|Primary Characters:||Guido, Eddie, Sharon, Donna, Irena|
|Warning:||m/m, sex with minor|
|Description:||Guido and Eddie end up with a case that seems to bother Eddie. Their search for the murderer of a rapist leads to bad memories being stirred up for both guys.
Sharon hesitated a little. Perhaps she ought to give this case to Parry. But Parry would need backup and though Sharon could and would work alongside of her officers on this case, the one they were already trying to solve was too important to pull Parry off it right now. Donna Parry had developed a close rapport with the victim of the assault and it was imperative that the woman not lose her trust in the authorities. So taking Parry off that case was out of the question. But would Mercia and Martin be up to this new case? There was only one way to find out.
Guido Martin took one last look at the report from bar fight he’d been covering until last night when he got his bad guy. It was finished. This time was as good as any to start a new case. So he’d be working with Mercia. Fair enough. Eddie was a good bloke. They got on fine.
Eddie Mercia met Guido’s gaze and smiled. Alright. Donna was busy on another case anyway. He was curious about this new case. Their boss, Sharon Kostas had sounded quite serious. What was the story behind it?
“Alright. What do you have for us now?”
As always, Guido was up for any challenge. At least he thought so. Despite never quite filling his old man’s shoes, he couldn’t seriously consider any other profession. For better or for worse, it was in his blood.
Sharon filled them in on the details of the case as far as she knew them at this point. It had only been about fifteen minutes since the case landed on her team.
When Mercia learned the location of the crime scene, Sharon thought she could see a certain tightening of his features. She’d have to watch him closely. If he showed signs of not being able to cope, she’d have to make other arrangements. She wished she had time to go with them, but decided that her time would be better spent coordinating the work from the station.
Guido was already on his way to the car he usually drove on the job and Eddie shrugged and followed him. It didn’t really matter to him if he was driving or not.
Once they were on their way, Guido shot him a curious glance.
“So how do you feel about this one?”
“What do you mean? Going to a gay club?”
“No. I mean, that too. But I mean the suspect. A minor. Could be tough.”
“Oh. Well, we’ll have social services breathing down our necks. I’m not sure if that’s a problem or not. Even if the kid did it, how can you blame him?”
Again, Guido stared at his temporary partner. Usually, it was the other way around. He was the one who was inclined to show compassion for their suspects, not Mercia.
“I see what you mean. Yes, there are shades of grey. Anyway, perhaps it will be ruled self defence. If the kid did it. When did the rape take place? I mean, will we have to rub elbows with someone investigating that?”
“I suppose so. It doesn’t say exactly when – it happened. But I’m assuming it was quite recent.”
“Makes sense. On the other hand, maybe the kid had time to think about it and decided to go back and this time, not give the perpetrator the chance to get in the first blow.”
“Could be. It’s no use speculating. We’ll see soon enough. The boy has a Hispanic name.”
“Nothing. There’s a macho culture to consider. Who knows? He might have thought he could erase the dishonour by killing the man responsible.”
“I don’t know about that. You’re the one who’s used to all these cultures. As far as I’m concerned culture is no excuse for committing a crime.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. It might be a motive, that’s all.”
“Alright. You worry about the motive. I’ll worry about the evidence. They did have the kid in custody, right?”
“That’s what Sharon said.”
“Alright. Here we are. After you.”
Eddie cast Guido a veiled gaze, then stepped out of the car. The blazing sunlight hit him straight in the eyes, so for a second or so he was blinded. He didn’t move while his eyes adjusted to the glare.
“What’s the problem?”
“Nothing. Let’s go.”
Guido raised his eyebrows but didn’t comment. Eddie was awfully edgy today. Had he had a fight with Irena? Not likely. Those two lovebirds never seemed to argue.
“Right. We’ll take a look at the crime scene then?”
Guido talked to the uniform in charge on the scene, and learned that the suspect was no longer present. It seemed the boy had been taken to hospital, though if he was still there remained to be seen. Guido made a mental note to find out when he’d been taken there and what witnesses had been present.
The victim was still around though. He’d been stabbed in the chest, but there were other injuries, mainly to the head. It seemed as if the person responsible had been someone with a major grudge against the man who was lying dead at their feet. And being raped would certainly account for that.
Eddie interviewed witnesses, but at first sight, the case seemed confusing. It appeared that two men who had been nearby had heard the rape taking place, and had interfered. The victim of the attack had then been taken to the hospital. That had to mean the murder victim had been alive when the boy was taken away.
Or didn’t it? On discovery, the perpetrator of the first attack had left the scene, but clearly he couldn’t have gone far, since his body was now lying in the same back alley where he’d attacked the teenager only hours earlier, perhaps less. Eddie felt he needed a better overall picture of the time frame.
After interviewing all the witnesses that were inclined to talk to a cop, and encountering quite a lot of hostility as well as some mortifying expressions of appreciation from some men, Eddie felt there was nothing more to be learned on the scene. A job was a job, but something about this one was bothering him more than usual.
Guido watched his temporary partner’s unease with some surprise. Usually, Eddie could always be counted on to keep a professional distance to any investigation. Guido had had his share of difficult witnesses, and even one or two who had decided to flirt with him, but that didn’t bother him much. He assumed it was all part of the hostility towards police officers in this neighbourhood.
On the way back, they discussed the case. Once he was out of the immediate vicinity of the gay club, Eddie’s professional detachment had returned.
“It’s odd. If the kid wasn’t even there and the perpetrator fled the scene, how could he have killed him at all?”
“That’s what I’m thinking. We’ll have to find out where the boy is now and if he ever left the hospital or wherever he is now. At home?”
“Yes. By now, we’ll probably have that information.”
“So how are you doing?”
Eddie didn’t sound as if he was fine and Guido wondered if it would be worth while asking about his feelings towards the new case. Probably not.
Back at the station, they learned that the boy had been released into his mother’s care, after having his injuries, which were slight, seen to. That shouldn’t have happened. A social worker should have been involved at that stage. Someone had clearly made a mistake.
Later, at the hospital, an outraged nurse explained that it wasn’t their job to keep innocent children from their parents and that social services hadn’t been able to promise their representative would be there any time soon.
So that was the explanation. Nothing to be done about it, but if the social worker had been on time, maybe they could have eliminated a suspect from their list, or if the boy was guilty, prevented a murder.
“Right. We’ll have to go and see the boy at home then.”
Eddie didn’t seem thrilled and Guido couldn’t blame him. They weren’t investigating the actual rape, but since the boy was a suspect, they would still need to ask him some very awkward questions. And there would be a hysterical mother, who might not speak English.
They found a slight, very young looking boy. Guido had difficulty believing him capable of inflicting the head injuries if not the stab wound. Different perpetrators? They had to find out if some of the injuries had been inflicted after death. Carmody would have to get to work fast. This was a case they’d rather solve as soon as humanly possible.
“Are you Antonio Rodriguez?”
“Tony. I see. How old are you, Tony?”
“Alright, Tony. Is this your mother?”
The woman began speaking rapidly in a language Guido took to be Spanish. Exactly as they’d assumed. With no social worker present and no parent or guardian who even spoke their language, how could they conduct this interview? They would need to take the boy to the station and try to find either the social worker or a legal representative.
“My mother doesn’t speak English. What about her? Are you suspecting her of a crime too?”
The hostility didn’t surprise the police officers. This was the victim of a violent crime. A boy who, judging by the neighbourhood he lived in, only saw police officers when they came to accuse him of a crime. Three little girls were playing in a dusty, bare yard in front of the house. Inside, where they had been trying to conduct their interview a baby was crying, and the mother had abandoned her efforts to communicate with the two strangers in favour of calming it down.
“Tony, we’re going to have to ask you to come with us.”
“Again? I’ve already answered your questions. Those other two cops who were here said they had enough. What else do you want? Don’t tell me you care about what happens to a freak like me?”
“Of course we care. But this isn’t about the attack. We want to ask you about something else.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Alright. Then you won’t mind answering our questions.”
“Why do I have to come with you?”
“Because your mother doesn’t speak English, and we haven’t been able to reach a social worker. So we’ll have to deal with all that at the station. Don’t be alarmed.”
“I’m not scared of you.”
He sounded as if he was trying to be defiant, but didn’t quite manage. Among kids his age, Eddie assumed he was tough and inaccessible. He should have stuck to kids his own age. Then maybe this wouldn’t have happened.
At the station, they were still unable to reach the social worker, but Madeleine agreed to drop everything and represent the boy.
Again, there was a delay, while she briefed her client in private. Finally, when Guido was beginning to think they’d have to leave the interview for the following day, Madeleine opened the door and waved at them to come inside.
“I’ve explained the situation to my client and he would like to make it clear that he denies all charges. He’s been the victim of a crime. And here you are, making accusations against him.”
“We’re not accusing him of anything. We just want to ask a few questions.”
“Tony – we understand the attack was witnessed by two men? Is that true?”
“Yeah. They chased Michael off.”
“Michael? So you knew the attacker?”
“Why did you think I was out there with him in the first place?”
Eddie felt his face heat up. Better let Guido handle that one.
“I see. And things got out of hand?”
“I’ve already talked to the other two about this.”
“I know. But if you could, it would be helpful if you could tell me and my partner again.”
“Yes. I thought I could trust him. We’d – met before. And he never did anything like that then. Then suddenly, it was like he was going crazy. I asked him to stop, but he just wouldn’t listen to me.”
Eddie felt as if the small room was suffocating him. He wanted to get up and go. Why were they even harassing this poor child? If he’d killed that pervert, maybe it was no more than the monster deserved.
“I see. And then the two men interfered?”
“Yes. They heard us and yelled at Michael to stop. He let me go and ran off.”
“And that’s the last you saw of him?”
“Yes. Why are you asking me all these questions? If you think I’m going to testify against him you’re stupid.”
“Because this man – Michael – what’s his last name, do you know?”
“I think it’s German. He said he came from Germany when he was a kid.”
“Oh. Thanks. Tony, Michael Fischer has been found dead. Right outside that club.”
The boy lapsed into silence. Guido could see that his mind was working fast. Naturally, he’d realize they were wondering about his part in the death of his attacker.
“You think I killed him?”
“We never said he’d been murdered. But you’re right. Someone killed him. When you left the hospital – do you remember what time it was?”
“No. I wanted to go home. My mother – she was crying and praying to the saints and making the sign of the cross and – I didn’t want everyone to see her.”
“And when you got back home?”
“We had to look after my sisters and my little cousin. Our neighbour, Lucia, has six kids of her own. She couldn’t stay.”
“What about your father, Tony?”
“What about him?”
“Where is he?”
“He’s dead, ok. Why do you want to know?”
“Alright, Tony. I think we have enough for tonight. Go home to your mother. We might have to ask you some more questions later, but for now, you can go.”
“I didn’t kill Michael. Do you think I’d have let him – if I could have killed him, don’t you think I would have done it then?”
Yes, Eddie certainly thought so, and he guessed Guido felt that way too. They had the wrong suspect. Someone else had killed Michael Fischer and he was still out there.
Madeleine walked Tony outside, where two uniforms were waiting to bring him home.
Guido looked at Eddie. Again, he was struck by how tense he seemed. It was as if this case was bothering more than usual. Not that it wasn’t a very distressing case. Sex crimes involving minors were always tough.
“What do you reckon?”
“He didn’t do it.”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking. We’ll have to get an interpreter to talk to the mother and this Lucia, the neighbour, but I really think we’ve got the wrong guy. Besides, he has a point. If he had been strong enough to cause all that damage, he could have prevented the rape. No, it’s not him. Someone who witnessed the attack and was outraged?”
“One of the two men who interfered?”
“It’s possible, but everyone else in that club must have known pretty soon what was going on. The ambulance was there to pick up Tony. Ok. I guess we’ll need to get back to that place again. If you’re up to it.”
“Why shouldn’t I be? I can do the job.”
