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TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 30

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Dr. Wu’s Secret

Dr. Wu’s struggles with his anger reflected a deeper disorientation in his mental makeup. He had always been conservative in his thinking—“Confucian,” in the Chinese sense of a deep and profound respect for authority and obedience to long-held traditions that had evolved over thousands of years—traditions, moreover, that worked, and ought not to be changed lightly. But in recent years, he had veered sharply towards the rightwing end of the political spectrum.

He realized he had to keep his newfound beliefs to himself in deep-blue Oakland. Most of his fellow physicians at Kaiser were liberals, to judge from their remarks. His neighbors, the storekeepers where he shopped, all seemed to be of liberal inclination. With them, Dr. Wu dared not to divulge some of his opinions, such as that the law was too soft on criminals, or that taxes were too high, or that gays were necessarily entitled to protection, or that homeless people were victims, not of an unjust social system or lopsided rents, but of their own laziness and self-destructive behavior. Many times each day, when conversations arose, he was forced to bite his tongue, hard. A Kaiser physician knew how to read the signs.

People assumed that Dr. Wu was more liberal than in fact he was. The contributions to the ACLU, which the Wu’s proudly boasted of, and the Obama-Biden sticker on his Volvo certainly suggested a leftward political bent. But the sticker hailed from 2008—years previously—and the ACLU donation was chiefly at Cindy’s urging. The election of Donald Trump as President both signified Dr. Wu’s formal self-identification with the right, and marked him as a certified outsider in Oakland and Bay Area politics. Dr. Wu rather admired Trump: his strength, his candor, his ability to put down his political enemies with smart one-liners, his law-and-order policies and even, to some extent, his anti-immigrant stance appealed increasingly to a Dr. Wu angry with the direction his city, State and country had taken.

Many of the patients he treated at Kaiser were homeless; Dr. Wu felt that he understood them fairly well. He was increasingly irritated at them for bringing onto themselves their armadas of ill health, both physical and emotional. Sometimes, when he stitched up a wound on a drunk or intubated someone found unconscious due to a likely drug overdose, he felt that these people would be better off dead, and society, too, would benefit if they were gone. He had worked hard to get where he was, and overcome innumerable obstacles; at any point he might have given up. But he was raised right by his parents, and when he surveyed the rampant ill effects that homeless people and drug addicts had inflicted on Oakland—a city he rather liked—he grew resentful.

This was Dr. Wu’s secret, even from his conservative wife; but it wasn’t his only one. His other concerned his sex life. The term “DL,” short for “down low,” applied perfectly to Edwin Wu. He was captivated by sexuality. As a physician, he was aware of the extensive literature concerning sexual addiction, but the way he thought about it, he wasn’t an “addict,” in the way that, say, a heroin user was, but merely a man who thoroughly enjoyed sexual activity, and saw no reason not to indulge in it as often as he could. Gladys, his wife—a rather frigid woman–had been his concession to the norms of conventionality, but even at his wedding, while he was taking the Christian vows of marriage, he was thinking of the woman he’d paid for sexual favors the night before, and whom he was looking forward to seeing again as soon as he possibly could.

The specific sexual practices he enjoyed were of the exotic variety. Dr. Wu enjoyed being dominated. In his public life, Edwin Wu clearly was used to being in a position of power and authority, issuing medical orders, running his family’s finances and making the major decisions. Privately, when in the company of the women he paid, it was quite the opposite. Humiliation and even pain were things he expected from these leather-clad mistresses, with their whips and cudgels. Being disgraced was deeply gratifying to Dr. Wu. But all this had to be done in the utmost secrecy; in fact, that was part of its allure: the risk, the shame, the fact that no one who knew the charming Dr. Wu would possibly suspect that he had a private life that was so opposite to the one he publicly displayed.

