A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
Henry's was an upscale Hubbard House and went through similar personality changes each day. It was mostly straight with a conservative clientele during the day. Being located on Capital Hill and having excellent food and good service brought congressional staff and government workers from the nearby offices. By the middle of dinner gay men were occupying as many tables as straight men and couples. By the time the dinner hour was winding down, the majority of the crowd was gay.
Robert enjoyed the food and in spite of the creaking wood floors, he found the place to his liking. He'd only been in once before for a quick sandwich but he had passed it a dozen times on the way to Southeast and the more bizarre and outrageous bars. Henry's was the last stop before entering the fringe of safety provided for the Hill and the new residents that were buying up the old rundown rowhouses and converting them to upscale townhouses one by one.
He asked to be seated in the room furthest to the rear. It wasn't very crowded and there was no cross traffic. He could relax and enjoy his meal while observing the people around him. There was one more thing that drew him to Henry's. While most of the bodies the DC Strangler scattered around were left elsewhere, Robert felt closest to him here.
The first time he had been in Henry's, the feeling that the killer was close had never left him. He had looked into each face for some clue but nothing was revealed. It occurred to him that when the Strangler was caught this would be an area he frequented.
Robert remembered thinking, "if I had more experience I could catch him." He shook his head at his own naiveté, not knowing that's what it was. He thought, he must have seen about a million faces since the last time he was at Henry's, and he didn't know if he had seen the killer's or not.
Even more disturbing, Robert didn't have that feeling at all now. The only time he thought about the killer was when he realized he hadn't thought about him. Had the Strangler actually been there on his first visit?
Well, tonight he was here for the food and he remembered the words undercover and subtle. He wasn't sure why Commander Brown hadn't sent him packing right off. It wasn't his bruised face, because if he wanted him off the case, he'd have dismissed him.
Robert became aware that he didn't want to be off the case. He knew something, but he knew it wasn't nearly enough. It was the kind of thing that got into him and it wasn't going to get out. In spite of his discomfort, the case was a part of him. He was invested in it and the furthest thought from his mind was quitting. He wasn't a quitter and he wouldn't quit now. He'd play it cool and with Mike's persistence there was a good probability he could stay on. He wondered if he would continue coming to the bars and gay haunts even if he was reassigned?
Right now he was going to eat, and Mr. Strangler could do whatever he wanted until he was finished. Robert sat looking at the menu for several minutes, not sure about the strength in his sore jaw. He couldn't decide and so he just ordered the Porterhouse steak charred and a Black Jack and Ginger Ale while he waited. He liked dark beer with his meal but he thought the whiskey might ease the discomfort near his temple. The pain ran into the hinge of his jaw. He found himself rubbing his head as he thought about the ugly bruise. He wondered if there would be a remnant that might mar his face. He rubbed the back of his neck and waited for the liquor.
"Hey, babe, would you have an aspirin you could spare?" He asked as the waitress set down the drink.
She took a close look at him for the first time and her dispassionate demeanor turned to one of concern. "Oh, baby, you stood up when you should have shut up?"
"Something like that," Robert chuckled.
"Yeah, mama's got a bottle in her purse. Don't leave home with out it. I'll bring a few back."
Robert immediately saw Phil's face on the waitress when she called herself mama. Why would Phil demean himself like that? It was all too confusing.
There was no flirtatious interaction after she brought back the aspirin. Her demeanor slowly turned back to the detached server who knew her place, even after she observed something about a customer that alarmed her and called for extra attention to set right.
She was efficient and even knew to bring the A-1 sauce before he asked for it. The onion rings were cold and she replaced them in short order. The room was not even ten feet across, so the waitress was always near. He watched her as she waited on another man a few tables away. He noticed she was trim and attractive for her age. He calculated thirty-five to forty. She never once pretended she didn't realize Robert was there. She knew and she let him know she knew in passing, but he didn't need anything else. She had left two extra aspirin after dinner came.
As his mind wandered, the waitress came to his elbow, speaking softly into his ear, "Sir… sir," the waitress repeated herself when there was no immediate reply.