“I know. But if you’re having trouble dealing with -”
Eddie fixed Guido with a stare so intense, Guido almost felt alarmed.
“What I’m having trouble dealing with is how that child was attacked by a man old enough to be his father.”
“I know. But we can’t let our own feelings interfere in an investigation. Tony deserves to have a fair treatment.”
“I know that. But -”
“It’s alright, Eddie. I could interview the gay men if that makes you feel better. You could focus on unearthing an interpreter. It’s your scene anyway – ethnic communities.”
“Thanks. I suppose I could do that.”
The following day, Eddie gratefully seized on the excuse to stay away from the gay club. He was able to find an interpreter, a young woman from the university. She was very pretty and very solemn. It appeared she got along fine with both mrs Rodriguez and the neighbour.
From what they could find out, it seemed Tony had remained at home. They couldn’t be absolutely sure, because his mother had been understandably upset, and the neighbour had most likely been eager to start spreading rumours around the neighbourhood, but at this point, they didn’t have any strong suspicions against Tony.
Back at the station, Guido was waiting.
“I think we’ve had our first real lead. There was someone there, a new man. The others say they hadn’t seen him before.”
“Were they able to describe him?”
“They certainly tried. But I don’t think the shape of his arse or the size his other endowments are of any use in this case. What I could get, was very vague.”
“I see. What about the two first witnesses on the scene?”
“They were very helpful. I don’t think they did it.”
Guido smiled at the memory of how outraged they had been over the incident. Quite as much as Eddie.
“Oh. Did they see the suspect? The new suspect?”
“No. They were watching the ambulance men taking Tony away. They did try to apprehend Michael Fischer but they had no luck. Besides, they were too intent on the victim. They’re nurses, both of them.”
“Oh. So what do we do now?”
Guido looked at Eddie doubtfully. He didn’t think the next phase of the investigation would be to Eddie’s taste at all. Perhaps he’d better go in alone.
“Now we check out the other gay clubs.”
“Great. So what are we waiting for?”
“Hold on. It’s a little early to be going to a bar. Let’s check in with Sharon first and see what she has to say.”
It turned out Sharon had an unusual suggestion to make.
“I don’t think you’ll get any more by going in as police officers. It would be better if you tried a more subtle approach. I don’t know if you’re up to it, but if you could pose as two gay men -”
Eddie stared at her in shock. No. Not again. He’d been forced to do that once in a while, but he’d always found it difficult. This time, there was something about the case that made him feel trapped.
Guido shrugged fatalistically. He’d had a hunch it would come to this. Sharon was right. It would be much more likely that the visitors to the gay clubs would open up to what they thought were other gay men. Police work was funny sometimes. He hadn’t thought posing as a gay man would be part of the job.
“Right. Sounds like a good idea. How about it, Eddie? Do you think you could manage?”
Guido sounded doubtful at best. Eddie seemed unusually edgy. This gay scene was bothering him.
Eddie thought he could guess what was going through Guido’s mind. He was uncomfortable with the entire scene, but his job was his first priority. Any personal inconvenience would just have to take second place.
“Of course I’ll manage. If you can do it, so can I.”
Sharon looked at them both then nodded. Mercia could do it. She knew he was an excellent police officer.
Eddie didn’t look quite as thrilled and for a moment, Sharon had a twinge of doubt. Could she send Mercia into a gay club when he was exhibiting all the typical signs of someone being uncomfortable with the gay scene? But she couldn’t very well tell him she didn’t trust him to do his work. He’d be fine. And if not, he’d be professional enough to say so before he jeopardized the investigation.
“Well – what do you reckon, Eddie? Do we need to go back home and change or will this do?”
“Our outfits, mate. Do we look fancy enough for a gay club?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
Sharon smiled as she looked them both over. Very hot was what she would have said if she was a gay man. In fact, she’d say it anyway, but now she was a happily married woman so that might not be the most appropriate thing to say after all.
“You’ll do fine. Both of you. Did you think they all wore sequins or rubber suits?”
“I never thought about it.”
