By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
“Everyone knows you for what you are.” No one came right out and said it, but the man saw the accusation in their eyes… everywhere. The throngs of people on the subway platform… the cabbie… the bartender… the rheumy-eyed regulars down at the little “hole-in-the-wall” in Old Town, where the literacy rate was close to zero and televisions were a luxury few could afford.
Jake had sought refuge in Old Town, far away from the upper middle-class West Hills neighborhood where he was well known, and would have no peace. But… instead of the anonymity he sought… on every stranger’s face… a contemptuous familiarity… like they knew him… that they knew what he was… that they could see inside him.
The trial was finally over. The “pretty boy” the media had dubbed the “Riverton Strangler” was behind bars… where he would be someone’s “bitch” for the next several decades. The city’s “ladies of the night” were safe once again, although; “safe” was a relative term in a city with a population of almost a million souls… a good number of them not “good souls”… and a woefully under-staffed police department.
Jake looked up from his drink and over to the big mirror on the wall behind the bar…his gaunt reflection staring back at him… even his own eyes seemed to hold the accusation… “Everyone knows you for what you are.” And he felt it… again… pulling at him. Bile rose in Jake’s throat as he slid off the barstool and lurched unsteadily toward the bathroom at the back of the tavern. “Hey, buddy… you okay? You look like death…”
Bent over the filthy sink, splashing cold water on his face, Jake muttered over and over… “Stop it… leave me alone… I don’t want to…” After a bit, he felt better.
Flipping a folded ten-spot to the bartender, Jake walked out into the night. The rain and cold however, soon drove him inside another bar. “Jack… beer back.” He said, hoisting his large frame onto the tattered barstool. The only other patron in the bar, a bleached blonde with more miles on her than the US highway system, gave Jake a knowing smile and ran a wet tongue over her red-painted lips. Jake turned away, downing the shot and chasing it with the piss-warm beer. When he looked back over, the woman had moved and was standing outside the ladies room. She smiled at Jake again, gave her generous breasts a squeeze, and then stepped into the bathroom. After a few moments, Jake slid off the barstool and ambled down the hall.
Jake woke to shouts and a loud pounding. Through the black haze of a splitting headache, he tried to focus on the shape lying next to him… “What happened… where am I?”… and then… as the shape slowly took form… “Oh god! No… not again… no…” Jake started to rise to his feet, when suddenly, the flimsy door crashed inward and the fetid bathroom was filled with uniforms. Jake was knocked back to the floor and handcuffed before his brain had time to register the one familiar face in the sea of blue.
Much later, back at the 12th Precinct, Detective Robert Craven and his captain turned their attention from the man in the small interrogation room, to the television set mounted on the south wall of the squad room.
“In a startling development in the Riverton Strangler case, authorities have arrested Riverton police detective Jake Harriman. Detective Harriman, lead investigator in the Strangler case, was apprehended in the early morning hours at the Bar-X Tavern in Old Town. The detective was discovered in the women’s bathroom… the half-naked body of a known prostitute lying next to him. Police have confirmed the manner of death as matching that of the Riverton Strangler’s victims.”
Breathing a heavy sigh, the detective clicked the television off and tossed the remote on his desk. Entering the interrogation room, Detective Craven settled in the chair across the table from Jake… and just stared at him for several minutes. Finally, Craven spoke…
“Something you’d like to tell me, partner?”
Jake looked up… with something close to gratitude in his bloodshot eyes.