Deputy Inspector McBride of the Homicide Division, a portly, red-faced, silver-haired relic from the Irish age, sat at his desk looking out the window in his office at One Police Plaza. His view of the East River, which he watched every day, always depressed him a little. He was old enough to remember when the river was heavily trafficked and he saw all kinds of boats and ships. The pleasure of seeing maritime commerce from a distance had always been reassuring, compared to the dead bodies he saw up close. His personal satisfaction in explaining to his visitors that the East River wasn't really a river, but an estuary, had faded over the years as no one seemed to care about the difference. He didn't yearn for the past before airplanes replaced ships, he just missed seeing the boats. He sighed, then turned his attention back to the man across the desk.
McBride thought Ahmad Williams looked like Spike Lee, who he had seen in a movie, rather than an undercover narcotics detective. He eyed the short, thin, black man, who seemed to more resemble a shy college kid than an experienced police officer. He browsed Williams' file, while he tried to make up his mind about using him. He sighed, accepting the reality that he couldn't get anyone else, then said bluntly, "You've been assigned to a new case, because there are sensitive issues involved and your boss thinks that you're the right man for the job."
"It's nice to have his confidence, Inspector, but I'm in the middle of a major drug case."
"That case has already been reassigned."
"But I spent six months busting my hump on it."
"And you did well. Now someone else will finish it off."
Ahmad stared unhappily at Inspector McBride and started to protest. McBride held up his hand, cutting off any objections.
"Come on, son. Don't catch an attitude. Police work is always a team effort."
"What about my leads and contacts?"
"You'll turn them over to the new investigators."
Ahmad started to say something, but the inspector stopped him.
"Not another word. Are you ready to review your new assignment?"
"Yes, sir," he replied resignedly.
"Did you hear about the gay murder last night?"
"Yeah. Some black guy got shot."
"He's not just a black guy. He was gay. A nut group called the Righteous Avengers claimed responsibility for the murder. This could be part of a violent, hate crime pattern aimed at gays. We want this case solved, before the gay community blames the department for not doing enough to prevent bias crimes."
"I understand. What do we have to go on?"
"Before we go into the facts, I want to introduce you to your partner for this case."
"What about my regular partner? I've been working with Detective Stanger for three years."
"He's remaining on the drug case."
Ahmad shrugged to control his resentment, as the inspector called his secretary on the intercom.
"Peggy. Send in Lieutenant Ribowski," then he asked Ahmad: "Do you know him?"
"No. Where's he from?"
"The high profile crimes unit."
They both looked up as Lieutenant Ribowski entered. He was tall, beefy, a middle-aged transsexual with pale skin, blue eyes, a pasty nose and long red hair. He was wearing make-up and a dress.
McBride looked at Ahmad blandly.
"Lieutenant Ribowski, Detective Williams."
Ribowski stuck out his hand, which Ahmad ignored, just staring at him with his mouth open.
"Close your mouth, sonny," Ribowski said in a deep, baritone voice.
Ahmad closed his mouth, shrugged, then extended his hand.
"Nice to meet you," Ribowski said pleasantly, holding onto Ahmad's hand, pumping it up and down. Ahmad struggled to release his hand, then turned to McBride.
"Is this some kind of joke?"
"Knock it off! This is an official assignment."
"Would you ask this guy to let go of my hand?"
Ribowski smiled winningly. "I'm not a guy. I'm a woman. You can call me Lieutenant Ribowski, or Dani, short for Daniela," then he released Ahmad's hand.
Ahmad turned to McBride in desperation and blurted, "Inspector McBride, I've got some sick leave coming ..."
"Cut the crap! One more negative remark and I'll have your ass on toast."
"We'll have coffee after the inspector briefs us," Ribowski said. "I'm sure we can work things out. Right, sonny?"
"You can call me Detective Williams, or Ahmad."
"Dani and Ahmad. We sound like a rock group."
Ahmad rolled his eyes at the Inspector, who ignored him.
"Let's get down to business. There are two no-nos. No talking to the media and no talking to the F.B.I."
"What do they have to do with it?" Ahmad asked.
"Hate crimes are in their jurisdiction," Ribowski replied .
"That's right," McBride confirmed. "And they're the most publicity hungry prima donnas in law enforcement. You can refer any questions from them, or the media to my office. Clear?"
He glared at Ribowski and Williams, until they both nodded yes. "We don't have any witnesses, so you can start by talking with the two guys who found the body. My secretary has the case files for you. Now get moving."
Ribowski and Williams stood up and went out. McBride followed them to the door and watched as they stopped at his secretary's desk and took the files. He closed the door behind them, went to the window and looked at the boatless river, shaking his head wonderingly.
"Whatever happened to the simple shanty Irish?"
Ahmad and Ribowski walked to a coffee shop on Broadway and Chambers Street. On the way, Ahmad was embarrassed by the people they passed who stared at Ribowski.
"Does it bother you when everyone gapes at you?"
"You get used to it," Ribowski said tersely.
Once they were seated and ordered coffee and Danish, Ahmad asked, "Why did you pick this place? This is where all the judges and lawyers hang out."
Ribowski smiled. "I like to watch the guys I'm going to bust someday."
This was the first thing this morning that made any sense to Ahmad, but he didn't laugh or respond. He opened the case file and started reading and a minute later Ribowski opened his. They read in silence for a while, only pausing when the waiter refilled their cups. Ribowski finished first and waited patiently, scanning the room, pausing for a moment to look at a particular judge he had testified before, smiling cheerfully when he caught his eye, which immediately made the judge turn away. When Ahmad closed his file, Ribowski asked, "Do you have a handle on it?"
"Then there's something we should talk about first, before we get into the case."
"We should get to know each other a little better, before we start work."
"That's not necessary," Ahmad said coldly. "I always do what's required."
"We're going against some real sickos. It would be nice to know that we can count on each other."
"I support my partner, no matter what."
"That's good to hear, but we're going to be spending a lot of time together and we should try to get along."
Ahmad considered this for a moment and nodded. "What do you want to know?"
"Do you have a family?"
"No. I live with my mother. What about you?"
"I've been married for fifteen years. I've got a teenage boy and a girl."
"How do they feel about your..?"
"Sex change? They had some difficulties at first, but they got used to it. Their friends gave them a real hard time for a while, but they learned who their real friends were. My wife's the problem. She accepted my living like a woman, but she freaked out when I planned a sex change operation."
Ahmad looked at him in horror. "You're going to let them cut off your dong?"
"That's the only way I can be a true woman."
"No wonder she's upset."
"She doesn't care about that. She'd love to cut it off herself. She's afraid that her friends will think she's a dyke, if she has sex with me and I don't have a dick."
"It is a little confusing."
"Yeah. We can't even figure out our marital status. Am I still her husband ..? That's enough about my problems. What about you? Do they ever give you straight assignments?"
"What do you mean?"
"They picked you for this because you're gay, right?"
"I'm not gay."
They looked at each other for a moment and both sensed a growing feeling of acceptance.
"Well, do you think we can work together?" Ribowski asked.
"I've worked with weird white women officers before," Ahmad replied with a straight face.
They looked at each other and Ribowski burst out laughing. Ahmad started to laugh and people turned their heads to see what was going on, which made both of them laugh louder.
The Gay Health Alliance was concerned that the killing of a gay man on a Greenwich Village street was a hate crime. They called a news conference to alert the gay community to take precautions when out alone. They prepared the conference room in their rehabbed building on Allen Street, but to their frustration, only a local community news team showed up. Roger Van Zaire, the executive director of the alliance, was an intense, fleshy, red-haired, freckled, white-skinned man in his mid thirties. He was dressed in a navy blue designer suit and a flashy red tie, and concealed his disappointment at the lack of media response. He had set up the interview area with AIDS prevention and safe sex posters in the background, to reinforce their message and hoped his efforts wouldn't be wasted.
The men of the executive council, two white, one black, one Hispanic, present to demonstrate their support, wore solemn expressions. Tim and Allen, the two white men, were wearing suits and ties. Gerard, the black man, was wearing a blue blazer and club tie. Juan, more casually dressed, was wearing an Izod shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. They were all neat, clean, middle-class and expensively dressed. Roger looked at his watch, realized that no one else was coming, shrugged, then said, "I guess we better get started."
The interviewer, a young sharp-looking young blond woman in a bright red dress, obviously waiting for the hot story, the big break that would get her a cable news gig, whispered to her cameraman, "It's almost time," then turned to Roger. "Ready?"
Roger nodded yes and she signaled her cameraman, who counted, "Five, four, three," and held up his fingers for two, one. She faced the camera, then said, "This is Shawna Stockler of Community News Items. I'm talking to Roger Van Zaire, of the Gay Health Alliance about the horrendous murder of a gay man in Greenwich Village." She turned to Roger. "Do you have a comment about the brutal crime by a group allegedly called the 'Righteous Avengers'?"
"This is another instance of a vicious hate group targeting a victim just because he was gay. We urge the mayor, the police commissioner and the F.B.I. to make every effort to immediately apprehend the murderers. In the meantime, gays should take basic safety precautions and not go out at night alone."
Shawana waited a moment, then turned to her cameraman. "Cut. Let's get out of here."
She flashed Roger a neon smile. "Thanks, Roger," and headed for the door, followed by her cameraman, not acknowledging his wistful "You're welcome."
He turned to the council. "Sorry we didn't get a little more airtime. This was a good opportunity to alert the community."
"It was a good idea," Allen said.
"Does this mean that gays without dates can't go out at night?" Juan quipped and they all laughed.
Tim, the most serious member of the group, said earnestly, "This murder can give us a chance to address some of the negative publicity we've been getting since two of our black board members resigned last week."
"Do we blame the murder on them?" Juan suggested jokingly.
They all laughed and Tim shook his head, oblivious to the joke. "I wish it was that simple. They accused us of not being sufficiently attuned to the needs of minority groups."
"They're right," Gerard replied.
"I agree," Allen added.
"Then why don't you two resign?" Juan asked.
"I believe in what we're dong," Gerard said.
"So do I," Allen asserted.
Tim took over, as he usually did. "They've brought up a problem that we must deal with, the changing nature of the AIDS population. As you know, the Gay Health Alliance was started by a group of white men in the early 1980's. At that time, their target population was the middle class, white gay community."
"That's the group who had the 'gay disease' then," Juan remarked.
"Right. Nobody cared about the needle using population. The spread of AIDS through unprotected sex and needle use has particularly hit the poverty communities."
"We know that," Gerard said.
"Then we've got to face the question that made our board members resign. Do we serve the gay community, or the AIDS population?"
"Both," Gerard stated.
"We've been accused of neglecting minority groups ..."
"That's not true," Allen protested. "More than 40% of our clients are minority."
"But they're middle-class," Tim reminded him.
"We don't have the resources to serve everybody," Tim said.
"So we do like that lifeboat movie ..." Juan said slowly.
"Isn't that what we're doing?"
"Do you have a better idea?" Gerard challenged.
"I wish I did. The reality is that we are reaching our target population. We'd have to raise millions of dollars to provide services to the poverty communities."
"They need help." Allen said.
"They sure do," Gerard reinforced.
"We don't have the money."
Juan turned to Roger, "What about government funds?"
"That can take two to three years to develop and we'd have to change our mission statement."
Gerard asked Tim: "What did you mean about using the murder to get publicity?"
"The media have made people think we're a bunch of fat, gay cats who don't care about minorities. We can deplore the murder of a minority gay and urge the mayor to allow more funds for the minority community, especially the outer boroughs."
"That doesn't solve anything," Allen muttered.
"It'll buy us a little time to clarify our policy about the outer boroughs."
Juan sang with an accent: "I like the isle of Manhattan ..."
They all laughed, except Tim.