Jesse decided to skip lunch on Tuesday as a kind of atonement for all the bad stuff he'd been eating lately. Since it was 94 degrees outside, however, he spent the noon hour in the library instead of sitting on a bench or on the grass under a tree as he often did.
But he was unable to concentrate on his sociology text. His mind went back to the recent night when he and Ray had agreed that they were going to be exclusive, that they were confident enough about their relationship to be, at least for the moment, a couple.
Jesse was both amused and pleased that Ray had been jealous of Casey. Amused because he and Ray had never discussed their relationship. Both of them had seemed content to take for granted that they'd be together when they could. It was mostly a weekend thing, however, because Jesse was serious about studying most weekday evenings, Ray often had to work long hours, and they didn't even live in the same town.
Jesse smiled. The twenty minutes or so it took to drive from his place in Higgins to Ray's in Colby would have meant nothing in New York, where it took more than twenty minutes to get anywhere.
Casey was fast becoming a friend and Jesse intended to keep it that way. Ray would just have to understand. Casey was cute. Unpretentious. Totally devoid of the prickliness one often found in the big city. Smart. Interested in his classes. Interested in Jesse's experiences. Willing to share his own, both as a kid growing up in Cleveland and as a fighter.
That he'd expressed an interest in doing more than merely having beer or a meal with Jesse made him even more attractive. That he'd backed off with grace when Jesse had indicated his interest in exploring his friendship with Ray made him even more appealing as a friend.
Ray's jealousy of Casey had also left Jesse with pleasure and hope. Ray was no more pretentious than Casey. Objectively considered, he wasn't really more physically attractive than Casey, but he was more Jesse's type. Casey was muscular, but he was shorter than Jesse. And younger, still boyish in appearance. Ray was just as muscular, but he was Jesse's height or perhaps a little taller. And they were the same age. Then there was the red hair, which Jesse found fascinating. He'd often fantasized about red pubes, but until Ray he'd never been with a redhead.
Ray was more complex than he appeared at first. Within him was a fascinating contradiction. He often said something to the effect that he'd never been anywhere or done anything and seemed fascinated by the life Jesse had led before chucking it all and coming to Ohio. Yet, no doubt because of his police training and experience, he exuded maturity and confidence. Jesse felt safe, comfortable, and protected with Ray around. On the other hand, it was Ray who liked to be held when they were in bed, especially after sex. Jesse had wonndered why, but he didn't want to make Ray feel uncomfortable by asking. And it was nice that Ray seemed to trust him, happy and relaxed when they spooned together.
Thinking of them in bed reminded him of their recent sex. Jesse wiggled in his seat, remembering first the night stick and then Ray's cock up his ass. He felt that hungry feeling, the one he got when he needed to be fucked. He thought about calling Ray for a little phone sex. He'd never done that before, and the idea of saying sexy things to him while he was in his office turned him on even more. But it was time to go to his afternoon class. As he stood and made his way across the main reading room, he had to carry his bag in front of his crotch to hide his erection.
In class that afternoon he was distracted by his instructor, Toby Taba, imagining him and Casey, two short but beautiful men, together. Then he wondered about Toby's partner. I'm as horny as a teen, he thought, surreptitiously adjusting his erection.
Ray had a busy day. Havers was back from vacation and needed to be updated on what had happened while he was gone. There'd been a convenience store robbery the previous night, but one of the other detectives was doing the follow-up on that. So after Ray made his report to Havers, he went back to his cubicle. Havers had said he was going to meet with the Captain, which meant that, with luck, he might have some uninterrupted time at his desk.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, headquartered in Columbus, had three regional crime labs. One of them was in Colby. After some interior debate, Ray filled out the necessary forms and sent Sloane's letter to Jesse to the lab for fingerprint analysis. His hesitation was because this wasn't an official police matter. He called an old high school friend who worked at the lab and asked her to make sure the results were returned to him.
"What's going on, Ray? You doing some private investigating?"
"Of course not. I wouldn't do that, would I?"
She laughed. "Of course you wouldn't. But I'll see it's sent directly to you."
"Thanks, Liz. I owe you one."
"At least one."
He would have liked to have the voice messages analyzed, but that was a more expensive proposition, and he didn't think he could have it done on the sly. On the other hand, he told himself, if Jesse's issue with Sloane ever became an official police matter in Colby, then they'd be able to show that Sloane was harassing Jesse. The problem was that unless Sloane actually assaulted Jesse, there wasn't a lot the police could do.
Meanwhile, he and Brody were ready to deal unofficially with the creep if he ever showed himself. Ray just hoped that Brody would be available on short notice when the time came.
His thoughts were interrupted when Nick Persichetti stepped into the cubicle and asked, "What ya doin', Ray?"
Ray grinned at him. "I'm sitting here being a detective sergeant. Where are you going with that camera?"
"That's what I came to tell you. Some graffiti blossomed overnight on the side of Hulett's Tavern. The owner wants to get it removed, and I'm taking pictures of it for evidence."
"You might as well drop by Deck and see if he did it." Deck, more properly Derek Landis, was the county's most prolific building artist.
"Deck's pretty talented, actually. He doesn't tag his work, but I'll probably know as soon as I see it whether it's his or not. I just don't know how he got it all done without one of our patrols catching him. He's not only good, but he's fast."
"Okay. Let me know what you find out."
Ray clasped his hands behind his head, leaned back, and thought once more about Jesse. He'd asked him whether his quitting modeling and coming to Colby had anything to do with Sloane.
"No, I'd made up my mind a while back that I'd had enough. When the gray hair begins to show up in your beard, the love handles aren't far behind. And it's a shitty life. It pays well, and some guys get off on the adulation. But I really wanted to do something . . . normal, you know? So I gave my agent six months' notice. Told him I'd honor my commitments, but not to get me involved in anything I wasn't already contracted to do."
"Okay, I suppose I can understand that. But why here? And, no offense, why are you living in such a dump? Surely you didn't live like that in New York."
Jesse chuckled. "You aren't gonna believe this. I decided I'd like to try the Middle West. I'd been to the West Coast and Florida and the Southwest. And I knew I didn't want to go to the South. So I picked Ohio. I'd met some guys from Ohio and they seemed okay. So I opened up an atlas to the Ohio page, closed my eyes, and put my finger down. The atlas slipped, and when I opened my eyes, my finger was way up in the northwest corner. I checked out schools in this part of Ohio and decided CSU looked good. I figured, what the fuck, I could always transfer if I didn't like it."
"Man, that's really weird. So what about the apartment?"
Jesse took a swallow of the cabernet they'd been drinking. "That's harder to explain. It's a kind of a reaction, I suppose, to the life I was living. Flying around the world, wearing fancy clothes, dealing with fans. Living a very expensive life in New York. I decided if I was going to quit all that and go to college, then I'd become a student. No partying. Concentrate on my courses. You know?"
Ray grinned. "A lot of guys would think that was a pretty nerdy way to experience college. They'd say you're missing all the fun. You should be out there mixing and mingling, drinking and getting laid."
"Yeah, well, I've done that. When I came to this area I was having feelings that were almost monastic. Mrs. Brill's apartment was just what I was looking for."
"Monastic, huh? I agree that your place is not much better than a monk's cell, but you haven't exactly been monastic on weekends."
"It's because of you, you devil! You've led me astray." As if to prove how much, he sat on Ray's lap and gave him a toe-curling kiss.
Ray was brought back to reality when his phone rang. Havers was in his office again, wanting to know where the report on a recent robbery was.
"Have you checked your computer, Lieutenant?"
"Um, no. Haven't gotten around to that yet. I was looking for it in my In-basket."
"Check your email. If you can't find it, I'll print out a copy for you, okay?"
That afternoon Ray was scheduled for a visit to the firing range. Members of the force were required to maintain their firearms qualifications by going to the range every six months.
He took along both his police-issue 9mm semi-automatic and his own stainless steel Ruger .357 magnum. He'd looked a while to find one with walnut grips. His buddies on the Force ragged on him, saying he thought he was in the Wild, Wild West, but he just laughed it off. He liked his Ruger. And he enjoyed using it at the range, along with the 9mm.
He even loved the smells of the cordite at the range and the oil as he cleaned his weapons after using them.
The call came just after noon two days later.
"Is he with you?"
"No, he was hanging around outside the building when I came out of my soc. class. When he was sure I'd seen him, he turned and walked away."
"What were you planning to do until your afternoon class?"
"I have a granola bar. I usually sit on a bench and eat it."
"Is the bench pretty much out in the open?"
"Go sit there. Unless he's got a rifle, he's not gonna do anything to you in plain sight."
"I suppose you're right." Jesse sounded dubious.
"Look, Jess, if you're worried go back in the building and lock yourself in a stall in the men's room. But I think this guy is fucking with your head. I really don't think he'll try to hurt you."
"You're right. Sorry to be such a wuss."
Later Ray remembered he should have reassured Jesse that he wasn't a wuss. But at the moment he was in police mode. "I'll be there in ten minutes after I hang up the phone. Do you want me to call you back on my cell while I'm walking over there?"
He heard Jesse sigh. "No, of course not. I'm okay. I'll be on a bench near the fountain."
"I'm on my way. Call me if he shows up again."
As he approached the Memorial Fountain, Ray looked around to see if he could spot Sloane, but there was no sign of him. Jesse, however, sat facing the fountain, his backpack on the bench beside him. Although he'd seemed nervous on the phone, now he was calmly staring at the jetting water. He looked up, smiled, and moved his bag so Ray could sit beside him.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I shouldn't have called you away from your work."
"It's okay. Even detectives get a lunch hour. Sometimes. So tell me what happened."
"I was coming down the front steps of Mayhew Hall, where my soc. class meets. Junior was leaning against a tree about twenty yards away. There were a lot of people around, so it's kind of an accident I even looked in his direction."
"But he was obviously watching for you?"
"I suppose so. What else would he be doing?"
It was a logical question, but the tone of it indicated the extent of Jesse's nervousness.
"What did he do when you recognized him?"
"He smiled. Then he did that thing to make his hand look like a pistol. You know, thumb in the air, pointer finger extended. He pretended to shoot me, grinned, and walked away." Jesse paused. "Jesus, Ray, do you think that was a threat?"
"Probably not. Stalking's about power. The stalker gets a feeling of control from it. I'd say this is a kind of revenge. He's getting back at you for rejecting him. He must feel some sort of satisfaction just knowing he's messing with your head."
"Uh huh. I've been told that before. So what do I do?"
"First of all, despite what I just said, you need to be cautious. We won't take any unnecessary chances until he's . . . taken care of. You may be an obsession for him, but it's unlikely that he would do you any physical harm. So, tell you what. I'll stay here until it's time for your afternoon class. Then I'll walk you to that classroom. Where is it, by the way?"
"That's the new math and computer sciences building, isn't it?"
"Yep. But look, I don't want you to have to baby sit me. I feel so fucking stupid."
"Hey, can't I spend my lunch hour with my, um, friend?"
"This really isn't the time to have that discussion, but I thought we were more than friends."
Ray smiled. "Yeah, we are. But it's nice to hear it."
As they parted outside the classroom, Jesse asked, "What are you going to do about lunch?"
"I dunno. I'll pick up something on the way back to the office."
"Want a granola bar?"
"Yuck! That is, no thanks. I'll be here when your class is over. I think maybe you should come back to my place. Then we can talk about the creep."
"Dammit! I hate this. But, yeah, I'll come with you. We'll want to make sure he doesn't follow us, though."
Ray wanted to kiss Jesse to reassure him. But there were people in the hallway, so he swatted him on the butt and said, "See you later, babe."
He walked to the top of the stairs and looked around. He'd never seen Sloane, but he had retrieved several pictures of the guy online and was pretty sure he would recognize him. By five after one the hallway was deserted.
On his way back to work he stopped into a deli and picked up a sandwich. From a machine in the headquarters building he got a can of cola.
When he'd finished his lunch, he pulled up on his computer screen the phone numbers of the local hotels and motels. Of course Sloane could be staying anywhere in greater Toledo. Perhaps by the airport. Or, come to think of it, he'd probably have flown into Detroit and picked up a car there. So he started with the most expensive place in Colby, The Colby Inn.
And he struck pay dirt. When he had identified himself to the desk clerk, he asked if they had a guest by the name of Sloane. Bingo! The bastard wasn't making any attempt to keep his identity hidden.
"When your guests sign in, you usually ask them about their auto, don't you?"
"Yes, Sergeant Stonesifer, we do."
"What do you have on Mr. Sloane's car?"
"Just a moment, please." After a brief pause, the clerk was back on the line. "He indicated he was driving a current model gray Lexus. With Michigan plates." She gave Ray the number.
"Thanks, Ms. Wilhelm. You've been very helpful."
"You're very welcome, sergeant."
Outstanding! We know where the bastard is staying and what he's driving. And I was right that he'd flown into Detroit. He could have gotten a direct flight there from New York. If he'd flown to Toledo he'd have had to change planes somewhere. In a place like Atlanta or St. Louis, probably.
He left the office and walked to the Colby Inn. From the lobby he went to the hotel's security office.
Behind a gray metal desk sat Ned Beaumont, a retired cop. He'd once been Ray's Sunday School teacher.
Beaumont stood, came around the desk, and shook Ray's hand.
"It's good to see you, Raymond. I hear you're a sergeant now."
"That's right. How are you doing, Ned?"
"Can't complain. Not much going on in my life since Evie died. Except for the grandkids." He took out his wallet and showed Ray pictures of a boy who looked to be thirteen and a girl a couple of years younger.
Ned offered coffee, which Ray declined. He did sit when invited to.
"So, what brings you to see me? I assume it's police business. I don't suppose you just dropped in for old times' sake."
Ray felt a pang of guilt when he said, "Yeah, well, I need a favor. It's not exactly police business, and I'm hoping it won't be."
He explained in vague terms what he had planned.
"Could get you in trouble, Raymond," Beaumont said.
"All I need is a pass key card for tomorrow night. The hotel won't have any repercussions except that a guest may be leaving earlier than planned."
"And this guy isn't the kind of person we'd want staying here?"
Beaumont seemed to be thinking it over. He asked about Ray's parents. After a bit more discussion, he had apparently made up his mind. He left and came back with the pass card Ray needed.
"Tomorrow night, huh?"
"Yeah, I hope." Ray had pretty well decided this was going down with or without Brody Cox.
"I'm not usually here after 6:00. But I'll stick around tomorrow in case I'm needed."
"If it goes down like it's supposed to, you won't even know we've been here." He thanked the older man, they shook hands, and he left.
When he got back to the office, he called Brody and set things up for the next night.
"You got one of those knit ski mask things?"
"Yeah. I used to wear it when I was out shoveling snow at Mrs. Brill's."
After he and Brody finished their brief conversation, Ray went to campus to be there when Jesse's class finished.
Sloane was sitting on a low brick wall near the front door of Kettering Hall as Ray approached. He slowed his pace so he could get a good look.
Ray knew that Sloane was listed on his New York driver's license as being 5'11" tall with brown hair and brown eyes. The hair was actually light brown, almost blond, and the haircut had probably cost a small fortune. He was wearing a golf shirt, khaki shorts, and sneakers with either no socks or those anklets that didn't show as if he was trying to blend in with the student population.
At least he's not wearing flip-flops. He has some class. But then he went to Princeton. Ray grinned. Well, bring it on, Princeton boy! Let's see what you got!
Although the temperature had moderated back to around 80, it was a brilliantly sunny day. Sloane was about the only person around who wasn't wearing shades. But of course, Ray thought, he wants to be recognized.
Ray went inside and waited in the hallway for Jesse to come out of the classroom.
"Hi!" Jesse grinned. "I kind of like the escort service, but won't you get in trouble?"
"I might, eventually, but we'll take care of this problem quickly. The dude's outside waiting for you right now."
"Good. I'm gonna go out there and . . . ."
Ray put his hand on Jesse's chest. "No. We don't want a confrontation yet. What's gonna happen is we're going out the back door of the building and you're walking with me back to the station. You've always wanted to see where I work, right?"
"Well, I, uh . . . ."
Getting the point, Jesse grinned and said, "Absolutely!"
So far as they could tell, Sloane never saw them. At least Ray was pretty sure he didn't follow them to the police station or from the station to his apartment.
"Jesus!" Jesse said as they ate frozen dinners Ray had pulled from his freezer and microwaved, "I hate this!"
"Hey, I know I'm not much of a cook."
Jesse smacked his shoulder. "That's not what I meant, smartass. I hate having to sneak around. The son of a bitch makes me feel like I'm in protective custody or something."
"Why don't you cut your classes and stay here tomorrow? I think I can promise that after tomorrow night Sloane won't be a problem."
"That sounds ominous. What are you going to do?"
"Trust me, babe. The less you know, the better."
"But . . . ."
"Will you tell me after?"
"Depends on how it goes down."
Jesse didn't seem happy with Ray's answer, but he didn't press that issue. He raised another, however. "Why can't I go to class? You've said you don't think he'd do anything violent."
"I could be wrong, you know. But he'll be frustrated because we gave him the slip this afternoon. If you show up there, he's bound to follow you home. Or back here."
"Fuck! I really hate this shit. Having to hide out from the slimy bastard."
Ray grinned. "Actually, he's sort of cute."
"Oh, yeah! He has his choice of good-looking men. Or women. I can't figure why he's so focused on me."
"You underestimate yourself, gorgeous."
Just after dark the next evening, two young men entered the Colby Inn from the parking garage. From there they made their way to the stairs. They didn't cross the lobby, and they weren't seen on the seldom-used stairs. Guests of the hotel regularly took one of the elevators, which had surveillance cameras.
Both wore dark tee shirts, jeans, and sneakers. The blond's shirt was tucked in. The redhead's wasn't. By leaving his shirt untucked, he was able to conceal the pistol in the small of his back. The blonde carried a baseball bat, which was one of the reasons they didn't want to walk through the lobby. They might have been taken for a couple of guys who'd just finished playing a summer league baseball game, but they didn't want to risk being noted and remembered.
When they reached the third floor, after checking that the hallway was empty, they located Suite 352, pulled knit ski masks from their hip pockets, and donned them. Then, after putting on latex gloves, they took up positions on either side of the door. Ray knocked. If no one answered, they'd use the key card to get in. For a moment they heard nothing. Then, just on the other side of the door, a voice asked, "Who is it?"
Ray held his badge in front of the peephole. "Security, Mr. Sloane. There's been a problem in the parking garage, and we need to talk with you for a moment."
When Sloane opened the door, both men pushed their way in. Ray had slipped his badge back in his pocket. Brody kicked the door closed after they were inside.
Ray was soon standing behind Sloane, his left arm around Sloane's neck, the tip of his big Ruger under Sloane's right ear. Bat in hand, Brody stood facing the helpless Sloane.
"What do you want? I've got money. Please don't hurt me!"
"Let's shut this fucker up," Ray said.
Brody went to the suite's bathroom and came back with a wash cloth, which he wadded up and shoved into Sloane's mouth.
"That's better," Ray said. "Now, asshole, you listen. We talk."
He was about to continue when Sloane whimpered.
Brody chuckled. "Fucker's pissing himself." A moment later Ray smelled the familiar odor.
Ray prodded Sloane's neck with his pistol. "You should be scared, Harry. You should have stayed in Manhattan. You should have taken that restraining order seriously." Prod. "This ain't no place for a Princeton boy to be messin' around." Prod. "You need to understand that Jesse Crofts has friends here. And we ain't gonna let a turd like you be a nuisance to him." Prod. "Got that?" Prod.
Sloane squeaked. He tried to nod his head but couldn't because Ray's elbow was under his chin.
Brody seemed to be struggling not to laugh.
Putting on the act even thicker, Ray said, "Angelo, why don't we show him we mean business?"
Brody put the tip of the baseball bat under Sloane's balls and pressed up until the man squeaked again.
"Like that, fucker?" Brody asked. Then, dropping the bat a couple of inches, he brought it up sharply against Sloane's balls. Not enough to do any real damage but enough to make the point. Sloane's exclamation was a little louder this time, though it was still muffled by the cloth in his mouth.
"If you don't want those turned into pulp, you'll get the fuck out of Colby," Brody said in a voice that surprised even Ray with the menace it carried. Ray was reminded that his friend had been a Marine.
"Okay, let's make sure he gets the message." He pushed hard with his Ruger against the spot just below Sloane's ear. "Here's what's gonna happen, shithead. You're gonna pack up tonight, check outta this hotel, get in your rented Lexus, and go back to the airport, where you're gonna take the first available flight back to Tribeca. See, we know where you live."
Ray released his choke hold on Sloane slightly. "Nod your head if you understand."
"Well, here's something to help you remember." Brody hit Sloane sharply on the side of the knee with his bat. At the moment of impact, Ray released him, allowing him to fall to the floor, where he grabbed his knee, writhed, and began to moan through his gag.
"Don't even think of calling the cops, creep. They already know about you. They've got your fingerprints on a letter you sent Jesse and a voiceprint from the messages you left on his machine. If you ever bring your sorry ass back here, it may wind up in Lake Erie. Now, you've got 30 minutes to get checked out and hit the road."
Outside in the hallway, Ray put his pistol away and both removed their masks and gloves. In the parking lot they high fived.
"I almost lost it when you were doing the gangster bit." He chuckled. "Angelo!"
Ray laughed. "Sorry. I couldn't resist. Do you think you broke anything when you hit his leg?"
"Negative. It's a matter of maximum pain with minimum damage. He'll be limping for a couple of days, though."
"What a shame."
"You think that's a shame? I've gotta clean the piss off the end of my bat from when I bounced his nads!"
They sat in Ray's truck across the street from the exit of the hotel garage. In 20 minutes the Lexus came out. They followed it as far as the Interstate, where it took the northbound on-ramp . . . toward Toledo and Detroit.
To Be Continued
Emails encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org Please put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim