Chapter 21

“What’s the deal?” Vickers asked as he stepped beneath the crime scene tape.

A uniformed officer said, “We got a call to come by this place and pick up the dad, Chris Cooper.  Seems he put his son out on the street couple of days before Christmas because he found out he was….”

“Gay?” Vickers asked, snapping his notebook shut.  “GOD FUCKING DAMNIT!”  He took a moment to compose himself and asked, “And I’m here because?”

“Bodies,” the man said nervously.  “And on the bedroom door….”

Vickers forcefully threw his notebook against a nearby squad car and ran his hand through his hair.  “How many?”

“Husband and wife,” the man replied.  “Son’s missing.”

“The son isn’t missing!  I know who’ll know where he is….  I’m just glad he didn’t come back over here and get caught up in this sonofabitch’s fun!” Vickers fumed.

“You sure the kid wasn’t involved?  Heard they were buddies,” the man said.

“Kid might have been a jackass but no way could he stomach what’s in that house,” Vickers said.

“What’s in there?” the officer asked.  When they had seen the mark, they called the experts.

“Just thank your lucky stars you didn’t peek behind that bedroom door,” Vickers said, grabbing his notebook and heading inside to find the crime scene boys.

“What do you have for me, Ryan?” Vickers asked, finding the head tech directing his men.

“You know what I’ve got, Vickers, as well as anyone!  Same as before — bloody mark on the door warned us of that.  He did pose them this time,” Ryan said.

“Do I even want to know?” Vickers asked.

“Take a look,” Ryan said.  Vickers looked around the doorframe into the room and saw the husband and wife, sitting up in bed as if watching television, arms around each other.  But what might have been a touching scene was marred by the bloody naked corpses, crisscrossed with shallow cuts made with diabolical glee.

Vickers took out his phone and made a call to the station.  “Give me the chief,” he said to the dispatcher gruffly.

“May I tell him what,” the woman began.

HOMOCIDE!  Now get him on the GOD DAMN PHONE!” Vickers shouted angrily.

The phone was beeping to let him know he had an incoming call, but he dared not switch to the other call and risk missing the chief.

“Chief Swanson,” the man said as he came on the line.

“Vickers, sir,” the man replied.

“I know.  You pissed off that dispatcher something fierce,” the man laughed.

“‘Fraid I don’t have time to make friends sir,” Vickers said grumpily.  “Seems our budding serial killer’s actually on a spree.”

“How many?” the chief asked.

“Two more makes five … that we know of,” Vickers said.  “And lots of potential targets now that we know he’s not just going after strangers.”

“You want to call in the mind voodoo boys?” the chief asked, referring to the FBI profilers.

“Yeah, I do,” Vickers said with a sigh.

WHAT?” Swanson asked.  “You think you can’t handle this situation?”

Vickers said, “It isn’t a matter of whether I can handle it, chief!  Given the time and resources, I can find this boy!  Unless he leaves town, or goes into the deep woods!  But in the meanwhile people are going to DIE!”

Swanson’s seat creaked as he sat back, chewing on his pen.  “I’m reassigning this case, Vickers!  We’re the police in this town.  We don’t call in more police at the first sign of trouble.  If the trail goes cold, then I’ll reconsider.  Do you need some time off?”

Vickers saw red and said, “You stubborn ass!”

“Two weeks,” the chief said.  “UNPAID suspension!  Badge and gun on my desk by the time I leave today or I’ll send someone to take them!”  Then he slammed his phone.

Ryan looked at him and said, “You didn’t just call the chief a stubborn ass?”

Vickers nodded.  “Took me off the case, and won’t even call in the BAU!  This kid will run rings around us until we get lucky.  I hope to God that’s sooner rather than later,” Vickers said.  He marched out of the house and found the nearest uniform that looked like he had nothing to do.  Vickers took out his radio and said to whoever was listening, “Vickers here.  I’m leaving my credentials and weapon with Officer Fox.”  Then he shoved his badge and gun into the boy’s hands and left as he had arrived.  But not before he beat the hell out of his steering wheel.

***

Billy and Arnie were walking out of the courthouse after Billy’s interview with the judge when his phone rang.  “Billy?  It’s Detective Vickers….”

“Did you get my email?” the boy asked.

“Yeah, I just watched a part of it.  Where are you right now?” Vickers asked.

“With Arnie Prince.  We just left the courthouse.  Why?”  Billy asked.

“I’m on my way to his office.  Wait for me!” Vickers said.  “And put him on the phone….”

“Arnold Prince,” the lawyer answered as he put the phone to his ear.

“Mr. Prince, Detective Vickers here,” the man said.  “I’m on my way to talk to your client.  Long story short, don’t let anyone but me talk to him!”

“I’m not even sure I’m letting you talk to him,” Arnie said with a smile.

“We’ll work that out.  You should know, his parents are dead and his former best friend is the killer,” Vickers said.  Crossing a line, Vickers said, “Some people might want to twist this so it seems like Billy was involved.  I’m sure you won’t have any problems accounting for his whereabouts for the last few days, especially, say early this morning?”  Vickers was no expert but he knew enough to know those bodies were only a few hours old.

“Thank you, detective,” Arnie said, getting the hint.  “We’ll see you soon….”  Arnie hung up the phone and Billy asked, “What’s going on?”

Arnie shook his head.  When they arrived back at his office, Arnie asked, “Billy, where were you last night?

The boy looked down and said, “I ran off for a couple of hours, but … I was back home by midnight!”

Arnie frowned.  “Can you prove it?”

“Jim and Paul were on either side of me.  Paul woke up whenever I got out of bed … I guess he was afraid I’d run off again, so he can tell you!  I never left!” Billy said.

“What’s this all about?” Sean asked.

Arnie motioned for them to sit down and said, “Your Detective Vickers is on his way here … and he warned me not to let Billy talk to anyone.”

“But why,” Billy began.

“Billy,” Arnie said, “the police officers who went to arrest your dad must have found them already … it was too late.  You parents are dead.”

Billy’s face went white.  He was scared:  Not because he was an orphan, he had already been orphaned; not even because he knew the killer and boy was interested in him; but because he didn’t feel anything.

“Billy, are you alright?” Sean whispered, kneeling beside him and putting his hand on the boy’s arm.

“Am I … like him?” Billy whispered.

“Like who?  Like your dad?” Sean asked.  “Of course not!”

“Like Robert,” Billy said.  “I … don’t FEEL anything.”

“You don’t feel anything right now, because you’re in shock!” Sean said.  “And, given what’s just happened, you don’t know how you’re supposed to feel.  You feel lots of things: you loved Paul, and you were afraid of what people would think.  That last bit isn’t as admirable, but Robert doesn’t feel anything like that!”  Sean looked at Arnie and was about to ask, ‘Do you think he needs a doctor?’ when Vickers was announced and led in.

Vickers walked over to Billy and Sean and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Meanwhile Arnie was already on the phone with a friend he’d grown up with, Dr. Martin Katz, and arranged for him to see the boy that evening after his last patient.  Arnie strong-armed him – anything for a kid.

As he put down the phone, Arnie said, “You aren’t talking to my client without his attorney, are you, detective?”

The man looked up and him and said, “Call me Eric.  And I am not here as a police officer.  As of this morning I was suspended.”

“What?” Arnie asked.

“Two weeks, unpaid,” Eric nodded.  “Case has been reassigned.”

“Why?” Sean asked.  The man seemed so dedicated.

“I asked the chief to call in the FBI to consult, and when he refused, he asked me if I needed a vacation and took me off the case. I … let him know what I thought,” Vickers said.

“So why are you here, Eric?” Arnie asked.

“Well, there’s a killer out there, and this boy knows him best of all.  Is there anything you can tell me?” Vickers asked.

“We didn’t really talk about much but ball and girls and … Paul,” Billy said, lowering his eyes at the last.

Vickers looked around and shook his head.  “I got a bad feeling about all of this,” he said.  “Any way they’d leave town for a bit?”

“Actually,” Sean said, “Andy and I are taking all the boys into the city for a week, and then Jim and Paul are going to visit the base with Danny, so most of the boys will be out of town for a couple of weeks, most of the time.”

“It’ll have to do,” Vickers said.  “Let me know where you guys are when you are in town?”

“I thought you were suspended,” Arnie said.

“Yeah, well, this asshole isn’t going to catch himself, so somebody whose head isn’t half way up his ass has to be looking into it,” Vickers said.

“You want me to look into getting that suspension revoked?” Arnie asked.

“Ah,” Vickers said.  “Nah!  It won’t be the last one.  Besides, I don’t know how many more times I’ll go back to the department.  This might be the time that really breaks the camel’s back!”

“Don’t do anything rash,” Arnie said.  “We might still be able to get your pension out of them, no matter what!”

Vickers shrugged and nodded.  “CALL ME!” Eric said, shooting a look at Sean.

When he was gone, Billy sat silently for a long time.  “Is it okay for me to leave town?”

“Sean’s your guardian for now,” Arnie said.  “It’s up to him.  The police have no grounds to tell you otherwise.  You just let them deal with me, and don’t talk to anybody with a badge without me there!”

***

Jim dropped Paul off at his house before heading home.  They both had bags to pack and things to do.  Paul was shoving clothes into his bag when the phone rang.

“Paul?” Jim asked when the boy answered.

“What are you doing?” Paul asked with a laugh.  “Leave me alone and let me get packed!”

“Paul,” Jim said seriously and the boy stopped.

“What?” Paul asked tentatively.

“My dad just called to let me know about Billy,” Jim said.

“WHAT?” Paul demanded.

“After lunch he checked his email at Arnie’s office and … Robert had sent him a special email,” Jim said.

“Worse than the others?” Paul asked.

“Yeah, but Sean didn’t let him watch it.  After Robert’s message, the video was apparently footage of Robert torturing and murdering his parents,” Jim explained.

“At least it wasn’t some innocent girl again,” Paul said, shocking Jim.  “I mean, that’s terrible,” he quickly muttered.

Jim said, “I guess you’re right though.  You know he’s not going to forget us either, though?”

Paul shivered.  “I know.”  Then he asked.  “Where’s Billy now?”

“Sean took him back to the house,” Jim said.  “I’m almost ready.  I’ll come over and then, when your parents get home, we’ll head out!”

Paul said, “Thanks.” He didn’t really want to wait, but his parents would also be gone for a week, so he needed to give them hugs.  Plus he needed to tell them what had happened.

“Sean said he’s in shock right now, so he’s … okay for a bit yet,” Jim said trying to be reassuring.  Somehow it failed.

“Call Danny,” Paul said, his mind wandering, before hanging up.  He quickly finished packing his clothes and tossed in a few books and a notebook he kept with him, before sitting at his computer and aimlessly checking emails until he heard the door close downstairs.

Paul ran downstairs to find his parents carrying in a few bags of last minute essentials for their own trip.  He breathlessly filled them in on what had happened.  When he was done, Molly asked, “Are you sure you boys will be safe?  Maybe we shouldnt,” she began.

“NO!” Paul said.  “We’ll be away and together!  Where would I be safer than with Andy, Sean, Jim and Billy?”

“Your mom is going to worry about you anyway,” Molly said, hugging her son.

***

“Mom!  I’ll be fine,” Danny said, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me young man!” the woman replied, shaking her finger.  “Not with a psycho out killing people he doesn’t like! Especially since he REALLY doesn’t like YOU!”

“Mom, he wouldn’t take the risk,” Danny said.

“NO?  He risked taking a couple in daylight, and Chris Cooper was a big guy,” she said.

“Chris Cooper was a careless drunk with anger management issues,” Danny said.  “I’m not worried.”

“I’m calling the colonel,” his mother said, reaching for the phone.

I’M NOT RUNNING AWAY!” he said.

“It isn’t running away,” she said.  “It’s retreat!”

“Can Christina retreat with me?” Danny demanded.  “Cause she’s my girlfriend and PAUL’s best friend, and that’s exactly who Robert would go after!”

The woman glowered.  Christina.  “You can’t be with her all the time!”

“She’s scared,” Danny said.  “She’s not going out alone….”

“What about the other boys?” the woman asked.

“They’re all out of town on vacation starting tomorrow,” Danny said.

“So it’s just you and her, then?” the woman worried.  She reached for the phone and eyed him carefully.  “Go pack a bag!”  He started to speak and she said, “Don’t sass me!  I’m calling her mother!  I want you both gone until they catch him or school starts anyway!”

“What about you?” Danny asked.  “If he comes here….”

“I’ve got the alarm, and I’m packing heat,” she said, patting her purse.  She dialed a number and said, “Arlene?  We need to talk….”

Danny ran off to his room and packed a bag.  Indefinite time with Christina in an out-of-town hotel on his mom’s dime?  Sweet!

***

“I’m glad mom and dad are going to be out of town, too,” Paul said to Jim as they drove along.

Jim said, “Why?”

“Because I  … what if I came home to what those officers found at Billy’s house,” Paul said, his voice breaking.  Paul was shaking when he added, “I’ve put you all in danger!”

“Paul,” Jim said firmly but gently, “he’d already killed somebody around the time you came out, and who knows what he did before?  He was blackmailing those guys already!  We don’t know half of what he’s done!”  Jim sighed and said, “We were all in danger the first time he walked through those doors!”

“But it’s not the same.  If I never caught his attention,” Paul began.

“It’s not your fault, Paul!” Jim said.  “You’re beautiful, and sweet, and people ARE going to notice you.  Unfortunately being an evil son of a bitch doesn’t make someone immune to that!”

“What are we going to do?” Paul asked, a tone of hopelessness seeping into his normally irrepressible self.

“Well, we’re going to try to enjoy a week’s vacation,” Jim began.

“And try to get through a week dealing with your mother,” Paul added darkly.

“Don’t be a gloomy gus!” Jim said, though he was worried.  “You and I will go to a show one night by ourselves, and have a big date!”

“Well, don’t think you’re off the hook for camping,” Paul grumbled with a widening smile.  “Spring break!”

“Cool,” Jim smiled.  “Thanks, Paul….”

“For what?” Paul asked.

Jim sat for a moment and said, “For everything!  But right now, for rolling with everything and coming into the city with me and….  I couldn’t deal with it all without you.”  Paul smiled out the window privately, but reached over and squeezed the boy’s hand.  “And I want you to know,” Jim said after Paul thought he was finished, “I understand that you’re gonna want to help Billy and be there for him, and I’m gonna try my best not to be jealous….”

Paul smiled over at him and said, “I’m sorry! All this stuff’s getting in the way.  We shouldn’t have to share right now … but we do….”  Jim squeezed his hand again.  “You know, if at any time after you took me to get ice cream you’d told me you were interested, I would have dropped everyone else?”

“Yeah?” Jim asked with a smile, though there was a complex emotion hidden just behind it.

“In a second,” Paul said.  “Don’t take any of this the wrong way.  Billy loved me the best he could.  He may still, some part of him.  And it’s not his fault he couldn’t do better.  Where would he learn to love from?  Luckily I had a good family so learning with him didn’t screw me up too much,” Paul broke into nervous laughter.  Before Jim could interject, Paul hurried on, “But from the moment I met you, you were different.  And you were so kind to me … that’s when I really started to realize how wrong things really were.  I meant it when I said I knew I could trust you.”

“From the minute Danny told me what was happening to you, I couldn’t get you off my mind,” Jim said.  “Honestly, since the day you were outed, I couldn’t get you off my mind. It was more just thinking, ‘Wow there’s a guy living it!’”  Jim smiled, “That first time I came up when you were being bullied, I just felt so angry, and so protective! And when you smiled at me?  I knew then, if you asked I’d do anything – I’d come out, I’d fight, I’d run away with you….”

