Authors: Michael Nava
Tags: #detective, #mystery, #gay
PUBLICATIONS LOS ANGELES
All characters in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real individuals, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.
Copyright © 1988,1996 by Michael Nava. All
Manufactured in the United States of
Printed on acid-free paper.
This trade paperback is published by Alyson
P.O. Box 4371, Los Angeles, California
Distribution in the United Kingdom by
Turnaround Publisher Services Ltd., 27 Horsell Road, London N5 1XL, England.
First edition: April 1988 Second edition:
5 4 3 2 1
(Previously published as ISBN
Library of Congress
Cataloging-in-Publication Data Nava, Michael Goldenboy: a mystery / Michael
Nava ISBN 1-55583-366-7 I. Title.
an ebookman scan
I want to thank
Kelly McCune for her advice and assistance,
Mike and Alan for
their last-minute insights,
my friends on Deloz
Bill, of course,
words are crude and only stand between
and heart, and understanding fails us
nothing left amid such deafness but bodily
between men. And even that is very
All is vanity.
The Life of Edward
the Second of England
“You have a call.”
I looked up from
the police report I had been reading and spoke into the phone intercom. “Who?”
“Mr. Ross from Los
“Put him through.”
I picked up the phone thinking it had been at least a year since I’d last
talked to Larry Ross.
“Henry?” It was
less a question than a demand.
“Hello, Larry. This
is a surprise.”
“Are you free to
come down here and handle a case?”
I leaned back into
my chair and smiled. Born and bred in Vermont, Larry retained a New England
asperity even after twenty years in Beverly Hills where he practiced
entertainment law. His looks fit his manner: he was tall and thin and beneath
the pink, nude dome of his head he had the face of a crafty infant.
sarcastic response — Larry was impervious to sarcasm — I said, “Why don’t you
tell me about it.”
“It’s the Jim Pears
case. Have the papers up there carried anything about it?”
I thought back for
a minute. “That’s the teenager who killed one of his classmates.”
Larry replied, punctiliously.
“Whatever,” I said.
“I forget the details.”
“Jim Pears was
working as a busboy in a restaurant called the Yellowtail. One of the other
busboys named Brian Fox caught Jim having sex with a man. Brian threatened to
tell Jim’s parents. A couple of weeks later they found the boys in the cellar
of the restaurant. Brian had been stabbed to death and Jim had the knife.”
“No one actually
saw Jim do it,” he insisted.
I turned in my
chair until I faced the window. The rain fell on the green hills that rose
behind the red-tiled roofs of Linden University. That last weekend of
September, winter was arriving early in the San Francisco Bay.
“That’s his defense
- that no one actually saw him do it? Come on, Larry.”
“Hey,” he snapped, “whatever
happened to the presumption of innocence?”
“Okay, okay. Let’s
presume him innocent. What stage is he at?”
Defender has been handling the case. Jim pled not guilty. There was a prelim.
He was held to answer.”
“On what charge?”
“Is the D.A.
seeking the death penalty?”
replied, uncertainly, “I don’t think so. But isn’t that automatic if you’re
charged with first-degree murder?”
“No.” I reflected
that, after all, criminal law was not Larry’s field. “The D.A. has to allege
and prove that there were special circumstances surrounding the murder which
warrant the death penalty.”
“Like what?” Larry
“There are a lot of
them, all listed in the Penal Code. Lying in wait, for instance. There’s also
one called exceptional depravity.”
“Not just your
garden-variety depravity,” Larry commented acidly. “Only a lawyer could have
written that phrase.”
“Well, figuring out
what it means keeps a lot of us in business,” I replied, glancing at my
calendar. “When does Pears’s trial begin?”
“As in two days
“That’s right,” he
“I’m missing something here,” I said. “The trial begins
two days and the boy is represented by the P.D. Am I
with you so far?”
“Yes, but — “ he
“We’ll get to the
buts in a minute. Isn’t it a little late to be calling me?”
“The P.D.’s office
wants to withdraw.”
“Some kind of
conflict. I don’t know the details.”
automatically I began to take notes, writing ‘People v. Pears’ across the top
of a sheet of paper. Then I wrote ‘conflict.’ To Larry I said, “You seem to
know a lot for someone who isn’t involved in the case.”
“Isn’t the reason
for my interest obvious?”
I penned a question
mark. “No,” I said, “better explain.” “Everyone’s abandoned him, Henry. His
parents and now his lawyer. Someone has to step in — “
“I agree it’s a sad
situation. But why me, Larry? I can name half a dozen excellent criminal
defense lawyers down there.” “Any of them gay?”
“Aren’t we beyond
“You can’t expect a
straight lawyer to understand the pressures of being in the closet that would
drive someone to kill,” he said.
I put my pen down. “What
makes you think
understand?” I replied. “We’ve all been in the closet at one time or another.
Not many of us commit murders on our way out.”
There was silent
disappointment at his end of the line and a little guilt at mine.
“Look,” I said,
relenting, “how does Jim feel about me taking the case?”
“I haven’t spoken
said, “it’s the client who hires the lawyer.” “His P.D. says he’ll go along
“Go along with it?
I think I’ll pass.”
“Jim needs you,
Henry,” Larry insisted.
“Sounds to me that
what he needs is a decent defense. I’m not about to take a case two days before
it’s supposed to go to trial even if Jim himself asked me. I’m busy enough up
“Henry,” Larry said
softly, “you owe me.”
In the silence that
followed I calculated my debt. “That’s true,” I replied.
“And I’m desperate,”
he continued. Something in Larry’s voice troubled me — not for Jim Pears, but
for Larry Ross.
“Are you telling me
everything?” I asked after a moment.
