Rush interviews Jake's dad and overhears Clay and Ben arguing. Twyla's last nerve is twisted. Another piece of the investigation is shared. Something is missing from the evidence log from Jake's apartment.
Jay Odgen looked like an older version of the victim, only he was much broader.His face was oval, and from the pictures Rush had viewed, his son would have probably aged as gracefully.They were studies in handsome.
The man was also obviously grieving.His eyes were bloodshot and there were dark circles under them.He had a haunted look, like his son wouldn’t let him sleep.In fact, it seemed he couldn’t escape his son’s memory during the day either.
“He had so much going for him.Jake was so smart, and his future was bright.I mean, he graduated at the top of his class and got a grant or scholarship or something that allowed him to get a master’s degree.Jake would have made a great dad, a good husband, if he’d had the chance.If he’d met the right girl.He didn’t.It’s such a waste.”
Rush looked curiously at the man, studying him. The man had repeated himself a few times now.He was still talking about how cheated he’d been.What a good son he was.The theme about ‘meeting the right girl’ had come up again and again.Rush had to know if he knew.
“Mr. Odgen, excuse me.You did know your son was gay, right?”
The man rubbed his face vigorously, almost like he was washing it of something.He wiped his eyes slowly, first one, then the other.Finally he answered, “I know he was going through a stage of some sort.In the end, he’d have figured it out.He was smart.That boy was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and now Jake will never have a chance.He’s gone.”
The detective tried not to snap back at him.This was a man grieving the loss of his son.He was a soggy mess trying to hold it together.But, the comment needled him, worming its way under his skin. Rush wondered about something.Finally, he asked.
“Was your son bisexual?”
Jay shook his head sadly.“I don’t know.It doesn’t matter, not really.He will never experience the joy of … well lots of things, I guess.”Rush guessed the man was overwhelmed with emotion, because he stopped talking, responding at all.The man stared into space.The incessant flow of the past hour, was dammed up.
Jay Odgen was looking out of his kitchen window now.His weeping had stopped.While the tears had dried up, the pain in his face remained.“I never thought it would hurt so much.”
“What do you mean?” Rush asked.
Ogden considered the question for a moment, then turned and asked one right back.“You’re not a father are you?”
Rush first shook his head, then stopped. “Actually, I’m fostering a son right now.It’s sort of new.He’s a teen and it’s only been a few months, but, yeah, I guess I am a father.”
Jay Ogden hissed at the detective’s remarks.“I mean a real one, a dad, who worries at every fall from a swing set or a cough that doesn’t want to quit.A dad is a guy who imagines all the worst things and tries to prevent them and stays up at night because he’s sure it’s going to happen.Then they get older and you start to relax a little.That’s when I got the call.All those stupid things I worried about came back all at once.
“I remember hearing a guy at work talk about his daughter’s illness and her passing away.He said it was the worst thing he’d ever felt, and the guy was in Afghanistan.He saw really horrible things, but losing his daughter to pneumonia tore out his heart.He said it hurt more than a bullet to the shoulder did.
“I didn’t believe him at the time.Now I do.”
Ogden’s words dried up.
Rush considered the previous night.He and Ben talked about Clay’s latest problem.The teen was dating a new boy, some kid in the chess club, and he was late getting in.They’d set Clay’s curfew at midnight.
When he hadn’t shown up until almost one o’clock, Rush had been pacing the floor, imagining the car in a ditch and blood flowing from Clay’s head.He could see the other boy, who was cute, but nerdy, lashing out at Clay, breaking up with him, calling him names.There were police and people in wetsuits dragging Lake Nokomis, searching for his body after they found his abandoned car on the side of the bridge.The images were relentless.They were distressing.And none of these things had happened, but he knew what ‘worry’ really was.It was the constant, nagging distress that he’d missed something and his loved one would suffer because of it.
And now, Jay Ogden’s words made sense.He did know how he felt, because if he lost Clay, in any way, it would kill him.He’d feel like a failure.What’s worse, he’d miss all the time with him, with Clay, who even now was filling his heart.The man across from him must feel the same things.
“Mr. Ogden, I’m truly sorry for your loss.Jake sounds like a great person.You did everything you could to raise him right, protect him, and I’m sure it’s hard.”
The grief-stricken man nodded.He looked up, those brown eyes bathed in liquid that was waiting to spill again over red rimmed lids.“Sometimes I think if I’d taken the boy away from her.If I’d got him away from Winnie, maybe we wouldn’t be here.She’s always been a problem to him. I almost did once.I got Jakie in the car and we were packed and everything.She ran out and stopped us.”
“What do you think your ex-wife has to do with this case?” asked Rush, a bit dazed at the sudden vehemence.
“I knew she was leeching off him.She was one of the reasons he quit school.Her drinking finally forced him to stop going, making him get a job and all.I knew years ago she’d be the death of him.Some mother she was.Sponging off her own kid, poisoning him.It was sick.”
The detective began asking more questions and soon Jay Odgen helped Rush fill a notebook with Winnie Ogden’s past sins.He had his first suspect, in a case without a murder.
Rush opened the door to his little house slowly, thinking about his next steps.His instinct had been correct, but he still had no real evidence, no crime, no murder, nothing that really made his position meaningful.It had consumed his thinking so much, he’d almost ran into the back of another car, a pretty sweet looking BMW, which was lucky, because he’d be screwed now if he’d hit it.Fuck, the cost of repairs would bankrupt them.
Sounds came through the front hallway in a kind of haze.It was Ben and Clay, of course.Clay was talking about something that distressed him.His voice had the kind of ring that meant he was upset.Ben’s voice was that lowing and gentle vibration he used when Rush was stressed out.Ben’s lovely sounds were cello intonations accompanying the striking sounds of Clay’s piano playing, sometimes pounding, and then becoming softer.
It was a soothing sound.He was home.
The detective started to take his shoes off, one of Ben’s many idiosyncrasies, only stockinged feet were allowed on his freshly waxed wood floors.He stepped carefully until the floor creaked, so he stopped.Then, he heard Ben’s voice, and for some reason, he thought he better not move.His intuition was telling him not to interrupt.He didn’t know why.
The delicate sounds of an actual piano tinkled in through the living room.It was a sad song, an etude, the kind Clay usually played when he was upset.
“Sounds beautiful.You should play for an audience,” said Ben.
The piano stopped in mid-riff.
“You know, I remember when I was in high school, I played the cornet and there were other kids who competed in competitions and stuff.You’re definitely good enough to enter one of those contests.”
Rush listened until Clay finally answered.
“Ben, am I in the way?”
Rush’s heart stopped.He held his breath, waiting for more.
“Why would you think that?” Ben answered.He sounded completely surprised.Knowing the other man, Rush would swear he had a shocked look on his face; his voice was that strained.
“You and Rush are a couple.I’m just some random whore who needed a place to stay.I feel out of place here.”There were a couple of sniffles, then a bang as the piano cover clanked down.
“Don’t you ever say something like that about yourself,” Ben barked, his voice tight and alarmed.Rush hadn’t heard the man holler in a long while, not since they broke up…before this.
“It’s true.I’m just a piece of shit, used up, and good for nothing.Not even my parents want me around.”
Rush breathed deeply, and started walking toward the living room, his jaw working angrily.He stopped when he heard the next words spoken.
“That’s not your fault,” Ben answered sharply.“The fact your father is missing in action and your mother can’t cope with things isn’t your fault.”
The teen shouted, “I’m in the fucking way of everyone!You only tolerate me because you love Rush.I can tell.”By the end of the rant, Clay’s voice had softened.
Ben barked back at him, his tone was harsh, sharp and pointed.“I love you too, you idiot.”
Rush’s eyes widened in surprise.
Even though he couldn’t see them, in his mind’s eye, the teen’s face was flushed, and his eyes were wide and round.Ben’s forehead was wrinkled, his eyes burning with passion and his fists clenched.They’d be staring each other down.
Clay was the first to recover, “What?No, you don’t.”
Ben yelled back at him, “I do too.Fuck!What did I put in your lunches all last week?”
“Huh?” the teen answered after a pause.
“What, the fuck, did I put in your lunch every goddamned day last week?”
Rush almost smiled at how furious Ben was.
“I don’t know.”
There was a silence as the conversation stalled.Rush could see Clay’s face bunched and thinking.Ben would be staring, his attention like a laser at the teen.He almost smiled, until he realized how awful this was.His family was crumbling.
“You put in a baggie of Teddy Grahams.”
Rush exhaled.He didn’t even know he’d been holding his breath.
Ben’s voice was sullen now, almost hoarse from the shouting.“You had mid-terms and I know how stressed out you get about them.When you get upset, you like to eat graham crackers.They seem to help, so I made sure you had something to make your day a little better.”
When a person listens into a conversation, there are impressions you can miss.People react and respond in ways you can’t know from the words, the sounds.Language is merely a part of communication.Eyes alight with animation, lips quiver, and skin changes color to provide the context.Rush leaned in and he tried to ‘hear’ what was going on.
“I never told you that.” Clay said, and it sound like in wonder.
Rush felt a trickle on his cheek.He wiped it, absently and turned his head to keep listening.
“You didn’t need to.I care about you.Ever since we drove you up to Boy River and I found out about your situation with Garrett, I’ve worried about you.Your mom couldn’t handle things well.Your dad is AWOL.Garrett used you.Fuck, I didn’t make things any better after you moved in with Rush.I practically accused you of trying to steal him.I made your life worse.”
Clay said and now his tone sounded amazed, “You like me.”
Rush swallowed against a rising sob.
“Of course I like you.I love you.I always did, but I got jealous or something.I’m sorry.”
Rush couldn’t stand in the hallway any longer.He made for the door and almost called out until he heard Clay speak.
“I love you too, Ben.”
“Don’t you ever call yourself a whore again,” Ben said, sounding almost wounded.“Your ex-boyfriend used you.He tried to manipulate you by having a group of men…do that to you.You never asked for it.You were young and in love, and he abused that love.Don’t ever say it again, okay?I can’t stand to hear it.When you say it, I feel sick.”
Clay didn’t answer.Rush stood at the doorway, now feeling like a criminal, lurking in the shadows.
“Promise me, you’ll never say that again.”
“I won’t,” the teen murmured.
“You are not a piece of shit.You are a lovely, talented, young man with a promising life ahead of you.Rush and I are there for you, got it?”
Clay’s voice cracked as he answered.“I guess if you like me…”
“I don’t like you.I love you,” Ben retorted.“Now give me a hug.”
Rush smiled, his hand resting against the woodwork.He heard Ben and Clay had moved, because floorboards protested, sighs were heard, and sounds of clothing jostled became apparent.There was also a sense that things had settled.
There also weren’t any more voices.But, the room didn’t sound empty.It felt full of warmth.
Rush turned and tiptoed back down the hallway to the front door.He quietly opened it, then slammed it shut after a moment.He turned and called out, “Anybody home?”
It took a second, but then he heard rustling from the front room.“You’re home early,” Ben called out.He was red-faced, and his hand brushed his cheeks.
“Hey,” Clay called from the doorway.He was beaming, also flushed, looking as happy as he ever had.
“What’s up for dinner?I was thinking we could go out,” Rush said, pointedly not looking in Ben’s eyes.
Ben cleared his throat.“I have a roast in the oven.”
“A family meal it is,” Rush said.
“Yeah,” Clay responded, nodding his head.“A family meal.”
Twyla hung up the phone.Talking to her mother was a depressing exercise at the best of times.Listening to her rant about her brother’s case was definitely the worst of times.It made her doubt ever suggesting the suit and all the problems it had raised.Her attorneys had dug into Jake’s drinking problem after she revealed the blog.Her father had cried his eyes out on her shoulder.She was already having troubles after her brother’s death, problems with sleeping, feelings of guilt, and of course, worries about her family.
She had a family and a job she still had to deal with and it wasn’t easy.Nothing was easier because of the lawsuit.People thought something like this was a gold mine or a stroll down easy street.It wasn’t.
It was the worst.When the attorneys told her ‘everything’ would be taken care of, they hadn’t meant the emotional turmoil, family struggles, or even the juggling of constant questioning through both phone calls and emails.
Her phone vibrated, which forced her to look.It was her mom again.Of course.Her mom was always asking when the case would be resolved, her words boozy and slurred.Mom would call and start crying over nothing, complaining about Jake not paying her rent.Then twelve hours later, Winnie would call back and apologize.That was when it didn’t completely suck.
