“Fuckin shit!” I exclaimed, feeling a jolt of pure terror run up my spine. “That motherfucker still blames me because he got caught with his goddamn drugs and cash hidden in our room? What the fuck is the matter with him?”
Buchanan looked at me, saying nothing. I never got over the notion that he thought it was possible that I was in the drug business with Carl, and that maybe Carl wanted something that I had hidden away. I had told him that the only way I knew was about the drugs was that I pretended to be asleep one night when Carl went to put some cash into his hiding place. He repeatedly assured me that he didn’t think that, but I always had the sense that he was holding something back. I just wasn’t sure what.
“It’s impossible to say why he came back. It’s clearly a big risk for him, so there’s gotta be some big payback for taking that risk. I seriously doubt that he came back just to find you…” He paused and looked me in the eye. “But, as long as he’s here for some other shit, maybe he thinks it would be convenient to retaliate against you, maybe even kill you.” He let that sink in. “There’s no question that he’s morphed into a major player in the drug cartels, and he’s apparently got the resources to go after anybody he wants to.”
“Then why wouldn’t he just take out a hit on me—is that what you call it?”
“That’s right. And he just might have been able to do that, which tells me that it’s personal—that he wants to face you man-to-man.”
“Goddamn! You’re scaring the shit out of me, Detective.”
“It’s Winston, Bruce,” Buchanan told me, trying to lower the temperature of the conversation. “And that’s really why I’m here.”
I looked at him quizzically.
Turning serious, he began, “You just coming home?”
“Yes. I need to pick up some books and things for classes today.”
“So, you aren’t staying here full-time?” He was clearly fishing for information.
I thought before speaking, “I guess you could find out pretty easily… I’m staying most of the time with a dude I know who lives in another building here.”
“Why do you want that? He’s not involved. He probably doesn’t even remember who Carl is.”
“I hope you’re right, and we’ll both rest a lot easier if you tell me his name and we clear him from any involvement.”
Unable to think of any cogent argument against telling him, I reluctantly said, “He’s David Liu. He sells insurance to rich pricks.” I grinned as I added that last part.
Smiling, Buchanan said, “Well, that let’s me out. Do you know where he is right now?”
Looking at my watch, I answered, “He just boarded a flight to Honolulu. He’ll be gone all week at a business conference there.”
“Nice gig—conferences in Hawaii!” Buchanan said, a little enviously.
“Well, right now, I wish I had gone with him!”
Thinking about that for a moment, Buchanan said, “So, you two are an item?”
I wanted to tell him it’s none of his goddamn business, but he was a fuckin police detective, and gay sex was technically illegal, for shit’s sake, so instead I answered non-committaly, “We get together from time to time to have a little fun.”
“Actually, you might be safer staying with him for a while, in case Carl finds out where you live.”
I was stunned to silence.
“Of course, if he was looking for you, he’d keep looking and probably find the other apartment pretty fast.”
“You’re making me very fuckin nervous, Detective… uh, Winston.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” He thought a moment. “Look, I’d like to keep your apartment under surveillance a while—at least until we know why Carl is back here. It could have nothing to do with you. He might just be setting up some kind of drug business here.”
“Why am I not comforted by that thought?”
He chuckled morbidly, “Well, I’m just trying to put your mind at ease, at least a little.”
“It’s not fuckin working!”
“OK. So, what do you say I arrange to keep an eye on you? Will you be staying here while your… friend… is in Hawaii?”
“I don’t see any reason to stay anywhere else.” I was being coy, not wanting to admit that David and I practically lived together and slept in the same bed almost every night.
“Good. You probably won’t ever see anybody watching you, but you can rest easy knowing they’re around.”
“Just please don’t upset my neighbors or anything.”
“Don’t worry. We’re good at what we do.” With that, he gave me a look that said he meant a hell of a lot more than his words said. I remembered his tender touch on my arm when I was in hospital after the beating that Carl gave me. At the time, I almost got a hard-on right there and then, because his touch was like electricity.
I thought to myself, “Whoa! Hold on right there, asshole! What’s this thing you’ve got for older men?” But I didn’t answer myself. I didn’t really know the answer.
After explaining the procedure for signaling an emergency, Detective Winston Buchanan—hot cop, hunky dude, and arrogant bastard, left me alone in my apartment.
The next morning, I carefully opened my blinds and peeked out. I couldn’t see anyone in the pool area or nearby park. I dressed and cautiously left for class, again not seeing anyone or anything out of the ordinary.
“That asshole was just fucking with my mind!” I told myself, thinking about what I would say to Buchanan if I ever saw him again.
Leaving the Engineering Building at lunchtime, I turned a corner and almost ran into a tall black man in a dark suit. Looking up, I said, “Well, shit, if it isn’t Sherlock Fucking Holmes!”
Buchanan smiled at me. “Just wanted to reassure you that we’re keeping an eye on you.”
“‘WE?’” I demanded, “or just you, once in a while, so I’ll believe that load of bullshit you handed me about protecting me from Carl.” I was seething. “And by the way, did you make all that up? Is he really here somewhere?”
Looking very serious and a little offended, the detective said to me, “Listen, Bruce…”
“That’s ‘Mr. Hobson’.”
“OK. Listen, Mr. Hobson, as I said, all we know is that Carl is back in the area. Whether he’s here to sell drugs or recruit for his cartel, or to beat the living shit out of you, I could not possibly say. I thought that, for your own safety, you should know about him, and I also thought we owed it to you to try to protect you, in case he really does want to do you harm.”
I was really pissed. “Well, Detective, I don’t feel any safer. I haven’t seen a single sign that you or any of your force are ‘keeping an eye’ on me.”
He laughed. “And if you did see us, then what would you think? That we’re a bunch of fucking Keystone Kops? You’re not supposed to see anybody—and neither is that asshole Carl. If you see us, we’ve failed!”
Stymied, I mumbled, “Well, whether you’re there or not, I definitely don’t feel safe.”
To my surprise, Buchanan looked a me with something approaching compassion. “Look, Mr. Hobson…”
I softened. “You can call me Bruce.”
“Look, Bruce, I know this isn’t easy for you, and if I were you, I’d probably be scared shitless, but I’m pretty sure this will all be over in a couple of days. Carl knows he’s risking his ass by being here, so he probably wasn’t give a choice in the matter, and he will be eager to get whatever his business is over and done with, and high-tail it back over the border so fast, we’ll think he’s the fucking Roadrunner.”
Buchanan swallowed hard and looked me in the eye with a shy smile. “I’m afraid we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot, and I’m sorry for my part in that. It’s my job to be tough, and sometimes I forget that the public are not supposed to be on the receiving end of that—just the criminals are.”
I looked up at his face. He was genuinely sincere. “It’s OK, Detective…”
I smiled back and went on, “Winston. I know I’m being a prick about this. And you’re right, I’m pretty nervous about the whole fuckin thing. Listen, I really am grateful for your protection. I just wish I felt safer. With whoever is watching me basically invisible, it’s hard to have much confidence that everything is all right.”
Unexpectedly, he put a hand on my shoulder, causing me to jump slightly.
“Can we just call a truce? You go on living your life, and let me do my job?”
Stepping back quickly to get his hand off my shoulder, I said brusquely, “Whatever.” I turned and quickly walked away. I thought I heard him whisper, “asshole,” as I left.
The next few days were uneventful, but I was still on edge at every waking moment. I kept trying to convince myself that, even though I couldn’t see anyone, the police were keeping a close eye on me. I went out of my way to be obvious as to my movements and location, fearful that I might accidentally lose my “tail.”
After one week, I started to relax at little. David had called to say that he was going to be in Honolulu longer than planned, but that he would call as soon as he knew when he was coming home. I decided to accept an invitation to a kegger at a nearby dive that my fellow students and I thought of as a second home.
I returned to my apartment and changed into some glad rags and set my mind on drinking and partying into the wee hours of the morning. “If I really tie one on,” I thought, “I won’t think about David or Carl or Buchanan or anything bad for a couple of hours at least.”
It was a pleasant evening, with a full moon, and I walked the familiar sidewalks with a bit more spring in my step than I had managed over the past several days. I felt like whistling, but that’s not something I usually do, so I deep-sixed the idea.
I stopped at a corner, waiting for the WALK light. A gruff voice behind me said, “How you doin’ motherfucker?”
I froze, a chill running down my spine. The raspy voice was unmistakable. Carl!
I started to turn, but something solid hit me in the back of the head, and I fell to my knees and landed on my back. I sensed someone leaning over me with a shiny-bladed knife in one hand. Then I blacked out.
The concrete was cold and rough. I could taste dirt in my mouth, and my head was spinning and pounding at the same time. Remembering the knife and Carl’s sudden appearance, I writhed, trying to stand up and run.
“Whoa, there. Take it easy, Bruce.” The voice was kindly and familiar.
“Wha?” was all I could get out.
“Just don’t move till the medics get here.”
I opened my eyes and tried to focus. I saw a three-headed man spinning in circles about a foot from my face. I panicked, but then, as the three heads began to merge into one, I realized that it was a friendly face: Detective Winston Buchanan.
“Carl?” I managed to squeak out.
“His worthless ass is already on the way to the station. He won’t get bail this time, and, added to the ten to twenty he was already looking at for the drugs, he now has assault and battery with intent to do bodily harm, and attempted murder on his rap sheet. The son of a bitch isn’t going to bug you ever again.”
I tried to smile my gratitude, but everything was so fuzzy that I couldn’t manage to get my face into the right configuration.
Soon, I was in the back of an ambulance, headed for the hospital. The scene was eerily similar. I had just such a ride the day that Carl attacked me and got arrested for drugs the first time.
Later, in a private room with the lights turned down low, I began to piece together what had happened. Carl must have found out where I lived and been waiting for me to come out. Finally feeling a little safe, I had thrown caution to the wind and walked directly down the street and stood innocently waiting for the light. He must have appeared from some bushes or somewhere like that. He clubbed me from behind with something and then came at me with that knife. I shuddered at the memory.
Detective Buchanan had filled in a few more details. His men were also watching my every move, and they were concerned that I had suddenly stopped observing the cautions that they had taught me. Buchanan himself was about a hundred yards behind me, keeping to the shadows. He saw Carl jump me and pull out the switchblade to end my life, and tackled the asshole, cuffed him, and smashed his head into the pavement a couple of times, just to make him understand that he’d better not resist.
I was released from the hospital the next morning, which was Saturday, and told to stay in bed until Monday at the earliest. I wasn’t in any position to object. A police cruiser was waiting at the hospital entrance to give me a ride home, and I thanked the officer and invited him in for coffee, but he said it was his pleasure, and that he was on duty.
I hesitated at the door, remembering how Buchanan had checked my apartment before he would allow me in, but then I remembered that my nemesis was in jail, where he would possibly spend the rest of his goddamn worthless life.
Entering the apartment, the first thing I saw was that blinking light on my answering machine. Dialing the code to listen, my heart skipped a beat, as the first voice that I heard was my beloved David’s.
“Bruce…” the recording began. “Bruce… oh, shit, Bruce!” I was confused. Had David heard about Carl’s attacking me?
I heard David take several deep breaths, and it sounded like he took a long swallow of something—expensive Chardonnay, I guessed.
“Bruce… I just have to say it, goddammit!” Now I was worried.
“Look, this is what it is. I ran into an old friend in Maui this week—somebody I used to work with, and… shit… he’s somebody I used to date.”
My blood ran cold.
“The long and the short of it is that he’s got his own company now, out here, and he’s invited me to be a partner and to run my own line of insurance…” Long silence followed. “So, I’m not coming back. I’ll bunk with him a while, until I get my own place set up, but the job starts immediately, and I can’t get back there to… say good-bye to you.”
I don’t know if the message went on, because I hung up at that point and then threw the answering machine across the room.