by Dave MacMillan
I leant back in the patched nauga-hyde swivel chair and lifted my heels one at a time to the top side drawer of the low-slung dresser I'd long since made into a desk. The air conditioner in the window wheezed as the mid-morning heat began to attack it. I brought the mug of steaming Typhoo to my lips.
My gaze roamed the room as I sipped my morning tea, one of the rituals from home that had stayed with me through the years. I lived in Atlanta. I had stayed thirty years ago, though the relationship that had brought me here hadn't survived its transatlantic crossing.
I'd been an ex-pat for those thirty years, a green-carded resident alien. I wasn't Yank, but I was no longer exactly an Englishman either. I had become a standard-issue, post-war hybrid. The portrait-sized, coloured photograph of Her Majesty that hung on the wall before me couldn't change the fact that I had ceased to be completely one thing while failing to metamorphise into the other.
The state of being neither here nor there - of being in limbo, as Yanks would say - had brought with it a sense of separateness. I had learnt well how to use it to my best advantage most of the time.
I had become quite good at being what I had quickly learnt Yanks wanted from their Englishmen. I was enough of a salesman - an actor really - that I was able to parlay an unremarkable two years on the beat as a constable in London's Soho into a career as a private investigator. I had perfected a persona that incorporated the American perception of the prototypical Briton so well these past thirty years that I was increasingly unsure exactly who I was.
My phone rang, pulling me out of my contemplation of what, if anything, was still really English about me.
"Mr. Phil Goodall?" a man asked in a sad, gentle twang when I had brought the receiver to my ear.
"You've got him," I answered brusquely and immediately frowned at having lapsed into the American film persona of a hard-boiled dick. I was supposed to be a bit flighty like Lord Peter Wimsey - in addition to being cerebral like Sherlock Holmes. Not a hard-drinking Humphrey Bogart doing the Maltese Falcon.
"This is Raymond Blacksheare," the voice said. "I - we need your help, Mr. Goodall. Mrs. Blacksheare and I do. Our son-" The man at the other end of the line choked back a sob. "Our son was murdered yesterday here in Atlanta."
"The police usually do a reasonably decent job investigating murders," I suggested. Large city police departments had detectives trained to find murderers; they also had computers and very knowledgeable people who knew how to use those computers. Police departments were also free to the citizen.
The silence that followed my verbal plug for the local constabulary was long enough to make me wonder if the world outside my office had disappeared without my knowing it and I was the only one left alive in the world - me and the open phone line.
"Mr. Goodall, you are - ah - gay, aren't you?" Raymond Blacksheare asked at last. "At least, you do investigate gay-related cases?"
I understood immediately, then. Blacksheare's was a member of my community. And that practically negated the Metropolitan Atlanta Police Department taking more than a cursory look at his death. Someone had explained the facts of life to this man and suggested my services if he wanted more than an inactive police file for his son. "Who recommended me?" I asked.
"A Mr. Fein from the morgue. He said you know your way around the Atlanta homosexual world."
Henry Fein? I shuddered. He recommended me after I stood him up two years ago? He certainly had better memories of our fling than I did.
"We need to speak, Mr. Blacksheare," I told him, sloughing off memories of the assistant coroner and what he'd wanted us to do at the morgue the last time I'd seen him.
"I'm not saying that I'll take the case, but I need to know the particulars in order to make a decision." I took a deep breath and brought the conversation to money. "My retainer is five thousand dollars, Mr. Blacksheare. I charge three hundred a day plus expenses-"
"Could you meet us here at the Marriott Marquis this afternoon?" he interrupted, seemingly brushing off the financial consideration as inconsequential.
I agreed and we set our interview for two o'clock. I had the distinct impression Raymond Blacksheare was a chap who fully expected to have his way - even when grief-stricken.
I had been in "security consulting" and private investigations almost since I had landed in Atlanta in late 1976. My first consultation was within the Atlanta gay community. I'd rarely had occasion to step out into the heterosexual world since. My investigations had taken me throughout the South, but they had been for and within the Southern gay community. Being gay and working gay had been good for me from the beginning of my self-employment. Southerners were intrigued by my being English. I established myself as a good investigator. Equally important, I was known to be honest. Word of mouth kept me working.
* * *
A slim man approached me and I thought him dapper in his white cottons, unbuttoned jacket, and school tie in a Windsor knot. His thinning blond hair was slicked back in fifties' fashion. The man oozed personality, looks, money, and American class. He also knew his clothes and how to dress in them. I suspected Brooks Brothers.
I met Raymond Blacksheare in the lobby of the downtown hotel which he and his wife were using as their base during their unpleasant stay.
"Mr. Goodall?" he asked, smiling down at me as his hand reached out to me.
"Mr. Blacksheare?" I stood, and reached out to shake his hand.
"At least we now know who we are," he answered, a thin smile playing across his lips for the briefest moment. "My wife won't be able to join us this afternoon, Mr. Goodall-" The smile returned but was sad this time. "This thing that's happened to Jimmy has just broken her heart."
I nodded my understanding. I easily imagined her upstairs in their room crying. What woman wouldn't be, a day after learning her son was dead? Especially after viewing the boy's remains at the morgue.
Blacksheare was looking at me closely; I met his gaze. "You're older than I expected."
"I'm close enough to fifty that I don't discuss it any more."
"You surely don't look it!" He frowned. "You're not from the South, are you? You have a slight accent. When we were speaking earlier-" he smiled, "I couldn't quite make it out - is it English?"
As he wasn't going to avail himself of one of the many chairs in the Marquis' lobby, I gathered very Deep South Southern gentlemen conducted their business on their feet. "I'm originally from London."
His eyes rounded slightly, arching brows so blond they were barely visible against his tan. "England?" he asked, caught up in curiosity enough he momentarily forgot his loss.
I nodded. "I always wanted to take Jimmy to see-" His voice trailed off, his eyes glistened with tears, and I saw his grief suddenly brimming there.
"He's dead, Mr. Goodall." The honeysuckle in his voice didn't drip gently now as it had on the phone. It was a lifeless lump in his throat threatening to choke him. "Someone here in Atlanta killed him yesterday morning." He sniffed and glanced away from me. "Jimmy only just turned eighteen."
He suddenly seemed unstable, his legs weakening suddenly under his weight. I took his arm. "Please sit here," I told him, directing him to the chair I had recently vacated.
As I sat down beside him I noticed he clutched a manila envelope in his hand. "What happened?"
"Jimmy ran away from home." Tears welled in his eyes and he shut them tightly. "Back in February. We didn't know where he went - not `til the police called." He sobbed.
He shook his head slowly and brought his free hand up to cover his eyes. "I don't think - Mr. Goodall, I thought I could meet you this afternoon and stay in control of myself." He shook his head slowly. "Instead, I'm just as heartbroken as Mrs. Blacksheare is. Can we meet tomorrow?"
I smiled my understanding. "I can be in my office tomorrow by nine-"
He looked at me. "That'll be fine. We - Mrs. Blacksheare and I - we'll meet you there."
He looked down at the envelope in his hand, seeming only then to realise it was there. "This is the patrolman's report and-" He sobbed again, squeezed his eyes shut, and shuddered, "a vitae his mother and I - and Jimmy's morgue pictures. The report and pictures are all they had at police headquarters when I was leaving - just before I called you."
I permitted my surprise to show. "The police gave those to you?"
He managed a smile. "When you are a Blacksheare, Mr. Goodall, some things do become easier." He snorted. "It also helps to know the governor personally."
He handed me the envelope and reached into his breast pocket to pull out a chequebook. "You mentioned that your usual retainer is five thousand dollars?"
I nodded and watched him quickly write out a cheque for that amount.
"We'll meet you at your office tomorrow, Mr. Goodall," he told me as he handed me the cheque. He sighed, appeared to gather strength to himself from the room, and pushed himself out of the chair. "If you'll forgive me, sir?"
"Tomorrow," I told him, gave him the address to the office, and watched him turn towards the lifts.
As the lift's doors closed on Raymond Blacksheare, I remembered that I never told him I'd take his son's case. He had merely assumed.
I looked down at the cheque in my hand. And knew he had assumed correctly.
* * *
It was late afternoon before I left the rich commercial veneer downtown Peachtree that is much of the world's image of Atlanta, the city that's too busy to hate. My twenty year old VW Thing had made it to where Courtland became Piedmont before the afternoon rush to escape downtown could pick up steam. I'd turned onto Ponce de Leon and was nearly to the old Sears store that the city had made into its eastside administration building. I was heading for my office in the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
I had kept the office at the Poncey through thick and thin since it had become my room in the mid-1970s. It became my home in America a scant month after my arrival in Atlanta, holding me together when the boy I followed across the Atlantic no longer wanted me. I continued to view the plain, two-storeyed brick structure with a fond warmth even after I bought my home - and after management had allowed the Poncey to slide into disrespectability. I still rented the same room after nearly thirty years, though the motel had become the last stop before the streets for gay men and women who were not a part of the new economy.
I had made that room into an office more than twenty years ago. I put up with poor maid service and worn-out air conditioning units. I still used the same furniture I had brought in when I made it an office. The Poncey kept me near downtown. Near midtown. On the outskirts of the gay community. And it was comfortable.
Atlanta in August was hot as hell and every bit as humid as the Amazon jungle. Its heat and humidity packed the single room I kept as an office, parboiling me to a fine doneness.
I sat at my desk and sweated like a Trojan who had ignored Cassandra's warnings and now faced Greek arrows as he sought to flee Asia Minor in the aftermath of that long ago war. The air conditioning unit in the window groaned and wheezed louder than it had when I'd first arrived this morning. I glanced at the other, unobstructed window and knew there was no way I could pry it open. Too many years of cheap paint become glue made that an impossibility.
I reluctantly picked up the photograph of Jimmy Blacksheare from my desk. And studied the photograph of a beautiful youth who seemed asleep - yet, somehow surprised. Curly black locks framed the face of a Greek god. High cheek bones accented lips that curled into a come-hither look that even Zeus would have been hard-pressed to deny. The skin was alabaster in the grainy black and white picture.
I dropped the lad's photograph to pick up the initial officer's report the A.P.D. had been kind enough to provide his father along with the morgue shots - probably after a call from the governor's office.
Six months ago, Jimmy Blacksheare hadn't yet turned eighteen when he left the south Georgia backwater he called home. His proclivities were apparently well-known there. It wasn't difficult for me to imagine much of the high school male population availing itself of them before he had had enough one February morning. He'd left for Atlanta, freedom, a new life - and death. Being constantly hit upon was a better justification for running away from home than most.
His father was the county agricultural agent and his mother the county superintendent of education. The Blacksheare family owned half the county from the looks of the vitae and was local aristocracy, dating back to the turn of the century and the county's founding - none of which meant anything to authorities two hundred miles to the north-west in Atlanta. Such positions did, however, lend themselves to political connections - and those did mean something to Americans residing in the same state.
Jimmy's grades had been exemplary - he scored an A on a Spanish test two days before he left home, his grade point average was in the high threes - four months before he would have been through high school. Whatever psychological forces set him packing so shortly before graduation, he was able to separate them from his education even as his world collapsed in on itself.
In eighteen short years, he had been boy scouts, debate club, drama club, and school paper editor. He had even been the star of a little league baseball team in his pre-teen years. He appeared, at a quick glance to be the perfect American boy every mother dreamed of her daughter marrying.
According to the initial officer's report, Jimmy Blacksheare left it all and, two days later, ended up on Cypress Street selling himself to the men who wanted a touch of youth and could afford the price. Six months later, he lay in the Fulton County morgue with two large bullet holes in his smooth, boyish chest and horribly large, jagged wounds in his back where the slugs exited. The officer guessed at .45 calibre hollow point slugs.
The initial officer on the scene noted the lad had no prior warrants or arrests - vice or otherwise.
Jimmy's semi-nude body was found Wednesday morning by a caretaker on the grounds of a funeral home in trendy midtown only a few blocks above the hustle strip of Atlanta.
The officer didn't come out and note it specifically, but it was clear he assumed young Mr. Blacksheare had attempted to hustle somebody he oughtn't, someone with a pistol nearly as large as the deceased. The officer placed the dead lad on Cypress Street the night of the murder.
His report had been forwarded to homicide.
With a sick feeling growing in the pit of my stomach, I stared at ten sheets of paper in my hand. Someone at homicide had given Raymond Blacksheare the officer's report; but there was so much more that person hadn't given him - information that would have been available this morning. I wondered why, with the man's political connections, he had got such short shrift.
I remembered then - Jimmy Blacksheare was being labelled a rent boy by Atlanta's finest. He was just another dead rat - and good riddance. Governor or no, the A.P.D. wasn't going to spend much of its time investigating this murder.
As the air conditioner in my office wheezed and I grew hotter, I decided that I wasn't going to out-wait the Poncey's management. I'd buy a bloody air condition for the office. There was no way that I was going to put up with the heat any more.
I hoped that inspiration would strike me before the heat cooked me. I was lucky - it did. And it hadn't taken but a couple of times reading the homicide report and Jimmy's vitae before I had my rapture.
Jimmy Blacksheare was supposed to have been a rent boy. The initial officer on the scene said so. Okay ... So, where in Atlanta did rent boys go to peddle their wares?
There were, of course, the escorts and masseurs advertising in Etcetra and Southern Voice; but the initial officer's report had specifically mentioned Cypress Street. The street that was Atlanta's meat market lay a couple of blocks behind the Fox Theatre - in the wasteland that had separated midtown from the Georgia Tech campus since the early 60s.
In my thirty years in Atlanta, I had yet to take a drive along Cypress Street to look over the boys of the evening. I never had a desire to. Now, however, I decided that it'd be a good idea to seek out one who might remember Jimmy Blacksheare.
At least, I had my excuse to escape the sauna that was my office to the heat of August. I picked up the car keys and headed for the door. I was out of the Poncey and in the Beastie inside of two minutes.
I was turning into Cypress Street almost before the boys of the evening crawled out of the woodwork.
* * *
The first lad I saw as I entered Cypress Street leant against the stone banister on the Fourth Street side of a burnt-out building. He was slim, of course, and a bit short - and wore faded, tight cut-offs that emphasised his groin.
The spiked platinum hair registered then - and I immediately stopped appraising him, my prejudices rising like hackles.
Half a block up the street, another bloke leant against a segment of chain-linked fence, jutting his hips forward and staring off into space. I wasn't sure if he was oblivious to my approach or was simply being studiously indifferent.
His backward baseball cap suggested youth; his moustache and the primeval forest that covered his bared chest and abdomen however contradicted the first impression of youth. Approaching closer, I made out the heavy five o'clock shadow and decided the chest would probably measure close to fifty inches, the hard waist nearly thirty-four. This was a muscle mary with a ferret's face. Still, the chap was old enough to have a bit of sense about him. And nothing about him threatened my dormant libido.
He watched the Thing from Volkswagen slow to a halt before him and made no effort to move. He waited unsmiling for me to call him over.
"You have a moment?" I called pleasantly to him.
He still didn't move from the fence, his face remained immobile. "I got all the time in the world, buddy - if you've got the money."
I frowned. Admittedly, I wasn't fully up on the proper etiquette of hiring flesh by the hour. Somewhere along the line, however, I had acquired the impression that these rent boys were salesmen, selling themselves as much as they sold sex.
"I'm looking for information," I explained.
The geezer laughed then - coldly. "Look, old man," he growled from his position against the fence, "there's only two things you gonna get here on Cypress Street - dick or ass. You want a piece that'll keep you singing soprano into next week, you got the right boy. You want ass, there's a kid down the street who's into bending over."
Old man? I certainly didn't see myself as old; I certainly didn't like others seeing me that way - especially when I was prepared to pay them for the time they spent with me.
"I'm looking for information," I tried again, swallowing my pride. "I'm willing to pay you for it."
The upper lip of the rent boy curled under his nostril into a slight snarl. "There ain't no information here, troll - just the biggest slab of American prime you gonna find in Atlanta. You want information, go read the paper." He raised a brow invitingly. "Coz it's early, I'll give you an hour for a single bill - but you gotta live close by."
"There was this attractive lad," I tried again, attempting to capture his interest.
He shook his head. "There ain't no past on this street, old man - no yesterday. And no tomorrow. You got that? There's just here and now. And me - and the good time I can give you that you gotta pay for."
I finally accepted that I was going nowhere on a fast train. "Thanks," I said and put the Beastie in gear.
I drove the rest of the way down Cypress Street but saw no one else who remotely resembled my idea of a rent boy - dominant or submissive. If the bloke I'd just spoke with was typical, it was clear that I had a very mistaken image of the business of selling one's bum.
It might well be exploitation and my first impulse was to consider it such, but the ferret with the five o'clock shadow and pumped body was certainly not my image of an exploited street urchin. He impressed me instead as a callous exploiter of middle-aged and older men. Admittedly, that could well be a front, but it had been an effective one for me.
I resigned myself to approaching the platinum spikes and hoped he was more open to communication than his competitor on some basis other than sex. Suspicious of how many drugs I'd have to sift through to gain an intelligent answer from Spikey, I turned the car about and began moving back towards him.
There was a smile on his face that approximated the real thing, and I realised he was really rather cute in a boy-next-door sort of way - once I was past the spikes. I also realised he was probably even younger than my earlier impression, and it was with a bit of trepidation that I slowed the Beastie and came to a stop across from him. All I needed was for one of Atlanta's finest to haul me in for contributing to the moral delinquency of a minor - regardless of my intent or the current status of that minor's morals.
Spikey's pleasant smile became a grin as he pushed off the building and sauntered over to me in the Beastie.
"The competition can be a little rough at the edges," he offered and leant towards me through the opened window. "You looking for some fun?"
"I'm looking for information," I answered firmly as I stared in amazement at the spiked wristlets now possessing the Beastie's interior.
"Information?" His voice betrayed the suspicion that I reckoned came naturally to one in his profession.
I nodded. "Just information."
Spikey pulled back a bit, only his fingers held the door. "You a cop?"
I suspected he was making ready to run if I answered in the affirmative.
I shook my head. "A private investigator."
His grin revived then and he chuckled. "A private dick asking questions on Cypress Street?" He made a show of looking around. "I haven't seen a Mercedes down here the past week. You got some cutie wants to know if he can make money and have fun at the same time?"
I grinned back at him, rewarding him for his show of humour, and said brightly: "I'll show you my license if you'll show me yours."
He understood. "I'm twenty-one," he grumbled but began tugging at the wallet in his tight back pocket.
I produced my private investigator's license from the State of Georgia and did so faster than Spikey could pull out his wallet. I decided cut-offs that sculpted one's bum tightly made it really quite difficult to retrieve things like wallets and money quickly.
He peered closely at my photograph and the nonsense the state required in order for it to license me. He finally permitted me to peruse the information the State of Arkansas had deemed to release about him.
"I'm investigating a murder."
His face darkened. "A murder?"
He stared at me. "For real?"
I nodded again.
"Who got offed?"
"A lad name of Jimmy Blacksheare - the bobby first on the scene had him working the street here." I turned to the back seat and retrieved the manila jacket with the morgue photographs. "This lad," I offered as I pulled the head shot from the envelope and held it out for him to see.
The boy in my window blinked and his face was momentarily blank. "I knew him, Mr. Goodall. Only, he hasn't worked down here for months." He shut his eyes and shuddered. "Jimmy's really dead?"
I relaxed. I was no longer trying to impress him; I had found someone who knew the victim.
Billy Boy Sharpe agreed to talk for a hundred and dinner - it turned out he'd do much more than that. The fact that he was a good-looking young man giving off all sorts of signals had nothing to do with my inviting him to my place or finding out that his favourite drink was a Cape Cod.
* * *
That evening, with a second shot of Popov laced with cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime, Spikey - née Billy Boy Sharpe - took possession of my sofa and was comfortable on it. I sat in the chair facing him. He seemed more interested in me than in talking about Jimmy Blacksheare.
