Cassandra was about to say something she would later regret.
She had come to Harvey's office to tell him about the letters she found in her father's drawer. Instead, unplanned words poured out of her mouth.
"I have something to tell you," Cassandra began.
She kept her head low, her eyes afraid to meet his.
"I spent last night with another man."
A brief flash of grief rushed through him, widening his eyes.
"The, uh, marketing director?"
"I see," Harvey said, his face calm now, showing nothing.
He circled back to his desk, sat down, and began to jot notes in a file.
"Is that all you're going to say?" she asked.
"What do you want me to say?"
"It doesn't bother you?"
"Do you want it to bother me?"
"Stop answering my questions with a question."
"I don't know what you want from me, Cassandra. You come in here and tell me you slept with another man. How do you want me to react?"
"I don't know."
"Why did you tell me?"
"What do you mean, why?"
"I would never have found out," he said.
"Why did you say anything?"
She opened her mouth, stopped, began to shrug, stopped, then said in a hesitant voice, "I wanted to be up front with you."
"Fine. You were up front. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do."
"Wait a second-"
"I'm sorry, Cassandra. I really am. I thought we were happy together. I thought I don't know I thought we had something special."
"Then we have different ideas about special. I can't afford to get my heart squashed again. It hurts too much. It affects my concentration, my work "
"It won't happen again. I swear. I never meant to hurt "
"It doesn't matter. I should have never let it come this far anyway.
It was a mistake from the beginning. I was a goddamn fool to think you could ever..." He shook his head.
"Goodbye, Cassandra." He lowered his eyes and began writing.
He did not look up. His voice was more firm now.
She felt something odd, something hard and painful, form inside her own chest. She wanted to say something more, but his cold expression stopped her.
She turned and left.
"Michael's giving a press conference in five minutes."
Reece Porter stopped lacing his hi-top Nikes and looked up at his coach.
"What are you talking about?"
Coach Richie Crenshaw crossed the locker room, stepping over strewn sneakers, jockstraps, and long legs. The Knicks were in Seattle's Kingdome, preparing to play a preseason scrimmage against the Supersonics. thrust what I said. Michael is making a statement at the start of Newsflash."
"What kind of statement?" Reece asked.
"Hell if I know."
Jerome Holloway exchanged a confused glance with Reece.
"And it's being covered on national television?"
"That's right," Coach Crenshaw replied.
"I don't get it," Reece said.
"What the hell could Mikey have to say that a prime time news show would want to cover live?"
"Something about his hepatitis, I guess."
Reece shook his head.
Sports Channel or ESPN might be interested in covering something like that but not CBS."
"Besides," Jerome added, "the press already knows about his hepatitis."
Coach Crenshaw shrugged.
"Beats the hell out of me. Turn on the TV, Jerome, and we'll find out."
The rookie walked over to the set and flicked the switch.
Michael's teammates and coaches stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to the screen. Most of their faces displayed a sense of relaxed curiosity. But not Recce's. Something didn't make sense to him. An athlete, no matter how popular, does not make a live statement on a news show unless it is big news. Really big news. Something that transcended sports.
As Reece Porter watched Michael and Sara walk toward the podium, an awful feeling of dread flooded his chest.
George was in the middle of doing his third set of one hundred push-ups, his muscles bunching and swelling with each repetition, when he heard the advertising teaser:
"Stay tuned for a very special episode of Newsflash. What's the connection between a surprise statement from basketball great Michael Silverman, the Gay Slasher, and the story of the year about the AIDS epidemic? Watch Newsflash and see. Next on CBS."
George froze. Michael Silverman, husband of Sara Lbwell, son-in-law of John Lowell. Silverman had been at the charity ball on the night that George killed Bradley Jenkins. Now he was going to make a surprise statement on live television.
George wanted to hear what he had to say. He wanted to hear very much.
Of course an announcement by someone like Michael Silverman was hardly reason for concern, but what else had the TV blurb said? Something about a connection to the Gay Slasher.
Well, that should be interesting. And then there was the last thing that voice on the TV had said the story of the year on the AIDS epidemic. George shook his head. It was too much of a coincidence.
Michael Silverman, the Gay Slasher, the AIDS epidemic.
Someone had tied a few loose ends together.
The real question for George concerned Michael Silverman's announcement. The police already knew about the connection between the murder victims and the AIDS clinic, so it had only been a matter of time before it leaked to the press. But what did it have to do with Sara Lowell's husband? Was Michael Silverman connected with the murders? And if so, how?
Careful, George. Your job is to eliminate them, not figure out why.
True, but a man had to watch his back. George was being forced to take greater risks than normal. The Gay Slasher had become high-profile stuff. Now that the scrutiny was intensifying, logic dictated that he should learn more about the "why" of these killings in order to protect himself.
Damn it, why hadn't he checked this whole thing out beforehand?
Sloppy work, George. Very unprofessional.
George sprang up off the floor as the commercial ended. He' sat on the edge of the large bed and watched as Michael and
Sara walked toward the podium. Sara Lowell was very beautiful.
Incredible looking. Turning his gaze to Michael, George felt a sharp pang of envy.
That lucky son of a bitch slept with Sara Lowell every night.
George shook his head. Sometimes life was just not fair.
"I'm home," Max Bernstein called out.
"I'm in the bedroom," Lenny replied.
"Did you pick up some milk?"
"Yep. And a six-pack of Diet Coke."
Lenny walked into the den and kissed Max lightly on the lips.
"Exhausted. How about you?"
Lenny nodded, taking the bundle from Max's arm.
"I spent seven hours in court for a case that was never called."
"My client didn't show."
"Skipped his bail?"
"We cops catch them. You lawyers let them go."
"Yeah, but without us you'd be out of a job. By the way, I ordered a pizza. I figured you wouldn't want to go out."
"You figured right."
Lenny carried the bag to the kitchen.
"Are you going to be working this weekend?"
"Stop biting your nails for two seconds and listen. Are you going to be working this weekend?"
"It's my weekend with Melissa."
Melissa was Lenny's twelve-year-old daughter.
"I'll try to be around."
"I'd appreciate it. Oh, I rented that movie you wanted to see."
Max picked up the phone and dialed.
"Can't watch it tonight.
Newsflash is on in a few minutes."
"I almost forgot." Lenny came out of the kitchen.
"Get your fingers out of your mouth before I shove them down your throat."
"And who are you calling?"
"Such a waste."
"Lenny, don't start."
"Why have you kept that empty apartment for six years? All you have in there is a telephone and an answering machine."
"You know why."
"Oh, that's right. You're afraid someone is going to find out you live with gasp-oh-gasp! a man. That you're an honest to-God, screaming faggot."
"So you keep your swinging bachelor pad on 87th Street for show no, because you're paranoid. Wouldn't it be cheaper just to tell everyone that we're two single, homo studs who happen to live together?
Something like in Three Men And A Baby."
"What are you babbling about?"
"Three Men And A Baby. You remember the movie. Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg were all single and sharing an apartment and nobody worried about their sexual preferences. And what about Oscar and Felix on The Odd Couple?
Murray the cop never thought they were getting it on."
No messages on the machine. Max hung up the phone.
"You're a nag."
"And trim your mustache already. You look like Gene Shalit."
"Nag, nag. Did you feed Simon yet?"
"A few minutes ago. He ate eight goldfish the other day and he's downing another half dozen now. Want to watch?"
"I think I'll pass."
"He's your snake."
Max had bought Simon, a harmless garden snake, on a whim two years ago.
He thought it would be kind of cool to own a pet snake. Max, however, had overlooked one small problem he was scared to death of snakes. He loved Simon, liked to watch him slide about his cage and slither up to the screen on the top.
But he was afraid to touch him or go near him, for that matter.
And worse, the only thing Simon ate were live goldfish, which he caught in his laser-quick mouth and swallowed whole. You could actually see the outline of the struggling fish as it slid down Simon's thin body.
Luckily, Lenny had taken a liking to Simon a rather sick liking, as a matter of fact. Lenny enjoyed inviting friends over to watch the feeding; they bet on which fish would be the last one eaten.
The doorbell rang. Lenny opened the door, paid the delivery boy, and brought the pizza into the den. Max watched him, remembering how his life had changed when he first saw Lenny's gentle eyes seven years ago.
1984, a year of transition.
The nights of anonymous sex, orgies in Soho, leather bars, and Caligula-like bathhouses were beginning to melt away under the blistering heat of the AIDS epidemic. Though he had lived in constant fear of being found out, Max had participated in it all.
How many lovers had he had? He had lost count. How many friends had he lost to the AIDS virus? That number too he had lost count. So many taken away, and now the dead were little more than a blurry blend of faces, vivacious young men whose lives had been suddenly, painfully, snuffed out. They were gone now and too often forgotten.
Why, Max wondered, did we all gorge ourselves on nameless, faceless sex? Was it merely for the physical thrill or was there something more? Were we trying to rebel? Or were we just releasing the pent-up anxieties of living too repressed for years in a straight society? What were we looking for in that mass of flesh? Or more important, what were we running away from?
Over the past seven years Bernstein had had more than twenty AIDS tests performed on himself all under assumed names and all negative. A stroke of luck and yet sometimes he felt guilty for not having contracted the virus, like an Auschwitz survivor wondering why he was still alive.
Lenny, on the other hand, had come from a conservative family. He married his high school sweetheart at the age of nineteen and they had a daughter a year later. He tried to suppress and deny his true sexual orientation, and for a while it worked. But by the fourth year of their marriage, he and his wife Emily knew that the heterosexual facade had finally cracked and broken away. The truth was revealed to their families, and Emily and Lenny parted as friends.
Max turned on the television. The two sat quietly on the couch, watching the television and holding hands.
Lenny leaned his head on Max's shoulder.
"I'm the best thing that ever happened to you, you know."
"Yeah, I guess you are."
A few minutes later they watched Michael and Sara walk toward the podium.
"Dad?" Cassandra called.
John Lowell did not respond. He continued to stare down at the old photograph.
"What are you looking at?" she asked softly.
He sighed deeply and placed the photograph down gently as though it were delicate porcelain.
"Nothing," he replied.
Cassandra crossed the room. As she suspected, her father had been staring at a picture of her mother. Tears flooded her eyes.
"I miss her too," she said.
"She loved you very much, Cassandra. She wanted you to be happy."
Cassandra nodded, reaching out her hand and touching the image of her mother.
"Sara just called."
"Where has she been?"
"She wouldn't say. She said we'd find out on Newsflash."
"On News Flash What does that mean?"
"I don't know."
John reached out, and for the first time in many years father and daughter embraced. Cassandra snuggled closer, feeling the wool sweater brush up against her. For a moment she forgot about the letters she had found in his desk. She forgot about Reverend Sanders' voice in her father's study, and she even forgot her own crazy suspicions. He was her father. She felt so right in his arms, like a small child again, so safe and warm and content and yet... "You're my whole world," he whispered.
"You and Sara."
They clung to each other with an odd sort of need. The need was surprisingly strong, like a ravenous hunger that grew as you ate.
Neither spoke, but they both knew that they were thinking the same thing. They could not say how they knew each other's thoughts, nor could they explain the awful feeling of doom that permeated the room.
This should have been a happy, tender moment, but something was lurking around the corner, something that wanted to rip and shred and destroy.
Cassandra broke away and they both looked at each other uncomfortably, as though they shared an embarrassing secret.
"The show's coming on."
"Right," he said.
They left the room then, no longer holding hands nor even touching.
Still, the warmth of his embrace stayed with Cassandra like a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She watched her father turn on the television and felt a wave of love overwhelm her. He was such a gentle man, she told herself, a man who had dedicated his entire life to healing others. He would never hurt anyone. Never. She was sure of it. Positive. Her suspicions were nonsense. After all, a couple of letters and a meeting with Reverend Sanders hardly meant he was guilty of some sort of wrongdoing. As a matter of fact it meant nothing at all. She was glad that she had not told Harvey about the letters, that she had not betrayed her own father's trust.
Cassandra sat back now, relieved, confident, and trying like hell to ignore the irritating voice of doubt that still echoed in her head.
Flashbulbs worked like a strobe light, giving the illusion that Sara and Michael were moving in slow motion. They reached the podium together. Michael stepped forward while Sara stood behind him and to the side. Michael's head was lowered, his eyes closed. A few moments later he lifted his head high and faced the crowded room of reporters.
Sara watched him. He looked handsome in his grey suit with a solid blue tie, but the clothes were just not him. There were no wild splashes of color, no yellow and green paisley, no purple floral pattern, no funky polka dots so drab and... and lifeless for him. His face, somber, ashen, tired, matched the look.
He took a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket. His fingers unfolded it and his palm smoothed it out against the podium.
He glanced down at the statement, but he did not read the words.
His hand pushed the paper to the side and slowly his face tilted upwards. Then he just stood there for a few moments and said nothing.
Through the glare of flashbulbs, Sara could sense the unease in the audience. Murmurs began to stir and strengthen through the press corps. She moved closer to Michael, took his hand in hers and squeezed. The coldness of his hand startled her. Then he did something very strange. He turned toward her and smiled not a fake or tired smile, but a genuine, beautiful Michael smile. It comforted her and frightened her at the same time. The smile slipped away from his lips slowly as he turned back to the microphone.
"Yesterday," Michael began, "I learned that I have contracted the AIDS virus."
Immediate silence. The murmurs ceased as though they had been on a tape recorder that had been switched off.
"I am entering a private clinic which you will hear more about during this program. That's all I have to say. Thank you."
He stepped back, smiled anew at Sara, and took her hand.
"Let's get out of here."
The press attacked with both barrels.
"How long have you been gay, Michael?"
"Sara, how long have you known your husband was homosexual?"
"Is the marriage a farce?"
"Have you had sex with any of your teammates?"
With each question Michael involuntarily winced. Finally, he stepped back toward the podium to set the record straight. When he reached the microphone and the room fell silent, Michael turned away without saying a word. He bent down and kissed Sara's cheek.
"Like I said before, let's get out of here."
Harvey watched the report alone.
Being alone was fine with him. That was how it should be.
Cassandra had been a mistake from the start. Talk about your basic self-delusion he must have been taking major mind expanding drugs to think someone like her could be interested in someone like him.
Besides, he had the clinic. He could not afford distractions that would hinder his concentration and affect his work negatively.
He shook his head. Enough of this. There were much more important things to worry about than his creature comforts.
Harvey pushed Cassandra clear out of his mind and focused on the Newsflash report.
Donald Parker was doing an excellent job, presenting the facts without too much innuendo. To help the clinic keep its anonymity, the report did not give the name or address of the Pavilion. Thank God for that.
Harvey could just imagine the riots if the clinic's name and address were used in the report. Talk about bedlam.
Better still, only Eric's name was used in the report. The name of the "chief researcher" was left out. Perfect. Couldn't be better.
Parker had even given an 800 telephone number and an address for those who wanted to make donations to the clinic and suggested writing or telegram ming Congress to approve additional grants for the "unnamed"
Donald Parker's blue eyes swerved forward, making contact with millions of viewers. Harvey could see why Parker was considered the best in the business. His intensity made you forget that you were watching television. He became a house guest, just a member of the family seated in the den instead of a studio.
"Even more glaring," Donald Parker's deep voice continued, "is the clinic's connection with the so-called Gay Slasher who has been terrorizing New York City's gay community for the past two months. In reality, the Gay Slasher might better be called the AIDS Slasher.
Here's our report."
His voice was now on tape.
"Young men found stabbed and mutilated they had everything to live for." Several snapshots of bloodied sheets draped over bodies, an arm or leg jutting into view, flashed across the screen.
"The world at large believed that a psychopath was hunting down members of the gay community. But new evidence has come to light which blows that theory right out of the water and draws a more devastating conclusion."
A proper pause.
"The so- called Gay Slasher is murdering AIDS sufferers. In fact, the murder victims all had one thing in common they were patients at the clinic we have been discussing tonight." After another proper pause, Parker continued.
"The first victim was Scott Trian." A smiling photograph of Trian came on.
"Trian, a twenty-nine-year-old stockbroker, was murdered in his apartment in the most grisly fashion imaginable. He was tortured and mutilated with a knife before he finally bled to death."
Bill Whitherson's image replaced Trian's.
"William Whitherson, a vice president at First City Bank, was the Gay Slasher's next prey. Over twenty stab wounds were scattered across Mr. Whitherson's face, neck, chest and groin. He was found in his apartment by his roommate, Stuart Lebrinski, who had left the victim only an hour before. The blood was still flowing from Mr. Whitherson's wounds when Mr. Lebrinski came back from the supermarket." The picture of Bill Whitherson faded away... and a photograph of Bradley Jenkins appeared in its place.
Harvey felt his heart constrict in his chest.
"Oh God, no.
Don't... "The murder of Bradley Jenkins, son of Senator Stephen Jenkins and a secret patient at the AIDS clinic, put the Gay Slasher on the map.
Bradley was found behind a gay bar in Greenwich Village " Harvey no longer heard his words.
"No," he whispered in horror.
"Do you know what you've just done?"
Reverend Ernest Sanders watched the report. It was bad, very bad, but Sanders did not get angry. Anger was a wasted emotion, one that clouded the mind, shoved away rational thought What he needed to do was think clearly.
Dixie was upstairs in the bedroom, passed out on the bed from too much wine. Again. Third straight night. But he loved her. She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman even his enemies confessed to that a far cry from the Tammy Faye stereotype of an evangelist's wife. She meant the world to him and so he lavished her with expensive gifts and the best of everything. Still, she despised him. He could see it in the way she looked at him every time he came through the door. His son, Ernie Junior, had grown into a handsome young man who worked in the ministry. He had learned the gospel well, was a passionate speaker, made a whole heap of money, and hated his father too. The repulsion in his son's face, Sanders thought, would make a blind man blush.
Luckily, Dixie, Ernie, and the two girls, Sissy and Mary Ann, all loved his money. Money was power, no question about it.
Sanders remembered how his father used to recite the Golden Rule he who has the gold makes the rules. And Sanders had the gold. The power.
And he had his job. His ministry. Funny how you are what people perceive. Some considered him a savior, a prophet, a man of God.
Others considered him an extremist, a cheap con man, a bigoted hypocrite.
What was the truth? Well, he had never had a vision from God like he said on his show. Jesus had never visited him in his bedroom at night.
He had never heard a mysterious voice or seen a real miracle. But so what? People wanted to believe.
People needed something, and he gave it to them. We need food, we need air, we need recreation and entertainment, and we also need to believe in something. The leftist liberals believed in their gods secularism, academia, the media. Didn't old-fashioned Americans have the same right? They need a strong leader, someone they could follow without question or doubt. Politicians used deception and slick packaging to create an image a person could trust. What was so wrong with a preacher doing the same?
To the critics who accused him of taking advantage of his followers, Ernest Sanders scoffed. Just take a look at his parishioners one Sunday morning, the exhilarated, rapt expression on their faces. How could you put a price tag on something like that? Take a look at how their eyes glowed as he spoke to them, their attention and trust never wavering. Yes, take a good look at these hard-working Americans who asked for no more than a few minutes of religious rapture, who wanted to believe there was something more than the boring grind they went through every day, who wanted to rely on the faith of God rather than just people.
Ernest Sanders gave them all that and more. And yes, he made a lot of money from it. Why shouldn't he? He made the world a better place and brought joy to thousands, maybe millions, of people. Maybe God hadn't shown him a burning bush or given him the power to walk on water. But he had given him the power to move people with his words and perhaps that was, after all, the way God intended it to be. No flashy miracles in this technological, bureaucratic era just the simple power to communicate His message.
Perhaps, Sanders thought, he was engaged in a holy battle and God had chosen him to lead the side of the righteous, to rally his troops, to lead them into the Promised Land... and to rid the world of the godless scum, to fight the evildoers who would try to stop him. Even to the death.
The Newsfksh credits rolled by. With a sigh, Sanders reached for the phone and dialed Raymond Markey's home.
"Were you watching?" Reverend Sanders asked.
"Very distressing," Sanders continued.
"There is going to be a tremendous outcry."
"But Riker played into our hands when they mentioned Bradley Jenkins," Markey said.
"Now we have proof that his reports were falsified. His findings can be labeled invalid."
"Maybe," Sanders allowed, "but don't count on it. We can use it, but it might not be enough. We might have to consider other plans."
Markey cleared his throat.
"If you think it's necessary."
"It is. Now that Riker has brought Silverman into this, I don't see how we have any choice. I'll contact Silverman's stepfather."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Get on a plane to New York. I want you to confront Harvey Riker man-to-man." "Fine." Markey paused.
"There's one other thing."
"The Gay Slasher killings it's all very strange."
"I know what you mean." Markey paused again before asking, "Who do you think is behind it?"
Ernest Sanders weighed his words carefully.
"To be honest, Ray," he said at last, "I really don't know."