A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
"In," Commander Brown said after hearing the knock.
"There's something you need to see," Mike Connell entered.
"I was wondering where the rest of my paper was. At least you left me the sports page, not that it's any damn good now that the Senators aren't playing."
"I didn't want you to see it right off. I knew it would ruin your day."
"Shit!" Brown said, knowing it had to be bad if Mike was holding out until after he had his first cup of coffee.
Mike carefully placed the front page of the Washington Post in front of the Commander.
DC STRANGLER 7 DC COPS 1
" What is this crap?"
"Don't ask. Picture down at the bottom. At the corner of the piano."
"Jesus Christ. Get him in here," Commander Brown growled. "What's he think he's doing?"
"That's only half of it," Mike said. "Read the article."
"While the DC Strangler roams the city killing at will, the police force took time out last night to assault a citizen who was trying to stop a man from beating up patrons of a local Dupont Circle bar.
This reporter had the good fortune to be on the scene and witnessed the Metropolitan Police at their best. A patron of the bar came to the rescue of several other patrons who were being assaulted by one Stanley Lubenivich who has three previous arrests for assault and battery. Once the police arrived on the scene, they proceeded to knock the hero of the day unconscious. Of course, they offered an apology once they realized their mistake. Is it no wonder Mr. Strangler is still on the prowl."
"Don't tell me," Commander Brown moaned. "So much for this plan."
"Yeah, our one and only. He was trying to help," Mike said.
"You talked to him?"
"No. No, he didn't answer the phone. I went by his place but he wasn't home."
"You check the hospitals?"
"Why me? I want to talk to him as soon as he's available. Was he hurt badly? Who hit him?"
"Jesus! It just keeps getting better doesn't it? Get Bland's ass in here too. Goddamn redneck."
"Yes, sir. He's not going to like it. You know how he feels about being assigned to you."
"I don't give a damn about his feelings."
"What do we do about Mann?"
"He was undercover. Now he's on the front page of the goddamn Washington Post. Didn't one of us tell him not to do anything? Tell me we told him. Tell me he's just a fuck-up."
"He's a good kid, Commander. He was trying to do the right thing. He is a cop. I'd a done the same thing. Hell, you'd a done the same thing."
" Do you know cops used to go into suspected 'gay bars', select someone, beat the hell out of them and then just walk away?"
"You never did that." Connell stated.
"No, only white cops got to have all the fun."
"That's not funny, sir."
"No, it wasn't funny then either. It was acceptable to do that. You know, making people subhuman justifies cruelty."
"Yeah, unless you're the subhuman, sir."
"I should have known something like this could happen."
"We were taking a risk, sir."
" Yeah, yeah, well, I got to do the right thing now. Why didn't you tell me this was a lousy idea when you came up with it? There was always too much that could go wrong. Rookie's are a disaster waiting to happen. I told you that."
" Progress doesn't come without risk, sir. We can salvage it. He's in now. This is about as bad as it gets when you're running an undercover operation. What's it going to hurt to leave him out?"
"From your lips to God's ears. Get his jacket and papers ready just in case. He might be going to Northwest sooner than we thought. What else does the Post have to say this morning?"
"Nothing that will give you a warm fuzzy feeling. You've got the worst of it for today."
"Let's get ahead of this thing just in case. I want you to contact all of the members of Mann's academy class. Remind them of what you told them about undercover work. Mention to them that their asses are going to belong to me if they so much as mention any knowledge of Robert Mann to anyone at any time. No notes! No memos! Talk to each of them and make the message clear. Most Rookies don't want to screw with a commander if they can help. The instructors and staff at the academy might take a little more finesse. You better take a run down there and talk to them in person. Let them know we're depending on them to play this information close to the vest. They should play ball if you convince them that we're between the proverbial rock and the hard place. Time for you to turn on the charm. It's why I pay you the big bucks, huh, son?"
"The mayor pays me sir."
"Yeah, well, I'm depending on you, Connell. Sell this thing. It's your plan. I just don't want it getting away from us. Now you can get out of here while I contemplate if I should slashing one of my wrists or two."
Connell had already considered contacting Mann's classmates. He hadn't thought about the instructors or the staff at the academy but he could see where that was a base that might be worth touching if Mann was to stay effective.
Robert slowly came back to the world. He wasn't sure where he was once he got both of his eyes open. His head pounded and it took a moment for him to remember the events of the night before. He lay there for a long time not thinking about anything in particular. It was uncharacteristic for him to linger in bed. He usually sprang up to grab hold of the new day. It was a new day but there was no spring in him.
