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Well, thought Todd, looking down at the mass of newspaper clippings and articles spread on his dining room table, what if it was true? What if one of the biggest stars in America, one of the most famous actors in the world, was really gay? And what if Todd, an investigative reporter for WLAK, actually got an interview with Tim Chase, who was in Minneapolis shooting a film? How would Todd approach it, what angle would he take?
Raising his head, Todd stared out the balcony doors of his condo. An interview with Tim Chase was, to put it mildly, a long shot, but if by chance Todd got it, he'd have to handle it with the utmost care. After all, it was only a year or so ago that Chase had sued one of the supermarket tabloids over a headline that read "Mean Queen Chase Denies 7 Year Gay Romance & Buries Boyfriend in Poverty." And he'd won too. Big-time. While the tabloid had sold completely out of that issue, the story had eventually cost the journal $8.5 million, a sum that Tim Chase's spokesperson said, ". . . clearly vindicated Chase's sexuality." Todd still shuddered at the homophobia permeating that quote.
A shrill ring broke his thoughts, and he quickly reached for the cordless phone lying atop the glass table.
As if it weren't late evening and he weren't at home but still at work, he said, "Todd Mills."
Todd glanced at his watch, saw that it was just after nine, which meant that Steve Rawlins, Todd's lover, had less than ninety minutes to go on middle watch. With any luck, Minneapolis would remain murder-free at least until ten-thirty, when Rawlins's shift on Car 1110, which was manned twenty-four hours a day by homicide investigators, was over.
"I wish you'd come home so I'd stop working," said Todd.
"Well," began Rawlins in that deep, buttery voice, "that's why I'm calling. Something just came up."
"Don't say that."
"Unfortunately, it's all over the police bands. You haven't heard anything yet, huh?"
But Todd was sure he would any minute. If it was all over the police bands, the tip callersany variety of nerdy informants who sat by their radioswould be calling WLAK and every other station in town with the hot information. Which meant that it would not only be a late night for Rawlins, who would automatically be assigned the case, but for Todd as well. No doubt about it, Todd was going to have to scramble like hell just to keep up with the competition.
"I'm guessing I won't be home until very late, if at all," Rawlins said.
"That doesn't sound goodwhat happened?"
"Foster and I are on our way there nowI'm calling from his car. All I know is that some kid's gone and got his throat slit."
"Oh, God," replied Todd. "Where?"
"Twenty-fifth and Bryant."
"Got a name?"
"Todd . . ." muttered Rawlins, clearly irritated.
"Well, you know damn well I'm going to find out sooner or later."
Rawlins hesitated before saying, "No, I don't have a name yet. All I know is that it's a young white male."
Todd grabbed a pen and jotted down the address and bit of information, knowing that no matter how hard he tried he wouldn't get anything more out of Rawlins, for the collision of their careers was one of the two most contentious issues between them. The second, which had only recently come up, was whether they should continue to have a monogamous relationship or perhaps agree to an open one.
"I guess I'll be seeing you in a few minutes," said Todd.
They chatted a bit more, and then Todd hung up. As was his habit, he glanced again out the balcony doors at the dark sky over Lake Calhoun and made a mental list of whom he had to call and what he had to do. Next he went into full speed.
Some fifteen minutes later Todd was racing north on Lyndale, thinking that, no, this wasn't like being an ambulance chaser, it was being an ambulance chaser, this push, this desperate rush not simply to be the best, but the first. And not simply the Johnny-on-the-spot, but the one with the most dramatic, the most real and gruesome of shots.
