We were still under Witness Protection when the transvestite owner of the local theater was found dead in a gulley. The day had started out otherwise quite pr...
We were still under Witness Protection when the transvestite owner of the local theater was found dead in a gulley.
The day had started out otherwise quite promising. I had just gotten back into town under the threat of a darkening sky, had made love all night while the thunder crashed through the valley, and had woken up to a bright sunny morning. The coffee had perked to perfection, and I had hardly begun my day’s work when a pair of arms found their way around me and a pair of lips pressed against my ear, reminding me of all the good in the world.
Then the television, which had been turned on to catch an update on the local weather, switched turned to breaking news, and the amateur video footage of Gary/Gayla Hartnett’s body, washed across the screen. I first heard the coffee cup crash on the floor. I then heard the announcer’s voice burst into the room as Lacey found the mute switch on the remote.
“…..was found by hikers early this morning. We have just received this footage…”
My first thought was, sensationalist hacks.
My second thought was, now that really fucks up my plans.
I think I might have said that second one aloud, because I was hit in the back of the head with the remote while Lacey ran back upstairs to get dressed.
Gary/Gayla had become friend of ours, largely because Lacey had been working at the bar that his partner, Kevin Tan, owned. It was only natural that we would, in a desire to blend in as members of the community, find ourselves the recipients of comp tickets. An avid theatre goer myself, I had to admit that their productions, while small, were masterfully staged. I had enjoyed many a drink with Gary/Gayla, and had watched as he pulled in numbers that local theatre troupes would only have dreamed of. I had even critiqued a few of his productions and quite favorably so, a rarity amongst my readers.
While I knew little of the man himself, I knew more of him than he of us. I knew enough, for example, as to be bewildered as to who could possibly have wanted this man dead. Almost as bewildered as to why Lacey threw my hat as well as my shirt at my head as she ran down the stairs. I mean, she had always hated that thing…
I drove Lacey’s car on the way to Kevin’s apartment. I knew she was upset by the way she was muttering incoherently to herself. I had tried once—and only once—to ask her to speak up. My reasoning being, of course, that to clear her own mind it might be easier to talk to someone other than thin air. All I got for my efforts was a clear, curt: “Shut up, Gerard.”
There were four cop cars outside the apartment by the time we arrived. An officer rushed to greet us, and tell us to stay back. Lacey insisted that Kevin not only knew us, but that she needed to talk to him, citing work related issues. He let her in and told me to stay back, which worked out well for me. I turned away, ostensibly to get some air. In reality, I had seen the car that had trailed us from the condo, and I knew that a conversation was imminent.
“Mr. Harper,” a voice said, coming from a rolled down window and a bespectacled bald man.
I had never gotten used to that. Either the Harper or the Mr. I told Agent Carlson as much.
He got out of the car and gestured further down the street, away from Lacey and the cops. “That’s too bad, because we still don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
“I understand the tenure is typically indefinite.”
“To that end, do you think you could curb your usual curiosity and allow the local authorities to handle it?”
“Blunt force trauma to the head. Two bullet holes in the spine, 9mm caliber.”
“You got all that from watching the news?”
“No. But do you think you could do me a favor and just confirm that one way or the other? Just for my own curiosity’s sake.”
“Wouldn’t that be feeding the dragon?”
“Are you comparing my curiosity to a heroin addiction?”
“No, a Middle-Earth town.” Carlson pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit it. I hadn’t seen him do that before, and the effect was kind of odd. Like finding out at age twenty your mom has been smoking all this time.
“Glad to see you’ve been catching up on your reading.”
“You being out of town for a while sure made things quieter. Keep your nose outta this one, Gerard.” He only ever used my real name when he meant it. “I know he was a friend of yours. Snooping around won’t bring him back. Let the law do their jobs.”
I breathed in the cigarette smoke. It was incense to me. Clearing my head and halting the cravings I’d been getting since I landed. Still hadn’t come to see this place as home, I guess. Whatever the case: “If this thing is ruled a hate crime, I can’t speak to my actions.”
“Then don’t speak or act.” Carlson tipped his head. “Mr. Harper.” He got into his car and rolled the window up, tossing the cigarette butt out at the last second.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you: how easy is it to stop from being yourself?
The ride back to the condo was quiet. Lacey’s eyes were red and more than just her hair was frazzled. She didn’t say a word until we were in the garage and I was about to lock up, and she said, “We have to go to work.”
Ok, I thought. This has to do with her opening the bar. Of course I’d be there. All day. And when she was done, we’d be on our way home. Only this time, she’d be the one getting drunk. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen her drunk…
We were on our way in a record fifteen minutes. Make up, shower and everything. Doesn’t hurt that the usual uniform of the bartender is basic black, I suppose, but even the hair was done up in a way that was surprisingly professional-looking.
Keeping my own tucked under my hat and my usual tongue tucked away, I drove us both to work.
There are worse ways to spend a day in the desert, I suppose, than sipping on club soda and sitting at a makeshift desk. I was just settling in when Lacey, clearly running out of things to wipe down, came over to me and said, “What have you got?”
My expression must have been pretty clear, because she said next, “Done. What have you got done? What have you found out?”
My expression betrayed me again.
“About Gayla. What did you find out about Gayla?”
I had tried to be a good boy. I had tried to listen to the Marshall. But the look in Lacey’s eyes told me everything that I needed to know—namely, that keeping my nose out of this one was going to be impossible.
“There’s nothing yet. Not from here.”
“Well where can you go to find something out?”
“Lace, I can’t exactly be snooping around a cop station.”
“That’s never stopped you before.”
I was about to rebut—
“In fact, snooping around like that is what got us into this whole thing!” she hissed with the venom of those cobras I used to have nightmares about.
“I’m not so sure you should be working,” slipped out before I could help myself.
Lacey has slapped me with dish towels, washcloths, hats, jackets, books, magazines, more than a few remotes, phones and purses. Never before with the following words:
“Get out of my bar.”
So I did.