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Cole Matthews

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  1. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica - 11 - The Last Day

    Clay is like most family members who love, they care. He’s inexperienced, but wants to help. The next chapter tells more. Somebody had a reason to silence them, but why? Thanks for the intriguing analysis. Very helpful.
  2. Next chapter of So Weeps the Willow is out.  We are approaching the end of the story with Salix Chapter 12 -11:31 am..  Ben analyzes some important phone data.  Clay and Carl decide to go sleuthing, and the story becomes more intense. 

     

    Thanks!

    1. Valkyrie

      Valkyrie

      Intense is an understatement!  Hold on, folks...  the ride gets a bit bumpy here.  ;)

  3. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica - 11 - The Last Day

    Thanks so much. Yes, Nats and Jake's dad are certainly suspicious. The next chapter reveals the killer, and Clay and Carl's game plan. Thanks for commenting and reading!!!
  4. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica - 11 - The Last Day

    Yeah, Nats story isn't quite as tight as it could be. There is a definite possible link between Wylie and Nats. Clay and Carl are playing a dangerous game. This is a double murder, but they are teenagers. There is so much they don't think can happen to them. Great job with the analysis and thanks for the comments. Much appreciated!
  5. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica - 11 - The Last Day

    Very good!!! You are just about there and you're so close, as we all are. The story is coming to a close. Thanks for the awesome and insightful comments!
  6. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica - 12 - 11:31 am

    Salix Babylonica - 12 – 11:31 am The gay bunting erects his white crest, and gives utterance to the joy he feels in the presence of his brooding mate; the willow grouse on the rock crows his challenge aloud; each floweret, chilled by the night air, expands its pure petals; the gentle breeze shakes from the blades of grass the heavy dewdrops. John James Audubon Ben walked into the house calling out Clay’s name. There was no answer, so he hung up his coat and carried his bag down the hall heaving it onto the kitchen table. It sprawled to one side and a cascade of folders came streaming out. Swearing, Ben righted the bag, pulled out his laptop, and after opening it, bent down and began picking up the files. He had so much in this bag, and there was even more in the electronic file. He wondered where Clay could be. After the computer was opened and ready, Ben downloaded the file from the BCA in St. Paul. His jaw dropped open at the sheer magnitude of the folder. There were at least six gigabytes of data. This was an enormous job to tackle. He needed to do something first though. He texted Clay asking him where he was. The paralegal made a sandwich, and checked his phone for other messages. He then saw the file still hadn’t finished opening. Ben noticed there was an email sitting in his inbox from the Minneapolis Police Department. He was curious about what that could be, but finally the download finished. He began looking through the materials. There were Excel spreadsheets with GPS information. This was the tracking feature of Jake Ogden’s cell phone, and literally traced the man’s last few steps in his final days. The request had only been for a month prior to his death, so it seemed even more amazing to see this much detail. Text messages were in pdf files that were hundreds of pages in length. There was another spreadsheet with his call data, which wasn’t nearly as voluminous. Ben noted that in Jake’s last three days on earth he’d only made two phone calls; one to his mother and one to Eddie. There were several missed calls to his phone after his death. That made Ben sigh. Since it was smart phone, there was a digital history of his browser activity. There were several folders of visited materials. But the biggest folders were his photo and videos, the ones he took himself. Ben worked through the files mostly making notations about the size and kinds of data pulled from Jake’s phone. As he did so, he thought about how the murderer’s phone would probably place pinpoint the man in time and space for Jake’s death. The texts and phone messages, emails and postings would provide the motive. Smart phones practically did all the detective work, except when you didn’t know whodunnit. Hadn’t they figured it out though? Wasn’t Eddie the obvious perpetrator of both crimes? If they could get a hold of Eddie’s phone, it would provide the damning evidence of his murder of both men. Hell, just the tracking records plugged into a mapping system would give authorities a treasure trail leading to the most important sites; Jake’s apartment, Wylie’s storage spot, the bridge where he was taken, and even the visit to Steve’s apartment to plant those sex toys. Ben paused in his musings and checked his phone. Clay hadn’t responded yet. He sent another text to the teen, and then one to Rush. The one to Rush was brief and to the point. “More info than I can get to in a day. Call me in a bit.” Ben returned to the files and started looking at the videos. They were especially poignant since you could hear Jake’s voice in the background. Most were of Eddie, though a couple did feature Nats horsing around at a bar. In many of them, deceased man’s voice was slurred and boozy. The last one, made only a month before his death, was at a park and it was footage of Nats attempting to twerk. Both of them were obviously inebriated. It was sad. Ben opened up the photos folder and saw there were hundreds. He switched the viewer from list to icon. This way he could look and see what kinds of pictures they were. A few were memes, photos with captions that other people had sent Jake. Most were photos he’d taken himself though. Many were of food or trees, happy snaps of people and a few of dogs. There were a couple that looked out of place. Ben opened one of them. It was a pot, a kind of container, and it was brightly painted and oddly shaped. There were bulges along one side, and the paint was garish with primary contrasting colors that screamed into the camera. Four of the photos were of pots like that, and then there were two pots that looked more conventional. They had more of the traditional hour-glass shape and painted muted pastel colors. They were elegant and yet had some very classic lines. Ben realized these had to be pics of Nats’ work. She was a potter and so of course, Jake took some photos of her work. They were really quite exquisite and so different than anything he’d seen at art fairs or even in galleries. Not that he went to art galleries much, but he used to once in a while. Rush wasn’t an art gallery type of guy, and even art fairs made him cringe. Ben wrote up a long email with some general details about the contents of Jake’s phone. He checked his phone and Clay still hadn’t responded. Ben opened up the second large folder, the one labeled Wylie, and it was significantly smaller. There were emails from a free provider and the call records from the phone company. Steve’s phone hadn’t been found, so there were no texts, photos, videos, or messages to review. There was a large tracking spreadsheet, which Ben noticed but didn’t open. He looked at the emails and most were spam. There weren’t many personal ones, except a couple with something attached. They were from Wyliecoyot33@gmail.com and sent to the same address. Ben did that occasionally as well, to easily move photos or links from his phone to his laptop or tablet. Ben clicked on one of the emails with the telltale paperclip icon, and it opened. He then opened the attachment and saw it was a piece of pottery, very delicate looking and had the same color shades as the ones on Jake’s phone. That was odd. Ben clicked on it, and a photo opened that displayed another pot, again, delicately painted, subtle, and yet visually arresting. This one had the word “Sold” splashed across it in red. In his email, dated back in June, it said, “I can’t believe I did it. I’m a real artist now!!!!!!!!!” Ben blinked. Rush had said Wylie was a potter, even if the studio space was empty. Furthermore, there hadn’t been any pottery found at his apartment. Maybe the man had stuff somewhere else. “A kiln,” he said out loud. “I bet they need a kiln to fire these pots and there isn’t room or utilities for such things.” Ben considered the reports and the pics from The Warrens website. It simply didn’t have these resources. Ben continued reading emails and explored Steve Wylie’s personality like no one in this case had been able to. Not until today. Apparently. *** “I feel weird watching his house from behind a parked car,” Carl whispered into Clay’s ear. “We don’t want to alert him.” Carl tugged on his friend’s sleeve. “If they’d found something in this guy’s basement, wouldn’t he already be in custody?” Carl had made this point several times on the way over. When they arrived by Uber, after a damned long bus ride, they found the neighborhood was quiet and Jay Ogden’s house wasn’t the hotbed of activity they’d expected. Since disembarking from the ride-share, they’d walked around the area looking and ended up behind Jake’s dad’s house. “I suppose.” Clay had to admit. He realized this was a fool’s errand, as his grandparents would sometimes say. “I’m pretty sure Ben and Rush are missing something.” Carl said, “Maybe we should go back to your house.” “Let’s talk to this guy first,” Clay decided. “Maybe he knows something about where this basement is.” Carl just shook his head as they walked slowly up the house. Clay climbed the steps to the front door, but before he could knock, the it opened. “Yeah,” the middle-aged man asked. He was rather handsome for an old dude. He had to be in his fifties or so. “Um,” Clay started, and suddenly his mouth went dry. He tried to speak, but it came out as a cough. “Are you lost?” the man asked, shrinking back. “I don’t recognize you from the neighborhood. You’re not Josie Wyandotte’s grandkids are you?” “No,” Clay said. “We’re doing a school project,” Carl said, stepping up next to Clay. “A survey.” “Is that right?” Ogden said. “What’s it about?” “Crime and how the police are handling community safety.” Carl puffed out his chest. “Interesting,” he said, starting to shut the door. “Not today. Thank you.” As the gap between the door and the casing grew smaller, Clay panicked. He put his foot on the threshold and said loudly, “Rush Romer is my dad.” Jay Ogden paused, he looked a little lost, and then frowning he asked. “Why are you here?” “Because, we want to find your son’s killer.” *** With freshly opened cans of soda pop in hand and a plate of cookies on the coffee table, the boys watched as Jake’s father took a seat on his chair. They were sitting on an old sofa next to each other and waiting for the older man to address them. “I really shouldn’t talk to you about this.” Clay spoke first. “It’s not official or anything, but I’ve been helping my dad.” “That doesn’t sound professional,” Ogden answered. He was even more lost now, staring off into space for a moment and then added, “I just spoke with your father earlier today and I understand there are no real suspects yet.” He rubbed his face and continued. “I guess it can’t hurt. What do you want to know?” Clay started asking general questions about Jake. Jay Ogden answered with some difficulty, as if even speaking about his son was a trial. “What do you think of Eddie?” Clay asked. He watched the man carefully not knowing what to expect. Ogden didn’t answer at first. Then he said, “He’s a wild child and he wasn’t good for Jake. Eddie and Jake were a lot alike, but I always thought Jake would’ve cleaned up his act if he wasn’t hanging around losers like Eddie.” “What about the other people in Jake’s life?” Carl asked abruptly. “He had a new boyfriend, didn’t he?” Jay Ogden looked startled, and then a little hesitant. “I never asked about things like that. My daughter said Jake was getting sober, not that he was dating anyone else.” He tilted his head and wiped his cheek. “I hoped he’d find someone decent, I guess.” Carl elbowed the other teen, and Clay looked at his friend. There was a sad look in his eye. This was a dry well. Carl saw it, and now Clay did too, and so he changed tactics. “What about other friends?” Clay asked. Jake’s father seemed to brighten up. “Oh, now Natalie is a different story. She’s wild too, but a hard worker. I’ve never seen a person work so hard at her hobby. She took it very seriously.” “So, Natalie was a good influence on Jake?” Carl asked. “I wouldn’t say that,” the man responded, and shook his head. “They all liked to party, Jake and his friends, and Nats kept up with them. When the party was over, she would get back to work. That always impressed me about her.” “Are you talking about the restaurant?” Clay asked. “She’s a server, I think.” “Not her job,” Ogden said, shaking his head. “Her pottery stuff.” “She was pretty good, huh?” Carl asked. “I didn’t say that.” The man smiled sadly. “Not until recently. No, she really worked on her art, but it was pretty weird and not too interesting. At least, it wasn’t to me.” “You say ‘until recently’?” Clay asked. Jay Ogden stood and gestured for the boys to follow. They did so and he led them down the hall to a small, cramped office. Along one wall was a tall bookcase, filled with hardcover books and wooden decoys, stuffed grouse and partridges. There were lighted sconces above the huge piece of furniture. Ogden was pointing to two large pots, one on either end of the wooden case. The one on the left was square and painted bright yellow with several dark green squiggly lines converging on a point in the middle of the pot. It was awkward-looking and rather ugly. “That’s the first one she gave me a couple of years ago.” Ogden then waved to the other side. It was a delicate, graceful vase with a rich lavender finish that glowed in the lamplight. “That’s the one she gave me last fall. They look like they were made by two different people, right?” Clay looked at Carl. Both boys were confused. Jake’s dad continued to ramble on sadly, talking about his son. It was depressing. Not long thereafter, the two teens said their goodbyes and left Ogden, who was getting a bit weepy now. Clay called Rush, but he didn’t get an answer. “Rush,” Clay said breathlessly. “You need to call me right away. There’s something very strange and I think you should know about it. I’m not sure exactly why. Anyway, call me.” Clay left a similar message on Ben’s phone, and he didn’t answer either. The two boys waited for the Uber they’d summoned. There was something important in what the old guy told them, but what exactly? *** Ben looked at his phone and saw Clay was calling him. There was a parking lot ahead and he was about to pull in, when the buzzing stopped. A few moments later, the phone blinked a notice that a voice mail was waiting. He’d listen to the message when he got to the apartment complex. There was no reason to stop driving now. Coincidentally, it was good luck that Wylie and Nats were both artisan potters. Nats would know which kilns in the area would do work on a piecemeal basis. The calls he’d made to pottery places hadn’t been promising. Most of the places only fired pots for their clients who rented space from them. There had been a shop down in Burnsville that would take greenware, pottery that hadn’t been finished, and fire it. It was over twenty miles away, and Ben figured there had to be somewhere closer. He turned onto a side street, following his GPS. Nats building wasn’t far from Jake’s. In fact, it was probably only a couple of blocks away. From Rush’s description, Gallivant’s was also close, perhaps half a mile. Lots of artsy types lived in the area, and Ben saw several front yards with welded steel statues and things. The Walker Sculpture Garden was on the other side of Loring Park from here. He parallel parked on the street a block from Nats’ building. Ben picked up his phone and listened to a message from Rush. He and Hammond were headed from the sheriff’s department to Jake’s apartment. He’d barely missed them. According to the time on the message notification, they’d been nearby only about fifteen minutes ago. He then listened to the voice mail from Clay. The message the teen left was a bit odd, something about a clue, though Ben couldn’t understand what that meant. He heard the strain in his voice though, and it bothered him. Ben hit the callback button and waited as the phone rang once and then right to voice mail. Ben said, “Clay, I’m not sure what you’re doing, but call me back. Or call Rush.” And he added, “I missed you at home just now. I’m asking Jake’s friend about kilns. I’ll be home in a few. Bye.” Grabbing his bag, Ben stepped out of his car and headed to the apartment building. It felt like things were moving now. An email came into Ben’s inbox from the Hennepin County District Attorney’s office. Attached to the email was a report from the harvesting of Jake’s phone. It had been heavily redacted and produced in the civil case, but now the names of the parties communicating was included. Ben didn’t read it, which was unfortunate. Jacob Ogden 10:13 pm: Are you doing okay? Natalie Howe 10:17 pm: I’m fine, why? Jacob Ogden 11:19 pm: Do you feel bad about it? Natalie Howe 11:21 pm: What are you talking about? Jacob Ogden 11:31 pm: I worry about you. He was a good guy. Natalie Howe 11:34 pm: He was just someone to hang out with. Jacob Ogden 11:37 pm: You really cared for him. His disappearance has affected you deeply. That’s okay. Natalie Howe 12:02 am: No, it didn’t. Natalie Howe 12:13 am: At one time, he was someone I loved. That changed. He was just somebody I knew. After what he did, he deserves it. What makes you think it really matters? Jacob Ogden 12:18 am: He was special. He was, special, to you. Can’t you admit it? Natalie Howe 12:23 am: He was, um, what you said. Am I sorry he’s gone? Of course. He didn’t deserve to…it makes me sad. It fucking kills me. Jacob Ogden 12:33 am: He meant something to you. I could see it when I watched you interact. The guy mattered, regardless of what happened. Jacob Ogden 12:35 am: You only say that because he’s connected to you. Natalie Howe 12:37 am: Connected? What does that mean? Jacob Ogden 12:39 am: Fuck you. Fuck you, you goddamned piece of shit. I can’t take this anymore. I know what happened. Fucking-A. Jacob Ogden 1:47 am: I know what you did. Jacob Ogden 6:53 am: I’m not going to say anything to anyone else. Obviously, no one would ever think you had anything to do with his being gone. Let’s just say, I’m not going to ‘rock the boat’, but consider this. If cops start thinking things are odd or if there are questions, I’m going to talk to you again. I won’t be part of this. You did it, and I know it. So, fuck you. Remember that. Natalie Howe 7:52 am: Be cool
  7. The next chapter of So Weeps the Willow has been posted.  This chapter is called, The Last Day.  Ben gets a phone call, Rush has a brainstorm, and Clay admits something to Carl.  

     

    This is the beginning of a bumpy ride my friends!  

  8. Cole Matthews

    Salix Bablyonica - 10 - The Plan

    Very good. You are working some things out quite well. Cindy didn't, and she's just the kind of nosey person who would suss out something like that. I think you're right about the killer. It does appear things aren't as they are presented. Not exactly. Great job and thanks for the insightful comments. I appreciate your encouragement.
  9. Cole Matthews

    Salix Bablyonica - 10 - The Plan

    Thanks! I'm glad you're still hooked. Lots more coming up. The next chapter is The Last Day and we will see things moving quickly toward a resolution. I appreciate the kind words and attention.
  10. Cole Matthews

    Salix Bablyonica - 10 - The Plan

    Nobody is sure whether Wylie is gay or straight or a little of both. It's certainly possible Eddie was with someone else. It could have been Steve. Or, it could have been someone else. Oh, Clay is going to help with the case. That's a given, I think, considering the teen's attitude toward being part of the family. Don't you think? Thanks for the awesome comments and you are getting there, I think!
  11. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica - 11 - The Last Day

    Salix Babylonica 11 - The Last Day The grounds of the place were dominated by several large, old willow trees that towered over the surrounding stone wall and swayed soundlessly in the wind like lost souls. Haruki Murakami “Would you get that?” Carl barked, glancing over at Clay with an annoyed, bitchy look. “We don’t answer the land line,” Clay said, smirking at Carl’s struggles. The smaller teen always had trouble getting the dragon to fly away from the entrance of the cave. His cleric warrior simply didn’t have enough points to cast the right spell so he had to wound the giant fire-breathing drake. The phone jangled again, beckoning, and Carl managed to thrust a sword into the reptile’s flesh below its breastplate, and the mythical creature roared in response. He was clicking the controller as fast as he could. “Unplug the stupid phone then!” he shouted as a burst of flames surrounded his character. “Fine,” Clay said, jumping up from the floor. As he approached the side table with the ancient device on it, it rang yet again. “Pick it up!” “Alright,” the teen growled. “Hello,” Clay said. “Can I speak with Mr. Romer please?” “Who’s speaking?” Clay asked, still watching Carl’s warrior priest fend off the dragon’s clawed attack. “Hammond asked me to call and give him some news. I really need to speak with him.” “He’s with the cops now,” Clay said distracted. “Do you want to talk to his associate, Ben?” “I need to speak directly with Mr. Romer,” the man said. “Yes!” Carl screamed as the bloodied, furious dragon leaped into the sky and flew away. “I did it! I got in!” “Let me get Ben for you,” Clay said, suddenly excited by the police call. Compared to Carl’s character chasing off an obstacle in a video game, a call from the police seemed much more interesting. “What is the report about?” Clay asked. “I’m also helping Rush, er, Mr. Romer with the investigation.” There was a long pause. “I’ve met with Ben before. Let me speak with him.” Clay set down the receiver and stepped over Carl. He hit pause and then held his finger to his lips, hushing the other boy. “Be quiet,” he whispered solemnly and Carl nodded. Clay ran down the hall to the kitchen. Ben was seated at the table tapping at his laptop keyboard. “You have a call from the police.” Ben glanced up from his work. He picked up his cell and looked at the screen. Clay grabbed the phone on the wall and handed it to the man. “He called the house phone. Rush was right. Some people do use it.” Ben smiled and took it from him. “This is Ben Miller.” Clay quickly exited and ran down the hallway. Carl was looking at him quizzically. The teen shook his head and holding his hand over the receiver listened in. “…there is DNA in the basement consistent with the victim. There were attempts to clean up the fluids.” Ben’s voice responded. “That’s interesting. So, what were the other results from the clothing and sleeping bag?” “The DNA results were not from the victim. The clothes were freshly laundered, and the sleeping bag had some human and animal hairs along with dead insects and the like. But there were no findings for the deceased.” “So, there is nothing from the studio to indicate Wylie slept there?” “No, the studio itself has been tampered with, thoroughly cleaned.” Ben then told the cop to email him the report. Clay listened as the two men finished up the call. He carefully placed the phone back on the cradle, and then slipped around the end of the couch, joining Carl. “What was that about?” the smaller teen asked. “Shh!” Clay said quickly. “My turn?” “I guess,” Carl answered. He then glanced back when he heard someone enter the room. It was one of his friend’s dads. “Clay, I’m going to meet Rush at the BCA headquarters. There has been a development he needs to hear about.” Clay waved his hand, acknowledging he’d heard. “Don’t eat just chips.” Ben said distractedly. “There’s some leftover hot dish in the fridge. Heat some of it up for lunch. I’ll be back later today.” “Okay,” Clay answered, furiously hacking through an orc guarding the gate. “Bye.” The two friends heard Ben leave shutting the front door behind him. Then Carl hit pause. “What’s going on?” Clay turned and said, “They found something. The guy they found under the bridge was stashed somewhere for a while. They found the place.” “Really?” Carl asked excitedly. “Where’s that?” Clay looked over at the closed door. “They found some DNA evidence in a basement.” “Whose basement?” “I didn’t hear that part. But, let’s think about it.” Clay paused and grinned. “Jake’s sister told Rush and Ben she thinks her mom did it. Rush and Ben thought it was the boyfriend.” “How do you know that?” “I was listening. Now, which one has a basement?” Carl shrugged. “How do we know that?” “Maybe we should look into it. Ben is going to meet with the police and Rush. We can go by those two places and see if we can help.” “How are we going to help?” Carl asked evenly, but his face lit up with enthusiasm. Clay’s expression changed. Something occurred to him and he said, “I think Jake’s sister is wrong and Rush is wrong.” “Why do you think that?” Carl asked. “Because Jake’s dad has a house.” Carl crinkled his nose. “What does that mean?” “Jake’s dad has a basement. Nobody else in the case has that.” There was something wrong with Clay’s idea, but the Carl wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. *** Rush listened as Jake’s father prattled on, talking about old television shows and fuse boxes and how his wife cheated on him, but something had clicked. Something important sparked a memory, though he couldn’t grasp it firmly. He’d followed up with all the other suspects, but he never had with Jake’s father. Rush stopped on the way to meeting Hammond. “Penny for your thoughts,” Jake’s dad asked. “What?” Rush asked, but the question was automatic and not genuine. Bits of information started bobbing to the surface in his brain. Things were now churning, foaming, and it wasn’t clear, but the ideas were suggestive. Like a torrential rain, facts poured through his mind, drenching his hair and clothes, and infuriating him. The sheer volume of memory was drowning him. Rush almost gasped as a series of images, thoughts, and impressions washed over him, overwhelming his senses. Each one morphed into a larger picture, but one he couldn’t quite grasp, like he was trying to seize a gushing stream in his fist. From an interview, “For example, it doesn’t list the couch and table, the candy dish with change and the blankets.” “Yeah,” Brenda said slowly. “She was worried she’d get sick as well. So, she opened up the window and tried shaking the victim.” From Jake’s blog; “Eddie got busy with something and calling me slipped his mind. Nats was a good friend I thought I could rely on in spite of some rough patches recently. “You’ve done nothing,” she said curtly. “I have plans tonight. I’m going to Gallivant’s to meet friends.” “Nats is a potter, you know, like with clay, making bowls and shit. She works part time out of a studio near the local university. Her work, more recent stuff, has been shown in several places and instead of it being that weird, modernistic, blobby stuff, her pots are rather delicate and intricate.” From their talk with Jake’s sister; Twyla remembered, “Okay. Twyls, I love you. I’m going through a hard time right now, but you know me. I’m okay. I’m a survivor. I get things figured out. Good night.” From a witness interview; “When you turned the heater off, did you notice anything about it? Anything you didn’t expect?” “No, I turned it off and that was it.” From the firefighters: Brenda said, “Yeah. She tried stopping it. When it wouldn’t shut off, she opened the window and left his apartment calling 911.” “It was off when you entered the apartment.” Brandon nodded. “The fuel tank was empty. It must have burned out by the time we got there.” From a deposition: Hardinger: “Thank you. Now, did you say the carbon dioxide level was also high? Freeman: “In the bathroom? Hardinger: “Yes, was the carbon dioxide level in the bathroom elevated above normal?” From Jake’s blog; “I still don’t know about the bucket though. Why was there an empty bucket in my apartment this morning? I didn’t put it there. Weird.” Hammond had commented, “I don’t know about that,” the detective snorted. “They are the same brand, different models, but both of them have the client’s safety switch on them. Both of the switches failed, so it’s not good.” Rush realized within those ideas, those facts, was a narrative that made sense. If he could organize them properly, he could figure out who killed Jake and Steve. That’s who those men were to him now, not victims Ogden and Wylie, but two men struck down in the prime of their lives. Someone was the lynchpin that held them together. The detective interrupted the man. “Mr. Ogden, thanks for your help. I need to get going now.” “Okay. If I can do anything to help,” Jake’s dad said. Rush thought, ‘Maybe you just did’. But he didn’t say it. As he walked out of the man’s house, he called Hammond. After a brief discussion, they agreed to meet at the evidence room. There was something in the evidence that was whispering to him. A piece of the crime scene was speaking so softly, he couldn’t hear the words over the mighty waterfall in his head. Those whispers were so loud, he could almost hear them from Jake’s grave. He jumped into his vehicle and took off. *** Hammond was nowhere to be found at the county sheriff’s headquarters. Rush fidgeted impatiently as the desk sergeant paged the detective. He settled into a hard-backed chair and pulled out his laptop. He read the DNA findings from the studio and the basement in the report that Ben had forwarded. Finding the area where Wylie had been stored was a great discovery. The cops were getting a list of people who would have access to the basement at The Warrens. Someone had hidden Wylie’s body and then arranged this elaborate, and not terribly effective ruse for some reason. Rush couldn’t imagine what that might be. It made no sense to make it appear Wylie was gay, and to go to such an extreme. Why? Rush then pulled up the electronic version of the Ogden case file and started looking over all the documents in that case. There was an update from their contact at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The forensics from a couple of items had been sent to him. One was the complete text records for Jake Ogden. The other was his phone records. His cell had been harvested and all the data inside detailed his last communications and movements. It was a huge file. Rush felt his phone buzz. He looked, saw it was Ben, and then answered. “Hey, where are you?” Ben asked breathlessly. Rush heard a door shut in the background. “I’m meeting with Hammond to look over the evidence from Ogden’s case. Then we’re meeting with the district attorney.” “I thought we were meeting with the state BCA team,” Ben said. “That was canceled. They sent me Ogden’s cell phone data. Can you look through it and the data from Wylie’s phone?” “Okay, well I’ll turn back for home then,” Ben said. “Anything else I should look into?” Rush smiled to himself. “When you see the size of those cell phone files, you will realize how laughable that question is.” “Great,” Ben said. “I guess I’ll spend the rest of the day looking at texts, photos, and random emoticons.” Rush chuckled, “Sounds like a blast. If anything crazy comes up, send it to my phone. I’m going into the tech dead zone.” “Okay, love you,” Ben said. “Love you too,” Rush answered and hit end. “Sorry about the wait,” Hammond said, making the private detective look up. “No problem. I was giving Ben a heads up on the phone data files.” “Good thing he’s looking over them.” Hammond shook his head. “There’s an awful lot of shit in those files.” “I know,” Rush said. “Let’s get back to the evidence. *** Rush held up the Scene Inventory List in the crinkly plastic cover and waved it at Hammond. They were in the evidence room at the Hennepin County Public Safety building going over the physical items collected at the scene. “This is the firefighters, Freeman and Stangeland, and their evidence list from the scene. Does the police department have an inventory as well?” Hammond shook his head. Rush ran his finger over the list and noted that the assorted items all appeared ordinary, and nothing special. There was a Styrofoam cup, a notepad, and laptop on the bedside table, which wasn’t all that strange. People did doodle and check email before going to sleep and his bed was the main piece of furniture in that tiny efficiency apartment. In the bathroom, there were the usual items; toothbrush, toothpaste, a pill bottle, deodorant, and other assorted grooming tools. Rush paused. “Can I look at this clear plastic splinter and the spring?” “Sure,” Hammond said, looking in the evidence bin. He pulled out two small clear baggies with labels on them. After glancing at them, he handed them over to Rush. The spring was from a pen, a ballpoint, and it was smashed. The plastic splinter was different. It was clear, flat and jagged. “Where was this found?” he asked Hammond. Hammond looked at the apartment map and said, “They were both found on the bathroom floor.” “That’s odd,” Rush said, looking carefully at the splinter again. He continued. “The bucket?” Hammond looked at the list. “It was found in the main room next to the heater. There was nothing in the bucket, according to the narrative. Nothing special.” Rush looked at where the police detective pointed and it was a bucket. It was an empty bucket, completely clean and without any marks or contents. It sat in a corner of this evidence locker, bagged and labeled, and yet what did it mean? “The bucket Jake never knew about,” Rush said distractedly. He then added urgently, though he didn’t know why. “Can we go to the scene? It’s still empty, right?” “It is, but it’s not exactly a pristine crime scene. The civil courts sealed the room after the suit was filed, and we then resealed it when the criminal case arose, but it’s been entered and things aren’t exactly the same. The apartment has been polluted, the position of the items changed.” “That’s okay,” Rush said. “I don’t need it to be exactly the same. I only need to look at the space and get my bearings.” He didn’t know why. “Let’s go,” Hammond said, replacing the items into the bin. “Can we take the clear plastic piece with us?” “I’ll sign it out,” Hammond said. *** Carl checked the bus route again on his phone. “Are you sure this is the right one?” he asked the other teen. “Yeah, I entered his address and mapped it out. This is the fastest way.” “Do you really think we should interfere?” Carl asked, biting his lip nervously. “Won’t your dads be mad?” “Probably, but I want to help,” Clay answered stubbornly. He was staring out the window, his breath fogging the chilled glass. “They’ve done so much for me.” Carl didn’t say anything for a few minutes. “You guys really love each other. I can see it when you are together, you know, like, interacting. It’s pretty cool actually.” Clay sighed, but not in a sad way, but thoughtfully. “When I first met them, I was such a mess. I – I…” The teen stopped talking. Carl waited. The bus made a wide left turn, and his shoulder rubbed against Clay’s. “I hated myself. I wanted to die,” he finally said. “After Garrett and everything, I felt like a piece of shit and wanted to just disappear.” “I didn’t know,” Carl whispered. He leaned into the touch. “You wanted to kill yourself?” “Not really,” Clay answered. “I wanted to go away and never come back. Committing suicide wasn’t the idea. Dying wasn’t my goal. I…, um, I wanted to fade away.” “But then you met Rush and Ben.” “Then I met Ben, and as a result, Rush. Rush understood me. I could tell he really knew how I felt.” Clay turned in the seat and continued, “He knew I wanted to hide and become invisible, and he wouldn’t let me. Somehow he seemed to know.” Carl put his hand on Clay’s arm and gave him a reassuring squeeze. The teen continued. “I’d tried some pills and they made me sick, but they also helped me forget.” Carl said, “I tried getting drunk a few times. I get it, but it never helps.” “You do understand, don’t you?” Clay said. “Yeah,” Carl said, nodding. “Maybe you should call Rush and let him know what we’re doing.” Clay nodded. He hit a button on the phone in his hand and waited. Carl listened as the teen left his foster dad a message.
  12. New chapter of So Weeps the Willow is posted.  Ben fesses up to his independent investigation.  The guys hobble together a plan.  Rush finds an old friend of Steve's.  Enjoy!

  13. Cole Matthews

    Salix Bablyonica - 10 - The Plan

    Salix Babylonica 10 – The Plan Walking on willow tree roads by a river dappled with peach blossoms, I look for spring light, but am everywhere lost. Birds fly up and scatter floating catkins. A ponderous wave of flowers sags the branches. Wang Wei “Can we go over the case against Eddie again,” Ben’s voice was shaky as he asked the question. “There isn’t any real evidence against him. Is there?” Rush smiled sadly. He looked up from his coffee at his partner. After a few moments, he spoke. “There’s quite a bit of circumstantial evidence against Eddie.” “Like what?” Rush pushed his laptop to the side and leaned over the table. The look on his face was intense, focused, and he spoke deliberately. “Eddie was there. The video camera recorded him leaving Jake’s building around the time his ex was poisoned.” Rush’s index finger popped up, indicating point one. “Yeah, that does make him look guilty,” Ben responded with a nod. He paused and then argued, “But, he could have been visiting someone else. Jake’s apartment building is in his neighborhood, so he could know others who live there.” Rush shook his head. “Let’s use the old rubric for discovering the perpetrator of a crime. Means, motive and opportunity. Eddie had the opportunity, that is, he was within the nexus of the place the crime occurred.” Ben nodded in agreement. “He was there when the crime occurred.” “Yeah,” Rush said resolutely. “In other words, Eddie was in the vicinity of the victim. He had the physical proximity to cause Jake’s death.” Ben thought briefly and agreed. “Okay, so Eddie was there at the time of Jake’s death. Where are you going with that?” Rush ticked off another finger. “Motive. Jake was moving on with his life. According to his sister, he was seeing another guy.” “But, I thought Jake said they were getting back together.” Rush pulled the laptop closer and his fingers flew over the keyboard. “Let’s see what Jake said about his relationship with Eddie.” Rush started reading: “Eddie held me and let me unleash. After I got my act together, he kissed my forehead and took me home. He made sure I was okay. Only after all that, he left. I remember he looked back and the love poured from his eyes. Yet, is he the one? Fuck. It hurts so much, but I have to be honest. I’m not sure it’s Eddie, not anymore. Not after, our night together. I hope I’m not wrong.” Ben stiffened as the implications became more evident. Jake was breaking up with Eddie, so the motive certainly was there, especially as presented by Jake. Then, something else occurred to him. A memory came zooming in from his study of the case materials. “Didn’t they have a date the next night? I remember Jake writing they were supposed to meet.” Rush grimaced. “It sounded like they were going to meet and make it work, but let’s go back to his words.” “And then there’s Eddie. We talked before work. He told me he’d call at ten o’clock and we could get together. He hadn’t called, so I called him. I don’t know what’s going on. This seems odd. This morning, things seemed to be coming together. I had Eddie back in my life.” Ben said, “See, it sounds like they are getting back together.” “I don’t think so,” Rush continued. “Jake said they were over in the previous entry, and now he’s trying to change their relationship so Eddie is still in his life, but not as a lover.” “How do you get that?” Ben said, shocked. “Jake commented that ‘things are coming together’ and he had Eddie back in his life, yet the day before he said, ‘I’m not sure it’s Eddie, not anymore.’ We read it thinking Eddie and Jake were getting back together, but Eddie knew as he read it; Jake was done. We don’t see the reactions in their faces as the talk.” “Eddie knew Jake was done with him as a boyfriend.” “And that gave Eddie a motive,” Ben answered the unexpressed question. “Means?” Rush said, “That’s the part that’s most tricky. “Eddie was in the building. Eddie probably wanted to make Jake pay in some way, but was the heater Eddie’s? Did he have access to it and did he use it to kill his ex? That is our weakest link.” “And we have no hard or direct evidence, just circumstantial evidence suggesting Eddie was the killer.” Rush admitted as much with his expression. He also said, “We need evidence from a witness or from the forensics to place Eddie in Jake’s apartment at the right time. We also need Eddie to have access to Jake’s heater and a way to make it the murder weapon.” Ben frowned. That was a problem, and a key one. How had the heater gotten into the apartment and turned into the mode of murder? He reiterated their discussion. “Because we now have a motive. That’s where the physical and factual witness evidence makes all the difference.” Ben was subdued at first, then he asked, “What about Wylie’s connection in all this? How does he fit in with Eddie as the killer?” “Wylie is the guy Jake was fooling around with,” Rush answered without a pause. “Wylie was figuring out his sexuality and Jake was the one helping him do so.” “That’s what I thought too,” Ben said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Is that why Jake was so conflicted in those last couple of days before he died? When you read the blog, it’s not clear what he thought about he and Eddie. He almost seemed to fear Eddie was leaving him, in a way.” Rush seemed to agree with his reaction as he shuffled through a folder with the printout. “Here’s from day seven of the blog.” He offered: “It hurts so much, but I have to be honest. I’m not sure it’s Eddie, not anymore. Not after, our night together. I hope I’m not wrong.” “And the next day, he wrote this,” Rush continued reading. “Eddie confessed our time apart has been hell for him. He never stopped loving me. My actions were driving him insane, so he kept his distance. When I’d pick up a guy, it stabbed at his heart. I saw in his eyes how much pain I’d put him through. God, I feel so bad. How did I not see this? It was going on right before my eyes. Yet, I couldn’t see it. At the end of our talk, we agreed to take it slow. We’d actually date and get closer again while being careful about the other’s space.” “It’s obvious there was another guy in there somewhere. They’d talked and were trying to make it work.” Ben added, “So you think they got back together and then Eddie couldn’t handle Jake’s cheating, well, it wasn’t cheating because they weren’t a couple at the time…” “By the same token, it’s clear Eddie had a motive. We have the circumstantial evidence that Eddie expressed to Jake. “Rush, is this case too complex to solve? We have seen so little physical evidence from the scene.” Rush looked out of the window. “It seems so.” Ben stood and collected their coffee mugs. Rush put a hand on his partner’s arm, stopping him. Ben waited, and listened to his boyfriend. Rush looked deeply into his eyes and asked, “Or are we being stupid and this is not a complicated case?” “What does that mean?” Ben asked, sitting back down next to Rush this time, instead of across from him. “Maybe this is so sloppy we think it’s complex. I can’t tell right now.” Ben laid his head on Rush’s shoulder. “I just hope no one else gets hurt." “Me too,” Rush said, stroking Ben’s cheek, and thinking. *** Rush realized the quality of the light changed so much about the look of a place. Gallivant’s in the evening light of early spring was so bright, and there were colors reflected off the plate glass windows and shining metal made the building dazzle. The building surfaces mirrored the amazingly brilliant colors and made the bar seem so inviting, and enticing. He’d come here again, because something was bothering him. This was the site where something occurred that set off this whole case. He exited his vehicle and loped across the tarmac to the front doors. Breathing in deeply, he smiled as he opened the front doors. This would be a good visit. He was feeling confident now. Energized, Rush walked into the darkened space and up to the bar. Unlike the last time, the bar was about half full of drinkers, seated and talking to one another. There was an energy in the air that was lacking last time. A man he’d never seen before flitted from patron to patron, like a butterfly from flower to flower, extracting the nectar of money and depositing the pollen of booze. “Fuck that,” Rush said, growling. He realized he was heady with the effect of the atmosphere, not reading the scene. “These people are just having a good time, and shutting out the world,” he whispered to himself. Rush approached the bar and sat down on a stool. The bartender smiled at him, shaking a drink in a stainless-steel container, and greeting him with his eyes. “What would you like?” the man asked, pouring the golden liquid into a short rocks glass and setting it in front of a patron. “How about a gin martini?” Rush answered. “Any particular brand?” the bartender’s sculpted eyebrow made an arch. “Yeah,” Rush said, and smiling added, “I’d like a Bombay Sapphire martini, on the rocks, with a twist.” The man stopped for a minute, and then recovered, with a broad grin. “That’s a lovely drink.” “Yes,” Rush said. “It is.” He watched as the bartender filled another metal shaker with a mound of ice and a generous pour of booze. The guy knew what he was doing. He seemed to care about his work. The PI tested his hypothesis. “I bet you see lots of amateur drinkers.” “I do,” the man responded. He placed a clouded and chilled glass before Rush, and poured the strained clear gin and dry vermouth into the vessel. “We have lots of regulars as well.” Rush processed the comment quickly, and understood what the man was conveying. “So, there are lots of other restaurant people who come here frequently?” “Yeah, I guess so,” the bartender responded. Yet, he paused after his answer and looked Rush up and down. “Why do you ask?” he asked suspiciously. “Just curious.” The bartender shrugged and walked away. Rush looked around the bar and saw several people sitting on stools and drinking, most quietly, but a few were talking and flailing their hands about as they made a point or told a story. He wasn’t sure where to start or what to ask or even who to ask. They were customers in a bar, the only place so far, they’d connected Wylie and Ogden together. This was only place where Eddie was seen with both Jake and Steve at the same time. Rush didn’t see the manager, Steve’s sister around today. Was it a day off or was she in the back avoiding him? Certainly, he’d stirred up emotions last time he’d been here. As he pretended to sip his martini, he noticed a woman walking from group to group, holding a bottle of beer in her hand. She was slim, dressed in jeans and a loose-knit sweater. Her hair was mousey brown, but she had a ready smile. Her laugh was infectious, and it seemed like she knew everyone in the place. Rush followed her progress down the bar, and he tried to catch her eye. This was exactly the kind of person who talked with everyone. Maybe she knew Jake, Eddie, and Steve. Perhaps, she knew the story behind their love triangle, or at least, if one existed. She was chatting with two guys opposite from Rush when the bartender approached. “How’s the drink?” “Good. Say, can I buy the woman over there a drink?” “Which one?” he asked. “The one in the blue sweater talking to the two men in cowboy hats.” “Oh, you mean Cindy. You want to buy her a drink?” “Yeah,” Rush said, now taking a sip from the martini. It was an excellent drink, balanced and with just enough vermouth to mellow out the juniper. “Whatever she’d like.” “She only drinks beer,” the bartender said and grabbing a five from the bar, walked over to her. He pointed at Rush and spoke to her in low tones. She looked surprised, pleased, and smiled at him. Rush lifted his drink in return. The bartender pulled out a bottle and twisted off the cap. He handed the woman the bottle and she saluted the detective with it. Rush waved at her. She grinned again and then walked towards him. It was obvious she was intrigued by the expression on her lined face. “I’ve never seen you here before,” she said. “I’m Cindy.” “I’m Rush.” The detective turned on his stool and saw she was drinking a light domestic beer, inexpensive and practically tasteless. “I just moved into the neighborhood,” he lied, “and wanted to check out the local watering holes. This is a pretty nice place.” “It’s really friendly. Where did you move from?” “Northern metro area. I’ve always lived in the Twin Cities” She looked at him in surprise. “You moved in from the suburbs?” “Yeah, a messy breakup,” he said, hoping to gain sympathy points, and to give his next question some credibility. “I don’t like to talk about it.” “Is the wound too fresh? I get that,” she said, climbing up on the stool next to him. “I’ve had one or two situations myself.” “Yeah,” Rush said. “Whoever let you go, must have been crazy.” The woman smiled coyly, playing the game, “Sometimes things don’t work out.” She took a drink of her beer and looked thoughtful. Rush considered the back story he’d concocted, and said, “Yeah, I thought I was happily married, with a couple of kids, but then I met someone and it opened my eyes.” Cindy was now watching him carefully. “What made her different?” Rush shook his head slowly mouthing, ‘He’. He let her consider what he meant. She didn’t take long to get there. “You decided the city would be a little friendlier to guys like you.” “I didn’t know what to do,” Rush stumbled over his words. “I mean, he was married too, and it happened so quickly…” he said, gauging her reaction. Cindy was the type to accept everything. She was nodding. “There are more accepting people here. We are mostly your average people, but there are a few gay guys who come in here. Or, there used to be.” “Oh yeah.” Rush then asked, “How come they don’t come here anymore?” “We haven’t seen Eddie since Jake died.” Rush suppressed his excitement. “Oh, I’m sorry. What happened?” “He died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Everyone was so upset when they found out he’d passed away.” “It was an accident?” Rush asked. “They thought so at first. Now, nobody knows. Then another guy who hangs out here was found dead. It’s tragic.” Cindy took a healthy swig from her beer. “Poor Heather is beside herself. Personally, I don’t believe what they say. Stevie and me had a thing and its kind of ridiculous,” the woman looked Rush up and down, “But I guess you never can tell.” “I don’t understand,” Rush said, and continued, “You and this other guy dated?” “Yeah, I’d swear he was straight as an arrow. There was nothing gay about that man, but then, look at you. You seem like a normal guy, but you played around with a guy.” Cindy mused, “Steve just didn’t seem even a little curious, you know?” Rush thought he did know. Someone was playing them for the fool, but who?
  14. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 9 - Confessions

    Well, he is a teenager and stupid is what they do best. We'll see what happens next. Thanks for the comment!
  15. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 9 - Confessions

    Clay and Carl are the typical teenagers so they probably will do what they want. Thanks for the comment!
  16. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 9 - Confessions

    He'll be back to the video games. Now on to the next chapter. Thanks for the comment!
  17. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 9 - Confessions

    Clay wants to help, that's for sure. No doubt Carl will be part of it. Thanks for the comment!
  18. Cole Matthews

    Chapter 27

    This isn't really an ending. The subcontext throughout the entire story has alluded to this being the three men who've occupied the space and living replicate lives, at least emotionally, through rebirth. It's a powerful and interesting idea, and it worked well. In fact, the three historical characters over time made the idea more complete because only two souls wouldn't suggest a pattern. Only two souls would just be coincidence. Three souls become a pattern. I think your writing group people are very, very wrong. There is a sexiness to the coupling recurring. There is an attachment that binds these men together, and that's intriguing. It would be fascinating to see what else kept them together. I don't like the psychic element used in this chapter. It's a punt, not an explanation. There is so much you've built up within those three stories, and it seems to just get lost in this ending. I'm glad it's a draft, because you should treat these amazing characters with a proper finale in your final rendering. Thanks for sharing. That's my two cents' worth.
  19. Happy New  Year!!!  

     

    We begin with a new chapter for So Weeps the Willow called Confessions.  No, not the killer.  It's Ben owning up to his interview with the reporter and guess who wants to help with the investigation?  Things are steaming up.  

    1. Valkyrie

      Valkyrie

      Happy New Year!  :hug: :kiss: 

  20. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 8 - The Warrens

    Very good!!!! The text messages will make their way back in. The redactions from the civil case need to be removed. But, they will reveal a great deal. In the meantime, there is more evidence being organized and the picture begins to emerge. Thanks for the lovely comments. I appreciate it.
  21. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 8 - The Warrens

    Interesting. What are you wondering about? You sound doubtful. Let's see what's next. Thanks for the encouragement!!
  22. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 8 - The Warrens

    The Warrens is based on an artists' space across from a restaurant I used to run. It was an old shipping depot with large airy spaces that was renovated into smaller spaces for rental by various artists. The walls were thick and the floor concrete and stained. It is the perfect place for bands to rehearse, artists to weld sculptures or throw pottery or who knows what else. Lots of possibilities for that space, if you get my drift. Thanks for the comment!
  23. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 8 - The Warrens

    Yes, that's correct. Steve did throw pottery and perhaps the dust in his space has to do with that. It is dust, dry red and gray powder. Very good observation!!!!
  24. Cole Matthews

    Salix Babylonica 9 - Confessions

    Salix Babylonica 9 - Confession Life seeks life and loves life. The opening of a catkin of a willow, in the flight of the butterfly, in the chirping of a tree-toad or the sweep of an eagle - my life loves to see how others live, exults in their joy, and so far is partner in their great concern. Edward Everett Hale Rush watched as Ben stretched and yawned. His body was as lithe as Rush’s was thick. They were the yin and yang of gay couples; Rush had fairer features and a more heavily-muscled physique, and yet not exactly ripped. Ben was the kind of guy whose body was average, though maybe a bit on the thin side. Rush loved their differences. He craved Ben’s concave belly as he lay beside him, muscles taut. It was the kind of body he wanted to pleasure, tease, eat greedily; his tender flesh so vulnerable to Rush’s fingers and tongue. He looked up and watched as his lover sighed and interrupted their moment. “I think we may have assumed too much last night,” Ben said after his yawn ended. He turned and looked into Rush’s eyes. “Maybe Twyla’s right and her mother’s a monster. When she confessed her fears last week, I didn’t believe it, but I don’t know now.” Rush nodded, his head rubbing against the pillowcase as he moved. It felt especially soft and velvety this morning. He yawned and relished the ache his muscles now felt in the aftermath. Ben said, “Twyla knows Winnie and she know the dynamic between her brother and their mother.” Rush then ran his finger along Ben’s neck, stroking the lithe curve, and his lover shivered. “Eddie is a very viable suspect, but so is Jake’s mother.” “What about the dad?” Ben asked, wriggling closer into Rush’s warm torso. “You had more questions about him too.” Rush nodded. He leaned closer and kissed Ben’s full lips. “I need to explore his situation. But, Hennepin County’s not paying me to explore other suspects. They want the evidence against Eddie, at least, that’s what Hammond has said.” Ben scowled a little as the impact of his lover’s comment sunk in. He responded, stroking Rush’s cheek delicately. “Why not use me to investigate?” Rush didn’t react. He felt frozen. Ben’s eyes flared indignantly. “I could interview the father and the mother.” Ben levered himself up quickly, looming over his boyfriend. The man’s look of adoration had turned into a glower. “I’m trained, and I’ve done tons of interviews. It’s not like I don’t know how to question a witness.” Rush realized his mistake, because now Ben was annoyed, and quickly agreed. “I could use the help.” He smiled broadly at Ben, who relaxed a little. “That would take a lot off my plate.” “Do you really mean that?” Ben asked. “Sometimes you relegate me to office crap. I know what you’re doing.” “No,” Rush interjected. “I think you could get some information out of these people.” He snorted. “Probably better than me in some cases. I tend to make people nervous. You make people relax.” That did the trick. Rush saw Ben’s face relax, his smile was more natural, and his eyes gleamed. “It’s about time,” Ben said. “I’m part of this agency too.” “Of course, you are,” Rush said. “Let’s figure out a game plan. There are a few witnesses and leads I need to follow so we can get a broader sense of the situation. You can figure out Jake’s circumstances while I dig into the connection between Wylie and Ogden.” Ben kissed Rush deeply, his tongue entering forcefully, and his body melting closer to the other man’s. Both of them felt the connection, and then the moment passed. They were a team, ready to confront this dilemma. They separated, eyes connecting, and it was understood. “Thank you.” Ben climbed out of bed, grinning at Rush. “I love you,” Rush said, and Ben blew him a kiss as he headed to the bathroom. Ben began planning how to tell his partner about his clandestine interview with Flecks. *** “What’re you guys doing today?” Ben asked, pulling another waffle from the iron and flipping it onto a proffered plate. Clay’s smaller friend, who could eat like no tomorrow, flashed an eager grin, thanking him. “There’s a new horror movie with Evan Peters. We talked about going to that.” Clay answered, finishing a square of peanut butter and maple syrup drenched waffle. “Evan Peters is such a hottie.” “I like Alexander Ludwig better,” Carl said, smirking. “He’s hotter.” Clay rolled his eyes. He gestured at his friend. “This dude is a Vikings freak. He gets off—” “Enough,” Ben said firmly, turning back to his waffle iron and bowl of batter. “I don’t want details.” “Clay thinks it’s more likely a guy like Evan would give him a shot,” Carl said. “He would,” Their foster son sounded so happy and normal, natural, with a banter like young men should have. It was nice to hear. Ben could appreciate given his own horrible experiences as a kid. “I don’t want to know,” Ben repeated. “What’s going on?” Rush asked as he came into the room, his presence filling the space. Ben wanted to run and embrace him, but his sense of decorum stopped it. He needed to play this cool until after he had his talk with Rush about the reporter. “Ready for waffles?” he asked instead. “Yeah, I’m starved.” Rush sat down heavily and breathed deeply. “It was quite the night.” Ben ignored the comment. He watched the appliance as the light turned green, indicating the waffle was done. “Here’s one for you. Enjoy,” Ben said, placing a plate with the treat in front of his partner. Rush looked up, grinned and winked. *** After the two teens ate more waffles, scrambled eggs, and sausages, they went to play video games in Clay’s room. Ben was relieved to see he’d finally had someone over. Carl was the first kid to visit. Sure, Clay had been dating pretty steadily, but he needed friends not just dates. Ben got a good vibe from this kid. He seemed like a happy guy and normal, or at least as normal as a teen could be. Ben felt Rush’s arms come around his chest, hugging him tightly. He whispered in his ear, “Are you ready to talk now?” “About what?” Ben said too loudly. He turned quickly. Rush recoiled. “About the game plan for interviewing Ogden’s family.” The detective paused, and looked closely at Ben, who felt his face redden under the scrutiny. “You’re hiding something.” Ben exhaled and nodded. “I was going to tell you last night, but it got late and—” “What is it?” Rush asked. “I interviewed someone already.” “Who?” Ben fumbled with his answer, finally saying, “I thought I had a lead. Well, I did have a lead, but it didn’t pan out.” “Who did you interview?” Rush asked, releasing the other man and now sounding peeved. “There is this reporter and she was at the scene when Wylie was found. She reported about Gallivant’s before you and Hammond knew about it and, um, I thought maybe she knew something. I went and talked with her.” “I’m not sure I understand. What does this reporter have to do with anything?” Rush asked, confused. Ben explained about the timeline, the proximity, and the link to the crime scene officials. Finally, after telling Rush what Flecks had said about Gallivant’s and her seeing Steve, Jake, Nats, and Eddie together there, Rush smiled. “I forgot to tell you about that. Steve Wylie’s sister runs the place.” Rush nodded and said, “But this reporter confirms they knew each other?” “Yeah,” Ben said. “She thought Ogden and Wylie were an item because Steve rejected her.” “A woman scorned,” Rush mused. “Maybe,” Ben said. Rush nudged the other man’s shoulder gently, and scowled. “You shouldn’t go off questioning people without backup. At least tell someone where you’re going. What if she killed one of them or something and then…” Rush stopped talking. “I’m sorry,” Ben said. “I should have talked with you about it first.” “Damned right,” Rush said. Then he lost focus, his anger dissipating as he numbly, staring off into space, added, “I just thought of something.” “What?” Ben asked. “I need to call Hammond. It seems a bit convenient that this reporter, Flocks… what’s her name?” “Flecks, Nigella Flecks,” Ben said. “You have her address and stuff?” Rush asked. “Yeah. Was there something I missed?” Ben asked. He watched Rush race to his cellphone. “This may be a break in the case,” Rush said calling the police detective. “Hammond,” he stated. You need to talk with another witness. This one is just too close for comfort.” Ben suddenly felt a chill run through him. *** Ben was concerned about Rush’s behavior toward him after the revelation. His partner was terse, short, and answered his questions as perfunctorily as possible. Rush had never been this distant before. Rush was usually so warm and loving, but he’d done something really wrong since the man was basically icing him out. Ben got up from the dining room table where they were working and walked into the kitchen. He ground the beans, making sure the coffee was perfectly pulverized. He measured the water, poured it into the coffee maker, and listened as the hiss and slurp of the machine turned it into a hot beverage. Ben considered his actions. He’d figured out Nigella Flecks knew more than an ordinary reporter should. He followed up on his inkling. There had been meat in that inquiry. Sure enough, Flecks knew Wylie and used that information to smear, well, at least, characterize him incorrectly for her own purposes. Surely, if Rush had figured out that information, he’d be excited and thrilled. Now, the detective was snubbing him, making him feel bad about his instincts and initiative. Ben was pissed, a lot more than annoyed, because it wasn’t fair for Rush to make him feel this way. He wasn’t a detective, but what the hell--? “Fresh coffee ready?” Rush asked, his voice soft, his demeanor crestfallen. He moved slowly, deliberately, and Ben became concerned. Something was else was amiss or so it seemed. “Yeah, help yourself.” Ben paused and considered Rush’s affect. It wasn’t exactly accusatory. It was more resigned. “Is everything okay?” Ben asked, hating himself for asking. “You seem upset, maybe at me.” Rush poured a mug of coffee, added a teaspoon of sugar, and shuffled over to the refrigerator. He opened the door, grabbed a carton, and poured some milk into his cup. He replaced the carton, shut the fridge, and turned to Ben. “I’m not upset with you,” Rush said, his voice a little husky. “I’m scared.” Ben was taken aback. “What do you mean? Are we in danger?” Rush shook his head sadly. “Maybe not.” He scrunched his face painfully. “Maybe we are. This is a scary case. It’s pretty erratic and that frightens me. Murderers who are so calculating are also reckless enough to do stupid things, and I don’t want you to be in the way of those things.” Ben stopped and answered, “Rush, I didn’t do anything risky. I questioned a reporter, a person who has a byline and a job that requires a certain amount of respectability. I was never in danger with her.” Rush shook his head and then agreed with him, saying, “Perhaps this reporter isn’t the killer. She is simply a repugnant person who doesn’t treat others with respect. You are fine, obviously, but I’m concerned because this murderer is a planner who is also disorganized. This case has the signs of a person who is trapped and is trying to desperately escape, and willing to do whatever it takes to get away with it.” “Why do you think that?” Ben asked, moving closer to his partner. “I understand what I did was a little foolish, but I’m not sure I get your reasoning.” Rush gestured to the kitchen table. The two men sat down in chairs across from one another. “Somebody killed Wylie and I think that was because he was too close to Ogden. Then that person killed Jake and tried to hide it as an accident. When that didn’t work, he exposed Wylie. It was a reckless act and a little crazed. These two men are tied together in life and death. I’m worried the person doing this will stop at nothing to end the investigation.” Ben nodded. “I kind of get what you’re saying, but I don’t think what I did was that dangerous.” “Maybe not,” Rush said, repeating himself from earlier. “I’m concerned the wrong thread pulled will cause the person responsible to go wild. I think we know who did this. I think he was desperate to preserve his relationship with Jake and that wasn’t working.” Ben leaned back. “You think all the evidence points to Eddie?” “I do,” Rush said. “And I think the guy is very unstable. He was losing Jake to another guy, and he lashed out. He didn’t want Jake to know what he’d done, so he hid it. Then, Jake found another man, perhaps this elusive Chad guy, the guy mentioned in the blog, and Eddie couldn’t handle it.” “You think Eddie killed Jake to keep him? That’s crazy.” Ben stopped and considered. “I’m not buying it.” “Eddie did this and when Jake didn’t take him back, as we also know from the blog, he freaked again and killed his ex. This has all the hallmarks of a domestic incident, and it makes me a little sick.” Ben nodded. His paranoia earlier was so wrong. He tried to smile. “You’re worried about me sticking my neck out in the field. That’s sweet, but it’s my job too. Maybe Eddie is the guy. Or maybe not.” Ben looked deeply into Rush’s eyes. “I’m just trying to help.” Rush’s face was still serious. “I’m the professional investigator. Ben, promise me you won’t pull a stunt like this again.” Ben got up from the table. “I understand. Remember, I’m also a professional. Sure, I’m not a trained police investigator. Yeah, I get that it’s a murder investigation. But, keep in mind I’m not a stupid man. Nigella Flecks may have known about the situation, but I never had a sense she was a murderer. She knew things.” Rush looked up, his eyes were dull and lifeless. “I respect you, Ben, and you know that. But there are two people dead. You get that, right?” Ben sighed. “Yeah, I see your point. What’s next?” he asked. “We need to look into Eddie’s movements around both Wylie and Ogden’s deaths. While I’m pretty sure Eddie is responsible, I have zero evidence. We need to get some real proof he was responsible for the deaths of Wylie and Ogden. I think you can look into some things and I can look into others. But, we need to be safe, and careful, and methodical.” Ben sat back down, grabbed a notebook from the counter, and started scribbling. The two men conferred and planned. Rush was so sure Eddie was the killer and yet things seemed to be missing. Just outside the doorframe, Clay listened as long as he could. He also thought about what his foster dads were doing. He wanted to help as well. It was really quite exciting and he wanted to do something to prove he was part of the family. They were a family, after all.
  25. Great News!!! And Happy New Year!
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