by George Gauthier

Chapter 3

Murder Mysteries

No stranger to combat himself, Will Laurier wasted no time once he returned from Mexico getting the story of the shootout at the jewelry store from the two heroes of that well-publicized episode, Paolo and Delaney. The sergeant let his younger colleague tell most of the tale, speaking only to clarify certain points of police procedure, which Will, trained as a soldier, would not be clear on.

"That is one hell of a story. The news carried brief clips from your body cameras, but can I ask you to run the complete footage for me?"

"No problem." Paolo told him. In fact I've combined the entire footage from our cameras with local news broadcasts into a short documentary."

"Look for my name in the credits," Kyle told them. "as script writer and narrator."

"It's our fifteen minutes of fame" Paolo explained. "I want to be able to look back on this when I am old and grey."

"Old and grey? The heavens forfend!" I enthused. Will smiled then asked:

"So Sergeant Delaney is this why you prefer patrol to detective work, for the excitement?"

"Hardly. That kind of excitement I can do without. Most police work is routine though it is seldom boring, not with all the human contact. Whether you are in a cruiser or walking a beat, as you patrol your area you keep your eyes open for what does not belong, for anything that seems off. You stop and talk with with locals to get a feel for what is happening or maybe isn't happening in the neighborhood but should be."

"Cops aren't social workers but we encounter the same social pathologies they do, from addiction to drink or drugs, homelessness, domestic disturbances, street violence, fire, accidents, car crashes, burglary, robbery, crazies off their meds, you name it."

"You try to keep in mind that you are often dealing with otherwise normal people at a bad moment in their lives such as when a dysfunctional family dynamic explodes into violence or when a mother discovers the body of her son dead from a drug overdose."

"We also may be called upon to make notifications about a traffic death or crime victim. I cannot tell you how hard it is when a parent or spouse opens the door only to find a policeman standing there with a somber look on his face. They know instantly that you are the bearer of the bad news that a husband, wife, son, or daughter is dead and at times more than one. Sometimes they just sink to the floor, it hits them that hard."

"Patrol differs from detective work in that on patrol your involvement is short-term. Even if long-term issues are at the root of trouble, it is not your problem. With detective work you may work the case for many days, sometimes weeks. It feel so right when you finally get the goods on one of the perps.

"Some cases you never get close to a resolution. Those are the ones which bothered me most, when bad people got away with murder or another serious crime."

"When I was just starting out as a cop, my mentor told me of a mother who had hoped for decades that her son would get back in touch with her. He was thought to have run off to Canada to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War. Instead, forty years later when a building once used as a bar was being torn down, they found a body stuffed into a cavity in the walls. It was that of her murdered son. After so long, we had no leads. The culprit might well be dead anyway and so beyond the law. Those things get to you. You would not be human if they did not."

"Many murders happen on the spur of the moment as when a wife finally reaches her limit and shoots or stabs her abusive husband. Or maybe he is a compulsive gambler who for one time too many has stolen the rent money and pissed it away on bad bets. Sometimes it is a street fight which goes too far. Then there are the fatal romantic triangles where someone decides to erase the hypotenuse."

"It help detectives that killers will often make only the lamest of attempts to hide evidence like throwing the victim's jacket into the dumpster behind their own house when what what they really should do is dump it three neighborhoods over, ideally just before the Sanitation Department pickup is scheduled for that area."

"Some deaths are deliberately planned like a poisoning for a relative's money or life insurance or a stalking. As a detective I once tracked down a killer who had talked his way into a lady's apartment, supposedly to get the phone number of a mutual acquaintance whom he had lost touch with. She was a just a waitress with a few hundred dollars from her tips kept in her money jar for emergencies, like in case her car broke down."

"When she turned toward the list of phone numbers on her refrigerator he reached around, pressed his forearm against her neck and lifted her bodily off the floor. She passed out in seconds, but he held her up till she suffocated. We caught him thanks to a surveillance video from the house diagonally across the street. That is a big help these days, security footage from surveillance cameras, dash cams, Ring doorbells, ATMs, you name it."

"Twice now I have arrested men who killed their blackmailers. Now there is is a filthy business, blackmail. Someone makes a mistake, maybe years earlier but straightens out and tries to put it all behind him. Just when he is finally content with his lot in life as an honest and hardworking citizen, his early sin comes back to haunt him."

"Blackmailers are merciless and relentless. They will drain the victim till he has nothing left. The smart ones take out insurance by letting their victims know that if something ever happened to them or they just disappeared, their victim's misdeeds would surely come to light. The blackmailer would have his revenge from the grave."

"One victim did not care about the consequences. Unknown to his blackmailer he was in the third stage of an incurable cancer. So he turned the tables and murdered the blackmailer then went down to police station and made a full confession. I was gratified that he cleared his conscience and spared the detectives the need to investigate the murder. Anyway the guy knew he would never live long enough to go to trial much less get sent to prison. He had my sympathy. Sure murder is a crime and one the law must deal with, but from a moral rather than a legal perspective killing your blackmailer is hardly a sin but more like a public service."

Paolo was astonished at this nuanced assessment from his mentor.

"So what do you think of cop shows?" I asked to change the subject.

Both Delaney and Paolo laughed and shook their heads ruefully. Delaney answered first.

"I live alone so I don't mind telling you that when I watch cop shows I am forever calling out advice to the characters of a teleplay, even the perps. So I might warn a good guy to maintain situational awareness like don't stand with your back to an open doorway or focus too intently on the body at your feet. Or I tell the perp not to throw the gun down the nearest storm drain."

Paolo offered this observation;

"Actually some of the shows aren't too bad. The main fault is from the time constraints of a TV production. It is laughable how quickly TV cops resolve their cases. Like they do five interrogations in six minutes; as if a single interview is ever that short. Even I know that, and my experience is just with patrol."

"Franco is right. An hour show has only forty-two minutes to develop and resolve the plot. That said, I do like "Blue Bloods since it covers patrol and detective work and has a fine family dynamic at those Sunday dinners."

"So Delaney, besides cop shows I understand that you are a fan of murder mysteries, whether in books or in the movies".

"God help me, but I am." Delaney admitted.

"Why the appeal to Heaven?" Kyle asked.

"Mysteries can be highly entertaining, especially once the authors get through introducing the characters and the bodies start piling up. Much as I love a good whodunit, detective fiction is nothing like a real murder investigation. For starters forget citizen sleuths like Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher. No civilian would get involved in one murder after another. It just does not happen, or if it did, that would make them the prime suspect."

"Then there are private detectives. I rather like hard boiled detectives like Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, but private I's don't solve murders. They mainly track down cheating spouses or missing persons or fathers trying to dodge child support. One sub-genre I really favor is the historical mystery, a mashup of a historical novel and a murder mystery. So you will have a hard-boiled detective story but one set in Ancient Rome instead of Los Angeles."

"And forget those detectives like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes who are supposed to be household names. I don't know a single detective who is a household name, and I used to be a detective myself on a major crimes squad."

"I wonder then if you have ever investigated a locked room mystery, a plot device beloved of classic mystery writers?" I asked.

"Never, and never heard of anyone else doing it either. It's a fine puzzle in a whodunit, but only in fiction."

"What about ABC style murders?"

At Kyle's puzzled look I reminded him of the Agatha Christie murder mystery where the killer commits a string of murders, making it look like a madman was at work, hoping that the death of his rich uncle under identical circumstances will be marked down as the work of lunatic, not that of a heir with a fortune and an aristocratic title to gain.

"No, though sometimes when a serial killer is known to be at work, a husband will stage the murder of his wife to look like the work of someone else. That is why we always leave the public in the dark about some key characteristic of the murders."

"What about the wrap up? That is when the detective gets all the suspects together in the drawing room then goes over the case, dealing with the clues and suspects in turn, until he reaches the culprit whom he often tricks into incriminating himself."

"Sorry, but as entertaining as that gimmick is on the screen or on the page, it never happens in real life. It's about as realistic as when on that old show Perry Mason uses his cross-examination at the trial of his client to break down the culprit right there on the witness stand. You watch the killer get to his feet and admit his guilt in open court. Anyone with any sense would clam up the instant they caught Mason's drift."

"Having said that, I really love Golden Age mysteries like the Miss Marple series, especially those dramatized by Joan Hickson, the very best of the Marples. Among contemporary authors I would rate Anthony Horowitz's "Foyle's War" as the best TV detective show ever. It is set during World War II and the early Cold War. Despite a small budget, the productions nevertheless look like they spent big bucks. Michael Kitchen's Christopher Foyle is more than a great detective, he comes across a sympathetic and compassionate human being."

So just a conversation among friends, but for me it was an affirmation of a set of friendships that had become very important to me in the last couple of years with my lovers Paolo, Will, and Kyle and good friends like Dyson and Delaney. They were the central persons in my circle of friendship. As they saying goes, friends are the family you choose for yourself. And I could hardly have chosen better in this, my latest incarnation.

Seven Seas

One fine fall day I asked Will about Dyson's yacht.

"A multi-billionaire like Dyson must have one of those mega-yachts, one as big as a naval frigate. Am I right?"

"Actually Troy, you could hardly be more wrong. Dyson does not have a yacht of any size. He is very much a landlubber and doesn't care for the sea. Sorry, but you won't be sailing the seven seas in sumptuous style anytime soon."

"Whoa, heavy alliteration there: sorry, sail seven seas, sumptuous style, and soon."

"Which begs the question," Paolo said. "Exactly which are the seven seas. Is it just an alliterative phrase or did folks historically conceive of exactly seven seas, and if so, which ones and why those?"

"Good questions, Paolo." Kyle remarked. "It is not just alliteration which inspired that phrase. That works in English but not in the original Greek."

"And you know this, how?"

"It so happens that just last year I had the same thought. I looked up the Seven Seas in the Wikipedia and bookmarked the entry. Now that was on my iMac but I can pull it up just as well on my iPhone. Bear with me a sec..."

"Ah, here it is. In ancient times, long before the English language evolved, the Greeks wrote of seven seas or 'epta thalasses' in their language, which isn't at all alliterative, is it? Their seven seas were what we today would call the Adriatic, Arabian, Black, Caspian, and Red Seas, along with the Persian Sea meaning the Persian Gulf, plus the Mediterranean Sea."

Paolo was puzzled.

"Why those seven, and why weren't the Ionian and Aegean Seas on that list. It's where the Greek islands are located. Come to think of it, there must be a dozen smaller seas within the Mediterranean like the Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, Balearic and the Alboran Seas."

"What, so you're sailor now are you?" I asked.

"No, but I am Italian and my birthplace of Torino is just across the mountains from the Ligurian Sea while the others which I named are mostly within the Western Mediterranean."

"Tis a puzzlement" I opined. Meanwhile Kyle continued.

"For Arabs the Seven Seas were those they sailed across to trade with foreign lands: the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Strait of Malacca, Singapore Strait, Gulf of Thailand, and South China Sea."

"And in modern times some geographers count the oceans as the seven seas."

"But there are only four oceans." Paolo protested: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic."

"Plus the recently recognized Southern Ocean which makes five." Kyle pointed out.

"Okay, five. But how do you get seven seas out of five oceans?"

"Simple. You split two oceans along the Equator to get the North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, Arctic, Indian, and Southern Oceans."

Paolo was not convinced.

"Half of an ocean is not an ocean in itself. Sure we often refer to the North Atlantic or the South Pacific, but those phrases are always understood as references to parts of a whole."

An assertion which was incontrovertibly true.

"And a final point here in the excerpt...It seem that in colonial times there emerged a new set of seven seas, all near the Dutch East Indies. Those were the Banda, Celebes, Flores, Java Sea, Sulu, Timor and South China Seas. Why those seven? The route which clipper ships took from China to England passed through those seven seas. So if someone had sailed those Seven Seas it meant he had made a round trip voyage to other side of the world."

Paolo shook his head.

"Big deal. Out and back along a trade route through a small region is not the same as exploring the world oceans the way master mariner Captain Cook did on his epic voyages of exploration. He crossed the Indian and Pacific and Atlantic Oceans north-south as well as east-west and sailed the Southern Ocean while circumnavigating the globe below the Antarctic Circle. Now that is sailing the seven seas, however you count them."

Maybe not a typical conversation for a circle of friends, but we were all brainy and well-read and none of us was interested in the more usual kind of chatter for young males, about spectator sports or girls. I do not doubt that if any of us ever sails the Alboran Sea he will let the rest of us know about it.

[The Alboran Sea is the westernmost part of the Mediterranean Sea where it narrows between the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. As to where Albora is located, I only wish I knew. I am still trying to locate the mysterious land or city or island of Bothnia for which the Gulf of Bothnia is named.]

I never kept count of how many named seas I have crossed in my travels over the centuries. There are seventy-six named seas in the list in the Wikipedia of the largest seas, some of which are called Gulfs or Bays like Gulf of Guinea of Bay of Bengal. So I can check off most on the list except for the polar seas. Some named seas are not on the list at all, bodies of water even more obscure than the Alboran Sea, for example the Koro Sea in Fiji -- not to be confused with the Coral Sea nearby.

Barroom Brawl

Take it from one who knows, a bar fight is one thing and a barroom brawl is another. A fight is one on one, really just a clumsy punch up between a pair of drunks. A barroom brawl is an indoor riot which involves the whole crowd in a rough and tumble melee.

Guys like me who work in a bar can often see the brawl brewing. Ideally that is when you should edge away from the epicenter of the disturbance and slip outside before things come to a head and get entirely out of hand, which it shouldn't if our bouncers act in time to defuse the brewing conflict.

Crowding or shoving or unkind words might lead to a minor punch up. If it stops there fine. Sometimes as with a chain reaction the crowd spontaneously erupts in a general brawl. Patrons join in, assaulting one another right and left mostly just for the hell of it. They are too mixed up to sort themselves out by allegiance to any cause so each combattant simply takes on whoever is within reach. It's everyman for himself and devil take the hindmost.

