A Mann's World

by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

The Unassignment

Mann, here's a list of places where you'll eat. You know about the Grill; Hubbard House by Dupont Circle; Henry's a bit dressier. That's on the Hill."

"The Hill?"

"Yeah, Capitol Hill."

"Then there's the Hideaway, it's mostly a bar, near The Hill on Pennsylvania, also dressier. Eagle has a buffet on Sundays. You'll fit right in there. It's up 9th from the Hideaway. Make an effort to mingle and you'll find places I don't even know about. These places have been there for a reasonable amount of time."

"Eagle. I've heard of it," Robert said.

"Leather-cowboy crowd. Carroll's is down the street. A rougher crowd, hustlers, and their clientele. They have dancers now I believe. We could be dealing with a latent homosexual and in that case he might feel more comfortable on the fringe. We aren't discounting anything at this point. That's because we don't know anything."

"Latent homosexual? What's that?" asked Mann, watching Connell's face for clues.

"They might be homosexual and in denial about it. Hate themselves because they feel hated. Hate everyone else because they are hated. It's a complicated psychiatric deal but everything is in play. They'd do best around people who pretend they aren't gay most of the time but then the urge becomes so strong they've got to satisfy it. It gives a level of permission because there is a money exchange for services rendered. Then they go home and pretend they aren't gay. It's complicated, Mann."

"You telling me? You've been to college?" Robert asked. "How do you know about all this stuff?"

"Two years in police science. Then the academy," Mike replied. "You don't learn this at the police academy. I read books to fill in the blanks. I've read about this a lot."

"How long have you been on the force?"

"Two years and some months. Two months on my back after I was shot last year. Brown saved me from disability retirement. So you see how I owe him my career. No matter what, Mann, the commander comes out clean. It's you and me from here on out."

"How'd you get this gig? You like being an aide? Sounds like office work to me."

"Better than sitting home. I'm a cop to the core."

"Yeah, I know how you feel."

"Listen up! You need to pay attention. The Brass Rail is just around the corner from Eagle and Carroll's. The Rail also has hustlers and some military types. Many of the hustlers are military. Once again they feel cleaner selling it and pretending they do it for the money and not for the sex. Military guys can be dangerous. We might be looking at something like that. No shortage of places. The Rail is right across from the bus station. They hang around bus stations waiting for new arrivals to town. Catch them before they know anyone or anything."

"Bus station?"

"These are all places where I figure you'll do well. It gives you somewhere to start. Georgetown Grill is also a more manly crowd. Just take "P" Street off the Circle and head west, it dead ends at Wisconsin and the Grill's just to the right, and you know where we are from there because you've been to the Grill."

"I didn't know it was gay," Robert said.

"Yeah, well, it's early. They aren't as obvious as you might think. Let's see. There's Johnny's on the Hill, Plus One, and Joanne's. They're all together and near Henry's. These are places where the victims have been seen before they were killed. We figure the killer knows his way around the bars."

"Do you think he's gay?"

"Can't say. Not enough information. He gets them to go with him. There's never a sign of a struggle. We don't know how he does it. Most have been smaller guys, not too big, but one was an athlete, so he's not afraid of big guys.

"None of the victims were known to be gay at their employment or where they lived. There is no pattern we've nailed down."

Mike continued with his instructions. "You'll check in with me periodically. We'll meet at different places at different times. I expect you'll have questions as you get into it. If you come up with any good information contact me right away.

"I'm hooking you up with a friend, Phil Sharper. He plays the piano at the Frat House. It's a college hangout, loud but a good place for you to start. You'll need some upscale clothing to fit in. Here's a credit card for your expenses. No high living. Your expenditures will be monitored. Anything we don't like comes out of your check, the check you won't be getting until this is over. You'll draw one hundred dollars in cash a week when we meet, to cover other expenses. Do you have any questions about this part?"

"No," Robert said, watching Connell and noticing while he looked young he was confident and in charge.

"Here are the car keys. It has been registered in your name at the Bladensburg address. It's a '62 Pontiac convertible and is parked right in front." Connell handed Robert several sheets of paper with the information that he'd just explained to him.

He was in the car and on his way before he knew it. He drove to Dupont Circle, then straight out New York Avenue to the Baltimore Washington Parkway, following the instructions on one of Connell's sheets.

He took the Route 450 exit and went one block, making the right turn on to 54th Avenue. It had taken him twenty-three minutes. He noted the Safeway as he drove up the hill and past the high school to the apartments. There was a parking place at his front door. He'd never had a convertible before but it drove fine.

He looked around his new apartment and wondered who had lived there last. It was a nice enough place, adequate for the job he was expected to do. It was furnished, but not well. He picked up the phone and ordered pizza, needing to read the address off his directions, once he realized he didn't know where he was. He had gotten there by doing nothing but follow the directions on the paper. That left him with no conscious memory for most of his route. He'd remedy that right away. He had to get in touch with his new life and he was still mulling it over. What am I supposed to do, he wondered?

He turned on the television to watch Walter Cronkite and some national news on WTOP. The weather forecast said it would be cool in the evening but warm during the day. The local broadcaster announced "the sixth victim in what now appears to be a series of killings was found today off "P" Street in a wooded area above Rock Creek Park and near the Dupont Circle area. No further details have been released."

After eating pizza, he went to the Safeway and bought things he thought he might need. He drove down past the Cheverly theater, down the hill past the small shops on either side of the street until he reached Peace Cross and a huge monument in the middle of a circle. He noticed the connecting streets, especially the ones that led in or out of the community. He circled the Cross and headed back up the hill until he reached the BW Parkway, then returned to the apartment.


Driving in Washington DC was something like a thrill ride to Mann. Once he got to Dupont Circle, it took him three trips around to decide which street to take to find a parking place.

He had no trouble finding the Hubbard House because it sat right on the Circle and he had passed it each time he went around. It was after the lunch rush and only a couple of the tables were occupied as the waitresses stood around the cash register exchanging gossip as he entered.

He immediately looked around for someone that looked like a piano player, only he wasn't sure what he was looking for. Since there was only one guy sitting alone in the rear, he thought that might be his man.

As he glanced towards him the third time, the man stuck his hand straight up in the air and with a single motion of his ringed fingers indicated for Mann to come to his table. He was in a turquoise shirt with a silver bracelet around the wrist of the motioning hand. A heavy silver chain hung on the outside of the shirt.

"I'm Robert Mann. You Phil?" He asked while trying not to seem too uncomfortable.

"That's me. Have a seat. Coffee? I've got to play tonight and I'm just getting the cobwebs out. Don't mind me if I don't make any sense."

"Coffee is fine. Mike said, that you'd…."

"Yes, tell me you aren't into S&M."

"S&M?"

"He said you were new. It's a game some of the girls play. If you don't lose the black look the nice boys won't want to play with you."

"I don't really want anyone playing with me. I mean no offense, but I just want to know what it's all about. I don't know much."

"Well, you're here, and that's half of it. You don't know how many take a lifetime getting here, Robert. That's so stiff."

"Pardon," Robert said, feeling out of step.

"Your name. Robert. Sounds certified correct and official but…. You need something softer. Too hard is too hard, dear. In this case, if not in all."

Robert swallowed and suddenly felt like he had jumped into the deep end of the pool.

"Now, some guys might go for that but most want a teddy bear, you know. Someone you can cuddle up to. Something sweet. Not that it's what you want, you understand, but it's what they want, and if you want to fit in, you've got to fit their idea of Prince Charming."

"Prince Charming? I'm just here for information."

"I'm just trying to help. Mike said you were new. I don't know what that means any more. Stick with me and we'll get you on the right track."

"What do you think I need to know?" Robert asked, hoping to figure it out for himself as he went along.

"Let's try Bob. Maybe Rob. Robbie! No…. Bobby. Of course. You're a Bobby. No doubt about it. Why don't you go as Bobby?"

"We're talking about my name?"

"Yes, what did you think…. Oh never mind. I like Bobby. What do you think?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

"Like I was saying, most guys take a long time accepting who they are. Some never do. You're starting young and that's in your favor. Believe me, mother knows youth is in."

Phil fluffed his reddish blond hair.

"Mother?"

"Sorry, I keep forgetting. We tend to speak of ourselves in the feminine third person. You'll get used to that. It's sort of a joke connected to the sexual contradiction we live. Some of us live. Some of us don't."

"Yes," Robert said, not sure what he was agreeing too.

"The clothes have to go, you know."

"My clothes? What's wrong with my clothes?"

"Black is only for the Eagle and the Grill, maybe the Plus One. Too fifties and fifties are passé. We should take you shopping before we show you off," Phil said, working his way up to Robert's well arranged face and penetrating eyes.

"Would you help me find something more appropriate?"

"If I were a few years younger…," Phil mused before sipping more coffee. "Yes, of course. My motto is, shop till you drop and then shop a little more."

"Well, a shirt and maybe a pair of jeans," Robert said.

"Oh no, not jeans," Phil corrected, placing his hand on Robert's forearm and feeling the tension it created. "Hon… Bobby, we're all friends here. Mother's not looking for a boyfriend. Lord knows I've been down that road enough times to fill up this place. I'm just doing a favor for a friend."

"I'm just not accustomed to…."

"I'm sorry. I keep forgetting. It's the hour. It's the coffee. There are places just around the corner and I'll be glad to offer my opinion. I buy my shirts at one. I'm sure we can find you something within your budget. They all know me and won't mind helping you. They'll be jealous though."

"Jealous?"

"Don't mind me, Bobby. Mother runs on and says nothing, but I'm harmless. I shouldn't drink this stuff but it's the only thing between me and a face full of floor in the morning, you know." He held the cup up, looking into its depths before draining it dry.

"Yeah, sure."

Phil led Robert to the shops that lined Connecticut Avenue just beyond the Circle. He noticed that Janus 1 & 2 were both playing the same movie, something called "Harold and Maude."

They went into the shop next door and bought a print shirt that Robert thought was a bit loud but Phil said was perfect for him. The slacks were a nice shade of tan and Robert liked the firm fit. He was a jeans and T-shirt guy most of the time, but considering the circumstances, the clothes were fine. He used the cash Mike had given him and felt a bit guilty about the prices.

Phil told him to go home and relax and to meet him that evening at the club that was just beyond the Circle. Robert's eyes followed the gesturing hand.

Robert was in his car going back out New York Avenue toward the BW Parkway when he reached over to turn on the news. It took a minute for him to find something beyond Smokey Robinson, Tammy Wynette, and the Jefferson Airplane. He settled on WLMD and some obnoxious talk jock named Dennis Richards, who was billed as, "erudite." Whatever that was. He wasn't in the mood for tunes, but the news came on almost immediately.

"The body found yesterday off "P" Street has been identified as Paul Smith of Anacostia. The police are fairly certain that this is the sixth victim in a series of slayings that have plagued the city for the past month. No other details are available except for this statement released by police spokesman, Officer Stanley Kramer."

A different voice started speaking. "It seems to be the work of the killer, whom the news media has dubbed, 'The DC Strangler.' We have no further comments at this time. Thank you."

"Commander John Brown, newly appointed to head the taskforce investigation of the DC Strangler murders had this to say while leaving his office," the announcer went on. A gruff voice that Robert Mann recognized brought a smile to his face. "No comment. Get that damn thing out of my face."

The announcer continued without pause. "Four of the previous five bodies have been identified as allegedly homosexual males who were known to frequent various gay underground locations in the city. There is some speculation that this common link might be consistent with all the victims in this investigation."

"When asked, Frank Kaminy, the spokesman and president of the local branch of Mattachine Society, a homosexual organization, had this to say." "We are hoping for a quick resolution so that gay men can feel safe going out on the street again. I am confident that the Metropolitan Police will do their best to see to it that these killings stop. That's all I want to say at this time."

The announcer went on, "The local homosexual community is terrorized and staying behind closed doors. Our investigation indicates that attendance at the homosexual hangouts has drastically been reduced by the murders. Now to the weather…." Robert clicked off the radio having learned little or nothing about the latest murder.

As he ran through a huge pothole while passing the sign that announced the beginning of the BW Parkway, he thought back to a rusty red Jeep as it bounced across the unyielding North Dakota high plains. He remembered that first time he had ridden with Morgan Swift Deer. It was to help find a drunk, who's wife wanted him home. Henry Dark Cloud had gone on one of his infrequent binges and Robert had seen him while rabbit hunting that morning. Robert had led Morgan right to Henry, after Morgan had spent most of the day searching.

Morgan took him for a soda at the general store once Henry was safe and sound at home…, except for his wife. Morgan had bragged to Robert's father about Robert when he drove him home. Robert saw it like it was yesterday. It was the first time someone from outside his family had bragged about him. He went with Swift Deer every chance he got after that, even when his father didn't approve, but then, his father never seemed to approve of him.

He thought it was the white skin. As soon as his mother was in the ground, he was put on a bus to Virginia to live with 'her people.' A million miles from anything he knew. All he had ever wanted was for his old man to like him and he'd never felt at home anywhere since.


That night he had no difficulty finding a parking place. He walked across the Circle to the Fraternity house, but he had to follow the crowd around back to find the entrance and then he had to walk up some stairs. He followed some chattering guys who looked ordinary enough, until they burst through into the bar.

There were screams and howls and hellos, as Robert slipped past the people he had followed. The noise was incredible and they were packed shoulder to shoulder. Phil had told him to come early but he had decided later would be better, mainly because it meant he'd spend less time in there. Perhaps he could adjust to being around this type of people but for now he wanted small doses, hoping the case would be solved quickly. It took him five minutes to hear the piano playing somewhere barely within earshot.

He found an alcove with the piano, twenty tables, and a few diners still eating and listening to the piano player, Phil. Around his piano sat a dozen guys, listening intently to music Robert had never heard before.

He stood and listened, finding fewer people inside the restaurant area and enjoying that. Just as he was relaxing, the music stopped and Phil's arm hung in the air. He recognized the single silent order of the hand, commanding him to come forward.

"Okay, honey, you make a little room for Bobby," Phil ordered, motioning with his hand to clear a seat. Robert reluctantly sat in front of the piano, hoping that would get the eyes off him. The music started anew. Twenty minutes later Phil stood, dismissed his audience, and there was no one inside the area but him, Phil, and two bus boys who clanged and banged loud enough to drown out the din from the bar. In no time at all, Led Zeppelin burst from every pore of the establishment.

"Mother's hungry. Have you eaten?"

"A sandwich earlier. I was too nervous to eat," Robert admitted in a weak moment.

"Come! We shall dine on me. I know just the place. The dinner crowd is done and the after bar crowd hasn't arrived yet."

"Sounds good. This place is crazy," Robert said, never having seen such a mob jammed in so tightly.

It took five minutes for them to walk to the Hubbard House, taking the same table in the back. There were no more people than earlier in the afternoon.

"How do you know Mike?"

"Mike? Long story," Phil's demeanor changed and he got silent as the waitress broke free of her other customer and walked back to where the two sat.

"Who you bringing me, Philip? He your date or what? What a cutie you are. Your love life's improving, I can see."

"Franny, we don't even know each other. He's a favor I'm doing for a friend."

"I bet you are. I'd do him in a New York minute," Franny exhaled. "Why are all the best ones gay? It's criminal, you know. Almost every guy I'm attracted to is a fag."

"At ease, girl. He's just been to the Frat House for the first time," Phil said. "I think he's still in the undecided camp."

"Isn't it great! All those beautiful guys and they all dance."

"I guess," Robert said, checking out her very white cleavage and then her bleached blond hair.

"Excuse me. I forget myself sometimes. It's been a long day," she sighed. "Can I help you? What would you like?"

The waitress chewed gum while she talked and when she didn't talk. It cracked when she didn't. There was a number two yellow pencil tucked in behind her ear that was a few shades darker than her hair.

"I feel so trussed up I don't know if I can eat," Phil said, rearranging himself in his seat and staring into the menu he knew by heart.

"Here, give me your coat and tie, honey. I'll hang them up while you make up your mind. Unbutton that top button and you'll feel better," Fran said.

"You're a prize, Fran," Phil took off his jacket and handed it to her.

"Okay, now that we've taken care of that, what's for dinner?" Fran asked.

"I'm Robert," Robert said without being asked.

"Bobby," Phil corrected.

"Yeah, I'm Bobby."

"Are you sure or are we going to vote on this later?" Fran asked, letting her eyes linger on Robert's dark glasses. Her voice was a bit grating but other than that, she looked just fine even with too much blue eye shadow.

Robert felt there was definitely a meeting of the minds and he'd be coming back to the Hubbard House on a regular basis. He'd been at the academy for months and he hadn't been on a real date since his second year of junior college. Fran wasn't the best looking woman he'd seen but she was the kind of woman he'd found himself with before.

"Burger, extra onions, extra pickle, mustard, no mayo and no votes," Robert announced.

"You obviously ain't lookin' for intimacy," Franny said.

"Yeah, well, haven't eaten since earlier and I'm starved now. Fries or onion rings?" Robert questioned her.

"Hey, you're going to eat it," she said, holding the pencil to her lips as they both thought about it, or something. "What's behind the sun glasses. You a fugitive or what?"

"No, just new in town, and the light hurts my eyes." Robert usually forgot when he had dark glasses on. He felt safer behind the shades when he went into new places. He didn't like people following his eyes while he examined them.

"Both come drowned in oil, Bobby. And my vote is still Bobby. Onion rings wear it but it mostly runs off the fries," Phil said. "I'd go with those." He looked at Robert carefully, watching him talk to Fran. He remembered the touch earlier in the day. He analyzed clues about people all the time. He was a good judge of character and there was something about Robert that puzzled him.

"Doesn't either run off," Fran said. "Our oil adheres. I vote for Bobby too."

"Adheres?" Phil said. "You been reading the dictionary again?"

"I always try to learn new words. Heard that one on a commercial. Tires adhere to the road, I think. Adhere - cling to. I looked it up in Funk & Wagnals. Our oil don't run off nothin', babe. It adheres big time."

"There, straight from the source. The fries don't get saturated the onion rings do. We'll try to slip that one past her," Phil said, looking over top of his glasses. "I have a feeling she hasn't gotten to the S's yet."

"Yeah, fries. Coke. Water. That's it," Robert said. "Oh, yeah, ketchup in the bottle not on the burger. Just mustard on the meat, babe."

"No problem at all, babe," Phil said, smiling broadly while looking at no one and thinking these two liked each other.

"You were going to say how you met Mike? It'll be a while before the burger's done. You said it was a long story."

Phil looked up from what Robert could see was sheet music. He looked at Robert's sunglasses. "It's never long enough," Phil said coolly, "but one works with what one has doesn't one?"

"I'm not asking for any family secrets. How did you meet him?" Robert persisted.

"What did he tell you?"

"He didn't."

"Why isn't he showing you the ropes? He knows all the places."

"I don't know. He thought I should meet people and he isn't comfortable with that, I guess."

"You're cousins, right?"

Robert heard the way Phil asked the question and it tipped him off to the answer. "You know we're not. I asked him for a favor. He suggested I meet you. Here we are. I don't know much about the gay scene."

"Yeah, just you and me… and Fran. I'm not sure what you want."

"Fran?" Robert said, back pedaling while he thought.

"You a cop?" Phil shot back. "You're a fucking cop aren't you? I'm going to scratch Mike's eyes out for doing this to me. I should have known right off. No self respecting gay man dresses in black and wears shades everywhere. You're a cop."

"Do I look like a cop?"

"Yes. You look like an oddball to me. You smell like a cop. You look just like a cop would look if he was trying to look like a gay guy."

"You dressed me. I was happy in my clothes."

"That's not the look I'm referring to. Your clothes are stunning, your posture is all cocky cop."

For the first time since leaving the academy Robert's police savvy took hold. There was a strange relief. He felt in control now that he had been challenged to sell his assignment.

"A cop must carry his weapon and badge at all times, right? You want to frisk me? …Pass on that," Robert said, leaving no time for Phil to accept. "I'm just a guy, Phil. I'd appreciate your help. If you don't want to help, that's cool. I'm Robert… Bobby, and I want to fit in is all. Will you help me?"

"I don't know. I guess you're harmless, whether or not you are a cop, but I still think you are. I'll do what I can. You're going to take some work. You're quite overpowering."

"I'll work on it."

"If you think you're gay, Bobby, don't be toying with Fran's heart, okay. She doesn't need you waltzing her around the block. Don't be trying to figure out who you are by fucking her up."

"I don't waltz people around the block."

"Just don't waltz her is all. If we have that understanding, I'll help you."

"Okay," Robert said, watching Fran through his glasses as she set down the drinks.

"I dated a cop for two years. My last big love and I met Mike through Todd. He wasn't out but he did hang with Todd some of the time. Mike's sweet."

"You went with a cop?"

"Yes."

"What happened to him."

"Went back to his wife and 2.5 kids."

"Waltzed you around the block?"

"More waltzed himself around the block. He just can't go into the locker room and slap his cop buddies on the butt without feeling like a fraud. He's all cop and he can't get beyond it."

"I see," Robert said. "You stayed friends with Mike though?"

"Not really. I haven't seen him since Todd left me. He called about the DC Strangler a few times. Asked me to be careful."

"I sent him flowers when he was in the hospital. I didn't go by because mother has a big mouth and I was sure his buddies would be hanging around. Hero cop and all."

"What was that about? How was he shot?"

"Oh, lord. It was a nightmare. I figured you'd know all about it."

"He doesn't talk about it," Robert said.

"Imagine mother's surprise, I turned on WTTG to catch the news before work. I'm ironing my shirt and listening to James Taylor on my tape deck. There's a picture of Mike. God he's so handsome in his uniform. That sweet face and those sexy eyes. "Officer Michael Connell wounded in shoot out with local crime syndicate," or something such as that. You get the idea."

"When Mike called, he said he'd been thinking about me. He thanked me for the flowers and card. He was concerned for me. Nice man. Nice, attractive, young man, but mother gets over you handsome types pretty fast these days. She only needs to take a gander in the mirror and is reminded of the story of the wicked old witch and the stunning stud."

"I don't know that one. You're exaggerating by a ways," Robert said. "You're a nice man and I'm not sure about all of this. I'm not looking to date anyone. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea. I don't waltz people, Phil."

"Is that some kind of a proposal, Bobby?"

"So what did you tell him when he called?" Robert asked, ignoring him.

"I knew them. I mean, I'd seen them. Most I'd seen around the time they were killed. Some the same night."

"They found one yesterday just over across the street."

"Oh my god, I know. I always hope I don't know them. I don't even turn the news on any more. I just listen to Carole King and Cat Stevens and let the world go on by itself."

"So the victims come to the Frat House?"

"Everyone comes to the Frat House while they're making the rounds. Mostly they're just faces, but seeing them in the newspaper… it's pretty scary. It probably means the guy who is doing this is there too, you know. He is in there with us. The fox is in the hen house." Phil's voice tapered off as the thought passed.

"A gay guy?"

"I didn't say that. Could be. Gay guys are just guys. Killers are just guys that kill. I don't know. I've thought of it," Phil said as he drummed his fingers and looked around.

Fran came with the food and quickly went back for the ketchup. Robert took the bottle from her and their fingers lingered for an instant.

"It's a shame a cow had to die for that," Phil said.

"Lots of cows die all the time. We hunted them on the res when one wandered away from somebody's ranch."

"What res is that?" Phil asked.

"Just a place in North Dakota."

"North Dakota," Phil said, "You did come a long way. I'm from the Jersey Shore. Tom's River."

"My mother was from Olympia, Washington. That's a long way," Robert said. "North Dakota isn't so far."

"That would qualify. You always wear sunglasses at night? While you eat?"

Robert stopped as he got his burger to his lips. "In new places. I don't like harsh light. My eyes are sensitive."

"She's not married?" Robert asked, unable to hold back his curiosity.

"Had a boyfriend. Had a lot of bruises, and a few black eyes came with the jerk. I think she finally got shed of him."

"She's nice isn't she? Somebody ought to kick her boy friend's ass."

"You play for both teams or what?" Phil said, looking toward Fran.

"Old habits...."

"Nothing says you need to break with a habit if it belongs to you. You certainly aren't what I expected," Phil said, trying to see behind the glasses as Robert picked up his burger.

"Yeah, I'm not what I expected either."

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