A Mann's World
by Rick Beck
"Hey, Albert." Robert shouted over the noise in the restaurant.
"Ah, Bobby, I think the universe must be in total harmony today. I was only just a moment ago thinking of you. I have acquired another piece I want you to see. To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
"Yes, well, how would you like a visit? I hate dropping in uninvited but I need a favor."
"Splendid. I shall get something special from the freezer for us to sup upon, and coffee, I shall brew fresh ground coffee for your drinking pleasure."
"I've got someone with me and we'll need a ride."
"My word. It goes without saying that anyone with you is welcome in my humble abode. Bring him on as they say. And where does Albert find you?"
"I'm over on 11th Street in a restaurant just above where the buses stop. It's the next corner up from Pennsylvania Avenue."
"Ah yes, if Albert passes by, can you come out to the car so he doesn't need to look for parking?"
"We'll be watching for your Mercedes."
"And I shall be looking for and forward to your handsome face."
The silver Mercedes pulled to the curb and Robert looked up and down the street carefully before he held the door open for Toby and followed him in.
"Albert is sensing a bit of intrigue. I'm thrilled. What are we escaping from and haven't I seen this handsome young fellow somewhere before?"
"Someone might be following me. I don't want to take any chances. Go around the block so I can watch behind us."
"We shall pull into my garage and let down the door before we disperse from the vehicle and deny anyone a view of what we are up to. You are safe with me. The house is protected with an alarm."
"This is the guy that sent you the ten bucks," Robert said to Toby, checking both in front of and behind the car as it eased through the heavy lunch traffic. There were many green sedans but not the one Robert was looking for, and he finally relaxed once he was sure he'd ditched the man who had been following them.
"Albert, this is Toby. Toby, Albert. He's with me for the time being, Albert. We need a place to lay low for a few days."
"Your conditions are understood and accepted, dear boy. Any friend of Bobby's is a friend of mine, Tobias," Albert said, extending his hand for Toby to shake once they stopped at a light. "I'm delighted to make your acquaintance."
"What in hell is a Tobias?" Toby distorted his face as if he'd just had some bad medicine.
"Tobias is the literary name for someone who is called Toby."
"Well, if you ain't noticed, I ain't much of a literary, whatever that is. Just plain Toby'll do fine, thank you."
"As you wish. Toby it is," Albert said with sunshine in his voice.
"What is it that you require, Bobby? Do explain how I can be of service."
"I need a place for two for a few days. We'll take up little room and stay out of the way. You can do the pictures you mentioned while I'm there as payment. That's about it," Robert said.
"Bobby, Albert cannot accept those terms. You shall stay in my home as my guest, because you are a friend to whom I wish to extend my hospitality. You are not required to make payment. I wouldn't hear of it."
"I've thought about it, Albert. It sounds interesting. I want to do it. I really don't mind. I've been thinking more about my Indian side lately."
"Indian? You're an Indian?" Toby asked. "I wondered about your fascination with my hair."
"You're white. I mean really white! You ain't Indian."
"I shall pay you for your services. The pictures will be valuable to me and to anyone who appreciates art, and therefore, I can't accept your services without reimbursement."
"Somehow I feel like I'm getting the better of this deal. We don't know each other all that well and you don't know Toby at all. I feel awkward taking money from you while you're letting me stay in your house."
"What is it I need to know? You've been in my home and treated me with respect and kindness. What do friends do? Bobby, I'll enjoy your company. Your being in the house will make it easier to do the photography. I think it offers us both equal advantages. You aren't taking anything. I'm offering you an opportunity that few could appreciate."
"OK, I won't complain."
"Tobias is with you, and now my trusted friend as well," Albert said, looking at Toby.
" I'm Toby," Toby said. "Why doesn't anyone remember my name? He calls me kid."
"Hush up, kid," Robert said, mussing up Toby's hair.
"Oh, geeze! Cut that out." Toby did his best to get his hair back in order.
" Does your need of lodging have anything to do with the deterioration of your face? It has been worked up once more?"
"It's worked over, Albert. I need to lie low. I've some unfinished business but I can't finish it for a few days. After that I'll be able to tell you more, but I can't right now."
"No more explanation necessary. We shall immediately go on the limb at my pad."
