Monday, April 20, 2009
Gay homicide detective Stanley pays his disapproving father a hospital visit, and finds himself falling in love with his straight cop partner, Tom. The first in a new mystery series including Deadly Wrong (excerpt 3/16/09).
Publisher: MLR Press (January 3,2009)
His father was conscious. Stanley realized with a sense of guilt that he had rather been hoping he wouldn't be. He was propped up in bed, connected to an elaborate array of ominous looking tubes and cables. What appeared to be an entire wall of electronic equipment gave the room an eerie green glow.
He blinked when Stanley came into the room, seeming to have some difficulty at first recognizing him. You could see exactly when the truth dawned on him—followed a split second later by the predictable disappointment. He looked away without a word.
"Hey, Dad, how are you doing?" Stanley forced a grin and came to stand by the bed. His father closed his eyes.
"I'm going to sleep," he said in a petulant voice.
"Good idea," Stanley said. "Why don't you rest? I'll just stay here for a bit to see that you're okay."
"I'm fine. I don't need you watching over me." The eyes remained closed. "You go on home. Or wherever."
"Uh, Dad, it's like, three o'clock in the morning. I just drove up here from San Francisco. I guess I can hang around for a few minutes." Stanley pulled a chair over by the bed and sat in it.
The eyes opened then. They were yellowed and blood shot, and stared angrily at Stanley. "I never asked you to come," his father said. "I'd way rather see your sister. You know that."
"Yes, I do know that," Stanley snapped. "I also know that the reason you don't see her is because she doesn't want to see you. That's why she doesn't come, you stubborn old fart."
His father's lips tightened. He glared at Stanley in anger, but behind the anger, hurt cowered. He looked away again, staring at the blank whiteness of the wall.
"I'm sorry, Dad," Stanley said. He put a hand on his father's shoulder. "I shouldn't have…"
"Get the hell out of here." He shrugged Stanley's hand off.
Stanley sat for a moment longer, feeling frustrated and ashamed and wishing he knew how to make things better between them, wishing he could take back what he'd said in anger, but he couldn't. Words only went one way.
"Go on, I want to sleep."
Stanley sighed and got up, brushing an imaginary fleck of dust off his trousers. "I'll see you next week," he said.
Stanley started to reply, and held his words. Maybe by next week his father would have forgotten this whole conversation. It was maddening, the things he remembered, and the things he didn't.
Probably he'd remember, Stanley thought, walking away. People always remembered the crud.
* * * * *
His father hadn't always hated him. Surely his memories of his childhood were of a happy family, father, mother, two beloved children. Everything changed when the mother died, in a car crash. His father had been driving, after probably one too many joint. Theirs had been an era of joints, and quite often, one too many of them.
Peter Korski had survived the accident. Wanda hadn't. She'd been thrown from the car—her seat belt unfastened—crushed between the car and an ill-placed tree, an instant death. Better, at least, Stanley thought, then what had happened to his father—because, surely, Peter Korski had begun dying then as well, a process still not complete, agonizingly drawn out. Sometimes, Stanley thought he clung to life the way he did so he could suffer longer.
He blamed himself, of course and, it seemed, in some odd way, he blamed his children, maybe for not being there, for not dying with her. Stanley had never understood it. Who could understand grief, grief laced with guilt? Whatever you did, whatever anyone did, it was almost certainly part of the fault, wasn't it? The whole world, and everything in it, in his father's eyes, had conspired to this awful fate that had befallen the woman they all loved.
Stanley knew Irene, his sister, suffered more from it, maybe just because she was a woman—necessarily, now, the woman of the house, a role she hadn't wanted, had no choice but to fill, and couldn't help being the usurper in doing so. A girl might want to be her mother, might even on some level dream of taking her mother's place. How could you not feel guilty when it happened like this? Did she ever, Stanley had wondered more than once, feel as if she had wished her mother's death on her?
Stanley, male like his father, had somehow been, like him, the loser, the living victim—until the day, that fateful day, when he'd told his father the truth about himself.
It had been one of those conversations that had started out innocently enough. A teen-aged Stanley had wanted to use the car. His father never drove it now except of sheer necessity. Probably, he blamed cars too, although this was a different one. He didn't seem to mind, though, Stanley's driving it.
"Big date?" he'd asked, with a wink and a man-to-man kind of grin.
"Sort of," Stanley had said. Man-to-man had always made him uncomfortable, even when he'd been a little boy. Even then, he knew the difference. By now, he was practicing it.
"Who is she? Anyone I know?'
'It's a he, actually," Stanley said, thinking, with a mix of relief and terror, that he had been given the opening he had long been looking for, to broach the subject that he knew sooner or later had to be broached.
"He? Big date? I hope you're not turning queer on me, son." A laugh that said, I don't seriously think so, but it's entered my thoughts a time or two, so put my mind at ease anyway, why don't you?
Followed by a long, long silence, so long, that Stanley needn't have bothered answering the question. The silence had done that for him.
Up until then, from the time Mom had died, it had felt to Stanley like he and Irene were competing for Dad's attention. Later, looking back on that period in their lives, Stanley had the impression that they had been so caught up in their interpersonal turmoil, they had all but forgotten to grieve for the woman who died. They mourned, but it was more like they mourned for themselves and not for her.
After that, though, after Stanley had come out, Irene emerged as the clear winner in their unspoken competition for the most sympathy. His dad barely spoke to him again, hardly looked at him and then never with anything that might have been called affection.
But Irene discovered boys about that time, maybe just a little earlier than one might have expected, a quick succession of them. She was forever rushing to meet one or the other of them, flying out the door as if she were in a big hurry to be away. They hardly saw her. Stanley thought his Dad blamed him for that, too, as if he were the one driving her away.
The blame the senior Korski heaped upon his son wasn't altogether personal. He hated Stanley for being queer. That part of it was intensely personal. The rest of it, all that blame he ladled out, that was like the mashed potatoes to accompany the overcooked turkey when they tried to pretend it was Thanksgiving. Everybody got a spoonful, wanted or not.
It wasn't only Stanley, either. He blamed everybody. For everything. That was when he started retreating inside himself. Stanley saw it happening, he wanted to do something about it. But his father no longer let Stanley get close. "Inside himself" was someplace in particular that Peter Korski wouldn't let his son go. And if Irene noticed, any of this, she was too busy dashing out to be with those boys, to do anything.
So, Irene won, but they all three lost, too. Victims of victims.
* * * * *
"You lost the sling," Tom said when he saw him.
"It must have fallen off," Stanley said. Tom nodded, as if that made perfect sense. They didn't speak again until they were in the car. The Petaluma streets were empty. It took no more than a minute or two to reach the freeway. There was nearly always traffic on the I-5—at this time of night, mostly the big rigs.
"How'd it go?" Tom asked, fitting onto the interstate in the space between a couple of semis.
"Fine," Stanley said curtly.
They drove the rest of the way in silence, the headlights piercing the night. Even the semis thinned out, till they had long stretches of the highway to themselves. The rain had stopped, the clouds lifting.
Tom found an oldies station on the radio. Janis, The Doors. Even Credence: Proud Mary. Stanley listened the way you do with old songs that you know so well you forget whether it's you or John Fogarty performing them.
After a while, Stanley felt some of the anger and the pain begin to drain out of him. Oddly, the silence between him and Tom wasn't awkward the way it had been in the beginning. He found it comforting; there was nothing angry or petulant about it. It was patient, understanding, one of those amicable silences that lets everyone settle into his own personal comfort zone before it asks anything of you.
They were curving down the hill that led to the Golden Gate when Stanley said, "Thanks for taking me. I'd have been a mess by myself."
For an answer, Tom took the cut-off that led to the parking area at the end of the bridge. Posted signs warned that the area was closed after dark but Tom parked along the drive and put the SFPD sign in the window in case any highway patrol came along.
"Come on," he said to a surprised Stanley. "This is where I come when things are bugging me."
They walked out onto the bridge and paused by the railing. Tom took a joint out of his pocket, lit it, puffed and handed it to Stanley. Stanley hesitated for a moment. He rarely smoked. It tended to make him silly.
Tom was watching him, though—weighing him, it looked like. Stanley took the joint, sucked in a big lungful of smoke, let it out slowly. Tom grunted. Stanley was glad after all that he had joined in. It was like they were bonding. The way cops did in the movies and books.
It was the hour between night and dawn. Even now, the lights of the city were still bright, sparkling on the ripples of the bay. Far below, black against black, a ship slid slowly under the bridge. A faint breeze blew saltwater breath in their faces. The sky above was washed clean, one huge cloud looking so full a pin might burst it, and a faint ghost of a moon still hovering overhead, pale, like silver that has been polished until it is worn thin.
"'A little silver slipper of a moon'," Stanley said.
"Oh, just a line from a play."
Tom looked searchingly at him. "You really like all that stuff, don't you?"
"Plays, poetry—I'll bet you like to hang out at art galleries."
"As a matter of fact, I do." Stanley's smile was a little embarrassed. "Too fruity for you, I guess."
They passed the joint back and forth. Tom considered Stanley's remark for a moment. "No," he said finally, actually looking up at the moon. "I don't know any of that shit. I'm just a dumb cop. It's kind of nice, to tell you the truth, knowing someone who does. I guess I could learn stuff from you."
"You're not dumb," Stanley said. Tom only grunted again.
The sun was almost up now, hurrying before the night changed its mind, the gray sky enameled with streaks of bronze and amber, the famous skyline silhouetted against them. The ocean was dark gray and green, like the verdigris one sees on old brass, and the headlands in the distance were smoke purple, flecked here and there with a dusty gold, as if a painter had just daubed at them with his brush. There were those little flecks of gold everywhere, really—gold gray, gold green, gold purple. A pair of early rising gulls called to one another, celebrating the day to come, or maybe jeering their layabed cousins.
Stanley had seen all this many times, but never before at this time, at this late night, early morning hour and not from the bridge. It was a spectacular sight. "It's beautiful," he said.
"I never get tired of it." Tom flicked the roach over the railing, a wink of red as it disappeared. He did the one-handed thing with a stick of gum. "The bridge, the hills, all of it. I come here when I need to quiet my mind down. I guess it's my kind of poetry."
Headlights brushed over them. A lone car, its windows down, went by headed for Marin, leaving little ribbons of Pretty Woman in its wake
Stanley glanced at Tom then, and he had a sudden, almost frightened realization of Tom's beauty. Oh, he'd known all along that he was good looking, sexy, hot—he just had not until now thought of the word "beauty" in connection with him.
But he was, though, as beautiful as any museum statue or great painting. Not just handsome, which all at once Stanley found too inadequate a word for that dark nest of curls that was his hair, for those brown eyes that glinted sometimes with gold and could turn as dark as thunderclouds in an instant; for the full lipped mouth—how he had loved kissing that, more than he would have dared admit—and the high cheekbones as if carved of marble. He felt his knees grow weak, and was unaware that he was staring until Tom glanced back at him, his expression puzzled.
"What?" he said, chewing.
Stanley felt something inside himself stir. He wanted to fling his arms about Tom, but he knew that he did not dare. He was afraid to speak, even, to shatter the spell. He took a tiny step closer, not quite close enough to touch, but close enough that he was sure he could feel the warmth of Tom's body. It made his breath quicken, and he had to cough into his hand to disguise his arousal.
He opened his mouth, fully meaning to say, "I love you."
What came out instead was, "I saw a flying saucer once. When I was twelve."
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