by Richard Hunter
Sterling was trying to relax by reading a somewhat intriguing science fiction novel, an attempt to put the days events out of his mind. It had seemed that with every passing hour throughout the day, it had gotten progressively worse.
When he left his office, he had headed straight for Mark’s Restaurant, planning to have a couple of drinks, dinner and - he was ashamed to admit - enjoy looking at Tyler. But Tyler hadn’t been there and Marcel had very quietly informed him that Tyler would not be returning. Apparently, Tyler’s suspicions had been all too accurate but the changes had occurred much faster than expected. The new boy-toy, the eighteen year old, was acting as a host - much to the annoyance of Marcel who considered it an intrusion on his space - and another young man of expected physical perfection was tending bar.
Sterling had been so irritated by the manner in which Mark had obviously treated Tyler and all the rest of his boy-toys, that he had simply turned and left. He had, instead, a couple of drinks at home and grilled a thick steak with a baked potato and tried to unwind with his book. It bothered him that he had no way of reaching Tyler and just hoped the kid would be okay. He couldn’t believe how much he liked the boy and how much his attitude toward him had changed in such a short period of time - just getting to know the real Tyler behind the flirt had made a big difference.
The phone rang, interrupting his thoughts and he realized, looking at the clock on the mantle, that he hadn’t read a thing for over thirty minutes. He reached from the cordless handset, looking at the information displayed on the caller ID screen. It was the station calling. What now?
“This is Sterling.”
“Chief, sorry to bother you so late.” It was after ten o’clock. “Deputy Chief Randall asked me to call.” The dispatch officer paused to allow that information to sink in just in case the chief was annoyed at being disturbed - at least he would know whose fault it was.
“Detective Abbott is at the hospital right now. It appears that the boy that he interviewed earlier today was assaulted tonight and the boy is at emergency being checked over. The deputy chief thinks it might be related to the case that Abbott is working. He wanted you to be apprised of this development.”
“Is the boy alright?”
“I don’t have that information, sir.”
“Which hospital? Laguna Pacifica?”
“Okay, thank you.”
Sterling sat back, momentarily thinking it over. To hell with what it looked like, he thought. Obviously who ever had killed the Reynolds boy had gone after Robbie, or at least it looked that way. He could sit here and stay out of it or he could get involved and show that he cared what happened. He chose the latter.
Stopping quickly at his desk, he blew into the little tube and quickly checked that the few drinks he had enjoyed earlier would not impair his judgement - he barely registered - then grabbed his keys and headed for his vehicle.
As he pulled out of the gated driveway of his home, Sterling reached for the microphone. “Patrol One.”
The dispatcher came back. “Patrol One.”
“Show me in my vehicle headed for Laguna Pacifica Hospital. Please contact Detective Abbott and Deputy Chief Randall and advise them of my status.” He thought that the least he should do is have the courtesy to let them know he was violating his own earlier directive and getting more involved. Somehow, he knew they would understand. In fact, he sensed that it was exactly what Randall had expected would happen when to told dispatch to call him.
Sterling parked in one of the emergency vehicle spaces outside the entrance to the emergency room and walked inside. A clerk at the registration counter buzzed him in and one of the nurses directed him to the treatment room where Robbie was being attended. Abbott was standing outside the room, obviously expecting, and waiting for, the chief’s arrival.
“Fill me in on what happened, but first tell me how he’s doing.”
“The boy will be okay. He’ll have some nasty bruises and a black eye and a wicked lump on his head but otherwise he’ll be okay. I believe the doc wants to keep him overnight for observation just to play it safe because of the knock on the head. Right now they’re just completing their examination and reviewing the x-rays they took.”
Sterling allowed himself to exhale, realizing he had been holding his breath. “Good. Good. So, what happened?”
“As you know, I really shook him up and he wanted to walk home rather than have an officer drive him. I guess he stopped at the Big Burger and had something to eat and then sat on the beach until the sun started to go down. He was walking home and someone jumped out from behind him yelling ‘faggot’ over and over and hit him up side the head with something - he wasn’t sure what but might have been a board - then started punching him in the chest and stomach and landed a couple of blows to his face. He didn’t even have a chance to see who it was. The guy was sputtering about how disgusting he was and that he deserved the same thing as Reynolds. Just about then, a woman came out of the Marian Gallery and saw what was happening and yelled. She called us. The attacker ran off. She was too far away to get a good look at him. It was lucky she was even able to tell that the guy was beating up on a boy since Robbie was down on the ground.”
“Do we have anything to go on?”
“Dark pants, beige jacket, dark hair. That’s it. Do you...”
The doctor came out of the treatment room. “Evening chief. Sad day for this little city when a boy can’t even walk home from the beach without being viciously attacked. A few more minutes and we might be having an entirely different kind of conversation. You can go in if you like. I gave him some codeine for the pain so he may be a little groggy but he’s alert enough to talk with you.”
“Thanks, Roger. He’ll be alright?”
“Yes. I’ll keep him overnight but he can leave in the morning. I’m going to excuse him from school for the rest of the week however to let his bruises heal.”
“Okay.” Sterling turned back to Abbott. “Have his parents been notified?”
“We’ve been unable to reach them as yet. A patrol car is at their residence in case they come home and is checking with neighbors to see if they might know where his folks are.”
“You need to ask him any more questions?”
“No, I’ve got everything he can give me and I think he would just as soon not see me. I gave him a tough time today.” Abbott was fishing, gauging the chief’s assessment of the afternoon’s interview session.
“Yea, you grilled him pretty good but it was a good interview. Don’t beat yourself up. You did your job, nothing more, nothing less. We don’t always have the luxury of being gentlemen in this business.”
Sterling went into the treatment room. Robbie lay on the examining table in nothing but his briefs while the nurse was applying some antiseptic salve to abrasions on his knees, elbows and hip. Sterling was struck by the changes in Robbie since he had last seen him, the strong build of a competitive swimmer, the lean musculature, the maturing and very handsome face and... the very respectable bulge in those white briefs.
When Robbie saw him, his face lit up immediately with joy and then flushed with embarrassment when he realized he was almost naked. He reached over for a sheet and pulled it across his midsection, almost draping it over the nurse at his side at the same time.
“How ya doing, Robbie? Are you gonna live?”
“I’ll be okay, Drew. In a few days everything will heal and no one will be the wiser.”
Sterling admired Robbie’s spunk. He’d always been that way. He had played an entire game once when he was thirteen on a sprained ankle and never let on. He still cared a great deal about this kid and couldn’t keep himself from putting his hand on Robbie’s forehead and brushing back his hair.
“You were very lucky.” Since they had informed Christopher Reynolds mother of her son’s death and obtained a positive identification, and the news channels were reporting the murder, Sterling felt it was okay to let Robbie in on what could have happened to him.
“I understand that this person that attacked you was calling you a faggot and saying something about you getting the same thing that Chris Reynolds got?”
Robbie flinched, a slight panic sensation in the stomach at having Drew know about him being gay. “Yea. Is that why Chris wasn’t in school today? Why the detective was questioning me about him?”
“Yes and no. Can you handle some bad - I mean really bad - news?”
“Uh...I guess.” He said it very slowly, uncertainly, not knowing what to expect.
Sterling decided to just get it out and get it over with. “Christopher Reynolds was murdered sometime yesterday. Beaten to a pulp by some sick demented bastard. We think it might be the same guy who attacked you tonight. He was planning to do to you what he did to Christopher and probably would have if he hadn’t been interrupted by the woman coming out of her gallery. You were very lucky.”
Robbie had turned slightly pale, his face drained of color as he listened to what had happened to his friend and what could have also happened to him. His eyes filled and ran from the corners. Chris hadn’t deserved that. He was basically a good guy, a little too aggressive, a little too ‘out’ and very much too horny but that didn’t justify murdering him.
Sterling brushed back Robbie’s hair again, stroking his forehead more to give comfort than to clear away any stray hairs from his face. He wanted to take Robbie in his arms and whisper to him that everything would be alright, that they’d get the bastard and make him pay for what he had done, and that he would see that nothing happened to his....son.
There it was. That old feeling resurfacing. He couldn’t explain it but he still had very paternal feelings for Robbie. Feelings long suppressed that were still as alive as ever right now.
The nurse came back in. “We’ve got a room ready for you, Robbie. Why don’t you put this gown on and the transporter will take you up to your room and you can get a good nights sleep.”
Sterling looked at Robbie as he sat up, moving gingerly, the sheet falling to his lap and revealing the dark bluish-purple patches on his sides. “Do you know where your folks are tonight? We haven’t been able to reach them to let them know about this.”
Robbie eased himself off the table slowly, the sheet falling to the floor leaving him standing - exposed - in just his white briefs again. He quickly grabbed the aqua colored gown and pulled it in front of him, but not before Sterling had noticed that Robbie was sporting what - for most guys - would account for a complete raging erection.
Slipping his arms into the gown, careful to keep his front fully covered, Robbie looked sheepishly up into Sterling’s face. It was not embarrassing enough that this man he idolized since he was twelve knew he was gay but now had seen him getting aroused. “I remember that mom said something about them going to the Arts Center for a presentation of The Wizard of Oz but I can’t remember if it was tonight. They go out a lot and usually don’t get home until almost midnight.”
“Well, we’ve got a patrol car in front of your house so as soon as they get home they’ll be informed.”
The attendant came in and Robbie settled into the wheelchair and was wheeled out of the treatment room and down the hall to the elevator. Sterling followed closely behind and on up to the room. After the attendant left and Robbie was in the bed, Sterling pulled the covers up to Robbie’s chin and lightly brushed the back of his fingers across Robbie’s cheek. “I’ll stay here with you until either you fall asleep or your parents arrive. And I’ll come by your house sometime tomorrow and check up on you. Okay?”
“Thanks, Drew. I’m really glad you’re here. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you, too, Sport. But I’m going to start paying more attention to you. Starting with coming to your swim meets and showing some good old fashioned top-of-the-lungs support.”
Robbie smiled, immensely happy that he had reconnected with Drew, and closed his eyes peacefully and gradually entered the land of nod.