Anyone who described it as ballet didn’t have any sense of grace. The police arrived loudly. At least three different agencies. It was all urgency and chaos. Sirens and yelling everywhere. Nobody was quite sure who was in charge.
A man had called in from a liquor store in Clackamas. He had found the woman we were seeking. A woman in her thirties, maybe forties, matching the sketch of “Natasha.” He had called it in from the safety of his cage. A wall of thick, clear plexi. She hadn’t caught on that he had made the call until she tried to pay for her fifth. He had seemed a little jumpy and a little too friendly. Natasha tried to run.
It just so happened there was a black and white, a local patrol, right down that very street. By the time Natasha figured it out they were already there in the parking lot. Guns drawn and waiting for back up.
There was a moment of fear that Natasha would panic and try to harm hostages inside. They didn’t know if she was armed or not. The store clerk hadn’t said. They just knew that she had already killed.
By the time I got there with Gillian the whole circus was in full swing. The tactical detail had arrived. Quasi-military in style. Oregon’s version of SWAT. They took their positions and waited. There was still some question of command.
Arguments ensued right on the spot about who had authority over the scene. It was a glory moment, or maybe more of a glory hole, for any cop wanting some fame. Arresting a serial killer was big news. Something that would stand out on your record. No man wanted to give up their piece of the pie. Inside, Natasha just waited.
Crowds gathered and news vans arrived. Local stations cut away from syndicated talk shows. Helicopters circled. Flies buzzing over a carcass. There was almost a collision. The TV choppers were ordered to stay away. Natasha was never going to get out of this one. At least not alive.
“Has anybody tried to talk with her yet?” I asked Gillian. “Beats the fuck out of me.” His disdain for the FBI started on cue. Fuckers in Blazers. The “so-called-experts” were probably waiting for some negotiator to be flown in from the moon. His tirade didn’t make sense but I got his point. The Task Force had taken control. They had evaluated the situation and assumed there were hostages. They needed to play it by the book. They’d take their time and wear her down. Eventually, she would have to give in.
The reporters were left with too much time to kill. They kept saying the same things over and over. A few stations cut back to their regularly scheduled programming but most stuck with the show. A man arrived in a black suit and slacks in the backseat of a government-issue sedan. The negotiator. A PHD. He had experience with these delicate situations.
They called the store but Natasha wouldn’t answer. She wasn’t in the mood to talk. The troops circled the noose and took closer positions. She wasn’t going to be an easy target.
The crowd got bored. This wasn’t what they had hoped for. A scene from Michael Man or John Woo. Instead it was sitting and waiting. Nothing much happened. Some admitted that it was really kind of dull. Few, however, would risk leaving. What if they missed something important?
Over an hour passed and contact had yet to be established. Some suspected that Natasha had managed to escape. We learned later what she did. How she used that time. She was very methodical in her ways.
She deleted all the information from her cell phone. Then she stomped on it until dead. Plastic remains littered the floor. The only witness to her actions was the lone clerk in his cage. That and the cameras that monitored the store. High-angle images from multiple views of Natasha burning the contents of her wallet. She was determined to get out even if she couldn’t escape. It was as good an ending as any.
The police saw the fire and became concerned. It was small but what if it spread? The order was given to take the store. Concussion grenades were thrown in to confuse. Assault troops barged through the doors. It turns out they weren’t really needed. They swooped in to take her but she was already half gone. Natasha was unconscious and bleeding on the floor. She had taken a broken bottle and done it right. Two slits. One on each of her wrists.
Blood had poured from her but she had mistimed the deed. She never should have started that fire. She was kept alive by the paramedics. She was soon stable. At least as far as the blood. Natasha Kruger was wheeled out on a stretcher. The killer had been caught. A victory for law enforcement everywhere. Grudging credit to the Portland PD.
And all the time you were laughing.
Somewhere in my mental rerun of times gone by, the music I was listening to became a part of things. I saw a half-a-dozen uniforms in their ponchos, waddling around aimlessly like mutant penguins. It’s all as it was down to the nitty gritty. But it started to blur with memories of the music video. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” High School kids. The Janitor. I even pictured the Anarchist Cheerleaders performing in the alley. Black uniforms with nice, short skirts. The anarchist “A” symbol across their chests. Slowly, it became one big musical number. Flashing lights from cop cars and lovely young things cheering and dancing to grunge in the rain. “Entertain Us” indeed. It was all just a big, God damn show put on for your viewing pleasure.
And it was all in slow motion. The pissing rain caught, just so, with elaborate lighting rigs which defined each and every acid sting. The cold breath of the officers standing by the warehouse wall. The intense beams of the flood lights blasting down on the crime scene like the eyes of God himself.
Right on cue I saw myself strolling through the scene. Out of the car and past the cheerleaders. Out of the darkness and into the light. A present awaited me. The closed garbage bin a gift box for the trinket within. I saw my hand reach out. The dramatic pause. Then, in a single gesture, the lid of the dumpster was flipped open to reveal my prize.
The music reached crescendo. Malicious guitars and violent drums as I stared down at him. He was seventeen. A seventeen year-old kid naked and trussed up like a turkey. His wrists had been bound to his ankles. And there wasn’t a stitch of clothes on him. His pale skin glistened in the rain. A single drop fell from his hair. The poetry of death. And all I remember thinking was that even dead the kid looked pretty.
I stirred from the silence. My alcoholic daze disturbed by the playlist ending. Time to go to bed but I resisted. I was enjoying the self-pity and delusion too much.
Each conversation played in my head like snippets from a tape recording. I swear I almost heard tape hiss as I recalled the exact words that had been exchanged. First there was Johanson, the uniform. Twenty-years old and pleased as punch to be there. The rest of us wanted to be home in bed. But Johanson was on the trip of his life. Eager. Inquisitive. Excited. What could be better than this?
“You think he was a rent boy?” Johanson asked. “You mean a male prostitute?” ”Yeah, whatever” he said dismissively. “Nobody calls them rent boys anymore.” “You know what I meant.” “Yeah, I do. And yeah, it’s a possibility. But if he was one, he was either brand new to town or expensive.” Johanson looked up at me. “How do you know that?” he asked. I pointed to our watery find. “Look at him. Not one sign of a rough life on him. He’s a fucking Adonis. His teeth alone probably cost fourteen grand to make that perfect.”
Hiss. Pop. Crackle. The great man had spoken. Senior Detective John Dudek of the Portland PD was already expounding wise to the naïve, young followers there to suck up every morsel of profundity.
I then talked to the homeless guy who had found the body. Maybe he was a messenger sent to guide me but I just couldn’t hear his tune. St. Reeks Like Piss delivering the gospel. Hiss. Crackle. Crackle. “So, you called 911 right away?” I asked. “Yes Sir” St. Piss responded. “On what? Is there a phone around here I don’t know about?” “On my cell phone.” “You can afford a cell phone?” St. Piss looked at me and smiled.. “Pre-paid minutes.” Hiss. Pop. St. Piss didn’t have that much more to tell me. He was looking for bottles and anything else he could sell and found the kid. I believed him when he said he didn’t touch the body. Unless he had stripped the corpse clean, there wasn’t a whole lot to take.
I sat up in my chair a bit higher. Ikea crap falling apart at an accelerated rate. Dinner was sitting badly. I slowly took the headphones off and stood up. I felt grounded but had to concentrate a little to make my way across the hardwood floor. Maybe it was the memories of the saint, but I suddenly needed to take a leak with great urgency.
I faced myself in the mirror in classic, washed up detective fashion. With total seriousness I said the words. Those deep, painful words which gave insight into my inner turmoil. “Pre-paid minutes.”
I smiled at my own ridiculousness and found some chips in the cupboard. I thought about grabbing a soda. Instead I grabbed another beer. I was having too much fun to let things end.
More words and memories were retrieved. Recollections of that night in the rain. “I’m not in advertising, I’m in design.” I hated that guy. He was my age but trying to look twenty. His clothes cost hundreds of dollars and were hand-tailored to look used. Or “distressed” as they say.
Rewind tape. Cue here. White noise memory hum. “What were you doing down here at three in the morning?” I asked. “Working. We have a big pitch tomorrow. I’m a Senior Designer at Visionaire.” “Where exactly is that?” He gestured vaguely down the street. “Twenty-one Ash. The granite and plywood building. I have a corner space that looks right onto the street.” “Did you see anybody else down this way, earlier?” “I saw a grey SUV go by around eleven.” I made note of his answer. “Can you describe it for me?” “Graphite. Chrome details. Medium sized.” “Chrome details? You mean, like custom trim?” “No, the usual garish stuff” he said. “The same as on all of them.” “Was there anyone else working at the ad agency with you tonight? He looked at me with indignation. “I’m not in advertising. I’m in design.” “Right. Was there anyone at the design place with you tonight?” “No, I sent my junior home at ten. I’ve been alone since.”
I remember thinking how it might be amusing to tell Johanson to send out an APB for “an average looking, average sized, SUV in grey with the usual garish looking trim.” My guess is that he would have done it, eager puppy that he was. The thought seemed less funny now.
Lest the night should come to a close before its due, I forced myself to focus further. The scene was not yet complete. There was that moment. That golden moment when I learned the news from Tina, the forensics lead. I tried to make my fuzzy brain remember her exact words. It didn’t come easily. Could be the beer. Could be exhaustion. More likely I was just old, tired and more than a little fucked up. But I got them. I got down into my little brain and retrieved those bits of conversation past. The little snippets that were the first clue that I was well and truly screwed.
Cue misery. Crank up the volume. Embrace the final cut. I approached Tina and wondered why there were so few forensics people on the scene. “So, where’s the rest of your team?” “You’re kidding right? You been in a cave all night? she said. “I was home. Then I was here.” “You might try staying in touch with the world now and again. Might do you some good.” “Might depress me, is what it might do. So, what the hell are you talking about? She looked at me in disbelief. Apparently I’d been out of the loop. “A family of four was down from Seattle to see the Blazers play. Someone decided to shoot them while they were going back to their car.” “A robbery?” I asked. “Could be but they went after them all. Even the kids. Three dead at the scene. The media is already on it like rabid dogs.” “I bet” I said. “Which means the Mayor and the Chief…” “I get the picture” I said. And sadly I did.
Fade up mental image of his eminence, the Mayor, aglow from the light of TV crews as he gave a hasty press conference. Behind him stood The Chief of Police and my boss, The Chief of Detectives. Begin slow motion! Bring on the Anarchist Cheerleaders! Fine, young things with long, lean legs saluting all that is evil and all that is chaos! “Here we are now/Entertain us/I feel stupid/And contagious/Here we are now…
I needed to reach out for a beer and the smile that came with it. A kind look from a girl and it would be alright. It would drive away the voices in my head that kept wearing me down. A little conversation went a long way. And it sure as hell beat reflecting on the past.
It was a near enough destination that I could always walk. There was already a crowd which didn’t make me happy. I wanted to be the only one. I took my usual seat at the bar and saw her in the back. There it was, the glance and the smile. I was already starting to feel better. I nursed my beer as I came back to life. Awakened by the sound of her voice.
“Hey, how have you been?” Emily said as she poured. “Hanging in, you?” “Busy. Hang on.” She walked away to a booth and recited the specials of the day. True to its name, the Pig and Porter delivered both with aplomb. Braised pork belly with cabbage and pigs feet with beans. Listening to her made me realize how hungry I was.
I tried not to stare but couldn’t seem to help it. The blond hair and body were magnets for men’s eyes. Something Emily discovered long ago and now just accepted. They’re like hookers who flirt but never deliver. Female bartenders traded on loneliness and lust. For the price of a pint you could pretend you had a connection. In Japan it’s big business, far more formal than here. The game is the same in any language it’s played. And it’s still cheaper than strippers.
All of which made Emily that much more amazing. Sure, she traded a laugh for a twenty-percent tip. But somewhere along the line the illusion became real. At the very least you could call us friends. It had probably started when I helped her out with a DWI. Some cowboy in blue wrote her up for riding on her scooter drunk. It wasn’t smart but I got involved. Reduced charges satisfied everyone.
Since then we had spent some time together, in the bar and out. I even knew a little about her. She was already worried that life had past her by. I suppose at thirty-three it kind of made sense. Her looks wouldn’t last forever and she would have to adjust. And her degree in classic literature hadn’t exactly prepared her for life. Words can only tell you so much.
She wanted to get into non-profit work and save the world. Nobody was hiring. A return for her Masters was in the cards but she had her doubts. Too many of her peers had such degrees and were still out of luck. They asked her to get them jobs at the bar.
Emily was a girl I could love but it was a one-way street. She had her guy and had been with him for years. He was the lead singer in an indie rock band. Good looking already, with a guitar in his hand he was crack to a junkie. I hated him all the more when I finally met him. He was a really nice guy. Modest. Talented. And very much in love with Emily. They were such a fine couple, it made me ache.
So, I took what I could get and we became friends. It was a fine arrangement as long as I didn’t go off the deep end. She knew I wanted her but understood I knew better. She even offered to hook me up with her friends.
“What am I getting?” I asked without shame. “Pork Belly and Russian River.” “Done.” “You look like hell” she said. “I’m going for that world-weary, haggard look.” “More like shit on a stick.”
The harassment was concern which bothered me even more. Almost as much as if she didn’t bother to say anything. I watched her walk away to tend to another. My eyes moved up and down her with every step she took. I was starving by the time my food arrived. It’s the sort of meal that would kill you but I didn’t seem to mind. It was rich and tasty and the beer was just right. Its bitter edge cut right through the fat.
Time passed as I had a couple more. I wobbled a bit as I got up to piss. I hadn’t had much but had even less sleep. My mind was susceptible to persuasion when I was this tired. If I stayed longer, I was going to have to be careful not to overdue it. “What are you doing Friday?” she asked. “I don’t know. Why?” “Billy’s having a show at Dante’s. You should go.” I considered the offer but got sidetracked. “It doesn’t sound right, you know.” “What? Going to the show?” “Billy and Emily. Too many “eee’s.”
“Are you drunk? You didn’t have…” I tried to get my shit together but it was a losing effort. “Just tired.” “So, is that a yes or a no?” “Yeah. Sounds good.” I was let off the hook, at least for being stupid. “Billy’s got to go early to set up. So, why don’t you meet me here at eight and then we’ll go together.” “OK.”
We said our good-byes and I called it a day. At least as far as more drinking was concerned. It was grey but not raining. One of those in between days you’re not sure how it will fall. I walked to a park and sat on a bench. It was peaceful enough but I got up quickly to leave. The place reminded me far too much of a cemetery.
Rewind. After the trash. Before the beginning. The time of John Doe/Adonis.
The Mayor liked little girls. He liked to touch them. Hold them. Love them. These were the rumors taken as truth by those who believed in death panels and WMD. Any excuse for moral outrage and indignation would do.
Portland’s posturing as a progressive town was undone by the cries of the overtaxed and overburdened. The economy was dying because of the Liberal Socialists. Taxes were too high. The government too inefficient. It was time for a change. Reduce waste. Cut the taxes. Kill the poor. Or at least make them get off their asses and get a job. And what’s this with the Mayor and young girls?
The scandal was too much. A recall was declared. He had to go.
