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PARTNERS IN CRIME



PART SIX



I wake up to someone shaking my shoulder, urgently saying, “Brian. Brian, wake up.”

“Don’t you ever sleep?” I mumble, not quite awake yet and hoping for once that you’ll go back to sleep instead of wanting to fuck.

“Brian. Will you wake up for fuck’s sake?!”

The voice penetrates my baffled brain enough for me to open my eyes. Bad idea. The glaring light makes me squeeze them shut again in a hurry and only open them halfway. “Mikey. What are you doing here?”

“Checking up on you. What the fuck did you take last night?” It comes out in a suppressed hiss.

“Nothing. At least, I don’t think I did.” I’m sure I didn’t take, smoke or drink anything other than one shot of JB. Which makes it all the more annoying that I apparently have the hangover from hell, with a pulsing headache, blurry vision and a hazy fog over my thought processes. I don’t even get hangovers like this when I have been drinking. I’m not a hangover person. Maybe I simply forgot what I took. I do sometimes. “Why are you here?” I finally ask again because Mikey being in the loft on a Monday morning doesn’t make sense. It is Monday morning, right?

“Justin called me this morning. He said you weren’t feeling well last night and that he couldn’t reach you. So I came to see if you’re alright.”

“Where is Justin?” I look behind me in the bed and then towards the bathroom. Didn’t you stay over? I thought you did.

“Fuck that for now. We have bigger problems. The police are here.”

“What?” I sit up a little too fast and feel dizzy in the process. When I turn my head, I can see two men standing in the middle of the loft, watching us. Shame I’m wearing underwear. I could annoy them with nudity. But that isn’t right either, because I never wear anything in bed. Shaking my head doesn’t do much to clear it.

Michael passes me some clean clothes and I get dressed gingerly. I would prefer a shower but that’s out of the question with the cops waiting for me. I just can’t work out what’s going on with me. The last thing I remember is being in bed with you. We fucked after the near-disaster with the money for the TV ads. You spoke to Daphne on your phone, we had a drink and then… what? Did we fuck some more or go out or what…?

There must be something that accounts for my condition. Maybe I picked up some bad drugs? You told Michael that I was feeling sick. So maybe I have the flu or something? I get up very carefully and follow Michael down the steps, stumbling a little on the last one, but luckily I manage to brace myself on his shoulder.

“What can I do for you, officers?” My voice is sounding strange to me, kind of slurry. Michael gives me a long worried look.

“We have a warrant to seize your computers,” one of the guys says, handing me a piece of paper that I’m too befuddled to read. The letters won’t come into focus properly.

“What for?”

“We also need you to come to the station with us. We have some questions for you.”

“You’re arresting him?” Michael almost screeches, half panicked and half indignant.

He sounds more like Deb by the day. I wish he wouldn’t be so loud. It makes my head feel like it’s going to explode. “My computers are on the desk and the shelf by the wall. But the one by the wall has a virus on it, I’m only using the work one at the moment.”

One of them walks over to where I’m indicating with a vague wave of my hand and puts the computers into two separate plastic bags. Wearing plastic gloves to do it. I know I should be asking a lot of questions and demand answers right now but all I really want to do is go back to bed and sleep off this fucking hangover.

“Can you get ready to come to the station with us now?” the other guy asks, looking at me closely. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I say and pivot to go and get my socks and shoes, nearly falling over in the process. Michael’s there to steady me again.

“You’re not fine. He needs a doctor. He can’t go with you like this. He’s not well.” Michael is in full protection mode by the sounds of it.

I’m inclined to agree with him, if only so that I can go back to bed. But in the end, I let Michael help me with my socks and shoes and somehow end up at the hospital, lying on a gurney in a curtained off cubicle, gradually falling asleep again, despite the circumstances and some nurse poking me with a needle.

I come to when Michael’s shaking me awake again. “Doctor’s here, Brian.”

I’m feeling a bit better after my nap and sit up a little. Through a small gap in the curtains I can see a uniformed policeman standing guard. Now that my head is a little clearer, that worries me considerably. What the fuck’s going on here?

“Mr. Kinney,” the doctor says and his serious demeanor does nothing to make me feel any better. “We’ve analyzed your blood and there are significant traces of Flunitrazepam in it. It’s a sedative, better known as Rohypnol.”

Michael stares first at the doctor, then at me with wide eyes. I just shake my head and make a helpless shrugging gesture to him. None of this makes sense to me.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” the doctor asks.

“I was in my loft. I was with… a friend of mine. We had a drink. And then…” I remember being in bed, being naked, you being naked, you being upset still, or maybe upset again after your phone call with Daphne, saying you need to go and see your mother, making a drink for both of us, me wondering again if your mother is just a convenient excuse for something else and then…

The doctor waits for a while for me to continue, then clears his throat. “Mr. Kinney, we would like to run further tests. Flunitrazepam is a strong sedative. It’s often used as a date rape drug.”

“I’m well aware of that, Doc. You don’t need to worry about that.”

“I understand that this is difficult for you but…”

“Doc. I’m a fag. I know what it feels like when something or someone’s been up my ass. There’s no point shining your torch up there, you won’t find anything.” That, at least, is a relief. I haven’t bottomed since my teens but I still know what it feels like the next day, especially for someone who isn’t used to it.

“Okay.” The doctor nods, not quite convinced by the looks of it. “I’ll have the nurse give you a leaflet, in case you change your mind. Otherwise, you can leave now. But please don’t drive for the next twenty-four hours or operate any heavy machinery. Other than that, the effects should wear off on their own pretty quickly now. If you took it last night, the dose was nowhere near strong enough for an overdose, just enough to knock you out.”

