by Dave MacMillan
Kathy stared at me from the moment the chief and I entered The Bird until we were at the bar. There were no daggers - yet. But I could sense them, already unsheathed. I just couldn't see how Billy Boy warranted that kind of devotion from the woman.
"I've been thinking," Nixon said after we ordered. "Another hole in your case against Junior is the arsenal we've got down at the station - it's mostly automatic and assault weapons."
"Large calibre pistols and rifles don't count?"
"Your boyfriend was shot with a pretty low-powered hunting rifle, Phil. Not the heavy military stuff we've confiscated the past couple of years." He snorted. "I stay amazed those Latinos and blacks driving through Soul can get their hands on Russian, Israeli, and Chinese automatic military stuff so easily."
"It'd take a damned good shot to hit him then," I mused, ignoring the imponderables of where drug runners acquired their AK-47's and Uzis.
He nodded. "Doc told me two inches lower and an inch to the left, your boy would've been dead before he hit the ground."
I surrendered to my doubts of a hormone-fuelled teenager could be logical enough to pull off three murders.
Billy Boy had painted a terrifying portrait of this man's son and I'd permitted myself to be pulled into it. But teenagers, in my experience, were more than a bit flighty. Then, too, two things had bothered me all along - two things that had continued to lurk at the far corners of my mind. Jimmy Blacksheare had been moved after he was killed. To the grounds of an undertaker. And someone had taken care to fold his wallet over the elastic band of his Y-fronts so he could easily be identified.
I remembered the money Billy Boy had found in Ronnie Varnadore's night table then. The memory of his discovery had been there all along, of course. Surprise after surprise had been shovelled onto it, however. Hiding it. Billy Boy shot. Ronnie's body in the boot of the preacher's car. Nursing my lad back to health.
It was something the preacher at Central Baptist Church had in abundance - acquired with promises that it would be used to fight the devil but used to build Larry Bishop's glory - and keep his pockets well-lined.
If not the preacher, then, the only other people in Soul with enough money to hand a poor young queen like Ronnie Varnadore a thousand dollars in untraceable twenties . . .
My eyes widened in shock as realisation began to set in.
"Tell me one thing, Charlie," I said as I paid Kathy for our drinks. "What kind of arsenal do the Blacksheares have?"
He turned sharply to face me, his bourbon and coke sloshing on the counter. "The Blacksheares?"
"Yeah. What kind of guns do they have about the house?" I noticed that Kathy was leaning on the bar just beyond Charlie Nixon. She wasn't even making an effort to pretend that she wasn't listening to us. I started to say something, but she was still as frightening as a fully armed tank. It was also hot as hell outside, and the poor Beastie was acting sick. I decided she could continue to listen in, as long as she was quiet.
"They have a big collection. I saw it once - a whole room full of weapons. I think I heard that they were both on their college's rifle team-" He nodded. "Yeah. That's one of their tales - they met on that team and started going with each other on the road trips."
"Love over a rifle barrel," I mumbled.
"Blacksheare was with you and Billy Boy when he was shot," he reminded me.
"But she wasn't."
"Why, Phil?" he demanded, watching me closely as if I were a stage magician about to pull a rabbit from my jacket sleeve. "That doesn't make a damned bit of sense."
"Who commits most of the murders in this country, Charlie?"
His face looked blank. "I don't know - who?"
"FBI statistics show it's family members. They kill each other in greater numbers than all the drug killings combined in the US."
"You've got a better chance of convicting Junior than hanging this on her."
"She had the opportunity - in all three murders." I knew I was stretching it. Eleanor Blacksheare would have to certifiably insane to kill her son. She was, however, the only person in Soul I could think of who seemed to fit most of the facts.
"The Varnadore kid-"
"He was tied up. You're a grown man, one I wouldn't want to get into a fight with. But, if you were bound, a ten year old child could put a plastic bag over your head. A petite woman like her could've got past the thrashing about he was capable of-"
"The autopsy showed he had a minor concussion near the crown of his head - he was unconscious when that bag went over his head." He nodded. "What about Jim Bob? He wasn't tied up when he bought it; and I can't imagine anybody being willing to let even a pretty woman put the business end of a shotgun in his mouth."
"You didn't have the back of his head to look at - or an autopsy either. He was either unconscious or dead when that shotgun blasted the back of his head off."
"Okay," he nodded, "I can buy that. Hell, we can even have him dug up and let the state scene of crime boys do their thing with him. But why would she kill her own kid - her only kid?"
"I'm working on that one."
"She'd have to be completely crazy, Phil." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Kathy was nodding her head emphatically.
"I guessed that already. But her doing it and taking him to the funeral home makes more sense than your son doing it. Especially when Jimmy's wallet was found in his Y-fronts. I can't see many people staying around after they've killed someone - much less loading him up, carrying him out to a car, and dropping him off at Petersen's. Teenagers are impulsive. This killer's covered all the bases - and with deep feeling in Jimmy's case."
"If she did it, this Spencer boy may be safe," he mused.
"She seems to have accepted him-" I stared at him in surprise. "She does, Nixon. There was a double photo frame on the floor of Jimmy's flat. One side was torn open, the picture removed - but the other side held one of Jimmy and Tim outside the High Museum here in Atlanta.
"If she's it, Junior isn't safe, though. She's gone after everybody in Soul that she knew was getting a piece of Jimmy. Your son's no exception, Chief; he's right in there with the Varnadores for her." I paused as a new thought struck me. "Does anybody in Soul know your son's here in town?"
"Just my wife."
"And your children. Call your office and find out if Mrs. Blacksheare's still in town. Have them watch her if she is."
"Come on!" I growled and looked to Kathy. "Let the man use your phone - official police business." She lifted an old rotary dial telephone onto the bar in front of Charlie Nixon. "Do it! Call your wife too and tell her to bloody well keep her mouth closed no matter who asks about Junior. Her and your young ones." I looked to Kathy as he began to dial. "I'll pay for his calls," I told her.
He hung up after his second call to a fresh drink in front of him. "They're checking on her. They'll call back in a couple of minutes. Only-"
"How did she know her kid was here?"
"I don't know. I don't even know how the Varnadores and your boy knew he was here." I studied him for a moment through the bottom of my glass as I downed the blended mess. "Did the preacher try to ease her or her husband's concern for Jimmy after he left? You know - that pastoral counselling they do?"
"I-" He paused, trying to remember what he'd heard over the past six months.
"Maybe Bishop did at that. I remember hearing that Mr. and Mrs. Blacksheare were taking Jimmy's running away better after he went out to their place and prayed with them."
"She set him up," I mumbled to myself, smiling my appreciation of the woman's thinking. Neither one of us thought much of Reverend Larry Bishop.
To Charlie Nixon, I said: "As soon as your people call back - wait a minute. What did your wife say?"
"No one's made any attempt to find out where Junior is."
"Good. Okay, you need to get the ballistic results on Jimmy out of the A.P.D. The hard part will be getting to that collection of guns the Blacksheares have in their house - you'll need a search warrant."
"Why are the guns the hard part?"
"Because, at this point, I'll wager everything anyone can get on her is circumstantial. Bishop may be willing to let it be known she knew where Jimmy was, but that's a long way from killing him. The other two victims have only a tenuous connection to her - unless she left fingerprints somewhere."
"You think her husband knows?"
Charlie Nixon would have to ask me that. I had been avoiding thinking about that angle since I started down this path with him. I remembered how they always operated in tandem, complimenting each other. I also remembered him guiding Billy Boy and me through the clearing to the Varnadore house - and him being several convenient feet ahead of us when Billy Boy took the bullet meant for me. The call box beside the door announced a call and Charlie got off his stool. "He at least suspects her," I said, staying neutral.
"She's still in Soul," he said as he returned to the bar.
"Go home. Get together with Waymon Molloy to get Larry Bishop to sing. Find the gun and tie it to her."
"Between Billy Boy, myself, Tim, and Earl Moone, we can find him up here better than you ever can."
"I can't pay you much."
"Consider Larry Bishop paying me to find your son."
"Huh?" He stared at me, completely bewildered.
I laughed. "It's a long story. I'll tell it to you if you catch Mrs. Blacksheare with the goods."
"I still don't believe she did it, Goodson." He held his hands in front of his face. "I know. You've got it figured to where it makes sense right now - but I'm willing to bet it comes unravelled with just one little prick - like the case your - your lover was making against Junior."
I hailed a taxi on Ponce de Leon for Charlie Nixon. The worse of the traffic had cleared out of the centre of midtown, and I reckoned that the cabbie could cut through the residential areas above us and use Virginia or Highland to get over to Monroe. He'd have to do that to skirt the crowds who were already in Piedmont Park for the Hotlanta Expo. I shoved a ten and a twenty into the driver's outstretched hand to pay for the chief's ride up Piedmont to Ansley Park and his car.
The cab driver gunned his engine as I stepped back and pulled in front of an on-coming car to turn right onto Ponce de Leon. The man wasn't interested in folks trying to go home or the men filling up Piedmont Park; he had thirty dollars to get a south Georgia police chief to his car so he could get out of Atlanta.
"Philip, get your damned ass in here and fill me in on this shit!"
I turned to see Kathy standing in the doorway of The Bird, squinting at me in the harsh sunlight. She still reminded me of a tank, fully armed and with everything pointed at me. I glanced at the Beastie and guessed that it could stand another half hour of cooling its radiator. "I've got to make a call first," I told her and started back towards the bar.
I called Moone and was most apologetic about standing him and the boys up. I implied that the poor Beastie had seethed, hissed, and pissed enough liquid to drown Underground Atlanta before I could get out of traffic. I promised to be there in no more than thirty minutes - either that or give up my left testicle (Moone was that kind of lawyer - they usually are when they're that expensive).
I handed Kathy the phone and she handed me my second blended Scotch of the day. It was Teacher's, but I still didn't think it was a good trade.