He stepped across the hall to the bathroom and washed his face. He examined the lump on his head and the colorful and painful bruise ranging from his temple to his cheek bone. He dried his face on the towel beside the sink and tried not to glance at his reflection again.
On the back of the toilet he noticed various makeup products and an assortment of moisturizers and skin toners. He shook his head and thought of his Speed Stick and Brut, his only concession to the world of cosmetics.
The smell of coffee drifted through the apartment. Robert knew immediately that it was exactly what he needed to jump-start his day. He wandered out, following the smell, and found Phil sitting at the table in the dinning room. His feet were propped up on one of the other seven chairs.
There was the urge to laugh as soon as he surveyed the scene. Phil wore extra large pink fuzzy slippers that had long white rabbit ears that hung down. The white rabbit eyes, black rabbit nose, and white cotton ball tail finished the outrageous rabbit slippers.
"Morning, Dear," Phil quipped without looking away from the paper. "Coffee's in the pot. There's a cup over there with pink flamingos on it. I put it out especially for you. You're going to need a cup before you see the paper."
"Thanks," Robert said. "The paper? What about the paper?"
" Oh yeah! You're going to simply love the paper. How long you been in town, Bobby?"
" Not long enough," Robert said.
" Usually takes a girl awhile to make the front page of the Post. I knew you were faster than the average bear when I first saw you," Phil said as Robert listened carefully without understanding the banter.
Phil handed him the front page with the headlines that were difficult to miss. Robert looked at the article and cringed when he got down to the part that gave the name of the brutalized hero as Bobby Mann. His face was circled and enlarged as the photograph showed him leaning on Phil's piano.
There was no way for him to know what it meant but he knew it wasn't good. Now he regretted doing what he had done. At the time it seemed right and there was the thought that it could have been the Strangler. Now it was all for naught. The game was over.
He was used to Phil calling him Bobby but seeing it in print caused him to cringe again. He read the article twice, ignoring the photo. He thought of Commander Brown and reached for his temple as the cringe became painful.
He didn't show his reaction as he tossed the paper back down on Phil's outstretched legs. He didn't remember being hit or the apology but he accepted the story as an explanation for lights out. Even the fight had grown fuzzy. He did remember 'Stanley' and his queen, but how could you forget a thing like that? The guy was plenty big enough to do serious damage to the unsuspecting but he knew now that he should have left well enough alone.
" Why did you do it, Bobby? Self-respecting queers don't need to resort to fisticuffs. Most of us anyway. We call the cops."
" I'm not a self-respecting anything. I wasn't going to let that guy hurt anyone. I may not be skilled or well spoken, but I am a man, Phil. No matter what else you are, you don't stop being a man."
" Yeah, a good cop wouldn't standby and watch. I had you pegged until your buddies came up to lay you out like a pig on a platter. I really thought you were a cop. I guess Mother's hunches aren't what they used to be. I'm sorry my invitation got you hurt. Are you okay?"
" Life isn't always what it appears," Robert said. "Besides, your invitation had nothing to do with the fight. Shit happens."
" You'll be a hero around town, you know. All the girls will be talking," Phil was thrilled about that aspect of the situation. "We don't have many heroes to talk about."
" You mean guys," Robert corrected. "I'm no hero. I'm just a guy that had a fight."
" Yes, of course, guys. Why does it bother you? It's only words."
" It's insulting to me. I'm not used to it and I don't like it. I wasn't raised that way."
" Remind me never to get you pissed off, Bobby. You were doing all right until the reinforcements showed up. Where'd you learn to fight?"
" It's a natural talent. I came from a rough neighborhood you might say. I've been fighting all my life. Last night wasn't even a fight. He was drunk. We were both in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Nasty looking face you got there stud," Phil commiserated.
"Thanks! Looks bad does it?"
"Yeah. Gives new meaning to black and blue. Colors I've never seen before."
Robert touched the sensitive right temple. He knew pain and he knew this pain would pass. It was bad enough but not serious.
"Jerry called. He's got Redskins tickets. Wants you to go to this weekend's game. Wanted to know if you were okay. Brad and William called about you. All from last night. You are a hot number now. Mother won't be able to keep you for herself any more."
"Will you cut it out? I hate that," Robert ranted, holding the side of his face as pain shot through it.
"Sorry! You should stop by the hospital and get that looked at."
"I will if it bothers me."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't take any chances with a face like that."
"I hope I didn't bleed on the sheets," Robert said apologetically. "I didn't mean what I said."