I nod and slide off the gurney onto my feet, already pulling my jacket on. Now that I’m a little clearer, I wonder where you are and what happened to you. If I was drugged, maybe you were, too. I immediately feel a hot spike of worry, but then I remember that Michael said you called him this morning. “One more question, Doc. This memory loss thing… is it possible that I went out somewhere and someone drugged me and I went home afterwards without remembering anything?”

“It causes muscle relaxation and strong sedation. You wouldn’t have been able to do much after you took it. I’d say that if you were out somewhere, someone must have taken you home. But you’d remember going there. It doesn’t cause retrograde amnesia, no memory loss of events before you took it.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

The doctor nods and pulls the curtains back, telling the cop stationed there that he can take me now. I look at Michael. “Am I under arrest?”

“No, they said they just want to talk to you. They took your computers.”

“Why?”

“How the fuck would I know? I’ve spoken to Carl and he didn’t know anything. And I’ve called Mel. She’s sending one of her colleagues to the station.”

“Do you know where Justin is?”

Michael shakes his head. “He called me this morning, saying that you were unwell yesterday and that he couldn’t contact you. He asked me to go and check on you. When I got to the loft, the cops were already outside.”

“Can you call him and see if he’s alright?” You were with me last night. You might be able to fill me in on what happened.

“Sure. What the fuck’s going on?”

“Fuck if I know. Just call Justin. See if he knows.”

I walk out of the cubicle and nod at the policeman. “Let’s get it over with.” I can only hope that it’ll be that simple.




At the precinct, I’m taken to an interview room but when I tell them that I won’t say anything without my lawyer, I’m left alone in there, presumably until said lawyer will arrive, which hopefully won’t be too long. I spend some time mussing my hair in the mirror-window until it’s just right and then just sit and wait. I’m no longer bone weary tired or hazy but a sense of unreality is settling over me. With nothing to do but wait, I smoke half a dozen cigarettes until all the nicotine on an empty stomach makes me a little queasy and I stop. It’s already three in the afternoon, according to my watch, which shouldn’t come as a great surprise after what I’ve been told at the hospital. My memory still goes no further than being in bed with you and I try not to jump to the obvious conclusion. You couldn’t have. You wouldn’t. Would you? What would be the point?

Eventually a middle-aged man, clutching a briefcase and studying a file, ambles into the room. He puts both down on the table and looks at me. “I’m Ralph Carson. Melanie sent me. Sorry about the wait. I was in court and then I had to read your file first. Is there something you’d like to talk to me about before the interview commences?”

“Not at all,” I grouse sarcastically. “I’ll just wing it without any clue what this is about.”

“No one told you? Well, it seems that a rather large sum of money has been removed from Vangard’s accounts.”

I’m just about to explain that when Carson continues. “And an even larger amount has gone missing from Chief Stockwell’s election campaign fund.”

“What?” Oh, fuck. I hope they’re not going to try and pin that on me. “I authorized twenty thousand dollars to be paid to various TV stations yesterday. I had to do that, otherwise we would have lost the time slots. I’m authorized to do that.”

“I’m sure you are, Mr. Kinney, but unfortunately your laptop had some spyware attached to it, which enabled the perpetrators to copy your password and authorization code as you were putting it in. They subsequently emptied Vangard’s bank account. When Stockwell paid Vangard, they managed to hack into Stockwell’s computer through the transaction and completely clean them out.”

I can’t shift the feeling that Carson finds all of this highly amusing. “Why am I a suspect? Oh let me guess, because I’m a fag and can’t be trusted.”

“I dare say that would be enough reason for Stockwell, but unfortunately for you the police managed to trace the spyware back to your laptop. So they’ll probably ask you who had access to it. We know that this program is extremely complicated. It takes a good ten minutes to upload and during that time it’s pretty difficult to disguise it as anything other than what it is. So I need a list of the people who had unsupervised access to your laptop.”

“No one. It’s a work computer. I don’t let anyone use it.” And I’m just remembering that I have a copy of the STD on there. Oh fuck! How could I have been so careless? But you and I have both been working on the ad, passing it back and forth to tweak it and… and you were on my laptop. And now that I think about it, I remember a hot fuck on my desk while your program was loading – with the screen facing away from us on the edge of the desk. I close my eyes for a moment. It all fits together, your access to my laptop and the fact that the last thing I remember is you passing me a drink. I still can’t believe it. There must be another explanation.

“Well…?” Carson, who‘s been watching me, asks with a bored expression.

“Justin was on it. He loaded one of his programs onto it when his computer gave out. We were in the middle of work and didn’t want to stop.” Except for a quick fuck. “He’s a guy I work with.”

“Oh good, so there’s reasonable doubt already. Let’s get on with it, shall we? I don’t have all day.”

I want to stop him as he walks to the door to call the police officers in. He doesn’t understand. You wouldn’t have done this. In fact, someone needs to check up on you to make sure you’re okay. But I don’t say anything because by now I’m starting to realize that the really obvious explanation may in fact be the right one. As he comes back to take a seat next to me, the two guys from this morning follow him in and sit down on the other side of the table.

They introduce themselves, but I barely take in their names. Then follow various legal points about the interview being recorded and such, but they don’t read me my rights. That’s good, isn’t it? That means I haven’t been arrested. I’m just ‘helping with their inquiries’. Of course, they can change their minds about that at any point. And if they decide to arrest me, I’m conveniently already here.

The whole situation feels surreal. It’s like being in the middle of a cop show, only not so much, because there’s no underlying menace and no aggressive tone. Nobody’s invading my personal space to shout in my face to confess already. It’s just a quiet question and answer session – very civilized. And yet I can’t shift the feeling of a pervasive threat. They’re going to try and trip me up, I know it. Well, it isn’t rocket science really, it’s their job and it’s obvious that at least the older one doesn’t quite believe me.

