A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
"We've got the tentative report from the coroner," Mike Connell said, leaning in through the Commander's door.
"Why are you still here, Mike?"
"I was waiting for the reports, sir. You're still here."
"Coroner's working late."
"A lot of that going around, sir."
Commander Brown went back to staring at the file that was in front of him. "You know Bland or Pollard?"
"I've crossed paths with Bland. I think Pollard is his pudgy partner?"
"Yeah, but he's fat. I'm fat. Pudgy is a guy that ate an extra donut after breakfast, Mike." Brown looked up, "Come on in. Sit down. How long do you have to work for me before you relax a little? You don't have to stay because I stay, Mike. You have a life."
"You have a life."
The big man leaned back in his chair placing his hands on his belly and smiling as he thought about his aide's loyalty. It was something he had seldom found in his career.
"This is my life, son. It's your job."
"I want to stay with this case. My wife knows I'm coming down the home stretch. She lets me do what I want for the time being."
"I want to stay with this case too. I want to handle Mann. We need someone on the street."
"You've already sold me on that." Brown paused, "This kid isn't that great of an idea. I'm still not sure about him."
"It is a good idea. It's the best we've got. We don't have anyone else, sir. We've got to use Mann."
"Mike, why can't you call me John? I mean, during regular work hours call me Commander or Commander Brown Sir. At... damn, didn't wind my watch. What the hell time is it any way?"
"Just after ten thirty, Commander."
"Yeah, after 6p.m., call me John. Make me feel like I do have a life, even if I don't. Humor the old man."
"You're a hard case, Connell."
"My father was in the military. I was raised on respecting authority and the chain of command if I knew what was good for me. It's difficult calling my boss John."
"Yeah, I understand that. Your old man tough on you, Mike?"
"No more than usual. I was no angel."
"He beat you if you got out of line?"
"Yeah! I got my share of hidings. I wasn't a bad kid but I was curious."
"Yeah, respect can be hell when it isn't earned."
" Your wife? How does she deal with the hours? Doesn't she worry?"
" She knows the job. She knows I'm on this case and riding this damn desk."
" You think they'll pull you off this if they think you want it?"
" Yeah, that's the way it works. I'm positioned to deal with cops who don't care about queers getting killed."
"Sorry! I don't mean any offense, son. I'm an old man and that word has always been there. I might call them a name they don't like but I don't want them dead or hurt or even inconvenienced if I can do something about it. I know what it's like being seen as something other than human. I know what it's like and I know it's wrong."
"They don't want me to be too visible and this is the kind of case that can breed visibility. They're sure I'll fuck it up because I'm just a nigger and what do I know, but I know I care."
"Yes, sir. I know that. And I know I want some room with Mann. I want him in the clubs and the gay hangouts."
"You know any of the victims?"
"Yes, I knew one. He went to DeMatha."
"Another good Catholic boy. How do you square this with your God, son?"
"My God is a lot more loving and forgiving than my religion, sir."
"You still go to church?"
"Yes, sir. I'm not giving up my soul because a lot of ignorant people hate me for no reason."
" At least they can't see the reason."
" I wish they could. I wish it was impossible to hide it."
"Why's that?" Commander Brown asked.
"We'd have to deal with it. We'd have to deal with the people that would hurt us. We'd get tougher if we weren't able to hide. Keeping the secret sucks the energy out of your life. It alters who you really are. I've known guys that never found themselves after growing up with the secret."
"I'll try to hang in there with this Mann thing for as long as I can. You know I'm sticking my neck out."
"I know every gay man in DC is sticking his neck out every time he leaves home. I think it calls for a best effort."
"We're going to fix that. He's getting bolder. I've seen it before. The ones that like it have an appetite for it. They need more and more to get them to where the killing takes them. He's going to make a mistake, get careless, and we'll be waiting, and then I'll be done."
" I don't understand. You've got over twenty. You're the only black commander. The men all respect you. They can't hurt you any more. You could be chief one day."
" No, son. I can't be chief." The smile was gone from Commander Brown's face. His deep thoughts took him inside the workings of the police department. He knew how things worked and change came hard.
" He's taunting us with the rope. He leaves it to show us he isn't scared of us. He's in control. It's cut from ordinary clothesline that hangs in every backyard in DC. He keeps it somewhere safe, somewhere not connected to him, his mother's house maybe. The rope is a dead end. We'll never get anywhere on the rope."
