THE night was dark and overcast, and the large trees in front of the house very nearly blocked all the illumination from the streetlight at the end of the block. A dark-clad figure slipped out of the alley and into the backyard of the house, keeping close to the dense shrubbery. He slipped between a thick row of azaleas and the house and peeked into the first-floor window, which he knew opened into the library/den, and saw that the room was dark, as was the rest of the house. He had, in fact, watched its sole occupant drive away some minutes earlier, but he was naturally cautious.
Stupid old fuck, the burglar thought as he carefully eased the window open, using his gloved fingers. He always goes out on Thursday evenings, and he always locks the doors, but never the windows. Serves him right. When the window had been pushed open far enough, he slipped over the sill and closed the window behind him.
Payback time, he thought as he leisurely walked through the house, placing small and easily sold or pawned valuables into one of the two bags he had brought along for the purpose. He’d allowed himself to be picked up by the owner a few weeks earlier in one of the gay bars, and had spent a weekend allowing the pathetic old queen to suck his dick and slobber all over him as often as he liked. During the course of that long and miserable weekend, he had spotted enough goodies to make it all worthwhile.
Thirty minutes later, he carefully eased his two bags of booty onto the ground outside the library/den window. Then he slipped out through the window, quietly closed it from the outside, gathered his bags, and disappeared into the night.
IT WAS Friday afternoon, and I was more than ready for the weekend as I settled down at my desk after attending an interminable meeting on the top floor of our building. At times like this, I almost wished that the sheriff hadn’t adopted a more personal and “hands-on” management style, but I fully understood the need to make a complete break from the somewhat hidebound and autocratic approach his immediate predecessors had taken to law enforcement. The late and totally unlamented undersheriff had been a prime example of the previous regime. The man had been a “by the book” clown—and not very bright.
I had heard my boss say of the former undersheriff that “an original idea and a cold drink of water would have killed him.” Stupid or not, it had taken the sheriff more than a year to ease the guy out of the hierarchy.
A knock on my open door roused me from my self-pity, and I heard a familiar voice say, “Got a minute, Captain?”
“For you, Lieutenant, always. Come in and have a seat.”
Janet Sanchez settled down in one of my side chairs. Still on the good side of forty (barely), she was fairly trim and not unattractive. Her somewhat unique Cuban/Irish heritage had contributed to her appearance, which was vaguely Hispanic and slightly exotic.
“What’s up, Janet?”
“Same old, same old. We’re still trying to wrap up the big case.”
“I still have more body parts and videos than I have bodies.”
A few months earlier, we had shut down a huge pornography operation that had included, in addition to the usual hard core XXX-rated gay porn, snuff and torture films, and Lieutenant Sanchez, formerly Sergeant Sanchez, was still tallying the results. Even Janet, with all her research skills, had not come up with a final body count—simply because in some cases, we had body parts and/or porn films that couldn’t be tied to a specific victim due to the fact that all the bodies had yet to be located.
The raid on a house on the extreme northern edge of the city had produced a ton of cash, a cache of porn/snuff/torture films on DVD, and numerous specimen jars containing male genitalia.
“Yes, Sir. As you know, those guys were meticulous about marking their trophies and their videos with names and dates. The problem is they used only nicknames in many cases.”
“Lieutenant, I know you like to dot your i’s and cross your t’s so you can close a case with everything all neat and tidy. That being said, you have to understand that sometimes it just isn’t possible.”
“I realize that, at some level, but I still don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to like it. The bottom line is that we made a major bust and, in so doing, solved a couple dozen murders. It’s time to shut it down and move on. Leave the mop-up to the FBI—they’ve got more manpower than we do, and a much bigger budget.”
At that point, I cut her off. “But nothing. Shut it down and close the file by the end of the day Monday—it’s time to move on.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said, somewhat reluctantly.
“If it makes you feel any better, after Monday you’re not going to have any spare time to devote to old cases for a while.”
“Why? What’s happening?”
“I can’t tell you anything else right now. You’ll have to wait until our Monday afternoon meeting.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said with visible reluctance as she got up to leave my office.
That little exchange was probably the high point of my day, and I was ready for home, hearth, and some TLC as I got into my city-issued car, but even that didn’t come about quite as I had hoped. The minute I opened the back door of our house, I was greeted by Thor, our resident Irish Setter, himself in need of TLC as he rolled over on his back and demanded a belly rub.
In the master bedroom, I stripped and headed for the shower. Stepping under the hot spray, I closed my eyes and allowed the water to wash away the tension. I must have zoned out for a minute, because I was jolted to a state of alertness by a pair of very friendly arms encircling me from behind.
“Finally,” I said.
“Finally?” Mike, my partner, parroted.
“Babe, I came home in dire need of TLC—I hope you’re going to deliver.”
He delivered—in spades—first in the shower, and again in the bedroom. By the time we were both sated, it was too late to go to the wine shop in Five Points and join our impromptu tasting group, so we opted to stay home and order a pizza. We settled down on the enclosed porch of our house to enjoy our pizza and a bottle of Shiraz, and between us, we managed to demolish the bottle of wine and most of a large pizza. Thor, of course, got his share of crusts and bits and pieces.
As I finished my last slice, I said, “I wonder how long we’ll be able to keep this up?”
“Keep what up?”
“Eating pizza and other fattening foods. We’re not getting any younger.”
“Babe, as long as we keep up our exercise schedule, I don’t think we’re in any danger of getting fat.”
“Maybe, but I read somewhere that after you pass thirty, your body doesn’t process food as efficiently as it used to.”
“Only if you’re a couch potato. Besides, all you have to do is look at our vitals.”
“We’re still holding our own at one ninety, an appropriate weight for guys who are a couple of inches over six feet tall, and we still wear the same size clothes we’ve worn for years. How many guys our age do we know that can honestly say that? For that matter, how many guys our height, weight, and age still have thirty-four-inch waists?”
“Okay, I give up. We can still eat the occasional pizza without guilt.”
The next morning we went, as usual, to the Y on Riverside Avenue. As soon as we were dressed in running shorts and shoes, we headed out to perform a local ritual known as “running the bridges.” This involved running across the St. Johns River via the Acosta Bridge, a high-rise span whose approaches were separated from the YMCA complex by a couple of office buildings. On the other side of the river, we followed a side street to the Main Street Bridge, which was an old-style elevator bridge, and ran across it to the north bank of the river. Then we turned around and retraced our steps. It was a good workout, especially the somewhat steep up-ramp to the Acosta Bridge on the return journey.
Back in the locker room, we removed our sweat-soaked shorts and retrieved Speedos from our bags. Wearing the Speedos, we took a brief shower before swimming a few laps in the pool to cool down, and from the pool, we went to the steam room for a bit. After yet another shower, we went back into the locker room, ready to get dressed.
Before we could dress, Mike led me to the room adjacent to the main locker room that held a row of vanities and mirrors, complete with hair dryers and other accessories. He pulled his towel from around his waist, hung it on a hook, and stepped onto the scales.
Looking at the huge circular display, he said, “It says here that I can afford to have a high-calorie breakfast.”
He stepped off the scales and I took his place. “So can I,” I said, reading the display.
“Admit it, babe, that pizza last night didn’t do any damage.”
“Perhaps, but I’m not going to throw caution to the winds.”
We went back to our lockers, retrieved our clothes, and got dressed. Ten minutes later, we were waiting for a table at the Derby House restaurant in Five Points. Situated on a triangular-shaped lot where two of the five streets that gave Five Points its name met, the building had housed a restaurant for decades. In recent years, as the neighborhoods of Riverside and Avondale became heavily gay, the Derby House had become a sort of gay hangout, especially on the weekends.
We had been at our table just long enough to have been handed menus by the waitress when Carl and Jim joined us. Carl was a rather cute redhead in his twenties who had recently been promoted from detective to sergeant, and reported to Janet Sanchez. Jim, his partner, was a CPA who had left one of the big national firms in the not-too-distant past to start his own practice.
“Hi, guys,” I said. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “Imagine that.”
In point of fact, we ran into Carl and Jim almost every weekend, either at the Derby House at breakfast, or across the street at the Pizza Italian in the evening.
We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, so I was somewhat refreshed when I got to my office Monday morning, and was therefore in a fairly good mood when my three lieutenants gathered that afternoon for our weekly meeting. Lieutenants Janet Sanchez, Gregg Parker, and David Boyer came into my office in a group, and I waited until all of my subordinates were comfortably seated before I began the meeting. One by one, they reported on the events of the past week as they related to their particular spheres of influence. Janet began her report by mentioning a series of burglaries.
“Whoa,” Gregg said, “go over that again.”
“My team has been dealing with a series of burglaries of the homes of older gay men,” Janet said. “It seems that there are a few young gay men—drifters, if you will—who go home with these older guys for a night, or a weekend, or in some cases, longer. Later, having thoroughly cased the premises, they return in the dead of night and rob them.”
“Gregg,” I said, “why do you ask?”
“Because I have had at least one similar case.”
“Now that you mention it,” David said, “so do I.”
“Okay, guys,” I said. “As soon as we’re through with this meeting, it’s time for the three of you to huddle over this—just like you did last year with the drag queen murders.”
When they stopped talking, I said, “If nobody has anything else, I have an announcement to make.”
