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Chapter 1: The Good Cop

Cover of The Good Cop

Chapter 1

Everything has a beginning. Very rarely, it’s something spectacular, like an undersea volcano suddenly breaking the surface and spewing ash to color sunsets around the world as it forms a new island: something everyone is instantly aware of and always remembers. But most beginnings are small, and quiet, like an individual drop of water joining another drop, and then another to form a rivulet which joins other rivulets to become a stream, which eventually becomes a river. And people who sail up and down the river or sit on its banks hardly ever give a moment’s thought to how the river got there—of what went into creating it. And that’s a shame, because every one of those drops of water has a history, and today is built on all the yesterdays of the world.

I was thinking about that the other day when I came across a picture of my friend Tom. Tom was a cop….

* * *

I probably should tell you right now that this might not be the story you’re expecting. I know I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. There’s something to be said for a certain degree of basic predictability in life, but…

Well, hey, nothing’s perfect. Things were going okay… maybe even just this side of okay…and I was keeping fairly busy. My car was beginning to nickle-and-dime me to death and I was doing my best to set a little bit aside for the all-too-soon time when scotch tape and baling wire wouldn’t keep it running anymore. But since I insisted on throwing my money away on such frivolous things as food and rent and insurance and electric bills, it was a long, slow process. That condo in Key West was just going to have to wait awhile.

I hadn’t had a really interesting case in some time. Just routine, by-the-numbers stuff, and most of my assignments were still referrals from members of the gay Bar Guild. I’d been doing some investigating work, too, for a couple local attorneys, which helped. But as for job-related excitement, there wasn’t much going on.

Luckily, my social life kept me from getting too bored. The local gay community was blossoming, with new bars and restaurants opening (and closing) left and right. The gay business area of town now known even by straights as “The Central” was spreading out, and it was becoming possible, if one were so inclined (and I generally was), to shop, eat, and be entertained without leaving The Central.

Oh, and we had another new Chief of Police. Chief Robertson, who had replaced the rabidly homophobic and good-riddance’d Chief Rourke, had done his best to drag the police department kicking and screaming into the present; Robertson was a definite step in the right direction as far as the gay community was concerned. Things were beginning to change, slowly, and the department was developing a core of good people like Lieutenant Mark Richman, with whom I’d developed a nice working relationship over the course of a couple cases involving both me and the police.

But while the community was warily optimistic about the changes in the department, one of Chief Robertson’s proposals to update the department involved building a number of police substations, to make them more directly responsive to potential problems in various parts of the city. The first two to be built were in the Marshfield district, a largely black area which had been demanding better police protection for years, and in The Central. While Robertson meant it as a positive outreach to the gay community, most gays, accustomed to the department’s long history of homophobia and former chief Rourke’s storm-trooper tactics in particular, took it as a new form of harassment. But despite much muttering and suspicion, ground had been broken and construction started when Robertson dropped dead of a heart attack in his office.

Deputy chief Michael Cochran, next in command, took over as interim chief. Since Cochran had been a crony of Chief Rourke and a was a charter member of the department’s hard-core old-schoolers, many of the advances made by Chief Robertson began to backslide while an inner-department battle raged between the hard-liners and the more moderates as to who would be appointed as new full-time chief. And construction of the Beech Division Substation, in the heart of The Central, was slowed by minor but consistent acts of vandalism.

As if the squabbling within the department weren’t bad enough, there was the city’s growing problem of gangs, which had in recent years become so severe that Chief Robertson had set up a Gang Control Unit to deal with them. But the gangs took full advantage of the bickering within the department to expand their respective turfs—which included Arnwood Street, where many gay bars were located. The incidents of gay bashing and robberies along Arnwood increased dramatically, and the department was too caught up in its own inner turmoil to do much about it. It definitely was not a priority for acting chief Cochran, who was having enough trouble just trying to hold on to whatever control he had over the department.

So you see, I wasn’t totally cut off from the World of the Breeders. And a lot of the work I did for Glen O’Banyon, one of the city’s most prominent attorneys even though he made no secret of being gay, involved at least some peripheral contact with his straight clients.

* * *

But I was going to tell you about Tom. Tom Brady. I’d known Tom since college. He was a year or two behind me, but everybody knew Tom. Tom was a Golden Child if ever there was one. He looked like the 40's movie star Tyrone Power and was probably—and justifiably—one of the most popular guys on campus. He came from an incredibly wealthy family—his father owned a national chain of high-class hotels, though Tom never mentioned it. The fact that he chose to attend a small liberal arts college over any one of the ivy league schools that would have been glad to have him was a good indication that Tom had his feet firmly on the ground. He drove a six-year-old, beat-up car—it was a convertible, though, I remember, although something was broken in the lowering/raising mechanism so that top would never come down.

Of course I had a huge crush on him, as did every girl on campus, and a lot more guys than let on. Tom had a girlfriend, Lisa, whom he’d been dating since grade school.

I saw a tee-shirt once that said: “How dare you assume I’m heterosexual!” A lot of truth in there, and it worked perfectly for Tom. No one ever questioned his sexual orientation; it was simply assumed—by the straights, at least—that Tom was straight. Isn’t everyone?

Tom and I were on the college boxing team and one night after we’d both stayed in the gym until it closed, he asked me back to his off-campus room and erased all doubts about where his sexual priorities lay. We became pretty good friends, and it was then that I found out that Lisa was lesbian. “Protective coloration,” he used to joke. The three of us used to hang around together, and often we’d go to campus social events with Lisa’s “close friend” Carol. After the event, Tom and I would go to his place, and Lisa and Carol would go to Carol’s. I found it interesting even then that though the four of us were always together and everyone “knew” Tom and Lisa were a couple, no one really thought Carol and I were, to my vast relief.

Ah, the stupid games we play. But there was (and regrettably often still is) something to be said for “protective coloration,” and I never faulted Tom—or Lisa—for taking advantage of it.

After I graduated, we sort of lost touch, but I heard that Tom had moved to Reno to start learning the family business at one of his dad’s hotels. I could imagine he was not too thrilled about it, because while we’d never talked about it directly, I got the idea Tom had other plans for himself. But then I lost track of him completely, though I never forgot him.

* * *

I was sitting in my favorite bar, Ramón’s, one Saturday evening having an Old Fashioned and a sporadic chat with the owner, Bob Allen. It was still relatively early, and Jimmy, the regular bartender, was also there, so Bob and I had some between-waiting-on-customers time to fill each other in on what had been happening in our lives since our last get-together. Bob had just moved off to the aid of a parched customer when I felt a hand on my shoulder and a warm voice I recognized immediately: “Now, as I was saying…” I turned around to see…Tom Brady! I practically jumped off my stool and grabbed him in a bear hug, which he returned, with hearty back-slapping.

“Tom!” I said when we finally broke our hug and withdrew to arms’ length but without letting go completely. “When did you get into town? And how long are you staying?”

Tom grinned that glacier-melting grin of his that I’d only seen in an occasional erotic fantasy since our college days, and carefully looked me over from head to foot. “You’re even better looking than you were in school,” he said. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

I grinned. “And you,” I said, “are still so full of bullshit your eyes are brown.”

We released our mutual elbow-hold, and he pulled up the stool beside me. We both sat down, facing one another. I had a chance to take stock of him, and there was a lot to take stock of. He still looked exactly the same as he had in college, as though the intervening years hadn’t passed. And he was still drop-dead beautiful.

Before my crotch had a chance to put its two-cents worth in, I thought I’d get back to the subject at hand. “So what are you doing in town? And how long will you be here?” I repeated.

“A long story,” he said. “We moved here two weeks ago, and with luck it will be permanent.”

The “we” wasn’t lost on me, you can be sure.

