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Chapter 1: The Butcher's Son

Cover of "The Butcher's Son"

Chapter 1

As hard as it is for me to remember, sometimes, I haven’t always been a private investigator. None of us starts life doing what we end up doing, of course, but how we get where we are instead of someplace else is often pretty fascinating to contemplate. Now, in my case…

 

* * *

Did you ever have one of those years? You know: you start New Years' day with a hangover and everything just goes downhill from there? Well, it was one of those years. I was stuck in a job I hated and Chris, my lover of five years, was getting the seven year itch two years early. We’d been together ever since shortly after we got out of college, and each of us was the other’s first real relationship, so I guess you couldn’t really blame him. That, plus the fact that we lived in a gay ghetto, so the candy store syndrome made it easy enough to stray for anyone so inclined, and Chris became increasingly inclined.

But we were hanging in there, putting on the good old “perfect couple” routine whenever anyone else was around and working on matching ulcers when they weren’t. I was up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day and rising; Chris was devoting considerable time to adding to his swizzle-stick collection. All in all, a real fun time.

Chris was always a lot more into bars than I was, so it wasn’t unusual for him to go out by himself, though I noted that lately he’d been going out a lot more than normal. We did hold to our Saturday-night-out-to-dinner tradition though, after which we’d stop in at the Ebony Room, a nice little neighborhood bar close to home, for a nightcap. This particular night, however, Chris suggested we go to a new bar he’d found, “Bacchus’ Lair,” which he said had a great drag show. I should have put “great” in quotes, since I was never much for drag, but Chris got a kick out of it, so we went.

I should also point out that this was after Stonewall, but not all that much, and the community hadn’t completely gotten its act together in most cities. Blatant homophobia was the attitude of choice for most police forces, and ours was particularly noted for its less-than-tolerant methods. It was also a solid source of income for the city—bust a gay bar, haul in 30 or 40 gays too scared or too poor to fight it, charge them with “lewd and lascivious conduct,” drop the charges down to “disturbing the peace” and slap a $350 fine for a “no contest” plea. The city was happy; the police were happy; the lawyers were happy. The gays weren’t happy, but who cared?

“Bacchus’ Lair” was located in a former loft upstairs over a discount furniture store on the edge of skid row. A lot of gay bars were in this area, probably partly because of the lower rents, and the smaller likelihood that neighbors would complain about the clientele. Bacchus’ Lair was decorated in Early Flamboyant—tables the size of dinner plates, purple tablecloths, purple carpet, purple stage curtains, wall fixtures with dangly globs of plastic that I suppose the management thought looked like grapes. Wall niches with little gold cherubs shouldering platters of plastic grapes. Oh, and a cover charge. And a two-watered-down-drink minimum. But you got to keep the little purple umbrellas that came with them.

There were a few people there we knew—I should say a few people I knew—Chris seemed to know a lot more. We were shown to a table—I asked for one by an exit—by a lesbian in full male drag—a nice touch of equality, I thought. We ordered our drinks just as the canned music announcing the start of the show blared out across the room, making conversation impossible. The room lights dimmed, the curtains opened (revealing a stage about three feet deep), and the show began.

If you’ve seen one drag show, you saw this one. Not too bad, really; the usual standard numbers by the usual standard drag queens. Only one—a huge black drag named, if you could believe the M.C., Tondelaya O’Tool—did her own material and was really talented.

Intermission arrived with the inevitable, and inevitably “cute”, announcement by the M.C. that “We’ll be right back after a wee-wee break.” The curtains closed, the lights came back up, and the waiters rushed throughout the room restocking the what-passed-for-liquor. Also as usual, some of the entertainers came down to mix with the customers.

“Well,” Chris said, “what did you think? Great, huh?”

I nodded. “Great.”

“Yeah,” Chris said, “but wait until the second half— that’s when Judy comes on. She’s fantastic.”

I was willing to take his word for it. “I’m surprised how crowded it is,” I said.

