A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
"Connell, you out there?"
"When am I not out here when you're here, sir?"
"Yeah, come on back. Any coffee in that Bunn?"
"Yes, sir. It's a little late for coffee, sir."
"Talk to my wife about it and bring me a damn cup."
Connell prepared the cup as usual and carried it back with him, careful not to spill any on his uniform.
"Sit," Commander Brown said, leaning back in his chair and looking at his aide. "You know how damn young you look, son?"
"No, sir, and I don't feel that young. This time of day I feel pretty old."
"I was shot back in '51. Got caught in a crossfire at a liquor store robbery. Want to compare scars?"
"What makes you tick, son? Why all this time and attention for a spent old war horse that they've stuck over here so far from the action that I've got to get my information by smoke signals?"
"The buzz I get is that you're moving the detectives in here."
"Yeah, well, no one has moved in yet, and I expect at least one of them to complain to headquarters. So it's anyone's guess."
" You ever wonder why we're over here?"
"No, sir. That's not my job."
"Yeah, well, we're out of the line of fire. We're so damn far out of the line that no one knows I'm in charge of this deal."
"What's your stake in this, Mike?" Commander Brown was puzzled. He had found himself thinking about it more and more, and he wanted to know what motivated the young cop. He was playing a hunch.
"I don't understand, sir."
"I've worked with a lot officers… for a lot, I should say. There's something about you and this case. You seem to have quite a bit riding on getting this guy. There's more going on with you in this case than you have let on."
"Number three. Preston Stroud. We… lived together for awhile."
"Is that the good Catholic boy from DeMatha? He was married," Commander Brown knew the facts and didn't need the case file to cite them. "Securities & Exchange Commission. He had a daughter."
"I'm married," Connell replied. "I have a daughter. We actually matched up quite well together in most areas. He was very nervous about it. I was the first man he lived with. He said he fooled around some in college before he met his wife. He was sure a good woman was all he needed to straighten him out."
"He should have stuck with that. My son, Kenneth, he never told me anything about being in trouble. We knew there was something wrong of course. He died the same year as that white Blue's singer, Joplin. I remember her because of Scott Joplin. Same cause, you know, they found him with the needle." Commander Brown became uneasy. "So we didn't get to deny it as much as we wanted to. I mean, there it was in black and white. Our little boy was a junkie and his daddy was a cop that couldn't see for looking. I never thought it was that. I'm a cop and I never thought it was that." He cleared his throat with a cough. "You go to this fellow's funeral… Preston? I don't remember you being off."
"No! His family requested that I didn't. I went by the funeral home in the evening. It was all quite respectable."
"She wasn't in the picture any longer. He tried to go back but he couldn't. It was too powerful in him. It ate on him all the time."
"But not you?"
"But not me. He needed more as in quantity of contacts. It's difficult to explain to someone who hasn't struggled with it all his life. I couldn't give him what he needed and I couldn't watch him do what he was doing."
"Does your father know, Mike?"
Commander Brown leaned back in his chair as he listened and formed his questions carefully before speaking.
"My father? No way. First he'd blame himself and then he'd drag me to church to save my immortal soul. No, I wouldn't ever do that to my father. The church has high standards when it comes to the gay thing."
"How can you keep a secret like that from your family? I wonder why a good looking fellow like you leaves his wife for…. Mike, you know I'm trying to understand, not to disrespect you."
"Commander, I was living a lie. I was with my wife because it made me look good. I was going to lie to my daughter about who her father really was, and I couldn't. That beautiful little child isn't going to grow up thinking her father is someone he isn't. I guess having my daughter was what made me face who I was. I'm not a liar and I resented having to lie about that all my life. I don't lie any more."
"Still, the logistics kind of throw me, and I have no desire to know what it is you guys do, but a man and woman, that's pretty clear to me. Why would you prefer a guy to that?"
"Do you mind if I ask what position you like best with your wife, sir? And how is it you decided on that particular position? Something in your childhood maybe?"
"Yeah, exactly. Why is it so damn important then? What is it that makes them worry so much about what other men are doing with their knobs? Maybe they've got nothing going on with their wives? When I was a kid I don't remember ever hearing a damn thing about fags or queers or even homosexuals. When did it become so important for us to know about a thing like that? What has changed that has some whacko out there killing guys?"
"We're more visible now, easier to find and less willing to keep the secret. We have bars and places to go to meet. The preachers have made it even more of an issue. So you might say it's about God, sir."
"How the hell did God get into it?"
"Once you put Him in the argument, well, there is no argument for a lot of people that listen to preachers who claim they are plugged into God. You claim God says gay men are wicked and going to hell, and that's the way it is. Makes it easy to hate and want to hurt someone not as good as you. There's a lot of hate out there."
"God said a lot of things, Mike, but we don't persecute liars and adulterers the way we go after gays. I think it was meant to be an object lesson. You don't stone kids that lie to their parents, even though the Bible tells you to. I don't think the bible is about hate."
"When they've got God on their side, that's what it amounts to. When you stand up and fight the hatred, they claim you're attacking the family. We are their sons and daughters and we come from their families, but they can't explain that. That part isn't in the bible."
"Damned if you do, damned if you don't? Were you close to your father? I'm sorry! I guess it's none of my business, but I'm trying to understand."
"Yes! We still are close. We go to ball games, and catch a movie now and then. I go home on holidays and birthdays. My wife calls and they're close to our daughter. My wife still sees them but it's painful for her."
"I thought it was boys that didn't have fathers or their mothers are bossy. What's that about? You sound pretty normal. I mean your family sounds fine."
"I don't know about any of that. My family was all I could ask for. They encouraged me all my life. I went to good schools. Even when I decided to become a cop they helped me. My mother hated the idea but she never said so to me. She said she knew I was going to get hurt after I was shot. My parents love me and what I am has nothing to do with them. I'm sure of that."
"Not a thing. I've always had the feelings as far back as I can remember. I still don't understand them but I had them when I was real young. I was in love with my next door neighbor when I was seven."
"Nathaniel Crump. Natty they called him."
"I've sat here looking at these names and wondering why they're dead. You know it's never for the reason we think. It's never that simple. Some guy who hates fags. That won't be it."
"I don't know. I'm swimming up stream."
"You know, sir. I've been thinking," Connell said, leaning forward and clasping his hands in between his knees. "Mann, he's inside now. Pulling him out won't solve anything."
"He's interacted with two of the taskforce. Leaving him in merely complicates what they're doing. It's not kosher to keep them in the dark now that they've discovered Mann."
"Think about it. He's out there. He could be close to something. He's been on the front page of the Post, sir. The Strangler reads the Post. I've got to figure that Robert Mann is of interest to him if only because he perceives that he's gay and now he knows his name. If I was this guy I'd have noticed him."
"He's not gay and what you're suggesting is we leave him out there because he might get the attention of the killer off of other men who are. Do you know you're risking his life if you're right?"
"We're cops. We risk our lives every day. I risked mine. You risked yours. Mann is going to have to risk his if he wants to be a good cop. Leave him out there. Let's see what happens. Do we want to catch this guy or not?"
There was a long pause before Commander Brown spoke, "…And if what we think can happen does happen?" Commander Brown leaned so far back in his chair as he contemplated the thought that Connell wondered if he might roll off the back, but his eyes never left the young cop.
"I haven't gotten that far. I don't know what the consequences might be, but what else do we have? He's where we want him to be. Let's use him is all I'm saying."
"He's a fucking kid. He's still wet behind the ears and you want to use him as bait? Coming from anyone else, I'd cut him off at the knees, Connell. I've thought about it. I haven't pulled him out because I guess I'm a callused son of a bitch. I want to get this guy before he makes anyone else dead."
"Exactly, sir. We all want the same thing."
The house stood three levels above the street and had a two car garage at street level. Stairs went up either side of the front porch to meet at the front door one flight up. Albert had told Robert that he flew in to National Airport and took a cab to Henry's for dinner. He had a Mercedes but he had left it in the shop for routine maintenance while he was out of town.
Robert passed within two blocks of Albert's when he was on his way home from Georgetown. It wasn't an area he had explored beyond the few blocks behind the Georgetown Grill. There had been no cause for him to investigate any of the high dollar homes. He certainly didn't expect to be visiting someone in one of them. He took time to admire the other houses while Albert unlocked a door between the front staircase and the garage doors.
He hesitated long enough to admire the old brick on Albert's house. It really was old. Polished black wooden steps led up to the first floor of the house. The staircase was uneven and the steps creaked under foot but the wood was particularly beautiful and had received good care over the years. He wondered if some Revolutionary figure might have once climbed these stairs on his way to a meeting of patriots. At the top of the stairs they came out into a foyer.
Albert kicked off his shoes and put on the waiting slippers. "If you don't mind Bobby. There are several pairs of cloth slippers hanging just inside the door, or your socks are fine if you prefer. I like to keep the carpets separated from the street grime."
Robert pulled off one shoe and then the other. The light gray wall to wall carpet felt plush under his tube socks. He could see that it was immaculate. He remembered the hard wood floors of the cabin where he was raised and the dirt that gathered on it after his mother's death. He knew this was the other side of the world from the reservation.
Albert turned into the dinning area and flicked on the lights. He led Robert into the next room that had a television and a bar. There was a complimentary Miller's sign above the liquor cabinet. "Something to drink?"
" Coke, is fine."
"Ever cautious," Albert mused with an English lilt in his voice. "You are safe Bobby. You will find no lechery here for Albert is an honorable man, but a bit of a drunkard when he's home alone late at night."
Robert sipped the Coke he was handed as he watched Albert preparing a pitcher of martinis. Albert carried the pitcher as he led the way into the kitchen to the side porch which held the Jacuzzi.
"Let me see what I have in the way of suits. I don't usually wear one but in your honor I shall." Albert's voice had taken on the French accent that Robert had recognized in it at Henry's. He wondered if Albert was from Europe originally or perhaps visited there often.
Albert returned wearing a pair of cotton trunks and handed Robert a pair.
"There's a bathroom at the back of the porch where you may change."
Albert was in the Jacuzzi when Robert came out. He held his martini up a safe six inches above the bubbling foam and watched his guest approach.
Robert took time to admire the decorative redwood that surrounded the tub. It felt incredibly smooth under his feet as he eased himself into the warm water. "Oh, that's so nice," Robert leaned his head back in a way that put the rounded redwood under his neck.
"It's real redwood. Quite a lovely texture. I enjoy fine things. It's my weakness. That and booze… and boys. You are even more lovely without the covering."
"One mustn't mistake appreciation for lust, Bobby. There is a distinct difference between art and a picture."
"We aren't going there. 'A hot Jacuzzi and conversation only.'"
"This is conversation. Why did you accept my invitation?"
"Not because I'm interested in anything but the Jacuzzi."
"That's not true. There is something you aren't saying."
The music in the background was sixties rock that sounded like it might be on reel to reel tape. Robert had figured Albert for an elevator music man but he continued to surprise him. He recognized each tune and couldn't help singing along. Albert sang along as well.
He'd met a lot of gay men in the past few weeks and except for Phil, Albert was the first one he'd enjoyed being around, not for any reason other than he was good company and Robert was positive he was a good friend to the people that knew him. Albert was a nice person and that was the something Robert wasn't saying, and the something Albert had no ability to hide. It was a refreshing change from the artificial life he'd found in the gay bars.
"What was your occupation? If you don't mind me asking?"
"I'm actually in between right now. Whatever comes along."
" Yes, so you said. In-between would indicate leaving one field and perhaps going toward another. Is that a fair assumption?"
" Yes, I'm not sure where I might end up."
" What was your occupation of choice while you were still living with your people?"
" You'll laugh. Policeman. I wasn't one. I wanted to be one."
" No, I shan't laugh. There is a character of protectiveness that surrounds you. I feel quite safe in your company. I'm seldom wrong about people. It is my business."
" How so?"
" You certainly have the physical attributes. You could be, you know, an officer of the law. It would take no imagination to see you as such."
"Maybe one day."
"It's a long story."
"We are in a hurry? The Jacuzzi is on a timer, but I can alter the cycle for as long as it takes. I'd like to know more. Could you not humor a lonely old man for a time?"
"The reservation deputy was always nice to me. He told me about the job. I wanted to do his job once he retired. That's what I thought then."
"He was old?"
"I don't know. I never thought of Swift Deer as old. Everyone was old when I was ten as I recall."
"So, you are here. That's a long way from a reservation deputy sheriff."
"Tell me about it. Some things you can't do anything about."
"Hasn't it in some way stolen your identity? Being here so far from your dream?"
"That was there. This is here."
"Yes, I know. You wanted a certain thing while you were there. Now you are here. Hasn't that robbed you in some way?"
"There are no opportunities there. Most of the kids leave."
"Yes, we've been quite efficient at destroying the native cultures but you said you didn't leave willingly. You might have stayed?"
"I wouldn't know," Robert said. "I didn't. I'm here. Why think about it?"
"Your father. What is it that your father does?"
"Breaks horses if a city slicker can believe that. He goes out after wild horses, breaks them, and sells them to townspeople, farmers, ranchers."
"I see. He is following the old ways as best he can. What is the name the Indians call him?"
"Lone Eagle. Even as a kid he was a loner. That's what Grandma Mann told me."
"The Indians called her what?"
"Sally Mann. She wouldn't use her Indian name. I never heard anyone call her anything but Sally, or mama, in dad's case. Odd, he was all Indian and his mother wasn't at all Indian except for where she lived."
"She was respected?"
"Oh, yes, she was highly thought of."
"Your father followed the traditional path. He didn't want that for you?"
"No! You don't understand. I was white. He caught a lot of grief because I was white."
"…And you? No grief?"
Robert turned up his Coke and emptied the glass, holding the ice cold container against the bruise that was suddenly boiling. The Jacuzzi bubbled and the sixties rock rolled and time stood still inside his head.
"Here!" Robert looked up to see Albert standing beside him. He was holding out an ice pack, standing a respectful distance from him in the tub.
"Oh, thank you." He took the pack and placed it on his face. He was dizzy and wasn't sure what he was doing there.
"I filled the Coke. It's behind you on the edge. Try not to knock it over. Maybe this is too hot. Perhaps we should get out for a while?"
Albert's voice had a more earthy tone to it, one of concern. Robert could no longer keep up with the many accents and textures in the sounds of his voice.
"Have you seen a doctor?" Albert asked as they sat at a small table next to the pool."
"No. It's just a bruise."
"Yes, but concussions can be quite disabling and I'd say that bruise ran deep enough for concern. I wouldn't advise any more Jacuzzi for tonight."
Robert held the ice to his temple and felt better. He set the ice down after a few minutes and grasped the Coke. "I'll be fine. Thank you. So you're an antiques dealer, a photographer, and a doctor too, Albert? You are a man of many talents."
"You don't know the half of it," Albert said plaintively. "My lover. Brandon. He was premed. I spent several years hearing about this illness and that. He certainly lived his profession."
"How long have you been alone?"
"Not alone, merely lonely. I have boys in from time to time. They're easy and I don't need to give up my life to see one."
"Well in spite of your concerns for your safety, I've found that the young hustlers who have been abandoned to the streets appreciate Albert's attention and they're there when I really need them and not when I don't."
"Isn't that illegal?"
"Isn't everything that men like more than a little? Society wants us all productive and obedient and so the little temptations and vices that have plagued man since time began are fun to make illegal."
"There is risk and not just the law. What if they're bad guys, these hustlers?"
"I'm flattered you are worried about me. When it comes to the personal preferences I cultivate, I don't so much worry about the law and as I've said, I'm an excellent judge of character."
"The law can make this kind of thing tough on you."
"It was illegal for me to exist until just recently, so feeding a homeless waif and giving him a warm bed to sleep in for a day or two is of little concern. If the law has no more to do than that so be it. I think it would be better served if it found out why so many lads are on our streets and get them off, but what does poor Albert know after all?"
"Hardly poor, Albert."
"Ah, one must not mix up wealth with deficiencies of the spirit. I would not do harm to a soul. My heart is honorable and I can live with the consequences of my actions."
"I hope so."
"We've gotten far afoot from your past. How did we get so deeply into Albert's foibles?"
"Your life is so much more interesting," Robert said. "I have no past. What's a foible anyway?"
"Ah, a foible is what makes us human. It's something you like that isn't necessarily what people like you to like."
"Why shouldn't you embrace your culture?"
"The culture didn't embrace me. I was sent away. I'm here. My future is here. That's all behind me."
"Yes, you are here and I can see you don't like my questions. I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm too curious for my own good."
"There is no point in thinking of what might have been. I've had little to do with how I came to be here, Albert. When I was there I would have elected to stay. There was no election."
"Yes, life frequently sets up many obstacles to keep us from discovering who we really are." They sat silent for a few moments. "Albert is suddenly very tired. Before you leave I want to show you something. Let me dress first and I'll open up the room I want to show you while you dress."
Albert was waiting as Robert came out of the bathroom drying his hair from a quick shower. They went back through the kitchen and towards the back of the house. They seemed to go in a circle. The light was shining ahead of them from the room they entered. Albert took the towel from him and hung it over a chair.
Robert stood amazed by the contents of the room. There were shields, spears, and different weapons and decorations. It brought back a flood of memories.
"Here! I've only recently acquired this. I've not let anyone put it on." Albert said, going to a chest and removing a white and turquoise breast plate.
He returned and held it up to Robert's chest. Robert shied and resisted.
"Humor me, Bobby. It was made for a chest like yours. I'm sure of it."
"Stop Albert. You keep insisting but the answer stays the same. No noble savage here."
"I'm sorry. I've angered you. I sometimes don't know when enough is too much. Please accept my apology."
"There's nothing to apologize for. It's an interesting room. Now I think I should go."
Robert looked up at the house as he pulled away. It was something all right. He knew he would never return even after Albert extended an open invitation. "Drop by any time."
Albert and he came from different worlds and there was no reason for them to ever meet again. Whatever Robert hoped he'd learn by accepting the invitation to Albert's home hadn't materialized.
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