Eddie didn’t seem to find the remark at all amusing. Guido laughed though. Good man. Laughing at the boss’ jokes was always the first step if you wanted a promotion. If it were up to Sharon, Guido would have had one before now, but as it was, the people upstairs moved in mysterious ways.
“Off you go then.”
Outside, in the car, Guido couldn’t help asking Eddie again, if he felt up to the challenge. There was something about Eddie’s reaction that puzzled Guido. Sure it was awkward, pretending to be something they were not. Once he’d had to pose as a paedophile, to get close to a man who was producing child pornography. That had been really tough. But this – there should be nothing too mortifying about it. Just go in there, have a couple of drinks and check out the place, while pretending to be chatting carelessly. What was the big deal?
“Eddie – if you feel this is unpleasant, it’s alright. I wouldn’t blame you for that. You don’t have to come with me. I’ll be fine on my own.”
“I can do it. What’s the problem? Don’t you trust me?”
“Of course I do, mate. With my life. It’s just that -”
“Nothing. Right. Would you mind a suggestion? It might make things easier in there.”
“We’ll be going as – you know – a couple. That way, hopefully, we won’t have anyone offering us drinks. I mean, that might happen otherwise, don’t you think?”
To Guido’s astonishment, Eddie surprised him with a smile.
“Oh. Good thinking. This should be interesting.”
“So you’re alright with this then?”
“I told you so, didn’t I? Let’s go inside. It’s late enough for a drink. At least we get to drink on the job.”
“We’ll have to count our blessings.”
They sat down at a table to the left side of the room, where they had a good view of most of the place. The dance floor was a teeming crowded space, but along the walls there were tables and chairs. From their vantage point they could also see the bar. Any newcomers would have to pass their field of vision. So far so good.
The beer was as good as in any other place Guido had been to so he relaxed and decided to at least enjoy the drink. Eddie seemed to do the same.
“What do you think? Any minors?”
“It’s hard to tell. They all look the same from here.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. Do you dance?”
“What? Yes, but – oh, no. What about you?”
“Not really. But I suppose if I had to -”
“I don’t think so. There are many others who are just sitting.”
Sitting and drinking and talking and a few who were kissing and –
“At least we don’t have to -”
Guido nodded towards the amorous couple by the wall across from their table.
Eddie followed Guido’s direction and again, he blushed furiously.
“Relax, mate. They’re in the minority.”
By coming in together, it really did seem as if they’d averted any friendly or perhaps more flirtatious approaches. The couples or groups or occasionally single men sitting at the other tables didn’t seem too curious about their neighbours. But they should. At the other place, everyone had noticed the newcomer. On the other hand, he seemed to have been drawing attention to himself in some way.
They were just blending into the background. Just out of idle curiosity, Guido wondered if there were any straight men just out to gawk at the freaks, pick a fight or merely indulging their curiosity.
Suddenly a shadow fell across their table. Guido looked up and his mouth fell open. Of all the bad luck.
“Fancy meeting you here, Guy.”
“It’s been a while.”
“You could say that.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your – friend?”
“Right. This is Eddie. Eddie, this is an old mate from school. Gavin.”
Gavin was looking at Guido with some hostility and Eddie’s hackles were up right away. The way he was staring at them both, could only imply that he believed them to be a couple. That was fine, but why was he being so hostile?
The man spoke in a low, growling voice as if he had some kind of grudge against Guido from school.
“I see you’ve changed your mind about – this.”
“Uh – well, Gavin, won’t you sit down.”
But Gavin seemed to have no intention of sitting down. He was a bit drunk and now he raised his voice, making the other guests turn and stare.
“You weren’t interested. Said you were into women. And now I find you here – with a real hottie. So what’s the story behind that, Guy Martin? Explain that to me, if you can.”
“Sit down, please.”
“I wasn’t good enough for you, is that it?”
Eddie was moving about uncomfortably. If this Gavin bloke became violent, they’d have to blow their cover and take him in. Of all the bad luck.
“Please. Let’s go outside and talk.”
Eddie couldn’t understand why Guido didn’t just flash his badge at the creep. He would never in a million years be able to take the provocative stare travelling across his body like that. But Guido seemed more concerned with the case.
“It’s alright, Eddie. I’ll just be a moment.”
He didn’t want Guido to go out there with that pervert without backup. The man clearly had some kind of grudge against Guido and if it came to blows –
“Don’t you think I’d better -”
“Nah. I’ll be fine. Come on, Gavin. Let’s talk.”
They walked outside, followed by the wondering stares from at least a dozen of the guests. Eddie finished his glass and wished he were anywhere but here. He’d give Guido ten minutes. If he wasn’t back by then –
“Well? What do you have to say?”
“First of all, I’d like to tell you how very sorry I am. I was just a kid. It was difficult for me to handle your – attention.”
“Why don’t you say it out loud? I was in love with you.”
“Alright. I couldn’t handle that.”
“Now you seem to be able to handle it just fine. With that Eddie. Of course, he’s really sexy and I suppose I’m not.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it. Gavin, I’m not here in private. I’m working. We’re cops, and we’re investigating a murder.”
“A murder? Here?”
“No. But we’re looking for a suspect. And going in under cover seemed like the best thing. I never expected to run into anyone I knew here.”
“And you’re still not into men?”
“No. I’m sorry. Gavin, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t blow our cover. This is important. We have a fifteen-year-old rape victim. At this point he’s not a serious suspect, but if we can’t find this mystery guy, I don’t know what will happen.”
Gavin stared at him thoughtfully. Then he nodded.
“Right. I’ll get out of your hair. Your partner – is he into women as well?”
“Eddie? Oh, yes. Sorry.”
“Just curious. See you around, Guy.”
“Yes. Take care.”
Guido returned inside to find Eddie restlessly scanning the entrance. Of course he’d be worrying. He was a good guy.
“It’s fine. No worries.”
“Oh. Good. How about another beer?”
“I’ll get it.”
Over their second beers, Guido filled Eddie in about the situation.
“So you see, we’ll be alright. Anyway, he left so he won’t be bothering us again.”
Eddie hesitated. It had sounded awfully intimate, the entire argument and so far Guido hadn’t explained anything. Perhaps it would be rude to ask. In the end, it turned out he needn’t have worried. Guido felt he owed Eddie an explanation and besides, if he didn’t, there was no telling what misunderstandings might arise.
“Gavin and I were in school together.”
“Yes, you told me.”
“We were seventeen. Suddenly, he told me out of nowhere, that he was – in love with me. I just couldn’t handle it. The worst part was we’d been friends since we were ten. But after that, I just couldn’t face him anymore.”
“But he was my best mate. We’d been through everything together. And he couldn’t help feeling the way he did. Just like I couldn’t help not returning his feelings. But I could have been nicer about it.”
“At seventeen? I would have punched him out.”
“I nearly did.”
“So you see, he probably felt he had reason to feel offended. He thought you and I -”
Yes, Eddie had heard himself being referred to as a hottie. In school, he would have loved it, if only the person who said it had been female. Tonight, that was the last thing he wanted to hear.
“Yes. I see that.”
“I made it clear to him that you’re not interested either so -”
“He asked about that?”
“Not if you were interested. Just if you were -”
Fantastic. But Eddie was beginning to see that he was alarming Guido unnecessarily. That guy Gavin was gone. Nothing more embarrassing could happen. At least not in connection with him.
“I suppose I should feel flattered.”
“Don’t worry about it. I told him you were otherwise engaged.”
“Right. Thanks, mate. What do you reckon? How long do we have to stick around?”
“I don’t know. This isn’t really doing any good so I suppose we could call it a night. I haven’t seen any minors, have you?”
“No. And with that vague description -”
“What else can we do though?”
“Not much. I suppose we’ll have to get back here tomorrow night.”
“Yes, unless Carmody can come up with something.”
“Let’s hope he does.”
“Right. Let’s go then.”
Over the next few days, Eddie and Guido visited most of the gay clubs in the area, became the butt of a certain amount of jokes from their colleagues, and finally, Justin Carmody produced the post mortem report.
