Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
“What? What is it?”
“He's a cop. A cop with the Minneapolis park police.”
High in the court
tower of the Hennepin County Government Center, Douglas Simms sat in his small office, a tiny space he'd occupied for almost five years as law clerk to Judge Stuart Hawkins. Beige carpeting, teak bookcases, and a teak desk heaped with books and files and documents filled the small room, but Simms's mind was not on the legal briefs he needed to write, nor on the murderers, rapists, and swindlers who awaited trial just down the hall. No, he turned and stared out the long, narrow window and recalled the gorgeous young blond girl from the benefit party last night. She was trouble, that much was more than clear the moment he'd discovered Hawkins and her in the basement. And now it was obvious she was trouble that wasn't going to go away.
Damn Hawkins to hell, silently cursed Simms.
Not more than five minutes ago the judge, dressed in his usual tasteful suit, had come in here supposedly to inquire about a legal brief he needed this afternoon, then told Simms he was meeting an old law-school pal for an impromptu lunch. He'd be back in an hour, hour and a half tops. “There's this great little Thai place up on Nicollet,” he'd explained with a small laugh. “Wonderful noodles, dyno curry. But don't worry. No beers. None of that.” With the upcoming events, he'd said with a wink, he had to play it straight and narrow.
No shit, Simms now thought as the little Nazi in him raised its ugly head. After all, Hawkins had nearly gotten a DWI last month—and would have had the police officer who'd stopped his swerving car not given the good judge a break. Dear Lord, wouldn't the media have gobbled that one up, a drunk judge about to announce his bid? Shit, Hawkins's plans for the governorship would have been sunk even before they were launched.
The small man turned back to his desk, rubbed his brow. Oh, God. Simms was so very, very close to finally getting his ticket out of this rat ass of a career and this shitty little office. Hawkins was talking about making him his campaign manager, but Simms was beginning to think it would be a miracle if that really came to pass. Hawkins, it seemed, was doing just about anything possible to screw things up.
And now this.
Simms didn't get it, not one damn bit. That girl, that blonde, was nothing but a disaster waiting to happen, even he could see that. Whether in that dingy basement Hawkins had kissed her or groped her, fucked her or whatever—after all, he'd caught Hawkins zipping his pants—Simms knew nothing good was going to come of it. But rather than leave the incident in the past, Hawkins himself was obviously going for a carnal repeat.
“Call Peacock Catering,” he'd just ordered Simms. “Get them to cater a very special dinner for two at my condo. Make it for later this week. And tell them I don't want anyone but Kris to serve that meal. Clear? I only want her!”
Christ, thought Simms, who the hell was he, the judge's personal pimp?
Dear God, why couldn't she be older? Better yet, an heiress. Someone prominent. From a rich family. At least then she'd be of value. Instead, every alarm in Simms was going off. Sure, this Kris was young and gorgeous, as striking as she was tantalizing, but there was something else about her, something odd that Simms had taken note of from the very moment he'd set eyes on her. But what was it? He couldn't help, of course, but see her from a different angle than Hawkins did, and from his vantage he didn't trust what he saw.
So how was he going to handle this? Of course he had to contact Peacock Catering, of course he had to get things set up, but in the meantime how the hell was he going to keep this young woman from literally fucking everything up?
The voice was deep
and slow, difficult and pained. “Come … get … get me.”
“I can't, Mom.”
“Come … come …”
Trying to stem the frustration, Ron Ravell slumped against one of the airport's ubiquitous pay phones and rubbed his forehead. You can't afford home care, he told himself. She needs someone all the time, and around-the-clock care at home would be just too damn expensive. Besides, it's a fantastic nursing home. One of the very, very best in Los Angeles. She has a lot of her own furniture in the room—lots of pictures and photographs on the walls too—and they're taking good care of her, they really are.
“Ro- … Ronny?”
“Mom, I'll be there tomorrow, I promise.”
Always the dutiful son, he was calling his mother just as he did every day when he was working and couldn't come to see her. As a flight attendant based out of LAX—the Los Angeles airport—he tried his very best to work only the western cities and not be gone very long. He had a reasonable amount of seniority—eight years—and so he always tried to finagle his schedule to be back in town at night, simply because now there was no one else, not since his brother's murder a year and a half ago.
“Listen, Mom, I won't get home until late tonight, so I can't come see you today. I'm working. But I'll be there tomorrow, I promise.” He took a deep breath. “How's everything? What did you have for lunch?”
“Ronny, plea- … please. I …”
Even he couldn't make out what she said, so garbled were her words. But surely she understood the kind of care she needed, didn't she? Couldn't she? Maybe she'd had another stroke, a mini one or something, one so small that neither he nor the aides nor the doctors had noticed. She did seem to be getting worse, there was no doubt about it. Over the last month or so her speech had gotten more slurred, her thoughts less coherent.
He wanted to cry. Every single fucking day he wanted to sit down and cry. He used to be a happy enough guy. Reasonably popular too. With nice eyes, dark eyebrows, and a slim jaw, he'd had no shortage of dates. In fact, he'd been dating one guy for almost two years.
But then Dave had been killed and everything had changed.
Now there was no big brother taking care of everything, telling Ron to do this, make sure of that. And either Ron had forgotten all about the boyfriend or the boyfriend had gotten sick of waiting around, so he was gone too. And Ron was all alone. What a mess. He didn't want his mom to die, not ever, for she'd always been there for him, never wavered in her support or love even when he came out, but how long could he go on like this? Better yet, how much longer could he keep her in such an expensive place? Perhaps he was going to have to follow his lawyer's recommendation and move his mother to a nursing home that accepted MediCal, the state insurance plan.