The Mayor had won but the cost had been high. Revelations were made and facts made clear. Mr. Mayor didn’t like little girls but his taste in playmates was enough to cause concern. He was a sugar daddy who liked to dispense lavish gifts. Gifts given to pretty young women who thanked him in kind. Embarrassing details were printed. Like Bill sharing a cigar with Monica, it was made all too real.
And out of that mess the Mayor emerged and stood in front of the cameras. Damaged, bruised and burnt he was hanging on by a thread. And now this. A family of tourists murdered after a game. Portland was a nice place. We didn’t do murders here. That was for places like Los Angeles. We might have Meth labs and petty crime but murder was not in the cards. Especially Downtown. Portland was a progressive, modern, safe city after all. A place people aspire to. A nice place to raise kids.
Roll tape as the press conference begins. Another memory distorted by disgust and hindsight. The Mayor and his minions feeding the beast. “It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Sara Radovich died this morning as a result of her wounds. There will be a later press conference at OHSU to provide the details. In the meantime, I would just like to express my sadness and my determination to bring Sara and her family’s assailants to justice.”
Animals at the trough. A feeding frenzy. The reporters jostled for position. A young guy from Channel Nine was the first to be heard. “Has there been any progress in the case so far?” The Police Chief took the question. “At this time we are pursuing several leads. It is too early in the case to get into any details regarding the course of our investigation.”
Another reporter pushed his way forward. “Were the victims shot in the actual parking lot of the Rose Garden? Wasn’t there security? Weren’t there witnesses, given the large crowd?” The Mayor took the question himself. “Contrary to the misinformation given earlier, they were not parked in the actual lot but in the street about a block away.” Another reporter. Further questions. “Can you tell us anything about the family? What were they doing in Portland?” The Mayor once again took the mic. “They were down from Seattle for a long weekend. We believe they were staying at the Marriot downtown and spent the day going to the art museum and shopping before going to the game.” “Do you think this was a robbery that got out of hand?” The Mayor stepped aside. The Chief was better able to answer this one. “That is one of many avenues we are currently exploring.”
The most telling of all was the final question. It was asked by a young woman from Channel Eleven. “Is it true there was another murder last night on the East Bank?” The Mayor and the Chief exchanged awkward glances.
You’re fucked John Doe/Adonis. Nobody cares.
Eventually, the Chief stepped up to the cameras and saved the day. All the right gestures. All the right phrases. “Unidentified person whose cause of death is currently unknown.” “Every effort is being made.” “No, despite the recent cuts in manpower due to budget shortfalls we have all the resources we need.” It was a skillful performance and one full of lies. Not that anybody would be too concerned about such things.
One step inside The Cube and the truth was more clear. My home away from home. The Cube. Police Headquarters. A building so efficient it won praise and so green it won prizes. It was bundled up tight from winter rain and summer heat. Too bad they forgot to let us breathe.
The state of the art H/VAC failed every day. Windows didn’t open. We were sealed inside our box. Rows of fluorescents illuminated the grey cubicles below. The resulting pallor reminded me of cancer. The dying and the already dead. Sometimes I swear I could even smell the rot and decay. But it was usually just the defecation backing up in the high-efficiency toilets.
Within this magnificent palace the troops were amassed. Detectives from Person Crimes gathered around a white board. The C of Ds gave the pep talks and assigned all the teams. The Radovich case would be solved no matter what the cost.
I sat alone in my cubicle thinking only of you, John Doe/Adonis. My ignorance remained. My calls unanswered by those that probed your body looking for answers. The Medical Examiner had other priorities. Even in death you went to the back of the line.
I killed time by pulling up all the missing persons files. Mothers, wives, husbands, daughters, lovers, sons, grandchildren, parents. They were all somebody to somebody who had bothered to report them. How many were “missing” and how many just didn’t want to be found?
Fathers walked out the door and never looked back. Wives felt trapped and took the next flight out. So many people were just looking to escape.
As a rule, nobody bothered looking for the adults. If they wanted out and didn’t say goodbye, that wasn’t a crime. The kids though. The kids were the ones that got to you. Some may have been lost but most ran away. Fathers that raped them and mothers high on meth were none to deserving of their return. Yet, the streets were no place for them, at least not for long.
I had made the mistake once of getting close to a couple of the street kids. I didn’t mind the way they thought nothing of using me for whatever they could get. I didn’t even mind the stupidity of their false bravado. It was the knowing that in spite of all the people that wanted to help them, all but a lucky few were going to come to a very bad end.
I still remember Tiffany, age fifteen. A bright girl from Boise preferring a sleeping bag under a bridge to sharing a bed with her father. The “nasty cold” she refused to see a doctor for was T B. She was found in an SRO her friends had chipped in for to keep her out of the rain.
Give me the already dead anytime. The journey is less painful for all concerned.
I narrowed the search but came up with nothing. More time had been wasted. I didn’t even have that most basic of basics. I didn’t know yet who the victim was.
I gave into assumptions and started down the path. You were a gay prostitute. Pretty. Expensive. Disposable. It was a supposition that seemed logical and gave me something to do.
Patiently, I waited for the briefing to come to an end. The manpower was impressive. The determination to close the case fast even more so. I wondered if the Radovich family realized how much money they were costing the angry tax payers.
I got a hold of Gillian, a guy who knew vice. If there was someone to give me some direction, he was my man. I described a male prostitute who was young, fit and costly. A real high-end date for those with the means. I asked where I would look for him if I were in the market for such a thing. Gillian steered me to a web address but it came with a warning. “If he was really top-shelf you’re not going to find him on any website. It’s all about who you know.”
It was all I had. So, I went at it with gusto. I typed in the address and lost myself in a world I had been blissfully unaware of it. It wasn’t what I expected. This was no little personals site. This was e-commerce. The men were listed by type and preferences. There were customer ratings after each and all of them. Five stars. Three-and-a-half stars. Pity the poor service worker that only got two.
And then there were the customer reviews. A few were short. “Best time I’ve had in years.” “Gracious. Polite. Satisfying.” “Highly Recommended.” Most, however were an excuse for bad porn. Gifted wordsmiths these writers were not. I never realized how many ways there were to describe an orgasm. I also hadn’t come to terms with how diminutive my genitalia were compared to these horse-like men who seemed to make up the bulk of the reviewers. I wasn’t bothered by any of it, just bored and irritated. It was all such a waste.
I got heckled by anyone that happened to walk by. “Hey Dudek, looking for a date?” “I didn’t know they had a site for Polock Porn. “I know that site. I think I saw your dad on there.” Cop humor. Not funny but needed. Keep it light and connect with your brethren. They were all you had.
My web tour yielded nothing. I got more specific preferences. Age 18 (and younger, it implied). Tall. Athletic. Into: Bondage. A heckler’s delight. “I never knew you were that kinky, Dudek.” “Boys and bondage. I should’a guessed from that shirt you were wearing.” The list narrowed but was still rather vast. I went through them all looking for you. I came up empty.
My memory was still playing tricks on me. In life as we know it, the Medical Examiner’s office is a bland, busy space. It’s an unambitious strip mall kind of a building on the far side of nowhere. A nineteen-eighties era design of beige, brown and grey with a public seal affixed to a cheap façade. It’s a place of business and lacking in comfort. But that’s not how I see it when I remember things.
Instead I see you lying flat on a slab. Fuzzy and yellow like an Atget photograph of a tomb in a Cathedral. All the more intriguing because the image isn’t very clear.
You had been slit clean open. Your skin had been folded down like delicate wrapping paper as they emptied you out. Your brain was inspected for damage. Your heart weighed precisely. You were poked, prodded and analyzed by every means. It left you hollow. But they sewed you up well and made you presentable.
I still hear the Medical Examiner’s words over the image. A long string of damage done and clues to nowhere.
“He died from asphyxiation. From the marks we found, it looks like a plastic bag put around his head. Somebody held it there with their hands nice and tight. A bad way to go but aren’t they all? Probably a good three minutes before he actually died. Marks on his wrists and ankles from the rope. It doesn’t look like he struggled much though. Maybe tied at gunpoint? I don’t know. That’s for you Detectives to figure out. There were no fibers on the rope and the rope itself is the most common brand in the country. Chinese stuff you can find at any big-box retailer or mom and pop store. It’s everywhere. Nothing else interesting with that.
There were signs of anal penetration. No tearing or bruising. So, I assume, voluntary. Not a person. An object. A sex toy of some sort. Probably plastic. He clearly ate very well. By well, I mean properly, not fancy, necessarily. His teeth had been worked on but it was top quality. Mostly cosmetic. His insides though were like that of an old man. He tested positive for heroin, coke and speed. Also THC. The tox screen read like a pharmacy shelf. This kid was an omnivore when it came to pharmaceuticals. Uppers. Downers. Steroids. Viagra. Hallucinogenics. Also, he broke his ribs once. Probably when he was young. Like five or six. That’s all there is.”
I drove back from Clackamas, none the wiser. The 205 was stacked bumper to bumper with people getting a jump on traffic. Demands were being made for more highways to be built as people swore to themselves about road construction.
I arrived back at The Cube over an hour later. The floor was almost empty because they had been put out on the streets. School photos of the Radovich kids had found their way to the news. Cries of vengeance and calls for justice were in the air. It stank like mold. The building was rotting. Recycled insulation couldn’t keep the damp out.
“The boss wanted to see you” Gillian said with a grin. He gestured to the office in the center of the cubicles. The Chief of Detectives sat behind his desk. He listened, waited and nodded on cue. All I could see of his assailant was the back of a head. Grey hair, unadorned. A female I think.
I walked down the aisle and got a better look. A woman in her late-fifties wearing a sweater and long skirt. You could almost hear the crunch, she looked so granola. Profiling habits didn’t rest easily. Suburu. Lesbian. Shares a hundred-year-old house with her long-term partner. Gardens. Raises chickens in the back. Recycles tin-foil and tea bags. Turns shit into compost.
The C of Ds gestured for me to come in. “Detective Dudek. This is Maria Walker. She’s the President of the LGBT Alliance” the Boss Man said. She put out a withered hand as I tried to remember the letters. Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. But the “T” caused me trouble. I took a seat as I finally remembered. Transgender. Such a catchy name for people fighting not to be labeled.
Ms. Walker well knew that her people had clout. What they lacked in numbers they made up for with precision. Turn up the heat and get the message out loud. Ignore at your peril. As the Mayor and his staff understood quite well, first and foremost it was about winning the Primary.
Trivial mental exercises gave way to the beat down. A verbal assault spoken ever so softly. The smile of an assassin ready to finish the job. The C of Ds had enough of being on the wrong end of the stick. It was his time to shine and mine to remain silent.
“I was just telling Ms. Walker that you were the Lead Detective on the East Bank case,” he said. His show was cut short before he even got started. Ms. Walker wasn’t ready to relinquish the stage. “Detective, we were all deeply saddened at learning about the death of the young man on the East Bank. We were even more concerned at the way this department seems to be treating the case. Is there some reason one murder deserves five detectives assigned to it and one murder deserves only one, lone detective? I would hate to think that it has anything to do with the victim’s sexual preferences.”
Refusing to be pushed aside, The C of Ds set me up with the pitch. “I was explaining to Ms. Walker that the Detectives in our department often work on multiple cases at one time.” The cue given, it was my time to go. “You must have gotten inaccurate information, Ms. Walker. I’m the Lead Detective on the case but I am certainly not the ONLY Detective on the case. In fact, I just came back from a meeting with county investigators. We have a great team on this.”
I glanced down at her pearls and awaited a response. A knowing look and handshakes. Success all around. The lies were not lies but code for the game. She had gotten what she came for, the point had been made. Men would be reassigned. Resources re-allocated. John Doe/Adonis would finally get the attention he craved.
It was as I was gloating that the dagger was put to my neck. “Detective Dudek, maybe you can explain to me how a newspaper story got out about your victim being a male prostitute?” I had forgotten all about it and reeled from the blow. I mumbled an answer but knew I was done. “It was one of the uniforms. I made the mistake of answering a couple of his questions and…” “That’s right. YOU made a mistake. Not me. Not this department. You. And YOU are going to fix it.”
I shifted in my chair waited for the rest. A silence designed for my discomfort ensued. It worked as planned. I finally caved in and took my due. “And how am I going to do that, Sir?”
“I’m glad you asked, Detective. You are going to fix it by quickly solving the case and bringing the killers of this fine, young man we found dead to justice. And although you obviously have all the manpower and resources you need, you are going to find it more efficient to work on your own and taking your own initiative no matter how much overtime you have to put in or how many meals you need to skip. Isn’t that right, Detective Dudek?”
More words followed. I just nodded and took my beating. “That will be all, Detective.”
The dogs clamped their jaws and tried to rip him apart. The victim was flat on his back and flailing around in a panic. A fierce-looking German Shepherd pulled on his leg as the other bit into his wrist and pulled the other way. They shook and tugged with all their might. A third dog appeared and went for the groin.
The victim rolled over and tried to get up. A dog went for his neck but can’t quite get to it. Their target was running around like his skin was being burned off. Terror and pain confused every step. A dog took his legs out from under him. He went down again. A fourth dog was released and then a fifth. They too wanted to taste blood and flesh.
And all the time people were laughing.
There was something clown-like and clumsy about the way the victim moved. Like some over-sized toddler. An infant being mauled by wild dogs.
You could see the fear on his face. He didn’t know what was coming but knew it was going to be bad. A crowd gathered to watch. A countdown began. “One. Two. Three.” And then he felt his insides exploding. He’d never felt anything like it. A truck running him over and then backing up to run him over again. He bent over but still stood. His muscles were convulsed so tightly they felt like they might shred. He was frozen. A sick marionette at the end of a five-hundred-thousand watt string.
And still he heard laughing.
He waited for it to be over but it didn’t let up. He began to worry about the cardiovascular strain. His heart could stop at any second. Finally, it ended. Laughter and applause. But there was still more to follow.
Poor Johanson didn’t even realize that I was behind his torture. The Police Force was a fraternity and hazing was the price of membership. Even I had gone through my share of physical pain and harassment after coming out of the academy. But kids like Johanson were a special breed. Some of the other cops called them “Labradors” but, personally, I found this insulting to the dogs. Either way, the meaning came across. Eager. Stupid. And willing to do anything to please.
Johanson would have gone through enough based on that alone. But after I learned about his impromptu press interview about my case, I made a call to his Sergeant. Unfortunately for Johanson, it was Tim Gage, the closest thing I once had to a friend on the force. We had been tight when we were both uniforms but since I had made Detective we had drifted apart. All the same, once I had explained the situation with Johnason, he had been happy to oblige.
The time-honored and highly unpleasant hazing rituals were all upgraded on my behalf. Instead of wearing the padded suit and being attacked by one German Shepherd, Johanson was attacked by five. Instead of being zapped with a current issue Taser, he was jolted with an older, and much nastier, Stun Gun. Every discomfort was upgraded to non-lethal pain. Best of all, every moment of it was recorded and sent to me over the web for my viewing pleasure.
I cued up my favorite part again.
Johanson was being pulled by one dog in one direction and by another in the opposite. The third dove for his balls. Even in a padded suit that clenching and tearing was going to leave a whole lot of bruises and aches. He’d feel like he’d been used as a piñata by the time things were over.
The toddler dance. Pretty Puppy wants to play. And eat your intestines like sausages. And Puppy brought friends! But best of all was the very end. The K-9 Trainer called off the dogs. Instantly, they complied and disappeared from the screen. Johanson just lay on the ground. “You alright Johanson?” The Trainer asked. The cops were still laughing. Johanson sat up with some effort but remained seated on the ground. “Johanson?” the Trainer asked again.
Johanson took off the heavily padded helmet he’d been wearing. His hair was so wet it looked like he stepped out of the shower. His face was covered with sweat and he was panting heavily. He finally answered. “Yeah. I’m good.” “Good. Because after we give the dogs a couple minutes to rest, we’re going to go again. You OK with that?” Johanson forced a wide smile across his face. “Sure. Anytime you’re ready.”
I walked to my car and drove to The Pig. It was pissing down rain and seemed to be getting harder. I’m hoping Emily’s waiting because there wasn’t a place to park. The assumption had been made that I would drive. I didn’t protest. I watched her run out and step into a puddle. It was deeper than she thought. Her canvas sneakers got soaked and I heard her curse through the glass.
She got in still swearing. We didn’t hug or kiss. Jokes were more the song of the hour. “Have a nice swim?” I asked. She was too pissed to answer which was kind of a twist. Usually, I was the one sulking.
She tended to her shoes and then decided to give up. I asked her if she wanted to change. “No, thanks. I’m good. How are you this evening?” she asked with a smile. That warm smile heroin that kept me coming back for more. I knew what I was doing but I couldn’t seem to quit.
She was in a mood to be sure. Tips had been decreasing. That night was pathetic.
“Nobody uses cash anymore. It’s all debit. So, instead of a dollar a beer I get fifteen percent.” “Is that a huge difference?” “Hell yeah.” “Maybe it’s the economy.” Portland’s always been a cheap town but it was getting worse. The younger they are, the more they don’t like paying. Even drunk, people were getting stingy.
We drove down MLK past the scene of the crime. It wasn’t quite in sight but still too close for comfort. I didn’t want to think about it. At least not right then.
We crossed the bridge and arrived at Dante’s. Even in the rain there were crowds outside. Some were trying to get in. More than a few were just smoking. I wondered which they needed more, the tobacco or the conversation.
It took some circling but I finally found a space. There was something on her mind but I wasn’t sure that I should ask. “You alright?” “Yeah, why?” It was a smile back but it wasn’t the right one. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t push my luck and decide to drop it. I didn’t want to know if it was something about me. Let me at least have this night before we have that talk.
Everyone knew her and we’re let right in. But we were too late to get a seat at a table and stood in the back. I always liked this club because you could sit and relax. That night, I’d end up aching from too much standing around.
The lights grew dim as a band began to play. It wasn’t her boyfriend. He’s the main act. Instead it was white lights and fog machines accompanied by a haunting score. A throwback to the old days but highly effective. Shadowy figures emerged in silhouette. It really was a vision to behold.
They remained frozen like statues in a thick layer of fog. One moved forward and commanded your attention. A boney figure, distorted by disease and ready to break. It wasn’t anorexia but something worse. He’s milked his malady for all it was worth. He was even wearing a dress.
The effect wasn’t funny or ironic but more like a shot from “Vampyr.” Keyboards and synths built the ominous sound. The stick figure singer added his distorted whisper to the scene. It wasn’t my kind of music but I was entranced. It was the best show I’d seen in a long time.
After three encores, the house lights went on. Everyone present still seemed in awe. “Wow, that was great,” Emily said. Her mood had improved and I spoke before thinking. I made the mistake of referring to a concert back in the eighties. Another charismatic singer had made the same impression. Psychedelic Furs lead Richard Butler. I might as well have put a label on my head with my age on it.
I saw a group of pretty young girls. “Are they legal?” I asked. “To drink or to sleep with?” I wasn’t sure if she was serious. So, I declined to answer the question. “The show is 18 and over. So, the answer’s yes to at least one of those.” I regretted bringing it up and dropped the topic. We’re comfortable enough with each other that there was no need to talk just to fill space. There was something on her mind but she’d tell me when she was ready. Until then I could only wait.
The crowd thinned out. I wondered if they would return. “Is Billy screwed?” I asked. She looked at me oddly. “What do you mean?” “Because he has to follow such a good performance.” I wasn’t certain but I swear I saw relief in her eyes. “No, he probably loved it. He’ll be fine.”
By the time he took the stage everyone was back in their seats. Accordions and acoustic guitars weren’t my thing. It was the Portland sound, circa Twenty-Twelve. But Billy had a voice, there was no denying that. I had no doubt the kid would be a star. He had the perfect face for magazine covers.
I wondered who decided to have these bands play together. One or the other would have been perfect. Having both in one night just seemed a little weird.
“Detective Dudek” he said in an accusing way. Every syllable was loaded and aimed right at me. “How is your case coming?” When I told him how little progress I had made, I was met with a glare. John Doe/Adonis remained unknown and unclaimed. I was already angry and frustrated that I couldn’t get out of the gate. The C of Ds prodding wasn’t helping the cause.
He listened coldly as I explained what I’d done. The doors I had knocked on to find further witnesses. The badgering of the forensics team to run further tests. It had all lead to nothing and I was still grasping at straws. He walked away unimpressed. No more threats had to be made. They would have been redundant.
After my badgering, I got back to it. I went off the physical, at least it felt more solid. The kid worked hard to keep his body like that. Especially, if his life was about living fast and profiting young. If he was a prostitute, it made sense for his trade.
I made a list of local gyms and started at the top. A high-end place for high-end people. The kind with four-thousand dollar teeth. I already dreaded the legwork I was going to have to do. Gyms didn’t suit me. Too much sweat and too much attitude. I’d rather go for a walk and grab a beer. But it had to be done. I went for the big one. The grand-daddy of them all. I’d probably be scolded for inappropriate attire.
The Athletic Club. A city institution for the Portland elite. The dues were high but the cost was worth it. It was all about business. Maybe John Doe/Adonis had met his customers there.
For all its exclusivity, the building was a disappointment. Concrete and glass, it was close to non-descript. I had expected so much more. Limestone, marble and paneling would have seemed more in line. But that was probably too Harvard Club and intentionally shunned. Subtlety was more the Portland way.
The crowd on the treadmills was surprisingly young. Not as young as John Doe/Adonis. But just out of college. I couldn’t help but stare at an ass. It was round, sweet and branded. A mascot across it. Sweatpants with university labels were all the rage. The girl with the duck ass must have seen me looking. Her response wasn’t scolding but more of a grin. It was almost enough to make me a fan.
The fun ended quickly as I approached the front desk. Ken and Barbie incarnate sat there smiling. Their expressions changed as I pulled out the photo. As fit as John Doe/Adonis might have been, looking at death wasn’t pretty.
They had nothing useful to say but sent me to the Trainer. The conversation yielded nothing but tips on my posture. I would have been insulted if I didn’t know that he was right.
I looked around the vast space. More equipment than people. I noticed a man passing through who looked mighty familiar. It was the guy from Channel Seven who talked about restaurants. I always wondered how food critics managed to avoid getting fat. I thought maybe they just never finished a meal. Maybe like wine snobs they even spit up their food. Silver buckets provided to catch the cud. It bothered me that I even knew who he was.
I saw a man in a grey suit with his hair still wet. A quick work-out at the gym and back to the office. He was being hounded by another man in his fifties. This guy had dark skin and a ponytail. He would have been more out of place if his clothes hadn’t been made of money. Custom-tailored or bespoke, as they say. He was wearing two months of my salary.
A blue-jacket type approached me then. He was the manager of the club, or so he said. Ken and Barbie had called and given him the skinny. He was none too pleased that I was in his place of business talking about murder. I took out my ID to remind him who I was. His tone changed considerably and he became almost helpful. Too bad he had nothing to say.
The search continued at gym after gym. Steroid insane jocks and sorority girls seemed to be the order of the day. I wondered where all the old people went.
It occurred to me that I had the hours wrong. I was going to have to do this all over again. Early morning was probably more their speed. A workout before breakfast at six AM. I hated early risers and never understood why the workday started so soon. Maybe someone should have told them they weren’t farmers any longer and the chickens could wait. They were already plucked, packaged and waiting at Trader Joe’s.
In spite of my pain, I made the rounds all over again. I showed the photos and left my information. It reminded me of a bad job interview. They’ll call if they’re interested but don’t hold your breath.
I stood there feeling more stupid than drunk. A woman from Intel was going on about White Space changing the future. Analogue bled too much. Digital was now the standard. Spectrums were being auctioned off and things would soon change. We would communicate through unused space.
Eventually, I figured out that it had something to do with television, Wifi and computers. Older television channels tended to be messy. Space was left around them to keep them contained. But digital channels are sharp and neat. White Space will exploit this bandwidth and revolutionize communication. Intel was already banking on it.
This woman, Wendy, was designing the chips. A whole new generation of WiFi would travel faster and farther through the purchased frequencies. She was proud of herself for her skills and her knowledge. She would be bringing us the brave new world.
I excused myself from Wendy and went to take leak. Why the fuck did Gillian invite me to this thing? It was a party given under a tent in the rain. A celebration to unveil his latest home-brewed beer. A hobby that he dreamed would one day be his escape. He had offered me an early taste. I don’t think Gillian even liked me but we both liked the beer. I guess that was enough.
I couldn’t help shaking a haunting thought. That I was the kid at the party that the parents had invited. None of the other kids wanted me there but their mothers had insisted. I was probably just projecting. I felt way out of place. It was all couples and kids for the middle-aged set. Even on paper, I was a bad fit.
The beer was good, although quite sharp. It was a double IPA, hopped up to the extreme. It blew out my taste buds. Everything else tasted like water after that.
I stood sipping a pint, watching a child of five. He was playing with his favorite toy, an iPhone. He laughed and laughed as he watched a short film on the screen. It was of cars standing on their noses. They were rigged and fell like dominoes, one into the other.
The kid watched it over and over again. It never got stale. Gillian approached me and we talked about his brew. Grand plans were in the works to develop a full line. Being a cop had gotten far too dull. He wanted his life to be pilsners and porters not violence and stupidity. If I had any money, I would have offered to invest.
The Radovich case was going about as well as my own. A fast track to nowhere under the public eye. The one angle that made the most sense was being quietly buried. A random act of violence that had no rhyme or reason. A junkie who freaked or someone just in a bad mood. Such things weren’t shocking to cops anymore. Just a pain in the ass.
It was the worst possible answer for such a horrible crime. It was always sex, money or revenge. Those were the rules. If everything happens for a reason then there is nothing random. That’s just the way it is. But such a poor answer would have meant the end of big plans. Safe, clean and quiet, random murders in Portland don’t fit the bill. Especially now.
A massive development project was in the works. A modern complex of hotels and casinos. It would be bigger and better than anything before. Millions had already been spent wooing and courting. Soon Portland’s South Waterfront would be a tourist destination beyond compare. The city needed the win.
It was no wonder that Gillian was ready to retire. Solving the crime by reaching the wrong answer was a paradox that would not be accepted. Correct but incorrect, he was left with nowhere to go. He took another sip from his glass and tried to move on.
He took comfort in my tale, as I wasn’t doing much better. John Doe/Adonis was stuck in the mud. I described my adventures in futility down to the most mundane. His mood improved with every agonizing detail.
Gillian introduced me to his wife. She was beautiful but exhausted. Her career as an RN had given way to tending to two kids. Both boys, ages five and eight. They ran around like speed junkies, hitting each other over the head with cardboard tubes. The remains of wrapping paper which proved more entertaining than the gifts. She excused herself to chase them and tried to put an end to the carnage. Harsh words and warnings led to tears and pouts. His wife took them back into the house. “They’re just tired,” Gillian said.
We made more small talk about life in The Cube but it soon wore thin. Then he told me that I should buy a house. It was a good time. I couldn’t argue his point but I still resisted. Buying terrified me. I was always a renter. All the same, I knew he was right. If I didn’t purchase soon, I would be priced out of the market.
All roads led to nowhere as I tried to figure out who you were. Questions about John Doe/Adonis were met with polite answers and modest nods. There were a few who were charming and even more that tried to impress. I cared about your world only for where it could take me. A sad few took pride in being extreme. The more they tried to shock, the more bored I became.
But then your death proved most rewarding. Cash for anyone with a solid lead. It wasn’t my idea. In fact, I railed against it. For fifty-thousand dollars, people had seen things they deemed worthy of payment. Thanks to the benefice of the LGBT, the phone banks were flooded by the stupid and greedy. Sometimes I wondered if that was the point. Obfuscation by volume to keep things quiet.
The best was a man who turned himself in. Poor but not homeless, he was none too bright. He went by the name of Arlen Downs. He was probably only thirty but looked fifty-six. He stank of the cheap wine and reminded me of St. Piss. But compared to the saint, this man was a lizard. His reptilian brain was clearly the size of a pea.
The video tape rolled as he gave his confession. I sat out of frame amused by his act. “So, you killed him?” I asked. “Yes, Sir, I did.” “How did you do that?” “I hit him” Arlen answered. “With your hands or with something?” “With a wheelbarrow.” I needed to make sure that I heard correctly. “You hit the victim with a wheelbarrow?” “Yes, Sir.”
“Where did you get the wheelbarrow?” “In my yard. That’s where I killed him.” “And this is at your house on Stark?” I asked. “Yes, Sir.” “Why did you kill him?” “He was peepin’ at my gal.” “He was in your yard, trying to spy on your girlfriend? “Yes, Sir.” “Was she in the shower or something?” “No, she was cookin’ waffles.”
I did my duty and followed it through. At least it continued to be amusing. “The body was found over thirty blocks from your house. How did you get him there?” Arlen answered without missing a beat. “In the wheelbarrow.”
Eventually I’d had enough and decided to wrap things up. I laid it out to Arlen. “This is my problem. At this point, I’m pretty sure you didn’t kill him.” “But I did. I swear to it. I murdered that man.” “OK. Let’s just say you did.” “I did. I killed that man. When can I get my reward?” “Arlen, let me ask you something.” “Yes, Sir.” “How are you going to spend your money if you’re in prison for murder? Arlen thought about it long and hard. But I should have known better than to think he was stumped. “I didn’t murder him. It was an accident.” “You accidentally killed him with a wheelbarrow for peeping on your girlfriend making waffles?” “Yes, Sir. When can I get my reward?”
If only that had been the worst of the nonsense. Aliens had been involved and witches had done it. It was burning up time and using up my reserves. All the while John Doe/Adonis remained unclaimed. It was the sort of fate that old men dread. You were dead but nobody seemed to miss you.
Emily said she had something to say. I knew from her voice that I didn’t want to hear it. I waited for the talk that I knew would arrive. On time as scheduled, I thought, as she prepped me with the words “It’s about Billy.” I tried to ignore that we are doing this at The Pig. I was insulted by the setting and was hoping for something more private. I just prayed nobody else would walk in. I was already wishing I wasn’t there.
She looked at me with sadness. A face full of conflict and sorrow. Funny, since I was the one about to be the victim. “Is he more jealous than you thought?” I stupidly said to move things along. Her confusion couldn’t have been greater.
“No. Billy doesn’t get jealous. You know that.” And I did. It was something that angered me for reasons I can’t quite explain. Aren’t I worthy of a bit of petty rage? I shoved my ego aside and listened to what she said. All the time my guts got sore. Some things just weren’t meant to be.
