Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
“You fucked up, no two ways about it.”
Okay, so maybe he had. And in the back of his mind he'd known it when he was doing it, too, just as he'd known it would come to something like this. Right. Taking his spoon and twiddling it between his thumb and forefinger, Todd had known Rawlins would have a shit fit. The trouble was, Todd had been willing to face the consequences, absolutely so.
“I didn't call you,” said Todd, putting it all out on the table, “because I didn't want you to say no.”
“Which I would have.”
“Rawlins, something's rotten in Denmark.”
“No shit, Sherlock. A cop was killed.” Rawlins looked right at Todd with those big, deep, disarming eyes. “Listen, a couple of things happened this afternoon that you don't know about yet.”
“First, my partner's mom died.”
“Neal Foster's? Wow, I'm sorry.”
“Well, it wasn't unexpected. She'd been sick for a long time. What that means, though, is that Foster's gone for the next week or so.” Rawlins shrugged. “Consequently, I spent the better part of the afternoon arguing with Lieutenant Holbrook.”
Todd had wondered if it would come to this, an official conflict of interests, and he bent forward and rubbed his eyes. “He wanted to pull you from this because of me, right?”
Holbrook knew all about them, of course. Hell, it was only last month that he and his wife had had Rawlins and Todd over for dinner. So how, wondered Todd, had Rawlins stopped Holbrook from assigning this case to someone else?
“Presuming the case is still yours, what did you have to do? What kind of price did Holbrook make you pay?” asked Todd.
Rawlins shrugged. “I have to sleep at my house, you have to sleep at yours.”
“A separation of sorts. After dinner tonight we're supposed to talk only in a formal setting.”
This, he knew, wasn't going to be easy. Or fun. Except when one of them was working through the night on either a story or a case, they'd hardly been apart since they first met.
“Shit.” Trying to make light of it, with a shrug Todd said, “Well, then we're just going to have to figure out real quick who killed Forrest.”
“No kidding.” Rawlins took a deep breath. “There's one more thing, which is actually the main reason Holbrook is letting me keep the case. As it turns out, he thinks I might have some connections or insights into this that the other guys wouldn't. Which is to say, you were right—Mark Forrest was gay.”
“What? You're kidding?”
“Nope. And that info's for public consumption too—we got it from the park police late this afternoon. Apparently Mark Forrest was out as a gay cop and had been since the first day he was hired.”
“Do you realize what that means, Rawlins?” said Todd, leaning forward, unable to squash his excitement. “It means that there could in fact be a gay serial killer out there—after all, that guy who was killed last month was also shot in the chest. It also means I was almost certainly set up. I don't know why, but it's pretty damn clear that I was. And we both know that whoever killed Mark Forrest is going to be watching everything I say. Actually, there's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to get some kind of reaction from the killer.”
“Shit, you're trying to get yourself hurt, aren't you?” Rawlins put his elbow on the table and bowed his forehead into the palm of his left hand. “Todd, don't you see you're being used to get as much media exposure as possible?”
“That's my point—I don't want to give him exactly what he wants.”
“Do you know how pissed off that's going to make him?”
“Todd, what are you trying to do? Turn this into something bigger than it is? Are you going for another Emmy?”
The anger whooshed through him, but he sat quite still. No, he wouldn't deny it. Not at all.
“Rawlins, in case you didn't realize it, I'm always going for another Emmy.”
“Yeah,” he replied, defeated. “I know.”
At first he didn't know what it was, the quivering against his chest. Todd sat back, touched the shaking thing in the breast pocket of his shirt, and felt a hard plastic case. The phone. That was probably Craig. Probably calling to bug him about something. Or to tell him he needed to get his butt back to the station. Of all the times he didn't want to talk to anyone at Channel 10, this was probably right up there at the pinnacle. Perhaps he shouldn't even answer it.
“What is it?” asked Rawlins.
“Oh, Christ. You and that job of yours.”
Todd hesitated, glanced at Rawlins, who was glaring at him, and then decided to answer it, if only to show Rawlins who was in charge of what. But how? Todd pulled the phone from his pocket and stared at it, for he still didn't get this, the private-phone-in-a-public-space deal.
“Excuse me,” said Todd, pushing back his chair.
As the small phone vibrated with its silent rings, Todd exited the main part of the restaurant and stepped into the side hallway. He moved up against a window, flipped open the phone, and lifted it to his ear.
“This is Todd Mills.”
“Whatsamatta with you?”
He didn't know the voice, nor could he even tell if it was a man or a woman, for if it was a guy he had no resonance to his voice, while if it was a woman she'd been smoking way too long.
He asked, “Who is this?”
“I mean, what kind of reporter are you anyway?”
Suddenly he realized who it might be, and fearing and hoping he was right, Todd's heart tripped, then started pounding. Yes, he realized. The voice indeed was that of a man, the voice perhaps purposely hoarse or faint. But was it him?
The voice demanded, “That was pathetic. I thought you were supposed to be good. That's why I picked you, asshole.”
Todd saw their waitress coming down the hall from the bar. The desperation all too apparent on his face, he raised his hand and flagged her. When she came over, Todd reached to her tray and grabbed her pen and a handful of cocktail napkins. On one of them he wrote: It's him—the killer! And then Todd frantically pointed to their table and Rawlins. The waitress, understanding only that this was most urgent, hurried off.
“I'm sorry,” said Todd. “Who is this? Do I know you?”
“Of course you do, you moron. We met on the bridge over, I guess you could say, troubled waters.”
“I see,” said Todd, unfolding the napkin and frantically jotting down what was being said. “But how did you get this number?”