"So spill, little man," she said, her face inches from mine over the bar. I promptly forgot that I was sitting and she was standing, that I had her by at least 7 inches, that my weight was nearly the same as hers and was mostly muscle. She was the tank of my nightmares, chasing after me through the bombed landscape of east London, ready to blow me to smithereens. I spilt.
I'd told her about the three murders, the paedophile ring, the preachers, and our changing perception of the murderer - as well as Billy Boy taking a bullet for me.
There was a sudden silence in the bar that affected everything, including its air conditioning unit. I looked up. Kathy was studying me. As if she was a scientist who'd just found the germ that would destroy all of mankind. As if she was contemplating how to destroy me without dirtying herself. I gulp down my drink and began to ease myself off the bar stool. And wondered which of my pockets held the ignition key to the Beastie. I reckoned that I'd only have one chance to escape before Kathy could blow me away. One chance meant I ran like hell to put as much distance between us as I could.
"Philip Goodall, you better not - ever - let anything else happen to that boy. Do you hear me?" Her face swam closer. I nodded. "He loves you," she said. "You take care of him, or you answer to me. You won't like answering to me, Philip - I guarantee you that."
"I will, Kathy," I told her, trying fervently to make sure she believed me. "I love him."
She looked me straight in the eye. "Unfortunately for him, he loves you too. Poor kid."
She grabbed my glass off the bar and took it to the sink. "You're crazier than shit, Philip Goodall, if you think that trailer trash's mama killed him. No woman would put class ahead of blood. Find the man who killed that boy, Philip. Find the man."
Scraping Earl Moone off the ceiling and calming him down proved to be a more difficult proposition than finding Junior among thousands gay men in Atlanta. Talk about high-priced lawyers and the connection between their fees and their egos.
To suggest that Moone was a bit high-strung when I caught up with him and the lads was more than typical British understatement.
Billy Boy had done a top drawer job of convincing the man that Junior Nixon was the only possible murderer and his Timmy was in danger.
Moone had already called the Mayor and Police Commissioner at their homes. He wanted 24-hour protection and seven-man patrols. He demanded the Atlanta P.D. get serious about Jimmy's murder. Worse, he had a bloody Luger.
He was toting the gun and making the rounds of the first floor rooms of his house when I arrived. He was close to taking potshots at any strange lad across the street in Piedmont Park where thousands already had congregated for the opening ceremonies of Hotlanta Expo.
Tim Spencer was chalky white and simply scared shitless.
Billy Boy sat in the living room sipping a glass of milk and looking like a well-satisfied and contented cat.
He was having fun. I was about to.
"It's about time you got your ass here," the honourable Mr. Moone growled as I stepped over the threshold of his home. A smile flickered across Tim Spencer's face now that he had two grown men to protect him.
"I think we'd better talk, gentlemen," I told them and tried to smile. The Luger in Moone's hand made that difficult. "We've got another entry in the murder sweeps and she seems a more likely candidate than Junior."
Four eyes stared at me as if I were Jack the Ripper exposed. Billy Boy's hooded eyes simply watched me, waiting - a bemused smile shaped his lips. I began to elaborate, filling them in on what I had surmised at The Bird with the help of Charlie Nixon.
Billy Boy seemed a bit crestfallen when I finished and colour was beginning to find its way to Tim's face. Earl Moone was obstinate.
"You scare the shit out of me downtown in a courtroom with a tale about some kid gunning for Timmy and now you're going to tell me it was the first victim's mother?
"Junior Nixon seemed to fit the facts then. If he had been the murderer wouldn't you have wanted to know?" I countered.
"Yeah," he allowed, permitting himself to look ever so slightly sheepish.
"Why do you think the kid didn't do it?" Billy Boy asked, breaking his silence.
"Too many loose strands were sticking out of the packet, no matter how I looked at it. I could gloss over most of them but I couldn't accept some lad his age planning his way through three murders. Plus, you found that money in Ronnie's night table. That and Jimmy's body being dropped on the grounds of a funeral home - and identification so obviously left behind-" I smiled at him. "Wouldn't you have just left the body where it fell and got out of the place?"
I turned to Tim. "Wouldn't you?"
He shrugged, then nodded.
"Are you going to be able to prove this?" Moone demanded.
"I don't have to," I answered. "I found a possible alternative to the preacher. It's a reasonable supposition Mrs. Blacksheare could have done it. I don't have to produce evidence a court of law can accept."
I might not have to, but I would be a lot surer of Eleanor Blacksheare than I was now if I could prove her guilt. But I was also thinking of my ten thousand dollar advance from Larry Bishop by way of his lawyer.
"Tim," I said turning to the lad, "think back a few years. The Blacksheares had just read Jimmy's diary and learnt that you two were taking your friendship further than most boys are willing to-"
He gazed at me, waiting.
"They put a stop to you two seeing each other, of course; but how did Mrs. Blacksheare treat you?"
"She was always real nice."
"Tim, I'm trying to understand why she hasn't killed you. If she did it, there had to be something special even an insane woman could view in a favourable light."
I watched him dig through memories he had tried to forget. Unlike older men, he had not sealed them away completely enough that they stayed forgotten. The room was shrouded with silence as he sifted deeper into the past.
"There were a lot of whispers," he said in a small voice. "I was maybe eleven or twelve and my mother'd just died." He looked up at me beseechingly.
I nodded and figured I was going to hear the full story behind the tale Charlie Nixon had told me nearly a fortnight ago.
"You know how kids are - they hear grown-ups talking and they take what they hear as gospel. My father was supposed to be porking Mrs. Blacksheare." He sighed and a tight smile formed across his lips. "A lot of us kids learnt what the word adultery meant that year.
"You gotta understand I was one ever more confused kid. My mom had just died and I was hurting. I hated Mrs. Blacksheare for causing the talk going around town about my father. But I loved her for the attention she showed me.
"She took me over to her house a lot - you know, to stay the night with Jimmy when she and Daddy went out. I got to know Jimmy then. At first, I took my anger at her and my father out on him. But we both soon realised none of the shit going around was our fault. We sort of became friends then.
"One day after school a year or so after the talk started, I found Jimmy being beaten up by a bigger kid - some crap about his mom. I took over and beat the kid up." He snorted. "I even broke his nose. Jimmy and I got a lot closer."
He sighed. "After that, our parents cooled their affair and she went back to Mr. Blacksheare. But she was still treating me nice, doing things for me.
"When it came out that I was balling Jimmy, it was kept real quiet - just the four of us knew about it. She didn't even tell my father about us." He shrugged. "I don't know how he ever found out.
"She even looked me up after they put an end to my seeing Jimmy and talked to me. She told me love was love and there wasn't anything wrong with it - even if it was two men. Only, when the boys were as young as us and lived in a place as mean as Soul, that love had to be put on hold. To protect us from the meanness around us."
He chuckled. "She even told me that if Jimmy and I still felt about each other like we did when we were older, we could go someplace where people weren't so mean and live together. She told me she'd even help us if we still wanted to be together when we got older."
"You loved him?"
"With all my heart," he admitted, facing a truth he had hidden from himself for nearly a third of his life . "But that was so long ago. When he came up here six months ago, we tried to get back what we had then, but-" He shrugged in defeat.
"I can understand her accepting you then - it was over for her and you were her ex-lover's child. But, if she came a-murdering, what's kept you alive?"
Tim Spencer's eyes brightened as an answer struck him. He glanced at Billy Boy questioningly. "The Varnadores - all of them - are trash in Soul, Phil." He continued: "Though the Chief has pulled himself up by the bootstraps, the Nixons aren't much better."
"Trash?" I asked and was perplexed when I saw Billy Boy nodding his understanding.
"Trash, Phil," my lad told me. "It's the old class system the South had. Down here, until twenty - thirty years ago, there were rich, well-educated people and poor, nearly illiterate people. A rich boy might go across the tracks to get a piece off some girl - but he wasn't seen in public with her.
"He sure didn't marry her. If he got her pregnant, his family paid for her to have a couple of days in hospital and her first full physical." He shook his head slowly. "Somehow, she always managed to go back home with an empty womb and only a little worse for wear."
He shrugged. "You've got to understand, no rich girl dared spread her legs for a trashy boy. She dated only her own class and tried to keep her legs closed."
I stared at him in disbelief. This sounded much too much like the England of Charles Dickens. He was talking about the United States in the last years of the twentieth century.
"How does this explain Tim here still being alive?" I demanded.
"Tim was good people. His daddy was the druggist Mrs. Blacksheare had her fling with," Earl Moone offered as explanation, sliding right into full appreciation of what my lad was saying.
"He was-" The lawyer paused and smiled. "He was an acceptable suitor for her son as long as they kept it hushed up - because the rest of the people in this town they lived in were trash. They'd only gossip about their betters and make life miserable for them."
"Okay," I offered. "But why would she kill Jim Bob and Ronnie - and be after the police chief's son?" I asked, still not catching on. "You would even have her going after this coach if he ever comes back." Murder was too extreme to be a method of maintaining class distinctions.
"They were trash - below what was acceptable to people at the Blacksheare table," Billy Boy continued the explanation. "Only, the youth minister and the kids knew Jimmy put out - they were having sex with her son. If that wasn't hushed up, it was social ruin."
"Bloody hell! That lad was supposed to be doing every boy in Soul - the cat was already out of the bag."
"Either she didn't know about that or didn't let herself think about it," Earl Moone told me quietly.
I stared at him, then at Billy Boy. "What was her motive for killing her son?" I demanded plaintively.
"He kept lowering himself and he did so publicly. Even after he was here in Atlanta, he was bringing home-grown trash in for fun and games," Earl Moone, Esq., explained. "He was taking the family honour and grinding it into the dirt for everybody in that one-horse town of theirs to see."
It was enough. I didn't have to understand Eleanor Blacksheare's reasoning or the social conditions that spawned that reasoning. All Waymon Molloy needed was reasonable doubt.
Besides, I wanted to search for Charlie Nixon's son. Now that I could accept the lad as a simple run-away, I wanted to catch up to him quickly and let him know his father knew his secrets. I hoped the chief was using the time that he had to come to terms with things before he had Junior in reach again.