"Mothers got plenty of sheets, hon. Besides, there's been a lot worse shit on them sheets and you get to say anything you want around here."
"I've got to go. There's some business I've got to see to."
"Would you like breakfast. I've got plenty of eggs, bacon, whatever. I thought perhaps you might want something to eat. There's scrapple if you like it. Mother keeps her ice box filled, you know. Any time you need a meal or a bed, come on by."
"No. Thanks. I need to move on. Get some fresh air. Clear my head. I've got to get another pair of sunglasses. This light is killing my eyes,"
"Peoples Drug Store. It's right off the circle down about a half a block. Can't miss it."
"Thanks, I'll stock up. I'm always losing them."
Bland slid into the seat of the car that was waiting for him at the bottom of the steps in front of his house. Pollard shook his head, remembering the evening before.
Just about the time they were giving up on the latest stakeout, the call came in that there was a disturbance at the entrance of the Fraternity House. They had only been five blocks away and arrived on the scene at the same time as two squad cars. They both thought or hoped it was a break in the Strangler case so they could get on with something else.
It was just a brawl but the long days and nights and the frustration of getting nowhere was taking its toll. Jim Bland was no one to fool around with. Pollard had seen him in action too many times. He wasn't surprised when he grabbed the billy club and he wasn't surprised at the viciousness of the blow. Bland wasn't hitting a fag or breaking up a brawl. He was striking out at frustration.
Pollard had been a cop too long. What it meant to be a cop in the fifties was nothing like what it meant in the seventies. Now there would be fallout, and both men knew that.
"See the paper?"
"Yeah, fuckin' Post. A bunch of candy ass commie sympathizers over there. My luck one of them would be on scene."
"Anyone call you?"
"No, we're going in to headquarters. I'll hear from the big nigger. No doubt about that."
"He's a commander, Jim."
"Yeah, well that don't change what he is."
"It might help if you'd change your attitude."
"They're setting this fag up to be some kind of a hero. That makes us look worse, you know. Picking on the poor helpless fags. I told him to stop. He didn't listen is all."
"You see the size of that dude? Biggest fucking faggot I ever saw. What did that fairy call him? 'Stanley, you stop it!' " Pollard squealed for Bland in a falsetto voice and they both howled remembering the incident.
"I figured him for a redneck. You know, someone said something to him he didn't like," Bland said. "What's the punch line? I don't get it, do you?"
"Yeah, who'd figure a guy that size would be a…."
"Well it was obvious neither one of them were clever enough to be the guy we want. It was just a street fight. Judgment call in my book. Tie goes to the runner. I'm not worried. You back me up and Internal Affairs won't have leg to stand on."
"You don't think Brown is going to let IA get within a mile of this, do you?" Pollard asked. "He stands by his men, Jim. He'll probably take a bite out of your ass but he won't sell you out."
"I don't know. He's a tough old bird. He might need to toss someone to those fags over at the Post. If they hadn't written it up, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
It was three in the afternoon when Detective Bland finally got around to reporting to Commander Brown's office.
"I'll let him know you're out here." Connell said as Bland appeared at the top of the steps.
"I'll let him know. Don't bother yourself," replied Bland as he sauntered down the corridor.
He could hear the intercom before he got to the door. He was going to just barge in, show Brown he wasn't scared of him, but he hesitated and knocked two short raps with his knuckle.
"In!" Came the reply.
Jim Bland dropped into the chair, cocking his leg up over the arm and resting his head on the back. "You want to talk to me?"
The silence permeated the room as Brown stared down the detective. Their eyes stayed locked until Bland blinked.
"You're not going to be here long enough to sit down, boy."
Bland flinched. He pushed himself up.
"This incident last night. You know I should toss you to IA and let them sort it out?"
"Wouldn't look good."
"You've got two of these on your record. One in '65 and one in '67," Brown said, looking into the jacket on his desk.
"You know how it was, Brown. They were asking for it. Getting together in their bars to flaunt their queer goings on. We had to keep them in their place. You can't let a thing like that get out'a control. You know how it was."
"Yeah, I'm aware of things like that. But it's not like that anymore, times have changed," Brown stated.
" I wouldn't pull your ass out of the fire on a beef like this ordinarily. Your days are numbered. You and those like you. These boys are the last ones you can intimidate. You can't even beat your wives any more."
"Are we going to make a point here or should I sit back down until you get around to it?"
"I wouldn't care if you weren't a good cop. I need all the good cops I can get on this thing. They threw me you and Pollard, Stevens, and Boyd because no body else will work with you. So, yeah, you've figured out my ass is on the line, but I'm here to let you know, you're on your way down that long lonesome highway in this department. Assigning you to me is one step away from your feet hitting the street."