There was no evidence two assailants had been involved, and the injuries had all been inflicted at the same time. Carmody seemed to favor a taller person as the perpetrator, but wouldn’t commit himself. There were more factors to take into consideration.
Guido glared at Carmody. Bloody scientists. Never a straight answer out of any of them. And then there was the way this bastard had treated Donna. But right now, he had to focus on the case, not any personal problems he might have. He couldn’t help wondering if Eddie was going through some problems as well, but he couldn’t very well ask him, without the risk of sounding too inquisitive.
Guido came in late. He saw Sharon waving at him. Eddie was there already. Had there been a new development on the case? He certainly hoped so. It had been more than two weeks and usually, if you didn’t get the case more or less cracked within a couple of days, chances were you never did.
“We just had some additional forensics off the body. Carmody left this report. We have a print.”
“Did you run a check for him?”
“And? Don’t keep me waiting, Sharon.”
“I’m not intentionally keeping you on your toes, Guido. I’m waiting to hear from someone.”
The phone rang in her office, and Sharon looked over her shoulder.
“That will be it, I hope. Just a second.”
Guido cast an inquiring gaze at his temporary partner.
“Did she tell you anything?”
“Not much more than what you heard. I only just got in.”
“Let’s hope we’ve got him this time.”
“So do I. You have no idea how tired I am of running around the gay clubs. McCready from across the hall never tires of whistling after me or making what he seems to think are jokes.”
“I know. He’s been at it with me too. The other day he asked me when I was going to wear my ear rings.”
“Very funny. The sooner this is over the better.”
Eddie really did sound tired. Guido looked at his friend with concern. It didn’t look as if Eddie was getting enough sleep, though that might be entirely due to the lovely Irena’s influence. There was no reason to believe it was anything more serious, surely?
Now Sharon returned, looking really pleased with herself.
“I think this is it. We’ve got him. The print wasn’t in any recent records, but we found him in some old files. Prostitution no less.”
“Former. This was maybe ten years ago. Here. The name is Gavin Phillips.”
Guido’s face lost all colour.
“Give me that.”
He grabbed the printout from Sharon’s hand with less than his usual courtesy.
“It’s a friend of mine. Or used to be.”
Eddie’s eyes met Guido’s gaze and he realized their suspect and the angry man they’d met in that first gay club had to be identical.
“I really didn’t expect this.”
Sharon looked protectively at Guido. Perhaps she’d let Parry and Mercia pull the suspect in. If this really was a friend of Guido’s there could be a conflict of interest. Much better not to put Guido through that.
“You’ll sit this one out then.”
“What? No. I want to be there when you pick him up. Are you sure about this? Couldn’t his print have ended up on the victim earlier that night? I mean, they might have been -”
“No mistake. This is the killer. I’m sorry if it’s a friend of yours, but you know -”
“Yes. But -”
“Guido, if you think you’re not up to this tell me now. I could order you to stay behind.”
Guido’s eyes pleaded with Sharon and she knew he was begging her to let him come along. It was hard to resist that look, but if he couldn’t be counted on to act professionally, she would have to be the bad guy and order him to stay.
“I can do it. Please let me come.”
“Very well. But you know your duty.”
“Of course. He’s a killer. We’ll bring him in. No worries.”
“I’m sending Parry with you.”
“We’ll need more backup than that.”
“You’ll have it. Donna -”
“Keep an eye on Guido, will you?”
Guido’s face underwent a startling transformation from outraged to amused, then back to concerned again, as he had been before Sharon asked his girlfriend to babysit him. It was a joke. That was all it was. Good old Sharon. You could always count on her to make you feel better.
“Do we know where he is?”
“We have an address. Find him.”
Gavin wasn’t at home and when they visited his place of work, no one had seen him for a few days.
Again, they made the circuit of all the gay bars and clubs, but at this time of day, there weren’t that many guests. By midday, they had lunch together, then continued searching for him in the neighbourhoods they expected a gay man to be. No result.
Eddie was beginning to think the perpetrator had had some kind of advance warning and disappeared, or merely that he’d lost his nerve and made a run for it. No matter how much he wanted this case to be over, Eddie had to face the possibility that they wouldn’t find their killer today, and perhaps not for a long time. But either way, this case would be over soon.
