The Little Death





Rios Book 01









Henry Rios Book 01




: Alyson Publications, Inc.

© 1986 by Michael Nava. All rights reserved.

art copyright © 1986 by Robert Adragna.

is a paperback original from Alyson Publications, Inc., PO Box 2783, Boston, MA

in England by GMP Publishers,

Box 247, London, N15 6RW.

edition, May 1986 ISBN 0-932870-96-1

characters in this book are fictitious.

resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.



to thank Paul Gillette, without whom I would not have finished this book, and
the Wednesday Night regulars —
in vino




For Bill




The Little Death



Back Cover




stood in the sally port while the steel door rolled back with a clang and then
I stepped through into the jail. A sign on the wall ordered the prisoners to
proceed no further; more to the point, the word STOP was scrawled beneath the
printed message. I stopped and looked up at the mirror above the sign where I
saw a slender dark-haired man in a wrinkled seersucker suit, myself. As I
adjusted the knot in my tie, a television camera recorded the gesture on a
screen in the booking room.

was six-thirty in the morning but the jail was as loud as if it had been
six-thirty at night. The jail was built in the basement of the courthouse, and
there were, of course, no windows, only the intense, white fluorescent lights
that buzzed overhead. The jail was a place where people waited out their time
and yet without day or night time stood still; only mealtimes and the change of
guards communicated the passage of time to the inmates.

moved out of the way of a trustee who raced by carrying trays of food.
Breakfast that morning, the last day of July, was oatmeal, canned fruit
cocktail, toast, milk and Sank. Jones stepped into the hall from the kitchen
and acknowledged me with an abrupt nod. He had done his hair up in cornrows and
his apron was splattered with oatmeal. Jones cooked for the population. He was
also a burglar and an informant and his one great fear was coming to trial and
being sentenced to time at the state prison in Folsom. Several of his
ex-associates were there, thanks to his help. I had just been granted a further
continuance of his

delaying it for another sixty days. Our strategy was to string out his case as
long as possible so that when he inevitably pled guilty he would be credited
with the time he served in county jail and avoid Folsom altogether. The
district attorney’s office was cooperative; the least they owed him was county
time — easy time, the prisoners called it. County was relatively uncrowded and
the sheriffs relatively benign. On the other hand, county stank like every
other jail I’d ever been in. The stink was a complex odor of ammonia, unwashed
bodies, latrines, dirty linen and cigarette smoke compounded by bad ventilation
and mingled with a sexual musk, a distinctive genital smell. The walls were
faded green, grimy and scuffed. The floor, oddly enough, was spotless. The
trusties mopped it at all hours of the day and night. Busy work, I suppose.

in the public defender’s office avoided the jail rotation. If the law was a
temple, it was built on human misery and jails were the cornerstones. I minded
the jail less than most, finding it — psychologically, at least — not so much
different from a courtroom. So much of crime and punishment consisted of merely
waiting for something to happen, for a case to move. But it was different, the
jail, from the plush law school classroom, just a few miles away, from which I
graduated ten years earlier determined to do good, to be good. I achieved at
least one of those things. I was a good lawyer, and most days that was enough.
I was aware, however, that I took refuge in my profession, as unlikely as that
seemed considering the amount of human suffering I dealt with. It offered me a
role to escape into, from what I no longer knew; perhaps nothing more
significant than my own little ration of suffering.

went into my office, a small room tucked away at the end of a corridor and
where it was almost possible to hear yourself think. I picked up a sheaf of
papers, arrest reports and booking sheets, the night’s haul. There was the
usual array of vagrants and drunk drivers, a couple of burglaries, a trespass.
One burglary, involving two men, was the most serious of the cases so I gave it
special attention. The two suspects were seen breaking into a car in the
parking lot of a Mexican restaurant on El Camino. The police recovered a
trunkful of car stereos, wires still attached. The suspects were black men in
their early twenties with just enough by way of rap sheets to appeal to a
judge’s hanging instinct. I gathered the papers together and went into the
booking office.

morning, Henry,” Novack drawled, looking up from the sports page. He had a
pale, pudgy face and a wispy little moustache above a mouth set in a perpetual
smirk. Novack treated me with the same lazy contempt with which he treated all
civilians, not holding the fact that I was a lawyer against me. This made us
friends of a sort.

morning, deputy,” I replied.

had ourselves a little bit of excitement here last night,” he said, folding his
paper. “Los Altos brought in a drunk — that’s what they thought he was, anyway
— and it took three of us to subdue him.”

was he on?”

we took a couple of sherms off of him when we finally got him stripped and
housed, so it was probably PCP.”

didn’t I see an arrest report for him?”

couldn’t book him until he came down enough to talk. Here’s his papers.”

took the papers and asked, “Where’s he at now?”

the drunk tank with the queens. He’s a fag.”

no crime,” I reminded him.

thing, too, or we’d have to charge admission around here.”

read the report. The suspect’s name was Hugh Paris. He stood five-foot ten, had
blond hair and blue eyes. He refused to give an address or answer questions
about his employment or his family. He had no criminal record. I studied his
booking photo. His hair was in his face and his eyes went off in two different
directions, but there was no denying he was an exceptionally handsome man.

do you know he’s gay?” I asked.

picked him up outside of that fag bar in Cupertino,” Novack said.

was arrested for being under the influence of PCP, possession of PCP,
resisting arrest and battery on an officer. Geez, did

arresting officer go through the penal code at random?” Novack scowled at me. “Was
anyone hurt?”

scuff marks, counsel.”

he examined by a doctor to determine whether he was under the influence?”


you ask him to submit to a urine test?”


all you can really prove against him is drug possession.”

Novack said, “I guess that’s a matter of interpretation between you and the
D.A. Are you going to want to see the guy?”

talk to him,” I replied, “but first I’ll want to interview these two,” and I
read him the names of the burglars.

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