Chapter 32

By Monday of the following week, all the arrangements were in place. Jim was scheduled to go through his procedure the following morning. The big boy sat nervously at the table and ate very little.

“Nervous?” Sean asked, smiling comfortingly.

“A little,” Jim said. “Should I be at the hospital too?” Edwin and Jonathan were already at the hospital and isolated, to avoid having the boy catch anything at the last moments.

“Your immune system is much stronger than his,” Andy said. “But that’s why we have been staying in the last couple of days. No need to take an unnecessary risk.”

“So the … extraction…. He’s not awake for that, right?” Billy asked. He’d missed most of the discussions about the procedure.

“He’ll be sedated,” Andy said. “That’s why no food or drink after midnight, Jim. Don’t forget!”

“I won’t,” Jim said, pushing his plate away. “I’m not very hungry….”

“What’s wrong?” Paul asked, putting a hand on his arm.

“The whole thing is perfectly safe,” Andy assured him again.

“I KNOW,” Jim snapped. “For me, it is!” He felt Paul squeeze his forearm, and put his hands on his face. “What they’re going to do to him could kill him….”

“Oh Jim,” Andy said softly. “That’s not going to happen! You’ll see!”

“But it COULD!” Jim said. “A few weeks ago I didn’t know he existed, and now … he could get sick, or I could be sick and he could get it, or he might reject the marrow and then what?”

“Jim, calm down,” his dad answered. “You are as close a match as they ever have!”

Paul interlaced his fingers with Jim’s and squeezed his hand. He said nothing to Jim, but Jim squeezed his hand in return and Paul felt him relax. After dinner, they walked back to the hotel and split up quietly, heading to their own rooms.

Paul held James’s hand as they walked without a word. As Jim locked the door behind him, however, Paul wrapped his arms around the big boy from behind and lay his head against Jim’s back. Jim squeezed his hands before turning in Paul’s arms and lifting the slight boy from the ground in a huge bear hug. “I love you Paulie,” he whispered. “I don’t know if I’d be strong enough without you!”

“You would be,” Paul said, smiling confidently. “But you ARE better with me, don’t you forget it,” he added with a wink.

“I COULD never forget THAT,” Jim said with a smile, kissing his neck and setting him on the ground.

“We should get some rest,” Paul said, leading him to the bed and curling up in the big boy’s warm embrace.

“THIS makes me wish we never had to go home,” Jim whispered and kissed his head. “Being able to be with you every night, I mean.”

“I know,” Paul said. “Every day is probably a lot to ask my parents,” he added with a laugh.

***

Robert sat in his boxers, warming too close to the blazing fire as Connor slept a few feet away. The flames cast unholy shadows on the boy’s face, making him look like some fabled evil. But he was just a young man, bone and muscle, with a brilliant mind. Brilliant but perverse; someday, if he allowed himself to be captured, they’d study his brain, Robert knew now. Killing was too easy for him, and he’d come to treat it like an art. He knew just what to do to cause the greatest effect, not only in his victim but also in the survivors, the authorities, and the public. And he did it without care for the consequences. Art for art’s sake….

Then he looked at Connor. “Connor,” he whispered to himself. Robert was self-aware enough to know one thing with certainty: THAT BOY was his only true weakness. One day, he’d have to leave him behind, or play out an end-game; and he knew with startling clarity that he’d no more be able to leave Connor then than he had when they’d almost been captured. No, Connor would spell the end of him, one way or the other. Deep in his reptilian, calculating brain, he knew this, but somewhere in him, his answer arose. “Nothing to be done about it, I suppose….”

With a sigh, he pulled out an atlas and began to plan their next moves. He was startled by a voice that called, “Hello?” Robert looked over a bare shoulder and smiled sweetly.

“Hey, ranger,” Robert called genially. Connor didn’t stir, Robert noticed. The boy was a deep sleeper. The young ranger — he was perhaps twenty-four, tall, thin and handsome — smiled back and stepped a little closer. “You boys didn’t register, did you? I don’t have anyone down as camping here this weekend, so when I saw the fire….”

Robert stood, exposing his tall, thickly muscled form to the young man. “Excuse me but I’ve got to stay close to the fire,” he said, looking down at his body with a totally feigned look of embarrassment. “My clothes are drying,” he added, lying.

“Understood. You know, you’re supposed to fill out a form at the station before you camp out here. That way if someone needs to find you, if there’s any trouble,” the ranger stumbled over his words as his eyes drank in Robert’s gorgeous body.

Robert ran his hand seductively across his chest and down his abdomen, as if scratching himself, and stepped toward the man. “I’m sorry, sir…. We’re just having some fun, nothing dangerous, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.” His smile was so innocent, the ranger smiled and shrugged.

“Well, you have a good night,” the man said, and started to turn.

“I,” Robert said hesitantly, making the man stop. “I could fill out one of those forms if you have a pen!”

Then man smiled and gave Robert another look over, lingering on the boy’s thickening package. “Sure,” the man said, pulling a pen from his pocket and walking over to the boy.

“You know,” Robert said as the slender man got within arm’s length, “you’re really cute….”

“I … uhm,” the young ranger said, stepping back. But he stopped and the boy’s hand gripped his arm firmly.

“Wait,” Robert smiled and held him, stepping into him aggressively. “I can tell you want to….”

“What if your friend wakes up?” the ranger asked hesitantly.

“Then he’ll join us,” Robert laughed, then grabbed the man by his waist and began fumbling with his button and zipper.

“Wait,” the man began, but as the big jock boy dropped to his knees, the man fell silent. He didn’t realize Robert had never given head before, and it never occurred to him as the boy fished out his hard cock and slipped it easily between his lips. Robert’s technique was expert.

Out of the corner of his eye Robert spied the sleeping Connor and smiled. ‘No wonder you faggots like this,’ he thought to himself. After a minute he pulled off the man and smiled up at him lasciviously before grabbing him by the shirt and dragging him to the ground.

Pushing the man onto his back, Robert straddled him. Reaching back he pulled the leg of his boxers aside and sat down until he felt the man’s cock against his hole. He teased the man for a moment until the young ranger grabbed him masterfully by his powerful hips and thrust up into him hard.

Robert gasped at the unexpectedly pleasurable pain of penetration and forced the man deep into him using the weight of his bulk to drive himself down onto the iron shaft. The ranger was in his own world, moaning incoherently at the impossibly tight ass squeezing his penis. Robert leaned forward and put a hand on each of the man’s shoulders and began riding him long and slow, keeping him pinned to the ground.

The young ranger kept trying to lift his head to kiss Robert but the boy kept avoiding him, but as he saw the man’s urgency increase, Robert sped up a little and moved his hands to the man’s neck, at first gently caressing then grasping more tightly. At first the man was excited by the play, but as Robert’s grip tightened, he began to panic. Robert kept him quiet my squeezing tighter. The man began to thrash, exciting Robert, who rode him harder and squeezed his neck tighter. Just after he felt the man spasm inside him, Robert crushed his throat and held on until the man was dead.

Robert was just on the verge of cumming himself, so he rolled the corpse over and took a minute to finish himself off. As he dragged the body away from camp, still naked, the wet licks of cum running down his legs felt colder. Robert though about it as he went about his work. The sticky cum made him fee l dirty and he smiled: he liked it.

He slept a few sound hours by Connor’s side, but woke first in the morning, excited. He slipped beneath the attached sleeping bags and quickly liberated Connor’s cock, slipping it into his mouth, sucking the boy quickly to completion. When he emerged, Connor bore a look of pleasure and pleasant surprise, mixed with confusion. That look was wiped away by Robert’s hungry kiss, which passed him his own cum. Robert then slipped his thick thigh between Connor’s legs, spreading them for penetration. Connor luxuriated in Robert’s attentions, the most tender fuck the boy had ever given him, replete with passionate kisses and long slow strokes.

When they were through, Connor curled up into Robert and smiled. “What’s gotten into you?”

Robert smiled sphinxlike, thinking of the dying man’s thick cock spasming in his ass, and said, “You like it so much, it made me curious. I … think I understand a little now.”

Connor kissed the soft skin on his chest and smiled, sucking on his nipple a bit before replying, “That was awesome!”

“Let’s have some breakfast,” Robert said with a smile. Standing and walking over to the fire, he said, holding up a couple of slabs of meat and setting them by over the fire a bit to roast. “I caught something last night!”

***

Vickers sat in his car and stared at the house. A tall man with silver hair and a stern face stood out front. Unlike the common run of man, he wasn’t pacing or shifting on his feet. He stood stiff backed, straight and strong, unwavering in the cold wind. He was in his dress uniform for no reason. Though Vickers knew there was a reason: the man was going to be formal about this.

“So be it,” Vickers muttered to himself as he stepped out of his car and approached quickly, his shoulders slouched and his overcoat flapping sloppily in the wind. The two were striking contrasts. Nevertheless they respected one another.

“Sergeant,” the captain said, raising his hand in salute.

“So that’s the way it’s going to be, is it?” Vickers asked, shaking the man’s hand.

Captain Cosgrove reached into his pocket at took out Vickers’s service revolver and a shield reflecting his promotion. “For service beyond the call of duty,” Cosgrove nodded.

“My ass,” Vickers muttered. “I’m not going to sue.”

“I know that,” Cosgrove grimaced. “That is beside the point. You were right, and he was wrong, and you were the one to stand up for him.”

“Anderson?” Vickers asked.

“Detective Anderson is currently suspended, pending this investigation, as well as a separate internal affairs review of his own conduct,” Cosgrove said formally.

“Who’s going to bring me up to speed on the case?” Vickers asked.

“You can talk with the Feds, see if they’ll give you anything. Otherwise, YOU are the most up-to-date on this case!” Cosgrove said.

“What am I doing here?” Vickers asked, looking at the number on the chief’s door.

“I need a favor,” Cosgrove said with a sigh.

“I figured. WHAT?” Vickers demanded.

“Well, we’re having trouble finding anything incriminating in the chief’s things, and … his wife isn’t cooperating. Could you talk to her?” Cosgrove asked.

“Christ, Cosmo,” Vickers said, “Fielding filled you in on my … past with the chief?”

“He did,” Cosgrove nodded. “And that’s why I need you…. You know things about him that no one else does. I don’t know if she knows about your past. If she does use that. If she doesn’t use it anyway….”

“When did you get so cut-throat, Cos?” Eric asked, his voice dropping.

“Jesus, Eric,” the man sighed, letting his guard down for a moment with his old colleague and one of the oldest friends he had on the force. “How did this shit-storm land in my fucking lap? I’m a cop, not a politician!”

Eric smiled and nodded gravely. “You TOOK the promotions,” he said at last with a wink.

“Everything’s changing all around me,” the captain said, smiling and shaking his head. “And you and this Phillips boy from the lab….”

“Ryan, Cosmo,” Eric said smiling. “What of it?”

“Nothing,” Cosgrove said, shrugging. “I always sort of figured about you.”

“Really?” Eric laughed, raising his eyebrows.

“Guys like you on the force tend to have at least a couple of ex’s hounding them. Plus cops can’t cook or make decent coffee, Eric. Sorry to tell you but … it’s pretty obvious,” Cosgrove teased good naturedly.

“I like him,” Eric nodded, rolling his eyes.

“As long as it doesn’t interfere with the work, I’ve got no problem with it, Eric. You deserve to be happy,” the man said, smacking him on the shoulder. “Tomorrow…. Today, dredge up the old wounds and make that woman talk!”

“Thanks, Cos,” Eric groaned. The captain walked away before Eric knocked on the door.

***

At last, they could restrain Paul no longer. His parents had come to town that morning and they’d spent the day explaining to him why he must wait. But when the doctor came out, Paul approached him boldly and said, “I want to see Jim now!”

The doctor smiled at him and nodded. “He’s doing fine, young man,” the doctor said, nodding at Andy with a smile.

“How’s Jonathan?” Andy asked, and Paul waited to hear the answer.

“His own marrow has been radiated, and we’re transplanting Jim’s cells now. The next week or so is the most dangerous: if he gets sick or rejects the marrow, there’s next to nothing we’ll be able to do for him. But Jim’s as good a match as I’ve ever seen,” the doctor assured and Paul was off.

He found Jim lying inclined in the bed, watching television. Jim smiled over him, a little weak and drowsy, and nearly whispered, “Paulie. How’s my brother?”

“They’re doing the transplant now. The doctor thinks the chances are good, so,” Paul said, his words trailing off. Jim nodded. He knew the risks well.

“Are you okay, Jim?” Paul asked softly, walking over and squeezing Jim’s hand.

“Just tired,” Jim said. “And scared….”

“I know,” Paul said. “Me too.”

“I wish it would get easy,” Jim smiled, tired deep inside.

“It’s not been easy, but it’s been good,” Paul said with a sweet smile and sat down next to Jim. Even weakened, Jim was able to pull Paul down onto the bed to curl up with him. He needed a nap, and he slept better with Paul in his arms.

***

Eric sat uncomfortably on the couch waiting for the woman to return with tea. When she sat the tray on the coffee table, her hands were shaking and her face wore a mask of concentration. “I’m sure there’s nothing more I can tell you. My husband was under a great deal of stress, and he was prone to bouts of depression…. I’m sure you all saw that down at the station.”

“Chief Swanson was always very professional,” Eric said, trying to see if there was more behind the comment than met the eye. Had she been insinuating he had some special knowledge of Franklin Swanson’s mental state. It seemed not.

“Well, he didn’t do so well around here,” she said, shrugging. Eric thought it was a little too nonchalant.

“You’ve been married a long time,” Eric said softly. “Surely you’ve noticed something recently. His behavior’s changed? He’s been acting strangely?”

“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head certainly.

“Marcia, just how well did you know your husband?” Eric asked somewhat sternly, taking another tack.

“Franklin was a hard man to know,” she replied stonily, leaving Eric taken aback.

“Not so hard,” Eric replied, “to those who were closest to him.”

Marcia’s eyes narrowed into a serpentine squint, and he saw her for the first time for what she was: cold and calculating, and hiding something. “I knew him better than anyone….”

“No, Marcia, not anyone…. Better than the casual observer, perhaps,” Eric said, sipping his tea with a knowing look. “But you’re too cold to ever really understand a man like Franklin, aren’t you. And you never could get past that wall….”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, stumbling a bit over her words.

“You know, the one who got away…. The one he just couldn’t get past…. The one who knew him like no other, and who meant that your hold would never be complete? That wall, the one you could never overcome,” Eric said softly.

Marcia shifted uncomfortably in her seat and glanced at the far corner of the room at a picture. Marcia and Franklin Swanson smiled plastically out at the room, dark and suddenly drearier. “What do you want, detective?”

“I want information. I want to know why the first man I ever loved felt the need to kill himself to avoid facing the music! And I want to know what the FUCK it is you’re hiding, and WHY!” Eric yelled, the game falling apart. This was no longer an act.

“You,” she said simply, flat and cold, glancing back at the picture on the wall. “I always wondered who it was: I’d never have guessed.”

“You weren’t meant to,” Eric replied with equal coldness. “Not that I wanted to keep it a secret…. But now Franklin’s dead and it’s all out in the open now, Marcia. And I AM going to figure this thing out, so if you know something, now’s the time….”

“I don’t know anything. Now get out of my house,” she said, acid in her words.

Eric took his phone out of his pocket and dialed the number. “Captain Cosgrove?” he asked, not rising from his chair. “How soon can you get the team back out here?” After a brief pause, he said, “Good, ’cause there’s something I want to check. Tell them to bring a lock smith.”

Replacing the phone in his pocket, Vickers smiled and said, “I’m securing the scene. I can’t have you destroying evidence.”

“What evidence?” Marcia asked angrily.

“Whatever’s in that safe,” he smiled, staring into her eyes. And there it was again: her eyes darted back to that picture involuntarily, and she knew he’d seen it.

***

It was late afternoon, approaching evening, when the supervising ranger called the police. They’d done their best to search for the man, fearing bad publicity if he was just lost in the woods or, worse, sleeping it off somewhere. But his car was still out behind the rangers’ station. The day was beginning to darken before the sheriff’s deputies arrived with a couple of teams of dogs.

The young ranger’s scent was strong, and the dogs ran straight and true.

After about thirty minutes, the first team of dogs began to bay at the abandoned camp site. The man’s scent was strongest where he had had sex with Robert. But then the second team of dogs pulled their handler toward the woods, following the trail further. About a hundred yards into the woods, the dogs stopped and the handler pointed the light where they pointed. Then he threw up. When he recovered, he pulled out his radio and said, “I found the ranger’s body…. It’s bad. I think you’ll want to call those FBI profilers….”

He gave his dogs a treat and tied them off nearby, beginning to string crime scene tape in a large circle around the gory remains. Within an hour, big spotlights were up and the area around the campsite and the body were buzzing with activity. Agent Forster of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit arrived with the Sheriff shortly after the coroner’s assistant. Before they bagged the body, which had already been scoured as thoroughly as possible for evidence.

“What do you make of this?” Sheriff Dueks asked. “Those boys Sheriff Foster faxed us about?”

Conrad Forster knelt by the naked body, carefully analyzing every detail he noticed. The residue on the man’s penis indicated anal sex. He recalled the man in the park that Robert had killed after making Connor perform oral sex. The thing that concerned him was the mutilation of the body: that was new.

“He’s escalating,” Forster said, standing.

“They,” Sheriff Dueks said.

“The boy Connor is irrelevant: he’s an extension of Robert now,” Forster said. “With Robert out of the way, he wouldn’t know what to do.”

***

“Paulie,” Jim said, starting to get a little annoyed, “I’m okay! Stop fussing over me!”

“I can’t help myself,” Paul smiled. “Somehow it’s even more pathetic to see a big strong boy like you in a hospital gown drinking from a straw!”

“HEY!” Jim said, swinging a little pillow and smacking Paul on the shoulder.

“Does it really bother you?” Paul asked, smiling.

“I’m not used to needing the help,” Jim admitted. “I don’t love it but I’m glad it’s you.”

“You’ll be singing a different tune when it’s time for your sponge-bath,” Paul grinned.

“I don’t need a sponge bath,” Jim said, blushing when he realized what Paul meant.

“Well, if you’re sure,” the boy replied with an exaggerated frown.

“Well, since you offered,” Jim smiled, grabbing Paul’s arm and drawing him close.

***

“What are we going to find in that safe?” Marcia asked, as the woman sat, staring blankly at the far corner of the room as if she were all alone. Eric watched her closely as the locksmith worked on the safe and a team of forensics investigators waited to retrieve its contents.

One of the younger men on the team, Michael, walked over to Eric and broke his intense concentration. “How’s Ryan?”

Eric looked at him and smiled. “He’ll be fine, 100%,” Eric said with bravado.

“They told all the guys in the lab that Ryan’s been reinstated, as well,” the young man smiled and nodded.

“So he has,” Eric nodded.

“And you too?” Michael asked more shyly.

“It seems that way,” Eric said, adding, “and promoted.”

“Ryan too, I bet,” the young tech said. “Peter Ornton announced his retirement last week. I bet they promote his assistant and give Ryan the job.”

Eric raised his eyebrows in surprise and asked, “You think? As young as Ryan is….”

Michael shrugged and said, “He’s the best supervisor. No one would disagree with that.”

Eric smile and nodded. “Well, he deserves it for all that he tried to do….”

Michael stood by awkwardly for a moment then, seemingly pained, asked, “So…. Is it true?”

“Is what true, Michael?” Eric asked patiently.

“You and Ryan?” Michael asked.

“Why do you ask?” Eric asked raising his eyebrows.

“Just curious,” Michael said. “Job hazard….”

Eric laughed and said, “I don’t suppose he’d mind it getting our … or confirmed I guess, but yes, we are together.”

“Congratulations,” Michael said, smiling but not tremendously happy.

“Don’t worry, Michael,” Eric said, lowering his voice, “you’ll find someone….”

“How did you know?” Michael asked guiltily.

“Detective,” Eric answered. “Job hazard.” Michael did laugh then, and smiled genuinely at Eric.

A few moments later, Eric heard the squeak of the safe’s hinges as the heavy door swung open and the forensics team jumped into action. The contents of the safe were removed and bagged, any trace evidence from the inside was collected, and the entire surface of the safe and its door was tested for prints. “The picture frame and backing, as well as the wall around the safe,” Eric reminded, and Michael nodded at him appreciatively.

“Marcia,” Eric said, “I think you’re going to need to accompany us downtown to answer some questions.”

“Not without my attorney,” she said simply, and he handed her the phone by its antenna. After she spoke with her lawyer, he retrieved the phone delicately and dropped it into an evidence bag, which he handed to Michael. “Prints, for comparison,” he said.

Michael smiled and nodded. “Thanks. That’ll save some time.” Marcia just glared angrily and stood as two officers accompanied her to a squad car. She wasn’t under arrest yet, but both she and Eric realized she was up to her eyes in it.

***

“Where are we going?” Connor asked as they crossed a dark road and reentered the woods. Robert was navigating them through winding woods, tracking across streams and roads. They’d avoided people, except for raiding the contents of a few cars and camps for supplies.

“Nowhere in particular,” Robert said calmly. “Just laying low. Waiting.”

“Waiting for what?” Connor asked. He was no criminal genius.

“For the police to lose focus. They can’t keep up the search forever, not across so many cities and counties. They’ll think we’ve run as afar and fast as we can, and they’ll spread themselves thin. Then we’ll find somewhere else to go,” Robert said.

“Where do you want to go?” Connor asked, smiling.

“Somewhere far away, where we can hide for as long as we need to,” Robert said, smiling over his shoulder. He didn’t plan on retiring, but he did plan on changing his game: he had no desire to get caught. There was just one last thing to tie up first.

***

“How’s Jonathan doing?” Andy asked Edwin as the man emerged from the “clean room” where his son had been taken.

Edwin took off the mask and gown and threw them in a bin with a weary look. “He looks so sick, Andy,” the man said with tired eyes. “But they say he’s doing well. He seems not to be rejecting the marrow.”

“Thank God,” Andy said quietly. “Jim’s been asking constantly, and Paul’s driving us crazy to get him information.”

Edwin laughed and said, “In a few days it should be safe for him to have visitors, so long as they aren’t sick.”

“The boys can wait until it’s absolutely safe,” Andy said. “They’ve got their whole lives now!”

Edwin looked at him with appreciation and nodded. “Jonathan will be glad to see them both when he can. I hope Jim will visit him often.”

Andy nodded and said, “I’m sure he will. I’ll probably have to get him a car that gets better gas mileage. Would you ever consider moving?”

Edwin laughed. “I love my job at the theatre,” he said, shaking his head. “But you know when the boys go to college they could consider coming here. There’s plenty of room in the house….”

Andy raised his eyebrows and smiled. “I’ll mention it…. That’d bring a lot of excitement to your life. Paul is a dynamo.”

“I know,” Edwin smiled. “I like excitement. Besides, I’m without anyone to help with Jonathan; it brings free babysitting,” he added with a wink.