This post contains portrayals of homosexual actions and lifestyles. There may be references to, or explicit descriptions of, sex between consenting adults.
If homosexuality, sexually explicit language, or swearing offends you, or if reading material that contains these violates any law or personal or religious beliefs, you must exit now without proceeding further.
If you’re under 18 years old you may not read it either because it is against the law. I regret this because I was once a randy teenager myself and I feel somewhat two-faced in helping enforce the law. Hopefully, one day, censorship may disappear along with other vestiges of Big Brother and Mother Grundy.
The story is entirely fictional. Whitley is a fictional town in the North Carolina Piedmont. All the characters are imaginary. Also, Mike's characterization ofStarbucks is not necessarily that of the Nifty Archivist.
My thanks to Bill and Alastair who get the shoddy stuff first. They make me insert commas and they make other suggestions on the language and the story to make it more readable. Any errors that remain are probably because I ignored their advice.
"Well, it seems just like old times," Clifford said, settling himself into a teak steamer chair and lifting his feet onto the footrest, while taking care not to spill a drop of the sweet tea he had just poured from the pitcher on the table. The ease with which he effected this move made me conclude that it was not an infrequent exercise for him. Contented thus in the warm sun, and with a chilled Dos Equis Amber sending sporadic rivulets of condensation over my fingers, I let my eyes wander lazily from the group on the deck, over the green lawn that gave off the pungent smell of freshly mown grass, to the edge of the lake and beyond, where the leaves on the trees in the forest were just beginning to darken from the neon colors of early spring. Still waters, green forests and gentlemen relaxing with long drinks in the Carolina Piedmont can easily efface memories of the real world from the mind, and I was paying only token attention to the conversation as the speaker continued. "What is it, Mike? Almost two years now?"
"Something like that," the other replied. Then after a brief reflection, "No, just over a year and a half. I came home for Christmas before last."
"Oh yes, of course. I remember now. Time flies, as they say." The older man leaned forward and took a sip from the glass. Apparently satisfied with the flavor, he reclined and turned again to Mike. "But that was just for a few days. It must be, what, eight years since you left for law school?"
Mike nodded, his face void of expression, and said nothing. The other man sipped from his glass and then asked, "So do you see any changes here?"
The fair-haired guy pondered briefly then smiled mischievously and answered, "I guess you mean other than Dad actually managing to talk whole sentences to a guy I brought home."
"Oh, Michael," expostulated Susan. "He is not that bad."
"No? Yeah, I guess it has been a long time, Mom. I must’ve forgotten the long chats he and Matt had together." He looked at her blithely, but the twinkle gleamed in his eye. Lawyers have enigmatic senses of humor.
"You brought Matt here to meet your father?" I asked without a tinge of jealousy as I opened my eyes and rejoined the conversation. It was a comedic image: Barry Jorgensen, Mike’s father, was a down-to-earth, practical man, most comfortable when he was in a pair of oil-stained jeans working on an engine or tinkering with one of the old cars stabled in his garage. To Matt, jeans meant designer, and were an oil-stain, quelle horreur, to make its way onto them, those jeans would instantly be trash bound. Matt, a long-time friend of Mike’s, was the living definition of the term ‘flaming gay’. Mike’s Dad could model for a Secret Service recruiting poster.
"Uh-huh. It was a weekend that has gone down in the annals of my family for the sheer number of aspirins that everyone consumed."
"Well really, what did you expect, Michael? I don’t know what you could have been thinking to bring Matthew here. You know Daddy. He’s an engineer. He’s not good at making small talk with people who aren’t also engineers or technicians or mechanics. Most of your friends are more like you — interested in law or the arts."
She paused, and then added, "And Matthew was definitely on the arty side."
"Dad tried to show Matt the 1953 Buick Skylark he was rebuilding," Mike explained to me as he sipped his iced tea. "Matt had absolutely no clue about what he was seeing. Eventually, in a desperate attempt to appear interested, he decided he needed to ask a question. So he takes a wild stab and points blindly at one of the dials on the dash and asks my dad, ‘What’s this?’ My dad looks at him for about half a minute without saying anything, then finally, through clenched teeth, he says ‘It’s the clock!’"
I burst out laughing. "Yeah, that’s Matt!" In the silence that followed, I ventured, "Your dad seems like an OK guy to me."
"That’s only because you know, or care, what a kilovolt is," my partner countered. "And because you actually own one of those talking wrenches."
I leaned out and slapped the bare leg below the yellow jogging shorts. "It’s a torque wrench, idiot. T-o- r-q-u-e. It measures twisting force, it doesn’t speak to me. Geez, are you even related to your dad or were you adopted?"
"I was actually asking about the town," Clifford interjected with exaggerated patience and, wisely, trying to redirect the conversation. "When you left for law school you claimed that we lived in the boonies, and I was wondering what you thought of the town now."
"We just drove through the main street coming here, so I didn’t particularly notice," Mike answered. "Two more traffic lights, which seems to be every small town’s way of scoring its importance in the world. And I see that one of those excrescences, Starbucks, has appeared."
"Oh my! Always on a crusade, aren’t you?" Clifford chuckled. "What have you got against coffee shops now? Historically, you know, that’s where the day-to-day news was discussed, politics debated, policies planned?"
"Yes. Right," my partner retorted. "People sat and talked. They drank coffee together and, as you say, like civilized people, they debated. Now, one cup of coffee buys you several hours at a table in front of your PC, headphones stuck in your ears to block out any extraneous noise. If you should happen to talk to anyone, it’s via IM with someone who’s exactly like you: same ideas, same hopes, similar shortcomings. Anytime someone comes up with a different idea, you block them, or delete their messages without reading them. So a handful of people in Seattle get rich at the cost of others throughout the world making not very much." He stopped talking and a sheepish smile came back to his lips. "Yeah, I guess it’s another crusade.
"So, when I go into town, what should I look out for?" he returned to the topic at hand as the laughter died down.
"Well, the new library, for one thing. It’s state of the art, you can pretty much access libraries anywhere in the world from there. It’s up on Uwharrie Road — you can’t miss it, there’s a big park and a fountain in front."
"Uwharrie Road? That used to be a rather rough neighborhood when I was a kid."
"They’re cleaning it all up now. Uwharrie Road is real nice; Tillery is all little shops and boutiques. Badin Road is scheduled to be cleared in a month and there’ll be new development there — stylish townhomes, I hear."
"I wonder if they’ll find any new bodies," remarked Susan.
"That’d be interesting," agreed Clifford.
"What’s this about bodies?" I asked, pricking up my ears. Finally something interesting in this conversation. "That doesn’t sound like the American vanilla town that Mike keeps telling me it is." Which, in itself, was a polite paraphrase on my part: in actuality, his pitch classified the place as being barely half as exciting as a bank.
"No!" Mike exclaimed sitting up in his chair suddenly with his hands out, making his mother start. "Don’t tell him about that. If you do, we won’t see him the whole time we’re up here. He never lets anything like that go."
"C’mon! You make me sound macabre. Susan’s remark just sounded rather beguiling."
"It was a local murder that was never solved," Clifford explained to me. "What?" he asked as Mike gave a theatrical groan and slumped back in his chair.
"Nothing is ever unsolved in Chris’s mind," he said in a tone of exasperation that was only half mock. "I drag him up here for a few days for some R&R and so he could see where I grew up, and now he’s going to be prowling around the other side of the tracks looking for something to get his teeth into."
"But it was very odd," Susan exclaimed. "First, the man was supposed to be dead, then he was seen alive, then he was found dead again. When the case started, there was no body; then a week later they found the body had been there all the time. I’ve always said that no one really wanted that case solved."
"You’re not helping, Mom!"
"Well, I always told you that no good could come from hanging around those parts," she retorted. Mike gave her a quick look that I couldn’t fathom, but before I could say anything, Clifford quickly stepped in.
"I still believe it was a drug deal gone bad. McGlocklin was a mean old buzzard by all accounts. He probably tried to short change a dealer and got what was coming to him."
"Yes. That’s exactly my point. That was probably why there was no really effective investigation," Susan declared. "No one was really sorry to see him go. And the police took the view that a small-time crook had been effectively disposed of.
"Oh, hello, Hon!" she greeted her husband who had emerged from the house and was walking toward us. "Did you have a good game?"
He grimaced and shook his head. "I was ahead until the 15th hole," he said, "but I dropped two strokes at the water hazard and couldn’t make it up after that.
"Hello, Clifford. How’re you keeping? Hi, Chris. Michael looking after you OK?"
I assured him I was having a great time, and the conversation drifted away from death and off to other topics. Thus it was only after lunch that I got an opportunity to draw Clifford aside to ask about the topic that had piqued my interest earlier.
"Even if we hadn’t had the body disappearing and appearing, the story would have been major news for us. We really don’t get much excitement around here — unnatural deaths are generally accidents, most on the roads, some on the dam, so murder was very big news. I was a reporter on the Chronicle at the time. It’s a small newspaper, mainly covering the Whitley and Albemarle areas, and at that time, I guess, we had a total staff of only about twelve people. The owner and editor, Jim Hardwick, and I had worked together on the Charlotte Observer, and when he decided to buy up the newspaper here in Whitley and give it a makeover, he asked me to come and join him. I covered the McGlocklin story, and it more or less got us on the map after the Observer picked up our articles and ran them.
"Anyway, in brief, what happened was this. Fifteen or more years back, there was a minor gang up in the Philadelphia or New Jersey area. The ring got busted. Most of them got hefty sentences, except the youngest. He was the brother of one of the other gang members. This older brother, it is commonly held, confessed to some of the crimes which his brother had been part of in order to keep his younger sibling out of prison. Some years later, there was a jail break and three of the gang escaped, including this older brother, who went by the name of Lennie ‘The Bird’. Two were recaptured within a short time, but this brother remained on the run. That was when it came out then that the younger brother had been living here in Whitley — in one of the less affluent areas of the town — and keeping a low profile for some years.
"All this has nothing at all to do with the murder here, mark you, but it explains why we had some very reliable witnesses as to who had been on the street that night. The FBI, who had been called in, thought that there was more than a fair chance that the escapee might come down here to get some kind of shelter during the hunt, this being a bit of a backwater (but not as much of one as Mike pretends it is), so a few of their men were keeping a surreptitious watch on the building in which he had been living. This building was at the entrance to a cul de sac that was bordered by cheap shops and seedy apartments. They made a note of everyone who went in or out of the street, not stopping them or anything, of course, just a visual observation, and so, later on, there was a rather detailed record.
"Late in the night, the agents watching the front of the building from a nearby bar, saw a young man who was acting rather furtively, walking down the street. Because his behavior was so suspicious, they picked him up. But, on questioning him, it turned out the guy was just some dopehead who was high on drugs. Nonetheless, to the officers he seemed all too edgy, obviously trying to conceal something, so instead of just carting him in and booking him as they normally would have, the cops leaned on him some, and within minutes, the guy was gabbling on and on about a murder he had seen"
While Clifford had been speaking, Mike had walked over. "What did I warn you about?" he asked the newspaper man as he put his arms around me, resting his jaw on my shoulder, his cheek touching mine.
"I’m just interested," I protested, running my hand over his head into his hair. "Weren’t you when it happened?"
"I was away at law school. But I got all the details from Mom, though, with all her editing and embellishments. Big storm in a little teacup. From what she said, the police couldn’t find the body, then days later, neighbors found it right where the police had said they’d searched. It was obviously a set up."
"Yes, pretty much what we concluded," Clifford agreed. "But, to continue, the druggie told the police he had been spending the night on the roof of a building. His story, just enjoying a few beers in a place where he was unlikely to get mugged, but in all probability, he was shooting up. Anyway, he casts his eye across the road and, framed in curtains that blow apart in the evening breeze, he sees a threesome, two women and a man, in one of the small, one-roomed apartments making passionate and, according to him, very active, love. He watched this for what seemed like a long while — if I remember correctly he couldn’t remember the exact time — but it wasn’t what one would call a quickie. Finally climax was reached and, thereafter, the interesting action, as far as the druggie was concerned, pretty much ceased. The women got up, disappeared from sight for a while, presumably to the bathroom, and then returned to the room fully clothed. The man, who until then, had been lying naked on the bed, got up, moved out of view briefly, then reappeared with something, possibly a wallet, in his hand, and gave something to them. Without a good-bye kiss or any other sign of affection, the women moved out of the druggie’s view. They appeared minutes alter on the sidewalk and disappeared down the street.
"While the passion had been going on, the druggie, on being questioned, thought he recollected someone else entering the building, but couldn’t be sure. His attention, rather obviously, was concentrated elsewhere. As far as I remember, he couldn’t even say, if someone had indeed gone in, whether it had been a man or a woman.
Well, after the man in the apartment had paid the two street walkers, he returned to the bed, and lay down, still naked, apparently dozing. But barely had the floozies left the building, than the druggie saw him suddenly sit up. He couldn’t see what caused this, but the man was looking away from the window, which would mean he was facing the door to the room. He got off the bed and stood up, apparently talking to someone. He took a step forward, then all of a sudden, the druggie sees him raise his hands and back up toward the window, but before he gets there, the man staggers backwards, his hands clutch his chest and he collapses to the floor.
"Nothing happens for a few seconds, and our dopehead is transfixed. Finally a person comes into view in the apartment with something black in their hand, something that looks, to the addict, very much like a gun. He, or she — he still couldn’t ascertain which, but he thought it was the person he might have seen enter the building earlier — kneels down next to the body for a minute feeling his neck as though for a pulse. This person then stands up, puts the black object in their pocket, and moves back out of sight for a while, then comes back into sight, moves across to the window and raises his arms — I seem to think it was at this time the druggie decided definitively it was a man — to pull the sash closed. As he does so, he looks across the street and stares directly at the drug addict for several seconds. Dropping his arms without closing the window, he turns and rapidly moves away from the window, and is gone from sight.
"Now the druggie is not so stoned that he can’t realize that, A, he has witnessed a murder and also, B, the murderer now knows there is someone who has had a good look at him. He comes to the conclusion, therefore, that he’s now in some danger himself from this killer. In a panic he leaves the roof, and too frightened to leave the building and be confronted by the murderer in the street, conceals himself in a closet one floor below. There he hides for a longish time, the tension of waiting in the empty building increasing by the second until it finally becomes too much for him, and he decides to move out. Scared out of his mind, he picks his way downstairs and staggers across the road to where a crew from the electrical company has fortuitously arrived to do some repair work. The workmen think he’s either doped up or drunk, and, of course, he doesn’t tell them anything about the murder, but he hangs around their truck because he wants some protection from a murderer whom he’s convinced is now after him. The power company men put him in the cab of their vehicle and tell him to sleep it off, and they get on with their work. After a while, the bum realizes that, since they’re away from the truck for much of the time, these two are not much protection for him after all, and so he leaves the shelter of their truck and wanders off. He gets to the end of the road, and that’s where the cops pick him up.
"As I said, the FBI were watching the street, and, thinking that he may have something to do with the jail break, leaned on him. Eventually he spilled his story. Naturally, he was not all that coherent, but they thought they had better check his story out — just in case. So they called in for support and headed back to the scene. Two of the police lead him up to the roof from where he pointed out the window to them, while the backup cops took a statement from the power company guys. When the two officers returned from the roof, they went to the door of the apartment room and knocked. There was no response. They debated for a while as to what they should do, and then decided that they had enough suspicion to force an entry. They somehow got into the room and found everything as the druggie had described — the open window, the curtains, the bed. But no body. None at all. There was no blood, no sign of a struggle, nothing. None of the people on the floor above had heard anything, the apartment next door was vacant, and on the first floor were only shops that were closed at that time of night.
"So the police figured that the druggie was either trying to get them to ignore his case, or else he’d been hallucinating, so they carted him off."
"Sounds like real good dope to me," I joked.
"It gets better," Mike said with a tinge of interest creeping into the exasperation in his voice. "Come sit down." He pulled me onto a sofa next to him.
"The police did a follow up: they called the realty company who owned the apartment building and found out that the renter was a man from here in the town. They made some inquiries — discretely, you understand, because a guy rents an apartment in the same town in which he lives for only one purpose — and found out that he was away on a fishing trip, but had been seen alive by people several hours after the purported murder, so he was obviously not the victim. At that point the police determined there was really no evidence that a crime had taken place, and closed the investigation.