Sometimes Winnie called and didn’t remember Jake was dead.It brought the whole thing back again.She’d have to remind their mother, knowing this might be another time she didn’t recall the conversation.
Then, there were the bizarre comments that didn’t make sense.At least, they weren’t coherent unless…it didn’t matter.Winnie was a mess, a drunk, and as self-centered as could be.
And then, there was the blog.The firm asked her to ‘secure’ the online journal.She didn’t know exactly what it entailed until later.A paralegal pulled her aside and explained it.
“You need to delete your brother’s blog.It’s really complicated and it will give the other side ammunition.You have the codes.Just erase it.”The woman was really nice about it.She was firm, but considerate.Her voice was low and husky.“If they find it, they’ll claim he committed suicide.Trust me, we’ve seen this before.”
“I’m confused.Don’t we need to preserve this?The police told me not to get rid of anything until the investigation was completed,” she answered.
The woman looked around, her lips thin and tight, and answered, “The criminal investigation is over.This is a civil case.Deleting an embarrassing social media entry isn’t obstructing anything.You can do this and it will make the case more clear and obvious.The other side will use evidence like this to confuse the issue.Your brother didn’t die at his own hand, that’s a fact.He was the victim of a company that cheated consumers.Don’t let them use you.Get rid of it.”
Twyla didn’t know what to do.It felt wrong.The paralegal wouldn’t tell her to do something illegal though, would she?
Wasn’t the blog already out there in the public domain?If she deleted it, wasn’t she hiding something?It was terrible to consider, but people did the wrong thing all the time.They hid things or used them against others.It had happened to her.
It had happened to Jake.Jake had to deal with people calling him names.When they had their talk, Jake said he was one way, not another.He’d tried.He really had.
Therefore, it was the confusion of a situation gone awry which made things seem more complex than they needed to be.Why couldn’t people figure things out, decide, and move on?It made life so much simpler, right?
“Mommy?” a voice called down, plaintive and demanding.
“Yeah, Bobby?Why aren’t you asleep?”
“You’re talking really loud.”
She paused, considered her son’s complaint and realized he could be right.She had been talking to herself, out loud.Again.
“I’m sorry.I’ll be quiet now.”She waited for a moment, and then called out, “Good night, sweet prince.Go back to bed.”
There wasn’t a response, so Twyla could think some more. She needed to think.This was rapidly growing out of control, and she couldn’t figure out why.Maybe if she concentrated and thought about the night before, that one last night before the awful call with Jake.
Jake and she had spoken.Their mother had called him and asked for more money, which Jake refused to give.Their father had been talking about another of his many schemes.Jake was joking about that punk chick he worked with.She was a trip.Twyla liked her, a lot.She was really together.
That’s when Jake had said he and the piece of shit Eddie were going to try again.That guy was a user.He was constantly making her brother feel like crap.He’d always ask for money too.It figures, her brother was marrying his mother.Sure, he was a good-looking male version, but the guy would take and take from Jake.
Poor Jake.Her poor, plagued brother, was the victim of a crime.Her troubled sibling was constantly barraged from that strange coworker, his boyfriend, their mother, and even tormented by -- that wasn’t worth considering.She liked him, the other guy.
Twyla now felt the tears stream down.She had been so strong.The investigation, the decision about how Jake died, and finally the lawsuit, had drained her.She thought it now was cascading down on her.
Cascading.It was drowning her.
Detective Hammond muttered something under his breath which loosely translated could be a series of vulgarities generated and accentuated by annoyance.Translated, it sounded something like this:“Motherfucker, why the hell do I end up with all the queer cases where weirdos kill each other?First a meth-head and now a kinky sicko.”Of course, his personal narrative had several more swear words and admonitions about the nature of their sexual orientation.
Regardless, Officer Rodriguez ignored his comments and continued writing down the detective’s official statements into the report as he walked about the body laid out in the morgue. It showed definite signs of post-rigor mortis causing the muscles to relax and also it emitted foul gases that made her gag with some regularity.
“Body was found at eight twelve am on the top of a pillar under a bridge passing over Minnehaha Parkway at the corner of Stevens avenue.It’s not obvious how the body was elevated to a height of about a one and a half stories.The cause of death appears to be a gunshot wound to the head.There are numerous contusions. There is additional bruising on other parts of the body signifying there was an assault prior to the death.There is a shell casing at the site.The lab is processing it presently.”
The female officer kept her head down, and continued writing without additional comment.She felt a serious rumble in her stomach that wasn’t good.So far, she hadn’t vomited, but that was only due to serious willpower.Rodriguez wasn’t new to the force, nor was she a neophyte when it came to reading a body.However, this one was really bad.It had been unseasonably warm in November with surprisingly temperate days and moderately cool evenings.The skin was sliding off the body, slumping and making him look like a melting ice cream cone.
She gagged again and breathed in through her mouth.
“Subject is dressed in ordinary jeans, a sweatshirt with a red T-shirt underneath, but his underwear is unique.He has a brightly colored, though now stained, jockstrap with the words, ‘Sex Addict’ printed on them.He’s wearing a kind of leather device on his torso.The pervert—“ Hammond stopped, and looked at the other officer, “Strike that -- the victim appears to be part of a fringe sexual subgroup…”The detective stopped again.
Rodriguez looked up, and waited patiently for the detective to continue.Finally, she spoke out a few words.“From the look of the hanky that kid found, I think he’s part of the gay kink or leather community.”
Hammond looked up surprised.His eyebrows rose asking the question.
“My cousin is gay and wears some pretty bizarre outfits.He’s told me about the leather community and the various fetishes they indulge in.”
Hammond relaxed.“Okay, so what is this guy’s deal?He has a leatherish, kinky hanky that was stained with his blood and he’s wearing all this crazy shit.What is going on with the guy?Is it a strangling fetish or did a scene go wrong or something?”
The female officer shrugged in response.“I don’t know enough to say.This guy is obviously kinky.He appears to identify with the gay community.After those observations, I can’t say. But it’s apparent he was murdered and somehow left on a concrete slab fifteen feet in the air, but I don’t know enough to say what this means.Not really.”
Hammond pursed his lips and nodded.He looked over the man on the gurney once more.“He looks rather ordinary, nice actually, so it’s kind of sad.”
Rodriguez responded quickly. “I think it’s really sad.It reminds me of those murders two years ago when a serial killer went nuts killing gay guys.I hope this guy wasn’t killed because he’s gay or liked things a little, um, different.”
Hammond didn’t answer her.He turned and looked through the guy’s wallet, which they found in his front pocket.The ID showed him as Steven Wylie, St. Louis Park. He was twenty-eight years old, and an organ donor.
Rodriguez noticed the detective was acting rather pensive, strange, because otherwise, he was pretty straightforward in cases.In fact, this was the first time she’d ever keyed a report for him.Ordinarily, he would read the subject or the scene, talk about it briefly, and then write it up himself.This was strange.He’d specifically asked for her help.
She’d only worked with him on a couple of other cases.After taking the detective’s exam, she was on the list to assist detectives with the mundane practices surrounding processing a crime scene.Before, she’d been assigned to him.This time he’d asked.
After screwing up the courage, the officer asked, “Detective?Why did you ask for me?You usually do these things alone.”
He didn’t answer for quite a while.Hammond circled the gurney, crouched down, peered at the man, and didn’t even wince at the odor.She could smell the reeking stench waft in just from his movements.But, Hammond didn’t appear to notice it, even up close.
Finally, he spoke, “You know, I had a guy who could help with cases like this.He got shit-canned.I don’t know anything about these gay guys.Everything about them creeps me out, except, they’re just guys.They are fucking dead guys who were killed for some reason, and it’s probably a stupid reason.Murdering someone is really stupid.”
“Did you ask for me because you knew about my cousin?” The pause after her question was extended, and uncomfortable.
Hammond was surveying the body, like a vulture over prey or mourner before an interment.He answered and it sounded rather flat.“I need someone to help me.I don’t get it.Why would they do this to him?”
Rodriguez breathed in deeply, about to answer him.
“It bothers me. I don’t like murders.They are messy, they hurt lots of people who don’t deserve it, and most of all, it’s really fucked up.I just don’t know if he was killed because he was gay or kinky or if it was something else entirely.That’s why I asked for you.It feels…off.”
One last time he circled the body.“God damn, this is fucked up.”
City of Minneapolis, Department of PoliceMinneapolis Fire Department