Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
“Yeah, the B of I guys did a pretty good job of going over the entire bridge,” said Rawlins, for they had combed everything, including the parking areas on either side of the river. “Here's another possibility: The assailant dumped the body over the railing while you were blacked out.”
Peering down at the small fleet of boats and the turgid water, Todd considered that possibility, thinking how it was the one scenario that made the most sense. But if that were really the case, if Forrest had been heaved into the Mississippi, where was the body and when would this vast river give it up? The current was swift here, with swirls of root-beerlike foam curling and turning, and Todd gazed from one bank to the other. On his right the ruins of the Gold Medal flour mill towered in the haze like an abandoned castle, on the left stood an amalgamation of dark brick buildings, while straight ahead, maybe a half mile downstream, the murky waters churned over another dam and through another lock. If the body of Mark Forrest were really in the Mississippi, would the divers be able to find it, or had it disappeared permanently into the mucky bottom?
Todd stared down at one of the columns of the bridge and said, “If he'd been tossed over, it would have been somewhere around here. Maybe he would have struck the side of the bridge, but I don't see any blood.”
“Neither do I,” seconded Rawlins, who stared through the haze at a small group of cops combing the far bank. “We should probably check out the next lock, see if there's anything hung up down there.”
“That's a pretty thought.”
Rawlins walked down the bridge about fifty feet to the spot where his partner, Neal Foster, stood leaning on the railing and watching the sheriff's divers far below. Nearing sixty, bald, and paunchy, Foster had been on the force forever and was one of the more respected investigators around. Three years ago when his partner had retired, he'd brought Rawlins from the juvenile division into homicide when they'd been working on a bridge case, a juvenile homicide. Rawlins now spoke briefly with him, Foster shrugged, and Rawlins headed back to Todd.
“Foster's going to stick it out here,” said Rawlins. “Come on.”
As the rain misted them, they walked briskly toward the downtown bank of the river.
“Thanks for taking this so seriously,” said Todd, gently squeezing Rawlins on the arm.
“Thank God you weren't hurt.”
“No shit. Do you think the police would have been so thorough about this if you weren't involved?”
“I sure as hell hope so. After all, the luminol did show blood—and a lot of it too,” said Rawlins. “But don't forget, they know you. You're Mr. TV. Actually, one of the guys wondered if this wasn't a drill, a test to see if they were really doing their job.”
“You mean they were worried it was part of some exposé or something?”
Todd shook his head, said, “Everyone's jaded, aren't they?”
Rawlins shrugged. “Especially me.”
“Enough of that.”
“Oh, that's right. I'm supposed to be happy and hopeful.”
“Just positive,” said Todd, instantly regretting his choice of words.
With a dark laugh, Rawlins looked over his shoulder to make sure no one could overhear—on the force and everywhere else he was out about his sexuality, but most definitely not about his health—then said, “That's the one thing I wish I could forget.”
Back in the parking lot, they left Rawlins's Taurus and proceeded in Todd's dark-green Grand Cherokee. This next stretch of the Great River Road, a riverside parkway with a road, bike path, and pedestrian path, had yet to be completed, and so he turned just past the renovated mill that housed the Whitney Hotel. Heading by another mill, a now-desolate building where sluices had once powered looms that had woven blankets by the thousands, he came to Washington Avenue and turned left. Neither one of them had ever been down to the next lock and dam, so neither one of them knew how to get down there. With the windshield wipers swiping slowly back and forth and the air conditioner on high just to thin the thick air, Todd took one turn, which ended in a dead end. Struggling to see through the slow rain, Rawlins suggested another road, which led past a liquor store and ended at some railroad tracks. In the end, Todd decided to drive to the west bank of the University of Minnesota.
“The parkway starts again down there,” he said. “I think we can park down on the flats and walk up toward the next lock.”
“Great. That'll give us a good look at the river too.”
Where once had stood a shantytown inhabited by dirt-poor Scandinavian immigrants, where later had been piled an enormous mountain of coal used by the U, now stretched a new portion of the river parkway. Todd drove down a steep road that led to the river, turned left, and entered one end of a long public lot that had recently been constructed. He drove toward the end, parked, and he and Rawlins got out and plugged the meter with a couple of quarters.
The rain fell in an annoying tempo between a mist and a light drizzle, not something that called for an umbrella, but enough to dampen everything. Todd glanced across the river, which was none too wide at this point, and looked up the tall, ragged limestone cliff at the university buildings on the east bank. This definitely felt like an old river, one that had been cutting itself deeper and deeper into the earth for thousands of years. And this area definitely felt like a lost part of the city, something hidden away like a scruffy, shameful child. The city in its own sluggish way was trying to reclaim the Mississippi, turn it from a workhorse of water power and barge traffic into a recreational treasure. When the parkway was completed, when the road and paths were extended upriver another mile or two to the Stone Arch Bridge, that just might happen too. In the meantime, though, this was an obscure place, unknown to most, used by an anonymous few. Todd heard a car, looked over his shoulder, and saw a rusty white Honda Civic station wagon pulling into a far corner. So what was their story, that man and woman in the front seat, what were they doing down here on such a dreary day?
The parkway simply stopped, a band of pavement that ended and immediately turned into dirt. Random young trees sprouted every which way, and Todd and Rawlins cut through them and made their way to a hidden beach. Todd pushed aside some branches, came upon some sand, and walked right up the quickly moving water.
“You know,” he said, staring at the water, “we drink the water from this river every day, but I don't think I've ever been this close to the river itself. I don't think I've ever been to a place where I could just stick my foot in it.” He looked straight up, saw an abandoned steel train trestle towering way overhead and covered with graffiti. “Many jumpers?”
