"The Rhythm of the Heat" By Sheena-Bean

"The rhythm is around me

The rhythm has control

The rhythm is inside me

The rhythm has my soul"

Peter Gabriel

Part 1

               Ricardo Tubbs pulled his blue Cadillac up to the curb. Across the street blinked a dingy neon sign. It was an unfamiliar nightclub to Tubbs. He glanced at the sign, a twisted tubing of orange and white spelling the words "FLAMING TIGER". Tubbs shook his head and sighed. He hated doing these assignments on his own, and the way Castillo had secretly shuffled him off to this stint without telling Crockett made Rico's stomach churn. Flexing his fingers around his keys, Tubbs reluctantly got out of his car and jaunted across the asphalt, the midnight heat moving with him like a phantom in the hot tropical night.

               The nightclub's bouncer watched him coming and looked Tubbs up and down as he approached. Tubbs smoothly pulled out his officer's badge and the man stood to attention, the mask of boredom on his face suddenly broken. He motioned Tubbs inside.

               A few scattered patrons mingled on the vast dance floor or alongside the long bar that stretched from the entrance all the way into the murky, smoke filled distance. Most of them were men. This was one of Coconut Grove's more exclusive gay bars. It was 1:30 am, yet the remaining patrons had not yet dissipated. Some of them turned their eyes anxiously towards Rico's elegant figure, a handsome silhouette in the lurid light, but his aloof demeanor automatically signaled his disinterest. 

               Rico waited at the entrance for a moment, then moved towards the bar where the bartender nodded to him in acknowledgment.

               "What can I get for you?" he asked.

               "A virgin colada," Tubbs replied, revealing his badge again, "And some information."

               The bartender, an older man with slicked back hair tied in a ponytail nodded, grinned at Tubbs, "Sure, why not."

               Tubbs leaned on the bar and panned the dance floor with his eyes, getting a quick determination of the criminal element. Then he turned his eyes back to the bartender, "What do you know about Evan Freed?"

               "Evan Freed?" the man smiled instantly, "Oh yeah. A cop—I haven't seen him around here in years."

               "Oh yeah?" Tubbs countered nonchalantly, knowing Evan was dead.

               "Yep, " the man answered, offering Tubbs his drink. Tubbs handed him a twenty-dollar bill.

               "What else?"

               "He was one of the Vice cops that busted this place a few years back. Man, what a big mess that was. We almost lost our license. Anyway, after that whole bust was over, he started hanging out here quite a bit. Not sure why, exactly. He didn't really seem the type, you know, other than his macho demeanor."

               Tubbs nodded, envisioning the death of Mike Orgell as Crockett has described it to him. So, Evan came here to wash his guilt and drink his sorrows away? Tubbs felt puzzled, his green eyes narrowing for clarity, "What did he do here, exactly?"

               "He drank and brooded mostly. He's sit right over there, in the corner, at the very end of the bar. He'd order beer after beer and sit there for hours on end, watching people. He'd usually stumble out of here around closing time."

               Tubbs took a long look at the lonely place the bartender has indicated. It was a hidden place, cornered by mirrors and dusted in smoky haze and darkened shadows.

               "So, how often did he come here?"

               "Oh, maybe three or four times a week. I think it turned him on or something, "the bartender smirked.

               "How do you mean?" Tubbs asked playfully.

               "Oh, you know, he'd watch some of the guys together. He seemed embarrassed by it all, but fascinated just the same. Doesn't bother me anymore after 10 years. But I'm into chicks only, man. You dig?"

               "Me too, " Tubbs answered with an understanding smile, "How long did this go on?"

               The bartender shrugged, "A few months…hey, you guys find something dirty on the guy? Moody son of a bitch, if you ask me."

               Tubbs shook his head, reticent, "Just working on a lead, my man."

               The bartender grinned like a fellow conspirator, "Well, good luck. You'd better talk to that other cop too, then. He used to hang here with this one—"

               Tubbs froze, "What other cop?"

               The bartender rolled his eyes, "The other one, um…sandy blond hair, flashy dresser, good looking. What was his name…Crockett! Yeah, yeah, I remember. It's all coming back to me now."

               Rico's spine straightened in nervous anticipation, "What else?"

                "I thought it was strange enough seeing one Vice cop in here off duty, but then when the other one showed up…I figured they were just meeting each other here, after work, like a lot of the guys do. They'd both sit down there at the end of the bar and talk. They kept to themselves mostly."

               "Uh huh," Tubbs said mutely.

              "That went on for a while, the two of them meeting each other here late at night. It seemed to me they might have been lovers, or wanted to be. Maybe they never quite figured out how. You know what I mean?"

               "I guess, " Tubbs said, flinching at the unexpected turn of the conversation, "What happened then?"

               The bartender rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "The other guy, Crockett, quit coming here. After a few weeks I had to kick Evan Freed out of here when he started acting crazy."

"Crazy?"

"He started yelling "faggot" and "pervert" at everyone! I mean he totally flipped out one night,

drunk as usual. He almost got himself killed—some of the guys were about to kick his ass! I was going to call the cops, but he raised his hands up, mocking me, and stumbled out of here. That was the last time I ever saw him. "

               Tubbs seemed lost in thought, as if he was trying to fit the pieces of a puzzle together, "Thanks for your time, man."