“We?” I asked.

Bob came over to take Tom’s drink order, and I introduced them. They shook hands, exchanged a few words, and then Bob gave me a quick raised eyebrow and a smile, and went to get Tom’s drink.

“Lisa and I,” Tom said, picking up where we’d left off. “We got married about two years ago.” He foresaw my next question and raised his hand quickly to head it off. “I know, I know… you always did have more guts than I did when it came to telling the world to go fuck itself. But it just seemed the easiest course for both Lisa and me. Her family expected it; my family expected it; we’re best friends, and this way everybody is happy. Our lives are our own. We just live in the same place and get a break on our income taxes. Of course now the folks are starting to bug us about having kids, like that’ll ever happen—at least not the ‘old fashioned’ way. We’ve been talking about adopting, maybe, sometime down the road.”

Rather than letting my mouth get the better of my mind, I decided to drop that whole can of worms before it was even fully opened.

“As long as you’re happy,” I said, a little lamely, I’m afraid, then made a valiant effort to save the situation by jumping back into neutral territory. “So what the hell are you doing in Ramón’s—not that I’m not delighted that you are, and not that it isn’t a great place, but it’s a little off the beaten path.”

He nodded. “Kismet!” he said. “We rented an apartment over on Spring and Warner.”

“No shit?” I said, grinning. “That’s only two blocks from my place. We’re practically neighbors!”

And any time you want to come by to borrow a cup of sugar…my crotch volunteered happily….

Luckily, he couldn’t hear it. “As I say: Kismet,” he said. “I was going to look you up the minute we got settled in…which we’re still not, completely. Anyway, as to what I’m doing here, we decided we deserved a night away from unpacking. Lisa and Carol went to a movie; I decided to check out the local action. Sure am glad I did.”

“That makes two of us,” I said, deciding not to pursue the ‘Lisa and Carol’ reference at the moment. There would be plenty of time for that later, I hoped. “Now tell me everything that’s happened to you since we last saw each other….”

* * *

I was struck, as we talked, at how two people with such totally different lifestyles can still be good friends—and Tom and I had never stopped being friends, even though we’d not seen each other in a long time. Our lives had taken two very different paths, but the foundations of our friendship remained solid. I’ve always believed that the mark of a true friend is one with whom you can pick up a conversation in mid sentence after 20 or 30 years, and while it hadn’t been anywhere near that long for the two of us, the rule certainly seemed to apply.

Tom, I learned, still worked for his father’s hotel chain, which had just purchased the Montero here in town. The Montero was a city landmark, a recently restored grande dame of a hotel that the elder Brady considered to be the crown jewel in his empire. He intended for Tom, who had quickly worked his way up from the smallest hotel in the chain to the biggest, to start out as assistant manager and eventually become manager, but Tom had other ideas which he didn’t go into at the moment and I did not interrupt him to ask. One thing that struck me, though, was that a potential assistant manager of the Montero could certainly afford to live in a better location than Spring and Warner, which was a nice enough neighborhood but hardly what one could even charitably call upscale. My mind was piling up questions, but I just shoved them into a mental closet for now, and let him talk.

When he’d arrived back at the point of his moving here, it was my turn, and I filled him in on the intervening years which, in retrospect, seemed like yesterday afternoon.

Tom seemed impressed, but then that was one of the secrets of his charm: He always made whomever he was with feel important.

“The Montero’s looking for a new chief of security,” he said. “If you’re interested…”

“I really appreciate that, Tom,” I said, “but I like what I’m doing now, even if it drives me nuts sometimes.”

“You’d have a pass key to all the rooms…” Tom added his face breaking into a very sexy grin. He paused and I waited for the hoped-for punch line, which he delivered: “…which, since I’ll be keeping a room there, would include mine.”

My crotch put on a full-volume recording of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and it was only with effort that I got it to tone it down.

I mirrored his grin and he laid his hand on my leg.