"About a week after all that," Clifford said, sinking into an overstuffed arm chair, "after everything had quieted down and we’d all forgotten the story, the people in the apartment above began to notice a stench. The stink got worse each day, until, three days later, when it finally became too bad to bear, they called the rental agency — the building’s owner lived in Charlotte, by the way — and a realtor came over and opened up the apartment. Inside they found a decomposing body lying on the floor, exactly where the druggie had described him having fallen. His torso was bare, his pants, although pulled up, were not fastened. The corpse’s wallet was on the nightstand. It had money and his credit cards in it, as well as a driver’s license. Nothing appeared to have been stolen. Everything fit the druggie’s tale to a T.
"On checking the driver’s license it was discovered that the dead man was Daniel McGlocklin — the man who had rented the apartment and the man whom others had seen alive and well after the druggie reported him murdered. He was a local man in his mid 40s, married, who lived in the town. A little further probing elicited the fact that his marriage was a bit on the rocks, and he had rented this cheap apartment about half a year before as a place where he could retreat with some female companionship from time to time."
"So the junkie was right after all?" I asked, a little confused.
Clifford studied the back of his hand for a while, and then slowly shook his head. "Eventually the police came to the conclusion, and I, I must say reluctantly, had to agree, that McGlocklin’s murder had just been set up to look like the one the man had reported earlier. Set up in a deliberate attempt to obscure the trail. The murder described by the drug addict hadn’t happened. The two FBI guys had had that street under observation the whole time because of the jail break. Other agents were in the streets on either side. There was just no way that someone could have left with a body, and there were a legion of witnesses who could swear that there had been no body in the apartment on the night of the murder, nor had there been any evidence of foul play. The crime scene was simply set up to look like the case that we had run in the paper," Clifford explained. "We had printed the story of his claim — you know, the ‘look what this guy tried to pull to get his charge reduced’ kind of item. But, more importantly, it had also been brought out in court when he was arraigned, and anyone who was there, including other criminal types awaiting their turn in front of the judge, could have heard it.
"Someone with a grudge against McGlocklin, and there were plenty of those apparently, saw an opportunity for getting rid of him and having the time of the crime put down for when they had an alibi."
"They couldn’t determine the time of death, then?" I asked.
"Not to within a day — or even a few days, if I recall. The body had decomposed quite a bit — too much for an accurate time of death.
"You said ‘reluctantly’," I observed, "Yet you speak as though it was clear that the druggie’s story wasn’t true."
"It’s hard to explain. It was a feeling I had. You know," he paused as he thought about his words, "if you talk to people often enough, doing interviews, trying to get their stories out of them, you get used to certain patterns. Everyone I spoke to who had spoken with the druggie that night and then spoke to me about what he said, gave very similar accounts, and none of those really fit a person who was either imagining it or hallucinating. But then, as more evidence came in, I had to admit his account was wrong. But what came out proved to be an even more intriguing story.
"It was the perfect crime. Almost. But in almost every crime, something totally unexpected happens that throws the most careful plans awry. Apparently McGlocklin had told colleagues at work that he was leaving on a fishing trip that evening after work. What the killer, or killers, didn’t know was that for some reason he changed his mind. He went out carousing in the town, and when he came home, caused a big ruckus. Then he and his wife had a big fight at about 5am in the morning on," he held up his finger to emphasize his point, "the morning after the murder was supposed to have occurred. It woke the neighbor, a widow who lived with her brother. Just when the fighting seemed to be headed for violence, Mrs. McGlocklin ran to these neighbors’ house and asked if she could stay there until her husband left. The brother wanted to go out and confront McGlocklin, but Mrs. McGlocklin stopped him, saying her husband had a gun, and persuaded them to stay inside. Yet even from behind closed doors, they could hear the threats McGlocklin was yelling as he packed his gear into his truck. Finally, he drove away and silence returned.
"So, you see, although the killer wanted us to believe the addict’s story, they didn’t know that McGlocklin was seen, alive and driving, over eight hours after he was supposed to have been killed.
"Mrs. McGlocklin stayed with the widow and her brother for the next few days. It was obvious she had been beaten by McGlocklin, and the other two thought she needed time to recuperate in some sort of safe environment. They wanted her to go to the police, but the wife wouldn’t hear of it: she said she loved him."
"There’s one born every minute," I remarked.
"Isn’t that the truth," Clifford concurred. "In any case, Mrs. McGlocklin was still staying with the widow when the police came to tell her of her husband’s death. From the time everyone saw her husband drive away until the knock on the door when the police came, she had an alibi for every minute of her time.
"And that was just about as far as the case went. It seemed that almost everyone who had a motive had an alibi. The police found one lady-of-the-night who admitted having once been with McGlocklin on some prior occasion. She said he was a cheapskate and was of the opinion that he probably got his reward for not paying a girl because she failed to adequately please him."
"There has to be more to it than that," I exclaimed. "Somebody must have seen him since he drove away. And if he’d been killed elsewhere, surely someone would have seen a person or persons moving the body back into the apartment. One can’t just move bodies around without someone noticing."
"That’s what I thought, too," Clifford said, "and I did a fair amount of digging around. I was a young reporter and keen to get my by-line out." He shrugged, "Nothing came of it. The area where he went fishing was in the Kilmer Wilderness area — not many folk around there. The police investigated for a while, too, but after two months or so had passed without them turning up anything, they seemed to lose interest. Of course, by then it had come out that he beat up his wife, the widow had told of the black eye and welts on Mrs. McGlocklin’s face, so there was a palpable feeling in the area that whoever had done the deed had probably performed a public service."
Clifford fell silent for half a minute, then added, "But it was not only that. As I said, it seemed as though everyone who had a motive turned out to have an iron-clad alibi for the time when McGlocklin could have been killed."
"Are there still copies of the newspapers from that time that I could read?" I asked.
"You see, Clifford," Mike protested pointing an accusatory finger at the family friend, "this is exactly what I knew would come of this when Mom came out with that remark. Chris is not going to let this go."
Clifford hesitated a second then, looking warily at Mike, said, "Yes, we still have copies. But if you’re really interested, I can do better than that: there are notes and photographs from back then filed away somewhere at the office. If you’re not doing anything we could pop down town, and have a look through them. I may have missed telling something; my memory isn’t what it used to be."
"We’ve got time to go, Babe, haven’t we? There was nothing planned until dinner, was there?" I asked, trying hard to make my eyes look like the proverbial puppy’s.
Mike looked at me shaking his head. "OK. Go along with Clifford." He pulled me towards him. "But here’s the deal: after tonight, it’s R&R time for the rest of our stay."
"You’re not coming?"
"Naah. I’ve got some stuff to do."
"What’re you going to do?"
He paused and then said quietly, "I thought I’d go visit Andy."
"Oh. OK." My stomach clenched, and at once I became serious. "Want me to come with?"
"Naah. It’ll be OK." Mike squeezed my shoulder. "I’ll tell him about you."
As I had Steve in my past, Mike had Andy. The details I had were sketchy. From their junior year in high school, Andy and Mike had been lovers. Andy, I had gathered, was different from Mike, different in personality, different in temperament, different in outlook. But their relationship lasted past high school and through three years of college until Andy had fallen in love with another guy. Mike was just starting to come out to his family at the time, but was still pretty much in the closet to everyone else, so there hadn’t been a great deal of external support for him. Worse was to come, though. Andy, it transpired, had needed sex. Needed more than one partner could provide, and, it came out later, had slept with every gay guy in Whitley and Albemarle and many from Charlotte. Andy’s promiscuity was Russian roulette, of course, and one day, when his continual lethargy had caused him to seek medical advice, he was told the bad news. To his credit, within a day of finding out, he had gotten on an airplane and straightway flown up to Chicago to tell Mike face to face. A courageous action, but it was the cruelest cut of all for Mike, newly arrived at an unfamiliar college in a town where he knew no one. He had not been so naïve as to think that Andy would be monogamous while he was away at college, I know Mike wasn’t, but while Mike had thought Andy might be having the occasional fling with another guy, he now discovered that his friend, the guy he loved, had been spreading his seed nightly, sometimes more frequently, over a wide area, not even cutting back when Mike had been at home for the vacations, nor when he had been dating his new boyfriend.
And, of course, Mike had to go for the tests.
The stress of these discoveries proved too much for him. One Friday night after going for his first test, Mike hit one of the seedier bars not too far from the campus and drank hard for almost six hours. At some time during the evening he swapped an expensive wristwatch for a good-sized baggie of grass and a selection of pills, and for, as far as I know, the only time in his life, got completely wasted. At about 3am, two guys from the university saw him sitting on a bridge over the Illinois Central tracks, stark naked, and with his feet dangling over the edge. They called another student who they knew was a good friend of Mike’s and, after a few close calls, managed to get him off the parapet and into their car. As they drove off the bridge, they saw the blue flashing lights of a police car driving onto the bridge from the other side. Quickly, and as unobtrusively as possible, they got Mike back to his apartment. Over the next three days one of them was always with him as his body purged itself of whatever chemicals he had forced into it.
Mike’s test came back negative. So did the result for each of the subsequent months. He had sex with no one for over half a year and he did not speak to Andy again for close on a year. By the time he finally got to talk with him again, the PML had taken most of Andy’s sight, and his speech was barely coherent. Barely forty hours after Mike’s plane had touched down at Charlotte airport, on a clear spring morning, just as the cardinals began chirping their Matins in the trees, and with Mike and Andy’s new boyfriend holding his hands, Andy was finally freed by a merciful God from his mortal bonds.
Andy’s passing sent a tidal wave of guilt over Mike and once he was back in Chicago and away from family, the pain proved too much. Again he headed for the bars, but his previous incident had scared him, and this time, after only eight or nine drinks, he understood what was happening and called the university’s student services to get professional help before things got too out of hand.
Maybe this is the doom of all first long-term love affairs, I cannot say, but, like malaria, occasionally and without warning, Andy and Steve would insidiously return to afflict our lives, sending Mike or me tumbling into a brief spell of emotional turmoil and almost uncontrollable mental trembling.
I looked over at my partner with misgiving. Perhaps visiting Andy’s grave was a good idea, maybe it would provide some closure. On the other hand I worried that old sores, being probed, would perhaps open up again, and I would spend my few days in North Carolina picking up pieces. "I’ll have my cell phone with me if you need me," I added, throwing out a slender lifeline.
He looked at me for a few seconds then a small smile came to his lips. "Sure." He bent forward and the unique scents of my partner tantalized my nose as he gave me a kiss. "Don’t worry. I’ll be fine."
And so it was with slightly dampened enthusiasm that I set out with Clifford to the offices of the Whitley Chronicle.
"Mike tells me you go back a long time with their family," I remarked to make conversation as we drove.
"Oh yes. Barry and I were at college together. We both liked music and so became good friends in spite of our different fields of interest. We played in a band together. He, as you know, was studying engineering, and I was, of course, doing English literature and journalism. When I graduated he persuaded me to come down to Charlotte where the Observer was offering fairly decent pay.
"I liked it down here — my family was originally from Michigan, where the winters were way too cold for too long." He laughed at the memory. "Barry got married pretty soon after graduation and I was best man at his wedding."
"You married?" I asked.
"Was. It didn’t last."
"No need. It was my fault, really. It’s difficult to be an aggressive reporter and have a new wife at the same time."
Discussing the pitfalls of working life, we drove through the wooded areas that surrounded the dam until Clifford swung the car off the main road and up a slight hill. "That was the McGlocklin house," he said pointing as he brought the car to a stop. "The neighbor where his wife was staying on the night when the druggie reported a murder is this one."
Through the open window of the car I studied the two houses. Cement driveways, meandering cracks in their surface mirroring the paths of errant roots below, stretched across short-cut lawns. Here and there the remnants of last year's white ash leaves lay snuggled amidst the tall blades of feather reed grass that grew in clumps. From the rough brown boughs with spots of white hung the ropes of home made swings, the fresh two-tone leaves already throwing shade across the roofs and porches of the long, ranch-style, brick homes that were popular in the South during the late '50s and '60s. I let my eyes traverse the quiet street. Amongst the trees, similar houses peeked at each other across the mottled asphalt where a young boy riding his bicycle in circles was the only sign of life.
"Just like Anytown, USA," I remarked.
"Yup. Pretty much. A good, solid neighborhood. Blue collar, church-going folk. Nearly all of them work for the power company — decent, honest people, not grand, but with little debt. McGlocklin was definitely out of place here, although I doubt he realized it." Clifford lifted his foot from the brake and we rolled forward, continuing over the hill, past more houses of the same type before descending the other side to arrive almost at the beginning of the town.
As we headed up Main Street, my chauffer gave me a run down of the local history, pointing out various places of interest as we passed. Mike’s laconic characterization of his boyhood home had not provided much to seed my imagination, and my guide enjoyed my surprise at the tidbits of information he passed out. From him I learned that the town had barely existed at all until the 1940s, when the huge dam had been built for hydro-electric power. Since then, the power company’s workforce as well as some minor industries that had been attracted to where power and land were cheap, had enabled the town to grow steadily, and the boom that came during the Clinton administration had swelled the population and promoted more development, so the town now could even boast of its own theater. Two thirds of the way down Main Street, a block past the hewn-stone town hall, Clifford, still expounding enthusiastically, slowed the car and swung into an alley that disgorged into an asphalted parking lot behind a modern grey, concrete, steel and glass building. Clifford swiped his ID card across a reader and punched in a code. There was a click of a bolt being released, and he pulled open a solid black door, standing aside to usher me through. Inside all was quiet. We had entered a cavernous room where two men in overalls were working on a printing press, their conversation muted in the large space. The machines themselves looked a whole lot less cumbersome and gigantic than I had imagined they would.
"Yes," Clifford told me when I remarked on this, "that was the image at one time and, to tell the truth, still is in many newspapers. We went through a big renovation here and decided to go to a Flexo process — the same kind of printing that prints your cereal box. The old offset method was just too wasteful of paper for a small setup like ours. Every time you start those old presses up you can waste hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of sheets of paper while the operator gets the registration of the printing right. With the Flexo he can do it at a slow speed and we waste, typically, only about ten sheets. It’s a big savings. Also, overall, the whole Flexo process is more environmentally friendly, which is an image the Chronicle likes to project."
Still talking about the presses, he led the way toward the front of the building. Here the décor was modern: glass, stainless steel and pale wood surrounded us. On the paneled side walls, along with a few framed photographs of the mustachioed owner and editors who seemed vaguely surprised at being in front of a camera, hung plaques and certificates denoting awards the newspaper or its staff had been awarded, while on a low, square, glass table lay copies of various national papers from the previous Friday. Everything neat, everything clean, and the scents of shampooed carpets and polished wood hung unstirred by an air conditioning system on light duty for the weekend.
"Let’s go down to the stacks," Clifford proposed, and, with sneakers sinking into the pile of the plush blue carpet, I followed him across the lobby toward the stairs. The staircase that headed up to the second floor and the managerial offices was an elegant glass-and-aluminum design that exuded an air of business-like Swedish modernity, but that we were headed to a working area was foretold by the stone stairs and iron balustrades supporting a dark blue, plastic handrail, that descended to the basement. Here the susurrus of air, odorless and dry, spilling out of plastic grates in the ceiling, heightened the sense that I was somehow being drawn away from the outside world. Fluorescent tubes cast light that left no shadows, and the elegant carpet had given way to linoleum flooring that was almost clinically clean. Clifford pulled a card from his wallet and swiped it over a reader to the right of a large wooden door. Inside, four long tables stretched across the room. Each hosted three PCs, the newspaper’s logo sliding slowly and inexorably across their black screens over and over again. I stopped, awed at the expanse in front of me. To my left, six rows of shelves filled with books stretched the entire length of the room. Filling up the remaining space were column after column of cream filing cabinets that reached from floor to within two feet of the ceiling. Used to doing my research on the ethereal Internet, I had a sense of wonderment, almost veneration, to have so much tangible reference material within my reach.
"Pull up a chair," my host said, sitting down behind the first of the tables, the regard for his surroundings obviously having palled over time.
I sat down next to him as he logged on to one of the PCs. Briskly clicking on icons, he scampered through window after window until he came to one with a long list of single-line entries in DOS-like Courier font. He paged down rapidly, selected one, and on the new screen that opened, scrolled down a few lines, and clicked on yet another reference. Onto the screen flashed an image of a newspaper article and he swiveled the screen slightly so I could read it. The story was a bare three inches of single column news, and told, with much less detail than Clifford had recounted it earlier, of the junkie’s apparent attempt to get off his charge by concocting the story of the murder.
