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PARTNERS IN CRIME



PART NINE



Having spent a summer in Italy, the Pittsburgh winter seems twice as damp and dreary as I remember it. Within a few days I was caught up with what my friends had been up to, which wasn’t much. It never is. Lindsay told me that her marital problems weren’t just about Mel’s difficult pregnancy but about some guy she fucked. Apparently, fucking a guy when you’re a lesbian is worse than fucking another woman. I can’t see why it would be, but I was trying hard to stay out of it. When will these people ever learn that a fuck is just a fuck?

It was nice to see Gus again. I didn’t think I’d miss him but being away from him brought it home to me that maybe I’d like to take some small part in his life. More of an uncredited guest appearance than a main role because most kids get fucked up enough with two parents, I dread to think what three would do to him. So in the end, I had to tell Lindsay that her frequent visits – which I know were more about getting away from Mel than being with me – would have to be curtailed.

I’m too busy to entertain visitors – well, visitors who don’t come for a quick workout and then leave again. I’ve decided to start my own agency. For now, I’m working out of my loft because I don’t have any big clients yet. It’s incredibly frustrating to devise a campaign for a business with an entire PR budget of no more than five hundred dollars. Not quite what I’m used to or want to get used to. But I have to start somewhere and it brings in money. Although I’m not as short of that as I anticipated because my credit cards have been miraculously paid off.

I guess your guilty conscience got the better of you. I suspect that’s also the reason you stayed with me for so long. You did it with Ethan, too. It’s just who you are. I believe Daphne called it a hero complex. Always saving the world, aren’t you? When you’re not defrauding it of all its money, that is.

I had a triumphant return to Liberty Avenue. Things have gone back to normal there, as if Stockwell never happened. It’s a relief not to run into cops at every corner because I seem to have developed an allergy to their mere presence. Carl is the only one I can tolerate. He’s started the curious habit of leaving the room whenever the conversation turns to you. I suppose, he’s just covering his back. Nobody can expect him to divulge information he doesn’t have. Not that many people ask about you, mainly Debbie, and since I’m not very forthcoming, the questions soon dry up.

So I’m working hard and playing even harder and by the end of three months, it’s like I’ve never been away. It certainly feels like I’ve never been away. Even my suntan has faded and the tanning bed just doesn’t give the same results.

I have a small group of clients, who keep me busy, because apart from the actual artwork, which I subcontract, I can’t delegate anything. But my heart isn’t in it. It’s probably too small-scale to grab my attention properly. It’ll get better when I find more interesting clients. At the moment, I often find myself daydreaming about sandy beaches and white villas when I should be working. Fuck, I miss the sunshine.

I only really go out to trick. The rest of the time is spent working. My friends have their own lives nowadays, which bore me to tears. Melanie had a girl and she, Michael and Linz have started a custody battle of all things. Do they really have to imitate the heteros in absolutely everything they do? Somehow I end up between the lines of Linz and Mikey even though I tried hard not to get involved.

Lindsay’s busy working and looking after Gus on her own and Michael… Michael has gone back to being sucked into the beautiful world of Stepford, like he was when he tried to fit in with David’s friends. He invited me to a dinner party once and his new friends talked about gardening and speed bumps. I’m glad I could liven things up with my little house warming present. Only, Mikey hasn’t really talked to me since then. Nowadays I see more of Emmett and Ted than I do of Michael.

So, on a grey and snowy afternoon at the end of January, I’m just working on one of my accounts, when there’s a knock on the door. I should really call the super about the broken lock downstairs but it doesn’t bother me enough to set aside the time to do that. The man’s always so hard to track down, undoubtedly by design.

When I roll back the door, I come face to face with two guys I recognize instantly. Contrary to what my friends believe, I recognize most people, whether I met them while I was tricking, working or being interrogated by the police. These two fall into the latter category.

“Officers,” I say as nonchalantly as possible.

“Mr. Kinney,” the younger one says. His name is Harris, if I remember rightly. “We were wondering if you could spare us a minute?”

“Should I call my lawyer?”

“That’s your prerogative,” says the older one – Morrison – after looking me up and down quickly, probably relieved that I’m dressed this time.

“But I’m sure it won’t be necessary,” Harris interjects. “This is more for your information than anything.”

I step back and let them in, but I don’t offer them a seat, never mind anything else. There’s no way I’m letting my guard down after what happened last time.

“So what’s this about?”

“We thought you might like to know that we’ve made an arrest in the case you were involved in last year. The theft of election funds.”

Yeah, I really needed that cleared up because I’ve been involved in so many criminal cases. To give myself some time, I walk over to my desk and light a cigarette. I’m not sure if I want to hear this. It’s got to be Daphne they’re talking about because she’s right here in Pittsburgh, isn’t she? At least, she was last time I heard, silly girl. Surely they haven’t found you all the way in Italy. Fuck, I really hope it’s not you. It can’t be you.

“Ethan Gold was arrested two days ago.”

Ethan? I’m trying to keep a straight face because I want to grin widely at that. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

“Oh?” is all I come out with in the end. I allow myself a smile, because being happy about the arrest isn’t suspicious at all when I think about it. Not being happy would.

“Yes, he was arrested in San Diego.” They’re watching me closely now, but I’m used to keeping a poker face. They won’t get anything from me. “And he’s given us quite a bit of information. For example, the real name of his accomplice. But you already know all this, don’t you?”

“What makes you think that? This is the first I’ve heard of any arrest.” And now I’m wondering if I really should call my lawyer. Just here to inform me my ass! They want something. The same thing they wanted last time, to implicate me. Only this time, I am implicated. Fuck, I didn’t think about that, mainly because it looked like they would never catch anyone.

“But you knew that Justin Tramayne is really Justin Taylor, didn’t you?”

Well, if they know your real name, it’s only a short step to finding your father. If they haven’t already. And he has no reason not to tell them about my visit. “Yeah, I did.”

“So you withheld information,” Morrison states coldly.

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t know anything when you asked me. I only remembered some time after you released me that we met this guy once. So I tracked him down. It turned out that he was his father. But when I spoke to him, it was a dead end. He hasn’t seen his son in years. So there was no reason to tell you. I didn’t know I was supposed to do your work for you.”

Harris puts a calming hand on his partner’s arm and says pleasantly, “I understand. Nobody’s accusing you of anything. We just wanted to let you know that we’re making headways. I’m sure you’ll be relieved when this is all over and your name will be completely cleared.”

I don’t believe a word of it. “I’m trying to forget the whole thing.” And making a terrible job of it.

“I understand but if you can think of anything else…” He hands me his card. “Or if Taylor contacts you…”

I huff mirthlessly. “He won’t.”

“Well, if he does,” Morrison says pointedly. “This is us, asking you for information, whether you have it now or get it in the future.” Looks like they’re not letting me get away with it a second time. It was a pretty weak argument to begin with.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

When I shut the door, I lean my forehead against it, breathing a sigh of relief, although I don’t imagine for one second that this is over. This is really going to bite me in the ass big time. I make one little mistake, just one little breaking of my own rules, and I’m not ever going to be free of it, one way or another. My only hope is that Ethan will keep his mouth shut about what happened in San Diego. Luckily, it’s in his best interest as well, since it would mean admitting that he shot you.

I’m too paranoid to do any of the things that come to mind. It’s probably over the top, but I’m worried that my phone may be monitored and I don’t want to leave any traces on my laptop by sending an email. So I nervously wait until the evening before I make my way to Woody’s just after opening time. Josh puts a beer on the bar for me and lets me borrow his cellphone, no questions asked.

Your number’s no longer in service and there’s no answer when I call Mrs. Chanders. So I call Alvarez instead and ask him to check urgently whether Daphne’s mother still lives in her old house. He gets back to me an hour later, on Josh’s phone, telling me that there’s no one home. Whether it’s permanent or temporary he couldn’t work out so quickly, especially since I warned him not to let himself get noticed.

I have to leave it at that. This is as far as I’m willing to go to appease my conscience. By the end of the night, I’m drunk enough not to care. You made your bed, it’s not my job to fuck you in it. That doesn’t stop me from dreaming about sex on the beach though.




Hangovers and dark Pittsburgh mornings are not my favorite combination, but I have a meeting at ten, so I have no choice but to get up and make myself presentable. Today I’m going to gatecrash Vance’s party with Lawrence Ramson. I’ve devised a brilliant new strategy for their new HIV drug which is unusual enough to get Ramson’s attention. I have no doubt that I can persuade him over to my side. Vance is going to have a fit, which is an added bonus. He asked me to come back once when he heard I was back in town. But it didn’t take me long to work out that he was just worried about what would happen if I opened my own agency. Well, today he’s going to find out.

Ramson is not quite convinced but he’s always been pleasantly open to new ideas and I’ve never sold him a bad one, so we arrange for a viewing with a test audience later on in the week. I’m confident that by the weekend, I’ll have my first big account under my belt. If I haven’t been arrested by then. It’s a relief to realize that while I was at Vangard, I managed not to wonder if you’ve been arrested yet for over an hour. Or if Daphne has. Can they prove that she was involved or at least knew about what you were doing? I suppose, with Ethan spilling the beans, they can. It amazes me that I even care whether she gets away or not. I thought I was done with the whole affair.

I say goodbye to Ramson outside the agency and I’m embarrassed to say that I take a good look around to see if I can spot anybody watching me, while I smoke. I must really be paranoid to think that the police are following me. I haven’t been able to shake that feeling since they came to the loft yesterday. But then I do see a familiar face and it nearly makes me drop my cigarette. I walk away quickly and duck into an alleyway, making sure that it has an exit at the other end, and wait.

Two minutes later, you come strolling up to me with that big smile that you have. My stomach’s doing somersaults. Must be from worry.

“Hey, Brian.”

“What the fuck, Justin? Are you insane? What are you doing here? In Pittsburgh? In the country even? You do remember that the cops are after you, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but they’ve been after me for years. How have you been?”

“Fuck niceties. I had the cops round the loft yesterday, asking for you. They have your name now.”

“I thought as much. Ethan got himself arrested, the stupid fuck. But I knew he would eventually. I’ve made plans. I’m just here to make sure Daph’s okay.” You tilt your head a little and try a more subdued smile. “And you.”

“Have you been following me?”

“Since yesterday, yeah. I had to make sure that there’s no cops on your tail. I don’t want to get you into any more trouble than I already have. Have they been badgering you?”

“Not much. But if Ethan tells them I was in San Diego, they will. Where is Daphne?”

“Chicago. She has an ex-boyfriend there. Or maybe they’re on again now. I can never work that one out. I don’t think they’re quite sure either. She took her mom with her.”

“And you couldn’t just warn her by phone? You had to come over here?”

You bite your bottom lip, which always has me carefully not thinking how adorable it is. And all your other mannerisms are there, which I remember all too well. A part of me wants to scoop you up and hold you close to protect you from those pesky cops, who have the gall to want to arrest you for your illegal activities, and part of me wants to throttle you. And there’s that other part that wants to fuck you right here behind the dumpster we’re using as cover. Even on this cold and damp day, you remind me of the summer. Sunshine indeed.

I’m not sure who makes the first move, but a few seconds later we’re making out like teenagers. When that isn’t enough any longer, I take your hand and pull you along to the road until we stumble across a small hotel. It’s not the kind of place that rents out rooms by the hour so I resign myself to book one for the night, but you just pull out a credit card and book in under ‘Jason Tucker’. You told me once that calling yourself Jason or Justin makes it easier to respond naturally when people address you and keeping your initials means that you never need to worry about anything you might own that’s monogrammed.

The room is basic but clean and I really don’t care. I have you pushed up against the wall as soon as the door lock engages. You’re kissing me desperately, letting out all those little sounds that you make that I love so much. They never fail to make me hard.

With both of us in a hurry to get to each other’s skin, the bed seems just too far away, so the first fuck is on the floor on the scratchy carpet, but neither one of us is concerned with minor details. After that, we make it to the bed, but we don’t stop kissing and touching and fucking, albeit at a slower pace now. We take our time looking and touching and tasting. It’s been a long time since I didn’t compare the body I'm touching to someone else’s.

I had plenty of time to think since I got home. I tried not to but there’s only so much distraction alcohol, drugs and tricks can provide, especially when I have to be sober enough to run my own business during the day. And in the end, I had to ask myself two hard questions. One was why the fuck did I ever come home? I was bored with this last year, what made me think anything had changed? My work has lost much of its appeal. How can I get excited about boosting the income of Torso and Poppers, of all places? And my private life revolves around Babylon, where I may still be ruling the roost but I’m not stupid enough to think that it will last forever. Michael called me an over-the-hill club boy a little while ago. I’m nowhere near that but I will eventually if I’m not careful. And all my friends seem to be trying to avoid that particular fate by being sickeningly settled and domestic. Obviously, that's not an option either.

The second question I couldn’t avoid was why the fuck did I ever leave you? When I was in Italy, I felt different from the way I’ve felt at any other time in my life. It wasn’t entirely pleasant. I couldn’t shift the feeling that it would all blow up in my face at any moment. But what is more, I couldn’t stop being angry with you for making a fool of me in the first place and most likely do it again in the future. It felt like somehow you had won the game. Not just when I didn’t know what game you were playing but even more so now. Didn’t being with you after what you did mean that I had conceded and let you win? You suddenly seemed to have the upper hand in everything. I couldn’t live with that.

When I left you there, I told myself that I’d feel better away from you. I was convinced that, if I wouldn’t be reminded all the time, if I’d take control of my own life again instead of just drifting with you and if I wouldn’t have to worry about you being gone one day without warning any longer, the sickening feeling I had more or less constantly would disappear. And it did. But it was replaced with something far worse. You’re always with me. I have simply exchanged actually being with you continually in the physical sense with thinking about you all the time. Only now, I don’t have any of the benefits, just longing. And I suspect that will never change.

It’s just as well that the room is booked for the night because I don’t really engage my brain again until it’s dark. I’m a little hungry but not enough to bother about getting food. You, on the other hand, call for room service, which doesn’t exist, and then order a pizza from a nearby delivery place and some drinks. By the time they arrive, we’ve had a shower, together as always, and are lounging on the bed in hotel robes.

“I think I’m getting paranoid,” I finally admit. “I see cops everywhere.”

“Better than dead people.”

“Huh?”

I see dead people. The Sixth Sense? The movie?”

“You’re hilarious.”

You grin impishly. Like you used to in the beginning, when we were working together and nothing could dampen your spirit. Before everything went crazy. And I’m reminded of how you and I just clicked right from the outset. I never had that with anyone before. Not even with Mikey. With Mikey everything grew over time, at least on my side. With you I was comfortable from maybe not day one but definitely day two. I always had fun with you. You are fun.

“You’re not paranoid,” you say quietly and card your fingers through my hair. “I did follow you yesterday and even if you didn’t see me, you probably sensed it. And quite frankly, I think you’re right to be worried.”

“Fuck, now I know I should be. You never admit that there’s anything to worry about.”

You chuckle. “What? You think I hop, skip and jump through life? I worry. All the time. I just don’t let it take over.”

I wish you could teach me that sometime. Because if I’m not in the middle of a drink, drug or fuck session, my thoughts go round and round in never-ending circles. Except now. Now I feel content. Right now I’m indestructible.

“Ethan’s gonna get himself a lawyer and when he does, he’ll start negotiating with the police. All he has to trade is information. As soon as he realizes that he can drop you in the shit by telling the police that you were in San Diego, with me, he’ll tell them. And then they’ll charge you with being an accessory after the fact.”

It’s not as if you’re telling me anything that hasn’t occurred to me before. I realized this last night, sometime after the fourth shot of JB. Borrowed time, that’s all you and I ever seem to have. In the beginning that suited me just fine, then I wouldn’t have minded spinning it out a little longer and now, that borrowed time doesn’t just mean losing you again but also my freedom. I wonder how long I’ll have, if it’s even safe to go back to the loft. Which reminds me…

“You can’t go back to Italy. I told Michael about it. He’s not gonna lie to the police.” We might not be talking at the moment but there’s no way Mikey would ever do anything to harm me. He would tell the police because he’ll hope that if you get arrested, they’ll lose interest in me somehow. And I wouldn’t want him to lie to them anyway. I want all my friends to stay nicely out of this mess and live their boring lives in peace. It’s what they want.

“I wasn’t planning on going back to Italy. That was just a stopgap to let things cool down. I have big plans.”

I really, really don’t like the sound of that. “What? You’re planning to break into Fort Knox?”

You slap my chest playfully with the back of your hand. When I make a grab for it to stop you, you interlace our fingers, with your thumb rubbing the back of my hand absently. I can’t decide how I feel about this display, but I allow it because right now I’m more relaxed than I’ve been in months. You always have that effect on me. And it’s not as if you’ve never done this before. You’ve always had a habit of ignoring my misgivings about us.

“I told you I’m done with stealing.”

“That’s good to know. So what are you planning?”



******JJJJJJ******



When I saw those two guys come out of your building, I was worried. They had cops written all over them. Over the years I’ve developed a radar for people who will cause me trouble, so I knew straight away what they were. It was obvious that they hadn’t arrested you yet, but with Ethan in custody it’s only a matter of time. I didn’t want to cause you more problems than you already have, so I waited and followed you until I could be absolutely certain that you’re not under surveillance.

It’s good to see you. You’re always beautiful, but in your work suit – Armani spring collection, I believe – you look good enough to eat. And when you peel yourself out of it, I can barely breathe or maybe that’s because you’re fucking me, first on the floor and then on the bed.

This is going better than I’d hoped. I had serious doubts that you’d even talk to me, never mind respond to my advances. But then again, the sex was never a problem between us. Or rather the problem was that it was never a problem. That it’s something neither one of us seems to be able to control. For a while I even persuaded myself that sex was all there was to it. Until Daphne set me straight.

I’ve made some stupid mistakes in my life – can we say Ethan? – but what I did to you can only be classed as a monumental fuck-up. Why didn’t I listen to my own reservations before it was too late? I should have walked away, not implicated you in what I was doing. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop spending every last second with you. Every time I’m with you, I never want it to end, no matter the costs.

And now you’re in trouble and it’s all my fault. No wonder you left me in Italy without a goodbye. I came home one day and you were gone. Just like I knew you would. I tried not to, but I can’t help thinking about how we were together. I think about it all the time, every tiny little detail – it’s the one downside to an eidetic memory, trying to forget just doesn’t work. I remember how we talked for hours on end about nothing in particular. Of course, that was on the days you forgot who I am and what I did to you. When you remembered, things were awkward and silent or you would revel in hurting me. But I can’t blame you for that. How could you ever trust me again?

I suppose you don’t really have much choice now. It’s either me or throwing your lot in with the police and I don’t think they’ll be very forgiving after all this time. They’ll throw the book at you.

I have to make amends. I realize that. I tried in Italy, but then I couldn’t stop myself from doing those paintings. It was a challenge and I can’t resist a challenge. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what attracted me to you in the first place. Is there a greater challenge than you?

I should have kept a better eye on Ethan. He’s not as smart as Daphne and I are. Oh sure, his education is first-class, but he doesn’t know anything about living on his wits or staying off people’s radar. I was just so relieved to be finally rid of him that I really just wanted to forget he ever existed. And to be fair to him, he had the disadvantage of the police knowing his real name, so he was probably easier to trace.

Well, they have my name now but that doesn’t mean that they’ll catch me. I know how to disappear. I’ve always been a great believer of hiding in plain sight. Luckily, my needs are small. I didn’t pull this big con with Stockwell because I wanted to be rich. I did it because having money will make it easier to stay a few steps ahead of the cops. Since I left home, my motto has always been that you should never have more than two things that are important to you. Because when you have to go on the run, you can only take the things you can carry with you. And you only have two hands.

Up until now, I always had a hand free because as long as I could keep Daphne safe, everything else was unimportant. But now there’s you. You’re definitely something I want to keep hold of. Forever. The question is, will you let me? Even yesterday, I would have thought that the answer to that is an emphatic no, but today you’re here with me and you’re letting me hold your hand, which you only allow maybe once for every ten times I try. It seems almost symbolic to me.

“The way I see it, you have two options. One, you take your solicitor and you make a statement to the police to come clean. You tell them everything you know about me. Everything about San Diego and Italy, everything I ever did while you were with me, every last word I ever said to you and then hope for the best.”

Your eyebrow comes up and you smirk. “Every word?”

I chuckle. In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve always been in complete control. You don’t lose your nerve and you can think on your feet. I like that about you. The only time I’ve seen you panic was when I got shot. That’s okay. At the time I was panicking myself.

“Well, maybe you can leave out the times when I couldn’t say much more than ‘harder’ and ‘oh God, yes’. But I think you’ve got a good chance of getting away with it. You have no record and you’ve been an upstanding citizen until now. You won’t get a custodial sentence, I’m sure.”

“And do I also tell them about fucking you in this hotel room for hours?” You sound kind of self-deprecating, as if what we’ve been doing all afternoon is something you’re despising yourself for. I hope that’s about the fact that it will make your situation much worse if the police find out and not about how you feel about me.

“Maybe you could tell them we were just talking. That you were trying to keep me here until you had a chance to call them but I got away. I’ve set up a small sting. I could give you the details of that and when the police turn up to arrest me, I just magically get spooked and get away again. Because I’m that good.”

“You set up an operation just to make me look better?”

I shrug. “It’ll score you some points with the cops.”

“Hhm.” You seem to be pondering the idea. “What’s behind door number two?”

“Ah that’s something else I set up a while ago. And it’s as much about what I’m gonna do as it’s about what you’re gonna do.”

“And there you go again, speaking in riddles and not saying much at all.” You seem amused but I can hear the irritated undertone. I know you will never again let me get away with anything less than complete honesty and total disclosure. I can do that.




PART TEN HERE: most likely Tuesday




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