"Yes," he said absently.
"The gentleman at the table just there," she indicated with her head that she was speaking about the man by the opposite wall he'd watched her serve.
"He asked that I serve you this wine." She held it gingerly for him to inspect. "I'm to say it is a particular favorite of his and he thought you would find it goes excellently with steak."
The first instinct as a red blooded American boy was to laugh and decline the offer, but he caught himself. He remembered what he was doing and why. He took her wrist the way he had seen it done in the movies and turned it gently until he could read the label without moving his head closer to the bottle.
"Fine," he said.
He nodded at the smiling little man, who then tipped his wineglass toward Robert's table. He wore silver rimmed glasses and a three-piece charcoal gray suit. His hair was just starting to gray. The waitress, who was now blocking the view of the man broke the contact.
"You may pour, and thank the gentlemen for his kindness."
"I'd have bet no every time," she said, letting down her guard for only the few moments it took her to open and pour the wine. "Mama's slipping."
Robert was no gentleman and he knew he couldn't pass for a gentleman even if he tried but he had no doubts that his benefactor was. The small man was too small to be the man he wanted to find. Perhaps he knew something or someone who might know something. He'd leaned on Phil for contacts long enough. All of those kept him in Northwest and he needed to branch out.
As the waitress moved off he checked to see if the man was still interested. He nodded approval with a smile as he sipped from the glass. It was mellow and enhanced the flavor of the charred steak. He broke off the smile and went back to his meal, not wanting to appear too receptive.
The thought crossed his mind that this is how a woman might act if receiving wine from a strange man. How much interest without showing too much? Who made up the rules, Robert wondered, while cutting more steak?
A few minutes passed before the waitress returned to his table and once more leaned close to his ear. "The gentlemen's card, sir. He asks that you not think him forward, but he would like to join you for an after dinner drink, nothing more. He specified that I be sure to add that, nothing more… and if you believe that one, hon, I got some swamp property I can let you have cheap."
Robert tried not to smile at that last bit. He looked at the card, studying it for a clue about the man.
Albert Forestall III
Antiques - buy & sell
There were home and business numbers. It was obvious to him that he was on the up end of a pick-up. He reasoned the man to be no threat and he could be a valuable source of information. There was also something exciting about the contact.
"I would be pleased to have him join me." He felt self-conscious because he knew what the waitress was thinking. He might have asked her name and perhaps spoken of having a drink some time, but not now.
"Fool me twice, shame on me," the waitress muttered as she stood. "I'm really losing my touch. He's out'a your league hon."
Robert watched the man carefully gather up his belongings after hearing the answer he was looking for. There was an umbrella, a topcoat that he folded over his arm, a fancy dark hat, and a briefcase. He glided over and placed the items on the only vacant chair, all without making any eye contact. The man was five foot eight and no more than a hundred and fifty pounds. He was immaculately dressed and looked elegant. He seated himself directly across from Robert, arranged his things and himself completely, folded his hands in front of him and stared. He then extended his hand across the table.
Robert adjusted the intensity of his grip to match the delicacy in the stranger's handshake then sat back and waited.
"Excuse the accoutrements." He sat straight up as he spoke and gave one hundred percent of his attention to his new companion. "You have mine. May I have yours?" Albert asked, staring into the black lenses.
Robert thought for a second before remembering that the card had given him Albert's name and he had yet to give his.
"Ro.... Bobby... Mann."
"Well, Ro... Bobby Mann, I suppose you're wondering why this old man has interrupted your lovely meal with wine and then has seated himself at your table?"
"Yes," Robert answered, looking at the wine and then into the man's face. He tried to be casual. He let a slight smile crack his lips as he looked away from the wine.
"Eyes," the man said uncomfortably looking away. "I can't talk if I can't see your eyes." The stress was obvious in Albert's voice.
Robert let the smile come back to his lips. He removed the glasses and set them beside his plate.
