It is late Tuesday afternoon in Hillcrest. Tropical humidity closes around the county like a blanket. Surfing through local news: "The Chamber of Commerce in Hillcrest says, 'It appears to be business as usual throughout the community.' "
Another station: Cunanan supposedly spotted in New Hampshire leaving a sports store. Bottom banner scrolling right to left beneath four pictures of Andrew Cunanan:
"SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNINGS FOR SAN DIEGO COUNTY UNTIL 5:48 P.M. ...." This bulletin is broadcast well beyond 5:48 and still no rain, not even a breeze, just dishwater clouds and stagnant air that refuses to move over University Avenue.
At six o'clock at the Gay and Lesbian Center a few blocks away, a community security meeting is held for the concerned members of the gay community. Federal marshals, fbi, and local police all anticipate the possible re-emergence of "Spree Killer" Cunanan. More cameras than concerned citizens at the center on Normal Street. Reporters start interviewing each other, always a sure sign that the story's in the crapper.
The next day, the L.A. Times trumpets: "FEAR OF MURDER SUSPECT SPOOKS S.D. GAY PARADE" with a quote from Joseph Wambaugh via Tom Blair. Cunanan had dropped Wambaugh's name along with other celebrities including the late Gianni Versace (now, in death, "Johnny" Versace). Regarding Cunanan, Wambaugh expressed concern that the police not "dust him" before the fugitive has the opportunity to buy more of his books.
Meanwhile, night falls. Still no rain. The streets are filled with the closeted, the uncloseted, the clueless. Overtime street workers labor beneath Klieg lights at 10th and University. The Hollywood night-shoot lighting illuminates the bars and coffeehouses, the young, the goateed, the restless. One of them, seated at a sidewalk table drinking a double decaf/half caf frappe latte with macadamia cinnamon and no- fat whip points to the construction and the lighting and says, "You think those bright lights are a coincidence? See if you can pick out which one of those construction workers are undercover cops."
At Flicks, Cunanan's old hangout just down the street, no one has a bad word to say about the homicidal homosexual - only about the media. The bartender won't talk to anybody from the press; his boss, he said, is pissed. Apparently he had been misquoted in USA Today. According to the Union-Tribune, Flicks owner Joe Letzkus claimed to have been "stalked" by Cunanan. Another bartender says he's new and doesn't know anything. The doorman is also new and doesn't know anything. Some guys at the bar make it clear everyone is sick of the media. "They're the real prostitutes," says one guy. "Not Andrew."
This guy seems willing to talk, but the bartender indicates it will have to be outside and not in Flicks - at least not on his watch. The 26-year-old will not give me his name but says he knew Cunanan. I will call him Ricky Nelson because he looks a little like Ozzie and Harriet's boy.
In the doorway of an antique shop next door, Nelson embellishes. "Not just the media, but all these people that served him on a daily basis, like waiters in restaurants, California Cuisine, for one. If I get served in a restaurant five days a week and decide to become a spree killer, it doesn't give those waiters a license to talk to the media about me as if they knew me intimately. The people that knew him least are the ones selling themselves out to the media. They're saying he was a male prostitute; well, who's more of a prostitute - him or them or you? Andrew wasn't exactly a prostitute. If he was a woman, you would call him a gold digger. Women do what he did all the time without being called prostitutes.
"I know the roommate that he had on Robinson was charging exorbitant fees for interviews. That's why no one's really interviewing him. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame around Cunanan. I'm appalled at that because when Andrew used to walk in a bar, there would be a circle of people that followed him. He was very friendly, very nice. I'm in shock that he did what he did."
Did Nelson know Cunanan, and if so, how well?
"Let's say I knew him somewhat. We went to junior high together in Bonita. I was a year behind him. And I've known him from, you know, around." Nelson waves vaguely at the streets of Hillcrest. "He was a very intelligent person, but unfortunately he lied a lot about his background and everything. He lied to me that he was wealthy and Jewish and that his family was from Israel, blah blah blah. But he knew about wealthy families. He would say, for example, 'Oh, you're going to St. Louis? You simply must visit the So and Sos.' You know, some old-money family.
"I've never seen this kind of profiling on a serial killer. All these so-called experts are making judgments about him based on what the media has made up and not real fact. No one is going into the real life of Andrew Cunanan. They've made him out to be a psychopathic killer."
"Well, he did, you know," I interrupt him, "probably kill five people."
"Okay, he probably did." Nelson dismisses the point as if we were referring to a spilled drink or wearing white shoes after Labor Day. "My opinion is that the facts say he did, but I'm a law student, and he's innocent until proven guilty. If he gets rid of that gun, everything will be circumstantial."
I realize now, in retrospect, that as we were talking on the street, Cunanan may have been looking down the barrel of that same gun, fitting it up against his chin or temple, trying it on for size between his teeth or placing it against his heart, his thumb on the trigger, scoping out the mechanics of self-destruction.
"He was probably asking Versace for asylum and was turned down in a rude way... he's running for his life right now...he didn't intend to kill Johnny...it was his biggest mistake...he would never in a million years show up here for the gay pride parade...the entire world is looking at Hillcrest. Sure, everyone's scared.... But would you walk down University Avenue with a big sign saying, 'Here I am'?"
Nelson's talking and I'm not really taking it in. I'm straining to hear something, anything, about, if not the victims, at least some acknowledgment that old Andy had committed something worse than a social faux pas that really, my goodness, we'll all be talking about for weeks.
"What," I ask Ricky Nelson, "about the blaze of glory theory? You know, maybe he wants to come home to the bosom of his community and die with color and drama, on film and videotape on the street in front of Gay Mart?"
Nelson shakes his head. "No no no. The Andrew that I knew is probably half-insane right now, thinking about what he's done."
There was the note I was waiting for. Nelson, it turns out, was more right than he could have known. At that moment someone drives by, and a shirtless man with a military haircut leans out the passenger window and shouts, "Free Andy!" This is answered by someone in front of Big City Bagels who shouts back, "Go, Andy, Go!" Next to him, a man shouts, "We love you, Johnny!"
Nelson laughs at the street antics. "It's funny. The most infamous homosexual in history now. Maybe we'll finally - and this would be so funny - maybe now we'll get some kind of macho personification." Nelson's cracking himself up. He notices I'm not yucking it up with him and adds, "Seriously, anyone who comments on this is going to be seen as homosexual. I think that's the number one concern. People in the closet are very afraid of being identified nationwide."
"Are you in or out of the closet?" I ask as sensitively as possible.
"I'm so far in the closet, no one knows. Hah hah. It's a big closet. Anyway, I feel sorry for Andrew." Nelson's wearing a very serious expression now. "He had his dream and went about it a little bit in the wrong way. Something made him snap, and we don't know what that is, so we should guard our comments until we do."
Twenty-four hours later, it was official. The loose cannon full of secrets had safely - for the closeted, the monied, and the nervous - checked out of the equation and found fast relief with a .40 caliber aspirin 3000 miles away. The denizens of Hillcrest and parade participants were once again free to don the trappings of gaiety and flame proudly on.
"He did the right thing," said a young, goateed, earringed, baseball-capped fellow the next morning. He had just heard about Cunanan's suicide. "It's a drag, a shame about Gianni, though."