"I think that would be go on the lam, Albert."
" Of course it is, and that's exactly what we shall do, go on the lamb. I must go shopping to make your stay more enjoyable for all of us. You must give me a list of the delicacies that you most enjoy and Albert shall pamper you." Albert was excited as he made plans for his guests.
" This guy for real?" Toby asked, looking from Albert to Robert.
"Absolutely," Robert said. "He's for real."
"I like those little oysters that come in the small bottles, and sardines. I love sardines." Robert smacked the back of Toby's head as he mentioned things he liked and never got. "Well I do!"
"My word. I was under the impression they came in a shell. How clever of them to have found a way to grow in a bottle." Toby cocked his head to one side to watch Albert speak, not completely sure of what he was saying.
As the minutes passed, Detective James Bland's suspicions become a certainty. Something was wrong. He sat watching Robert's car for as long as he could endure it. He'd been had. He knew what had happened even before verifying it.
He reluctantly retraced Robert's path, knowing what he was going to find. "There was a guy that came in here with a clothing bag. He never came out. Where'd he go?"
The Chinese man spoke in some ancient dialect that even he didn't entirely understand, putting his hand on the fresh twenty dollar bill in his pocket, his loyalty was to his customer, and that lasted until Bland flashed his badge.
"Oh, no, me do nothing wrong. He go out back way. Me show you. Me show you."
"Hold your horse old man. What's out there?"
"Alley all. Trash can all. Nothing in alley. Me do nothing wrong. He ask."
"Yeah, yeah, fine. What did he say?"
"Dry clean please. You got backdoor? That all. Dry clean. You got back door, is all." The Chinese man didn't like being questioned and he didn't like Bland. He remembered the young man asking about 10th Street but he saw no reason to say anything he didn't have to say. The badge only got the cop what it took to get rid of him, and not everything the old man knew.
"Jesus, why don't you Japs learn English?" Bland complained as he left. "You come here and don't even bother learning to speak English. Ain't right all them foreigners coming over here taking our jobs."
By the time he got back in the car he was enraged that Mann had given him the slip. Banging the steering wheel repeatedly with both of his hands, he finally let the rage escape. Several people walking by gave a lot of room to the car and especially the man inside, but Bland neither considered them nor the madness that came upon him at times like these. He would figure out the puzzle and be back on Robert Mann before he could turn around.
Pollard was sitting on the curb when Bland rolled to a stop in front of his house. "Why are you out here? You get thrown out?"
"Waiting for you. You said you'd be here shortly after noon."
"I never said a time. I figured you were smart enough to wait in the house. I got tied up on something. Don't start get difficult with me. I ain't in the mood. I thought you had a doctor's appointment?"
"Yeah, well, it didn't take as long as I thought." Pollard fastened his seat belt but he didn't want to look at Bland. He felt bad about stabbing his partner in the back. It's something you didn't do but he saw no other option, except go down with Bland, and he needed the job.
"Always takes longer when I go. Damn foreigners don't know which end is up."
"What are you talking about? My doctor's American."
"I'm getting another car for you," Bland said, changing the subject. "We'll both be on the street at the same time. We can cover a lot more ground that way. We'll ride together in the afternoons to compare notes."
"Brown okay'd that?" Pollard played along still unable to look at Bland but taking glances of his stoic partner.
"I just told you what we're doing. You think I come up with this shit on my own? I'm still on the same police force as you. Sure, he knows. I cleared it with his aide. He liked it. He's a Teddy bear once you get his attention."
"You did talk to Brown? Or Connell? Who are you talking about." Pollard showed his impatience as Bland drove calmly, one wrist draped over the top of the steering wheel as he tried to figure out what was eating at his partner.
"You ask too many questions and you don't listen. I'll keep this car. You can pick one out from the yard."
"Yeah," Pollard said, not sure of Bland's frame of mind yet and not wanting to test him. "You went through Connell, didn't you?"
"Yeah, why try to move a mountain when you can walk around it? Brown's not too hospitable since the Post deal. I don't know why he's so worked up over some fag."
"I can't imagine why. The man's job is only on the line and his cops are beating up potential victims. Great PR you ask me. You do anything about Mann?"
"That's taken care of. You can forget about him."
"I hope you know what you're doing, Jimmy. You make me nervous sometimes."
"I always know what I'm doing." Bland gave his partner a hard look. He went back to the road with his eyes but not with his thoughts. He usually had everyone against him and he'd gone through nine partners in fifteen years because of it. It had never bothered him once when they started turning against him. He knew what to do and when to do it and until that failed him he'd keep doing it. His partners were mostly a handicap anyway and none of them were ever out in front of him.
"Commander, I've got Evans and Thompson out here."
"Evans and Thompson. Aren't they from robbery."
"Yes, sir. They had a little run in with Robert Mann. They've sworn a warrant for his arrest. They've got an APB out on him. I figured you would like to speak with them about it."
"Yes indeed. Send them right on back."
"What's up with this, Connell? It's not bad enough we get jumped. You boys have nothing better to do than add insult to injury?"
"I think the commander is waiting."
The two cops left the front area in a huff, unable to fathom why they'd been called in to speak with Brown. In another minute they were standing in the doorway of the dank office.
Commander Brown carefully looked them over as he eased himself back in his chair. "What the hell happened to you two?"
Evans had his right arm in a sling, his left eye was black and his lip was fat. Thompson had two black eyes and a bruise the size of a fist on one jaw.
"We were jumped over in Georgetown."
"Robert Mann. Just what were you doing near Robert Mann? Haven't we caused that boy enough grief?"
"He was on the block where the queers meet to do their funny stuff."
"Funny stuff? You're speaking about some of our gay citizens?" Evans didn't have an answer for that one. Thompson stood silent and Brown became concerned he might not be able to speak.
"Nasty looking jaw, Thompson. One gay boy did that to you two? And he was doing funny stuff or what when this altercation took place?"
"He jumped us." Thompson offered as Evans looked at him.
"He surrounded you?"
"He caught us off guard," Evans offered.
"I'm not getting this picture. You were there and you approached him because he was on a block where gay men do funny stuff? How did he get the best of you?"
"He surprised us."
"Me too," Brown said, smiling from ear to ear at the thought of Mann kicking their asses. "You know what? I'm smelling Jim Bland all over this deal." Brown was remembering what Pollard had told him just a few hours before. "Now, the fact he's tried to scramble this kid's brains could explain Mann's reluctance to interact with the police. The question then becomes, how is it that Bland's former partner, Evans, ends up on the other end of the same kind of deal with the same character? What are the odds? Perhaps you can enlighten me? And, oh yes, keep in mind that if I catch either of you in a lie, say there's a witness or two that don't back you to the max, I'm going to have me two shiny badges right here on my desk. You getting the picture?"
Evans and Thompson looked at each other and then came clean. They agreed with Commander Brown to make sure that all signs of the warrant on Robert Mann were purged from the system. Or, in the event of his arrest they would face charges for false arrest and assault.
Commander Brown led them to believe he would talk to Mann and ask him not to pursue either of them if they signed statements describing Jim Bland's role in the incident. They were also warned not to alert Bland or their badges would be gone. The meeting broke up. The two detectives knew what they had to do to keep their badges.
Albert raised the garage door as he approached the house. The Corvette had been moved over close to the staircase and he parked the Mercedes in the spot furthest away.
"You drove the Vette?"
"Heavens no. The boy came who drives it for me. I was out when he returned and he took that space."
"Any time you want, I'll drive it for you," Robert said with admiration in his voice for the car.
"Well, perhaps while you are here, you shall. It isn't driven enough. Fine tuned machines require TLC." Soon Albert was moving around the kitchen and preparing coffee. He put fresh baked sweet rolls down in front of Toby, who immediately ate one.
"This is the lad from the wall, is it not? The day I spirited you off in his stead?"
"One and the same, Albert."
"Quite a charming lad he is. If I didn't enjoy your company so much, Bobby, I'd think I made a mistake."
"Let's get one thing straight, Albert, while Toby's with me, he's out of business. I'm trying to help him while this asshole's out there killing people."
"I thought I was helpin' you? Don't I get a say in this matter?" exclaimed Toby.
"It is understood and accepted, Bobby. The temptations of the flesh are always the most difficult to subdue, but I shall set aside the more prurient side of my nature, even in the presence of one as fair as he. Let it be written. Let it be done. Your coffee, sir. The rolls with the pecans are exquisite with this particular brew."
