Authors: Michael Nava
“Sam brings me a lot of business,” he said. “I cater most of his shoots. And why the attitude about porn, girlfriend?”
“I’m old-fashioned, I guess. So what about Zack? You know where I can find him?”
“No, he doesn’t have family around that I know of. But Sam might know. They stayed pretty tight. I’ll give you his number.”
He went behind the bar and took out a Rolodex crammed with cards. He wrote out Bligh’s name and number and gave it to me.
“Thanks, Milt, and if Zack does show up, will you tell him I need to see him? Tell him it’s either me or the cops.”
“Will do, Henry,” he said, accepting the business card I handed him. “And if you’re gonna see Sam, watch what you say about porn. He’s kind of a crusader.”
I didn’t know what to make out of Zack’s association with Bligh, but I could imagine how it would play in the media; murdered judge’s porn star boyfriend. This information and the missing murder weapon made it more important than ever that I get to Zack Bowen. I called Bligh’s number from my car phone, en route to Josh’s apartment.
A male voice answered. “Hello.”
It was Zack Bowen.
“Zack,” I said. “This is Henry Rios.”
A pause. “How did you find me?”
“That’s not important. I have to talk to you.”
“You were going to call the police,” he said, accusingly.
“No, I told you I wasn’t. You have to trust me, Zack.”
“Why?” he demanded.
“Because you’re in trouble. It’s just a matter of time before the police figure out who you are and they’ll be looking for you.”
“Who’s going to tell them?”
“People know about you and Chris,” I said. “Your boss at Azul, for one. And Bay Chandler, or didn’t Chris tell her about you when he left her?”
“He told her,” he said. “He said they had a fight. It was really bad.”
“The cops have probably already talked to her,” I said. “They might already be trying to find you.”
“What should I do?” he asked fearfully.
“Go to them first,” I said. “I’ll go with you. Tell them what you saw when you went to Chris’s courtroom yesterday.”
“They’ll think I killed him.”
“If and when that happens, we’ll deal with it then,” I told him. “You’re only making it worse by running.”
He breathed unsteadily into the phone. “I’m afraid.”
“Zack, if you didn’t do it, you don’t have anything to be afraid of.”
“I didn’t do it!” he shrilled.
“Okay, then let’s go to the police and help them find who did. Where are you now? What’s the address?”
“I need some time to think,” he said.
“We don’t have much time.”
“I need to talk to Sam.”
“Sam Bligh? What’s your relationship with him?”
“He’s my friend,” he said, defensively.
I didn’t want to scare him off, so I dropped it, for now. “Okay, you talk to Sam. When can we meet?”
He drew a deep breath. “Later,” he said. “I’ll meet you at midnight at that coffeehouse on Robertson. The Abbey? You know where it is?”
“I’ll find it,” I said. “Zack, you’re doing the right thing.”
“You’ll go to the police with me, right?”
“Yes,” I said. “And Zack, one last thing. The story about Chris in the
this morning said the police didn’t find the weapon that was used to kill him. You said you left it there. You have any idea what happened to it?”
“No,” he said. “It was there when I left.”
“Well, give it some thought. I’ll see you tonight. All right?”
“All right,” he said, sounding relieved. “All right, I’ll see you.”
I put the phone down. It was just after eleven. Twelve hours until I met him. All I could do now was hope he actually showed up.
No one answered at Josh’s apartment. Worried, I let myself in with my key and found the place empty. I looked at the calendar in the kitchen where he wrote down his medical appointments, and saw that he was scheduled for a visit to his doctor at eleven. Ordinarily, I drove him to his appointments, but sometimes he cadged a ride from a friend. I left him a note asking him to call me when he got home. Then, because I’d been avoiding it all morning, I called Bay Chandler.
The maid answered. I asked for Bay, and she said, “Mrs. Chandler’s not talking to nobody but family.”
“Would you just ask if she’ll talk to me?” I said. “Henry Rios.”
“Wait,” she said, and put the phone down with a thunk.
A moment later, Bay came on the line. “Henry,” she said. “I’m glad you called.”
I was in an awkward position, possessing, as it were, insider information. I didn’t want to deceive Bay, but I didn’t want to upset her either, nor, until I talked to him again, did I want to implicate Zack Bowen in Chris’s murder.
