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Drag and Drop [MultiFormat]
eBook by Etienne

eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: The Further Adventures of George and Mike -An Avondale Story After surviving the threat of a murderer and finding love with each other, George Martin and Mike Foster, best friends since childhood, are settling into a happy life. George's new promotion to the youngest captain in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office keeps him busy, and his current case is no exception. The body of a fifty-year-old drag queen is found in the locked dressing room of a bar. As George delves into the subsequent murder investigation, he uncovers a dangerous trail of murdered drag queens and young gay men that intersects with another case involving porn films, torture, and worse. He struggles to make sense of the murders, but it's Mike who asks the question that leads to a break in the case.

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2011


8 Reader Ratings:
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Prologue

She studied her face carefully in the mirror, applying little finishing touches here and there to her makeup. Satisfied, she stood and took one last look. Hmm, overage, check; overweight, check; over made-up, check; overaccessorized, check; overdressed, definitely. Fuck it, she thought, that's what fifty-year-old drag queens are supposed to look like. Out there in the spotlights, the audiences ate it up.

One of the perks of being the top-billed performer on any given evening at the club was a private dressing room--the other "girls" had to share a room that wasn't much bigger than this one. The other perk was that she only had to do one show--the late show, the idea being to keep the customers buying drinks as long as possible while they waited for the headline attraction.

Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on the dressing room door, and a voice on the other side of the door said, "Five minutes." She flipped a feather boa around her neck and did a last-minute check of every aspect of her appearance before walking down the hallway to the stage. After a couple of minutes, the emcee said, "Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Madame Dixie."

The music began, and she marched out on the stage, twirling her boa. She had long ago learned to sew a couple of tiny lead weights to the end of the boa. They were, for all practical purposes, invisible, but they were just heavy enough to allow the boa to arc gracefully through the air. Over the years it had become a trademark of her performances. It was, after all, Friday night, and she was, after all, the headline performer of the evening.

The music changed, and she launched into the first of the three numbers she would do back to back. At the end, she took a final bow and headed to the dressing room. It's a good thing that's over, she thought. I'm sweating like a pig, and my mascara is probably running.

In the dressing room, she discovered a man sitting at her dressing table.

"Who the fuck are you?" she said.

"Nobody."

"What do you want?"

"Tell me what you did with my little brother," he said.

"I don't know your brother," she said, starting to get annoyed.

"Sure you do, you've been fucking him for months."

"Honey," she said, "I've been a total bottom for thirty years. I don't fuck anybody, and God knows, these days, nobody wants to fuck me."

"Somebody's been fucking him, and I thought it was you," the man said.

"What's your brother's name?"

"Tommy."

"Little Tommy is your brother?"

"So you do know him."

"He wants to be a drag queen," she said, "and I've been teaching him how."

"And fucking him," the man said.

"Buddy, I don't know if anybody's been fucking little Tommy or not, but in any case, it's not me."

"You're lying," the man said. "Now tell me where Tommy is."

"Probably down in Orlando trying to win a talent contest at the Parliament House."

"I don't believe you."

"Honey, I don't give a flying fuck what you believe. Now get out of my chair so I can sit down. I'm dead tired."

A gun appeared in the man's hand and made a little burping noise.

"Not anymore, you aren't," he said. "Now you're just dead."

He locked the dressing room door from the inside and scrambled through a window.

* * * *

Chapter One

We spent a typical Friday evening dining on lasagna and garlic bread at the Pizza Italian, a small Italian restaurant in the Five Points shopping district of Jacksonville. Founded and still run by a Greek immigrant named Gus, the restaurant had been a neighborhood favorite since 1976. Gus offered the best meatball subs in town, very good pizza, lasagna that was second to none, and his homemade blue cheese dressing was so popular that he sometimes sold it separately. Mike and I were sitting in one of the booths along the wall. We had been joined by Carl Johnson, a rather cute redhead, and his partner Jim Williams, who was an attractive brunet. Carl was a detective with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, and Jim worked for one of the national accounting firms. He had passed the CPA exam the previous fall.

"Ask you a question, boss?" Carl said between bites.

"You know, Carl, you could call me George when we're not at the office," I said.

"I like calling you boss, Lieutenant. Besides, if I got in the habit of calling you by your first name outside the office, I might slip and call you that on the job."

"Okay, I surrender. What's your question?"

"When Jim and I got here this evening, you and Mike seemed to be having a rather intense discussion."

"Yeah, we were, sort of."

"Mind if I ask?"

"We were trying to decide what to use as an anniversary date," Mike said.

"As you know," I said, "we've been best friends since we were eight, and that was twenty-four years ago, but neither of us knows the exact date on which we met."

"I thought we could use the date I first fell in love with George," Mike said, "but that was so long ago that I don't remember the actual date."

"I wanted to use the date Mike took that bullet for me. When I saw him lying on that gurney in the emergency room at St. Vincent's Hospital, something clicked, and I knew that I loved him."

"That's kind of sweet," Jim said. "It sounds like a good date to use."

"Yeah," Carl said, "what's wrong with it?"

"How would you like to be reminded about the time you got shot every time you celebrate your anniversary?" Mike said.

"Point taken," Carl said.

"I just had a brainwave," I said.

"Are you going to keep it a secret, babe?" Mike said.

"How about using the date we first did something as a couple?"

"You're not talking about sex, are you?" Mike said. "There aren't any dates carved on the headboard of our bed. Not to mention the fact that you and I caroused around together for years before we became a couple, and whenever we struck out, we tended to crawl in bed with each other."

"Fool," I said. "Of course not, but if you're serious, that would be the time I gave you a blow job while you were still in the hospital. I'm referring to something like when we went together to get tested, or the day we first saw the cabin, or the day we closed on it. Something like that."

"That'll work," Mike said. "We were on the deck of the cabin, and I said something like 'we have to buy this place'. Do you know what date that was?"

"Not off the top of my head, but it was our first full day in the mountains, and I can check my calendar. It won't be hard to figure it out."

"Sounds good to me, and you don't have to check your calendar. I've got that right here in my Blackberry."

"More wine, anyone?" I said, reaching for the brown bag on the table. The restaurant didn't have a liquor license, but discreet brown-bagging was allowed. I refilled all four glasses and set the bag containing the now-empty bottle on the seat beside me.

"What are you guys doing tomorrow?" Carl said.

"We were talking about going for a walk on the beach," I said, "if it's a nice sunny day."

"Want to join us?" Mike said.

"Thanks, but I'll pass," Carl said. "My skin doesn't handle that much sun very well--at least not at the beach."

We finished our meal and went our separate ways. When Mike and I arrived at the house, Thor was waiting at the back door in his best begging pose. "How does this dog know we have food for him?" I said. We had brought home a small bag containing a few leftover pieces of the garlic bread.

"Dogs are creatures of habit, babe," Mike said, "and he has our habits down pat."

We took a long and very playful shower together, after which we stood side-by-side in front of the bathroom mirror. We had bodies typical of runners and swimmers, in both of which activities we regularly engaged. In an earlier era, we would have been described as lithe but muscular.

"Damn," Mike said, "look at us. Thirty-two, and still in great shape."

"Not to mention still the same size."

We were, in fact, the same size. Six-two, one-ninety, and our waist and shoe sizes were also identical. We basically shared one wardrobe, except for my uniform.

"Well, almost the same size."

"I know," I said. "Your dick is a half-inch longer than mine when it's angry."

"Hey, it's the little things that count."

"Babe, eight inches isn't all that little."

"I'm talking about the half-inch difference."

"Size queen."

"I'll get you for that."

"Promises, promises."

We went to bed and picked up where we had left off in the shower. Finally, content with the world, we drifted off to sleep around eleven.

Two hours later, the sound of my beeper shattered the peace of our dark and quiet bedroom--it was my weekend to be on call. "Shit," I said as I reached over and turned a light on beside the bed.

I called the number and listened for a minute. "I'm on my way," I said.

"What's happened?" Mike said somewhat sleepily.

"They found a drag queen locked in the dressing room at the Metro."