“I called the station and told them I was a cop and that we had an emergency.”
Todd hesitated, glanced over his shoulder, saw Rawlins rushing over. “But … but how do I know it's really you?”
“Oh, fuck off. Of course it's me.”
“I get crank calls all the time.”
“Yeah, well, if you fuck up all the time, I'm not surprised. I mean, I know you're a homo, but why did you make that stuff up about me? None of it's true, you know. None of it.”
Rawlins was at Todd's side, and Todd jotted on the napkin: Yes, it's him!
“Tell me something,” said Todd, his mind working frantically. “Prove it.”
“You're playing with me, aren't you?”
“Don't make a fool of me. I don't like it when people do that. And don't say that crap about me either.”
Rawlins ripped the pen from Todd's hand and frantically started writing.
“Okay … okay …” began Todd, reading Rawlins's words. “So you're the guy who killed Mark Forrest on the bridge?”
“Why did you do it?”
“Because … because I like killing cops,” he replied with a laugh.
“So you've done this before?”
“A while ago.” The voice shifted, got more bossy again. “Listen, I just called because I wanted to warn you: Don't do that again, don't talk about me like that. You don't know me—I'm not an idiot. I know perfectly well what I'm doing.”
“Who are you?”
“That's for you to figure out.”
Todd said, “But—”
“Here, try to guess this one, you moron: Either brother or sister, I am neither.” He laughed. “Or am I either?” He laughed again. ”Ta-ta.”
Desperate not to lose him, Todd blurted out, “I think this is a crank call.”
There was nothing, and then an irritated “What?”
“You've got to prove it.”
“Oh, Jesus.” A moment passed, and then the caller said, “I fired at you as you dove to the ground. And I missed on purpose, asshole.” The wispy voice laughed, said one last thing, and hung up.
Stunned, Todd was silent, then quickly said, “Hello? Hello?” He shook his head, then pushed the OFF button and folded up the phone. “Crap, he hung up on me.”
Right by Todd's side, Rawlins looked at the scribbles on the napkins and said, “Are you sure it was really him, the guy who killed Forrest?”
Todd nodded as he jotted down the last of the conversation. “It was him, all right.” Not really sure who had snared who, he shrugged and pointed down to his writing. “This is pretty much everything he said, plus …”
“The last thing he said was that if I didn't stick just to the facts, he was going to make me suffer, really suffer.”
Rawlins stared at Todd, his brow furrowed with confusion. “What's that mean?”
“Hell if I know,” said Todd, wanting to shrug it off but knowing he didn't dare.
Examining the black cotton
jacket, Kris stood in front of one of the mirrors at Dayton's, the grand department store that had done its best to keep The Cities more or less in style since before the turn of the century. Wearing tall black boots that she'd bought from a transgender store she'd found on the Net, tight black jeans, and a skimpy white top, Kris was the very picture of youth. And, of course, lust. A hip Lolita, she mused with a grin, that was her goal. Yep. She kind of liked the way the jacket brought everything together. It had a kind of sixties, kind of Beatles cut to it. Very mod. Straight arms. Broad at the shoulders. Cut in at the waist. Then flared, which was good because it made her narrow hips, the weakest of her attributes, look broader and more feminine than they actually were. She could, she supposed, one day have hip augmentation if she wanted, but for now …
Yes, it was only eight, the store would be open another hour and a half, she could keep looking, but this might do just fine. With it on, she looked cute and perky. A little waifish, perhaps, which never hurt ‘cause the guys always liked that about her. But then she could just drop the coat—as she now did—and there she was, in the tall boots, tight jeans, and sexy top. No bra. Her hormone-induced tits poking out as best they could. And her blond hair all perked up.
Yes, she thought. Stuart Hawkins would like it very much. He'd appreciate that she would come to his place all wrapped in a summer jacket that she could drop in an instant and then display everything great about her body. Oh, yes. She'd seen him only that one time, but she knew his taste. And she was it. He didn't like women. Nope. He wanted girls, the younger the better. She'd sensed that as soon as their eyes had met over the canapés, was sure of it as he pursued her throughout that great house and into the tool room, where they'd disappeared into a vortex of desire.
She turned to the side, smoothed a wrinkle with her left palm, and smiled, still unable to believe that she'd actually passed, that Hawkins had been totally convinced. Okay, okay, so her hands weren't so great—they were a little too broad, the fingers a shade too long—but there wasn't a thing to be done there, and, besides, he hadn't picked up on them.
Funny, she thought, now clasping her hands together, she hadn't expected to hear from Travis so soon. And when asked if she could help cater a private dinner party, she'd replied without too much thought.
Only then, only after she'd agreed to the work, did she learn the specifics. Her heart flinched when she heard the name. Stuart Hawkins? Of course she knew what this was all about. It had nothing to do with Travis's beautiful food. No, it had everything to do with her. With Kris. And lust.
She hadn't been able to get that adorable, boyish face out of her mind. That tall, manly figure. Those broad shoulders. The pinstripe navy-blue suit. His hot, moist mouth. The strong tongue. And as much as she'd hoped he'd forgotten her, that he'd dismissed their encounter as some stupid indiscretion, now she knew the truth: He'd been thinking of her all this time too. So did this mean this was it, the big romance she'd been wanting, searching for? Was he the one? No, of course she didn't want to have anything to do with a judge and slipping in and out the back door after midnight, for an important man like Hawkins could never be open about his relationship with a woman like Kris. Never. Some reporter would go digging and expose the pathetic muck of Kris's life. But if Stuart Hawkins really did love Kris, might he give it all up to pursue quite another dream, that of the two of them blissfully happy?