That this private life hovered on the perimeter of violence made it even more arousing. In that underground relationship between vassal and dominatrix, the possibility of something going wrong never could be discounted. Safe words went only so far; the “popper” or “cracker” that inflicted raw pain on, say, a rear end also could draw blood, and the hot wax dripped insolently on a nipple also could inflict severe damage to a cornea. A man in chains, his wrists and ankles bound by rope, had no hope of fending off such incidents.

And so Dr. Wu wended his merry and complicated way between these various stations of his life’s cross. And when he needed time alone—to think, to feel, to allow fate to tempt him even further—he always had the option of those midnight walks under the freeway underpasses, where the homeless people made their tents.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 29

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Rosey’s Persons of Interest

In Rosey’s long experience as a cop and detective, he’d figured out that there are basically two types of people: Those are have committed crimes but haven’t been caught, and those who have committed crimes and have been caught. Everyone, in other words, in Rosey’s opinion was a criminal.

This gave him a rather gloomy picture of human nature, which is perhaps why he tried to compensate for this dark side by doing many acts of goodness. Rosey was a volunteer coach for a local after-school kids’ basketball group. He was active in his church. He routinely represented OPD at charitable events, and he and Mrs. Brown had organized an effort in their Dimond District neighborhood to pick up litter and trash and plant wildflowers.

Still, Rosey had seen enough of life’s sinister side to realize that every tenth person he randomly saw on the streets had probably killed someone at some point. Maybe it had been a sanctioned killing, as in the U.S. military. Maybe it had not. Secrets made the world go ‘round, Rosey had long ago decided, and this included him: for Rosey, too, had secrets.

He’d been a troubled kid. By twelve, Roosevelt Wilson Brown—named after two American Presidents—had been in and out of Youth Authority in Oakland. At the age of fifteen, he was sentenced to a term of eight months at the Alameda County Detention Center, a youth camp in the Hayward hills, for breaking into cars. He smoked pot, sniffed cocaine, and drank to excess. Rosey seemed headed towards a lengthy period in prison, until a significant event turned him in a new direction.

That significant event was meeting his future wife, Ceci. He adored her from the moment he set eyes on her, at his cousin’s wedding, where Ceci was a bridesmaid. She was tall for a woman, pretty and vivacious. They dated, fell in love, and married after knowing each other for only six months. Ceci’s Dad, Cecil, Rosey’s father-in-law to be, was a minister in the Jeremiah Baptist Church, and it was he who had turned Rosey around.

They called him Reverend Cecil, “Rev” for short. He was one of those guys whom everyone likes; no one had ever heard or spoken a bad word against him. Cheerful of disposition, eternally optimistic, he also had the gift of gab. “I swear, Daddy could sell ice to eskimos,” Ceci remarked. It was true: his Sunday sermons were among the best- attended in town. A few fiery words from the Rev could inspire an audience to rise to its feet and sing.

The Rev saw in the young Rosey the potential for a good man. Yes, he’d done some bad things, but hadn’t Jesus told the world He would forgive all sins for the asking? The Rev took this seriously. As the instrument of God, he saw his task as nurturing the qualities in perplexed young people that would someday blossom into beauty, kindness and love.

Once Rosey and Ceci started dating, he and the Rev grew closer. They went to the Rev’s favorite fishing spots, bowled at the Academy Lanes in Alameda, and had long talks at night, over a few beers, in the course of which the Rev delicately pried open the closely-clustered petals enclosing Rosey’s heart. The Rev—a big supporter of the police, whom he viewed as indispensable in providing safety to Oakland’s poorest residents—encouraged this respect in Rosey too—a big leap for a young man whose street life had inclined him to view cops as the enemy. That was Rosey’s first step towards becoming a cop himself.

He started Cal State Hayward rather late, graduated with a B.S. in criminal justice, and immediately applied to OPD, which accepted him with alacrity. It was evident to his superiors that he was being fast-tracked within the department; and indeed, at the early age of 35, he was promoted to the Criminal Investigations Department, which entitled him to the rank of Detective. There were many who knew him professionally who thought that, in Roosevelt Wilson Brown, they were seeing a future Chief of Police, in Oakland or someplace else.

Rosey wasn’t enamored of the bureaucratic side of police work. He liked working the streets: wearing out shoe leather chasing down leads, turning up clues, following his nose and arresting the bad guys, to prevent them from harassing the great majority of Oaklanders who were law-abiding citizens. It was exactly that nose for sleuthing that prompted Chief Kirkpatrick to appoint Rosey to head up the Homeless Killings Task Force.

The way Rosey saw the emerging investigation, there were no suspects at this point, but there were persons of interest. Such individuals are often identified in the early stages of investigations; the majority turn out to be innocent. But an investigation has to start someplace, if it is to start at all, and there were three persons of interest on Rosey’s list so far: Devon Camber and the Wu’s, both the doctor and his wife. All of them, in all likelihood, were completely innocent of any crimes related to the murders. But the statistical probability, plain and simple, was that one or more of them knew something that could lead, however indirectly, to the apprehension of the real killer. It was Detective Brown’s task to crack the puzzle and find out what that something was.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 28

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A Wedding!

Danny finally gave up and agreed to have the baby.

“Well, you’re making good money, you have that nice little house, and Cindy’ll make a great mom,” Nick told him encouragingly. I’ll be 28 in a few weeks, Danny thought; although he was freaked out by the thought of marriage, he figured it was probably time to start a family. Cindy was ecstatic. She would have had the baby anyway, even if Danny strongly disagreed, even (she thought) if she lost him: that’s how much she wanted this child. But now, he was onboard. Relief! But that led to another issue.

“Let’s get married,” she told Danny one night.

“Aww, Cin,” he frowned. “Really?”

“Really. Haven’t you always dreamed of a wedding? Church bells, bridesmaids, best man, tuxedo, wedding cake?”

“To be honest? No. I always thought it was weird.”

“We don’t have to have a huge wedding. It can be whatever we both want. Maybe just a few friends.”

“And your parents?”

That stopped Cindy cold. “I’m not sure they would come, even if we invited them.”

After much conversation, they planned a small, simple outdoor wedding. The location (for which Danny applied and was given a permit) was the circular old Lakeside Park Bandstand, in back of Children’s Fairyland, with a pretty view of the Lake. They would be married by a woman, a friend of Flambé’s, a Wiccan priestess, in the ancient pagan manner. The music was played by other friends: flute, electric keyboard and chimes. Cindy and Danny invited Nick and Flambé, of course; Flambé asked if she might bring her friend, the new councilmember, Devon Camber. The Wu’s were invited; Dr. Wu refused to come, and despite initially agreeing to give her daughter away, Mrs. Wu decided otherwise when she learned Cindy was to be married in a religious ceremony she—devout Catholic—found blasphemous. The guest list was rounded out by a dozen other friends of the happy couple.

It was a sweet and dignified party. Afterwards, everyone snacked on sushi (with a vegan option), sweet pastries from Tao Yuen, and Prosecco for the imbibers, bottled water and Kombucha for the teetotalers. By 5 p.m. things were breaking up; the guests kissed and hugged the newlyweds, who for their one-night “honeymoon” stayed at the East Brother Lighthouse B&B, on the Bay in Richmond.

That night they toasted each other. “To Mrs. Eagleton,” Danny smiled at his bride, lifting his glass. “To Mr. Wu,” she replied, with an impish grin. They decided that their mutual last name would be a hyphenated Wu-Eagleton. Then, with their baby, barely four months old, slumbering inside Cindy, they made love, while the lighthouse horn moaned mournfully over a foggy Bay.


TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 25

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The Detective and the Councilmember

OPD Detective Roosevelt Wilson Brown—Rosey—and Oakland City Councilmember Devon Camber met for drinks at the Five10 bar, on Fifteenth Street, just a few blocks from City Hall. Rosey was not in a good mood: the Oakland Police Department was under fire from the city’s liberals—again—for an alleged instance of “police brutality”; a young man, armed and resisting arrest, had been shot and killed. Nor was the Councilmember himself all that happy. He was finding himself increasingly frustrated by the Council’s chronic infighting; Oakland politics was proving a difficult game for the ambitious Devon to master. No matter what he said or did, he managed to find himself the object of criticism and scorn, usually from people he found contemptible. He wasn’t used to it; it didn’t fit into his playbook.

They both arrived at the bar on time, found a little table near the pinball machines, and ordered their drinks: a beer for the detective, a glass of red wine for Camber.

“Well, you asked for this meeting, so why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind,” Rosey began. The Councilmember replied, “I understand Chief Kirkpatrick put you in charge of the Homeless Killings case.”

“That’s correct.”

“I have a particular interest in that,” Camber continued. “As you may know, I made homelessness a central issue in my campaign. I promised the voters I would reduce the number of homeless people in Oakland. The people who voted for me expect me to act, and act fast, in that regard. But I’m afraid these killings are disrupting the process. The Council is extremely upset; neighborhood groups, like the Coalition to Shelter the Unhoused, are raising Cain to find the killer, even while they’re demanding the City reduce OPD’s budget and repurpose it for homeless services. It’s a mess. Four of the bodies were found in my district. Nobody, from the Mayor on down, is willing at this point to talk about more funding. Things are only going to get worse, if there are additional murders.”

“And what is it you want from me, Councilmember?”

“I want to know how the case is coming along. Are you doing everything you can? Do you have suspects? Evidence? A profile? How many cops do you have on the case? Can we expect indictments?”

“Councilmember Camber—”

“Call me Devon.”

“Very well. Devon, let me explain how these things work. At this point in the investigation, our work is confidential. I could no more share details with you than I would with a newspaper reporter.”

“I’m not a newspaper reporter, I’m an elected official of the City of Oakland. I should think that entitles me to more information than you’d give to the media.”

“Actually, Councilmember—err, Devon, you’re probably entitled to less. The press has Constitutional rights under our system of law, whereas elected officials are proscribed by statute and law from interfering in the activities of law enforcement agencies.”

“How the hell am I interfering?” Devon was getting hot under the collar. They hadn’t been together for fifteen minutes and already they were  butting heads. “I’m just asking you to bring me up to date, so that when I have conversations about the case with my constituents and other interest groups, I can know what the hell I’m talking about.”

Rosey realized he’d perhaps been a bit too officious with this newby politician. “All right, Devon, I can share a little. But please don’t push me. We have no suspects at this point. We have no profile, except that serial killers are usually white men; they almost always do their work alone. We have precious little evidence. I have four officers working fulltime on the case; I’ve asked the Chief for three more, and she’s asked the Mayor in turn for additional funding. But Schaaf so far isn’t complying, and I seriously doubt if she will.”

Devon took in this sour news with evident disappointment. “I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear,” Rosey added. “But keep in mind, this is still a young investigation. These things can take months, even years; look at the Zodiac killings in San Francisco. Fifty years later, it’s still an open case.”

“Fifty years!” Devon spat out the words. “So in other words, you’re telling me you’ve gotten precisely nowhere, and the murders may continue.”

“I’m afraid that’s true, Devon. Sometimes, serial killers go on hiatus, for a variety of reasons, mainly because they start feeling the heat. Sometimes they don’t. We have no way of knowing.” At that instant, Rosey’s phone began pinging. “Excuse me,” he said, picking up the device. Camber listened in on the one-way conversation, which was brief. “Yeah. Where? What time? Anything else? Okay, thanks, on my way.”

Rosey put the phone back into his pocket. “You’ll have to excuse me, Devon. They found another body. Twelfth and Webster, behind a dumpster.” The latest crime scene once again was in Camber’s district. Moreover, it occurred only blocks from his apartment.



TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 24

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Flambé’s Education Continues. Danny Gets Drunk Again

Esther had had her sex reassignment surgery in Mexico, in a clinic in Monterrey. The total cost, some $22,500, included the initial consultations and the actual cost of surgery and anesthesia, as well as ten days of post-operative nursing care, medications, and all ground transportation, as well as a one-week stay in a local hotel.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of money,” Esther told Flambé, “but if I’d had it done in the States, it would easily have been double that.” Esther had been lucky; she experienced few complications from the procedure. About one-third of patients suffer from complications, mainly a narrowing of the urethra, which makes urination difficult. Many also have post-operative infections. Psychological problems can plague patients, Esther warned Flambé. “But I more or less sailed through everything.”

Flambé couldn’t wait to ask the ultimate question. “So, uh, how long—I mean, did you–?” Esther saw her stammering, knew exactly what was happening.

“It was four months before I could have penetrative sex.” She let that sink into Flambé’s mind.

“And what—how–?”

Esther took her friend’s hand. “Let me tell you, sister, because it’s a good story.”

Within three months of the surgery, Esther was pain-free. Everything seemed to be working just as her doctors had forecast. They had lined her neo-vagina with her old penile sheath, turned inside out and inserted into her body, a drastic-sounding procedure, to be sure, but simple in its functionality. The sheath lost none of its sensitivity; orgasm could be reached, with all the accompanying physical feelings.

In fact, thirteen weeks after surgery, Esther had masturbated herself, using a dildo she’d bought at L’Amour Shoppe, an adult store in downtown Oakland. She did this very slowly and carefully. “I didn’t want to break anything,” she explained, “but I needed to know.” The experiment was a complete success. It was a thrilling vindication of what Esther had done. A few weeks later, after repeated masturbation, she was ready to move beyond self-stimulation to the real thing. It finally happened on a weekend night, with a young man she met at a downtown club.

Flambé took this all in with captivated interest. This was the stuff she’d wondered about all her adult life—something that had seemed so fantastical, so beyond the realm of probability that all it could ever amount to was an unfulfilled fantasy. And yet, Esther—just an ordinary girl—had made the fantasy come true. And now, Esther told her, she—Esther—fully enjoyed sexual relations with men. It was true, Esther added, ironically, that she found herself gravitating towards women for sexual pleasure, but that didn’t detract from the sublime fact that her neo-vagina was in perfect working order.

Flambé felt like she was walking on clouds. At Devon’s that night, nestled beside him in bed, as he slept she crept a hand to her still-intact penis, and began sliding the foreskin slowly up and down the hardening shaft. As her passion built she inclined her face into Devon’s back, kissed him on the neck, breathed heavily and with a gasp came onto her own belly. Devon never awoke as she whispered, “Oh, my God, my angel, how I want you inside my cunt.”

* * *

At Bay Grape they were pouring rosé Champagne. Nick and Danny sat at the bar and, after a little small talk with Josiah, the proprietor, they resumed the conversation about Cindy and the baby. Danny knew he’d been drinking too much lately; the pressures of work and in his personal life drove him increasingly to a few extra glasses of wine or bottles of beer at night. There were frequent times when all he wanted was to zone out, to numb himself and succumb to deep, blissful sleep. He saw nothing wrong with this.

And so he got very drunk. They kept reordering Champagne; the bubbles went straight to Danny’s brain and made him gay and talkative. Nick slowed down at the fifth glass; not Danny. “I don’t know,” he said to Nick at some point, slurring his words, “maybe you’re right, maybe it’d be cool to have a kid, you know what I mean? Hey Josiah, another round! Like, a kid can be fun. I’d like to be the kind of dad who brings his kid to the park to throw a football around.”

“Your kid,” Nick observed, “might be a girl.”

“I don’t think so,” Danny replied. “I just have a feeling. Hey Josiah, another!”

And so it went. By ten that night, Danny was in no shape to drive back to Castro Valley, so Nick invited him to sleep it off at the Perkins Street flat. He, Nick, would call Cindy to tell her. Danny fell asleep the minute his head hit the couch. When he woke up, with a pounding headache, the next morning to drive home, his Camry had a $185 parking ticket. It was street-cleaning day on Perkins.



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