“So you’re maintaining that… your colleague had access to your computer? Against your employment rules?”

“I’m not an employee, I’m a partner. And yes, I gave Justin access to my computer. We were under a time constraint and needed to finish our work. And Justin isn’t a colleague. He’s an outside contractor, whom your boss, Jim Stockwell, insisted on. He’s rather good, too.”

“Would this be Justin Tramayne of Tramaphics Ltd?”

I nod and the younger one opens the file he brought with him and slides a photograph over to me. “This is Justin Tramayne, 23, only child of Adele and Luther Tramayne. He’s a Dartmouth graduate, married, one child, originally from Pittsburgh, currently living in Boston, where he owns a graphic design company, called Tramaphics Ltd.”

I stare at the picture. “That’s not Justin. For starters he’s the wrong color. Justin’s white.” I suppose I should say ‘Caucasian’ but I really don’t have time to worry about political correctness. And with your pale skin the term fits perfectly anyway. You’re as far removed from this guy’s chocolate colored tone as they come.

“Yes, quite. The individual calling himself Justin Tramayne used the real Tramayne’s identity, so that a superficial check-up on his credentials backed him up. So far we haven’t been able to establish who he really is or if Justin is even his real name.”

“But…” I fall silent again because I have no idea what I could possibly say. “Well, I’m glad it was all Stockwell’s idea in the first place,” is all I can get out in the end.

“Yes, that’s rather fortunate for you. As is the fact that you obviously haven’t fled, that your own company was targeted as well and most of all that you were provably drugged by someone. In fact, your short stay in the hospital has given us a chance to rule you out as a suspect for the most part.”

“Yes, how fortunate,” I mutter. I’m still too stunned by the revelations to react much. It’s sinking in at a snail’s pace. All this time, I was played by a con man? Really? I’m not sure if I should be angry or embarrassed. “What about Ethan Gold?”

“Ah yes, Mr. Gold appears to be who he said he is. He’s the son of Nathaniel Goldstein. Unfortunately, his father disowned him some years ago when he found out that he’s a homosexual and they haven’t spoken since. Mr. Goldstein never intended to donate any money. Apparently he’s never heard of Chief Stockwell.”

I take another look at the photo of the real Justin Tramayne and then lift and drop my hands in a what-the-fuck gesture. I have no idea what’s going on.

Carson’s mirth is unmistakable now and he doesn’t even try to hide his amusement much during the rest of the interview. I suppose that I would be equally amused if I didn’t feel personally betrayed. You – whatever the fuck your name is – targeted me, me, personally. The great Brian Kinney worked and fucked with a con artist for months and never had the slightest suspicion. I am never going to live this down.

Some small things appear a little strange retrospectively but they’re just little gestures that seem odd in hindsight. You were very convincing. And it isn’t just me you convinced. I remember everybody in the Stockwell camp being taken with you, Debbie liked you and even Michael. You’re certainly talented.

I don’t feel any particular need to be helpful with the police. I mention the apartment you share, in case there are any witnesses who saw me there, but I don’t say anything about meeting your father or that you have an invalid mother living in Pittsburgh, nor anything about Carl or Hunter recognizing you. Let the cops work it out for themselves. I don’t owe them anything and it wouldn’t help my own situation.

When I’m released an hour and a half later, I go straight to Vangard.

Gardner is still there, trying to pick up the pieces, and he’s livid. All of Vangard’s assets have disappeared and although the agency does have insurance for that, it’ll be in dire straits for a while, with its accounts frozen during the investigation. I think it was rather considerate of you to trigger a staff salary payment before taking the rest of the money. Luckily there’s no personal liability clause in my contract and so my own money can’t be seized for compensation.

I do get fired though, for gross negligence. It’s no more than I expected. I think that fuck on my desk is likely to turn out the most expensive I’ve ever had or will ever have.




For a few days, I entertain myself with JB and weed at the loft. I have ample time to think about little things, which form into a larger picture with hindsight. Your cleaning habits for example. You always washed up after eating or at least switched the dishwasher on and wiped down all the surfaces. I’m sure that for all the time you spent in the loft, there won’t be a single fingerprint in the whole place. At least none that can be identified conclusively as yours. With the amount of traffic I have in my loft, most places will be full of fingerprints from virtual strangers. But the kitchen is different. And the kitchen is the one place you always meticulously cleaned.

Then there’s the fact that my private computer just happened to have a virus on it when yours broke down so that all I could offer you was my work computer. That virus was probably due to an email from you. That’s easily done nowadays.

I remember the cheap furniture in your apartment with the TV sitting straight on the floorboards for want of a shelf. Then, it looked like lack of money – which you explained neatly as vindictiveness on the part of Ethan’s father, something you must have known I would respond to. Now, it speaks of temporariness, complete with packed duffle bags in the corner for a quick getaway. Why I didn’t find it strange that the Tramaphics website named an office when you admitted to working from home, I can’t fathom now.

You said that you shared an apartment with Daphne for five years and reacted a little flustered when I asked if she’d been at Dartmouth with you. Because you’ve never been to Dartmouth, with or without Daphne, have you? Who knows if that’s even the girl’s name. Hell, who knows if you’re even called Justin.

I doubt very much that your mother lives in Pittsburgh and suffers from MS. That was just a convenient cover for whenever you wanted to leave in a hurry. You were uncomfortable talking about your sister, not because she died, like I thought, but because Justin Tramayne is not supposed to have a sister, is he? And the man we met in the supermarket parking lot? You claimed he was your father. But did you call him ‘Dad’ during that short conversation or did you just say it afterwards? I can’t quite remember.

What I can remember with perfect clarity are other things. Kissing, touching, fucking. Waking up with you plastered against my naked skin. Whispered words that weren’t quite endearments except for the soft tone in which they were uttered. Talking, listening to you lecturing me on some obscure fact or other and laughing at you and with you. All lies.

I remember that last night, too. How you got a phone call and how you obviously didn’t like what you were hearing, saying, ‘Already? I thought I’d have more time.’ Was that Ethan or Daphne telling you that the deed was done? Then you poured both of us a drink and came back to bed, not answering my question what that had been about. Instead you watched me drink and said, ‘Please, don’t hate me,’ in such a desolate voice that I laughed only a little. It seemed such an arbitrary and peculiar thing to say. Of course, now it makes perfect sense, except that I can’t work out why you would care how I feel. You didn’t when you destroyed my life. After you gave me that drink, I don’t remember anything.

Michael comes to the loft every day, trying to coax me to come out with him or to look for a new job, but I’m not interested, not yet. I’ve been outsmarted by a con man. That’s a blow my ego needs a while to recover from. And through it all, the loft seems incredibly quiet. Recently it felt a little more like a home but now I’m more aware than ever that I have no home, none that means anything to me. And what’s worse, now I have nowhere to go either.

Debbie visits and brings me some tuna dish, claiming it was my favorite as a kid. I dispute it half-heartedly but don’t really care one way or the other. She smokes some weed with me, commiserating with me over how nice ‘sunshine’ seemed and that at least Stockwell might not win the election now that he has no money. I doubt it. The ads are still running, so Stockwell must have found the money from somewhere.

“I can’t imagine how anybody can vote for him now,” Debbie says.

“Why not? I don’t think he’ll advertise the fact that he got robbed blind. Pretty embarrassing for a police chief.”

Debbie gives a small cackle. She’s rapidly getting high. “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? But I meant the new ad. The one by the concerned but truthful citizens or whatever they’re calling themselves. You know, when I first saw it, I thought it looked like something you’d come up with.”

“Concerned citizens for the truth,” I correct her automatically. “And I did.”

“I knew it,” she screeches a little too close to my ear and I pull my head away sharply.

I haven’t watched any television for a few days. Every time I see one of the ads I created for Stockwell, I feel mocked. Not only is my life in ruins, I also helped a homophobic bully win the election. Now I flick on the TV and wait for the full hour to watch one of our STDs. I stare at it in amazement and then I have to laugh, albeit slightly hysterically. What a clever little shit you are! How ironic that these ads were obviously paid for with Stockwell’s own money. I like the poetic justice of that.

But my amusement doesn’t last long. A week ago I had a well-paid job, the prospect of going to New York and a clean work record. Now I’m unemployed, unlikely to find another job in advertising and stuck in fucking Pittsburgh. Everything feels too much to take in, like I got up too fast and got dizzy. Only up is not exactly my direction right now. Still, I feel only numb. I don’t want to see anyone or even speak to anyone, so all my phone calls go to the answering machine. I can’t bear all the pitying questions about how I’m doing.

Then one evening I get a call that jars me out of my stupor. The answering machine clicks on, playing my curt message and then I hear it.

“Brian…”

I feel like I’ve received an electric shock. I would recognize that voice anywhere. Scrambling up from my place in front of the couch, where I was happily – or not so happily – getting drunk, I grab the phone off the hook. But I don’t speak yet. There’s a slight hiccup at the other end and then I hear your voice again, thick with tears.

“Brian. I am so, so sorry. I wish I could take it back. But I know I can’t. But I want you to know I’m sorry. And I miss you and…”

“Justin.”

There’s a long pause. “Brian? Oh my god, Brian. I didn’t know you were there. Please don’t hate me. I’m sorry…”

God, you sound even drunker than I am. “Justin – if that’s even your real name – listen to me. Are you listening?”

“Yes, I’m listening.” You sound eager.

“Pray really, really hard that I’ll never find you. Because if I do, I won’t be responsible for my actions. You got that?”

There’s another hiccup sound and then I can hear a female voice in the background asking you what you’re doing. A moment later the line goes dead.

And suddenly I feel the way I should have done since all this broke loose: livid, irate, fuming with rage. You tricked me and what is more, you betrayed me and it just won’t do. Nobody does that to me. Nobody!




The next morning, I take a shower and get ready to see Carl at the precinct.

Carl shuts the door to his office and tells me to take a seat. He doesn’t seem particularly worried what being seen with me might do for his reputation. At the moment, I’m certainly not the most popular guy where the police are concerned. They may not have been able to pin any wrongdoing on me, but I’m pretty convinced that if I went out on Liberty Avenue, I’d be receiving special attention from the cops there from now on. Carl doesn’t seem to care about any of that, even offers me a doughnut.

“Jeez, can you get anymore clichéd?” I grouse. Then I come straight to the point. “You said you knew Justin from some years back?”

Carl nods. “Yeah. I thought his name wasn’t Tramayne, but I can’t for the life of me remember his real name. Something similar I think. His first name was definitely Justin. I caught him pick-pocketing, so I gave him a good talking to in the car. He told me some sob story about his mother and sister dying and his father turning into a psycho. He was fifteen at the time. So in the end I let him off with a warning.”

“And you don’t remember his surname?”

Carl shakes his head. “No, I’ve been racking my brain. Memory’s not what it used to be.”

“I’d say it’s pretty good. It must have been what, about eight years ago?”

“More like four. I remember because my wife was sick in hospital at the time. I was always trying to avoid having to go there, which is probably one of the reasons I took such a long time talking to him. That’s how I remember him so well. And he was unusual, well spoken and polite. And very apologetic. He was very convincing, too.”

“Yeah, that he is. Are you sure about his age?”

“Yeah, he showed me his ID and it wasn’t a fake. He was fifteen.”