"He always talk like this?"
"No, actually Albert has a rather earthy side if you get him looped."
"I'll be lookin' forward to that. He doesn't speak English does he? You got any milk?"
"Ah yes, the milkman came only this morning."
"You had something you wanted to show me?" Robert spoke as he ate his roll. The kitchen smelled of fresh brewed coffee and fresh bakery goods. The sun was just then shining in through the kitchen windows and the floor creaked slightly under Albert's feet as he served his guests.
" After coffee." A few minutes later he led them around the back of the house and into the Native American Room.
Toby was amazed at the things in the house. His mouth dropped open and stayed that way as he stopped to examine pictures on the wall along the way, then rushed to catch up. Once in the room he went from picture frame to picture frame to look at the scenes they portrayed. Albert went over to his work bench and carefully lifted a warrior chief's headdress.
"Here, Bobby, look at this. A friend found it in Oklahoma. We're researching it. It's incredible, is it not."
Albert couldn't hide his rapture. He held the headdress as though he was afraid he might disturb its magnificence. He then held it up as though he expected Robert to walk under it so he could position it on his head.
"I couldn't. It's meant for a chief. Someone of stature. It would be wrong for me to think I was worthy of wearing it."
"It's a relic. No one is worthy of it but we are about preserving it. To preserve it we must present it. By presenting it perhaps we can find enough friends to get it back to its rightful owner. That's all I have in mind, Bobby. While I treasure these items more than anything I own, they aren't mine and never could be, they belong to a culture that is still alive out there somewhere. I could serve no greater purpose than to restore this and these other items to where they came from. I don't buy them to own them. I only wish to preserve them."
"He for real?" Toby asked, staring into a pencil sketch of a Plains Indian riding his pony off into the bleak looking prairie. "What's he?"
"Comanche brave. It's written in the corner with the name of the artist."
"You say these guys are still out there somewhere?"
"Not like that, but yes, the Comanche are in Oklahoma today."
"My grandma was part Cherokee. What's that make me?"
"You're an Indian," Albert said. "I am in the presence of warriors and I a poor redneck child of the south."
"He serious? I'm Indian? Like you?"
Toby threw his arms around Robert's waist and hugged him.
"Yeah, I know. Cut it out."
"I detect a bit of affection in this friendship of circumstance."
"We been looking out for each other. He needs a hug every now and then. He just don't know it," Toby said, admiring Robert as he spoke.
"So you intend to return these to the Nations?"
"Not yet. I'm not ready to part with them quite yet. Now I can photograph them with someone of equal magnificence and perhaps after that, yes."
"He talking about you?" Toby asked.
"He'll never admit it, but he's perfect to show them off. We'll add a bit of color to his skin in some of the pictures and he'll be perfect. Why the change of heart, Bobby? I couldn't talk you into it before. You aren't doing this just to assure your lodging in my home?"
"No, Albert. I told you I have been thinking about it. Now that I know your intentions, I wouldn't mind being part of that journey. I think these belong to the people who owned them. They were probably stolen or sold for nickels and dimes so someone could eat."
"Have you thought of your father, Bobby?"
"Yes, in fact I have. Probably because of our conversation. I think you're right about me giving him a chance. He is my father. I might call him when I've… later on."
"I've been very bad, Bobby. You are going to be angry with Albert."
"Not a chance. You're one of my favorite people."
"No, Albert has overstepped the boundaries of our friendship. I too had cause to think of your father on several occasions. It troubled me deeply, what you described, how you broke with your past so entirely. I had to do something for my own peace of mind. I hope you'll forgive me for my impertinence. I can do nothing but throw myself on your mercy."
"He will speak English again soon, right? Where's this dude from?"
Toby's eyes examined Robert as he spoke. Robert's expression never changed but he watched Albert carefully, trying to figure out the riddle he'd revealed. "Albert, just come out with it. We're all friends here."
"I have a friend. More a researcher and confidant who scours hill and dale for relics of a Native past. He's from Sioux Falls. I mentioned your father and asked that he look him up if he got in your old neighborhood. Actually, I asked for more than that. I told him your father's name and asked him to see if he was all right or if he needed anything."
