Your average amateur sleuth might be able to trip happily through acres of bloody corpses, but at that moment I was unnerved. I don’t care how many dead bodies anyone has seen before, finding one where and when you don’t expect it is unnerving. I made some such noise as
ulp or erp
. I yanked my hand away and jerked back into the end of the center storage shelves, sending several video cameras crashing to the ground. Scott grabbed my elbow and steadied me. When I was stable again, Scott whispered the obvious: “He’s dead.”
The body had a bullet entry wound just in front of its ear on the right side of the head. The exit wound was obvious from the blood and gore caked over the papers to the side and behind him. He was slumped to his left against a desk. His right arm dangled down to a gun lying near his right hand. I didn’t recognize whoever it was.
“Suicide?” Scott said.
“It looks that way or was made to look that way.” I didn’t see a note, but I wasn’t prepared to move the blood and goreencrusted papers to check for one. The blood was dry, but I saw no evidence of flies or bugs or maggots. I didn’t think he’d been dead long.
I heard boxes being moved in the room behind us. It was too late to pretend we weren’t here. We’d been speaking in low voices but anyone would have heard us. The crash of equipment moments before would certainly have given us away. I pulled the string and turned the light off.
A voice called, “I saw the light switch off. That’s not very subtle. Who’s there?”
I didn’t recognize the voice. The tone sounded confident and sure, tough, as if a gun was behind it and someone who wasn’t afraid to use it. A male voice—deep and threatening. A murderer? The person didn’t identify himself as being from the police.
We were far enough back in the room to have chanced a game of hide-and-seek in the dark. Then again, all whoever it was had to do was stand in the original doorway and wait. And there could be more than one of them behind us.
With luck we could find the controls for the outside door opening, but we were extremely unlikely to find them in the darkness. If this person meant us harm, there wasn’t much we could do. Certainly there wasn’t any point to standing uselessly in the dark waiting for something to happen. If there were enough of them to be on guard outside as well, we were probably doomed anyway.
I pulled the switch back on. I frantically scanned the walls for buttons to open the outer doors. I spotted a series of switches obscured by papers stacked on top of stuffed in-and out-trays. Unhesitatingly, I flung aside the papers and plastic and flicked all of them. More lights blazed, and the garagelike outer door rumbled upward. Orange sodium light swept in. We shoved aside boxes and in a moment stood in an alleyway between buildings. No one appeared behind us with a gun, but I’m not sure we gained much by the move. The place was deserted. The manager’s little shed where an indifferent teenager had been on duty was over half a mile away. Our car was at the opposite end of the building from where we were. At least we were no longer trapped. We ducked down the nearest side drive and peered cautiously back. A few seconds later Jack Miller appeared in the entrance to the first storage bay we’d entered.
I stepped out. He saw me and placed his gun in its holster under his armpit. He walked over.
“How’d you get in here?” I asked.
“A hefty bribe to the teenager out front, and you?”
“We had keys and an access code. I meant, how’d you know to come here?”
“I got word this afternoon from the guy I hired to go through Cormac’s computer that this place existed. You were already gone. I hurried down. This has to be the heart of their operation.”
I nodded toward the compartments. “We saw taping capability, hundreds, probably thousands of tapes and stills, and financial records.”
“Have you seen Cormac?”
“There’s a dead body in the fourth room.”
Miller lost none of his suave, cool reserve. “You guys are hell on wheels.” He strode past us into the fourth space. He came out a moment later seeming a little less confident. I guess dead bodies weren’t on his daily menu. “It’s Cormac Macintire. Sure looks like suicide.”
“Could be faked,” I said.
“We better call the cops,” Scott said.
It was morbid to think of hunting through any more boxes or files with the dead body sitting there. It was also useless. It would take days to inventory the whole thing. The idea of running away and pretending we’d never been here was nonsensical. Miller used his cell phone to summon help. While we waited, we phoned Todd Bristol, our lawyer. He said we should remain calm and tell the truth. He gave us the name of a lawyer in St. Louis to call if we needed to.
While we waited, Miller asked, “How much of this stuff have you looked through?”
I said, “We spent about an hour before we found the fourth room. There’s zillions of tape and photos. I’m wondering, how did these two get started? What was the original connection?”
Miller said, “Hard to know if how they met or how they got started means anything.”
Scott suggested, “Maybe Macintire was in a sport Ethan filmed.”
I asked, “How did you get permission to get into Cormac’s office?”
