"Jesus, John." I slumped back in my chair, staring at him across the scarred table. "Bobby was attacked by the Slasher?"
"That's the way it's looking. But unlike all the others we got a live vic who may be able to tell us who did this. If he comes out of his coma without brain damage."
I winced, trying to think of the Bobby I had known half dead. Throat cut. I shied away from the image. "Don't tell me," I said bitterly. "No one saw anything?"
"Actually we may have a witness," John said. He made some notes in his pad, then met my gaze. "David's in with him right now trying to determine exactly what he saw. Now, are you going to help me or stonewall me?"
I couldn't get mad at John. Unlike a lot of other cops, when David had come out, John hadn't turned away from his partner. He might not have been overly thrilled by the whole thing, but he had accepted David on a professional level at least. We weren't exactly invited over for Sunday barbecues with the other couples, but at least they were still able to work together. And I knew that meant a lot to David. He respected John as a first-class cop.
"I'm not, I swear. I just don't know what else to tell you." I spread my arms then dropped them on the table in front of me. My right hand rubbed the skin of my left arm. I felt goose bumps crowd my exposed flesh. "I really did only see the guy one time."
"Can you explain the nature of his visit?"
I glanced at the mirrored glass, wondered who, if anyone, was on the other side. "Do I have to?"
"We don't know what might be useful at this point. Just tell me, Chris." He tapped his pencil on the well-used pad in front of him. "For starters, did he charge you for services?"
"No!" My head jerked up. "I never paid him anything. It wasn't like that."
"Okay, then tell me how it was. If it's any help, I'm trying to get a handle on who this guy would go home with. We know he got picked up someplace. His roommate said he usually hung out at the Troubadour -- you just confirmed that. We canvassed the bar and someone thinks they saw him leave with some guy, no decent description. At this time we're looking at that guy. But we need to know. According to you, he would let himself be picked up by strangers. How frequently did he do this?"
"I don't know," I said miserably. "Like I said, we got to talking over drinks and there was a mutual... attraction... so we went home together."
"You said he claimed he was an actor. You ever see him in anything?"
"No. It was just what he told me. But he certainly had the looks for it." I refused to look at the photos on the table between us.
"Seventy percent of Hollywood has the looks for it," John muttered. "And a hundred percent will tell you they dream of it. How strong was his ambition? Did you get the feeling he would have done anything for it?"
At the time I'd had my suspicions that Bobby did some other types of acting. The kind that didn't get you a Guild card. I mentioned this to John.
He sat up. "Porno? You're sure?"
"No, I'm not. That's the thing. I suspected, but he never admitted any of it. There was just something..."
"What, Chris? Tell me."
"Certain things he did." Jesus, I hoped he didn't ask to explain that. Just what I needed, to have to describe my sex life to this guy. "Just... certain mannerisms..."
"Made you think porn actor?" John was busy scribbling in his note book. He didn't see me flush and tug at the flesh on my thumb. "Watch a lot of porn, Chris?"
"No! Not now for sure. Back then, maybe more. I didn't have anyone steady. Haven't you ever watched? It is legal, right?"
John didn't answer. That was standard cop ploy, they asked the questions, they didn't answer them. They were also damned good at concealing their feedings. I couldn't read John. Was I driving an irreparable wedge between him and David? If I ruined his partnership would David ever forgive me?
"But you never saw this Bobby character in any videos?"
"No. What was the name you gave me? Bobby Starrz? Was that his stage name?"
John nodded, relenting on the question this once. "His porn name. He used Bobby Crystal for his legitimate work. Someone should have told him it was too close to Billy. His real name was Robert Allen Dvorak. We found parents out in Topeka, Kansas. They're flying in tomorrow."
It was a safe bet they didn't know anything about Bobby Starrz. What did they know about their son and how much were they going to be surprised? Would David meet with them? What would he tell them if he did?
"Did you know any of his other... friends?"
I suspected John had intended to say clients, but changed it at the last minute. He still thought Bobby was some kind of hustler. I'm sure he had been, at heart -- aren't all actors -- but he hadn't been after money. At least not for sex.
"No, like I said, we only spoke the one time. I only ever saw him a couple of other times -- always at the Railhouse. I stopped going after I got involved with David."
"None of this explains why he put your number on his caller list."
I shrugged. "I can't help you there, since I don't know. There was no reason that I can think of -- he certainly never called me."
"Not once, not even to say hello?"
John terminated the interview then. He didn't look very happy. I don't know what he was after, but he clearly hadn't gotten it. Outside of the positive ID I guess I hadn't been very helpful. Well I couldn't give him what I didn't have.
John gathered up his photos and his notepad. "David said to tell you he didn't think he'd be home for supper. He wanted you to know that, in case you were expecting him."
I hadn't been. I knew the first forty-eight hours after a homicide/assault were the most critical in solving the case. David would be working long into the night on this one. For once, rather than feeling disappointed I felt relief. I didn't look forward to the interview I'd be getting from him about Bobby. He might have been before David, but somehow I didn't think that was going to matter. David hated surprises. Not that I could have told him about Bobby -- what was to tell? But David had a bit of a jealous streak. I normally didn't mind his possessiveness, I adored him too much to ever think about screwing around on him. But there were times it could be a pain. Not to mention he'd be pissed nonetheless since this little incident of his phone number being found in a vic's phone had to be causing no end of questions in the upper brass.
Questions that would reflect back on David and how he was treated by those same officious pricks who tried so hard to make his life a living hell.
David had told me outright they were no doubt eager to have him retire. They didn't have any reason to oust him, but if they could make him leave voluntarily, then they'd feel like winners all around.
David refused to buy into their tactics and said he was determined to finish his time with the LAPD and collect his full pension. I had meant all along to help him with his goal.
Now it looked like I was laying more obstacles in his way.
Damn Bobby. Damn the LAPD too.
Why the hell couldn't they just leave us alone?
I caught a cab back to DataTEK. Since I knew David wouldn't be home for hours yet, I decided to catch up on my own work and spent the rest of the day, long into the evening on the computer checking in on various networks I maintained throughout the city. I made note of various issues I thought needed addressing and fixed a few minor glitches then my stomach started rumbling and a glance at the system tray clock told me it was well past my dinner time.
I decided to order out and called downstairs to the deli for a pastrami on rye with all the fixings and spent another three hours at my desk. I finally called it quits around 10:00 and shut down my system. Rotating my neck against a growing kink I was about to get up when something occurred to me.
Bobby had been an actor. But had he been a working actor? And could I find out online?
I fired up my computer again and opened an online search engine. There I plugged in Bobby's name -- first going with his legitimate screen guild name. That yielded me nothing. If he had any roles they had been small ones.
Then I punched in Bobby Starrz.
And hit gold.
If slime could be such a color.
Sexually I guess I'm a pretty conservative guy. I'm a devout bottom and have been all along. On occasion I like to reverse roles, if the mood's right, but don't count on it. I'd been teasing David, for several months now, about switching and though he hadn't given in yet, I knew he was as interested as I was. I got hard just thinking about it. But no matter how good it is, I'm not giving up my bottom status -- not that David would let me.
But there are lots of things I'm not into. Scat, golden-showers, S&M or bondage being high on my list. While I might be able to see the joys of being lightly restraint while David has his way with me, the thought of being bound and gagged does nothing for my usually randy libido. And forget pain or humiliation.
I figure if you're an adult and it's consensual, then go for it, if that's what turns your crank. Just don't expect me to share your joy. Or watch the results.
What came on my screen was exactly the type of movies I wouldn't watch in a million years. Bobby had evidently been the darling of the bondage set. Bound by rope and fucked by two guys, handcuffed and hung from some ceiling apparatus and fucked by three guys, draped over a car and roughly shagged singly. They all shared a common theme. Bobby at someone else's mercy.
Had that had something to do with his being singled out? I tried to remember what I'd heard about the other vics, had they been actors or hustlers too? I'd have to ask David.
I wondered if David or John had seen any of these loops.
I went back to the search page. Aside from all his starring roles there was another hit with the hokey title: 'The stars come out at night... Bobby Starrz makes Hollywood history..."
I clicked on it and nearly lost my late supper.
Bobby. Bobby in the porno loops had been the good-looking sex-pot I remembered from my single encounter with him. Ever since I'd seen The Fast and the Furious and XXX I'd had a case of the hots for Vin Diesel. In retrospect Bobby looked like a younger version of the hot new star.
In these still images Bobby looked like he was in another one of his bondage loops. Only these pictures had a crudity to them. Like they weren't staged. It wasn't until I came to the end that I realized I was watching a staging of his assault. The car, a Porsche from the looks of it, an unseen figure taking the shots, and Bobby. Being fucked in the ass then surprised by a noose around his neck. The next image of him on the shadowy ground, something shiny alongside his throat. Then blood. That image had faded to blood red then recycled to show two or three more images, each bloodier and more horrible than the last. The killer playing webmaster and using Flash to stage a 'show'. I saw the page counter he had set at the bottom of the page. Visitor three thousand and twenty-nine.
All the sick monsters coming out to play.
I spun away from the images, my pastrami rising in my gut and threatening to spill all over the cubicle floor. David had to see these. I had to get home.
I feverishly shut the browser down and erased all traces of where I had been from my hard drive. Then I logged out again and slammed the off button on the computer. I grabbed my pager and cell and all but ran to the elevator.
I'm glad I was alone on the ride down. I'm sure I must have looked like I'd seen a ghost. An apt description if you considered Bobby lying on a hospital bed right now fighting for his life.
What kind of sick, fucking world do we live in?
