As I stepped through the bedroom door I glanced in one more time to look fondly on the form huddled up blissfully sleeping under the covers. I thought back on the wild night we had just spent in that bed and smiled. It was a warm and genuine smile of contentment. Even though I knew I wouldn't be heard, I whispered "Good night, love." as I closed the door.
It was raining when I stepped out into the night.
Of course it was. It was always raining when I had to be out. Just part of life here in Bay City. Down here on the southern Oregon coast we got the remnants of all the big storms that came up from California. They just rolled on up the coast building power and speed until they all seemed to vent their fury on the little industrial fishing town of Bay City.
It sucked, but what could you do? Just carry on.
I hadn't intended to end up here.
Yeah, that statement pretty much sums up my life. It seems I spent most of it ending up in places I hadn't intended to be. When I enlisted in the Army I wanted to learn something with computers. Do my tour sitting behind a safe desk somewhere.
Well, that didn't happen. Not so much, anyway.
I ended up in the Military Police. It wasn't so bad, at the start. They gave me a place to sleep and fair to decent pay and even if the food wasn't haut cuisine, there was plenty of it. I figured I'd end up checking ID cards at the gate of some military post somewhere for the rest of my tour. I actually got to spend a couple of years doing that at a post out in Kansas. Not a bad gig, when you look at it. Nothing mentally challenging, but the odds of ending up dead that way were pretty slim.
Well, that didn't last too long.
My unit ended up getting attached to a UN company and going over to some little northern european swamp where everybody was trying to wipe out everybody else after the fall of the Soviet Union. They killed each other for racial differences and they killed each other for religious differences and they killed each other because they were right handed or left handed and whether or not they wore mittens instead of gloves when it got cold.
And our job was to try and stop that.
If you remember, that didn't work out so good, either.
Two years into an eighteen month tour (I'd love to see the math on that one explained) I ended up getting sent back stateside with twenty five holes in my precious only skin where they had pried mortar fragments out of my hide. I was the lucky one. Two of the guys in my patrol didn't make it and the guy who was on point lost a leg.
I spent two months in Germany getting put back together and another six in DC in another military hospital doing physical therapy.
While I was in the hospital I received two letters. The first one contained a little box with a Purple Heart medal and a copy of my medical discharge papers telling me I was entitled to full military veterans benefits. Uncle Sam was grateful and proud..... blah blah blah.
The second one was from an attorney. It had apparently been mailed to me right before I got hit on patrol and had spent the next several months following me around before it finally caught up to me there. The attorney explained that my mother had passed away about the time I got shipped overseas and according to the provisions in her will (see attached) I inherited a small mobile home in Bay City Oregon and the proceeds of her $10,000 life insurance policy.
Minus the attorneys fees, of course. Yeah.
Mom and I had never been really close. Let's just leave it at that. She rarely even spoke of my father who was killed in Vietnam. She rarely ever spoke to me at all, when it comes right down to it. I was her one and only child and when I left home I'm pretty sure it was with a sigh of relief on her part.
I had no idea how or when or why she ended up in Bay City.
So when I was discharged from the hospital I hopped a MAC flight to Salem, Oregon with a check for a little over nine thousand dollars in my pocket. A long boring but scenic bus ride later decanted me in beautiful downtown Bay City.
It was raining that day, too. Go figure.
The mobile home was nicer than I expected. In my mind I had a picture of one of those old 1950's Airstream travel trailers up on blocks in a seedy mobile home park. In actuality it was one of the newer trailers. Three bedrooms, lots of additional stuff like appliances and ceiling fans and such, set on a lot that was a little over ten acres in a little stand of woods about a quarter mile from the beach. The attorney (who turned out to be a pretty decent guy, for an attorney) told me that Mom had bought the place brand new about six months before she died. He also turned over to me the proceeds of a bank account with about six thousand dollars in it and they keys to a small battered Toyota that came with the place.
Mom hadn't spent a whole lot of time unpacking, other than the furniture and dishes and her clothes. One spare bedroom was still half full of boxes still taped shut. After a cursory glance through most of them, I took several trips to the local Salvation Army thrift store and unloaded most of the stuff there. I kept a few items for sentimental reasons or because I thought they might be actually worth something some day.
I replaced all of the flowery linens and stuff for more utilitarian plain white sheets and towels. I had two duffel bags full of clothes and a small gym bag of books and things. That pretty much concluded my unpacking.
My original intent was to sell the place quick and go somewhere else and start a new life. I had no plans on staying in Bay City. But the place was nice and peaceful out there in the woods. On calm nights when I slept with the windows open I could hear the ocean off in the distance. The place started to grow on me. I picked up a night watchman job at one of the local factories which suited me pretty well. I spent my evenings in a little shack reading books and doing crossword puzzles and walking laps around the factory floor to keep in shape.
With my MP training, I suppose I could have applied with the local police force, but that idea didn't set too well with me. But a few months after I started at the factory I heard on the radio that someone had a school for private detectives going over in Brookings, a few miles down the road. It was only a few grand, and I had quite a bit of money left, so I signed up.
Six months later I walked out of the place with my diploma and an investigators license. I had visions in my head of taking off to LA or San Francisco or even up to Seattle or Portland and opening my own office. Instead I ended up taking a spot in a small Bay City agency, pretty much because of my lack of ambition.
The agency wasn't real busy. After all, Bay City wasn't that big of a town. Only about 25,000 people. Less in the summer when all of the college kids went home. We didn't have lots of pristine beaches so there wasn't that much of a tourist trade in the season. I kept my job at the factory part time to supplement my income.
As the new guy, I got all of the jobs that nobody wanted. Usually divorce cases. Whenever someone wanted a possibly cheating spouse tailed, I got the job. I didn't much care for those, but there you are. Most of the work involved following someone and taking lots and lots of pictures. I bought two digital cameras for the job. You could load a whole lot of pictures on a memory card and never have to pay for developing film. And swapping out a memory card was a hell of a lot easier than swapping out a roll of film.
I got real used to seeing the seedy side of life. There were just enough sleazy cheap motels spread out between the beach and scattered along the highway to keep me hopping pretty steadily. I'd been with the agency for a little over a year. I knew all of the seedy motels and even most of the secluded parking spots that cheaters preferred for their play areas.
Actually, I was getting pretty tired of it. The first dozen times I actually managed to get pics of someone having a little romp it was exciting and a little arousing. After awhile it had gotten boring. By this time I was beginning to look on sex as something cheap and degrading. I knew that wasn't a healthy outlook and I was thinking maybe it was time to change professions.
There had been a girl. Olivia. She worked at the used bookstore downtown that I frequented. Petite, brunette, brown doe-like eyes and a real hellion in the sack. We'd dated for a few months and then broken up under a mutual agreement. She'd gotten tired of hearing me grouse about work and said I was depressing her. We stayed friends and she still gave me a discount at the store.
I had decided at the end of the year I was going to take a month off and quit the agency. Find something different to do. Something a little more cheerful, maybe. The year was going to be over in another three weeks. I had given them my notice. Steve, the boss, tried to talk me out of leaving, but my mind was made up. So instead he handed me one last job. Another divorce case. Go figure.
A woman thought that her husband was cheating on her. He kept saying he was helping out a friend. Turns out that he actually was telling the truth, but I didn't know it yet. Things turned out okay for them in the end. He'd gone three times to a bar down on the other side of college town called the Blue Oyster. From the outside it looked like a sort of hip trendy place. The clientele going in and out looked like they were the more cerebral of the college crowd. Older guys that dressed like professors and the younger guys were always nicely dressed and none of them wore football jerseys like you saw in the other joints.
I'd trailed the guy there three times, like I said. Each time he spent the whole night sitting in a booth with a guy that he worked with. The second time they came they both arrived in the same car and that was how I knew it was someone from his office. They sat and talked until the wee hours of the morning and then they left and went different directions. The first two times I was lucky and I managed to watch them through a window and snap a few pictures. But since there was nothing really going on, I quit taking pics and saved my batteries.