The boys rode in an exhilarated silence, both feeling the relief of having spoken about how they felt and the excitement of knowing the other’s inner thoughts.  But, when they pulled up to Sean’s house, Paul hesitated for a moment, looking to Jim as if for permission, and Jim said, “GO!”  Paul didn’t wait for Jim to turn off the car before making a break for the house to find Billy.  Jim didn’t love it but he had to smile at Paul’s attitude.

As Paul burst through the front door, Andy and Sean jumped and Andy’s hand was inside his coat, unsnapping the holster strap.  “Paul, be more careful,” he warned and removed his hand, hoping the boy hadn’t realized.

“He’s in his room,” Sean said, sending Paul on his way.

“Jesus,” Andy whispered.

“It’s okay,” Sean said, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing gently.  “We’re all on edge, and need to be careful!  But you DO need a massage, and I give one hell of a rub down….”

Andy’s grin spread slowly and said, “I’ll be the judge of that!”  Then he blushed as Jim carried his and Paul’s bag into the living room.

“Get a room horn dogs!” Jim smiled wryly.

Andy sputtered, and Sean said, “We will!” making Jim blush.  “Why don’t you hang out in the garage while Paul and Billy talk for a bit?”

“The garage?” Jim asked, curling up his nose.

“Oh!  I forgot I never gave you boys the tour,” Sean said, laughing.  He led Jim to the garage and said, “THIS is my garage!”

“AWESOME!” Jim exclaimed.  “Who knew you were cool, coach?” he teased.

“Why don’t you change and hit the weights?” Sean laughed, shaking his head.

“How bout I don’t and play video games instead?” Jim laughed.  Sean winked and put a hand on the back of the boy’s neck gently, giving it a soft squeeze.  Jim turned on the Wii and gave the men a wave, letting them know they could leave him if they wanted.

Andy blushed again, but followed Sean out and away.

***

Robert had been watching from a wooded lot near Paul’s house.  He’d been watching for a while, sneaking as close as possible to simply observe the comings and goings of the place.  He wasn’t surprised that a police cruiser drove by the house often, but he also knew that once it passed, he’d have at least fifteen minutes before another one drove by.  He’d even spotted the nearby surveillance team in an unmarked sedan.  But he didn’t plan on walking through the front door.

“What is it about you, Paul?” he asked with legitimate curiosity.  First a guy like Billy, and now Jim?  He’d not really expected it, because of what he could not see.  He could never have accurately interpreted the fire in Jim’s eyes.  Sure, Jim had been looking after the boy, but Jim was … a real jock, a man.  Nothing like Billy, who made the perfect lackey.  In Jim, he saw something that made him fill with cold anger, and a modicum of respect – sort of like he felt for Danny: the boys were alpha males, and alpha males do not tolerate other alpha males, even as they respect them for the threat they pose.

The bag he’d seen Jim carry out for Paul was clearly for a vacation, about a week away he guessed.  He’d nearly left before he caught site of an interesting fact.  Through open curtains he saw Phil and Molly packing too.  Leaving town?  No one would think twice.  Perfect!

***

From yet another hidden vantage point, further away and more hidden, another set of eyes was on the job.  Detective Vickers sat with his high-powered binoculars.  He turned his eyes on the cops staking out the house.  “Idiots,” he muttered to himself as the men ate Chinese food and looked in the last place they’d ever find Robert.  Then he yet again scanned the edge of the woods across from Paul’s house.  He knew Robert would, somehow, be trying to keep tabs on the boys, and would doubtless try to strike out at them, but how?  Robert would do nothing so direct as knocking on the front door as he may have at the Cooper residence.  But then, finding in the Coopers perfect victims rather than helpful dupes had been a happy coincidence.  Whatever endgame Robert had planned, these cops would never see it coming.  He sighed deeply and shook his head.  If he climbed a little higher, he could see into the Andersons’ back yard.

