A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
Robert liked the feel of the plush carpet under his socks. He got a static charge when he touched the door handle. He laughed before getting somewhat of a different kind of charge when he reached for the paper and it fell open to reveal a picture on the front page, and this time it wasn't his.
He stood in the kitchen door still staring, disbelieving. "What in the world?" Albert asked, looking up at Robert's face as he stood paralyzed by the news. "You okay? You look like you've seen a ghost. Are you okay, Bobby?"
Robert placed the paper down in front of him so Albert could see the picture. He was searching back inside his head for some rational explanation that could explain the face on the front page.
"Andrew Parkson. He was an attorney. Thirty-seven. They found him over behind the bars in Southeast," Albert read. "His murder has definitely been tied to the DC Strangler."
" They've got to catch this guy."
"Albert, I had a beer with him the night he was killed. At Plus 1," Robert said. "Look, I've got to get out of here. I've enjoyed the company but there's something I've got to do."
"You going to be all right? You look terrible. Why don't you sit down and have a cup of coffee before you go."
"Yeah, I'll be fine. I'll call you. I've really got to go."
"Bobby, can you do me a favor? I hate to ask, but I must."
"That boy yesterday. I feel badly about what we did. Here's ten dollars. If you see him give this to him. Please say you will. I'll rest easier if you do."
"You are something, Albert. If I see him I'll give him the money. I'll call you."
"Make sure you do. I enjoy your company. Be careful, Bobby," Albert implored, not knowing why he had the urge to warn his friend.
Robert pulled to the curb by the line of phones next to the Little Tavern. He quickly dialed the number he had in his head. "Yeah, Mike? Mann."
"You okay? What's up? You haven't had time to give it much thought."
"No, I wanted to know if there was anything new. I saw the front of the Post."
"No. They identified the guy from fingerprints. He's an attorney."
"Yeah, I know," Robert said, looking at the card he had retrieved from his dashboard.
"How did you know that?"
"Ah, I read the Post. I told you."
For some reason Robert decided it wasn't a good idea to tell Mike Connell that he had met the victim in the Plus 1 the night he was killed. He was a cop that was in the middle of an undercover investigation and there were things he wouldn't discuss until he knew what they meant. He was the one on the street and it was up to him to decide what was best.
"Well, just keep a low profile. I've got to get some things together for Brown, so if there isn't any more business, I'll get back to work."
"Yeah, get back to work. I wanted to check in," Robert said before disconnecting the call.
Mike looked at the phone and hung it up. He shook his head and started to wonder what that was about, and then he remembered the papers he had to collect and went to it.
Robert took out his address book and turned it to Phil Sharper's number. He dialed and listened to the phone ring.
"God, what time is it?"
"It's, ah, eight-thirty."
"It can't be eight-thirty. It's still daylight."
"There are two eight-thirties, Phil."
"Impossible! I'd have noticed a thing like that."
"Yeah, but I've got to talk to you."
"Honey, mother can't talk this time of day. I can't even find my mouth. Is something wrong?" Phil's voice took on a degree of alarm.
"No. No. They identified number eight. I knew him."
"Bobby, I've known all of them."
"I had a beer with him the night he was killed." Robert could hear Phil getting out of bed.
"Plus 1. After I left you in fact."
"No! Where do you want to meet?"
"Oh, Hubbard House is okay. I've got to change."
"Can you give me an hour. Mother's got to adjust to waking up in the middle of the night."
"It's the middle of the day."
"You have it your way and I'll have it mine. I'll meet you at ten."
Robert waited for the dial tone and then hung up the receiver. He got in his car and headed for home. When he got to the front door, he stopped short and looked at the black exposed latch. The door was slightly ajar. He reached for where he knew his service revolver should be in a situation like this, only he hadn't been carrying it because he was ordered not to. He felt a bit naked as he pushed the door open carefully.
It was obvious that some one had been in there. The television he had bought was on its side. The cushions were off the couch and the things in his closet were out on the floor, including the clothes he intended to wear. The kitchen drawers were all open and the contents had been spilled onto the floor.
Robert went to the hall closet and opened the door, pulling out all the shoes and the empty boxes. In the farthest corner he pulled out a shoe box and opened it. There were papers on top of a black sock and in the sock was his black service revolver. It hadn't been touched. He held it and wanted to carry it but there were the orders. He reluctantly placed it back into the sock and placed the sock back on his identification and badge, putting the sundry papers back in place on top.
Someone had turned everything upside down and they hadn't touched the only thing of value in the apartment? He unzipped the clothes bag and behind the flannel shirts and sports jacket was the dress uniform and the work uniforms he'd had at the academy. They too seemed almost too pristine. He took a few minutes to think about it before closing the closet door. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He wandered around checking through the wreckage to see what he could see and when he checked his watch it was nine forty-five.
He walked down to the Hubbard House, sitting in the back, figuring Phil would be late. Fran stood in front of him tapping her pencil on her pad and cracking her gum.
"Can't we at least be friends?" Robert asked.
"We were a hell of a lot more than friendly."
"Exactly. Why are you acting like this? We were doing fine."
"I don't like liars. That's all. If I want to hang around with a liar, I'll just go back to my boy friend."
"Fran, I haven't lied."
"Yeah, well, all the evidence says you are guilty."
"The evidence is wrong. Please come over after work."
"I get off early today."
"Great! I'm just meeting Phil and I don't have anything else."
"I don't know. A girl should play hard to get, Bobby."
"I'll play hard if you'll get over to my apartment this afternoon."
She smiled coyly and winked in a warm way. Her hostility had definitely faded by the time Phil arrived. He kissed her cheek right away. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said apologetically, and then he leaned to give Robert a quick peck on the cheek. It surprised all three of them.
"Coffee and the usual."
"I already ate," Robert said through the blush.
"Heavens. Why are we meeting here then?"
"Well, we always meet here.''
"Ah, and you also thought Franny. I see. Go girl. I'm hungry. If I've got to be up in the middle of the night I need nourishment, my dear." Phil primped his perfect hair and smiled across the table. "Well, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"I'm not sure what to say. My apartment was broken into last night. This is getting more and more bizarre."
"And where were you while it was getting broken into?"
"I don't want to go into that."
"So, you've been slumming at the Plus 1. I hear it's not a very safe bar."
"You telling me? Did you know him?"
"I looked at the Post before I left. No, this one I didn't know, but between the two of us, we are batting a thousand."
"Bobby, why not stay at my place for a few days. We'd both feel safer."
"Let me think about it. I don't think they stole anything. Wasn't much to steal. Mostly junk."
"They didn't take anything?"
"Nothing I can find, or can't find, in this case. No, they made a mess and the few things of value are still there."
"What self respecting break-in artist, breaks in and takes nothing?"
"The kind that broke into my place and saw there wasn't anything."
"So, why the meeting? What can I do if not offer you a roof over your head in your hour of need?"
"I'm not sure. I just wanted to see a friendly face and see what you thought."
"I think there's a madman stalking the streets and no self respecting girl is safe while he's out there."
"His victims are all men, Phil."
"In a manner of speaking. It's all about perspective."
Fran brought back Phil's food and stood with her leg pressed against Robert's as she chatted. He was ready to suggest they look over the storage area or closet, but he kept himself under control, while Phil pretended he couldn't see their proximity.
"Well, mother should go back and get some more sleep. It will be a long night tonight, but now that I'm up and it's still early, I have a friend who is sick I'd like to visit. Could I get you to drop me at his house?"
"Sure. I can do that. I'm starting to get hungry after watching you eat."
"Honey, what you're hungry for, you're not going to find on the menu," Phil said.
Robert drove Phil to a house just off "P" Street then decided that the Little Tavern would be his next stop. There was always a place to park in the empty space in front by the fire hydrant. He was cop and could get Mike to fix any ticket. He would get a bag of burgers and go eat while checking out the 'meat rack', although he thought it would be too early for such activities.
He saw people inside the Little Tavern as he headed for the door. He looked up and down the street hoping not to see one of DC's finest. He didn't, so he ducked inside to make a quick purchase.
There was a steaming cup of coffee and two sandwiches being slid up on the counter in front of a skinny short kid in a buckskin shirt. He was blowing into his hands and acting like he was freezing to death as he reached for the coffee and held it against his shirt for the warmth before cautiously putting the cup up to his lips.
"Hey, what's happening?"
"You stay away from me, you creep. You lied to me. You bastard. That was my car."
"Calm down! Calm down!"
"One buck forty," rumbled the big counter attendant, reaching toward the boy who sat down on one of the green stools after searching his pockets.
"I may not have it all…." Toby said, pulling out a wadded up buck that was quickly seized and then some pennies and nickels as one of the sandwiches was snatched out of the boy's reach. "Wait a minute. I got some more. Don't take it back."
"I'll pay for it. Give him the dollar back," Robert said, moving toward the stool next to Toby. "Give me a cup of coffee. Cream and sugar and half a dozen burgers."
"Pay me first before I get anything else. I want to see the green."
"I said I'd pay for it. Coffee. Cream and sugar and don't treat me or my friend like we're thieves."
The man backed down and reached for a cup as Robert took out his wallet and threw a five-dollar bill on the counter. The man turned his back and finished what he was doing.
"I don't come that cheap," Toby growled, sipping from the hot coffee cup and partially turning his back on Robert. "I ain't forgot what you done to me."
"I told you I'm straight."
"Yeah, straight guys want it too and I'm the virgin Mary."
"What you ought to say is, thank you, and I've got something I was asked to give you, but if you're going to be an asshole, I'll just keep it for myself."
"Yeah, what?" Toby asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Thank you." Robert reminded him.
"Thank you, what?"
"Where'd you sleep last night?"
"What's it to you?"
"One coffee, six burgers, three sixty all together," the man interrupted.
"Give him what he wants," Robert ordered.
"You want anything else?"
"Two more of these," Toby said, indicating the sandwiches. "More coffee." He eyeballed Robert closely as he ordered.
"What do you want?" Toby asked as he ate.
"I recall asking you a question. I want the answer."
"At the church. In the doorway. Why'd you do that. I liked you."
"He was my friend. I hadn't seen him in a while. It's not like you think. He wanted to pick you up."
"You don't know what I think… He did?"
"You think me and him were doing some kind of deal. We're just friends. He did."
"Did want to… I don't know… whatever you guys do. He gave me something to give to you because he felt bad about us leaving you. And I got a job for you if you're interested?"
"Better'n hanging out here all day."
"You ain't hangin' here kid. Eat up and take a hike."
"Hey, how about treating us like customers," Robert snapped. "And we weren't talking to you."
"He ain't hangin' here! I don't care who you was talking to."
"Where's your coat, kid?"
"I told you, I'm not a kid. Don't got one."
"What kind of businessman are you? You can't afford a coat? You're knocking 'em dead kid."
"I was sick. Couldn't work and then I smelled like this and who's gonna go for that? That guy yesterday was good for some food. You fucked me out of it. I don't forget shit like that."
"Where'd you get the money?"
"Bummed it on the corner. I had the change."
"You eat last night?"
"You writing a book. Look, you got something for me or is this just twenty questions?" Toby had turned to face Robert. He still liked looking at him even if it did piss him off when he did it.
"My pad was broken into. I'm thinking if I had someone to hang around there, it wouldn't happen again, you know. It's not much but it's warm and there's food."
"What'd he give you to give me?" Toby asked.
"I'm offering you honest work, kid."
"Yeah, honest all right." His glance told the tale. "I don't know if I'm talking to you."
"I'll just keep the ten dollars. Hell, I bought you lunch."
"Breakfast. You got ten bucks for me?"
"I don't know if I'm going to give it to you. Albert's a nice old dude and you're not nice and you need a shower."
"Yeah, where's the bread?"
"You forget? You ain't talkin' to me."
"Yeah, well, ten bucks'll buy you all the conversation you want, but I ain't forgettin' what you done. Where do you live?"
"Oh, we're not sure if the location of my apartment is up to your standards?"
"Shut up. We going or we sitting here all day?"
"Nobody ain't sittin' here all day. We don't allow no loitering. You eat up and move."
"Jesus, the hospitality," Robert said. "I'm taking your tip with me. You failed to earn a tip, my man. Come on, kid, let's split."
"I ain't yur fuckin' kid."
Robert checked the door handle and it was firmly locked. He used the key and threw the door open, standing back to look in before they entered.
"Who does your decorating, dude? Man, hows about inviting me to your next party?" Toby said as he followed Robert into the shambles.
"Very funny, squirt. I told you someone broke in."
"I bet they couldn't wait to break out and don't call me that. My name is Toby."
"Okay, kid," Robert mussed up his hair and that made Toby smile.
Toby was suddenly quite warm. He was grateful that he'd have a warm place to stay for maybe a night or two. It beat the hell out of where he had been sleeping. He placed the cushions back on the couch, switching them around until they fit. He sat down and watched Robert go through the wreckage again.
"I'll do that if I'm staying. What are you paying me for this service I'm providing?" The words were full of doubt because having a roof over his head and food in his belly usually came at a cost. He wasn't about to screw this up if he could help it.
"I don't know. I haven't gotten that far. I saw you and it seemed like the solution to a problem. You need a place and I need a guy to watch my place. How much?"
"You're going to feed me?"
"Sure. Room and board comes with the job."
"Five bucks a week."
"What? I'll pay you more than that. Kid you're underselling yourself."
"Yeah, well, I froze my ass off last night. Five bucks a week and I'll clean up the mess, but not if it gets like this very often. That way it's worth it for both of us. You don't cheat a guy and just maybe he won't cheat you," Toby rationalized his way of thinking to his new boss.
"Yeah, that's true. I'll get you a coat."
"Cool," Toby said, rearranging the pillows on the couch again.
"Why aren't you at home?"
"I got no home," Toby said, looking like the whipped puppy Judy had told him about.
"Why did you leave?"
"Me? I dunno know. My old man, he's got these big old hands, ya see. Like fuckin' ham hocks, ya know. Man, you get hit enough with those, ya figure it's time to move on, ya know. I figured that way."
"Where'd you live?"
Toby didn't answer. He figured if Robert didn't remember, he wasn't going to remind him. That was information that could get him sent back to where he came from. "Why you doing this? I ain't nothing to you."
"I want someone looking out for my stuff. I told you."
"Yeah, I see your stuff."
"You want to take a shower? There's towels in the bathroom. There ought to be a clean one."
"I guess I get to do laundry too," Toby said.
"I never said that."
"If I want a clean towel that is."
"I'm not domestic," Robert said. "Forgive me for not having things ready for you."
"Lighten up. I ain't complaining. I'll take care of stuff. Where's the bathroom? I'll have to shower if you don't want my smell getting to you."
"How were you planning to handle Albert if you smell that bad?"
"Those old birds always have a place. Shower is the first order of business. It's not a problem. I just hadn't been lucky enough to catch one."
"He isn't an old bird."
"Oh, you know what I mean. You always going to be uptight? Let me know so's I can get used to it."
Toby came back in only his underwear. He was thinner than Robert thought. If I got to use a couple of those towels while I wash my stuff, that okay?"
"You can't wash buckskin."
"Yeah, well I can't wear it after I get clean. It smells worse'n me."
"We'll work something out. Go on and shower."
"You ain't aimin' on showering with me? Some of them like that."
"No, Toby. I ain't aiming on that."
"It's all right. I don't mind that so much."
"I do, Toby. I didn't pick you up for that."
Toby came out wearing a towel that almost reached the floor and he had a smaller one wrapped around his head. Robert was amused but he did his best not to show it. He went in to shower and was surprised to find the bathroom cleaner than it had been when he moved in. He took his time in the shower and felt more comfortable having someone in the apartment, even someone he didn't know. It was a solution to one of his problems and he felt good about himself and the fact he was getting a kid off the street at a time when the street was deadly.
He played back the conversation he'd had with Andrew Parkson. He leaned on the tile with his arm over his head while the warm water eased his sore muscles and the time simply slipped away.
When he walked out of the bathroom, the television was blaring and had been put back up on its stand. The antenna that had never extended was now wrapped in tin foil and reached out into the room like two grotesque feelers. Toby was standing on one leg at the sink washing dishes. The room had been picked up and cleaned.
"Hey, dude. What are you doing?"
"I didn't hurt anything," Toby was apprehensive. He turned around to see Robert also clad only in a towel. His eyes immediately went to the muscular chest and thick arms.
"You need dish soap. I fixed the TV. The glass is cracked but you can hardly see it on account it's a cheapo black and white job."
"Sorry if it isn't up to your standards."
Toby raced over and made the feelers flail aimlessly. "See I fixed it. The picture is pretty good."
The knock on the door startled both of them. Toby ran for it and swung it open. Fran looked at the boy and his towel and then at Robert and his towel and Robert looked back at her.
"I knew I shouldn't get mixed up with you again. You can't even keep us separated. Goodbye. Lester is easier to deal with than you are. I'm going back to him. I don't need this."
Robert leaped to stop Fran but she was out the door of the apartment building before he could intercept her. He dashed into the hallway as the towel started to give way. He caught it just in time to prevent over exposure but a shrill scream from up the stairs forced him to retreat back inside in time to see Fran rushing past the window on her way back towards the Circle.
"Shit!" Robert said.
"She your lady?"
"She was a lady, one I'd done quite well with. It never stops."