"This was the start as far as we were concerned," he said. "We can click on the link at the bottom and it’ll take us to the next article in the series." He pushed the mouse across its pad as he explained, "If it’s a green link it’s one of our articles, if it’s a blue one it’s from another paper."
The finding of McGlocklin’s body days later had prompted a flurry of more expansive articles. His death naturally brought the focus back onto the statement that the druggie had given, and the wretch was hauled out of jail for a more thorough grilling. Taken back to the roof top from which he claimed he had seen the murder take place, he once again pointed out the room to the police and this time the Chronicle’s photographer had recorded him, finger outstretched, looking toward the apartment block across the street.
Clifford clicked on an icon and the screen changed to a front-page article under broad headlines, detailing the finding of the body in apartment one. I leaned forward to read while Clifford pushed the mouse pad toward me so I could control the scrolling. Other than some quotes from various people, the story was pretty close to what Clifford had expounded earlier. Alongside the text was a picture of the apartment building, a narrow, brick structure, three stories high. The first floor consisted of a barber shop and what looked like some kind of clothing store that fronted onto a sidewalk strewn with litter. The two floors above consisted of two apartments each, evidenced by four plain windows on its dark facade, one of which, on the second floor, was circled in the photograph.
For half an hour I clicked through article after article. Phrases appeared in the Chronicle, were echoed in The Charlotte Observer and, occasionally, would sound faintly in New York, Washington and, even once, in the Denver Post. Under my inexpert thrusting, facts made their appearance on the screen in no particular order, nor did everything that appeared always evince what its import was, and often Clifford would halt my progress to interject some form of explanation.
The widow Starmer told the police, and the Chronicle’s reporter, Clifford Harrison if the byline was correct, that on the night when the junkie had reported the murder, they were woken at about 1am by McGlocklin returning home. He had been very drunk, she maintained. In fact, so drunk, that he had rammed his pickup truck into the metal door of his garage. It was that noise which had awoken her and her brother. Even for the habitually drunken McGlocklin this was apparently unusual behavior, so instead of pulling the covers over their heads and trying to return to sleep as they usually did, the widow and her brother ventured out onto the porch to see what had occurred. In his driveway, staggering, bottle in hand, and cursing his wife for not having left the lights on when she knew he’d be coming home late and tired, was their neighbor.
When McGlocklin observed his neighbors eyeing him, he yelled an obscenity and they hurriedly retreated inside. The incident, the article continued, had also been witnessed by a Mr. Derr, who lived across the road, and who had been awakened by the crunching of metal as the truck struck the garage door. Days later, he would recall how he had returned to bed, then lain awake, concerned because of McGlocklin’s cursing and shouting that he didn’t care if he never saw his wife again. Fearing that some foul play might ensue, and mentally debating whether he should intervene, and, if so, how, Derr had tossed and turned until finally falling into a troubled sleep in the early hours. His worries proved groundless, and he had been relieved on the following day to find Mrs. McGlocklin alive and residing safely with her neighbors.
At about 5am, the widow was again wakened by shouting and cursing from the McGlocklin house. ‘I will go goddam fishing whenever and with whoever I want,’ she told the reporter they had heard him scream at his hapless wife. They could not hear what she was saying, but, from his responses, she apparently wanted him to be home for the weekend. He would have none of it, telling her, at the top of his voice, he’d be back when it pleased him. This yelling went on in similar vein for fifteen minutes or more, and the widow and her brother were just about to call the police yet again, when there was frantic pounding on the door and Denise McGlocklin begged to be let in ‘before Daniel kills me’. The two took the frightened woman in and, once again, went to the phone to call the police. Only the hysterical pleadings of Denise that he would kill her if they did, prevented them from doing so, Mrs. Starmer maintained.
From behind their curtains they peeped at McGlocklin as he loaded his fishing gear into the back of his pickup truck and, with a final obscene gesture toward their window, he pulled out into the road and drove away, throwing an empty beer can onto their sidewalk as a Parthian shot.
Mrs. Starmer told the reporter that Denise was so overwrought, she had put her to bed and given her something to make her sleep. In fact, the wretched woman was so confused and terrified that the widow insisted that she remain with her and her brother until she was fully recovered. This she did, only darting back into her house briefly to get items of clothing and some food, and even then only with Mr. Serrin accompanying her in case McGlocklin had somehow returned.
In an article in a subsequent issue, a different reporter expounded on McGlocklin’s history. Dan McGlocklin had, since his high school days, always operated on the very edge of the legal system. At school, he had had to sit out half a football season after beating up a player on another team after they had trounced Whitley High. For a while, petty theft had been his forte, but a tour in Vietnam with the army apparently straightened him out some, because, once he came home, there were no reports of any brushes with the law for a while. A bullet in the leg has a way of sobering a man up.
On his discharge, he married a Denise Melser, and thereafter did not do anything newsworthy for ten years. Then came an arrest for being drunk and disorderly. Appearances in court for similar charges cropped up thereafter at about 18-month intervals. Once he served a month’s sentence in jail for obstructing an officer when he threw an object, to wit, a piece of canine excrement, at the policeman who was attempting to place one of McGlocklin’s friends into a police cruiser after he had failed a DUI test. Another of the articles imparted the information that, according to police reports, on several occasions McGlocklin’s neighbors, a Mrs. Doris Starmer and Wayne Serrin, had called the authorities because McGlocklin had been shouting and cursing in his yard at all hours of the night. Two other neighbors who lived across the street had apparently also filed complaints about disturbances as well. Of these latter I recognized the name of Eric Derr.
Two days later, with new information running thin, the paper ran a photograph showing the power company men who had first come in contact with the junkie. The adjacent column of print told their story. On the night of the first report of the murder, Ted Clepper and Clay Coffman had been headed out to do some work on a new factory being built nearby, when a man had waved them down and reported small sparks coming from a transformer on a light pole in a nearby street. This transformer happened to be right outside the apartment building where the junkie allegedly saw the murder take place, but of that they were unaware at the time. They had been working there for several hours, they had heard no shot, nor had they seen anyone enter or leave the building, they said. While repairing the transformer, they had been amazed to see the junkie emerge from the other building and hang about their truck. A little concerned at first for their gear, their worry declined as he appeared uninterested in taking anything. His breath smelled heavily of alcohol and his dilated pupil size led them to believe that he was probably high as well. In fact, he was so befuddled they could understand only half of what he was saying. In the end, they decided he would probably be better once he had slept things off, so they put him into the cab of the truck, gave him some coffee from a thermos, and told him to take it easy for a while. One of them stayed with the man for a while, talking to him, but when he seemed to settle down, the worker left him to continue his own work. The two workmen had had to go inside the apartment building to check on the voltages in the distribution panels, and when they came out about half an hour later, the man had left. They were still preoccupied with their work, and, other than checking that none of their equipment was missing, made no attempt to find out where he had gone. They were fairly certain, however, that he had not gone into the tenement, otherwise, they claimed, they would have seen him, since he would have had to make his way past them to get to any of the apartments. Some time later, while they were still working on the distribution board in the stairwell, McGlocklin, accompanied by another man and a woman, had gone past, they said. The only conversation the power company men had had with the trio was to respond to a question as to how long the electricity was likely to be off.
"I wonder," I pondered aloud, "if anyone thought of checking these guys out? I mean, how likely is it that someone on the street would just wave down a power company truck to report a transformer problem?"
"That wouldn’t be too unusual around here," Clifford explained. "We’re growing in size, but there is still a sense of small-town ‘belonging’", he used his fingers to put the word in quotes. "So a guy sees a spark from a transformer. It isn’t a big enough deal to phone in, but when he happens to see a power truck driving along, he thinks, ‘What the heck — I may as well let them know.’"
But I wasn’t ready to cede the point yet. "Didn’t McGlocklin work at the power company, too? Maybe he saw these two guys doing something — stealing company equipment or something like that, and they decided he had to be silenced. Or maybe in the argument they over-reacted and killed him by mistake."
"Could be. Or maybe they were in on a drug deal with him and he stiffed them," my companion replied, waxing enthusiastic at the idea. But then he paused and rationality came back. "But then, curse it, we always come back to the fact that McGlocklin was seen alive up to seven or eight hours later by several people."
"Shit!" I sighed. "Yeah, I keep forgetting that."
Only slightly chastened, I returned to the screen and the scanning of the papers, but apparently nothing material was turning up. In the issue of two days later, the Chronicle printed a report released by the police that had been made by FBI agents watching the street at the time, and I recalled Clifford having mentioned something about the Feds monitoring the area for the fugitive from up North. From their vantage point, the report stated, the agents had seen a man who resembled McGlocklin, wearing the denim jacket, black jeans and cowboy boots that his wife maintained he had worn that evening, leave a bar called the Hot Stuff on the corner accompanied by two women, and walk up the street ‘cuddling and kissing’. As the report went on, it mentioned the comings and goings from the bar, but no one else of interest went up the street for a while. About ninety minutes later a woman came around the corner and proceeded to walk up the street looking at each doorway as though looking for an address. She wore a longish dress and a thin scarf covered her hair and ears, so the agents could not offer much of a description other than to estimate her height at about five foot five. Not ten minutes later, the two ladies of the night that had first been seen with McGlocklin, came down the street, heads bent down and in earnest conversation. At the same time a man in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and with a baseball cap covering much of his hair came hurrying around the corner and hastened up the street. Although the build was different from Lennie’s, the agents watched intently, suspecting that it might be someone aiding their escapee. However, when the man strode past the entrance of the prisoner’s brother’s apartment building without so much as a glance at the door, they relaxed. The next few lines contained nothing of note other than the arrival of the power company’s truck, which picked its way up the street, shining its spotlight on each address. Then followed a short paragraph which Clifford pointed out to me by tapping his pencil on the screen. About forty minutes later McGlocklin came back down the street again, accompanied by the man who had most recently gone up. The two of them had their arm arms around the woman and their heads were close together. The little group turned the corner and disappeared from sight. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, the druggie had appeared. His demeanor and actions were suspicious. Having passed all the other doorways, he had stopped in the one that led to the building where Lennie’s brother lived. It had not yielded, and he proceeded down the street, but that single action had piqued their interest enough to call in the local police to have him apprehended. For the next few lines the report abandoned its business-like clarity and proceeded with obfuscating phrases such as ‘the suspect was uncooperative’, and I guessed from this that, perhaps for a brief time, Miranda took a back seat, as the agents searched desperately for a lead. A separate paragraph gave a synopsis of the people seen by the two FBI agents to enter and leave the street. Other than the drug addict who had apparently headed up to the rooftop earlier, everyone who had entered the street had been seen to leave it alive.
That completed the report. The junkie had gone only a few blocks after leaving the truck, the article continued, recapping everything they knew, when a police cruiser picked him up. As soon as they heard of the murder, they bundled him into the back of the car, put on their lights and siren and hurried to the apartment building. Once there, the addict had pointed out the room to them and one of the officers raced upstairs. There was no answer to his knocking, and so, since two other cruisers had arrived, the officers forced an entry. Inside the sparsely furnished apartment they found nothing obviously amiss. The light was off, the single bed appeared to have been lain upon, but the cover had been pulled up somewhat untidily. The fridge was empty except for half a six-pack of beer.
So insistent was the addict about what he had seen that, after a brief consultation amongst themselves, the patrol men called in the crime scene techs. In the room they found recent prints of one person and some older ones of several others whom they could not identify. Half under the bed they found the metallic wrappers of three condoms and these, too, bore smudged fingerprints that matched the fresher ones in the room. The bathroom yielded a wet facecloth and a slightly damp towel; there was a little water in the tub, and some tissues in the trash can that bore smudges of two different lipsticks. A single fresh fingerprint that matched none of the others was lifted off the mirror of the small cupboard. Next to an overturned can, there was a damp patch on the carpet next to the bed that smelled strongly of beer, and three cans which, according to the batch numbers, were the companions to those in the fridge, were found in a plastic bag in a dumpster out back.
"The occupants of the other apartments weren’t interviewed then — only after the body was found," Clifford said, pointing back to the screen at a picture of a young couple, perhaps Hispanic, who looked nervous. I read the print in the column next to the picture. The couple, Garza by name, lived in apartment number 4, directly above the one where the decomposing body had been found. They did not know who rented the apartment below theirs — they had never seen anyone come or go and, in fact, had thought it empty. But they had to get up early in the mornings for their jobs, so they tended to retire early and were thus unlikely to have noticed any nocturnal goings on from downstairs. Once, they admitted, maybe a month before, there had been an argument on the stairs between a man and a woman. They thought they remembered it was over money. They hadn’t gone out to see who it was — this was not such a good neighborhood. But certainly on this night they hadn’t heard a shot. They woke up with the noise of the power company’s man outside their door, working on the electrical panel at the top of the stairs. The lights were off then, but they came on a short time later. When they heard the police come, they thought maybe the power man had been hurt.
After the police had left they had given the matter little thought, and, even when they had begun to detect the odors of decomposition, they had not connected them with the incident of a week before. They were low-key individuals, and had endured the growing stench for longer than most would have. It was only when the occupants of the adjacent apartment remarked on the smell that they contacted the realty company that managed the property.
The family who lived next door to them was Vietnamese. They claimed that there were often noises from downstairs. Maybe there had been a bang one night, they couldn’t really remember. There were often loud sounds from the street. They worked hard for long hours and when they came home they closed the window and slept soundly.
"Who’s that?" I asked pointing at the picture below the Garza’s. The picture showed a young man of about 20, standing amidst a pile of boxes in a room, next to what appeared to be a rake or a broom — it was hard to tell in the printed picture.
"That was the guy in the apartment next to the one where the body was found. But he had nothing to do with it — he was just moving in, he wasn’t there when the addict said the murder took place."
"Ah," I said as I looked at the caption underneath the picture. "Kind of an ominous omen for a move in, isn’t it? To have the cops investigating a murder in the next room? " My eyes scanned the print quickly, searching for a name. Darryl Salter. There it was. Darryl was moving into the apartment he had just recently rented, and he appeared nonplussed by the police activity going on all around him. But, from my first glance at the photograph, the sector of my brain that controlled my hormones had switched to high pulse repetition frequency: this guy was hot, and with that as a tag, his name was hung on a convenient synapse inside my cranium.
Pushing my lust aside, I followed the screen as Clifford scanned more articles. There was a brief flurry when it was learned that the dead man was as much of a bully at work as he was at home. A certain Katie Watson had come to the company as an engineer, one of the few females in that group, and McGlocklin, together with a few other men, had gone out of their way to make her life a misery. Week after week she put up with it: she needed the money since her husband had been off work for close on a year following a bad car accident, and his unemployment was running out. On that last day McGlocklin had been at work, she had gone to her locker to find that someone had ejaculated over her clothes. She had left work that evening in tears, vowing never to come back.
Reading further in the paragraph I learned that her husband maintained she had been at home all night, ‘But,’ I thought to myself, ‘spouses have been known to lie to protect each other.’
Could this woman, or even her husband — he could well have been in for revenge if his wife had been forced to give up her job because of McGlocklin — have conspired to wreak revenge on her tormentor?
"Look," I pointed out to Clifford when he did not seem convinced, "she worked in the same place as he did, so she could well have overheard his plans for his fishing trip. So she has an idea of when he will be coming back, and probably a good idea of the route. So they wait in ambush, make like their car has broken down or something, and when he stops, they kill him and carry his body back to the apartment. They would know all about that from the first newspaper article."
Clifford sat back in his chair and considered what I had said. "Nope," he said eventually, "Although I’m actually pleased that you brought it up, because it is along the lines of a theory of mine that I had at the time. But I, and I would expect the police, too, did some probing there, and the only holes in the woman’s alibis weren’t at the right times or long enough to have enabled such an extensive operation. Besides, the husband had severe enough back problems that he couldn’t have lifted much of anything.
"So, I think we can probably rule her out," he concluded, looking intently at me.
"Well, yeah," I agreed after a pause, still reluctant to give up my idea. "I’ll let it rest for now. But I find the husband’s remarks a bit too restrained. After what his wife had been subjected to, I would have expected some kind of wish for revenge, or a desire to see his McGlocklin’s colleagues meet with a similar fate." And, frustrated, I turned back to the screens.