That would mean that you’re nineteen now, not twenty-three as you claimed. I always thought that you looked much younger than your alleged age. It’s been bugging me all this time because you look even younger than your real age. If someone told me you’re only seventeen, I’d believe that too. I’m not sure if I should feel better because I at least picked up on something or worse because I was duped by a teenager. Fuck, this is embarrassing.

It turns out that Carl isn’t helping his colleagues with their inquiries either, because he asks me not to speak to anyone about what he just told me. I just smirk at that, tell him it’s not even tempting to speak to any other policemen, like, ever again, and leave to find Hunter.




“Hey, dude, I knew you couldn’t stay away from me for long,” Hunter greets me when he answers the door.

“Yeah, you’re irresistible,” I snark and push him inside the apartment, closing the door behind me.

I was hoping to catch Hunter alone but when I look around, I see Ben sitting at the table with a pile of papers to grade. He looks at me with a questioning expression.

“Professor,” I say with a short nod, then turn to Hunter. “How did you know Justin when you came to the loft the other day?”

“Why do you wanna know? Who cares about that guy anyway?”

“I do. Now answer the fucking question.” And how I wish I’d asked questions before, like when Carl mentioned you. But no, I had to pretend that I didn’t give a fuck about you, more concerned about my image than anything else. Not that it did me any good. All my friends insist on treating me like I didn’t just lose my job, but also had my heart broken.

“Brian,” Ben says mildly from his place at the table. He obviously doesn’t like my tone.

“What’s in it for me?” Hunter asks with a grin.

“Hunter!” Ben’s voice is sharper now. “You don’t ask for payment when you’re dealing with friends.”

Both, Hunter and I ignore him. I pull a fifty from my pocket and hold it out, snatching it out of his reach when he tries to grab it. “Every tiny detail you can remember, got it?”

“Got it.”

Ben gets out of his seat and comes over to stand next to the two of us, either out of curiosity or because he feels Hunter needs protection. I’m pretty sure it isn’t to protect me. Nobody ever feels the need to protect me. Because I don’t need any. Except when I’m targeted by teenage con men.

“When I started hanging out with the guys, there was this dude there. He was a bit older than me but not much, maybe fourteen, fifteen. The other guys were all hustlers or drug dealers but he had nothing to do with any of that. He was selling fake papers. He was a brilliant pick pocket, too. I mean, you could watch him like a hawk and he’d still manage to steal from you. It was fucking awesome. But mostly he just came down when he needed someone to help him. The guys were always falling over themselves to get the job. He usually wanted someone to distract people so he could get into places. It was easy money. That’s why everyone liked him.”

“So he was a teenage con artist?” Ben asks. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because I wasn’t sure. It was years ago, dude. I was a kid. And he looks different now. Not so scrawny and better clothes. Terrible haircut still. I wasn’t always around either. I was still living with my mother then.”

“Anything else?” I don’t want to think about how young Hunter must have been if you were fourteen or fifteen.

“Sometimes there was a black girl with him, but not very often. He was very protective of her. Didn’t want anyone to even speak to her. Don’t know why because the way I remember it, she had quite a mouth on her. I don’t know what else to tell you, dude. He wasn’t really part of the group, you know. And neither was I yet. I don’t think he ever hustled in his life.”

It’s said with a considerable amount of disdain, as if not hustling to survive is a flaw somehow or makes you weak. Or maybe it’s just disguised envy because his life panned out so much worse than yours. I think it’s rather lucky for you and feel an indistinct relief about that. Then I clamp down determinedly on that feeling.

“Do you know his name?”

“Uhm… Justin?”

“I meant his second name.”

Hunter looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. Yeah, it’s unlikely that any of those guys ever introduce themselves or leave a calling card. I pass Hunter the money despite Ben’s disapproving frown and walk to the door. There I turn to Ben, who has followed me to see me out.

“No leads yet?” Ben asks sympathetically.

I shake my head. “None.” I hesitate a moment, then say quietly, “You’re doing a good thing for the kid,” before I slip out of the door.




My next stop is an internet café because neither of my laptops has been returned to me yet. It isn’t likely that I’ll get the work laptop back at all because technically it’s Vangard’s property. Although I doubt that it will ever leave the police evidence locker anyway. And my private one has that virus on it, so it would be useless to me until it’s been cleaned up. Let the cops have fun with the porn on it. I’ll just have to buy myself a new one as soon as possible.

For now, I spend an hour researching company logos. I can’t quite remember the name of the company but I have a feeling it had something to do with electronics and the logo is pretty clear in my mind. Visuals always stick with me more. Eventually I come across Taylor Electronics, a smallish retailer not far from where the supermarket is.

An hour after that, I’m speaking to one of the sales assistants at Taylor Electronics about their van drivers. I’m concocting a story about how I clipped one of their vans but didn’t have time to wait for the driver to return to his vehicle. So I’m here to own up. In my story I noticed the driver when he left the van in the supermarket parking lot and give a detailed description of what I remember of the man, but the assistant shakes her head.

“Doesn’t sound like any of our drivers. But it does sound a bit like Mr. Taylor. He’s the owner.”

Of course. Carl said the name was something similar. Taylor – Tramayne, same initials. I suspected as much when I saw the company name. I breathe a silent sigh of relief and ask to speak to him.

I recognize Craig Taylor immediately and he recognizes me. I feel myself ushered into his office before I can state my business. The room is small and kind of dingy. There are photographs on his desk of a young dark-haired woman and two equally dark-haired kids. One is of a strawberry blond little girl. But there are none of you.

“What do you want?” He’s practically hissing at me.

“I want to find Justin. You’re his father, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t been his father for more than five years, since he ran away from home.”

“Ah, I see. I didn’t know there was an expiry date on fatherhood. And why would a kid of that age feel the need to run away from home?” I ask sarcastically.

“Because he was trouble. Even when he was little. He was always a pathological liar. I could see it even if nobody else could. His mother doted on him. His teachers loved him. Everyone thought he was wonderful. But he was always spinning tales. Just because he could. Making people believe the most outrageous lies. It was a game to him. Nothing more. People thought it was cute. I didn’t. He was always too smart for his own good.”

“So what happened?”

Taylor considers me for a moment, then obviously decides that the quickest way to get rid of me is to give me what I want. “My wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. Justin changed completely. He became quiet and withdrawn. Blamed me because I was driving. Then he started acting out, talking back to me, staying out late. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was stealing and doing drugs, too. Eventually he ran away. He was three days shy of his fourteenth birthday. I didn’t see him again until the other day… So what did he do?”

I shrug. “Took some money and ran. I’m trying to track him down.”

“I can’t help you there, pal. I’m the last person he would go to. Not that I particularly want to see him either. Maybe you should have been more careful before you took the little punk into your bed. But then again, people like you don’t really care as long as they’re young enough, do you?”

I raise my eyebrows. “Do you want me to go out there and tell all your staff that you have a gay juvenile delinquent for a son, who ran away from home before he reached fourteen because you made his life hell?”

“I never did anything to him,” Taylor grits out.

“Of course, you didn’t. Justin just felt that sleeping rough would be preferable to a warm bed and regular meals.” I feel inexplicably outraged on your behalf by your father’s lack of care. It’s something I can relate to.

“What do you want from me? I don’t know where he is.”

“I want all the information you have. Date of birth. Social security number. Middle name if he has one. That sort of thing. And I’m looking for a girl. A friend of his. Black girl, pretty, goes by the name of Daphne.”

Taylor sits back in his chair. “Daphne Chanders? Wow, I didn’t think he’d still be with her.”

“Let me guess, best friends since kindergarten?”

“Oh yes. They practically lived at each others’ houses, well Daphne lived more round ours than the other way round. She disappeared the same time as Justin. Her parents were frantic. Blamed Justin – and me by extension. The police thought they were playing Romeo and Juliet, which was stupid because I would have been happy for him to have a girlfriend even at that age. Anything’s better than… anyway, Daphne never turned up again either. Quite frankly, until I saw Justin the other day, I thought they were both dead.”

“And wouldn’t that have been so much more convenient for you.”

Taylor glares at me, then writes something down and passes me a sheet with a date of birth, the hospital you were born in, the day you disappeared and your social security number. I give it a cursory glance and hand it back. “I need the Chanders’ address.”

Taylor frowns and writes that down as well. “I don’t even know if they’re still living there.”

“They are,” I say with confidence. “If their daughter disappeared, they’ll stay there forever, in case she comes back. They wouldn’t risk moving.”

“I did,” Taylor says, handing me the paper.

I nod and get up. “Yeah, you would.”

I decide to go home for the night. I don’t want to turn up at the Chanders’ house with the news I have when it’s already getting late. I also think that it might be better to talk to Mrs. Chanders alone. She might be more amenable to giving me information than her husband. But when I get there the next morning, there’s no answer.

Sitting in the corvette, waiting for someone to come home, I have to reluctantly agree with you that the car isn’t very practical. It gets cold very quickly because the heater is old and inadequate and there isn’t much room to stretch. So I decide to go to the nearest Starbucks for an hour.

The information I got so far is interesting but not very useful for my purposes. It gives me a better picture of you but not much else. I wonder what made you run away from home in the end. Jack gave me some thorough beatings in my life, but I never seriously contemplated running away. Where would I have gone? At least at home I knew what I had and how to avoid getting hurt for the most part. Out on the streets, there’s no guarantee of that. Just look at Hunter or Jason Kemp.

But you decided that it was preferable to staying with your father. You were either very brave or very foolish. Or both. Quite frankly, your father doesn’t seem that bad to me. Callous, yes, and I suspect he’s homophobic enough to have made your life hell, but he doesn’t seem the violent type. Then again, you never know. We always seemed a respectable, church going family and look what went on behind closed doors in our house. You might have had a very valid reason to leave.

And somehow you managed to keep your head above water out there and Daphne’s, too. It seems that some of the things you told me were actually true. Your sister did die when she was little. You shared an apartment, or at least some kind of lodgings, with Daphne for the past few years. It’s strange that the truths you told always sounded like lies and the lies like truths. Or maybe the truths were slip-ups, things you didn’t mean to reveal.

When I return to the house, Mrs. Chanders has just got back from shopping. I introduce myself, and as soon as I mention that I’m looking for Daphne, I’m pulled into the house by her frantic mother, who demands to know who I am and what I know with a trembling voice. It turns into an hour I’d rather forget.

I try to imagine what it would be like if Gus disappeared without a trace one day, but it doesn’t bear thinking about, so I stop. She tells me how every time the phone rings or every time there’s a knock on the door, she wonders if it’s Daphne. Or maybe the police coming to tell her that she’s been found, that she’s dead. It’s every parents’ nightmare and I know I’ll be visiting my son later on. And be grateful that I can.

When I say I’ve seen Daphne and you, Mrs. Chanders bursts into tears and never really stops for the remainder of my visit. There’s no easy way to tell her that her daughter is caught up in a major theft but that doesn’t seem to bother her much. All she wants to do is find her. Unfortunately, I can’t help her much with that.

It turns out that Mr. Chanders, who passed away two years ago, resembled my own father in many ways. Although it’s not said outright, it sounds like beatings were the norm rather than the exception for both mother and daughter. It’s no wonder that Daphne preferred the Taylor house to her own. Maybe your running away has as much to do with your best friend’s home life as your own. Now, that I can understand. If Michael had been the one getting the beatings, I wouldn’t have stood idly by either.

But ultimately none of that gets me anywhere. Mrs. Chanders hasn’t heard from her daughter in five years and hasn’t managed to find her in all that time. So I’m no further in my search. I just know one thing for certain and that is that I won’t stop until I find you. Because if I don’t, this will eat me alive.




PART SEVEN HERE: http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/27170.html




Date: 2013-06-09 12:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blue-eyedstar.livejournal.com
Jesus F**k! This story turns out to become a real mistery! And it got me worrying how the ending will turn out for Justin. You r killing me! ;)

Date: 2013-06-09 12:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Lol. And I thought this chapter pretty much cleared up all the mystery.

Thank you. :-)

Date: 2013-06-09 12:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chadmom.livejournal.com
Poor Brian. Getting conned by a kid is bad enough, but he was starting to have feelings for Justin.

Can't wait for him to find Justin!

Great chapter.

Date: 2013-06-09 12:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Feelings? Brian? He would probably dispute that. :-D

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-09 01:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bendabrenda.livejournal.com
This story is amazing! I'm totally hooked and grateful or all the updates. Tuesday can't come soon enough. The destruction and devastation of Brian Kinney I would call this chapter. Can't wait for more!

Date: 2013-06-09 12:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Nice chapter title. I always forego those because I have trouble enough finding titles for my stories. Maybe I should hire you. ;-)

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-09 02:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] armandyouidiot.livejournal.com
Man, this has gotten so serious. I am terribly bummed for Brian. Really not liking Justin for doing this to him. Poor Mrs. Chanders - what a nightmare. They were so young!

Date: 2013-06-09 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
It's tipped a little into seriousness, hasn't it? Not that it wasn't very upbeat to begin with. :-D

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-09 03:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] duffy-60.livejournal.com
I don't know, I just have a feeling that Justin's and Daphne's actions are not merely grifting, but really trying to do the right thing by bringing Stockwell down. But, damn, bringing a world of hurt on top of Brian is just not cool! :-)

See ya Tuesday, toots!
xoxo

Date: 2013-06-09 01:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Awww, you're sweet, looking for a silver lining. Either way, it's definitely uncool to hurt our Brian. :-)

Thanks, Daphne.

Hugs.

Date: 2013-06-09 04:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheburashka-2.livejournal.com
Holy Shit! This was one explosive chapter. I can't believe Justin would do something like that to Brian... I am sure there'll be an explanation of everything and I absolutely can't wait to find out how everything turns out!

Tuesday can't come soon enough! Any way you could post the next chapter, like, now? Today? It's Sunday...the weekend and a day off for many, many people...lots of time to read, just saying. :)

Cheers,
Vin

Date: 2013-06-09 01:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Lol. Nice bit of hinting there, but no cigar. You'll have to wait till Tuesday to see what happens next. :-)

Thank you, Vin.

Date: 2013-06-09 07:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mikaila86.livejournal.com
I love it! This is great!

Date: 2013-06-09 01:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Thank you so much. I'm thrilled you're enjoying it. :-)

Date: 2013-06-09 07:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itzy68.livejournal.com
OMG!! What a great chapter! I loved it :)

Date: 2013-06-09 01:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Thank you. I aim to please. :-)

Date: 2013-06-09 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pet0511.livejournal.com
HolyMolyFuckedeefuck! It's not that often that I have no words, I mean, not only for a few seconds but at all. The turn this story took with this chapter is so big that I'm not even trying to go back and look for signs anymore. I just wished deeply that I had had an inner suspect so that I would have waited until Tuesday to read both chapters in a row. HolyMoly......
:-))))

Date: 2013-06-09 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
So I managed to surprise you after all. Nice. I don't think you would find any clues in the previous chapters, beyond those that Brian pointed out in this one. It is a bit of a turning point in the story. Did I mention that this is an AU? Lol.

:-))

Date: 2013-06-09 04:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] missbecks1022.livejournal.com
Well, didn't this chapter start with a BANG! And I was on the edge of my seat reading the whole thing....and it still ended way too soon! Poor baby Justin -- what in the hell have he and Daphne been up to all these years?? Yeah, I know, poor Brian too. But I kind of like it when Brian gets knocked down a peg or two....it makes him a little more human. Towards the end when he was thinking how lucky he is to have Gus...very sweet.

It will be very interesting to see how this all wraps up. So much mystery and intrigue! Oh Tuesday, where are you?! Get here fast!! ;-P

thanks for another amazing chapter!

Date: 2013-06-09 06:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
I'm with you there. I think Brian could do with a little trouble and heartache to knock him into shape. I always liked it when Justin stood up for himself. Although he might have overdone the knocking Brian down a little in this case. :-)

Thank you, my dear.

Date: 2013-06-09 04:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] koalared.livejournal.com
Excellent. I figured it was a con and since most cons are for money that was expected. I thought it would just be about Stockwell tho, I believed Justin when he didn't want Brian to get Vanguard involved.
Brian being drugged surprised me. But a good con has to have a getaway. I loved how Justin made sure pay checks were issued before emptying the coffers and Brian's reaction. Yeah, Brian's pissed but there is grudging respect there too. Besides Brian needs to start Kinnetic. I can't wait to hear Justin's story.
Just hoping this is more of a "Leverage" story and not "The Grifters"! Oh Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday.

Date: 2013-06-09 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Yes, this was actually written for a prompt, as rinmonsterer mentioned in her comment for the last chapter. I loved the idea of conman!Justin straight away, but it took me ages to write it.

I don't actually know "The Grifters" but I've seen quite a bit of "Leverage". And, hey, Scott Lowell was in an episode of that. Small world. :-DD

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-10 12:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] koalared.livejournal.com
The Grifters had a bad ending so I'm glad you haven't heard of that one ! Lol
I love con artistJustin, he looks so innocent and yet is a bad boy. I love dichotomy.

Date: 2013-06-09 09:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alfred004.livejournal.com
I love it!!!!! It is getting better and better. I would not have believe that is possible. Great job!



Date: 2013-06-10 10:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Thank you. I'm happy that you're liking it so much. :-)

Date: 2013-06-09 11:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 95baker.livejournal.com
Oh my...I do not know what to say. Questions answered and more questions formed.

I was surprised to find out that Justin drugged Brian. Not so surprised that Justin would call Mike to have him check on him. Justin appears to be very confused. Him falling for Brian has spoiled his great con.

What a con! I figured Justin had gotten Vanguard via Brian to pay for the STD ads. Not sure why I did not see the whole money thing coming. I knew Justin was going to pay for some treatment for Ethan. Why can't Ethan be gone?

What is Justin and Daphne going to do with all this money? Where are they? Are they the 'Partners in Crime'?

I could tell that victory was not so sweet since Justin has developed feelings for Brian. Amazing how feelings, emotions, can spoil the best of plans, even bad (stupid) plans. Plans that I still do not understand but trust that you will share with us in your good time.

Justin's phone call kind of broke my heart but it got Brian thinking and angry. Glad he finally started putting together the hints in front of him. Anger can be very productive at times.

The big question is...what will Brian 'really' do when he finds Justin? Which I believe he will, one because he is Brian and second, I think that Justin wants Brian to find him.

I never like it when anyone hurts our Brian and it is even harder when it is Justin. But as I mentioned before, it is never easy with these two. And as you mentioned, it would be boring if it was easy. And we all know that Brian and Justin could never be boring.

Great chapter. On the edge of my seat. See you on Tuesday!

Hugs,
Kate


Edited Date: 2013-06-09 11:45 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-06-10 10:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Justin really didn't bank on developing feelings for Brian. I'm sure everything would have been easier if that hadn't happened. He has lots of money now, but it doesn't seem to have made him happy, if his phone call is any indication.

I think Brian was just stunned. By the fact that he's been played but also because he got hurt. That is not something he copes with very well. The anger will do him good and drive him to find Justin to do... whatever he's going to do. :-)

Thank you for your lovely comment, Kate.

Hugs,
Betty

Date: 2013-06-10 04:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sjmpets.livejournal.com
Justin did two bad bad things. One, he got one over on Brian, stole monies from Vanguard and Stockwell.
Two, he made Brian care. Brian should be out for blood.

Date: 2013-06-10 10:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Oh, he is. He's fuming right now. The question is which one of the two pissed him off the most. Lol.

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-10 11:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainbow1907.livejournal.com
So here I intended to write a very artful comment after reading this chapter and you went ahead and rendered me speechless. Justin really managed to fuck Brian over but good. Talk about a fucked up situation.
A pissed off Brian is a very determined and ressourceful Brian though and I guess it's only a matter of time until he's going to find Justin and then sparks will fly. That will be some serious sparks LOL Looking forward to that.
Clever!conman!Justin is much hotter than innocent!waif!Justin btw... just saying *grins*
Thanks for this awesome story, Betty!

Hugs, Rena ♥

Date: 2013-06-10 11:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Awww, rendering you speechless is quite the compliment. I hope you'll enjoy the fireworks. :-)

I do agree that a strong and smart Justin is much hotter - and more interesting - than waif!Justin who's forever bursting into tears. Of course, nothing beats blindfolded hustler/waif!Justin. Lol.

Thank you so much, Rena.

Hugs, Betty ♥

Date: 2013-06-10 11:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainbow1907.livejournal.com
Ah, Rizabeau's classic! One of the first fanfics I read and fell in love with :))) Still have it bookmarked...

Date: 2013-06-10 05:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zazuburgh.livejournal.com
"Body Heat" is the movie that's been in my mind since I began this, and now I see why. So bright and sunny and blond/e yet the breeze is decidedly noir. The other movie that came to mind from the beginning (hot and beautiful but a brunette) was "Runaway Jury" but that now seems too high minded a cause for this story line, thus far anyway. But, I will continue to hope the best for Daphne's morals, if not Justin's.

Isn't it Tuesday already where Justin and Daphne are?



Date: 2013-06-10 07:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Hhm, I don't think it fits either movie, but I haven't seen them, only read up on the plot.

And I'm afraid, it will be even later if we stick to the time zone Justin and Daphne are in, so that won't help much. Lol.

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-10 09:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hopperl.livejournal.com
Well Holy Hell! None of that was expected. I can't believe he actually conned Brian. I didn't think he could go through with it. Here I was hoping he would get Stockwell then dump Ethan. Damn.

I can't believe that it will all be wrapped up in 3 more chapters. Your stories are sooooo addicting and I never want them to end.

This was just amazing. A lot of information in a short time. Poor Justin, poor Daphne.... I can't wait for the next chapter.

Date: 2013-06-10 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
That would have been neat. Con Stockwell, dump Ethan and live happily ever after with Brian. Lol. Yeah, sounds a little too easy for one of my stories. :-)

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-11 01:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lanbeo.livejournal.com
WOW!!! What a twist!!! Didn't see it coming at all. Totally took me by surprise. Though it explain so much of what happened in the past chapter. WOW!!!!

I feel like with this chapter the story truly begin.

Date: 2013-06-11 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
I suppose you could say that because now Brian actually knows what's going on. Let's see what he does with that knowledge. :-)

Thank you.

Date: 2013-06-11 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] urugwaj.livejournal.com
OMG! Great chapter! Poor, lost Brian with emotions he don't know... he, he, he :)))

Date: 2013-06-11 05:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kachelofen.livejournal.com
Brian is always a bit lost with his feelings, isn't he, poor thing. :-)

Thank you.
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