That got their attention, and there was silence, so I said, “The powers that be have authorized one more sergeant and four detectives to form a new team.”
Everyone began to talk at once until I raised a hand and said, “Whoa. There’s more.”
I waited for the group to get quiet.
“Lieutenant Sanchez only has one team—the major case team,” I said. “It has also been decided that the major case team has done so well that she can take on another team, so she gets the new sergeant. That being said, it won’t be a sergeant that’s new to the job.”
“Meaning what?” David said.
“Meaning that either you or Gregg are going to lose a sergeant and at least one detective.”
“Who?” Gregg said.
“We’re going to have a little lottery,” I said.
“Say what?” David said.
“Janet is going to get one sergeant and one detective, who will be transferred out from under one or both of you. That way, everybody will have to share the responsibility of taking on one or more new guys. The fairest way I can think of to accomplish that is to have a drawing.”
I took six small slips of paper, laid them facedown on my desk, and shuffled them around. “Each of these slips has the name of a sergeant who works for either Gregg or David. Please select one of them, Lieutenant Sanchez.”
Janet leaned across my desk, took one of the pieces of paper, and I scooped up the rest of them and moved them to one side. Then I removed a small box from my desk drawer and placed it on top of the desk.
“Okay, Lieutenant,” I said, “this box contains the names of all the detectives on the other teams. Pick one slip of paper from this box.”
She did so.
“Now tell us who your new sergeant and detective are.”
She told us the names.
“Okay,” I said, “that’s it, then. Looks like David lost a sergeant, Gregg lost a detective, and all three of you need to go on a little recruiting mission to complete your rosters. Any questions?”
“One question,” David said.
“Is there a cubicle available for the new sergeant?”
“There are two unoccupied cubicles in the bull pen area. Take your pick.”
“Is the exam list for sergeant from last year still valid?”
“That’s two questions,” I said, “and yes, it is. So, for that matter, is the list of people who passed the exam for detective.”
“Sorry, Gregg,” David said. “That means you lose another detective. One of your guys is the next person on the sergeant’s list.”
“Boss,” Janet said, “I hope the ‘powers that be’ understand that the major case team’s success is due to the fact that you started it and ran it for all those years. I haven’t had it long enough to take that kind of credit.”
“Modesty doesn’t become you, Lieutenant,” I said. “That being said, you wouldn’t be getting another team if they thought you couldn’t handle it.”
“Have fun,” I said as they left my office.
I straightened my desk and headed out the door. Before I left the building, I took the elevator up to Chief Bridges’s office, hoping that I would find him still at his desk.
“Come on in and have a seat, George,” the chief said when he saw me standing in his doorway.
“I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I’ve set things in motion regarding the new sergeant and team.”
“How did you handle it?”
“I had a little lottery and let Lieutenant Sanchez draw the name of one sergeant and one detective.”
“How did they take it?”
“Quite well, actually. They’re all busily recruiting as we speak.”
He laughed at that and said, “Give me a minute, and I’ll take the elevator down to the garage with you.”
THE end of May arrived, as did Zeb and Zeke, identical twins whom we had met in Maggie Valley a few years earlier. They came from a rather poor background, their alcohol-abusing father having died shortly after we met them. The boys were hard workers and had done a great deal of painting and other work for us when we acquired rental property. They were happy to have finished their first year of community college and equally happy to be near the beach for the summer and back at work full time in a McDonald’s management training program.
We left the boys in charge of the house and headed to the mountains at the end of the second week in June, arriving at the cabin around two on a Saturday afternoon. As usual, I took Thor up to the deck and let him trot down the side steps to his private fenced-in domain—after a quick glance around to confirm that the fence was still intact.
I went back down to the garage to help Mike unload the groceries we’d purchased in Waynesville, carry the bags up to the kitchen, and put everything away. We went back to the deck, expecting to find Thor waiting at the top of the steps as usual, but he wasn’t there, so I looked down in his run and saw that he was sniffing at the portion of the fence nearest to the back wall of the house. I called him, but he ignored my summons.
“Thor’s acting sort of weird,” I said. “I’m going to get his leash and bring him back up here.”
“Go for it,” Mike said.
I retrieved the leash and went down into Thor’s area. He was still sniffing at the fence, and he was whining. I clipped the leash in place and led him back up to the deck, and said, “Let’s walk around the yard, and see if we can figure out what’s got him so stirred up.”
We led Thor down the entrance steps and around to the back of his run, next to where he had been sniffing. He didn’t stop there. Instead, he pulled me over to the metal shed that housed the emergency generator and began scratching at the door. I handed the leash to Mike, opened the door, and spotted a small boy curled up on a pile of clothing in one corner of the shed. I walked quietly over to the corner to investigate and saw that he was sound asleep.