Violet Miller spoke quietly but authoritatively into the phone. “I need the home telephone number of one of your employees, a Phyllis Dean. It’s quite urgent.”
Violet and Phyl had been acquainted with each other for several years, in fact, since before Phyl had started working at the Weekly. In those days she had been writing for the free neighborhood monthlies, for which she had gotten little money, but much experience and exposure. They had met when Phyl had interviewed Violet for one of those periodic “Spirituality and the Occult in the Bay Area” articles, and Violet had proved herself to the skeptical Phyl by reading her tarot cards, accurately predicting Phyl’s rise in the world of journalism.
Phyl and Violet had sized each other up, warily, and each had come away from the interview with a grudging respect for the other. Violet admired Phyl’s ambition and drive, but had no wish to emulate it. Phyl admired Violet’s calmness of spirit and psychic intuition without emulating either herself. In the last few years, however, Phyl had found herself more and more often asking for Violet’s advice as to whether a story lead was worth following. Violet had not failed her yet.
The voice over the phone sounded apologetic. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. I mean, it’s not our policy to give out…”
“Don’t worry, Lyle,” broke in Violet with a laugh. “This is her friend, Violet, and I’ve just misplaced her number, that’s all.”
“Oh,’ said Lyle in a relieved voice. “Why didn’t you say it was you, Violet? I’ll go get it, won’t take a minute.”
After having obtained Phyl’s number with no further trouble, Violet made the call.
“Hi, Phyl! Violet here. Have I got a story for you!”
After giving Phyl the details of the mysterious hush-hush top-secret UFO conference that had taken place at Lawrence Livermore the previous morning, she concluded by saying, “Come over here tomorrow morning about nine. My contact at the facility is sending me a complete list of the participants at this meeting, and she assures me it is big! Everyone from the FBI to the Pentagon to SETI seems to have been involved.”
At the other end of the phone Phyl was positively drooling. “That’s great! Get me that list and I know I can get someone to talk. Those middle-aged military types are suckers for a girl like me. You know, I knew there was something to that UFO story in the paper and this confirms it. Now, all I’ve got to do is convince that shithead Brockman to take me off this stupid assignment. I can’t cover both at once.”
“Oh, Phyl,” Violet sounded sympathetic. “Has he got you digging up the dirt on PG&E again?”
“Yes, for about the fifth time this year!”
“Ah, well,” murmured Violet. “My thoughts are with you. May the Earth Mother hold you in her bosom.”
“May the Earth Mother get Brockman to come to his senses. There’s more to life than persecuting the gas and electric company. But thanks anyway, Violet.”
And with that she hung up and steeled herself for the call to Brockman.
A few hours after their meeting with Tanner, Muldoon and Kelly were driving around town in Muldoon’s rented car, seeing the sights. They had just left SFPD Headquarters where they had checked in with Chief Jordan Franklin.
He had greeted them politely and promised to give them any leads to alien activity that his department might uncover. “But I’ll tell you honestly,” he had said. “Right now, we’ve got nothing and I like it that way. The quieter the better is my motto. Besides, we’ve always got our hands full with real police matters. Burglary, arson, homicide, that sort of thing. Not tracking down aliens. Besides, if we did find one, what would we charge it with, anyway?”
“I’d call up the INS,” Muldoon had said, with an amused look at Kelly. “Ten to one, it hasn’t had its passport stamped.” Kelly was not amused.
“All the same,” Franklin had continued, “For a change, I really appreciate the Bureau being in charge of this one. I wouldn’t want to be in Tanner’s shoes. The FBI’s image is sure to take a major hit if the press finds out the Bureau’s going after ET’s. How’s he taking it?”
“Not well, I’m afraid,” replied Kelly. “He’s smoking again, and I don’t think he’s shaved for two days.”
“Yes, he did seem a little nervous and strung out,” put in Muldoon. “If you ask me, that man’s too emotional to be in such a high position of authority. Now if I were running the show…”
“Assistant Director Tanner is a fine man, Muldoon, brave and courageous,” interrupted Kelly. “I’m sure he’s just feeling a little out of his depth right now.”
“All the same, I’d watch the guy. He looks like he could crack at any moment.”
They had thanked Chief Franklin for his cooperation and were now driving west on Market toward the Castro District. Muldoon looked at his watch and said in his cheerful blunt manner, “Hey, it’s almost one o’clock. Remember, Tanner ordered me to buy you lunch. So, where you want to go? I’m a stranger in town!”
Kelly looked at the immensity of her partner hunched over the steering wheel. He had rented the biggest car available, he had told her, but still felt like a sardine in a can. “From the size of you,” she commented, “any place with large chunks of meat will do.”
“You got that right! Give me a real restaurant any time. I don’t know what’s happening to this country anyway. Sushi bars! Chinese slop on rice, all those vegetables. And those pissy little flower arrangements they call ‘California Cuisine’! Yuck! And don’t get me started on salad bars…”
“I know a place that will satisfy both our requirements,” Kelly cut him off as gracefully as she could. “It’s just up here on the right. Have you ever heard of the Zuni Café?”
“Nope, can’t say that I have.”
“It’s got big T-bone steaks,” she said enticingly.
“Say no more! Just show me where to park.”
And soon they were sitting at a small table on the sidewalk outside the Zuni Café. Muldoon had with difficulty squeezed himself into one of the small wrought iron chairs and was now devouring his steak-and-baked with great gusto while Kelly picked daintily at her seafood salad.
“The food is great,” Muldoon remarked. “But I wish their furniture was a little bigger. I feel like I’m sitting on a bucket.”
“I’m sorry,” returned Kelly. “I’d forgotten about the décor here.” She smiled at him. “But I’m perfectly comfortable.”
It was a fine day for November, sunny and warm, with very little wind. Muldoon had put on his wraparound black sunglasses which, along with his severe black suit and hulking demeanor, made him look very imposing indeed.
“For heaven’s sake, take off those shades,” she begged him. “They make you look like The Terminator or something.”
“Yeah, aren’t they great!” Muldoon responded as if to a compliment. “Watch this!” He stood up, looked around at the handful of occupied tables, and reached for the bulge of his shoulder holster, saying loudly in a bad German accent, “Do just as I say, and no one gets hurt!”
There were several screams as most of the customers dived under their tables. Kelly watched his performance, at a loss for words, then looked off into the distance with a tight, I’m-not-with-him grin of embarrassment.
Muldoon sat down again and whipped off his shades, a satisfied smirk on his face until he noticed Kelly. “Hey, what’s the matter?” he asked her in an injured tone. “Can’t you people here take a joke anymore?”
The restaurant patrons gave him nervous looks as they slowly crawled out from underneath the tables. Then, seeing no further threats to their safety, they resumed their dining and the scene quickly returned to normal.
“Muldoon,” hissed Kelly with an icy stare. “You really are the most impossible person I’ve ever met.”
“Oh, come on, Kelly!” he thumped her on the back. “Loosen up! Have a little fun! Anyway, I’m glad I brought the shades. I almost didn’t because I heard San Francisco was always cold and foggy. But this is a beautiful day, even for LA.”
“You mean to tell me you’ve never been to San Francisco?”
“Well, not really,” he admitted. “I’ve only come up here, I think, twice, just to make arrests. So, you know, it was just—zip—into town—zip—get into shootout—zip—bust the guy (if he was still alive) and—zip—back to LA. Never had a chance to pay attention to the weather. It’s a shame, really, had a relative in town I kept meaning to look up… But this time I’m gonna make up for it. If I remember correctly Tanner also ordered you to show me the sights. It’s gonna be at least a couple days before we get our ray guns,” he made zapping sounds and hand motions at the people at the next table, causing them to flinch nervously. “So—show me the sights.” He pushed his empty plate away and folded his arms with gastronomic content.
“Sure,” she said. “Where do you want to go first?”
“I guess the usual.” He contemplated the possibilities. “Golden Gate Park…Fisherman’s Wharf…Pier 39…North Beach. But you can skip the Castro and Chinatown. I’ve had enough of Chinks and fags already to last me a lifetime.”
“Is everyone in LA as bigoted as you are?” she asked, hiding her amusement at this remark.
“Probably,” he replied. “But some people just don’t have the balls to say what they really think. That’s what all this PC stuff is really all about, isn’t it? Encouraging people to be hypocrites, not to say what they really think? You people in the Bay Area think you’re all so sensitive and liberal just because you say ‘Proud Chinese-American Heritage’ when all the time you’re thinking ‘Chinks are almost OK once they learn how to be like normal Americans.’” His voice had become increasingly louder and, by the end of his speech, people at the adjoining tables were again looking at him strangely.
Kelly abruptly stood up. “Come on, Muldoon, you pay the check and let’s get out of here. I’ll take you to Sweet Inspirations for dessert. You like chocolate, don’t you?”
“Now that’s something we can definitely agree on!” He stood up and threw some money on the table. “Last one in the car buys.”
And in a few minutes they had driven the several blocks up Market to Sweet Inspirations in the Castro and were sitting at a table near the window, eating their slices of double-fudge chocolate cake.
“Did you see the way that guy was looking at me?” he whispered to her, looking surreptitiously at the counterman who had been quite openly eyeing Muldoon up and down. “I’ll bet he’s a fag.”
“I hate to break it to you,” Kelly whispered back, “but since we’re in the Castro now, you’re probably right.”
“Kelly!” He looked at her in distress. “I told you not to bring me here. Now what am I going to do?” He looked around furtively and whispered, “Is anybody looking at me?”
“Muldoon, you’re six-foot four and weigh 275. Everybody’s looking at you!”
He looked at her appreciatively, forgetting his nervousness for a moment. “Hey, that’s pretty good. You guessed my height and weight exactly. Although,” he looked down at his plate, “with a few more of these, it’ll probably be 285. This is absolutely the best chocolate cake I ever ate.”
“Didn’t I tell you,” said Kelly with pride. “I know my chocolate, and this is even better than the double-fudge brownies at Just Desserts.” She looked at him more seriously. “But really, what is it with you and gay guys, anyway? They’re not going to rape you, you know.”
He looked down pensively at his plate of cake. “Oh, I don’t know. I mean I intellectualize that they’re just guys and have a right to do what they want. But my gut feeling is…well…they just make my skin crawl, so let’s leave it at that.”
“But you’re not married, and you don’t have a girlfriend, right?” she persisted. “So that means that pretty much all your friends are guys.”
“Yeah, but they’re normal. You know, cops, guys in the Bureau. Real guy guys. Not like those…people.” He gave a little shudder, then suddenly narrowed his eyes. “Hey, how do you know so much about me? First the height and weight and now the marital status. I don’t think we’ve ever met. So what’s the deal?”
She thought for a moment. “All right,” she said finally. “If we’re going to work together on this case, I guess you’ve got a right to know. You see,” she took a deep breath, “well, the fact of the matter is,” she lowered her gaze and mumbled, “I used to have, well, sort of a crush on you.”
“What!” exclaimed Muldoon. “That’s creepy! Are you kidding me? FBI agents don’t have crushes, Kelly. Especially on each other! Hey—have you been stalking me or something?”
“Just please shut up and listen to someone else for once, will you, Muldoon?” said Kelly. “I mean, you’ve got something on me too, right? Where did all that ‘dances with the fairies’ come from, anyway?”
He shrugged. “Just something I heard at the office, I guess.”
“Look, if you promise not to laugh at me, I’ll tell you the whole story, OK?”
“Yeah, OK, sure.” He leaned over and rested his chin on his hand. “I promise not to say a word.”
“Well,” she began. “It was when I was in college, about ten years ago. It was at the end of the seventies and I was just eighteen, a freshman. There was a group of older girls on campus, most of them seniors, maybe twenty, twenty-one. They seemed to be the hippest, most mysterious group on campus and I wanted badly to be part of them. Anyway, I found out their group was, well, sort of a Pagan thing. But that only made me more desperate to join them. Not just for their approval, you see, but I thought being older and all, they might actually have some special secret knowledge about the Old Ways. Well, every Samhain, they had their most important ritual. They would dance naked around a fire in a secluded area of the woods near the campus. And on this particular Samhain I was invited to join them. Of course I was thrilled. But, wouldn’t you know it, the campus cops showed up. We all started to run away, but I was the one who tripped and fell, so I was the only one they caught. When the cops asked me what I was doing out there, completely naked and dancing around, I blurted out the first excuse I could think of. ‘It wasn’t anything wrong, I was just dancing with the fairies.’ Well, to make a long story short, they all had a good laugh, and I barely escaped getting suspended. But ever since I’ve been having to live that story down.”
Muldoon tried to suppress a laugh, unsuccessfully. “Weeeird! But tell me, how’d you manage to overcome the disgrace and join the Bureau? And what does it have to do with your having some kind of a crush on me?”
“I’m getting to that,” she replied. “Well, that experience really shook me up, and I eventually decided it was time to do something really serious with my life. Think back now. One of those arrests you were talking about, when you came up here to San Francisco, that was about ten years ago, wasn’t it?”
He thought for a moment. “Yeah, maybe. So?”
“You’re thirty-eight years old now, right? Ten years ago you were only twenty-eight, but the Bureau already regarded you as an agent on his way up. That first arrest put you in the public eye. You were in all the papers. You were a real personality. They called you things like ‘Fearless’ and ‘Lone Wolf’.”
“So get to the point.”
“I cut out all those articles about you, even your picture in the Clarion. I guess I saw where all that mystical stuff was leading and I decided to go the other way. More level-headed, less emotional. So I idolized you. I kept a scrapbook about you. I researched you. I memorized everything about you. So—it was really you,” she admitted painfully, “that inspired me to apply for the Bureau. It was the toughest thing I ever did, but I made it. When I got into the Bureau I kept following your career. Now here I am, ten years later, working on a case with you.” Her voice became tinged with regret. “But even with all the little hints I’ve picked up through the years about your mind and your attitude, I still was not prepared for you being so totally insensitive!” Suddenly Kelly began to weep.
Muldoon looked at her in open-mouthed astonishment, then handed her his paper napkin. She accepted it and blew her nose, wiped her eyes, and said nothing more.
“Kelly,” he said finally. “Deanna. I’m really, truly sorry. I had no idea. Do you really find me that obnoxious?”
She gave him a thin smile. “No, not really, I guess. It’s just that when you idolize someone, even though I admit it’s totally irrational, it’s still just so crushing to find out he’s such an asshole. There,” she blew her nose again. “I feel better now. I’m glad I got that off my chest.” She sighed. “Of course it’s not your fault. You are what you are, not what some teenage girl thought you were.”
“Look,” offered Muldoon, completely abashed, “sometimes I get a little carried away. And as for that ‘dancing with the fairies’ thing, I promise I won’t mention it again. I won’t even think about it. And as for that other thing, well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tone it down a little. Like you said, people are what they are. Anyway, you know what you were asking me before? About guys? Well, not to change the subject, but I have a question for you. You’re the one in charge of this operation. How long do you think it’s going to take?”
“I don’t know. Not long, I hope. Why?”
“Because it’s only about two weeks till Thanksgiving, and I’ve got to get back to LA by then.”
“Why, a family reunion?”
“No, nothing like that.” He leaned forward and looked into her eyes. “You told me some personal stuff it took a lot of courage to tell. So now I’m going to tell you something I’ll bet you don’t know about me. On Thanksgiving I always invite the guys in the local field office, the ones without wives or girlfriends or families, to come to my place and spend the day with me. It can be a pretty lonely time of year if you don’t have anybody, you know.”
She regarded him with new interest. “Go on, tell me more.”
“Well, like I said, they all come over to my place. I’ve got a nice apartment in a decent neighborhood. Four big rooms, great kitchen and, best of all, a big-screen TV. We watch the Macy’s parade and the football games and make a day out of it. And here’s the part I bet you really don’t know. I do all the cooking. I make chili and buffalo wings and real food like that. So, what do you think?” he finished, the pride evident in his voice.
She beamed at him. “Wow, you cook. I never knew that.”
“You’re the first person who knows about this outside of the guys. It’s not something I’d like to get spread around. Deal?”
“Deal! You know, if you’re interested, I’ve got an absolutely killer spaghetti sauce recipe.”
“No kidding. With meat?”
“Sure, what do you think?”
“Deanna, listen. Maybe if this assignment is over by then…and if you’re not doing anything special…you know, no boyfriend or family or anything…maybe you’d like to come to LA for Thanksgiving?”
“I’ll see.” Kelly laughed with delight. “But I just remembered—I don’t know a thing about football!”
“No problem,” he told her. “I’ll tell you everything you need to know. You see, the game starts when one team kicks off to the other…”
“Kicks off what?” she asked innocently.
“The ball, Kelly, the ball!”
“Oh yes, of course! Go on.”
And soon they were discussing recipes and football like the partners they had become.
Chapter 23 >>
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022