               The bartender smiled, bewildered as Tubbs walked away, "Hey! You didn't even touch your drink!"

Part 2

               Castillo closed the door to the conference room and spread his files out on the table, taking a seat. Tubbs drummed his fingers nervously on the table. After a moment of this sound, Castillo looked up at him.

               "Something wrong, detective?"

               Tubbs cleared his throat and eased back in his chair, imposing his usual carefree charm over the fluttering anxiety he was feeling, "No, Lieutenant."

               "How did it go last night? You find anything?"

               Tubbs was about to answer when the door swung open and his haggard-looking partner entered the room like a frenzied tornado.

               "Sorry I'm late, Lieutenant, "Sonny apologized, flashing his cocky grin, "What are we working on—the Mendez case?"

               "That's right, "Castillo answered mutely, "Trudy and Gina are checking on some of his close associates today, pulling past arrest records. Switek and Zito are tracing a few phone calls Mendez made the night before last. Mendez is in custody now and the DA wants this one to stick. Tubbs?" 

               Ricardo Tubbs seemed startled by Castillo's prompt, "Oh yeah, I checked on something else. Seems that Evan Freed worked undercover for Mendez a few years ago."

                Sonny flared up, his posture suddenly rigid.

               "I sent Tubbs alone, "Castillo countered, aware of the situation, "You're too close to this aspect of the investigation, Crockett. Trudy pulled all of Evan's past reports from his old department. Seems he worked the Mendez case."

               "Yeah—right after Mike Orgell died. I know, I remember, " Crockett said in a growl, "They were never able to collect enough evidence to make the charges stick. Mendez walked."

               "That's right, "Castillo confirmed, "The case has been reopened. We're just trying to get the evidence for the DA so this time the charges do stick. Mendez was arrested last night on a routine bust. If you have anything to add, detectives, I'd like to hear it."

               Sonny looked at Rico from across the table, "I don't know what else Evan had on this case, sir. It was after he transferred out of Vice that he started doing these kind of---suicide missions."

               Castillo breathed out slowly, "OK, then. I want you to work with Trudy on the reports Freed filed during that time. Maybe you can get something from them. Tubbs, I want to you follow up on any more leads of where Mendez might have been the last few nights—let me know what you find out."

               Tubbs nodded and stood up from the table, hastening to follow Castillo from the room and avoid a direct conversation with Crockett. He made it as far as his desk, but Crockett had followed him sullenly. Tubbs sifted through papers on his desk, clicking his tongue in mock concentration as Crockett watched him.

               "Where'd you go last night, Rico?" Crockett asked quietly.

               Tubbs deliberately avoided Crockett's question, "I got a couple of other places I have to check out for the Lieutenant this morning.  I'll see you later, partner."

               "Sonny, are you helping me with these files today," Trudy asked from across the room.

               Sonny watched as Tubbs walked out of the office through the swinging doors. He turned and headed straight for Trudy's corner of the office.

               Trudy crossed her legs as she saw Sonny approaching her desk. She recognized a determined, fiery glint in his eyes that signaled trouble.

               "Trudy…"Sonny began, leaning down across Trudy's desk on his elbows, "I need your help with something, discreetly."

               Trudy pursed her lips, "I saw this one coming."

               "I need to know where Tubbs went last night. A bar, a gay-bar, he was checking on for the Lieutenant in this Mendez case."

               "Why, you need a date honey?"

               Crockett gritted his teeth, "Trudy, this is personal."

               "I know it's personal. That's why the Lieutenant has you checking on these reports…with me," Trudy barked, slapping a pile of brown files down in front of Crockett.

               "Trudy, please, "Crockett pressed, moving an inch closer, "I'll take you out to dinner."

               Trudy scoffed, "Yeah, where have I heard that before."

               "I mean it, darling. I really need your help on this—just tell me the name of the bar Rico went to, that's all."

               Trudy pondered her options.

"Promise you'll work these reports with me today?"

               "Promise."

               "Okay, "Trudy sighed, succumbing to the persuasive timber in Sonny's voice. She peeked at a note under her phone, "Ok then, just between you and me…a bar called the Flaming Tiger, down in Coconut Grove."

               "Thank you darling, I'll be back in a couple of hours."

               "Sonny!" Trudy protested as Sonny tore out of the office, "Sonny!"

                                                                           PART 3

               A black Ferrari Daytona Spyder pulled up alongside the FLAMING TIGER bar, a wilted little place in the midday Miami heat, hidden behind a couple of ragged palm trees. 

Sonny Crockett wiped the sweat from his brow as he stepped inside the place, his skin welcoming the cool, cave-like atmosphere as is breezed across his face. Taking off his shades, Sonny approached the bar and noticed, quite perceptibly, that the bartender nearly jumped out of his shoes.

"Jesus Christ, I never expected to see you again, Crockett."

"You remember me, huh?" Crockett answered calmly.

The man fidgeted with a couple of shot glasses, "Need a drink?"

"Sure, make it a whiskey, "Crockett complied, edging up to the bar as his eyes followed the bartender's nervous hands.

"Another fella was here yesterday asking questions about you and your old buddy, Evan Freed, " the man confessed, offering Crockett his drink.

Sonny smiled, "You spill your guts faster than any snitch I know, Thompson. What did you tell him?"

Thompson swallowed hard, "Nothing much, just that you hung out here a few years ago. No big deal, man."

"No big deal, huh?" Crockett leaned across the bar and patted Thompson on the cheek, "That man you talked to is my partner. He's a man that I trust with my life. So anything you told him, you better tell me. Now spill it!"
               "Okay, okay, " Thompson struggled, "I told him that you and Evan Freed used to meet here years ago, after the whole shakedown of this place. That's all he wanted to know."

"Anything else, Thompson?"

Thompson scratched his head, "Nope."

Crockett narrowed his eyes fiercely.

Thompson succumbed, "Oh, alright, alright. I suggested that the two of you seemed to have a 'thing' together."

"A 'thing'? " Crockett snarled, "Why did you tell him that, Thompson? You know that isn't true!"

Thompson suddenly became defensive, "All I know if what I saw with my own eyes, man.  That's what it looked like to me. Call it what you like."

"Shut up before I reach across this bar and knock your teeth out, Thompson!" Crockett snapped, "You're a liar!"

Thompson slammed a bottle of whiskey down in front of Crockett, "Maybe you've just been lying to yourself, Crockett. "

Crockett looked up at Thompson now, his eyes more questioning than accusatory, "What do you mean?"

"You loved that Evan guy, right?"

Sonny wavered, "What are you talking about?"

Thompson waved his hand, dismissing Crockett's denial, "Hey man, if you loved the guy, you need to let this Tubbs pal of yours know it. Maybe that will explain it to yourself as well."

Crockett nodded thoughtfully at these words. He swallowed his shot of whiskey in one quick, self-effacing gulp.

Pointing a finger at Thompson as he left, Crockett said, "I hope I never come back in here, Thompson, for your sake." 

PART 4

               Tubbs pulled up to the Miami dock at 10 p.m. sharp. He saw Crockett's Daytona parked across the way, its smooth black surface reflecting the blue Miami skyline. Nervously tapping his steering wheel, Tubbs pondered the best approach he could take with this situation. Should he act as if all was normal and light-hearted? Should he be overtly reticent and brooding? Should he be angry?

**********************

               Crockett heard footsteps and turned around to see Rico nearing the St. Vitus Dance. Sonny was sitting on the edge of the boat, shirt-less. His fishing equipment arrayed haphazardly across the deck. He was just preparing to retract the anchor and rope that kept the St. Vitus Dance secured to the dock. Tubbs waited alongside in abeyance.

               "Good evening, partner, "Sonny said, his voice tainted with an anger that even his Southern drawl could not disguise, "Elvis, we have a visitor."

               The alligator he addressed remained inert on the portside stern as Sonny stood up, slapping his hands on his thighs.

               Tubbs hovered at the edge of the boat, unsure of himself. The worried look on his face set Sonny's nerves on edge. He ran his fingers through his tousled, sea-blown hair and fumbled unsuccessfully for a cigarette in his pants pockets.

               Tubbs cocked his head to one side as he examined the fishing gear, "You headed out? Mind if I come?"

               Sonny Crockett did not answer his partner immediately. He sifted through his crumpled cotton jacket that had been carelessly tossed aside, "Where's my damn cigarettes?"

               Tubbs stepped down to the deck of the St. Vitus, casting a sidelong glance at Elvis then back to Crockett.

               "I just had 'em!" Crockett said, frantic to avoid Rico's direct gaze.

A second later a pack of Marlboro's fell out of Sonny's jacket, landing right at Rico's feet. Sonny reached down to pick it up just as Rico set his foot down on it.

               Crockett sighed and leaned up again, his lips pursed sullenly.

Tubbs smiled politely, "Let's start over. Hi, Sonny, you taking the boat out tonight?"

               Crockett rolled his eyes, "Don't play games with me Tubbs, I'm in no mood, " he growled, "Why do you want to come along?"

               "Why? I'll tell you why, Sonny. We need to talk."

               "About what?"

               Tubbs leaned down, scooped up the cigarette pack, and handed it to Crockett, "These things will kill you."

               Sonny relaxed a bit, "Yeah, so will a lot of other things I won't mention."

               Tubbs laughed out loud, hoping the ice had broken between them.

               Crockett lifted a cigarette to his lips, licking the tip with his tongue first to taste the tobacco he craved, "You gotta light, pal?"

               Tubbs fetched a match from his coat jacket and light the flame, cupping his hands as Crockett leaned close to him to light his cigarette.

               "Are you going to come clean with me?" Tubbs inquired quietly as Crockett sucked in the first drag of smoke. He caught Sonny's eyes as they flashed up at him, blazing with accusation.

               "Depends on what story you're looking for."

               "C'mon, Sonny, we've been through this once before, "Rico pleaded gently, "I can't believe we're dealing with the same ghost again—Evan Freed? Evan's dead, remember?"

               "You don't have to remind me. I see his face every night before I go to sleep, okay? I don't need a flashback, thanks."

               "What kind of hold does Evan have over you now? He's gone. "

               "Rico, "Crockett snapped, "Everyone has skeleton's in their closet, and this is one skeleton I sure as hell am not ready to look at, okay?"

               "Hey, hey!" Tubbs raised his arms defensively, "I can't help it, Sonny. This skeleton of yours just landed in my lap, thanks to this Mendez case. So I'm dealing with it! Sometimes you can't chose when you want to confront something like this. It just happens. Then you just have to struggle with it the best way you know how."    

               Crockett stood still, listening to Rico's words. They eased him like a sedative in his blood. He took another drag on his cigarette and wondered what was more calming to his nervous system—cigarettes or Rico? He stared out in the distance, his eyes focused vaguely on the dancing city lights that played across the rippling waves in the bay. Fighting back a growing wave of emotion, Crockett reached over and patted Tubbs on the shoulder, reassuring him without words.

               Tubbs caught the hint.

 "Let's take the boat out, " Tubbs suggested again, "It's a beautiful night for a cruise."

                                                            PART 5

               The lights of the Rickenbacker causeway gleamed iridescent in the distance as Crockett guided the St. Vitus Dance out into the Atlantic. He let the anchor settle and the boat gently eased into a stationary but bobbing position. Tubbs sat back and looked at the glittering Miami skyline.

               "Gorgeous, " he exclaimed, "Just gorgeous!"

               Sonny followed Rico's gaze and agreed, "Wanna beer?"

               "No thanks, "Rico declined amiably, "I'm fine."

               "Suit yourself, "Sonny said in his scratchy voice, cracking open his second Budweiser, "If I get too drunk, will you sail us back to shore?"

               Tubbs gave Crockett one of his 'I–don't-believe-you're-saying-this' sort of looks, and Crockett laughed, "Just kidding you, partner."

               Rico looked away, slightly glum, "Were you just kidding me when you told me that whole story about Evan Freed too?"

Sonny's smile melted away icily, "What are do mean?"

Tubbs maintained his cool demeanor, " I remember every word you said that night--about you, Mike Orgell and Evan Freed. Now I'm not too sure if any of it was true."

               If they had been on land, Rico knew Sonny would have stormed off in his Daytona, blazing like a flash of lightening. But here, isolated on the St. Vitus Dance, Sonny was transformed into a mini-hurricane. He crumpled his beer can and threw it across the deck, arms flailing and feet eager to kick anything convenient. He spun around for a moment, unsure of how best to release his fury. He took a quick drag from his cigarette.

               "You talked to Thompson yesterday, didn't you, at the FLAMING TIGER lounge?"

               "I didn't ask his name, " Tubbs replied.

               "You should have. He's one of Coconut Grove's renowned snitches. He'd spill his guts for a quarter. What did he tell you?"

               Tubbs watched Sonny patiently, "Well, he told me you used to frequent that bar with Evan Freed a few years ago."

               Sonny waited for more, "Is that it?"

               Rico wavered his hand back and forth, "He inferred that you were…more than just friends. That was his speculation, anyway. But I would like to get the whole story clear from you."

               "Ahh, "Sonny moaned mournfully, gripping a tuft of hair at his forehead with his hand in frustration, "I'm sorry, Rico, I can't do that."

               Tubbs shrugged, "Sonny, this is no good. I need to understand this whole thing."

               Crockett moved towards Tubbs, who was still sitting ever so calmly at the starboard stern, "Rico, there's nothing to understand."

               Tubbs leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, looking Crockett in the eyes, "Just tell me the truth, Sonny."

                              PART 6

(Flashback)

               Evan Freed looked up from his foam-laden beer and across the long bar just as Sonny Crockett walked into the FLAMING TIGER lounge. Sonny stood out like a sore thumb, dressed in white. His cream-colored jacket literally glowed in the florescent light. He spotted Evan and started towards him through the lurid haze of the dance floor. Instantly ashamed of his lingering stare, Evan looked away and focused on his beer glass, tugging at a loose curl of hair that dangled haphazardly across his brow.

               "What the hell are you doing here, Crockett," he asked sullenly as Sonny casually approached him.

               "Funny," Sonny Crockett smiled as he slid his elbows up to the bar alongside his former Vice partner, "I was just about to ask you the same thing."

               Evan took a gulp of beer and rolled his eyes, "None of your business, buddy."

               Sonny summoned the bartender. Thompson tapped the bar as he walked over, "Can I help you, Crockett?"

               "Yeah, one beer."

               "You got it," Thompson answered, his eyes shifting for a moment from Crockett to Evan, "Another one for you too?"

               Evan raised his hand, "No."

               "Evan," Sonny said gruffly as Thompson moved away, "Ever since Mike died you've been coming to this bar—and this is the first night I've had the guts to come in here and ask you why."

"That's good of ya, Crockett, "Evan answered aloofly.

"So why are you coming here?"

               "Why not?" Evan said angrily, his eyes wide and glazed with drunken dismay, "It makes me feel better, Sonny. I can't explain. "

               "You got me there, "Crockett admitted with a shrug as he looked around the lounge with a slight wave of discomfort, "When Mike first told us about being gay you totally freaked out—you wouldn't have been caught dead in a place like this!"

"I didn't freak out, Crockett, I—"

 "You ran, Evan, "Sonny said, gripping Evan's arm even as Evan brushed him away, "You ran from Mike, you ran from me, you ran from your job…you ran from yourself. And now, after Mike's gone, you're resolved with it? I don't buy it for one minute--"

               "Leave me alone, Sonny!" Evan pleaded drunkenly.

Crockett shook his head,  "C'mon, man, tell me the truth. Why do you come here? It's not like seeing all of this is going to make it any easier on you. Haven't we already spent enough time in this sleaze pit busting people the last few months?"

               Evan regarded Sonny with an uplifted eyebrow, "That's pretty cold, Sonny. Don't tell me you don't think about it."

               "Think about what, Evan?" Sonny asked cautiously.

               "What drew Mike into places like this?"

               "No, I don't think about it," Sonny answered curtly, "There's nothing to think about. What are you afraid of?"

               Evan hunkered over his beer distractedly, "I'm not afraid, Sonny. I'm just a little concerned, that's all."

               Sonny stared silently at Evan for a long moment, his mouth gaping open slightly with sudden and unwanted clarity.

 "You don't think that Mike had those kind of feelings for you or me?" he asked worriedly.

               Evan remained mute but he turned his head to the side to capture Sonny's eyes with his own gaze. One corkscrew curl of hair still dangled out of place and hung down across the rim of Evan's eye, giving him a ragged look of displacement.

               "Answer me, God damn it!" Crockett persisted, "Did he say something to you?"

               "No, but maybe he was too ashamed to say anything," Evan replied quietly, "Maybe we're like him, but we just don't know it yet."

               "Like Mike? How?" 

               "Unnatural, " Evan said.

               "You mean gay? That's crazy, man," Sonny said.

"Here's your drink," Thompson said as he approached with Sonny's beer, "That'll be a buck fifty."

"Thanks," Sonny said, handing Thompson two dollars, "Keep the change."

               Unimpressed with his tip, Thompson rolled his eyes and loitered to then other end of the bar, mumbling to himself. 

Evan reached over and took Sonny's wrist in a tight grip before he could pick up his beer glass. Sonny cast a slow, sidelong glance in Evan's direction.

               "What?"

               "I can't explain it, Sonny," Evan said, incongruously.

               Sonny flinched as Evan pressed his thumb deeply and emphatically into the soft hollow of skin between Sonny's wrist bones. It seemed a deliberate and unusual display of possession and it made Crockett feel uneasy.

               "Evan, let go."

               Evan's fingers tightened around Sonny's wrist urgently.

"Sonny..."

Crockett watched in stunned silence as Evan leaned in close and kissed him on the mouth.  Something akin to an electric charge riveted Crockett from head to toe. The spark of Evan's brazen yet tender gesture registered a number of instant emotions in Crockett, the foremost of them being panic. Caught like a butterfly unawares, Crockett swooned for a moment into Evan's kiss before repulsion jolted him back. He fell sideways off the barstool and out of Evan's reach.

"What's come over you, man?" Sonny asked, dizzy with astonishment.

"Don't change the subject, Sonny, " Evan said, still brazen with drunken yearning. He linked his arms eagerly around Sonny's waist, but Crockett was quick to push him back, flustered. Evan leaned towards him again, but this time Sonny turned his face aside.

"Why else would you come in here?" Evan demanded angrily.

Crockett's green eyes flared with insult. Snapping to his senses, he raised his hand and struck Evan sharply across the jaw. Evan staggered back against the bar, breathless. He looked at Sonny with an expression of shame and regret that was inexpressibly painful.

"You're drunk," Sonny said spitefully, gritting his teeth.

Evan closed his eyes, silent.

Reeling, Sonny wiped the back of his hand deliberately across his mouth. He cautiously peered out into the smoke-haze of the lounge and noticed, to his relief, that there were no unusual come-hither stares aimed his way.  The music pulsed and the pinpoints of over-head lights flecked across the dance-floor as if nothing had happened.

  ***************************

               Sonny looked away from Tubbs.  He paced the deck of the St. Vitus Dance nervously and knelt down to check the rigging on the fishing pole that hung over the edge of the boat, its taut line stretching out into the darkness of nighttime waters.

               Tubbs waited, his fingers dancing across his face to disguise his shock, "What did you do?"

               Sonny stood to his feet and let a brief shudder pass down his spine, "I shoved him away, but he was too drunk. He wouldn't let go of my arm," Sonny pinched his brow painfully, "Right then it struck me—somehow, this attraction between us had always been there, but I had always ignored it!"

               Tubbs cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling a slight flush across his skin even as a soft ocean breeze wafted across the boat, "Sounds to me like you had some mixed feelings, partner."

               Crockett sighed wearily.                      

"But that wasn't the end, was it?" Tubbs guessed cautiously.

Sonny broke into a boyish grin, "Tubbs, your insight is just downright freaky sometimes, you know that?"

Tubbs acknowledged the unusual compliment with a remote nod of his head, "What happened next?"

               "I went back to that bar the following week. I missed him, man. We didn't see each other anymore since he had transferred out of Vice. At the time, he was my best friend. I had my family, of course, but he was my only real buddy. I couldn't stand the thought of him wasting away in that place like a fish out of water. It made me sick to think about it."

               Rico shook his head.

"So when I found him there, he was drunk--again. I tried to talk to him. I told him I didn't blame him for what happened the week before. He told me it had been a test."

"A test?" Rico asked.