“You care to go do a little reliving of old times?” he said.

I reached for my glass and drained it.

“Guess,” I said as we both got up, waved to Bob and Jimmy, and headed for the door.

* * *

Odd but interesting going to bed with someone again after many years. Even before we got to my place, I was remembering everything about Tom: what he liked, how he liked it, the incredible things he could do with his tongue. So by the time we walked into my apartment and shut the door there was so much electricity between us it reminded me of those electrode machines in the Frankenstein movies. One thing I definitely remember is that Tom always liked to take the lead, to set the pace. So while I was ready to rip his clothes off and get down to business on the living room floor the second the door closed, Tom had other ideas. After about a three minute rib-cracking, face-melding clench into which we crammed nearly eight years of missed encounters and didn’t come up for air, I was definitely in a clothes-ripping mood.

But Tom broke it off and stepped back. He didn’t say a word, just raised one finger in a cautionary, ah-ah-ah gesture. I recognized it immediately.

Okay, Tom, I thought. You lead, I’ll follow.

The very first time Tom and I ever got together, that night after boxing practice, he’d done the same thing, and I wondered if he was doing it deliberately now, remembering it as I did. It was one of his favorite games, and I came to think of it as “The Tease.” We seemed to play it every time my testosterone level was about to blow the top of my head off. It was excruciating but in the long run…infinitely worth it.

He stepped back, holding me by the shoulders at arms length, looking at me with that slightly knit-eyebrow, slightly cocked-head expression that I seem to recall seeing on lion tamers’ faces when they want their charges to pay close attention. Slowly, still holding my right shoulder with one hand, he inched his other hand down the front of my shirt and, in slow motion, unbuttoned each button. Then he returned his hand to my shoulder and pulled me slowly toward him. When our faces were about three inches apart, he slowly opened his mouth and in what seemed like super-slow motion, closed the gap between us.

When he sensed I was getting a little too eager, he broke the kiss and backed away. Now it was my turn, and I echoed his unbuttoning routine. It took every ounce of self control I could muster, but I knew it was part of the game, so I did it. My turn to repeat the slow motion kiss. When he broke it off—he had to, because I certainly wasn’t about to—I took a step forward and he took a step back. It was all part of a symbolic dance which guided us slowly toward the bedroom: one action (shirt-tails pulled out of pants; shirts slid off shoulders and dropped on floor; belt buckles undone, etc.), one step at a time. After eight years, we still timed it perfectly.

And by the time we reached the bed, we were in our shorts and I was about to explode. Neither one of us had said a single word, but we didn’t have to. Tom moved in front of me and pushed me gently back onto the bed, then slid my shorts off, then his, and slowly—really slowly, lowered himself on top of me.

He rubbed the side of my face with his chin and I felt the tip of his tongue tracing the outline of my ear. Eight years, and I knew exactly what came next.

“Foreplay over,” he whispered, and the lions came out to play.

* * *

I’d been invited to Tom and Lisa’s for dinner the following Friday, and the intervening week literally flew by. I was working for Glen O’Banyon gathering information on a patent infringement case with possible implications of fraud, which involved tracing down the paper trail of exactly which of the parties had gotten the basic product idea to whom and when. Hardly the kind of stuff that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, but I never minded working for O’Banyon because it paid pretty damned well.

Tom had started his job at the Montero, but he called me at least three times during the week, which produced a strong teenage-testosterone response every time. I mean, it wasn’t as though I’d been exactly celibate for the past eight years—or even the past eight days, for that matter—but maybe there was a large element of reliving a very nice part of the past that made it special. I realized, too, that Tom had probably been the first guy I’d really thought I was in love with. I had no illusions about Tom being Mr. Right—I was afraid our lifestyles were just too different for that—but it was certainly a pleasant interlude.