From the glee on their faces some brawlers are clearly enjoying themselves. Belligerence, boredom, alcohol and adrenalin make a heady cocktail. The brawlers are often powerfully built to begin with and just drunk enough that they don't feel pain as easily as when sober. They can take a punch or two or three and come back for more. Driven by strong emotions, weak inhibitions, and dulled pain receptors, they can be very hard to put down without inflicting a disabling injury, which nobody really wants.

Maybe it is just me, but I have never quite grasped the concept of recreational brawling -- outside of intentionally comical bar fight scenes in the movies. Likely my small physique has something to do with it.

It happened for real just the other day, at Something Else Again, the trendy gay bar where I worked. The fighting initially broke out over political differences spreading from a pair who began arguing, then those nearby, and then everyone. Anxiety about the upcoming national elections, tensions over immigration and the borders, identity politics, the Middle East, and other issues have divided our usually good natured clientele much as they have divided the country.

It didn't help that a contingent of our local gay motorcycle club had pushed their way through the crowd to get to the bar. Now these guys were not thugs much less a criminal gang, just enthusiasts for overly loud two-wheeled transportation, but they were not fully housebroken either. In their shoving their way to the bar they had rubbed more tractable patrons the wrong way.

It got bad for me when the brawl on the floor spread to the stage during my lascivious pole dancer act where I was on a raised platform dangerously conspicuous, alone, and stark naked.

As the belligerents squared off, two guys climbed up onto my platform and grabbed me. I suppose my nudity, slight build, and youthful pretty boy looks marked me as easy prey. Fortunately my body was sweaty from physical exertion in the overheated room so their hands slipped off. I abandoned the stage and dropped down among the struggling mass of drunken humanity. Woe is me, all of five foot three and one-hundred seven pounds. Like Help! Lemme Outta here!

Too bad the patrons of the bar were packed close together. I prefer some room when I fight. I am smaller than most guys and have a slight build, but I can be quite an effective fighter when I can capitalize on my agility and speed and the tripled strength conferred on me by the Olympians. And these days I had medical nanites circulating in my bloodstream and throughout my body to dull pain and speedily repair any damage I might take. Nanites protected my vulnerable toes as I fought my way into the clear barefoot as well as bare-ass.

Now since this was a barroom brawl and not mortal combat, I had to rein it in yet still keep the big bruisers off me. So I didn't unleash myself fully on drunks who otherwise were likely to be a decent enough fellows when not in their cups. I especially did not target the vulnerable points along the center line of the human body.

I wasn't trying to hurt the other guys so much as keep them away from me and open up a lane or a hole through which I might slip away. So I twisted wrists, broke fingers, stamped on insteps, elbowed faces, that sort of thing, inflicting only minor damage, nothing which Mother Nature and Father Time could not fix perhaps with a bit of an assist from the helpful folks at the Emergency Room.

Now I will admit that I too got caught up in the excitement of the fight and rather enjoyed punching and kicking those who just would not leave me alone. To their credit, some fighters pulled apart and let me pass before resuming their clash. No one in a gay bar really wants to bash pretty boys like me.

Fortunately the bouncers saw how hard pressed I was and rallied to me. Together we fought and pushed our way to sanctuary in the back room, holding the entryway against all comers till the owner Nigel Dalgleish thought to turn on the emergency sprinklers which literally dampened the rambunctious spirits of the fighters. Many followed the flashing lights to the emergency exits and dispersed before the cops arrived to sort things out.

Yikes! What a night. Dozens injured and tens of thousands of dollars of damage. The bar had to close for several days.

Thanks to the nanites, my wrenched shoulder, sore toes, cut lip, scratches, and bruises healed quickly and completely, which no one around me noticed amidst all that was going on. I declined medical assistance.

Unable to reach my locker, I had to make my way home barefoot wearing nothing more than a bar towel rigged fore and aft over a piece of cord tied around my hips as a loincloth. My state of undress and physical beauty was why my candid image and stills and video of my pole dancer routine got broadcast on the news and printed in the papers to further titillate my fan base. As we say in show business, the only really bad publicity is no publicity.

One enterprising TV reporter who knew where I lived sprang an ambush interview at the entrance to my apartment house. A big fan, after turning off the camera, he asked me for my loincloth as a souvenir. I raised an eyebrow as I contemplated just how my fan might use his souvenir, but what the heck, I obliged and handed it over then walked inside the converted spooky old mansion wearing only a cord around my hips much to the delight of my fellow tenants in the common rooms on the ground floor.

What a way to make a living!

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