“Do I detect a note of the famous Dick Hardesty paranoia?” Chris asked. “I notice you insisted on sitting near an exit again.”

“You didn’t think it was paranoia when I yanked your ass out of the Bull Pen the night the cops raided it,” I said. “If we hadn’t been near an exit, we’d have been hauled in like everybody else.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry here,” Chris said, leaning back in his chair. “They’ve never had a raid.”

“And how long have they been open?” I asked.

Chris shrugged. “I dunno. Two months, maybe.”

“That long, huh? Maybe they should hang up a sign: ‘A fine tradition of excellence since June.’”

Chris grinned and shook his head. “You’re crazy, Hardesty.”

Tondelaya O’Tool had come down from the stage and moved through the room like a fully laden oil tanker in heavy seas, bestowing forehead kisses, Queen of England waves, and assorted quips to the customers. Spotting Chris, she plowed her way to our table.

“How ya doin’, Chris darlin’?” she asked Chris, her eyes deliberately moving back and forth between Chris and me, one eyebrow raised.

“Great, Teddy,” Chris said. “Great show tonight.”

Tondelaya-nee-Teddy put one hand on her more than ample hip and made a “get away with you, now” gesture with the other, a la Pearl Bailey.

“Why thank you, darlin’,” she said. Then, looking at me, she gave a slow, exaggerated tongue-extended lip-lick and said “And who’s this good-lookin’ hunk o’ man?”

Chris grinned. “This is my other half, Dick Hardesty.”

Tondelaya/Teddy extended a hand. “I’ll just bet he is,” she said as I took it—and was surprised by an unexpectedly strong grip. “My, you two make a handsome couple, don’t you, now?”

“We try,” I said.

“Can we buy you a drink?” Chris asked.

“I really shouldn’t,” she said while in one continuous movement sweeping a chair from a nearby table and motioning the waiter. “But I am parched and I do have a minute or two before I have to get back. Scotch rocks, double,” she said to the waiter who disappeared as quickly as he’d come.

“So how do you like working here?” I asked for want of anything better to say.

“Oh, I love it, honey. Love it. It’s a lot better than the Galaxy, that’s for sure.”

“Didn’t that burn down a month or so ago?” I asked.

Tondelaya/Teddy reached out and tapped my arm. “That it did, chile, that it did. That’s when I came over here. I was lucky, really. There’s gettin’ to be fewer an’ fewer drag clubs around what with the raids an’ the fires an’ all. A lot of my friends are just plain out of work.”

“So what time is Judy coming on?” Chris asked, demonstrating his usual short attention span.

Tondelaya/Teddy took the drink the waiter brought, downed it in one gulp, and shrugged. “Same as every night. You know she’s always the last act. Save the best for last, that’s her motto.” Suddenly she put her hand to her mouth and lowered her voice. “I didn’t say that,” she said between her fingers. “You never heard me say that, okay?”

“Okay,” Chris and I said in unison, exchanging a puzzled glance.

“Good.” Tondelaya/Teddy pushed herself back from the table, nearly knocking our drinks on the floor in the process, and got up. “I gotta go get changed. You liked the first act, honeys, just wait ’til you see the second.” With a broad stage grin, she moved off toward the dressing room.

“What was that last part all about?” I asked Chris.

He shrugged. “I have no idea.”

The waiter arrived unbidden, bringing two more drinks (unordered) just as the house lights dimmed and the second act began. It was more of the same, except for Tondelaya/ Teddy, who did a really good down-and-dirty blues number I’d always associated with one of my favorite old army cadences:

“I’m not the butcher, I’m the butcher’s son;

But I’ll give you meat until the butcher comes.”

She was followed by a marginally-passable Diana Ross imitator, a slightly better Barbara Streisand imitator, and somebody who apparently thought—wrongly—he/she was Sophie Tucker.

“Judy’s next,” Chris leaned over to me and whispered.

The curtains closed, and the room went completely dark until a small spotlight came on, the music started, and a voice said: “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland!” The curtains opened to…Judy Garland. Quite a bit taller and not as frail, but Judy Garland nonetheless. I realized it wasn’t even the face; it was the posture, the movements, the little gestures. Perfect. Even before she opened her mouth, I was impressed. This guy was good.

The song was “The Man That Got Away” and instead of just lip-synching, she sang with the record, and it was as if Judy Garland were singing a duet with herself. Chris nudged me and gave me his “I told you so” nod, and I just nodded back.

The end of the record was greeted by tremendous applause, in which I joined wholeheartedly. Judy took a bow, then went immediately into “The Trolley Song,” followed by “You Made Me Love You.” When she finished, the crowd was on its feet—Chris and I included. The curtains started to close, but the crowd wouldn’t have it and she waved them back open, sat on the edge of the stage, and sang, of course, “Over the Rainbow.” Even I had a lump in my throat.

When she finished the song, the room went black again and when the lights came back on, she was gone. The other entertainers came out for their curtain calls but, despite chants of “Ju-dy … Ju-dy” she did not come out, and at last the applause died away and the show was over.

We finished our drinks, paid the bill, and got up to leave.

“I’ve got to hand it to you, Chris,” I said. “That really was great.”

Chris put his arm around my shoulder. “After five years you doubted me?” he asked.

* * *

% I’ve already mentioned that I hated my job. I’d had several since I left college and didn’t feel really comfortable with any of them, but as I’ve always said, it isn’t the principle of the thing, it’s the money. At the moment, I was being rather embarrassingly overpaid by a small public relations firm, Carlton Carlson & Associates. The reason for the high salary was that CC&A was run by the rear end of a horse with a monumental ego, and the only way he could keep help was by paying them so much they couldn’t afford to go elsewhere. He had, thanks to his rich wife’s family connections, passably juggled the careers of one or two fairly well-known clients over the years and had volunteered his—that is to say, his staff’s—services in the promotion and setup of a press conference for the Chief of Police’s contemplated assault on the governor’s seat. His magnanimous gesture was hardly altruistic, since C.C. viewed it as his key to taking over the chief’s entire public relations campaign.

The task wouldn’t be an easy one, as anyone with his head a little less far up his behind than my boss would readily have recognized. The chief’s political beliefs fell considerably to the right of Atilla the Hun, and he ran his department like Vlad the Impaler. Need I add that he loathed homosexuals? His tact, diplomacy, and delicate handling of any problem involving the gay community had, among some gays, earned him the nickname “The Butcher.” But his methods, however reprehensible, had kept the local crime rate in check and he had, until now, kept an extremely low personal profile.

If the chief managed to win the primaries—his opponent was one Marlen Evans, a moderately popular but lackluster state senator—he would be pretty much a shoo-in, since the incumbent governor’s wildly liberal policies had alienated the most powerful lobbying groups in the state.

The first step in humanizing the inhuman, my boss decided, was to play up the Chief’s warm and loving family life, and guess who got stuck with gathering homey bits about this little nuclear holocaust? Yep, yours truly. The fact that up until now very few people had any idea, or the slightest interest, that the Chief had a license to breed, let alone that he had exercised it five times, left me a pretty open field.

We started by building a rather anemic file of newspaper photos and articles. Of course, the chief’s wife was always on hand at functions that required the presence of a spouse, but she generally blended so well with the wallpaper she was almost impossible to pick out if there were more than three people in the picture. Of the children, there was almost nothing known except that the eldest son was a minister and the chief had recently become a grandfather.

