Bert Harker bought me a sofa. Four years ago.
It was covered in a knobby, beige, fire-retardant fabric that on close inspection resembled spun plastic. The design was boxy and bland, not meant to be the focal point in anyone’s living room. It was designed to disappear under an Erté print or behind a lacquered Oriental coffee table or at very least melt away next to an expensive entertainment center.
That was the designer’s plan, but in my apartments the sofa had always been the main attraction. There was no competition from the director’s chairs or the industrial shelves that held my electronics or my dinged-up metal desk or the tiny dining table in front of my window. As far as furniture went, the sofa was the star.
I hadn’t liked it at first. Hadn’t wanted it. But I’d slowly become accustomed to it. I’d recovered from broken bones and beatings on it, I’d fucked on it, I’d grieved on it; my lover, Harker, spent time dying on it, and so did my friend Ross.
The arms had turned from beige to gray; the cushions were now stained with red wine, coffee, soup, Hawaiian Punch and in one spot blood—I have no idea from which wound or for that matter even whose blood it was. There were at least three cigarette burns and one actual tear. Most of the time, to keep from having to buy another sofa, I covered it with an old afghan.
Really, it was time to let it go, to drag it out of the building and leave it in an alley for someone to pick it up and find a new life for it. It’s time with me was done, but somehow I wasn’t ready to admit that. So it sat in my living room, dirty, dilapidated and a little smelly.
I was sitting on it when the police showed up and began banging on my door. It was early on the last day of July. My lover Joseph had left me a day or two before. My friend Ross was dying in a hospital nearby. Even though I had no idea why the police were there, it made perfect sense that they would be out in the hallway threatening to break the door down.
Without deciding to, I got up off the sofa and answered the door. A detective I didn’t know stood there with a couple of uniforms. He said, “Nick Nowak, I’m arresting you for the first-degree murder of Rita Lindquist.”
“Really? That’s interesting.”
“Interesting? You think it’s interesting?”
I shrugged. I did find it interesting that Rita was dead, that someone had gotten the upper hand on her. I mean, she’d never struck me as the victim type. The detective was a bit younger than me and either Italian or Mexican, I couldn’t tell. He recited my Miranda rights to me and asked if I understood them.
I shook my head and said, “No.”
“Don’t be a smart ass.” He pushed past me saying, “We have to search the apartment.” The uniforms followed him inside.
It crossed my mind to ask to see a search warrant, but I didn’t. Technically, they could look around to make sure I didn’t have any weapons or evidence I might destroy. I did have a Sig Sauer and a Baby Browning. I said a mental fond farewell to each. One of the uniforms grabbed me by the wrists and cuffed my hands behind my back.
Disconnected. I felt disconnected from the things that were happening. It was as though I were watching myself on TV, as though I’d just tuned in and this was all part of some show I didn’t know the name of and was just as clueless about the plot.
“Which district are you from?” I asked the detective.
Hamish Gardner was the detective I knew there. The guy I’d dealt with from time to time. I didn’t like him much and he certainly didn’t like me. Still, at a moment like this his unfriendly face would have been appreciated.
“Detective Gardner is at your office. Where the body was found.”
“Rita’s body was found at my office?” That didn’t make sense. None of this made sense, of course, but Rita’s body being found at my office made the least sense of all.
The detective didn’t answer my question just gave me a look that said I should know the answer to that.
“And who are you?” I asked.
“Detective Tim Burke.” His name sounded a lot like timber, which I’d bet was his nickname all through grade school. I looked into his eyes. Reading my mind, he said, “You make a crack about my name and I’ll beat the shit out of you.”
“Nice to meet you, Detective Burke.”
To the uniform holding onto my arm, he said, “Take him downstairs, put him in the back of a squad.”
I was led out of my apartment and down the hallway to the elevator. A couple of neighbors were standing in their doorways watching what was happening. I had no idea there were so many people at home on a weekday morning. Glad I could entertain them.
At the elevator, the uniform pressed the down button. I glanced at his chest. His nametag said PATTON. He wasn’t that tall, had sandy brown hair and a pronounced underbite. At another point in my life I’d have been trying to figure out how to get him to suck me off in the elevator, murder charge or no murder charge.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” he demanded. Apparently, I’d been staring.
The elevator door opened and he shoved me inside. I slumped against the back wall and made a half-assed attempt to figure out what was going on. Rita Lindquist. Dead. Okay. So who killed her? And why did the police think it was me? Wait, that part was easy. She was killed in my office. That’s what Timber had said, right? So all I needed to do was figure out who wanted Rita dead and who’d think killing her in my office was a great idea. At the intersection of those two ideas would be the killer.
Unfortunately, no one came to mind. There were definitely people in the world who’d want to kill Rita. I could easily name a few of them. But I couldn’t think of anyone who would also want to do it in my office.
We reached the first floor. As we left the elevator, I asked, “How?”
“How was Rita killed?”
“Cute. Really cute.”
“I think I have a right to know.”
“You already know. So cut the shit.”
At Two Towers, the buildings were joined by a glassed-in walkway. Halfway down were doors that opened onto the circular drive. The office was in the south building, and as Patton and I got close to the front door the manager of my building—a tall, awkward girl named Clementine—rushed over, saying, “Nick what’s happening? Where are they taking you?”
“None of you your business, ma’am,” Patton said.
“Nick, do you need me to call someone for you? A lawyer?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, right before Patton pushed me out the front door.