"Tell me about this lad," I said, mentally counting each of the dollar bills he now had in his tight cut-offs. I definitely thought it was time that this Mr. Sharpe began paying the piper.
"Jimmy-?" He shot me a tight grin and didn't blink. "He's dead, Phil."
I nodded expectantly.
"Wouldn't someone alive and a whole lot friendlier than that boy ever was be more interesting?"
There were many things that would be more interesting than talking about a dead person, but none of them were paying my way. Was I being dense or had I missed something?
I must have telegraphed my confusion as Billy Boy Sharpe stood up slowly, his smile loosening and becoming a knowing leer. He crossed to me and knelt, his hands going to my waist.
I stared into his blue eyes watching mine as his open palms moved up my abdomen onto my chest.
"Not flabby at all," he mumbled, his grin deepening in appreciation. His fingers began their journey back down my chest, opening my shirt as they moved.
I stared at Spikey in surprise, my brain unwieldy and unwilling to make the leaping transition from interrogation to what he had in mind.
"I need information," I croaked.
"Later, baby. We've got all night to talk - in between bouts of the hottest sex you're ever going to see. Where's the bedroom?"
I pulled myself from thoughts of the dead Jimmy Blacksheare and conceded I should accept all I had apparently paid for.
Between more sex than I was used to and more vodka than I would drink in a year if left to my own devices, I learnt what Billy Boy Sharpe knew about Jimmy Blacksheare. It wasn't much and it probably wasn't worth a hundred dollars. The spikey lad, however, was giving me considerably more than the information desk at Rich's Department Store or the A.P.D. would.
Before the night was over, I also had begun to wonder if there weren't good reasons why young gay men are usually turned off by their elders. It seemed the years had robbed me of my stamina. Far too often I was wheezing like a bloody freight train picking up steam.
Jimmy had indeed arrived in Atlanta back in February. Spikey wasn't certain of the exact date, but I dismissed that by reminding myself it wasn't particularly uncommon for one who was barely one step removed from homelessness to be a bit fuzzy about dates.
The two boys had met downtown at the bus station and it hadn't taken the street-wise Spikey long to know where Jimmy was coming from. That had been the young Blacksheare's first night working Cypress street.
Long past midnight, Billy Boy's Clairoled platinum spikes were the worse for our play as he sat cross-legged on the bed, sipped at a new Cape Cod, and met my gaze. "Jimmy worked the street every night that first week."
My ears perked up. "Why only a week?" This hadn't been in the patrolman's report. In fact - or even hinted at. It put the lie to much of that policeman's supposition. A week-long gig six months ago certainly didn't rank as current in my book.
"After that first week-end he'd already found himself a sugar daddy-" Spikey grinned behind his glass. "It was somebody he knew from before - not one of the trolls we usually get."
"Did you ever see this bloke?" I asked, hoping that I had stumbled upon some real meat at last.
"Naw." He studied me closely. "You know, Phil, I like just your sideburns being grey like that - do you colour the rest of your hair?"
"Me?" I growled, my face burning. "Colour?" I realised then how silly I had to look, lying nude on the bed beside him.
He grinned raunchily, his mind already off on another tangent, and leant forward to put his glass on the night table. "Think you could get up for one more before we go to sleep?"
"Do you know anybody who did meet this daddy?" I asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep my mind on what I had paid this lad a hundred perfectly good dollars for but finding it increasingly difficult to do.
"Yeah, there's this guy I know who had a thing going with Jimmy for a while." He grinned impishly. "Now, Phil Goodall, you just lie back and let's do what we both know we like doing and forget about Jimmy Blacksheare for the rest of the night." His fingers gripped my nearest knee and started upward. "That boy can't do anything for anybody any more."
"I'll give you details tomorrow. Lie back." He pushed me down onto the bed. I sighed in resignation and my mind went on furlough as my libido went into hyper-drive.
* * *
The next morning was Friday and the maid at the Poncey had decided to earn her pay packet instead of visiting the local candy man several blocks below the hotel. My office was actually dusted and hoovered as I sat across from Mr. and Mrs. Blacksheare; and it was still early enough I hoped they didn't notice how inefficient the air conditioning unit was.
Eleanor Blacksheare wasn't what I had expected. I wasn't sure what I had been prepared for, but she wasn't it. Her hair was the colour of the darkest Southern night, gleaming in the morning light coming through the window. Her complexion was olive and her skin unwrinkled. She was as tall as her husband and carried herself as a mounted equestrienne would. She faced me as if she owned me, serenely in possession of her world and its subjects.
I found it difficult to meet her gaze. Her son was beautiful even in his morgue shots. Jimmy Blacksheare's murder left me doubting the possibility of a god. It left far too much pain for any deity to justify. I had been far luckier than these people and it embarrassed me.
"May I be brutally frank?" I asked, deciding to put things on the desk between us and fixing my eyes on the part of the door that was visible between them. I didn't want to meet the gaze of either one of them. There question was why their son was dead; I had no answer for them.
Raymond Blacksheare nodded with a jerk of his head. His wife kept trying to catch my eyes with hers but I was determined to avoid them. Talking with parents about their child's sexual behaviours was something I wasn't comfortable doing.
"Your son was gay," I told them, feeling like petty bureaucrat as I spoke the words that they already knew.
Mrs. Blacksheare stifled a sob and her husband cringed in his chair.
I knew Blacksheare knew his son's preferences but did not yet know how much his wife knew. Besides, putting the dead lad's homosexuality on the table for them both to see was necessary for me to lead into Jimmy's week-long activity on Cypress Street six months ago and his escape from it. I wanted them to know I had done more than simply cash their cheque.
"We know that, Mr. Goodall," the man answered. My gaze nervously skated over to see his reaction. His face reddened to the rosy granite of statuary. Even in that condition, his voice was still that soft, gentle twang. "We knew it back when Jimmy was twelve."
Blacksheare glanced to his wife, taking her hand in his, and continued: "We found his diary. He wrote a pretty graphic account of his first time - and some of those that followed."
"Mr. Blacksheare and I went to our family doctor, Mr. Goodall," the woman stepped in without interrupting the flow of their tale. "Even before we confronted Jimmy with what we'd found out."
If anything, she was more in control than her husband.
"He explained that Jimmy wasn't some kind of freak - that homosexuality occurs in one out of ten people."
Blacksheare took over the narrative from his wife with a fluidity I suspected came only with long years of togetherness. "He told us it happened even in good families - and that there was no known cure."
His voice caught and I saw his eyes take on a far-away look. "The doctor told us that we were going to have to be strong and try to help our son work it out for himself."
The man relaxed and shook his head slowly. "He even gave us the addresses of some organisations to contact here in Atlanta - PFLAG and the Gay Centre."
I cleared my throat. "You read the initial officer's report?" I asked both of them. "Jimmy supposedly hired himself out once in Atlanta?" I saw the blank stares in both their faces. "He was prostituting himself, selling his body-"
Mrs. Blacksheare's control slipped and she wasn't able to stifle her sob this time.
"We sort of accepted something like that," the husband offered after too many moments of silence and I noticed that a touch of steel had entered his voice. "After reading that policeman's report, I mean. We hoped it wasn't like that but-"
"That was six months ago," I told them. "I've learnt he wasn't especially comfortable with the uncertainties involved in that kind of life. He was only on the street for a week - before he found somebody who'd keep him. Do you know any of his friends - here or in your hometown?"
"You mean his sex partners, don't you, Mr. Goodall?" the woman shot back, again in control of herself.
"Those too," I allowed.
"He didn't have many friends back home," Eleanor Blacksheare answered and forced a bitter smile to her lips. "He was invited to parties in Soul because of who we are, but people in town knew about him - Jimmy made sure of that. Apparently, not many boys were willing to be seen alone with him in public or at our house."
"Is there at least one who would be willing to talk to me? There in Soul, I mean?" I saw the consternation on both their faces. "In private?" I added.
"Why would you want to talk to anybody in Soul, Mr. Goodall?" the man asked. "Jimmy was murdered here in Atlanta-"
I leant towards them, forcing my eyes to meet theirs. "You've hired me to investigate your son's murder," I told them, making my voice gentle. "I take that to mean you want me to learn why he was killed and who killed him - no matter where that might lead." I took a deep breath. "He quit the street after only a week. Someone's been keeping him the past six months."
"Charlie Nixon said we would need someone like you," Mrs. Blacksheare said quietly.
"Our little town's chief of police, Mr. Goodall," Blacksheare explained. "He's the one who brought us the news about Jimmy. Now, why would you want to bring your investigation two hundred miles south of where our son was killed?"
"One of his acquaintances here mentioned that an adult showed up shortly after your son started hiring himself out. The man seemed to know Jimmy already. He supported him after that. I think he might come from your part of the state."
"So, one of Jimmy's little friends might know about it?" Mrs. Blacksheare offered, her face brightening as I nodded. "There is one boy - like Jimmy, I suppose." She frowned. "He's a bit trashy - his whole family is - but our Jimmy insisted on befriending him. Like he did all the other rubbish in town."
I happened to glance at Blacksheare and saw his face reddening. It couldn't be easy having to accept that men and boys in his town had had sex with his son, people he knew. His face darkened and I guessed that he was beginning to suspect that some of the adults who'd had sex with his son might be men he thought of as friends.
"When will you be coming to Soul?" he asked in a strangled voice.
"Tomorrow," I answered. "It's one line I want to follow up as fast as I can so it can be put behind us - if that's where it belongs."
He nodded slowly, regaining control of himself.
"I think Mrs. Blacksheare and I have taken about all we're able to for today," he said, pushing himself from his chair and stepping over to his wife. "We're leaving for home from here. We'll have finished supper tomorrow after six. We can talk more then."
"Please forgive us, Mr. Goodall," the woman offered as she rose to stand beside her husband. "It's very hard on us to have our little boy murdered and start finding out all these sordid things about him."
I nodded my understanding as I stood and shook their hands. "Please try to have this young man there for me," I told them and watched them leave.
I had to admit I admired them both. If I were either of them, I would have my non-existent pistols drawn and be out on the streets looking for the stinking piece of rubbish who killed my son. Instead, they were both holding on to being civilised - even if it were only by their fingernails.
I walked the Blacksheares down the corridor to the screen door that opened onto the Poncey's tree-shaded car park, standing at the edge of the tarmac and watching them cross to their Lincoln Towncar. I tried not to smile as they manoeuvred the monster about in the postage stamp-sized car park to get it pointing down the drive to the front of the hotel and Ponce de Leon beyond. I returned to my office then and, toe-ing off my loafers and sitting down, propped my stockinged feet on top of the desk.
Mr. Sharpe of the well-trained body and over-developed libido had promised to return as we were leaving the house this morning, bringing along the lad who had known Jimmy Blacksheare. It struck me as strange now that I thought about it that a working lad would willingly remove himself from the field of labour at peak hours.
I found myself wondering if the young man had in mind changing his employment to something more - well - steady. And if such change might include me. It was one explanation for the sexual appetite that had gone well beyond the call of commerce last night.
I shuddered. Me and a rent boy? With any urchin of the night? Much less this one with the spiked and coloured hair and wristlets that belonged more properly around the necks of ferocious Dobermans?
But - if all he wanted was a reliable shag-mate ...? My face felt warm as my manhood stirred at that thought.
I pushed aside fantasies of continued contact with Billy Boy that would make old Queen Victoria pale at their wantonness. Standing, I stepped up to the paint-sealed window and looked out at the six lanes of Ponce de Leon that fronted the Poncey. I wasn't trying to see anything on the street; I figured that I needed the movement to get my circulation started again.
My gaze moved from the street to the bar next door. Actually, I realised that I wasn't looking at the bar - exactly. I was looking down at the bar's enclosed patio. The Resurrected Bird had the reputation of being the last hang-out for the boys from Cypress Street before they went to bed. While my interview with Billy Boy had pretty well closed off the possibility of Jimmy Blacksheare being a Cypress Street regular when he died, I decided it would be wise to collaborate his information - especially when doing so was so close by. I stuffed the lad's photos into their manila envelope.
The Resurrected Bird was not the "in" spot for Atlanta's gay community - if anything, it was the exact opposite. It belonged hidden amongst a copse of trees, buried under brambles and underbrush. The Bird was the sort of place that one slinked out to when no one was looking. It was sleaze without the sleaze. It sat five blocks out from the Fox Theatre on Peachtree Street in what was still the high rent district.
On the outside, The Bird was unpainted clapboard. The car park was unpaved and had potholes that would drown the Beastie in a Southern thunderstorm. The concrete patio ran the length of the car park. It also had a ten foot privacy fence that forced visitors through the bar if they wanted in.
Inside, there was no decoration. A pool table that had more nicks than was acceptable in a redneck bar stood to the left of the entrance, a jukebox faced the door, and a horseshoe bar stood to the right.
The Resurrected Bird was owned by Annette Louise, unofficially proclaimed the Atlanta Queen Mother of all Lesbians. She owned five pubs around town, but The Bird was her only boy bar. Her reputation had it that, among other things, she would not hire a male. It showed when my eyes had finally adjusted to the darkness of the bar. The Sherman tank behind the bar was not male. And it was watching me. Closely.
I blinked. When I opened my eyes again I realised that there was a pixie sitting across the bar from the tank, a pixie that I was beginning to see was cute. My eyes adjusted to the dark of the bar further and I realised that the pixie was female and that I knew her. She was watching me too. "J. C.?" I asked in surprise and took a step towards the bar.
The tank bristled.
"Phil Goodall!" J. C. yelped, bouncing off her stool and swooping towards me. She hugged me tight, her nose coming up to my breastbone. Behind the bar, the tank looked like it was having engine trouble. She looked like she was going to melt down right then - or charge at me like a bull in one of those Mexican corridas. All 300 packed pounds of her.
J. C. pushed away then and, taking my hand, led me to the bar to confront the Sherman tank. "Phil Goodall, I want you to meet my lover, Kathy."
I stuck my hand out over the bar. It was a completely instinctive movement. I hadn't thought of what Kathy might do with my hand other than shake it. Her jaws widened and I had a fleeting picture of a pit bull using my arm to exercise its jaws.
"Kathy, this is Phil, the PI I've told you about," J. C. said softly, her arm still around my waist.
The jaws closed. Intelligence again returned to the eyes. A ham closed around my hand and shook it once before letting it go. The face that had gone porcine again became human. I began to have an inkling of what had almost happened. My knees took that moment to become rubbery.
I gripped the nearest stool and pulled myself up on it.
"Kathy," J. C. told her from beside me, "Phil likes the really fancy Scotch. Give a double of the best you've got back there, babe."
Kathy was still staring daggers at me but had turned almost civil. "Fancy?" she growled.
"Single malt," I explained.
She nodded. "Ain't got that, but I've got Teacher's - that's the best we've got back here."
"I'll take it."
"You working on anything interesting?" J. C. asked while Kathy poured reasonably decent Scotch over ice. I cringed but said nothing when she splashed water into the glass and placed it before me.
"So, what kind of case are you working on, Phil?" J. C. asked again.
"A murder." I sipped at my drink. It was decent - for a blend. "The first cop on the scene put the victim working Cypress Street-"
J. C. was practically bouncing on the balls of her feet beside me. "And you came over to see if anyone here knew him?" she demanded.
I made a show of opening the manila envelope and pulling out Jimmy Blacksheare's morgue shots. I handed one to each of the girls. There wasn't anyone else in The Bird.
"He's cute!" J. C. opined. "He can't be dead."
"Two large calibre slugs, lass - hollow-nose, so the report would have it. Nasty."
"I've never seen this one in here, Philip," Kathy announced.
"How about your night shift bartender?" I asked. "Think he might have seen him?"
Kathy's face turned the colour of beetroot. She glared at me. I was afraid that she was having a stroke - or turn into the charging bull she threatened to earlier. "Kathy's been opening and closing this bar for the past month for Annette Louise, Phil," J. C. said quickly. "There isn't anybody else."
"I suspect you've just confirmed what I've been hearing," I told the girls and downed my drink quickly. I reached for my wallet. "The bloody coppers are starting off on the wrong foot."
"It's on the house," Kathy grumbled. "You just have your scrawny ass back over here to keep J. C. and me up on this fucking murder."
I nodded numbly, unsure exactly how a lad thanked a man-hating woman. "You'd better not be a stranger, Phil," J. C. giggled. "Kathy'll come after you."
That was exactly what I was afraid of.
* * *
The first lesson I had learnt at police college was to start at the beginning. That meant the scene of crime because that was where the grounds keeper had found Jimmy Blacksheare's body. It wasn't an especially intuitive leap; but it had taken on considerably more importance after Kathy backed Billy Boy Sharpe's information that young Blacksheare had stayed away from the most common form of prostitution.
Petersen's Funeral Home occupied the grounds between Eleventh and Twelfth streets north and south, and Spring and West Peachtree east and west. Americans friends had commented it looked like an English country home. Its exterior was concrete, and I thought it was just nouveau riche myself. It did have grounds, however - some trees and rolling grass with a few azalea bushes strategically placed to give the impression of formal gardens.
Inside, the resemblance to an English manor house became more pronounced as the gentleman greeting me had only his Southern accent to prevent him from a perfect portrayal of a very proper English butler. Of course, he was also a funeral director and probably made far better than even the head butler at Buckingham Palace.
I immediately introduced myself and explained that I wasn't there to make arrangements for a dearly beloved one, departed or otherwise.
That warranted the slightest rise of an eyebrow. The gentleman had that part down pat.
I asked for the grounds keeper and Jeeves' unctuousness evaporated. He did lead me from the manor to the maintenance department - sullenly.
The veneer of social grace in the face of sorrow disappeared the moment we arrived at what may once have been a carriage house. A middle-aged man who appeared to be a refugee from one of those Elvis look-alike revuës was dressed in over-alls that were too small for him. He was seated at a beaten up metal desk.
The funeral director pointed to the man and left me standing in the doorway. I noticed with smug satisfaction that he had a bead of perspiration across his upper lip as he left.
"I'm Phil Goodall," I said as I crossed the room to the man, offering my hand in greeting.
"What do you want?" the Elvis impersonator grunted without looking up from the paperwork scattered across the desk before him.
"I've been hired to investigate the murder you had here the other night."
"Robert!" the impersonator yelled. "Get your ass out here and talk to this Limey."
An older black man stepped out of a door to my right and glanced from the Elvis impersonator to me and nodded. "What can I do for you, sir?" he asked, his voice that non-threatening bass rumble from Walt Disney's version of Uncle Remus.
"The police report says that a young man was found shot to death here a couple of days ago-?"
"That poor boy," the man mumbled, his hand grabbing the back of a chair between me and the Elvis impersonator. Pulling himself back together, he said: "I suppose you're going to want to see where I found him?"
I nodded. He started towards the door and I turned to follow.
"I'm Phil Goodall," I told him once we were out of the carriage house. We were following a brick walk towards the Twelfth Street side of the funeral home's grounds.
"You're really English?" he asked.
"Born and raised, as you say over here."
"You're a long way from home, Mr. Goodall."
"I've lived here for nearly thirty years."
He nodded at that, thinking as we walked. "I guess," he said a moment later, "it really is true that we don't change much from when we grew up." He glanced sideways at me. "You still sound English as all get out."
I groaned. "Don't tell me you're going to be as bigoted as Elvis back there."
The grounds keeper stopped, trying to control his facial muscles and stop the grin that was already spreading across his face. "He ain't all that bad, Mr. Goodall," he managed without breaking into laughter.
"You could have fooled me."
"He's just angry because he's got to hand in his weekly report today. He gets to be almost nice after he's finished that."
"Where did you find the body?" I asked, returning to the reason for my visit to the funeral home. We were only feet from where the private path met the public sidewalk along Twelfth Street.
The man studied the slope of the tended grounds. "Right here," he said pointing to the grass beside us. "That boy's foot was on the brick walk right here. The rest of him was lying on the grass there."
I knelt where he pointed, looking for anything that might stand out - or even be hidden in the well-tended mat of grass siding the bricks. I really didn't know what I was looking for. Just anything that might seem out of place.
Nothing stood out. It was the least messy murder scene I had ever seen.
"Have you mowed or watered since you found the body?" I asked as I stood back up.
"No, sir. I haven't been out here to do any yard work since before the scene of crime lady was here two days ago." He shook his head and continued: "And we got water restrictions on in Atlanta because of the drought - nobody better be watering their grass if they don't want a fine. I did clean up the clutter that police lady and her boys left behind, though."
"The dirt they tracked onto the walk. Little pieces of paper they left on the grass. Cigarette butts ... The kind of mess boys leave behind when their mommas don't teach them to clean up after themselves."
I stared back at the grass where Jimmy Blacksheare's body had lain. Something nibbled at the back of my mind but, no matter how hard I searched for it, I couldn't see it.
"Anybody else been out here since they took the body to the morgue?"
"I haven't seen anybody." He chuckled. "People seem to sort of leave funeral homes alone - like maybe there might be ghosts or something."
I glanced across Twelfth Street but saw only a commercial building there. Across West Peachtree to my right was a high-rise with a secured car park. "The initial officer thought a .45 was used to kill him. They make a lot of noise," I mused. "I wonder if somebody heard those shots-?"
"I didn't hear anything that night - other than the usual traffic noises coming off I-75, that is."
I turned to face the man.
"I sleep here," he answered my unspoken question. "Somebody's got to pick up the folks who pass in the middle of the night."
"Grounds keeper and sleep-in hearse driver," I said, still looking at him. "What else do you do for Petersen's?"
"Just about anything they need me to do. My wife passed almost five years ago and my boys were grown before that." He looked down at his hands. "I've got to be able to do something worthwhile for somebody."
"You didn't hear anything?"
"Just the road noises and those don't bother me none. Ambulances and police cars, they don't bother me, either - just so long as they don't stop anywhere close by." He grinned. "Let a car go by here on Twelfth or West Peachtree and backfire and I sit right up in my bed, though."
"A .45's a loud backfire. You would hear it from two or three blocks away in the still of the night."
The thought playing hide and seek with my mind struck me then, and I stared back at where this man had found the body. Large calibre handguns made loud noises and their bullets made big exit holes. If those holes were in a body, there ought to be blood and gore spread across nearly a yard of this well-tended grass.
"You're sure nobody's cleaned up around here?" I watched him nod his head.
"What happened to the blood?" I asked, giving voice to my thoughts. "And his clothes?"
"I didn't see anything at all, Mr. Goodall - and I came right back out here after I called 911. I watched the officers go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and, later, the ambulance take that poor boy away."
"The police report had the lad semi-nude-?"
The man's face expressed a grief far more real than Jeeves' had at the main door of this establishment when I arrived. "He was just lying there in his chivvies when I found him."
"In his Y-fronts?" I asked suspiciously.
The grounds keeper gazed at me curiously.
"You didn't find the rest of his clothes?"
"No, sir. And the police didn't either. There wasn't a thing here but that poor boy, and he was past caring that he was practically naked for everybody to see."
"What time did you find him?"
The man rubbed the top of his close-cropped nap. "I started my rounds at six thirty Wednesday morning - just like I do every morning. I start down on the Spring and Eleventh side - so, I guess it was going on seven when I came on him."
"And he was lying here in just his-" I remembered his word. "His chivvies?"
"Yes, sir. Dead and gone." He shook his head. "And he didn't even get to ride in the ambulance until almost noon."
Petersen's Funeral Home was on the eastern, midtown side of the I-75 motorway, across from the Georgia Tech campus. It was safely centred among high-rise condominiums, businesses, and prosperous old churches. The campus insulated it and midtown from the sprawling poverty of the public projects on its west and south sides.
I pulled out onto West Peachtree and started towards 10th Street. Turning left, I crossed the main Peachtree at the intersection where they were still trying to refurbish the house where Margaret Mitchell once had written Gone With The Wind. I was looking forward to getting home. I felt my face warm as I realised that I was looking forward to seeing Billy Boy Sharpe again.
I knew from last night that he would be hungry when he and the friend he was bringing showed at my door. The lad had a thing about food that seemed nearly as consuming as the one he had about sex. He had raided the fridge every time there was a break in our action. If the boy who'd known Jimmy Blacksheare was just as hungry, I was going to be in trouble.
I did try to think about food and things I might need from the grocery as I turned left onto Piedmont and started towards the house in Ansley Park. My mind, however, kept turning back to the grounds of the funeral home and what I hadn't seen there.
A.P.D. scene of crime technicians had been there. That was par for the course. What wasn't exactly normal was that a copy of their report hadn't made its way into the information that Raymond Blacksheare had been given.
Still, the murder of a gay man ranked somewhere below street killings. The murder of a rent boy ranked somewhere in the sub-basement or worse. Atlanta had more than four hundred of its citizens murdered every year. Jimmy Blacksheare had become something less than a citizen when the initial officer at Petersen's decided he hustled when he was alive.
That was why I was on the case. Raymond Blacksheare knew his position and his connections would not be enough to motivate a hide-bound bureaucracy more than two hundred miles outside of his sphere of influence. Metro Atlanta homicide would spend more time making excuses than it ever would on actually solving the Blacksheare youth's murder.
I guessed the constable who wrote up the report was the same one who cruised Cypress Street to keep the lads in line. He had definitely showed a passing knowledge of Atlanta's meat market.
The reporting policeman wasn't seeing more than he had to before he turned the scene of crime over to trained investigators. At least he hadn't from the moment he decided that the lad was a poof. However, he had seen more than there was to see - directly in line with his prejudices.
How had he come to assume that the nearly naked corpse of a young white male had been a gay man?
The copper's report had also assumed young Mr. Blacksheare's death was a pickup that had gone wrong. Some customer wanted the lad's body but hadn't wanted to pay the price. Or Jimmy wanted more than the agreed-upon price for service - an attempted robbery after the completion of the contract. One that ended in death.
Either way, another rent boy was off the street and a taxpayer had learnt his lesson. As far as the copper had seemed concerned, it had all ended on the grounds of Petersen's Funeral Home in the heart of midtown.
Even a rookie detective would have picked up on some of the errors in the reporting officer's thinking. He would have seen the same thing I saw: no blood and gore. No loud noises in the middle of the night in a quiet neighbourhood. No clothes. Nothing except the very dead body of an angel who might have been hiring himself out as he approached the last moments of his life. Or not, if Billy Boy Sharpe was correct.
I could see other problems as I turned into Ansley Park across the entrance to the Botanical Garden above 14th Street. The report said nothing about where young Blacksheare had been living since arriving in Atlanta. Neither I nor the reporting officer had yet seen the scene of crime report or autopsy write-up.
I wondered if Jimmy's body showed signs of recent sexual activity. Of course, the lad having sex shortly before taking his last bow wouldn't prove that there had been a customer who was there to watch that bow.
It would, however, prove that he had been intimate with someone shortly before his death. When I'd still lived in London and trained at Hendon Police College, we'd learnt that most murders were committed by family members or friends of the victim.
I wasn't about to accuse either of the Blacksheare parents. That left the rest of the world as suspects. In the gay world, a friend was likely to be one with whom one was or had been intimate. Hopefully, that cut my list of suspects down to something manageable - after all, young Blacksheare hadn't liked doing the street thing.
Another premise I had learnt in the course on crime procedures was that, if the body was moved from the scene of crime, the probabilities of premeditation shot through the roof. I was already damned sure Jimmy Blacksheare took a ride after he died and before the ambulance showed up the next afternoon.
That led me back to the sugar daddy Billy Boy said Jimmy had had. And the lad's birthplace. Soul was a hole-in-the-wall in the southeastern part of the state and almost on the Florida state line. It was coming to seem an excellent place to start.
Pulling into the drive of my house, I doubted that I wouldn't have to trace Jimmy Blacksheare through the labyrinth that was Atlanta's gay world. I suspected that I was probably going to be commuting to Soul for a while to find the one particular friend who had demanded the boy's life as the price for his friendship.
* * *
Billy Boy Sharpe was sitting on the steps to my front porch as I climbed out of the Beastie and made my way along the gravelled drive to him. He pushed himself to his feet and his face became a beaming smile of welcome when he spotted me. Just as quickly, his face turned blank again and he slumped against the railing. His eyes went distant, as if he'd forced himself into a state of insensitivity. I started wondering what he was doing inside his head and how whatever it was that he was doing would affect me. I was almost upon him when I noticed the second lad sitting on the other side of the railing from him.
"This is Tim Spencer, Phil - my buddy I told you about," Billy Boy said as I reached them. "The one who knew Jimmy?"
The other boy stood and faced me.
Tim Spencer was that special type of man who could demand immediate attention, no matter the orientation of his audience. The lad was Apollo personified - young but adult, slim but fully developed. A natural self-assurance gave him a grace most young men could only envy. He shoved his hand out to me and smiled. His was a starkly handsome face with an incongruous upturned nose in the centre of it.
I took his hand and shook it. "Well, let's not stand here," I offered cheerily. "Drinks anyone?" I stepped around them and unlocked the door.
Inside, I was aware of Tim's eyes on me as I poured vodka into two glasses and then splashed cranberry juice over the ice cubes. I poured gingerly from the bottle of Glenfiddich single malt for myself.
His eyes stayed on me.
I began to suspect that Billy Boy had filled his mate in on far too many of my various attributes and felt my face grow warm.
"What's this town like?" I asked Tim Spencer as I handed him his drink.
He chuckled and sat in the single chair facing the sofa. "It's a great place to be from - and I do ever more stress the `from'."
