My mouth was still hanging open. He leaned over and shut it. His large hands with their thick fingers were surprisingly gentle.
"Is it the thought of a gay LAPD cop or the idea that someone who looks like me could be gay?"
"What?" I shook myself and leaned back in the torture chamber they call a hospital bed. "No, not at all. Uh, I just never thought --"
"That a gay guy would go into such a macho profession? Law and order and the whole para-military thing too much for a flaming pansy?"
"Jesus." I winced. "Stop already. Don't put words in my mouth."
"Can't say I blame you. I mean it wasn't that long ago that we were cleaning out gay bars and busting faggot heads every chance we got. Now no one wants to go into a gay bar, even for a legitimate complaint - AIDS is in the back of everyone's mind these days."
"The department knows?"
"No, not through anything I've said or done. They might guess but it's a don't ask, don't tell situation. I'm not going to be the one who makes the first confession."
"That's gotta be hard. What do you do when the guys start joking around about pussy? God knows I remember what it was like in the good old days before I came out. I used to grin and bear it. No foul, no claim."
"I built a reputation as a bit of a loner. I don't socialize much, the occasional barbecue with my partner and his wife and a bunch of the guys from West. I have a couple of female friends who like pool parties. They don't mind going with me. They get to relax and be flirty fannies without worrying about demands to put out later. The guys convince themselves I'm getting laid and it keeps them happy. I don't have to confirm or deny."
"People see what they want to see?"
"They always have."
"You ever want to come out?"
"I consider it. I still have another ten years till I can retire with a full pension. I'm not letting anyone take that away from me. I'll learn to like the damned closet if that's what it takes to make it happen."
"You ever get lonely?"
His eyes narrowed and he stared at me sideways. "I'm no virgin but I don't cruise. Too much at stake. Wouldn't do me much good anyway. I know damned well the gay bar scene puts a high premium on the merchandising. Ugly is not a salable quality."
"You always this negative?"
"Only on my optimistic days." He suddenly grinned. "We got off the track here, you know. I'm supposed to be interrogating you."
I spread my arms as though I was bound. "Do you have ways to make me talk, Detective?"
"Sorry, all out of rubber hoses."
"What about latex?"
"Lat-" His face clouded over. "I'm not interested in pity, Mr. Bellamere. You seem like a nice guy. Let's just drop the whole subject and go back to what this meeting is about."
I decided to do what he asked for now. I fully intended to get back to the other after a while. Once I'd had a chance to wear down his defenses. David Eric Laine didn't know it yet but I was planning to lay siege to his fortress.
"This bank robbery," I said. "Did they get away with a lot of cash?"
"A 'substantial amount' is all the bank will release at the time. I doubt the guy's going to be able to retire to the Grand Caymans but I don't doubt it was a nice haul. Now if we're talking addicts it won't last long at all. If there are two of them, which we suspect, there's a major case for them breaking up. And I doubt the breakup would be amicable. We watch for stuff like that, we can catch a lucky break."
A new, niggling thought struck me. A chilly hand walked up my spine. "Am I in any danger here?"
"As a witness?"
"What if he - the bank robber, or his partner - realizes there's a witness and decides to clean up his tracks?"
"First of all, despite what you see on TV most criminals can't string too concepts together to form a coherent thought. Most people don't have a clue how to find someone they've never met, who's name they don't know and trust me on this, we're not releasing any information on this to the press. Fortunately a simple bank robbery with homicide as a side dish isn't major news these days. It never made it anywhere near the first page and you'd be hard pressed to find a reporter in town who knows or cares what happened to James Ronald Overland let alone the guy who saw him die."
"James --?" Then it came to me. "The guy who was killed."
"The one and only. He was only a middle class manager with a mortgage, two kids and a wife, so as far as the papers are concerned he's a ratings loss. Not worth the paper to print his obit.
"Now if our bank robber kills a few more times or turns out to have been abducted by aliens and anal probed, then he'll be prime time material. Then everyone will know his name." David scratched at an old acne scar on his cheek. "Face it, how many of us can name Jeffrey Dahmer as the real life Hannibal Lecter."
"Sure, that's a no brainer --" I said but he cut me off.
"Name one of his victims."
I tried to think. I'd read the stories, just like everyone else. I'd seen the bloody footage. My mouth was open again. "Shit."
"Don't feel bad. Almost nobody can. It's pathetic but universal. The more savage the killing the more we remember the monsters responsible. Their victims are yesterday's news on the bottom of the bird cage."
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick's email I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything.