on sight at this juncture are probably incorrect."
"Yeah, but I still think I can tell them when I see them," Robert said, thinking it over as he spoke with confidence.
"Obviously," Commander Brown said, shaking his head and reconsidering the possible consequences should things go wrong.
"The clothes," Mann observed. "I was wondering why I didn't hear the motorcycle. I was sitting next to the street. That guy looked like he just got off his Harley."
"Well, you're close. That's a leather boy. They have costumes, not motorcycles. Some might have motorcycles too. I'm not geared up to explain the subtleties. I'm just learning those myself. Connell will brief you on what you should know. He has a list of places where you should get yourself seen. Things like that. You need to pay attention and don't think you know more than you do at this point."
"You're asking me to do a job and I'm going to do it, sir, just like you tell me."
"That means you are in this all the way to the end? Once I take you off the duty roster, you're mine and I'm committed to this operation. That means my big black ass is hung out there as far as it goes. You're a rookie. The chiefs are going to say I should have known better if this goes wrong, but it's not going to go wrong, is it Mann?"
"I'm being picked for an important assignment by a police commander on my first day on the job. I'll do exactly what you tell me."
"Good! See Connell. He'll clue you in with more detail. That's it," Commander Brown said, dismissing him with a wave as he went back to the papers on his desk.
As Robert emerged from the office and started down the hall, he could hear the commander's voice echoing from in front of him, which confused him until he saw Officer Connell listening to the intercom.
"This piano player isn't one of them sissy boys is he? I don't want you hooking him up with one of them sissy boys. He needs someone that's smart enough to keep him out of trouble and dumb enough to want to."
"It's all taken care of. We're not all sissy boys, sir."
"Yeah, well, you just don't be fixin' him up with one those."
Mann waited until the conversation had concluded before stepping out of the hall. "Officer Connell, he said to see you."
"Call me Mike. When we meet from now on we meet somewhere else. You're not to come here. If you've got to come here we're in trouble. Undercover means no one knows your status with the police department. Got that?"
"Mike, Mann. Mike!"
"Mike," Mann said for him.
"The quickest way to blow your cover is to call me sir or officer."
"Right!" Mann said, paying close attention to the intense police officer.
"I'll try to be in civvies if possible when I meet you, but at times my disguise won't be any more than my top coat to cover up my uniform.
"Here's the address in Bladensburg. It's right next to the Baltimore Washington Parkway and that makes it easy for you to get downtown. There's also a place we've secured near Dupont Circle, where the action is. You'll move down there once you get a foot in the door. It would be the kind of thing that anyone new to town might do. You're living outside of town because you don't know your way around and that part is true. Once you feel comfortable and know the places to go, we'll move you to the downtown place. We aren't going to rush you."
"Why not just move into the place in town right off? Wouldn't I learn what I need to know faster that way?"
"I don't want you too accessible. You're the mysterious stranger, new in town. I'll do my best to promote that and no one will know you're a cop. Nobody but me and the commander, you got that?"
"Yes, sure. You've thought of everything," Robert picked up the apartment keys and the paper with the details Mike slid across the desk toward him.
"This is my operation, Mann. I thought it up and Commander Brown is halfway on board at the moment. It's up to me to make sure he doesn't end up looking bad. I'm going to do that and that means you're going to do it. We're beyond negotiating at this point. Once you leave here, your career is in my hands. You got it?"
"Yes, Mike. Get used to that, Mann. It might never be a problem but it could be. Let's make sure it isn't. We'll meet whenever necessary. The more often we meet the more trouble we're in, so don't look forward to seeing my face. I've set it up so a friend of mine will show you around the gay community in town."
"A friend of yours?"
"Don't let yourself be distracted, Mann, this isn't twenty questions. He won't know anything except that you are my friend from out of town. You can make it up as you go along. Phil Sharper is a good guy and he'll be more than happy to do me this favor. He's a bit flamboyant, but he's an entertainer, so I assume you can take it in stride."
"Things will move slowly at first and that is the plan. Once I move you into town, you'll be ready to move around the gay community without being noticed any more than any other attractive gay man is noticed."
"Get accustomed to being around gay men, how they act, what they expect, how you respond, and how to keep yourself out of trouble. You've got to get to know people so you can circulate without raising suspicion. Practice your social skills and pretend these are people you want to like you. I won't insist that you like them, but they are just men, Mann. They might not do things the way you do, but they're not much different than you are."
"What if this guy doesn't want to move slow and natural."
"What guy?" Connell said, seeming surprised at the question.
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