Dangerous Liaisons

Police may never know for sure how a young gay man ended up shot to death in a field off Bird Road. But they have a theory: Cruising can kill.

And Shoemaker apparently demonstrated a tendency to do just that from the moment of her arrest: "She was coming out of the bathroom as we were coming in the door [of her apartment]," recounts Det. John Hansen of the Greenwood Lake (New York) Police Department, who took her into custody. "Basically she wasn't all that shocked. She stated it was her boyfriend, not her, who did it."

Rivera's attorney is dismayed by the prosecution's tactics. "They're bringing up bogus charges against her, twisting her arm to make some sort of incriminating statement," asserts Orlando Buch. "It really seems like an exercise in hobnail-boot tactics that prosecutors sometimes use when they don't have a lot of evidence."

By the time a jury ponders matters of evidence and tactics, Onay Barrera will have been dead for more than a year. But within the demimonde he inhabited, the murder remains something of a shared experience, if only in the abstract. "It happened right back there," confides a young clerk at Bird Road Book and Video. "He was stabbed, like, 30 times. The guy who did it, he's killed a couple of people before. He makes them, you know, give him oral sex, and then he stabs them."

For some, though, such grisly hyperbole hasn't precluded a reckless lifestyle. Metro-Dade police say they haven't found Bird Road Book and Video troublesome from a law enforcement perspective ever since Metro's Nuisance Abatement Board temporarily shut down the bookstore in March 1994 and forced its owner to dismantle the video viewing booths. But gay men who continue to frequent the block say the cruising goes on. (Bookstore owner Rafael Ajami was out of town and unreachable for comment for this story, according to a man who answered the phone at the establishment.)

And every day at other adult bookstores in the area, a silent ritual repeatedly plays out: A man enters the shop and heads to an isolated section, often a hallway at the back where tiny viewing rooms are flimsily partitioned, often with walls that don't reach the ceiling, so that anyone can look from one room into the next from above. The group of customers nonchalantly lined up facing the row of cubicle doors might comprise businessmen, handymen, young bodybuilders, high school students, computer nerds. To radio music pumped through the store's speakers, the businessman enters one of the cubicles and shuts the door. Moments later the bodybuilder silently opens the same door and goes in. A red bulb atop the door lights up. The handyman slips into an adjacent room. Two other men emerge from a third room and quietly leave together. Similar rites take place in parking lots and in public parks; for the ultimate in anonymity, encounters are arranged and consummated in minutes through so-called telephone date lines.

"The vast majority of the straight world has no idea what's going on right under their noses," says Onay Barrera's friend Coleman Bell, who freely admits his promiscuous past. Bell tells of quickies behind the Dumpster in the Bird Road bookstore parking lot, as well as a few less-enjoyable experiences in other settings: beatings and a robbery, a sexual assault -- all at the hands of strangers he picked up. "Part of the attractiveness is it's taboo and nobody knows. But they also don't know that people actually get killed.

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