I let myself in to our place just after eleven. David still wasn't home. I debated calling him at work, but if he was out in the field I'd never track him down. It was better to wait until he got home.
I put on a pot of coffee to keep me company while I waited, moving through the house on spring-loaded feet, jumping at every sound I heard. I loaded my laptop up with the same search engine results but didn't open 'The stars come out' page. My hand shook when I backed off from hitting enter, I knew I'd lose it completely if I had to look at those images one more time. I went instead to turn on the TV and popped in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which always made me laugh.
Not tonight. But at least it had the effect of distracting me. I jumped out of my skin when I heard the key in the front door.
David looked more haggard than ever. That made me feel bad. He had come here to grab some rest before going back to the investigation and here I was going to drag him back into it.
He saw my face and froze.
"What is it, Chris?"
I pointed to my laptop. "I found something I think you should see."
The next hour was a nightmare. I tried to stay away but David kept calling me back. Asking me questions. How had I found the site? How did someone set up a site like this? Would it be traceable? Could I trace it?
"Me?" I squeaked, still shaking from what I had seen the first time around. "You want me to try to trace this guy?"
I didn't want to have anything to do with him. He was a monster. I'd had enough nightmares after Steven Williams, the brother of a man I'd IDed last year as a murderer, had tried to prevent me from testifying as a witness. That was bad enough. This was a thousand times worse.
To David it was all part of the game. For the first time since I'd met him I hated what David did. How could he stand to wallow in so much human excrement? How could he do it without being touched by what he saw?
Or did we both delude ourselves into thinking he was untouched?
"I need to know where it's coming from, Chris. If it gives us a way to nail this bastard..."
He moved aside while I sat down. I pulled up my hacking programs and launched an app that would first hack into the Slasher's web site, then give me the IP address of everyone who had accessed the page in the past twenty-four hours. Once I had that I could resolve those IP addresses into web addresses which would give us a way to trace them. Hopefully. I warned David:
"If this guy's at all computer savvy, he's going to be using anonymous hosts or relays to throw off his trail. It can take a while to untangle that."
"Can you leave this up and running? Our Internet connection's permanent, isn't it?" David didn't know any more than he had to about computers, including the one we used at home for email and record keeping.
"It's persistent," I said. "I've got a switch set up to act as a firewall -- it might inhibit the information flow you want. Can we get a hold of a dedicated machine? I can wire it outside the firewall and let it cache all the statistics you want. I don't want to put this one outside the firewall. We have way too much personal information on it. I don't want to compromise that --"
"Normally I'd say that would take us forever to get approval for, but we're getting a lot of media heat on this one right now." David's grin was savage. "Finally some people are saying the cops aren't all that interested in finding this guy cause the only vics are faggots. The brass is falling all over themselves to prove how wrong they are. You need a computer to crack this? Then honey, I can get you a computer."
He kissed me hard on the mouth and I grabbed his arm to steady myself.
"Does that mean you're not mad at me?"
"Mad at you?" He stopped and stared at me. "Why would I be mad -- oh, because you knew this guy?" David shrugged. "I can't say I was thrilled to find myself linked with a half-dead porno star, but I know it was before we met. I never figured you for the vestal virgin role, so I know you had other partners. John told me you were unaware of the connection. He believed you. I could hardly do less."
I grabbed him then and kissed him. It was his turn to steady me. His thumb rubbed my swollen mouth.
The phone rang. He grimaced and grabbed it before I could.
He listened to whoever was on the other end for several minutes with barely more than a 'uhuh' or a 'yeah, I know that' then he snapped a look at his watch.
"Where are you right now? Yeah? Well stay there. I've got something to show you."
He slammed the phone down.
"Can you give me that link?"
As I copied the URL down he idly traced a blind pattern on my shoulder with his thumb. But I knew his mind was a million miles away. He took the link and stuffed it in his jacket pocket.
"If you had more than one link to trace hits on, would that make it easier to pinpoint someone?"
"It might --"
"Then let me give you some other names -- run a search on them, okay?"
"Sure," I said, swallowing past a lump in my throat. I didn't need him to tell me who the other names belonged to. Those victims had died. Did David expect me to look at their corpses online? What kind of sick fuck did that anyway? I put the question to David.
"Trophies. Most of these guys are trophy collectors. They need to relive their conquests so they take something of the vic with them. It used to be they took the trophies home. Now I guess they want to share them with the other sick shits out there. Just find out if their names come up in a search. Don't think you have to look at the pages. Leave that to us."
"How do you do it, David? How do you keep your sanity when you see this kind of shit all day long?"
He cupped my face in his big hands and gently kissed my mouth. "By having you to come home to. You help keep me sane, honey."
I cradled my hand over his. "I love you, David. Don't you dare go and do anything that will get you hurt."
Then he was gone and I was left staring at the ugly images of poor Bobby on my laptop screen.
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything.