|Primary Characters:||Mick, Joey|
|Warning:||m/m sex , non-consenting sex, violence, some strong language|
|Description:||Mick is talked into taking on a case that is beyond his resources. He’s taken prisoner, and it’s up to Joey to find a way of rescuing his brother. But is he prepared to pay the price?|
She was young, maybe early 20’s, maybe not even that. Her long, blonde hair fell to her shoulders, and the bikini was a clear, electric blue. Joey’s eyes kept straying back to her, again and again. Female beauty was commonplace on this paradisiacal beach, but among so many lovely girls, there was something about this one that stuck out. At first Joey couldn’t quite figure out what it was. He was after all a young guy with normal guy reactions.
Still, after a while it began to seem to him that there were primarily two things that made her different from the other girls on the beach. She was frightened, and she seemed to be looking for someone or something. As she walked across the beach, she kept looking over her shoulder, and when she got closer, he noticed that her blue eyes had a look of fear in them.
That was all it took. The knight in shining armor inside of Joey sprang into action. He told himself that naturally the fact that she was one of the most attractive girls on the beach that day had nothing to do with his wish to come to her assistance. Besides, in a way – very loosely interpreted – Joey was something of a cop. Ok, not a cop, though his brother used to be one, but sort of a private investigator, kind of. Why shouldn’t he offer her his protection if she was in need of it?
So he got up, straigtened out his shorts, hoping that she wouldn’t see the stains of pineapple juice that had somehow managed to splash all over him some time during that day. Too late to worry about that. If he waited around much longer, the mysterious lady would disappear.
She whirled around, as if fully expecting to be attacked. The look in her eyes almost frightened him. It was so fierce. Apparently, she was quite prepared to fight back.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. I was wondering if maybe you needed help.”
The girl appeared to take his question under consideration. Then she shook her head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have to go.”
And before Joey had time to more than open and close his mouth stupidly, she was gone in the crowd of sunbathers. Thoughtfully, Joey dropped down into his deck chair, a dreamy look on his face. It was a while before he remembered that he had promised to be home early that afternoon, to help Mick out with some paperwork.
Breathlessly, Joey burst into Mick’s office, expecting to meet with a reproachful stare, but he was stunned to notice that Mick had a visitor. Actually, that wasn’t what stunned him. It was the fact that the visitor – client, maybe – was his mystery girl from the beach. Mick quickly gestured for his brother to hurry up to get inside.
“There’s my brother now. Joey, this is Jessica Norton.”
A broad grin spread across Joey’s features. This was his lucky day.
“Hello. We’ve met.”
Mick’s eyebrows shot up and he glanced incredulously from his brother to the young lady in distress and back again.
“Oh. Well, anyway, miss Norton has come to us for help.”
An outburst from the client interrupted Mick.
“That’s your brother? Oh. I guess I owe you an apology, mr Barrett.”
Bewildered, Mick once again glanced at his wayward younger brother. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if Joey had been hitting on the girl. But they didn’t have time for more interruptions. Their client was in need of protection. She was in serious danger, and this case might be beyond their capabilities.
He had already tried to gently hint as much to the distraught girl, but her pleading was getting to him and he didn’t want to let her down. She had come all this way, and if he sent her somewhere else, her pursuers might catch up with her.
“Anyway. I was just telling miss Norton that you and I might be able to help her.”
“Yes. Absolutely. Anything. What do you want me to do?”
It seemed to Mick that Jessica was just the slightest bit taken with his brother’s charm. Typical.
“If you’ll give me a chance to brief you, Joey, I’ll fill you in on all the details. Miss Norton came here for protection. A few weeks ago, she witnessed crime – a murder. The perpetrator and his associates have warned her not to testify.”
“What about the Witness Protection Program?”
“I was promised protection, and I was taken to a new location. But when I got there, I found that Mancini’s people were already there. They had left a note in my new bedroom. So I panicked and took a cab to the airport. I caught the first plane out of there, and that happened to be going here. Now I don’t trust the police anymore. Someone must have been in touch with Mancini.”
“A cop on the take. Could be. Wouldn’t be the first time. Don’t worry miss Norton, we’ll make sure you stay safe until the trial.”
“If I want to testify at all. I’m beginning to have second thoughts. All I wanted was to do my duty, but not if I end up dead because of it.”
“I can understand you feeling that way, but right now, the main thing is keeping you live until the trial. From then on, it’s up to you what you want to do.”
“Where will I be staying?”
Mick frowned in concentration. He hadn’t gotten that far in his plans. Perhaps he might be able to call in a favor and borrow a bungalow in an isolated spot. His friend Ted could probably let him use one that wasn’t occupied at the moment. It would only be – Trying to calculate the time remaining until the trial, Mick found himself interrupted by Joey.
“I know. You can stay with us.”
“Really? That’s so generous of you.”
Yes, it was. Mick silently cursed his enthusiastic young fool of a brother. This was a highly unprofessional way of doing business.
But it was too late. Mick could see that both kids were thrilled to have found such a satisfying solution to the problem. What did they know about little unimportant details like security?
“She can’t stay with us?”
Both kids turned their innocent pleading eyes on Mick and he knew he couldn’t disappoint them now.
“I suppose it would be alright. Miss Norton, do you have your luggage with you?”
“Yes. I only took one shoulder bag of basic stuff. You don’t think there’s a store somewhere around here, where I could buy some more clothes and so on?”
“Sure there is. I know this great place.”
“Joey. The point of this whole exercise is to keep miss Norton safe, not take her shopping. Are you sure you need to go shopping?”
“Uh – I don’t know. I guess not. If it isn’t safe, I’ll manage.”
“I could go and get you something.”
Mick felt he was losing control over the situation. There were times when Joey could be so – frustrating.
“Joey. Let’s just get miss Norton settled in. If there really is something she needs, we’ll take care of that later. Ok?”
“Yes, I’ll manage for a while anyway.”
“Right. Then I guess we’d all better get going. I have the car around the back. Joey, would you escort miss Norton outside. When you hear the engine.”
The last thing Mick saw before leaving the room, was the two heads, one dark, one blonde, close together, no doubt outlining their plans for Jessica’s stay. How could he explain to his brother that there was far more to his business than just fun and games?
Even if he wasn’t a cop anymore, sometimes the danger was real, real bullets flew and real people got hurt. This seemed to be one of those occasions. The stakes were higher than usual. Mick didn’t want his little brother to have to learn that the hard way.
Mick stopped outside his door and glanced right and left. His cop’s instincts hadn’t left him. There was no one looking at him. Not yet. But a man like Mancini wouldn’t give up that easily. Mick had a bad feeling about the whole case. Maybe he should have gone with that instinct and turned Jessica down, no matter how badly she needed his help.
He shrugged, trying to fight down his misgivings. Too late for second thoughts. Thanks to Joey, they were now committed to the case, and since that was the way it was, he’d better start thinking of ways of keeping his client safe. Not to mention his little brother.
The drive back home was uneventful. At least outside the car. In the backseat, volumes of information were being exchanged. At this rate, miss Norton would be Mick’s sister-in-law before the day of the trial came around.
Though trying to keep his eyes on the road, Mick couldn’t help noticing the way Joey’s eyes were glued to the lovely client’s cleavage. Leaning closer, seemingly to whisper something into Jessica’s ear, Joey looked like a little boy about to taste a yummy lollipop. This was going way too far. Mick coughed meaningfully.
“Joey. Maybe you’d better keep watch out the back window. We wouldn’t want to be followed, would we?”
Joey looked unashamed, but he turned his attention towards doing his part of the job, with the same enthusiasm. At least he was a good kid at heart, and he would mature soon enough. Mick could still vaguely remember his own teens. Maybe he was being too hard on Joey. They needed to become closer, not more distant from each other. Suddenly, Mick felt old, more like Joey’s father than his brother, and it wasn’t all that long ago he’d been the kid with sparkling eyes, ogling passing girls. How quickly life changed.
Now their house was within sight, and Mick slowed down, and pulled to a stop. He meant to keep the two young people in the car while he went ahead to scout. This was exactly why he had wished to find Jessica another hideout. Somewhere safer, more defensible, and frankly, somewhere away from Joey.
Before he had time to call out a warning, his two passengers were erupting from the car, giggling, chattering, chasing each other up to the front door. Oh, well, apparently, it was safe. No bullets started to fly, and Joey unlocked the door, ushering his charming guest inside.
After parking the car, Mick joined the two kids inside. Joey and Jessica were already in the kitchen, looking for nourishment. Mick really didn’t feel up to cooking, even the kind he was capable of. He looked around for the phone. Let someone else do the cooking tonight.
“Oh, come on, Mick, we can do better than that. How about something more exotic?”
“Ok, whatever. You make the call.”
In the meantime, Mick retreated to his own room, so he could hear himself think. He still hadn’t finished outlining his plan for the case. Joey and he would have to take turns keeping watch over Jessica. Better make that Joey. He’d be watching her anyway, one way or another. That might leave Mick some time for his regular work. Protecting homicide witnesses wasn’t really part of his job description, but of course the training he’d received at the Academy was still there.
In a way, it felt good to do some serious work for a change. Like in the old days. Before – Wearily, he passed a hand over his eyes as if to erase the memory of that day, when – No. The memory wouldn’t be erased, but if he tried really hard, he could force his thoughts away from that topic. At least for a time.
Dinner with Joey and Jessica proved to be an uplifting experience. At least it should have been, but for some reason the carefree conversation failed to cheer Mick up. Long before the kids, Mick excused himself and retired to his room. It had been so long since he’d felt that way. Maybe it was time to start dating more seriously again. Sure, the odd female tended to come his way, but if he wasn’t out there looking, how would he ever find someone really special?
The following day, Mick had grave misgivings about leaving Joey and Jessica alone together. This Mickey Mouse approach to witness protection didn’t reassure him. But he had a few loose ends to tie up, and besides, he really needed to put in an appearance at the office. A job was a job, after all.
Paperwork and phone calls kept him tied up until late in the afternoon. Once Mick had the impulse to pick up the phone and call Joey. But he didn’t want his brother get the impression he was checking up on him. If they were going to work together, he had to have a little faith in Joey’s abilities. So he reluctantly focused on his work, and in the early evening, he was finally able to get away from the office.
At the last moment, he remembered to pick up some groceries in the vain hope that it would keep Joey inside the house.
Mick fumbled in his pocket for his key, while he tried to balance the flimsy paper bag with his other arm. It was a while before he could find the key, and even longer before he could insert it in the lock. That was when the door slowly swung open. A shiver went down his spine. The door shouldn’t be unlocked. Something was wrong.
Though Mick couldn’t hear anything from inside the house, the silence felt ominous. Shouldn’t there have been loud music playing? If Joey and Jessica really were there, surely they would be laughing and talking?
Mick dropped the groceries to the floor, and cautiously peered through the open door. He couldn’t hear or see anything alarming, but now that all his senses were on the alert, he could detect other subtle signs. Of course, an unlocked door and a silent house were reason enough to feel concerned. Especially now.
He wouldn’t learn anything more, standing out here, so he decided to venture inside. Slowly, cautiously, staying close to the wall at all times, he stepped into the living room. Still, nothing. But Mick knew something wasn’t right. Where was Joey? And their client?
Too late, Mick was beginning to question the wisdom of ever having left those two young fools on their own. Naturally, Joey couldn’t be trusted to handle a job of this magnitude.
The kitchen, too, was empty, and so was the guest room. Filled with misgivings, Mick checked into Joey’s room as well. But nothing out of the ordinary could be detected. Not having much hope of finding anything by now, he decided to take a brief look into his own room, before figuring out his next move.
That was when he felt a hard object press into the small of his back.
“No sudden moves, mr Barrett. Turn around, slowly, and keep your hands where I can see them.”
Mick knew he had no choice but to do as he was told. No gun. Ever since he’d been forced to give up his career, he’d been in two minds about guns. He missed the security carrying one around gave you. On the other hand, he knew that there were times that it could lull you into a false sense of security. At this moment, he wasn’t even sure if being armed would have helped him or not.
The man who was pointing a gun at him didn’t look familiar though he knew the type well enough. Typical gun-for-hire. Mick opened his mouth to demand an explanation from the intruder, but decided to wait and let the guy speak first. With or without a gun, that was often the smartest move.
“I think we’ll go for a ride, mr Barrett. So we can talk in peace and quiet.”
“Talk about what?”
“Ah. You wouldn’t want me to spoil the surprise, would you? I do the asking here.”
And the guy waved Mick along. A loaded gun in his face. Mick didn’t like the odds, so he decided to toe the line for the moment. He had to figure out if the guy had Joey and Jessica and if not, where those kids could be at.
Mick was forced into a large, black van that was driven around the corner as soon as he and his abductor stepped outside. Once inside the van, Mick was knocked unconscious and thus had no way of guessing how far he was taken. He also got no glimpse of the place he was being kept in. When he came to, his head was pounding like mad, and his wrists hurt too. That could only be because he was cuffed and chained to the wall. Great. And there was still no sign of the kids.
Mick was beginning to see that he was in over his head. The man hunting for Jessica would stop at nothing to gain his objective. A cold hand clutched at Mick’s heart. What if the kids were already dead and he had been abducted so that no one would sound the alarm until some steps or other had been taken? Like the removal of two bodies.
No. That was no way to be thinking. The problem was, thinking was hard, when your head hurt and you had trouble focusing. That blow had been severe. Either that meant that the guy wasn’t such a professional as Mick had believed, or else that the recovery of the prisoner was of no great importance.
Again, Mick forced his thoughts away from the negative thinking. If he was to be of any help to Joey, he had to get a grip. But whether he did or not, the cuffs held him securely, and the chain didn’t seem to be about to break either. For the moment, Mick was forced to accept that he was helpless and unless any of the variables of his problem were changed, there was nothing he could do.
Jessica was getting restless. Being cooped up in a house all day in this tropical paradise wasn’t her idea of fun. Of course she was aware of the danger she was in, but surely if Joey accompanied her, a walk down to the beach wouldn’t do any harm? She was rapidly getting bored with MTV, and though Joey did his best to cheer her up, it didn’t help much.
So Joey had a sudden inspiration. Why shouldn’t he show her his special, secret beach and teach her about surfing? Whenever he got bored, surfing cured that surely and efficiently.
The suggestion thrilled Jessica and soon they were changed into wetsuits and were on their way. Forgotten were the dangers Jessica was facing. Visions of waves and sky filled their minds.
It was hours before Joey’s conscience struck him and he remembered that his brother would most likely be home by now, swearing over his younger brother’s irresponsible behavior. That wasn’t what Joey had planned. He had wanted to impress Mick with his skills, not disappoint him.
“Jessica? Do you think we could go back now? Mick will be waiting for us and I – I really shouldn’t have taken you out of the house. What if those men had found you?”
“Oh. I’d almost managed to forget about them for a while. Of course we should go back. I think your brother is terrific.”
Half an hour later, Joey and Jessica arrived outside the house. They entered through the patio door, so it was a while before Joey noticed that the front door was standing open.
“Mick? Sorry about that. I just wanted to show Jessica my special beach and – Mick?”
“He isn’t here?”
“No. That’s odd. He said he’d be home early. I’d better call the office.”
But there was no reply, and Joey was getting a feeling something was wrong. Badly wrong. And he couldn’t help feeling that he was to blame. If he hadn’t taken Jessica out of the house – He didn’t quite see how their absence could have anything to do with Mick’s, but somehow there was a connection, he was sure of it.
As soon as he hung up, the phone started ringing and Joey picked up again, relieved that Mick was getting in touch. But Joey’s smile froze on his lips as he listened to the voice at the other end of the line. Not Mick. Mick. If anything happened to his big brother, Joey wouldn’t know how to go on.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I have someone you know well here. And I think you have someone I would like to see. What do you say we make a trade? You get your brother back and I get to make the acquaintance of your lovely guest?”
“I – If you hurt Mick, I’ll -“
“You can’t do this. Anyway, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s just me here. Let me speak to my brother.”
“Mr Barrett, you disappoint me. I expected more from you, I really did. People here tell me how close you and your brother are. But I suppose people never really know. I’ll give you one last chance. Bring your guest to Vicente’s tonight, before midnight. If you don’t deliver, you’d better start making plans for the funeral.”
But all the response Joey got was a very final click on the other end of the line. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t turn over Jessica, but on the other hand, he couldn’t let Mick die either. Vicente’s. The name didn’t sound familiar, and Joey was feeling close to panic. How could he find Mick if he didn’t even know where to make contact with his abductors?
“Was that – them?”
“Yes. They’ve got Mick and they want me to trade you for him. Wait, I wouldn’t do that. But I have to get Mick back. Jessica, I think you need to go away from here. I’ll call a friend of mine and I’m sure she’ll let you stay at her place. But I don’t know how to find Mick.”
“Where were you supposed to turn me over to them?”
“A place he called Vicente’s. But I’ve never heard of that.”
Jessica was now standing right next to Joey looking down on Mick’s desk. She picked up a phone book and began to look through the yellow pages.
“There. Wholesale dealers. Out on -“
“Let me see that. Oh, thanks. I guess I wasn’t thinking straight. Right. I’ll drop you off at Suzanne’s place then I’ll take a look.”
“Don’t you want me to come with you?”
“No. I need to know that you’re safe. Come on. Let’s go. It’s only about 8 but I’d better stake out that place long before midnight, which was my deadline.”
As soon as the word was out of Joey’s mouth he realized what he had just said. Dead. Mick just couldn’t end up dead. He wouldn’t accept that. Somehow, he’d make sure his brother was safe. No matter what it took.
Like he suspected, neither Suzanne nor Jessica was too thrilled about becoming temporary room mates. Suzanne’s cat, Oscar, was the least thrilled of all. But Joey couldn’t really worry about that for the time being. The girls would have to make the best of it, and Oscar too.
Joey still didn’t have a clue how he would manage to buy his brother’s life without the currency demanded in exchange for it, but he was determined to try anyway. He knew Mick would do the same for him, and much better too.
Vicente’s turned out to be a large, flat, sprawled out building, that had a look of the 70’s to it. It didn’t seem to have been maintained at all since those days. There was an air of decay about it. But if Mick was being held inside it, Joey would find him and get him out of there.
Taking up a position across the street, Joey tried to remain inconspicuous while he scouted out the place. This, at least, he had learned from his brother, and Joey hoped that his skills would be enough.
There was no activity anywhere. The place looked abandoned, and dead. As soon as the thought was finished, Joey felt his breath catch in his throat. No. Not dead. Not if his brother was in there. Then the place had better be more alive than it looked.
With a feeling of urgency, Joey rashly decided to give up his stakeout and go and find a way inside. The time for caution was over. Mick might be able to sit around quietly planning the best move. Joey couldn’t. He didn’t have the training or the temperament for it.
Making his way around the back to find a less conspicuous point of entry than the front door, Joey detected no traces of activity anywhere, no sign of having been observed. Either this was the wrong place after all, or else the men in there weren’t as many or as expert as he thought.
There was a third possibility that Mick would have been able to call his attention to. He might simply have been observed, but having been determined not to pose any threat, they might have chosen to let him step into a trap of their making. But that never occurred to Joey as he congratulated himself on his stealth and superior investigative skills.
Darkness was beginning to fall, and Joey didn’t give the possibility of being seen any thought. His main focus was finding a way inside, and once there, discovering his brother’s whereabouts. If Mick wasn’t inside this compound, there had to be someone there who would know.
Gaining entry to the building proved easier than Joey had anticipated. A door was standing slightly open. Closer inspection revealed that one of the hinges had fallen off. Not surprisingly, the windows facing the back were broken, and the wall was covered in graffiti. And not the decorative kind either.
Inside, there was no sign of any recent occupation. Joey was beginning to fear he had been tricked into coming here. What if the hitmen were already over at Suzanne’s place? Too late to back down now. If he didn’t find Mick now, would he ever see him again?
Room after room proved to be empty, with no traces of anyone having passed through them recently. Joey found his way to a large storage room. This too, was mostly empty. A few broken packing crates, that was more or less all. Suddenly, he heard a slight noise from behind and he was about to turn around, but he was frozen to the spot when he heard an amused voice disillusioning him about his supposed investigative skills.
“There you are, mr Barrett. But you’re alone. That was not the agreement. I’m afraid that was your second mistake.”
Second mistake? As if the man had read his mind, he continued.
“Your first mistake was coming here alone and unarmed. Because I’m assuming you are. Well, well. What do we do now? As I see it, we have the following options: I could persuade you to reveal miss Norton’s whereabouts. And believe me, mr Barrett, I have ways of making you talk. Furthermore, I could save myself some trouble and make you and your brother disappear. Or -“
Joey hated how brittle his voice sounded and the way it nearly broke. He had to get a grip. He was in bad trouble, but if he allowed his fear to show, things would only get worse. By holding on to some shreds of dignity, Joey was hoping he would be able to put off the onset of panic a while longer.
“All in good time. Turn around slowly. Let’s take a look at you.”
Acutely aware of his disadvantage, while silently cursing his own stupidity, Joey slowly turned around. He didn’t like to think about it, but the man behind him scared him. Being held at gunpoint would account for that, but there was also something about the voice that gave him a really bad feeling.
“Just as I thought. Very nice. The devoted little brother to the rescue. Pity you’re not even as good as he is. On the other hand, you might have other assets. Yes. I like what I see. So what will it be, mr Barrett? Your brother’s life or that meddling, tiresome bitch who can’t leave well enough alone?”
Joey tried desperately to think of something to stall the gunman, or – If he’d been Mick he might have disarmed him with a well-aimed karate kick. But like the man had so correctly assessed, he wasn’t nearly as good as his brother.
No matter how hard he tried, he was unable to come up with any idea that might help. Turning Jessica over to this man was unthinkable, but how could he let Mick die? It was an impossible choice and the man facing him knew that and was even enjoying some kind of private joke at his expense because of this knowledge.
“Mr Barrett? We don’t have all night. Charming as your company is, I think we need to come to a decision. Miss Norton? Or your brother? No? So how about this? You make me another offer, and I promise I’ll consider it. And don’t bother threatening me with the police. You and I both know they’re never going to get here in time to be of any help to you. Well?”
“I don’t know what you expect me to say.”
It was no use. Joey knew the man was just playing with him, and in the end, nothing he said or did could stop this man from doing whatever he had planned to do. A dull, leaden feeling of defeat filled Joey, and all the determination seeped out of him.
“No, I can see that you don’t. Alright. Listen to this. I’ve been hired to bring your guest in. My employer wishes to – Anyway, I didn’t find her, so I get your brother instead. Now my choices are two: I can make you tell me where miss Norton is, by using a bit of persuasion on you – or your brother. Or – and this is where it gets interesting, and I suggest you listen carefully – you can offer me something in exchange for Miss Norton. If you do, and the offer is good enough, you and your brother can go, and my employer will have to look elsewhere for help in bringing Miss Norton in. Do we understand each other?”
“I think so. But I don’t have any money. Neither does Mick.”
The man laughed easily. It appeared he felt completely in charge of the situation, and he could allow himself not only to appear relaxed, he could even enjoy himself at Joey’s expense.
“Yes, I had already surmised as much. But money isn’t everything. The question is, what would you be prepared to give me in exchange for your brother’s life?”
Something was going on, and whatever it was, Joey didn’t have a clue about it, but he could feel an undercurrent of something in the man’s voice. As if he already had a good idea of what it was he wanted. Not Jessica, apparently, though Mancini obviously had been prepared to pay well for her.
“You still don’t see. I don’t have time for this. Maybe I should make it easy on myself and get rid of you and your brother. I’ll find the girl easily enough. Unless -“
“I don’t know what it is you want, but if you just let Mick go, you can have it.”
Whatever it was. Mick’s life was more important, after all.
“I was hoping you’d say that. Turn around again. Slowly. You’ll find out soon enough what it is I want from you.”
When Joey didn’t appear to be too inclined to follow the instructions, the man impatiently raised the gun again. For a second, Joey didn’t know what to do, then his common sense reasserted itself. If he tried to do something rash now, he’d die, and he wouldn’t be any good to Mick dead. Despondently, he did as he was told.
When he heard the click from the handcuffs snapping shut around his wrists, he’d already felt the cold metal on his skin.
“That’s better. On your knees, mr Barrett. I said, on your knees. Let’s not take any chances. If you try anything, I’ll be forced to shoot you and then we all lose. Very good. Alright. Then we can begin. “
To Joey’s astonishment, the man now moved one hand down to his crotch and began to unzip his fly. For a second, Joey thought the gunman was going to relieve himself, right there inside the warehouse. Then the truth dawned on him. But he still couldn’t believe he was being asked to – No, ordered to – His big brown eyes gazed pleadingly at the man above him, hoping against all hope that he might talk his way out of the situation that was rapidly escalating beyond his worst nightmare.
“I can’t -“
“Oh, but I think you can.”
And to emphasize the unspoken threat, the man pressed the barrel of his gun to Joey’s temple. The sound of the safety being released made Joey’s heart skip a beat, but there was no bullet fired. No sharp, searing pain. Just the cool metal pressing into his head. And –
“Just remember. One minute after you die, your brother joins you.”
There really wasn’t any choice. Not that there had ever been. Mick’s life came before his own comfort. Though he had never imagined he’d end up in this situation, Joey did what was demanded of him, even though he didn’t think he could. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done. And while it lasted, the same taunting phrase kept repeating itself over and over again, like a broken vinyl record. There’s no guarantee he’ll let you live.
But for some reason he did. While Joey was bent over, coughing and retching, his back to Mick’s abductor, he heard the sound of metal clinking on the concrete floor. When he finally felt able to open his eyes and take a look around, he was alone. On the floor in front of him, within reach, he saw a small key, and a larger one.
Why had the man bothered keeping his word? There was no reason why he should. Maybe it amused him to leave both brothers alive after what he’d done to one of them. Assuming Mick was still safe. Joey wouldn’t put anything past his tormentor. Maybe his brother’s dead body awaited him behind the door to which the larger key led. And it would all have been for nothing.
He had no idea how long it took for him to regain control of himself. From time to time, he was shaken by new fits of vomiting. Eventually, the nausea subsided. He felt empty, and unclean. This was worse than anything he could ever have imagined. Anything but losing his brother. If Mick was still alive then it would have been worth it, even if he never felt the same again.
It took a while to be able to get hold of the keys, while staying out of the pools of vomit. He wasn’t quite successful, but at that point he had stopped caring about any minor details like that. After some fiddling with the locks, he was able to unlock the cuffs and throw them off.
Rubbing some life back into his numb wrists, Joey tried not to think about what he’d tell Mick when he saw the marks the cuffs had left. The top he wore had no sleeves and there was no way he could hide the red lines circling his wrists, but what difference did it make? He had to find Mick, not sit here making up excuses to rest.
He was glad to leave the warehouse behind. Without looking back, he resumed his search for his brother. If that sicko was still around, there was nothing he could do about it, but since the guy had left the keys, Joey assumed he was safe. Safe? He didn’t feel safe, but he could feel sorry for himself later.
In one of the rooms that he could have sworn he’d looked in before, he found his brother, cuffed and chained to the wall. When he heard the door open, Mick looked up and caught sight of his brother.
“Joey? I thought I’d never see you again. Are you ok?”
But it was pretty clear right from the start that Joey wasn’t ok. He wasn’t dead, as Mick had begun to fear, all along, but something wasn’t right about him.
“Joey, what’s wrong?”
The concern in Mick’s voice almost made the pent up emotion inside Joey come flooding out, but he forced himself to walk closer, to uncuff his brother from the wall, to make sure he was ok. It seemed he was. Mick struggled to his feet and pulled his brother into a hard embrace. To his distress, Joey tensed up and pulled away.
“Let’s go. We have to make sure Jessica’s ok. That man said -“
Joey’s voice sounded a bit shaky, and again Mick wondered what had happened in the relatively short time since they’d last met. Was it only this morning?
But his brother wouldn’t talk to him or face him, so Mick hurried after him, filled with misgivings. Since it was clear that Joey wouldn’t answer any questions about himself, Mick decided they might as well finish the job they’ve tried to do.
“Where is Jessica?”
“Oh. What happened? Where were you?”
At first, he didn’t think Joey would answer this question either. By now they were outside, and apparently heading for Joey’s car. Though shaken, and in some pain from the prolonged period of being handcuffed, Mick hadn’t lost all his cop’s instincts.
“Wait. Don’t touch it.”
Painfully, Mick got to his knees and checked underneath for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing. He looked through the window, and still saw nothing alarming.
“Alright. We can get in.”
Not until now did Mick notice Joey’s wrists. They looked the same his did. What could this mean? He had to have been cuffed as well, but why? Or rather how had he managed to get away? Something about the whole thing didn’t add up. All of which might help explain Joey’s strange behavior.
“Let me drive.”
There was no comment from Joey, he just dropped the car keys into his brother’s outstretched hand. But Mick didn’t start the car just yet. He couldn’t help glancing worriedly at his brother. In all the time he’d known the kid, with a few significant exceptions, Joey had never looked this stricken. Jessica was still ok. So was he. That couldn’t be the explanation.
“Mick? I’m sorry.”
“For what? Getting me out of there alive?”
“If it hadn’t been for me, you wouldn’t have been in there in the first place.”
“Alright. Let’s take this slowly. Where were you? I got back from work with the groceries and you and Jessica weren’t there.”
“We went surfing.”
Of course. He should have guessed. Joey felt guilty over letting him down. But if the kids had been in the house they would have been abducted at gunpoint. Unless Joey had tried to do something foolish, to impress Jessica. In which case he might have ended up injured or worse.
“I see. That’s ok, Joey.”
“You forgive me?”
Joey’s eyes looked as if they were brimming with tears. Why? This was a kid who never listened to reason, never apologized, never even saw that some of his behavior might be foolish and even dangerous. Mick had a very bad feeling about the whole thing. There was something he wasn’t seeing, and it bothered him.
Joey looked physically unharmed, except for the cuffmarks on his wrists. But his face looked – as if he’d been puking his guts out. Had that man beaten Joey? Was he suffering from concussion or internal injuries? But Mick’s concern for his brother’s physical well-being had to take second place to easing his mind.
“Of course I forgive you. It’s ok.”
But looking at Joey, Mick had the bewildering feeling that things were far from ok. Now he really needed to know what was wrong. Again, he reached for his brother, this time to check on his head, and abdomen. This time too, he was startled and shocked by Joey’s violent reaction. His brother recoiled from the gentle touch and stared wildly at Mick, as if he was the enemy.
“Joey. What did he do to you? Please, let me take a look. Did he hit your over the head? Or somewhere else? It’s important. Do you feel dizzy or faint? Or sick?”
“I’m not hurt. Let’s go.”
“Joey, I can see that something is wrong and we’re not going anywhere until you tell me what it is.”
To Mick’s shock and disbelief, his brother, his cocky, self-assured little brother, burst into tears. Though he didn’t have much hope of success this time, Mick put an arm around Joey’s shoulder and held him while the sobbing shook him. Whatever it was, it could wait. If Joey said he wasn’t hurt, Mick would have to take his word for it. And the kid didn’t look injured as much as in shock.
Finally, Joey pulled back, still looking as distraught as ever, but calmer now.
Something had occurred to Mick when he realized that his brother had been violently sick not long ago. Would Joey be willing to talk about his experience? There was only one way to find out.
“Joey. Whatever you tell me, I’ll understand. Did you – Is that guy dead?”
The incredulity in Joey’s voice proved to Mick that his guess had been wrong. Then what – But at least Joey was talking now.
“How could I have managed that? He had a gun. I had to do whatever he told me. There was nothing I could do.”
Had to do whatever he told me. Nothing I could do. What did this mean? Could it – Suddenly, the pieces fell into place. The sick bastard. Mick had felt there was something wrong about the way those eyes had travelled across his body. The way the hands had lingered on his skin longer than necessary to make sure he was securely fastened to the wall. And that pervert had – Mick wanted to kill him. Not just nail the creep. Kill him with his own hands.
“Of course not. I understand.”
Mick had never in his life felt this helpless. Not even when his partner had died. What could he do to help? Would anything he did be enough to make Joey feel better? And he still didn’t know how far this thing had gone. Not sure of how he would go about asking, Mick still felt he had to know. There was a world of difference between –
“Are you hurt? The truth this time. No secrets between us, please. Whatever you tell me won’t change the way I -“
Here Mick’s own voice broke. How in the world did you discuss something like this?
“No. I’m not hurt and I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just go.”
Mick was close to tears himself, and all he could think about was the tremendous sacrifice his little brother had made for him. This wasn’t right. It should never have happened. He should never have allowed Joey to get involved. This wasn’t little league stuff.
“You should have let him kill me.”
“What? I can’t believe you’re saying this. What would I do without you? Please, Mick, let’s just go. If you care about me, don’t mention this again. Ever.”
Mick wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, but at the moment, he felt strangely numb. Without thinking, he turned the key in the ignition and drove off. When they were nearly outside their own place, Mick remembered their client. Jessica. This case had gone terribly wrong, and it was clear that it was beyond their capabilities.
Not for the first time, Mick wished he had had the strength to break that to Jessica, when she’d come to his office, pleading for his help. This was a case for the police, not amateurs, no matter how skilled he had used to be. He simply didn’t have the resources for the kind of round-the-clock protection this would require.
Bitterly, he went on blaming himself for his error of judgment for the remainder of their drive home. If he had turned Jessica down, then none of this would have happened to Joey. This was all his fault. What a fool he was.
“What about Jessica?”
“I’ll handle it. Just get inside.”
“It’s ok. She’ll be safe.”
Once inside, Mick insisted that Joey lie down on his bed. Maybe he didn’t have concussion or any internal injuries, but the shock and the nausea must be bad enough. Not surprisingly, Joey refused, instead disappearing into the bathroom. Mick wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing. Maybe he ought to insist on taking his brother to see his doctor. But he couldn’t make up his mind. He was feeling tired and old. Besides, he had to make sure his client was ok.
Half an hour later, Mick had turned the case over to the proper authority, and with a sense of relief, he turned his mind away from Jessica Norton. His brother was a higher priority. Where was Joey anyway?
“Joey? Are you done yet? Please come out.”
To his relief, it wasn’t long until his brother did emerged from the bathroom. He didn’t look a whole lot better, but at least he was still alive and safe. Mick tried unsuccessfully to speak to his brother, but since he wasn’t having any luck, he let Joey go to bed. Maybe some sleep would help.
A few days went by. Mick was anxiously watching Joey, but his brother did his best to avoid him. No information came to light about the gunman who had abducted them both.
Then one night, one of Mick’s friends called. It was around 1 a m, but Mick wasn’t asleep. Day and night, he was contemplating his revenge. A thousand times during the sleepless nights, he had the pervert on his knees, a gun pressed to his head. And when he pressed the trigger – In slow motion he watched his enemy’s brains splatter all over the floor. No punishment was too harsh for what this sick bastard had done to Mick’s little brother.
“Yeah? Do you have something for me?”
“Try the motel on Arden.”
“Ok, thanks, I owe you, man.”
“Yes, you do. I’ll get back to you.”
Fine. Whatever. All Mick cared about was nailing the creep who had hurt Joey. With a bit of luck, Joey would be asleep. There wasn’t a sound from his room, and Mick hoped the kid would be sleeping. That would save him the awkwardness of having to explain where he was going at this hour.
As he passed Joey’s door, Mick glanced briefly inside. Not a sound, no movement. Good. Out by the front door, he again wished he’d had his own gun. Or not. He was still trying to decide whether he missed the reassuring weight of his service weapon, when Joey’s voice pulled him out of his brooding.
“Where are you going? Is anything wrong?”
“No. Just something I need to pick up at the office. I forgot to bring the paperwork with me and I thought I’d just go over and get it. Go back to sleep.”
There was a brief pause, during which Mick realized that Joey had never been asleep in the first place, then the reply came, in a voice that was so utterly unlike what it used to be, even four or five days ago. A look of pain passed over Mick’s face. Soon. Soon, it would be payback time.
“I’ll lock the door. Don’t open it to anyone, ok?”
“I’m not a baby. Or an idiot either. Just go get that paperwork.”
Now he had hurt Joey’s feelings on top of everything else, but there was nothing he could do about that now. Just get this over with. Maybe then things would get back to normal, though Mick didn’t have any illusions about that. How could anything ever be the same? But he had a job to do, and he would do it. When it was done, he’d have to figure out some way of dealing with Joey’s trauma.
Parking his car outside the motel, Mick had a momentary flashback. How many times had he been staking out seedy motels in the past, while he was still on the force? All that was missing was the cup of stale coffee, the rancid remains of junk food, and – far worse – his gun.
He should have had Willie provide one for him, but that would have put him even more in that slimly lowlife’s debt and this was quite bad enough. Besides, carrying a gun which he didn’t have a license for, one that most likely was hot, would take him too far beyond the boundaries of the law.
Now Mick wished he had thought to ask Willie for the creep’s room number, but fortunately he had done this before. A couple of twenties got the zitfaced guy really talkative. Five minutes later, Mick was quietly making his way around the back of the low, barracks-like building. Great decade, the 70’s. Lovely architecture, lovely interior decoration, not to mention the clothes.
Just as he was about to force his way through the window, he heard a meaningful cough from behind. With a sinking feeling, Mick turned around. If this was Mancini’s hitman, this was it. He’d be lucky if the jerk killed him. After what he did to Joey, Mick didn’t have any illusions about his own safety.
That voice. It sounded familiar. Mick to the risk of turning around. Yes. Familiar was the word. One of the local cops. The guy wasn’t exactly hostile, but he did like to check up on his former colleague. Maybe he didn’t even mean to bring it home to Mick that he, Mark Harland, was still a cop, and Mick wasn’t, it just felt that way.
“Ok, what are you doing here?”
“I could say the same thing to you. And this badge says I get to ask first.”
“I came here looking for -“
“Brandon McCrae, one of Mancini’s hired guns. I know. The one who was sent to get miss Norton. I’m here on legitimate business. What are you up to?”
“The bastard took me away at gunpoint. Threatened my family. Made a fool out of me. I want to be in at the end. When he’s taken in.”
“I said, ok. Fair enough. Just stay in the background. This is my case.”
“Fine. Whatever you say.”
Mick would say anything, as long as Harland let him tag along. At the right moment, he’d –
McCrae couldn’t be one of Mancini’s best men, or maybe he was too sure of himself. He almost let himself be taken unawares, but at the last moment, Harland tripped and fell over some junk, which on closer inspection turned out to be a suitcase. The gunman fled through the bathroom window.
But Mick had been prepared for something like that. He ran outside, following the lowlife closely. When they got to the corner of the building, McCrae turned around, raising his arm. The moonlight caught the dull metal of his gun and Mick ducked. One second later, the bullet hit the wall behind him. But he wouldn’t let this scum get away. McCrae didn’t see that coming, and Mick hit him hard at the back of his knees, causing the gunman to hit the ground, knocking the wind out of him.
When he got his wind back, Mick had already taken his gun away. McCrae managed to get to his knees, but before he could stand up, Mick pressed the gun to the back of his head.
Seemingly undeterred, the gunman turned his head slightly and looked up. Unbelievably, the creep was laughing right in Mick’s face.
“Mr Barrett sr. So we meet again. And now I can see the resemblance. Really hot.”
Mick shoved the barrel of the gun harder against the base of the man’s skull, but still failing to penetrate the pervert’s defenses.
“You know what? You really ought to get him to do you some time. He did great for a beginner.”
Cold rage filled Mick, making it hard to think. Now. The moment had come. Still he hesitated, and the taunting voice never stopped.
“What’s the matter? I can tell you’re dying to give it to me. So why don’t you? Go ahead. Pull the trigger.”
With shaking hands, Mick prepared to do what the sick bastard was asking him. Why not? If anyone deserved to die, it was this guy, grovelling at his feet. Still, he held back. And suddenly, the bitter taste of defeat filled him. No. If he did, it would change him forever. Tears filled his eyes, and he knew he couldn’t go through with it. He heard someone calling to him, as if from far away, but he wasn’t listening.
“No. I’ll leave that kind of thing to Mancini. Let filth deal with filth.”
Now a panting and puffing Harland caught up to him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? He’s mine. Give me that gun. Move over.”
Wordlessly, Mick did as he was told. Once again, he’d failed. Joey, and himself.
“Thanks. You can take it from here, right?”
“Sure. I’ll call it in.”
The rest of Harland’s words were drowned out in Mick’s orgy of self-recrimination. It was over. He’d failed, but it was still over. Now he had to get back to Joey. To watch over him so nothing more could happen to him.
When he got in, the lights were out, so Mick assumed that Joey would finally have dozed off, but when he walked in, weary to the bone, the light went on at the table in front of the tv.
“You’re still up.”
“What’s wrong, Mick? And don’t give me that crap about paperwork. You’re hiding something from me. Why are you doing that? I made a mistake, and I paid for it, but at least I got you out alive. Does that make me a child or an idiot?
Now Joey noticed the state his brother was in, and he got up to meet him, subjecting him to an anxious scrutiny. To Joey’s shock and alarm, Mick appeared to be close to tears, in fact, Joey wouldn’t be surprised if his brother had already been crying.
Without a word, he pulled Mick into a hard embrace, like he hadn’t done since he was a child. For a long time, the brothers didn’t say anything. It was enough to know they were both safe, no matter what memories would haunt them in the sleepless nights.
“I’m sorry, Joey.”
“For everything. Getting you into this mess. And tonight – I had him. Held his life in my hands. I could have blown his brains out. But I didn’t.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because if I had, I wouldn’t have been me anymore. But I let you down.”
“No, you didn’t. I let you down. When I took Jessica to the beach – “
“I’m glad you did. If you’d been there when he showed up -“
“Mick, it’s ok. Really. I wouldn’t want you to do something that you don’t want to do. And if you had killed him, you would have been just as bad as – the bad guys.”
“But he hurt you.”
“If I had to do it again, I would. Nothing is more important to me than your life. I may not show it all the time, but I love you, Mick.”
“I love you too, Joey. That’s why -“
“No. Please. Let’s forget about it.”
Swallowing hard, Mick nodded. He didn’t trust his voice right now. Maybe Joey was right. Talk wouldn’t change anything. What had happened, had happened. There was no going back. And though Mick didn’t want to dwell on it, he knew that far worse could have happened to Joey. He’d worked as a cop long enough to know that. Holding on to his brother, Mick forced himself to let go of the past. Now was more important. He’d find a way of making it up to Joey somehow.