I was meeting Bobby Dawson across the street of McGinnis Investigations. We’d agreed to have coffee at a small local shop that specialized in homegrown vegetables, free-trade coffee beans and fresh herbal teas. From the smell of the cushions on the patio furniture, it wasn’t just the teas that were herbal.
Still, the place was clean and Dawson was prompt, coming through the wrought iron gate separating the café’s patio from the sidewalk. He was a large man, muscled in a way not found on a gym rat and the glint of silver in his taper-cut burnt umber hair was the only hint of age on him. That is until he drew close enough for me to see his eyes because they were weighted down with far more years than his body had actually seen.
They were cop eyes, seasoned and wary but the smile on his handsome face was light and the handshake he gave me was firm and open. Pulling out a café chair, he sat down, smoothing down the line of his jeans and waved over the dreadlocked waitress hovering near a doorway leading inside to the coffee shop.
“Coffee, black with sugar if you could, darling,” His voice was rough at the edges, much like the man himself but with a smooth caramel tone to it. The woman bristled at the endearment and she twisted the hoop going through her lip then went to get his order. Turning back to face me, Bobby Dawson gave me his full attention and a peek at the dimple creasing his cheek as he smiled cockily at me. “They hate that here. Calling them babe or darling. I do it just to piss them off.”
He was a shit disturber. No other name for it. Well, old-fashioned words might. Rogue or rake came to mind. He was a man who’d battle another in a ring, pounding his opponent until he’d spilt both blood and teeth then take the man out for a drink, slapping him on the back to congratulate him for a good fight. Wearing a badge probably kept him clean enough although working for the LAPD during the 80s and 90s, clean was a relative term. From what Cole told me, Dawson had come out of the force with his head held high and his hands free of dirt and blood.
Which was a lot more than could be said for many of the boys in blue during one of the worst times Los Angeles had ever seen.
“If you don’t like it, why did you want to meet here?” I asked, taking out my tablet to record our conversation. Writing up an interview later without hearing the subject’s voice sometimes left flattened words and canned reflections, both of which wouldn’t do Dawson justice and he definitely was a man someone would want justice done for.
“Believe it or not, the coffee’s good.” He winked at the waitress as she dropped his mug off a the table, sliding her a five for his two dollar coffee. Telling her to keep the tip, he scanned the patio’s other diners before adding in the sugar from the packets on his saucer. “Just don’t eat anything here. Hell, even the coffee’s sketchy but Princess sometimes likes his joe a bit on the thick side.”
“Why shouldn’t I eat here again?” I’d been eyeing the hot chocolate tiramisu on the menu. With a side of vanilla ice cream, it seemed like the perfect thing to have alongside the café’s rich coffee.
“Did you take a good look at that chick? The one who dropped off my coffee?” Bobby looked over his shoulder, openly scoping out the woman. “They’re tree-hugging otter scrubbers. Old school kind. I don’t give a shit if someone doesn’t shave their pits but don’t serve me anything if you’re only wearing a wife-beater. Sucking on a piece of hair without a dick or nipple near it isn’t my idea of a good meal.”
“Would you say that if she were a guy?” I was pushing him a bit. I knew it and instead of the outraged denial I’d been expecting, I got a boisterous, full basso laugh.
“Fuck yeah. Especially a guy. I don’t want anyone’s armpit hair in my food.” Bobby slurped at his coffee. “Now at the club, that’s different. Alcohol will burn any crawlies off and most of the time, I order beer in a bottle.”
He was easy to like and nearly impossible to love. There was a cavalier air about him as if he was one Sopwith Camel away from riding off into the sunset to his doom or destiny. What was curious about Dawson was why he was Cole McGinnis’ best friend.
“Talk to me about Cole.” I ventured.
“Like what?” The stirring still and the cop resurfaced in Dawson’s eyes, hardening them to a grey storm.
“Let’s start simple. What is your favourite memory of Cole? And why do you call him Princess?”
“Shit, my favourite memory? Such a chick thing to ask.” He leaned back in his chair, hooking his arm over the back then stared at me across the table. “Okay, let me think. I guess it would be when he was trying to get his shit together after the shooting. The first shooting. The big one.”
Dawson’s playfulness bled away and he leaned forward again, cupping his mug in his broad hands. “I went into that room for the first time because I’d heard he’d been shot. I didn’t really know the kid but I knew about him. The other cops… you’ve got to understand how Cole is…how he thinks. For him, being gay is like him writing left-handed or having brown hair. It is his normal and he figures since he doesn’t shove his nose into anyone else’s business, they won’t do the same to him. That kind of thinking pisses a cop off.”
“Why?” I still took notes, trying to capture in words how Dawson looked and moved as he spoke about the man he’d taken under his wing.
“Because if you’re a cop, you’re behind a wall of blue, invisible and silent behind the badge. You don’t do anything to endanger another cop and being a faggot … that draws attention. Even if you don’t want it to.” Dawson shook his head. “It’s about being one of the guys…being kind of an asshole to anyone outside of the blue. Sure, you’re going to get a rock star or two like Del but those are the ones you’re following through a door. If you’re too weird, the guy next to you doesn’t know if he can trust you to have his back. Being as out as he was…shit, he’d bring Rick to cop things.”
“And not apologize for it.”
“Apologize?” Dawson snorted. “He’d trot out his rainbow flag like it was his right. That’s why I went to that hospital room. Because it was his right and I was a fucking coward for hiding behind a badge, pretending to be something I wasn’t. I went into that room to take a good hard look at a man who lived his life like a real man and kind of to apologize for not having his back. That’s why I call him Princess. Because he’s a fucking entitled little brat who thinks he’s better than the rest of us and you know what? He is.”
“Talk to me about Ben. Did you know him?”
“Ben Pirelli. There was a good cop. No fucking idea what happened there. He took a lot of shit for having Cole ride with him but he didn’t care.” He was halfway done with his coffee and the waitress zoomed by, dipping a refill into both of our cups before we could say anything. “Well, we all thought he didn’t care but really, I think Cole got shot because he’s gay. I think Ben might have just been pushed a bit too far by one of the guys in their house and he decided he’d had enough.”
“Seems like a stupid reason to kill someone.” I had to add more cream to my coffee. This batch was more bitter than the first or it could have just been discussing Ben’s betraying Cole.
“Hey, kids kill other kids for their shoes. We’re a vicious kind of parasite, we humans.” Bobby played with the gold ring on his pinkie finger, turning it around as he watched the other patrons from under his lashes. “Next question.”
“What’s your ideal man and what kind of date do you like?” I smiled at his scoffing then turned my tablet around so he could see the questions. “I don’t come up with them. I just ask them.”
“My ideal man? Someone with a tight ass, a warm hole and not a lot of talking,” He retorted sharply. “A date for me usually involves a bed, preferably not my own so I don’t have to kick him out in the morning. I don’t like waking up next to a guy. I’d just rather have some fun and then go on my way. A back room works too. But always play safe. There’s enough fucking predators out there without getting one that’ll eat you from the inside out.”
“What about your childhood?”
“Yeah, next question.” The storm was back, in full fury and battering at Bobby’s self control. “Move on.”
“Okay,” I said slowly, going down the list. “Have you ever been truly in love?”
“Where the fuck did you get this shit? Cosmo?” There was a bravado creeping back into his voice but it was masking something deep and vulnerable. Sighing, he nodded. “Yeah, well I thought I was. It was a mistake. A big fucking mistake.”
“How so?” I didn’t want to pry but he’d left me a small opening and I felt safe enough to wade through the shark-infested waters.
“Because I wasn’t… because the man she married wasn’t real. I fucked up a really good friendship by spending a decade lying to a woman about wanting her. She deserved better. Never mind my life. I can screw that up all I want but fucking up someone else’s life? That’s a non-refundable one way ticket to Hell and I boarded that train the day I said I do.” Dawson sighed then shook off his melancholy. “All it got me was a woman who hates my guts, a lifetime supply of dirty secret sex and a son who doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. So, yeah, I’d say I’ve been in love but I fucked it up. I should have taken better care of them.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was a hefty weight between us and I wasn’t sure how to clear it. Luckily, Dawson’s phone beeped and he took it out of his jeans pocket, smiling when he read the text. “Sorry, that’s Princess. He wants me to bring him a turkey sandwich when I come back. Claudia wants cake.”
“Cake’s good.” I agreed.
“If Claudia wants cake, she’s going to fucking get cake.” He tapped an answer back and set his phone down to pick up his mug again. “Next question.”
“Tell me what you really think about Jae-Min Kim.”
“Shit, you just dig right in with a rusty fork, don’t you?” Bobby whistled softly then stared off to the side, obviously thinking over what he wanted to say. “I think in the beginning, I thought Jae was going to fuck Cole up. Hell, I’m still not sure that’s not going to happen but the kid’s been good for Cole. There’s something about him that Cole wants to either fix or tame. I don’t think Cole even knows what that is but they’ve got this connection. You can see it when they’re in the same room. They find each other. Either touching or just looking. It’s kind of weird because Cole’s… well, he’s like a gooey truffle and Jae’s spicy heat. You’d think they wouldn’t work….”
“But chocolate goes well with hot pepper.” I finished for him.
“Yeah, it does.” Dawson nodded in agreement. “They…fit. However fucking weird it is, they fit. I still think Jae’s too fucking pretty for Cole. I’d rather Cole have hooked up with someone more like… I guess himself. Someone who’s into sports … stuff like that but I guess Jae fills him. It’s the first time I’ve seen Cole… alive. He was okay before but until Jae came around, I don’t think I really knew how bright he could get inside so there you go. Jae, bringer of light and fucker up of lives.”
“Do you think Jae will screw up Cole’s life?”
“He’ll either fucking break Cole or teach him how to love,” Bobby said softly. “One of the two. Jury’s out on which one.”
“Last question. Are you jealous that the guys from Sinner’s Gin are hotter than you guys down here in Los Angeles?” His eyebrows nearly disappeared under his hair. “Hey, don’t look at me. Like I said, I just ask them.”
“Who the fuck is Sinner’s Gin?” Dawson’s eyebrows came down into a fierce frown. “Sounds like a tattoo parlour.”
“They’re a rock band.” I tapped my tablet and found a picture of Miki St. John and Kane Morgan. “Here. Well, that guy’s in the band. The other one is his… boyfriend.”
“Shit, I hate that word. Sounds stupid. Like we’re in preschool holding hands and eating purple crayons.” Bobby studied the picture I’d found. St. John was sitting in front of Morgan, Kane’s arms wrapped around his chest and holding him tight. “The one in front’s cute. But the other one’s a cop. You can tell from his eyes. And I’m supposed to be what? Jealous that they’ve hooked up with each other? Yeah, stuck with the same guy night after night doesn’t do it for me. It’s okay for people like Cole and maybe these two but yeah… no.”
“Don’t you think you’re getting kind of old to be playing around?” I asked. “You’re what? Early fifties?”
“Let me tell you about age.” Dawson tapped at the table with his index finger. “I’m fifty-two but I’m not my grandfather’s fifty-five. None of us these days are. Hell, even my dad. When he was the age I’m now, he was an old man. Worn out. He was worked to death and ate shit out of a can. These days, we eat better, take care of ourselves and have better medical care. I’m a couple years old than those two guys who played Iron Man and Captain Jack Sparrow. Fifty these days is our parents’ thirties. So if you’re asking me if I’m too old? The better question is, how come you haven’t realized we live in a different time with different standards? Too old, my ass. I’ll still be fucking twinks when they pry them out of my cold dead hands.”
“Yeah, she does.” He motioned over the waitress. “Come on, order something and come across the street with me. You can meet the Woman herself.”
“Only if you buy me the hot chocolate tiramisu,” I negotiated with a smile. “And you make sure there’s no armpit hair. Because yeah, hell no. They should wear shirt sleeves.”
“Great. Get your shit together then.” Bobby dug out his wallet, leaving the waitress a ten dollar dip. “Come on inside and order. I’ll even buy you another coffee, Brat.”