Glancing at his watch, Todd saw that it was twenty-five minutes until the ten p.m. Yes, it could still happen. Before leaving his condo, Todd had called WLAK and requested an ENG truck, one of those boxy vehicles equipped with tape decks, video monitors, and a microwave mast. He'd then phoned Bradley, his photographer, at home, interrupting him and his wife in the middle of their favorite show. And with any luck, Todd, Bradley, and the ENG technician would converge at the scene of the crime, get all set up, and start broadcasting live right at the top of the late news, WLAK's 10@10. If things went perfectly, too, Bradley would still be able to get some tape of that all-important shot, the one of the body as it was rolled away. Then again, who knew just when they'd be taking the body away. The scene was sure to be a madhouse, swarming with cops, the Bureau of Investigation team, and the guys from homicide, namely Rawlins and his partner, Neal Foster, who'd been on duty on Car 1110 since three that afternoon. So it could be hours, perhaps as long as two, even three, before the medical examiner rolled out the victim.
Driving his new Jeep Grand Cherokee, his old one having been smashed in a tornado that past summer, Todd took a deep breath. Brace yourself, he told himself. Who knew if this would be a great story, but it definitely would be a late night.
In his early forties, Todd Mills was almost too old to be chasing around like this, at least by television standards. He was still in great shape, no doubt about it, and his face, which was almost rugged but definitely handsome with a small mouth and chin and eyes that were much too soft, still attracted attention. He had a full head of medium brown hair, too, the importance of which could never be overlooked in television. But this was a young person's job, and at some point in the not so distant future he was either going to have to make the leap to an anchor position, in which case he'd be one of only two or three openly gay anchors in the country, or he'd have to retreat, per se, to the position of a producer. And if he stayed in the area, Todd was betting on the latter. As liberal and open-minded as Minnesota liked to believe it was, there was only so far, Todd had come to feel, things could be pushed. In other words, he was highly skeptical that viewers would knowingly tolerate a homosexual every night in their homes, let alone see an openly gay anchor as a pillar of honesty and trust. And if even a handful of viewers objected to a gay anchor, that would be one too many for management, which could only be described as skittish.
His truck hit a pothole, of which there were so many these days, particularly on Lyndale, an old street pocked with time, and the entire vehicle rattled. His fingers tightened on the wheel, and his mind skipped back to the official request he'd submitted to Tim Chase's publicity people just last week. What he wanted to find out, of course, was if what he'd heard about Chase was really true. He couldn't deny he'd been all but obsessed since he'd heard the story several months ago and particularly now that Chase was in town. Todd had heard lots of gossip about famous people from friends of friends who knew someone whose uncle was in the movie business, but this was as direct as he would ever get. Marcia, an old college pal, had called Todd up not even two hours after she'd heard it directly from John Vox.
"Oh, my God, Todd, you're not going to believe this!" she'd exclaimed.
While Marcia had appeared in a couple of commercials, she'd never made it literally beyond the role of a Skippy mom, and so she'd gone back to school and gotten a degree in accounting. However, John Vox, one of her instructors from Northwestern, had eventually left the university and been "discovered," becoming not one of the big stars, but establishing himself as a quality actor known for his wide range. Now in his mid-fifties, his blond hair gone gray, his cherubic face interestingly lined with time, he was in recent years becoming America's favorite bad guy, playing every part from conniving con man to corrupt congressman. And just a few months ago when he was in Chicago playing some loan shark in a film based on an Elmore Leonard book, Marcia and he had had lunch at the Ambassador Hotel's Pump Room. They talked about it all, Marcia's life in the corporate world, her divorce, and eventually John's films, including one that he'd done a couple of years ago playing an evil traitor opposite none other than America's favorite, Tim Chase.
"You know, John, I'm sorry, but I gotta ask you this," said Marcia, leaning across the table. "I mean, I know he's married to Gwen Owens, and, my God, she's sooo beautiful and such a talented actress. And I know they have a little boy. But I've heard this rumorand of course there was that big lawsuit when he sued some magazine or somethingso you gotta tell me, is Tim Chase gay or isn't he?"
The way Marcia told the story, John Vox covered his mouth with his fine white napkin, leaned back his head, and roared with laughter.
"Well," demanded Marcia, unable to bear it, "is he or isn't he?"