“I read about Chris in the paper,” I said, truthfully. “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
A pause. “No,” she said. “I mean, I don’t know. Sorry, the police were just here. I’ve been answering their questions all morning and I’m not thinking very clearly.”
Hesitantly, I asked, “Do they have any suspects?”
“No,” she said. “I wasn’t much help to them. Henry, you talked to Chris sometimes. Do you have any idea of who…” her voice trailed off. “The last time you saw him, did he say anything to you?”
“No,” I said. “I had coffee with him a couple of weeks ago. He seemed fine.”
“He wasn’t worried about anything?”
“Not as far as I could tell,” I replied. “Was something wrong?”
“That’s what the police asked me,” she said. “I couldn’t think of anything.”
“Nothing at all?” I asked, thinking if, in fact, Chris had left her for Zack Bowen, and they’d quarreled, there would’ve been plenty of things wrong.
“Nothing,” she said, in a whisper. “I’m very tired, Henry. Will you excuse me? Can we talk later?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll call you tomorrow, is that all right?”
“Yes, please,” she said. “Good-bye.”
I put the phone down and compared the two conversations I’d had, with Zack and Bay. They didn’t mesh. One of them was lying.
HEN I PULLED INTO
my driveway a half hour later, I noticed a woman sitting in a car across the street. She got out of her car at the same time I did and approached me. She was an almond-eyed African-American, her skin the color of cinnamon. She wore a khaki skirt and a black blazer over a plain white blouse. She radiated cool authority. A cop.
“Mr. Rios?” she said, smiling at me. “I’m Detective McBeth from Homicide. I wonder if I could speak to you for a moment?”
“Do you have some identification?”
Her smile narrowed as she reached into her skirt pocket and withdrew a wallet, which she opened to a badge and an identification card. I pretended to study it. Her name was Yolanda McBeth.
“All right?” she asked me, closing the wallet.
“What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Judge Chandler.”
Captain Closet having his revenge, I thought bitterly. He must have revealed that I’d reported the murder. I decided, on principle, to be uncooperative.
“What about him?”
“He was found murdered this morning in his courtroom,” she said.
Warily, suspecting a trap, I nodded. “I know, I read about it in the
I said. “It’s unbelievable.”
I waited for her to say something about my call to Captain Closet, but she merely nodded agreement. “Nowhere seems to be safe anymore.”
“I don’t know why you want to talk to me about it,” I said, truthfully, surprised she’d passed up a chance to catch me in a half-truth about my knowledge of Chris’s murder.
“You represented Judge Chandler in a lewd conduct case up in San Francisco about fifteen years ago,” she said. “I wanted to ask you a few questions about it.”
I tried not to reveal my astonishment at the turn in the conversation, but said, as blandly as I could, “Why don’t you come inside, Detective?”
I left her in the living room while I went into the kitchen to make coffee, a pretext to give me a moment to think. It appeared she didn’t know I’d called Captain Closet to report Chris’s murder. On the other hand, she knew about Chris’s arrest, something I was certain he’d never revealed to anyone and as to which there was only the sketchiest of records buried deep in the bowels of the criminal justice system. I’d seen to that. Whoever this woman was, she was formidable.
When I went back into the living room with the coffee, she was standing at the fireplace, examining a black-and-white photograph of me and Josh, his arm around my shoulders, mine around his waist.
“Nice picture,” she said, with a warmer smile than the one outside. “Your friend is very handsome.”
There was just enough innuendo to make it clear that she understood the nature of the relationship captured in the photograph.
“I’ll tell him you said so,” I replied, handing her a cup of coffee.
“Thanks,” she said. She sipped it. “This is nice. Kona?”
I sat down. “Is this supposed to catch me off my guard?”
She sat down in the chair across from me. “Why should you be on your guard?”
“How did you find out about the lewd conduct case?”
She grinned and said, “It wasn’t easy, Mr. Rios. I ran a routine computer check to see if Judge Chandler had any kind of record. The only thing I could come up with was this old conviction for disturbing the peace. It seemed out of character for someone as respectable as the judge, so I contacted San Francisco PD and had them fax me the police report. When I discovered that the arrest had been for lewd conduct, I obtained the court docket to see who the clever lawyer had been who’d managed to plea-bargain it to a four-fifteen. That led me to you.”
“I’m impressed,” I said. “You’re better than the FBI, though I don’t understand why you ran his record in the first place.”
“I do it on all my cases,” she said. “Sometimes you find a skeleton or two in the closet that might help explain an otherwise inexplicable murder.”
“A skeleton in the closet,” I repeated. “What are you implying?”
“Judge Chandler was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer,” she said, all business now. “A male officer. Was he gay, Mr. Rios?”
“Anything he told me at the time of his arrest is privileged information,” I replied.
She sipped her coffee, eyes narrowed in thought.
“According to Mrs. Chandler,” she said, “you and the judge were friends in law school.”
“That’s true,” I conceded.
“And you’re gay,” she said.
“Did Bay tell you that?”
She shook her head. “No, I found that out for myself by doing a computer search of your name on the
on-line service,” she said. “You’ve handled some high-profile cases. There was a feature about you a few years back. You’re not in the closet.”
“You are good, Detective,” I said. “But there’s a flaw in your logic. The fact that I’m gay and Judge Chandler was a friend of mine doesn’t mean that he was gay.”
She put her cup down. “Mr. Rios,” she said. “Let’s stop playing games. Judge Chandler was brutally murdered last night. If he was gay, there may have been a connection between his sexual orientation and the murder.”
“Maybe he picked up the wrong person last night and brought him back to the court and things got out of hand.”
“I bet you didn’t try that theory on Bay Chandler,” I said.
“Mrs. Chandler didn’t know anything about the judge’s lewd conduct arrest,” she said, grimly. “You can imagine her surprise.”
I didn’t say anything. I was more confused than ever now, because if Chris had left Bay for Zack, she could hardly have been completely surprised at the nature of Chris’s earlier arrest. Somebody, either Zack or Bay, was lying.
“She was surprised by the arrest or your suggestion that Chris was gay?” I asked.
I saw too late that it had been the wrong question to ask.
“Shouldn’t she have been surprised to find out he was gay?” she asked me.
“Detective,” I said. “I represented Chris in the one case. As far as I know, it was an isolated incident. As for your theory of who killed him, all I can say is he never told me he was out there picking up guys and bringing them back to his courtroom for sex. And if he had, surely someone would’ve noticed. A guard, a janitor.” I shrugged. “I can’t help you.”
She held her silence until it began to get awkward. I knew this trick, however, and said nothing.
“Mr. Rios,” she asked, “do you know a man named Zack Bowen?”
“No, who is he?”
“His name appeared frequently in the judge’s personal calendar, the one he kept in his desk at the court. His number was in the judge’s Rolodex, also at his office, but not the one he kept at home. Mrs. Chandler had never heard of him. I ran his record. He has a half-dozen arrests, mostly juvenile, all for prostitution. Ring any bells?”
“No,” I said.
She frowned and stood up, smoothing her skirt. “Why would someone like Judge Chandler befriend a hustler?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“I think you do,” she said. She moved to the fireplace and picked up the picture of Josh and me. “Being out of the closet is a luxury that many gay people can’t afford. Maybe you can’t understand that, but it’s something I think about.” She put the picture down and looked at me. “If Judge Chandler paid for being in the closet with his life, I’d think you’d want to help me find his killer before another gay man pays the same price.”
“Are you trying to tell me you’re a lesbian?” I asked her.
“I’m trying to tell you I think we have a common interest here,” she said. “You’re a criminal defense lawyer. You know the drill in a homicide investigation. There are always two detectives assigned to a case.”
“And you’re here on your own,” I said.
“I can promise you discretion,” she said.
“I’m sure you could,” I replied, “but I can’t help you.”
“Thank you for the coffee,” she said. “Here’s my card. Call me if you think of anything that might help my investigation.”
I tucked the card into my shirt pocket. “I’ll do that.”
“Appreciate your time,” she said.
I smiled insincerely. “No problem.”
She was no sooner out the door than the phone rang. I picked it up, still running my conversation with McBeth through my head, and it took me a moment to recognize the woman’s voice on the line saying, “Henry, it’s Selma Mandel.” Josh’s mother. She and his father lived in Claremont, about an hour’s drive east. She said, “I called you earlier, but you were out. I’m afraid Josh is in the hospital again. They took him this morning.”