"Babe, they don't call you in the middle of the night for cases of stage fright."

"They do if the drag queen has a bullet in his head."

"Yeah, I guess that would do it." He rolled over and went back to sleep.

I got dressed and drove over to the Metro, which actually wasn't too far from our house. It was a huge gay bar and club situated on what amounted to the dividing line between the Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods. When I got there, I spotted a couple of cruisers and an EMT van already in place. I flashed my shield and pushed my way through the crowd of spectators. Inside the club, I was quickly directed behind the scenes to a dressing room, where I found a large mound of human flesh lying on the floor, clearly dead. Carl was looking at the body.

"Hi, boss," Carl said.

"What do we have, Carl?"

"The body of Melvin Seymour, aka Madame Dixie--headline attraction of this and several other clubs around the state."

I looked at the late Melvin and saw that there was a small hole where his left eye had once been. Blood and other substances had oozed from the hole, and his mascara had run all over the place. Melvin might have been a star on stage, but as a corpse, he was a mess.

"Any witnesses?"

"Nobody saw anything," Carl said, "and if it happened while some other drag queen was lip-synching away at the top decibels the club speaker system can produce, nobody could possibly have heard anything. In other words, the usual. They had to break down the door to get inside when the cleaning crew came to do their thing. As far as we can tell, the perp left through the window."

"Is the sergeant here yet?"

"She's on the way, boss."

"How many of our guys are here?"

"Everybody that's not out of town."

"Okay, Carl, you know the drill. Until the sergeant gets here, have the guys do their thing."

"It's underway, boss."

Actually, I had expected no less. I had a good team, and they knew what to do with minimal direction. Five years earlier, I had overseen three teams and had admittedly been a bit miffed when they had given them to someone else and asked me to devote my time to assembling a major case squad. Now I fully understood why they had done it and even enjoyed the challenges it presented.

Sergeant Janet Sanchez arrived, and I brought her up to date. As soon as I felt she had a handle on things, I went home and crawled back in bed. Mike, bless his heart, didn't even notice. Thor, on the other hand, did. As usual, our resident Irish Setter had seized the moment and hopped up onto the bed as soon as I had vacated it, and it took a minute or two to persuade his highness to return to his own sheepskin bed in the corner of the bedroom.

Fortunately, the rest of the weekend went by without any further incidents. At ten o'clock Monday morning, Janet and I were in the medical examiner's office, staring at what was left of the late Melvin Seymour. Two of the team members were with us.

"God, he was a BUF, wasn't he?" Sam said.

"Sam," I said, "the late Melvin was overage and seriously overweight. He was anything but buff."

"I didn't say he was buff, boss. I said he was a BUF, as in Butt Ugly Fucker."

"Sam," Janet said, "show some respect." She said it with a straight face, but we were all smiling.

The assistant medical examiner held up a plastic bag and said, "Here's the bullet, Lieutenant. It looks like a .38, and I can tell you it was fired at very close range."

"Thanks, Doc," I said. "Let the sergeant know when you have any results from ballistics."

The four of us went to our building, gathered in my office, and discussed the case. I assigned Carl the task of interviewing employees and others at the Metro, and the other guys fanned out to talk to the victim's roommate and family.

Janet hung back a minute after the others had gone and said, "Boss, did you give Carl that job because he's gay?"

"Don't you think he might be a little more comfortable talking to a bunch of homosexuals than the other guys? For that matter, I would expect him to be somewhat better received by them."

"Yeah, that makes sense. All we need is a bunch of protesters claiming that the cops were mean to the people at that bar."

"There you go. It does help to keep the big picture in mind."

"Do you think Carl will ever get around to coming out on the job?"

"I don't know, Sergeant, but as we've discussed before, it's his life and his decision."

"True."

"Speaking of life, how's yours?"

"Okay, I guess."

"Husband still have his feathers ruffled because you bring home more money?"

"Yeah," she said with a sigh, "and I don't think that's ever going to change."

"Have you thought about counseling?"

"Are you kidding? Admitting he needs help would injure his macho Hispanic pride even more than making less money than his wife does."