Albert looked into his face for several seconds. "Magnificent. Now, the picture is complete," the man said. "And it is as I suspected."
"Mid-central tribe, not Crow, certainly not Sioux. You may help me if you wish. I've gone as far as I can go without you."
Robert lost his composure and the image he was attempting to project was lost. There was a certain amount of amazement at the man's knowledge. "How in hell did you know that? No one knows that. No one has ever asked."
"I am a student of all beautiful things, not simply bobbles and gems but people. I wasn't sure without seeing your eyes. It was then I was sure of your Indian nature. The skin is all wrong," Albert shook his head, almost disapproving. "But the cheeks and hair left little doubt, and once I saw you up close, it left no doubt. Native American, yes. And then there is the complication that mixed blood brings to the picture."
" Amazing, and I'm rarely amazed," Robert said.
"You may call me, Albert, and I shall call you Bobby."
" That's fine."
"You see, I'm a humble student of your people. I am a collector of original Native artifacts. Not for keeping, you understand, but for safekeeping, and for my own pleasure. Such wonderful people and their culture! Far superior to this, but of course you know that. Such a shame that Europeans are so arrogant. There was so much to learn and all they knew how to do was destroy. It's the threat of newness and their need for total control. It's the curse of the white man. It will do us in one day."
" Life goes on," Robert said, not wanting to go there.
"So many Indian boys leave the ancestral homes, never to return. Tell me you haven't forsaken who you are, Bobby. Tell me you will go home again."
" Nothing on the res. You've got to get on with your life. There is no great culture left that provides for you. You've got to leave to find a way to make a living."
" The children represent that which was; that which could be again one day," Albert spoke pensively.
"You're here. If you find the reservation so great, you could live there. My mother was white. She lived there."
"Oh mercy! I couldn't make it on the plains. My stock is not hardy enough for the rigors of teepee life. Could you, is the question?"
" Never lived in a teepee. We've all got houses, some have trailers. We weren't teepee Indians. Mud huts, mostly, back then."
" It's all about time," Albert said.
" How do you measure time? I never knew about the old ways."
" It's been almost a hundred years since Custer. That's where the Indian was beaten for the final time."
" The Sioux kicked his ass," Robert said. "We scouted for Custer. The Sioux weren't our favorite people at that time."
" Yes, but it was only a moral victory, that event ended any chance the Indian had to somehow coexist. They were exiles in their own land once they killed Custer."
"Where does the skin come from," Albert quizzed.
"Irish mother, Katy Kelly."
"Irish, Native American," the man said thoughtfully. "You are a walking advertisement for mixing the races. You must have gotten the best of both worlds. Can I know the tribe? I can only guess."
"Ah, celebration of corn! Language? Don't tell me. Caddoan, I believe. Do you speak it?"
"A few words. The old guys still talk the lingo but we learn English right away. I think it was a law way back when. If they spoke Caddoan in front of whites, they got in deep shit."
"Yes, it's shameful. Fort Berthold? Mandan and Hidatsa also reside there. I believe it is found along the Missouri River beyond the Platte, is it not? North Dakota?"
"Albert, you scare me. Where did you learn this stuff?"
"Ah, I am fascinated by anything Indian. I have a researcher near Pine Ridge. He researches pieces of interest that have come into my possession from that region. You are cousins to the Pawnee and Skidi, are you not?"
"Amazing! You are good. I haven't talked to anyone about this since I came here."
"Yes, a shame."
"You do know your shit," Robert said, letting down the façade somewhat.
"And why did you leave the reservation? I find it hard to understand how native peoples can live among the whites after what we did to you."
"Didn't belong actually. I was never all that welcome on the res."
"How could you not belong? You are magnificent. They are magnificent. You belong."
"My color isn't beautiful to everyone. You see.... Native American's are bigots too, many of them. They have no use for whites for some reason or other. I think my father was ashamed of me. Once my mother died he shipped me back East. I'm white now. All that's ancient history."
" I'm sorry about your mother. Bigotry can't change who you are. Skin color has little to do with character. There's still time."