But not even the conundrum of the times of death could keep the story alive in the papers. After a few days, and with no new leads, the articles moved off the front page and became smaller and less frequent. McGlocklin’s truck was found — in the town pound. It had been parked by a fire hydrant and the cops had had it towed. The driver’s window was open and the wrecker got in and aligned the wheels so it would be easier to tow. By the time the folks from forensics got to the truck, the tow truck driver’s fingerprints were all that remained to be lifted.
"So that’s it?" I asked when the seam of articles had run out.
"All that made it into the papers," Clifford responded. "There’ll be all the photographs in the cabinets, and anything else that couldn’t be scanned in."
"Can we look?"
"Sure." He pulled a square of paper out of a holder on the desk and jotted down some numbers off the screen. "That’s a reference into the files," he explained, pointing to the characters in square brackets. "All the notes we took, photos we didn’t use, and other stuff relevant to the case are in there. Come, I’ll show you how to get to the background info."
I followed him down a long aisle between filing cabinets. Every ten feet or so, he would reach a hand up and sweep it over a switch to turn on the next set of fluorescent lights hanging down from the ceiling over the passageway. About two thirds of the way down, he stopped. Showing me the number on his chit, he bent down to the drawer closest to the floor where the first seven numbers from the note were stenciled on the outside. Pulling it open, he scanned the labels on the dividers and pulled out two bulky, beige envelopes. Tucking them under his arm he led the way back to the table, clicking off light after light as we passed.
Sitting down, he flipped open the flap and extracted pages and pages of notes. Most were on sheets from a steno pad and written in shorthand, which I couldn’t read, but some had been typed up. Tipping the envelope up, he spilled out about twenty or thirty photographs. "The new stuff gets scanned in to the computer," Clifford said, "and we are trying to go back and scan the older stuff in, working backwards in time, you know, but it’s a lot of effort and this hasn’t made it yet."
I pulled the pile of photographs over and began to go through them. The originals were clearer than the images on the screen, but yielded little new information to me. Most were shots of the apartment, inside and out; one or two were of the building from where the addict had enjoyed his live porn show. There was another picture of Clepper and Coffman, the two men from the power company, next to their truck. Other photographs showed Daniel McGlocklin and Denise in earlier years at what appeared to be a picnic. His arm around her seemed to be more threatening than loving.
I sat back and put my hands behind my head as I considered all this. How does a body just disappear? And how does it reappear again with no one seeing it move? And where could it have been in the interim?
"So, what do you think? Enough of a puzzle for you?" Clifford asked, appearing pleased with himself at having provided such diversion for me.
"It sure is. So nothing ever came of it?"
"As I said out at the house," Clifford went on as he shuffled through pictures and notes, "I don’t really believe there was a huge groundswell of people who wanted it solved. I think that more than a handful of men in the city didn’t want too much focus placed on the Hot Stuff and the ladies who provided their diversions there. Many of the town’s women thought that McGlocklin got what he deserved, and really, though no one spoke it out loud, the consensus here as I sensed it was, if there were a case to be tried, there was not a jury in the county that would convict the culprit. The police didn’t want their incompetence at missing the body the first time paraded continually through the newspapers and television either, so everyone just let the matter quietly slide into oblivion."
"Yeah, that can happen, I guess." I thought for a few moments and then asked, "How can I look up more about some of the people involved?"
"Hooked are you?" Clifford laughed. "Here let me show you. Who do you want to look up?"
"Well, to start off, Denise McGlocklin. Like you said, she seems like the best suspect."
Clifford gave a quick demonstration of how to drill down deeper in their databases. He clicked an icon and a small window appeared on the screen. "So, you want to look up Denise McGlocklin. Start typing the name in this window here and it takes you to this index page. See, there’s Daniel McGlocklin; there’s Denise. Click on the name you want, and you see which files anything related to her are located. They’re classified by date. It’ll bring the pages up here if they’re in the database or, if there is a number in brackets, make a note of the file number, and then go to the cabinets just like we did just now. Pretty straightforward."
"OK, cool. Thanks."
"If they’re in the cabinets, I normally just stick a piece of paper in where I take them out. It makes putting them back quicker."
"Right. Good idea,"
"I’m happy you’re so easily entertained," he laughed. "I’m going to leave you to browse around. I need to go up to my office and check on some things since I’m here. Just don’t get the contents of any of the files mixed up — the librarians turn nasty when that happens." And with that, Clifford left me to play.
Denise McGlocklin’s files were rather sparse. The folders contained notes that Clifford had made at a couple of interviews. As before, one or two of the notes were in shorthand and I ignored those, but others had been typed up. The earliest, just after the body had been found, was fairly comprehensive. Clifford had noted the almost healed black eye, the trace of a welt on her neck. His notes were pithy and I could imagine him sitting a talking to the slight woman whose photograph I’d seen earlier. McGlocklin had indeed hit her, but she seemed to imply it was her fault because she had forgotten to wash his camos as he’d asked her to earlier in the week.
By the time a half hour had passed, my right-brained mind had taken firm control and my search had rambled far afield. I had looked through several more files, read maybe ten or fifteen articles, and found the year-books and student newspapers of the Whitley High School on the shelves. I had taken each back to my table and perused them for a while, more for some diversion than for clues, but they did give me some insight into the town where my lover had grown up and explained some of his attitude. I was pensive as I pushed the last of the binders back into place on the shelf, and as I walked back to the PC, the lines Let not Ambition mock their useful toil, Their homely joys, and destiny obscure, came out of nowhere into my thoughts.
I sat down and swung my feet onto the table, reclining with my head resting on my crossed hands. Someone in this cool sequester’d vale was orchestrating everything. What was pertinent and what was camouflage, and how could I, years later, discern the difference? I closed my eyes and mentally began to subtract the evidence of each person one by one to see how that changed the total scenario. Absent the testimony of the FBI agents, the facts of the case remained virtually unchanged: they tell us nothing happened on a night when nothing happened. Take away all the narration that the druggie had come up with, and what changes? Not much. We lose merely the journalistic interest of the hallucinatory crime that had not taken place.
But the whole flow of the case changed when the evidence of the widow woman was taken away. The entire timeline of McGlockiln’s last twelve hours had grown from her testimony — well, hers and her brother’s. What had she given McGlocklin’s wife to make her sleep? And when? Was Denise McGlocklin so used to taking orders from her bullying husband, that she could have been persuaded that things were not necessarily as she thought, but rather the way the widow and her brother told her they were?
I sat up, dropping my feet to the floor, and put my fingers on the keyboard. Locating the reference to Doris Starmer and, jotting down the number, I pulled her file from its place in the drawers hoping that the notes I needed were not in shorthand. Leaning against the file cabinets I flipped through the papers. Yes, indeed, her version of the story differed from Denise’s. According to Doris, there were few weeks when Denise didn’t have some mark on her body from McGlocklin’s assaults. More often than not it was the small, slightly curved, red-blue marks of a pinch-and-twist, but there had been occasions when Doris had seen Denise’s arms bearing signs of bruising, which Denise explained away as the results of "bumping into" things. Twice before, Doris had seen Denise attempting to conceal a black eye by wearing sunglasses.
Wayne Serrin, Doris’s brother, apparently, a good solid citizen with his own plumbing business, and with whom she had lived since her husband had died some years before, said that he had known Daniel McGlocklin since high school and had never liked him. McGlocklin was a bully, and in Wayne’s opinion, after he came back from Vietnam, McGlocklin was "worse than before". He added that "when they catch the man who killed McGlocklin, the town should give him a parade down Main Street as a token of gratitude."
I pushed the notes back into the envelope and replaced it in the drawer, then, hands dug into my pockets, strolled pensively back to the PC. As I pulled my chair up in front of the screen, a short line caught my eye. I had pulled the file for Doris Starmer for the year of the murder, but now I noticed that there was another file from an earlier date. Just on a hunch, I jotted down the second number and returned to the cabinets. The manila covers didn’t contain much. Three sheets of paper recorded an interview someone had had with Doris’ after her husband’s death. As I read the words I drew in my breath, then raced back to the computer and to the newspaper editions for those days. My eyes flicked hurriedly from side to side of the screen as I took in the story. Several years before, Ed Starmer had left home, alone, to go hunting. That night he did not come home. Nor did he on the following night, nor the night after that. Days later his body was found. It was impossible to know whose stray bullet had ended his life, for his body had begun to decompose and some damage had been inflicted by animals. Several fellow hunters who had been out hunting that day came forward voluntarily to the police station with their guns, but markings on the fatal bullet matched none of their rifling. And thus the question remained: who had been in the forest that day who hadn’t volunteered their gun? The notes gave one more piece of information — two weeks before Ed Starmer’s death, Doris had filed for divorce. The reason given for the request was her husband’s infidelity.
Had no one other than I seen the parallel, I wondered?
I stood up and scrounged around the room until I found a pad and pencil and then returned to the computer and began to jot down notes.
Within a quarter hour I had come up with a workable scenario which I believed would stand up to Clifford’s probing. I had no idea, however, how to make my way from the stacks to his office, so I would have to wait for him to come back to tell him the news. I got up, stretched and walked to the bathroom, being careful to jam some paper into the door of the stacks so that I could get back in without an access card.
They say the Devil finds work for idle hands to do. When I got back, Clifford had still not returned, so I sat down at the keyboard again and idly typed the name Darryl Salter onto the screen. There were two entries. I jotted the numbers down, then walked over to the cabinets and pulled the files. One was thin and contained little more than I had read before about him moving into the apartment next to McGlocklin’s. There were several more pictures which gave me a better view of both the guy and the sparse apartment. As I’ve said, he was good looking, and once again my gaydar started to ping loudly. Reluctantly pushing the pictures aside, I picked through the contents of the second file. There was a sheaf of shorthand notes, but only one typed-up piece, and that bore the byline, Clifford Harrison. It was about the resolution of a case in the probate of a will. The matter concerned the will of one Andrew Traywick. Darryl Salter was the beneficiary of Traywick’s will, and was contesting a contract that Traywick had made to give certain stocks to his father. In the end, judgment had been made in favor of Traywick’s father and Mr. Salter had had to hand over the shares. Then my stomach knotted. The basis for the ruling against Salter had apparently been evidence given by one, Michael Jorgensen. Andrew Traywick was Andy — Mike’s ex. And it looked very much as though Mike had found a way to stick it to Darryl.
I was about to stuff the notes back into their envelope when I realized there was one more sheet tucked inside. I pulled it out. It was a photocopy of the contract that had been the root of the dispute. I read through it twice then studied the sheet for a full two minutes before pensively placing everything back into the envelope and carrying it back to its cabinet. I was really confused. It was like reading about a stranger — the behavior was so foreign to that of the Mike I knew. My Mike would fight tooth and nail for anyone else’s cause, but when it came to his own business, he would rather turn away than get involved in any imbroglio. ‘Life’s too short to let that shit get to you,’ he would tell me when my brattitude had me planning some form of devious but fitting revenge for some thoughtless act by some witless hetero.
I was still puzzling over this dichotomy when the door lock clicked and Clifford came back into the room. "So, have you solved it, Chris?" he asked lightheartedly.
I shoved the puzzle of Mike and the will to the back of my mind, and focused on the original task. "Yeah. I think I have."
"No. I’m not. I think I have a feasible solution."
"Who killed him?"
"Doris Starmer. Maybe in cahoots with her brother."
Clifford looked at me. "Naah. C’mon."
"Here, Clifford," I said, pushing my notes in front of him. He studied the paper then raised his eyes blankly to mine. I looked back at him and then down to my notes. They were a mess, with lines through words, and arrows that changed the order of events. No wonder the man could not comprehend them.
Impatient to hear his reaction, I pulled the paper back and tried to explain the flow. "See, it was driving me crazy that we could never come to any answer at all in this case. If we did have all the information, we had to be able to come up with, at least, a practicable hypothesis. And then I realized that what we were trying to fit together was, in fact, two sets of facts that were inconsistent: the druggie saw McGlocklin being killed in the apartment; other people saw him alive later. So who was lying? At first, when the body was found, it began to look as though the addict’s story was the true one. But then, other testimony made that seem impossible. And finally I came to the realization that someone was orchestrating things, changing things around so that we could never put it together. And the only person that had the evidence that would make that kind of difference was Mrs. Starmer."
"But what motive could she possibly have?" asked Clifford, sitting down.
"I dunno. I think she was sick of seeing the way McGlocklin treated his wife. I think there’s a possibility that she killed her own husband for screwing around, too."
"She what?" Clifford asked with an incredulity that barely disguised his belief that I was making this all up. "Where do you come up with that from?" Without saying anything I pushed the sheets containing his earlier article across to him.
"Well I’ll be damned," he muttered after reading through it a second time. "I never made that connection at all."
He thought for a few seconds. "But, what about Denise’s testimony?"
"I don’t think it’s worth a hill of beans," I said.
"Chris, you can’t just reject somebody’s testimony to prove a point."
"Hey, maybe she didn’t intentionally lie. Maybe her memory was, let’s say, worked on. Look," I went on as Clifford again looked skeptical, "we’ve got a woman who has allowed herself to be abused for years. She’s so used to taking orders, of not being right, that she accepts what someone in an authoritative position — like Doris Starmer — tells her as the flow of events that actually happened. Don’t forget," I added as Clifford gave me a quizzical look, "the widow admitted that she gave Denise McGlocklin something to make her sleep. What did she give her? Some kind of drug?
"Look," I continued, "this is what could have happened. McGlocklin and his wife have a real humdinger of a fight. He goes out boozing and carousing. He comes home, drunk, and bashes his truck into the garage door. We know what kind of guy he is: he takes it out on his wife and it is then, not the following morning, that she runs to the neighbors’ house. Around then the man across the street witnesses the shouting match. It must be after Denise runs to the neighbor’s house, because he is concerned about her well-being. The widow and her brother put her to bed and give her some kind of a drug that puts her into a real deep sleep. Then either, Doris Starmer decided to go and have it out with McGlocklin, or he came over to demand that his wife return to their house.
"If she went over to his house, she must have taken the gun with her — either because she was scared of him, or because she knew she was going to kill him. If he went to their house, then whoever shot him probably did it in self-defense.
"And if he was killed in his house," I continued, on a roll, "Doris Starmer could have gone over later in the guise of the good neighbor and cleaned up — removing all the evidence."
"OK," Clifford said doubtfully. "But how did the body get to the apartment then?"
"Uh-huh. That stumped me for a long time. In fact, I only came up with the answer because I had read your notes. I mean a body is difficult to move. I have put enough passed-out drunk guys to bed to realize that," I smiled ruefully and Clifford laughed. "So then I began to rack my brains as to what kind of container a body would fit into? A box was obvious, but so coffin-like that it would have been noticed. And don’t forget the box would have to go into the apartment and then out again. Two chances of being seen. A rolled up carpet would do, but in that neighborhood would probably elicit too much unwanted attention. Then, it hit me: Mrs. Starmer’s brother is a plumber. If someone was seen moving a water heater around the old apartments, it wouldn’t be that remarkable, and most people would expect it to be heavy."
Clifford cocked a finger at me acknowledging my point, and completed my explanation for me. "And if he pulls up at ten or eleven in the morning, all the other apartment owners will be at work. He would have had a key from McGlocklin’s body. I bet it was all done in fifteen minutes and no one was any the wiser."
"Yup. The perfect crime. No one could be sure of exactly when the murder took place. If the police arrested someone for committing the crime later than when the druggie said it happened, they’d have to discredit his evidence. If they took his story, they’d have to discredit the McGlocklin’s neighbors.
Clifford thought for a full two minutes in silence. "Well, I can’t seem to find a flaw in what you’re saying, Chris." He looked at me under his eyebrows. "It seems to be the only scenario that fits all the facts. We just placed too much weight on that addict’s story. If there had been no murder, we would never have given it any credence at all — as happened when it was first reported. Then, when the body was found, we just assumed he had to be right because some things fit. Damn!"
"Yeah," I admitted. "I know it’s only a theory, but I just can’t think of anything else that fits the facts that we know."
"Yup. But the more I think about it, the more I think you’re right. In any case, it’s a more viable rationale of what happened than we’ve ever had before.
I stood up. "Let’s pack up here and get back to the Jorgensen’s to tell them."
He smiled at me. "You just want to give Mike a hard time for trying to keep you away from the story."
I laughed. "Water off a duck’s back. Mike knows me too well. Look, can I take these with us?" I asked pointing to the piles I had stacked up on the table. "I’ve marked each with a Post-It so they can get back to the right file."
"I guess," he answered with a slight shrug. "I doubt anyone else will be looking for them this weekend. Here, let’s put them in an envelope so they don’t get lost."