"So I got to figure, you being a smart fellow and all, you're going to play ball with me even if it torque's your jaws to do it. If you play ball and we crack this, you'll be right back in the cat bird seat. So we can go at each other or we can get this guy before they take it away from us."
There was no cute reply or comeback that Bland could think of, because he knew every word was true. "What do I do to make this go away? If you can square me with IA I'll do it your way."
"What do you have on the Strangler?"
"Nothing. He leaves nothing. You've seen the reports."
"There's an office down the hall. I'm having you, Boyd, Stevens, and Pollard assigned here. No more playing in the field like you're unassigned. I want to know what's going on. You can run your own schedule and do your own investigating, but I want to know the results. It's the only way we're going to finish this."
"This assault beef?"
"I'm working on it. I think we can talk to this guy. Make him see pressing charges isn't in his best interest," Commander Brown said, looking at the Post on the corner of his desk. "Mann."
"He's a fag," Bland was venomous.
"He's a citizen and he deserves our protection. His personal habits don't interest me if he hasn't broken any laws."
"We'll play it your way Commander."
Brown's eyes were once more tightly fixed to Bland. He flipped his fingers outward from the fat palm that was pointed down and he went back to the folder in front of him. Bland had been dismissed.
He didn't waste any time going out. He climbed into the passenger seat of the car. Pollard had already moved behind the wheel, knowing his partner and knowing as bad as his partner drove, it became worse when he was angry.
"Let's get the fuck out of here."
"Okay, boss. You put him in his place?"
"He'll be fine. We're assigned here now."
"Nothing has changed. We do daily reports," Bland said, exchanging glances with his partner. "I had to give him something. We'll still do it our way. We're all he's got. Boyd and Stevens don't know shit about shit."
"What have we here?" Pollard stared. "That's the guy from last night. What's he doing here?"
"Yeah, Brown's going to take care of it."
Pollard looked at Bland and then watched Robert entering the building.
"You think the Post is going to drop it?"
"I don't care about the Post."
"This guy could do you a lot of harm, buddy. You know they're out to be treated like normal people. He might be one of those activist characters. He stood toe to toe with a guy that out weighed him by fifty pounds. They're making queers different than when I was young."
"He's a fag," Bland said. "He'll do what he's told. Brown said he'll make sure he knows it would be a lot healthier for him to drop this thing."
"His health might have a lot more serious problems than worrying about cops busting his ass."
"Why do you say that?"
"He's on the goddamn front of the fucking Washington fucking Post. There's a guy out there whose favorite past time is killing fags. You don't think he don't read the goddamn Washington fucking Post?"
"Yeah, he reads it. He reads it every day. Tell you what, old buddy, you get me the goods on this Mann. Go tickle that honey you're always meeting. I want to know whether he uses three sheets or four when he wipes his ass after taking a dump. Can you handle that?"
"We might should stay away from this Mann character, Jimmy."
"Yeah, that would be the easy thing. Like you say, he's got a bulls eye on his back. I just want to know a little more about Mr. Mann."
"You got it. I don't like it but you got it."
"Send him on back."
Robert found himself standing in front of the commander's desk and he felt more than a little bit nervous. He was even more nervous than the first time he had been there.
"Take off the damn glasses! Damn! He laid your ass out."
"I'm still a little woozy. I never even saw it."
"What were you thinking?" Commander Brown growled.
"That it might be him… I didn't think… I mean, when I got there this guy was laying out guys and I went on automatic. I laid him out."
"Yes, and look what you got for your trouble. What am I going to do with you?"
"You're on the front page of the Post. Your usefulness as an undercover cop is shot. I've got to pull you off this thing."
"They don't know I'm cop. I'm just a guy who hit another guy."
"Yeah, but my instincts tell me that I never should have put you out there in the first place. I'm getting a chance to undo that mistake, and I'm not going to pass on it. You can't report up to Northwest looking like that. Just you keep a low profile and I'll figure out what I'm going to do with you. Can you do that without getting in the papers?"
"Yes, sir," Mann said, having the urge to grin but knowing better. So he just nodded as Commander Brown stared at him.
"Get out of here. You might want to look up the meanings of both undercover and subtle."
Mann stopped at Connell's desk.
"I think he's pulling me off this."
"Let me worry about Commander Brown. You keep on with what I have instructed you to do. I'll take care of this end."
As Robert headed towards the stairs, Connell added, "And stay out of the papers."
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