"I am white. I didn't fit. Here I am," Robert said, wondering how they had gotten so deeply involved in a past he had left behind.
"It's obvious this is quite painful for you. You have much to resolve in your heart. You did look a bit lonely and I only thought I might be able to brighten what appears to have been a tough day. I see I have failed miserably in this pursuit and you have my profound apology." Albert studied the bruise on the side of Robert's face as he spoke.
" It was nice of you to try. I've enjoyed the wine. Why don't you have a glass," Robert said, waving the waitress over for another glass.
"I'm a photographer," Albert said.
"Uh huh!" The waitress said as she was walking away.
"The card says antiques," Robert reminded him.
"Oh yes! But photography is part of a bigger picture. I've often been called on to photograph the individual pieces in a collection or estate. That way they can be sold any number of ways. People see the photograph and can inquire about an item that interests them."
"I meant what I said about being interested in your culture. I have quite a collection of Indian artifacts at my home. I have gathered photographs of Indian peoples for some years. I don't sell those. They are part of my personal collection. You might be interested in seeing them," Albert said. "Perhaps you can find some of what you've lost."
" I've lost nothing."
" You are so young," Albert said with disapproval in his voice. "Then there's no reason for me to invite you. If you should ever change your mind you have my numbers. I do have many Indian pieces at the house, but I assume those are of no interest in your current state of mind."
"All in all I'd say this has been quite a failure on my part. Reminding you of a past you seek only to forget. At least the wine was a hit and I didn't bat zero."
" I suppose you're right about forgetting. It's easier just forgetting." Robert looked around the small room as he spoke.
Albert waited to see if Robert might finish the thought and hence leave an opening which he might slip through. He didn't meet many people who interested him any longer and that was especially true in Washington DC.
" My father forced me to leave. He didn't want me there once momma died. To spite him I cut off all my hair. That's the one thing about his son he had always bragged about. That damn long black Indian hair, and so I left it in the middle of the floor. He wasn't even there when I left. Morgan Swift Deer drove me to the bus station nearest the res."
" That must have been quite painful for him to see," Albert said. "It is quite sad for me to hear. I wish there were some words that might reduce the pain for you."
" He never said goodbye. He wasn't there and I was gone when he came back. He knew when he found the hair… he knew what it meant. I'm sure he knew why I did it. It was my break with a past that had no future for me. That hair had caught me hell all my life. I wore it as a badge of honor when I was a kid because it was the only part of me that was Indian."
" Your heart? Your soul… Sishu I believe? These were not Indian? You may say no, but I hear it in your voice."
" The only part you could see. My father obviously never knew what was in my heart. I would never have left if he hadn't forced me out."
" Maybe he did what he thought was best for you. Maybe he did it for you and you were too young… are too young, to understand."
" He was ashamed of me. He didn't have to hear any more crap about the half breed living in his house."
" Albert has done it again? I'm sorry that my nature has me trying to help when my help has neither been asked for nor is needed. Of course you have every right to feel as you do. This is the life you have chosen."
"Perhaps we can do some business though. I want to photograph you. I must photograph you if you'll tolerate such a thing." Albert spoke decisively and moved items around the table as he looked at them.
"Because you are you, totally unique to all others."
"I don't know," Robert said.
"Might I inquire if you are employed at present?"
"No. I'm between."
"You see, there is a way I can make up for my impertinence. I will pay handsomely, and if anything comes of the pictures, I will sign over all rights to you. I merely want you as part of my collection, a representation of what couldn't be accomplished in the last century, the perfect harmony between the European and the Indian. Humor me. You are too lovely a boy for me to leave behind. I'd be so pleased if you said yes."
" You are a strange bird, Albert. You believe this, don't you?"