* * *

Friday evening finally rolled around, and I left the office a little early so I could stop at the liquor store near home and pick up a really nice bottle of wine as a housewarming gift. A quick shower and change of clothes and I was ready. I was for some strange reason mildly nervous of seeing Lisa (and, I was pretty certain, Carol) again, but….

It being a nice evening, I decided to walk to their apartment, rather than fight trying to find a parking place, and besides, I could use the exercise.

When Tom had said “Spring and Warner” he meant Spring and Warner—the building was a relatively new high-rise on the southwest corner. I rang the buzzer, and after a wait of no more than three seconds, was buzzed through to the small lobby. I took the elevator to the sixth floor and found my way to Apartment 6-G. I had my fingertip about half an inch from the buzzer when the door opened to reveal an incredibly handsome, grinning Tom. We shook hands and, as soon as the door had closed behind me, exchanged a bear hug. Over Tom’s shoulder, I could see Lisa and Carol coming out of the kitchen, smiling.

If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn I’d wandered into a typical heterosexual family scene. Both Lisa and Carol looked great, and both were what my lesbian friend Mollie Marino calls “lipstick lesbians”—very feminine. I doubt very much, had I not known them all before, that if I met them at a straight cocktail party, I’d have any idea they were gay.

I exchanged hugs and cheek-kisses with the women and we all went through the usual mildly awkward confusion that ensues when old friends first see one another again after a long absence. I handed Lisa the wine which she acknowledged with profuse thanks and then insisted that Tom and I sit while she and Carol went into the kitchen.

The apartment, I noticed as Tom and I sat side by side on one of the two love seats facing one another across a glass-topped coffee table, was very comfortable and, again, gave not the slightest hint that the occupants were anything than an average heterosexual couple.

Carol came back into the room carrying a tray of hors d’oeuvres, followed by Lisa with another tray with wine glasses and a bottle of wine, which they set on the coffee table.

“We’ll have your wine with dinner,” Lisa said. “This here’s chattin’ wine,” she added with a smile. Tom poured the wine as the women sat on the opposite love seat, and we all leaned forward to click our glasses together in a toast.

“To old friends,” Tom said.

“And to new beginnings,” Carol added, looking at Tom.

???? I thought.

* * *

It was a great evening. We talked about our college days and exchanged favorite memories, and caught up on news of classmates and mutual friends, and laughed a lot, and the years melted away and it was another place and another time.

Dinner was excellent—pork roast with garlic roasted potatoes and some kind of succotash that Lisa’s grandmother had taught her to make, and a Bavarian torte for desert. The wine was pretty good, too, I was delighted to discover: I’d just asked the owner of the liquor store what he’d recommend—my knowledge of wine isn’t much above the level of Mogen David Port.

Tom and I sat on one side of the table with Lisa and Carol on the other. It was obvious that the two women were lovers, and had been ever since college. We talked a bit about it, and about the inconveniences of Tom and Lisa’s arrangement, which meant Carol and Lisa couldn’t live together. But they’d apparently worked it out to their mutual satisfaction, and while I couldn’t imagine such a situation for myself, it wasn’t my place to pass any sort of judgment on it.

“We’re so glad we found you again, Dick,” Lisa said. “We don’t have many gay friends here,” Lisa said, “and it’s going to be even harder now.”

I’m afraid on this yet-another-reference-to-something-apparently-important I couldn’t keep my face from reflecting the question I hesitated to ask.

All three apparently noticed my confusion and exchanged smiles. “Tell him, Tom,” Lisa said, reaching across the table to tap his hand.

Tom turned toward me. “I’m joining the police force,” he said. “I’m going to be a cop.”

Whoa!” I heard myself say, then just sat there like someone had just beaned me with a frying pan. The three of them sat quietly, looking at me with identical smiles.

“Are you sure?” I asked, feeling immediately stupid for having done so. “I mean, do you have any idea of what you’d be getting yourself into?”

He nodded. “I know,” he said. “But it’s really what I’ve wanted all my life.”

“But…” I started, then couldn’t remember what I’d intended to come after it.