“Ethan let me into Cormac’s office when he hired me. Nothing I found in my first search indicated why he might be missing or in danger. I found a computer expert down here to continue cracking the codes on Cormac’s hard drive. I tried and I couldn’t. Before I came here, I went back to Cormac’s to make a second search. There was no hint about who killed Ethan Gahain.”
We explained to the beat cops. We gave details to the detectives. We spoke with higher officials. The son of Cecil Macintire dead in their city was going to rattle news cages across the country. The deceased scion being a mogul of a porn empire was going to make immense headlines. That one of the most famous baseball players in America had been among those who had found the body was only going to increase the furor.
The detective in charge, Jerry Berke, was tall and burly and didn’t seem to like us or anybody else for that matter. He maintained a stoical silence in front of his superiors. He snapped and barked at peers, subordinates, and possible witnesses/suspects.
“You were here because the parents asked you to come down?” he repeated for the third time. The sneer in his voice had an added note of warning and threat that it would take Scott’s nephew years to master.
I certainly didn’t think we needed our lawyer here, but I wasn’t about to put up with an asshole cop. I said, “We’ve answered that question and all your others. We’re leaving.” I wasn’t about to attempt an imitation of an amateur sleuth and start pushing this guy or suggesting how he should be investigating. I didn’t sense a lovable, kindly interior behind his gruff exterior.
“I don’t care for private investigators,” the cop said, “and I dislike any kind of interference from anybody, whether disguised as help or not. Stay away.” The detective turned to Scott. “I’ve got a gay son who would want your autograph. Would you mind?”
Scott’s fame is immense. He’s had tons of press coverage and media attention. One morning over my winter break last year, we were in Battle Mountain, Nevada, eating at Frieda’s Diner. I couldn’t imagine a spot we’d be less likely to be recognized. In minutes the place began to fill, people whispering and a few pointing. We were given breakfast on the house. It’s an oddity. Fame can trump homophobia—sometimes. Or maybe the people of Battle Mountain are more enlightened and sophisticated than other members of the population. Or maybe they just like to gawk.
Scott signed the cop’s notebook.
The last thing the cop said was “I don’t advise you guys to leave town.”
I said, “Neither Scott nor I killed anybody. Unless we’re suspects, I don’t think we need to deal with that kind of warning, but we’ll have our lawyer call you.” I didn’t want to be stuck in St. Louis. I didn’t want to deal with even one police jurisdiction hassling us, much less two.
It was late. It would take five hours to drive back to Chicago. I wasn’t in the mood to back up my brave words and actually risk leaving town until I had spoken with Todd Bristol again.
Scott and I found a room at the renovated train station on the west edge of downtown St. Louis. Miller already had reservations at the Adams-Mark hotel. After we checked in, I called Todd. He said he’d deal with the police. My mother had left a message with our service to call her no matter what the time. She told me the funeral would be next Saturday. There would be a wake the night before. I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be back for both of those things.
“Have you found anything out?” my mother asked.
I told her about Cormac’s death and the porn empire. I was sure she’d be hearing about it soon enough. She could decide on the course she should take when the news broke to Ethan’s parents. Sex and murder mixed would make the top of all the local newscasts as long as there wasn’t a currently burning building to exploit.
Miller, Scott, and I stood in the barrel-ceilinged lobby of the Hyatt Regency Train Station and talked about the murders. Miller leaned his butt against the marble-tiled wall. Jeans, T-shirt, leather jacket, running shoes—a young track star in his prime.
I said, “The two murders are connected.” They both nodded. “Is there a connection between their deaths and the porn? Were Cormac and Ethan lovers?”
“I’ve talked to people down here,” Miller said. “Everybody who knew Cormac said he was sweet, quiet, and unassuming. All of Cormac’s neighbors confirmed this. Absolutely no one says they were lovers. I’ve already told you I learned nothing from Macintire’s family. Cormac worked out of a shabby office just west of downtown. Using his address book, I made a lot of calls and visited a few people. They were mostly business connections. None of them claimed to know him well. Cormac didn’t seem to be close to anyone. His wife certainly didn’t seem to have a clue about his work. I was going to ask Ethan why they didn’t have mutual acquaintances, but he’d gone to Chicago by then. The Web master, Josh Durst, the guy I told you I talked to, claimed he was never lovers with either man. Durst himself was hot enough looking to make it into the photos, but he didn’t say anything about that.”