"I've been having a bit of bad luck," Robert sighed, flopping over the arm and down on to the couch.
"I'm here. How bad could it be?" Toby smiled his biggest smile, sensing it wasn't nearly big enough.
At that moment the police radio crackled as Detective Pollard entered Dupont Circle from "P" Street after a visit to taskforce headquarters.
"Naked man in the yard at 19th Street."
"Hold the unit. I'm there. I'll call if it requires one of your guys."
"10/4. Stand down on the call. Unit on the scene," the voice crackled and Pollard jotted down the address.
Brown had just stressed innovation to him and the fact the killer was only going to be caught if he made a mistake. Pollard doubted this was that kind of mistake but it would look good on his log. He took the steps two at a time and the woman had the door open before he could knock.
The naked guy in the yard turned out to be a guy in a towel at his front door. He assured the woman that he'd speak to the man to make sure there would be no reoccurrence of the incident. She merely scowled at this solution and Pollard thought the scowl wasn't personal, just a permanent feature of her personality. He went through the motions because he knew she'd wait until he knocked on the door.
Robert pushed Toby out of the way to yank open the door, expecting to see a repentant Fran. He came face to face with Detective Pollard.
"Oh, I thought you were someone else. Just took a shower," he said, hitching the towel tight at his waist. I was expecting someone."
"No, ah,…" Pollard said, looking past Robert at Toby who was also hitching up his towel as he stood up to see who it was. "I got the wrong apartment. Sorry. I do the same thing every time I come here."
Robert closed the door and leaned his back against it.
"What's up doc?" Toby asked.
"I don't know. I've seen that guy somewhere before and I don't know where."
Pollard checked the tags on the Pontiac convertible and matched them up with what was written on the paper he had in the car. He had recognized Robert Mann and the bruises. The tags confirmed it. He had found something that was going to please his partner and that pleased him.
"Ain't you the cat what ate the canary," Bland said, seeing Pollard's smile when he approached. "You been smoking wacky weed again?"
"I got what you wanted."
"What did I want?"
"I found your boy, Mann. Incredibly good police work if you ask me." He handed Bland the small piece of paper he'd copied from his clipboard notes.
Bland shoved the paper into his shirt pocket without so much as glancing at it. Pollard viewed this as strange even before Bland spoke.
"Good work. I'm not so worried about him today. I've got some fellows who are going to have a talk with him. Make sure he understands how delicate his circumstances are. I think we're fine on that score for the time being but I'll hold onto this just in case."
"You think that's smart? He hasn't caused any trouble, Jimmy."
"Just a little insurance. Nothing like insurance. I don't leave things to chance. Who knows what goes through faggot's heads?"
"His car is a…."
"1962 Pontiac convertible," Bland interrupted. "I got all that."
"When? I never said what it was, Jimmy. How'd you know that?"
"I don't cruise the streets all night for nothing partner. Good work though. I like keeping you on your toes."
"There's more. You'll really like this. He had some little boy in the apartment with him. They were both in a state of undress, if you catch my drift. I'd think that would be of interest should he become a problem. I'm sure the little boy was too young."
"Interesting! I'll keep that in mind as well. Big strapping guy like him. Go figure. You can never tell these days."
"Okay boss. Whatever you say," Pollard said, easing away from the car window. "You okay, Jimmy? You've been acting funny. I'm worried about you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Bland asked, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
"Nothing. Just thinking too much. You just look like you aren't getting enough sleep. I'll see you some time tomorrow."
"Yeah, a.m. I won't be late tonight. Everything is under control."
Pollard stood and watched the green sedan until it had faded in the distance. He emptied the beer can and tossed it down at the curb and walked back to the house. It was time for a partner change, he thought. There was something very strange going on with Bland. He was sure it had something to do with his separation from his wife but whatever it was, he wasn't paid enough to deal with it. He'd do his best not to get on his partner's bad side until he could arrange for a transfer.
It was the following morning when the front door shook because of the ferocity of the knock. When Robert forced himself out of bed, he found Phil and Fran looking fierce.
"What's up now?" Toby said, looking up over the back of the couch.
"Go back to sleep."
"Can we come in?" Phil said leaving no doubt that they were coming in.
"Let me get dressed and we'll go for coffee. It's early enough we can all use some. Fran, where did you go yesterday. He's only watching my apartment. It's not what you think."
