When private investigator Dick Hardesty is hired by businessman Stuart Anderson to conduct routine background checks on potential store managers, he becomes reacquainted with a former trick, Phil Stark, who has undergone an amazing transformation from bar hustler to professional escort. When Anderson is murdered, Hardesty is hired by the escort services owners, Arnold and Iris Glick, to keep Phil and the agency away from police scrutiny. Two subsequent murders make this impossible, and Hardesty embarks on a mission to find the identity of the killer.
I was sitting at the bar at Napoleon, early as usual, waiting to have dinner with a brand-new client. Napoleon is a very nice, quiet gay restaurant in a former private home on the edge of The Central, the city’s rapidly growing gay business district in the heart of what some still called “the gay ghetto.”
The client, Stuart Anderson, was from out of town—the CEO of an expanding chain of trendy retail stores that was opening two new ones here. He’d called me from Buffalo the week before to set up an appointment. While I was dutifully impressed to think that my fame had spread beyond my local area code, he’d been really vague when I asked him how he had heard of me, or who had referred him. He’d just said “a business acquaintance” had made the referral, and I didn’t press it any further, although I was curious.
Also, although the subject of sexual orientation never entered the conversation, I automatically assumed he was gay (hey, I automatically assume everyone is gay) since I have had very few straight clients.
Part of the mystery of his secretiveness was solved within two minutes of his walking into my office for his four-thirty appointment. Stuart Anderson was an average-height, average-looking, pleasant enough man in his mid-forties, dressed casually but expensively and carrying a slim briefcase. He had no sooner taken the seat in front of my desk when I noticed that, although he had a healthy tan, the third finger of his left hand had a wide, untanned circle where he had obviously taken off a wedding ring. Oh, great, I thought, one of those.
Rather than just sit back and wait for the expected pass, I thought I’d nip in the bud any little game he might be intending to play.
“I appreciate your calling me, Mr. Anderson,” I said, “but I think we should clarify something before we proceed. I assume you know that I’m gay and generally specialize in gay clients?”
His only response was a small smile and almost imperceptible nod.
“I mention this only because it is an issue for some people, and I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings or awkwardness between my clients and me.”
He never lost the small smile, but his right hand unconsciously found his left, and his right thumb and index finger covered the telltale untanned circle.
“Not a problem,” he said. “My business here has nothing whatever…directly…to do with…anyone’s…sexual orientation. I was simply told you were very good at getting information.”
He slowly twisted the missing wedding ring. I wondered why in hell he’d bothered to take it off in the first place if he was going to make it so obvious he wore one.
It turned out he wanted me to do background checks on the prospective managers and assistant managers for the new stores, which was apparently something he did routinely and was probably a good idea, given he himself wouldn’t be around every day to check on things. I estimated it would take only a couple of days to do the checking. Hardly the most exciting of assignments, and certainly not one that any other private investigator in the city couldn’t handle in his sleep, but I wasn’t in a position to turn away any source of income. I had a couple other minor assignments I was working on, but they could be put on hold for the few days it would take to complete this one.
I told him my rates, and when he didn’t bat an eye, I reached into my desk and handed him a standard contract, which he signed without reading. I signed below his signature, and as I went to my new Xerox machine to make him a copy, he opened his briefcase. When I returned, he gave me the resumes of the four men and two women he was considering for the managerial positions, I glanced at them briefly to be sure they had all the necessary information and put them in the top drawer of my desk.
Well, that was easy, I told myself.
Anderson made no move to get up.
“I was wondering if you’d like to join me for dinner?” he asked.
Ta-Dah! I thought.
“That’s very nice of you, Mr. Anderson,” I began, “but…”
“It’s Stuart, please,” he said with a smile. “And please don’t misunderstand—I’m not trying to come on to you. It’s just that we have a mutual…friend…whom I’m meeting for dinner this evening, and I thought you might like to join us. I know he’s looking forward to seeing you.”
He had me. I still suspected there might be a hook in there somewhere but decided I didn’t really have too much to lose…except a client, of course.
“Well, sure,” I said. “That would be nice.” I didn’t ask who the mystery friend might be but got the distinct impression Anderson was giving me a little test to see how curious this detective he’d just hired was.
He stood, still smiling, and reached across the desk as I got up to shake hands.
“Seven-thirty, then? At Napoleon. You know it, don’t you?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll see you there. And thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he said, and I had a sudden mental picture of a cat and a mouse.
And with that, he picked up his briefcase and left.
At exactly 7:25, Stuart Anderson walked into the restaurant…alone. Uh-huh. Here we go, I thought. He came over and took the stool next to me. Noticing my drink was still about three-quarters full, he nonetheless asked “Ready for another?”
I shook my head. “I’m fine, thanks,” I said as the bartender came over.
“Tanqueray with a twist,” he said, reaching into his pocket to extract a roll of bills large enough to choke a pony, if not a horse. He peeled a twenty off the top, laid it on the bar in front of him, and stuck the wad back in his pocket.
“And our mutual friend?” I couldn’t resist asking.
Anderson smiled. “He’ll be along in a moment,” he said. “Actually, I made the reservations for eight o’clock, to give us a few minutes to get to know one another.”
“I don’t normally mix business with pleasure,” he continued, “but I so seldom have the chance to just relax, it’s nice to be among kindred spirits when I can.”
Kindred spirits, I thought, listening for the imaginary sound of hairpins hitting the floor.
“Yes,” I said. “I noticed you’re married.”
He glanced at his left hand, splayed his fingers, and grinned.
“Yeah,” he said. “Fifteen years, three kids—a different world. And a totally separate world,” he added.
Indeed, I thought.
“Any problem juggling them?” I asked.
Bisexuals have always been a puzzle to me. Like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, I wasn’t really sure I believed in them, but what other people did or thought was none of my business.
The bartender came with Anderson’s drink, took his money and went to the register to ring up the sale and make change.
“Not at all,” Anderson said, jumping me back to where the conversation had left off. “When I’m in the straight world, I’m straight. When I’m in the gay world I’m…not straight. Obviously, most of my life is strictly heterosexual, but I’ve always enjoyed the things gay men can do that women can’t.”
Well, that was certainly cryptic, I thought, but didn’t choose to follow up on it. If he expected me to ask “Such as…?” he’d just have to wait. I still wasn’t convinced this wasn’t all part of some game he enjoyed playing, and if he thought for one minute I wasn’t aware he was playing it…