I wasn’t looking at JP or Stef, nor was I looking at the beautiful décor in JP’s office: the wood-paneled walls, the oak floors, and the Persian carpet that may or may not have been the same one that was here last year.My eyes may have been scanning those people and things, but my mind was firmly locked on the problem before us.I had known fear in my life, but never on this level.We had dabbled in the gangster world before, but only on a peripheral level, one where we could do a favor or solve a problem, but if we got involved in a war between opposing cartels, none of us was safe.I zoned out as Stef recounted the details of his conversation with Maria Ortega Dalby to JP, letting my mind fully devolve into a state of panic and paranoia.
“So Maria Dalby called you and told you someone had kidnapped Jake?” JP asked Stef for clarity.It was one of the more amazing experiences I’d had, in that just his calm, rational voice pulled my head straight out of my ass and back into this meeting.
“That is her allegation,” Stef said.
“And she was willing to help get him released in exchange for the transfer of those properties along the border?” JP asked.
“That was her proposition,” Stef confirmed.
“Do we know if Jake is being held somewhere against his will?” JP asked.That was the simplest of questions, but the fact that neither Stef nor I had bothered to confirm this showed just how frazzled both of us were.Unfortunately, that simple question, pointing out our obvious error, put both of us into incredibly bad moods.
“No,” I said, getting a look of disapproval from JP.“Let’s call him.”
Using JP’s conference phone, I dialed the number Jake had given me, the one that linked to the phone he was using in Mexico.It rang eight times, and just as I was about to give up and end the call, I heard his voice.“Can I call you back?”He sounded like he was out of breath.
“Are you being held somewhere against your will?” JP asked tersely.
“No,” Jake said, and sounded confused by that. We heard a grunt in the background, one that sounded sexual in nature, while Jake let out a slight moan.
“Then you can call us back as soon as you can,” JP said, and we ended the call.
“He sounded busy,” Stef said, even as he looked at me and raised an eyebrow.He was in a bad mood, and he was trying to let off some of his steam by annoying me, but unfortunately for him, I didn’t feel jealous at all.Normally if I liked a guy, I would feel that green monster rise up inside me, but that didn’t happen, and if anything, I just found those brief sexual audibles to be hot.I wondered if that was because I didn’t like Jake, but put that aside.We talked on the phone at least every other day, and I liked the person he was.He was direct and no-nonsense but had a playfulness about him that seemed to contradict his terse business nature, when in fact it just made him seem charming.There was a definite attraction there, and it had gotten to the point where when I masturbated, he usually starred in those fantasies.
“He did,” I agreed in an unemotional way, just to show him that I was annoyed at him for trying to bait me.He wisely chose to change the subject.
“Why would Maria call me and tell me they have Jake when they do not?” Stef mused.
“To find out if Jake is working for us,” JP said concisely.I felt my mouth fall open in horror, and saw Stef do the same thing.Jake had been down in Mexico, meeting with people and asking questions, but the big question on the Ortega cartel’s mind must have been why.To answer that question, they’d need to know who Jake was working for, and we’d just all but handed them that vital piece of information on a silver platter.
“We’ve been played,” I said, shaking my head.
“That is intensely irritating,” Stef said, incredibly annoyed both with Maria and with himself.For someone like him, with his astute instincts, an error like this would be just that much more devastating.Clearly neither one of us was operating at our peak efficiency in this matter.We were now both in even worse moods.
“She keeps tossing those properties in your face,” I said to Stef.“I wonder how important they really are to her?” I was using my classic technique, playing devil’s advocate, to try and get some of my game back.
“You think they are a red herring?” he asked, using a financial term.
“If they are using those properties as a way to distract our attention from something else, what could it be?” JP pondered.We all thought about that for a bit.
“I do not think she is doing that,” Stef concluded, with some conviction.“If that were the case, they would not have been included in her original settlement request.”
“If she did, they would have to be part of a long-term plan,” JP said thoughtfully.That would have made this scheme so Byzantine it was at the Elizabeth Danfield level, and I wasn’t willing to give the cartels that much credit for plotting.“In any event, as long as you have control of that real estate, we will be embroiled in whatever schemes the Ortega cartel is working on.”
“I guess you could sell or donate the land,” I said, thinking out loud.
“Selling them may work, but then we may be inadvertently helping out one side or another,” JP noted.
“If our hypothesis is that they are trying to weaken us, not destroy us, that means that Joaquin and the Rubio clan would be the most likely entity hurt by such a move,” Stef noted.He had an affinity for the Rubio cartel, one that I didn’t share, at least not when it could lead to significant danger to our family.
“If we sell them, we could also end up dumping this problem onto someone else who may be unsuspecting,” JP stated.“It would be much the same if the land were donated to a charity.”We said nothing, and he frowned.“I am unwilling to knowingly pawn our problems off on innocent victims.”My moral compass wasn’t tuned as righteously as his, evidently, because I was more focused on what would happen to our family in general, and my sons in particular.
“Well until we’re rid of those properties, we’re in the middle of this thing, and I’m not willing to risk our family members in some expanded drug war,” I asserted strongly.
“I would suspect that even if we sold or donated the land, we would be setting ourselves up for some sort of repercussions from Maria and the Ortegas,” Stef hypothesized, both to advance that point and to prevent an extensive argument between JP and me about right and wrong.
“Then how do we solve that problem?” I demanded.
“We?” Stef challenged.“It seems that I am the executor and successor trustee.”
“And we agreed to approach this collectively,” I countered angrily.Before we could start arguing, the phone rang.JP pushed the answer button and said “hello”.
“Hey,” we heard Jake say.“I’m sorry about that.I was in the middle of a meeting.”
“A meeting with moaning,” Stef teased.
“There are all kinds of different ways to get information,” Jake countered playfully.This whole conversation was testing my patience, and not because I was annoyed that Jake was fucking someone else. There was nothing lighthearted at all about the problem we faced.
“We were approached by Maria Ortega Dalby, and she informed us that you had been kidnapped and were being held,” I said tersely.“She offered to help get you released if we would agree to cede those border properties to her.”
“I’m quite safe from the Ortega cartel,” Jake said confidently.
“I doubt that is the case,” JP asserted.“The fact that you are that confident concerns me greatly.”
“I’m here and have a pretty good read on the situation,” Jake countered, sounding very cocky.
“Perhaps you are not seeing things as clearly because you are still euphoric after your ‘meeting’,” Stef said. I gave him a nasty look and briefly noted that this was the same kind of playfulness he usually gave Will such a bad time about.
“We are concerned that Maria called Stef just to find out if you were working for us,” I said.“That means that even if you weren’t in danger before, you may be now.”
Jake was silent for a second.“I can see your point.”I was pretty convinced that Jake needed to get out of Mexico now, and a glance at JP, where our eyes met, told me he was thinking the same thing.
“We have a meeting in Virginia this weekend,” I said.“I would like you to be there if possible.” With that statement, I’d almost made it a command, since Jake was working for me.I was hoping I’d phrased it so I didn’t sound too autocratic.
“I’ll fly out tomorrow,” he said.His response made me think that I’d gotten my tone about right.
“We’ll be heading to New York.Meet us there,” I told him.
“I’ll call you when I’m back in the states,” he said, and then we ended our call.I gave Stef a dirty look, and then went back to my room to contemplate the situation.
September 9, 2003
I was so fucking horny, I could barely stand it.I was sitting in the great room, waiting for Carullo to get home, hoping I could convince him to fuck me.That shouldn’t be too big of a problem, since he’s fucked me damn near non-stop since we’d hooked up last weekend.I smiled when I thought about how he ignited my body.With Alex, he’d been very loving and enthusiastic, but he was nowhere near as virile, masculine, and dominant as Carullo was.I looked down at my arms and saw that just thinking about it was giving me goosebumps, and that made me giggle.
He was a pretty predictable guy, so it was no surprise that he strolled through the door at 5:30, his normal time.I smiled, noting how I had broken him of his nasty habit of all but bursting into a room.“Hey there!” I said pleasantly.
“Well hey,” he said, smiling at me.“You sitting by the door, waiting for me?”He asked that last question a little nervously.
“I am,” I said confidently, getting a raised eyebrow from him.“I have plans for us tonight.”
“What if I’m busy?” he teased.
“No,” he said, and leaned down to give me a kiss.Only that just unleashed the demon inside me, and in no time at all, we were in his room and he fucked us both to an amazing orgasm.
“So that was the first part of my plan,” I said, even as I lay sprawled across him.
He gently stroked my back.“Looks like you’re in charge.”
“Duh,” I joked, getting a chuckle from him.“Now get dressed.”
“What am I getting dressed for?”
“We’re going out to dinner,” I said, even as I slid off him.
“Where are we going to dinner?” he asked, which was a good question, since that would impact how he dressed.
“That Italian place you took me to when you first told me you were moving in,” I said.
That brought out his full smile.“You liked that place?”
“I told you I did,” I countered.“I’m getting that fish thing they serve the upper-west side stiffs.”
He laughed.“I’ll call and make sure we have a table.”I nodded, and then I left him alone to get ready.
It was no surprise to find him waiting for me when I walked into the great room; I always took longer to get ready.All that time skating, and now being involved in the fashion world, had drilled into my psyche the need to always look my best.I studied Carullo and smiled.He was wearing casual clothes, but stuff I’d bought him, things that accentuated his muscular body but minimized his bulk, at least a bit.“You look great!”
“If I do, it’s all you,” he said modestly, even though it was probably true.I gave myself credit for all but transforming his wardrobe, and thus his whole external image.We walked out of the condo and I humored him by walking down the stairs instead of taking the elevator as I normally did.He tended to incorporate exercise into all of his activities, whereas I separated mine into distinct categories, where when I exercised I went to the gym, but otherwise I made things as easy as possible.The Maybach limo was waiting for us, just as I’d instructed.“We could have taken a cab,” he said with a frown.
“I’m in charge, so we ride in style,” I said.He shook his head but got in and situated himself in the soft leather seats.“Nice, right?”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” he agreed with fake grumpiness.I told the driver where we were going and then sat back, neither one of us saying anything, both of us just enjoying the scenery of this massive metropolis.
Of course they were ready for us, since Carullo had called ahead, and Dottie Cancilla, the lady who ran the place, was waiting to greet us.She was dressed in a floral skirt with a matching jacket, an outfit that was appropriately flashy and tacky for this place.“It is so nice to see you again, Dottie,” I said, thankfully remembering her name.
“It’s been so long since you’ve been here, I thought you didn’t like our food,” she said in a disapproving way, tossing out some guilt.
“That’s not it at all,” I said diplomatically.“I’ve just been busy.”
“And how are you, Johnny?” she asked, targeting Carullo.
“Doing great,” he said.
“Tell your mother I said hello when you eventually see her,” she said, implying that Carullo didn’t go home and visit his mother enough.
She took us to the same table we’d sat at the first time I’d been here, the one in the middle of the restaurant.It was like being in a birdcage, where everyone could look at us.That didn’t bother me at all, but it seemed to bug Carullo.“So when’s Jacinta start?” he asked me. Jacinta was the lady I’d hired to be our live-in housekeeper and cook.
“Conveniently enough, she starts tomorrow,” I said.
“How’d you find her?” he asked.
“Rosa knows her, she’s like a cousin of hers or something, so she referred her,” I said.I’d interviewed her on Monday, and she seemed like a nice enough lady.She wasn’t hideously ugly, she was clean, and seemed to understand what I wanted her to do.That she was in her early thirties was helpful, since she’d still have enough energy to keep up with us.“I think she’ll do fine.”
“You won’t have to eat out so much after she starts,” he said, teasing me for my total inability to cook anything.
“Probably be a good idea, that way I can regulate my diet.I don’t want to gain weight,” I said with dread, because in my mind, being fat was just about the worst thing that could happen to me.
“You look great, you got nothing to worry about,” he said to me flirtatiously, getting a big grin from me to show how much I appreciated his attention.
The waitress, the same brusque lady who’d taken care of us last time, interrupted our conversation.“So I guess you want the Cannelloni,” she said to Carullo, “And you want the fancy fish dish,” she said to me in her abrupt way. Only I’d been living in this city long enough to know that’s just how people were.
“At least your memory is good,” I said with a slight grin, giving her shit.She smiled slightly and flounced off to work on our food, while I resumed my conversation with Carullo.
“We’re going to have a full house again tomorrow,” I told him.
I nodded.“Grand, Stef, my father, Will, and Darius are all flying in.”
“For 9-11,” he said, and got really sad.I reached out and took his hand to try and make him feel better, but there was really no way to do that.It was a pain that would be with us both for the rest of our lives.
“There’s some bell they have to go see in New Jersey,” I said.We both rolled our eyes together, a typical reaction when the state of New Jersey or its inhabitants came up.“Then they’ve got some big meeting in Virginia this weekend.”
“You going?” he asked me, a little nervously.
“Not sure,” I said, hedging to see why he was so uncomfortable.“We’ve got some big charity function on Friday night.I don’t think they’re planning to fly out to Virginia until Saturday morning.”
“Gonna be crowded,” he said.
“I was thinking that maybe, if you’re OK with it, that you could share my room and let one of them have your room,” I said, putting myself out there for potential rejection in a way that I hated, even though it usually worked out alright for me.Only this time, it didn’t.
“That’s fine with me, but I’ll be gone anyway,” he said.That was pretty shocking, since Carullo was damn near always around on weekends.Maybe this was some work-related deal.
“You have plans?” I asked, prying, but I was too curious not to ask him.
“I’m going away for the weekend,” he said calmly, like it was no big deal, like he did that all the time.“I took some time off.I leave tomorrow.”
“Oh,” I said, only because I was reeling from this new revelation, and I didn’t know how to ask him about it without seeming like a controlling bitch.Instead, I channeled all of my training from ice skating, and plastered the smile I’d mastered for the ‘kiss and cry’ sessions.“Going anywhere fun?”
“Going to go camping in Vermont,” he said in a clipped way.“Probably going to do a lot of fishing and hiking.”
“I’m not very good at either one of those things,” I said in a joking way, even though it was true.I was also trying to give myself a good out to explain why he hadn’t invited me.
“Yeah, I figured that wouldn’t be your thing,” he said, chuckling.“I’ve had this deal set up for a while.It’s really hard to be here in the city on 9-11.”
“I get that,” I agreed, “but for me, being here, confronting it has been good for me.”
“I figure I do that every fucking day of my life, so I can take a break on 9-11,” he said, and not all that nicely.I ignored that, because I’d dealt with all kinds of emotional shit regarding that day, and I figured he would too.The waitress brought our food, and then left us alone to eat.I didn’t say anything; I just focused on eating, even though I was just dying to grill him about this weekend away.
Dottie Cancilla came up to check on us.“How are your dinners?”
“Fantastic,” I said.“This is just as good as I remembered.”Carullo muttered that his food was good too, even though he barely stopped eating long enough to talk to her.
“That’s good to hear,” she said, and left us alone.
I decided that if I had to be nice to brassy Italian women for him, he could tell me about his weekend.“I’m sure you’ll have a good time,” I said.“You going with a big group?”
He frowned at me, and looked like he was about to really rip into me, but instead he sighed and stopped eating.“I’m going with Luka.”
“That dude we met near Central Park?” I asked, even as my emotions were reeling.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Are you guys together?” I asked.
“We’re not together, we’re just going away for the weekend,” he said, like this was no big deal at all.
“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable by asking if you’re fucking this guy,” I said, just barely managing to keep my voice calm and unemotional.
“Look, I told you I couldn’t be in an exclusive relationship when this started,” he snapped.I had limited patience with people as it was, and I thought I’d been remarkably tolerant up to this point, but he’d finally exhausted all of my reserves.
“This?” I asked acidly.“This?” That last word was uttered a little too loudly, so I calmed myself down enough to keep my volume lower. The last thing I needed or wanted to do was to make a scene.
“Fuck,” he said, and seemed really distraught.“I knew this was a bad idea.”
“This,” I said to him, almost with a sneer.“Well, ‘this’ is leaving.”I stood up, tossed my napkin on my chair, and strode out of the restaurant and tracked down the car.Fuck him.He could pay the bill and deal with Dottie Cancilla. He could haul his own ass back to the condo.
September 10, 2003
In the air over Nevada
Stef, Grand, Dad, Darius and I were sitting around the conference table in Stef’s flying palace, with all of us doing our own thing.I was furiously working on my homework, grumbling internally about what a pain in the ass this trip was, and how much harder this was making my academic life.I’d picked up the extra class I needed to graduate in December, and that had done nothing but add additional work onto my plate.Grand was reading a journal article, Stef was reading People magazine, Darius was dicking around with his laptop, and my father was facing away from us, even as he talked in hushed tones on the phone.Our relative time to ourselves was shattered when my father hung up the phone and turned around to face the rest of us.“Jake is going to meet us in New York,” he announced.
“That is good,” Grand said in a rather disinterested way as he looked up from his article.
“We’re not going to have room for everyone,” I said, thinking about space in the condo.“There are only two extra bedrooms.”The condo had four bedrooms, one of which was occupied by JJ and the other one that was being used by Carullo.JJ had hired a housekeeper/cook, so now even that space was taken.
“I talked to JJ and John Carullo will be gone for the weekend,” Stef said. “That brings us up to three extra bedrooms.”
“So that means there’s one bedroom for you, me, and Jake to share?” Darius asked me.
“I’ll share with Jake, and you can take the couch,” I teased, winking at my father, who rolled his eyes at me.
“I’m sure we can work that out when we get there,” Dad said.I studied him carefully, and then smiled, since that meant he was probably going to try and get Jake to share with him.The dirty look he gave me convinced me that I was right, but that bugging him about it in front of everyone would really piss him off.
“If we could have left earlier, it would have been a lot easier to handle these details,” Stef said in his bitchy way.That was clearly directed at me, since I was the last one who was able to leave.
“Well since I had to go to New York last weekend, and since all of this traveling around has caused me to miss a bunch of classes as it is, there was no fucking way I could miss today,” I said to him rudely.
“I did not mean to imply that you should have absented yourself from school today,” Stef said, beating a hasty retreat in the face of my anger, but more probably because he knew that Grand would be firmly on my side.
“No?” I challenged. “Darius and I went to New York to deal with JJ when the rest of you couldn’t tear yourselves away, or grow a big enough spine, to deal with him yourself.So now I’m doing my best to make up for lost time.” Stef was furious now, but I didn’t give a shit.He’d always thrown this stuff with JJ at me when Darius wasn’t around, so he could explain things to Darius himself.
“We appreciated that you both went to New York to deal with JJ last weekend,” Grand said, trying to smooth things over.
“That’s why when I got back, I got a ration of crap about how we’d screwed things up and made JJ mad when we shouldn’t have,” I said, aiming that at Stef.
“I do not think that statement accurately reflects what happened,” Stef said.He was so mad now his teeth were clenched.
“We had to piss JJ off so we’d have something to apologize for,” Darius said in his clipped, matter of fact way. I stared at him, totally confused, even as my eyes blinked in surprise. I glanced at everyone else at the table, and they looked as confused as I was.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded.
He gave me that annoying condescending look he used when he was treating me like his little brother.“JJ totally fucked up, he’s been a little bitch, and he knows it.”
“Then why did we have to go to New York last weekend?” I asked.
“Because that’s what made him realize what a douche he’s been,” Darius said.
“I do not understand how that relates to you having to apologize to him,” Stef said.
Darius sighed, like we were all idiots for not getting his psychological conclusions.“JJ knows he’s going to have to grovel, and he hates that.It’s probably one of the most unpleasant things he has to do, since he likes to think he’s never wrong.”
“That’s true,” I agreed, since JJ was like that.
“So this way, when he tells us he’s sorry, we can apologize for rocking his world, and that will make the whole thing easier on him,” Darius said.
“Won’t he just forget the whole thing, then, and turn around and be a douche all over again?” I asked.
“I think he’ll be a douche all over again, because he is one,” Darius said, making me chuckle.“But he’ll remember, and probably learn from this time.”
“You are giving him a way to save face,” Grand said.“I had never thought of it that way.”
“Neither had I,” Stef agreed.“That is exceptionally astute.”
“When your brothers are assholes, its good training,” Darius said.
“Whatever,” I said in a petulant way, and then put my headphones on to drown out the rest of them and their babbling.Still, I could see his point.This would give us a bone to throw to JJ, and would probably help us heal our relationship with him pretty quickly.If it had only been one-sided, if we hadn’t pissed him off, he’d have been resentful that he’d been an ass and we’d called him on it, and he’d have nursed that for months.We’d have had to put up with his douchey behavior for that much longer until he worked it out of his system.Hopefully, this way we’d avoid all that.
I thought about that weekend, and about all that had happened, and that really freaked me out.I hadn’t talked to Zach since our call on Sunday; something which I’d avoided thinking about because it shook me to my core.The only good thing to come out of that entire trip had been sleeping with Patrick Christian.Just the thought of him, and how smooth and sexy his voice was, made me smile.
I took off my headphones and walked up to the “flying room” to get some privacy, then used the phone there to call Patrick.He wouldn’t recognize the number, so it didn’t surprise me that he let it go to voicemail.“Hey Patrick, it’s Will Schluter,” I said, trying to sound confident.That was soon replaced by my cheerful enthusiasm when I got to the guts of my message.“Thanks again for an amazing time last weekend.It was the bomb! I don’t know what your plans are for the next few days, but I’m going to get into New York later tonight and I’ll be there until Saturday morning.It would be great to see you again.Call me.”I left him my number, and then went back to the table.
“Important call?” Dad asked.
“I’m just trying to line up an alternate date in case you manage to finally seduce Jake,” I said.He frowned, since he’d opened himself up to my prying by probing into my life.
“I did not know that was your plan,” Stef said to him.
“That’s not my plan,” Dad asserted strongly, so strongly that Darius, Stef and I exchanged knowing looks, even as we snickered.
“Dude, that’s my plan,” I said, cracking Darius up when he saw how Dad reacted to my words.
“So’d you call Patrick Christian?” Darius asked, getting ready to give me shit about that.
“Did you call Bellona?” I asked.
“No,” Darius said, now in full retreat.
“Weren’t you going to ask Darius about that?” I prompted Stef.Now it was Darius’ turn to give me a hateful look, even as he got put on the virtual witness stand by Stef, who grilled him about his entire encounter with Bellona.