Their embrace lasted a few seconds, ten at most. But a whole lifetime of relief seemed to flow through his frame as he held onto Graham there in the hallway.
It could not last forever, though.
"Scott, what the hell is going on?" Graham spoke softly into his ear, releasing him so they could look one another in the eye.
He shook his head. "Not here." He picked up his things from where he had dropped them on the floor. "Let's go. We can talk later, someplace else. I promise." He wanted to put the place behind him as quickly as possible.
But they didn't make their way out of the State Police offices fast enough. Chief Inspector Lovett ran into them in the lobby. "Scotty, is this your friend? The one you're staying with?" The big man seemed almost jovial.
He nodded. "Yeah."
Lovett turned to Graham. "Would you mind letting me have your name and address, sir?" An old fashioned note pad was proffered, along with a pen.
Graham glanced in his direction. He nodded in return, giving his assent.
As Graham scrawled, Lovett asked: "Has Scotty told you he is not to leave Fernando County?"
"Not yet," Graham returned with raised eyebrows. "But I can be sure he stays in Sand River." He handed the notebook back to Lovett.
"You do that. Good night, boys."
They passed out of the building and walked into the twilit parking lot in silence. The sun was going down. Graham steered him towards a dark, older model Chevy Suburban. He opened up the rear hatch.
"Scotty? Really?" his boyfriend's voice betrayed a trace of irony.
He flushed. "I didn't tell him to call me that."
"Toss your stuff in the back. Sorry about all the crap in there."
"There's room, thanks."
"The apartment doesn't have a lot of space, and this seems the best place to put this stuff, and I never…"
He stepped up to Graham and silenced his obvious anxiety with a brief kiss. "We can talk once we're on the road. Come on, let's get out of here."
There was silence in the big car for a few minutes, as Graham maneuvered into the moderate traffic on the road. The Municipal Safety Plaza where the State Police had their offices seemed to be a busy place.
Graham rolled down the windows, letting in the warm, humid air. "Is it okay if I put the windows down?" the taller man asked, perhaps a little anxiously.
"It's fine. I like it."
He watched Graham drive and appreciated the color of the sky as the day swiftly vanished.
"How did you find me?" he finally ventured.
"No," Graham grated, "You go first. Tell me what happened. Explain."
"I was picked up for questioning."
"That's it? They spent their evening asking you questions?"
He took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy. "My roommate – my ex-roommate – and the guy, Ted, who raped me? They turned up dead."
Graham's head snapped around, and the car swerved a moment. "What?"
"You heard me. Someone shot them. In the head." He tapped a finger to the middle of his forehead and shuddered. "They think – maybe – that I had something to do with it."
Graham was quiet for a moment. "Did you?"
The question hurt. But given when he'd told Graham about his earlier life, he could see it might be justified. Maybe. "No. You have to believe me, Gray. You really think I would do that?"
"Knowing what they did to you, I'd be pissed enough to hurt them myself."
Graham's admission made him feel a little better. "Thanks. Trouble for the police is, I was somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico when it happened."
"But you could have arranged it. Paid someone to do it for you."
"With what money? I was pretty much broke, and no way would anyone lend me the money for…" he trailed off. He'd been over all this with Lovett earlier.
"Yeah, I get it. So they think you shot them? They have any evidence?"
"I don't know. If they had anything at all to connect me to the shooting, I probably wouldn't be riding home with you."
Graham nodded. He swung the Suburban into a right turn.
"I mean, when I was stranded in the fucking University library, I thought up a bunch of incredibly stupid ways to get revenge. But that doesn't mean I actually…"
"I get it," Graham said, softly. "So how did you wind up there at the State Police?"
"A couple of detectives – no, inspectors – picked me up at the Research Station. They'd tracked me down there, somehow." His head ached. He'd been grilled for hours, and he had a very bad feeling he was missing something important.
But the most important thing was that Graham had found him. A warm feeling stole over him. He actually managed to enjoy it for a moment or two.
Still, the question nagged at him. "How did you find me?"
Graham smiled wryly. "I showed up at the ship early, and you weren't there. I asked around, and someone said they'd seen you drive off in a car with a couple of guys in suits."
Who would that have been? Luis? He'd have to thank the man handsomely.
Graham was still speaking. "I was pissed off at first. What the hell were you doing leaving me in the dust like that? Then I thought about what you'd told me…about the way you live…or used to live. I thought it might have been something related to that. Guys in suits sounded like police, so I headed over to the Sand River P.D.I showed up, asked if you'd been arrested, and got a blank look. I wonder if they arrest anyone for much in Sand River except DWI or idiot snowbirds who can't see the road signs. The place looked pretty dead."
He tried to imagine Graham begging information at the station. It must have been awkward.
"The officer on desk duty suggested I drive out to the State Police out there at the Safety Plaza. When they wouldn't answer yes or no to my questions – but told me I could wait to speak with someone – I knew I'd found you." Graham grinned. The man was smart, for an academic.
He looked out into deepening darkness. "Thank you for coming for me. For being there."
"I'm used to it." Graham shrugged. "I've had a lot of practice in personal tracking with my brother."
"What's that mean?"
"Hospitals, police stations, mall security offices, I've seen them all with him. When your brother is a user, you learn to look for a person in lots of different places." Graham chuckled ruefully. "You were actually pretty easy to find."
"But you didn't have to come find me."
"I needed to."
"Needed to? Why? Why did you bother tracking me down at all?"
"Because I fucking care about you, Scott." Graham spoke sharply, but then he softened his tone. "In case you haven't noticed, Scott, I'm in love with you."
He waited a moment for Graham's face to clear, and for his boyfriend to calm down. Then he reached across the center console and took Graham's hand. "I just don't get why. I don't deserve it."
"Some observed phenomena defy explanation," Graham replied, trying to lighten the mood. "But current results indicate further research is warranted."
His eyebrow went up and the corner of his mouth twitched. This was a side of Graham he loved. He was in love with a nerd.
"So, with the police. Did they get you a lawyer? Is that what took so long?"
"No. I didn't ask for one. I don't want one."
"Wait, wait, aren't they supposed to provide one for you? They can't beat the answers out of you."
He chose to remain silent for a few moments."I just told them everything," he said abruptly.
Graham glanced his way, but held his peace.
"I cooperated. Gave away my suppliers. Named names."
"Why'd you do that?"
"Because I love you, too. You made me want to change. I wanted to come completely clean, like you said."
"Jesus, but did you wind up making yourself a target?"
He shrugged. "I'm safe enough for now. I'd rather keep my promises."
"I'd rather have a live boyfriend."
He shuddered. He didn't want to think about what could happen if word somehow filtered back to Marquez that he'd been picked up by the police. But Lovett had been explicitly and repeatedly reassuring on the point. "Nothing you say to me will be attributable, unless you are asked to testify, obviously," the Chief Inspector had said.
"I'll be okay," he insisted.
"We'll be okay," Graham corrected, giving his hand an extra squeeze before releasing it to maneuver the big, heavy SUV through a left turn.
We. He liked the sound of that.
"Speaking of we, what are we doing for supper?" His stomach growled, stating how empty it was, for emphasis.
"Ellie's going to pick us up for supper in about...half an hour," Graham replied, glancing at the car clock. "Did you forget?"
"Sorry. Totally spaced it." He shook his head. After the afternoon's ordeal, he was exhausted. He'd felt fresher after some of his wilder parties.
"We can cancel, if you want," said Graham diffidently.
"No, no, let's go out. What do you have in the fridge, a moldy carrot?"
"Two moldy carrots, and a box of Velveeta," Graham laughed. "I didn't have time to get to the grocery store. Too much housecleaning."
"You get the spare bedroom all ready?"
"Absolutely not," Graham replied. "But I did put clean sheets on our bed," he added with a wicked smile.
Our bed. He liked that very much. "Sheets which we can mess up when we get back from supper," he matched Graham's grin. He closed his eyes for what seemed just a moment. He was so very tired.
The sensation of the Suburban stopping startled him back to alertness. He heard Graham muttering something.
"What'd you say?" he asked, trying to sound awake.
"The guy behind me is a little too close, that's all."
He turned in his seat and squinted out the back window. He couldn't make out a telltale light bar that would have been the mark of a police car. He breathed a little easier.
Graham turned left. "We're not too far. If we're lucky, we'll make it home before Ellie shows up."
Thoroughly disoriented, he watched the night sights zip past; mostly long, low buildings and strip developments. They passed a couple of churches with wide open, deserted parking lots. He inhaled the smells of lush growth and road and earth.
Streetlights became more frequent. They passed an illuminated sign welcoming them to Sand River.
Soon, just near another sign directing them towards the Sand River Senior High School, Graham's turn signal sounded again.The big SUV slowed and turned right onto a small side street.Two blocks later, Graham turned again, left this time, and practically crept down an even narrower residential street, almost overgrown with vegetation. The lights of low, single story houses filtered through the bushes and trees to either side.In a few moments, the brush and trees cleared enough to reveal a low, u-shaped building.
Graham pulled into the driveway and parking lot between the two arms of the building. It might have been a motel or something like that in another age.
"Home, sweet home," Graham called out as the backed the Suburban into a parking space. "Unit 5, Crystal Sands Apartments."
He got out and retrieved his bags from the back while Graham rolled up the windows and secured the car.
"Ellie's not here yet, so you can come in and get the grand tour."
He followed Graham under an overhanging roof which ran the length of the building to a worn looking green door. A forlorn looking sticker with the number '5' adorned the doorframe. Graham fumbled with the keys a moment and let them inside.
The place smelled a more than a little musty, but to be fair, Graham had been gone for five weeks. A light was flipped on. A small, efficient apartment revealed itself. He stood in a fair sized living room. It featured ubiquitously beige colored walls, but Graham had put up some large colorful posters to brighten things up. Sea creatures. Dinosaurs. Dr. Who.
"Who did your décor?" he joked.
Graham flushed. "So I'm a geek. Get over it." His boyfriend shut the door and drew him into a deep kiss.
He responded to it right away, opening for Graham's tongue, hungry for him. He'd been waiting for that kiss all day. He lost himself in Graham's lips and face and scent. He felt Graham's hand running up and down his back, and responded by slipping his own under the hem of Graham's shirt.
"No, wait," Graham pulled back, panting a little. "Ellie's going to be here any minute."
"She can wait a few minutes," he answered, trying to kiss Graham again.
"No, not now," Graham said gently, grinning. "We'll have all night, later."
He recognized the wisdom in those words.
"Besides, I don't know about you, but I have to use the head." It was almost natural to hear Graham use the nautical term in the apartment.
"You go ahead, I can wait."
Graham nodded, gave him a brief kiss, then walked through a doorway in the back wall. Graham switched on a light to reveal a bedroom. The bathroom clearly lay beyond.
He decided to follow. In the living room, a long sofa of a certain vintage lined the left wall. There was a large armchair to the right and a television in the left corner. A huge floor-to-ceiling bookcase stood against the back wall, stuffed with tomes of every shape and size. Graham obviously read a great deal.
A door to the left of the bookcase probably led to the kitchen, but he didn't investigate.
He walked into the bedroom, which looked a whole lot neater and cleaner than he'd ever kept his. Another tall bookcase stood on the near wall, and the closed door on the left indicated the bathroom.The centerpiece was a wide king-sized bed. He was definitely looking forward to rumpling its sheets up in a few hours. He grinned.
He set down the duffel and backpack next to the bookcase, noting a row of sci-fi fantasy titles. He might have vaguely recognized some of the authors.
He heard a sharp knock on the apartment door.
"Graham?" he called through the bathroom door. "Someone's at the door. You want me to get it?"
He heard water running. "Sure, go ahead. It's probably Ellie. Be right there."
He walked out of the bedroom and across the living room as another insistent rap on the door sounded.
"Coming, Ellie," he nearly sang as he opened the door, "Graham's in the –"
Instead of Ellie's merry blue eyes, he found himself staring down the deep black barrel of a pistol. Bright, dark eyes glittered behind the scrawny arm extended in his direction. He raised his hands.
"Oh, hey, Scottie, I've been looking all over for you," the shorter, greasy-haired owner of the Glock began almost conversationally as he stepped into the room, forcing him backwards.
"What the fuck are you…"
"No, Scotty, that's my question," Kenny smiled. "What the fuck are you up to? Hiding from your friends? Bailing out on me?" The pistol never wavered from his forehead.
"I was working."
"Bullshit. I offered you work, Scotty. Real work, good money. You and I could have done great things together, man. And what did you do? You ran away from poor, old Kenny."
"I told you I wasn't interested."
"Not interested? How could you not be interested? That really wasn't an option, Scotty. For a little while, I thought maybe you were working for The Russians, and we couldn't have that, could we?"
"I never worked for Vassily."
Kenny wasn't listening. "And then what did you do? You went and talked to the Staties. You've been a very bad boy, Scotty."
"I got picked up. They picked me up for questioning."
"I know that. I followed you to their offices; sat in the parking lot for hours, just waiting for you to come out."
He kicked himself. He'd never noticed the stupid old Camaro in the lot.
The stringy haired little man's lips trembled. "And then you went home with your new boyfriend." The pistol seemed to quiver a moment.
"What are you…"
"You are supposed to be with me!!" Kenny screamed. "It was me who did your roommate and Golovkin! I took care of them for you!" The grey, rail thin little courier was near psychotic; spit flecked his lips. "Since when did you go and get a new whore, you fucking cheat?"
"We weren't ever going to…"
"The hell we weren't, Scotty. I had it all planned out, and it was finally going to be beautiful. Beautiful…" The little man's voice trailed off almost wistfully for a moment. "And then you had to fuck it up."
His mind was working furiously. He didn't want to die. But Graham... he had to keep Graham out of this. Please, Graham, just stay out of sight. Just stay in the bathroom.
"Come on, then, Kenny, let's go. Let's get it over with." He gestured with his head toward the door of the apartment.
Kenny grinned nastily. "You think I'm going to shoot you? No, no, no, Scotty, I've got other plans for you."
He cringed, but he didn't care what those plans were, as long as Graham was safe. Stay put, Gray!
"Scott? What the hell is--"
He groaned to himself. Graham had emerged from the bedroom.
"Is this your new whore, Scotty?" Kenny sneered.
"Don't call him that," he grated.
"Who is this?" Graham asked, angrily.
"Take one more step, whore, and I put a bullet into Scotty's brain." The pistol remained steady on its target.
Graham was still.
"Hands behind your head, whore." Kenny barked.
In fear, Graham complied.
"Now here is what's going to go down, homies," the courier lectured, the words coming out of his mouth sounding hideous, "Scotty, you're going to turn around. Keep your hands behind your head. Slowly."
He moved. As much as he disliked staring at the gun barrel, he hated not being able to see what Kenny was doing more.
"Okay. The boyfriend here is going to kneel down."
Graham knelt, just ahead of him, to his left. He could see Graham staring hard, fearlessly back at Kenny.
"I'm sorry about this, Gray. I love you." He spoke the words softly and sincerely.
"Aww, isn't that sweet?" Kenny's voice dripped with sarcasm. "Too bad you’re going to have to say bye-bye, lovers."
"Don't you dare touch him," Graham growled.
"Or what? No, you don't get to say jack shit," Kenny scoffed."Scotty and I are going to take a little ride to see Marquez. That man is gonna have a shitload of questions for you, Scotty. And then, maybe, Marquez is gonna let me have what's left of you, until you scream."
There was stunned silence.
"So, Scotty, just let me take care of a little business here, and we can be on our way."
He sensed a bit of movement behind him.
"I don't know who you think you are…" Graham started.
"You don't get to know shit, whore. To you, my name is death," intoned Kenny, relishing the chance at melodrama. He heard an unmistakable click.
"NO!" He turned, flinging his left arm out blindly, trying to deflect the stupid gun.
In the same instant, he heard a loud snap, followed by the loud unambiguous point-blank crack of a pistol, and then Kenny's piercing scream.Then the courier fell into him; off-balance, they both tumbled to the floor. The gun clattered somewhere into a corner. Shit, the scrawny little guy was heavier than he looked.
He shoved the screaming courier off of him. Graham. He had to get to Graham. He scrambled toward his boyfriend, his lover, in what seemed like slow motion, only to find himself engulfed in a huge, vice-like embrace. He could feel Graham tremble. Was he crying?
Kenny was still whimpering, writhing in agony behind them. He didn't know what happened and he didn't care. He still had Graham.
"You're bleeding." Graham said.
Graham pulled back and showed him. The large, bony hand that had caressed his neck a moment earlier was smeared in blood. But he didn't feel hurt. Was it really his?
Just then, another voice spoke out over them.
"Hey, Graham," Ellie's voice sounded shaky, "you left your speargun in my car."
I am deeply indebted to Craftingmom, who edited this story. Her patient and attentive help was invaluable. Thanks also to beta readers tim, Spike and Carlos, whose comments and encouragement kept this story moving forward.
Comments of any sort and variety are welcome. Please consider leaving one.