Moments later, I was crushed into the back of a blue-and-white. The doors locked instantly, and did not have the luxury of inside handles. Patton walked away—to argue with Clementine, I think—leaving me sliding around on the vinyl seat with my hands uncomfortably cuffed behind me.
Well, this was a pretty picture. Me in the back of a squad. Lights unnecessarily flashing. Every few minutes someone would come out of the building: An old woman walking a tiny little dog; a young banker heading down to the Loop; a scrawny old queen I’ve seen at the bars. They all stared at me and then quickly looked away.
Half of me was trying to figure out how to get more information. If I knew what happened to Rita it would be easier to make them understand I didn’t kill her. And the other half, well, that half didn’t give a shit. Lock me up, throw away the key. Fine by me.
Ten minutes later, Patton came back and got into the car. I couldn’t resist saying, “Home, James.” Like he was chauffeuring me. That went over like a lead balloon.
We drove down the Inner Drive to Addison, then turned west. Town Hall station was on the corner of Addison and Clark. An old two-story brick building that I’d been to many times, though never like this.
Patton pulled around the back, got out, and hustled me into the station though a rear entrance. He took the cuffs off and handed me over to a middle-aged man who was civilian support. He’d been sitting at an old wooden desk devoting all his attention to smoking a cigarette. He was quite good at it, and I could tell it annoyed him to be interrupted.
Reluctantly, he got out a fingerprint card and asked me a bunch of questions with about as much emotion as the default message on an answering machine.
“Sure.” It said Mikolaj on my birth certificate but same difference.
The guy looked up at me.
I rattled it off. “3220 Lake Shore Drive apartment 1008, Chicago, 60657.”
“3257 Clark, Chicago, 60657.”
I was tempted to say, “Very,” but gave him my social security number instead.
“Date of birth?”
“April 25, 1948.”
“Place of birth?”
“You’re not my type.”
He gave me another look and then put an M in that box. For good measure he put a C in the box for race. Caucasian.
“Six foot three.”
“One ninety. After a big meal.”
He must have been getting tired of me because he gave me another glance and filled in the boxes for hair and eyes with two B’s . My eyes are actually hazel, but I decided not to quibble.
That was all he needed. With a nod he let me know I should sit at the chair next to his desk and he got out an ink pad. He moved his chair over close to mine and then took my right hand. One by one, he rolled my fingers on the ink pad and then on the card.
He was close to me. Closer than I liked. He smelled of stale cigarette smoke, sweat and drugstore aftershave. I can’t say I was enjoying the intimacy of being arrested. It took an excruciatingly long time to finish rolling my fingers on the card. When he was finally done, he made me sign the card, then handed me a tissue so I could rub the ink around on my fingertips.
Then he got up and led me over to a little setup where they took mug shots. It was a lot like the DMV, except not as much fun. I just stood there and let it happen. I didn’t know what kind of face to make. I mean, should I smile, frown, look sad? I didn’t have a ‘you’ve been falsely accused of murder’ face and I couldn’t guess what it would look like anyway.
After we were done with the photo, the guy—who didn’t have a nametag and hadn’t bothered to introduce himself—led me back to his desk. He took out a big plastic bag and a receipt book. He handed me the bag.
“Shoelaces, belt, keys, wallet, anything else in your pockets. Anything else not in your pockets. I’m going to write down everything and give you a receipt to sign. Don’t try to keep anything. If they find it later on you’ll probably never see it again. This is your chance to protect your valuables. I suggest you take it.”
I began giving him my stuff. The laces to my Reeboks, I wasn’t wearing a belt, my keys, my wallet which was crammed full with a lot of stuff—none of it money—a wad of cash from my pocket, some change, my beeper, receipts I was going to expense to the job I’d finished the week before.
“Forty-three dollars, fifty-four cents,” Mr. Smiley said after he counted my money. I’m going to turn the beeper off so it doesn’t lose its charge.”
That seemed considerate until I remembered that they could probably search it and would need it to be nice and charged for that. When I was done handing him things, he held out the receipt and said, “Read it. If you agree, sign at the bottom then rip off the pink copy and put it in the bag.”
I looked it over. It seemed okay. I signed. Meanwhile, Smiley had picked up his phone and dialed an internal number.
“The package is ready.”
It was hardly a secret that I was the package and I don’t think I was being called that so I wouldn’t know what was going on. He was deliberately telling me I wasn’t human. That I was just a thing to be passed around the station. My humanity had been checked at the door.
Patton came back and led me out of that area and up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Now I was in familiar territory. There were two interview rooms in the back of the floor. I’d been in each of them at least once.
Windowless. A metal table. A couple of metal chairs. Patton pushed me in and said, “Make yourself comfortable.” As though that were even a possibility.
The Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mystery series comes to a close with Boystown 13: Fade Out. When a box containing a woman’s corpse shows up at his doorstep, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself accused of murder. The police are convinced it’s Rita Lindquist—a woman who once shot Nick. Their case is thin, but they and the state’s attorney are determined to prosecute him. Recent events have left Nick emotionally gutted and he’s not even sure he wants to fight back. But when he’s mysteriously bailed out of jail, he can’t help by try to solve the mysteries in front of him. Who posted his bond? Why is the state’s attorney trying to railroad him? And what’s the real identity of the girl in the box?
More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:
Marshall Thornton writes two popular mystery series, the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery twice, once for each series. His romantic comedy, Femme was also a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite Uncle, The Ghost Slept Over and Masc, the sequel to Femme. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America.
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