Authors: Carolyn Wheat
“I followed someone with a key into the front door, and the door to the apartment was open.”
“Did that surprise you?”
“Of course it did!” I exploded. “Nobody in New York keeps their apartment door unlocked.”
“If you thought the door was locked,” Button said insinuatingly, his little sharp teeth showing in a predatory grin, “why did you try it?”
“I don't know.” It was the best I could do. “I rang the bell; there was no answer, but there'd been a busy signal on the phone. If he was home, he might have left the door unlocked. Or maybe I just hated to come for nothing, to leave without trying everything. I just don't know,” I repeated.
“Okay.” Button nodded decisively. “Now, about your friend's social life. Did you know of any loversâother than yourself?”
“No,” I answered. “But it wouldn't have mattered. We weren't seeing each other exclusively. It would have been okay with me if Nathan took out other women.”
The predatory smile was back. “But what about other men?” he asked softly.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Button said harshly, “that we got a guy upstairs tied to the bed in what the sex manuals call a D and B positionâdo you know what that means, Miss Jameson?”
“I live in the Village, Detective. I've heard the term. But it has nothing to do with Nathan! Just because some nut tied him up doesn't meanâ”
“Let me finish, please. Not only was your boyfriend tied up, naked, but we found a few souvenirs in one of the night tables.” Button opened the door and bent down, picking up a stack of magazines. He tossed them into my lap, saying, “Go ahead, look them over. They've been dusted for prints.”
The nightmare deepened. The magazines were graphic. Some were slicks.
. Glossy color pictures of young men wearing nothing but leather and erections. Some were pulps. Muddy black-and-white photos on cheap paper. Articles like “Chained and Chastised.” “Boys in Reform School.” I would have thrown up again, if I'd had anything left to vomit.
“Thisâthis is crazy,” I whispered. “Nathan would never have looked at this filth.”
“You never saw it before?”
“Of course not! It wasn't there!”
“Oh, you've looked in every one of your boyfriend's drawers, Miss Jameson? In every closet?”
“No. But I didn't have to. Nathan wasn't gay and heâhe hated pornography. Said it was inhuman, exploitative, obscene.”
“You discussed pornography?”
“A bunch of guys at the office wanted to go to the porno movie house on Court Street,” I explained. “They asked Nathan to go with them. He went off on this absolute tirade about porno degrading both the people who make it and the people who see it. He turned some people off. They said he was being moralistic. But that's how strongly he felt about it.”
“This wouldn't be the first time a guy has said one thing and done another,” Button said. “Besides, that movie house only shows girlie stuff. Maybe he felt differently if boys were involved.”
“Why are you doing this!” I cried, nearly in tears. “Can't you see I'm upset? My friend is dead, and you're calling him dirty names.”
There wasn't an ounce of sympathy in Button's face or voice. “The dead man may have been your lover, Miss Jameson, but it looks to me like he was somebody else's too. And that somebody else killed him. I want that guy, and I want the truth from you. Did you know your boyfriend was AC-DC?”
“He wasn't!” I screamed. “He wasn't!”
“Okay,” he rapped out. “You didn't know. Do you know if he hung out at any special bars or if he had any particular male friends?”
I shook my head, too angry to talk. “What about his clients?” Button barked. I shook my head again. At that moment, I think I hated Button even more than I hated Nathan's killer.
“Look, Miss Jameson.” Button's voice went back to being soothing. “I know this is hard on you. But it looks very much like your friend picked up the wrong guy this time. All I want is some cooperation in catching that guy. If you think of anything later, any little thing that could help, just let me know.” He handed me a card with his name and phone number on it, then stood up.
“If you'd like me to drive you homeâ” he began.
The last thing in the world I wanted was to be alone in a police car with Button. The second last thing I wanted was to go home. Face it, the cheerful colors, the instant furniture, the political posters were fun when you were in a good mood, but it was no place to go for comfort.
“No,” I shook my head, “I'll stay with a friend in the neighborhood.”
When I looked up, Button was staring at me. A steady, sad gaze. The pity in his eyes hurt more than all the nasty things he'd said about Nathan.
young cop in uniform brought me my purse and tote bag. I thanked him and meant it; I'd have left them there rather than go back up to Nathan's apartment. He also warned me to leave right away. They were bringing the body downstairs in a green bag, and he didn't think I'd want to see it. He was right.
I headed straight for the Promenade. Ordinarily its panoramic view of Lower Manhattan gave me a thrill, but now I had only one thoughtâgetting to Dorinda's apartment.
I followed the Promenade to its end, then up an incline to Columbia Heights. There was a steep hill. I walked down it slowly, my semi-good boots too high-heeled to permit easy navigation. I could see Dorinda's building, once a whorehouse for local sailors, but I didn't dare look up in case there was no light in the window.
Dorinda Blalock's been my friend since our freshman year in college. We went to Kent State before it became a headline. She split in our junior year to go live in the East Village with an experimental filmmaker, the first of a series of men she's followed to various artsy locales. Now she's on her own, living under the Brooklyn Bridge and cooking for a natural food restaurant in the Heights. Dorinda's a pretty good cook, if you can forget you're eating soybeans instead of steak.
When I reached the bottom of the hill, I looked up and sighed with relief. There was a light. I called Dorinda's name in a voice ragged with tears and damp cold. She looked out, waved, and tossed me the key. The buzzer system in that building hasn't worked since they took the red light off the front door.
I let myself in and ran up the three flights to Dorinda's floor. The corridors are long; not every space in the huge building is developed. I stood, breathless, before the door. At my knock, she came, smiling, filling the doorway with her five foot ten inch farm girl's frame. Her thick braids were wound around her head like something out of
I Remember Mama
. I blurted out what had happened and suddenly began to shiver. I don't know if it was the cold or the events that were catching up with me, but Dorinda helped me take off my clothes and put me into one of her huge flannel nightgowns. She gave me thick handmade wool socks for my icy feet and sat me down in the kitchen while she brewed herb tea. Usually herb tea appeals to me about as much as wet hay, but tonight it was wonderfulâhot, honey-sweet, and spearminty. I drank it greedily, letting its soothing warmth flow through my body. There was a warm afghan and a purring cat on my lap. It was as though no cold, no horror, no death could penetrate this place of warmth and comfort.
But I hadn't told Dorinda the whole story. I hadn't mentioned the magazines Button had shown me, the conclusions he'd drawn. I didn't want to. Nathan's death was bad enough; if I talked about the rest, that cold, nasty world outside would penetrate Dorinda's haven. And I wasn't ready for that.
We sat in silence. Dorinda lit a joint and passed it to me. I sucked in the smoke and leaned back, some muscle tension loosening. I stroked the little calico cat, Mignonette. A new addition. The older cat, Tansy, had appropriated Dorinda's lap as though to show the newcomer who was boss. Both cats were purring loudly; it was the only sound in the room.
I broke the silence, haltingly at first, telling Dorinda the whole story. She didn't say much. She's been around, Dorinda, lived with quite a few guys, one of whom was a part-time transvestite, so I knew she wasn't shocked by the basic idea of S-M paraphernalia. Maybe, like me, she found the idea of associating it with Nathan hard to accept. At any rate, she let me talk without comment or interruption.
I was a lot calmer than I'd expected. The initial hysteria had worn off; grief hadn't set in yet. I was in a limbo state of numbness that allowed me to think I was being objective, rational.
“I can't believe that Nathan wasâwhat they said he was. It just seems so out of character, him with those awful magazines. Ropes and shit.” I shuddered.
“Sometimes you see what you want to see in a person, you know?” Dorinda replied. She ought to know, I thought, a little cynically. Every starving artist Dorinda has ever picked up was going to be the next Mark Suvero or Robert Motherwell.
“I remember when I found that lingerie in George's drawer,” she went on. I wasn't sure I could take another rendition of The Day Dorinda Discovered George Was a Transvestite, but I listened anyway. “I thought it meant he had another old lady. I really freaked when I found out the stuff was his.”
I nodded. “But you stayed with him anyway.”