"Evan was sure that he was going to turn out just like Mike--that's why he was going to that bar every night. He wanted to be in the midst of what he feared the most. He wanted something drastic to happen, to prove that his suspicions were true. That's what the kiss was all about."

Rico remained unconvinced, "Okaaay..."

"He kept telling me how lonely he was, and how he envied my family life, and how he needed me, over and over and over again. It was too much, man. After the third time of going back to that place and getting nowhere with him...the only thing I could do was--"

               Rico watched Sonny. He seemed to have choked on his words.

"It's okay, Sonny," Tubbs said easily, "Just talk."

               Sonny sighed, "Evan was very shy.  We used to call him a 'coiled snake'---you could never predict how he would lash out at something or react to someone. He was a wildcard, and that's why I liked him so much, you know? We were a lot alike in some ways. But showing emotions or affection was something that was very hard for Evan."

 "But he did with you…"

 "Well, Evan would always open up to me and Mike.  He was sensitive and intriguing--- a really caring sort of guy. But he's always put up a macho front, you know? Ever since I'd known him he'd been like that. He didn't have many friends, not even a steady girlfriend. He kept his distance from everybody except for Mike and I. But after Mike died, something was broken inside of Evan."

"Broken, "Tubbs asked, "How so?"

"I can't explain it exactly, "Sonny continued, "But he seemed to focus all his insecurities and self-hatred on the fear of being---gay. And I could understand that. It was a hard subject to face for both of us. With Mike having been in the closet all that time, Evan was sure he had somehow been corrupted without realizing it. Maybe Evan had changed."

               "Sounds to me like he was already over the edge."

               "He was, "Sonny agreed sadly, "I had never seen someone so empty and so desperate for my company."

               "So what did you do?" Tubbs asked.

               Sonny wavered uncomfortably, "What else could I do? Talking was getting nowhere, so I would just...comfort him."

               "Was more than just…friendly?"

               "Not really, " Sonny shifted and stood to his feet, running his hands through his hair in quick, nervous movements, "It all seemed like innocent foreplay to me—high school stuff! I knew guys like that back in 'Nam who just needed physical contact to calm them down. It didn't matter if it was a guy or girl--they just needed someone. So I was there for Evan. And it felt okay somehow. Nobody seemed to notice."

"Except Thompson, "Rico noted.

"Yep, you got it. I had to start slipping him twenties so he wouldn't say anything in case one of our other cop buddies came by. It was just a cheap insurance policy. So it went on like that."

               "For how long?"

               Sonny stopped his pacing, "I can't remember—two months, maybe three. A couple times a week I'd meet Evan at the FLAMING TIGER. It just became a habit—or an addiction. I never could figure out which. It was a turn-on, I guess, in some weird way, because we both needed each other. "

               "So why did it end?"

               "It was all wrong, man. It had to end," Sonny replied soberly.

                                                            PART 7

(Flashback)

As Sonny finished his third beer, he turned towards Evan with a sheepish grin, using the bar to keep his balance, "I have to go, Evan."

"Already?" Evan asked, disappointed, "It gets earlier each time, Sonny."

"It does?"

"Yeah, it does. Are you trying to tell me something?"

Crockett wavered, slow to respond, "This whole thing, Evan, whatever you want to call it—this has to stop. We're just going in circles, man. I don't think this is really making you happy.  Is it?"

Evan's blue eyes looked wounded, "I don't really know what 'happy' is, Sonny.  I thought maybe you did."

Crockett's expression shifted from sympathy to outright misery, "Oh God, you make me feel just awful, Evan."

Evan gave Sonny a knowing wink, "It's Caroline, isn't it?"

"I've got a family waiting for me right now at home, Evan. Caroline's already lost patience with my hours and my job. I've got to get my shit together, pal! And this…this doesn't fit into the equation. I'm sorry, it just doesn't. "

Evan slumped over onto the bar, huddling closer to his beer mug and fumbling to light a cigarette. Sonny was quick to light a match, and Evan leaned towards him, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Sonny cupped his hands and Evan inhaled a drag of smoke with a ragged wheeze. Sonny noticed that Evan's fingers were trembling. 

Cautiously, Sonny patted Evan on the shoulder. Evan seemed to choke back tears of bitterness.  Reaching out to touch Sonny's face, Evan fingers grazed Sonny's unshaven cheek with poignant longing.

"Don't leave, Sonny, please..."

Crockett stiffened, "Evan, come on."

"I can't do this alone, Sonny, "Evan said as he collapsed with a sigh, his hand leaving Sonny's cheek to rumple his own unkempt, blond curls.

Sonny held Evan by the elbow, trying to steady his friend, "C'mon, man, take it easy. We 're still friends, Evan. That's not going to change—but these little midnight rendezvous' have to stop. What if Thompson spills his guts to someone? You know what people would think if they saw us in here like this? You think Mike had it bad? They'd think we were---"

"Lovers?"

Startled, Crockett stepped back, holding Evan at arm's length, "We're not lovers, Evan."

Evan's sadness quickly turned to mockery, "Oh, I'm sorry, Crockett. I must have mistaken you for someone else—Hey, Thompson! Thompson, get over here!"

Crockett watched in horror as Evan drunkenly raised his voice to summon the bartender. Thompson reluctantly made his way towards the end of the bar towards the two cops.