" What then?"
" How does he get them to go with him is what I want to know?"
" It doesn't add up. There's no sign of struggle. No resistance," Commander Brown puzzled. "They go with him and then let him kill them. Now I know queer men are supposed to be pansies but survival kicks in somewhere along the line. That football player? No bruises on his knuckles? No skin under his nails?"
"Get the blood reports if we don't have them. See if there's anything there. Not tonight. You go home now."
"Why did you fight for me? Nobody else fought for me, John. They were going to hang me out on disability."
John Brown smiled as though he'd won some temporary victory. "You put yourself in front of a bad guy's bullet so he didn't take out your partner or some poor innocent slob walking past. You're the kind of cop I want near me."
"I've got half a stomach, no spleen, and there's still a bullet in my back. All I can do is ride a desk now."
"Then I want you riding a desk for me. Besides, look at us. You're running a case that's right up your alley. I don't know the first thing about pickle packers. Few cops do. You have insight. If you believe in that sort of thing. It's why we're both here."
It was after the seventh body was found that Mike called Robert and arranged a meeting.
"Yeah, what's up?" Robert asked.
"They've found number seven last night. I want to move you into town. Do you know where Hyattsville is coming from your place? You cross over a big old concrete bridge to get down onto Route 1."
"Yeah, I can find that."
"As you come off that bridge look to the left back to the first street you see on Route 1 going back south. Make a left and then turn right on Gallatin Street. You'll see the flagpole and a big American flag in front of the post office. Go up to the end of the street and you'll see St. Jerome's. I'll be there at noon. You can meet me at one o'clock and I'll buy you lunch while I brief you on the next step."
"Why wait for an hour? If you're going to be there at noon, I'll meet you at noon. It's only ten now. I can be there in fifteen minutes."
"I'm going to confession. It's been a while. I need an hour with the priest if it doesn't upset your tight schedule. I'll ask him to hurry."
"Damn, an hour, it has been a while. You look so clean cut. One it is. I won't eat breakfast and you can feed me up."
"Winnie's Chuck Wagon! Give me a break. This ain't fine dining, Mike."
"Yeah, but it's cheap and quick and we can sit in my car and talk while we eat. Stay away from the egg salad. That shit's deadly." The silver truck had stopped directly in front of St. Jerome's and two nuns, a priest, and several other people clad in routine garb lined up to buy drinks and sandwiches from the food coach.
They ended up in Robert's car, ripping the cellophane off their sandwiches.
"You know where all these trucks stop?" Robert asked.
"No, just this one. I used to deliver milk. Harvey Dairy. I delivered milk here on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at about one o'clock. It was my last stop before going back to the dairy. Winnie's Chuck Wagon Caterers were always here and if I was early, I waited, except Saturday."
"You were a milkman?"
"Yeah, Hyattsville was my route. I did it for a year until I went to the academy. I was going to school. Getting some police science courses. Maryland University is just up the street."
"What's up, Mike?"
"What are you doing?"
"Eating this lousy dried out sandwich you bought me."
"You somehow don't look to me like you are a gourmet."
" Yeah, well, I've been hanging around Phil."
"How's that working?"
"He's okay for a fag."
"You use that word to me again and I'm pulling you out. I'll find someone that learns a little faster than you do. He's not a fag. He's a fine man. He's an excellent piano player and a hell of a nice guy."
"I can't help it. I keep forgetting."
"Well, remember. You're doing a job. You might want to try to remember that." Robert was a bit shocked by Mike's intensity. He'd been lulled into an easy routine that was more like a vacation than a job.
"I've spent a lot of time with Phil at the Frat House. Being seen like you said. I've been to The Grill. I've been to the Brass Rail. Lots of military type guys there. I'm going over to the Eagle, Sunday. They have a brunch or something one guy thought I'd like. I get to wear jeans anyway."
"Yeah, the Rail and Eagle are the places I figure this guy might hang. That doesn't mean the other bars are a waste of time. The more you circulate the more likely you'll cross paths with this creep. It's not like you have anything else to do but play the role."
Robert had also spent his share of time at the Hubbard House. Most often he went there with Phil before or after he played, but he also found himself stopping there when he thought Fran might be on or when he needed to feel more like a man, which was all the time now.
