Dancing on top of the bar, the nearly naked man smiled and winked at Paul Turner. The Chicago police detective gave him an indifferent nod. Brushing past Turner, a heavy-set gentleman in his late fifties bellied up to the three-foot by five-foot stage and held a dollar out to the dancer. The nubile young thing, who wore only a black leather thong, swiveled his hips seductively as he bent down to receive the dollar and plant a kiss on the man's bald pate. Payment given and received, the presumably-over-twenty-one young man resumed his gyrations, now slinking toward another man with a dollar in his hand and a prominent bulge in his pants.
The New Year's Eve party at Au Naturel, the hottest gay bar in Chicago, was in full swing. Men, and a few women, crammed themselves together, elbow to elbow, watching the dancer, shouting at their friends over the retro-disco sound track, or quaffing tankards of beer--the specialty of the house, not counting the dancers.
After Paul checked his coat, it took him nearly ten minutes to work his way through the throng to reach the back bar where he'd promised to meet Ian and Ben. He found Ian Hume first. It was hard to miss his six-foot-six friend and his slouch fedora. Ian only took off the hat for meals and when he slept. Paul's friend and former lover was nuzzling the ear of a man in his early twenties. Paul guessed Ian's buddy was one of thedancers. Most everyone else wore sweaters, jeans, and other accoutrements against the ten-below-zero temperature outside. The young person with Ian's tongue in his ear was wearing only a flaming red and Day-Glo green kilt.
Paul nudged Ian's arm. Ian ignored the movement and swung his hip further into the young man's crotch. Paul jostled him more emphatically. Ian's look of exasperation turned to pleasure when he caught sight of Paul.
"You made a new friend," Paul said. In the back bar, it wasn't necessary to shout to be heard but you did have to raise your voice.
"Put enough dollar bills in his G-string and he'll be your friend, too."
"Sulking in a corner somewhere."
"Ben doesn't sulk."
Ian shrugged. "He was talking to Myra last I saw him."
Years ago, Ian and Paul had been lovers and they'd remained close friends. Under the rubric of honesty, Ian often felt compelled to announce his feelings about Paul's boyfriends. It wasn't that Ian necessarily disliked Ben Vargas, but their relationship was coolly neutral.
Paul gazed around at the raucous crowd. This section of Au Naturel was set up around an immense mahogany oval bar. They redecorated the walls every six months. This season's motif was scenes of Olympic athletes. Someone had taken newspaper photos and blown them up to half life size. Whether the original pictures were erotic by accident or design, the effect now was sensuous and inviting.
Clustered against the walls were high tables about a foot in diameter with tall bar stools nestled around them. Tonight, people clumped tightly around these and overflowed from them, completely filling the normally spacious room. A few patrons watched forty-eight-inch television screens filled with scenes of revelers in various cities around the country waiting outdoors for midnight. High on the walls, smaller screenscontinuously showed music videos of groups Paul had never heard of.
Paul tried to get the bartender's attention but that frazzled personage was juggling three large tankards. Paul held out a ten dollar bill high in the air over the bar and, even then, it took over five minutes to be noticed. Tonight more than usual, Paul suspected they watered the drinks--despite the outsized drinking vessels favored by Au Naturel. Finally fortified, Paul began a circuit of the room.
He found Ben and Myra huddled in a corner. Ben gave him a wan smile. Myra frowned. She pushed through a couple who were either trying to dance very close together or in the middle of foreplay.
Myra glared at him and leaned toward his ear. "Are you all right?"
"You should have called," she said.
"I tried to."
"You better talk to him."
Paul sighed. He eased next to Ben. He put his tankard of beer on the floor up against the wall. He gave him a hug, which Ben barely returned.
"What's wrong?" Paul asked.
"I've been worried," Ben said. "Are you all right?"
"You should have called."
"I did. I got you the new answering machine for Christmas."
"I haven't had time to hook it up."
"And I left messages at the shop."
"I tried to get you before you left."
When Ben spoke his deep voice had an uncharacteristic tremor. His eyes didn't waver from Paul's as he explained. "George runs into the body shop at one this afternoon. He's all out of breath. He says that two detectives from Area Ten have been shot. I drop everything and rush to the television.All I see is live coverage of one ambulance pulling away and a helicopter landing to pick up the other victim. I can't see the person. The reporter can't or won't say who it is or how badly they're hurt. I don't know if it's you, if you've been hurt, or if you're dead. I call Area Ten. You aren't there, but no one will tell me where you are. I heard the guy I was talking to snicker. He didn't even bother to cover the receiver when he said to somebody, 'The faggot's boyfriend is on the phone.' I run down to Mrs. Talucci's to get her to place the call. She's watching the same live coverage. She tells me to calm down. How can I? She places the call. The line is busy for the next hour. I tried calling Madge Fenwick. She would have been able to call Fenwick's beeper. She wasn't home. I'm crazy with worry Mrs. Talucci promises to keep trying. I go back to work. I've even more frustrated because I have to have intermediaries call. Sure you don't get hassled much about being gay, but it still isn't the same. I can't call like other people's husbands or wives and ask the same kinds of questions."
Paul kept his eyes focused on Ben's as his lover spoke. Their faces were inches apart so Ben didn't have to shout to be heard.
"I'm sorry," Paul said. "Buck and I were on the north side of the city hunting through some debris in an arson murder case that had connections to one of ours down here. No one contacted me."
Ben interrupted. "See, it does make a difference that you're gay."
"They didn't get hold of Buck either."
"That was probably deliberate, too."
That was too paranoid for Paul to respond to. He understood that his companion of over two years was worried. Anybody in a relationship with a cop had to face the problem of anxiety about the dangers their loved one might encounter on the job.
"Ben, I didn't find out about the shooting until I got back to Area Ten around five. They already had the suspects in jail."
"Somebody could have had the decency to tell you I called."
"Madge heard it on her car radio and came down to the station."
"Is that what you want me to do, come down to the station?"
For all the implications this had about Paul being gay, a cop, and mildly open at work, he answered. "That would be okay. I don't want you to worry."
Ben frowned. "If I came to Headquarters, you could get hassled."
"I could get a pager like Buck's."
"Or we could set up a system where Madge calls you?"
"So I can be a second-class citizen? Heterosexuals can call but I can't?"
"Come on, Ben, be reasonable. After Madge showed up at the station, I realized you might worry. I tried calling. You weren't home. I called Mrs. Talucci but she had left for a New Year's Eve dinner with some friends in Wicker Park. The shop was closed. I tried calling."
"I promised to see my parents for a while. Dad still gets upset if I don't stop by."
Four months ago, Ben's father had a mild stroke. His mother could mostly manage his dad, but the older man insisted that his son visit frequently. This was a major strain on Ben's time but he didn't feel he could say no to his ailing dad.
Paul said, "I had to stop at Jeff's sleep-over. It's a big deal for him. It is for me, too. Parents had to be there by seven and leave by nine. I told you all this."
"I know," Ben said. "I wish I felt more reasonable. I wish our schedules weren't so hectic, but I was scared." He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, took a deep breath, and then continued, "Before I left for here, I finally tried Madge again. She told me you were both okay. I went through pure hell today. Lately, I get frightened every time you leave. I don't know if it's the last time I'm ever going to see you."
Being the wife, husband, or lover of a cop often wasn't easy.A high rate of alcoholism, suicide, and divorce came with a job the dangers of which, while statistically remote, were still very real. Most officers never pulled their guns in their entire careers, but that didn't stop the worry and anxiety among loved ones and the cops themselves.
"I tried to call," Paul said. "I love you. I'm sorry that you were worried. I wish you wouldn't. It doesn't help anything to worry."
"That's what you always say."
Paul took Ben in his arms. He felt the well-muscled body against his own. He rubbed his hands over the broad shoulders. "I'm sorry," he said. "I love you. I'm sorry."
He felt Ben's muscles relax, tension easing. Ben's head nestled into the crook of Paul's neck and shoulder. His arms pulled Paul close.
The subject both of them ignored was that of Paul quitting his job. Ben had broached the subject once and it had led to one of the most difficult times in their relationship. As gently as he could, Paul had made it clear that he would not give up being a detective. At the time, they had talked for hours but come no closer to a solution. Like other couples, they had to hope that love and closeness and caring would get them over the rough spots.
Paul shut his eyes. He took little note of the annoying background noise and the occasional jostling. He felt Ben's cheek against this own. Ben's lips nuzzled into his hair. Paul liked being coupled. He loved Ben. He was briefly annoyed that he'd let Ian talk them into going out on one of the craziest nights of the year. Then he felt Ben's hip shift into his groin. He maneuvered the front of his pants to match Ben's.
Myra returned with three fresh tankards of ale. Paul and Ben unclinched but kept their arms around each other. She looked at Ben. "Everything better?" she asked him.
She glanced down at the front of his pants. "I can see theyare." She gave each of them a playful punch on the bicep. "You guys are such studs. If I were a man, I'd find both of you hot." She smiled at them and passed the tankards around.