" I'm not a man given to folly. I'm passionate about the things I do. I know what you think. Dirty old man sees handsome young man and moves in for the kill. My days of thinking I can sweep some beautiful boy off his feet are long past. I have no illusions about who it is I am or what it is we are doing. Certainly I would find your company enjoyable, whether or not you want to sit for my camera. I'm not looking for a meaningless encounter that leaves me empty and alone once you've departed. I can quell my loneliness any time I wish to purchase the services of one of the many boys who sit still for such a thing if the price is right. You are not such a boy and not for a second did I think you were. Everything I've said has been as I've said it. There are no ulterior motives or contemplation of conquest here. What you see is what you get in spite of our waitress's doubt."
Robert chuckled, remembering her swamp property. "I do believe you, Albert. You are quite a gentleman, and I will confess that I know little about gentlemen, except I know you are one. It's not hard to see."
" Your spirit sees true," Albert said with an admiring smile. "I'm glad. I would never want someone I admire to think ill of my motives. While this may not have always been true, it is the truth now."
"Ah, I suspect there is some past in your life that we haven't uncovered yet," Robert said, leaning on the table and smiling.
"If you only knew. I may be a gentlemen now, but it was not always so. Age does have a way of tempering the steel. So, will you sit for me?"
"I'm not gay. I would never pose nude. Never!"
" Understood and was never considered."
"Where does this photography take place?" Robert asked. "Will you destroy any pictures you take if I don't like them?"
" You do have such a right. I will merely be the custodian of your image. The pictures will always belong to you. I can have that written up."
" I'm not saying yes, I'm saying if. I've never been photographed."
"I have a house in Georgetown, "O" Street. I am comfortable working there. I've not had any complaints. That should be an endorsement of sorts."
"When? When would you do this… this photography?"
"Certainly not tonight. I couldn't do you justice tonight. In fact I'm about ready for a relaxing sit in the hot Jacuzzi, and most certainly a few drinks stronger than the wine. It'll take the edge off of what proved to be an absolutely horrid trip, which completed an equally horrible week. I just returned from Seattle a few hours ago. Rain. Rain. Rain. Wind. Ghastly week! Nothing went as scheduled."
"When, Albert? I have your address."
"I'll be going there after dinner. Car?"
"Something racy I'm assuming. Black with red interior and four on the floor no doubt."
" Blue convertible with a rip in the roof, an automatic."
" I see. If you would like, and have no other engagements, you may take me to my house. You can see where it is. You can come in and see it and see if you would be comfortable there, or you can view it from your vehicle and move on.
"You have my card and my numbers and if you wish to part company here, I do understand. Though you do look rather like you could use a hot Jacuzzi about now. I'm not the only one that had an absolutely horrid week, and I'm sure you have no fear of little Albert."
"Albert. Shame on you. We've just met, and you are taking me home with you? What if I am a highwayman and I decide to bust you in the head or worse?" Robert said with a touch of humor in his voice.
Albert studied Robert for a moment before saying, "Like you, I'm a keen judge of character. If you were capable of such acts, you wouldn't hesitate in taking up an invitation into my home. A criminal is an opportunist. You aren't a robber. In fact I feel quite safe with you for some reason. You have an aura of safety around you."
"We are both alone and obviously going nowhere. By the looks of you, you might need company as well, and that's why you are out instead of home nursing a serious bruise. I won't pry. Albert does not go where he is not wanted."
"The Strangler is no common criminal. He must be pretty smart to have stayed in the shadows all this time," Robert observed.
"You see, you don't even like criminals. You are angry about his success. He takes innocent victims and you detest that as we all do."
"Okay, Albert, that's enough of the mind reading. No one likes cold-blooded killers. Let's leave it at that. It makes me nervous."
"Yes, I suppose you are correct. With that disposed of, if you wish to come to check out my story, you will find that I am just as I say, and with that knowledge we can rest easy in one another's company, enjoy the hot Jacuzzi, a cold drink, or two or…, some quiet conversation. I have so much enjoyed talking to you.
"The photography is secondary tonight. You may come back to it if you so desire, or you may not. There is still the ride and the hot Jacuzzi to be considered."
"Hot Jacuzzi?" Robert said. "And conversation."
"Hot Jacuzzi and conversation only."
"As you wish."
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