Jesse spent the day in Ray's apartment, cutting his classes so he wouldn't have a run-in with Harry Sloane, Jr., while Ray went to work as usual. Jesse was antsy the whole time.
As he had told Ray, he really hated feeling like a prisoner. It wasn't so much that he was afraid of Junior. He just wanted the nuisance to go away, wanted the bastard out of his life, didn't want to have to think about him every waking moment. If only he could go about the business of being a student, making new friends, enjoying his relationship with Ray, he'd be content.
Many of his colleagues/competitors had loved their lives as models. So much so that they'd been desperate to hang on to their looks, to beat one another out for a particular gig, to keep the lifestyle going. But Jesse had had enough of it. He'd never chosen the profession, if you could call it that, in the first place. The whole thing had been undertaken to satisfy his mother's ambitions, not his own.
And now he was well out of it. Colby was just the sort of sleepy backwater he had wanted, and he found satisfaction in the quiet life of a student.
Having Ray as an attentive lover was a not unwelcome bonus. He chuckled to think that they were both bottoms by preference. Still, they were both versatile, and they had managed to get around the problem, each happy to please the other. Besides, he admitted to himself, there were worse things in life than having his cock buried between the muscular white globes of Ray's ass.
When Ray arrived at the condo that evening, he brought take-out. He'd even remembered to get a salad for Jesse. Ray wasn't very specific about what he and Brody were going to do to Junior later, but it involved scaring him so much that he would, as Ray said, "high tail it back to New fucking York."
After Ray left to pick up Brody, Jesse's tension resumed. Unable to study, he tried watching television but could find nothing to hold his attention. Since Ray and Brody expected to find Junior in his hotel room, Jesse decided to chance taking a walk. It was good to get outside after being indoors all day, so he wandered around the campus and then through the downtown area, happy to walk alone at night without having to worry about his safety. Both the university and the city seemed quiet. He wondered what it would be like in a few weeks when twenty thousand students descended on both.
He hadn't been in the condo long when Ray returned. As they hugged, Jesse could tell that his lover was exhilarated.
"How'd it go, babe?" Jesse asked.
"Let's have a beer, and I'll tell you." He went to the fridge, took out two bottles, twisted off the caps, and handed one to Jesse. They sat facing each other at the kitchen table. "I don't think the bastard will be bothering you again. Brody and I followed him to the Interstate, where he headed for the airport, just like we told him to."
"What'd you do to scare him away?" Ray's fair skin was flushed. It reminded Jesse of how Ray looked when they were making love.
Ray chuckled, obviously pleased with his recent adventure.
"Well, when we pushed our way into his suite, I turned him around, got him in a choke hold with one arm and shoved the tip of my revolver under his ear."
"Shit! That big-ass silver thing you keep in the bedroom? It looks like a cannon! What if it had gone off?"
Ray grinned. "It wasn't loaded . . . though, of course, Junior didn't know that."
"Where is it now?"
"In the truck. I didn't want to carry it in through the lobby. Might panic the neighbors. I'll bring it up later."
"So what happened after you grabbed Junior?"
"When I started explaining what might happen if he didn't get out of town and let you alone, he actually pissed himself. That's one reason why I'm pretty sure he won't be back."
"Sounds like he got the message." Jesse knew he'd be likely to do the same thing in similar circumstances. "Is there another reason why you think he's gone for good?"
"Yeah." Ray grinned again. "Brody hit him in the knee with a baseball bat. The creep will be limping for a while."
"Christ! Was that necessary?" Jesse pushed his chair back, stood, and began pacing around the small kitchen. "If Harry was so frightened he wet his pants, why would Brody hit him? What if he broke a kneecap or something?"
"Whoa, babe! First of all, Brody knows what he's doing. He clubbed the side of the bastard's knee, not the front. Junior hit the floor and moaned a while, but he was on his feet and mobile before we left."
Jesse ran his fingers through his hair. "Still, it seems like . . . what do they call it, excessive force? Harry's a pain in the ass, but he's not some sort of terrorist. What did Cox think he was doing?"
"Back off, Jess! Whether the TRO from New York is valid on Ohio or not, your admirer was breaking the law. And you wanted to be rid of him. Did you think he'd just pack up and leave if we said `pretty please'?"
"Well, I know you wanted to make him go home and let me alone. But what kind of guy is Brody that he'd run the risk of doing permanent physical damage to Harry?"
Ray set his beer bottle down and stood. He put a hand on each of Jesse's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "Brody's a good guy. A friend. A friend who helped you out even though he hardly knows you. And, remember, he's a Marine. He knows exactly what he's doing. And what's with you, anyway? Brody and I run some risks to help you out and you're worried about the creep?"
"It isn't that I'm not grateful. But somehow I just see you differently now. You and Brody."
"Aw, Jess, you've been tense because Junior was in town. But it's okay now. Come here." He held out his arms.
Jesse didn't move. "Look, Ray, thanks for what you and Brody did. I'm grateful you ran Junior off. But I think I'd better go home now."
"Home? I thought we'd celebrate. You know, in bed?"
"Um, not tonight. I need to get back and get organized for tomorrow. After all, I missed both classes today, and I'm out of clean clothes. I'll take the stuff I have here home and wash it tonight."
Jesse felt bad when he saw the puzzled, hurt look on Ray's face. But he couldn't bring himself to go to bed with Ray. He poured the rest of his beer in the sink and rinsed out the bottle. Then he gathered up his stuff, including all the dirty clothes, which he put in a black garbage bag.
As he did that, Ray stood by quietly, looking perplexed.
Jesse kissed Ray's forehead. "Thanks, Ray. Thank Brody for me."
"You should do that yourself."
"Okay. I'll figure out how to do that without mentioning his brutalizing Harry. I'll call you soon."
And he left.
As he drove back to Higgins he couldn't help seeing Ray in a different light. He'd known all along, of course, that Ray was a policeman, even if he wore civilian clothes to work. Jesse had never been one to despise the cops, to think of them as pigs. He realized they were trained to use force when necessary. Perhaps when Ray got together in a situation with the ex-Marine, their brutal instincts were aroused. He knew Ray liked and respected Cox, and Brody had seemed nice enough when Jesse had met him.
But still. Though Harry was a pain in the ass, he was pathetic in a way. Why couldn't they have just explained that he'd be arrested if he continued his stalking? Why did they feel the need to beat him up? He asked himself if he wanted to be in a relationship with anyone capable of that kind of violence.
Of course, it was Brody who'd actually hit Harry. According to Ray. But Ray had seemed on a high when he got home, so he obviously didn't have any qualms about what happened at the hotel.
The weed drove away the tension. The first thing he'd done after getting back to his apartment was light up. Now he was able to chuckle over Junior's pissing his pants.
He put a load in the washer but didn't turn the machine on. He didn't think he'd be awake long enough to take the clothes out and wait while they went through the dryer.
Surfing channels on the television, he paused just long enough to watch Diego Sanchez demolish a hapless opponent in the first round of their fight. He was struck yet again by how violent the sport could be. He felt a sense of relief that Casey had gotten out of MMA without sustaining any damage other than his slightly misshapen ear.
When the munchies came, Jesse poured a glass of milk and used it to wash down some Oreos. Then he stripped, brushed his teeth, and went to bed.
At least, he thought as he floated off to sleep, the MMA guys don't use baseball bats on each other.
When the grim professor dismissed their sociology class the next morning, Jesse turned to the student sitting beside him intending to ask if he could borrow her notes for the previous day.
"Um, Jocelyn, right?"
The girl tossed her chestnut-colored hair, her brown eyes sparkling. "Oh, so you do know I exist!"
"Sorry. Have I seemed standoffish?"
"Well, duh! I've done everything I could think of to get your attention."
"Like I said, I'm sorry." On an impulse, he continued, "Maybe I could make it up to you. Would you like to have lunch with me?"
She pretended to think about that for a moment. "I suppose I could find the time." She smiled. "So long as you're truly repentant."
He took her to a nearby sandwich shop where they both had salads.
"I've seen your picture in magazines, you know," Jocelyn said.
Jesse grinned. "I'm sorry about that."
"Oh, no! It's exciting to meet you. I couldn't believe it when I wound up sitting next to a famous model. But what are you doing here in Ohio?"
"Going to school. Trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life."
"Why did you give up modeling? You look so amazing!"
He thanked her and explained briefly that he'd had enough of that.
"It's better to get out before you're a has-been."
"Well, the fashion world's loss is Colby State's gain. Or at least the gain of the female population."
Jesse sighed, took a deep breath, and said, "Jocelyn, I'm gay."
"Fuck! Pardon my French. There goes my plan to get you into bed."
"I'm afraid it does. But if I were going to climb into a woman's bed, I'd certainly consider being in yours an honor. Can we be friends?"
It was her turn to sigh. But then she grinned. "Yeah. But my friends call me Joss." She looked around. "I'm not gonna tell anyone about you being gay. So we can be friends and they can eat their hearts out."
Before they separated after lunch, he remembered to ask her if he could borrow her class notes for the previous day.
"Is that what this was all about?"
"It may have started out that way, but it got way better. Now I've made a friend."
She reached in her book bag, pulled out a notebook, and handed it to him. "Be sure and bring these back Monday. Friend." She kissed his cheek and strode off.
Jesse smiled and touched his cheek. He tingled where she had touched him. And she smelled amazing. He shook his head, remembering he had to hurry to get to class.
Jesse hoped he'd run into Casey after his computer class that afternoon, but he wasn't around. He thought about calling Casey. He enjoyed the ex-fighter's easy-going, uncomplicated ways. But to call Casey might be to lead him on, and Jesse didn't think that would be fair. There was a new ambivalence to his feelings about Ray, and he needed to sort it all out.
His apartment was hot when he got home. He hadn't left the window units running when he set out for Colby that morning. But August was definitely AC weather, so he flipped them on.
He kicked off his sneakers and padded around in his socks. There was no interesting mail. He dumped the junk into the trash bag under the kitchen sink, went to the washer and started the load he'd put there the night before. Then poured himself a glass of chardonnay. He took it to his recliner and set it on the chairside table. Clasping his hands behind his head, he leaned back, relaxing.
Normally on a Friday evening he and Ray would have plans. They'd have plans for the whole weekend, for that matter. But because Jesse had left Ray's place abruptly the night before, they hadn't talked about doing anything together.
He remembered the puzzled – or was it hurt? – look on Ray's face when he'd left the condo.
What was it Ray had said? That he and Brody had run some risks to chase Harry away? Something like that. What risks could there be? Jesse knew Harry, who'd be more likely to use his charm or, failing that, his money to get what he wanted. Harry wasn't going to attack a couple of guys like Ray and Brody. Jesse decided he would have to ask Ray what risks he was talking about.
Besides, he told himself, you're complicit in all of this. Not only were they doing it for you, but you knew all along they planned to do something to scare Harry off.
The more he thought about it, the more he felt he should apologize to Ray for his abrupt departure the night before. Ray and Brody had been doing him a favor. A big favor. Besides, it wasn't as if he'd ever seen other signs that Ray was by nature a violent person. He could be violent, Jesse imagined, because he'd had police training. But the man who liked to be snuggled after sex wasn't the kind of guy who got off hurting people. Was he?
Well, he had been pumped when he got back from the hotel. He was a complicated guy, for sure.
Jesse knew he should call. He'd promised to do that. So he fished his phone out of his pocket and punched the speed dial number for Ray's condo.
"Ray, it's Jesse."
"Look, I know I need – "
Ray interrupted. "You know what, Jess? I don't think I want to talk with you right now."
"Bye." He realized he was speaking to the dial tone.
So what the fuck was that all about?
Jesse's abrupt departure Thursday evening left Ray feeling as if he'd been punched in the gut. He'd expected gratitude, not the negative reaction he got. Jesse's words were burned into Ray's memory. He'd said what Brody had done to the creep had been "excessive force." He'd used the word "brutalized." And he'd claimed he saw Ray differently now, whatever that meant.
Didn't he understand that Sloane needed to take all this seriously? He'd ignored the New York TRO. He'd come to Ohio and resumed his stalking. Obviously the bastard needed more than a slap on the wrist. Ray thought the guy was lucky to get off as easily as he had. And he was fully prepared to make it worse for him if he showed himself in Colby again. At least he would have been prepared to do that if it weren't for Jesse's reaction.
After Jesse left that evening Ray stayed at the kitchen table. He finished the six-pack, which was more than he'd had to drink in one session since his university days.
He woke up the next morning on the couch, where he'd apparently crashed at some point. Groggily he stripped off yesterday's clothes, shaved, showered, and brushed his teeth. He couldn't face breakfast, so he made himself some instant coffee, extra strong, and went to work.
It was a hot August Friday morning. He was sweating lightly by the time he got to the station, where things were relatively quiet. There had been a couple of traffic accidents overnight, but no crime that demanded his attention. So he addressed the paperwork that had accumulated in his In-box. And they talk about paper-free offices, he thought.
He knew he should call Brody and thank him for helping out the evening before. But he didn't know whether Brody was in class, at the Cromer office, or the house he shared with Dave Cromer. And then he thought that it was Jesse who should really be thanking Brody. But there was little chance of that, given what Jess had said before he left the condo the night before.
Needing to concentrate on his work, he pushed his worry over Jesse aside.
It was nearly one o'clock when he decided to go get some lunch. He was approaching a place near campus which served great sandwiches when he saw Jesse come out of it. With him was a really beautiful woman. They were talking and smiling at each other. They stopped for a moment. The woman, about Jesse's age or a little younger, kissed him on the cheek. Jesse, looking a bit dazed, put his hand to the spot and watched as she walked away.
Ray turned around quickly so Jesse wouldn't see him. Finding his appetite suddenly gone, he headed back toward his office. He'd never heard Jesse mention any female friends, but this girl, or, more correctly, woman, seemed rather possessive. Who could she be, and why, since they were close enough for her to kiss him, had Jesse never mentioned her?
There was more to Jesse than met the eye. And perhaps that was the trouble. Had Ray been too willing to accept Jesse at face value? Certainly it was a gorgeous face.
He was still puzzling when he got back to the office. In fact, where Jesse was concerned, Ray was feeling downright insecure.
Havers was in his office as Ray walked past its open door. He was going to wave and go on to his cubicle, but he was stopped when the lieutenant said, "Stonesifer, the Captain wants to see you. ASAP."
"What's up, Lieutenant?"
"Damned if I know. I'm just passing on the message. You're his fair-haired boy. But if I had to guess, I'd say you're in trouble."
"Um, thanks. I'll go right away. Just need to pee first."
"Pee? What kind of man says `pee'? Go piss, but don't keep the Captain waiting any longer than that."
Ray knew the office of the Supervisor of Detectives well. When Jim Grant had been captain and Ray had still been in uniform, he'd been Grant's receptionist/gopher.
Expecting to see his counterpart, Ted Stasny, he found behind the desk instead a young woman, Officer Edie Parsons. She'd be pretty, he thought, if she didn't try so hard to look like one of the guys.
"Hi. Where's Staz?"
"He's getting his annual physical, so I'm filling in. The Captain's been expecting you, Sergeant. Just knock and go on in."
"Thanks, Officer Parsons."
Ray liked and respected Philip Marlowe. Partly because he knew Jim Grant did, partly because Marlowe had always been encouraging and fair. . . and he obviously didn't care that Ray was gay. But Ray thought he might know why he'd been summoned. From what Havers had said, Ray was pretty sure he was being called on the carpet.
"Captain, you wanted to see me, sir?"
Marlowe, a good-looking dark-haired man of about 40, wasn't wearing his suit coat. Ray knew it would be on a hanger on the back of the door. Marlowe's shirt sleeves were rolled back two turns, revealing hairy forearms.
Marlowe put down whatever it was he had been reading. "Yes, Ray. Sit down."
Ray sat. Stiffly. Nervously.
"How are you? You okay?"
"Yes, sir, thank you. How's the family?"
"They're fine, thanks. Now about why you're here . . . . Your evaluations have been excellent ever since you were transferred from the Higgins station. Chief Grant took a special interest in you, and we both know him well enough to know that his support had nothing to do with your both being gay, that it was based on your ability."
Ray nodded, feeling sweat beading up at his hairline.
"You made sergeant before anyone else with your length of service. And it was because you passed the exams with high scores and you had my recommendation as well as that of Chief Grant."
Ray could just hear the but coming.
"I think it's time, however, for me to remind you of a few things."
Oh, it's however instead of but.
Marlowe picked up the form on his desk and glanced at it briefly before putting it down.
"You know what vigilantism is, don't you?
"You also know, I'm sure, that nothing like that will be tolerated in this department. If you don't know, I'm telling you now."
Ray couldn't think of anything to say. He knew he was busted. He nodded to show that he was following what the Captain said.
"There's this matter of a fingerprint request sent to the BCI lab across town. It seems that you initiated the request. Isn't it SOP for Lieutenant Havers or me to do that?"
"Was that request related in any way to a case that's been assigned to you?"
"No, sir, it wasn't."
"You do know the Department is charged by the BCI for everything it does for us, don't you?"
"Yes, sir, and I'd be happy to pay that charge."
"It's not a lot of money, sergeant. But I'll see that it's taken from your next paycheck."
Marlowe wrote something on the form he'd been looking at and put it in his Out basket.
"Then there's the matter of a guest at a local hotel who checked out suddenly. I'm told he was limping pretty badly. And he didn't limp when he signed in. I won't ask if you know anything about that. I don't want anything to mar your exemplary record, sergeant, and if I officially knew that you had anything to do with that event, it would have to go on your record. You understand me?"
Marlowe took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head, swiveled his chair, and looked out the window.
"Ray, we have prescribed procedures for dealing with stalkers. I understand this all had to do with someone who's close to you." He turned and looked at Ray. "That is true, isn't it?"
"Your friend is all right, isn't he?"
"And the problem has, shall we say, gone away?"
"So far as I know, sir."
"Good!" Marlowe smiled briefly. Then he looked Ray in the eye and said very seriously, "Hear me, Sergeant Stonesifer. If you ever pull a stunt like that again, you'll lose your rank and will be back in uniform, riding around rural Colby County in a cruiser on the late night shift. Are we clear on that?"
"Yes, sir! Clear, sir!"
Marlowe stood. Ray stood.
"You're a good cop, Ray. I don't want to see you getting the reputation of being a loose cannon. Now, you'd better get back to work."
"Yes, sir!" Ray saluted.
The Captain returned the salute, and Ray turned to leave.
"Oh, and Ray?"
"Don't screw up."
"Yes, sir. That is no, sir! I mean, I won't. Sir."
He told himself that he was a damn fool, that he should have known he couldn't get away with that fingerprint request to the BCI without authorization from Havers or Marlowe. He'd hoped it would sneak past in the piles of crap they both had to sign off on. But he didn't even have the results yet and Marlowe already knew about it. Which must mean that someone at BCI had ratted him out. He doubted that it was his friend, but someone higher up must have been in touch with Marlowe.
And Marlowe knew something about what had gone on at the Colby Inn as well. Ray sighed. He wanted to be thoroughly pissed with Beaumont, but he wasn't really a bad guy. Though retired, he still thought like a cop. Whether to cover his own ass or out of loyalty to Marlowe and the Department, he'd told what he knew.
So now Ray would be walking on eggs for a while. And if he screwed up again, his chances of becoming the youngest lieutenant ever in the Department were nil.
He didn't have time to think about his situation for long, however, because Havers came in and put him to work on a stack of BOLO's and the Internet equivalent of wanted circulars. Ray wasn't sure why, but Havers seemed to think of him as the detective branch's computer specialist. Tim McGee, that's me. As if I'd ever know a tenth of what he knows about computers.
He was glad to turn off the computer when quitting time came. It was Friday, after all. Then he remembered that he had no plans for the weekend.
He arrived home hungry, since he'd had nothing to eat all day, and pissed off. Unhappy
with himself, with Harry Sloane, Jr., and with one Jesse Crofts.
Ray's standing in the Force was in jeopardy. He'd done what he did knowing full well there were risks. But they were risks he was willing to assume for Jesse. And had Jesse been grateful? No. He'd been so upset about Brody's hitting Sloane with the baseball bat that he'd rushed away. But he surely hadn't seemed upset when he was getting kissed by that girl outside the sandwich shop.
You think you know someone, and they kick you in the balls.
He toed off his shoes, grabbed a beer and a bag of chips, and sat on his sofa. He put his feet on the table. And he sat there, feeling alone, unappreciated, and angry.
When, a couple of beers later, his phone rang, he was tempted not to answer it. Still, though he wasn't scheduled to work that weekend, he was always on call. He flipped the instrument open and said, "Stonesifer."
It was Jesse, who started to say something that began, "I need . . . ."
Ray wasn't much concerned with Jesse's needs at that moment.
He said, "You know what, Jess? I don't think I want to talk with you right now." He closed the phone and then simply sat there holding it.
To Be Continued
Emails encouraged at email@example.com Please put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim