|Primary Characters:||Mick, Joey|
|Description:||Mick meets the woman of his dreams. So does Joey. But there’s more to the situation than meets the eye. And Mick’s ex-girlfriend from high school shows up with a son who looks just like Mick. What’s the story behind that?|
Mick didn’t like this job at all, though it was simple enough in itself. He’d been picked as the one to hand over the ransom money in a kidnap case. The local police was involved so finding and apprehending the kidnapper would be their job. His part in the case was minor, but the lady who was paying to get her son back, had wanted the private investigator she’d hired, to make the delivery. He could understand her point of view. A woman her age – a woman of any age – would be far more conspicuous in the place he was now heading for.
What he didn’t like about it was the fact that he’d be posing as a gay man going into a gay bar. Maybe he was being childish. He wasn’t a decoy trying to pick up a suspected serial killer. All he had to do was sit down, have a drink, pretend to either study the strippers or the other men in the bar, not as if he was contemplating arresting them, but as if he was considering which one would make a good lover.
As a cop, he’d raided places like this in the past. Looking for drugs or escaped felons. Occasionally, he’d gone in to subdue queer bashers, but this was the first time he’d have to go in as a customer. How did you dress if you were gay? Mick didn’t have a clue except some vague idea that gay men usually dressed in more fancy clothes and probably cared a bit more about their hairdos. There wasn’t much he could do about his hair and the clothes – no way he was going to splash out on some fancy suit just so he could hand over a small package. Not even that. He was just supposed to have a drink and ‘forget’ the package, then leave. How hard could that be?
Anyway, there had to be gay men who dressed as casually as he did. If not, tough. He had tried to explain to his employer that he might look a bit too much like a cop, but she had waved away his protests. And who else would she ask? Her only son – a gay man – had been abducted by a former lover. As far as Mick knew, there was no one else she could ask.
So here he was. He felt as if every eye was on him as he walked in. Would they see ‘cop’ written all over him? Worse, would someone want to pick him up? As it happened, he seemed to have overreacted. No one challenged him, no one came up to him and asked any awkward questions. The only one who asked any question at all was the bartender and he only wanted to know what he was having.
“Just a beer.”
He was hoping that was ok, because there was no way he was going to order one of those little fancy drinks with an umbrella that some of his dates favored.
What Mick didn’t know was that there actually were two people who were watching him with a great deal of interest. One of them was sitting at a table in an out of the way corner. She was an elegant woman in her mid to late thirties. Her clothes, her hair, her makeup, her jewelry – everything seemed to claim she didn’t belong in a bar like this. There wasn’t even any indication that ‘she’ was really a ‘he’. Despite that, no one was paying much attention to her. If she was here for the music, so what? This wasn’t the kind of environment where men would pay attention to women.
Mick picked up his glass and went looking for the table that his contact had specified.
In the meantime, Joey was wondering what the heck Mick was doing going into a bar at this time of day. Something about the bar seemed to be a little odd as well, but it was a while until he realized what it was. He’d been in town to pick up a few things he’d ordered and just when he was thinking about getting a nice cold beer, he’d spotted his brother going into a bar. Mick looked as if he didn’t want to be recognized. Could he be working on a case? If so, it wasn’t one he’d confided in his brother about. Since he wanted a beer anyway, Joey decided to come along and ask Mick what it was all about.
Joey attracted as many appreciative stares as Mick had only minutes earlier, but at first he didn’t notice. Instead, his eyes were searching the bar for his brother. There he was. But first things first.
“What are you having?”
“There you go.”
The music called Joey’s attention to the strippers and suddenly he realized where he was. If he hadn’t already paid for his drink, he would have left right away, but he still hadn’t found out what Mick was doing here. Mick couldn’t be – Nah. Not Mick.
So it had to be some case he was working on. Why not go over and have a bit of a laugh at him? Joey occasionally enjoyed having the advantage over Mick. It wasn’t often he got a chance to enjoy a little joke at his older brother’s expense, but when it happened, it was sweet.
“Hey, Mick. Fancy meeting you here.”
Oh, no. Joey. Why did he have to stumble into this particular case? If they created a disturbance now, the drop most likely wouldn’t take place and he’d be forced to return to the distraught mother and explain why he’d failed at such a simple job as this.
“Joey. Sit down.”
“Ok. Cheers, bro.”
“Would you keep it down?”
“I’m doing a job and your being here could jeopardize it.”
“Oh, sorry. Want me to leave again?”
“No. Just sit down and have your beer and pretend to be having a conversation with me. That way we won’t call attention to ourselves.”
Just then, one of the customers walked over to Mick’s table and caught his eye. Not knowing if this was the contact, or not, Mick forced himself to play along.
“I haven’t seen you here before. Neither one of you. Newcomers?”
“Yep, pretty much.”
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Thanks but I’m fine.”
“What about you?”
The guy stared at Joey in a way that made him feel uneasy. Last summer was a long time ago, but he still had nightmares about what he’d been forced to do another time he’d stumbled into one of Mick’s cases.
The guy looked at Joey, then at Mick and then back at Joey again and seemed to come to some kind of conclusion.
“Right. Sorry I bothered you. I didn’t realize you two were an item.”
Joey’s face was suffused with a hot, brick red color and he wanted to tell that creep that of course he and Mick weren’t – when he recalled that Mick was on a case and he couldn’t risk ruining it. So he wisely kept his mouth shut, leaving it to Mick to think of a reply. Just out of curiosity, he wondered how Mick was going to handle that.