The third night I decided to slip inside and see if I could overhear any of their conversation or at least get some idea of what was going on. I figured his wife was paying the bill, so I might at least make her feel better.
The place wasn't too crowded for a Friday night. Maybe twenty or thirty people scattered here and there. I managed to slide into a booth right behind my two guys and catch snatches of their conversation over the sound of the teevee and the juke box. From what I could hear initially, his friend was having some kind of emotional crisis and the guy I was following was trying to help talk him through it. It took me about an hour of nursing draft beers as slowly as I could to piece it together. His friend had come to the realization that he was gay. And of course, having been married for several years, he was having some difficulty coming to grips with the idea. How was he going to tell his wife and kids? Ouch, I sure didn't want to be in his shoes.
I'd take another twenty five holes in my skin rather than be in that situation. Not the being gay part, the having to tell the wife part. That would be rough.
Suddenly a small dim light went off in my head. It was like being on patrol and getting a feeling that something just wasn't right. I turned my head and slowly surveyed the room, taking the whole place in from one side to the other. Then I looked again and paid more attention to faces and body language and how people were actually interacting with each other.
Yup. This was a gay bar. No doubt about it. I felt rather foolish that I hadn't noticed it before.
The thought didn't freak me out or anything. I'd had gay friends before and their sexuality never bothered me. There were a few guys in my unit that were gay, even though we weren't supposed to know. One of my closest friends in the unit was a lesbian chick that could bench press twice what I could, and I was no lightweight! But I also knew guys that would have crawled right out of their skins in order to get as far away from that place as possible.
Well, since I had solved the mystery of the wandering husband, I figured I might as well drink one more beer and sit here in the booth and write up my report for the wondering wife. I was about halfway through the second page in my notebook when a voice said "Excuse me sir?"
I looked up to see a young kid with one leg in a cast just below his right knee and a set of crutches standing across the booth from me. He said "Do you mind if I sit? My leg is killing me!"
A quick look around the room told me that the place had finished filling up while I was writing and there were very few seats left anywhere. Especially one big enough for someone with a broken leg. I waved at the opposite bench and said "Help yourself." and he slid into the seat gratefully, leaning his crutches up in the corner. The kid said "Thanks. Can I buy you a beer for your hospitality?" I shrugged and said "Sure." The kid waved at the barman for two drinks.
"I hope I didn't interrupt what you were doing." He said as I closed my notebook and slid it back into my jacket pocket. I just shook my head.
"It wasn't anything important."
"Are you a writer?" he asked.
"No, nothing like that." I said. Then I added "Actually, I'm a private investigator. I had to follow somebody earlier tonight and I was just writing up my notes for the report."
His eyes went wide. He said "That is so cool!" His excitement made him look even younger than he was. I had to take another look at him through my investigators eyes and reassess him. My first impression said "kid" but my second look said he was probably at least on the high side of twenty five. Not a day over twenty six, though. His face was still clear and untroubled and unwrinkled by life. Except for the cast he looked in pretty good shape. Dark dark brown hair that was almost black and brown eyes partially hidden by a pair of little round glasses.
When our drinks arrived I pointed to his cast sticking out the side of the booth seat and said "Football injury?" He looked the type.
He actually blushed a little and shook his head. "It was the stupidest thing." he said. "I was in the shower at the dorms. Someone before me had left their soap on the floor and I stepped on it getting out. The next thing I knew, there I was; buck naked on the floor of the bathroom with a broken leg! They carried me out on a gurney with nothing on but a towel. The other guys haven't let me live it down yet."
We shared a laugh and he stuck his hand across the table at me. "Michael" he said "Michael Bernstein." I shook his hand and replied "Dexter Ford. My friends call me Dex."
Michael smiled at me. "So, Dex." he said "Are you here on a case or are you looking for someone?" He leaned in and almost whispered "You do know what kind of a place this is, don't you?" I nodded. "Yes, Michael. I know what kind of a place this is and no, I'm not looking for anybody right now. Just ended up here by happenstance. I'm finishing this last case here and I'm taking a vacation to look for some other kind of work. Turns out that being a PI isn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be. It's getting me down." I waved a hand at his leg again. "How about you? Shouldn't you be home with your leg up on a pillow somewhere?"
Michael grimaced and nodded ruefully. "Probably" he said. "I've been spending every night for the last week in my dorm room and I was going a little buggy. I needed to get out and move around some." He grimaced a little and rubbed the cast, as if to ease the pain in his leg. "I guess I got out and about too soon." He shifted around in the seat a little to get more comfortable and sighed as he looked around the crowded room. "Coming here has pretty much been a mistake, anyway. I thought with being a college bar I might meet someone interesting. But all there is here is horny professors looking for a quick hookup and preppy boys looking to hook up with professors." He laughed, a short quick bark. "I suspect that some of them are just here trying to get better grades." I suspected that he was right.
We spent probably the better part of the next two hours just sitting in the booth talking. It turned out that Michael was getting his degree in Criminal Justice, with his eye on computer fraud type stuff. He aspired to work for the FBI some day. He had a thousand questions about being a PI and I tried to answer them as honestly as I could. I found myself warming to him. He was so open and honest, even if he was a little naive. I wanted to get to know him better and that sort of startled me. I hadn't really been personable with anybody since I left the hospital. Michael was arousing feelings in me that I hadn't thought existed anymore and I wanted to get to the bottom of them and figure out what was going on.
The investigator part of me was still on the clock apparently. Questions kept popping into my mind, wanting to draw out more information like the young man was a client or a suspect. "So what is it you are looking for, Michael?" I asked. "I take it from your coming here that you are saying that you're gay and looking for a man."
He blushed again. It struck me that it was kind of cute, in a weird sort of way. That made my mind race off in all different directions. I had to actually stop and listen when I realized that he had leaned across the table and lowered his voice.
"....on me, will you?" he said.
I shook my head and leaned towards him. "I'm sorry. What was that?"
He spoke a little louder, but not loud enough to be heard anywhere besides our table. He said "If I tell you a secret, you won't tell on me, will you?"
I spread my hands and shrugged. "Who would I tell?"
He leaned in a little closer, hitching his cast further up on the booth seat and almost whispered. "The truth of it is" he said "I have never actually ever been with a man. I've had these.... feelings..... and attractions.... for awhile now. I suspect that I'm probably gay. Or at least bisexual. I've been with a few women before. The sex was always fun but..... it always seemed like there was something..... lacking. Do you know what I mean?" I nodded, reassuringly. Not really knowing, but just to keep him talking. Suddenly that short fling with Olivia passed through my mind and I knew exactly what he was talking about. It was fun, but something was lacking. Hmmm....
"I broke off an engagement with a girl back home when I left for college." he continued. "We just weren't clicking anyway. And when I got here and realized that I was looking at other men that way, I knew what was wrong with me. Or... not necessarily wrong, per se. I guess it was just my perceptions that changed." He sighed again. "Even now I'm not sure what I want."
"I guess, if I were to say who I am looking for, I'd have to say someone like you, Dex."
That startled me. I said "You don't even know me, Michael. And I told you, I'm just here by coincidence. I'm not gay."
Or at least I was pretty sure I wasn't. But there was something about Michael that I would have to admit was attractive. He was a little shy and kind of vulnerable in a way that made me want to reach out and protect him. This was a new line of thought for me and I would have to mull it around some before I decided what to do with it.
Michael reached out and took hold of my hand and traced the scar that went from the outside of my wrist to the knuckle of my index finger. I had several more of those that weren't visible, but one prominent one that went from the bridge of my nose almost to my left ear. The doctors said that I had been a millimeter or so away from losing my eye. People I met almost always stared at that one. Michael hadn't even glanced at it. Or not so I had noticed, anyway.