Chapter 31

Morning’s first light did nothing to Paul, who was dead to the world, sleeping as soundly as he ever had in the naked and sticky embrace of the only boy who’d ever been able to love him back. Jim however, the trained athlete, could feel it was time to wake up. Years of practice had trained him thoroughly, but that morning he simply lay in bed with Paul until the need to relieve himself overcame his need to hold the boy forever. But Paul never stirred, and Jim returned to bed and scooped the boy back into his arms, covering them both in warm blankets and luxuriating in the feeling of Paul’s warm skin, soft and smooth.

A few floors away, Alan woke feeling as well as he ever did. Billy had done wonders for him with his strong hands, and Alan snuggled into him as closely as he could. Glad Billy was asleep, Alan kissed his chest softly and inhaled deeply, taking in the boy’s scent.

“Perv,” Billy whispered with a chuckle.

Blushing bright, Alan said, “I thought you were asleep!”

“I know,” Billy laughed. Then he ran a hand beneath Alan’s shirt and tickled the young man’s stomach gently.

After a moment, Alan nuzzled him and sniffed again, squeezing tightly. “Thank you, Billy,” he whispered.

“For what?” Billy asked, kissing the top of his head.

“Last night…. I feel better,” Alan said.

“I know how to give a massage,” Billy answered proudly.

“Not just the massage, Billy,” Alan said. “Thank you for not looking at me like a freak.”

“A freak?!” Billy laughed. “You’re beautiful!”

“I’m glad you think so,” Alan whispered as he hugged Billy again.

“Alan, I’m supposed to be the one with self-esteem problems!” Billy kidded, but hugged him tight.  He knew he was falling in deep.  Would he be able to extract himself?  Would he want to?

***

“Where are we?” a drowsy Connor asked.  He was cold and the car wasn’t moving.  Then he realized he was alone.  There was a moment of panic as it occurred to him that Robert had abandoned him.  He was alone in a stolen car, connected with murders and rapes.  He was going to die in prison.

Connor was on the verge of tears when the driver’s side door opened abruptly and Robert leaned in smiling.  “Time to go!” Robert asked as his smile faded. “What’s wrong?” Robert was surprised, and if he admitted it to himself, somewhat pleased when Connor flew across the front seat to wrap his arms around him.  “Whoa!”

“I woke up alone,” Connor said.  Then he admitted, “I … I was afraid.”

“You thought I left you,” Robert stated flatly.

“I was afraid you had left me,” Connor admitted, his voice faltering.

Robert’s face was hard for a long moment, and then he shrugged.  “I thought about leaving you at the cabin, but I didn’t….”

“Why not?” Connor asked, a hopeful tone in his voice.  But he was disappointed.

“I don’t know,” Robert said, matter-of-factly.  “I tried, but I just couldn’t….”

Connor squeezed him tight, before following Robert out into the woods, carrying as much as he could.  That, he knew, had been as much as he’d ever get.  As he caught up with Robert, who was striding purposefully in a new direction, Connor smiled as the big boy put an arm across his shoulder possessively.

***

Eric was reading the paper by the window, stretched out in the uncomfortable chair.  He glanced over the top of the page with amusement when he heard Ryan groan and stretched.  “Morning sleepyhead,” Eric chuckled.

Ryan grunted and grumbled, but held out a hand.  Eric took it and felt the young man’s weak tug.  “Come over here!”

“Your parents will be here soon,” Eric warned.

“I don’t care,” Ryan said.  “They’ve seen me with a boyfriend before….”

“I don’t think your father likes me much,” Eric laughed as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed.

“Dad doesn’t like my job….  This is what he’s always been afraid of, and what I always told him wouldn’t happen,” Ryan laughed weakly.  “He’ll blame you until I’m well, then he’ll blame me.  Then they’ll try to get me out of the police department and into a ‘safe’ job….”

“I’m so sorry,” Eric whispered as Ryan lay his head on his chest.  Eric followed up with a gentle kiss on Ryan’s head.

“Give it up,” Ryan sighed.  “It isn’t your fault and I’m not going to let you make it so!”

“Ryan,” Eric began.

“NO!” Ryan said more firmly.  “What happened happened, and it’s over.  I’ll be fine, you’re fine….”

“Well at least admit I screwed up, and if I’d called in backup we’d have them both in custody and be on our way to a vacation!” Eric laughed.

“I’ll admit … it was fucking John Wayne of you,” Ryan admitted, making Eric chuckle.  “But I had a mad crush on John Wayne’s younger self!”

“Well, partner,” Eric teased, “I saw my life flash before my eyes when you fell out there!  There’s a lot we need to talk about when you’re better….”

“I love you, Eric,” Ryan answered simply, and curled into him as thoroughly as possible.

***

Andy rolled over and answered the phone groggily.  “Hello?”

“Andy, sorry to bother you so early,” Edwin began.

“What time is it?”” Andy asked.

“It’s 7am,” the man answered.  “Andy, I just got the call.  Jim is a match.  He can give the marrow, if he still wants to….”

Andy grunted and said, “I couldn’t stop him if I wanted to.  I’ll tell him this morning.  When will they want to do it?”

“Soon,” Edwin said.  “The sooner the better….”

“Alright,” Andy said.  “Whatever it takes.  And Edwin … I’m glad Jim can do this for his little brother!”

Andy rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.  Sean turned and put a hand on his chest.  “There are risks,” Sean whispered.

“There are always risks,” Andy said.  “I let the boy play football.  He’s out of the closet, with a serial killer on his trail.  How much more danger will this add to that mix?”  Then he looked at Sean, looked deep into his eyes and said, “It’s his BROTHER….”

Sean’s eyes watered and he nodded.  Both of them understood what losing that could mean.

***

Ryan’s parents were huddled around his bed chatting with him, and Ryan’s dad was even being nice to Eric, which was a nice change of pace.  But Eric’s phone rang and he switched it to vibrate before stepping outside and answering in the hall.  “Hello?” he asked as he walked toward the waiting area.

“What the HELL do you think you’re doing, VICKERS?” yelled a very angry Chief Swanson through the phone.

“I was following up on a lead,” Vickers replied, trying to remain calm.  This call was going to require more open space, so Vickers hurried for the parking lot as quickly as he could.

“YOU ARE SUSPENDED, VICKERS!  THERE ARE NO LEADS!” the chief yelled in response.

“Apparently, being a police officer in your force also means there are no leads,” Vickers retorted angrily.

“Your actions have endangered not only your own life, but also the life of a valued city employee,” the chief added, trying to regain his calm.

“My boyfriend,” Vickers added with icy coldness.  “I KNOW!” 

“Your,” the chief began and fell silent.  “You are reckless, Vickers.  Reckless and defiant….”

“I was careful,” Vickers said.  “We’ve just never seen anyone as cold and calculating as this boy, Swanson!  You should have let me call the FBI when I asked!”  There was a long silence on the line, so Vickers added, “Now that they’re here and there’s nothing you can do to keep them out of it, there’ll be questions about my suspension, and Ryan’s.  There’ll be questions about why you obstructed justice….”

“Are you threatening me?” the chief asked with a cold whisper.  “What do you want?”

“Nothing from you.  Justice,” Vickers nearly hissed.  “I WANT JUSTICE!”

“If you throw me under the bus on this, Vickers, I’ll make sure your little boyfriend never works again.  I’ll make sure he faces the kind of charges that ruin a man far beyond a single town,” Swanson said desperately.

“I want to be VERY clear, chief,” Vickers growled with fury.  “I AM THREATENING YOU!  If you do ANYTHING to harm Ryan — ANYTHING AT ALL — I will tear down your life.  I will destroy your reputation.  The least of it will be telling everyone about the years we spent together, how you used to beg to be fucked in the locker room when none of the other cops were there.  What will your wife think about that?  The men?  And that IS the least of it because every dirty secret I’ve ever kept will come out like a FLOOD!”

“Eric,” the man whimpered, “please….”

“So I’m going to tell the FBI what I know about the case, my dismissal, Ryan’s dismissal, and you are going to do nothing about it, understand?” Eric asked with a hard tone.

“Eric,” the chief repeated, “don’t do this, please….”

“It’s done, CHIEF!  You are responsible for these deaths now,” Eric said.

“No one will believe you about us,” the chief said half-heartedly.

“You’ve forgotten?  The gruff exterior is a show….  I’m a hopeless romantic.  I kept your letters,” Eric said sadly.  “And if you do anything to hurt Ryan, I will DESTROY you….”  And then he hung up on his boss.

Chief Swanson sat numbly at his desk for a long time before pressing a button and asking his secretary, “Could you have records send up two boxes, labeled ‘Frontier’ and ‘Courage’?”

“Sure, chief!  Anything else?” the woman asked.

“Cancel all my meetings today,” the man said.  “I need to get ready for my meeting with the feds in the morning.” 

“Yes, sir,” his secretary replied, before setting efficiently to work.

Moments later he pressed the button again and added, “Bring the big shredder into my office in a bit, as well.”

***

Andy and Sean summoned the four boys to breakfast in the hotel lobby, and once they had all filled their plates Andy announced, “I thought this visit wouldn’t be so exciting,” earning laughs all around.  “Billy, you and Alan seem to be getting along,” he added, embarrassing both boys.

Alan nodded, but Billy put his hand on the young man’s arm and smiled. “Very well!”

“And Jim, I can’t imagine what it’s been like to get to know your little brother a bit, despite everything,” Andy continued.  “I have extended my vacation, and Sean is still off.  In couple of days, he’s going to need to take Alan and Paul home….”

“Dad!” Jim complained, “Why?”

Paul smiled nervously and said, “Because you’re a match….  You’re going to be staying a while longer.  And I’m staying with you.”

“That’s between you and your parents,” Andy said.

“They’ll say yes,” Paul replied with a impish grin.

“If Billy’s staying, can I stay,” Alan asked, blushing.

“Billy has to stay, since I’m staying,” Sean says.

“Well, I don’t need to ask my parents, since I’m an adult,” Alan smirked.

“But you’ll ask them anyway,” Paul teased.

“Yeah,” Alan said, shrugging.  Then he looked at Jim and said, “But no one’s asked you if you’re going to do it….”

“No need to ask,” Paul said, communicating something to Alan the way old friends do – silent and meaningful.  Alan nodded in reply.

“When is the … whatever?” Jim asked.

“Soon,” Andy answered.  “They’ll check you over to make sure you don’t have a virus or anything, and then it’ll move fast.  So we’re all staying?”

There were nods all around, and suddenly breakfast was very serious.  Bone marrow extraction was a common enough procedure, but it had risks.  And then there were concerns for the little boy, whose own immune system would be annihilated before the transplant.  But these boys were accustomed to hope.

***

Later that afternoon, a single gunshot sent officers and civilians scrambling for cover in police headquarters.  As the seconds ticked away and no further shots were heard, a police captain led a few younger officers in the direction of the bang.

“Alright,” the captain whispered, “it came from the chief’s office!  On three I’m going to kick the door in and you boys secure the room!”

“Shouldn’t we wait for the,” one of the young cops began to ask. 

But the captain glared and barked, “On three!”  Then he began counting.  On three he kicked the locked door open and stepped aside, letting the officers pour past him.

“All clear,” the first one in called with disgust.

“What?” the captain asked, stepping inside.  In the locked room, he found his boss and long-time friend holding the gun that had fired a single bullet into his mouth.  The wall behind him was splattered with gore, and the desk, though littered with paper, held one single sheet that drew the captain’s eyes.  “OUT!” he ordered the men, stepping around the desk to read the letter:

“It’s all unraveling.  This serial case brought the feds into town, and eventually they’d have figured it all out.  No one else realized what I was doing, and if anyone helped me, they did so unwittingly.  I’m not really sorry, but I can’t go to prison.”

“SHIT!” the captain muttered, as his eyes skipped to the old evidence boxes and the cross-cut shredder in the corner.  Three bags of shredded paper crowded the wall.  The man reached for the page, thinking one more page in the shredder wouldn’t draw any attention, but then he realized that if he covered up it would look like he was involved in whatever his boss had done.  Then he drew back his hand and pulled out a phone, calling the one cop he trusted at that moment.

“Hello?” Fielding answered, sounding distracted.

“Fielding, it’s Captain Cosgrove,” the man replied.  “There’s trouble at the station.”

“I just heard over the radio,” Fielding said.  “Suspect get a gun?”

“It’s the chief,” Cosgrove replied darkly.  “Dead in his office, alone, locked door….  There’s a note, Fielding.  It’s bad, and, well, I need you down here.”

“His last phone call?” Fielding asked.

Cosgrove stuck his head out the door and asked the crying secretary, before answering.  “God damnit!”

“Vickers?” Fielding asked.

“How’d you know?” Cosgrove replied.

“Hunch,” Fielding said.  “I’m heading over to the hospital now.  And Cosmo?”

“Yeah,” the man replied, answering to his nickname.

“Consider reinstating him….  Give him the chief’s case.  You know he’s the best, and he’s the only one we KNOW isn’t in the chief’s pocket.  If we want to be transparent, Eric’s our man….”

“Consider it done,” Cosgrove replied.  “Tell him I’d like to see him as soon as possible and give him this number.”

“Will do,” Fielding replied.

***

“Alright, young man!  That’s it,” the older nurse said, giving Jim a pat on the shoulder.  Then she removed the needle from his arm, replacing it with a cotton ball.  “Hold that tight for just a minute!  Now, would you like Sponge Bob, or X-Men?”

“What?” Jim asked with a laugh.

The woman laughed and turned, holding up two Band-Aids.  “This is a pediatric medicine unit,” she said with a smile.

Paul stuck his head in the door, having spied another box, and said, “I think he needs the Strawberry Shortcake one!”

The woman laughed incredulously at the slight and bubbly boy, and she would not have been surprised if he had wanted one for himself.  Jim just shrugged and said, “Why not?”  Seeing her surprise, he added, without shame, “I give my boyfriend what he wants!”

His reward was the smile Paul gave him.  No matter how often Jim acknowledged him, Paul’s enthusiasm for hearing it never waned.

“Yes, well,” the woman said, stepping past Paul to put the SpongeBob Band-Aid on Jim’s arm unceremoniously, “I’m sure the doctors will get back to you shortly.  Have a nice day.”

Jim looked at his arm and said, “I wanted the Strawberry Shortcake….”

“Well,” the nurse smiled brittlely, “we can’t always get what we want, can we?”  Then she turned her cold smile on Paul and said, “You boys can go….”

Jim stood, towering over the woman, and stepped past her carefully, grabbing the pink Band-Aid and slapping it on his arm, over the one she’d given him.  “There we go….”

“That’s hospital property,” the woman said, raising her voice.

“Then call security, so I can explain the problem to them,” Jim suggested grimly, wrapping his arm around Paul defiantly.  The woman muttered something under her breath and walked away huffing.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Paul whispered, leaning into Jim.

“Yes, I did,” Jim replied softly.  “She needs to know she can’t just treat people like that!”  Paul nodded against Jim’s side and Jim noticed he was shaking.  “What’s wrong, Paulie?”

“She was so hateful,” Paul whispered.

Jim chuckled a little.  “Says the boy who faced off Westboro Baptist Church?”

“That was different,” Paul said, averting his eyes.  “THIS was SO personal!”

“This is how its going to be, baby,” Jim whispered.  “Can you handle it?”

“With you, I can,” Paul sighed, hugging him tight.

With that, they went off to find Andy and the others.  Jim reported the incident to his father, who, incensed, bawled out the head of the department, leaving the doctor shell shocked.  Andy had no doubt that the anger would flow downstream.

***

“Sorry to bother you folks,” Fielding said, head bowed, as he entered the room.  Then with a weak smile he asked Ryan, “How are you feeling, buddy?”

Ryan frowned but said, “Feeling better.  I should be getting out of here tomorrow.”

“Ryan,” Fielding said, “you know my partner and I don’t share opinions….”

“You could have done SOMETHING,” Ryan said with some bitterness.

Fielding nodded and said, “I AM sorry for that….  And I’m sorry to interrupt but I need to speak to Vickers for a moment.”

Vickers looked up at him from beside the bed and asked, “What is it?”

“We need to talk privately,” Fielding said.

Vickers looked at Ryan and his parents and said, “I’m a private citizen right now.”

Fielding looked at Ryan’s parents and said, “Could YOU FOLKS give the three of us a minute?” Ryan nodded at his father and the man led his wife out of the room.  “It’s bad, asshole,” he said to Vickers.  “Way to make my life difficult!”

“I’m not on the force right now, Fielding,” Vickers said, “and I’m taking myself off the hunt so I can be here for Ryan.”

“I understand that,” Fielding said, “and while I don’t think it’s a good idea, I’d support it.  This isn’t about Robert, Eric.”

Vickers looked at him, legitimately surprised, and asked, “What then?”

“It’s the chief,” Fielding began, leaving his words hanging in the air.

“He sent you to try to intimidate me?” Vickers asked angrily.  “I told him if he tried anything to shut me up, I’d TELL EVERYTHING!”

Both Ryan and Fielding looked at him in surprised, but at long last Fielding spoke.  “He’s dead….  Apparently, after he talked to you, he locked himself in his office with a shredder before offing himself.”

Eric looked shocked, and then he surprised both men again.  He began to cry.  Fielding looked on uncomfortably for a moment before turning his back.  Ryan couldn’t reach Eric where he sat, so he whispered, “Eric, come here!” The man sat on the edge of Ryan’s bed and leaned into Ryan’s chest, tears falling like rain as his chest heaved uncontrollably. “What’s wrong?” Ryan pleaded.

After taking a few minutes to compose himself, Eric wiped his eyes and spoke directly to Ryan, forcing Fielding to move around the bed so he could better hear what was being said.  “I … I told you I’d been in one major relationship,” he began with a trembling voice, “with another cop.  Ultimately that cop couldn’t handle what we had and ran off to the straight life….  It was the chief.”

“Jesus Christ,” Fielding mumbled, as the room felt devoid of air.

“We were together for a long time, and I thought we were both in love.  I … I think we were….  I just don’t know.  I could never have left him, so when he left me it … left this gaping hole in my life.  I should have moved away, but I just couldn’t,” Eric said, whispering the last.  Then after a short break, he picked up, “He was always very careful of me, until this case, until Robert.  I guess he felt threatened by my presence and powerless to get rid of me.  So whenever possible he gave me citations, promotions….  Probably thought he was buying me off….”

 “Eric,” Ryan said, pulling the man into a hug, “you didn’t do anything wrong!”

“This morning, when he called me, he threatened me,” Eric said.  “He said if I didn’t keep my mouth shut with the feds, he’d have charges drawn up against you.  There’s no telling what he’d fabricate to keep this quiet: I had no idea whatever he’s hiding would be worth dying for….  Anyway, I told him that if he went after you, I’d tell everything, about us, about every secret of his I knew.  I told him that I’d be talking to the feds and there was nothing he could do about it….”

“Then he knew,” Fielding said.  “He knew he’d come under such scrutiny that whatever he was hiding was sure to come out….”

“I had no idea he’d do this, Fielding,” Eric said, dejected.

“You aren’t to blame here, Vickers,” Fielding said.  “You knew him as well as anyone, but I couldn’t imagine him doing this either….  I was going to ask you to head up the investigation, but clearly that won’t work.  I guess I’ll have to take that over myself, with your advice of course….”

“Anything I can do,” Eric nodded.

“Will you take Robert’s case?” Fielding asked, surprising Eric.

“No,” Eric responded immediately, taking Fielding off guard.

“But you were the one who first realized what he was.  No one has figured him out as well as you!” Fielding replied.

“The FBI boys are more than capable, Fielding!” Eric replied.

“I WANT US TO CATCH THE LITTLE CREEP!” Fielding replied vehemently.  “Thanks to the chief, we let this little prick slip through our fingers, and I don’t want to give the Feds the chance to rub this in our faces!”

“Christ, Fielding,” Vickers said.  “It isn’t personal!”

“IT IS NOW!  IT IS FOR ME!” Fielding said, putting his hand in front of his face.  “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”

“Where’s your partner?” Vickers asked, sneering over the last words.

“He’s been in with the Feds the last two days.  Apparently they want to know what his deal with the chief was, and they’re looking into his behavior towards Ryan to boot….  Whatever the chief was up to, he was already falling under scrutiny for a number of things,” Fielding revealed.

“Not you?” Vickers asked.

“Ryan’s lab boys threw Anderson under the bus but basically cleared me,” he explained.  “So will you please take this case?”

“No,” Vickers replied. 

Then Vickers looked at Ryan, who smiled at him sweetly and said, “Take the fuckin’ case, Eric!”  Stunned, Fielding smiled and Vickers frowned.  Looking to Fielding, Ryan explained, “The white knight promised to leave off the case and look after me.  But I’m fine!  It’s just a hand, and no apparent nerve damage.  I’ll be back to the lab as soon as my suspension is cleared up!”

“With a promotion and commendation I’m sure,” Fielding smiled.  “So what do you say, Vickers?”

“What can I say?” Vickers shrugged and frowned at Ryan one last time.  Then Fielding took out his phone and called Captain Cosgrove to explain the circumstances.  By day’s end, at least two wrongs would be righted.

***

“What are we gonna do?” Connor asked that evening as they set up camp. 

Robert was quiet as he stoked a small fire and pulled some food out of a bag.  Then he looked over his right shoulder and frowned.  “Right now?  We’re going to hike around the middle of nowhere and lay low….”

“That’s not what I mean,” Connor said nervously.

“I know that,” Robert huffed.  “That first day in the park, what did you think?  Did you think you could lure a man to his death and just go back to your life?  Did you think you could help me kill people, and kill a man yourself, and then there would be some way out?”

Connor looked at him, hurt, and then looked into the fire.  “No,” he said quietly.  “I just … I thought … you might have a plan….”

The corner of Robert’s mouth turned up in a sinister smile, and he said, “I’ve got a plan, baby.  I’ve got a plan.” 

At first Connor thought he’d said buddy, but when it dawned on the pretty blond, his chest swelled.  “Cool,” he said, smiling easily, full of trust.  Not the trust of a naive devotee, but the trust of a full companion, a real co-conspirator.

That night, before Robert lay down, he zipped their bags together and stripped naked.  When Connor climbed into the bag, he felt Robert’s powerful hands caress his smooth skin gently, carefully.  Connor rolled over, presenting his back to Robert, expecting the boy to fuck him roughly from behind before seeking a refuge in easy sleep. 

Instead, Robert rolled him onto his back and slipped his massive form between Connor’s lithe legs.  Robert propped himself on his shoulders and loomed above a confused looking Connor.  Then Robert smiled and said, “I don’t know what it is about you….”

“What do you mean?” Connor whispered.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Robert said, genuinely perplexed.  Then he pressed against Connor’s tight hole insistently and waited for the boy to open to him.  Then he fucked the boy gently, and let Connor kiss him not only on the shoulders and neck, but also on the mouth and face.  It was all very confusing.

***

Billy flopped down on the bed and turned on the television, stretching out in his boxers on top of the covers.  Alan shyly stepped out of the bathroom and walked to the bed, his braces still on.  Billy looked over and smiled at him and patted the bed.

“Well?” Alan demanded, blushing.

“Well, what?” Billy asked, suddenly looking concerned.

“MY BRACES!” Alan declared.

“Oh,” Billy said, lowering his eyes to the young man’s legs.

“You didn’t even notice I was wearing them?” Alan asked.

“Not til you said something,” Billy said truthfully.  Then he smiled and said, “That’s some major hardware, cutie!”  Alan arched his eyebrows, grabbed a pillow, and hit Billy in the face with it.  Billy laughed and said, “Just get that stuff off and get in bed!”

Alan sat down, laughing and shaking his head, and took off his braces, before stretching out next to Billy.

“No you don’t,” Billy said.  “Off with the t-shirt!”

Alan rolled his eyes and lifted the shirt over his head, revealing his long, smooth, milky white torso.  With his eyes averted, he rolled into Billy, hiding the length of the front of his body against the big jock.  “That’s alright,” Billy said, “now I have a better view of your ass!” 

Alan slapped him hard on the chest and laughed, before grabbing the remote and turning the channel, causing Billy to miss the last few minutes of the game and forcing him to watch “Ancient Aliens” instead.  “That’ll teach you to mess with me,” he said to Billy with a laugh.