“Ah, yes. How observant of you. Joey and I are – Well, no harm done. Thanks anyway.”
“What a shame. I’ll be seeing you around, though, right? In case you change your mind.”
Mick didn’t know what to say, so he just tried smiling a little, hoping it didn’t look like a cop’s smile the second before he makes a bust.
“You see what happens when you stumble into my cases?”
“Yes, Mick, I’m sorry. What a creep.”
“I don’t know. From his point of view I guess it was a valid question. Pretend to look at the strippers.”
Mick didn’t want to dwell on what had just happened. What a piece of luck though, that he and Joey didn’t look too much alike. If they had, he would probably have ended up explaining a lot more. Like how he and his brother just happened to both be gay.
When this was over, he was going to turn down every case with even the slightest bit of gay connection. No, he didn’t mean that. A case was a case after all. No big deal. It was just that today he’d experienced one of the more embarrassing moments of his life. Still, like he’d said to the guy, no real harm done. Maybe this would teach Joey to stay out of his business.
“Would you look at that, Mick? Just like in – other places we’ve been.”
“What? Oh, the guy. Yeah. Who would have guessed? Well, to each their own. And anyway, seeing that you and I are supposed to be practically married, I think it would be ok for you to look away from them. If you’ve finished that beer, I also think it’s ok for us to leave. I’ll just do what I came here for and -”
With a great deal of relief, Mick got up and walked out of the bar, with Joey right behind him. The package was still on the chair next to the one he’d been sitting on. Mission accomplished.
Once outside, Mick began to feel guilty about teasing Joey in there. It was just that he really hated it when Joey got involved in one of his cases. That had really been brought home to him last summer when Joey had had to pay an unfairly high price to save his life. Mick still felt guilty about that and if there was anything he could do to repay Joey, he’d do it, without hesitation.
“When we get back, I’ll buy you another beer. I’m sorry I got mad at you in there. It’s just that -“
“I know. I’m sorry. Stupid of me to just barge in and nearly ruining the whole show. Well, now I guess we know what it’s like in one of those places.”
The woman who had been watching the two men from a distance, had enjoyed the show enormously. How interesting. That had to be the younger brother. She hadn’t thought she’d get to see him on the first day. Hm. That was an idea.
After the kidnap case – which turned out happily – Mick had a slow patch, and he decided to stick close to Joey, as a way of compensating him for the embarrassment in the gay bar. Another reason, which Mick didn’t even want to dwell on, was that last summer he’d had a bad scare. What if one of them got killed? If they didn’t spend time together, would the surviving one feel they had done enough to be brothers and friends? Finally, he also preferred to keep a close eye on Joey so nothing else would happen to him. If Joey suspected he had a babysitter, he never said so.
In fact, though Mick didn’t know it, Joey too had had a revelation last summer, when he nearly lost Mick. He knew they argued and had differences of opinion just like brothers usually do, but when he’d faced the possibility that Mick might be dead, he’d realized just how much he loved his big brother. So spending a day with his older brother didn’t feel like such a bad idea. They just hung out at the beach, resting in the sun, catching a few waves, having a few drinks, just kicking back.
Just as Mick was about to go and get them each another drink, he caught sight of a woman who looked familiar. When she came closer, he realized that his first impression had been right. It was his ex-girlfriend from so many years ago. She hadn’t changed much, in such a long time, or so it seemed to Mick.
“Mick? Well. How many years has it been?”
“I don’t know. It has to be – oh – nearly ten years.”
“More like twelve, I think. What are you doing here?”
“I’m sort of a private investigator.”
“Hey, Mick, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
“Oh. Yes. Sandra, this is my brother Joey. Joey, this is Sandra Hoffman.”
“Hello. Pleased to meet you.”
Joey looked the newcomer over. Wow. Mick had always had great taste in women.
“Sandra and I were dating in high school.”
“Don’t be so modest. You were my date to the prom. Remember, Mick?”
He remembered only too well. Not only the actual prom, but the night that had followed. Had it really been that long? Amazing.
“And this is my son, Aaron.”
Mick hadn’t even noticed the boy who was playing on the beach to Sandra’s right. Now that he heard his name mentioned, the kid walked over.
“Aaron, this is an old friend of mine – Mick Barrett. And Mick’s brother Joey. Now I remember you telling me about him. Little Joey.”
That didn’t appeal to Joey at all. Little Joey indeed. Maybe he didn’t like this Sandra quite as much as he’d thought he did. But of course, when Mick was in high school, he’d been a little guy, younger than this one, he thought. Sandra’s kid seemed to be about ten or so. Joey wasn’t that good at estimating kid’s ages. Kids didn’t really interest him.
Mick said hello, but Joey couldn’t help thinking that his brother was staring rather a lot at the kid. Now that he’d noticed, Joey too, took a good look. It was odd. That kid looked a whole lot like Mick in one of the old photos of him at the same age. Really odd. Surely – Nah. Mick wouldn’t have –
“Where are you staying?”
Sandra told him. Then she picked up her stuff and called for her son. Apparently, they had to get going.
“Will I see you again?”
“If you like. Come on, Aaron. We have to go now. You’ll have plenty of time to play on the beech.”
“Yes, ok. Do you have a gun, mr Barrett?”
Mick stared at the kid as if he was seeing him for the first time. No. No guns for him. Not since –
“No. Sorry to disappoint you. Private investigating isn’t like police work most of the time. We just stake out buildings and follow people around. Observe their movements. That sort of thing.”
“And take pictures of them? And hack into their computer systems?”
“Aaron. We have to go. You can ask Mick questions another time.”
“Nice to have met you. Both of you.”
Joey and Mick watched Sandra’s bikini-clad behind disappearing among the other sunbathers. For a while, they didn’t say anything. But Joey couldn’t help wondering –
“So what’s the deal with you and this Sandra?”
“We dated in high school. I told you that.”
“Yes. Details, bro.”
“Sorry, Joey. No can do.”
“No kiss and tell?”
“So you guys didn’t – do it?”
“Joey. I told you. No details.”
“But I can’t help wondering about that kid.”
“What about him?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice it too. He’s just like you. I’ve seen the pictures. When you were like ten or so. Amazing similarity.”
“Uh – yes. I couldn’t help noticing. It’s scary.”
“Aha. I knew you guys did it.”
“Like you didn’t ‘do it’ when you were in high school.”
“Ok, point taken.”
“In case you’re wondering. Sandra was my first.”
“Oh, really? And now she’s back in your life. How romantic.”
“Ok, that’s enough. Let’s leave my personal life out of this.”
“I didn’t realize there was a ‘this’.”
“You know what I mean. Back off, Joey. I need to think.”
“You need to figure out how long ago it was and how old Aaron is?”
“Give me a break. I think I’ll go back to the office now. See you tonight.”
Joey would remember that day as the day when Mick became mysterious and secretive all of a sudden. He naturally assumed that Mick was seeing more of Sandra than he was willing to admit. On the other hand, it wasn’t very long until Joey himself became very busy indeed so the time he spent wondering about his brother’s actions couldn’t be described as excessive. What he had no idea about, was that his brother had an unexpected encounter on the way to the office.
Mick fully intended to get to the bottom of his burning question about Sandra’s son’s paternity, but from the moment he ran into the person he met on the way to the office, he was distracted. It was a long time since he’d been able to take his mind off work, and when the opportunity presented itself, he took advantage of it. Unfortunately, he also lost touch with Joey.
When Mick began to work longer hours and spend less time at home, Joey went back to his normal schedule of surfing, kicking back, drinking beer and watching women. It was during one of those women watching sessions that he met the lady of his dreams. From then on, he was lost. Wherever Mick was, he couldn’t be bothered to even wonder anymore.
Mick wasn’t carried away to the point of entirely forgetting about his brother. One night he returned home to find an empty house, and a bed his brother couldn’t have slept in. It gave him an uneasy feeling. How many nights when he himself had come in late, or rather early in the morning, had Joey been missing like this? What was the kid up to? Though he was tired from working late, he decided to stay up and wait for Joey’s return. He had a long wait ahead of him. It wasn’t until well past dawn that Joey strolled in, a dreamy look in his eyes.
“Joey? Where have you been?”
“Who are you? Mom? I’m a big boy, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“I know that. But – coming home at this time – Can’t you see that it might make me a bit worried?”
“Yes, I see. I just didn’t think you’d be in. You haven’t exactly been at home much in the past couple of weeks, have you?”
“You’re right. I haven’t. I’m sorry, Joey. I’ve been busy at work and -”
“Yes, I should think so. Anyway, don’t be sorry. I’ve been busy too.”
“So where have you been? Not that I’m prying. You’re entitled to your personal life, just like me.”
“Ok. I’ve met a woman.”
“Really? That’s great. Anyone I know?”
“I don’t think so. She’s really something.”
“And you think that means I don’t know her?”
Mick couldn’t help grinning at Joey’s attitude. When wasn’t Joey head over heels in love? And the object of his affection was usually nothing more than a pretty face, to be forgotten the minute another pretty face showed up in his life. A face or a body. Joey couldn’t be said to be picky.
“Don’t be such an idiot. I just meant -”
“I know. Joey, I’m really happy for you.”
“Yeah? Me too. Linda’s fantastic. I’ve never met anyone like her.”
When he saw Joey trying to smother a yawn, Mick’s conscience struck him. His brother was tired. What right did he have to stand here questioning him, just because he’d had a scare when he found Joey’s room and bed empty?
“Go on. Go to bed. I’m sure you need your rest.”
Joey’s contented smile told Mick the rest. Yes, he would need his sleep alright. How young he was. But he wouldn’t have his brother any other way. What a relief he seemed to be putting last summer behind him. The resilience of youth. If only Mick could forget as easily. And he had more memories than those of last summer to suppress.
Mick watched Joey vanish into his room and that seemed to be that. It was the last time Mick came home to an empty house for some time. He spent his share of late nights, and it wasn’t only at the office. His lady was every bit as wonderful as Joey’s, or so he thought. It was nice to know that he hadn’t lost his ability to enjoy himself after all.
One afternoon, Mick felt especially tired after a night without any sleep at all, due to long hours of stakeout and after that, a visit to his lady, so he decided to leave the office early. Had he really come to the point where he’d be forced to take a nap during the day? He must be getting old. There were times when he looked at Joey and felt he was old, but usually that passed after some especially deflating case. It was good to be able to laugh at himself and his mistakes.
On his way back, he stopped to pick up a few things at the supermarket and on his way out, his arms full of the shopping, he caught sight of Joey. The kid was carrying a full bag of groceries, and he was – surely that couldn’t be right – was he really talking to Gwen? How had those two met? Mick hurriedly put away his own shopping and walked over to say hello. It was only eight hours of so since he’d kissed Gwen goodbye outside her house, that morning. And here she was chatting away with his little brother.
“Hi. So you two have met?”
Gwen gave him a lingering look that was decidedly odd, then looked at her watch, cried out and turned on her heel and left.
Joey whirled on his brother, an angry scowl on his face.
“What do you think you’re doing? Checking up on me? Didn’t I tell you I can take care of myself?”
“I wasn’t checking up on you. I was just – never mind. How do you know Gwen?”
“Gwen? I was here with Linda. I don’t know any Gwen. Are you ok, Mick? You’re looking kind of pale.”
“Joey. Was that Linda, your – uh – lover?”
“Of course, who did you think it was?”
“So you said. Who is this Gwen? A client? As far as I know, Linda doesn’t have a second name. Of course, I didn’t ask. What’s wrong, Mick?”
A sudden suspicion struck Joey and he took a closer look at Mick. Why was he acting so weird? As if –
“I thought you’d been seeing Sandra these past weeks?”
“Sandra? No. I was going to, but then I met -”
Mick didn’t finish the sentence. How was he going to explain to Joey that for the past two weeks or so, they’d been sleeping with the same woman? And why had she used a different name? Who was she? His own disappointment over the betrayal could wait. His cop’s instinct told him there was something really odd about the whole affair. And the look on Gwen’s face had been unnverving somehow.
But before he did anything else, he’d have to find a way of sparing Joey’s feelings. This would surely break the kid’s heart. Mick’s own heart felt a little raw right now as well, but he told himself that he’d get over it. He had to.
“Have you been seeing Linda too?”
“Have you two been sleeping together?”
“Joey, I didn’t know. She told me her name was Gwen and -”
“I can’t believe it. You and Linda. I knew it was too good to be true.”
“I’m really sorry, Joey. I guess I just assumed you were seeing a girl of your own age.”
And to Mick’s distress, Joey turned and ran off, without giving him a chance to warn him about the possible ramifications of the mystery woman’s duplicity. If Mick wasn’t mistaken, Joey was devastated. He even thought he’d seen the kid’s eyes go suspiciously misty.
Instead of going home, as he’d intended, Mick returned to the office, his need for sleep momentarily forgotten in the wake of this new and alarming discovery. He had to find out more about the woman he’d known as Gwen.
A few phone calls later, he realized that he’d come as far as he would that night. It was time he went home and looked after Joey. Of all the rotten luck. He’d wished so much for Joey’s sake that this had been the real thing. As much of the real thing as a kid Joey’s age was ready for. And instead, he’d ended up more heartbroken than ever. Mick pushed his own feelings to the back of his mind for the time being. He was more concerned about Joey, as always.
When he got back, his worst fears were realized. Joey was there, but he wasn’t in any mood to be reasoned with. He stayed in his room and absolutely refused to talk to his brother or even look at him. Even though it was natural that the kid was upset, Mick couldn’t help feeling Joey was treating him a bit unfairly. How was he supposed to know they were seeing the same woman? Couldn’t Joey see that this woman, whoever she was, had intentionally lied about her name, maybe so she could get close to both of them. What could she be after? Surely not the pleasure of sleeping with both of them?
Mick had a bad feeling about the whole thing. It was time he called in a few favors, what few of them he had left. He had a feeling of great urgency. After last summer, he wasn’t taking any chances, not when it came to Joey’s safety or even his own. How could he risk leaving Joey alone?
In the morning, he tried again, uselessly, to reason with Joey, but the kid kept quiet, and before Mick left for the office, Joey had taken off, without even mentioning where he was going. Mick sighed and decided he’d get on with the investigation instead. From now on, he was making it his number one priority, to find out who the mystery woman was.
His contacts hadn’t been able to tell him anything and in the end, Mick decided that the time had come to call the police. It felt humiliating to have to beg for help from the pros, but when Joey’s safety was at stake, he’d ignore his own feelings and carry on anyway. At least Stewart Hamilton was a good guy. He wouldn’t rub it in. If he could help he would, and if not, well – At least it was worth a shot.
“Hey, Stewart. Mick Barrett here.”
“Oh, Mick. What can I do for you?”
“Ok, I won’t waste time on small talk. I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“I would like you to help me identify a woman.”
Stewart laughed heartily. This didn’t sound like one of Mick’s normal requests.
“Is she hot?”
“What? Yes, you could say that, but that’s not -”
“Ok. Give me her description and I’ll see what I can do. Is this work related?”
“Sort of? This isn’t a dating service, you know.”
“Please, Stewart. I need to know who she really is. I found out she’d been using at least two different names since she got here.”
“I knew her as Gwen Thornton, but I also heard her referred to as Linda something.”
“Got it. Description?”
Mick fell back on police routines, as he recited the bare facts about Gwen, forcing himself to ignore his feelings. It was painful having to paint a picture of a woman who until a few days ago, had seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to him. No that wasn’t quite true. Joey was the best the thing that ever happened to him.
After he’d hung up, Mick felt restless. He decided to take a chance and call Gwen. The worst thing that could happen was that she wouldn’t reply. As he’d already guessed, she didn’t pick up. The atmosphere in the office felt stuffy and he had to get out.
Why shouldn’t he drop by Gwen’s place and talk to her in person? She owed him an explanation, and an apology, but for the time being, Mick felt he’d settle for the former. He couldn’t help wondering what Joey was up to and how he was feeling.
Gwen’s apartment turned out to be empty. The landlord informed him that she’d come back last night and moved out. No explanation offered.
“Did she say where she was going?”
“Nah. She was in such a hurry, I never had time to tell her she’d lose the deposit, but I don’t think she cared.”
“Can I come inside and take a look?”
The guy stared at him.
“What for? Are you a cop?”
“A private investigator.”
“What’s she done?”
“That’s what I’d like to find out. Here. Will this help?”
Mick had lost patience with the slow talking landlord. Some green stuff might ease his way a bit. It turned out he was right. The man’s face lit up and he snatched the bill out of Mick’s hand so fast, he almost got a paper cut.
“Knock yourself out. Now I’m going to watch my show.”
Inside, Mick was assaulted by the memories. The bedroom – the patio – But he reminded himself that whoever she was, she’d taken Joey into the same bedroom, perhaps on the same day or night. How could she do such a thing? Mick felt violated. That wasn’t too strong a word. And how would poor Joey feel? When he found Gwen, she’d better have a very good explanation –
He couldn’t find anything of interest, even though the mess showed him Gwen had left in a hurry. But he already knew that, from what the landlord had told him. A dead end. Hopefully Stewart would be able to shed more light on her.
Why hadn’t he thought to ask her more questions while he was still seeing her? But they hadn’t felt like discussing their respective pasts. The present had been more important to them. Mick corrected himself. More important to him, maybe. What Gwen had felt, he couldn’t even begin to guess.
It was time to return home. Stewart had his home number so he might as well try to talk to Joey again. The kid had to see that neither of them had been responsible for the situation.
There was no sign of Joey at home, and Mick couldn’t stay and wait. He was far too concerned. What if Joey was the target of this scam? The fear for his brother’s safety drove Mick to check out the beach and a couple of Joey’s favorite places, but he should have known better than that. This random search wouldn’t produce any results. Finally, Mick decided to go back to the office. What if Stewart had come through with the information?
But the phone was silent and no one had left a message for him. Mick hesitated. Perhaps it would be better if he went back home again? By now, Joey might be there. He picked up the phone to call and find out, when he heard a slight noise from behind. Before he had time to get out of his chair, he felt a gun being pressed to his neck.
“Hello again, Mick. Did you miss me?”
Gwen. He’d been right about one thing. There was something more to this than met the eye.
“What do you want? And who are you?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me. But at the time, I was in too much pain to really make an appearance. You didn’t bother going to the funeral, did you?”
“What are you talking about? Have we met before?”
“Not personally. But you knew my husband. My late husband.”
There was something about her voice that made Mick feel cold, despite the heat that the fan did little to diminish.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hank Isaacs. Does that ring a bell?”
Isaacs? Mick tried to remember, but he had no idea of the time frame. When was he supposed to have met that Hank Isaacs? And where? While he was still a cop? Earlier? Later?
“I’m not sure.”
“You and your partner killed him. And you don’t even remember?”
Her voice was decidedly icy by now.
“Under what circumstances?”
But Mick’s mind was finally beginning to work. He hadn’t killed that many people so he should be able to recall this incident. What shooting had resulted in the death of someone named Isaacs? And suddenly, he had it. A bank robbery. One of the bank’s guards and a customer had been killed. They had pursued two of the suspects into a back alley. One of them had turned and shot at them. They’d been forced to return fire and –
“Wait. I know. He was shooting at us. It was self defence.”
“I don’t care. It wasn’t you who pulled the trigger, but since your partner isn’t alive anymore, I’ll have to settle for you.”
For what, Mick wanted to ask, but he had a pretty good idea where this was leading. He didn’t know what he could do to get out of this one. If she had come to avenge her husband’s death, there wasn’t anything he could do. He wasn’t armed. She was. With her gun pressed to the back of his neck, he couldn’t even get up without her being alerted to what he was about to do. But he didn’t want to die. Especially not with this unfinished business between him and Joey.
“I’m sorry about your husband. But he and his accomplices killed a guard and an innocent woman that day. If he hadn’t -”
“Shut up. Get up. Slowly. No sudden movements. We’re getting out of here.”
Perhaps he’d get a chance now. But he didn’t want to spook her, so he followed her instructions.
When he was on his feet, the gun followed, though this time, it slid a bit further down his back. He could still feel it, through his shirt. Until he knew how familiar she was with a gun, he couldn’t even make any plans. If his opportunity came, he’d have think on his feet. In the meantime, she ran the show.
“Why did you have to involve Joey? What had he done to you?”
“Nothing. I needed more information about your movements. If you think about it, it was quite a good idea. When I wasn’t getting information from you, I was getting it from him. I knew where to find you most of the time. Your brother’s quite talkative, and he doesn’t mind talking about you. Very helpful.”
Mick could imagine. He wanted to confront this woman and scream out his anger at her betrayal of his little brother. She’d broken his heart, just so she could find out where his older brother would be at any given time?
“Keep walking, Mick, darling.”
He couldn’t help reacting to that voice. She was mocking him, but her voice was still so familiar and it reminded him painfully of nights spent not worrying about past and future, or even remembering that he owed his life to Joey’s sacrifice last summer. It had been a price too high to pay and now it would most likely have been in vain.
When this woman – mrs Isaacs – had carried out her plan, Mick strongly suspected all that would be left for Joey would be to bury his brother.
“Where are we going?”
“Into the parking lot. Keep going. That’s it. The red car over there. The doors are unlocked. Get into the driver’s seat. Slowly. Keep your hands where I can see them. Good. Excellent.”
Before he had time to even think of something to do, she had slid gracefully into the other seat, and was still pointing the gun at him.
“Now you turn the key and rev up the engine. Don’t make any sudden moves and don’t try anything else. We’re going to go for a drive.”
Following her directions, Mick drove out of town and up into the hills. The road kept winding upwards until they had a breathtaking view of the bay far below. The rocks on this stretch of coastline were jagged and Mick had a pretty good idea what she had in mind. If he wanted to do something to save his life, it would have to be soon.
“That’s it. Stop. Park the car over there. It’s quite a famous beauty spot, isn’t it? An observation point. Enjoy the view, Mick.”
Again, she kept such close watch over him, he had no way of disarming her or pushing her over. Mick didn’t like the idea of attacking a woman, but with his own life at stake, he thought he might be able to overcome that prejudice.
They began walking upwards, towards the observation point she’d mentioned. Mick’s mind raced over the possibilites, but he knew he was running out of time and still, no idea presented itself.
Joey had had time to think over the events of the day before and though it still hurt to remember that his Linda had never existed, he knew he’d been too hard on Mick. How could Mick have known that Linda – Gwen – whatever her name was – had been sleeping with both of them?
It wasn’t his fault. The one to blame was Linda. And by reacting like a kid, he’d hurt Mick’s feelings as well. They were brothers. How could they allow a woman to get between them?
Once he’d come to that insight, Joey couldn’t wait to get home. Blood was thicker than water. There would be other women, but he only had one brother.
He left the car with the engine running, jumped out, pushed open the door and ran inside.
Nothing. The house felt empty and though Joey ran wildly around looking for a message from his brother, he couldn’t find any sign of his having been there since that morning. Of course. He’d be at the office. Joey calmed down a little and went to pick up the phone. He didn’t have time to touch it before it started ringing. Oh, good. That would be Mick wondering if he was back yet.
“No. This is Stewart Hamilton. Who am I talking to?”
“Joey Barrett. Mick’s brother.”
“I see. I take it Mick isn’t there?”
“No. I thought he was at the office. Who are you?”
“I’m a friend of Mick’s. He called me earlier today to ask me for some information. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but under the circumstances – Your brother isn’t at the office. I already called him there. And you’re telling me he isn’t at home either.”
“Is anything wrong? Is Mick in some kind of trouble?”
“That’s possible. He called to ask me for information about a woman.”
“I know who it is. ”
“I mean, I don’t know who she is, but I know which woman Mick was asking about.”
“I see. Well, her name is Teresa Isaacs. She’s the widow of a man your brother’s partner shot dead several years ago, in connection with a bank robbery. It appears she’s been trying to find your brother’s partner and when she learned that he was dead – she began looking for your brother. We have reason to believe she might be after revenge. So I thought I’d call Mick right away and warn him.”
“Thanks. I’ll go look for him right away.”
Before Stewart had time to say another word, Joey had hung up on him.
Joey got in the car and drove down to the office as fast as he dared. He was just in time to see a woman looking a lot like Linda – Teresa – walking behind a man who could only be Mick. They got into a red car and drove off.
Joey held back, so he wouldn’t be spotted, but kept a close watch on the car. Fortunately, the traffic was quite intense at that hour so it wasn’t too difficult to stay in the background. And Teresa’s car was extremely red, blood red, which made it easy to keep track of.
He followed them up the winding trail into the hills and finally, when he found the car empty by the side of the road, he continued on foot. If that woman wanted to hurt Mick he’d – Joey tried hard not to dwell on the fact that up until just over 24 hours ago, he’d felt that his woman was the one. His true love.
If the worst came to the worst, could he harm her, to save Mick’s life? Of course he could. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to for Mick which events last summer had brought home to him painfully. Whatever it took, it would be worth it because life without Mick just wouldn’t be worth living.
“This will do. Aren’t you glad it’s a beautiful place?”
“It’s going to be the last thing you ever see so as far as places to die, isn’t this a pleasant one?”
So she was going to kill him. Mick had suspected that as soon as he’d realized who this desperate woman was. It was too late to think of anything to do. If she didn’t shoot him, she’d make him jump. And whatever he did, he’d lost. He’d never see Joey again. Mick had to blink to clear his sight. Joey. Why did he never show him how much he really loved him? They were just too afraid of showing their emotions and now he’d never get a chance to prove how much his little brother meant to him.
“On your knees, Mick. Hands in the air so I can see them. Slowly. I know how to fire this thing. It was the first thing I learned when I got back on my feet after losing my husband. Don’t try anything.”
“What do I have to lose?”
“Good point. Remember my husband. Did he die immediately? Or did he say something before -”
Mick didn’t remember. There had to be some kind of defence mechanism to prevent you from recalling death scenes. As far as he knew, the bank robber hadn’t said anything, but maybe – Usually, he’d be too busy calling for an ambulance to really pay attention to any last words.
Joey walked as quietly as he could on his rubber-soled sneakers. The trail was covered with soft leaves from the trees above. He knew he didn’t make much sound. Now he could hear voices. Another few yards and he could see Teresa and Mick. She had him on his knees, pointing a gun to the back of his head.
No. This couldn’t be happening. But at least Mick was still alive. They were standing so close to the edge, Joey felt dizzy even thinking about it. He’d been up here once before, last year. The sheer drop down to the ocean was more than enough to kill you, even if you didn’t hit the jagged rocks on the way down.
He didn’t have time to think. One more second and Mick might be dead. Joey launched himself through the air, hitting Teresa low, from the side. He managed to knock her over without hitting Mick. Her body spun over the edge and vanished from sight.
It was all over before Mick even had time to register the fact that no gun had gone off. At the last moment, he’d closed his eyes. Now he opened them again to find his brother standing over him, his face pale and stiff, eyes wide with shock. He seemed to be staring over the edge of the cliff. Not until now did MIck realize that Teresa was gone.
Shakily, he got to his feet again and went over to Joey. He pulled him into his arms and at the same time, he managed to herd the kid back from the edge.
“Mick – I didn’t mean to push her over. I just – She was going to -”
“I know. I know. Thanks. You saved my life. Again.”
Mick was shaken too, but his first concern was Joey. He had to get the kid away from the edge.
“Let’s go. There’s nothing more we can do here. I’ll call it in.”
He realized that the questions had to wait for later. Joey seemed to be in a state of shock. He didn’t feel much better himself. Before they did anything, they needed time to digest the fact that if Joey hadn’t arrived when he did, one of them would have been dead by now. Instead, another person was dead, and that was Joey’s doing. Mick could remember far too well how it had felt the first time he’d been responsible for another human being’s death. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going through Joey’s mind.
When they got back to the cars, Mick got Joey to sit down in the backseat of his own car. He got in beside him and again, he pulled him into his arms. If he kept holding him close, maybe the shock would ease off soon.
“Listen to me, Joey. You didn’t have any choice. She was about to pull that trigger. One more minute and I would have been dead. I know how you feel, but – you did what you had to do. No one’s going to question that. It’s ok, Joey. I swear.”
“I loved her.
“I know. I know you did. You loved the person you thought she was. But she was insane. She was dangerous. Whoever she’d been before losing her husband, she wasn’t that person anymore.”
“But I love you more.”
“I love you too, Joey. It’s going to be ok. I’ll take care of everything. When we get back, I’ll call Stewart. He’ll know what to do.”
Mick was beginning to think that this time, he’d definitely get professional help for Joey. He’d make sure no one questioned him until he was feeling better. They’d get through this somehow. If it helped, he’d even find a way of opening up about his own experiences. Talking about it helped, he knew that, if only you could bring yourself to talk in the first place.
Teresa’s body wasn’t found until six days later. The currents washed her up on another beach. Mick went out to the morgue to identify the body. He didn’t tell Joey about that. Just as he’d expected, Stewart saw to it that there were no repercussions for Joey. With Stewart’s help, they were able to make sure Joey didn’t even have to testify at the hearing. When the day came, Mick went over to give his statement.
He didn’t have to get Joey professional help after all. Once the kid was at home, he calmed down considerably and for the next couple of weeks, the brothers weren’t far apart. Mick took some time off work, just to look after Joey and for once, he got no protests from his little brother about that.
They spent the days on the beach, letting the sun and the sea help Joey get back on his feet again. One afternoon, they caught sight of Sandra and Aaron. The boy ran ahead of his mother, eager to ask questions about private investigating.
Mick decided it was now or never. He had to know who the father was, or he’d never have peace of mind.
“You know what, Joey and I work together.”
Joey raised his eyebrows at Mick. When was the last time Mick emphasized that fact voluntarily? It was usually the other way around. In Joey’s experience, it was a great pickup line. I’m a private investigator. What do you do? But he sensed that Mick wanted to talk to Sandra alone, so he took his cue and caught Aaron’s eye.
“That’s true. Ask me anything you want. We’ve had some really interesting cases.”
“Do you have a gun?”
“No. Sit down here and I’ll tell you all about what we do. There was one time we staked out a cruise ship.”
In the meantime, Mick got up and began to walk away, with Sandra at his side.
“I can’t believe it’s you. After all these years.”
“Me neither. You became a cop like you said you would?”
“Yes. But I left the force a few years ago.”
“What did you do? Did you go to drama school? Or art school?”
“No. I have a degree in psychology. And now I teach. That’s why we moved here, Aaron and I. I got a job at the college.”
“Oh. I see.”
“I just came early so Aaron could have a real vacation first.”
“Oh. Sandra – how old is Aaron?”
“He’s ten. Nearly eleven. Why?”
“Well, you know -”
“Oh. Of course. I suppose you’re wondering.
Here it came. Mick felt his heart flutter. Was he a father? What was the explanation for that kid’s exceptional similarity to his own looks at that age?
“Mick – when you left for the police academy -”
“I’m sorry about that. I was going to get in touch. But everything was so -”
“Did you meet another girl?”
“No. It was just my studies and later my work.”
“I see. Well, it’s not your fault. I didn’t keep in touch either. I – was seeing someone else. Someone I got close to when you left. This isn’t easy to tell you, so I’ll just say it. That person was your father, Mick.”
“Your father and I – we were lovers for about a year. Then I left for college and – we broke up. It wasn’t until after that I discovered I was pregnant. And I couldn’t bring myself to have an abortion. My mother and my sister helped me look after Aaron until I had my degree. I never got in touch with your father again.
“You and my father? But he was still married to -”
“I know. I’m sorry, Mick. I realize this must be a bad shock to you. We never meant for this to happen, but he’d always been so nice to me and -”
“He cheated on mom with you?”
“They were having some problems about then, but I think they worked things out. That was another reason I couldn’t get in touch with him. He had his marriage and little Joey and – ”
“I don’t know what to say. Sandra – did I drive you to it? Did my leaving cause you to -”
“No. You had your life to live. I had mine. This was just something that happened.”
“Does Aaron know who his father is?”
“No. I suppose I should tell him. Especially now that he’s met you and Joey. Yes. I think it’s time to let him know about his past. If you don’t mind?”
“What difference does it make? It happened a long time ago. Excuse me, I have to get back to Joey. He’s been through a lot lately and I need to make sure he’s ok. I – can we talk later?”
“Of course. I’m sorry to spring this on you so suddenly, but you did ask.”
Mick walked Sandra back to where they’d left Joey and Aaron and there, they parted company.
“Joey. Let’s go home.”
“What’s wrong? Did you have a fight?”
“No. It’s nothing like that. There’s just something I need to tell you.”
Was it fair to disillusion Joey about his father? But he couldn’t keep something like this a secret. Joey deserved to know. It was his family too.
“So, did you find out if you are Aaron’s father?”
“I’ll tell you all about it when we get back.”
Once inside, Mick began pacing back and forth. It was too painful to think of his mother being betrayed by her own husband. How could the old man do such a thing? Mick and he had had their differences but he’d never guessed that his own father was capable of something like that. He realized that there might be a lot of things you never knew about your parents. Were there any other secrets left to discover? He didn’t think he wanted to know. This was quite enough.
“Are you going to tell me or not? I’m hungry.”
“What? Oh. Of course. Get something to eat. This will keep.”
“No, it won’t. I can tell it’s something serious. Don’t keep me in the dark. I’m not a child. Whatever it is, I can take it. After what’s happened lately, how bad could it be anyway?”
“I don’t know, Joey. I guess, all things considered -”
“So tell me already. Are you or are you not that kid’s father?”
“No. I’m not.”
“Ok. That wasn’t so hard, was it? I suppose it’s a relief. I know if one of my girlfriends sprung a baby on me, I’d be a bit nervous.”
Mick couldn’t help smiling. Joey was such a kid.
“How many girlfriends might spring a baby on you?”
Joey stared at his brother in confusion. Was he serious? Did he really want to know how many girls he’d – How many was it anyway? Hm. Three. Four.
“Four, I guess. No. Three.”
“Hold on. I didn’t really mean to question you like that. Well, three’s good. In my case, I’d have to sit down and think a bit.”
“It’s been that many?”
“Let’s save that for another day, ok? Joey, Aaron’s our brother.”
“What? You’re joking. Did you mean that dad – No way. Or – Are you serious?”
“I’m afraid so. According to Sandra, she had an affair with dad right after I left for the academy.”
“He cheated on mom? That’s -”
“I know. But it’s really none of our business. It’s between them. But even so. How could he?”
“Yeah. How could he? Poor mom. I guess that explains why that kid’s so much like you.”
“Me? We’re not that much alike, I think.”
“Maybe not in looks, but he reminds me of you at that age. All that enthusiasm. And the fascination for guns. Let’s hope he doesn’t grow up to be a cop.”
Joey knew what was on Mick’s mind and he desperately wanted to be able to help his brother forget. All he could think about was changing the subject.
“Anyway, now we know. Now what?”
“I told Sandra I needed to think. She seemed to understand.”
“Ok. I’m glad she did. I just don’t get it. Why would she be your girlfriend and then get involved with a man old enough to be her father? It’s disgusting.”
“Maybe. Sandra’s father died when she was a baby. Maybe she missed a father figure. What do I know? I just wish she’d picked someone else.”
“Me too. Dad – I just can’t believe it.”
“Me neither. But if Sandra says so, it has to be true.”
“I know. I wasn’t saying she was lying. This must be terrible for you. I mean, finding out that you lost your girl to dad.”
“Well, it’s been a long time. What matters now is whether we want Aaron in our lives or not. He is our brother.”
“He’s a nice kid. Can you stand to see Sandra around, after this?”
“I don’t know. We’ll have to think about it. How do you feel about him?”
“Like I said, he’s a good kid. If you can stand to be around Sandra, I could probably get used to having him around. Would you?”
“I think so. Brothers are important. You don’t have that many so you’d better look after the ones you have.”
“You do that just fine, Mick.”
“So do you. I owe my life to you.”
“Let’s not go there, ok? Though while we’re on that topic, I know you’ve saved my hide a couple of times as well. But who’s keeping count?”
Mick reached out and ruffled Joey’s hair, before remembering how Joey hated to be made to feel like a kid. But today, apparently, he wasn’t too bothered. He made a grab for Mick and soon they were play-wrestling on the sofa. Yes. Getting to know Aaron was probably a good idea. If they didn’t, they’d regret it. The kid couldn’t help what his parents had done. And with his apparent interest in detective work, who knew?
Maybe ten years from now, there would be three Barrett brothers working together. Life took strange paths at times, but as long as they watched out for each other, they could face whatever the future would bring. Nothing would be allowed to come between them. Nothing and no one.