a/n: Firstly, a million thanks to Bamboozlepig for beta reading.
Please forgive me if I encroach upon any ideological or personal sensitivities with this story. I am fully aware that many readers in this fandom are or have at one point been active police officers and might feel that I'm portraying the LAPD very negatively. It's not my intention to speak badly about the LAPD or any other police department. But I will not apologize for writing this. In case it isn't obvious—yes, I am gay. The raid I wrote about in this story was a pivotal point in LGBT history, which also happens to be MY history. Things like this are important to me, and I'm not going to spare anyone's feelings by denying the fact that historically, police departments did target gay bars and that there were numerous incidents of police brutality during these raids. However, things change. In the process of writing this story I even discovered that my city's police department put out a video in support of the It Gets Better movement. Yes, gay bar raids are a dark spot in law enforcement history, but that's exactly what they are—history.
ANYWAY, this story is a part of my slash timeline, taking part before the series timeline and thus before Pete met Jim. It was originally intended to be included as a part of another fic which I'm hoping to finish soon, but as I got more into the history of the event I felt that it needed to be its own separate story. That being said, this does have somewhat of an open ending so that it can tie in with the timeline in the rest of my slash fics.
Thanks for reading!
-November 30, 1966-
It was raining in Los Angeles.
Forty-five minutes after his dashboard clock showed 11:00, the driver of a previously-owned sports car knew it was too late to keep pretending to be Christmas shopping. It was, he decided as he slowed to turn the radio down and the heater up, the worst time of the year to go home to an empty apartment. He wasn't even going to bother putting up a tree this year. He'd only driven out to the mall to get away from the apartment manager, who he knew would be all over him to come spend the holiday with her.
"Eh, Christmas," he said aloud, trying to fill the empty car with the sound of his own voice. Finally he switched the radio all the way off, trying to keep himself from losing it. "If I have to listen to that Vince Guaraldi crap one more time, I'm gonna need something stronger than a hot toddy."
As if by coincidence, the first thing he saw as his gaze returned to the road was a hand-painted sign in the window of a bar, advertising its Christmas happy hours. He pondered for a few moments and decided that a drink couldn't hurt, and with that he turned the car around and found a parking space right by the door.
Pulling up his jacket collar against the chilly rain, he stood beside his car and glanced at the front door of the tavern. In one window was a crudely painted portrait of a gal in a bustier, and the other was cartoonish black cat, mirroring the glowing neon sign boasting the bar's name. The Black Cat. He didn't spend a lot of time in the neighborhood and wasn't familiar with the place, but the warm yellow light escaping through the cracks in the painted windows beckoned to him, and he found himself at the door without realizing he'd taken a single step.
Before he could grab the handle, the door swung open just wide enough for a woman to peer through. She stood taller than him and wore a frown as she slowly eyed him, and it wasn't long before he realized what she was. It was more than just her strong jaw and broad shoulders that gave her away.
There must've been something obvious about him, too, because after a few moments a smile warmed onto her face and her rumbling, low voice whispered just loud enough for him to hear, "Come on, baby, there's room in this inn."
As she stood aside, he slowly stepped in, glancing around to see whether his suspicions were true. At the first table, two men sat across from each other, and one reached his hand over their drinks for the other to grasp. His heart began to race. It had been a while since he'd been into this kind of club, and he wondered why his cropped hair and fresh shave didn't immediately give him away. Maybe they tried a little harder these days when they sent plainclothes into this kind of place, he guessed, and he continued to wonder as he sheepishly made his way to the bar.
Just as he was sitting down, another guy, unaccompanied, sat down next to him.
"Have I seen you in here before?" the guy asked, his enthusiastic, flirty voice tainted only by the slightest hint of weariness.
"No," he replied. He wasn't sure if he even remembered how to check a guy out. But that wasn't the kind of thing one easily forgets, and he let his eyes roam over the man, knowing the other was doing the same.
He was short and thin, with pock-marked cheeks and a tacky ascot. A barstool fixture, for sure, and just the kind of company he needed right now.
"Well, maybe I can buy you a drink and you can tell me a little more about yourself," the guy said, leaning close and smiling. "Or you can buy me a drink and see where that takes you."
It was hard to imagine that this was really going to happen. That it was even a possibility. Hadn't he sworn that he would never take a guy home ever again? Hadn't he promised himself that he wouldn't even go into a club like this?
Maybe it wasn't his own doing, he thought. Maybe there was a reason why he'd ended up here. It was the time of year for miracles, after all.
Glancing back at the guy making himself comfortable beside him, he told himself that wasn't true. This wasn't the kind of place to find someone to spend the holidays with. Nobody met their soul mate in a club like this. The couple holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes at the first table couldn't convince him otherwise. Nor could the couple in the back, sharing a drink silently, one resting his head on the other's shoulder.
Nobody found love in these places.
At least he wouldn't. And it wasn't just because of his solitary nature that he knew this. Personality meant nothing when it came to what he did for a living.