"It's none of my business, but do you have anyone you can talk to, even unofficially?"

"Actually, I do. I get together once a week with a number of women whose situations are similar, and we try to support each other."

"That sounds good. Let me know if there is ever anything I can do."

"Thanks, boss," she said, and she went to her cubicle.

Tuesday morning I began my day by sifting carefully through a huge stack of reports, making notes as I read. When I reviewed the notes I'd jotted on a yellow pad, one name stood out. Both the victim's roommate and people at the club mentioned a young drag queen wannabe named Tommy to whom the victim had been giving instructions in the noble art of lip-synch. I took a red felt-tip pen, printed "find Tommy" at the bottom of the page, and called Janet to my office.

"Have you read all the reports?" I said the moment she stuck her head in the door.

"I think so."

"Is anybody looking for this would-be drag queen named Tommy?"

"Two of the guys are on it. We don't have an address, only his first name. The victim's roommate doesn't seem to have a clue."

"If we haven't found Tommy by the end of the day, send Carl out to ask the roommate politely but firmly to come in for a session with a sketch artist."

"Will do."

I turned to my computer, prepared a summary report of the investigation, and sent it to the captain. I sat for a minute thinking about the notes I had made, and then I paged Carl. When he called me in answer to the page, I said, "Carl, has Janet asked you to talk to the victim's roommate about Tommy?"

"Yes, Sir. I'm on my way there as we speak."

"From what we know, Tommy wanted to be a drag queen, so ask the roommate if there was ever any mention of talent contests."

"Got it, boss."

"When you return to your desk, get on the computer and check the web sites of every bar you can find between here and Tampa. If they have any talent contests scheduled, we need to watch for our boy."

"Consider it done."

A couple of hours after lunch, Carl knocked on my door. He was visibly excited, so I said, "What's up, Carl?"

"Tommy the drag queen wannabe, boss," he said.

"What about him?"

"Someone using his name and answering to his general description participated in a talent contest at the Parliament House down in Orlando last Friday night."

"Did he win?"

"Performing as Miss Tomasina, he took third place."

"Does anybody at the Parliament House know where he went from there? More importantly, did he fill out a form and/or leave an address and contact information?"

"The guy who has that information won't be in until this evening, boss."

"Do we need to ask for official help from the Orlando Police?"

"I don't think so. The people I talked to were friendly and cooperative, especially when I told them who I worked for."

"Surely they don't know me by name, do they?"

"No, but after what happened in Maggie Valley in March and your television interview, they've heard of the only gay lieutenant in the JSO."

"Dropped a few hints, did you?"

"I used the material at hand, boss," he said. "Anything wrong with that?"

"Not at all. Actually, it was rather clever of you, now that I think about it."

"I'm going to call them back this evening."

"I've got a better idea. I want you to drive down to Orlando and be there when the guy shows up for work. Bat your baby blues at him, pour on the charm, and find out what you can."

"I can do that."

"Why don't you see if Jim can get off work early? The two of you can make an evening of it at the taxpayers' expense." I pulled an item out of my desk drawer and handed it to him. "Have Jim carry this 'Special Deputy' badge when you get there, it just might help."

"Thanks, boss."

"Keep me posted, and don't forget to tell the sergeant what you've found."

"Been there, done that, and she sent me to pass the information on to you."

* * * *

Chapter Two

Even though Carl was the youngest detective on my team, he had ranked number one in the recently offered Sergeant Examination, and I had conflicting feelings about his success. On the one hand, I was glad for him. On the other hand, his ranking meant that he would be eligible for the first sergeant's slot that opened up, and I would lose him from my team. I called Janet to tell her that I had dispatched Carl to Orlando and went back to my paperwork.

That evening Mike and I were sitting in our den enjoying an after-dinner glass of wine. I was at the computer working with Peachtree accounting software, and we were discussing our finances. I clicked on an icon, sent a report to the LaserJet, and handed it to Mike when it had finished printing. He scanned it quickly and said, "Babe, we've done pretty well this year, haven't we?"

"Wait until April fifteenth next year, and you'll see the other side of that coin."

"You don't think we'll have enough depreciation and other stuff to wipe out the tax liability?"

"I asked our accountant to run some projections. He thinks it's going to be close."

"Babe, you know I hate to pay taxes."

"Then it's time to get serious about finding one or two more rental houses," I said.

"I told you that some time back."

"So you did, and now I'm convinced."

"Print me a balance sheet for FM Properties," he said. After much discussion, we had formed FM as a corporation that held the title to our rental properties, using the first letters of our surnames for the name of the business.

I did so and handed it to him. He studied it for a minute or three. "Damn, we do look good on paper, don't we?"

"We should. We have this house, the house I inherited from my parents, the house your office occupies, the two houses you bought a long time ago, and the two duplexes and two houses that we bought last spring."

"Don't forget the contingency fund we've built up over the last year," he said.

"It's right there on the balance sheet," I said.

"I see it."

"Of course, that's not the best part."

"And that would be what?"

"Remember, half the rent from that one house is going into the fund, and the other half is going toward extra payments on this house. I think we'll be free and clear on that mortgage in less than four years."

"Works for me."

"Put your nose to the ground and see what you can find," I said.

"First thing in the morning."

"Are we all set to fly to Asheville for the twins' graduation?"

"Yep."

I was about to say something, but my cell phone interrupted my train of thought. I glanced at the caller ID and said, "Hi, Carl, how're things in Orlando?"

I listened for a long two or three minutes and said, "Okay, Carl, you hang tight. I'm going to call the captain and ask him to call a buddy of his down there and set things in motion. Do you have your shoulder holster and shield in full view? ... Good. Better tell Jim to hang that special deputy badge from his belt or something. ... Give me that address again. ... Okay, I'll call you back in a few."

Mike was staring at me with both eyebrows raised, so I held up a finger and said, "Listen and learn."

I set the desk phone in speaker mode and dialed a number.

"Bridges," a gruff but familiar voice said.

"Evening, boss, George here."

"I do have caller ID, you know," he said.

"You always say that."

He ignored my jibe and said, "What's up?"

"You know I sent Carl down to the Parliament House in Orlando looking for our possible witness?"

"I read all your memos, George, so?"

"He found out that two of the drag queens were very friendly with our guy Tommy during the talent contest Friday night."

"He talk to them?"

"They both have a couple of nights off, so Carl went looking for them."

"Did he find them?"

"He just found two dead bodies in a house in the Orlando suburbs. Same MO as our dead drag queen--bullet through the eye. He says from the smell, they've been dead for a couple of days."

"Orlando police on the scene?"

"Not yet. Can you call your buddy down there and set it in motion from his end? We might just get a little extra cooperation that way." I gave him the address.

"Consider it done. Pack an overnight bag, I'll have a cruiser delivered to your house in twenty minutes."

"I don't mind taking my truck."

"George, I want you there as quickly as possible, consistent with safety. There will be a cruiser at your door in a bit, and it will have a full tank of gas."

"Yes, Sir."

"I'll call you back in a few minutes," he said, and the line went dead.

It took five minutes for the phone to ring. "Call Carl and tell him the OPD are on the way," the captain said. "Lieutenant Clarence Ivory will be in charge."

"Will do, boss."

"George, I'm sending you down there because it's time you developed a working relationship with one of your counterparts in Orlando."

"Do you know this lieutenant?"

"His boss is an old buddy of mine, and I've met him a couple of times. You'll find that the two of you have something in common, even though he's a good ten years older than you."

"I understand, boss. I need to call Carl and then my sergeant to give her a heads-up for tomorrow."

"Are you familiar with the intersection of I-4 and Colonial Drive?"

"Sure."

"Call the OPD dispatcher when you get to the Orange County line, and there'll be an OPD car at that intersection by the time you get there, waiting to escort you to the scene."

"Do you have a telephone number for OPD dispatch?"

"They said to simply call 911 and identify yourself. Goodnight, George, and keep me informed."

I hung up the phone and looked at Mike. "Any questions?"

"Not a one. I'll go pack an overnight bag for you."

"I'll be down the hall in a jiff, I need to do a quick change."

I called Carl and told him to be on the lookout for Lieutenant Ivory. Then I called Janet and let her know what was going on. After that, I hurried to the bedroom, put on a clean white short-sleeved shirt, snapped a lieutenant's bar in place on each collar, and stepped into a fresh pair of dark blue khakis. The doorbell rang as I was pulling on a pair of loafers. I jumped up and gave Mike a quick hug and kiss and went to the door, carrying my overnight bag and my computer bag, with Mike and Thor following.

"See if you can book me into a hotel for the night," I said. "There's a Hampton Inn at I-4 and SR 436, I think. In any case, I need two beds."

"Will do. Have fun."

There were two cruisers parked at the curb, one with a driver behind the wheel, the other obviously empty. The uniform who had rung the doorbell handed me a set of keys and said, "Enjoy your ride, Lieutenant."

"Thanks," I said.

I threw my bags in the backseat, got in the car, and headed for the expressway. I took it easy until I was a few miles south of the St. Johns River on I-95, and then I let the car out a bit. It was a nearly new Crown Victoria, and I easily maintained a steady ninety all the way to Daytona, slowing down only to ease onto I-4. I-95 had six lanes very nearly all the way to I-4, and the light bar flashing on top of the car kept the far left lane clear for me with no problem. I called 911 and was patched through to the OPD dispatcher when I passed the Altamonte Mall, and as I approached the Colonial Drive exit in downtown Orlando, an OPD cruiser pulled off the shoulder, turned on its light bar, and led me west on Colonial Drive for a couple of miles and then north on another thoroughfare a few blocks before turning down a side street. There were several OPD cars at the scene.

I got out of my car and walked over to my escorts. "Thanks, guys," I said.

"Any time, Lieutenant," the driver said.

I found Carl and Jim in front of a modest-sized house talking to a very tall, very large, but not fat, black officer. As I walked up to them, Carl spotted me first. "You made good time, boss," he said.

"The captain sent me a new Crown Vic, and I flew it low and fast."

The black officer turned and said, "Lieutenant Martin, I'm Lieutenant Ivory."

His voice was almost as deep and resonant as that of James Earl Jones. I shook his hand and said, "My captain said you and I have something in common, but so far I don't see it."

He laughed. "Most people wouldn't, Lieutenant. I think he was probably referring to sexual preference. Age and color aside, the principal difference between us is that you're out, and I'm not. At least not beyond my immediate superior, anyway."

"Please call me George. My gaydar isn't very good, I'm afraid, so I would never have picked up on that."

"I'm Clarence."

"So, Clarence, what do we know so far?"

"Not much. Detective Johnson and Deputy Williams knocked on the door. It wasn't latched and swung open when they knocked on it. They smelled something odd, investigated the odor, and found two dead guys in the living room, each of them with a bullet through the eye."

"I called you, boss," Carl said, "and you set the rest of it in motion."

"What did you learn at the Parliament House, Carl?"

"One of the bartenders told us that there was a guy there Sunday evening asking questions about Tommy."

"What kind of questions?" I said.

"He claimed Tommy was his little brother, and he was looking for him."

"Claimed?"

"The bartender didn't buy it, boss. He said the guy sounded more like a jealous boyfriend."

"Did he tell the guy anything?"

"He didn't know anything, but he remembers telling the guy that the two drag queens who live in this house were very friendly with Tommy during the talent contest."

"Can he describe the guy?" I said.

"I think so."

"Any chance he saw our Tommy off stage and in street clothes?"

"He says he did."

"Does the OPD have a good sketch artist, Clarence?"

"One of the best. I'll have one of my people go talk to this guy."

"Excuse me, George," Jim said.

"What?"

"The guy has the hots for Carl," Jim said. "All Carl has to do is ask, and he'll go downtown."

"What do you mean, hots?" Carl said.

"Carl, he was all but drooling over you," Jim said. "Trust me, all you need to do is wiggle your ass, and the guy will follow you all the way back to Jacksonville to see your sketch artist if you ask him to."

