My complete line of stories can be found on Archerland, at http://archerland.net
Inevitably the question was asked.
Just what was Detective Laine doing at this particular citizen's house at seven o'clock in the morning when that citizen hadn't put in any calls to the police for assistance? A citizen who also just happened to be gay. And then there was that awful graffiti. Somehow things seemed truer when they were written down. Why would they write that if it wasn't true?
I could see the speculative onlooker's thoughts tracking fast and furiously over what they knew and what they guessed. And I could see a lot of them reaching conclusions that seemed so obvious in retrospect.
"It would explain a lot," I heard one cop mutter to another who nodded sagely.
"It explains everything."
"Jesus, you think you know a guy..."
"I always thought he was kind of funny."
And so on and so on. I watched David's face close up and felt his withdrawal as a wave of ice cold rage that threatened to swamp me with grief. I wanted to grab him and yell and scream into his frozen face. It wasn't my fault the cops were here. It wasn't my fault some crazy person knows where I live and work and is stalking me for reasons only he understands.
It wasn't my fault I ruined your life!
But David was past listening to me. He had set the wheels in motion knowing what it would mean and now he roamed the fringes of my world and took notes. He completely ignored all the inquisitive looks he was getting from his colleagues in blue. He supervised the photographer who arrived to record the ruin of my life and later made sure a tow truck was dispatched to remove the Escalade to the cop garage for forensics testing. As if finding a few fingerprints would make up for the horrible farce being played out here this morning.
After a while a cop in uniform came to take my statement then suggested I might be better off going about my day's business. I would be informed if anything new occurred to anyone. I called a cab and rode into work feeling numb.
Petey was quick to meet me and tell me I had missed our meeting. I don't think I actually told him to fuck off - I mean I'm still employed here it seems - but I think he got the message that now was not a good time and left me to stew alone.
I didn't go home that night. Instead I climbed into the rental car I'd wrangled from the insurance company and headed toward the nearest freeway. I ended up in La Canada where I found a motel that promised me a night of bliss and vibrating fingers, paid for two days and crashed, sprawled on my stomach across the double bed. I woke up in the middle of the night and sweated out the night terrors, hearing stalkers creep around in every corner of the room. Every window creak was someone trying to break in. I dozed off again through sheer exhaustion come morning and didn't awaken this time until the hot California sun had slid behind the purple hills. I felt groggy from an excess of sleep and inactivity. Splashing tepid water on my fevered face I stumbled out of the room and into my rental car. I sat there for several minutes my head leaning against the steering column. Then I started it up and rolled out of the empty parking lot. I stopped at the first bar I came to.
It was a country western joint with watered down drinks and a dirty floor covered in peanut shells and spilled beer. Willy Nelson wailed on the juke box about a problem nobody outside of Texas gave a damned about. When Johnny Cash came on to walk the line I got up and left.
The next bar was full of rough looking red necks who watched me with lazy, dangerous eyes when I walked in the place. I ordered a beer and stood at the bar sipping it. My neck crawled and I studied my image in the silvered mirror behind the bar. I saw his eyes first. Dark, feral and watchful they looked out at me from under a dirty baseball cap. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't place the face.
Was he following me? I decided to test the theory.
I finished my beer and dropped a tip on the bar on my way out. Once outside I turned the car north. Another bar, more staring eyes. I took up position at the back of the bar, at a table this time with a clear view of the front door. I tossed back my beer and waited. Got another one when the puffy haired blond in five inch stiletto cowboy boots tottered over to my table.
"Thanks, hon," she muttered, pocketing the two dollar tip I dropped on her tray.
Then I saw him. He slipped through the doorway and angled for the bar, placing himself so he could see the room.
Okay, he was following me. Now the question was: why? Was he responsible for my graffiti covered truck? Did it have anything to do with Birdy Williams? Then I realized where I had seen him - or rather why I thought I had seen him.
My hands felt icy when I fumbled for my wallet. I had to have his card here. He had given it to me only two days ago. I found it and pulled it out, spilling credit cards and ID over the table top. I shoveled everything back into the wallet and frantically waved the waitress over. She tottered across the room and leaned over, nearly spilling her copious bosom into my lap.
"Is there a back way out of here?" I slid a ten across the table and watched her scoop it up before replying.
"Service entrance, through the kitchen. But customers can't use it."
I handed over a twenty this time.
"See the sign that says washrooms? You go through that door and hook a left 'stead of going straight. Once you're in the kitchen you just head for the back. The door's usually propped open so Pedro can grab a smoke and still hear what's going on inside."
"Thanks." I tossed a five on the table. "Get me another beer would you, darlin'."
She rolled back with another glass and I knocked back half of it in one gulp. Then I rose and tried to look like a man on his way to the toilet. When I slipped into the kitchen I spotted a middle aged Hispanic I took to be Pedro. He was standing in a group of half a dozen younger Hispanics, talking and waving an impressive looking knife in his left hand.
I gave him a friendly wave and hoped he wouldn't take me for Immigration and cause a stampede. I pointed toward the back door and smiled.
"Just passing through."
The blond waitress had been right. The door had been propped open and I was able to slip through it into the cooling night beyond. Overhead stars normally not visible in the heart of L.A. shone down on me. I scurried around the cinder block building and got into my car without seeing anyone else. Only when I had driven out of the parking lot did I pull out my cell phone and dial David's home number.
He answered on the third ring. His voice immediately cooled when he heard me.
"David? Don't hang up --"
"Where the hell are you?"
"I tried calling you at work today to see how you were and that insufferable prick you work for said you didn't show up today. Made a big deal of the fact you never did that before and how the hell was he supposed to run a business with ungrateful employees like you." He took a shaky breath. "So tell me - where the hell are you?"
He had called me. Despite everything that had happened, he had called me. I felt a shiver of yearning. When I told him there was cold silence on the other end. Then: "La fucking Canada? What the hell are you doing out there in the ass end of nowhere?"
"Escaping. But I didn't think it worked. Now you answer a question - does Williams have a brother?"
"What? Birdy Williams? Jesus, let me think... I thought I heard something... I'd have to check the records to be sure, but yeah, I believe he does. Why?"
"Because he's here. And he's following me."
[More to come]
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