Fortunately, Lisa stepped in. “My dad was a policeman. You knew that, didn’t you, Dick?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t think I ever did,” I said.

She nodded and smiled. “Yes, he was,” she said. “Right up until the time I started college, when he took early retirement. That was back in Hartford. But the interesting thing is that his partner for eighteen years was a man named Kensington Black.”

That was news! “Our Kensington Black?” I asked, as though there were thousands of men named Kensington Black….

She smiled again. “Our Kensington Black,” she said. “He’s my godfather. And when he came out here to be chief, and then Tom’s dad wanted to send him here to help with the Montero, things just sort of clicked.”

I should have mentioned, when I was talking about the hassles in the police department, that finally, at the urging of the mayor, the Police Commission chose to eliminate the intra-mural hassling by going outside the department—and outside the state—for the new chief. They finally picked one Kensington Black, who had done wonders reducing the crime rate of one of the East Coast’s older, deteriorating cities. Chief Black was rumored by his many detractors in and out of the department to be to be a closet liberal. Everyone in the gay community hoped they were right.

“Kismet yet again,” Tom said. “I decided it was time to make the change. And while Chief Black of course can’t guarantee that I’ll be accepted, having him as a family friend sure can’t hurt, and I’m sure he’ll be glad to put in a good word with the applications committee if one were needed. I submitted my application the first week we got here. There’s a lot of paperwork involved: background check, even a lie detector exam. Fortunately, if I was gay or not wasn’t one of the questions.”

“But…” I started again, and forgot again.

“And, no,” Tom said, apparently having a better idea of what I was trying to get out than I did, “he doesn’t know I’m gay.”

I took a deep breath. “I’m really glad for you if this is what you really want,” I said, “but you must know how homophobic this police force has always been. I don’t want to be the voice of doom, here, but I’m not being melodramatic when I say you could very well be putting your life in danger.”

Tom shrugged. “I know,” he said, “but this force isn’t all that much different from any force anywhere, and things won’t change until somebody makes them change: There’s got to be somebody willing to take the first step toward integrating the force: especially this one. I know it won’t be easy, but I know Chief Black, and I know he’s a good, decent man who’s determined to make changes that need being made. He won’t let anyone get out of hand.”

He grinned at me and moved his hand down to lay it on top of my leg. “Besides,” he said, “it’s not like I’m going to go around waving the rainbow flag or hang around the locker room groping my crotch and drooling. But I know there are already other gay cops on the force—there have to be. Maybe, when there are enough of us…I just want to make a difference; to show the straights that we’ve got the ability—and the right—to be as good a cop as any heterosexual.”

I shook my head slowly. I was impressed by his altruism, but was really concerned about his walking into the lion’s cage without a whip and chair. Still, it was his life. “Well,” I said finally, “if that’s what you really want, and you realize what you’re getting into, go for it. I wish you the best.”

He grinned. “Thanks, Dick,” he said. “I knew you’d understand.”

I wasn’t sure I did, but…. And I really wondered what Tom’s dad had to say about all this, or even if he knew yet. But it wasn’t my place to ask—at least not now. Knowing me, I knew I’d manage to bring it up at some point.

The grandmother clock on the credenza struck 11, and I automatically looked at my watch for verification.

“Wow,” I said, “it’s getting late. I guess I’d better be going.”

Tom, whose hand still rested on my knee, squeezed it slightly. “You don’t have to go, do you?” he said with a grin that made Western Union obsolete.

I felt a wave of…what?…awkwardness. I mean, here we were, sitting across from his wife (yeah, yeah, wife in name only, but still…) and his wife’s lover and I was suddenly feeling very midwest/middle class…well, stodgy. I hated that.

Carol deliberately reached over and took Lisa’s hand. “We’re going to go spend the night at my apartment,” she said as they exchanged smiles. “We thought maybe the two of you would like to have the place to yourselves.”