" I took the liberty and called him."
"You've spoken to him?"
"Last week in fact. He's living with a Brenda Tall Elk. He was quite concerned for you. He so appreciated knowing how well you turned out."
"You talked to my father?"
Albert looked down and felt the shame he thought was due. There was no excuse for doing such a thing but at times you didn't need an excuse to do what you thought was right and he had done that at the possible expense of a friendship.
"How is he?"
"He'd have me say he's fine. In fact I assured him I would not mention the broken hip or his dependence on Ms. Tall Elk. He is doing better and walking on his own."
"That's his sister. He's living with her? He can't walk?"
"Yes, her husband expired shortly after your father's injury. She brought him to her home to nurse him because he couldn't take care of himself. He seems happy but he misses you."
"He doesn't miss me. He just needs me," Robert said.
"No, I know what I hear in a voice. He misses you. Your story doesn't exactly match up with the facts. I'm more objective than you, and while you have every right to be angry with your father, he did what he did for you, not for him, not because he didn't love you. He knew you didn't fit. You were always fighting. He wanted you to get the best education. Your uncle agreed to see that you had a chance."
"Albert, how do you know all this? How come he never bothered to tell me? I'm his son."
"Ah, it's the same problem fathers and sons have been having since the dawn of time. He didn't know how to talk to you. He knew what was right and that's what he did. He can't read or write so he couldn't write you. He didn't have a phone so he couldn't call."
"You talked to my father? He can't read or write? Of course he can. Everyone can."
"I've talked to him several times in fact. Ms. Tall Elk has a phone. She said she'd never seen him happy since he's been there until he talked to me and found out about you. You're not the only one that's hurting over the decision he made for you. You might consider that before judging him so harshly and yes, he does need you, in my opinion, but he'd be the last to tell you. He wouldn't want you to do anything for him."
"Did he ask to speak to me."
"I'm sure he was hoping you'd speak to him. He's aware of the anger. He told me about the hair you left in the middle of the floor. It was a hard thing for him to do, Bobby. He lost his wife and he gave up his son. You might try to see it from his point of view. Your skin was the wrong color for the reservation but the right color for a good education in another place. That's what he wanted for you. One you didn't have to fight for."
"You talked to my father?" It changed everything but he wasn't sure how.
"I wouldn't talk to mine if you paid me." Toby spoke to Albert while Robert considered the information.
"Now, Albert hopes you can forgive him. I thought it best you know the truth. Even if the truth has made you angry with me."
"No, I'm not angry with you. I know you meant well. I can't picture my father depending on anyone."
"He's sixty years old. You can't break horses forever, although he thought he could."
"I didn't know he was that old."
"I think there are a lot of things you don't know. I will talk to him at the end of the week. If you are here I suggest you speak with him. I won't say any more about it. I like your father and I like his son. You both seem like very good men."
"I don't know Albert… I don't know."
"Here, look at these leggings," Albert shifted the conversation. "Feel the rawhide. I can't guess how old they are, but they're so soft. I was thinking the shield, these, and the headdress. It would make a great picture. But we'll start with something simple. A brave's breech cloth and simple decorations to show you off. We'll add some color to your skin and other items I know you'll like as much as I do. This is going to be something special, Bobby."
Robert's mind was no longer in the room or on the items Albert spoke about. He tried to picture his father's face but it was difficult. He had no difficulty seeing him bucked off a horse and landing wrong and breaking yet another bone. He saw the leather skin, the dark deep eyes that so often penetrated him, and the lines that had always marked his face.
Robert's anger was no longer something he could get his arms around. He was sure he had every right to be angry but he'd spent a large part of his life being angry. As he thought about his father being seriously injured, he didn't want to be angry at him any more.
Robert spent much of the day with Albert. He sat for some photographs while Toby hung on the door jam, watching Albert's preparations. There was lamb and roasted potatoes for dinner and cheese cake for dessert. The three men got along like old friends and sitting in the Jacuzzi after a long day, Albert once again let down his guard as the twelve year old French wine took hold.
"You sound like you're from down home," Toby said, sipping his Dr. Pepper and listening to the drawl in the man's voice.
"It's difficult to remember my roots. I rarely think about my humble beginnings. I long ago jettisoned the southern accent for the sake of business and now I forget it's in there unless I'm with people like you."
"Hicks?" Toby asked.
"No, I was thinking more on the order of friends. People I trust."
"Cool! I can dig it. Do your own thing, dude."
"I talked to Ms. Tall Elk while you showered this evening. Your father will call me Friday. I told him you might be here. I did not say you would be here. I won't interfere any further but he said he needed to talk to you."
Robert listened but he made no reply. He wasn't sure what he would say to his father after all these years but he'd think of something.
Albert was busy in the kitchen when the smell of coffee woke Robert from a sound sleep. He got dressed quietly and slipped out of the room.
"Is something troubling you, Robert? I suspected trouble before I spoke to you about your father. Now I'm not sure if that's the problem or if it is something else."
"I met Andrew Parkson the night he was killed."
"The eighth victim of this killer?"
"Yes! I met him in a bar over in Southeast."
"I won't ask what you were doing in such a place. I'm sure you had your reasons. I suppose a lot of people have known the victims. I shouldn't let it bother me too much."
"I'm a cop, Albert. I'm working undercover trying to find leads to the killer."
"That does explain things."
"Most of my troubles have come from other cops."
"Your face? Because of being undercover you are around gay men?"
"Exactly! There's a warrant out for my arrest. I got jumped a couple of nights ago and I'm afraid they came off a bit worse than I did."
"So, what does an undercover cop who is being abused by other cops do when there is a warrant for his arrest?"
"I'm doing it Albert. Tomorrow I'll call in to make sure the route is clear and then I go back to work. Until then I'm at your service."
"Your father said you wanted to be a policeman."
"He remembered that?"
"He asked if you had become a deputy yet. I assumed that's what they're called on the reservation. I told him I didn't know what you did."
"Now you know. When I clear out of here, I want to leave Toby with you. He's a good kid. He needs a safe place. If you can't I understand, but I trust you and I don't want him hurt."
"I understand the affection you have for the boy."
"He reminds me of myself. He makes me laugh. He's a cool kid."
"So, that's what this is about? You're going to dump me. You said you wasn't going to dump me," Toby burst out, standing in the doorway.
"I've got to go back to work. It could be dangerous."
"I don't care. I want to be with you. I'll take care of you. I've taken care of you haven't I?"
"It's got nothing to do with that, Toby. It's not safe being around me. I'm looking for a killer. I don't want you around me while I'm working."
"You're just like the rest of them. I thought you were different. But you aren't. So I belong to him now?" Toby's voice was defiant and angry as the feeling of being alone in the world took hold again. He understood betrayal and had learned to expect it. He hated it when he liked anyone as much as he liked Robert.
Robert and Albert looked at one another after hearing Toby's outburst. Robert didn't know what to say to Toby and he had already left the doorway. He wanted to protect the boy but he also wanted to keep him safe so that he could do his job without putting him at risk. He wasn't very good at explaining himself to anyone and this was no different.
Albert knew what to say but he was reluctant to interfere between the two much younger boys. He would likely make matters worse and he had no intention of adding fuel to an already raging fire. He sipped his coffee and held his tongue as Robert remained stoic.
It was Thursday afternoon when Robert reluctantly dressed in the leggings and the new headdress. Albert was now in his element, his camera clicking away, with Robert doing little or nothing but follow instructions. As uncomfortable as he was about donning gear with so much powerful symbolism, it also gave him a feeling of warmth deep in the middle of his chest once he was inside of it.
Many of the pieces Albert posed him with reminded him of similar items he'd seen back on the reservation. There was little interest in the forgotten relics beyond that of the old men who kept them. He knew each must have a history that he'd like to know and didn't.
It was after Albert brought out the brown coloring that Toby came in to go through the photographs that Albert had leaned against the wall in the far corner in small groupings of five and ten. Each captured the likeness of a single Indian or a scene with several. Toby stopped to stare into each one as though he might discover a secret no one else knew.
"That's excellent. I think we've got it. Maybe one more set with the color on your skin? I'd like to get a few in that first outfit. We'll need to put a little color on your legs to be consistent."
"Bobby, come look at this," Toby said, turning around, eyes focused on the photograph in his hand.
"We're working, Toby. We haven't got time for that. I'll look later."
"Perhaps you should," Albert said. "You might find that picture interesting."
Robert stood next to Toby and looked at what he was holding. It was the image of a very dark and very handsome Indian. His features were finely cut with prominent high cheeks and intense brooding eyes staring back out of the photograph.
"It's you!" Toby said.
"Get real, kid. I don't look anything like that."
"Oh, but you do," Albert agreed with Toby.
"This guy could be your brother. Really."
"Where'd you get it, Albert?" Robert asked.
"It's one of the first photographs I collected. I had a few pencil sketches and a painting when I discovered this in Chicago back in the late fifties. I hadn't collected photographs before, but this one captivated me. Then I saw you and it was almost like I knew you. I didn't tell you that part of it. I didn't realize it was this picture I knew. Then, one day after you'd come around a couple of times, I was going through my collection and there it was. I wanted you to find it but your curiosity level isn't nearly that of Tobias'."
Robert held the photograph out and looked into the shiny glass that reflected the overhead light. He felt eerie and a cold chill ran through him. He thought they were mistaken and that he looked nothing like the Indian in the photo. The skin was all wrong and the eyes were dark like his father's.
"Who is it?" Robert asked.
"I've researched it. No one knows the photographer, where he worked, or how many of these he might have taken. It simply says Carter 88 in the corner under the frame. No way to know what tribe or the story behind the photograph. I have people aware that I want to see anything by Carter from the last century, but no luck."
"He's Pawnee," Robert said.
"How can you tell?" Albert asked.
"I don't know. He's Pawnee. Maybe the head gear. I've seen something like it back home."
"Home?" Albert questioned.
"The reservation. North Dakota. You know where I'm from."
Albert smiled and set the picture back in its place.
"We've got to finish so I can start dinner. The breech cloth is on the bench. I'll get my cameras loaded. Toby, you can help him with the coloring, keep it even."
Toby took the pieces as Robert took them off and laid them on Albert's workbench. He then applied some of the tan coloring that Albert had mixed for the shoot. Albert took some pictures as the two boys interacted.
"I still feel naked in this deal," Robert objected.
"Turn around, dude. I want to see the rest of you," Toby said, adding some color to the higher parts of his legs that were now exposed. "Damn nice. How's it look, Albert?"
"Lovely, Toby, you do fine work."
"I didn't see any Indian in you before but you sure as hell look like one in that get up."
"It's the skin, Tobias. He has such a fine delicate white skin that it hides the lines that make him Indian, but not in that outfit. The features are unmistakable." The camera clicked as Albert spoke.
"Feel the Indian blood in your veins, Bobby? Go with it. Don't move, but keep your eyes on the lens and I'll do the rest."
"Give me a break, Albert. Just shoot the damn pictures."
"Great! Great! Hold that intensity." Albert was not dissuaded, "Feel the pride of all the generations that have gone before you. They ruled the plains for thousands of years. You would have been a chief. You are a thoroughbred."
After two hours, Robert's patience was beginning to wear thin. He'd had enough of being the center of attention.
"The parts I've seen are part pony. Yeah, Thoroughbred fits him," Toby chuckled as he admired his friend's body while standing on one leg pressing his body against the door jam as he stayed out of the way.
"Tobias has a bit of comedian in him," Albert observed as the clicking continued.
"Yeah, he also has a big mouth," Robert said, glaring hard enough to drive Toby out of the doorway.
Albert continued, setting down one camera and reaching for the other, speaking as he worked, "Bobby, you are a lucky lad to have the admiration of such a loyal boy. You should not be annoyed at the quality that makes him so pleasing. You don't think for a moment I could miss the fondness you share for one another?"
"Albert!" Robert said through his teeth.
"Your relationship is your business, but I've seen you alone and I've seen you with him. You're a much happier person with him around, more relaxed, more alive when he is being Toby. Just the fact he worships you would be enough for most men. Don't push him away. You'll regret it if you do, and now I'll shut up. That's all. Albert is exhausted."
"I don't like my business being discussed that way. I'm not like you two."
"No one is like anyone. Our originality and passion are tempered by a society that would have us all be the same, but we aren't and will never be. You think the immature words of a young boy would give me cause to think any less of you? I have the utmost admiration for you and I wouldn't want you to be anything you aren't. Let Toby be Toby. He would never do you harm. You have won his loyalty even when you treat him badly. To use his words, you need to lighten up, dude." Robert chuckled as Albert adapted Toby's voice quite adequately.
"I don't know. It's this case. I didn't have anything against anyone back home. I spent all my time trying to fit in. I was the queer back there. When I moved to Virginia, it was the same thing. Certain kids were marked for torment. I stayed as far from that as I could. Of course I had a fight the first day, the first hour, I was at Hayfield High. No one messed with me after that. They wanted me on their side. I guess I did learn one thing back home."
"The thing you haven't learned is to let your guard down when you are around friends. We aren't the danger. We love you as you are. Don't drive him away, Bobby. You'd live to regret it but your regret isn't what bothers me. I think you would destroy any chance he has left if you do that to him."
"It's dangerous being around me, Albert. I don't want him hurt. I shouldn't even be here. If it weren't for the fact no one knows about you, I wouldn't be here. I want him, and you, clear of what I'm doing until I'm done. He can't hang around me."
"Tell him. That he'll accept, but not the attitude. Don't do to him what your father did to you. Speak to him so he knows the why behind your actions."
"I've got to shower."
"Yes, I'll prepare the coffee."
"Oh, yeah. Coffee sounds good."
Robert was drying his hair as he went into the bedroom. Toby had piled all the pillows up behind his head and was staring into the Thursday afternoon cartoon festival on WTTG. He giggled and didn't pay Robert any mind. He finished with his hair and pulled on the underwear and then his black nylon socks.
"I'm sorry I got angry with you. I can't take you with me right now."
"I don't care if it's dangerous. You said I could stay with you and I want to stay with you."
"You shouldn't eavesdrop."
"How else am I gonna learn what's really going on?"
"What I said is, I wouldn't dump you. I'm going to leave you here with Albert. You'll be good company for him while I finish my business. You like him don't you?"
"Sure, Albert's okay, but what if something happens to you?"
"Nothing's going to happen to me."
"I'm scared, Bobby."
"Nothing to be scared of. I've got a feeling we're coming close to the end of this thing. I have to be careful and I can't be if I'm worrying about you. I'll probably be back in a week, two at the most. It's not like I can't drop by."
Toby threw his arms around Robert and cried on his chest. The tears wet the freshly dried skin and Robert sat still for it until Toby was done and went back to watching television, feeling a bit foolish for his tears. Robert finished dressing and went to the kitchen for coffee.
"Ah, Bobby. I'm out of cream. The keys are hooked over the red punch tack on my message board over there. Would you be so kind to go over to 29th and out to "M" Street. There's a bakery just to the right on "M". I get my cream there and you can get us some rolls for in the morning. Toby can't get going without a sugar fix and he polished off the rest of them at breakfast."
"You want me to drive the Vette?"
"You can drive the Mercedes if you like. Orange tack. I just thought you could do me another favor by airing out the Corvette, since you're going out.
"Sure!" Robert said, loving the idea.
" Take the garage door opener out of the Mercedes. I need batteries for the spare."
He listened to the engine purr for several minutes before opening the garage door. He backed out into the street and felt the surge of power as he drove away.
"I knew I'd catch up with you sooner or later you slick son-of-a-bitch. Thought you could lose me, did you? I've got a long memory and I remembered where that Mercedes went." Jim Bland watched from his perch between two parked cars down in the next block as Robert backed out of the garage and headed away from him down "O" Street.
The urge to follow was strong but he decided not to risk it. Robert Mann had caught him at it once and it was too early in the day for him to be going anywhere important. Now that he knew where Mann was hanging out, he'd be paying more attention to him but it was too easy to be spotted on back streets in the daylight. He'd found his quarry, he could go home and relax and have a nice hot TV dinner and get a good night's sleep. He'd take care of Mr. Mann later, when he was least expecting it.
Bland waited for the Corvette to go out of sight. He pulled out of his parking place and turned down the first street before passing the house Mann had come out of. He didn't want to drive past the house, as tempting as it was. He was sure that the boy was there and the old fag that had driven off with Mann the first day he followed him.
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