"Clarence, do you mind if we do it that way?" I said. "It might even be good for community relations."

"Help yourself," he said with another booming laugh. "I'll have someone set up an appointment for you."

"Jim," I said, "do you have to go to work tomorrow?"

"Unfortunately."

"Then you can take Carl's car home, and I'll get him back to Jacksonville tomorrow."

"I'll need some clothes," Carl said.

"It's too late for a mall," Jim said. "Lieutenant, where's the nearest Walmart?"

"Go back to Colonial Drive, that is, SR 50, and west to John Young Parkway. It's a major thoroughfare, and you can't miss it. Turn right--north--on John Young Parkway, and there's a Walmart near its intersection with Princeton Street."

"Socks, underwear, tee, and a shirt, please," Carl said. "And some shaving gear and Right Guard."

"You can use my shaving gear, if you like," I said.

"Okay, no shaving gear, just Right Guard and a toothbrush," Carl said. He handed Jim his car keys.

"The deputy knows your sizes?" Clarence said.

"He's not really a deputy," I said. "He's Carl's partner and just came along for the ride. I thought the special deputy badge might impress somebody at the bar."

"A gay lieutenant and a gay detective," Clarence said. "That's pretty diverse."

"Like you," I said, "Carl isn't out. I know, and his sergeant knows, but that's all for the moment."

My back was to the street, and Clarence was facing it. "Don't look now," he said, "but here come de press."

"Great," I said. "Carl, you and I need to fade into the woodwork and let Lieutenant Ivory handle this."

"Not on your life, George," Clarence said. "Let's go put on a dog and pony show. I've seen you on national television, and the cameras love you."

"It's your call. I'll follow your lead."

He led us over to the crime scene tape at the edge of the street where two reporters and camera crews were setting up lights and equipment. Clarence waited patiently for them to get their gear in place, and then he walked up to them. Carl and I followed.

"Lieutenant Ivory," a pretty blonde said, "can you tell us what's happening here?"

"It's too early to tell very much," he said. "The bodies of two white males were discovered in the living room of this house. They've been dead for a day or so, but we won't know for certain until the medical examiner performs an autopsy."

"What was the cause of death?" she said.

"Each of them appears to have been shot at close range and with a small caliber weapon. We'll know more later."

"Who's this with you?" the male reporter said.

"This is Lieutenant Martin and Detective Johnson from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office," he said.

"You're a long way from Jacksonville, Lieutenant.... Wait a minute," he said. "I've seen you on television. You're the guy who got that serial killer-for-hire up in Waynesville, North Carolina, aren't you?"

"That was me," I said.

"How many people had he killed?"

"Seventy-six that we know of. The FBI referred to the seventy-six victims as the killer's 'bodies of work'."

"I didn't know those guys had a sense of humor," he said.

"Some of them do. Back to the crime at hand, Detective Johnson came to Orlando hoping to interview a witness in connection with a homicide in Jacksonville last weekend. The trail led him to this house, and he actually found the bodies."

"Are we looking at another serial killer?"

"It's too early to speculate. Anyway, I can't comment on an ongoing investigation in this jurisdiction. It'll be up to Lieutenant Ivory and his people to handle that."

He clearly took that as a dismissal and turned his attention back to Clarence. Clarence answered questions from both reporters patiently for a few minutes and finally told them that he had to get back to the crime scene.

"Let's go look at the victims, George," he said.

"Anyone ever tell you that you sound a lot like James Earl Jones?"

"All the time."

"Sorry I mentioned it."

"I'm used to it."

In the living room, the smell was pretty bad. "They've been dead a while," I said, stating the obvious.

"That they have."

The bodies were sprawled on the floor, and the similarity between the murders here and the one in Jacksonville was obvious. Each of them had a small hole where an eye had once been. Technicians were all over the place doing their thing, and we were obviously in the way, so we went outside, where the air was much fresher.

"There's Jim," Carl said. He walked over to where Jim was standing on the other side of the tape and took the two bags Jim handed him. Jim took off, and Carl came back to Clarence and me.