Scott said, “With Cormac dead, we should talk to him.”
“The three of us?” Miller asked.
“Did you mention him to the cops?” I asked.
“As part of the list of who I’d talked to. It was nearly fifty people. I didn’t single out his name to them. I’m sure they’ll talk to everybody on the list. If a whole parade of people show up—the cops, us, you—Durst might be inclined to stop talking.”
“Or maybe he loves to blab,” Scott said.
“We’re going now,” I said.
“As late as it is?” Scott asked.
“Ethan and Cormac are dead. The guy who knows of a connection between them needs to know that. He himself may be in trouble or in danger. I think he might be able to tell us a great deal more.”
“We should report this to the police,” Scott said.
“Share a bit of information with them?” I said. “Or look like we’re trying to take an interest?”
The cops get suspicious of those who take too much interest in a case, and of those who are trying to be too helpful. In any reasonably competent jurisdiction, amateur sleuths would be questioned intensively.
“I think we need to talk to this guy tonight.” I looked at my watch. “This morning.”
“Us sharing information is one thing,” Miller said. “Actively working together is another. He knows me, not you.”
I said, “You told us yesterday he thought you were a fellow model. He might mistrust you when he finds out you’re really a private eye. We should go with.”
“He’ll trust you?”
“At least we haven’t lied to him,” Scott said.
I said, “We’ll be lucky to find him alive. I don’t want to give, we have no right to give, a killer more time to get to him. There’s no point in debating about going to talk to him. I’m not waiting.”
“You are if I don’t give you the address,” Miller said.
“Is this a contest,” I asked, “or a race? In fact, you found Cormac. Aren’t you done? What’s the problem? We’re either working together or we’re not. You either trust us or you don’t. You decide. I do not choose to deal with another level of ambiguity.”
“A little hostile tonight,” Miller said.
“Well?” I asked.
Miller looked thoughtful for several moments. He glanced from me to Scott and back. Finally, he smiled. “Unpleasantly officious is not my idea of a good characteristic in a partner, but I’d be willing to figure out who killed them both.”
I realized I’d been unreasonable. “Sorry,” I said.
Josh Durst lived in Richmond Heights, just south of the Washington University campus, which is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been on. I’d driven down to St. Louis several times while Scott and the team were in town. One June he spoke at the university. We were given a guided tour on a beautiful summer night. It had stormed the day before, and the usual oppressive St. Louis summer heat had lifted. Scott spoke to over five thousand people from the steps of the administration building. He faced east toward a double row of trees arching overhead, illumined by candles and torches and flashlights and lighters. It was magical. I returned the day after his speech to walk the campus in daylight. It was the site of the 1904 Olympics. The campus looks the way a university should look. Stately old trees, oceans of shade, dappled sunlight, bright patches of sun-washed green, lots of old brick and stonework, a Gothic chapel.
Josh lived in a house three blocks south of the university and one block west of Skinker. The house was dark. The street was quiet.
While sitting in the car, Scott asked, “Shouldn’t we call first instead of just banging on the door in the middle of the night?”
Jack took out his cell phone and a small notebook. He turned on the dome light of the SUV, flipped several pages, found the number, and punched it in. After seven rings an answering machine picked up.
“That’s his machine,” Miller said. “I recognize his voice.”
I said, “He’s not home, he doesn’t answer calls in the middle of the night, or he’s dead. We can’t take a chance that he’s lying there hurt.”
Scott said, “Maybe he’s the killer.” Miller took out his gun and clicked off the safety. He kept it out as we made our way to the door.
We rang the bell and knocked. No answer. “If we start banging and making all kinds of noise, we’ll wake the neighbors,” Scott said.
We walked around to the rear and up the back porch. “We won’t need to break in,” I said. We all saw the shattered square of glass in the door. Nothing gritted under our feet. The glass had been smashed inward.
Miller called the cops. Scott rang the bell, and I bashed my fist on the back door. We heard a loud boom from inside the house. We all ducked down and scrambled behind a gazebo in the middle of the yard. Seconds later a door slammed. I said, “That had to be the front.” We began to inch back around in that direction. We heard a loud smash from inside followed by a series of smaller crashes. We were halfway to the corner of the house when the back door banged open.
A dim figure called, “Don’t move. I’ve got a gun.”
We didn’t move. Miller said, “Josh?”
“Who’s there?” called the voice. From where we were, I could see he was crouched down in a cop-on-television shooter’s stance.
“Josh, this is Jack Miller. The guy who talked to you last week. What’s wrong?”
“Yeah, who’s that with you?” The voice quavered.
“Two friends, Tom Mason and Scott Carpenter from Chicago.”
Scott Carpenter, the baseball player and his lover?”
God bless fame.
Rotating lights from two cop cars filled the street. Durst walked down the stairs. His gun was at his side. He wore boxer shorts, but no shirt, socks, or shoes. Around five foot six, broad shoulders, a narrow waist; his boxers protruded slightly in front.
We heard banging on the front door.
I said, “We better talk to the cops.”
“I can’t,” Durst said.
“Why the hell not?” I asked. “Are you involved in something illegal at this moment? Not unless you don’t have a permit for that gun. You’re standing here in your underwear. That isn’t particularly illegal. It was a break-in. You can tell them that much. We have to tell them something. They’ve seen people in their underwear.” Durst shivered in the night air. He jammed the gun into the middle of the dense foliage of a potted plant on the porch. He rubbed his hands on his shorts. Two dark figures appeared around the side of the house. One shone his flashlight on us. The other had his gun out. Both looked to be in their midtwenties. The one with the gun said, “Who the hell are you?”
I understand why cops who walk into dark backyards sound hostile and a bit frightened. Understanding didn’t make me like that attitude at the moment. I hadn’t done anything illegal. The presumption that I’ve done something wrong pisses me off. I swallowed my hostility for the moment. No matter how I felt, I was not about to piss the cops off unnecessarily.
I said, “My name is Tom Mason. We called the police because we found the glass broken in the back door. This is Josh Durst; he lives here.” I gave him Scott’s and Miller’s names. We got no sign of recognition on Scott’s name.
The cop shone the light in the middle of Durst’s face. He panned it quickly from the guy’s face down his shirtless torso to his naked feet.
“What happened?” The cop with the flashlight asked the questions.
Durst said, “I heard intruders. I couldn’t get to a phone.”
I said, “We must have scared them when we knocked on the front door.”
“Awful late to be visiting,” the cop said. As each of us spoke, the flashlight got turned on us.
I couldn’t keep all the sharpness out of my voice as I said, “I didn’t know hours for visiting people were regulated by statute.”
“They are if you’re disturbing the peace.”
Miller said, “The three of us just got here. We can’t tell you anything about the intruders. We’d like to be helpful. I know Mr. Durst here, and Tom and Scott are my friends.”
Durst said with more confidence, “Whoever broke in ran out the front. I heard noises so I came back here.”
“What did the intruders look like?” the cop asked.
Durst said, “I don’t know. I never got a good look at them.”
The cop said, “Mr. Durst, you sure you’re all right? You’re not in danger from these guys? You can come with us. We’ll protect you.”
“It’s okay, really,” Durst said. “Thanks for coming.”
In a few short minutes the police took down a sufficient amount of information for their report and left.
Durst ushered us into the house. He turned on the lights. In the kitchen the toaster and the microwave were lying upside down on the floor. A few pots and pans still dangled over the stove, but most were strewn about the room. Smashed dishes littered the floor. We helped him pick up the mess.
“What happened in here?” I asked.
“I tripped as I came into the room. I didn’t want to turn the light on. I’m lucky I didn’t brain myself.”
You could cross to the door opposite in five steps. Heavy blue curtains covered the window that looked out on the backyard. Refrigerator magnets of naked men in passionate embraces were placed square to the sides of the machine. Durst sank into one of the four kitchen chairs. We all took seats. Durst propped his elbows on the table and put one hand on each side of his head.
In the better light of the kitchen I could see he was a handsome man in his early twenties. He had blond, brush-cut hair, and pale, smooth skin. Well-developed pecs and six-pack abs; he had better need to work out to have muscles that developed. If they came naturally, he was a genuine menace.
“Gosh,” he said, “this is so weird.” He looked from Scott to me. “You guys are like heroes to me.” Durst looked into Scott’s eyes. He prattled, “You’re so beautiful. I tape you whenever I can catch a game that you pitch. I’ve never met someone so famous.” Now, I’m not saying all gay men are shallow, but this seemed an odd time even for such an obvious twinky to be drooling over a hot man. Then again, I’ve seen the straight guys at work, in some odd situations being pretty crude about women’s looks.
When I tuned back in, Durst was continuing to blather: “We’re so lucky to have such normal guys as gay spokespersons. It was so cool that you got married so publicly. That was the best yet. Stick it in the faces of those bigoted right-wing pigs.”
Scott patted Durst’s hand. “At the moment we’re more worried about you.”
At the touch Josh Durst smiled, blushed, and continued to burble and gush. After a few minutes, when he finally looked able to respond intelligently, I asked, “What happened tonight?”
“I just got in on a late flight from the West Coast. Then I had a cup of coffee with a friend at the airport. I’d only been home a couple of minutes. I started to get undressed for bed. When I thought I heard a noise downstairs, I reached for my gun. I guess I should have grabbed for the phone. I turned out the lights. I went to the top of the front stairs. I realized whoever it was had come up the back stairs and was behind me. Then I heard the front doorbell and loud knocking. That must have been you guys. I rushed down the front stairs, not thinking about the possibility of there being two intruders. I practically ran down a guy who was at the bottom. I was almost past him when he grabbed my throat and my gun hand. With my free hand, I grabbed his dick and balls and pulled. He screamed and let go. I tried to keep hold, but he was stumbling backward and managed to twist away. Then I heard footsteps behind me, and I knew for sure there were two of them. I couldn’t move my gun fast enough to aim it. I fired anyway. I heard two sets of footsteps running. Then I heard banging on the back door. There was silence for a few seconds and then somebody ran out the front of the house. I stumbled through the kitchen and came out the back door.”
“Brave but stupid,” Miller said.
Durst said, “Easy to criticize when you weren’t the one feeling the fear, making instant decisions.”
“There could have been more of them,” Miller said. “We may have startled them, but we could’ve been out to hurt you as well.”
“They didn’t knock. You did.”
Miller said, “You moved outside where we could have killed you in a second. You hunched down, but I would have had a clear shot. As is generally true for a nonprofessional, a gun is much more likely to make you do something stupid than give you protection. You bought the gun, but probably took no classes—”
I interrupted, “Is immediately after a traumatic experience a good time to give lessons in under-attack etiquette?”
Miller said, “He could have gotten himself killed.”
“It’s over,” Durst said. “I certainly don’t want to hear you guys arguing.” Everyone paused for a beat or two.
“Who were they?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Why didn’t you want to talk to the cops?” Miller asked.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
I’ve always found that to be a monumentally fatuous thing for someone to say, which is perhaps why they use that phrase so much on television. They resort to it in any show whenever the writers don’t know how to come up with plausible resolutions to plot problems and rational dialogue for characters to speak to each other.
I said, “Do you mean, you would be embarrassed? Or perhaps the explanation would be in a nonterran language or at least one that we don’t know? Or that you’ve suddenly forgotten how to speak English? Or the explanation involves or implicates you in something illegal? What?” Neither Scott nor Miller interrupted my tirade.
“Hey, come on. I was just nearly killed.”
I said, “And if you want to stay undead, you probably need to begin to trust somebody.”
“I only know you’re famous. Maybe you’re dangerous. Why are you guys here in the first place?”
Miller said, “That’s the first sensible question you’ve asked. If the three of us wanted to kill you, you’d be dead by now. If we wanted to hurt you, we wouldn’t need to sit here talking.”
“Maybe you’ll hurt me to get information out of me.”
Scott gently placed the palm of his hand on Durst’s left arm. Using his deepest voice with its most sonorous thrum, he said, “We mean you no harm. If you want us to leave, we will go, now. We won’t bother you again.” He paused a moment. “I can’t make the same promise about the men who broke in here earlier.”
Durst gazed at him carefully. “Maybe they were just burglars.”
Scott said, “You’re afraid of something.”
Scott said, “You have good reason to be. You know Ethan Gahain is dead, but did you know Cormac Macintire is also dead?”
Durst turned very pale. “You sure?”
The three of us nodded.
“Why?” Durst wiped his hands across his face. He looked at us. “What the hell is going on?”
I said, “We found the warehouse/factory with the computers, boxes, work space, master tapes, and photo sets. When the cops look, they’re going to find your picture, aren’t they?”
“They won’t find my name.”
Miller said, “I gave them your name among the list of people I’ve talked to connected with looking for Cormac Macintire. I’m a private detective. I’m sorry I lied.”
Durst glared. “You lied to me. I knew I shouldn’t have talked to you. I knew it. I knew it.”
“I don’t lie to the police,” Miller said. “Did you kill either one of them?”