With that thought, he remembered why he'd sworn himself away from men. God forbid anyone would ever recognize him here, or see him walking through the door. Realizing that his car was clearly visible from the street, he jolted out of the barstool before he knew it.
"Where are you going?" the guy, who'd become little more than a peripheral at this point, asked, sounding offended.
"Uh," he met the guy's eyes and knew that he wanted to get home without being seen less than he wanted to spend the night with someone. Aching loneliness skewed his priorities. "Ya wanna get out of here or what?"
"Someone's eager," the guy grinned. "And here I thought I was losing my charm."
"It's not that," he replied. Seeing the grin fade, he added, "I mean, I just don't like to drink when I'm gonna be driving. What do ya say we head over to my place, maybe stop somewhere along the way and pick up a bottle of Christmas spirits, something like that."
"That… sounds pretty nice, actually," the guy said. "I'm getting a little tired of this place anyway. It gets so dull around here, kinda makes you wish something really big would happen and shake things up a little, you know?"
"Yeah," he said. "Who knows. Maybe you'll get lucky."
The guy let out a dreamy sigh. "That's my Christmas wish."
As he led the guy out to his car, caution nagged at him despite the eagerness suddenly rising in his gut.
"Ya don't have any drugs on you or anything, do ya?" he asked, knowing it was a wasted effort. At this point was one crime really worse than another? To him, maybe. It wasn't a matter of crime when it came to that kind of trouble.
"Heavens, no," the guy said. "I don't touch the stuff. No pills, no nothing."
"No, man," the guy laughed. "Hey, what's the big deal? I mean, I don't smoke but I don't care if anyone else does."
"I guess I'm just a square," he replied, unlocking the car and leaving the guy to open his own door.
The rain continued to pour, glittering in the headlights as he peeled out of the tavern parking lot.
"Wow," the barstool fixture said. "You're kinda living on the edge tonight, aren't you? Especially for someone who wants to make sure I don't even smoke pot. I suppose you'll probably want to use a rubber, too, huh?"
He shrugged and said nothing, his heart racing at the thought of how stupid it was that he would even consider doing this again. After all this time.
"I wouldn't figure you to be the type," the guy continued. "I mean, no offense. You're just a little clean-cut, you know? And too old to be a reckless kid on shore leave."
"Do you mind keeping it down?" he finally muttered, his nerves making him forget anything about courtesy. "I don't like to drive in the rain."
"Sure," the guy said. They sat in silence, the rain on the roof and the windshield wipers seeming louder in the dark and the silence. Every so often, he'd find himself glancing into the passenger's seat, as if he was hoping that it would be miraculously unoccupied, that he could pretend that he'd never stopped in that bar, never picked up some sleazy stranger. He could get home and go to bed and forget about everything by morning.
But that wasn't what he really wanted. He knew better than that. As he drove past a bus stop he told himself he could kick the guy out right there and never have to worry about seeing him ever again. And yet he didn't. Can't make anybody stand out there in the rain, he told himself.
"So, what do you do for a living?" he heard himself asking. Making conversation, because as much as he hated to face what he was doing, he hated the silence more.
"Eh, you know. I drift." The guy pulled at his ascot, shifting in his seat like there was something on his mind. "And you?"
"I… work for the city," he said, slowly.
"Yeah?" the guy asked. "I always thought government jobs sounded so boring."
"It's more interesting than ya'd think," he said, laughing as he wondered what the guy would do if he found out exactly what kind of city work he did.
"This your place?" the guy asked as he turned into the apartment lot.
"Yeah," he said, parking the car, silently thanking the manager for giving him a covered space. "Second floor."
As they got out, the guy paused, leaning on the open door. "Hey, look," he said, his lackadaisical tone suddenly gone.
"Hmm?" he asked, keys in hand.
"Like, I don't know what your deal is, but, you know, if there's something up," he shrugged. "No pressure, but if there's anything you need to get off your chest…"
What a strange thing, he thought, shivering in the damp air, that there could be consideration in a moment like this. That this guy, who didn't even know his name, could tell just by talking to him how uptight he really was, and cared enough to say something.
A stranger thing, he decided, was that this was the kind of person who was considered a degenerate. A pervert, even. That no matter how much sympathy he had, no matter how clean he lived, the guy was still a criminal.
And he was about to become one, too. It wouldn't be the first time, either. His first crime had been almost twenty years ago, if he didn't count pinching a stick of gum at the drugstore when he was in grammar school.
This would be his last time, though, he promised himself. It hadn't been so important back in those days. Being nineteen and going home with a guy his girlfriend had introduced him to wasn't such a big deal. Being twenty-six and ditching his best friend in a restaurant to sneak off with a waiter—it was all just fun and games.
But being thirty-five and fucking some barstool fixture when he had patrol in the morning. That's where he had to draw the line.
"The only thing I need to get off my chest is this shirt," he grumbled, jingling his keys and heading up the stairs.
The guy laughed hard and followed him up to the door. "You know somethin'," the guy said, leaning against the wall as he fumbled with the lock. "I don't even know your name."
"Do you need to?" he asked.
"I'd like to," the guy said.
He sighed and pushed open the door. "Pete."
"Pete," the guy grinned. "I don't think I'm ever gonna forget the night you stopped into The Black Cat."
Walking into the locker room the morning after was always the hardest part. It was especially difficult on this particular morning when he'd broken his own promise to himself. He'd sworn he'd never take another guy home. He'd never even go out looking for one. And yet where had he ended up but some tacky bar, taking home and bedding the first guy who looked at him.
And now here he was, trying to strut down the halls at the station like nothing had changed. To everyone else, nothing had. Every guy he walked past still said good morning to him. Ed Wells was still telling some convoluted tale in the locker room. And as Pete went to open his locker, Tom Porter was still instantly at his side. His best friend since before they'd ever dreamt of being cops, Tom was the only other man in the entire Los Angeles Police Department who knew of Pete's shame.
But just because he knew didn't mean he approved. He'd grown accustomed to it in their years of friendship, and while he'd never said a discouraging word about it, it was still something he didn't particularly care to discuss. For him to bring it up would mean serious business.
"What's up, Pete?" Tom asked immediately upon seeing him. No hello, no good morning. Not even a discussion about the weather.
"Uh, same old, same old," Pete said, shrugging.
Tom studied him carefully. "What's on your mind? Come on, Pete."
Pete knew his anxiety showed on his face as brilliantly as the neon sign above the bar he'd been into. It wouldn't have mattered with anyone else, but Tom knew him well enough that he couldn't hide it.
"Did you… did you go into one of those places again?" Tom asked in a hushed town. "One of those bars?"
"Is it really that obvious?" Pete replied, hoping he could just shrug it off as nothing. It was so unlike Tom to even mention it, and Pete dreaded to think why.
Tom shook his head. "C'mon, Pete. You can't keep doing that. Those places aren't safe for anyone, let alone you."
"You think I don't know that?" Pete hissed.
"Sometimes I wonder," Tom sighed.
"Look, would ya mind talking about something else?" Pete tried to change the subject, knowing by now that it was no use.
"No, Pete. We gotta talk about this," Tom said. "Now."
Tom took a slow breath. "I wasn't gonna say anything because you're gonna hear it from them soon enough. But I overheard the lieutenant talking to the watch commander about the roll call agenda. They're gonna start looking for guys for a raid they'd got planned." Pausing for a moment, he added, "You know, a club raid. Your kind of club."
"It's not my kind of club," Pete grumbled.
"It shouldn't be," Tom snapped, suddenly fiercer than he'd been yet. "Pete, you know they're gonna want us to be there."
"Not necessarily," Pete shrugged. "We'll be off by the time they call someone to roll on it."
"Maybe," Tom said. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. I'm gonna volunteer. I'll work an extra shift if I have to."
It took a moment for it to sink in, and even by the time it did, Pete had a hard time believing it. "What?"
"You heard me," Tom said.
"Why?" it was hard to fathom that Tom would go along with something like this, and Pete could barely string together a sentence. "Why would you do that?"
"Pete," Tom sighed again, heavier this time. "Places like that, you know, the people that go there… well, it's a rotten kind of life, you know?"
"Oh, thanks," Pete rolled his eyes, still too shocked for the words to sting.
"I'm not talking about you," Tom said. "You're different than those creeps. You don't act like that."
"And how exactly is that?" Pete scoffed.
"Pete, don't go there," Tom pleaded.
"No, you don't go there!" Pete's anger surprised him, although he knew perfectly well that there were years of unsaid truths just waiting to come bursting out. "If you think that about everyone else, you think that about me."
"Oh, come on, Pete," Tom smiled patronizingly. "Look, I know you think this is just the way you are, but we all want the wrong thing sometimes. I mean, even I look at other women, but you also know that I'm faithful to Marge. You could be too, if you'd just find some nice girl and settle down."
"You've gotta be kidding me," Pete muttered. Hearing Tom go on like some outdated public health film was more than he could take, and it stumped him so much that he couldn't decide whether it made him angry or sad. What had happened to the guy who he thought was his friend? That his buddy, who knew him better than anyone else, would start acting like this all of a sudden?
"Look, what am I supposed to tell the kids when they ask me why uncle Pete isn't married and why sometimes he has a girlfriend and sometimes he has a friend?" Tom asked.
"I don't know, tell them the truth," Pete said.
"Pete. Really," Tom replied.
"A lot of people aren't married!" Pete said. "The world is full of happy bachelors. That's not gonna traumatize them."
Tom shook his head. "Alright, Pete," he said. "You do whatever you want to, okay? If you want to keep going to places and… and exposing yourself to that filth-,"
"Filth?!" Pete spat.
