Outburst: A Todd Mills Mystery

Overview

Todd Mills is running out of time.

Against his instincts, Todd is lured to the Stone Arch Bridge by an anonymous phone call with promises of a hot blackmail story.  Under pressure, and in need of a scoop, Minneapolis television's most well-known (and only) openly gay reporter soon finds that his visit to the bridge does deliver a sensational exclusive, but not the one he is expecting: Todd arrives to see a man murdered, leaving him as...

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Overview

Todd Mills is running out of time.

Against his instincts, Todd is lured to the Stone Arch Bridge by an anonymous phone call with promises of a hot blackmail story.  Under pressure, and in need of a scoop, Minneapolis television's most well-known (and only) openly gay reporter soon finds that his visit to the bridge does deliver a sensational exclusive, but not the one he is expecting: Todd arrives to see a man murdered, leaving him as the sole witness to the crime.

Todd's lover, city homicide investigator Steve Rawlins, immediately takes on the case.  But when a mysterious suspect emerges, the danger only intensifies, for this suspect has a secret, a past, and an identity that isn't what it appears to be.  An attempt is made on Rawlins's life in the course of his investigation, and Todd--dragged into the center of the story he's trying to cover--makes a frightening discovery.  The murder victim was a police officer, and was gay.  The killer, it seems, has developed a taste for watching gay cops die.

And unless Todd and Rawlins are able to put together the pieces of the suspect's meticulously concealed past, the consequences may prove deadly--for them both.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A real page-turning mystery with heart, hope and integrity. What a fun read...I want more!"
--Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw

Praise for other titles in the Todd Mills series:

Hostage

"AIDS has not been assimilated or made a manageable disease in this witches' brew of dying fashion models and politicians on the make. From the first tragic scene to the end, you will keep reading."
--Andrew Holleran

Tribe

"Vivid . . . a real page-turning yarn . . . Along with deftly weaving unexpected elements from the characters' past and present, Zimmerman introduces a creepy religious cult, with suspenseful results."
--Q Monthly

Closet

"Closet explodes out of the starting gate . . . then relentlessly races all the way to its shocking conclusion. [It] has passion and poignancy, potent pain and a powerful plot."
--Minneapolis Star Tribune

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A confusion of sexual identities colors the latest case for gay Minneapolis TV reporter Todd Mills, last seen in Hostage (1997). While following up on a call to his office, Mills is set up as a witness to murder on a Minneapolis bridge in the middle of a tornado. When it turns out that the victim was a gay cop, both Mills and his lover, homicide detective Steve Rawlins, are involved personally and professionally. Further contacts from the killer spur Mills's investigation and suggest a link to the killing of another gay cop. Suspicions all point to a transsexual suspect whose past is darkened by a death in California. Aware that he is being manipulated, Mills uses his investigative skills and his contacts in the gay community to sort out the truth, at the same time leading Rawlins and another close friend from his college days, attorney Janice Gray, into mortal danger. Zimmerman's portrayal of the gay community is fully dimensioned, and his characters, gay and straight, are are engaging and complicated. The fast-paced plot incorporates the capricious summer weather of the upper Midwest to grand effect, both in the beginning and at the spine-tingling, satisfying conclusion. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Bullets cut short a rendezvous between Minneapolis investigative reporter Todd Mills (Hostage, LJ 12/97) and his anonymous tipster before they can talk. As a result, Todd and boyfriend Steve, an HIV-positive homicide detective, work the same story. Meanwhile, beautiful, troubled, and (almost) transgendered Kris catches the eye of handsome would-be governor Judge Stuart Hawkins. What will Stuart's vigilant law clerk do to "save" his boss from scandal? Zimmerman pulls out the soap-opera stops here, sometimes with lurid overtones, but the plot moves with dispatch. For larger collections.
Kirkus Reviews
It's been six weeks since Todd Mills's last big story for WLAK-TV in Minneapolis, and since the pressure is on him to justify his A-list salary, he's willing to follow a fishy tip to meet an anonymous blackmail victim in the middle of Stone Arch Bridge. When he gets there, though, he finds he's been set up to witness the killing of uncloseted gay policeman Mark Forrest. All the evidence points to Kris (né Christopher) Kenney, a beautiful transgender waitress whose earlier indictment for killing a gay cop in Los Angeles was dismissed on a technicality. But Todd can't help thinking the package is too neat. Why did the anonymous caller make sure the Twin Cities' most visible gay reporter was on the scene of the murder? If Kris isn't the killer, what's the connection between the two crimes? And is the next target Todd's HIV-positive lover, Sgt. Steve Rawlins, or their old friend Janice Gray, Kris's lesbian defense attorney? Only a thunderous climax during a dark and stormy night will tell.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385319232
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/1999
  • Series: Todd Mills Mystery Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Alexander
Award-winning author R.D. Zimmerman has been nominated for three Lambda Literary Awards, two Edgars, and an Anthony.  He has written eleven previous novels, including Hostage, Tribe, and Closet (1996 Lambda Literary Award winner) in the Todd Mills series.  He is also the author of six children's books, and created six bestselling mystery jigsaw puzzles.  Raised in Chicago, he now lives in Minneapolis.

Biography

A devoted Russophile, Robert Alexander has studied at Leningrad State University, worked for the U.S. government, and traveled extensively throughout Russia. While he's already made a name for himself with his series of bestselling mysteries (written as R. D. Zimmerman), he has also written a well-received trilogy of Russian historical novels (The Kitchen Boy, Rasputin's Daughter, The Romanov Bride) about the last days of Empire.

Good To Know

In our interview, Alexander shared some fun and fascinating facts about himself with us:

"Most of my friends know: I'm much too outgoing to be living in quarantine, as I do (as any writer does). Most of my friends don't know: I can ride a unicycle, I can't balance my checkbook, I broke my back going over a ski jump, and I was once enrolled in Meats 104 and Beverage 111 at a prominent School of Hotel and Restaurants, which prompted me to drop out and start my first novel."

"What I would like to know about me from someone is, why do I keep going to Russia? I've been going there for 28 years, and it's definitely not a place to unwind. But it certainly is always interesting. And that's where I met my domestic partner, Lars, and we've now been together 25 years. And it's also where I met my business partner, Meri, and we've been in business now almost 14 years -- we have a customs clearance business and Barabu, a small chain of espresso/wine bars. And I always come up with some weird story idea over there. So maybe I just answered my own question.

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    1. Also Known As:
      R. D. Zimmerman, M. Masters
    2. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 23, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Russian Language and Creative Writing, Michigan State University, 1976

Read an Excerpt

Mid-July

In the following days the headlines would brag how the savage summer storm  had descended upon the murder, the city's fortieth of the year, and  wreaked havoc upon brutality. But, of course, beyond the chance of a  thunderstorm, Todd knew none of what was to come.

It did occur to him that for once the weather guys weren't going to screw  up, that the midsummer heat and humidity were about to be doused with  rain. As he parked his Jeep Grand Cherokee on the edge of the Mississippi  River in downtown Minneapolis, Todd, wearing black jeans and a freshly  pressed blue shirt, glanced out the windshield at the skies now looming so  dark over the river and to the northwest. It was going to pour, there was  no doubt about that. On a hot July night like this it was usually light  until nine-thirty or ten--the long days one of the few payoffs these  northern parts offered after the long winters--but not tonight. As  predicted, something was blowing in from the westerly plains, clouds so  black and virulent that they not only blotted out the setting sun, but  sucked up whatever light was left of the day. Even as Todd sat there, the  streetlights flashed on, and he glanced at the clock on the dashboard, saw  that it was seven twenty-five. He just hoped that this guy would be on  time, that whatever he had to say would be quick, that this furtive  meeting would be over before the skies slit open.

He was just reaching for the door handle when a muffled sound started  ringing in his briefcase. Leaning over to the floor in front of the  passenger seat, he stuck his hand in his leather case, groped about, then  pulled out his cellular phone.

Flipping it open, he said, "Todd Mills."

"Hey, it's me."

"Hey, you. What's up?"

"Just driving around," replied Steve Rawlins, Todd's boyfriend, who was a  homicide investigator on the Minneapolis police force.

"Burning up taxpayers' money, are you?"

"Right," laughed Rawlins. "I'm on middle watch until ten-thirty," he  said, referring to his shift on Car 1110, which was manned twenty-four  hours a day, seven days a week by investigators. "Want to get a late bite  to eat when I'm done?"

"Sure. I'm meeting this guy--the one I told you about--down at the Stone  Arch Bridge. I just parked in the lot in front of the Whitney Hotel, but  this shouldn't take too long. In fact, I should get going. I want to get  this over with as quickly as I can before it rains."

"Don't forget your phone. I mean, you don't know this guy, do you?"

"Don't worry, Sergeant," joked Todd. "In fact, I bet he doesn't even  show--it looks like it's about to pour."

"Well, be careful. Actually, we're having a pretty quiet night, so I'll  give you a call in a bit. Hey, and think about where you want to eat."

"You bet."

Todd hung up, slipped his phone into his shirt pocket. He sat there for a  moment, told himself he had to stop obsessing about it--Rawlins's health.  Everything was going to be okay. Only a few months ago Rawlins had been  shot at the Megamall, but he'd recovered just fine. In fact, perfectly.  Now the only question was would he survive HIV infection.

Trying to escape the worry, Todd climbed out of the Cherokee into the  thick, humid air, which immediately closed in all around him. Breathing  with gills would have been easier, he thought, and then wished that he was  already in some air-conditioned restaurant having a nice meal and a glass  of wine. Looking at the darkening clouds, he started toward the Stone Arch  Bridge, a serpentine structure of granite and limestone built over a  century ago to carry the trains of the Great Burlington Northern across  the Mississippi. According to the various historical markers along the  way, the nearly hundred-per-day passenger trains on this route were long  gone, and the bridge had recently been converted to pedestrian and bike  use. Todd proceeded onto the bridge, his eyes scanning past the massive  lock, past the harnessed falls of St. Anthony, and to the purple-black  billows of clouds now shimmering and popping with lightning.

He hated this kind of meeting. As Channel 10's investigative reporter he  got calls like this every week, each one more odd than the next, first  someone going on about a conspiracy to rob the Federal Reserve bank, the  next claiming her next-door neighbor had stuffed her poodle down the  garbage disposal--never mind the alien sightings, there were so many of  those. So when Todd got the call this afternoon, at first he was  skeptical. The man on the other end, however, was insistent.

"What do you mean," Todd had interrupted, "someone's blackmailing  you?"

"I'll tell you when I see you, but it's very serious. And there's nothing  someone like me can do."

Todd made a snap decision and said, "Give me your number. I'll call you  right back."

Todd had mumbled something about wanting to go to his office, but the  truth of the matter was that Todd wanted to make sure this guy was legit.  He'd had something like that before, a guy who claimed he was a doctor  when in fact he was nothing more than a patient with a gripe and a thirst  for revenge. Todd was going to make that kind of mistake only once.

"No!" the man had replied, his voice all hushed. "Listen, I can't talk  anymore. I . . . I just can't. But I swear, this is for real. Meet me  tonight in the middle of the Stone Arch Bridge. Seven-thirty."

"But--"

"I need your help. Please . . . just be there tonight."

The line had clicked dead.

And now Todd was here, walking along the broad bridge, wondering if this  guy was going to show and what all the drama was really about. Or was this  nothing, was Todd merely a fool for being here? No, his job was all about  hot stories and great ratings, so he had no choice but to come tonight.  WLAK management expected something sharp from Todd at least every six  weeks, and he'd passed that milestone last Friday.

He looked beyond St. Anthony Falls and to the north. No thunder, at least  not yet, but the black clouds were throbbing, a near continuous pulse of  white light. The air was oddly still, too, just the way things got before  the shit hit the fan. There hadn't been any mention of severe weather, but  when a cold front dropped from Canada and collided over the plains with a  warm front from the Gulf of Mexico, anything could happen. A few years  back the sirens in Todd's neighborhood hadn't gone off until five minutes  after a tornado had Hoovered the better part of a strip mall into the  heavens.

Todd didn't like this.

And apparently no one else did, for he looked up and down the bridge and  didn't see another soul. Something was going to hit--and soon--and  everybody but Todd had the brains not to venture out onto a high bridge  over an endless wash of water. A human weather vane Todd did not aspire to  be.

He glanced at his watch. Seven twenty-eight. He would give this guy seven  minutes and then Todd was out of there.

As he continued to the middle of the bridge, Todd wondered why the hell  he'd gotten the call in the first place. Was it his notoriety and his  relatively new position as investigative reporter at Channel 10? Or the  fact that he was queer?

Because some part of Todd would always be paranoid, he suspected the  latter, that this might be some kind of bizarre setup. In his early  forties and in great shape--"If you're gonna work in broadcast you gotta  keep that chest bigger than your gut," his agent, Stella, continually  prodded--Todd had thick brown hair, a handsome face that was a tad broad  and a tad rugged except for the eyes, which were soft, too soft for his  face. Whereas he used to be extraordinarily closeted, the events of his  life had now made him the most visible gay person in Minneapolis, and from  time to time he got calls at the station asking him out to dinner. From  time to time, too, he got threatening messages on his Voice Mail. Hate  mail too. Which is what he feared out here tonight, an attack of some  sort. But, no, thought Todd, the tension and worry in the caller's voice  had been real, hadn't it?

Reaching the midway point of the bridge, Todd stopped and looked around.  Virtually no sign of anyone, male or female. He stared at the falls as  they roared over a broad concrete apron the milling giants had built so  long ago. Looking straight down more than a hundred feet, the dark, muddy  waters of the Mississippi swirled and churned. Next, raising his head,  Todd gazed at the glass towers of downtown Minneapolis, huge modern boxes  that sprouted like Oz on the plains. Oz, Todd mused, about to be slapped  by an evil storm, for the thunder was starting now, not just an occasional  burst, but long and steady rumbles. This was going to be a biggie.

Something grasped his right shoulder, and Todd jerked away and spun  around. "Jesus!"

Before him stood a young man, twenty-five, maybe thirty, short brown hair  poking out from beneath a blue baseball cap. His face was pure, simple,  with a lot of color in the cheeks, and there was no doubt about it, he was  gorgeous. A plaid shirt concealed his upper body, but even so his strength  was more than apparent.

"You're Todd Mills. I recognize you from TV," he said, with a broad smile  that showed off bright, white teeth.

He was awfully pretty, this guy, and Todd couldn't help it, couldn't help  but wonder: gay? Their eyes caught and held for a millisecond too long,  and before Todd had a chance to consciously contemplate the other man's  sexuality, his instincts flashed: yes. So what, wondered Todd as he noted  that the other man's eyes perfectly matched the blue plaid of his shirt,  is this all about?

Todd said, "And you're . . ."

"I'm Mark." He saw the confusion on Todd's face, and added, "Mark  Forrest."

A few drops of rain started to fall, and Todd looked at this man, who on  the phone this morning had sounded so secretive and confused, yet now  appeared so animated, even jovial. Tread carefully, Todd told himself,  determined not to be duped either by this guy's good looks or his story,  whatever that might prove to be. Who even knew, thought Todd as he  double-checked and noted that the other man wasn't wearing a wedding band,  if Mark Forrest was his real name.

"So what's up?" asked Todd, glancing over at the clouds and thinking they  had but a few minutes before it started pouring.

"Huh?"

"What do you want? Why did you call me?"

Forrest looked at Todd as if he were nuts. "I didn't call you. You called  me."

"What?"

"You called and asked to meet secretly with me. Said it was something  about a blackmail story."

"No, I didn't. I never called you." Wondering what the hell this was all  about, Todd said, "I got a call this morning from a guy who said someone  was blackmailing him. I'm presuming that was you."

"What?" Forrest said with a confused grin. "Fuck, no. I got no  secrets."

He studied this Mark Forrest, saw the wholesomeness leaking out his  pores, and Todd's instincts told him that Forrest was telling the truth.  Yes, he was part of the younger generation, the young gay guys who'd never  considered the closet and had always been out, easily and naturally so.  Which meant only one thing. Then again, this wasn't the first time  something like this had happened, nor would it be the last.

"Come on," said Todd as the rain started coming down in large pellets.  "Someone set us up."

"But--"

"Let's just get out of here. My car's over there. We'll figure it  out."

Out of nowhere a huge gust of wind exploded over them, and in an instant  the rain was hitting as hard as if it were being sprayed from a fire hose.  A burst of lightning struck just up the river, followed almost immediately  by a deafening explosion of thunder. Todd lifted his arm up to shield his  face from the pelting water, opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly an  enormous sound drowned him out, a wail that rose and continued in  desperate warning. Shit, you didn't grow up in the Midwest without knowing  what that meant, without knowing that the only time it was safe to hear  sirens like those was the first Wednesday of the month at 1:00  P.M.

Scanning the skies for a funnel cloud, Todd grabbed Mark Forrest by the  arm and, above the ever-increasing wind, shouted, "We gotta get out of  here!"

Forrest hesitated just a moment, that was all. Then the two of them  turned, started toward the downtown side of the river. Todd was already  soaked, but with any luck they could make it safely to his car. As he took  a step forward, however, a huge blast of wind blew him off-balance. Oh, my  God, thought Todd, is this really a tornado? A dazzling and deadly  lightning bolt struck a lamppost not fifty feet in front of them, followed  instantly by thunder so loud that Todd could feel the force of the sound  reverberate in his chest. Shielding his eyes with his right hand, Todd  looked up, saw the blackened lamppost tip off the bridge and blow to the  turbulent waters below. The wind, Todd realized as the two of them  struggled along, was coming from the right, whooshing down the river from  the northwest and growing stronger by the second.

Glancing toward downtown, Todd saw nothing, not a single light. All of  the buildings were gobbled up by the darkness, swallowed by the rain and  clouds and wind. Jesus, just how bad was this going to be?

Suddenly a figure in a hooded yellow slicker emerged out of nowhere,  someone small, someone running desperately along the Stone Arch Bridge.  Another fool, thought Todd, as Mark and he charged on, their heads bowed  against the torrent. Someone else looking to get killed.

A huge gust came up, Mark lost his footing, and with a wide grin, this  cowboy of a guy screamed, "Holy shit!"

The approaching man was struck by the same gust, and he swerved and  caught himself on the railing. Clasping the hood over his head with his  left hand, he rushed on, nearing Todd and Mark. Another burst of wind blew  back the guy's jacket, and it was then that Todd saw it, the glint of  metal. An umbrella, thought Todd, useless in such a storm and folded up  for safekeeping. The rain pelted Todd's face, and he closed his eyes,  opened them, struggled to see.

White light burst all around them and the skies exploded like a bomb.  Suddenly that other person was swerving right at them. Stumbling toward  them like a drunk as he reached into his jacket. Dear God, thought Todd,  wiping at his eyes. That was no umbrella, that was a gun.

"Look out!" screamed Todd into the roar of the storm.

Forrest, still grinning, glanced at Todd, wiped the water from his face,  and shouted back, "What?"

Todd pointed at the assailant, but Mark Forrest never really saw what was  happening, never understood. There was another explosion, this one from  the gun, and in a split second a bullet slammed into Forrest's deep chest.  It threw him back and he stumbled across the bridge. Clutching the railing  for support, Mark Forrest looked down at himself, saw the watery blood  washing down his chest, next looked up at his killer, and only then  perhaps realized what this was all about.

As Todd started to rush to Forrest, he froze. The small man was whipping  around, his yellow slicker a blur as he trained his pistol on Todd.  Reflexively, Todd threw himself to the side, fell as he scrambled to  escape, and behind him heard the single burst of a gun.

And then the heart of the storm struck them all.

Todd tried to stand up, to rush farther away, but was blown on his side  like a twig. As he landed in a puddle, he glanced back, saw the assailant  hurled aside by the wind. A wall of water seemed to crash over Todd, rain  that bit and pelted so hard that he could barely see two or even three  feet. He looked to the side, thought he saw Mark Forrest somehow hanging  on to the railing. And still the wind gained in strength, barreling down  the river, blasting everything in its path. Todd crawled to his knees,  tried to stand, and thought for sure this was it, he was going to be  sucked into the skies. He threw himself to the side, grabbed at the base  of a lamppost, and hung on, hoping to hell that just this once he was  stronger than Mother Nature. Above it all, he heard a rattling and ripping  and raised his head to see a sign, one of the historical markers, blown  from its stand. As it came hurtling at him, Todd clutched his head, but it  wasn't enough, for the sign struck him with such force that Todd's head  seemed to explode. He tried to open his eyes but couldn't, and the massive  summer storm went from dark and overpowering to totally black and quiet.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2009

    fun but not deep

    outburst is part of a series of five books about a gay reporter from the twin cities. (Minn) in this book mills witnesses a murder, and using his many gay friends and his cop boyfriend, solves the case. it is a pretty classic who-dunnit with a twist. some characters are well developed and others are pretty forgettable. i would recommend reading the five books in order because while you can just pick up one and read it many of the characters and places appear throughout the series and the author does not always recap the significance. some of the intimate scenes are graphic so young or homophobic people may want to skip this one.

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