He was adjusting to being around gay men. The comments and obscene suggestions that came disguised as conversation no longer upset him if he didn't think about the intent. For the most part gay men seemed to be all mouth and no one had touched him in any way that he couldn't handle after more than a week of mingling with them.
While it was a surprise, it was also a relief that fighting off advances wasn't necessary. There were some men that made his skin crawl when they verbalized their interest in him, but there had been those men who almost made him feel flattered when they indicated how damn attractive they found him. He wasn't sure what this was about but he knew there was a difference. Losing sleep over it wasn't in the cards as long as they all kept their hands to themselves.
"There are some roles this boy isn't going to play. I will hang around and gather as much information as I can, but I'm not going to get up close and intimate, if you catch my drift?"
"There's no reason to. You're just there to fit in and keep your eyes open and that's all. If you get wind of anything that smells like the Strangler, you call me immediately. You don't do anything. You don't try to handle it yourself. This is an investigation and not a playground for amateurs. You catch my drift?"
"Why are you pissed off at me? I thought we were on the same side here," Robert questioned.
"I'm not pissed off, I'm concerned. I just want you to know how important this is. Commander Brown still thinks this might be a bad idea, but I know how necessary it is that we have you on the inside looking for this guy. If you screw up Brown pays and I don't want him hurt."
"You won't hurt him. I've got everything under control."
"I find that hard to believe. Just do what I say and nothing more."
"I've got a place for you on 19th Street. It's just off the Circle. You can't miss it. It's painted bright green and has a low wrought iron fence out front. It's the bottom apartment on the right as you go in the front door."
"Sounds absolutely lovely," Robert said.
"Have you gotten over to Southeast? Johnny's and Plus 1 has their share of characters. The Lost & Found is popular and the newest 'in spot' is Pier 9. Big gaudy restaurant and dance hall. You can find anything in there."
"I've been sticking with Phil. Listening to him. Getting to know a few of the guys that come up there."
"Yes, well it's time to spread your wings and fly solo. You spend time in Southeast for the next few days. I think Phil can take care of himself. That's it. Here's the keys and the directions. Don't leave anything where you're at. You won't go back there."
Robert pulled on the heavy, thigh-high, black wrought iron gate several times before pushing on it to get it to open. He waited for Fran to enter first. He moved past her to open the door of the building, and then stopped at the first door and opened it with the key that was now on his ring.
The light from the street lit the room just enough for them to be able to see one another. Robert kissed her quickly as the door closed behind them. He'd been waiting to kiss her since they'd met. It was a nice kiss. The gum was nowhere he could find.
" It's nice of you to invite me up. I can't stay too long. I've got a breakfast shift at seven. I'm covering for Ella. Her little girl's sick again and I can't be late."
" You could stay here, tonight," Robert suggested. "A mere five minute walk to work."
" Really? I need a shower if I'm going to stay. I have my makeup, and there are clean uniforms at work."
" See, there's a reason for everything," Robert said, kissing her again. "You won't have to drive all the way to Adelphi and then back and that gives us plenty of time."
The kiss lingered and all resistance had gone out of Fran. All her worries were addressed. She had wondered what it would be like inside of Bobby's strong arms, and she wasn't disappointed.
" Let me get that shower. It will make both of us feel better," Fran said as they both took air.
Robert sat on the couch with his head back as he listened to the water running. He hadn't been with a girl in over a year. He had only been able to think about it while he was at the academy.
Once he'd taken the assignment that day the thought had come to a boil in his brain. He needed a woman to reassure him that he wouldn't lose contact with what he was. He felt every bit as lustful as the last time he'd got lucky. It was reassuring that he hadn't been changed by the assignment or by the men that wanted him more than any woman ever had.
He listened to the water until it stopped running. It was a few more minutes before the door to the bathroom opened. He found himself excited by the light behind her. She was just a shadow in front of it when she walked deliberately toward him. There was a towel around her small body and one on her hair. She came and sat straddling his lap.
The wait and the wondering was over for both of them. Fran made Robert feel like a man and he made her feel like a woman. There was more lust than love and even without the drive, Fran wasn't going to get much sleep. It was nobody's fault. They had found something they both needed far more than sleep.
Fran woke up with the early morning light and dressed quietly while her partner slept. She slipped out the door without letting it make a sound. She was at work early and had time to put on her makeup and get into a fresh uniform.
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