"Where's the woman of the hour?" Paul asked.
Myra's latest beau had been expected to meet them here tonight. Six months ago, Myra's lover of five years had taken off for the mountains of northern California with an encyclopedia saleswoman from Muncie, Indiana. Myra said, "The bitch called and left a message on my answering machine. Said she was going to 'blow off our date.' No reason. No explanation. I heard party noises in the background. She's probably drunk and whining in somebody's ear. Good riddance."
Myra had a penchant for dating extremely dependent, alcoholic ex-nuns.
Ian, without a dancer attached, joined them.
"Where's the man of the moment?" Paul asked.
"With what you shell out, I wouldn't think he'd need to."
"I'm willing to share. What I shell out is in return for services rendered."
"I believe the technical term for that is prostitution," Paul said.
"He'll go home with me without my having to pay."
Myra said, "I've got ten bucks that says that's a crock. Anybody else?"
Ian took the bet. Paul and Ben added ten each of their own.
Ian said to Paul, "Speaking of money, tonight are you going to reward any of the dancers with a monetary gift?"
"I might," Paul said.
"You say that, and you never do."
"When I'm here, do you watch me every minute?"
Ben said, "There was this humpy number with a hairy chest and big pecs he donated several dollars to last time."
Paul put his arm around Ben's shoulder, "I like hairy chested men with tight muscles."
"Well, grand," Ian said, "but if I remember right, the last time you were here was in June after the Pride Parade. If I see one of your type tonight, I'll send him over."
"You can keep him," Paul said.
Ian fended his way through the mass of people to the bar for another drink.
Paul and Ben drove home a little after midnight. Paul had to be to work by eight the next morning. They left Ian attached to his new friend, and Myra attempting to seduce a librarian from Kankakee.
Back at his house, Paul led the way upstairs. It was rare that they had the place to themselves. Paul couldn't stay overnight at Ben's, because he had to be home for his sons. This New Year's, however, Jeff was at the indoor camp-out. The gym at Sheridan Park, two blocks away, had been rented out for the night and most of the next day for special needs kids. They would put up tents on the basketball court, play games, sit around an electric campfire, and sing songs. For wheelchair-bound kids for whom the outdoors could pose insurmountable obstacles, this was a real treat. It also gave the parents a night away from the constant responsibilities inherent in having a child with special needs.
Paul's older son, Brian, a senior in high school, was in Miami for the Orange Bowl. Brian and his friend Jose had been named to the Illinois High School all-state football team. As a reward they were given tickets to the Orange Bowl and the NFL playoff game the next day. The school's band was scheduled to march in the Orange Bowl parade, so there were school personnel available for chaperoning. Brian had worked evenings and weekends at Ben's garage to pay for his half of the room and his plane fare.
Paul had talked to the exuberant Brian several times in the past few days. Paul had worried slightly about not going along, but getting out of work over the holidays, for a cop, was tough. Leaving Jeff was not possible. Taking him along would havebeen fine, but Jeff's heart was set on being with his friends at the sleep-over. Paul didn't want to favor one boy over the other, and he knew the coach and chaperones going to Miami. He was as certain as any parent could be that there wouldn't be any problems.
As soon as he closed the front door, Paul grabbed Ben and pulled him close. As they kissed, hats, coats, gloves, and scarves cascaded to the floor. At the first pause for breath, Paul said, "It's great to know it's just the two of us." Ben had been sleeping over almost continuously of late. Paul felt extremely comfortable with this.
When they arrived upstairs in the bedroom, Paul stopped Ben from taking off the rest of his clothes. Silently, Paul helped Ben shed his sweater and then began slowly unbuttoning his lover's shirt.
"I'm sorry I got so worried," Ben said. "I'll try to be less paranoid."
"To have someone who cares so much is a rare and precious thing. I wouldn't want to lose it. I promise to get a pager."
"I guess that'll help."
Paul continued, "I want to do whatever I can to help you worry less. Pagers aren't a perfect solution, but I'll get one."
Paul pulled the tails of the opened shirt out of Ben's pants. He caressed the deep growth of fur on Ben's chest. Paul opened the closet door and selected a metal-studded leather belt. He gently rubbed the tip over Ben's torso. His lover groaned. Paul eased his lover's pants and white briefs down a few inches and fastened the belt around Ben's waist.
Ben drew a deep breath as Paul's lips nuzzled their way from the belt buckle to his neck. Their lips met and their bodies strained close together.
THE TRUTH CAN GET YOU KILLED. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Richard Zubro. All rights reserved.No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.