"I'm with Phil," Fran said. "I'm just showing him where you live. I'm going to work. I'll see you Philip. Don't sit in my area if you're with him."
"Okay, Fran." Phil kept the door from slamming behind her. "Well, you've managed to piss her off. I asked you not to toy with her."
"Phil! I never. I'm trying to get something going, not stop it."
"Yeah, well, perhaps you should make up your mind which team you're on. A woman can't be treated like that. I've always thought it was a shabby thing for them to do, gay men messing up the lives of women who love them, never knowing who they really are. That's lying and I don't like liars. Just do me a favor and leave her alone. She's gone back to that idiot Lester because of you."
"What's going on? This has to be early for you. It's early for me."
"Not in front of the children," Phil said, looking at the fold-away bed and Toby, who was once again dead to the world. "Great watchdog you got. Doesn't even bark. I'll meet you for coffee at the corner once you get dressed."
Phil waited outside and smoked until Robert arrived. After getting a table one of the sleepy waitresses wandered over and took the order for coffee. She yawned, put her pencil back in her hair, and staggered off.
"What is it?"
"I should ask you that. The house you took me to yesterday."
"Yeah, off "P". Street. So!"
"My friend's body was found early this morning by his roommate. I've just spent two hours with the cops."
"That's tough Phil. They sure it's the Strangler?"
"It sounds like they think that. His roommate called because he knew I had been there. The cops wanted to know when and why, that kind of thing."
"What do you want me to do?"
"You took me there yesterday. Could anyone have followed us? I don't know what's going on."
"I don't know. It's possible."
"Don't you think it's odd?"
"You had a beer with number eight and I visited with number nine. Someone could have been following you."
"No more likely than he was following you."
" Maybe we should go to the police with this? Tell them all these little coincidences."
"You really think they care? There is no great rush to solve this crime if you haven't noticed. I don't think going to the police with this kind of thing will do anything but cause us trouble."
"I know why you feel that way but what can we do alone? Only one cop hit you. You can't blame the entire police force. They aren't all that way."
"I think we need to calm down and think about it. We can deal with this and if we need to go to the police with it, I'll go with you. I say we're just dealing with a lot of coincidence in a small community inside of a big city."
"They asked me a lot of questions. I didn't tell them anything I wasn't sure of. I really wasn't in the mood to talk but I knew I wanted to talk to you."
"They're going through the motions and covering their butts. Look who is dying? I don't have a feeling there's a big rush to solve this."
"Yeah but we grow on you if you give us a chance."
"What's that mean?"
"You acted like you might leap out of your skin any time a gay guy came near you those first couple of days. You don't make a very convincing gay guy. Fran says you're quite the handful."
"We back to that again?"
"The last few days I've had cause to rethink a lot of things. I'm still not sure someone wasn't following you and I'm not sure where you figure into all this. The only thing that has really thrown me off is the cops belting you out behind the club. I was almost positive I smelled pork every time you came around until then."
"You see, you aren't always right."
"I wouldn't have changed my mind about that if he hadn't done such a number on you. That guy hates queers, hon. Even queers who don't like other queers. Then there's the picture and the idea that that animal knows who you are."
"…And you're not a public figure who had his picture in the paper recently? I recall seeing a big picture of you."
"Meaning he might not have been following you, he might have been following me?"
"We don't know if he followed either of us. It's all speculation. That's my point. We don't know. I talked to a guy in a bar and guys in bars are getting killed. The guy I talked to is killed. You play piano in a bar and you see guys and the guys you see are killed. The gay bars seem to figure into the picture more than my picture or your picture figures into this picture."
"That makes sense. I'm really shaky. I guess I'm not thinking straight. When I came over to your place I was sure there was a connection and now I'm not sure of anything but it's late and I'm tired and I've got to play tonight and mother needs her beauty sleep."
"Have you had any sleep at all?"
"Is that some kind of an offer, big boy." Phil's May West was flawless.
"Get real, Phil. A guy never sleeps with his mother."
"Oh, very funny, you're going to use my words against me now, are we?"
"You keep calling yourself mother. A guy can't forget a thing like that."
"That little boy? He growing on you Bobby?"
"He was on the street. I figure he can look out for my stuff. No one will bust in if they hear someone inside."
"The big tough guy has a heart. Cute kid."
"I wouldn't know," Robert said.
"Yeah, that's what they all say. Didn't he come with any clothes?"
"Had to wash what he had on. I gave him one of my T-shirts to cover himself with but it hung down below his knees. I guess he took it off."