Oh, my, yes! my crotch—which was never much one for social conventions—said eagerly. I looked at Tom, who just grinned at me.

“Gosh,” I said. “If I’d have known, I’d have brought my jammies.”

“I don’t think you’ll need them,” Tom said.

And I didn’t.

* * *

Time has an annoying habit of sneaking by when you’re not paying attention, and that’s what happened to the next several weeks. The patent case I was working on dragged on and on and involved far more detail than I’d have any interest in relating here. In the end, however, I was able to determine that the defendant had indeed engaged in a little skulduggery. Unfortunately, it was the defendant whom Glen O’Banyon was representing. Oh, well, you can’t win them all, and even a lawyer as good as O’Banyon can’t always be on the right side. (In fact, it’s precisely because he was as good as he was that clients who knew they were in the wrong sought him out.)

Tom’s application to the Police Academy was accepted with what must have been unprecedented speed, and he was told there’d been a “last minute” opening in the very next class when one of the scheduled recruits had had to withdraw for personal reasons. The speed of the process surprised even him, and turned out to be a little more life-disruptive than he’d anticipated. He’d notified his father before putting in his application, and while the older man was understandably less than overjoyed by Tom’s decision to leave the family business, he knew his son had a mind of his own, and didn’t try to stop him. Tom had assumed he’d have at least a month or so before his acceptance came through, and even considered postponing entering the Academy for a class or two to give his dad time to make other arrangements for an assistant manager. But he realized that part of the speed of his approval was undoubtedly due to his association with Chief Black—though Tom had of course never even mentioned it in his application or in the pre-admission interviews. Postponing his entry was, he decided, out of the question. He entered the Academy exactly two weeks after our reunion dinner.

He did love the Academy, though, and he was like a little kid when he described everything he was learning. Apparently he was doing very well and was at or near the top of his class, which came as no surprise. While I still had my doubts about what he might be facing in the future, I was glad for him.

* * *

As for me, though most of my cases during those weeks were considerably less interesting than watching paint dry, my social life provided enough stimulation to keep me from getting totally bored. My friend Jared Martinson, who had been driving a beer truck for well over a year while he worked on his doctoral dissertation in Russian Literature (a long story), finally finished it and, after making his oral presentations, hoped to have everything tied up so that he could receive his official diploma at the next graduation ceremony. Though we were jumping the gun a bit, I and some of our mutual friends held a little surprise party at my place to celebrate. I’d not been used to throwing parties since when Chris and I were together, what seems like a couple hundred years ago, now. It took up a lot of time, pulling everything together, but it was worth it and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves.

Basically the same group of friends as were at Jared’s party had gradually established an informal weekly Wednesday night get-together at Bob’s bar, Ramón’s. I got a kick out of thinking of the group—for no other reason than that I’d heard the name as a kid and loved it—as “The Elves, Gnomes, and Wee-People’s Marching and Chowder Society.” But I kept the name to myself, lest one of the other “members”—not one of whom could be considered an elf, gnome, or wee-person…or a fairy, for that matter—not appreciate my humor and be tempted to punch me out.

I’d arrived early—surprise—for one of our get-togethers to find only Bob and his lover Mario there before me. Bob was behind the bar as a backup for Jimmy should one be needed, though Wednesday wasn’t the busiest night of the week and we met and disbanded fairly early due to its being a weeknight.

“Any news on the house?” I asked Bob as soon as I’d pulled up a stool and sat down. He and Mario had made an offer on a great old Victorian house in one of the areas being saved from the urban sprawl by gentrification. It needed a lot of work, of course, but it was basically solid with, they’d told me, beautiful woodwork and even a small coach house in back.

Bob grinned. “We should be closing any time now,” he said.

“That’s fantastic!” I said, and meant it. “I’ll volunteer for the moving crew whenever you’re ready.”

“Glad to hear it,” Bob said. “If you hadn’t volunteered, I’d have drafted you.”

Jimmy was at the front of the bar talking with a couple customers, and while I couldn’t hear the conversation, I did catch the name “Nightingale” several times. The Nightingale was a small bar on one of the side-streets just off Arnwood.

“Something happen at the Nightingale?” I asked Bob when he brought my Manhattan over to me.

He nodded. “It got held up last night,” he said as he put two maraschino cherries on a plastic pick and dropped them into my drink.

“No shit?” I said, only mildly surprised. “There seems to be a lot of that going on these days.”

“Yeah,” Bob nodded. “Way too much. Three guys just walked right in and robbed the place. Luckily, it was near closing and there weren’t more than three or four guys in the place, but still…. That takes a lot of balls.”

“Gang members?” I asked.

Bob shrugged. “Probably, I’d imagine.”

“Well,” I said, “hopefully things will get better once Chief Black gets settled in.”

“I sure don’t envy him,” volunteered Jimmy, who had come to our end of the bar for another bottle of gin and who never seemed to miss out on much.

“I do know that business at Venture has sure picked up,” Mario observed. Mario was a bartender at Venture, which was closer to The Central and therefore considered relatively safe. “Kind of a double-edged sword, though…we’re glad for the extra business, but sorry it has to be at the expense of the Arnwood bars.”

At that point, Tim and Phil walked in and joined us. Tim hadn’t made it to the past few gatherings, the increase in business at the coroner’s office, where he was a junior medical examiner, having picked up considerably in wake of the police being distracted by the upheavals at headquarters.

Greetings exchanged and drinks ordered, Bob grinned at Phil and said: “You look a mite tuckered, Phil…Tim not letting you get enough sleep?”

Phil grinned. “Sleep? What’s that? It’s the trying to juggle a new job, go to night classes, and move all my junk and Tim’s to the new place all at once that’s wearing me out.”

“Hey, I help when I can,” Tim said, defensively.

“Uh huh,” Phil said, unconvinced.

“That’s what happens when you get married and settle down,” Mario said.

“Watch it, Mario,” I said. “Don’t use the ‘M’-word or you’ll have Tim bolting for the hills.”

Tim grinned. “That’s right. Tell the press we’re ‘just good friends.’”

The back door opened and Jared came in, spectacular as always. Another round of greetings and handshakes, and Jared took the stool beside me, his knee automatically finding my thigh.

“What’ll it be, Jared?” Bob asked as Jared exchanged a wave with Jimmy at he far end of the bar. “Or should we start calling you ‘Dr. Martinson’?”

Jared shook his head. “Not quite yet. Now that my dissertation defense is out of the way and everything’s been submitted, it’ll still probably take a while.”

Bob put Jared’s drink in front of him, then moved around from behind the bar to pick up his own glass, and raised it: “To Dr. Jared Martinson,” he said, adding “…whenever.”

We all joined in the toast, with glass-clicks all around.

“Well,” Tim said, “I’ll bet you’ll really be sorry to have to give up your beer delivery route. Maybe they’ll let you keep it on weekends.”

Jared grinned at him. “Uh, tempting as that sounds, I don’t think I’d want it even if they offered,” he said. “There’s talk that our union dues are going to at least double after the contract negotiations are over.”

Jimmy, who had once again wandered to our end of the bar for something, and again without breaking stride or even looking at us, said: “Jeez, the whole town’s goin’ to hell in a handbasket. Gangs, unions, organized crime. A girl just isn’t safe on the streets anymore.” And, having gotten what he came for, he went back to the front of the bar, leaving me still amazed at how he was able to keep track of our conversation even from that distance.

“Well, not to worry,” I said. “I think that once Chief Black gets it all pulled together, it’ll be okay. They do have some good people on the force.”

“Yeah,” Bob said. “And in the meantime we can all just put a deadbolt on our closet door and wait for it to pass over.”

Ah, if only we’d known….

Cover of The Good Cop


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