"That bad?" I asked sympathetically and took a sip of the Glenfiddich. Billy Boy sat at the far end of the sofa from me, watching us as he would a tennis match.
"Yeah. There ain't a damn thing to do except go to school and church - and screw around. People out in the country think it's a big deal to go to town once a week." He gulped half his drink. "The big highlight's looking at new refrigerators at the Western Auto store."
I shook my head in greater sympathy. "Did you know Jimmy Blacksheare when you both lived there?"
"Yeah." He looked down at his hands and the drink they were holding. "I knew him. We - uh - we were friends back there. I'm a year older than Jimmy," he added as explanation and drained the glass.
"I was the first guy he did it with. We were pretty regular about it after that `til his folks found out." He shook his head slowly at the memory. "He was the first guy for me too. Only, he decided he was in love with me and wasn't too quiet about it - and I sure as hell wasn't ready to go around letting people in Soul know I was queer."
His eyes rimmed with tears. "Jimmy Blacksheare never learnt how to be cool about things. So, between his parents finding out and his being in love with me, we broke it off."
He looked quickly up at me. "But we stayed friends - talking on the phone and seeing each other on the sly ever now and then for a little fun."
"Were there any adults getting into him?" I wanted to cut short his traipse down that particular memory lane. I wasn't prepared to handle a maudlin teenager.
"Who in Soul wasn't after I left?" he growled and I thought I detected pain there. "There was the head preacher at Central Baptist Church, the scout leader who's also a preacher at the same church, and God only knows who else-" He paused and I had the distinct impression he was taking stock of what he had said. "They all got a piece of his ass at one time or another. From what he told me after we met up here, that is - I was already in Atlanta then."
He frowned. "He told me that he took on the whole football team at some party or the other right after Christmas last year - I guess everybody must've been pretty bored and there wasn't anything else to do."
I cringed. Didn't anyone explain AIDS to teenagers here in the colonies these days - or any of the multitude of other sexually transmitted diseases?
I forced my thoughts back to Jimmy. "Who followed him here to the big city?" I asked.
He laughed loudly but his voice was a sob when he spoke. "Reverend Bishop came running the moment Jimmy crooked his finger at him. It was unreal."
"This preacher was with him here?"
"How long ago did you leave Soul?"
"More than two years now - the day after I turned seventeen. I got the hell out of there and came here. I even tried to pretend I wasn't queer at first." He shuddered slightly. "That lasted only a couple of days until I got hungry - then, I was down on Cypress Street like everybody else."
"Would you like something to eat?" I asked and they both nodded. "I may have to drive down to the market - I suspect my cupboard's a bit bare."
Tim grinned and turned to Billy Boy. "You said he was English, but it's sure damned hard to tell. He talks like a Yankee most of the time - except for just then."
"Being in America the past thirty years may have something to do with it, old boy," I offered, stressing the accent and using some of the catch phrases Americans always looked for in those of us from the mother country, even when they only existed in old films.
"Why don't we bring in a pizza, Phil?" Billy Boy suggested, breaking the silence that had held him since I passed out our drinks. He rose and moved to stand beside me, establishing what appeared to be territorial possession with his proximity.
I had been aware of his calm but Sphinx-like observation of me. I was unsure if his interest was in my attempt to develop information from his friend or if he thought I had been ever so slightly smitten by the other lad.
I was almost ready to swear the lad was jealous - only, I knew that was impossible. Billy Boy Sharpe was a rent boy. He knew better than to have feelings for a customer.
I glanced questioningly at Tim Spencer and got an emphatic nod at the suggestion of pizza. "Call one of the takeouts," I told Billy Boy. "Get whatever you and Tim like."
While Billy Boy placed the call, I made no effort to refill Tim Spencer's drink. I wanted information, much more than he had given me - and, to my mind, that required a relatively sober young man. From the spot of emotion I had already seen, I suspected the lad would need food before he had too many more drinks - if I was going to keep him trim and fit and talking.
"Where did Jimmy live?" I asked.
Billy Boy joined me on the sofa after placing the order. He sat much closer this time.
"On Tenth, overlooking the south end of Piedmont Park - up from the intersection with Monroe, behind that high school stadium on Monroe."
The area was heavily gay, and it was more than a bit expensive - something like triple my house payment but with similar accommodations. "Wasn't that a bit flush?" I asked.
"That fat little bantam rakes in a lot more than twenty thousand a week," Tim answered and I didn't miss the disgust in his voice. "Jimmy told me that once." He grinned. "The silly old queen couldn't stop bragging about all the money he made off the true-believers."
"That would be the preacher?" I asked. I couldn't imagine a small town vicar making that kind of money. Even with both hands in the till, as it were.
"Yeah. The apartment was only a one-bedroom, but he was still forking over close to a grand a month for Jimmy to live there - including the extras, I mean."
"You seem to know the place well-?"
Tim looked back at his hands as his face reddened. "I guess there isn't any reason to hide it. I lived there with him `til a couple of weeks ago."
"This preacher was keeping you both?"
"Naw," he laughed. "Bishop only showed up Mondays, stayed the night, and left Tuesdays. That was the way Jimmy had it organised. Anyway, I had to take out when he came to town."
"Were you two-" I paused, looking for a nice way to put my question. "Sleeping together?" I finished.
"Yeah. Hey! Jimmy Blacksheare was about the best piece a guy could have - he ever more loved sex. He lived and breathed it. When a guy's a working stiff like me, he's got to watch every penny."
I understood the expression `generation gap' then. When I was Tim Spencer's age, I couldn't conceive of such living arrangements. A bit of autonomous action caught in the baths or, even, a darkened alleyway was one thing. But living with and off another chap as Tim had and thinking nothing of it? Thinking the other lad just a bit of poof? Not minding his having a sugar daddy?
Not bloody likely. But, then, Tim Spencer was a thoroughly modern Yank rent boy, not a product of the British middle-class of nearly two generations ago.
I reminded myself that I hadn't been in his shoes, so I shouldn't judge. Besides, there were both the generation and the cultural gaps between us.
"Tell me about Jimmy Blacksheare," I said, pulling myself back from contemplating gaps that threatened to be abysses.
"He was beautiful," Tim Spencer mumbled wistfully. He pulled himself together, stepping back from memories I could only imagine. "He was rich. His daddy has money out the yin yang and his mama never had to dirty her hands growing up, even as a little girl."
Tim sighed. "Jimmy Blacksheare was the only boy in Soul who could pull off sucking dick and still be socially acceptable." He choked harshly. "I mean, that boy got invited to every party in Soul - even when every kid in town knew he was after what they had in their pants. Even when most of the grownups knew he'd drop his pants and bend over in a New York minute, he was still invited to every party around."
Tim's voice thickened with a rush of anger. "Every woman in the damned county wanted her daughter to be the first girl Jimmy Blacksheare ploughed. Jesus!"
"Sounds to me that Jimmy learnt to be ingratiating quite early on," I opined. Beauty such as the dead boy's could draw people, especially if he knew how to use it to manipulate them.
"Yeah. Everybody loved the bastard. And no grown-up got real pissed off at him leading their son into something different from what the preachers were saying was right."
He chuckled. "They all thought Jimmy was a bottom through and through - and they never thought that their kid might be the one bending over."
There was an uncomfortable bitterness to Tim Spencer's words. I guessed I'd be bitter too if I was a young lad watching his piece slip easily through society while I found it hard to keep my head up.
The pizza arrived. I was surprised at how high the Apolline Tim Spencer jumped when the door bell rang but forgot it when Billy Boy was pushing himself to his feet beside me with his hand out.
"Give me twenty bucks, Phil," he said and smiled tentatively. "That ought to cover both the pizza and the delivery boy."
Our game of twenty questions died with the arrival of dinner. In addition to the gooey cheese, I had some titbits to chew on. I was intimidated watching the two lads wolf down the giant pizza with everything. If I put away what either of them did, I'd be bordering on thirty stone inside three months.
Tim Spencer shrugged and rose from his chair. He wiped his mouth with the hem of his T-shirt. "I'm gonna run," he told us both and turned to face the platinum-spiked urchin. "You coming or staying?"
Billy Boy Sharpe glanced at me, his brows raising in question. I nodded and he grinned. Happily. "I'm going to stay, Tim - let's keep in touch, okay?"
He didn't take his eyes off me and his grin stayed in place. I realised I was dumbly smiling back at him.
He danced across the room to stand in front of me as soon as the door closed on the south Georgia expatriate. He was pulling off his shirt and opening his trousers as he moved. Inches from me, he ground his hips and humped the air between us. His jeans bunched at his feet and his fingers slipped beneath the elastic of his Y-fronts. He turned away from me as he pushed the thin cotton down over his bum.
My eyes widened. Questions began slapping me in the face. I forgot all about the progressively more exposed backside before me.
Smalls. Jimmy Blacksheare had been wearing just his underwear when the grounds keeper found his body. Y-fronts like Billy Boy Sharpe was wearing - thin cotton with elastic at the waist and legs and an extra swatch of cotton over the groin. Nothing more.
The police didn't know where the lad lived in Atlanta. Jimmy Blacksheare had no police record with the resulting fingerprints and addresses a record would presuppose. I had the dead lad's address from Tim Spencer.
Yet, somehow, he had been identified so that the Atlanta police could notify the police in Soul, Georgia, of his demise and ask questions about his past.
I pushed myself to my feet, smiling at Billy Boy watching me over his shoulder. "I've got to go to the office."
"You all right, Phil?" Spikey asked, looking stricken as he stood up.
I smiled at him. I understood that he'd been putting on a show for me. At that moment, I suspected that show and the implied sexual energy in it meant a lot to Billy Boy Sharpe. Unfortunately, my libido tended to go out the window when something in a case grabbed my balls.
"I've just remembered something," I told him. "I'll be back - go ahead and make yourself comfortable."
"Where are you going?" he demanded, pulling his smalls back up and turning to face me.
"I'll be back," I promised as I reached for the door. I smiled as winsomely as I could.
"You sure it's all right I stay?"
Billy Boy's jaw was slack as he watched me slip through the door.
As I drove towards midtown, I told myself I could see bathing costumes and identification. I could even see running shorts and identification. But smalls? I knew damned well I'd never slip my license beneath the waistband of mine, or my wallet either. Undergarments were just that. With the exception of a bloke modelling the things, men weren't seen in their pants except when dressing or undressing. The likelihood of having identification at hand at such a moment was minimal. The things were either coming off or having more clothing put over them.
How had the Atlanta police known the murder victim? How had the patrolman traced him to Soul so he knew about the lad's suspected status as an active underage homosexual? How had the police chief in Soul learnt of the murder so he could inform the Blacksheares of their son's death?
The worse of it was that it was Friday night. I wasn't going to find answers to my questions until Monday - if then. Not in Atlanta. All I had was a patrol officer's report - one that didn't mention identification among too many other things.
I had to wait until Monday before I could speak with the A.P.D. detective assigned the case, the scene of crime investigator, the medical examiner, or even the bloody patrolman who responded to the grounds keeper's initial call. I was beginning to feel I was working on less than the Beastie's four cylinders and didn't like the sensation.
I'd have the initial police report and my notes in hand again in a few more minutes. I would visit small-town Soul tomorrow. There, I had more than an even bet of finding its police chief who both notified the Blacksheares of their son's death and suggested hiring a private detective to them. Week-end or not, I figured to be one informed detective come Monday morning when I took on the labyrinth that was Atlanta police headquarters.
I had long ago learnt mine was a one-track mind. All I could think of at the moment was Jimmy Blacksheare's murder and the far too many incongruities I was finding attached to it.
Before I left Atlanta, I had decided to give myself two days in the town Tim Spencer thought was a nice place to be from, with emphasis on the last word. Those two days would give me enough time to learn if I was going to find the threads of Jimmy Blacksheare's murder in south-east Georgia.
Beneath the Beastie, the macadam and concrete of the I-75 motorway descended steadily into the coastal plain that was south Georgia. I was below Hapeville and Hartsfield Airport, heading towards Macon and the deepest heart of Dixie below the central Georgia city at more than seventy miles an hour. It was morning, I was alone - I should have been plotting out what I wanted to achieve in Jimmy Blacksheare's birthplace.
Instead of Soul, the leads I might find there, and the death of one James Blacksheare, I found myself trying to understand the past two days of my life. I might never understand the emotional blocks a man like Tim Spencer put up to defend himself from the pains of life and love. I also didn't understand my own emotional path that I seemed determined to follow with Billy Boy Sharpe.
He had been quiet and almost withdrawn after Tim Spencer left to find his way to wherever he would spend the night and I returned from reading the file Mr. Blacksheare gave me. He also drank heavier than he had the night before.
He was quickly in the all-together, however, and stayed there. He was also quickly sitting on my lap. It was as if I had become his the moment he sat in my bed last night and enticed me into his arms. I wondered if my perky young rent boy was permitting himself the emotional luxury of becoming involved with a man who had paid for information and received so much more.
I tried to tell myself that he hadn't. That he couldn't. A Billy Boy Sharpe or Tim Spencer had to establish elaborate emotional defences to prevent just that from happening. From being hurt. Tim Spencer obviously had. It seemed nearly as obvious, however, that Billy Boy hadn't. Not with me.
If that wasn't enough, I had only to look at myself. If Billy Boy thought he now wanted to own my bed, I was slipping into the use of words showing that I thought he was mine. All I had to do was think of him and I was putting the word `my' in front of him.
As if anyone could expect to develop a relationship with a rent boy. They were wild and wanted it that way. Nihilistic. Freedom, the few lads I had known in the profession called the resulting vacuum. I could enjoy our sex and appreciate it was freely given - but only as long as young Mr. Sharpe chose to give it. He was as likely to disappear into the night as any wild animal might.
Yet, I had come to think of him and me in the same breath in less than two days. I gave him the key this morning and told him to crash at the house this weekend - as long as he was absolutely alone. And I was suggesting that he was the one smitten?
* * *
The two-lane carriageway into Soul carried me past several blocks of windowless, single-storey clapboard buildings with weeds growing waist-high in their car parks. High-standing, busted-out plastic signs announced the death of one after another of Soul's businesses even before I reached them to see their boarded-over entrances and the cracked tarmac of their small car parks.
The death knell had already sounded, however, and Soul was succumbing to the heat and humidity of south Georgia. I drove along the main drag of town into the still living heart of young James Blacksheare's hometown in search of the accommodations Tim Spencer had told me were here.
On the other side of town, I registered at what passed for a motel - two small weathered concrete buildings with a total of sixteen units.
I wanted to speak with the police chief. I needed to know what contact he'd had with the Atlanta police. Bloody hell! I wanted to know how the A.P.D. had known who the scantily-clad Jimmy Blacksheare was. I wanted to know it before Monday when official Atlanta would finally condescend to speak to me.
I had become inordinately curious at how Atlanta could identify a smalls-wearing corpse it had no record of. Of course, I intended to learn what the police chief would tell me about the preacher at Central Baptist as well.
Then I would speak with the vicar who boasted he made over twenty thousand a week net and was willing to spend some of it on one particular member of Atlanta's transient homeless population.
Other than speaking with both men, I had no clear mental image of what I wanted to do or whom I wanted to see. Nothing had volunteered itself, but I long ago learnt volunteers were as sparse in civilian life as they were in the military. I would have to muddle through. I felt Soul warranted two days of my life at least.
Small-town men who bugger children - or even teenagers who are more men than children - are never interested in their deeds becoming known. They'll sing their cold hearts out to anyone who promises them anonymity for information on their fellow child molesters. Churchmen, especially, have the most to lose if their closets are bared and, thus, sing the loudest and longest.
Regardless of his beauty and his willingness to be continuously and constantly promiscuous, Jimmy Blacksheare had been a child when he lived in this town - and barely a man when he died of a massive and sudden overdose of lead poisoning.
The law supposedly made no distinction between one person and the next, regardless of age. An adult male sexually abusing a child however, was far worse than battering a woman and killing a child was even more perceptually a crime than killing an adult. Western psyche had raised youth onto a pedestal and made it the next thing to divinity.
Of course, when the child ran away from the home that theoretically protected his innocence and subsequently hired his body out in order to survive, small town justice too often tended to look the other way. In my experience, city police didn't even bother.
The preacher at Central Baptist Church had the distinction of having supported Jimmy Blacksheare's teenaged fantasy life in gay midtown Atlanta. The good preacher would definitely occupy the first part of my Saturday afternoon in south Georgia.
The Reverend Larry Bishop, pastor of Central Baptist, turned out to be a middle-aged bird-like creature with a pot belly. He sported a technicoloured tie and sky-blue polyester sports jacket. I wondered how this rubbish could justify ploughing Jimmy and, then, stepping into his pulpit to rain hellfire and damnation down on his church's errant congregation and his even larger television audience.
He wore a smiling mask the moment we met. "I'm Reverend Larry Bishop, Mr. Goodall."
I shook his hand reluctantly.
"How may I help you?" he asked.
I had never understood the rather odd American idiom, `unctuous as a snake-oil salesman'. I understood it before I was even seated in Larry Bishop's study that Saturday morning.
"I've been employed to investigate Jimmy Blacksheare's murder, Mr. Bishop," I told him, finding myself slipping into the nearly forgotten cadences of the London copper I once was. I wanted distance between this man and myself.
His mask nearly fell. He glanced fearfully at the door behind me and, then, about the room. Heroically, he held his salesman's mask in place. "Jimmy - uh - ran away from home some six months or so ago. I'm sorry I don't have more recent information to give you-"
"I understood that you did," I interrupted him before he could dig himself deeper into his hole. The mask fell then, showing the man's sick fear as it swept up to take him in its control.
"What in goodness' name have you heard?" His beady eyes shifted about the room.
I sat down and smiled at him. "That you were seeing the lad sexually and helping him financially." I had never been one to enjoy causing another man pain but, in the Reverend Larry Bishop's case, I was willing to make an exception.
The preacher's mouth fell and his eyes grew wide as he kept trying to swallow air. Judging from the blue colouring beginning to develop around his fat, pursed lips, I wasn't sure he was getting any.
"That's preposterous," he managed finally.
His mask returned and he stood.
"I think you'd better leave, Mr. Goodall." The preacher's words were still pleasant.
There was something, however, about his tone that I read as a threat.
"Go back to Atlanta and find out what deviate there killed that little abomination," he continued, threat written into every pore of his body now.
"I have witnesses, preacher," I said, cutting him short. "Now, why don't you tell me when you saw him last."
He studied me closely from under bushy eyebrows. It was almost as if I were reading his thoughts; he was wondering if there really were witnesses and trying to decide how far he could push denial. Did he bluff or fold? He probably played a mean game of poker with Americans who were afraid of the beliefs he represented. His own cadences would join theirs in high hosannas even as he shuffled from the bottom of the deck.
I was different. I wasn't afraid of him and he knew it. I was accusing him. And there never was a chance of southern cornmesh joining school boy English in anything religious. I was a cipher to him. The stakes were too high for him to play and lose.
He went for the bluff.
"Get out of here," he hissed, his face reddening with his god's own anger. "You get out of this town, else I'm going to have your ass hanging from the highest tree in south Georgia."
I stood and left. I could take a hint. I was also smiling. I had the bastard by the bloody balls and knew it - even if he didn't.
The police chief was at headquarters in the basement of city hall. The custody suites were plainly visible behind the one large room where paperwork was done. It looked like the jails of the old west caught in cowboy films. I invited him out to a drive-in greasy spoon I'd passed coming into town.
"The Blacksheares have hired me to investigate their son's murder," I told Chief Nixon as we stepped onto the walk in front of the station. I felt his defences go up without looking at him. I wondered if I had a redneck beside me in addition to the "cops-walk-on-water" type I had expected.
"I suggested that the Blacksheares find somebody like you," he grumbled without looking at me. "Only, I wasn't exactly expecting to meet you in person."
"I'm starting with the boy's past," I offered lightly, making him comfortable. "And the local constabulary probably have a better feel of that than anyone."
We'd reached the Beastie and Charlie Nixon slid onto the seat beside me. He pulled the door to behind him and relaxed - slightly. I was a stranger in his domain, and he knew it as much as I did. I started the car.
"I guess I ought to tell you right up front I don't cotton to this faggot shit, Mr. Goodall. Not Jimmy's and not anybody else's." He turned to gaze at me before I could pull away from the curb. "Mr. Blacksheare said you were into that stuff. I'll help you however I can `cause I don't cotton to people killing each other, either - but you best leave that sort of shenanigans back in Atlanta when you come to my town."
I swallowed hard. And remembered those few years I spent walking a London beat before I decided the Metropolitan Police wasn't going to be my life. "I don't intend to sample local favours, Chief Nixon," I told him, forcing myself not to be angry. "I can accept you as a professional." I looked directly into his eyes. "I hope you can accept me as a professional as well - because I'll need to work with you to solve a crime against a human being."
His face and neck flushed with his embarrassment at being caught out. "I can handle that, Mr. Goodall. I'm sorry if I stepped in your shit just then, but I thought that I ought to place my cards out front so you could see them."
I nodded and pulled out into the street. "You informed the Blacksheares of their son's death?"
"Yeah. The Atlanta P. D. called me at the office right about noon that Wednesday. Some gal in the scene of crime investigation gave me the situation with Jimmy and asked that we inform the family." He shrugged, growing more comfortable with me. "I drove out to their place immediately-" He glanced across at me. "I've got the officer's name and number back at the office if you want it. Some patrolman called a little later and picked up some background from one of my men-"
I nodded. "I do want the scene of crime officer's name. You've no idea how hard it is to track down who did what at A.P.D."
He laughed, relaxing more. "I was in the army - I can imagine."
"Did this scene of crime investigator tell you how they managed to trace him to Soul?"
"Naw. I guess they just looked at his license and called me."
"They found his body on the grounds of a midtown undertaker's. He was wearing only his smalls - chivvies - when they found him, Chief Nixon." I paused, permitting that to sink in. "They didn't find any more clothes - nothing at the scene that was his."
I felt him staring at me before I glanced up from the road to confirm it. "That doesn't sound right," he mumbled slowly. "Not too many boys just go around in their underwear - unless it's bed time or sex time. Even fewer would think to carry id when that's all they've got on."
I smiled. "That's what I thought too."
"Just his underwear?" Nixon mused beside me as we left the last of Soul behind us. "That's got to be a bitch of a way to buy it."
"Chief Nixon, I'm trying not to conduct an inquisition here," I told him, not looking over at him. "I specialise in gay-related cases because I'm gay. Most of what I hear won't get back to his parents - or anybody else in this town. The Blacksheares knew their son was gay - they don't want to know the specifics of whom he was gay with; they just want to know who put two large calibre slugs through his chest."
'The initial report said that they probably were .45's."
The man beside me was silent for long moments and I imagined he was seeing what those slugs had done to the Blacksheare lad's body. What he was seeing wasn't pretty. "Goddamn son of a bitch!" he growled and slammed the dash with his fist.
"I want to know who was getting a piece of the lad. May we talk about it?" I asked and sneaked a glance his way.
He blinked twice. Slowly. I had shocked him and he hadn't liked what he saw in the throës of that shock.
"I guess so," he finally answered. "Only, this ain't exactly something we can discuss over coffee - not in this town."
"I'll keep driving if you keep talking," I offered brightly.
"I've got a wife and three kids."
I allowed the silence that followed to grow between us and wondered why the police chief had brought his family into the interview. They say doctors make lousy patients; cops make weak interrogation subjects.
He sighed finally. "That boy had the preacher at Central Baptist wrapped around his finger, Mr. Goodall. Brother Bishop can kill a man around here." He groaned. "I don't mean for real - but he can get you politically. He can get you in the wallet too. He's got this town hoodooed with his television ministry."
He chuckled. "I guess you could say he's sold this town on the idea that he's God's own messenger-"
"How do you know about Jimmy?"
"Two years ago, I caught Jimmy bent over and going at it behind the dumpster down at the supermarket with the captain of the football team." He shook his head at the memory. "The other boy was scared shitless and I let him pull his pants up and skedaddle on out of there. Jimmy though - he stood there and dared me to make something of it."
He stared at me in disbelief. "I couldn't believe it, Mr. Goodall. There was this boy, naked as the day he was born - staring me down, daring me to take him in - out behind the grocery store at eleven o'clock at night. He wasn't scared of me at all."
We were five miles outside of town before the chief started to speak again. "You have to understand, Mr. Goodall, Jimmy was from a good family-" He snorted derisively.
"Good, hell! The Blacksheares own this one-horse town. Shit! He had me by the short hairs and he knew it. But I couldn't just let him saunter away from me like that."
Chief Nixon stared out at the pine trees whizzing past us for long moments. "I took him down to the station. I wasn't going to book him or anything. I just wanted to scare some sense into him.
"Yeah," he growled, nodding his head. "Right. He just turned around and called that mealy-mouthed hypocrite of a freeloading preacher. The bastard was down at the station before I could open my mouth. He told me what would happen to me in Soul if I dared breathe one word about what I'd seen." He shook his head slowly. "I'd be out of a job. And he'd make it damned hard for me to find another one."
"Who in this town would have killed Jimmy, Chief Nixon?" I asked, not liking this new picture I was getting of Jimmy Blacksheare as a conniving little bastard who used his body to get what he wanted.
"Nobody." He shook his head. "None of us would've done that."
I turned the car around and headed back towards town. "There were a number of adults in this town getting a piece of Jimmy from what I hear. If he was the manipulator you've made him out to be, it seems rather logical that someone here got rid of him."
"Those two preachers - even the coach over at the high school. I've heard there were a couple of teachers too. But none of them would've done that kind of thing to Jimmy."
"Probably because they were all afraid of the little bastard. And they all loved him."
"Both of which are good motives for murder."
"Huh?" He was staring at me like I'd gone bonkers when I glanced towards him.
"Larry Bishop would lose his job and never get another one if Jimmy ever talked," I said. "People don't like clergymen who are child molesters."
"That lying son of a bitch doesn't have the guts," the chief hissed. "He'd watch his mother get skinned alive to save his own skin."
"That's pretty close to blowing a lad away to save his skin."
"Not close enough. Doc and I are probably the only two guys in town who could've done it. We've both seen death up close - him as a doctor and me as a grunt in 'Nam."
"How about this youth pastor who's the scout master?"
"He's scared of hooty owls!" The police chief's disgust exploded into laughter. "Hell! He's scared of his own shadow - the biggest fucking sissy in Georgia. I even watched him trying to minister to a guy dying from a car wreck once - he fainted right away the moment he got close enough he saw the blood."
"Do any of the men who knew Jimmy pack large calibre handguns?"
"Shit! All we got in this town are .22's, .38's, hunting rifles and shotguns. I've got assault weapons at the station - stuff we've confiscated from the drug couriers driving through. Mr. Goodall, the people in this town ain't killers. They're good, simple folks."
"Good simple folks involved in child molestation," I reminded him. It was obvious Charlie Nixon believed in his good, simple folks. I saw darker sides to all the regimented, decaying civilness about me.
"What about this coach you mentioned?"
Chief Nixon snorted. "He goes to Bishop's church, Mr. Goodall. He's the head honcho for Sunday School. He's too busy being good and snooping into everybody else's lives to kill somebody."
"Shagging an under-aged lad from one of his classes wouldn't set off some aberrant behaviours?"
Chief Nixon stared at me as if I had begun speaking Greek to him. "You got a point, Mr. Goodall - but it'll only go so far," he admitted finally. "That man spends most of his time getting right with God - when he isn't teaching our high school football team how to lie down like patsies. Shit! He even coaches my kid and I haven't seen anything like that out of him."
He paused, mulling over his knowledge of a man I didn't know and had no desire to know. "Mr. Goodall, Jimmy Blacksheare set out to control the men he was - seeing ... He was a control freak if ever there was one."
Charlie Nixon's voice became huskier as he continued: "I think he actually enjoyed setting a man up so he would tear himself apart - and doing that with one of Bishop's people has got to be easy as shit. From what I heard, the coach ended up on his knees doing a whole lot of praying after Jimmy was through with him. And nobody's willing to say what they even did. Coach wasn't walking the streets of Atlanta like some gunman at the OK Corral with his six-shooter looking to add another notch to his gun."
"Did any of these men know where the lad was after he left town?"
Charlie Nixon shook his head. "I didn't know anybody knew that, Mr. Goodall."
We were in front of the police station and I pulled into the one available space I found after circling the building. He opened the door and was dropping his feet to the macadam when I asked: "Where were you Tuesday night, Chief?"
He turned back to me in surprise.
"It's a question I've got to ask," I told him.
A smile began to play across his lips. "My night patrolman was off and I was relieving him. I didn't get home `til a little after seven Wednesday morning."
"I'm glad that you had an alibi, Chief," I told him sincerely. "You're too good a man to be caught up in this."
He stepped out onto the walk but turned back to face me as he shut the door. "I don't think anybody in this town killed Jimmy Blacksheare-" He scratched his ear and looked down at the street between the curb and the Beastie. "But, then, most small towns like Soul have a lot of closets with a whole lot of shit hidden in them."
He pursed his lips. "And I may be wrong as hell about somebody here hiding stuff in a closet I don't know about. You got questions or need help, I'm here."
"You'll help me?"
Charlie Nixon nodded. "Nobody should die the way that boy did. Murder's a whole lot more wrong than having sex with another man, the way I look at it." He snorted. "The law too. Leastwise, they don't send a sodomiser to the electric chair in this state."
I nodded. "I'll be taking you up on that help, Chief. I'll be back down here mid-week."
"You call. If we've got a murderer in Soul, I want him locked up in Reidsville prison. On death row - where the son of a bitch belongs."
TO BE CONTINUED...