"Bobby, you don't have to explain things to me. I'm fine with it."
"Fine with what?"
"Are we having a guilty conscience?"
"I've got nothing to feel guilty about."
"I know, Bobby, but as skinny as he is you need to get some food in that place for him."
"Says he's been sick. Slept in the doorway of a church the night before."
"Wouldn't they let him in? What are they thinking? It's freezing out."
"I don't know. With this creep roaming around I wasn't going to leave him out there. I know what it's like being alone."
"I didn't say anything," Phil said, as Robert gave him a long look.
"I see the look on your face. You're thinking something nasty."
"No, more like I'm thinking what a nice man you are below that hard bitten exterior you project." Phil patted the back of his hand.
"I am what I am."
"Yeah, but it's a lovely package and if you ever get lonely again, you give me a call."
"Yeah, I know, I need some sleep. Call Mike and run this past him. He'd know what to do."
"I'm going to hop a cab. It's just late enough they should be everywhere."
Phil pushed himself out of his chair and dropped two dollars on the table. He patted Robert's shoulder as he passed, putting on his coat to weatherproof himself against the cold shock he knew he was about to get.
Robert knew what he should do and he knew if he didn't do it he was asking for trouble. But in spite of Phil's comments, and trust in Mike and Commander Brown at the command level, he no longer felt he could trust the police on the streets. He knew he was close but he didn't have any idea how close he was to disaster and everyone around him being swept up in the undertow. Once you are in the undertow, the harder you struggle, the faster you go under. The secret to escaping an undertow is going with it and letting it take you where it wants and that's when it releases you.
By accident Robert would go with the undertow because he knew no better and didn't have a clue what he was doing. The one thing he had to depend on was instinct and it was all he had because the Stalker was now toying with him and he too smelled pork every time Robert was in his sights.
"We need to talk."
"Whenever we need to talk, I get me a bad case of indigestion."
"You haven't eaten yet, sir."
"Yeah, and that's even worse. Bring that big bottle of antacid with you if you're coming back here."
Commander Brown's eyes never left Connell as he sat across from him. They stared at each other.
"Two in a little more than twenty four hours."
"I can count. You came back here to tell me that?"
"Give it to me, Mike. What's the hitch."
"No, sir. That Post reporter, she still wants an interview."
"Tell her to check with me right after hell freezes over. I haven't got time for this crap."
"Do you think that's wise, sir?"
"I don't handle public relations. That's someone else's job. I read that somewhere. What am I going to tell her? Well, we just don't have a damn thing to go on account he don't leave no clues and if he did our detectives probably wouldn't pick them up. Check back in a few weeks after the bodies pile up for awhile and maybe we'll have something."
"She wants your slant on the case. You can maybe turn the heat down a notch if you give her an interview and charm her undies off. Tell her we're getting close and you love her perfume."
"Lie? Connell, I am a Commander on the DC Police Force, how dare you suggest such a thing. Give me a list of your best lies, get me as much time as you can and warn me when she arrives. It would help if she's beautiful, intelligent, and witty."
"Yes, sir, I'll ask your wife just what you like in reporters."
"Why did I think I needed an aide? I can get my ass in trouble by myself."
"What else is on your mind? Give it to me, Mike, while I'm still in a good mood. You didn't come back here just to talk about the reporter.
"Mann," Connell said as he sat on the edge of the chair.
"Oh shit! I told you this was a bad idea. Didn't I tell you that?"
"You can put it on me, Commander. It was my idea. I've handled it. I'll say you didn't know what I was up to."
"Right! Give me the rest of it, Connell. Quit pussy footing around."
"Mann was with number eight at Plus 1 the night he died."
"Yes, sir. Three people said it was the guy on the front of the Post. That's Mann. The contact I put him in touch with, the piano player, was with number nine yesterday. A few hours before he was killed last night."
"Mann drove him there."
"How do you know that?"
"I just got off the phone with the guy. He's in the preliminary report on nine. When I came across Phil's name I called. I wasn't going to tell you until Mann's name came up."
"What's Mann say about all this?"
"I don't know."
"Shouldn't we know that just in case we want to keep our jobs?"
"I haven't been able to get a hold of him. His phone's out of order. I can't go to the apartment without blowing his cover now that he's world famous."
" He's a damn rookie. Certainly he can't be that good at undercover work in only a few weeks. Get his ass in here and get him off this turkey. I never want to see or hear from him again. Reassign him, bury him, just get him out of my hair. We're going to look bad no matter what he does and right now, I don't want him doing a damn thing."