"I guess we're ready to go talk to your bartender admirer, Carl," I said.

"That's not funny, boss."

"Maybe not, Detective," Clarence said, "but make the most of it, and charm all the information out of him that you can."

"Carl's got his hands full," I said, taking out a small notebook. "Give me the name of your sketch artist, if you will."

He spelled the name for me, and we exchanged business cards, and I said, "We're booked into the Hampton Inn at I-4 in Altamonte Springs."

"I live on that side of town," he said. "Want to get together somewhere for breakfast?"

"Sure." We agreed on a time and location and left the scene.

I tossed the car keys to Carl, saying, "Take us to your bartender."

At the Parliament House, Carl parked the cruiser in a no-parking zone right in front, locked the car, and we went inside. He led me to the back bar, where a twentysomething guy, wearing very tight square-cut trunks and little else, was polishing glasses. The guy had obviously been hired for his muscles, of which there were plenty.

He spotted us standing at the bar and came to stand in front of us. "Hi, good-looking," he said. "Where's your boyfriend?"

"He had to go back to Jacksonville," Carl said. "This is my boss, Lieutenant Martin."

I shook his hand and ordered a Coke. Carl followed suit. The bartender, whose nametag read "Louie," set the drinks in front of us.

"On the house," he said. "Did you find those two drag queens?"

"What he found was a house with two dead bodies in it," I said.

"No shit," Louie said. "Was it them?"

"Probably," I said. "They each took a bullet to the head, just like our murdered drag queen in Jacksonville."

"Poor old Madame Dixie," he said. "She'd been through here a few times and was always a class act."

"Anyhow, Louie," Carl said, "you're the only person we know who has seen Tommy, aka Miss Tomasina, in street clothes, as well as the guy who was looking for him. We'd like to pick you up tomorrow morning at nine thirty and take you downtown to talk to a sketch artist."

"No problem," Louie said. "I liked those two queens, and they were always nice to me."

"Will it bother you if we pick you up in a Jacksonville police car?" I said.

"Shit, no. There's a bunch of nosy old farts in my neighborhood. That'll give the old busybodies something to talk about."

"Give Carl your address," I said, "and directions."

"It's easy," he said. "I live just a couple of blocks from where those two queens lived." He gave Carl the address and phone number.

"The local cops will probably be around tomorrow," I said, "and they're going to want to talk to anybody who might have talked to Tommy. We think he's probably making the rounds participating in talent contests, and we'd like to get one step ahead of him, if we can."

"I'll sleep on that between now and tomorrow," Louie said. He looked from Carl to me and said, "Damn, I like blonds almost as much as I do redheads."

"Sorry, guy," I said, "but I'm very much spoken for."

"The good ones nearly always are," he said with a sigh.

"By the way," I said, "do you think anybody might have filmed the talent contest Friday night?"

"Usually they do, let me ask."

He walked to the far end of the bar, knocked on a small door, and ducked through it. A couple of minutes later, he appeared again and waved us over. We followed him through the door, and he introduced us to the manager, an older man named Manny Bauer.

"Is it true about Pixie and Trixie?" he said.

"I'm afraid so," I said. "We don't have positive identification, but the two dead guys were found in their living room."

"That's too bad. Louie asked about a tape?"

"We'd like to get a copy of any tape you might have of last Friday's talent contest," I said.

"How about a DVD?"

"That would be even better."

He went to a file cabinet, opened a drawer, and rummaged around for a minute. He retrieved a DVD, said, "Voila," and handed it to me.

"Thanks. I'll make sure you get it back."

"No need for that, it's just a copy."

"Do the contestants fill out any paperwork, giving their names and addresses?"

"We don't bother with that unless they win. If we kept a file on all the hopeful drag queens that come through here, we'd have to add on a room just to store them. I have the first-place winner's names and contact information in a database in my computer, and that's about it."

We thanked him again and went back to the bar, where Louie was busily serving drinks to his customers. "Thanks again, Louie," I said. "Carl and I will pick you up at nine thirty."

"I'm always ready to be picked up by two handsome men," he said, "with or without sex."


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