And so, ten minutes later, I was sitting back in his car as he pulled out into the street. Neither of us spoke, each deep in our own thoughts. Absent mindedly I surveyed the various buildings as Clifford slowed down to avoid having to stop at a red light. I smiled inwardly at the low street numbers of a small town. Even in Savannah, it was not uncommon for buildings to have four digit street numbers. Here, where few buildings were above three stories high, barely higher than the poles that carried the skeins of wires and cables of modern utilities, the numbers were in the hundreds.
"Fuck it! Fuck, fuck, fuck." I exclaimed, then turning, reached to the back seat for the envelope of pictures and notes and rummaged through them. Since high school I had been aware that there are areas of my brain that are quite happy to work in total obscurity, without my control or even my awareness of their labors, and then, unexpectedly they will raise the curtain, bring up the lights and interrupt my slow-witted consciousness to gloat at the revelation they have produced.
"What?" asked Clifford. "Did you forget something back there?" Automatically he had slowed and pulled to the side in preparation for a U-turn. I ignored him as I flipped one photo after another until I found the one I wanted.
"Tell me, Clifford, has the apartment building where the body was found been demolished yet?" I asked, looking up from the picture.
"I don’t know. We can drive by there and see if you like. It’s not far off our route. Why? What’s going on?"
"Because I think I’ve been a friggin’ idiot. Anyone with half a brain cell would have seen it right from the start — it was almost the first thing you showed me, but I got carried away with the story and never saw what you were revealing to me."
"What? What didn’t you see? What did I show you?"
"Let’s go see if the building is still there and I’ll explain," I said, not because I was trying to be mischievous, but because I needed a few minutes to sort out in my mind all the things that had previously been neatly organized, and had now just been scrambled up.
Five minutes later, I stepped out of his car onto the cracked asphalt front of the boarded up apartment building. Apart from the lack of people in the street and the plywood over the windows, the building did not look much different from the photographs I’d seen earlier. I stepped over to the wooden electric pole that still stood, slightly skew, in front of the building, a sentry fallen asleep at its post. At its crown hung the cylindrical transformer, its faded blue-gray sides streaked with oil stains. I walked around the pole examining its surface closely.
"What are you looking for?" Clifford asked, joining me.
"Some signs of clamps that would hold a cable against the wood."
"And that’s important, why?"
"It’s a small thing, but the first that might confirm my theory," I mumbled as I ran my fingers probingly over the creosoted surface of the wood. "Nope. Nothing. Do you see anything? They’d be in pairs, about four inches apart going up the pole," I squinted as I peered up the pole toward the afternoon sky.
"No, nothing like that," my companion affirmed having studied the black wood. "Just these here, grouped together, but I’d say that was from notices and ads nailed to the pole."
"Yeah. They’re not it. This is good."
I shuffled around the sidewalk to one side of the pole, examining the concrete. "This looks like it was the same sidewalk that was always here," I stated, noting the weeds that had pushed their way between the cracks in the cement and subsequently died. "See, Clifford, there’s no sign of any of this having been replaced. Also, no holes have been drilled in and filled."
"Yes I see that. I don’t know why you think that’s important, though. There could have been a hole a foot deep on this street and I doubt the town engineers would have repaired it."
"Just keep it in mind. Things are all falling into place. Let’s go inside."
"I don’t think we can. It’s private property — it belongs to the developer now. Anyway, the doors and windows are all boarded up."
"Wow! You’re one really aggressive reporter!" I laughed, trying both to needle him and, at the same time, take the sting out of my words.
"C’mon, Chris, I’m not reporting on anything here. And even if I were, I can’t just burgle places."
"OK, then, be like that. Wait here. I’ll call you when I find what I think I’ll find."
He looked at the building. Nothing moved around its walls. Even the grass that grew out of the sagging gutters was motionless in the afternoon sun. Clifford kicked at a fragment of concrete with the toe of his shoe. "I should have listened to Mike and left this alone. It should have occurred to me that he knew you a whole lot better than I did."
I gave him a grin. "Come on, it shouldn’t be difficult."
But it was. The front door had a hefty chain threaded through the two handles that protruded through the yellowing plywood. When I made what seemed to me to be a straightforward query, and Clifford responded that he definitely did not carry bolt-cutters around in his car, I informed him that, as a representative for the newspaper-reporting profession, he was not giving a startling performance, and headed around the back. Tugging back the plywood over the rear entrance revealed a wooden door kept closed by a single Yale lock. As Clifford walked up, I pulled my wallet from the back pocket of my jeans and retrieved my Kirkhall Library card. Carefully I tried to insert it between the jamb and the door and, after a bit of wiggling it slid in. I pushed it against the bolt until I felt it move, and then tried the handle. The door swung open, and the hot, fetid air that it had kept imprisoned, rolled over us. I stepped in gingerly, wishing I had worn my sturdy harness boots rather than the light sneakers as I trod on the garbage and rubble that littered the floor. The boarded up windows kept out nearly all the light, only here and there pencil-thin beams of afternoon sunshine managed to arrow in through knotholes in the wood, their paths illuminated by the dust and myriad of spores of unknown molds eddying slowly around us in the stagnant air.
"I’ve got a flashlight in the car," Clifford called after I had shuffled forward about ten feet. "Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back."
I’d expected him to return with a penlight, but Clifford’s flashlight was industrial strength — pretty close to a portable searchlight. In the vastly improved visibility it provided, we moved through a second doorway into a narrow main hall that was sandwiched between the sides of the two adjacent stores. The pale green paint on the wall could still be discerned, although it was pocked with numerous chips. Here and there, graffiti, mainly names and phone numbers, written in felt tip or poorly executed spray paint, stood out then faded back into the darkness as the oval of light from the flashlight swept over them. The once-beige linoleum floor was covered in dust and was tending to lift and curl back at the seams exposing the brown-yellow glue globbed, like some extra-terrestrial gunk, on the concrete beneath. Gingerly I moved toward the staircase. What had seemed like an adolescent adventure from the safety of the sunny sidewalk, now seemed a lot eerier and, had I not felt the need to project a manifestation of cool gay machismo for Clifford’s benefit, I might have turned back, leaving behind me the tickling sensations of cobwebs across my face and the sounds of scurrying little paws in the hot darkness. Instead, I reached for Clifford’s flashlight and, taking the stairs two at a time, climbed up to the second floor. As he reached the landing next to me, I pointed the beam to the empty steel box hanging on the wall, twisted wires still jutting from the mouth of a conduit.
"This is where the power guys were working that night," I mentioned, feeling like a diver on the deck of the Titanic from one of National Geographic’s Explorer series. "There’s probably one in the same place on the next floor that the other tenants spoke about in your interview."
"I hope those wires aren’t live," muttered my accomplice as he edged past. Ignoring his fears, I shone the flashlight onto the door in front of us. A raised number 1, painted over with the same old latex that covered the door so it was difficult to discern, stood in the center at eye level. I took out my Swiss Army knife and, unfolding the smaller blade, scratched at the raised part with the screwdriver. It took several hard scrapes, but eventually the yellow brass showed through along with the head of the screw that held it in place. I examined the paint around it for a couple of seconds and then turned around.
"Let’s go upstairs. See where that Garza family lived." Once again Clifford followed as I climbed up the stone treads, chipped with years of hard use. The distribution panel on the third floor had been partially pulled from the wall and I carefully pushed it out of the way with the rubber sole of my shoe so that we could squeeze past. Across the landing, the door of apartment number 4 faced us, it, too, painted over with heavy brush strokes.
I surveyed the barren hallway, and then turned around. "OK, Clifford, let’s go see how good my burgling technique is," I quipped as I edged past the electrical panel and carefully made my way back down the dusty stairs to the dark green door.
Not having been exposed to the outside elements, this door sat more firmly against its frame, and I had to whittle away at the jamb with the trusty knife before my library card could slide the lock bolt back. "Oh, yech! Something is rotting here," I gasped, almost gagging as I pushed the wooden door open and the mephitic atmosphere, carrying all the odors that had had many a warm day to steep, eddied out. . "You sure they took the body away?"
"Geez, this is terrible." Clifford held his hand over his nose and mouth as he looked over my shoulder while I swept the beam across the floor. When it reached what had obviously been the kitchen, the source of the odor became apparent: four or five, it was hard to tell with the rotting that had taken place, dead rats lay around a small, open can. My guess was that it had once held some rodent poison. I pointed the light across the room toward the window. Pushing the stench and rodents to the back of my mind, I walked toward the little cracks of sunlight. The carpet was so dirty that the thin pile barely gave underneath my feet. Moving the lower sash up, I pushed at the plywood that had been nailed onto the outside of the gray frame with its peeling paint. It relented a little, and I gave an extra shove until, with a squeak of wood against steel, the covering slid off the nail, swung briefly off from one side, before falling, to hang drunkenly from a corner.
I pulled the sleeve of my T-shirt across my hand and used it to wipe the dirty glass. Across the road, with broken panes in almost every window, stood the building where the addict had witnessed whatever he had — or thought he had — seen. I looked down at the carpet by my feet. Was it imagination, or was there a lighter area, a part where perhaps bleach had been used to remove a stain?
"Too cheap to even change the carpet," Clifford sighed as I pointed to it with my toe. "If only these walls could talk."
I turned around to face him and shook my head from side to side. "These ones could tell only the banal, Clifford. About how the the second of John Edwards' two Americas spends their lives. Come. I think I can show you something a lot more interesting." I led the way out of the room and across the landing to the door of apartment two. Once again my co-conspirator held the flashlight while I shaved off some of the jamb before I could force my plastic library card into the crack. "I may never be able to borrow a book again," I joked as I forced the Yale lock to slide back. I pushed on the door and it creaked open into an almost exact replica of the apartment we had just left. This one didn’t stink, though — or at least, not so badly. I stepped across the threshold and looked around. The room was starkly empty. The walls, with their pale blue color, scarred by patches of gray where the cheap paint had pealed off to expose the plaster, or beige-brown, where chunks of the underlying gypsum had, too, fallen off, were bare. An old wooden shelf, once painted cream, but now covered with black dust, was held up with the cheap stamped-metal sconces that could be acquired at hardware stores only in run-down areas such as this. Other than the holes from nails which had once supported pictures or calendars, the shelf was all that remained as evidence of prior human habitation. Where once the small kitchen had been, dusty strands of arachnid web hung from the steel conduits that ran from the square box with its rusty hasp, up to the ceiling. Unbidden, came into my brain the realization that I was standing where my Adonis of the old news pictures had once stood. The young guy of Clifford’s files, looking bewildered at everything going on around him: police and news photographers and stories of murder. Looking bewildered, perplexed — and awfully cute. I kicked some dust away with my sneaker exposing the gray carpet. On how many nights had a tight ass of a one-night stand lain where now I stood while the muscled thighs of my virile god thrust into him? I swung the flashlight over. Had the grey smudge on the wall come from the abrading bed as it rocked back and forth as trysting males shared their passion?
‘Cut it out, perv!’ my mind called, dragging me back to reality. ‘Get your mind out of your jeans and put your reputation on the line.’ With an audible sigh I moved to the window and forced the sash up. This time, one push of my forearm was enough to send the plywood covering to the street below. I hoped no one was out there, but a brief look through the dusty, rain-streaked glass showed the street to be empty.
"Why are we here?" asked Clifford.
"I dunno. Let’s see." Once again, the Swiss knife came into play as I kneeled down and cut into the carpet next to the wall. When about six or seven feet were free, I got my fingers underneath and gave it a tug. With the sound of tearing and a cascade of fine debris, the matting lifted and I dragged it back, exposing the yellow mottled padding underneath. I slid the knife blade into its compacted surface to get some purchase and pulled it aside to expose the plywood that covering the concrete slab. About five feet from the window, the wooden grain was almost completely hidden by an irregular dark brown stain, about two feet in diameter.
"That, Clifford, I believe is where Daniel McGlocklin died," I said, stepping back so Clifford could see.
"You mean the other guy the one who was moving in?"
"No!" I snapped. "No," I repeated in conciliatory tone, "he had nothing to do with it."
"Look, do you mind terribly if we get out of here? This dirt and dust is getting into my lungs. I’ve practically stopped breathing."
"I hear you," Clifford replied with no lack of enthusiasm. "I saw a coffee shop a few streets down. Let’s go there."
In silence we retraced our steps to the sunshine. I pulled the rear entrance door closed and heard the Yale bolt click home, then dragged the sheet of plywood back and propped it roughly in place. Neither of us said anything as we climbed into the car. Clifford u-turned deftly, and we headed down the bare street. Three corners down, he slid the vehicle next to the curb and cut the engine. I picked up the envelope of notes and photographs and swung my legs onto the ground, pushing the sleeves of my T-shirt above my elbows to hide the dirt from my recent escapades. I looked up the road. About twenty feet away, outside the coffee shop, a rider, clad in red, grey and white racing leathers, was astride a Yamaha YZF, fastening his helmet.
"Nice bike," I called as Clifford and I walked past.
"Thanks. I like it." The rider replied as he pushed the key into the ignition. "Do you ride?" he asked when I paused, turning his head toward me.
"I’ve got a Ninja." He nodded understanding. I was accepted as a paid-up, card-carrying member of the brotherhood. "How’s the Yosh do?" I asked pointing to the Yoshimura exhaust jutting up next to his rear wheel.
"Great. Got an extra 12 horses after putting it on and doing some carb recalibration."
"Not bad. Must give you some pretty awesome acceleration."
He nodded and I heard him laugh. "You’ve got that right." I sensed the eyes behind the dark glasses scan over me as I admired his bike. "You from around here?"
"Naah. I live down on the coast near Savannah."
"Pity. I was going to say we could go riding together some time. I know some good roads — lots of curves." He paused. "You here for long?"
"Another four days." My pulse began to speed up: this was a patter that I recognized only too well.
"Maybe I could rustle up a ride for you. Whereabouts are you staying?"
"Out by the dam. The Jorgensen’s," I replied, and then, duty bound and to make sure my hormones knew where I stood, I added, "I’m up here visiting my partner’s family for a few days. So I don’t think I’ll have a chance to go riding. Maybe some other time."
Slowly, the rider pulled off his sunglasses, unfastened his helmet and pulled it off his head revealing a brush of short cropped hair and a face that sent a thousand amps through the neurons in my spine as the visage morphed itself smoothly onto the black and white image that had been lurking for the last hour in my brain. "Mike Jorgensen is your partner?"
I nodded, gawking at him, for once unable to say anything.
The rider pulled off his right glove and held out his hand to me. "I’m Darryl Salter."
I couldn’t move. I just stared at his hand, mesmerized.
"Oh," he said at last, dropping his hand and sitting back on the saddle. "I see Mike has told you about me."
"No," I finally blurted out. "I’ve never heard him mention your name." I looked at the face, a guy no younger than I. "But I do know a bit about you," and then, because I felt I needed to say it, "and I know about Andy, too."
The rider looked at me for a full ten seconds in silence. He shook his head slowly. "Everyone’s entitled to one screw-up." He pulled his glove back onto his hand and picked his helmet off the tank. With it half way to his head he looked at me. "Do me a favor, though, will you? Tell Mike, from me, that I said you were the luckiest guy in the world to have him as a partner." He slid the helmet onto his head, covered his eyes with the dark shades, turned the key, kicked the gear shifter into first and, with a quick check over his shoulder for traffic, swung out into the road and sped away.
I stood staring down the road as the howl of his exhaust faded, unable to move. Clifford gripped my shoulder. "Let’s get that coffee."
Dumbly I followed him into the coffee shop. With two cups of steaming java in our hands we wended our way to an isolated table toward the back and sat down. "So, if Mike never told you about Darryl, how did you know about him and Andy?"
I took a sip, set the cup back down while my tongue licked my scalded lip, and opened the envelope. I pulled out the picture of the guy moving in to the apartment and pushed it across to Clifford. "Darryl was the guy who was moving into that apartment."
Clifford looked at the photograph. "Oh." But still he didn’t comprehend.
"This afternoon I was looking up stuff about everyone that had some connection in the case while you were in your office. Darryl was one of the names," I hedged, not willing to state the true reason I’d pulled his information. "When I looked his name up, I happened across the thing you wrote up about his court case over Andy’s will." I tried the coffee again and my companion remained silent. "I didn’t see anything in the paper about it, though."