“He asked me to marry him.” Not quite what I was expecting but along the same path. Our friendship must end and not for the right reason. It’s all just too complicated and it was time for her to move on. I heard it all in my head before she said another word.
“Congratulations” I said, “when’s the big day?” And then I realized my supposition might be wrong. She wasn’t wearing a ring. “I said no.” Thoughts got jumbled as I tried to reconfigure. I wasn’t naïve enough to think it was about me. That was a sucker’s bet that wasn’t going to happen. All the same, I was waiting for more.
“I just couldn’t go through with it. For years I dreamed of him asking me and then…” Tears filled her eyes. Once again, I regretted the setting. As empty as it was, this scene deserved better. Orders for fries and another round just didn’t suit the occasion.
She tended to a table and returned to the bar. I asked her to keep going. I asked her to explain. She said she didn’t really know. “I guess it just doesn’t feel right.” I could tell from her face that it was only half-true. Being a cop had its drawbacks when you’d rather buy into the lies.
I finally convinced her to take a break. We exited the building and found cover from the rain. She slowly got to the point. “It’s just such a bad time. He just signed a record deal. Major. They’re talking tours in Europe and Japan. I would never see him.” I wondered what she wanted from me but I already knew. “Say yes and go with him. I hear Tokyo is lovely this time of year.” She smiled a bit but still seemed quite troubled. “No. I can’t see it. Following him around all over like that. I want to be his wife, not his groupie.” “So, you’re not going to marry him because he’s become too successful? There’s something pretty fucked up about that.”
She kept arguing but I can tell that she wanted to be swayed. “You’re just scared.” “Of course, I’m scared. My whole life would change and what…” she ended mid-sentence. “What, what?” I prompted, wanting her to voice her real fear. “What if he leaves me? If he becomes a star everything will change. I’ll become that clichéd ex-wife dumped for some super-model.” Before I realized what I was saying, I said something dumb. “Then I’ll marry you after the divorce.” She laughed but it was a laugh that hurt us both. There was nothing funny about it to either one of us.
“Billy is a great guy and you’re fucking this up because you’re scared. You love him, he loves you, you both want this. You’re just being a chicken shit.” She stared at her Keds, wet from the rain. She was thinking of Billy and the new life on offer. Finally her eyes returned to me.
“Maybe you’re right. I still don’t know.” She hugged me tightly like she never had before. She whispered in my ear a simple thanks. We both knew I really didn’t have a choice. We got back into The Pig and didn’t discuss it any further. I pictured her in a wedding dress and know she’ll be happy. In spite of knowing better, I let myself fall into my beer. I became filled with regret and wondered how it all went so wrong. Sitting there, alone at the bar, I realized that I was the perfect regular.
I went to a place known for muscles and fries trying to get a clue. The Pearl wasn’t my haunt but maybe it was his. John Doe/Adonis might have fit right in.
The restaurant was next to the ad agency I despised. World famous for its work, its employees considered themselves Van Gogh and Fitzgerald. What they did was art, was once explained, “but with a further reach.” I have to admit, some of their commercials were funny but this place didn’t amuse me in the least. It was filled with agency types and those that worked for the shoe company. Pretension was their favorite sport. Needless to say, it was a crowd I disliked. Then again, most were.
The bartender in black seemed annoyed at my presence. My questions were bringing people down. I told him that if I worked at it, I could help his cause. I could depress them enough to drink more. He didn’t find me humorous and asked if I could be discrete. I nodded and discretely showed people pictures of a corpse.
I came up empty and was just about to leave. A girl approached me, a woman, more accurately. She said she had a thought. She wasn’t that pretty but made the most of her looks. Italian shoes and French purse, designer labels all the way. The effort didn’t go unnoticed.
“Excuse me.” “Yes?” “Can I ask where else you’ve been looking?” I wasn’t sure how to take her question. I named a few places, a haphazard list. She understood the theme but wanted to check. “So, you’re looking for places the gay, rich and stylish go?” “Gay, rich and young, more likely” I said, hoping the conversation didn’t cause me any trouble. She got quiet for a second as she thought it through. I surveyed her more carefully as I waited. Upon reflection, she wasn’t such a bad looking girl for her age. I even started to imagine her without her Prada.
“Did you try Metronome?” she asked. I’d never heard of the place and told her so. “It’s in Old Town above “Wear.” It was like an alien tongue but I’d figure it out. That’s what computers were for. “Go on a Sunday night, after ten.” I wrote down the name and took down the address, it was as good a lead as any.
“If you want, I could go with you.” I had to admire her aggressive style. I guess she had nothing to lose. Having a date on the job wouldn’t have worked very well. So, I declined her offer. Her disappointment evident, I added that I’d love to see her some other evening. She complied as expected and we made plans for Tuesday. It turned out to be a good move.
We had dinner together at some place on Hawthorne. I felt guilty for even being there. I should have been working but a man’s got to eat. The food was great but her conversation was trying. It was all about the latest fashions.
We went back to her place and kept the talk to a minimum. I sat on the bed and watched her undress. Her attraction declined with every layer removed. But as she understood and I came to believe, a little style goes a long way. I even asked her to keep her shoes on.
It was good but disappointing the way bad sex always is. It got me off and got me by which is all I really needed. The same was true for her. Our mutual letdown was covered with kind words but we both knew the story. It was mixed reviews all around.
Her other favors proved far superior. I went to Metronome above the store. A group of wealthy men displayed their young purchases. Three-Star and below, need not apply.
The mood was festive and it was all just fine. But then they started to notice me. It was too loud to talk because the music was blaring. I asked the DJ to stop, stepped up to the mic and explained why I was there. The reaction was far from expected.
As the music restarted they come to me by the dozens. A few were irritated but most were concerned. The case needed to be solved. I told them the background and asked for any leads. I could tell they wanted to help. They questioned each other and threw out some names but it seemed of little value. As much as they tried they had nothing to offer. None knew a thing about it.
I left none the wiser but was praised for my efforts. It was nice to finally find some support. As I stood on the street, I dialed Miss Prada. I left a message thanking her.
He walked into The Cube with purpose and poise. A man in his fifties who projected quiet power. His clothes were understated and costly, a study in grey. I saw the admin shake her head as the visitor asked a question. More questions were asked and demands softly made. The admin pointed him in my direction.
He started right towards me. The familiar pallor of the lights made him look like a zombie. Probably not much of a stretch. As he got closer, I became self-conscious. I stank of sweat and stale coffee. In spite of hoping for this very moment, all I wanted right then was to disappear.
I guessed who he was. The eyes were the same even if the hair was not. In spite of his poise, or maybe because of it, I kept thinking of history. He was about to offer his unconditional surrender.
The etiquette and formality only served to heighten his despair. However, rules were to be adhered to. He shook my hand with firm authority. “I’m here about your case.”
His name was Richard Thurman of Thurman Steel and the Thurman Music Hall. A fourth generation Oregonian. It was not uncommon for the mayor to seek his advice. We exchanged pleasantries although it was all far from pleasant. I introduced myself to him as the Lead Detective on the case. He explained that he had been in Shenzen or maybe it was Wuhan. I don’t remember exactly but know it was one of those places in China. The sort of Asian city you only hear about when American factories had to close. He had been there for five weeks discussing “manufacturing channels.”
I decided that we needed more private surroundings. Although alone in The Cube most of the day, you never knew when people might come back. I could have taken him to an interrogation room but that seemed a little too harsh. Instead I opted for the break room.
It was a small carpeted room with a microwave and fridge. There was also a coffee maker burning the last layer of coffee in a dirty pot. A soda machine leaned crookedly against the back wall. It clanked loudly for no reason. Maybe someone had tried to rob it and it had been wounded in the assault. As I took all this in, I reconsidered. Maybe this wasn’t the best place for this. But it was too late. My visitor was already standing by a small table waiting for my permission to sit.
I gestured for him to take a seat in one of the plastic chairs. He rested his arm on the table and it tilted towards him. It’s base was fine but the floor was uneven. I kept telling myself that none of this mattered. We could be in a king’s palace and it would be none the easier.
He told me he had been catching up on all the local news that he had missed. It was difficult to find the time to read old news but he felt it needed to be done. Information was his stock and trade. The steel mill was long gone and now it was far more about “allocation of capital.” Things needed to be bought and things needed to be sold. Timing was key.
It was in one of these old newspapers he had seen the story. “Unidentified Man Found Dead.” A photo was included, a portrait of John Doe/Adonis. He believed that he might be able to identify him.
There had been times when people had assumed the worse and gotten it wrong. Such things were not uncommon. There was that moment of truth when they saw a clear photo. Cries of grief turned to tears of joy when they realized that it was somebody else’s child that had been beaten to death.
I took the folder from my arm neatly marked “John Doe.” It was the color of rust. I held it facing me, hiding my cards as I flipped through the contents. My visitor’s eyes fell upon me as I looked quickly through a dozen photos. Most were far too lurid to use for this purpose. I finally found the most clinical close up and pulled it from the deck. I set it down before realizing that the table was covered in crumbs. It was already too late to brush them away.
I thought I saw acknowledgement in his eyes but he didn’t say a word. I prompted him with another photo. A more flattering angle, if you wanted to call it that. It was hard to look glamorous as your body decayed over a bed of rotten fruit and garbage.
My visitor studied the photos, one after the other, searching for the answer he feared. His expression changed but there were no tears. If anything, he grew more rigid.
“That’s my son.”
When I think of it now, it was just a fucked-up dream. I saw myself in that Atget cathedral, blurry and aged. I stood before your tomb of stone and recited the words unspoken. I said your name and set you free.
“Arise Eric Thurman. Arise from the dead.” At first there was nothing but the scratches on the film. The “Vampyr” imagery coloring my twisted fantasy. And then the heavy cover of the tomb began to move.
Your thin hand grabbed it and pushed it aside. Too much beer or too much Bauhaus, Bela Legosi had nothing on you. You rose from your tomb, naked and perfect. Adam in the Garden of Eden. More likely, you were the snake. Either way you had been transformed. No longer were you just an unidentified man. You had history. A path of events in which you were directly involved. There were people that missed you and people that hated you. You were certainly a well known figure.
Anonymity was curse enough in death, let alone in life. However, you wouldn’t have known that. You were one of those people that stood out from the crowd. You had no understanding of what it was to be common.
Motion stopped and the picture froze. Another Atget still. This time through the grain all your features were defined. “A Portrait of Eric Thurman Standing in the Ambulatory.” Circa sometime long ago. It was the other figure that became faded into dark silhouette. The one facing you and looking for answers.
I snapped out of my daze in need of a toilet. I said my usual refrain to the figure in the mirror. My quote from the Saint of Piss. “Pre-paid minutes.” The joke had already gotten old.
I’d been out of work and out of my mind. I’d been waiting for things to set right. I didn’t follow procedure. Now the price would be paid. My hearing was set. It was only a few weeks out. I’d probably get off but it was my judgment that I was more concerned with.
I sat in the chair and it creaked beneath me. I soon imagined another scene that never was. Why I did this, I wasn’t even sure. I guess I liked the entertainment.
We were in the car on the 205. Your father was with me, stony and silent. His rigid ways made me yearn for crying and weeping. At least then I could play my role and offer solace. I could say kind words and offer a tissue. But your father would have none of it. He would rather break quietly inside.
And in the backseat of the car, there you sat. You were just along for the ride. You weren’t sad but quite the contrary. You kept laughing at the joke of it all.
You walked behind us through the corridors with an idiot’s grin. The strip mall setting amused you with its function and decay. It was a place you liked and you wouldn’t mind staying but you knew another task awaited. The plans had been made. The hour was approaching. You were ready for the big debut.
We entered the morgue, a grotesque threesome, and prepared for the process to begin. You stood and watched as you were pulled out from a drawer. You might as well have been clean socks. But you were much too clever to care and were just waiting for a reaction. Your moment would soon arrive.
The shroud was removed and your body was revealed. You studied the face of your father. He closed his eyes to shut in his grief. He was swallowed by an abyss of sorrow. And all the time you just smiled.
And then the words began to pour from his lips. A father’s grief over a son now
“We were in China five weeks. Business has been difficult and this was a major step in getting things headed back in the right direction. We left him and Allison, his sister, alone. They’re twins, both seventeen. If they can’t be trusted to clothe and feed themselves at this point, it would be a rather sad state of affairs. She’s in private school, Sacred Heart, he’s at one of the charter schools, Adams Arts and Science.”
“Yes, he was smart, whip smart but not a great student. He did very well in chemistry and history and less so in the subjects he found less interesting. He seemed to have lots of friends. There was one boy he spent a great deal of time with, David. They have been friends ever since they went to junior high together. I never liked him very much. I wonder if he lead Eric astray somehow.”
“Eric had lots of girlfriends. No one serious from what I could tell. There seemed to be a different one on his arm every time I saw him. I suppose a few of them could have just been friends but I don’t think so. Just the way they acted seemed more romantic. Things are very different between boys and girls these days. So, I could be mistaken.”
“What are you implying? No, he did not like men. My son is not gay.”
“Yes, Detective, I am quite sure. My son is not gay. Why? Do you have information telling you otherwise? Someone saying that he is? Well, I assure you that they are mistaken or just going about spreading malicious rumors. My son is not gay.”
“No, sadly, we have not been close the last few years. You know how teenagers are. Frankly, I would have been a little worried about him if he never rebelled. Those children that say their parents are their best friends concern me. Parents shouldn’t be “best friends” they should be parents.”
“We had drifted apart but it wasn’t always like that. Up until he was about twelve we used to spend a lot of time together. He used to love sports. Played on his school teams. Football, soccer, track…He was quite a gifted athlete. Then he seemed to just lose interest in it all.”
“Up until that point we went to some sporting event or another at least once a week. We had season tickets to the Trailblazers, Ducks and Timbers. One year we made it to every single Timbers home game. He was a good kid. I really miss those days.”
“No, the changes weren’t that sudden. They felt like it at the time, of course. However, in hindsight, it was more a drifting away. He didn’t seem to enjoy being around me anymore and started to ask if he could do other things with his time besides go to games with me. I was hurt, of course but understood…At least I told myself I understood. Maybe I never understood anything.”
“It got worse when he went to that new school of his. I never understood the point of charter schools other than to get around the teacher’s union. But he had his heart set on going there. I offered to pay for any private school he could get into but he insisted. As long as he was out of the horrible public school in our neighborhood, I was happy. They say Adams is a good school.”
“I’m not really sure what he was interested in these days. His mother would know more about that than I would. They had a different type of relationship. Like I said, the last few years things have been a little strained between Eric and I. Maybe I put too much pressure on him. I just hated to see someone so popular and smart squander all that potential.”
“Drugs? No, neither one of our children has had any experience with drugs. The more I hear how safe marijuana is the more angry I become that this city has gone off the rails. We have a large enough productivity issue in the country. The last thing we need is a work force on drugs. Nothing good can come of it which is why my wife and I have a firm and united stance on the issue. There will be no drug use among the members of our household. If either of my children were ever misguided enough to disregard that policy they would soon find themselves without the rather generous allowances I give them and any talk of going to an out of state college would be immediately put to an end.”