"Don't tell me you need another one, Evan."

"No, no, I just need you to identify someone for me. You see this good-looking guy standing right behind me? His name's Crockett, right?"

Thompson looked confused, "Yeah.  So."

Crockett shifted uneasily, neon club lights flashing in his green eyes like lighthouse beacons.

"You've seen us together here for the last few weeks, right?"

"Yeah. You want another beer or what?"

"No, buddy, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't confusing him with someone else," Evan leaned across the bar and winked at Thompson, "Our secret, right?"

"Right."

"Thanks, buddy, I owe ya, "Evan said.

"Am I done here?" Thompson asked irritably as he walked away, turning once to observe the two men facing off like a pair of caged pit bulls.

Evan turned around and looked Crockett up and down contemptuously. Sonny tried to contain his rage and humiliation, melting all the while under Evan's burning gaze.

"You're the one who needed me, Evan. Remember?" Sonny said softly, his stomach sinking in dips of ice-cold panic, "I only did what I thought you wanted me to do. I love you, man, but I thought you knew the difference between that and…"

Evan let out a hollow laugh, "You're unbelievable, Crockett, you really are! Mister Sympathy, Mister Honesty, Mister Good-Looks, Mister Sexy, "Evan snarled angrily, "God help your next partner."

Crockett felt himself being picked up and carried away by the throbbing pink and blue neon club lights--they seemed to have scattered his senses to pieces.

"Evan, I'm not understanding any of this. What did I do---"

"Do? What did you do? You're so damn naïve sometimes, Sonny."

Crockett moved a little closer to Evan, his hand over his heart and his eyes full of bewilderment, "Evan, what are you trying to say?"

Evan swallowed the rest of his beer and took a quick drag on his cigarette before he turned to face Sonny again.

"Didn't it ever occur to you that you could break a guy's heart too?"

Sonny's mouth fell open. He felt his temperature rise and his face flush with feverish emotion. Suddenly, carefree foreplay was not so carefree. Sonny had been wielding his own uncommon charm and casual sexuality with Evan like a one-night stand. As Sonny looked at Evan's desperate and inebriated expression, he realized that Evan had taken the bait all too seriously. Instead of lifting Evan's spirits, Sonny had unwittingly thrown Evan's heart into a very deep pit of conflicting emotions. He felt weak with failure.

"No, Evan," Sonny answered slowly, "I didn't."

"Well, now you know," Evan said somberly.

Sonny wavered in doubt, his body paralyzed as his mind throbbed with the club music that pulsated and danced in his veins, anxiety clenching his gut.

"How long, Evan?"

Evan's eyes roved Sonny's own, his expression somehow more innocent amidst his growing intoxication, "Ever since we first met, I've loved you, man--"

"Oh no, " Sonny gasped, falling against the bar with his elbow, "No, no, no. How come you never told me?"

 "I – I didn't know it myself, Sonny, "Evan stammered awkwardly, "I didn't realize it until that day that Mike told us that he was…queer. "

"What?"

"It was more like Mike than I ever realized, Sonny. I never cared about anyone like I did for you. I felt sick—I wanted to die," Evan explained, his voice shaken and his hair falling across his brow in tousled blond curls, "And then I told Mike he'd be better off dead too."

"You what…?"

Evan's eyes narrowed, "You want to know why Mike got himself killed, Sonny? I'll tell you why. A few days after I transferred out of Vice, I came to this bar to find him.  Mike was sitting in this very stool.  I could barely look at him I was so angry—angry at what he'd hidden from us all those years and angry at myself for feeling the way I did about you."

Sonny stepped back, horrified, "What did you do, Evan?"

Evan let out a hollow laugh, "I leveled with him. I told him that all faggots deserved to die, but him most of all. I meant it too. I remember the way he looked at me, Sonny—he looked at me as if I'd literally cut his heart out.  I told Mike if I ever saw him again I'd kill him myself---I'd pull the trigger and put him out of this miserable, obscene existence.  The next day…I heard about what happened while he was off-duty. "

"Suicide…" Crockett muttered.

"Yeah, " Evan lamented, "He was dead. And I'll never be able to take those words back, Sonny."

Crockett slumped against the barstool, his heart racing. It pounded in his ears and muffled the sound of the club music.  Adrenaline and emotion exploded in his chest in rapid- fire succession.  Tremors crept up to his fingers and down to his knees.  Sonny tried to disguise the onrush of distrust he suddenly felt towards Evan, but his fine features were quick to betray him.

Evan saw the storm cloud that passed across Sonny's handsome face.  He waited in agony to hear words of understanding and comfort, but Sonny had none to give.  He reached out and grabbed Sonny in a tight embrace, his hands fastening around the nape of Sonny's neck.

"Help me, Sonny, please!"
               Sonny steadied Evan, but his eyes yearned for the club door that beckoned him out into the hot Miami night---an escape to an open space that would dissipate all the confusion and pain that was filling his senses. But Evan's arm felt like a steel cable tightening around his shoulders, suffocating him.  Crockett felt himself filled with chaotic feelings of self-loathing and disgust.

"I don't know how, Evan."

Evan strengthened his hold as tears came to his eyes and streamed down his cheeks, "Say you forgive me, Sonny."