“Yeah. He was a pretty nice guy, you know. Gentle. He wanted me to ball him while he wore that stuff, but I wouldn't. That would have been too kinky. But what I'm getting at is, you never know.”
“I knew,” I said flatly. “Nathan was a sensitive lover. He didn't need to hurt anyone to get his rocks off. That's not the kind of thing you can hide.”
“Then what was all that stuff doing there?” Dorinda asked, her gray eyes serious. “Who tied him up? And why?”
“I don't know. Maybe somebody wanted it to look like a gay killing, to hide the real motive.”
Dorinda got up. Tansy jumped from her lap, meowing in protest. She went to the stove and put on more water. I stroked Mignonette, my hand lightly touching the soft fur with its pale calico markings. The little cat purred loudly, rubbing against me, her whole tiny body reveling in being caressed.
Dorinda was back with more hot water. She put it on the table and pushed the hand-thrown honey pot over to me. I swirled honey into my mug, also hand-made, and poured water over the herbs. Still silence. The light was soft on Dorinda's long wheat-blonde hair. She had it out of the braid now, and it hung loose over her shoulders, making her look about twelve. A large economy-size Alice in Wonderland.
“Cassie,” she began. I recalled Detective Button's pitying tone and thought I heard an echo of it in Dorinda's. It scared me.
“Cassie, listen. You may be right. Maybe somebody did make it look like a gay killing. But if so, there had to be a reason. You don't set up just anybody for a thing like that. There has to be a basis for it.”
“No, there doesn't,” I retorted. “It's the kind of thing people always believe about a man. Like they always believe a woman is a nympho. Once it's said, your whole attitude changes. You can't look at the person the same way anymore. That's what will be so horrible, Dorinda. People who never met Nathan will read the papers and say, Oh, yes, the fag lawyer that was killed in the Heights. It'll be believed whether it's true or not.”
“But if the cops thinkâ” she began.
“That's just it! The cops will waste their time looking for some mythical Midnight Cowboy and all the time whoever did it will be walking around scot-free.”
“What can you do?” Dorinda asked.
“I don't know,” I answered. I was unbearably tired, but it was only five o'clock. Dorinda offered dinner, but I asked her if I could lie down instead. She took me into the bedroom, turned down the quilts on her bed, and hugged me. Very motherly. A feeling of security came over me.
The bed was warm and comforting. The quilts were homey-smelling, heavy, protective. Yet I lay awake, stiff with anxiety and pain. I remembered my last night with Nathan. How he'd spoken for the first time about his breakdown. How he'd wanted to tell me something else. How I'd run out the next morning before he'd had a chance. And now I'd never hear it.
My thoughts grew morbid. Nathan's last moments. Had he lain on the bed, his mind flailing in agony, in the certain knowledge that death was coming? Had he been afraid? Or was it like those stories told by people who were clinically dead but recoveredâwere there beautiful, white-clad illusions to help him into death? And had he thought of me?
I was startled by a touch on my face. It was the little calico cat. She burrowed under the quilts and curled herself up against my chest, purring like a furry toy. I made myself a nest around her, enveloping her in my larger warmth, hugging her as tightly as she would let me. It was good to feel life.
awoke early, with a huge heavy lump in my chest. I lay in Dorinda's bed, the little cat still on one side of me, my sleeping friend on the other. My mind a near-perfect blank. I wanted to cry, but no tears would come.
I stayed at Dorinda's for breakfast. My taste buds at least were back to normal; I wished to God she drank real coffee instead of some horrible herbal brew with star anise in it.
Then I trudged up the hill toward the Promenade. The fog was so dense I could hardly see the city. The scene reminded me of a morning I'd spent on Cape Cod. The fog had been so thick I couldn't tell where the crashing ocean waves ended and the rolling fog began. I'd tried to capture it on film, but all I'd gotten were meaningless gray photographs and a skylight filter full of salt spray.
Lousy as the weather was, it was perfect for mourning. I sat on a bench, not caring that its wetness immediately began to seep through my lined raincoat. I wanted to cry, freely, unrestrained by having to maintain composure in front of anyone. But I still couldn't cry.