“Allison seems content with the idea of going to U of O with her friends. Eric approached me about going to school in New York. I quickly put an end to the idea. I’m not about to set a seventeen year-old child lose in New York City. As safe as it may be compared to the old days, it is still New York. He got into U of O and Lewis and Clark. He was also waitlisted for the University of Washington. That’s were he wanted to go but it was far from certain if he would be accepted. He had the test scores but not the grades.”
“No, the last time I had spoken to him was about a week earlier from Hong Kong. Everything seemed fine.”
“Who would do something like this to him? I don’t understand. He was a good son. He got along with everybody. Was it some sort of sex crime? That’s not why you were asking me if he was gay, was it Detective? Did somebody do something to my boy before…?”
“Yes, I understand. I’ll tell Vivian she should expect you sometime this afternoon. I would appreciate it if you were as gentle as possible. Vivian is easily upset.”
“Allison? If you really feel that’s necessary.”
“Please find whoever did this to him. We might not have been that close lately but I tried. I tried to be a good father.”
The Radovich case was sputtering and the squad was looking tired. Too many nights out in the damp with nothing to show for the effort. There were plenty of people claiming they had information. Mistakes, lies and half-truths tailored for reward, none of which helped a bit. The Detectives were drowning in a flood of misinformation. What they needed was a bigger staff. Instead, their ranks were culled. There were other priorities now.
One of the Detectives reassigned was none other than Gillian. Much to his chagrin, he was to ignore all things Radovich and absorb all things Thurman. I could tell he wasn’t pleased. The words “quit” “retire” and “bullshit” were uttered in various combinations on a regular basis.
His anger had merit. Gillian had spent days delving and searching. He unearthed a moment by moment history of the Radovich clan. He knew where they lived. Where they stayed. Where they ate. What they ate. Where they shopped. Where they pissed. What they bought. Where they sat. Where they parked. Etc. etc. Gillian was a living, breathing history of the Life O’ Radovich. And now nobody cared. He particularly didn’t understand why they left the divison rookie on the case, Hersh, and not him.
He handed over the file and was told to just move on. Gilliam fumed, pouted and cursed that he should have known all along. Working hard didn’t get you anywhere quicker than just killing time. He was a fool to have even tried.
Between his mood and the stench of The Cube, I was feeling ill. I convinced Gillian to get out for a while. It was only eleven but we went to a bar. An old school kind of place that opened at six. The kids all thought it was hip. They had cheap PBR and super-hot wings both of which made me nauseous. But it was still a bar and bars were better than coffee and the attitude that came with it. I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture on the virtues of burr grinders.
The problem, of course, was what to eat in a bar when you really just wanted breakfast. I settled the issue with a thin BLT and coffee that tasted like oil. Gillian got a soda. Something that looked flat with a zero in its name.
“I can’t believe you dragged me to this shithole” Gillian complained. “I didn’t bring you here for the food.” He sipped his soda as he checked out a tattooed customer. She sported a biker gang look but was probably a student. I don’t think he liked her but he was just feeling bored. He still didn’t understand why he was there.
“I’m sorry you got fucked but I’m glad you’re on this. Lord knows I could use the help.” His gaze remained tired and he didn’t want to hear it but I kept talking anyway. “Look, as big as the Radovich thing is, this is no picnic. Not only do we need to find the killer, we’ve got to keep the illusion alive.” “What illusion? That Portland considers law enforcement worthy of spending money on?” I let his tirade slide and launched into one of my own. “No, that Eric was a good kid who did no wrong and that the Thurman name remains up there with the saints.”
Gillian slurped at his straw and shook his head slowly after I’d voiced my concerns. “You’re fucked, aren’t you?” he said. I couldn’t disagree except for one small thing. I was no longer in this alone. “Not just me anymore, Partner” I said. And Gillian got the point. I told him where I was and what I was thinking. He agreed that it was a weak start. We discussed playing as a team or going for glory. We decided on the latter choice. I’d go my way and he on his but we would always keep the other informed. Divide and conquer or defeated from the start. At this point neither of us knew.
There were laughs and jokes and smiles all around. I hoped that it was a new beginning. All the same, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been teamed with a fake. A man there in name only. He promised to go through the files and come up with fresh angles. More likely he was thinking of his next brew.
A quick drive to Old Town and I was soon there. The homeless lined up for a hot meal and chatted with each other about the menu. Today was an all vegetarian ticket and more than a few were upset.
Among the faces burnt red by the sun and wind was one that I knew. It had been a long time but I would never forget his eyes. It was Reggie, aged a thousand years. The last time I saw him was at a funeral. He was crying and cursing the skies. I think he had been drunk or maybe on drugs but I don’t know if that even mattered. The girl in the casket was the love of his life, Tiffany, age fifteen.
The memories hit hard of that kid dying alone. And of Reggie, back then, wearing his ripped leather jacket. He had painted “The Clash” on its worn back. He had also owned some runt of a dog that he took wherever he went. It always kept pawing and barking at me whenever I got too close.
I remembered when he came to me, not sure if I could be trusted. Tiffany was really sick but “she was a stubborn little bitch,” as Reggie had put it to me that night. By the time we got to the dank smelling SRO, it was too late to do any good. Her lungs had rotted and she had stopped breathing. So much for her “bad little cold.” She just laid there dead on the stained mattress as the dog kept yapping away.
Reggie smiled and said “hello” with a wave. He even gave up his place in line. “Hey, Dudek” he said and gave me a hug. It felt a little weird. “Where’s your dog?” I asked. As the words left my lips I prepared for the answer. It probably wasn’t going to be good. Hit by a car. Maybe even stolen. I wondered if it had even survived. “Dorothy? You remember Dorothy?” he asked. “Yeah, of course. That dog was even uglier than you.” He laughed at my response and, as it happens, it was alright. Dorothy was alive and well. “The bitch even had puppies” he added.
Small talk aside, I asked how he was doing and if he still saw the rest of the gang. Some of the other kids hadn’t done as well as the dog but most were hanging on just fine. One even had a good job at the bakery.
We said our good-byes and I slipped him a twenty. He wasn’t about to decline. He might spend it on booze or maybe drugs but it wasn’t my place to say. I waved one more time and walked away. I had an appointment to keep.
The building in Old Town had been nicely refurbished. The details had all been restored. Smooth marble floors and grand wooden staircases lead to the floor I needed. It was the offices of The Thurman Trust.
I walked into the waiting room and was immediately let down by how bland it was inside. Beige and off-white, it didn’t match the lobby. It was all function and economy above all. I told the guy at the desk who I was and mentioned that I was expected. I took a seat and stared at the walls. They were all covered in posters for causes. “Save the Sea Lions.” “Save the Children” “Save the Trees.” The point couldn’t have been made clearer. Give now or all will be lost. And it will be your fault for just standing by.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was waiting for the dentist and started to get annoyed. I wasn’t there for the cause. If she couldn’t be bothered because of her schedule than that was just too bad. My anger subsided as I remembered what she had been through. My presence probably just reminded her of the pain. Starving kids in far away places were just statistics but I made her face the truth. Her son was dead and gone. As comforting as saving hundreds might be, no charity could erase that fact.
I was finally lead down a narrow passage to a corner office with no view. Behind it sat a woman, slightly older than me, who stood as I walked in. A firm handshake and apologies for keeping me waiting, I told her it was perfectly fine. As she sat, I saw the family resemblance. She had Eric’s long, thin limbs.
She was the President of the trust which was a very big job, she explained. It was easy to find a good cause. The hard part was the allocation of funds to achieve the highest returns. “Bang for the buck, if you will.”
I asked her some minor questions. Nothing that was too upsetting. The way she talked about Eric at first, it was as if she was skating. Move fast or the ice will give way. It was superficial nonsense about his academics, hobbies and friends. All generic and none too compelling, it felt like a bad facebook profile. I had enough of being patient and decided to press harder.
“Was Eric spending time with anybody new, lately?” I asked. “Not that I know of.” “Did he have any girlfriends or boyfriends?” “Boyfriends? Eric was about as heterosexual as they came. I worried that he was going to get someone pregnant he seemed to be with so many different girls.” “No serious girlfriend though?” “No. I think his last relationship with any girl that lasted over a year was back in seventh grade.”
“Did he do a lot of drugs?” “No. He told me experimented once with marijuana but decided he didn’t like it. He said it made him feel stupid.”
“What about friends?” “What about them?” “Who were they. What were they like?” “The only one I know much about is David. They’ve been friends for a long time.” “And what’s David like?” “He’s kind of shy and introverted. He really idolizes Eric. Sometimes I think too much so.” “Meaning what?” “Just that Eric was very charismatic and very smart and sometimes I worried if he took advantage of David.” “Took advantage how?” “Nothing too sinister. Just treating him more like a sidekick than an equal.”
“Did he talk much about plans for the future?” “Oh, yes. Eric got into the University of Washington. He was quite excited about it.” “I heard from his father that he really wanted to go to NYU.” “Doesn’t every teen-ager? New York is such an exciting place. Richard was dead set against it, though.” “Why do you think that was?” “What do you mean?” “Why was he so worried about Eric going to school in New York?” “You don’t have children, do you Detective?” “No.” “I think Eric would have been just fine but Richard and I both grew up here in Portland. Picturing ourselves at seventeen or eighteen in a place like New York seemed unfathomable. I can understand the desire, of course.” “So, you backed Mr. Thurman in that decision?” “It was more like I abstained.”
“Detective, what is it you would like to really like to know? I can’t help the feeling that you’re after something and I’m not helping you much with it.” “I’m just trying to understand Eric as best as I can. I’m looking for any recent changes.” “Changes?” “In his behavior, his group of friends, romantic relationships…” “If there were any changes in Eric’s life in the last few months they were all for the positive. He seemed excited about life in a way I hadn’t seen him in some time. I think maybe it was knowing that he was finally heading off to college. He was really looking forward to it.”
Predators and serial killers. It made for good TV. Some brilliant psychopath who played cat and mouse with the police. A clever game of bodies and clues. The rugged Detective and his stunning female partner would be on the case. They would be assisted by the awkward genius psychologist who would get inside the mind of the killer. The genius would actually see and feel the way the murderer did and would be haunted by the mindmeld. And it would all hinge on a piece of forensic evidence discovered by the well-built lab specialist. She would use her cutting edge gear to convict the killer with a singed eyelash and discarded Coke can.
Gillian had once been on a real serial killer case. It was a clusterfuck. Every agency and department in the country wanted to protect its turf. The joint task-force was about as efficient as the Iraqi government. A lot of talk and a lot of yelling but nothing ever got done.
And then there was the FBI. It would be hard to out prick those pricks. They were blue suited wonders who believed that they were the elite. The big guns brought in to solve crimes when those locals were in over their heads. Before 9/11, serial killers mattered more. Gillian thinks the FBI loved them even more than the media.
I’m not sure I believe that last one to be true. Serial killers were good for the ratings. The local news often ran night by night updates of the latest developments in the case. Even if there weren’t any. True Crime books were published and films rushed into production. The public just couldn’t get enough.
A mess of confusing and contradictory information standing in for facts. Gillian cursed as he recalled the charade. The joint task-force couldn’t even agree on who the victims were. Maybe he escalated? Maybe there was a copycat? Maybe it was just coincidence the victims were the same age?
Gillian got angry just talking about it. It was twelve years ago. One of his first cases as a Detective. The body of a young woman was found under the Cathedral Bridge. It was immediately connected to a series of killings down in San Francisco. Gillian tried and tried to convince people it was an unrelated case but nobody wanted to hear it. It was much more exciting to think of her as another victim of a serial killer on the loose.
“Sometimes we see what we want to see instead of looking at things for what they are” he had said. I couldn’t agree more. Which is why it surprised me so much when I returned to The Cube and heard Gillian’s new theory.
There were eleven bodies found over the last seven years that had some distinct similarities. They were the bodies of young males found bound and in the trash. A few had been stripped, but most had not. They had been found all over the country. Only six of the eleven were Caucasian. I pointed out to Gillian that if he looked it up he could probably find about a hundred more bodies like that in Mexico. Tied, killed and dumped in the trash. Sadly not uncommon. But Gillian wasn’t to be deterred.
“Are you just fucking with me?” I asked. He denied it. He said it was just a very preliminary thing but he thought he might be onto something. I thought he might have been joking.
It was only later when I got a soda from the break room that I put it together. This was Gillian’s revenge. He was still feeling abused for being pulled from the Radovich case and decided to fuck them back. He could claim that he was working on a new theory and sit on his ass all day. It wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to get a free trip out of it. A little vacation to talk to people about the case.
The passive-aggressive prick didn’t care if he took me down with the rest. So much for watching my back. He’d just tell the boss he was hard at work and leave me to sink on my own.
Hiss. Crackle. Pop. We’re back among the trash. The streets reflected flashing lights. Johanson wagged his tail. And there you were. Naked and bound. Aren’t you cold? We both knew the answer to that, you little fucker.
Crackle. Crackle. Hiss. I saw the body bag zipped. Soundgarden soundtrack played as I fell on Black Days. Chris Cornell spoke the truth but I wasn’t really listening. My mind was too distracted. I looked through the light and squinted through the glare. The rain wasn’t going to end.
The crime scene faded as a talk show began in my brain. You sat at a desk but you weren’t on just yet. The sidekick carried the weight. He made a few cracks which weren’t even funny but the crowd applauded all the same.
The set disappeared as the guitars ripped me apart. It was a feeling I knew all too well. But no matter how blaring it got I couldn’t seem to hear it. The voices were just too loud. “Tell me about Eric” I asked. “What about him?” Dave answered. “When did you see him last?” “About a week before.” “Did he say anything about going anywhere orhanging out with anyone?” “No.”
My interview continued with my uncooperative guest. “I thought you guys were close. Wouldn’t he tell you if he had something big planned?” “It wasn’t like that. He would do that. He’d just go off by himself for a while and not tell anybody where.” “But you guys were tight” I said. “That doesn’t mean he told me everything. I have no idea where he was.” Liar.
“Did Eric sell drugs?” I asked. “No.” “Did Eric do drugs?” “I don’t want to really answer that.” “You just did. Where did he get them?” Dave looked down at his hands. He finally mumbled an answer. “It’s not hard. Eric knew people.” “Which people? Give me some names.” “I don’t know. People. Eric knew everyone. Every time we went out people always came up to him and said “hi.” Like he was a rockstar or some shit.” Dave slumped a bit more into his chair. “Did it bother you that he was so popular?” I asked. “No. Why would it?” “I don’t know, jealousy?”
“I heard Eric got into the University of Washington. Were you upset that he was going to go to school so far away?” “Seattle isn’t very far. It would have been cool to go visit him there.” “Where are you planning on going?” “I don’t know. Maybe nowhere.”
Hiss. Crackle. Pop. An answer suddenly appeared. I was back at the scene of the crime. Not the trash heap but the moment. I saw you on the floor bound up pretty but still very much alive. I saw him sitting, watching and waiting, the bag held tightly in his hand. He did it out of jealousy. He did it out of love. He just couldn’t bear to let you go.
“You say you were close to Eric. Everybody I’ve talked to says the same.” “Yeah. So? We were friends” Dave responded. ““Friends” can mean people you had a few words with and never saw again. You guys were more than that. You really cared about each other.” “Yeah, I guess.”
“And I know you want to do anything you can to honor that friendship and help me find Eric’s killer.” “Yeah. Sure” Dave said. “So, I’m going to ask you a question that might seem embarrassing but it’s important. Did you and Eric ever experiment with each other sexually?”
His face contorted in disgust. “What? Like we were fags? No!” “It’s OK if you did. There’s nothing wrong with that and nobody needs to know if you were.” He sat there in disbelief.
“It’s OK if you tell me. No judgments.” “But we weren’t. Neither one of us was into that.” “With each other or in general?” “Either. What the fuck is wrong with you?” “Did you kill him?” “No!” “Maybe you got jealous. Maybe you got sick of being treated like a joke and it pissed you off. Making sure he was found like that would have really embarrassed him. Is that why you dumped him in the garbage like that?” “No!” “So you did dump him in the trash?” “I never said that. Why are you doing this?” “Just tell me the truth. Why did you kill him?” “I didn’t kill him. He was my friend.”
I kept hammering away. “Just tell me why.” “I want a lawyer” “Why because you’re guilty? Only guilty people need lawyers.” “No.” “You loved him and he broke your heart. I’d be angry too. Maybe even angry enough to kill him.” “No.” “He used you.”
I let those last words sink into him. He then repeated his earlier question. The one still echoing in my head. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The drive up the hills was quite pleasant. For a change there was sun in the sky. The car weaved through the narrow roads and onto the main road. The view from the Skyline Bridge was spectacular. Below you could see the brief cluster of skyscrapers that defined downtown. Among them was Richard Thurman’s office. Beyond that, the river curled under the bridges like a beautiful snake. You could even see the mountains in the distance. Snowcapped and hazy, I still marveled at Mt. Saint Helen’s. It had been decapitated by a volcano.
I was almost disappointed as the bridge came to an end. I no longer had a view. I saw only houses and nicely kept lawns as I continued along my way.
The Thurman house was behind a wall but you could still see it quite clearly. It was a nineteen-twenties mansion on a hill. It reminded me of the Great Gatsby.
I parked my car and was let in by a maid. She was white, not brown or yellow, which surprised me. I thought maybe she was Eastern European and enjoying Capitalism but it turned out she was just from Gresham.
Mrs. Thurman had called and said she was late. The maid was told to give me access. I was lead through the house, all marble and wood, and pointed to the Grand Staircase. Eric’s room was the last door on the left.
I glanced in the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. and saw stacks of clothes. I guess the maid was doing the laundry before she had gotten disturbed. There were several more rooms before I reached the end of the hall. One was a bedroom done up in pink and white. The bed wasn’t yet made. Another was strictly for games. There were arcade machines, a pool table and the latest in video entertainment.
Eric’s door eased open and I stood in his room, trying to take it all in. It had its own balcony with a view of the city. His king-sized bed was tidy and neat. In fact the whole room was perfect. There wasn’t a speck of dust in it or a thing out of place. It was so clean it was depressing.
I looked at his books and was impressed by the titles. Histories of empires fallen and text books from school. A few looked pretty daunting. There was very little fiction among them. Just an untouched copy of “The Scarlet Letter” slouching against Salinger.
There were trophies on the top shelf in various poses. Football players and hockey sticks in shiny gold. As I looked more closely at them I noticed they didn’t go past two-thousand and eight. His athletic achievements seem to have ended when he was in the ninth grade. At least the official ones.
There was a nicely framed photograph on the wall of New York City. A black and white image from the nineteen- fifties of the Queen Elizabeth against the skyline. It was a rather impressive photo. There were two smaller ones of New York, as well. One was of the Empire State Building and the other of The Chrysler.
There was a desk with pens in a black mug and catalogues from various schools but very little else. There was a stereo that must have cost thousands. However, I didn’t see any albums or CDs. I assumed he preferred to download.
There was something wrong but I wasn’t sure what. I just sat quietly on the bed. The maid had been in and over-tidied but there was more to it than that.
And then I looked around and realized there wasn’t anything there. The room might as well have been a set. It was furnished with all the required amenities and just a touch of art. But nothing was being expressed. At least not in the normal way. There were no posters of bands or photographs of friends. No souvenirs of recent trips. Not one sign of anything personal. In fact, it felt like a nice hotel.
Hotel room thoughts were sidetracked by the sound of footsteps below. I assumed it was Mrs. Thurman. As I got up and left Eric’s room, I heard her voice for the first time. Soft, young and sweet. It was Allison.
I heard her thank the maid and send her off as I walked down the stairs. I stepped into the kitchen. She had her back to me as she got something to drink out of the fridge. Tall and lean, she was wearing jeans and sweater. Not the Catholic School Girl outfit I might have imagined. She turned to me as she sipped from a tiny bottle of water. It was imported from somewhere in Italy. She smiled and seemed kind of embarrassed. I’m still not sure quite why. She was beautiful to be sure. A heartbreaker already. But all I could keep thinking about was how she looked so very young.
“Hello” she said, as she pulled the bottle from her mouth. “Hello. I’m Detective Dudek.” “I heard” she said. “My mother should be here any minute. I’m sorry she’s kept you waiting.” “Actually, it’s worked out well. I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes about your brother, if I could.” “Don’t you think we should wait for my mother to get home for that?” “No, actually, it’s probably better if she’s not.” She wanted to ask why but then put it together. Some things grieving parents don’t need to hear.
She offered me a beverage and then we sat at the table. She seemed a little nervous. “I’m sorry about your loss.” She nodded and waited. Formalities seemed pointless. “Did your brother have a computer?” “Yes, he just got a new Macbook Pro a few months ago.” “Do you know where it is? I didn’t see it anywhere in his room.” “Sorry” she said. “Maybe it’s at Dave’s. He often left his stuff over there.” “I keep hearing about Dave but haven’t talked to him yet. Was he a good friend of your brother’s?” “He might be the only friend of my brother’s, in some ways.” “What do you mean? Your parents thought Eric was very popular” I said. “He was, I think, depending on what you mean. But Dave was the only person that was always there. They’ve known each other forever. At least since junior high.”
“Were you and your brother close?” I asked. “I guess. Kind of.” “You don’t seem so sure.” She took another sip from her water. “No. We were. For sure. There really is something about being a twin that normal people don’t get. But then when we got a little older, we went more our own ways.” I waited as she thought about it more. “I think we both really wanted to establish our own identities instead of always being thought about as some sort of pre-packaged set.”
“Listen. I’m really going to trust you on something” I told her. “I haven’t told your parents this and I’m hoping I won’t have to.” She looked at me with concern. “We found a lot of drugs in Eric’s body. Not just weed but prescriptions and some more hard core stuff.” She stared down at the table. “I’m not surprised.” “Why do you say that? Did Eric have a drug problem that you knew about?” “I suspected. He always hid it well around my parents. Not that they would have a clue anyway. But I knew something was up.” “When did it start?” “Probably about a year ago.”
I wasn’t sure if I should get into the next subject but I decided to go ahead. I was really confused and needed straightening out. Allison was just the one. “Did you know much about Eric’s personal life? Do you know what sort of people he liked to go out with?” “You mean hang out with or like a date thing?” “Both.” “Like I said, we weren’t that close anymore. Hang out with was Dave and all sorts of random people I didn’t even know. A lot of them were already in college. Date? I couldn’t tell you.”
“Do you know if your brother was gay?” She was amused by the question. “Why would you even ask that?” “It came up in the investigation and it might have relevance in terms of pursuing leads.” She looked me in the eyes and tried to stifle a laugh. “No, my brother was definitely not gay.” “Are you sure? Maybe he was ashamed of it and tried to hide it from people.” “In Portland? Why would anyone have a problem being openly gay in Portland? “OK. Do you think he was straight but possibly experimented with homosexuality?” The look she gave me made me feel stupid.
“Look. Sex for us isn’t like it probably was back when you were young. Trying new things is pretty normal. Some people do it because they want to and some people do it because everyone else is. There’s a lot of pressure. But straight guys wanting to do other guys? That’s not “experimenting” that’s just gross. Nobody is into that.”
She wanted to ask a question. I decided to let her. “Why are you so convinced my brother was gay?” she asked. “I’m not. And, honestly, I’m not sure how much it matters anyway. It was just one more piece of information that might have helped us understand him and what happened to him.”
We heard a car outside. Mrs. Thurman had finally arrived. In those moments before she walked in, the conversation shifted. “Do you think my mother would think it’s appropriate you were asking her teenage daughter all this? Asking her if her twin brother took it up the ass for kicks?” The threat didn’t phase me as much as her need to say it. “If you want to tell her, go ahead. I’m just doing my job.” “Of course you are.” And then I saw the blood ties clearly. She was Eric’s twin, alright. She had the same smile.
I got off the elevator on the thirteenth floor. The high-efficiency heater had gone haywire. The Cube felt like a swamp in Savannah. An unpleasant return to the plantation as we toiled for our masters.
Sweat stained my shirt by the time I got to my desk. Hersh, the rookie, said “hello.” Gillian didn’t bother to turn around from his desk. He smelled like a dead rat. I quickly tried to come up with another excuse to leave. Sitting and sweating were just a bad combination.
I brought him up to speed on my conversation with Allison. I also mentioned the missing computer. He told me we had to find it, no matter what it took. There was a good chance the emails might lead us to the killer.
Before I could question his statement, he took me to another aisle. On the floor sat a giant white board with arrows and some names. Also on it was a photo exhibit. Dead Boys, Found Naked and Bound.
There were seven photos total. Grainy digital crap. Printed badly but clear enough. The naked bodies all looked the same. The victims were all young, ages between fifteen and twenty. They had all met the same fate as Eric. They had also been tied up and stripped before being dumped.
The poses were slightly different. Most were bound in front. But one was even hogtied. A similarity that was hard to dismiss.
I kicked myself for thinking that Gillian was just being an ass. He believed in a serial killer and wasn’t just jerking my chain. From what he had to show me, it was clear that he had spent some time on this. This wasn’t some angry payback. This was a valid theory of why Eric had been killed.
He explained the similarities. I had to admit there were a bunch. The men were all openly looking for some fun. The internet was their favorite method. They met their date and met their demise pretty much the same way. Stripped, bound and strangled. The idea was probably sold to them as erotic. It’s hard to say what people will do when sex is ruling their brains.
“Look at this.” He pointed to the names and dates. It actually didn’t make much sense. The murders had taken place over eight years in five different states: Oregon, California, Illinois, Florida and New Hampshire. That wasn’t a natural dispersion. Usually bodies were found in groupings that had some logic to them. All in the same region or along the same highway. There was always some sort of pattern. This grouping seemed to have none.
And then there were the different poses. Hogtied seemed special and of some sort of significance to the killer. With one exception, only one of these other victims had been found in that pose.
Finally, there was the rope. The brands were inconsistent. Two of the victims weren’t even bound with rope. Wire was the preferred method of their killers.
But Gillian was convinced and he found my objections weak. “Maybe he uses whatever’s around to tie them up and doesn’t stick to the same kind.” As for the hogtied pose. “Tied up and naked is tied up and naked. I’m not sure I see such a difference.” The one thing he agreed on was the lack of obvious pattern. But there was one. He was sure of it. We just hadn’t seen it yet. If we could find his computer, it would all become obvious. Eric was killed by a serial killer. It was a theory I couldn’t really swallow.
Gillian was pissed and I couldn’t blame him. I was giving him a really hard time. “Look, maybe I shouldn’t have showed you this so early. It’s a theory. You want to just throw stones at it all day, go ahead but it’s more than you’ve come up with so far.” It was hard to argue his point.
He was waiting for information to come in from all the other cases. I offered to help him go through it. He told me he had it covered and I should keep pursuing my own leads. It was code for fuck off and die.
I asked him if he showed the C of Ds yet. He said he already had. The boss wasn’t pleased but for the opposite reason. He thought the theory might be sound. As much pressure and hype as there was now, nothing would compare to this. We were in for a fun time ahead.
“Detective Dudek. Could I see you in my office?” It wasn’t a request. I walked through the oppressive heat of The Cube and took a seat in the Chief of Detective’s office. The leather chair squeaked as I sat. There were condensation drips forming on the ceiling. At least if I sweat, it wouldn’t be from the grilling I knew was coming.
“Detective Dudek, I just received a very interesting phone call.” I waited. And waited. I knew I was really in for it. When the C of D’s was really pissed he played this little game with his target. He would make them actively take part in their verbal torture. “And who might that be from, Sir?” “Mrs. Vivian Thurman. And do you know what that phone call was about?” “No, Sir.” “Would you like to guess, Detective?” “No, Sir.” “Come on, you’re a Detective. Put a theory forward.” “I’d rather not.”
“Mrs. Thurman was very upset. Irate, I think is the word some people might use to describe her.” He waited. And waited. Bastard. “Why was that, Sir?” “Drop the Sir bit, Detective. You’re just making it worse on yourself.” “Yes..” I just caught myself in time. “So, you were telling me about why Mrs. Thurman was upset.”
“Detective, her daughter complained that you made her very uncomfortable. That you kept leering at her and making her feel awkward.” “Leering? No. There was no leering.” “Are you sure?” “Yes. I am.” “She, the daughter, also claims that no matter what the two of you were talking about you always steered the conversation back to sex. Is that true, Detective Dudek?” “Not exactly.” “Not exactly does not provide me with a lot of comfort. Would you care to explain what you mean by that…exactly?”
And so I did. Or tried. I told him how I had wanted to question Allison without her parents around so I we could talk about things more openly. By “things” I had to make it clear to the boss that I meant Eric’s drug use and sexual habits not hers. I did so to spare the parents the embarrassment and discomfort of hearing things they might not want to know. I also did so because I was hoping Allison might be more inclined to open up to me without her mother listening to every word she said. The more I talked, the more I felt like that guy who confessed to me. My answers made about as much sense as killing somebody with a wheelbarrow for looking at your girlfriend making waffles.
“Is she pretty?” he asked. “Who? Allison Thurman?” He nodded. “She’s a kid.” “Is she a pretty kid?” “Yeah, sure. I guess.” “You guess.” “Yes, she is a very pretty teenage girl.” “And it didn’t occur to you that speaking with her, alone, about various sexual variations might make her uncomfortable?” “No. I mean, it might have but it wasn’t a major concern. I was more worried about getting honest answers.”
The C of D’s leaned back in his chair. I was screwed. He let out a heavy sigh. “On the day God gave out common sense, did you stay home with a cold or something? To call this an error in judgment would be an understatement.” “I was just trying to gather information on the case, Sir.” That set him off good. Not the Sir. My statement. His voice got very soft and quiet. I had to almost lean in to hear him.
“You’ve been a Detective how long? Nine years?” “Yes.” “And in all that time you haven’t realized that solving cases is the least of our concerns? Of course that’s part of it but only part. Please be a little more aware of those other aspects of your job.”
I thought that was the end of it. I was wrong. The C of D’s had just begun. “I happened to walk by you and Detective Gillian discussing his serial killer theory. It didn’t sound like you were being very supportive.” “It’s too early to say. There are some holes in the angle at the moment.” “Are you sure there’s nothing personal going on between the two of you?” That one caught me be surprise. “No. I mean, yes I’m sure. We get along fine. I’ve even been to his house and met his family.” “Interesting. If I might make a suggestion, Detective. Working on your interpersonal skills might not be a bad idea. You’re a good Detective when it comes to closing cases, one of the best I’ve ever seen.” “Thanks.” “But that won’t matter if you alienate everyone around you in the process.”
I nodded and started to leave. “And one last thing.” “Yes?” “If you need to talk to Allison Thurman again, make sure an adult is present.”
Everything was green. Intense. Vibrant. The sun reflected off the wet grass as the kids walked across it. They still separated by the rules of old. Jocks among jocks. Burn-outs among burn-outs. Nerd among nerds. But this was no “Breakfast Club.” One of their own had been found dead.
The rumors were flying fast. He had died of a drug overdose. They found him with a dildo up his ass. He was kidnapped and held for three weeks before being killed. He was a drug dealer and shot when a deal went bad. He got in a fight with a gang member. He was a gang member himself. He was found with a gang member up his ass. Young imaginations are capable of great creation.
I glided across the walkway as the eyes turned upon me. A few smiled. Most just stared. And then they whispered to each other as I walked past.
The building was at least two stories, maybe even more. Flat roofed. Concrete façade. Lots of glass. A modernist pavilion executed on a budget. John Adams Charter School. I got to the door but I couldn’t see in because of the reflection. I think that’s when it started hailing. Portland weather is so unpredictable.
I walked down the crowded hallway. I had forgotten what schools sounded like. That constant rumble of voices. The clang of metal lockers slamming. The sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floors. And then the bell rang. Like packs of scurrying rats. They rushed by and then disappeared out of sight. Learn well, my children. The taxpayers expect results.
I entered into the office. The Principal was expecting me. I stood for a moment waiting. I saw a kid about Eric’s age run in. He was trying to explain why he was late again. Something about his father.
I was lead into a tiny, over-stuffed office. Its windows faced a leafy courtyard. The hail had already stopped. “Strange weather we’re having” he said. It was the Principal of the school, Todd Williams. A man in his late-thirties. Educated at Oregon, he was a local, born and raised. It was his idea to create this charter school. It was one of several that had risen from the ashes of the Portland Public School System. Adams was about “Progressive techniques built upon classic methods of education.” The more he tried to explain what that meant to me, the less I seemed to care. All I knew was that parents seemed proud when their children passed the admissions exam to attend. “My child is at Adams” seemed to have some meaning to them.
After talking about the weather, Mr. Williams voiced his “deep concern” for his students and how they would react to the tragedy. Eventually, we discussed Eric. Mr. Williams took pride in knowing each and every one of his students. Or so he declared. From the way he talked about Eric, he was probably briefed. Prepped for the interview by other teachers in order to have something properly authoritative to say.
“Eric was no angel” he explained. “But overall, he was a good kid.” I asked about the discrepancies that had cost him his wings. Eric had gotten detention a couple of times in the last year. He’d got caught skipping class and going to the iHop instead.
He’d always been one of those students that frustrated teachers. He was extremely bright and possibly even gifted. But good luck teaching him anything he didn’t want to learn. His grades in some subjects had been exceptional. Most notably, History and Chemistry. In all else he was distinctly average. In the last semester his grades had taken a plunge across the board. “Do you have any idea why?” I asked. “No, but it’s not uncommon for Seniors. Most of them are already accepted at college and they, mistakenly, think they can slack off.” The college reference rings true. After Eric had been told NYU was a no-go, he probably didn’t see much of a point.
I got the names of his teachers and wrote them all down. I was particularly interested in talking to his history teacher. Maybe she had some insight into his brain that a manila folder with grades and tests scores couldn’t capture. What was more important to me was his friends. Eric had many, or so I was told. They might actually be able to tell me something about him.
I should have known such a request wouldn’t go down easy. Williams produced a litany of reasons why he thought that it was a bad idea. “I’m afraid we have to respect the privacy of our students.” “I wouldn’t want them any more upset than they already are.” “We’ve brought in grief counselors. Maybe after some time has passed in which they were allowed to heal.” They should have awarded him a PHD in Bullshit. “This is a murder investigation. Your co-operation isn’t optional.”
Calls were made and lawyers were consulted about my questioning the kids. I told Williams I’d start with Eric’s locker and the teachers first while he took care of the details. I’d have to pull some out of class but I figured the kids could use the quiet time. Their formal interviews would come soon enough.
Not surprisingly, Williams even gave me grief over getting into Eric’s locker. I explained that the dead had no expectation of privacy. He was swayed. He got the maintenance guy to go with me down to Eric’s locker.
It was a red metal closet at the very end of the hall. The janitor cut the lock off. It was that same hotel feeling. There were text books and school supplies but little else. No photos taped to the inside of the door. No “Clash” decals or personal taste in anything indicated. In spite of knowing the odds were against it, I had hoped to find that missing laptop in there. It wasn’t.
The first teacher I interviewed was Mrs. Clayborn. She proved rather interesting. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with Eric. In her mid-forties and looking quite suburban, she had spoken French since age nine. Eric had been in her class for a year to meet his requirements. He had barely gotten by. She had little to say about him and barely knew him.
She was far more interested in me. She had a ring on her finger and hair that was brittle because she couldn’t just leave it alone. Over-dyed and over-processed, it was a look I didn’t care for. None of this stopped her from making her play. She was looking for some excitement. I guess I was it but it wasn’t working for me. So, I just walked away. I’d love to say I didn’t even think about it but that would be a lie. I could have used the company.
Next on the list was Mr. Gerber, a man who seemed quite perplexed. Eric had done extremely well in his Chemistry class but almost failed biology. What frustrated Gerber was he knew how smart and engaged Eric could be. However, if it didn’t interest him, he didn’t bother. “It wasn’t like he didn’t try” he explained. “It was more like he just couldn’t. His head might know he needed to do well but if his heart wasn’t truly in it, it was hopeless.” I have to say, it sounded odd. Eric seemed like a pretty strange kid. I thought back to my own days and marveled at my consistency in comparison. Since age five I’d failed to meet expectations.
Gerber continued and advanced his theories on why Eric’s grades had suffered. “I think there may have been something going on at home. He never said anything but I know these kids.” A rather funny statement given what he said next. “At least Eric wasn’t on drugs all the time like some of the other ones. It really is an epidemic.”
He launched into a speech, both inaccurate and irrelevant, about the evils of drug-taking youths. It would have been be amusing to light up a joint as he continued to rant. Maybe I would have gotten a sermon on gateway drugs and jumping off of buildings. Gerber was just the type. Straight-laced and moralistic I could guess which way he voted. Not exactly the Mayor’s base. I thanked him for his time, feigning concern over the future of the next generation.
I was already bored and wanting to move on. I needed to talk to the kids. I kept to my word and continued the motions and, in hindsight, I’m glad that I did. Teacher number three was one of my favorites and not for what she said. She was young and perky with no ring on her finger, just the way I liked. She had been Eric’s English teacher and was filled with hope and faith.
As I stared at her legs, I felt like an ass. I remembered that night in the rain. Eric was dead and I was his advocate, this wasn’t the time to get laid. I remained all professional as she smiled. I listened as she spelled out her name. “Elizabeth Kamden with a K, not like New Jersey.”
The chatter ceased and we got down to business. “Eric was an angry kid.” I asked her what she meant. She had prepared for the question. She pulled out an essay he had written. It rambled on and on how the Baby Boomers had fucked him and how hippies deserved to die. It wasn’t well written and seemed incoherent but the point had been made well enough. Eric felt screwed and didn’t see the point of trying too hard. The country was already fucked.
“It’s not unusual for adolescents to be angry. I know I was at his age. What’s unusual about it is the way it’s written. Like he just sat down, vented and turned it in.” She explained to me that Eric was usually good with words. She showed me an earlier assignment he had done and I could see her point. It’s topic, “Themes in Of Mice and Men.” It was well thought out and polished. It followed all the rules. It was also mind-numbingly dull.
I looked at the date on the first essay, the one about the hippies. I expected it to be around the time his parents laid down the law about NYU. It was. The date on the other one was about a month earlier. “Eric was having a hard time with his Dad about then” I said. “Really? I never heard.” I told her about it. She said it all made sense. “Sometimes, people just need an escape valve.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the ranting essay or Eric’s plan to go to New York. I didn’t bother asking. None of this was helping my cause.
I made my way back to the Principal’s office for another scolding. Like it or not, the time was now. I was going to talk to the kids. And then the bell rang as I walked through the halls. I was caught up in the flood. They were all so young and intrigued by it all. So filled with gossip and cruelty. Sometimes I still hear the whispers.
When I first met Dave he reminded me of the abominable snowman in the old cartoon series. A minor character who sometimes got the best of Bugs Bunny. His black hair fell over his eyes. His whole appearance was big, doughy and uncoordinated. He wore ripped jeans and a light blue t-shirt. At first I thought it was designed to look old. Then I saw the pit stains and realized it wasn’t a fake. Well-worn and comfortable, it had seen better days. I saw the word on the chest of the t-shirt and smiled. I could see why it was his favorite. Written big and bold in seventies style was the name of a mythical company. “Soylent Corporation.”
“It’s people. Oh, my God. It’s people.” I said, misquoting the film. I thought he would be amused. Instead he looked at me like I was a moron. “I love that movie, Soylent Green. Charlton Heston, right?” He nods. If I was hoping to win him over, I was mistaken. For all I know, he was horrified that I got the reference. He might’ve promptly gone home and burned his beloved t-shirt. I should have known better.
I decided to abandon my ill-fated attempt to connect and move on. “I’m Detective Dudek. I understand you and Eric were friends.” He didn’t say anything. I hit him with all the usual questions.
“When did you see Eric last? Did he tell you where he was going? Can you think of anyone that might want to hurt him? Where were you that night? No, you’re not a suspect. Just routine. Did Eric have a girlfriend? But nobody special? Other than you, who were some of his other friends? We know Eric did some drugs. Any idea where he got them from? How would you describe Eric’s mood the last time you saw him? Agitated? It means on edge. Sorry. Of course, you know what it means. I’m used to dealing with some pretty uneducated people. So, his mood? Can you tell me some of the places Eric liked to go hang out? Anywhere over by the East Bank? I know there are some bars over there toward Stark. Yeah, yeah. And fake IDs don’t exist. I really don’t care if he was drinking or doing drugs or whatever. He’s dead and I want to find out why. You can understand that, can’t you Dave? Is it Dave or David? I’m really not trying to bust your balls. I’m just looking for some answers. You don’t happen to know where his laptop is, do you?”
Every question was met with a shrug or the shortest answer possible. “Yes. No. I don’t know. I’m not stupid. We’re underage. Dave. Whatever. No.” His disaffected attitude was getting on my nerves. I thought about laying into the kid, right then and there. But that was not the time or place. I’d get him down to The Cube and do it right.
And then there was Janelle. She’d been to bed with Eric a few times. Remembering my folly with Allison Thurman, I asked for a teacher to be present in the room. The only one available was Mr. Just Say No which would have put a real damper on any hopes of Janelle giving me straight answers. I decided to take the chance and go it alone.
“I heard you and Eric used to date.” I asked. “Date. I hate that term. But yeah, we hung out sometimes.” “A lot or just once or twice?” “I don’t know. A lot I guess. For a while. Then, not so much.” “What happened?” “I don’t know. We just got tired of it, I guess.” “Did he break up with you?” “We weren’t really going out so I don’t know if you could call it that. He just stopped calling me for a while. His loss.” “Do you know why?” “What do you mean?” “Did he give you any reason for moving on?” “He’s a guy. You’re all like that.” “We know Eric did some drugs. Do you know who he got them from?” “No.” “Janelle, it could be important. It might help us find out what happened to Eric that night.” “Is it true they found him naked? Did some perv molest him or something?” “I can’t talk about the details of the case.” “But you expected me to tell you all about my private life?” “It’s a murder investigation.”
Janelle eventually gave me a name. Carl Kraft. He was a former Adams student now in his first year at PSU. Portland State isn’t a great school, as you can tell from its very name. But it was cheap and right there in town so it had its share of fans. According to Janelle, Carl and Eric hung out quite a bit. Carl had a fondness for coke and sex. Or, when he couldn’t afford the coke, which was most of the time, Meth and sex. I almost went ahead and asked Janelle what kind of sex but caught myself just in time. I wasn’t in the mood for another lecture.
On my way out, I ran into Miss Jersey. “Miss Kamden with a K.” We made eye contact, so, I walked over to her. “More questions?” she asked. “Yeah, but not about the case. I was wondering if I could take you to dinner, sometime.” She smiled. “I’m flattered but…” I don’t remember the rest. I think I had stopped listening.
I was fucked up by design. I sat in my chair, headphones on, enjoying my well-earned buzz. I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to go back in time. The Sex Pistols were doing the trick. Like a clichéd teenager, I enjoyed the rage and subversion. A submarine with other intentions. All good fun for Johnny and company.
Nine percent beer was rotting my guts. But Man, it sure tasted sweet at the time. A Belgian Strong with a sure fire kick. Too bad it was served by a guy. He talked too much about the hops and bored me to tears. I wasn’t in the mood for the lesson. The beer was hearty but it hadn’t come cheap. I would pay the price the next day when I woke up still feeling sick.
My mind went to Carl and my interview long ago in a land not far enough fucking away. He was so smug in his rented Victorian. A business major into minor drug deals, I wanted to bring him in. But it would have made little sense. He was too happy to tell the tale. He gloated about his deeds and bragged about his indiscretions. Maybe he was trying to get me jealous.
Eric had been over quite a few times. The nights were about drugs and sex. Carl might have embellished, but I’m sure there was some truth to his story. Sodom and Gomorrah, he knew the right people and was well known for throwing a good bash. The girls were willing. At least a few. Experimentation was the main theme. Boy on girl. Girl on Girl. Whatever combination suited. It was all so decadent, at least to Carl. He was a Caligula in his own mind.
At the time I didn’t care. I was all business. But now I could indulge in the scene. I focused hard and traveled to that ancient world. I was soon there in his living room, by the bay window. I thought I could even smell the weed.
The Stooges ranted. Iggy was looking for some danger. Naked young bodies were everywhere. It should have been the stuff of cheap thrills. A scene from Kubrick. But I couldn’t seem to control the channel. A flip of the switch. The song was over. Guantanamo images invaded.
Stripped and stacked upon each other, bodies assembled for cruel amusement. Laughing witnesses photographed the crime. Piles of human flesh squirmed like worms. And there he was, the man of the hour, writhing among the throng. Eric. John Doe. Adonis. Just having a really good time.
I didn’t like where my mind was going and decided to try a different tune. There was nothing new about it. It’s Zeppelin from Seventy-Three. I skipped “Stairway to Heaven” but enjoyed the rest. Some things never seemed to get old. But then a thought hit that I found quite disturbing. It irritated me to no end. Were they still using “Rock n’ Roll” to sell Cadillacs?
I started to get tired but knew I would never be able to sleep. I lay there in the dark and tried to think of Miss Kamden. It didn’t seem to work very well. Too drunk to fuck, even with oneself. It doesn’t get much more pathetic than that. I gave up the ghost and turned on the TV. If I’m lucky there will be a good movie.
“Quit your fuming” Gillian said. “Fuck you” I replied succinctly. We were in a car on the 5 in Washington. “I didn’t ask for you to come along. In fact I even told him maybe I should go alone but you know how he is. He insisted I drag your sorry ass along.”
We were headed to Longview. A bland little town of strip malls and flimsy houses off the 5 between Portland and Seattle. Gillian had determined that an ex-con kiddie diddler up here matched his profile. He was still hanging tough to his serial killer/predator theory and the C of Ds was letting him run with it. Why I had to get sucked into it was a whole different issue. According to the boss, interviews held up better when two Detectives were present if things went to trial. True enough but I wasn’t seeing this as leading to anything more than a wasted day out.
“You ever eat at that British place?” Gillian asked. “What British place?” “The one on the other side of the highway. I was thinking of stopping there for lunch before we talk to this prick.” “I’m not sure I know what place you’re talking about.” “You know, the British place. There’s a big, huge sign painted on it’s roof. I always wanted to try it. Maybe gets some of those sausages.” “That shit will kill you. Besides, I think it’s further up. By Aberdeen.” “No, it’s not. It’s closer. I know it is.”
If it was closer, we missed it. We ended up at a burger joint right off the highway. When I asked for my burger medium/rare they made me sign the order ticket. A waiver for the botulism that might ensue.
I patiently listened to Gillian recite the reasons we needed to talk to this guy. His name was Percy Kindle. He’d been arrested twelve years ago for kidnapping a fifteen-year old kid, molesting him, then dumping him on the side of the road. I agreed that he might be the type to escalate but I still wasn’t seeing it. There’s a big stretch between fifteen and almost eighteen in terms of preference. If this guy’s thing was raping children than I’m not sure Eric fit the bill.
My biggest issue was that Eric had gone along with things voluntarily up until the very end. There was no bruising or signs that he struggled against the ropes. Gillian, however, disagreed. “They found enough downers in that kid’s blood he might not have even known what was happening. Of course, he didn’t resist.” He also had uppers, alcohol and just about everything else in his system but Gillian didn’t want to hear about that. “You’re just pissed because you were on this before me and couldn’t put it together. It happens to the best of us. Don’t sweat it.” His cocky attitude wasn’t helping his cause.
“You ever find that computer?” he asked. “No. I searched his room. I searched his locker. I asked his best friend. Nothing.” “Too bad. I have a feeling it would break this thing wide open” he said. “I thought it already was thanks to your brilliant Detective work.” I was kidding. Gillian didn’t think it was funny.
We finished eating and arrived for our courtesy call about a half-an-hour later. The Longview PD had no problem with us poking around on their turf as lone as one of their own could be present. We introduced ourselves to the kid in uniform at the front desk. He reminded me of Johanson. I wondered if I should tell Gage to end that idiot’s torture. He’d paid and then some for fucking me with the press.
The kid introduced us to the C.O., a fat guy named Halloway. He offered us some coffee and his condolences after we told him where we had eaten.
The three of us drove out in two separate cars to a house not five minutes away. It was tacky and modern and looked pretty flimsy but I’m sure it beat living in a cell.
Halloway knocked on the door and made the intros. Our host was none too pleased. He reluctantly agreed to answer our questions and showed us through the door. We sat on a sofa that was covered in cheap leather. I recognized it from IKEA. The rest of the house was neat and tidy. It wasn’t at all what I expected. If I hadn’t seen his record, I never would have known Kindle wasn’t just an average guy.
I sat back in the chair and listened to Gillian hammer away. Kindle answered carefully and didn’t seem to get rattled no matter how rude the questions were. I didn’t join in. I wasn’t expected to. I had just come along for the ride. I sat there and watched, Halloway too, as Gillian kept questioning our host.
As the interview turned interrogation I got over my anger and could see Gillian’s reasons. This guy wasn’t just a pervert, he knew Portland well. In fact, he liked to meet with young men there on a regular basis. How young was the question. But it was clear from his answers that Kindle was the right sort of creep. Maybe he’d go for older if he had to. In some minds, fifteen to eighteen is all the same thing.
Gillian put out the idea that maybe Eric had been one of his acquaintances but had changed his mind half-way through. There was a struggle and a panic. Kindle grabbed the bag and suffocated Eric, so frenzied that he didn’t even know what he was doing. As plausible as it sounded, Gillian didn’t believe it himself. To him, it was murder all along. But if Kindle bought it then that would be the end. It would lead him down a path of lies he could never escape from.
He didn’t. In fact, Kindle had an alibi. He hadn’t even been in Portland that week. Or the week before. He was in the Olympic Peninsula fishing. He had stayed there alone but had plenty of witnesses. He bought worms for bait every day. Gillian didn’t like the answer and hammered away. He pointed out it wasn’t all that far. If you had the will, it wasn’t that long a drive to Portland and back. Maybe Kindle killed Eric there, in some remote cabin, and dumped the body later. But even as Gillian said it, he knew it didn’t make any sense. Why not just get rid of the corpse on site? Remote lakes and dark forests are a fun-filled vacationland for dumping bodies.
Gillian kept at it but the battle was lost. I did my part and hit Kindle on my way out. “You know we can’t get you. You’re too good. But you can tell me. Did you do it?” Kindle let out a snort. “Why would I tell you that, if I had?” I waited for him to continue. I could tell that he wanted to say more but he never did.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “They call it the Pig and Porter for a reason. Why would you order the chicken?” Emily was just giving me a hard time. “Why? Is the chicken really bad or something?” “No, it’s just not as good as the braised pork I think you should get.” “Maybe I’m doing it to show you I’m an independent thinker. A man not afraid to go it alone and face the challenges of standing up to the crowd.” “By ordering the chicken?”
This was all before. In the days when my biggest complaints were about the rainy weather and foul smells of The Cube. The beer was good. The company terrific. Even the sixties rock soundtrack in the background seemed right. Zombies, Stones and Small Faces. How couldn’t that be good for the soul?
Emily’s co-worker, Angie, was hanging out after her shift. Angie was the type my mother would have described as “Bubbly.” She was filled with energy. She danced as she served. The guys just couldn’t get enough.
Just twenty-two, she was a tattooed wonder. Every mark was a work of art. Some were cartoon characters. Some abstract designs. Some were words she had found to quote. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” It was scrawled in beautiful cursive across her back. I had the privilege of seeing it once or twice. It depended on what she wore.
When I had asked her about it she said she just loved the way it sounded. And that was all there was to it. I like to think she was lying and trying to protect her real reasons. Something close to the heart. But when it came to Angie, that was reason enough. Some things really were that simple.
I chatted with her for a while as Emily took orders. Angie was all excited about her latest beau. Some guy from art school who did installations. He sounded like quite a catch. It was her next news that thrilled her far more than the guy. She had finally made the team. She had gone from Fresh Meat to a Blocker with The Heartless Heathers. She had made the senior roller derby team.
I congratulated her and told her I was a fan of the Raquel Welch movie. I wasn’t sure she’d get the reference but it turned out she knew it well. It had been shot at the Expo in Portland and a bar in Kenton. A bit of local history.
The Detective within me knew where this was headed. Sure enough, I soon promised to go. There was some big bout at the Coliseum. Angie promised it would be a good game. Her team was headlining in a match against The High Rollers for a shot at the top of the league.
I promised again I would be there and then my dinner was served. I got an earful from Emily for my side. “You better go if you promised her you would or she’ll spit in your food next time.” “Are you going?” “I wasn’t. It’s my first night off in forever.” “Please.” After more pleading, Emily reluctantly agreed. She said she was doing it more for Angie than for me.
We were headed South at a pretty good pace. There was less traffic than usual. Gillian didn’t talk much but he rarely did unless he had something to say. An hour in, he finally broke the silence. “Do they have a butler?” he asked. “Who? The Thurmans?” “Yeah, if they do, let’s pin it on him.” “At least we ruled Kindle out” I said.” “Great. What do you call that again?” “What?” “When you prove something didn’t happen?” “Proving a negative.” “Yeah, that’s it. Another dollar earned proving something didn’t happen. Great.”
These weren’t exactly happy days. But at least Gillian had a theory. It went like this. Some perv hooked up with gay men around age eighteen. He got them drunk, gave them drugs. Then he took them somewhere with the promise of sex. The men complied. They even let themselves be tied up. Just a bit of kink for a thrill. Then our perv watches them struggle. He fondles them a bit but doesn’t bother to rape. He’s after much more of a high. He puts something over their heads and watches them gasp. The struggle is part of the fun. He gets himself off somewhere along the line. Murder as aphrodisiac.
Four victims fit his hypothesis. At least according to Gillian. The victims were all between seventeen and twenty-two. All had willingly let someone tie them up with their clothes off. All had been found asphyxiated.
“The vics even look kind of alike” he added. The victims found in Oregon, Florida, Illinois and Michigan seemed the most alike. The last one was his latest find. Some twenty-year old was found dead in Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit. It was back in 2004. He had been found in a trash bin and had been tied in a similar way. It was even the same type of rope as the victim in Illinois. Gillian had eliminated some of the earlier cases he had thrown into the pool. They didn’t match up quite as well. At least for now, four dead was enough. Patterns could be found. Glory could be claimed. It still spelled serial killer.
“If you’re right, our guy could be on a cross-country tour. What makes you think he would stick around Portland?” I asked. “He probably didn’t. I just want to get my case developed. That way when I give it to the Bureau they can’t fuck me out of the credit.” He was already imagining the Sixty-Minutes piece. The journalist’s authoritative voice. “The case broke when Detective Chris Gillian of the Portland Police Department noticed an eerie similarity between his victim and the others…”
“I didn’t realize it was your case. I guess I can just spend the rest of the day drinking.” It was a dumb thing to say but I said it all the same. His case. My case. Our case. Upper case. All just meaningless labels. It didn’t matter who claimed ownership.
Gillian had baited me and I had grabbed it without thinking. I felt like an ass before he even responded.
“Yeah, well tell me then. If it’s your case too, what’s your angle on things? As far as I can tell you’ve just been dicking around and hitting on high-school cheerleaders.” Anger enveloped me. I wasn’t used to being accused by my partners of being lazy or incompetent. I buried the fury and covered my tracks. It was not the right moment for a fight.
“Actually, I think you nailed it” I said. “Yeah, you think my multi-state murderer thing might have some weight after all?” “No, the other thing you put forward. The butler did it.” He didn’t like the humor but it still did the trick.
He held my hand through the obvious. He made the case for his cause. Three of the victims had matching characteristics. The type of victim. The method of death. The way their bodies had been disposed of. It was still a stretch but there was an argument to be made. Three out of four could well be a match. My problem was the one that still seemed the exception. One Eric Thurman, found dead in Portland, Oregon.
The night came quickly. The bout was a blast. Much more exciting than I had figured. Emily tried to explain the rules. Something about Blockers and Pivots but I was too distracted to listen.
One of the girls on the track looked very familiar. It took me a while to place her. It was Allison Thurman, age seventeen, dressed as a Catholic Schoolgirl. Fishnets and plaid skirt, she was hitting all the right buttons for anyone with that particular fetish. Her jersey was tight and the lettering small but I could make out the name on her back. “Sister Mercy” it said in black type.
“How old do you have to be?” I asked. “To play? I’m not sure.” Emily looked at me oddly and then she explained. What we were watching was the junior team. They called themselves The Rosebuds.
Emily tried again to let me know what was happening. It was becoming a little clearer. “Sister Mercy” was a Jammer not a Blocker and her only purpose was to score. Pass the other girls, leave them in the dust. Points would be awarded accordingly. From what I saw, she was a star in the making.
The main event started later. It was actually a bit of a let down. Angie was there but barely got to play. When she did, she messed with crowd, blowing kisses and shaking her tail. The audience ate it up and a romance began. She was destined to become a favorite. In the meantime though, she needed some help with her skating. She was spending too much time on her ass.
The night passed quickly. The main event became far more fun. There was a girl on the track that I thoroughly enjoyed. I couldn’t take my eyes off her even though she wasn’t my usual type. Emily’s age, maybe a few years younger, she was straight from the nineteen-forties. Average in height but amazingly curvy, Lana Turner had nothing on her. He name was “Dom,” simple and short but with a directness I had to admire. Green jersey aside, it was pure leather and aggression.
“Somebody’s got a new favorite. Somebody’s got a new favorite.” It was said as a mocking chant. I wasn’t embarrassed, so much as surprised. Emily was playing with me because she could. “We should go to the after party so you can talk to her.” “What after party?”
I kept thinking of Dom and what sort of girl she might be. I enjoyed every one of her moves. The speed and the violence. It was clear she played to win. I was jarred from my thoughts by a nearby distraction. A girl sitting in the next section of the stands. “Sister Mercy” had changed her clothes. She was back as she was. The way I had first met her. Allison, Eric’s sister.
Fast forward through time. Sky on fire. A rare afternoon sunset in a city that’s always grey. I submitted to the demons and indulged myself. Rollergirl fantasies became Technicolor dreams. It was shaping up to be quite a day.
I stood before her and waited to be judged. Naked and exposed, she saw every flaw. Even though I was fully clothed. It was a beautiful moment but soon turned to terror as I slipped deeper into the abyss.
“Get on your knees” I was instructed. But it wasn’t the voice of my seductress. It was a haunting echo. A voice I had never heard. White light. Skeletal vampire. John Doe/Adonis emerged from the fog. Your words made me fear all there was. “I think it’s a little late for that” you said. I hadn’t realized I had been doing it but my hands had become clasped in prayer. I remained there frozen and silent. There was nothing I could say.
Visions flooded to me of Mercy. Little Sister of the Lies. She skated to her song and sang her corrosion. The crowd was on their feet.
I closed my eyes and closed my brain. I just wanted it to go away. I was pulled up by Emily. She kissed me softly. She tasted of stale beer but it was a moment I still savor. I was the one who was far too sober. Emily and I, that night in the rain. Her making fun of my name.
“Sir Kills A Lot is lame. How about Cop-Sucker?” she taunted.
“Nice. Whatever, Em-A-Lay.” “I want to be a mean name. Killer Softly.” “How about Tit-Tania?” I suggested. “I think one of the rollergirls already took that one. You can do better than that, Cop-Sucker.”
I looked at her and grinned. “Anybody ever tell you, you’re kind of a surely drunk?” “I am not. I’m nice.” And nice she was. She kissed me then. It was a moment I hadn’t expected. I’d been waiting so long and now it was there. All I could think about was how it was wrong.
But her body felt warm and it was cold outside. So I followed her into her place. It was far less shabby than I had imagined. She was a neat girl in many ways.
I pulled down her zipper and yanked down her jeans. I kissed my way up and down her thighs.
It could have been. It should have been. But it ended with the drunken kiss. The one that tasted of stale PBR. She took my hand but I refused to follow. I said goodnight, right there, outside.
She said she was sorry and thanked me profoundly the next day and day after that. I had won her over and proven my worth. I was officially a really good friend. I never told and probably never will. Nobility was not involved. I wasn’t too drunk. Either was she. It would have been a memorable time. But I was stupid and misguided and played the game all wrong. I was betting that one day we might have that night together and quite a few more. It was an idiot’s decision and I was a fool. I should have just gone with what was on offer.
And then I heard a voice. Not Emily’s but Allison’s. Sister Mercy had come to play. “Wake up, Sunshine.” The voice awakened me and I rose from near death. I’d been asleep on the living room floor. She wasn’t there, of course. Just me alone with my vomit. The mental sort, not the physical. I hadn’t puked on the floor but my mind was feeling a little dicey. I really was a fucking mess.