A week without locating Todd anywhere, and Hardesty was beginning to question whether he’d ever find him. He’d either gone to ground or to another city--or maybe home. Maybe Hardesty would need to find a way to get information on Todd’s background out of the manager of that club where Todd had been dancing the pole. Maybe Hardesty would need to lean on that guy a bit.
He spent more time at the club, but although it was running along the edge of legality, Hardesty wasn’t able to find it on the wrong side of that edge. He did get the name of one guy from the other dancers there. Todd had said that he was substituting for someone. A couple of the dancers were able to tell him that it was for a guy named Nathan.
“Nathan. Nathan Winston,” one dancer said.
“No, honey,” one of the more effeminate dancers broke in. “That would be Winstead.”
“Does Nathan Winstead still work here?”
“No, sugar,” the more effeminate one said as he looked Hardesty up and down like he was a candy bar. “He’s gone.”
“So, do you know where he went?” Hardesty asked, focusing his attention on this dancer. He touched the dancer’s arm and then when the dancer shivered for him and gave a low moan, Hardesty let his hand trail up the dancer’s arm.
“I’m not sure I remember,” the dancer said, conveying that the bidding had opened.
“What would it take for you to remember?” Hardesty asked, placing his other hand on the dancer’s waist.
Hardesty fucked the information out of the dancer, such as it was, from behind, as the dancer was bent over the back of a straight chair in the dancers’ dressing room. Nathan Winstead seemed to be into live-action Internet porn now. The dancer had no firm answer on where Nathan was, but he’d heard something about a studio on 16th Street somewhere. And, oh, yeah, there was also some middle-aged, but well-preserved, rich guy in construction who used to come sniffing around for Nathan. He’d stopped coming around when Nathan stopped dancing here. And, yes, of course, for future consideration, the dancer would be happy to keep his ears open for where Nathan lived now and who the construction man was.
“I had him one night when Nathan was home sick and the construction man had ants in his pants. One strong cocker, honey--but not a candle to you, sweets.”
When he went to the precinct the next day, Hardesty found a bunch of the other vice detectives gathered around the equipment of one of their Internet techs, Charlie.
“Damn,” he heard Charlie say as he walked up to the group. “Lost it again. Almost had it. West by northwest of here is the best I can do. At least for now.”
Hardesty walked around behind him. The screen everyone was staring at was blank.
“The screen is blank, you idiots,” he said.
“Doh,” said one detective.
“It wasn’t a few seconds ago, dumbass,” another said.
“Roll your recording of it back, Charlie. Show Hardesty what we had,” said another.
It was a scene set up in a room with a big bed in the center of it. There was no attempt to hide the lighting equipment in the areas at the sides of the bed. The bed was centered on an exterior wall, or so it seemed. There were windows on either side of the bed. Unusual windows. There was a tall center pane, with a narrow pane on either side and then a short pane running over the top of all three windows. There were no drapes on the window. There was a light-blue coverlet on the bed and several pillows. The sheets were a glossy dark blue and were a bit mussed up.
Hardesty caught all of this in a glance. But he didn’t look at it for long, because his attention was riveted to the figure of a young man on the bed, face and toes toward the camera. He was saying something into the camera, but Charlie didn’t have the sound on.
“Turn the sound on, Charlie. Now,” Hardesty commanded.
“My name is Tyler,” the voice was saying to someone off camera, who was asking him questions in English with a slight German accent.
“And how old are you, Tyler?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Ah, saucy, boy. We’ll see how saucy you are at the end the session.” This was said with some amusement, not threateningly. “Where are you from, Tyler?”
“From somewhere else but here. From a farm.”
“And do you have animals on this farm?”
“Yes, big ones.”
“What is your favorite animal on the farm, Tyler?”
“A stud horse. One named Thane.”
“You have an animal on your farm named Thane?”
“Yes. He’s big and black. And he’s my mother’s boyfriend.”
“And does this animal play games with you?”
“Yes. He fucks me. And he’s rough.”
“Do you like big, black men fucking you rough, Tyler?”
“Show us what you have, Tyler, and maybe in the next segment we can get one of our big, black viewers to come in here and fuck you. I’m sure our members would like to see that. Would you like that?”
With that, the small youth with the blond Mohawk on the screen, who Hardesty knew as Todd, slowly stripped off his jeans--all that he had been wearing--and laid back on the pillows, still facing the camera.
“Very pretty, Tyler. Nice tattoo. What is it?”
“It’s a little lizard.”
“Very nice. Can you show us your hole, please. If a big, black man comes in here to fuck you in the next segment, we need to know if he’ll fit.”
Todd held his legs out and rolled his hips up to show his hole.
“Very nice, Tyler. I think our viewers will have fun with that. Now, can you make yourself come for us?”
“Turn it off!” The command cut through the room like a cannon blast and everyone turned and looked at Hardesty. Until now he’d been mesmerized and in shock. But he couldn’t take any more. “Wait, roll it back to the beginning and run it again.”
“Which is it, sport?” Charlie asked, more than a bit sarcastically. “Turn it off or let it roll?”
“Just do it,” Hardesty barked. Then he softened. “Please. Please reroll it.”
“Whatever you want, dude,” Charlie said. He reran it and Hardesty looked at it real closely this time. Some of the other detectives drifted away, having seen more than they wanted to see the first time.
After the second running--the third, actually, Hardesty having missed out on the first one, Hardesty was back on the attack. “Where is that signal coming from? We have to stop that.”
The squad’s captain slid over to join the group. “That’s just one of several, Hardesty. And it’s doubtful it’s child porn. It doesn’t use any signals of that. It might actually be marginally legal. But the guy looks young enough that we can investigate on the assumption he’s not of age. But not front burner. We’ve got too much on the plate already.”
“We gotta do something. We gotta keep trying,” Hardesty said, trying to keep his shock and anger in control. They didn’t know, and there’s no way he could let any of them know. “You gotta trace down where that Web site is broadcasting from, Charlie.”
“We’re doing what we can, Hardesty,” Charlie said. “But let’s keep it in perspective, buddy.”
Hardesty was about to explode, but he couldn’t do that. He willed himself to cool down, to sound reasonable. “Thanks, Charlie. I know you’re working on it. Let me know if you locate it, and I’ll keep my ear to the ground as well. Maybe I can come up with something that can help.”
He turned and went back to his desk, and the rest of the detectives dispersed too, now that show-and-tell was over. Several of them wondered to each other what had set Hardesty off, though, and the answer, as it was for all of them, invariably was that Hardesty was working too hard and getting too attached to some of the cases. It happened to all of them eventually, they said. No one stayed on vice forever, and Hardesty had already been in the unit for several years.
After everything simmered down, Hardesty moved in a circle back to next to Charlie’s desk.
“I have heard about something like this, Charlie. The next time you see them on, start looking up high on 16th Street. It may be nothing, but it may connect with something else I’m working on.”
“Thanks for the tip, Hardesty,” Charlie said.
“Sorry about blowing like that, but--”
“No problem, I know how it gets. And guys like you have to go face-to-face with it on the street. I just click on buttons on this computer.”
You don’t know the half of the going face to face with it, Hardesty thought, as he picked up his jacket and headed for the tombs. He had to start checking this Nathan Winstead name out.
One key issue Hardesty thought was present in that tape, but one he couldn’t voice without revealing he knew more about this “Tyler” than he should, was that it didn’t sound quite like Todd. That’s why Hardesty had had the tape rerun. He was slurring his words slightly. And his eyes looked a bit dull. Hardesty was convinced that Todd was drunk on the tape or drugged at least slightly. But it didn’t come out enough for anyone who didn’t know Todd to be able to see.