"Yeah!" Tom said. "If you want to be around that, fine. But count me out! I don't want to have anything to do with that, and if that means we don't see each other and we don't even talk to each other, I guess that's just the way it has to be."
Pete silently watched Tom slam his locker and storm off to roll call. He was so enraged he could hardly think. Seeing red was an understatement. He gnashed his teeth and shook all over, but as the moments dragged on he began to realize that some of what was boiling and seething inside of him wasn't just rage. It was hurt. It was betrayal. After all these years, that Tom could just turn against him without a thought about what it meant—Pete couldn't even begin to fathom it.
If it wasn't for Tom, he would be alone in the darkness that was his secret. He trusted nobody in the world like Tom—not any other friend, not even his own family. Only Tom knew everything about his struggle with his double identity. Tom alone had been there through the ups and downs of Pete's wild relationships. If not Tom, who could he tell about the great the guy he'd just met, and who could he go to when that guy broke his heart? If not Tom, who could he trust?
The answer to that was simple. Nobody.
Tom was right. As a cop, it was too dangerous to be a queer, too. Any guy like him had to learn to be careful, to cover his tracks and sleep with one eye open. It didn't matter who you were—it was dangerous to be a fag. And to be a policeman, too? He was lucky he'd made it as long as he had without getting busted.
Pete pondered all this and desperately tried to focus during roll call. He could feel himself chewing up the insides of his mouth and picking the skin around his nails, and he was so wrapped up he almost missed the lieutenant's announcement about the raid. Then after inspection, everyone was dismissed and started their patrols just like it was an ordinary day. Nobody gave a second thought to him. Nobody suspected him for being what he was. Nobody cared. Except Tom.
Patrol was endless. Every call seemed hazy and far-away. He was in a cloud, he knew, but try as he might, he couldn't make himself focus. Taking a report from a 484-P, he had to make the victim go over her story twice because he could hardly read his own handwriting. Brown could tell something was up, he knew, but he didn't say anything. The dark circles under his eyes and the way his gaze would hover aimlessly above the dashboard must've made it obvious. But Brown kept quiet. Everybody knew that ol' Malloy had some wild nights, even if they didn't know exactly how wild they were. As long as he made it to roll call on time with his shoes shined and his badge on straight, he was allowed a few rough days now and then.
Needless to say, this day was rougher than the rest, and there weren't even any particularly thrilling calls. Pete almost wanted to believe that it would be a welcome distraction. Every time the radio would get quiet and the streets were clear, his mind would keep going back to the locker room, and that look on Tom's face. That disappointment, that disgust. That hate.
He couldn't lose Tom. Relationships came and went—guys or gals, it didn't matter. But the kind of platonic love a guy could have for his best friend, even if he never thought of it that way, was something that couldn't ever be replaced. Tom had been there through so much, and he'd been there for Tom, too. Marge and the kids… they were his family. More than his own family, certainly. After all those years, he couldn't just turn his back on the guy.
It didn't matter that everything had changed so suddenly. Pete knew that Tom was always a little uncomfortable with some of the things he got up to on his time off, but he'd never guessed it was that bad.
It wasn't Tom's fault, he told himself. Tom was right, after all, he should've known better by now that he simply couldn't keep going along with that kind of stuff. Maybe before they joined the police force, but not anymore. They'd both done a lot of growing up during those years, and if he couldn't keep himself in check, he didn't deserve to wear that badge.
Thinking such a thing made him sink even lower. That wasn't true and he knew it. Taking that trip down to city hall and signing up for the academy was the best decision he'd ever made, and he never regretted it for a single day. Police work was his calling, even if it had been a struggle in the beginning. Who he took home, who he chose to sleep with, who he wanted to spend his days with—it shouldn't have mattered one bit. He was a good cop even if he wasn't quite the same as the rest of the guys. He made a conscious effort every single day to keep his private life and his work completely separate. Why wasn't that good enough? For Tom, for the department… for the world?
And what a rotten world it was. That a man couldn't love who he wanted without being ostracized by his friends and risk losing the job he was meant to do—it made him want to be sick right in the patrol car. His brooding had evolved into a one-man pity party, and he didn't care. Why should he even want to be friends with someone who wouldn't let him be who he wanted to be? Why should he work for an establishment that specifically targeted innocent people? If he dare say it—his people?
He couldn't answer those questions. He wouldn't. He wouldn't dare think poorly of his best friend or the career that meant so much to him. If everything that was important to him was against him, maybe it was meant to be that way. Maybe he was the one that was wrong. He wasn't the only cop on the force, and he wasn't the only queer in town, but sometimes he wondered if he really was the only guy who qualified as both. If that was the case, he couldn't expect everyone else to accommodate him.
He'd have to be the one to change. He'd have to step up and take it like a man. If that meant he could never really be quite comfortable in either world, so be it. It wasn't like he had any other choice.
"Brownie," he sighed finally near the end of watch.
"Yeah, Malloy?" the senior officer seemed like he'd been expecting to hear something big all day.
"That, uh, raid they've got planned," he slowly began. "You know anything about it?"
"Ah, you know, it's probably just gonna be your standard club raid," Brown replied with a shrug. "Just that the arrests are gonna be for lewd conduct instead of drugs or gambling, is my guess."
"Yeah?" Pete pondered it. "So, it's not gonna be a big deal."
"Nah. Ya seen one raid, ya seen 'em all," Brown said. "Why, you thinkin' about tryin' to get in on it?"
Pete gazed out his window. He was defeated. He had nothing else to stand for. Softly, he said, "Yeah."
After short, dreamless sleep, he made his way to the station bright and early. He'd accepted what he was going to do and now he felt almost numb. Rather, he wished he could feel numb. Feeling nothing at all would be better than being smothered by the thick blanket of dread that seemed to cover him as he put on his uniform and sat in the break room, staring into his coffee.
It wouldn't be that bad, he promised himself. It was like Brown had said, it was going to be just like any other raid. He'd seen enough of those that he knew what to do and what to expect, even though he'd managed up until now to avoid being in any kind of raid other than to bust up a gambling ring or drug distributor. That wasn't suspicious or unusual – a lot of guys didn't have the extra time to get involved in anything outside of their daily patrol. But he couldn't be too careful. If he wanted to cover his tracks, he couldn't afford to be the kind of guy to fly under the radar. He had to go out of his way to prove himself.
It took all morning to gather up the nerve. Even by the time he made his way to the watch commander's office, he still wasn't sure he could make himself say what he had to. There was only one way to find out.
"Good morning, Malloy," Lt. Moore greeted him, chipper, unaware of the dark cloud lingering over him.
"Morning," Pete replied. He clutched his hat in his hands and tried to smile.
Moore waited for him silently.
"I, uh, wanted to officially put in that I'm available to assist on that raid Vice is planning," he spat out, quickly, before he could think twice.
"That's good," Moore said. "But they'll probably pick randomly from the patrol roster."
"Well, can ya let the brass know anyway?" it was difficult to find a balance somewhere between sounding like he was forcing himself to even be there, and sounding far too eager.
"I'll let Vice know, yes," Moore said. "I'm surprised at you, Malloy. The kind of men who usually volunteer to roll on an assignment like this tend to be a little different than you. A little more gung-ho, perhaps, if that makes any sense."
"Yeah, well," Pete shrugged. "I need the extra hours, Val. Simple as that."
"If it's hours you need, I have a public relations event coming up that I can schedule you for," Moore replied. Folding his hands on his desk, he added, "Although, personally, I'd like to see a good level-headed cop like yourself be a part of that raid. There've been too many… incidents in other departments. A few too many men getting awfully badge-heavy. If it was my choice I would insist that you be there, Malloy. I trust you."
It was all he could do not to finally lose it right there in the office. He couldn't speak. He couldn't even begin to.
"Well," Moore said, uncapping a pen and making a note on a piece of paper. "I'll put in for you, but I can't make any promises. In the meantime, you don't want to be late for roll call, do you?"
"No, sir," Pete sighed. "Thank you."
And so it was done. As he made his way out of the office, he hoped that the weight would be lifted from his shoulders, but he could only feel it get heavier. There was nothing left for him to do now except wait. That was the part that he knew would kill him. He would either be called to assist on the raid or not, and until then there was nothing he could do. Nothing but to keep doing what he'd been doing before. He couldn't stop living his life because of this. Even if it wasn't for this raid, everything Tom had said way back in the locker room was true.
One by one, the days turned into weeks. The prospect of his fate made him weary enough that it wasn't long before he stopped losing sleep. He'd learned to accept the way it had to be a long time ago. No matter who you were you had to learn to blend in. If it meant lying to your coworkers, your friends, and yourself about who you were and what you wanted to do, that was simply the way it had to be. It wouldn't be the only sacrifice he'd make for his job, although a meager salary and crummy hours were a lot easier to live with than denying himself a whole part of his personality.
But it didn't make him who he was. It didn't matter what anybody said. He could choose to ignore that part of himself if he wanted. If it meant that much to him. More importantly, he could keep telling himself these things were true, and maybe one day he'd even start to believe it.
When three weeks had gone by and he'd yet to hear back from Vice, he figured that Lt. Moore had been right. There were enough guys who were already scheduled to work then that they didn't need him after all. It was some small relief, certainly, and the benefit of the whole thing was that it reinforced his own promise to himself, to stay out of places where he didn't belong and be happy with the wide range of pretty gals that he didn't even have to go sneaking around to meet. That wasn't too hard. After all, he'd been close to doing just that for the majority of his life, and it was a lot easier and safer to stick with only girls anyway. There were enough Sophia Lorens and Raquel Welches in the world that he could he could be happy if he just tried.
After three weeks and no word from Vice he was sure it was a simple as that.
But, of course, it wasn't. At the beginning of week four, he showed up early for roll call and found his place in the break room, and just as he was settling in with his coffee and the sports page, there came Sergeant Chambers from Vice.
Pete could guess what he was going to say before he even sat down. He could feel it somewhere deep inside of himself, as if years of living on the edge had trained him to pick up on the first hint of danger.
"You're Malloy?" he asked, likely already knowing the answer.
"Yeah," Pete nodded.
"The lieutenant said something to me, that you're interested in getting involved with a raid we have coming up."
"I might've said something like that." He could feel himself bristling the longer he talked to this guy, and he didn't like the sound of his own voice.
"Well, we could use another man. Unless you have other plans on New Years' Eve." It didn't seem like the sergeant had picked up on Pete's discomfort, and Pete hoped to keep it that way.
"Can't say I do," Pete replied.
"Good," the sergeant said. "We're trying to keep this on the down-low as much as possible, so you'll be filled in on more details the night of, but for now if you have any questions, just ask for me and say it's about the Black Cat."
Pete couldn't stop himself from asking. Before he even knew it, he said, "The Black Cat?"
"Yeah," the sergeant said. "It's the name of the club. Why?"
Pete shrugged, still not sure he had really heard it right. "Guess I thought it sounded familiar."
The sergeant laughed. With that, he stood and headed for the door. "I doubt it, Malloy."
The Black Cat. Of all the damn places in the world, in the whole city even, it just had to be the last damn club he'd been into. Maybe it had been fate after all, like he'd thought all those weeks ago. If this didn't serve to prove exactly why it was not only dangerous but just plain stupid to keep living the way he had been, he couldn't say what was.
Furious at himself, he crumpled the paper in his hands. This really was the final straw, he decided. There was no telling how long Vice had been staking out the place. It could've been these past three weeks, or it could've been longer.
The sheer dumb luck he'd had so far in managing to stay out of trouble simply couldn't last. Never again, he swore. It would have to take a pretty special guy to break him again, and he doubted there was anybody in Los Angeles who was handsome enough and interesting enough that he could go back to his old ways. It would have to be love at first sight to make him want to risk everything that he'd worked for, especially now that he knew no place was safe. Hiding from his own kind—that's what he was doing. But that was the way it would have to be.
The last week seemed so much longer than the ones before it. It didn't help to be cooped up in an empty apartment on Christmas, even if the manager stopped by several times with enough cookies and cakes to feed a whole family instead of one lonely, jaded bachelor. The holiday came and went and he knew it certainly wouldn't be the last to be that way, although he liked to think that none would be so stressful.
Finally the day came, and after his patrol was over, the last report filled out and turned in, he waited at the station, ready to go whenever he was needed.
When the moment came, Sgt. Chambers found him in the breakroom.
"Malloy," he said, sternly. "Go change out of that uniform."
It took Pete walking halfway down the hall to the locker room to realize what it meant if Chambers wanted him in soft clothes.
As if he already wasn't in deep enough. The way things were going, he should've expected something like this. It wasn't enough for it to just be in the very last bar he'd been into. No, instead, he even had the honor of being one of the first men in, blending in amongst the crowd right up until the very last moment. Talk about betrayal.
Avoiding meeting his reflection in the mirror in his locker, he changed into his street clothes. The only thing he could feel was his guts churning like someone was taking an electric mixer to them. In a numb blur, he vaguely remembered closing his locker
Walking beside Chambers, Pete could feel his skin crawl. He still couldn't say why, although he knew the sinking feeling in his gut couldn't only be from knowing where he'd be and what he'd be doing in a few short hours.
"Usually we have our own guys sit in on these kinds of things," Chambers explained. Pete heard every other word, trying to listen for instructions, but not sure he wanted to get the rest. "But your watch commander put in such a good word for you, we figured it couldn't hurt to let you sit in on this one."
In the lot behind the station, the rest of the raid group was waiting. Pete hardly recognized most of them. He'd yet to work first hand much with Vice, and as he started to listen to the conversation, he was sure he hadn't missed a lot.
"I tell ya what, I know it's gonna be New Year's, but I'd sure like to knock some of those perverts all the way to Easter!" some was rattling on.
A few soft chuckles went around but stopped quickly as the uniformed sergeant on duty cleared his throat. MacDonald. Truth be told, Pete had never particularly liked the guy. With only about a year and a half more time on the force, he'd always thought Mac seemed a little big for his britches, and it didn't help when he'd passed the sergeants' exam. Even if they'd never really worked together, Pete had come to believe that Mac was nothing more than a jerk with some stripes on his shoulder.
But opinions could change.
"Now, you better get it through your heads that there's gonna be none of that," MacDonald said, sternly. "Nobody's gonna use any more force than is absolutely necessary."
"Aw, come on, Mac," one of the laughers piped in. "You're a dad, right? You don't want these sickos goin' after your kids, do you?"
Pete could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. In his pockets he clenched his fists until his knuckles were white. If there was anyone around here who deserved to lose a few teeth…
"Alright, listen!" Mac rolled his eyes, interrupting the chatter that was starting up again. "Now these people might be criminals, but that doesn't give any of us an excuse to be, too. If we catch anyone using excessive force, you'll be put in front of a review board just like you would in any other situation. Got it?"
"'Catch' being the key word," was the reply.
At this, Mac snapped. Watching his face redden and jaw clench at the comment, Pete couldn't help but be humbled.
"Yeah," Mac nodded, his voice low. "Yeah, I suppose some of you are chompin' at the bit to get out there and knock in some heads. You don't feel like much of a man, so you've gotta get out there and prove it to yourself by beating up a guy in a dress, huh? Well, I'll tell you now, that's not gonna prove anything but what a lousy cop you are."
Silence. Angry silence. Pete could feel it from everyone but himself. Suddenly he found that he had a great deal of respect for the sergeant, although he didn't dare say a word. It almost hurt to think that Mac's was a voice of dissent. That having the mildest tolerance for his fellow man, queer or not, was a strange way for a guy to be.
Maybe that's why he had those stripes on his shoulder. Maybe that was why it meant so much to Pete, even now, to be the best kind of policeman he could be.
The tavern was even more decked out than it had been the first time he'd been in. On top of that, it was jam-packed and spirits were noticeably high. A few bottles of champagne had already been opened and the smiles and laughter that filled the establishment were contagious.
But somehow, Pete had a hard time feeling very festive. When it came his turn to get into place, a few other plainclothes officers were already there, including Chambers, who was sitting alone, waiting in the corner.
Pete couldn't make himself look at his friend. It was part of the act, he told himself. They weren't going to blend in if they all clumped together like a little island of fuzz in a sea of criminals.
Some criminals, he thought to himself as he took his place at the bar. Gazing around the bar for the second time, it was easy to see that the people who surrounded him were hardly dangerous. Contained in the privacy of the tavern, they weren't even a public nuisance. A little loud, maybe, but on New Year's Eve, it was probably one of the quieter bars in town.
The sinking feeling in his gut was only worsened when he saw who else was attending the festivities. Standing only a few yards away, talking to a tall, muscular figure in an evening gown and a blonde wig, was the very same guy he'd brought home that first night he'd wandered in. The barstool fixture, tonight wearing a tacky suit instead of the ascot and fringed vest. And as soon as Pete saw him, he was spotted, too. The guy's eyes lit up brighter than the tinsel hanging from the ceiling, and he made his way to the bar before Pete would even consider abandoning ship and slipping away into the crowd.
"Hey you!" the guy said, sliding into the open seat next to him. "I didn't think you'd be here tonight."
"Neither did I," Pete said, scoffing bitterly at his circumstances.
"Well… happy New Year!" the guy said. "Let me buy you a drink. We'll catch up."
"No thanks," Pete said, trying to surreptitiously steal a glance over his shoulder, praying that nobody could hear his conversation. "Look, I just want to be alone."
"Yeah right, if you wanted to be alone you would've stayed home tonight," the guy said. Then, sensing Pete's unease, he lowered his voice and asked, "But really, what gives? You shouldn't be uptight on a night like this."
Pete shook his head.
"You wanna tell me about it?" the guy asked. "You know, we're not really strangers anymore."
"I don't exactly have a lot to celebrate," Pete replied.
"I'm sorry to hear that," the guy said. "Whatever's bringing you down, you don't deserve it."
Still listening to the guy, he kept an eye trained on Chambers, telling himself he was ready to bolt whenever the other officer saw him talking to one of the patrons. After a moment, Chambers checked his watch, and Pete knew he should do the same.
"Ten minutes," he muttered aloud, studying the hands, wishing they'd freeze in place.
"Oh yeah?" the guy perked up. "I can't wait for '67. I always love a fresh start."
Pete allowed himself to turn back and face the guy. Looking into his eyes, he could tell how sincere the guy really was. How hopeful for the future and yet still concerned about a man he hardly even knew.
Although he certainly was right about one thing. They weren't really strangers anymore. They'd gotten over that the first time they'd walked out of the bar together. They'd gotten over that the first time this guy decided to care about him.
"You need to get out of here," Pete said, softly under his breath before he had any idea what he was doing. His voice was not his own. His thoughts were somewhere else entirely. He wasn't even quite sure he'd said anything aloud until the barstool fixture responded.
"What?" the guy spat. "I'm trying to keep you company, and you're just gonna brush me off like it means nothing?"
"That's not what I said," Pete said. "I'm telling you, you can't be here."
"And why not?" the guy asked. "I have just as much of a right to be here as anyone."
"No, listen to me," Pete grumbled, getting frustrated. "I can't explain it to you right now," he glanced back at Chambers and lowered his voice even more, "but if you trusted me before, you need to trust me now. You need to leave."
The guy was silent for a long time. His tired eyes studied Pete's face, his hard scowl slowly softening into a look of open sadness. Finally, he softly said, "I knew you weren't a sailor."
"Look, buddy," Pete began.
"Dan," the guy said. "I never even told you my name, huh? Well, it's Dan."
"Okay," Pete said. "You need to get out of here, Dan."
"I know, I know," Dan said. Shaking his head, he added, "New Year's Eve, huh? You guys really have a lot of nerve these days."
Pete said nothing. He couldn't bear to.
Dan's voice began to soften again. "Well, look, Pete, I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn't be mad at you. Not like this." He fiddled with his tie as he spoke. "I mean… we'll see each other around. We'll run into each other sometime."
"It's a big city," Pete replied.
"Um," Dan sighed. "I'm never going to see you again, am I?"
"No," Pete said. And it was the last thing he said before Dan slid out of his seat and silently headed for the door.
He checked his watch. Four minutes.
Four agonizing minutes.
What the hell had he just done? It all became suddenly clear in his mind—in a roundabout way, he'd just warned someone about what would be going down in four minutes. For all he knew, he could have just ruined the entire mission. The whole point of this was to prove what a good cop he was. And he just had to go and totally jeopardize the whole damn thing.
Somehow, though, something assured him that he could trust Dan. A mutual understanding, perhaps. A sort of empathy that came with knowing the kind of rotten things a guy had to do to protect himself. Besides, he hadn't said anything about what he was or what he was doing. It had only been a personal warning. Pete trusted that Dan wouldn't betray him, because he'd already paid back the favor.
The waiting would be the worst part, he tried to assure himself. As every moment stretched on and on, the room seemed to become silent around him. The laughter seemed to soften; the eager conversation seemed to slow. What he had just done—saving Dan, some guy he'd taken home and fucked without emotion, some guy who cared about him despite that—he knew was a secret he would have to take to the grave. Had it been worth risking his entire career to protect someone whose name he could hardly remember? And would it ever justify what he would be doing in three minutes? Two minutes? Would that be enough for him to ever forgive himself?
Only time would tell.
At ten, someone started a countdown. The tavern erupted into life, every number getting louder than the one before it.
Nine. The queen Dan had been talking to put her arm over another, almost knocking off her wig.
Eight. Seven. Six.
Five. Chambers was counting along with the crowd. By the look on his face, Pete couldn't tell if he was blending in or eagerly anticipating the impending tragedy.
Four. Three. Two.
One. Pete took a deep breath and waited.
At the stroke of midnight, the patrons screamed and cheered, throwing confetti, leaping into each other's arms, sharing kisses that Pete could see disgusted the fellow officers hiding throughout the crowd. Champagne bottles popped in stereo and somewhere in the back, he could hear a few guys start singing Auld Lang Syne.
By, and never brought to mind, someone shrieked "Cops!" The front and back door burst open and the uniforms poured in, batons brandished high. And then there was silence again. He knew that the panic around him must have been making quite a din, but for a few brief moments, all he could hear was his own heart, pounding in his chest.
One guy got out, he told himself. One out of all of them.
Out of all of us.
No. Out of them. From now on, it would always be them. It had to be if he knew what was best for him.
He readied his badge and strode toward one of the men he'd seen kissing another.
"Alright, you're under arrest, hands behind your head," he ordered, every word stinging and burning as it came out.
"What?! What did I do?!" The guy screamed back at him. "I didn't do anything!"
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a baton swing and a figure fall to the floor. The guy must've seen it, too, and his hands were on his head without being told twice.
"So we're not even allowed to get together and celebrate a holiday anymore," the guy balked as he was being frisked.
"I'm gonna advise you of your rights before you say anything else," Pete said numbly, adjusting the handcuffs with one hand and grabbing his notepad with the other.
"I know 'em," the guy spat back. "You can go ahead and use everything I say against me, cuz I only have one thing to say." Writhing against the handcuffs, he yelled, "Happy New Year, pigs!"
The shout was lost amongst the chaos. As Pete escorted him out of the bar, everything around him seemed more vivid, more striking than anything else he could imagine. His gaze focused on a single rhinestone earring tossed carelessly onto the floor, handcuffs crowding the bracelets on a man's wrist, another still wearing his party hat and clutching some kind of noisemaker. He could see the musicians in the band, struggling to save their instruments before themselves, meeting a baton with a trombone case. The champagne flutes breaking in the scuffle were like tremendous crashes, resonating in his head, making his ears ache.
These were the things that he knew he'd never be able to forget. Maybe someday, he pondered, watching some uniformed officers chase down a few guys who'd wriggled their way out of the bar, there'd be a way that he'd learn to forgive himself. But he knew that was going to be as hard as finding someone, anyone out there, who could forgive him, too.