"It's more complicated than that or I would have done it. The way I see it is he's close to this guy. Don't ask me how. but somehow it's starting to look like Mann is involved."
"Give me a break, Mike. All the victims have been close to this guy. We certainly haven't been close to him and you think Mann has? He's no more involved than we are and we certainly haven't been involved in catching this maniac." Commander Brown's big fist impacted on the thick green ink blotter. The pencil erupted from his big hand and flew half way to Connell, landing at his feet as they both followed its trajectory until touchdown.
"I know that and you know that, but if you look at the information as it stands, Robert Mann could have been involved in seven to nine. He can't be absolutely eliminated in seven and he's directly linked to eight and nine. We have eyewitnesses that corroborate this. A jury and an ambitious prosecutor might find that compelling and an easy out for the DA."
"I find it compelling. I find it damn scary. I find losing my job even more scary. He's close to the guy and he doesn't have a clue and I'm supposed to sit here and hold my breath until you tell me how it all comes out? I don't think so. Get rid of him before Mr. Strangler does it for us. That's all I need."
"I'd say they're rubbing shoulders right this second. Think about it, Commander. We can put him with eight and close to nine."
"That damn picture did us in. I'd like to rip Bland's balls off. We're going to get his badge when this is over."
"Yes, sir, and we might end up owing the break in the case to that picture."
"The way I see it, the whole damn investigation depends on a boy who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground, unless some accident puts the killer in our hands by mistake. I'm not thrilled about this, Connell."
"Yes, sir… I mean, no, sir."
"Somehow he's rattled this guy's cage. It's just too obvious to be coincidence. I find it damn interesting." Brown began to tap the pencil on his desk after Connell laid it back next to his hand. "Goddamn it, Connell, what did I tell you about this thing blowing up in our faces? I had him in here and I could have gotten him out of our hair and I left him out there."
"So you're saying it's all my fault?"
"Well it is. I knew in my gut what I should do. I wanted this to work out as much as you did. We took a shot and we've been out maneuvered."
"What do you want me to do? I'll take the hit. Resign so it doesn't reach you."
"Mike, it's reached me. We're in this together. Let me think about our options. Some times when you're dealt a lousy hand, you don't fold, you play it out, hoping the cards fall your way."
"What's he doing?"
"He knows something he isn't giving up."
"Jesus, I don't want to know this. What?"
"His attitude has changed. He needs to stay out there for some reason he didn't have before. He sees me as an obstacle is my opinion. I haven't cut him much slack. I was trying to keep him from going out on his own, but I think he's done it anyway."
"He thinks we're going to yank him back? I got that impression when he was in here but I wasn't sure about it. He hadn't back peddled on me before and he was back peddling then. Something is going on we don't know about. I browbeat the kid into taking this case. He didn't want to be out there with a bunch a queers. Sorry… with our gay citizenry."
"What do I do?"
"That church you go to?"
"Go there and light some candles and pray."
"In the mean time I'll give it some thought and see what I come up with. If you talk to him, wing it. Don't excite him but let him know we are depending on him. Maybe we can get him back on track. Our track. We've got to play this hand now. This Strangler isn't going to quit until we stop him and something has fired him up these past few days."
"Mann could end up on the guy's list. He could end up dead."
"We'll just hope we catch him first. It's all we got. Let Mann know the risk and we'll play this hand. You let him know he is on the team. Maybe he'll be more forthright and let us in on what he knows that way. We need to know what he knows, Mike. Make it happen. Now get out of here so I can get my work done."
"Okay, go on."
Connell reached for the handle of the door as he rolled out of the chair in that direction. He was half way out the door when he was stopped.
"Where did we loose control of him?"
"You want to know what I really think? He didn't care. Now he does."
"Why the change?"
"I'm not sure, sir. Something has changed in him. Something about him we didn't count on."
"Character. I think that smack from Bland might have wised him up some about the lay of the land."
"You like this kid?"
"Yeah, I think he's okay. A little head strong."
"Ain't we all. Go on, Connell."
Commander Brown leaned back in his chair and tapped the pencil against his glasses as he considered the situation. Changing the game plan when you have a man who is as close to the killer as Mann seemed to be didn't make a whole lot of sense. It wasn't the way he'd choose to solve a murder case but some times you had to go with what you had and how often did you get as many choices as you would like?
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]