“I need to see you,
Henry,” he said. “I’ll fly up tonight and we’ll have dinner. All right? I’ll be
there on the five-fifteen PSA flight.”
“That’ll be fine,
Larry.” I said goodbye.
After I hung up, I
went across the hall to Catherine McKinley’s office. She and I had both worked
as public defenders and had remained friends after leaving the P.D. Now and
then we referred clients to each other, though this happened less often as she
took fewer and fewer criminal defense matters, preferring the greener pastures
of civil law. I had remained in the trenches.
Her secretary, a
thin young man named Derek, was taping a child’s drawing to the side of his
file cabinet. The drawing depicted a green house with a lot of blue windows, a
red roof, a yellow door and what appeared to be an elephant in the foreground.
“Is your daughter
the artist?” I asked.
He turned to me and
smiled. “It’s our house,” he replied.
“And your pet
“That’s the dog.
You want to see her?” he asked, gesturing toward Catherine’s closed door.
“If she’s not busy.”
He glanced at the
phone console. “Go ahead,” he said, and handed me a bulky file. “Would you give
this to her?”
I knocked at the
door. Catherine said, “Come in.”
In contrast to my
own office which could charitably be described as furnished, Catherine’s office
was decorated. The color green predominated. Dark green wallpaper. Wing chairs
upholstered in the same shade. All the green, she told me, was to provide
subliminal encouragement to her clients to pay their bills. It must have worked
because she looked sleeker by the day.
She glanced up at
me with dark, ironic eyes. Catherine was a small, fine-boned woman, not quite
pretty but beside whom merely pretty women looked overblown. I set the file at
the edge of her desk.
“What’s this?” she
asked, laying an immaculately manicured finger on the folder.
“Derek asked me to
bring it in.”
She smiled. “I didn’t
think he was your type.”
“I was on my way in
anyway,” I said, dropping into one of her money-colored chairs. “I may need a
She raised a penciled
As I told her about
Larry’s call the eyebrow fell and the shallow lines across her forehead
deepened. When I finished she said, “You can’t really be thinking about taking
“I’m afraid I
really am,” I replied. “Larry wouldn’t have called me if it wasn’t important,
much less remind me that I owe
I let the sentence trail off.
Catherine filled in
the blank. “Your life?”
I shrugged. “My
professional life, anyway.”
“Still,” she said
dismissively. “Sounds like a slow plea to me.”
“What’s the favor?”
“If I take the case
I’ll need someone to stand in for me on my cases up here. Just to get
“It’ll cost you,
Henry,” she warned.
I smiled. “My
“We’ll start with
lunch,” she replied. “Get me a list of your cases and we’ll discuss them then.
Is that it?”
I stood up. “For
now. Thanks, Cathy.”
She looked at me. “Don’t
you ever get tired of losing, Henry?”
I thought about
this for a second. “No,” I said.
It was still
raining when I left my office at six to meet Larry’s plane at the San Francisco
airport. The wind was up, scattering red and yellow leaves like bright coins
into the wet, shiny streets. A stalwart jogger, wrapped in sweats, crossed the
street at the light and I felt a twinge of regret. The only kind of running I
did these days was between courts. Still, a glance in the mirror reported no
significant change in my appearance from my last birthday — my thirty-sixth.
The light flashed green and I jostled my Accord forward onto the freeway ramp.
I entered a freeway
that was clogged with Friday night traffic. Sitting there, watching the rain
come down, gave me time to think. It wasn’t true that I never got tired of
losing. Only three years earlier I had been tired enough of it to resign from
the P.D.’s office, expecting to abandon law altogether. But I had fallen in
love with a man who was murdered. Hugh Paris’s death led me back into law
though I took a lot of detours getting there. One of them was through the drunk
ward of a local hospital. I might have been there yet had it not been for Larry
Ross and the United States Supreme Court.
The summer I entered
the drunk ward was the same summer that the Supreme Court, in a case involving
Georgia, upheld the right of states to make sodomy — a generic term for every
sexual practice but the missionary position — illegal. Within weeks there was a
move to reinstate California’s sodomy law, which had been repealed ten years
earlier, by a special election. A statewide committee of lawyers was organized
to fight the effort. Larry Ross, a hitherto closeted partner in a well- known
Los Angeles firm, chaired the committee. He needed a lawyer from northern
California to lead the effort up here. After asking around, he found me, or
rather, what was left of me.
We went into the
campaign with the polls running against us. Larry poured all his energy and a
quarter of his net worth — which was considerable — into trying to change the
numbers. Halfway through, however, it was plain that we would lose. Since we
couldn’t win the election, we decided to try to knock the sodomy initiative off
the ballot with a lawsuit. We went directly to the state Supreme Court, arguing
that the initiative violated the right to privacy guaranteed by the state
Two days before the
ballot went to the print shop, the court ruled in our favor. It looked like a
victory but it wasn’t. We had merely prevented things from getting worse, not
improved them. Since then, some part of me had been waiting for the next fight.
Maybe Larry had found it in this Pears case.
I pulled into a
parking space at the airport and hurried across the street to the terminal. I
was nearly twenty minutes late. Coming to the gate I saw Larry in a blue suit,
raincoat draped over one arm and a briefcase under the other. He was far away
yet I could hardly fail to recognize his spindly stride and the gleaming dome
of his head.
closer, I thought I had made a mistake. The man who now approached me was a
stranger. The flesh of his face was too tight and vaguely green in the bright
fluorescent light. But it was Larry. The edges of his mouth turned upward in a
“Henry,” he said
embracing me, or rather, pulling me to his chest, which was as far up on him as
I broke the embrace
and made myself smile. “Larry.’’
He looked at me and
the smile faded. I looked away.
It was then I
noticed the odor coming off his clothes. It was the smell of death.