Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
Obviously his meeting with the young policeman had been a setup. Yes, the blackmail crap on the phone had been a ruse to get Todd there, just as it had been to get Mark Forrest to show up. But why? The simple, most transparent explanation, thought Todd, running his hand through his hair, was so he would witness something. And that something undoubtedly was Mark Forrest's murder. But why? Why would anyone want someone—particularly Todd Mills, a television reporter—to witness a murder? There had to be, Todd was certain, a very specific reason—definite, credible coverage?—and if Todd could unveil that reason, then he'd certainly discover what this was all about and quite possibly who had shot Forrest last night.
Could it, he again wondered, scratching about for possibilities, have anything to do with Todd's own sexuality?
To be sure, Todd was obsessed with the issue, but if he was chosen as the witness because he was gay, that suggested that Mark Forrest of 4895 Young Avenue South was also gay. What then? Was this some sicko's plea for help, a closet case screaming, begging, to be caught? Making a mental note of that, Todd resolved to check deeper into Mark Forrest's sex life. So far he hadn't been able to turn up anything; the park police—completely independent from the Minneapolis police—had revealed precious little. Something else to check into: another murder, that of a gay man, who'd been killed last month with a bullet in the chest. Could this, Todd wondered, be the start of a serial killer's morose career? Todd's ambition, which tended to come in oversize clumps, caused his heart to rush because, yes, he'd been called an ambulance chaser time and again, but if there was a gay serial killer in Minneapolis, he wanted to be the first one to post the alarm.
Someone rapped on the glass door, and Todd sat up.
Nan, one of the producers for the evening news, a short woman with short dark hair and a wide face, shoved open the glass door. Perhaps she was just trying to be hip, perhaps
New York, but she always wore black. Even in steamy July.
“So what's taking so long?” she demanded with a forced smile that belied her frustration. “What are you writing, the great American novel? Step on it, pal, ‘cause I want to go over this with you and Bradley.”
“Give me twenty minutes.”
“Nope, ten, not a second more,” she quipped as she turned and walked briskly away.
Stretching over and shoving the door shut, Todd shouted, “Next time close the door!”
He turned back to the computer, looked at the color monitor. There was just something here he didn't like, but what? Never willing to be anyone's dupe, he realized there was only one way to find out. He had to force this thing along by whatever means, and he had an idea, a rather conniving one. Yes, experience had taught him exactly how to irritate a murderer.
Wanting to run the idea past Rawlins, Todd reached for the phone, punched in Rawlins's number, but then just as quickly slammed down the receiver. No, the media and the police can eat, drink, and sleep together, but they can't transgress that invisible boundary, the one that divides the media's freedoms from the securities of the police. It just didn't make for good pillow talk, and if Todd probed Rawlins for any further thoughts on the case, then Rawlins would probe Todd, and, no, he didn't want to tell him what he intended to do. Right. He would, however, run it by both Nan and Bradley. Quickly rolling back his chair and standing up, he thought how maybe it wasn't such an asinine idea after all.
Not quite two hours later, Todd found himself back on the Stone Arch Bridge with a stick microphone in hand and Bradley's Betacam trained on him. From the camera a thick cable stretched down the bridge and all the way to the riverbank, where one of the station's ENG—electronic news gathering—trucks broadcast the microwave signal back to the station. From the station the complete show would be broadcast locally and much farther, actually, for as of recently all of WLAK's programming was fed to a Canadian company via satellite for cable distribution across that country.
Pressing the earpiece into his right ear, Todd heard a godlike voice beckoning from the studio in the suburbs.
“We're two minutes away, Todd,” called Phil, the 5:00 P.M. line producer.
The news director's voice then chimed in, saying, “Voice check, please.”
Todd cleared his throat. “Good evening. This is Todd Mills, and I'm reporting live from the Stone Arch Bridge.”
Todd looked over at Bradley and said, “How's my tie?”
“Perfect,” replied the photographer.
Todd then looked down at the small monitor that was tilted up to him from between the legs of Bradley's tripod. Yes, he'd have a perfect view of the package, the segment they'd earlier taped and edited and that would run after Todd's intro.
A few seconds later the line producer came back on. “We're thirty seconds from the top.”
Todd rolled his head from left to right, cracked his neck, and then stared at the monitor on the ground as the evening news began.
With a small crowd gathered behind him on the bridge, Bradley peered into the camera and said, “Looking good, Todd.”
And then Todd saw the image of the news anchor on the monitor and heard his voice via the IFB transmission and the earpiece.
Sounding—as always—smooth, deep, and confident, the man said, “Good evening. This is the WLAK evening news, and I'm Tom Rivers. Tonight's top story is the tragic news of a cop-killing in downtown Minneapolis. Last night, just as severe weather was overtaking the city, Minneapolis Park Police Officer Mark Forrest was gunned down on the Stone Arch Bridge. There was only one witness to the murder: WLAK's investigative reporter, Todd Mills. We now join Todd live from the Mississippi River.” Tossing it to him, Rivers simply said, “Todd?”
Todd stared at the lens and said, “Tom, it's been a very sad twenty-four hours. It started about four o'clock yesterday afternoon when I received a call at the WLAK station in Golden Valley. The caller didn't identify himself but pleaded to meet with me, claiming that someone was blackmailing him.” Todd took a deep breath, realized he was tense, and tried to lower his shoulders. “After consideration, I agreed to meet with him right here on the Stone Arch Bridge, which spans the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis.” Todd then spoke his role cue, the predetermined line that would trigger the package, saying, “But, unfortunately, all that followed was a violent storm and a violent murder.”
Bradley swung his camera over the water, and the piece dissolved into the taped segment with Todd's voice-over. He went through it all, meeting a man dressed in plainclothes, the storm, the gun. The missing body. Bradley had spliced in different shots of last night's storm, the lightning and the thunder punctuating the entire story and of course casting a spooky, deathly tone over the whole piece. Next came the all-important shot—virtually a requirement of any television reporter's murder story—of Mark Forrest's body being carted away. Todd concluded by saying that until he found Forrest's body he had no idea that Forrest was a cop. And not a cop on the thousand-member Minneapolis police force, but one of the forty officers with the equally trained Minneapolis park police, a totally independent and separately chartered force that was actually older than the city police and whose only duties were to protect the city's vast park system.
With the audio coming through Todd's earpiece and the visual on the monitor tucked beneath Bradley's tripod, Todd paid close attention. As soon as the segment ended, he picked up.
“Tom, it was quite a horrible and shocking evening, as you can well imagine,” he said into the stick microphone, keeping his conclusion tight and tossing it back to Rivers.
“Were you threatened as well? Did you sense any danger to yourself?”
“I'm never comfortable, Tom, when a loaded gun is present.” Okay, thought Todd, time to make himself look great. “A total of two shots were fired, one of them directly at me.”
“And what did you do?”
“I dove to the side. Fortunately, the strength of the storm was just hitting, which made it very difficult for the perpetrator to take careful aim.”
“My word, how terrible.”
Out of nowhere, Nan, the evening producer, broke in, shouting into Todd's earpiece, “Love it, love it! Your fans are gonna be weeping, Todd!”
“Thank God,” said Tom, “you weren't injured as well.”
And now, Todd thought, time to set the bait. “I can say only one thing: The killer of Officer Forrest must have a distinct and definite death wish. To gun down a cop is an inordinately stupid thing to do, simply because it means that the perpetrator will always be hunted, and be hunted by professionals with guns.”
“And that, of course, implies that the perpetrator values his own life least of all.” Aware that anchor Tom Rivers never made anyone but Tom Rivers look good, Todd felt it necessary to toot his own horn, saying, “To conclude, tonight the police are following several leads in the case. Given what I was able to tell them, the authorities are looking for white male, trim, and not too tall. At the time of the shooting he was wearing a yellow rain slicker.”
“What about Mark Forrest? Did he have any idea what this was about before he was shot? Did he say anything to you that indicated he was in danger?”
“No, actually, he didn't.”
“Todd, thank you very much, and all of us here at WLAK Channel Ten are relieved that you were not injured in this as well.”
“Thank you.” Todd smiled and said, “For WLAK TV, this is investigative reporter Todd Mills reporting live from the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.”
Todd stood still until Bradley looked up from his camera, giving Todd a big thumbs-up. Okay, the hook was baited and set. Now all he had to do was wait and see if there were any bites.
After all, there was nothing that made a killer more angry than a reporter who made him look like an unsophisticated fool doomed for failure.
It was borderline hot,
and the man in the parked white car had both the front and rear windows completely open in hopes of catching that hint of a breeze, the one that had just started flitting about the city as day faded into evening. He wanted to run the airconditioning—the humidity was so damn high that his shirt was sticking to the back of the seat, which drove him nuts—but he didn't dare. No, he didn't want to turn on the engine, for a parked car with a running engine might attract attention, and the last thing he wanted was for someone to notice him.
It was a quiet street, half of it still lined with tall, graceful elms, the other half replanted with spindly little things—maples, he thought. No, wait a minute, he thought, peering at the pathetic branches. Those were ash.
But it was a quiet neighborhood, of that he was most definitely sure. In the sixty minutes he'd been sitting out here, there'd been no kids about, which relieved him, for the last thing he wanted was a group of kids racing up and down the sidewalks, taking note of the stranger on the block. He was pleased as well that even on such a warm night there wasn't anyone lingering on any of the front porches of these solid, wood-framed houses. Couldn't he therefore infer that empty-nesters and single people lived here?
Well, there was at least one single person, of that he was sure: a gay man who lived on the second floor of that duplex just up on the left.
Behind him he heard the gentle hum of an engine, and he glanced in his rearview mirror. The street itself was straight and in decent repair, the curbs looking no more than two or three years old, and down it now came a small red car. Behind the wheel was a woman with long blond hair, that much he could tell, and when she passed him she seemed not to notice anything out of the ordinary, that his car didn't belong here. Focused on her, he watched as she drove three houses past the duplex, pulled to the right, and parked. Reaching for a pen and the yellow legal pad on the seat next to him, the man jotted it all down: the red car, the blond woman, the return home at—he noted, checking his watch—six thirty-three.
He now had almost this entire midsection of the block accounted for, and in turn a reasonably good idea of the pattern of the lives of the people who lived here. The only house that he really couldn't tell anything about was the white clapboard one just next door to the duplex. With peeling white paint and the curtains drawn, it didn't look as if anyone was living in the structure. Then again, it didn't look completely abandoned, for there were no newspapers or flyers lying about on the front steps or tucked in the front door, there were no envelopes bulging out of the mailbox. As far as a car, perhaps it was stashed in the garage off the alley. So someone could be living there, easily so. An old person. Right, he surmised. Someone frail. Someone who didn't get out much. Someone who didn't have anything better to do all day than peer out the windows and see who and what was lurking on the block.
So be careful of that one, he admonished. Absolutely.
Suddenly the door of the duplex opened and his next target stepped out. Wasting not a moment, the man in the car calmly pulled a newspaper from his lap and looked at it as if he were reading. With his face concealed, he watched just over the top of the pages as the other descended from the front porch to the street. Noting the fresh shirt, pressed pants, and slicked-down dark hair, he gathered that this guy was going to meet someone, undoubtedly for dinner. And the man in the car easily guessed just who that might be.