Atlanta had two flophouses which catered to the gay down-and-out. If a lad's money was green, he could rent a room at either and nobody would ask how old he was or who might be looking for him. Even a small-town lad on his own for the first time needed a place to sleep.
One of those flophouses was the Poncey where I had my office. It was the one closest to midtown and the excitement that was the city of Atlanta caught up in the Hotlanta River Expo. All for a hundred and five a week, guests after eleven five dollars extra. I decided to start looking for Junior there.
Moone insisted on meeting the young man we'd all been convinced earlier was in Atlanta to kill Tim. Billy Boy was just curious. I suspected Tim simply didn't relish the idea of being alone while we searched Atlanta for Junior Nixon.
It was seven when we parked under the oak trees in the back of the building and I led my troop through the back door. I knew better than approach the desk. The place might well be a flophouse, but any one of the three clerks in its employ were seriously mum without extensive green lubricant.
The lads at the front desk might be dear, but the Poncey's resident cokehead and sometime maid was reasonable - she'd tell all for a ten if she was in. She was in.
She opened the door enough to peer out at me, her nose red and running and her eyes vaguely out of focus. I handed her the U.S. currency bill and told her what I wanted.
Junior was on the second floor in the back. I led us up the back steps to avoid whichever of the lads might be manning the front desk. I was looking for Junior Nixon, not a month of increasingly fanciful gossip that would keep the denizens of the hotel staring at me every time I came to the office.
Tim accepted doing the honours. He knocked on the door while the rest of us stood back so as not to frighten the lad behind it. The door almost immediately opened an inch before being opened wide.
"Tim Spencer! Am I ever more glad to see you, boy."
I picked up on the distinctive south Georgia nasal twang then but noted it sounded almost pleasant in the young baritone voice in which it was packaged.
Junior stepped further into the hall and spotted Earl Moone. Then, he saw us. The ruddy colour drained from his face.
"Who-?" he mewed as his feet started back towards the room, his eyes darting from one to the other of us.
"Junior, I'm Phil Goodall," I told him as I reached for the door. "I've been working with your father to solve Jimmy Blacksheare's murder. These men are with me. May we come in?"
"You're the Limey he keeps talking about?" the boy asked, his curiosity about me momentarily dispelling his fear.
"'Limey' is a word a little like 'queer'," I told him quietly as I led my erstwhile group into the small room. "A lot of us English don't find it an attractive description."
"I'm sorry," he said and actually hung his head and made circles in the tread-bare carpet with his toe.
With everyone inside and the door shut behind us, I turned the conversation immediately to his running away from home and I hoped the murder. "Your father's worried about you, Junior," I told him.
"He doesn't know what I've done," he mumbled, still making circles in the carpet with his toe and not looking at any one of us.
"If you mean your being gay, he does."
He looked up at me then, his eyes wide and surprise slackening his jaw. "He's gonna kill me," he groaned.
"Actually, he said something to the effect that, if taking it up the arse made you happy, you were still his son and he'd learn to live with it," I ad-libbed.
"He didn't!" The lad's eyes were wide as they met mine.
"He sure did," Billy Boy seconded.
Junior studied him for a moment. "You're the one who got shot just before they arrested the preacher?"
Billy Boy nodded.
"You don't think the preacher did it?" I asked quickly.
"Hell, no! Jimmy's ma did it. She had to have. She paid Jim Bob, Ronnie, and me a thousand dollars each to get out of his apartment and keep quiet about ever being there. Only, she's crazy and she's killed everybody still connected to Jimmy except me."
"Why do you say that?" Moone asked, his legal training taking over.
"She came up to Atlanta that night," the boy mumbled.
"You and who else were there?" he asked.
"Ronnie and Jim Bob Varnadore. We drove up to party with Jimmy."
"What time did you get in?" I asked.
"About nine thirty. Jimmy'd already eaten, but Jim Bob went down to the hamburger joint on Monroe for the rest of us."
"You started partying right off?" Billy Boy asked.
"Naw. We sat around a while talking about Soul and how dead it is. Jimmy told us how many cute things he was always meeting. He also said he was looking forward to this upcoming weekend when all these men would be here for some kind of big party."
"The River Expo," Tim said and, realising his comment was useless to the rest of us, blushed.
"Were you at the flat when Mrs. Blacksheare arrived?" Moone asked.
Junior blushed. "Yeah. Jim Bob put his clothes on real fast then." A small smile tugged at his lips. "He was hopping around on one foot and then the other trying to get dressed before Jimmy could pull out of me and get the door."
"What happened next?" he continued.
"She told us we needed to leave as she and Jimmy had some things they needed to discuss."
"You didn't use condoms, did you?" I asked.
He looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted a second head. "Why? Boys don't get pregnant."
"They can get diseases, though."
"Yeah. That's why Tim wore one when he was around and joined in with us - or Jimmy did when he took him."
The Spencer lad blanched as Billy Boy and I became privy to his status as a bottom in the home he'd shared with his first love.
"But he was working the streets, that's why we had to be careful with him - no matter how big he was. Or how good. The rest of us - we only did it with each other."
"Were you active with the Varnadores?" Moone asked.
"You mean was I fucking them? Sure, I was. It gets pretty boring in Soul and a boy gets damned horny."
"Were they doing you?" Moone continued.
Junior's face reddened. "The only people getting a piece of me there were Marshall Clark and Coach Johnson - only they've got real exclusive here recently. Like I said, Soul's pretty boring. And as soon as I knew I liked dick as much as the Varnadores-"
He shrugged. "Well, it didn't matter who did what to whom - as long as it was just us who knew. They didn't tell any of the others in town I was taking it up the ass."
I glanced over at Moone.
He shrugged and said: "I think you've got this woman placed at the scene when the Blacksheare boy was murdered. You've got a reasonably credible witness. If forensics can match up bullets with a gun, you'd even have a conviction."
I nodded and turned to Junior. "Jimmy was HIV-positive when he died."
"HIV?" The boy's brows furrowed. His eyes widened then and he blanched. "That's AIDS, isn't it?"
They did teach them something in the former colonies after all.
"Close enough," I told him. "If you'd like, I'll take you by the health department in the morning so they can test you."
Junior turned a pasty white. Alabaster.
"Nobody in Soul'll know what they find, Junior," Billy Boy offered.
"Your father would like you home," I added.
"He'll know I'm queer."
"He already knows that - and he's working on accepting it."
"He'll know if I've got AIDS-"
"He knows Jimmy was positive, and he knows you were getting it on with him."
"He'll kill me if I go back, Mr. Goodall," he wailed.
Suspecting a mother had killed her son as well as two more men, I wasn't about to tell this lad his fears were impossible. But Charlie Nixon seemed to be one of the most stable men I had ever known.
"I doubt it. Why don't you go home and try it with him a while?" I suggested.
He was silent for several moments, his eyes unfocused as if he were staring at something none of the rest of us could see. "There's nobody left down there I can party with."
"You might try being celibate the rest of the summer and study for the high school equivalency. In the autumn, you can leave Soul, read at a university, and catch up on all the partying you'll have missed."
"You really think Daddy'll want me after this?"
"He loves you, Junior. When you love somebody, you accept everything about him."
"He ain't about to love me being queer," the lad told me.
"You two will find some way to work out an arrangement on it."
"Did you see her kill him?" Billy Boy asked.
Junior stared at him for a long moment. "Naw. She just reached into her purse, pulled out three stacks of money, and gave one to each of us."
"You didn't see a gun?" I asked.
"No, sir, I sure didn't." Junior Nixon frowned. "Actually, I was pretty close to her and saw in her purse. It was a little thing. I actually didn't see a gun at all."
The Beastie was covered by an impenetrable but invisible silence as we left Atlanta for the long trip south. A sullen Junior Nixon sat centred behind Billy Boy and myself. He had just taken his blood test at the Gay Centre as manfully as if he had taken the football and knew a stampede of teenaged beef rushing towards him.
Under normal circumstances he might be south Georgia's answer to John Wayne, but he was a frightened boy now.
Bloody hell! I could remember enough times that I'd faced the prospect of finding out I was HIV-positive before we found out that condoms stopped the damned stuff. It was a bit like having the noose about one's neck and hoping the trap-door under one's feet didn't work.
Junior was meeting the major gay fear full on. Judging from the sweat on his brow and his pasty skin, it was hitting him between the eyes.
Billy Boy, however, was one who didn't suffer a silence for long. We weren't past the exits to McDonough before he was turned about in his seat and trying to chat up the lad in the back.
"Your old man's not bad," he offered as an opening gambit.
I watched Junior shrug in the rear-view mirror. He said nothing.
"You've got one thing going for you back home that's come out of all this," my lad continued. I didn't see the slightest flicker of interest in the face of Charlie Nixon's son.
"You don't have to worry about all the guys in school shunning the hell out of you - except when they want some of your booty. Nobody's left who knew - except this Marshall guy and the coach. And your dad." Junior turned to the side, shutting Billy Boy out. To my mind, the movement suggested quite strongly that Billy Boy should mind his own business.
My lad took the unsubtle hint. He turned back to me and shrugged.
"Fuck a duck!" he hissed suddenly.
I turned to see what was wrong.
"This damned thing bothers the shit out of me, Phil." His good hand gripped the sling.
"Junior," I called over the wind.
In the rear-view mirror, I saw the boy in the seat behind me turn his head just enough that he could see me out of the corner of his eye.
"You cocked up, lad," I continued. "You didn't even really do that. You were led into this mess before you knew enough to stay out of it. But we've had three of your sex mates killed and another one is in gaol on murder charges. How did it happen?"
"I don't want to talk about it," he growled against the wind and turned his face to the seat.
"It's not whether you're gay or even what you did with anybody. There are young boys who could be in the same mess you're in. If any one of the adults who got you going is infected, there can be a lot of sick people in Soul - boys, girls, and even babies. You're the only one alive who can help us prevent that happening."
"I wasn't the only one!" he grumbled against the seat.
"Tell me how it started for you."
He turned back to face us. "I was almost twelve and the scout troop was camping out for the weekend." He looked down at his hands. "Jimmy got me off from everybody else and started in on talking about beating his meat and how good it felt. One thing led to another and we both had them out and he was showing me how it was done."
He shuddered. "He took mine in his hand and told me to take his. I was on my knees and sucking him off before I knew what was happening. Afterwards, he did me." He glanced up to see me in the rear-view mirror watching me and frowned. "He was cool about it, just telling me we were going to be seeing a whole lot of each other from then on."
"It was just you and the Blacksheare boy?"
"On that camping trip, yeah. He kept getting me alone after that. I didn't want to do it any more." He snorted softly. "I guess I was scared to death. I knew what a queer was and sucking Jimmy Blacksheare off sure came close to me being one. Only, I liked it too."
"When did anybody else get involved?" Billy Boy asked.
Tears glistened in the boy's eyes. "Maybe a week after we were back in Soul, Jimmy and Marshall caught up to me as we were leaving school. We went over to his house."
"Whose?" I asked.
"Marshall Clark. He's Coach Johnson's favourite - always has been. But they've been really close since Jimmy left Soul."
"We got naked in his room and fooled around. Pretty soon, he was in Jimmy." He shook his head at memories I could only guess at. "I could have a piece of Jimmy too - but I had to let them have some of me too.
"After that, I was committed. I thought I was, anyway. That Friday night, I told my folks I was spending the night at Marshall's but we all went out to Reverend Jim Bob's place. There were a couple of more boys from scouts and Coach Johnson's phys. ed. class there.
"It was pretty scary right there at first." He glanced up and caught my gaze in the rear-view mirror. "I knew Jimmy and Marshall. It was all right getting into it with them. But the other two and Reverend Jim Bob?"
"Were there any others?"
"All together, there were Ronnie Varnadore and six more kids who were anything like regulars. Other kids sort of floated in and out of things. Reverend Bishop didn't come around very much and, then, only when Jimmy was there."
"And Coach Johnson?" I asked.
"He was like Bishop - he only came out sometimes. Only, Marshall had to be there if he showed."
"Marshall turned his ass up?" Billy Boy asked.
"How about the other kids? Were they ploughed?"
"Yeah. All of us were when we first started out. Only, most of the others slowed down on that pretty quick. I tried to as well, but Marshall and Jimmy weren't willing to let me when it was just us."
He shook his head again. "Coach Johnson was the one who put his foot down about me and the other guys there from the team. Except for Jimmy and Ronnie, we had all gone out for the football team. The coach didn't want everybody knowing the stars of his football team liked dick. He didn't want it going around town about us. We had to keep it down to just us if we wanted to put out."
"But it was all right to fuck anybody?" my personal gossipmonger asked, going for the dirt.
He nodded slightly. "Yeah."
"So, you went out to Jim Bob's to do the others?" Billy Boy continued, nailing down the dirt.
"Yeah. Reverend Jim Bob was happy with any one of us behind him. Coach Johnson always got Marshall - but that wasn't in front of anybody. Reverend Bishop tried to keep himself down to just Jimmy but that boy wanted any dick that was around. Me? I pretty much contented myself with Jimmy or Ronnie when I was out at Jim Bob's - and did Reverend Jim Bob when I had to. I kept to just Jimmy and Marshall on the side."
"How about after Jimmy moved to Atlanta?" I asked. "Who knew where he was and when did they know?"
"Marshall and I knew he was running away before he did it. He called Marshall the moment Reverend Bishop had him set up in his apartment. We were up there to warm the place up three days after he was moved in."
"You two knew where he was. Bishop obviously knew. Were there any others?"
"The coach, Marshall, and Reverend Jim Bob. Coach Johnson came up sometimes. Jim Bob went every time any of the rest of us did."
"Did Jimmy recruit the other boys too?"
"Like he did you?"
Junior frowned and his eyes became hooded as he thought my question through. "I think so. Yeah. He started the ball rolling with them like he did with me." His frown deepened. "Shit! He took them to Marshall after he had got them with their pants down."
Jimmy Blacksheare and this Marshall Clark had been involved in Soul's paedophile ring from the beginning. Recruiting boys too young to understand what they were doing. They had been operating under the direction of Jim Bob Varnadore and this Coach Johnson.
"Are you the youngest member of this group?"
"Yeah. Of the regulars anyway. I mean, there's some young kids but there's no Jimmy or Marshall to keep working on them. There's been maybe fifteen or twenty of us in the five years I've been involved but nobody went after them like Jimmy and Marshall did."
I remembered Bishop's surprise at my question if they filmed the boys doing their thing. Perhaps he truly had been surprised. Perhaps that had been Coach Johnson's contribution to their ring. One Jim Bob knew about but Larry Bishop didn't.
It could explain why Jimmy Blacksheare had run away.
"Why did Jimmy run away?" I asked.
Junior stared at me in the rear-view mirror, his eyes meeting mine there. "That was sort of funny, Mr. Goodall. He just clamed up for a week or so - he didn't want to see any of us. And he was the one who kept everything going. Anyway, he told Marshall and me he didn't want any more to do with the sex club out at Reverend Jim Bob's and that he was skipping town."
"Sex club?" Billy Boy's ears perked up at that.
"That's what we had come to call it by the time Jimmy left Soul."
"Were the Blacksheare boy and the coach especially close?"
"Not really. The coach stayed hot for Marshall's butt."
"How about Marshall Clark? Were he and Jimmy close?"
"Yeah. About as close as I heard Jimmy and Tim Spencer were early on - before I got into the picture."
The concrete I had been using for grey matter began to churn. There were all sorts of possibilities in the sordid tale young Junior Nixon had told us.
Had Jimmy Blacksheare only just learnt of the videos at least two of the adults in their sex club had been making when he decided to leave Soul? Was that the reason for his running away?
If so, how had he felt about Coach Johnson appearing on his doorstep in Atlanta? It was Johnson who decided to film the boys doing the nasty. It had to be. What I had learnt of Jim Bob Varnadore convinced me he had no initiative at all. He followed; others led.
I was willing to accept that Larry Bishop hadn't been the leader this time. He was more than simply greedy, but he had a ministry that made him over a million a year. The United States government had tax laws that greatly favoured churches and their ministers over normal corporations and citizens. Larry Bishop simply didn't need to sell videos to paedophiles. He was already involved in a profitable - and very legal - scam.
If Jimmy Blacksheare left Soul because of what he'd learnt, I was curious why. The lad hadn't seemed bothered by sex with as many participants as possible while he lived there. So, why would he be bothered by having that sex filmed? Or people watching those films?
Had he just got sick of Jim Bob Varnadore and Coach Johnson using him? Or was it something more? Did that something more, if it existed, figure into his murder and those that followed?
If there was something more, it could have followed his running away - or followed him to Atlanta.
One such possibility was that Atlanta was a much better market for the sale of kiddie porn than was Soul out in the middle of nowhere. That led to another possibility: that Jimmy might have become Coach Johnson's conduit to sell his illegal films. And I would have the bastard right in the middle of my murder investigation - him and his paedophile ring.
We were three hours out of Atlanta and near Moultrie when I reached that point in my thinking. Jimmy Blacksheare selling the kiddie porn that Coach Johnson took him.
"Did you ever see video tapes around Jimmy's flat?" I asked Junior.
"You mean the fuck films?"
I reddened slightly. Not all fuck films were equal - eighteen year olds could make adult decisions; twelve year olds couldn't. I preferred to call what Coach Johnson made what it was. "Yeah. But not the kind that came from a video shop."
"Jimmy grumbled about something like that the first time we went up to see him."
"What did he say?"
"Something about the whole sex club was just a sham so the coach could make money. He said our parties had all been filmed. I wasn't really listening, though." He grinned sheepishly. "I was getting Tim Spencer undressed."
"How did Coach Johnson find out where he lived?"
"I guess Marshall told him - just like Ronnie ended up telling Reverend Jim Bob."
Jimmy Blacksheare had known about the video cameras in the wall. Apparently, it'd disgusted him when he'd first learnt about it. Maybe even enough to motivate him to leave Soul and the club.
Then, Johnson arrived and what? Offered him a piece of the action if he became the distributor for the kiddie porn?
How did that relate to Jimmy's murder? To Jim Bob's and Ronnie's?
"You know, Mr. Goodall, we took Jimmy cases of video tapes around sometimes when we came up to visit. Reverend Jim Bob did - it was his car. Jimmy even started talking about us four making our own fuck films about a month before he died - us and some of the others."
"Who were these boys he talked about?" I demanded.
"Me, Ronnie, Tim Spencer, and Marshall - and any of the others from the sex club who'd like to make good money."
"Why Marshall? He was obviously the one who told Coach Johnson where he lived in Atlanta."
Junior reddened in embarrassment. "You never saw his equipment. Jesus! That boy's hung better than Tim is." He shook his head as if to clear it. "Besides, Jimmy and Marshall went back almost as far as he and Tim did."
Assuming that I had the sequence of things right, they went like this. Jimmy Blacksheare left Soul because he was angry that his sex was being filmed. He called Bishop after working Cypress Street for a week. Bishop had set him up in a flat in midtown Atlanta. But Coach Johnson showed up on his doorstep early on.
Why? To keep him quiet about what was going on in Soul? To offer him a piece of the action?
That made sense because Jimmy Blacksheare had shown himself both greedy and manipulative. Distributing the paedophile ring's videos gave him a source of cash that Bishop didn't know about. A hefty one, if Johnson was fair with the lad.
But how did this neat little arrangement get him and the others killed?
Perhaps Coach Johnson didn't like the idea of him striking out on his own. Perhaps Jimmy Blacksheare had already struck out on his own and was pocketing the money - he was greedy, after all.
Johnson had a young, good-looking man selling his porn videos, a man who was as sexually liberated as they come. Jimmy would certainly have done well. But had he decided to keep the money he was making for the coach? Making a porn video required a large investment, and Jimmy had Johnson's flowing through his hands.
"Who knew he was thinking of making X-rated videos?" I asked.
"Me, Ronnie, and Marshall."
"Did Jim Bob know about it?
"Naw. Not unless Ronnie told him about it. Those two were like giggly girls most of the time. He could of told him."
"Who found out first where Jimmy lived - Coach Johnson or Jim Bob?"
"The coach. He was at Jimmy's the second time I went up there. Jim Bob didn't know where he lived until a month later."
We left the motorway, skirted Moultrie, and started eastward along the two-lane to Soul.
"The coach left town immediately after Bishop told me about your sex club," I told Junior Nixon. "Do you have any ideas about where he is?"
"He's got a trailer set up somewhere on the edge of the Okeefenokee Swamp. I never went out there, but a couple of the boys on the team have. They told their parents they were going fishing with the coach, but we all knew what they were doing."
"And this Marshall? Did he go out there with him?"
"Yeah. Mr. Goodall, Marshall had the coach as his grown-up and Jimmy had Reverend Bishop as his. Where their grown-up wanted them to go, they went."
"I thought you said Jimmy and Marshall were sort of sweet on each other?" Billy Boy chimed in.
"They were. They were always together - except when their grown-ups wanted them. That is, until Jimmy found Tim Spencer up here and tried to get something going with him like they'd had as kids."
Charlie Nixon was standing on the porch of the small frame house waiting for us. Behind me, Junior was sullen. Or frightened and, thus, sullen.
He sprang over the side of the open Beastie and hit the concrete of the driveway with both feet. He seemed to be looking everywhere except in his father's direction as he pulled his valise out of the Beastie and started for the house.
Nixon smiled a welcome to him as he reached the porch. "We'll work it out, Junior," he said softly.
The boy nodded and opened the screen door to the house. "Daddy," he groaned as his foot found the door sill. He turned back to face Charlie Nixon. "I'm sorry." Tears glistened in his eyes.
Nixon moved to his son. He hugged him. "There's nothing to be sorry about, honey," he told him.
Billy Boy and I stayed close by the Beastie to permit father and son to get past the painful moment.
Charlie released Junior and smiled at him. "Go put your stuff away before your momma gets home." He turned to us as the teenager stepped through the door. "You don't have to stand out there like bumps on a log."
The social hour behind us, Charlie Nixon joined us in the Beastie. Nothing had been said about the Blacksheares, Jimmy's demise, or any of the other secrets I now knew Soul had been hiding.
I recalled what Raymond Blacksheare had said about his town's chief of police when we were searching the Varnadore trailer - before Billy Boy had been shot and we found Ronnie's body. I had just seen what Raymond Blacksheare had known about his town's chief of police. Charlie Nixon was a stronger man than most I'd known in my life. I nodded as he came up to us, acknowledging the kind of man he'd just proved to be. For the chief's sake, I hoped his son had learnt from his father. It was going to take both of them time to work out the new arrangements that would become their lives now.
Coach Johnson and his football team's star quarterback now occupied my suspicions more than Eleanor Blacksheare did or Junior had. Much more actually, because I had a difficult time accepting any woman killing her teenaged son.
I had been remiss in discarding him earlier. More than remiss.
Still, his car was in Alabama the day young Ronnie tried to breathe through plastic and Bishop had placed him in Moultrie with several hundred witnesses when Jim Bob bit down on the wrong end of a shotgun. I hadn't seen how he could commit either of those murders. By extension, I figured that he hadn't done any of them.
I had ignore the fact that a teenager was fully capable of killing. I had bought Billy Boy's idea of Junior as a suspect only after there seemed to be no one else. I had jumped quite smartly back to another adult the moment Eleanor Blacksheare seemed to whisper that she might be available. Even knowing the recoil of larger pistols. Even knowing most women - even tall, fit women - couldn't lift a dead body.
I had been remiss all right.
I was not completely ready to dismiss Eleanor Blacksheare as a suspect, however. The twists and turns of her son's case had taught me to shine the torch on even the most far-fetched suspect. But she did occupy the furthest back burner available in my mind as we climbed into the Beastie.
"Gentlemen, I've got to wonder about Coach Johnson and that Marshall kid," Charlie Nixon said as he climbed into the back seat of the Beastie. I noticed that it was the professional policeman speaking. I studied him in the rear mirror as he made himself comfortable. He smiled when he saw that I was watching him. "We got told that the Coach's Jeep was at his mama's in Dothan - only, when I called Marshall's folks the night I was looking for Junior - the Clarks told me that Marshall and the coach were together in Florida."
"There is a circumstantial case against Mrs. Blacksheare as it stands now," I told him as I turned the key in the ignition. I was bringing us back around to where we'd left off in Atlanta, but I was alerting him to the fact that I no longer was ready to put all of my suspicions on Mrs. Blacksheare.
"Circumstantial?" He had learnt me too well this past fortnight.
"She was in Atlanta that night. She paid Junior, Ronnie, and Jim Bob a thousand dollars each to leave and remain silent. She's a gun fancier. And she had opportunity."
Damn! The man definitely knew me.
"But I suspect she wasn't involved in any of these killings."
"Who was then?" he demanded.
"Coach Johnson and this lad, Marshall Clark."
"Jesus!" he groaned. His jaw went slack. He gaped at me as I turned back to look at him in the back seat.
"What is it?"
"Why don't we stop at the police department on our way out to the Blacksheares," Billy Boy suggested. "This man is supposed to have a trailer on the Okeefenokee Swamp somewhere. Maybe he has a phone there."
"That's over in Ware County," the chief mused. "Stop at my office, Goodall. Let me see what the telephone people can find out for me."
"There's still a lot we can get from Mrs. Blacksheare - maybe something that will link up," I reminded him as I aimed us at city hall. "I want to interview her."
Chief Nixon was grinning as he strolled back to the car. I wondered idly what had happened in the police department that put him in such a good mood.
"You won't believe what was sitting on my desk just now," he said as he climbed into the Beastie.
"Tell us," Billy Boy told him, his gossipmonger's tongue lolling in anticipation of a juicy titbit.
"Larry Bishop's blood tests came back."
"His blood tests? Is running them on prisoners awaiting trial normal?"
"Not really. But we found a lesion on his leg. That's why we tested him. The man's got AIDS."
I stared at him. "He has AIDS, Jimmy had HIV. Your son and six other lads in this town were having unprotected sex with Bishop or Jimmy the past five or six years."
His face fell completely then. "Junior?"
"Chief, it's not a hundred percent," I told him. "Junior can have had sex with someone who's infected and not have to get it."
"Yeah. But, if he does, I can't afford the shit they're using now to keep people alive." He shuddered. "I read somewhere that cocktail they're using sells for over ten thousand ... Jesus!"
"Maybe Reverend Bishop will designate part of his wealth to making it happen for your son and these other boys."
"What're you smoking, Goodall?" he growled. "You willing to share this good times shit of yours?"
"He's the one paying me at this point. Maybe I can hold him up as part of my price?"
"Yeah?" He studied me carefully. "He's really doing that?"
"There were eight cameras set up in the living room of Jim Bob's house but that film we took was the only one there."
It was my turn to be curious. "Yeah?"
"Two boys I've seen around town-"
"Very - like twelve."
"Bloody hell," I groaned.
"I've told our local Doc what was going on - about these kids too. I figure to sit down with the daddies and then have both sets of parents sit down with Doc. That kind of shit ain't legal, but I'm not going to smear those kids all over town, either."
"Jimmy left town because he somehow got the goods on the coach and Jim Bob," I said. "The coach followed him up to Atlanta, though. I'd say it's a good bet that Jimmy Blacksheare was acting as some sort of salesman for Johnson to get his kiddie porn out."
"Why would the coach kill him then?"
I pulled my eyes from the rear view mirror. I didn't want to see his face when I answered that. "Junior says Jimmy was thinking of going into business for himself - making x-rated gay movies with his friends from Soul."
"He what?" the chief bellowed.
I was glad I wasn't looking at his face.
"With my Junior?" he asked in something that was almost a normal tone. Choked but normal.
I nodded and pulled into the Blacksheares' drive.
"I wish he was still alive. I'd kill the son of a bitch with my bare hands."
"With eight cameras going in Jim Bob's trailer, I'd suggest your Junior is already memorialised on film, Chief."
"He was something like twelve years old when they got him. Forgive him for being a little boy who got caught up in something he didn't know how to handle - something Jim Bob and the coach were orchestrating."
He nodded glumly as I unbuckled my seat harness and stepped out of the car. "I just warned him to watch out for Jim Boy. God! How could I have been so stupid?"
"You trusted your kid," I told him, leaning back into the car. "You didn't know somebody like the coach or the preachers would use your trust - and your son's - and turn it around on you."
"It's to the point that you can't trust anybody much anymore," he grumbled.
"Especially bible-thumpers," Billy Boy offered and hopped out of the car.
Raymond Blacksheare opened the door to us. Chief Nixon nodded, I smiled. Blacksheare gazed at both of us blankly.
"What can I do for you boys?"
"We would like to speak with you and Mrs. Blacksheare," Nixon offered.
"There've been some developments, sir."
Blacksheare rolled his eyes. "You've got that piece of shit preacher in jail. Are you trying to tell me he didn't do it?"
"This case doesn't seem to stay solved, gentlemen," Blacksheare said as he stood back to let us in. He held the door wide and I followed Chief Nixon into the foyer. Blacksheare looked directly at me. "It would appear an Atlanta-style investigation is fast to jump to conclusions and just as fast to skip to completely contradictory conclusions."
I gulped and felt suddenly much shorter than my six feet and two inches.
He shut the door behind us and stepped around us to lead us into the living room. "Well, let's hear the latest hypothesis. You probably have Mrs. Blacksheare and me behind all the murders this time around."
Eleanor Blacksheare joined us from a hallway that I assumed led back to bedrooms and bathrooms. "Why would they do that, Raymond?"
I figured it was my case and, thus, mine to start the interview. "Mr. Bishop has engaged me to develop enough doubt of his guilt that his counsel can have him acquitted."
Blacksheare made a face. His wife arched a brow. I continued: "Chief Nixon's son has told us you were in Atlanta the night your son was killed, Mrs. Blacksheare."
She didn't seem surprised. "I paid that boy. I paid those Varnadores too." She looked disgusted.
Blacksheare stared silently at his wife.
Chief Nixon cleared his throat. "Mrs. Blacksheare, there are a few circumstances that seem to tie you to the murders." He raised his hand quickly to stifle argument. "I don't think you did it - not one of them." He glanced at me. "Neither does Mr. Goodall here. But I want to stay absolutely legal here.
"You have the right to remain silent. If you decide to do so, you have the right to have an lawyer present."
He took a deep breath and finished her Miranda rights. "Anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law."
Raymond Blacksheare understood what the chief was doing. He opened his mouth to protest but closed it. He stared at his wife, then at us. "You can't believe-!"
"Raymond, please!" his wife told him.
She turned to face me. "Yes, I drove to Atlanta the night somebody killed my son. I went to save him from the mess he was making of his life. I wanted to bring him back to his family."
"Who told you where he was?" Chief Nixon asked.
"Larry Bishop. Who else?" She shook her head slowly in disbelief. "Even if he didn't kill Jimmy, can't you find another reason to put him in the electric chair, Chief? If ever a man deserved to die, he does."
"Tell us what happened when you arrived at Jimmy's place," I told her gently.
"Raymond paid that extortionist five thousand dollars for Jimmy's address, Mr. Goodall. Can you believe that? And him-?"
She sighed. "I knocked on the door several times before Jimmy opened it. He was dressed only in his underwear. When I stepped into the room, I saw the Nixon boy and the Varnadores scrambling to straighten their clothes. I knew Jimmy was up to his old tricks. Nothing had changed."
"He put you both through a lot of embarrassment," Nixon offered.
"Jimmy swished - he actually swished his butt like some woman - into the kitchen. I had three thousand dollars with me - money that I'd separated and planned on paying each of the men who were in that room that night. I gave a thousand to each of them to leave and keep their mouths shut."
"Were there any particular denominations?" I asked.
"It was all in twenties, Mr. Goodall. I had separated the money into thousand dollar stacks and put a paper clip on it to hold it together. I gave each one of them one stack-"
"I'll find Junior's, Mrs. Blacksheare. You'll get it back," the chief told her.
She smiled at him. "You were always such an honest man, Charlie. From what I hear about your boy, he pretty much takes after you. Let him keep it."
"Let him consider it an early graduation gift." She put a hand on his arm. "Charlie, let him keep it. He just has to be a good boy and behave himself to earn it."
She looked back to me and her smile disappeared. "We talked, Mr. Goodall - my son and I. It was probably the first time we'd ever really done that." She shut her eyes tightly. "And the last too."
She sniffed and Blacksheare quickly reached for his handkerchief and gave it to her.
"He wouldn't come home. He liked Atlanta so much better than Soul. He felt alive there. He'd decided to get the his high school equivalence and enrol at State." She smiled. "He asked if we'd pay for it. I told him we would." She frowned. "He wanted to study film making of all things. We were invited to visit but he wanted us to call first - so he could clean up, I guess. The place was a mess."
"Did he seem worried and concerned?" I asked.
"No, Mr. Goodall, he actually seemed in high spirits which was so different from the last weeks he was down here - back in February."
"Did he ask for money - for the flat or living expenses?"
"None." Her face brightened. "He said he had more than enough money for his plans. I couldn't imagine that - but, then, you told us he was prostituting himself."
"He wasn't - except that first week. Larry Bishop was keeping him."
"Him?" Blacksheare exploded. "That bastard doesn't pay half his bills. He-"
"Raymond, Jimmy said he was going to get rid of the preacher the next time he visited. He'd have his three friends from Soul visit him, but he was through with playing games with Larry Bishop and his ilk."
"When did you leave him?"
She turned to face me. "It was after midnight. Probably close to one o'clock."
"What happened next?"
"I sat in my car for a few minutes and had myself a good cry." She smiled at me. "I'd just seen my little boy and he was all right. I guess I was pretty happy."
She was also there close to the time Jimmy's murderer arrived. The coroner's report had the time of death as between one and two. "Did you see anyone? On the street? In a car? Anybody at all?"
"No, not really." She blinked several times and I guessed she was trying to remember. "No. All I saw was one of those small Jeep things - like the army used to have." She frowned. "You know, no top and a back seat nobody can sit in. I saw that drive by slowly just before I turned my car on."
"You didn't recognise the driver?"
"No. He looked vaguely like someone I knew but they were by me before I really started thinking about it."
Chief Nixon glanced at me. I felt the pit of my stomach threaten to become a trap door.
"Was the driver of the Jeep alone?" I asked.
"No. No, he wasn't. There was a good-looking young man riding with him."
I stood and noted with satisfaction that Charlie Nixon was in lockstep with my movements. "Thank you, Mrs. Blacksheare," I told her. "I really think you've helped us pick out your son's murderer."
She stared at me in surprise. "You really think so?"
"I know so," Nixon mumbled beside me.
"I think it might be a good idea to drive over to the Clarks' place," Charlie Nixon said as we walked back to the car. "Marshall might have got home and things could look better for him than they do right now."
I nodded abstractly.
"You're thinking what I'm thinking, aren't you, Phil?" my lad asked, his first peep since we'd arrived at the Blacksheares.
The chief glanced from me to Billy Boy and back again. "You two have this thing tied to that boy and Coach Johnson, don't you?"
"It's not just that," my lad told him. "It sounded awfully much like Jimmy Blacksheare was stiffing Coach Johnson with his kiddie porn."
The chief groaned. "Why don't we go somewhere so that you can catch me up on what you know. Then, we can go to the Clarks and get a fix on Marshall."
"Are you sure you want to know, Chief?" I asked.
"I'm a cop and there have been two murders in my jurisdiction. There's a good deal of suspicion one or more people in my community committed those murders. There's also a good bet statutory rape has taken place here in Soul. I'd better want to know."
I looked away, unwilling to meet his gaze. "This is your son, Chief. While he's not involved in the murders, he is in up to his ears. You aren't going to find any of this easy. You're going to have to think about helping him all the way through this mess - not judging him."
"I'll deal with that in my own way, Goodall," he growled. And immediately relented. "But I'll tell you now I'm not going to hold over Junior's head anything he did with those men and boys. Only the part of me who's a cop is going to know what you tell me."
I nodded and, starting the car, proceeded to fill him in as we drove slowly back towards town.
"I'm beginning to think Jimmy Blacksheare became the distributor for Coach Johnson's rubbish coming out of Soul," I explained after I'd given him the basic picture. "The man knew where the boy was; he had followed him there. I suspect your coach offered up the slot and the lad took it. Only, young Blacksheare found out how much money there was in distributing kiddie porn and decided there wasn't much the coach could do to him if he kept it all. I suspect also he decided to go into x-rated vids himself - with your son, this Marshall lad, Ronnie, and several other boys here in town."
"Jesus Christ!" Chief Nixon's shout wasn't exactly a bellow but it came close. I fervently hoped he could manage to keep his pledge to keep his policeman persona away from his home life.
"Jimmy was stiffing the coach," Billy Boy summed up. "The coach went to Atlanta to knock some sense into the boy and ended up killing him. He brought Marshall along with him. When the coach killed him, Marshall insisted they take him to a funeral home."
"This Marshall seems the well-liked lad; all of the boys seemed to like him," I said. "He and Jimmy went back to when the Blacksheares broke up their son and Tim Spencer. He and the coach had something going too - and, whatever it was, it was stronger than Jimmy had bargained for.
"Your son said the two of them paired off with their adults, although they were quite fond of each other."
"Which adults, Goodall?"
"Jimmy with Bishop, Marshall with Johnson."
Nixon chewed on his lower lip as I parked in front of the police department. "Off the record, and I never asked, but how did my kid fit into this?"
"He was tight-end to Jimmy, Tim, and Marshall, quarterback to everybody else," my lad told him.
The chief simply nodded. "I think I'm going to go inside and find out what the telephone people have dug up on the coach. Then, if you're game, we need to go see Marshall Clark and his parents. If he's not there and his parents can't give me names of motels, we come back here and let me call in whatever kind of back-up we're going to need."
It sounded reasonable to me.
The house was as middle-class as the chief's - single-storied and clapboard - but it was a real house. Its lawn was well-tended and it wore a new coat of paint. The only thing about it that was different from most of the other houses I had seen in Soul was its attached carport.
"Let me do the talking," Chief Nixon told us as we clamoured out of the Beastie.
I nodded. Billy Boy Sharpe had already shown us he could fade into the woodwork effectively.
We entered under the carport and the chief knocked on the door there. A woman who had once been attractive but was now faded opened the door and smiled at us. "Chief Nixon, how are you?"
She opened the door wide. "Come on inside. I can pour us some iced tea."
Nixon thanked her but didn't budge. "Is Marshall home yet?"
"No, sir. They just finished up with the people down there at Florida yesterday and had meetings set up at Florida State today and tomorrow."
Her husband joined her at the door.
"He's calling you nightly then, is he?"
"Yes, sir," Mr. Clark told the chief and shook his head. "He sure is running up Coach Johnson's phone bill."
"Marshall's not reversing the charges when he calls you?"
Clark frowned. "No, Chief. The first time he called, he told us the coach told him to put it on his phone card."
Mrs. Clark chuckled. "This world's becoming so high tech, I don't understand any of it."
"Do you know which motel in Tallahassee they'll be staying at today?"
"Marshall didn't say," the man said. "Is something wrong?"
"Do you know if this trip was planned?" I asked.