Rawlins shrugged. “A couple or three every year, usually in winter when they're guaranteed a quick death. Some guy jumped off this one, what was it, last March. Smashed right through some ice floes.”
“How long did it take to find his body?”
“Almost two weeks.”
“Downtown St. Paul. Got hung up on one of the houseboats.”
“So it could take that long or longer,” suggested Todd, “for Mark Forrest's body to turn up.”
“If in fact it does surface.”
Right, thought Todd, because certainly not everything that tumbled into the Mississippi actually rose to the top. Mark Forrest's body, after all, could be pinned anywhere down there, including against the base of the lock and dam where it could remain … well, until there were no remains.
They continued up a dirt path and into some heavier growth. The river bent, and up ahead Todd could make out the Tenth Avenue bridge as well as that of Interstate 35W. If there was no body, if no one had been killed, Todd tried to conjure what this might be all about. The biggest story he was working on, of course, was about the suburban drug scene. After repeated attempts, he'd finally gotten a couple of dealers to talk to him; as long as their faces were concealed they agreed to have the conversation taped.
“Shit, man,” said one dealer, who'd recently moved up from Gary. “These people up here are shit crazy for drugs. I'm selling ten times more than I was back home.”
“Fuck the inner city,” said another, seated in the front seat of a Channel 10 van, his face concealed by the headrest as he was taped from behind. “Those folk can't afford squat. The only business worth doing is in the suburbs, because that's where the white folk with money live. That's why I set up shop out there. You gotta go where the money is, man, and that's the suburbs.”
But how, Todd now wondered, could a faked death tie into that? Was someone trying to frame Todd for a murder? But why? The paranoid side of Todd, which for so long had worked at concealing his sexuality, searched for some scheme but could find none. Or could this be one of Channel 7's elaborate schemes? No, even they, his former employers, weren't that warped.
Rawlins veered to the left, Todd glanced after him, and a part of Todd wanted both of them to chuck all this. His career in television. Rawlins as a homicide investigator on the Minneapolis police force. All their friends, everything they had here. Instead, he envisioned the two of them escaping. Running off to France and biking through Provence, pushing on and on so that nothing could catch up with them. Hiding out in sunny Mexico where no one could find them. Dear God, thought Todd, staring after the perfectly handsome and healthy man. What will I do if I lose him?
So was it here, the miracle everyone had been waiting for? Was there really a chance of saving Steve Rawlins from AIDS?
Slipping into a downward spiral of fear—If he gets sick, will I know what to do? Will I be strong enough?—Todd followed a narrow trail onto a low ridge. He gazed up through the mist at the freeway bridge in the distance. He glanced over at the swift waters of the river. Along the bank he saw some pop cans, a tire. And some material lurking and waving just beneath the surface.
He recognized it, really, before he knew what it was. He'd seen that plaid, of course. Seen it quite recently.
He cut swiftly through the undergrowth. And the closer he came, the more he saw. Jeans. A brown leather shoe. One bloated, semifloating hand. Todd rushed down to the water's edge and stared at the half-submerged figure.
“What?” called Rawlins, cutting through the shrub.
The corpse of Mark Forrest was caught up on the tire, one leg poking through the center, the rest of his body tugged downstream by the current. He was facedown in not quite a foot of water, but Todd knew it was him, the same guy he'd met on the bridge.
Rawlins, of course, stepped into his training as quickly and automatically as if he were putting on an old shoe. He moved right to the water's edge, took a mental note of the scene.
“Do you have your cell phone?” asked Rawlins.
“It's in the car.”
“Go call nine-one-one.”
Ready to tear back to his car, Todd took a half-step. Then stopped. Rawlins was stepping into the water. The possibilities flashed through Todd's head, and he wanted to scream: Don't! That water's filthy. You might have a cut on your foot. You might get an infection. But nagging, as Todd had learned the hard way, had done zip for their relationship, so he forced himself to turn and dash through the brush. Right. As Rawlins had said more than once, if HIV didn't kill him, then the worry was going to kill Todd. Trying not to imagine the world as one gigantic infection, Todd reached the dirt path seconds later, then finally the pavement and the end of the parkway. As fast as he could, he tore into the parking lot and up to his truck, where he dialed 911 and reported what Sergeant Steve Rawlins and he had found. And where. He hung up and was about to take off when he dialed a second number. Rawlins probably wouldn't like this, but after all Todd had a job to do as well.
“Good morning, Channel Ten. How may I direct your call?”
“Hi, this is Todd Mills. Who's this?” he said, never able to remember the receptionist's name.
Right. “Listen, Renee, would you get me the assignment desk right away? It's an emergency.”
When the editor on duty picked up, Todd relayed the situation and demanded that a photographer be rushed to the scene. Even more quickly, Todd hung up, then slammed shut his car door, and charged out of the parking lot. As he did so, he glanced over at the small Honda station wagon, and through a veil of steam on the car windows saw a half-naked ass rising up and down, up and down. It flashed through Todd's mind: Boy, the sirens are going to scare the shit out of them.
By the time Todd had run back down the path, over the ridge, and to the spot, Rawlins was standing knee-deep in the water. He wore a thin pair of latex gloves, and while he hadn't moved or flipped the body, he had retrieved a black nylon wallet, which he was now thumbing through.
Todd stared at the body, saw the blue plaid shirt. And the head, which looked severely mangled.
Todd asked, “What happened to him? Was he shot in the head too?”
“I don't think so. It looks more like he did in fact get caught up in the lock. His face is almost ripped off.” Rawlins studied a plastic credit card. “But it's him. It's Mark Forrest. His driver's license says he lives at 4895 Young Avenue South.” He came to another piece of ID, stared at it, and gasped, “Jesus Christ.”