She mumbled, “Wh- … wh- …”
Ron couldn't help but smile, for he understood exactly what she wanted to ask. Which meant that some part of her was still there, that his real mom was still inside the tired, withered body, hidden but there. She'd always been so fretful about her boys, one a cop, the other a flight attendant. A case of the nerves it gave her, she said, worrying one second if Dave would get shot, the next moment if Ron would crash. So she always wanted to make sure she had it—his work schedule—and she was always asking, “Where are you going next, Ronny?”
Wanting her to think that he wouldn't be far away, Ron now said, “Where am I going? Just down to San Diego. In fact, I need to go right now.”
“I love you, too, Mom.”
Reticent to break the connection, he held the receiver to his ear a moment longer, then hung up. Not moving, he stood there, staring at the phone, a pathetic smile on his lips. This was too much. Way too much. And the truth was that he himself wasn't doing so well, no, not at all. But, then again, why should he?
Damn the Los Angeles police. And damn the medical examiner. They'd both completely fucked up the case. There was no doubt that thanks to their incompetence and theirs alone, his brother's killer had been allowed to go free.
Shaking his head, Ron shuffled down the concourse, wondering how many more cops would have to be killed before Christopher Louis Kenney was finally caught. And convicted.
It was well after
three, hours since Todd had retreated from the waters of the Mississippi to his office, a tiny space with a glass wall and door overlooking the hum and confusion of the Channel 10 newsroom. Not at all sure how he should write the script for tonight's story, he sat there staring at the large color monitor of his computer, an eerie thought overcoming him: If I write this the way it happened, fact for fact, am I merely playing into the killer's hands?
Despite the recent doubling in the Minneapolis murder rate, a cop-killing still garnered a lot of attention in the metropolitan area, and the murder of Park Police Officer Mark Forrest was going to get top billing on the 5:00 P.M. news. Even yesterday's straight-line winds, estimated to have caused almost ten million dollars in shingle damage alone, weren't going to be the lead story in weather-obsessed Minnesota.
Todd glanced at his watch and realized he was running out of time, for he himself was scheduled to be right there at the top of the news. All afternoon, promos had been running featuring dazzling graphics with lightning bolts, the tumultuous waters of the Mississippi, a gunshot, and a voice-over stating: “WLAK's own investigative reporter, Todd Mills, witnesses the cold-blooded slaying of a park police officer. Details at five.” It was, after all, real TV at its best and most macabre, and the station, no fool, was playing the card to the hilt.
But should Todd deliver it straight and simple—dishing out just what he'd seen, what had happened, who had fallen—or should he resist possibly being someone else's pawn, because, after all, this whole thing was too strange, wasn't it? If he pushed things to the limit, as he was increasingly tempted, that might help things develop in some bizarre way, thereby keeping Todd at the forefront of the story. He had to be careful, however, not to overstep that distinct but very fine line separating journalism and investigation; the police, for example, could give out misinformation to lure the killer—say, the number of times the gun was fired—but ethically Todd couldn't. On the other hand, Todd didn't have much choice but to do something, anything. He'd been getting pressure over the last six weeks—i.e., you gotta earn your keep, pal, what with the upcoming ratings and all—to come up with some big story. Could this be it, dropped out of a heinous storm and into his lap?
Todd and Rawlins had proceeded down their separate and not very compatible paths as soon as Todd's favorite WLAK photographer, Bradley, had arrived at the river. After Bradley had footage of the coroner loading the body and shots of the detectives cordoning off the area and searching it, Todd and he had headed to the Stone Arch Bridge. Leading the way onto the structure, Todd had walked through it all, explaining to the photographer the details of the storm and the killing.
“Okay,” the black man had said, carrying his Betacam camera and scrutinizing the area for the best angles, the best light, the most-dramatic shots. “We have some footage of yesterday's storm I can splice in too. That should work real well.”
Once they'd finished up there, Todd had returned to the station, retreating to this small glass-walled office and spending the better part of two hours figuring out just how the hell he was going to come at this thing. As he now sat in front of his computer, the big question, of course, was just how much he should or shouldn't say. It just kept hitting him: This was too easy. The darkest of storms. The most violent of winds. A handsome young cop. A strange meeting. A mysterious figure with a gun. And finally a gruesome end in the mightiest of American rivers.
Oh, brother. Seldom did the sizzle get much better, he thought, gazing around the small chamber, which was replete with various tape players, another desk, another computer, and videotapes scattered about like used Kleenex. This should be a snap; the shock value was all right there, as obvious, as glaring, as a bomb in the middle of a shopping mall. So why was he so hesitant to exploit this, what was making him so uncomfortable?
Once he'd hidden the truth of himself beneath layers of half-truths. Married? No. Divorced? Yes. Dating anyone? Sometimes. Without realizing it, over time and out of fear, the Emmy award-winning Todd Mills had become quite a competent liar, saying almost anything but the truth just to keep people from peeking in that closet, which in his case held as much as a walk-in. A large one.
Getting to know Todd back then had been like taking an onion and peeling back one layer after another after another, each stratum supposedly revealing something new. At the same time, however, each piece of information had been both inconclusive and incomplete, for that was how compartmentalized he'd kept his life. And no doubt about it, Todd had worked his hardest to make sure the parts never equaled the whole and that no one could put them all together to form a complete picture of him. In a desperate attempt to keep anyone from guessing the truth, he'd bandied about the word
for all it was worth, sidetracking countless employers and co-workers, not to mention friends and family, when in fact he'd been divorced more than twice as long as he'd been married. But no one ever figured that one out either. Of that he made sure.
So what was going on here, now, today? How many layers were there to Mark Forrest's murder, and how difficult would it be to peel them away and expose the real truth? And was Forrest, as Todd suspected, actually gay?