Clark glanced warily at me. "Planned?"
"Did it just spring up suddenly or had your son been talking about it a while?" the chief explained.
"Well, it did sort of crop up suddenly, come to think of it," Mrs. Clark admitted. "Marshall up and called me at work the day before Reverend Bishop killed that Varnadore boy. He said the coach had interviews all set up at these colleges and they had to leave right then."
She shook her head. "I asked him if he was going to need money and was worried sick because there wasn't a hundred dollars in the account right then. But the coach said he didn't, the schools would pay for their expenses."
"You told him to go ahead and have a good time," Nixon offered and she nodded.
"There's something wrong, isn't there?" Clark asked, looking directly at Nixon.
"What do you talk about when he calls?" he asked.
"What he's doing down there in Florida, how his chances are looking-"
"Does he ask about things here?" the chief interjected.
"Well, that's normal, isn't it?" the woman answered. "Marshall is still just a boy, Chief."
"Do the murders come up when he calls?"
"It's about the most exciting thing we have to talk about in this town, Charlie Nixon!" Mrs. Clark chuckled.
"If your boy calls this evening, I don't want you to let on to him you've seen me," the chief told them.
"Why in the world not?" she asked.
"What's going on?" her husband demanded.
Charlie Nixon's face blanked. "We found some things over at the school that don't seem right. They seem to involve the coach and we'd like to question him about everything."
"Marshall's not involved in anything illegal, is he?" Mrs. Clark demanded. There was no trace of her earlier sunny good humour.
"No. There doesn't seem to be anything - but we need to talk to Marshall about it. The coach could be using him to find out what's going on back here. When Marshall calls this evening, don't let on anything may be wrong."
"We won't," Clark told him, suddenly tight-lipped.
"You folks have a good evening," the chief told them and started back towards the car. Billy Boy and I followed.
* * *
"You'll need the telephone company to provide you with the records of calls to their number," I told Chief Nixon as I slipped under the steering wheel of the Beastie.
He nodded. "That'll be another nail in Johnson's coffin when we've got him in court." He balled his hand up into a fist and slammed it against the dash. "God! I sure hope that kid doesn't know what that bastard's done."
"I think you know better than that," I said.
"He's a good kid, Goodall. Behaved, respectful, well-liked. He's their only kid and they don't deserve this."
"They don't. But the parents of the other boys in this case didn't deserve it either."
"It almost makes you wonder if there is a god out there," Nixon growled. "I keep remembering those two young boys on that tape we took from Jim Bob's. They didn't have a chance. They didn't deserve what Johnson and Varnadore were doing to them."
"Where to?" I asked as Chief Nixon neared the Beastie in the telephone company's car park.
"Back to the department. I've got to set up with the Ware County sheriff to go in after them." Charlie Nixon snorted. "Shit! I've even got to get directions from them."
"That means you found where the coach's trailer is from the phone company?" Billy Boy asked.
He nodded. "They pulled it in two shakes of a gnat's ass."
"I'd like us to put our heads together before we go blowing into this swamp," I mumbled. "I'm a bit tired of finding suspects in this case who all become dead men. "
Nixon frowned. "We're going in because Johnson connects to that video tape of young boys having sex I found at Jim Bob's. And because any sodomy in this state is illegal - that covers Marshall Clark. No matter what else we find on them, we've got the sex thing pinned on them. That's enough to arrest them on."
"But is that enough to pin murder on one or both of them?"
"What's this shit?" the chief growled.
"I don't want another rush to judgement, especially not where somebody might get hurt and we then have to retreat."
"There won't be any retreat, Goodall," he growled. "I watched that tape. Only Johnson and Jim Bob were in on setting this shit with kids up. I've got him for that."
"And this Marshall Clark?"
"He's aiding and abetting with these calls to his folks."
"I've watched American police go in after people. Bullets fly everywhere - from both sides. People get hurt and killed that way. I don't want that to happen just because somebody messed with a young boy."
"Are you supporting their kiddie porn because it was boys doing it that they taped?"
"No! This being gay has nothing to do with it. Jesus, Nixon! This is paedophilia - children being fucked over. This thing of theirs for pubescent boys is a sickness, though - just like the men who are heterosexual and who like young girls are sick. Being sick isn't justification for having bullets put through your head in a damned firefight."
"Probably nothing. But killing someone in this state does carry the possibility of a death sentence." I shrugged. "I can accept going after a killer with guns blazing there."
"What're you saying?"
I pressed my forehead against the steering wheel. "I want to know one or both of these men is our best prospect for a viable murder suspect, Chief. I want to be sure."
"How do you propose to do that?" he demanded.
Billy Boy gripped my arm. "Phil, we understand you don't want anybody else killed - especially somebody who isn't a killer. It won't happen. It really does boil down to it being these two."
"There were three adults involved in recruiting under-aged laddies for sex, right?" I told Nixon and smiled at my lad for understanding me.
He nodded dubiously.
"One's dead, one's in your jail, and one's out there possibly armed to his teeth. Why not get Bishop's testimony?"
"What do you think you can get from him? He'd be sticking his own head in the noose."
"Not if you and the local prosecutor offered him immunity."
"Jesus! You keep suggesting that, Phil. We've got the fucker by the fucking balls. He's going down."
"But what do you have on Johnson?" I asked.
"He and Jim Bob put those cameras in those walls."
"Can you prove that?" I smiled innocently. "Can you prove it wasn't just Jim Bob from the beginning?"
"That man didn't have the balls."
"That's conjecture, Chief. Not even Bishop can give you all the answers."
"Because he wasn't involved in the filming of the boys over the past five or six years. He can put both the coach and his youth minister in the sex ring with himself. You can prove cameras were set up in the walls at Jim Bob's. But you can't directly connect the coach to the video tapes."
"But Jimmy was selling them," Billy Bob offered.
"We can't prove that," I growled wishing he'd keep his mouth shut.
I stared at him in disgust.
"There was some real money involved in this shit." He grinned. "That boy wanted to make fuck films and wasn't even going to ask mommy for the money. Where was he going to get it?"
Nixon was watching me when I glanced at him. "That's a pretty good question, Goodall. Where was he going to get it?"
"He already had it - from selling Johnson's kiddie porn the past four or five months."
"But, most of that time, he was only taking his cut," my lad chimed in. "I'll bet Coach Johnson's bank account or accounts would show a lot more money than teachers make going through them for the past several years. They'd probably show a real drop off the past month."
"That lad had a lot of money," I mumbled.
"How about the Atlanta police, Phil?" Billy Boy asked. "They had their scene of crime people go through that apartment with a fine-tooth comb. If it was there, they probably found it."
I wondered where this twenty-one year old ex-rent boy was coming by all these ideas of his.
"Bishop might know if he had a bank account," Nixon suggested.
"They set him up. Once, he was out of the way-"
"What happened to the Varnadore cousins?" I asked. "You've left them out."
"They died because they knew about the vids. Jim Bob was making them and either he or Jimmy told Ronnie too much."
"Why didn't they go after Junior?" Chief Nixon demanded.
"He didn't know anything. He knew the grown-ups were involved with the kids, but he wasn't about to tell on them any more than the kids involved were. Each of those guys hiked his backside for each other at some point - they weren't going to open their closets for everybody in the town to see."
"Which one of them did it?" I groused.
"Both of them," Billy Boy answered. Remember? Bishop said Johnson was at some out-of-town church with him the day Jim Bob bought it. Mrs. Blacksheare saw the coach's Jeep drive past her the night Jimmy was killed - outside her son's building. The two of them could put an unconscious Ronnie Varnadore in Bishop's boot pretty fast."
I liked it because it made sense. "Do you see any holes in his idea?" I asked the chief.
"It makes sense to me."
"Me too," I mumbled. "I guess you need to get to the police department so you can call in the deputies in this county we're going to."
Chief Nixon nodded and I turned the key in the ignition. "I'd suggest you get the phone records for calls going into the Clarks' house," I said. "That and work a deal with Bishop's lawyer to get the unabridged story from him."
"I'll make sure we also get any bank records Jimmy and Coach Johnson might have had."
We stopped in front of the police department. "I won't be long," the police chief told us as he vaulted over the side of the open Beastie and started up the walk.
"I don't like it," my lad mumbled across from me.
"Bloody hell!" I growled. "You're the one who's put the noose around these men's necks."
"I know. And it sure looks like it belongs there."
"Then, what's wrong?"
"We didn't figure it out sooner. Two people might be alive today if we had."
A deputy sheriff stopped us as we turned onto the packed sand lane. His hand rested on the service revolver at his hip as he approached the Beastie. Two other deputies moved to stand behind us with rifles ready to train on us. I did not like the situation I had driven into but having Chief Nixon sitting behind me made me feel ever so slightly more comfortable.
Soul had been hot and humid when we left it. This dirt lane leading into a swamp was only thirty miles deeper south than that dying town, but I was immediately covered with a layer of sweat the moment the Beastie stopped moving. My shirt stuck to my chest and arms. Except for the gnaws hovering just beyond my nose, I felt like I was in an oven turned to bake.
Chief Nixon quickly and effectively handled the formalities and we were no longer suspect. I felt nearly comfortable, even with all the armour in my vicinity, but, the longer I sat listening to the chief and deputy speaking in twangy, mushy dialect, the more uncomfortable I became. And the closer the hovering swarm of gnats came.
"We go two or three miles down this road," the chief finally translated for Billy Boy and me. "The trailer's in a clearing right on the swamp."
"Will your men expect us?" I asked glancing to the deputy still standing beside me, then into the rear-view mirror at the two behind us.
"We've got them surrounded, sir," he told me. "They ain't come outside since we got set up."
"Are they there?"
He nodded. "Several of our boys heard voices inside. We've got them treed all right - like a couple of 'coons. The Sheriff's gonna meet you at the roadblock just this side of the clearing."
I put the Beastie in gear and started slowly down the dirt road into the swamp.
We were stopped by a police car parked in the centre of the lane and a large man in khakis standing at its boot. Immediately beyond him was a sharp curve in the road and surrounding us was the thickest growth of trees and underbrush I had ever seen.
"We've got them holed up for you, Chief," the man offered and began to lumber towards us. He puckered his lips and spat a stream of tobacco juice on the road.
"I knew I could count on you, Sheriff," Nixon told him and vaulted over the side of the Beastie. Billy Boy and I exchanged glances. We were clearly wallflowers at the dance. This was a part of American police work neither of us had seen.
"You said there were two of them on the phone."
"We going in after them?"
"If they don't come out like good boys."
The big sheriff studied Nixon carefully. "You didn't tell me much. What're they supposed to have done?"
"Three counts of murder-"
"You got that tied around their necks to the point you can pull the horse out from under them so they swing?"
It dawned on me this man was demanding specifics because it was his men who would be on the firing line if there were one. Immediate respect for him swept over me, despite how closely he met the stereotype of the big-bellied, slow-thinking Southern sheriff of television fame. He'd make a good sergeant major in any army.
Nixon grinned. "That's up to the district attorney, isn't it?"
The sheriff nodded disgustedly.
"I've got one of them for making and distributing kiddie porn. That good enough?"
"Kiddie porn?" The man studied Nixon speculatively.
"Little boys taking it up the ass-"
The sheriff's eyes widened before quickly becoming slits. He turned his head and spat more tobacco juice. "Fucking queers!" he growled and started up the road. "Let's go get the slimy bastards."
Billy Boy and I climbed from the Thing slowly and followed them around the curve beyond the police car. I, for one, was quite happy Chief Nixon was present to account for us.
"We got the trailer surrounded," the sheriff told Nixon as we walked, reporting to him how the operation was set up. "The back opens up on the swamp itself, but there are four men back there with automatics. I got another four men across the clearing from the front."
"Any other ways out of the place?"
"Naw. Just them two doors."
Nixon nodded and grinned. "Sounds like you've got them treed all right."
Billy Boy jabbed me in the back with his good elbow as the policemen in front of us veered to the woods to our left. "Where are all these cops hiding for this shindig?" he whispered.
I shrugged and moved up behind Chief Nixon so I could see the trailer in its clearing. I didn't see any policemen. "I guess behind all those trees and shrubs," I mumbled as he pushed his way in beside me.
The sheriff squatted down behind a bush and raised a bullhorn. He glanced at the chief and Nixon nodded. He pointed the bullhorn at the trailer and spoke into it. "This is the police. We have you surrounded. Come out with your hands in the air."
There was total silence for several moments. No birds. No insects. I realised I had forgotten to breathe.
A door slammed on the other side of the trailer. A single shotgun blast exploded back there. It was immediately followed by a fusillade of automatic weapons fire I thought was going to go on forever.
The sheriff's walkie talkie crackled. "One's down," a disembodied voice told us.
One down? After what I had heard? A bloody battalion of Gurkha facing that would be down. I felt ill. A shotgun against an army?
The sheriff raised his bullhorn again. "Don't be a fool in there. You got a chance in a courtroom. You ain't got none in a swarm of bullets. We've got you surrounded. You can't escape. Come out of there with your hands in the air. I'm giving you to the count of ten before we come in shooting."
He lowered the bullhorn and we all watched the front door of the trailer expectantly.
The sheriff raised his walkie talkie. "Get on that back porch and get ready to go in," he told his men on the swamp's edge. He turned to Nixon. "You sure there was just the two of them?"
The chief nodded.
The door opened a crack. A piece of white cloth wormed its way into the open, held there by two fingers.
"Come on out here, boy. We ain't gonna shoot if you got both hands touching the sky." he said into the bullhorn. He grinned over at Chief Nixon and brought his walkie talkie to his lips.
"Phil, I saw one of the deputies!" Billy Boy whispered as he jabbed me in the arm.
"Get up on that back porch, boys," the sheriff said into the radio. "Get ready to go in. This one's coming out but be careful. There ain't supposed to be but the two of them, but you don't ever know."
A slim blond man stood at the door, his hands raised above his head. He took a step onto the deck and looked around fearfully. He had a buzz-cut and a receding hairline; otherwise, he was a non-descript, middle-aged man.
The sheriff raised the bullhorn and said: "Get those hands up there, boy! And start across the clearing. We're waiting for you."
The man nodded, raised his hands higher, and started towards us. Men moved from beside us towards the road where I guessed they intended to meet him.
The sheriff spoke into his walkie talkie. "We got him out of there. Get in there and see what we've got." He stood up and smiled at Nixon. "The best kind of operation there is - nobody hurt."
I wondered about Marshall Clark who had been with him and the fusillade of bullets. Nobody hurt? I didn't think so. One probably dead and two nice people in Soul hurt very badly by that death.
The radio crackled as the Sheriff reached the dirt lane. "Wait 'til you see what we found, Sheriff," someone told him. A moment later, a khaki uniform appeared in the doorway and tugged at something still in the trailer.
The uniformed deputy had a crying boy by the arm. A boy who didn't seem more than eleven or twelve. A naked boy attempting to cover his privates with his free hand as he was pulled along.
"That son of a bitch ain't gonna live through the fucking night!" the sheriff hissed to Nixon.
"Keep him isolated, then," Charlie Nixon told him.
"Shit! That ain't gonna stop me from putting the belt around the asshole's neck and pushing him off the bunk myself."
I certainly hoped I wasn't intended to hear the sheriff's comments. I might tend to agree with him about someone who molested children, but there were laws. The sheriff was sworn to uphold them; I wasn't.
Two officers rounded the trailer, pulling a shirtless body between them. I didn't look closely.
I looked over at Chief Nixon.
"Why don't you two go on back to Soul? There's stuff I've got to do here." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the Sheriff. "These boys here can drive me back."
I nodded. There was police work to be done, work that didn't bear on Jimmy's murder or those that followed. We were civilians and in the way.
Billy Boy and I were packed, the Beastie was loaded, and I was walking towards the office to pay up. He already sat in the Beastie. I watched the black and white pull into the motel and stop outside the office.
Chief Nixon pulled in beside me and grinned up at me. "I don't know if anybody's going to tell you this, so I am. I think you did a fine job of solving those murders. And helping us save a lot of our young boys too."
"Did you know Jimmy Blacksheare had a bank account?"
I knew a leading question when one slapped me in the face. "How much?"
"Almost a quarter of a million dollars."
My eyebrows felt as if they had gone into hiding approximately at the crown of my head.
Nixon chuckled. "Dumb kid didn't know banks report to every tax authority there is - he'd have thought somebody shoved a hornet's nest up his ass about this time next year when the IRS came down on him."
"Porn money he held back?"
"Did you find any videos at the trailer in the swamp?"
"Jesus! Did we? We got the masters, almost a thousand tapes, and the duplicators. They were using the place as a warehouse."
"How did Marshall's family take it?"
He looked away. "Hard. That's one of the few things I hate about this job."
"Did the coach break?"
"Like an eggshell."
"Who committed the murders?"
"They both did, like Billy Boy said. Johnson and Marshall both got Jimmy. Johnson pulled the trigger; Clark was the one who insisted they take him to the funeral home."
"He was still fond of him then. How about the others?"
"The kid got Jim Bob. The coach took out Ronnie - but with Marshall's help."
"A regular Bonnie and Clyde show."
"Johnson was ready to bug out to Florida. He's got a 40-foot boat in the panhandle. He was going to hit Mexico for a while and sail down to one of the South American countries."
"Why didn't he?"
"He wanted Marshall to come with him. Marshall didn't want to give up his folks."
"Are you going to release Larry Bishop now?"
"I've got him for child molestation - but he'll get out on bail the next day or two."
I nodded. "That sounds about right. Molloy will find a way to squelch your case."
"Probably. No kid's going to come in to testify against him - not and expose himself."
"So, let him go yourself. But have him agree to pay for the medicine the local boys are going to take the rest of their lives."
He gazed at me for a few moments. "I just might do that. That's better than just sending him away to prison and letting those kids die of AIDS because there's no money for it."
"We'd better be off," I mumbled.
"Can I call you if I need some help one of these days?"
I laughed. "I hope you will."
"Soul wouldn't be able to pay much."
"We'll work out an arrangement."
"You drive careful-" He glanced over at Billy Boy, twisted his lips, and looked at me closely. "Take care of that man of yours. He seems to be an okay boy."
I nodded and chuckled. "I think so too." I started towards the motel office and heard the police car back up. I turned and waved as Chief Nixon pulled out onto the street.
* * *
I sat on the bonnet of the Beastie in front of the Metro station at Georgia State, wearing the knee-length shorts and wife-beater my lad had given me when we'd got back to Atlanta from Soul. Admittedly, I looked like every older gay man I'd ever seen cruising - trying to look young again. I suspected that I failed just as miserably as all those other gay men. But I was past being ashamed of the outfit.
If Billy Boy wanted me to look like the world's oldest teenager, I'd do it to keep him happy.
I wondered how long university registrars kept people as I watched the 300 pound, male meter maid at the top of the block move down the queue of parked cars towards me. He hadn't missed ticketing one car yet. I chuckled as I imagined him trying to handle me. I was in a no parking space. The nice thing about it was that, with me sitting on the Beastie, I technically wasn't parked. And there was nothing against standing in the space the car occupied.
"Why're you downtown, Phil?" Billy Boy asked from behind me.
I looked over my shoulder at him and smiled. "I wanted to catch my lad before he got on the tube and treat him to lunch now that he's officially a student."
"You mean it?" he asked, his face blank. I nodded, wondering if I'd overstepped some unwritten rule for older men who kept young lads. His face suddenly broke into a grin and he was climbing up the fender to hold onto me.
We were still holding onto each other with his face plastered against mine when the oversized meter maid got to the Beastie. "Homos!" he growled.
Billy Boy broke the kiss. "Get used to it, Rita, meter maid. At least, he looks like a man - what's your excuse?"