Chapter 23

Ryan stood in front of his mirror and said, “Don’t over-do it, buddy! This isn’t a date!” Ryan looked at himself in tan slacks, white shirt and a light powder blue sweater. “Alright, not too dressy, not too flashy. You just look like a young gay on the prowl! Fuck!” Ryan went to his closet and looked around for a minute before deciding he’d just say he was going dancing when he left the bar if Vickers said anything. “Vickers won’t say anything,” he muttered, disappointed.

He grabbed his wallet and pulled on his coat and scarf, hurrying out to his car. The traffic in town was light and he arrived at the Mariner, parking up the street in a parking zone. As he walked in, he passed the host’s stand and headed for the bar. He was surprised to hear a voice call to him, “Ryan?” He turned and found Vickers waiting near the door. “They’re clearing a table for us!”

“Oh!” Ryan said, sort of blushing and depositing his coat on the coat rack. “I thought we’d just eat at the bar….”

“Where’s the fire? We’re men of leisure now,” Vickers said, rolling his eyes. “Nice sweater by the way,” he added offhandedly. Ryan gulped like a spaz and hoped Vickers didn’t notice.

His preplanned explanation flew out the window at the unexpected comment, so the blushing young man asked, “You think so? Thanks!”

Vickers smiled at him and nodded as the host motioned for them. Ryan couldn’t help notice as he followed Vickers that the man was pretty well built for a man nearing forty. He filled in the back of his slacks nicely.

When their waiter came to take their drink orders, he asked, “Is this one check?”

“Yeah, I’ve got this,” Vickers nodded.

Ryan again couldn’t help but blush; ‘What the hell was this all about?’ he wondered. He smiled and said, “You don’t have to….”

“My treat,” the man said. “I asked you here!”

“So what have you been up to?” Ryan asked as Vickers picked up a wine list.

“You like red or white?” Vickers asked. Seeing the younger man smile, he said, “I know I’m a hardnosed old cop, but I like to unwind too!”

“Red,” Ryan said, smiling.

“I’ve been working the case, of course,” Vickers smiled as he perused the list. When the waiter returned he ordered a nice bottle and then told Ryan what he’d been doing. “I’ve been watching the house a lot. Eventually, he’s got to come there….”

“Why?” Ryan asked.

“Because eventually playing with his prey won’t be enough. Eventually, he won’t be able to satisfy himself with the game anymore and he’ll go for the heart of the thing. And that’s those boys, Jim and Paul and Billy, but Paul most of all,” Vickers said.

“In the meantime, what’s all this other business about?” Ryan asked, overcoming his jitters by talking about the case.

“Who knows why he killed the original boy, if he was the first?” Vickers said. “He killed the woman out of necessity, and Billy’s family … as a kind of sick favor. What can you tell me about the man in the park?”

Ryan filled him in and Vickers nodded. “Sounds like a crime of opportunity,” Vickers said when he finished.

“But there has to be more to it,” Ryan said.

“Yeah,” Vickers nodded. “But God only knows….”

“So what are you doing from here on out?” Ryan asked.

“I’ll keep watching the house in the evening, and try to watch the boy’s he was blackmailing during the day as best I can. I bet no one is watching them,” Vickers said.

“Can I help?” Ryan asked. Seeing the man’s look, he said, “What? I’m very observant! And at least I’m still getting paid,” he added with a smile.

“I’ve been alone for a long time,” Vickers smiled. “I don’t need the MONEY!”

“Why do you keep doing it then?” Ryan asked.

“To catch the bad guys and keep the people safe,” Vickers said with a wry smile. “Cliché, I know….”

“It’s a nicer cliché than the ones that apply to most of your colleagues,” Ryan said, averting his eyes.

“I suppose so,” Vickers smiled. “So tell me what Anderson did….” Ryan frowned but did narrate the afternoon’s shaming to the man, who frowned back at him. When Ryan finished Vickers shook his head and curled his nose. “Anderson’s always been a bastard. I’m sorry that happened; I can’t help but think it’s my fault.”

“How so?” Ryan laughed.

“If I hadn’t made a nuisance of myself, it wouldn’t have mattered what your report was gonna say,” Vickers said. “Plus it would have been me there instead of Anderson….”

“Well, that would have been better,” Ryan said, unable to keep from blushing. “But you did the right thing…. So can I help?”

“I suppose you could help me tail one of the boys,” Vickers said. “But let’s talk about something else for a while….”

“What?” Ryan asked with a laugh.

Vickers smiled and asked, “Why don’t I ever see you out with any of the guys?”

“You mean cops?” Ryan laughed. “Cops don’t roll with techs, and if they did, I wouldn’t be the guy!”

“Oh, come on! Everybody likes you! Well, not Anderson and the goons, but almost everyone,” Vickers said with a laugh. “What?”

“I don’t recall seeing you laugh before,” Ryan blushed.

“Well, normally we meet under different circumstances,” Vickers smiled.

“Well you’re not a big party animal yourself. I don’t know the last time I heard someone say you’d gone out with the guys either,” Ryan said.

“Ah … I’m a downer,” Vickers smiled and took a big drink. “All the other guys want to talk about family or their boat, or vacation. I’m not, I mean I don’t have anything to add to that conversation. I don’t know what else there is besides work!”

“There’s hanging out with friends,” Ryan said. “Ball games, and pool, and cards, watching television together….”

“I … I don’t have many friends,” Vickers acknowledged. “Any friends to be exact….”

Ryan frowned and said, “I’m sure that isn’t true!” Vickers smiled and explained it was true. His best friend had moved away years earlier, and Vickers had never really tried to find a new friend. “Well you should make some friends, Vickers,” the young man answered after he’d swallowed a mouthful of food.

“I’m sure as hell trying,” Vickers smiled. “Call me Eric!” At this, Ryan blushed again. What Ryan wasn’t watching carefully was the fact that, as his nerves were rattled, his nervous tic was to take a drink. So he was going through wine about three times as fast as the bigger and more experienced man.

Therefore, Vickers was soon laughing heartily at stories Ryan might never have told him otherwise, about college antics and funny things that happened on road trips, blundered first kisses and the like.

By the end of dinner, Ryan laughed and fell silent. “I’ve been doing all the talking, Eric!”

“I’m enjoying listening,” Vickers smiled. “You need something else to drink, dessert maybe?”

“I’m too full to eat one alone,” Eric said. “Want to share?”

Vickers smiled. “Why not?”

When they ordered dessert, Ryan asked for a brandy as well and Vickers teased, “Why your Lordship!”

Ryan giggled and said, “See! You are funny! I knew it!”

Vickers laughed and said, “Not everybody appreciates my humor!”

Ryan looked up at him with a smile devoid of laughter and said, “I do….”

Vickers smiled back, confused and conflicted. But he was having fun; that was a long lost feeling. Once they finished and he paid, Vickers took one look at Ryan and said, “No way you can drive home! Where do you live? I’ll give you a ride!”

Ryan told him his address and the man drove him home. Ryan was quieter than Vickers expected. Ryan tried to get out when they arrived but had trouble so Vickers parked the car and helped the man up the steps to the apartment, and then up to the second floor to his door.

Unexpectedly, Ryan turned himself on the arm that was supported him so he was chest-to-chest with the detective. “Eric,” Ryan whispered, his head lolling on the man’s shoulder. “I’ve got the biggest crush on you and I know this wasn’t a date and I know this is crazy and you’ll probably never speak to me again but God am I stupid I’m going to do it anyway.” And before Vickers realized the nearly incomprehensible string was through, he felt Ryan’s lips press against his as the young man’s hands crept around his waist. It felt so damn good, but he stopped Ryan gently, pulling back from the kiss and out of the hug. But he kept his hands on the man’s arms gently.

“Ryan, go inside and get some rest. You’re a little drunk,” Vickers said, giving him a way out. He had to help Ryan with the key and let him inside. Ryan closed the door and started to walk away.

Vickers pounded on the door and called though it, “LOCK the DOOR, you damn fool! There’s a killer on the loose!” He heard the door click and hurried down to his car. His drive home was long, as he took lots of roundabout ways to get there; he needed to think.

***

Andy and Jim followed the directions they’d printed out to the address Gloria had given them. Jim’s grandparents had scheduled their arrival for a bit later so Jim could have some time.

As they pulled up in front of the house, Andy looked at Jim and said, “You sure about this, bud?”

“I don’t want him to grow up having a brother he doesn’t even know exists,” Jim said. Andy nodded and got out, leading Jim to the front door and knocking. A few moments passed before a man answered the door. He was a little older than Andy, and tall, with a distinguished look about him despite the blue jeans and sweater he was wearing.

“Jim? Andy?” he asked, his eyes embarrassed. His voice was soft and low as he added, “Please … come in….” Looking around his own home as if he were confused or lost the man put his hand to his head and said, “This is so awkward! I … my name is Edwin Forrester….”

Andy stood silently as his son stepped forward and put a hand on the shorter man’s shoulder. “Edwin, I guess you know our names already? I know this must be difficult for you too!”

“I’m just relieved to know there is still hope for my son,” the man sighed, looking grateful for the young man’s kindness. “I’m afraid Gloria only told me that you existed a few days ago….”

“Where is Gloria?” Andy asked.

Edwin looked at him and said, “We had a fight.” His eyes cut from Andy to Jim and back so quickly only Andy caught the look. “She’s staying at a hotel….”

“Does that mean we can’t see Jonathan?” Jim asked, disappointed.

“No! He’s here … come along,” the man said, motioning for them to follow. In the living room, a toddler was playing with a toy train. He looked normal in every way except he was very thin and there was evidence of too many needle sticks and IV’s if you looked closely. Edwin nodded for Jim that he could go in; meanwhile Edwin stood in the doorway, Andy a few feet away.

“You didn’t have a fight, did you?” Andy asked, not looking at the man. He was watching his son kneel down next to the boy smiling.

“No,” Edwin said. “She’s been acting strange for a few weeks….”

“What happened?” Andy asked. The man looked at him warily, but Andy asked, “Who’d understand better than me?” For a silent minute they watched Jim sit in the floor and begin to play with the little boy.

“I think the stress of dealing with a sick child … I don’t know,” Edwin said. “She came back from visiting you lot and was very withdrawn. Yesterday, while I was at work, she called a babysitter and went out. She … hasn’t come back. Given what she did to you, I’m afraid she isn’t.”

“Christ Almighty,” Andy whispered. “Her father is going to have a stroke!”

“I’ve been telling myself that’s not what happened, but knowing what she did to you, it’s hard to hold out hope,” Edwin shrugged.

“I’m sorry,” Andy said. “I’d hoped she’d changed, for your son’s sake and for Jim’s.”

“I suppose that would be a lot to ask for,” Edwin said. “People don’t change as much as they like to think they do.”

“True! In my line of work, you definitely see that,” Andy smiled. Seeing the man’s question, he added, “I’m a probation officer.”

“Ah,” Edwin answered. “I suppose you would see a lot of that then!”

They both stopped as Jim lay down in the floor and Jonathan sat on his stomach ‘tickling’ him as Jim squirmed and pretended to laugh. “He’s great with kids, huh?” Edwin mused.

“Yeah…. I had no idea,” Andy said. “He’s never been around younger kids much.” After a pause, Andy added, “I hope you don’t mind, but I think you’ll be seeing a lot of Jim.”

“I don’t mind … especially now, Jonathan needs someone to keep his spirits up,” Edwin said.

“We’ll be here all week,” Andy said. “We’ll be doing touristy things too, but would you mind telling the sitter that it’s okay for Jim to visit?”

“Sure! We have a regular nanny, and I’ll tell her. We just had a sitter yesterday because Margaret was on vacation visiting her family,” Edwin explained.

“Thank you,” Andy said.

***

Ryan looked over at his clock – 9 am. He would normally have been up hours earlier, but he had nowhere to be. He had a mild headache, nothing near a full-blown hangover but still a pain. He got up and went to the bathroom to relieve himself, and grabbed a couple of Tylenol from the medicine cabinet. He looked in the mirror and the cute face looking back said, “Damn fool! DAMN FOOL!” He could not yet articulate his anger with himself, but it roiled his stomach like a storm.

He was brushing his teeth when the bell rang, so he quickly spit and rinsed and pulled on a t-shirt before rushing to the door. Opening it a crack, he stuck his head outside.

“Do you mind if I come in?” Vickers asked, standing there smiling awkwardly and holding two large coffees.

“Yeah,” Ryan said closing and unlatching the door before opening it to let the man enter. “Let me go get some pants on,” Ryan said. Vickers watched the younger man walk away, his legs thin but shapely from some kind of physical activity, and naturally mostly smooth. The young man’s bubble butt stood out nicely in his boxers.

Ryan returned in sweatpants and took the coffee from the man’s hand, taking a deep drink. “Look Vickers, I’m sorry about last night. I’m so embarrassed, and I never would have done that if I wasn’t a little drunk…. You know that!”

“Beer goggles,” Vickers teased. “I get it,” he added with a wink.

“NO!” Ryan huffed, blushing, “just reduced inhibitions.” His blush made him look a lot younger than twenty-eight, as did his smooth, pleasingly pale skin and embarrassed eyes.

“You really caught me off guard, Ryan,” Vickers admitted, looking down at the shorter man whose eyes were currently on the floor. “I’m afraid I can’t….”

“I get it,” Ryan said, cutting Vickers off and sounding angry at himself. Now Vickers was looking down into glistening green eyes.

“I’m afraid I can’t deny that I felt something too,” the man said steadily, rebuking Ryan for interrupting, before leaning down and kissing the young man on the lips.

Ryan stood there, eyes closed, head tilted, and lips puckered for a few moments after Vickers pulled back. Then he opened his eyes and said, “Uhm, what?”

“So eloquent!” Vickers teased before finding himself in a tight, one-armed hug, as Ryan had nowhere to rest his coffee. Vickers took their coffees and set them on the coffee table and turned to find himself now enveloped by Ryan’s hug.

“But I … don’t understand! Last night?” Ryan asked.

“Last night you were drunk and I was shocked. I wasn’t very well going to come in here and take advantage of you, no matter how much I did want to come in here,” Vickers said.

Ryan laid his head on the man’s shoulder and inhaled deeply, catching a deep, manly scent. “I … you’re … like me?”

Vickers smiled, “Confirmed bachelor?”

“They call them fags now, Eric,” Ryan said softly.

“I figured out what I was in college,” Vickers whispered. “Until then I never heard people talk about it, and I avoided thinking about it. But all the sex and alcohol you find on campus, I was brought face-to-face with the fact that what I wanted was different … and should be kept secret.”

Ryan led him to the couch and sat down, cross-legged so he could watch Eric talk. “When did you first … have an experience?” Ryan asked, blushing.

“College,” Vickers smiled. “I was drunk and one of my frat brothers wandered into my room, talking about blow jobs and shit. Before it was over we were 69ing on my bed. God I thought I’d died! He pretended he didn’t remember later, but I knew then….”

Ryan smiled and Vickers said, “I had a few nice times in college but … I never had a boyfriend until I came here actually. We were together for a few years, but eventually his paranoia got the best of him. He couldn’t live with being a gay cop, and he wasn’t going to do anything else, so he dumped me, got married, and had a few kids.”

“That’s gotta be tough,” Ryan said. “And seeing him regularly if he still works here?” Ryan saw Vickers’s look and held up his hand. “I don’t want to know!”

“I’m sorry,” Vickers said. “I never should have said he’s a cop….”

“I won’t even try to figure it out,” Ryan said. “Your secret’s safe with me!” Seeing Vickers smile brightly, he asked, “What?”

Vickers shook his head and said, “You’re just so cute! I want to hear about you, but come here first,” Vickers said in a good humored but commanding tone. Ryan smiled and crawled over to him, letting the man snake an arm around him.

“I knew I was gay since I can remember, and my mom asked me when I was thirteen. I had it easy for the most part,” Ryan explained. “My parents were very supportive. I guess it was easier for them cause I have a couple of older brothers who can give them grandkids. My mom always wanted someone to go shopping with, so it was win-win,” he said with an easy smile.

“I never got bullied in school. My brothers beat the living shit out of the first kid who tried. I had a good time. I was on the swim team, and in drama…. Had my first boyfriend in highschool…. I had a long term boyfriend in college, but nothing really since.”

“Why not?” Eric asked, squeezing.

“It ended badly,” Ryan said, not offering anything more. “And then once I joined the crime lab team, it was hard enough. I don’t meet many people I don’t work with anymore, and cops are, or were, off limits, either cause they don’t like gays or are jerks…. No offense!”

“None taken,” Eric said, smiling down into Ryan’s sparkling green eyes, brushing aside a shock of wavy brown hair in desperate need of combing. Ryan reached up and pulled the man into a kiss. The ruggedly handsome Vickers manhandled the younger, smaller man, turning and partially lifting him for better access. “I just can’t imagine why you’d take the leap for me.”

Ryan leaned back, evaluating the detective, his dark blond hair immaculate, with only whisps of grey around his temples, and a little in his goatee. His steel grey eyes almost always held a look of curiousity and amusement, and this was no exception. And Ryan’s slowly roaming hands could feel the solid muscle beneath the clothes. “You CAN’T be serious?”

“What could a young stud like you see in an old dog like me?” Vickers smiled.

“I like older men,” Ryan said, running a hand up Vickers’s thigh. “You’ve got experience, and you’re solid. And I like you because you’re smart and handsome, and I think you care….”

“That I do,” Vickers said, running his fingers through Ryan’s luscious hair. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered to Ryan. Ryan closed his eyes at the simple pleasure of the man’s hand in his scalp. “I wish we could stay like this all day, but … you should get ready. Let’s get breakfast and get to work….”

“Do I have to, pops?” Ryan teased, and was surprised when the straight laced man smacked his ass sharply.

“You do if you want any more goodies,” Vickers replied, and smiled as Ryan hopped up and ran off to his bedroom.

***

Andy and Edwin talked quietly as Jim and Jonathan played happily together. When the doorbell rang, Andy said, “Do you mind if I talk to them first? I know how embarrassing this is….” Edwin looked at him thankfully and nodded.

“Andy?” Carl asked when his ex-son-in-law answered. “Where are Gloria and … what’s his name?”

“It’s Edwin, dad,” Andy smiled, “and he’s a very nice man!”

“Still, you’re avoiding the question,” the man huffed. “WHY are you answering the door?”

“Because I wanted to talk to the two of you first,” Andy said. “Your grandson is beautiful, by the way, but I need you both to be calm when you meet him.”

“Why wouldn’t we be calm?” Carl asked, pulse rising. “What happened?”

“Dad, just get it together,” Andy said soothingly. “Yesterday, while Edwin was at work, Gloria called a babysitter and … she hasn’t come home yet….”

Carl’s face turned red with rage to the point that Andy could see his pulse in the vein in his temple, and he said, “Dad, get it together!” as he took the man’s arm and let him to a chair. “Don’t make yourself sick over this! You’re about to meet your grandson,” Andy whispered with a smile.

The man nodded but his face was to the floor and Andy was shocked to hear him begin to weep. Andy knelt by the man and wrapped his arms around the man. “What’s wrong, dad?” he whispered.

“I … I let myself think for just a minute … just a minute that she’d changed,” the man moaned. “I let myself get duped again into thinking maybe I wasn’t a complete failure as a father!”

“CARL! That’s just not true!” Andy said. “You’re a good man, and a good father, and whatever’s wrong with Gloria, it is not your fault.” Looking over at Bethany who looked deeply embarrassed, he said, “And it’s not yours either! Now you two take a moment and put happy faces on and come meet this adorable boy!”

Andy joined Edwin, who looked perplexed. “Carl … took it like I thought he would,” Andy said, as if that explained things.

Shortly Carl and Bethany entered. “Carl, Bethany,” Andy said. “This is Edwin Forrester….”

Carl shook Edwin’s hand and said, “Nice to meet you, son,” the man said as Jim came running over with Jonathan laughing in his arms.

“Grandma, grandpa, this is Jonathan!” Then he smiled at the boy and said, “Jonathan, this is our grandma and grandpa!”

The boy put his head shyly on Jim’s shoulder and smiled up at them. “Hello,” Bethany said, patting the boy’s shoulder. “Aren’t you precious!”

Carl smiled and asked, “Where are the boys?”

“Boys?” Edwin asked.

“Sean, and Paul, and Billy,” Carl said.

“We’d not gotten around to that,” Andy said. “Thanks dad!” Then he looked at Edwin and said, “Jim’s moth … Gloria doesn’t know, but Paul is Jim’s boyfriend.”

“JIM is GAY?” Edwin asked, surprised.

“Still here!” Jim smiled. “I’m guessing … or hoping … that’s not a problem for you?”

Edwin shook his head with a minor eye roll, saying, “I am the artistic director of a theatre! Terrible business to be in if that sort of thing bothers you!”

“And Sean is dad’s boyfriend,” Jim said with a ‘your turn’ smirk at his dad. “Billy is his foster son….”

“Call and have them over,” Edwin said. “We’ll call out for dinner!”

“We don’t want to impose,” Andy said, “given….”

“Sure we do,” Jim smiled. “I want to play with my little brother, and I want Paul and Billy to meet him!”

Edwin smiled. “Then it’s decided!”

Andy went to call Sean and Carl and Bethany were playing with the boy, so Jim approached Edwin privately. “What really happened?” Jim asked. “With Gloria I mean.”

“I came home and she was just gone,” Edwin said.

Jim nodded and said, “Figures,” Jim said bitterly. “Running away from a difficult situation. That’s pretty much Gloria’s signature!”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” Edwin said.

“Me too,” Jim said. “I’d hoped she had changed.” Then he looked at the man and smiled. “But you just got way more family than you bargained for….”

“The more people around who love my son the better,” Edwin answered his unasked question.

***

“So,” Vickers said, “I want you to keep your eye on this kid!”

“Why this one?” Ryan asked as he sipped his coffee.

“Well, the one in the hospital is safe,” Vickers said. “Of the three that we identified, this one’s the only one who would talk to us about everything…. If Robert’s going to target someone, he’s the weak link.”

“You don’t think he’d contact one of the others for assistance?” Ryan asked.

“I can’t imagine! He’d trust one of his victims, when they know they could turn him in at any moment? Doubtful,” Vickers said, his logic impeccable. But, then, Robert knew things about ‘his boys’ that Eric did not.

“Okay!” Ryan said. He looked at the information Eric gave him and nodded. “So he’ll be at work this afternoon? I can pick up his trail there this evening.”

“Could you keep an eye on him at work? I don’t want him taking a break out back and getting his entrails spilled while we’re waiting,” Vickers said.

“Sure,” Ryan replied. Vickers reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone, passing it to Ryan. “What’s this?”

“Drop phone…. Don’t want anyone to be able to track us if things go bad,” Vickers said.

“Bad?” Ryan asked.

“There are lots of ways this whole situation could go wrong, and I don’t want anyone to know how closely we’re in communication, just in case,” Vickers said, shrugging. It was his way of telling Ryan he was protecting him, professionally, and Ryan was touched.

***

Sean picked up his phone and said, “Hey, Andy! How’s it going?”

“Rough,” Andy said. “I’ll explain it when you guys get here. Jim wants the boys here, and to be honest I want you here….”

“Are you okay?” Sean asked, concerned.

“I’ve been better,” Andy said. “See you guys soon….” “We’ll leave now,” Sean said and they said their goodbyes. Sean walked over to the rail of the big ice skating rink at the mall and waved the boys, who were racing clumsily, over. “We need to go! Jim and Andy need us….”