 Forgiveness wasn't easy to come by, even as Evan's tears washed Sonny's face.  

"I can't—"

 Evan shivered, "Mike can't forgive me, Sonny, but you can."

"No…I can't," Sonny said as he gave Evan a swift but sensual kiss on the cheek, a bittersweet token of his affection.

 "Sonny! "Evan said, distraught as Crockett twisted his head away from Evan's clasp, extricating himself from their embrace with calm determination.

"I'm sorry!" Evan exclaimed in desperation.

"Sorry won't bring Mike back, Evan! Don't you get it?" Crockett countered Evan's words with a glare, his green eyes filled with bitterness,  "A 12-gauge took care of that!"

Evan simmered with wounded pride and he flicked his cigarette spitefully at Crockett, who took another step back to avoid being scorched by the burning nub.

"What do you want me to do, Sonny?" Evan shouted, hysteria in his voice, "I can't stop these feelings!"

"So you let Mike die? You blamed Mike for this?" Crockett's mind reeled with the implications of Evan's deep betrayal, "You blamed him for how you felt about me? That wasn't Mikey's fault, Evan. "

A desperate emptiness filled Evan's eyes, "Maybe if Mike had never come out and given himself away, I'd have never known this about myself."

"Bullshit," Crockett replied.

Evan's slumped forward in defeat, "Mike's better off than me, Sonny." 

Crockett backed away with mixed feelings as the emotional link between the two men seemed to snap.

"How can you live with that?"

"Maybe I can't, Sonny, " Evan confessed wearily.

 Sonny glared at Evan, the pulsating club lights charging his eyes with a fierceness that made them frightening.

"You're no friend of mine then, Evan."
               "Go to hell!" Evan shouted, his words riddled with anger but his voice cracking in regret.

"Going, going, gone..." Sonny muttered to himself as he turned his back on Evan Freed and hastened out of the FLAMING TIGER lounge, the dampness of Evan's tears cooling his face as he stepped out into the warm evening air.

                              *****************************

PART 8

"I never saw Evan again---not until that night we were at Guzman's place, " Sonny concluded as his eyes drifted from the fluttering sail of the St. Vitus Dance to the concerned expression on Rico's face.

Rico respectfully kept silent for a long time, but Crockett seemed anxious for Rico's reaction.

"Was I wrong?"

Rico offered Crockett a glimmer of a smile, "Maybe… I think you just reacted with your gut. What more could anyone do?"

Sonny scoffed at himself, "I do more thinking with my 'gut' then anyone else I know!"

Tubbs smiled congenially, "It's okay, Sonny, I'm used to it by now."

Crockett shook his head, "I let Evan fall into his own trap—not knowing he hated himself."  

"He loved you, Sonny."

"I know he did, "Sonny acknowledged quietly, "That was the hardest thing to accept when I saw him again. All those emotions were still there, as if we'd just seen each other the day before at the damn bar."

"Maybe," Tubbs suggested, "Evan was never able to resolve his feelings for you because—"

"Of his fear of being gay," Sonny concluded.

 "Was he?" Tubbs asked blatantly.

"Honestly, "Crockett speculated, "I don't think Evan was gay—but I do know one thing for sure. I was the only person he ever really cared about, on any level. And maybe in that sense he was. There was an attraction between us that was pretty obvious to both of us. I feel responsible for breaking his heart. I let him down, man."

"You led him on, maybe, but you didn't let him down. You played it as far as you wanted to. Live and learn, Sonny," Tubbs explained as he watched Sonny, his green eyes warm with sympathy, "I remember seeing Evan that day when he came into the office. He was already dead, Sonny."

Sonny covered his face with his hands, as if to block the memory, "God, he was so broken apart. I should have comforted him more. I should have said what he wanted to hear me say!"

"Which was what?"

 Crockett peered out from behind his fingers, "That I loved him—and that I had forgiven him for treating Mike so badly. It wasn't Mike he really hated—it was that part of Mike he didn't understand.  Evan hated himself…because he loved me."

"No one can control the heart, Sonny, " Tubbs said.

Crockett rubbed his temples, "Evan died thinking I still resented him."

"No, I don't think so, Sonny."

Crockett looked up at Tubbs, hopeful.

"What do you mean?"

Tubbs crossed his arms and looked out over the ocean waves, mutely philosophical.

"Evan died by his own choosing. He let Guzman take him out with you there to witness it, "Tubbs theorized, "Just the fact that you held him in your arms as he died was confirmation enough. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words, Sonny."

A weight of sorrow seemed to lift from Crockett mind as Tubbs spoke. He caught his breath as a single tear streamed down his face, mingling with the sea-salt and sweat on his tan skin.

"I hope so, Rico."

"I know so, Sonny."

Crockett quickly wiped the tear away and stood to his feet. Relaxed, Crockett pulled out another cigarette from his pocket. He he looked down at it sourly.

"What is it?" Tubbs asked.

Sonny took the pack of cigarettes from his coat jacket and threw it overboard.

"Live and learn, Rico. I'm giving these things up for good."

Rico seemed pleased.

"Why now? In honor of Evan?"   

"Sure, why not, "Sonny replied with a wide, sparkling grin, "At least I can say something good came out of this whole confession!"

Tubbs started to laugh, "Amen to that, partner."

The End