It was thereby decreed that I, together with a free-lance writer noted for never having met a subject she didn’t like and a photographer selected for his Vaseline-lensed portrait work—both hand picked by C.C. himself, would be sent out to meet with the entire family with the object of getting a feature story into the Sunday supplement of the city’s leading newspaper. My sole purpose for being there was a bit vague, other than to ride herd on the writer and photographer, and to steer them clear of the unlikely possibility that they might somehow touch on anything that could smack of controversy. I viewed the entire project with the same enthusiasm as I’d anticipate a root canal, but I had little choice

* * *

The interview was set for a Saturday afternoon—my boss not believing in the sanctity of weekends where his employees were involved. We arrived at the chief’s Hollywood-back-lot, two-story neo-Georgian home at exactly the appointed hour, and were met at the door by Kathleen Rourke, the chief’s wife, looking like a cross between June Cleaver and Donna Reed. She ushered us into the living room, which appeared to have been set up for the photographers from House Beautiful, and Chief Rourke himself, obviously painfully uncomfortable out of his uniform, removed the unlit pipe from his mouth, set it in the chair side ashtray, and rose from a wing-back chair near the fireplace to greet us.

The cursory introductions over, to the obvious relief of both Chief Rourke and me, we were told the rest of the family was gathered on the poolside patio, and followed Mrs. Rourke outside through a set of curtained French doors. Standing around a picnic table at the far end of the pool like deer caught in the headlights was the rest of the Rourke clan.

Chief Rourke, who had followed us outside lest, I suspected, one of us unattended might make a grab for the family silver, made the introductions, clockwise around the table: Tammy, aged 15; Colleen, age 17; Mary, 13; Robert (Robby), 14; and Kevin, the minister, age not given but probably 25, who was accompanied by his lovely wife Sue-Lynn, and their infant son, Sean.

The children, except for Kevin, who had obviously inherited all the good looks, all took after their mother—that is to say, were nondescript to the point that any one of them would be hard to pick out of a police lineup.

I suggested we first get the photos out of the way, and Ted, the photographer, proceeded to take up the next half hour orchestrating various shots of the family around the picnic table, by the barbecue, in the living room, around the kitchen table, etc. It may have just been my imagination, but it seemed like every time I looked at Kevin, he was looking at me But whenever our eyes met, he’d hurriedly look away.

Actually, Ted need have taken only one photo of the chief, since his expression—the proud family man—never changed except for one moment when the baby, who had been handed him reluctantly only after Ted’s repeated suggestion, developed a slow leak in the diaper department.

While all this was going on, the writer, in obvious awe of actually being in the presence of someone so prominent as the chief, tried getting responses to a set of routine questions. At one point, after the majority of photos had been taken and the chief and Mrs. Rourke were huddled at one end of the living room with the writer, I wandered over to the mantle to look at a set of family photos. There were individual shots of all the kids, plus Kevin and Sue-Lynn’s wedding photo, plus a photo of baby Sean. But one which caught my eye was an older family shot, taken in front of the house apparently when Mary, the youngest child, was a baby. The interesting thing about the picture was that it contained two Kevins.

Kevin, who had been off somewhere with Sue-Lynn changing the baby and had just reentered the living room, apparently noticed me looking at the photo and hurried over. I got the distinct feeling that I’d been caught at something.

“I was just looking at your photos,” I said, rather lamely.

“Yes,” Kevin said—the first time since we’d arrived that he’d spoken directly to me. “My mother and father are typical proud parents, I guess.”

Never having been noted for excessive tact when my curiosity was aroused, I couldn’t resist remarking on the photo.

“I hope I’m not touching a sensitive area,” I said, “but I notice in this one photo there seem to be two of you. I didn’t know you had an identical twin.”

“Patrick,” he said.

Suddenly we were both aware that the chief had gotten up from the sofa, crossed the room, and was, like a thundercloud at a picnic, hovering just behind us.

“Sue-Lynn needs you, Kevin,” he said, though how he might have come by that information was totally beyond me, since he’d been seated at the other end of the room for the past ten minutes. Kevin turned without a word and left the room the way he’d come in, leaving me standing there with the chief. The beaming family man facade was gone. His eyes were cold, black holes and his voice sent a chill down my spine.

“Patrick’s dead,” he said.

Cover of "The Butcher's Son"

 

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