"No. I wrote it up, but it never made it in. We write a lot of stuff that never gets printed. We’re keen, but column inches are scarce." He mulled over some thoughts for a while and took a taste of his coffee. "So you know all about the court case, then." It was a statement.
"Yup. No. Some. No, really, no. I mean I read a couple of short paragraphs of an edited article. There were about twenty pages of shorthand notes that I couldn’t read." I needed him to refute an image in my mind, so I voiced my fear. "But from what I could read it was enough to see that Mike screwed that Darryl guy after Andy dumped him."
"That’s what you think?"
I sipped the coffee as I considered what I did think. "I don’t know. I don’t know what I think. It’s not like Mike is now." I moved a still-wrapped sugar cube from one side of the saucer to the other, and then tried to explain. "But I’ve had an LTR blow up, and I know that I wasn’t exactly sane for a long time after that. It’s the sort of thing I would do; I didn’t think Mike would, though."
"Long Term Relationship."
"Ah." He took another sip at his coffee and then sat silently, looking at me. At last he spoke. "Mike has never screwed anybody in his life."
"That’s what I thought, too. Then I read what you wrote."
"What do you know about Mike’s coming out?"
"That it was a whole lot easier than mine," I retorted quickly with the slight bitterness that the memory of my debacle always evoked. "Barry and Susan didn’t turn their backs on him. They accepted him. They accepted the friends he brought home from law school. Shit, he was even allowed to come home from law school. From how a lot of us come out, it seems he had it pretty smooth."
"Are you a Queen fan?"
"You know a gay guy who isn’t?"
"Then you know ‘Too much love will kill you’?"
"That could have been written for Mike. The Jorgensens were a close-knit family — like they are now. Not just the three of them, but the grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on. And Barry doted on Mike. If you know him, you can see he still does.
"Mike wasn’t obviously gay. Yes, in looking back now with twenty-twenty, I can see certain things, but, at the time, none of us thought much about it. Some guys are a bit more intellectual than others; some guys are less rough around the edges than others. Mike tended to be a bit of a loner — he didn’t care much for team sports, he would rather do cross country running, going out for hours by himself running along the trails around the dam.
"He and Andy were close friends. Andy was that rare kind of guy, the guy your gut tells you is a rogue, but is just so likeable that you can never say no to him. His mother died when he was about fourteen, so people tended to cut him a lot of slack. This is a small town; we all knew that Andy’s father was playing the field, even before his wife’s death. Even during her final sickness. But Andy’s mother was just the nicest person there was. That’s where Andy got his good nature from. So not even the meanest of our local witches — and do we have a coven — ever hinted to her about her husband’s indiscretions.
"About nine months after she died, Andy’s father remarried. Married the woman he’d been going out with all that time. And Andy spent a lot of his time at the Jorgensen’s house after that. Susan was like a mother to him, an advisor and a confidante. Mike and Andy appeared to be best of friends, going everywhere together, doing everything together. And none of us read anything into that.
"Well, when he was about 19, Andy decided he wanted a sports car. His father said that if he wanted one, that was fine, but he would have to find the money for it himself. Well, Andy didn’t have the money. However, the Christmas before his mother had died, his Grandfather, his mother’s father that is, had come for a visit and handed Andy some stocks in his company. Then, when he came for the funeral, he gave Andy some more. They weren’t very expensive stocks, but his Grandfather said they would do all right in the long term. Well, long-term investment was not Andy’s strongest suit, so when he needed money for a sports car, he offered to sell his shares to his father for the money.
Clifford took another sip of coffee. "Andy’s father instead made a rather strange offer. If Andy would sign a document saying that, unless he had repaid the loan, he would sell the stocks to his father on a date some five years later at their current price. The deal was much the same as the share options companies now give their staff. Anyway, Andy signed the document, his father gave him the money, and he went out and bought himself the car. He and Mike went all over in that car. Many a Friday night would find them down in this area. Although it was run down and a bit seedy, there were several bars here that had reasonably priced drinks and had bands that weren’t too bad. There was one they used to go to called The Comet that had some pretty good music, but was rather bad. They had rooms in back, upstairs and downstairs, that could be rented by the hour. There were other rumors of what went on there." He paused to examine the surface of the table. "Well, after Mike went to Penn State, Andy would be at The Comet every weekend. Turning tricks, as we used to say.
"One night he met Darryl there. They became friends and, as time went by, more. Of course Mike knew nothing about this. At the end of his third year at Penn, he came home, and before he had spoken to Andy, he came out to Barry and Susan. I don’t know how Mike had imagined that would turn out, but it came as a complete shock to his parents. Then he went over to visit Andy, and explained that, at long last, he was out. That’s when Andy broke the news to him: Darryl was his new lover. Could he and Mike just be good friends?"
I toyed with my cup, imagining how Mike must have hurt.
"Meanwhile Barry was taking Mike’s orientation hard. All his preconceived ideas came crashing down. His son, his boy, was a Queer. Deep inside, though, he still loved Mike, deeply loved him. So instead of there being a blazing row that might have cleared the air, Barry withdrew, from the family, from his friends, from everyone. Mike was forced to spend the weeks of summer watching his family come apart from within. Life went on in their home in some kind of strained silence, and Mike was left with no one not involved to turn to for support.
"See what I mean about too much love killing you?"
I looked into my coffee, ashamed of my prejudgment. "Poor Mike."
"Yes. But you have to remember, all three of them were hurting. Mike had done no preparation for his coming out, laid no groundwork. As a result his news came as a bombshell. Barry thought his world had ended and Susan was desperately trying to keep the whole lot together and deal with her own emotions at the same time."
I toyed with my cup until finally I could meet his eyes. "And then?"
"Well, remember what I said about Andy? For all his faults, he had a streak of his mother’s nature in him that made him hard to hate. And he came through one final time. There was nothing he could do about Darryl or Mike. One falls in and out of love and that’s that. But as I told you, Susan had become a second mother for him, and he was able to sense her stabat mater anguish. So, off his own bat, he got in touch with PFLAG in Charlotte and one of their members, a mother not too unlike Susan, came down and gently started the whole process of getting everyone back to normal. So, by the time Mike went back for his senior year, things here were getting a little bit better.
"It was during Mike’s first year in Chicago that Andy found out about his AIDS."
"Yeah, I know this part. I know about Mike and the tests. I know about the booze and the drugs, too."
"It was very sad. But, on the other hand, it was fortunate for Mike that he was too far away to come home often. He would get vacation jobs through the university, so he spent nearly all his time up North. And so he didn’t have to see Andy waste away, and he didn’t have to go through the final months with him."
"Well, anyway, to get back to the will. In his will, Andy had left everything he had to Darryl. Darryl knew that Andy had sold the first lot of shares to his father, but there was another lot, given to him by his grandfather at a later date: shares in another company which were worth about ten thousand dollars. It was this second lot that Darryl believed were his. But when the will went to probate, his father produced a document, apparently signed by Andy at a later date, in which he had signed these over to his father, too, for some extra cash which he, Andy that is, had needed at the time.
"Darryl was floored by this. Andy’s illness had cost him a lot, both in cash and missed opportunities for overtime. He was close to broke." Clifford sighed as he recalled the facts. "He hired one of the local attorneys. This guy was not burdened with too many brains, but it was what Darryl could afford at the time. This attorney tried to argue the case in court and, I must say, for all his limitations, was making a plausible case. Apparently one of the witnesses was shown to have signed the document later, not when Andy signed it, and another two people said that Andy had had a big party and was drunk when he put his signature on the document. So it came down to determining what Andy’s intentions were and whether he was sober when he signed it.
"At that point, the lawyers for Andy’s father put Mike on the stand. Calmly and politely, Mike shot one hole after another in Andy’s lawyer’s arguments. Mike had stayed with Andy the night of the party. It was true that Andy had been drunk, but he was also way too drunk to sign the document. It had been signed the following day when Andy had been sober. They had gone down together at about lunch time, Andy had signed the document, Mike had witnessed it, and Andy’s father had taken the paper and handed Andy a check together with the previous agreement, which, of course, the new paper superseded. That, incidentally, is what Darryl had seen — the original agreement. He thought it was a copy, not an outdated original.
"Andy’s lawyer completely lost it then. There was no way he could shake Mike’s testimony, so he outed him. He made Mike admit under oath that he and Andy had been lovers, had had sex, and that Mike had believed the relationship would last. He tried to portray Mike’s evidence as being nothing but the revenge of a stereotypical Gay against his former lover.
"That was hogwash, of course. Mike really disliked Andy’s father and, as you know, Mike is in no way the vengeful type.
"Fortunately there were few people in the court other than those really associated with the case, so this was only a minor exposé, but we knew it would make its way around town here in due course. But this attack was a blow below the belt for Mike, and he took it hard. He held up during the questioning, but he came off the witness stand as dejected as I have ever seen a man. As he left the courtroom, Darryl caught up to him and made a big scene in the corridor of the court house. He screamed and yelled at him. It was nasty. Darryl claimed that Mike had had the best years of Andy while Darryl had been left to mop up vomit and excrement as he watched the guy slowly die. And now, he claimed, Mike had given his, Darryl’s, money to Andy’s father. A father who had visited Andy only once in the hospital in his entire stay.
"I tell you, if the sheriff’s men hadn’t intervened, I believe he would have thrown a punch at Mike.
"I was there and saw all this. After the bailiffs had lead Darryl away, Mike turned to me and gave me an envelope and instructed me that only after the verdict was given, and he felt sure that Andy’s father’s case would prevail, I should give the envelope to Darryl’s lawyer." Clifford laughed softly. "I can still remember him telling me, ‘Even as stupid as he is, he can’t mess this up.’"
"The next day, Mike flew back to Chicago and didn’t come back here for a long while."
"What was in the envelope?" I asked.
"I didn’t look," Clifford said, a little too quickly.
He paused. "It was a Christmas card. And, no, I did not read what it said," he added emphatically when I raised my eyebrows.
"Interesting." I drained my coffee. "Darryl doesn’t seem to have done too badly," I observed. "Fast bike, state of the art accessories, expensive leathers."
"Well I was coming to that. That is the irony. The whole Greek Theatre of the tale. In winning the case that gave him the extra shares, Andy’s father had the previous document, in effect, declared legally void — and, thereby, its intentions. Obviously his lawyer hadn’t done his homework very thoroughly. By some quirk, in doing that, the father lost ninety percent of the original shares. I don’t know the details, they didn’t really come out. He gained ten thousand dollars from the second lot of shares, and lost nearly three hundred thousand from the first lot which had done exceptionally well. I discussed the whole thing with the paper’s lawyer at the time. The reason that the father had even entered such a strange scheme with his son was, apparently, that he was about to be divorced by his second wife. By deferring the purchase of the stocks, he didn’t, technically, own them at the time of the divorce, so they didn’t become part of the settlement. And so, through his greed, he lost a bundle.
"He was a bad ’un, as my father used to say."
We sat in silence sipping our coffee as I tried to process all this through my brain. "So," Clifford said at length, "After all that, do you still feel like talking about what you’ve found out, or are you going to leave me in suspense?"
The events of the last half hour had pushed the murder case almost out of my mind, and after listening to Clifford’s story, in which my emotions had been dragged up and down, I was in some state of turmoil and not quite ready to be drawn back to the present. I looked at my watch. "We’ve blown our parole, I think. Let’s take all this stuff back to the house and I’ll tell you about it then. I’m sure Susan wouldn’t mind you staying for dinner."
He pulled a long face, and then smiled. "OK. I guess I can wait that long," he replied with a smile.
"Well, hello. Did you guys have fun?" Susan asked when we walked in the front door some fifteen minutes later.
"Yeah. It was great," I said.
"And Chris thinks he knows who committed the murder," Clifford said.
"I’ll tell y’all at dinner. I kinda invited Clifford, too, since he gave me all the data. Is that OK?"
"Him? We always cook an extra plate just in case he turns up," she laughed. "Of course it’s OK."
"Great! How’s Mike? I see his car’s back."
"He’ll be fine. You know, Chris, there’re some journeys that just have to be taken one step at a time." She pointed out the window. "If you’re looking for him, he’s down in the garden watching the grass grow. Do you want a beer?"
"Sure. Thanks. But is there anything I can help you with here? I can peel potatoes, sauté salmon, wash dishes. I’m gay — I can do anything"
"No," she laughed. "Michael already offered, but I’m all organized."
"Cool. I’ll go and chat with him, then," I replied taking the chilled bottle from her.
"Here, you can take him another beer, too. He’s probably finished the one he took down there."
Clifford and I strolled across the lawn to where my guy was stretched out on a chair under the trees.
"Hey, Chris. Hi, Clifford."
"Hey, Babe. Your Mom sent you a beer so you don’t bum half of mine," I joked, trying to gauge his feelings.
He gave me the Mike smile and took the bottle from my fingers. "How did things go? You got it solved?"
"Pretty cool. I think so."
"You do? Who did it?"
"I promised Susan I’d tell you all at dinner." He grimaced and I gave him a kiss before sitting down in the chair next to his. "How was your afternoon?"
"Good." He looked at me, reading my expression. "I’m fine, Chris."
I took a big swig of beer, then looking straight ahead, voiced, "I met Darryl Salter in the town."
"How did you manage that?" he asked in amazement devoid or rancor.
"I guess it’s one of those traits of a small town — you run into people. He was riding a nice bike and I got to talking to him before I knew who he was." I trod gently.
"So how did you know who he was?" he asked, once again the professional lawyer, lancing into the witness. I had told Darryl the truth — Mike had never mentioned his name to me.
"It’s a convoluted story that goes back awhile. When he first moved down here, he just happened to move into the apartment next to where McGlocklin’s body was found. He was actually moving in on the day it was found."
"Now isn’t that something?" Mike remarked. He looked at me and smiled. "Small world, huh, Chris?"
"Well," I continued having fortified myself from the bottle again, and wanting to come clean as quickly as I could, "I was trying to figure things out in the newspaper office, checking up on everyone mentioned in the case. I checked the info of pretty much everyone whose name appeared, trying to get some connection. Toward the end I’d picked Darryl’s file up, and inside that I came across the write-up about the court and Andy’s dad’s will."
"What did I tell you, Clifford. This guy is like a puppy. Let him off the leash for a second and he digs up everything in sight."
"Chris knows about the probate case, Mike," he replied. "I told him."
Mike turned to me with a nonchalant shrug. "I bet he made it a lot more melodramatic than it was." He looked at us. "Look, guys, I’m not porcelain. I’m not going to snap. I’m OK. Honest. It’s all water long under the bridge. You don’t need to tippy toe around."
"There’s one more thing," I said, eyeing him out the corner of my eyes. "Darryl sent a message." I paused.
"So? What is it?"
"He told me to tell you that I am the luckiest guy in the world to have you as a partner."
Mike tipped his bottle back and took a big swallow. "Thanks, Chris. That’s good." He regarded his beer for a few seconds, and then turned to me with a glint in his eye. "Of course, I would say that you’re the one who has to remember that."
I feinted a slap at his jaw, and he jerked back, laughing. "So, how come your T-shirt and jeans look as though you’ve been working on a construction site?"
"I got Clifford to take me to the building where they found McGlocklin’s body. It was all boarded up, so I had to get the plywood out the way. And inside it was pretty dirty and messed up, too."
Calmly Mike responded, "Trespassing, breaking and entering. Should get you three months probation as a first offender."
"Add some petty vandalism — I ripped up some old carpet, too. But, what the fuck, I’ve got this hot-shot lawyer on retainer. I’ll walk."
Clifford chuckled as Mike threw me a pitying look.
Before we could go further, our conversation was interrupted by Susan telling us that dinner was fifteen minutes away.
"I guess that’s a subtle hint for me to get cleaned up," I said, pouring the last few drops of beer down my throat and standing up. "Want to come wash my back?"
"Go get showered," he replied with feigned aggravation. I bent down and gave him a kiss, then headed up to the house.
Once we had the dinner plates all cleared, Susan chided me, "Now no more dilly-dallying, Chris. Tell us what you found out this afternoon."
I got up and brought the envelope back to the room and pulled most of the contents out onto the table.
"Well, when I started, my first thoughts were much the same as what Clifford tells me was the consensus around here: someone wanted Daniel McGlocklin killed, and what better way to do it than when there was a murder scene already set up and scripted. That non-existent murder which the addict reported had already been investigated, the usual suspects grilled, and the case closed. So whoever bumped him off would obviously have had an alibi for when the murder is supposed to have been committed, and no one would have thought to snoop around for the time it actually happened.
"With that in mind, I started to think, who would have a motive. I came up with a long list — candidates to get rid of Mr. McGlocklin were practically standing in line for a chance — and I didn’t know where to start. It was all too confusing. Eventually it dawned on me; the story was, in fact, way too confusing. And maybe, I thought, that’s the secret to the whole shebang — we’re all being made to look where someone else wants us to look. It was all like some magician’s show. So I started to take people one by one, and ignore their testimony. By the time the afternoon was up, I had come up with a pretty workable scenario that Doris Starmer and her brother had done it."
"No!" Susan exclaimed in surprise.
"Yeah," I admitted, I know: they came across as the good neighbors, but I put my theory to Clifford and he eventually agreed that it was very plausible. They had a motive — they had seen his continual abuse of his wife, and he had been a nuisance to them. I think it’s likely they had access to a gun, so they had the means. They had the opportunity — either McGlocklin came to their house demanding his wife return to his house, or Starmer or her brother went to his house to straighten him out some. Moreover, the brother was one of the very few people that had a plausible means of moving a body around without it being noticed: he could put it inside a water heater. He was a plumber, you know.
"Oh, I don’t think I knew that," Barry said. "But if he was a plumber then it makes sense. That was always a problem for everyone: how was the body moved back into his apartment without being noticed.
"Not bad logic, Chris," he nodded at me. Coming from Barry Jorgensen, that was praise indeed.
"Thanks. But not good enough. In fact I was actually quite slow this afternoon. As we were driving through town on our way back, I suddenly realized that I’d missed something that was really vital and my whole assumption was wrong. What if the drug addict had been right all along?"
"But he couldn’t have been," Barry protested. "The police were on the scene right away and, as far as I remember, there was not the slightest sign of any murder or even any struggle, was there?""Yes. Exactly. There wasn’t. And that was the clincher. Because what room did they search?"
"The one where the druggie saw the killing," Clifford said.
"But how did he know which room it was?" I asked.
"He’d seen it from the building across the street. He’d been watching it. He took the police to it," Barry said in a patient, reasoning voice. His confidence in me was waning, and, as he fixed his eyes on me I got an idea how Matt must have felt back in his garage.
"Right. He took the police to it. And everything everyone worked on from then on hung on that single event. I didn’t think of it for a while, in fact not until we were driving back down Main Street, but then I saw what was the crux of the whole case." I met four uncomprehending stares. "Look. I started to get an idea when I was reading about the family upstairs in number four, the Garzas. The newspaper said they lived upstairs in apartment number four. The headlines said that the murder had taken place in apartment number one."
Still they didn’t see.
"Well look, you’ve got four apartments, two on the second floor," I moved the salt and pepper, "two on the third," I placed the oil and vinegar cruets above them. "Normally, someone numbering these would go one, two, three, four," salt, pepper, vinegar, oil. "Or, possibly, one, two, three, four," pepper, salt, oil, vinegar. To number them in a sort of clockwise circular pattern is kinda unusual.
"So then I began to think, what if the apartment one the police searched was not really the apartment one?"
Mike grinned at his parents. "See? What did I tell you?"
"But it doesn’t matter if the murder happened in number one or number two," Susan said impatiently. "It could have been number four hundred. That man on the roof saw it and identified it."
"And, as I just said, how did he know which apartment he saw?" I repeated.
"Because he’d been watching it for a long time. Because it had the curtains, the bed, all the other things," Clifford stated.
"Bingo! Exactly. He identified it by a tag. It’s how humans do things. Most of us don’t count and measure, we use some form of tag to identify things. We go into a restaurant and hang our coat up on the fifth hook from the door, but when it comes time to leave, we look for a gray sports jacket or a navy blazer. Even when we see two gray jackets there, we look for some idiosyncrasy in the jacket, or check the pockets, to see which is ours. Hardly ever do we count the hooks.
"So what did our drugged guy do? He based his identification on a lighted window and some curtains."
"You mean the murderer killed the man, then moved the curtains to the next room?" Barry asked. "It would have been a remarkably daring thing to do." He paused in thought. "And why didn’t he — or she — simply move the body? Surely that would have been easier."
"Because, they would have left other evidence behind for the police to find. It just wasn’t possible to remove all the evidence, so, like a magician, they made the cops search for evidence where no evidence existed."
Susan and Barry didn’t say anything, but I could see from their faces that they did not think this was a likely explanation.
"But where did the body go? There was no way out of that street that wasn’t being watched by the police. They accounted for everyone that night," Clifford questioned.
I pulled a photograph out of the envelope and turned to him. "Your photographer probably photographed the hiding place with the body in it." I pushed the photograph across to him. Susan and Barry leaned forward to look at the paper.
"I don’t see it," said Clifford after a minute.
"Nor do I," said Susan.
Everyone gazed earnestly at the picture in silence.
"What do you think of that transformer, Barry?" I asked, pointing. I can put someone on the spot, too, when I want to.
"Let me look," he said taking the picture in his hands. "That’s not right," he said after a few seconds. "There’s no connection to the pole." He stopped, then added, "And there’s no cement base, either."
"Yup," I concurred. "That’s where I think the body was hidden while everyone was searching for it."
"Good God!" exclaimed Susan.
"You mean the power company guys killed him?"
"Naah. I doubt it," I explained. "It doesn’t fit in with the druggie’s tale.
"OK. Let’s, for the sake of this discussion, accept the druggie’s version of events as what actually happened.
"After his lady friends leave, McGlocklin lies back on the bed. According to the addict, he was naked. He is fairly relaxed for a while until something disturbs him. At that point he sits up in bed. But what does he do then? He casually begins to put on his pants. That single action, I believe, narrows the field considerably of who killed him. If the person entering the apartment had been anyone other than someone McGlocklin had been real close to, his first reaction would have been the same as everyone else’s: to cover up real fast. But he doesn’t.
"So where does that leave us? The first possibility is that one or both of the companions with whom he’d spent the previous hours returned. Maybe. Could be that he’d stiffed them of their fee, could be one of them had forgotten something in the room. The second possibility is that it was a close buddy — someone who was used to seeing him naked, say in a locker-room. I don’t think that’s likely, either.
"The third possibility is that it was his wife." I paused to let this sink in.
"Denise?" Susan asked uncertainly.
I nodded. "Obviously, whoever has disturbed him does not constitute a big threat in his mind when they enter the room. But then, of a sudden, McGlocklin backs up with his hands raised. We can deduce, then, that the other person had pulled out a gun that was not visible until then. And sure enough, McGlocklin is then seen to stagger and fall to the floor.
"Nothing happens for a while. Seconds, maybe minutes, later the addict sees someone, who could be a man but he’s not sure, kneel down next to the body. Now, from what I see in the newspaper pictures, Denise McGlocklin could never be mistaken for a man. And I’m pretty sure the druggie would have noticed the power company van arrive, so it was probably not the power guys. But it would be a possible mistake for someone seeing Doris Starmer from a distance — especially if she was wearing jeans.
"Oh my God," Susan blurted out.
"It would fit," said Clifford, nodding.
"And," I went on. "I don’t know her, but it seems like inconsistent behavior for Denise — a woman who has let a man abuse her for years — that she would shoot her husband, and then calmly go up to the body and check that he really was dead."
"So the two of them planned the murder, you think?" asked Clifford.
"I don’t know. I don’t think so. If they had, I would think that they would have arrived together. But the FBI report says the one woman came up the street first, and then a ‘man’ a bit later. Starmer in jeans and a windbreaker and baseball cap could look masculine. How did you get that report, by the way, Clifford? From what I’ve always understood, the cops, and especially the Feds, play their cards close to their chests."
"It’s a small town. We don’t hang the police out to dry; they trust us a bit more. Plus everything in there was pretty much known — the report merely added details.
"OK," I nodded. "Makes sense.
"Anyway, what I think may have happened was something like this: I think when Denise ran to the neighbors’ house, it was after the fight in the evening, not the following morning. Why? Because if what I think happened, there could have been no fight in the morning — McGlocklin was already dead. And we have some tenuous evidence that this is true, but I’ll come back to this a bit later. I think that, for some reason, maybe having talked to Doris and her brother, Denise McGlocklin decided later on in the evening that it was time she confronted her husband. She leaves the neighbors’ house and, in doing so, wakes up Doris. Now Doris has to get dressed. She pulls on some jeans, puts on a windbreaker and a cap to cover hair that she doesn’t have time to brush, and heads out in pursuit. She’s some time behind Denise, which, according to the FBI report, would account for the second person going up the street being in a hurry.
"The fact that she followed Denise at all, the fact that she’s hurrying, would seem to indicate that she thinks there may be some kind of trouble. That she doesn’t scan each building would also indicate that she knew where she was going — and the only way she could have found that out was if Denise had told her where her husband was having his clandestine rendezvous.
"I think she arrived just too late to prevent the shooting. Maybe she’d had to park her car. I can’t think of why neither woman drove up that street. Maybe Denise didn’t want to alert her husband to the fact that she was following him, I don’t know. Anyway, we know Doris wasn’t there before McGlocklin was shot, because he was in no hurry to cover his nakedness. But if it was she who went to the body, then she was in the room bare seconds later. She then disappears for a short time and then comes back to close the window.
"So, the scenario that fits that timeline is this. Denise waits outside the apartment for the prostitutes to leave. Once they are clear, she goes inside to confront her husband. Maybe she intended to kill him, maybe not. Maybe she just wanted to ask him not to leave her, and his attitude pushed her over the edge. In any case, she shoots him. At that instant, Doris Starmer rushes into the room. She immediately sees what has gone on. I would guess she takes the gun from Denise so that no further damage can be done, then goes over to McGlocklin to assess the extent of his injuries. She finds he’s beyond help, and goes back to comfort Denise.
"Once she has Denise a bit settled, she realizes the room is cold, especially since Denise is probably in some state of shock, and goes across to the window to close it. As she does so, she sees the druggie and realizes there may have been a witness to the shooting. At that point she is probably in a panic, and is incapable of realizing the limits of the druggie’s view, so imagines he has seen everything. Meanwhile, the druggie turns and flees from sight, thinking that a murderer, knowing now that there’s a witness, might well come after him.
Back in the apartment, Doris realizes that they need to do something fast before the law arrives. What can she do? Very probably Denise is somewhat hysterical and can hardly be taken down the street in that state. So Doris calls up the power company guy. I don’t know that she knew either of the two, other than they lived in the same town, but Denise was apparently close to one of the guys, so it may have been her suggestion. I found several pictures of the two of them together in the high school student newspaper from years back. There was another reference to them, from a lot more recently." I pawed through the papers on the table, selected one, and passed it to Mike. "This is from two years ago. It’s the announcement of Denise Melser, I notice she had reverted to her maiden name, marrying Ted Clepper. There is no mention of McGlocklin or of the murder. But it does say that the couple were friends in high school."
"I had heard she was remarried," said Susan, "but I had no idea to whom. Well isn’t that strange?"
"So, Doris, or maybe Denise, but I doubt it, put a call through to Clepper and ask for some kind of help. It so happened that he and his colleague — who, it also appears, has been a friend from Clepper’s youth — were out on some kind of call. They drive to the apartment. Nobody really notices them — even in the FBI report, their arrival is barely noted. That’s another thing. The report says they drove up the street picking out the building numbers with their spotlight. Why? They were supposedly there to check a pole transformer, but they were obviously looking for an address. Whatever. Now, with three relatively calm heads, a plan is devised. I’m guessing at the order, but I’d say they moved the body first. I would guess they used the bucket on their cherry picker to bring it down. It took a lot of daring, I admit, but they were desperate. They turned the light on their truck onto the building to effectively dazzle anyone looking out from either of the upstairs rooms and with someone, probably Doris, keeping a lookout for anyone observing them from across the street, they bundle McGlocklin into the bucket and lower him to the truck.
"It just so happened that they had a large transformer in a ground cabinet on their truck. It was fortuitous, but I seem to remember something in the paper that they had been scheduled to work at a factory or new development somewhere nearby. So they put the body inside the cabinet, padlock it closed, and lower it to the ground next to the truck. Nobody pays any attention to these transformers in the street. If they notice them at all, they’re terrified of getting electrocuted and give them a wide berth.
"So now they have got rid of the body, amd the next order of business is to get Denise out, because she is in no shape to be interviewed by the police. She would have obviously have driven down, as had Doris, so they needed to get the two cars away so as not to leave any trace of having been there. But Denise was in no state to drive, so one of the power men walked with her and Doris to Doris’s car and then he drove Denise’s car home. For the second time, the FBI assumes Doris is a man as she walks down the street.
"One thing I think is strange is that the FBI guys thought it was McGlocklin coming back down the street. Maybe it was because, having seen him go up, they expected him to come down, or maybe the power man just happened to roughly match McGlocklin’s appearance. Whether this was planned or not, I don’t know. In view of the show they put on later to make it appear that McGlocklin was alive, it would be possible, but I’m more inclined to go along with the dumb-luck theory.
"So, while these three are headed home, the other power guy is left to remove the evidence. He’s faced with a problem: there’s a huge bloodstain on the carpet next to the bed. He knows he can’t clean that up before the police arrive, which could be soon. And then he has an idea: what if he can make this room appear somewhere else. Maybe from moving the bucket up, he knows that the room next door is vacant. Maybe he can put a call in to his company and find out if that apartment has the electricity turned on and assigned to anyone. So he opens it up — I know from first hand experience that that isn’t difficult."
"See, Mom," Mike remarked as he reached for the pinotage to recharge his glass, "I do as you say, choose a partner from the right side of the tracks, and what do I end up with? A career burglar."
"Oh, come on," I expostulated. "I know how to do this from reading."
Mike nodded with exaggerated sagacity as though he believed not a word of it.
"Of course," Susan concurred, rising to my defense. "Everyone knows you can open a lock with a credit card, or a hair clip, or a knife."
"Could you do that, Mom?"
"Well, I’m sure I could if I were to try. Oh, Michael," she aimed a light slap at him when she realized she was teasing her. "Go on, Chris. Don’t pay any attention to him."
I gave my lover a victorious smile and resumed my tale. "The power company guy moves the curtains and rod across, then the bed, the mattress, the fridge — I know this sounds like a lot of work for one person, and it is, but I would think that their trucks carry some kind of hand-truck or dolly for moving equipment."
"Yes, they do," Barry confirmed.
"Do you really think this could have happened like this, Chris?" Clifford asked.
"Uh-huh," I assented. "This afternoon I checked the door of apartment one. If you look carefully, you can still faintly see the outlines of the original number two edged in the old paint on it."
"But wouldn’t the owner or the apartment block know?"
"Probably not. All they’re likely to know is that they have a building with four apartments in it. The realtor who manages it probably manages a whole lot of buildings, so they don’t remember the numbering scheme of any particular building."
"But that would still have left the bloodstain in the carpet of the first apartment."
"Yeah. I can’t know for sure. In one of the notes that didn’t make it into the paper, there was one line that mentioned a police report stating that there was graffiti on the wall of the empty apartment next door. What better way to cover the bloodstain than some spray paint? But that would leave a smell of paint in the apartment. So put some paint — like graffiti — on the wall, and a spray can in plain sight, and that gives a reason for the odor. Then collect some floor dust and debris from the floor of the apartment they’ve just moved to, and sprinkle it around the painted part of the carpet, and nobody will notice it unless they look closely. They won’t notice it because they’re not expecting to see it."
"I dunno, Chris," Mike said speculatitively. "That’s kinda stretching things."
"Yeah, I know. But come up with any other theory that fits. We know the cops went into that room and they didn’t see a bloodstain — nor any big, recently washed spot."
"For what it’s worth," Barry interjected, "that’s probably the kind of quick, ‘make do’ approach a tech would be likely to think of."
"So, what about the people who saw McGlocklin later that night and the following morning?" Susan asked.
"It was one of the power guys. I’d guess Clepper, but who knows. From the newspaper pictures he looks to be of similar build and hair color. And if Denise was a high school sweetheart But you know, this was another thing that struck me: the whole night time, early morning thing was so overboard. So ‘too much’ if you know what I mean. This McGlocklin guy had arrived home drunk probably as often as he’d come in sober. Yet this night he rams his truck into the garage door. And then goes around yelling and waking up the neighbors?
"Oh, yeah, this is what I told you I needed to tell you about Denise being at the neighbors’ house in the evening, not the following morning. The neighbor from across the road remembered McGlocklin shouting that he wouldn’t mind if he never saw his wife ever again. One could construe from that that he knew his wife wasn’t in his house. But he was still outside — he hadn’t been inside yet. So how would he have known she wasn’t there?
"I think it was Clepper. I think he had located McGlocklin’s pickup in the vicinity of the bar and driven it home and, realizing they needed an alibi, made a scene that would be sure to wake the neighbors up so they could testify as to him being alive. I would think that Doris had enough information to brief Clepper as to make the performance realistic for the sleepy neighbor across the street."
"Then when do you think they put the body back in the apartment? And how?" asked Clifford.
"I’d guess as soon as the cops had finished with the place. They wouldn’t have wanted the neighborhood dogs swarming around the transformer box as the body ripened. I would guess they did it in broad daylight when nobody was paying much attention to a couple of men from the electricity company.
"I think the electric company guys came back, picked up the transformer onto the truck, went someplace quiet, moved the body from the transformer to the bucket, drove back to the apartment, then quickly hoisted it up to the apartment — the second one, where the bed was. I guess they then arranged with a friend who wasn’t going to ask too many questions to replace the carpet in the now empty one." I fished the photograph of Darryl Salter out of the pile and placed it in the middle of the table. "See, here is the new tenant moving into the empty apartment. Look in the background. That thing that looks like a rake is a tool that carpet installers use to stretch the carpet over the edge pieces. From the type of apartments they were, I seriously doubt that the realty company was having that done. I think the power guys didn’t want any bloodstain being found and awkward questions being asked." Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mike pick up the picture and look at it for a while before replacing it gently on the table.
"And that, by and large, is what I think happened. Clepper or Coffman took McGlocklin’s truck and wiped it clean, then parked it where it was bound to be towed, so that the lack of identifiable fingerprints wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.
"And the trio had a week to coach Denise as to how to answer questions. They would have had the leverage of their own incrimination to dissuade her from fessing up to shooting her husband."
"Well I’ll be damned," said Clifford. "That sounds like a pretty water-tight theory, and does seem to fit all the facts. I would have found it hard to believe, if you hadn’t showed me the blood stain in the apartment this afternoon — right where you said it would be. That stain is very hard to refute."
"You went to the apartment building?" asked Barry as he poured us each another glass of wine. "It was all boarded up the last time I drove past."
"As I was explaining to Mom, small things like burglary don’t deter Chris when he wants to confirm his ideas," Mike observed matter of factly, as he picked up his glass. He turned to Clifford, "And you can’t say I didn’t warn you."
"I know. I thought of that this afternoon while we were prowling around that building. I kept listening for the sound of sirens or imagining the headlines, ‘Local Reporter Jailed for Breaking In to Abandoned Building.’" He raised his glass to me. "But it was worth it, Chris. It would make a good story."
"You’re not going to write an article on it for the Chronicle, are you?" asked Susan. "It would seem such a shame to expose Denise now after all these years."
"No. Oh, no. Of course not. I was thinking more along the lines of a novel. Change the location, the names, of course, change some of the circumstances a little so that the real events can’t be identified, and I’ll be on the New York Times Best Seller list. I could call it ‘Time of Death’"
"Or ‘Transforming Death’," responded Barry with a laugh.
"But of course," I interjected blithely, "you’d keep the suave, gay nerd who unravels it."
"Suave? You?" Mike guffawed. "Cyberpunk with an ego and an attitude is more like it. I’m the suave one in this relationship. There you go, Clifford," he said, reaching out for his glass and glancing at their friend out the corner of his eyes. "Why not have the case unraveled in court by a young, sophisticated lawyer who’s been forced to take this pro-bono case that he has no chance of winning. But he snoops around the library, goes to the scene of the crime and, at the last minute, introduces into evidence a piece of blood-stained carpet he’s retrieved from an old building and plucks an acquittal from a jury that had been all set to convict his client?"
"Right," I added with mock seriousness rubbing my hand on his jeans. "Now that’s something that’s going to be believable. Mr. white-jeans-and-yellow-polo-shirt groveling around derelict buildings. What are you going to tear the carpet up with? Your comb?"
Barry and Susan laughed as Mike pushed my hand away and gave a light swipe at the back of my head. "We lawyers do the hard part." He tapped his forehead. "It’s the thinking. We have underlings who do the manual labor."
An hour later I stood on the deck looking at the myriad of stars that hovered overhead with their reflections flittering amongst the occasional ripples on the black waters of the lake. Clifford had said his goodnight and left, Mike had descended to the basement in search of a bottle of wine for a final nightcap, and I had gone outside to enjoy the fresh air. I heard the screen door slide open behind me and, turning around, saw Barry step out, his almost-depleted whisky in hand.
"I can’t believe how fantastic the night sky is up here," I commented. "The waves stir up too much humidity down at the shore for us to have many nights like this."
"It’s a good place to live," my host commented. "The air is clean; the weather is not too hot or too cold. In spite of what Michael says, the town isn’t too backward, and anyway Charlotte is a short distance away." He paused and we surveyed the blackness in silence. "I like being on the lake," he remarked at last. "Nothing like going out early in the morning to get some fish. The water is calm, there’s no noise. Got myself a two pound yellow perch last February, and a crappie that was just a tad shy of four pounds in April. They go for the minnows — that’s what I use most often for bait."
"I don’t think I’ve ever tasted crappie," I remarked.
"It’s a nice fish. Marinade it in a light white wine for twenty minutes, then egg and breadcrumbs, fry it up in butter. Once it’s out the pan, add a little more butter and some lemon juice and scrape the pan clean. Pour that over the fish, sprinkle it with some very lightly toasted almonds."
"Come back up in spring and I’ll make it for you."
"Thanks. We will."
We stood together in silence for a while. "I’m pleased Michael met up with you, Chris," Barry spoke. "He’s very happy — more self assured. Oh, I know, Michael is always exudes self assurance, I suppose that’s what you have to do if you’re a good lawyer. But now I can see it comes from the inside. It’s a contented confidence."
"Mike and I " I began, but he held up his hand to stop me.
"Don’t hurt him, Chris. That’s all I ask." The screen door slid across again as Mike pushed it with his foot, his hands full with a tray bearing a bottle, opener, two glasses and a plate with a little Stilton.
"I won’t. I promise."
"Hi, Dad. I didn’t know you were out here. You going to join us for a glass of wine?"
"No thanks, Michael. I’m going to find Susan. I’ll leave you two out here."
"Good night, Chris. Good night, Michael"
"Good night, Dad."
"Good night, Barry."
"So what were you two talking about," Mike asked as the door slid shut and he wound the corkscrew into the top of the bottle which I noticed was a Sauterne from Raymond-Lafon’s chateau. My guy’s love of a good wine had obviously been inherited from his father.
"Fish. Something called a crappie. I’ve got an invitation to come up next spring and sample it."
"Well ain’t that something," Mike said as the cork popped out. "The first paternal invitation extended to one of my boyfriends since I came out." He poured a glass and held it out to me.
"People take time to come around to new ideas."
"Cheers!" he held up his glass to me.
"Salud, Mike!" I raised mine and took a sip. The fruity liquid flowed down my throat. I watched Mike taste his wine, and then added, "And of course you needed some time to find a really good guy."
Mike grabbed my neck and pulled me to him. "You have the most un-fucking-believable ego of any guy I know, you know that?"
I grinned at him. "I love you, you know that?" I leaned forward until my lips found his.
"You and Dad need to talk more often if that is the result," Mike smiled when we finally broke apart. "I’m happy that you and he get along. It’s important to me."
"He’s a cool guy. I like him."
"Yeah. It takes some time to get to know him."
We sipped our wine in silence. I always feel good when I’m with Mike. I broke off a piece of cheese and placed it on a piece of bread. "It takes time to get to know anyone, I guess," I said. "I learned some more about you, today, too."
"I’m going to have to kill Clifford," Mike said following my lead with the cheese.
"No, it wasn’t him. It was an old computer printer."
"Last night while we were up in your room and you were going through some of your old stuff, I came across a couple of term papers you wrote. I didn’t understand much of it, but I noticed that you used a dot matrix printer to print them. The font quality wasn’t bad, so I guessed it was a twenty-four pin head — that means the print head had two columns of twelve pins, the second column slightly offset so that its pins covered the gaps between pins of the first column."
"Uh-huh. It was an Epson I think. Really noisy."
"But one of the pins would stick sometimes. You don’t often see that, but I remember noticing it in capital letters and letters like b and d that have a piece that goes up. It was like a thin white line through the printing."
"I never noticed. When I went to Chicago I got a laser and dumped the Epson. So what did you learn about me from my Epson — that I’m not a techno-nerd?" He laughed.
"Naah." I pulled a sheet of paper out of the pocket of my jeans and unfolded it. "I got this from the newspaper stacks. Clifford had it in his notes. It’s a copy of Andy’s will — the one the probate case was about. This is blown up some because the copy wasn’t that good. See the thin white line through the capital letters? I think you wrote up Andy’s will because you knew about the two different sets of stocks. I think it was because of that will that Darryl got a bunch of money and the father lost out." Mike looked at me and I was a little afraid I had overstepped a line. He said nothing, so eschewing caution, I pressed on.
"All I know is that even after Andy dumped you, you still helped his partner. That’s pretty classy in anyone’s book. What I don’t understand was why you went through that performance at the probate. Why didn’t you just set Darryl or his lawyer straight?"
Mike sighed and leaned back on the deck rail, glass in hand. "Andy’s father was a real shit. All he cared about was his dick. He didn’t care for Andy, he didn’t care for Andy’s mom, who was a real honey, and he didn’t really care much for his second wife other than what she was like in bed.
"Andy pretty much tuned him out of his life as much as possible, but that was Andy’s attitude to almost everything — just tune it out if he didn’t like it.
"When he decided to sell the second lot of shares he had the original agreement out and was just going to add a rider to that. Well, it was Andy’s birthday, there’d been a big party, and another guy and I ended up putting Andy to bed because he was drunk. Andy had two beds in his room and it was fairly common that we’d sleep over at each other’s houses rather than drive home boozed up. While we were putting him to bed, he threw up in his bed, so we cleaned him up some and put him down in the other — my — bed. While I was kinda getting things a bit squared away after that, I saw the original agreement and the envelope of the shares on his desk. When I looked at the share certificates, I found out something interesting. Although Andy’s grandfather — his mom’s father — had given both lots of shares to Andy, the first set were actually a gift from his uncle. That was his mom’s brother who was in the business with his father. Inside the envelope was an old Christmas card. It was from that uncle, and in it he apologized for not being able to make it to their home for Christmas, but gave the shares to Andy as a present to help him go to college.
"Andy’s father had been more boorish than ever that night. He’d made really crude remarks to all of Andy’s friends’ girlfriends, and a few of us had noticed him slip out of the house with another woman at one stage, to reappear later with her hair and dress all disheveled and his zipper half open. So I decided to forget my ethics and take matters into my own hands. I couldn’t get into Andy’s PC, so I took the original document and the Christmas card and slipped off home. I typed up the new document, changed the wording so the transfer applied only to the grandfather’s shares, as you saw it, and drove back to Andy’s. I hid the original and, next morning, told Andy he had barfed all over it, so I had made up this new one for him. A few weeks later, I was over there and managed to slip the original agreement back into the envelope with the shares without him noticing. The new agreement wasn’t there, so I guessed that Andy’s father had it. I forgot about the Christmas card and somehow it just stayed at my house."
"Lucky for Darryl that you did," I said. "But why all that probate shit? Why didn’t you just give the whole thing to Darryl’s lawyer if you didn’t want to speak to Darryl — and I could relate to that: I wouldn’t give Steve’s boyfriend ice in winter. You see, that’s what I don’t understand. If it were me it would be a no brainer: someone screws me and I will surely feed it back to them. But you usually don’t come across like that."
"Why would I waste my time doing anything to Darryl? I didn’t spend a second thinking of Darryl. It was his lawyer that was the problem. The man was totally inept. He kept his business going with wills and realty transactions — things that were fairly typical and rarely contested. His only attraction was that he was cheap. Cheap enough for Darryl to afford. When I heard about who was representing Darryl I was in a quandary: since he’d already started to object to the introduction of this new document, I concluded that he had not understood how I had written it. If I told him what I knew, he would stop fighting, and that would tip the lawyers for Andy’s father to re-examine the document, and its implications, more closely. I had to keep everyone looking at the old agreement."
"So you offered yourself as a witness?"
"No. Andy’s father’s lawyers were experienced. If I volunteered they would have been suspicious. I don’t believe there was any doubt that I loathed Andy’s father. I needed them to think that, as a Queer, I would want revenge on Darryl. They had to call me. So I got someone to put the idea in their head, and they took the bait."
Mike gave a quick grin that almost immediately faded. "No. Clifford. I told you he’d made everything more melodramatic than it was. He merely embedded a casual question in an interview with the legal team. They picked up on it.
"Everything went as planned. I hadn’t thought that fool lawyer, Boles, would attack me so viciously. And I hadn’t anticipated Darryl going so overboard in such a public manner." He took a sip of the wine, and looked straight ahead. "I was really vulnerable at that time. I had a bunch of guilt about not being around in Andy’s last weeks. I was out to people in Chicago, but here only to my family and a few friends, so I was in a bit of a panic when I came off the stand about what Mom and Dad would say. Then Darryl going hysterical was the last straw. I bolted back to Chicago."
"But surely Darryl tried to contact you later when he understood."
"Yeah. He did. I didn’t reply." He looked at me. "Chris, there would have been no point. What did we have in common? Only Andy. And what would we have talked about? Apologies, accusations. That’s not a good basis for a relationship. Both of us needed to get on with our lives without Andy."
I nodded. Not the Disney ending I would have invented had it been my story, but it was undoubtedly the right decision.
"So," said Mike in perceptibly lighter tone, "Now you know the whole drama, we can enjoy the rest of our stay, starting with this evening."
"Yeah. I read up about a couple of other unsolved crimes in the newspaper offices today. Perhaps, I can work on them," I remarked archly.
"No fuckin’ way," my partner said. "Tomorrow you and I are going to take the boat and head out onto the dam and get rid of our tan lines." It finally dawned on him that I was teasing. "You jerk!"
Later on I settled down in the bed next to Mike in the darkness. I felt his hand move across my chest. "Mike?" I asked.
"Truth or dare?"
"Oh, c’mon," he laughed, then, when I said nothing he replied, "OK, truth."
"What did you used to do in back rooms of The Comet?"
"Oh, man! Clifford is so dead. I didn’t even know he knew that I ever went there."
"C’mon. Truth, Mike."
He rubbed my chest in silence for a few seconds more, then pulled the sheet back and swung his legs out of the bed. "I’ll be right back," he said, and pulling on his jeans, left the room. After about ten minutes the door opened and he came back in, closing it behind him with his foot. In his hand he held an old bedside lamp minus its shade. But it wasn’t what he was carrying that had me mesmerized, staring at him, mouth agape. Around his neck, normally adorned by a simple, narrow gold chain, was fastened a sturdy, studded dog collar of polished leather.
"Holy shit!" I managed to stammer, as he plugged the lamp in and the room was transformed by the soft, blue-purple hazy color of black light that made his white jeans gleam and his torso look darkly tanned.
He put a CD into the player and pulsating dance music filled the room.
"Won’t we wake your folks?" I asked in some alarm. This was an all-new Mike — a guy I had never seen before.
"Their room is the other end of the house and downstairs," he reminded me. Then the timbre of his voice dropped. "Stand up," he instructed. "Come here!" Fully aroused, I swung my legs off the bed as he unzipped his jeans and shucked them from his legs. Around his waist was a narrow leather belt supporting a leather jockstrap, his manhood hidden by a clip on codpiece.
He leaned nonchalantly against the wall, his eyes surveying me. "I don’t think I’ve seen you around these parts before," he drawled. "What’s your name?"
"Chris," I answered, still awestruck at this apparition in standing in front of me.
He took a step toward me, gripped my shoulders and held me at arm’s length as his gaze dropped down below my waist. Then looking into my eyes, he smiled. "Well, Chris, I’m Mike, and I’m sure we’re going to have a good time together tonight."
"Mike " I started, but my words were smothered by his tongue pushing into my mouth. For a long minute, and with increasing intensity, we sucked at each other’s lips, then his mouth dropped to my nipples as his hands moved down to my shoulder blades, then, matching the level of his mouth, slid down my spine until they rested on my butt.
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© Copyright 2006 Horatio Nimier