***

Billy barely looked up from his computer, and Paul just stood awkwardly by the door.  “What are you doing?” Paul asked at long last.

“Just reading emails,” the boy said calmly.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” Paul said.

“For what?” Billy replied coldly.  “Now I don’t have to worry about court, or testifying, or any of that crap….”

“Billy,” Paul said softly, “they were horrible people, but they were your parents.”

Billy’s lip trembled and he whispered, “I know.  But I don’t want it to hurt.  They don’t deserve to be able to hurt me now, not like this.”

Paul rushed to his side and wrapped his arms around the big boy, who started to cry on his shoulder.

“It’s just … I feel terrible, Paul!  I just feel all these things!  My parents are dead, and it’s like a knife in my heart.  But there’s this feeling of relief,” he said, averting his eyes.  “Like a part of me is glad they’re gone.  And it’s not a small part. I know what happened to them was horrible, and part of me thinks they deserved it,” Billy poured out as he cried on Paul’s shoulder.

“There isn’t anything I can say to make you feel better.  Not even me, the boy who talks too much,” Paul added, making Billy laugh a little.  “But I’m here for you, and Sean and Andy are here for you.  Even Jim is here for you!  You’re ours now….”

***

“Mrs. Williams,” a young doctor said as he approached.  “Visiting hours are nearly over….  You should go home.”

“When can you take Gregg off suicide watch?” the woman asked.

“Your son is still in a very precarious place, ma’am,” the young man said.  “The things that happened to him, the things that were done….  And if he finds out what Robert has done since he’s been in here, he’ll no doubt blame himself even more.”  The woman looked at him expectantly, and he sighed.  “Certainly no less than a few more days….”

“He doesn’t talk, he barely eats,” the woman said, her nerves frazzled.  “I … doctor, his father and I have been keeping something from you.”

The man frowned at her.  ‘Why do they always do this shit?’ he fumed inside.  ‘We’re fucking trying to help them!’  Then he asked, “What?”

“The boy, the one Gregg and his friends were going to … hurt: He told the coach he’d like to talk to Gregg.  Coach Spencer let us know the day after he was brought here, but we didn’t think it was a good,” Mrs. Williams said.

“Give me this Coach Spencer’s number,” the doctor said.  The woman silently wrote it down and handed it to him.  “Please go home.  Get some rest,” the man said, somewhat peeved and walked away.

He found a phone out of the way and dialed the number.  A man sounding somewhat out of breath answered the phone.  “Hello?”

“Coach Spencer?  I hope this isn’t a bad time?” the doctor asked.

“What can I do for you?” Sean asked, smiling at Andy as the man looked up at him over his shoulder.

“Dr. Felix Klein,” the young man said.  “I’m calling from the hospital.  I am one of Gregg Williams’s doctors….”

Sean got serious and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“I’m calling about what you told Gregg’s parents.  They’ve only just told me that … the boy wanted to speak with Gregg,” Felix said.

“They said they’d ask him,” Sean said.  “I assumed they’d tell you folks Paul’s offer was open.”

“Well, we know now.  But listen, it’s a tricky thing, and if it went wrong it could be devastating, but the boy is sinking,” Felix said.  “Do you know what Paul wants to say to him?”

“Yes,” Sean said.  “He wants to tell him it’s not his fault….”

“Can he come in on Monday?” Felix asked.

“He’s leaving tomorrow for a whole week,” Sean said.

“Can he come by in the morning?  I’ll stay late,” the young doctor offered.

“I’m sure he’ll want to,” Sean said.  “How’s 8?”

“Good,” Felix said.  “We’ll need to talk before I can let him see Gregg….”

“Alright,” Sean said.  “See you in the morning.”

“You’re coming too?” the doctor asked surprised.

“A group of us are going together on vacation,” Sean said.

“Right,” Dr. Klein said.  “See you in the morning then!”