Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
This was good. Very good. He needed to find out which door this guy primarily used. And now it was clear: the front one. Which meant he'd lay his trap in the rear.
Yes, thought the man in the car as he watched Sergeant Steve Rawlins climb into his silver Taurus. This one's going to be easy, very easy.
After he did it
at five, he did it at six.
And in a few hours—at ten, to be precise—he'd do it again on WLAK's [email protected] A live intro to the story, followed by the package recounting the murder of Mark Forrest.
If there wasn't anything new from the police by then, Todd schemed as he drove into town for dinner, he'd try his best to put a fresh spin on it, add a few things of his own, kind of spice it up a bit. Viewers, after all, always had to feel as if they were getting the latest, that there was some payoff for tuning in. And Todd was determined to give it to them.
The great stories, the ones every reporter dreamed of, were the ones that grabbed you by the throat. The ones you couldn't get out of your head. The ones that made you hunt obsessively for the truth. Although he'd never voiced it, the things that made Todd realize how thoroughly he loved his job were the kidnappings, the beatings, the murders—the more bizarre the better. If that body is really him, that Russian stockbroker, then where's the head? The hands? Or how could that young, attractive mother really have done that to her kids, set the house on fire with them in it? Was it in fact the stepfather? Or how could a son have done that to his mother, drugged her up on pain medication and then buried her alive in the tomato patch?
He'd never admit it, but the extremes of the human condition were what Todd feasted on, and this, a strange cop-killing, was a hell of a story, no doubt about it. Intuitively he sensed that there was enough meat here to keep him going for weeks, if not more.
That he had been at the murder scene—been not simply a witness, but nearly a victim as well—was spectacular. Virtually no other station in town could even begin to touch it. In television's perpetual race to be first, he'd stolen the show. The best that any other reporter could do was stand on the sidelines and report what Todd Mills was doing. Shit, he thought, a smile shining through his exhaustion. No way could anyone take this away from him. He was at the top of the pack right now. That much was already clear, for Nan, the producer, had watched the broadcasts of both WTCN and KNOR—it was regular practice to tape the competition just to keep apprised of the enemy—and both of them had led off not with the cop-killing, but the severe weather. The murder came second, each station stating that a suburban cop had been murdered in the city and that the police were pursuing the matter with the help of a firsthand witness. No mention was made, of course, that that witness had in fact been the competition's own Todd Mills. Uh-uh. That just wouldn't happen in today's broadcast world. They'd reported with great speculation and near glee when Todd had been outed and questioned for murder; they'd covered the darkest, most difficult days of his life, but no mention was or ever would be made of this success.
He glanced at the dash, saw that it was five after seven. He was a tad late for their dinner reservation but not terribly so. Rawlins, the born-and-bred Minnesotan, was always either exactly on time or a few minutes early. Janice Gray, a defense attorney whose life was stretched in every direction either by a court case or a charitable board she volunteered for, was always a few minutes tardy. With any luck Todd would fall between the two.
Entering downtown, he turned left, heading north on Hennepin Avenue. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul, he thought, noticing a group of vacant lots where once had stood several buildings, were teetering. Once a region of progressive planning, The Cities had taken a huge tumble in the last ten years—the leadership and the public interest both had waned just as things like the stupid Megamall had selfishly waxed—and they were taking steps toward becoming the Detroit or Los Angeles of the tundra. It drove Todd nuts.
As he crossed onto the Hennepin Avenue bridge and over the Mississippi, he glanced downstream, saw the Third Avenue bridge and caught a glimpse of the Stone Arch Bridge way down there. Should he do a live broadcast from there again tomorrow, or would that be too repetitive?
Crossing to the other side, he passed Riverplace and Nye's, that venerable old Polish restaurant and piano bar, and parked. He picked up his cell phone, switched it from ring to vibrate, and slipped it into his front shirt pocket.
“Go out for dinner, yeah, sure, Todd,” Craig, the late-night news producer, had blessed. “Do that. Get something to eat. But don't go anywhere without your phone in case I gotta get ahold of you. And be back here by nine-thirty, not a split second later. Read me? You're on at the top of the ten o'clock.”
Cafe Bobino was just a half-block ahead, and as Todd walked toward it, he realized just how exhausted he was. And no wonder. His adrenaline had been stuck on high ever since late this morning when Rawlins and he had discovered the body of Mark Forrest. Hopefully a good meal would restore him.
What used to be a funeral home, then a cabaret, was now a hip restaurant and wine bar, proving that you could bring things back from the dead, and as Todd walked in several heads turned his way. Gay men, four of them seated at the bar, scanned him up and down in that queeny kind of way, then almost in unison returned to their glasses of cabernet. So what was the once-closeted-and-now-very-out Todd Mills, the television personality, to them? Hero or pariah? Or merely a lightning rod of gossip? He still didn't have a handle on it, how he fit—or if he did at all—into the gay community.
The host, a short man with short bleached white hair and wearing a white T-shirt and a pale green cotton vest, eagerly rushed up.
Addressing Todd before he could even get a word out, the host said, “Good evening, Mr. Mills. Right this way, please. The other two in your party are already here.”
The price of fame or notoriety—or both—was the lack of anonymity, a dear price that Todd had always been more than willing to pay. He followed the host along the side hall of the cafe, glanced through an archway, and saw both Rawlins and Todd's longtime and dear friend, Janice, seated at a corner table, a glass of white wine before each of them. This wasn't good, his being the last to arrive.
The dining room was small, with muted yellow walls, dim lights, and a bustling kitchen at the rear. As Todd crossed to his table, several more heads turned his way, but he didn't let on that he noticed them noticing him. Keeping focused, he made a direct line to these two, his pals and family of choice—the hunky gay cop and the beautiful dyke lawyer, as he called them. They all spoke, all three of them, at least once a day, checking in with the slightest detail of life—who watched what on TV, who was out of cereal, etc.—and, of course, discussing ad nauseam just what course of medical action Rawlins should take in his battle against HIV and when, even if, he should tell Foster, his partner, or Lieutenant Holbrook, his superior, or anyone else at the police department about his health status.
Janice, whom Todd had dated way back in college at Northwestern University, was tall and thin with short dark hair and a quick smile. She had pale skin that was very soft, very lovely, and a small mouth that looked for any opportunity to burst into a wide grin. Now dressed in slim blue jeans and a cream-color cotton knit top, she looked the very image of summer informality; by day, however, there was no doubt about it, she was one hell of a defense attorney. Upon seeing Todd, Janice's smile bloomed, and he realized what a change had come over her in the last year. He saw how much more real her happiness was, for not long ago she'd solved the greatest mystery of her life, which in turn had lifted some kind of awful cloud from her and actually had bound the two of them together with true familial ties. Yes, she was noticeably brighter. Much more at peace, no doubt about it.
“Hi,” he said, bending over and kissing Janice.
“Hello, doll,” she countered, proffering him a generous smack of her lips on his cheek.
Rawlins sat in the corner, and Todd was going to reach out and squeeze his hand or kiss him—with any luck they had decades and decades left, but who knew, certainly not the doctors; and Todd didn't care if anyone saw him kissing another man, because the threat hovering over Rawlins had taught Todd once and for all what was truly important in life—but Rawlins was checking his watch and not moving. Instead, Todd sat down in the seat they always left him in any restaurant, the one that positioned him so his back was to the main part of the room, the one that left his face the least visible to the public.
“Come on, Rawlins,” begged Todd, the tone of his voice trying to make light of things. “On a scale of one to ten, I'm not that late.”
“What?” said Rawlins, looking up. “Late? No, not too bad, not tonight.”
Todd glanced at Janice, who rolled her eyes as she took a sip of her wine. Okay, thought Todd. What's going on? What have I done?
A gorgeous young waitress appeared at the side of the table, her body trim, her skin a midnight black, her hair as short as could be. Huge gold hoops dangled from her ears.
“Would you care for anything to drink, sir?” she asked. “A glass of wine perhaps?”
Todd had it in the genes, the booze thing, and he was always cautious, always fearful that his father's curse would be his, and he said, “You know what, I've got to go back to work, so I'll just have a glass of iced tea.”
As the waitress disappeared, Janice's eyes followed her and she said, “Todd, will you lie to me and tell me I was once that young and beautiful?”
“You were once that young and beautiful—and you still are. But it's not a lie, it's the harsh truth.”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Hey, I have a question. Can a dyke be a fag hag?”
With a grin, Todd said, “The politically correct answer is that a dyke can be anything she damn well wants to be.”
He picked up the menu and pretended to look at
, meanwhile glancing across the table at Rawlins, who was just sitting there. Smoldering. Todd didn't dare ask how Rawlins felt, which had become a taboo question—I'll let you know if I feel anything but great, Rawlins always snapped—but he looked at him closely, studied his eyes. His color is good, the eyes clear. Yes, he's fine, concluded Todd. Just pissed. So, he wondered as he eyed Rawlins, then Janice, what's going on here?
“I give,” confessed Todd. “What did I do wrong? Will one of you please tell me?”
Rawlins perused his menu. “Nothing. Nothing that we're supposed to talk about anyway.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Making light, Janice shrugged. “It means, he's a cop. You're a reporter.”
At first Todd didn't get it, but then it hit him, and he thought, shit, he should have seen this coming a mile away. “Ohhhh, thank God, we've finally got that straight.”
Rawlins kept his nose in the menu, uttered not a single word, and shook his head.
“Listen, I'm not adverse to playing telephone,” began Janice. “So I don't mind saying that about two minutes before you came in, Todd, Rawlins expressed his, well, frustration with you for—”
“Knock it off, Janice,” snapped Rawlins.
“No. I want to enjoy dinner, not suffer through it, so the two of you better get this out of the way.”
“All right, then.” Rawlins slammed down the menu and leaned across the table. “What the hell was that all about?”
Todd didn't flinch. What could he say?
“I saw you at five,” said Rawlins. “And at six too.”
“Rawlins,” began Todd, his tone more defensive than anything else. “I've got a job to do. Besides, I didn't give out any false information.”
“Fuck the media. You shouldn't talk about a killer like that. You're supposed to report the news, not make it.”
“You don't understand. I'm sure that guy's playing with me, I'm sure he's using me, so I—”
“You should have called me. You should have cleared it with us.”
“Rawlins, I don't need your fucking permission to say what I want on television,” said Todd, bristling. “We've been through this, goddamn it all. You're a cop.”
“I'm sorry, but it's something WLAK really wanted to do. And I think it was a smart move.”
Rawlins shook his head, then turned and stared blankly across the room. “Playing with a killer is stupid. Whose dumb-ass idea was this?”
Todd shrugged and replied, “Mine.”
Janice took a brief sip of wine, then pushed back her chair. “Now that you guys are on a roll, I think I'll go powder my nose … or … or go chop wood or whatever it is lesbians do when they want to get away from men.”
Leaning forward as Janice left, Todd kept his voice low and tried to explain. “I thought about calling you, Rawlins. I wanted to. I really did. But it comes down to the ethics thing again. You know, just what the media is supposed to say—or is obligated to say—to the cops.”
“And vice versa.” Rawlins shook his head. “Listen, I thought you and I, Todd Mills and Steve Rawlins, had a personal agreement: I don't hold out on you, and you don't hold out on me. As it is right now, you know virtually everything the police do, absolutely everything that's going on in this case. I haven't cut you out of anything, Todd, and—”