It was hot and they were feeling tired. The first enthusiasm over finally getting a break was faltering.
Donna had an idea and startled the men with a suggestion.
“Why don’t we go and have a beer?”
“At one of those gay bars?”
Eddie and Guido exchanged looks. Why not indeed? Donna was right. A nice cold beer would be exactly what they needed. And by now, they didn’t need any cover. Donna’s presence wouldn’t make any difference.
They picked the first bar, the one where they’d met Gavin, and sat down in an out of the way corner. If their suspect didn’t show up, they’d have to widen their search further.
Donna walked over to the only other table in the room that was occupied and showed the two men the photo they’d printed out. It was old and in her opinion the resemblance couldn’t be very significant, but it was all they had. It seemed to be some kind of school photo. The young man didn’t look like someone who would grow up into a violent criminal, but then how many killers really looked the part?
“Have you seen this man?”
“Man? Looks like a kid to me.”
“It’s an old photo. He’ll be at least ten years older. Take a good look. We know he was in here about two weeks ago.”
“No. Oh, hang on a sec. Maybe. Yes, I think so. If this is the bloke I’m thinking of, he’s a bit obsessive.”
“He seems nervous. Desperate in some way. He usually goes home alone at night, if you get my meaning, officer.”
“I see. When did you last see him?”
“Oh – a couple of nights ago. You remember, Joe.”
“Nah. I don’t think so.”
“He was definitely here the day before yesterday.”
She returned to their own table to make her report.
“He was here a few days ago.”
“Then this must be one of his favorite places.”
Eddie was beginning to hope again. He was sorry for Guido, but if his former friend was a killer, they had no choice. No matter what the victim had done before he died, it was their job to bring the perpetrator to justice.
They waited, nervously, reporting back to Sharon on the phone, then ordering a few more drinks, this time mineral water.
Now the man who had seen the suspect walked over, giving Eddie an admiring glance that Eddie tried hard to pretend he hadn’t noticed.
“If you’re looking for that man, you might want to try out back.”
The man stared avidly at Eddie’s chest, making Eddie’s face heat up uncomfortably.
“Well, how do I put this? When you’ve met someone you like, and you want to – get to know him better, you can go out back. For a little peace and quiet. Get my meaning, officers?”
He smiled meaningfully and still wouldn’t stop staring at Eddie. By now Eddie had had enough of those looks. He got up, and nodded to Guido to come along. Donna thanked their informant and hurried after the other two officers. She was definitely not leaving them on their own.
Out back turned out to be a rather wider alley than the one where the murder victim had been found. There was even shrubbery and a few benches. In fact, it was more like a small park, than an alley. Here and there, they could see male couples entwined. Eddie felt uncomfortable to say the least. They wouldn’t be wanted here, even if their suspect never showed up.
Humiliatingly, they had to walk past each couple, and take a good look at their faces. If the face was visible.
They immediately spotted a familiar face. Tony. So he was still out here, despite what had already happened to him? But he wasn’t touching the man who was standing beside him. Now that man turned and faced the officers. Guido drew in breath.
Gavin tensed up, and began to edge backwards, as if he wanted to melt into the shrubbery. Donna and Eddie drew their weapons and moved closer.
“Police. Gavin Phillips, we’re going to have to ask you to come with us to the station.”
Suddenly, Gavin had a knife in his hand, and before any of the officers had time to react, he’d grabbed the kid and pulled him closer.
Gavin waved the weapon wildly about.
Donna moved backwards and began to speak slowly and soothingly.
“You don’t want to hurt that kid. Let him go. We’re not going to harm you. We just have a few questions for you.”
“Back off. You too, pretty boy.”
Eddie’s fingers instinctively closed on the trigger. But no. This man was trying to provoke him. It wasn’t going to work.
Guido had remained silent until now. He hadn’t made a move. Now at last, he began to move closer to his former friend and Tony, who looked pale and frightened.
“Gavin. Don’t do this. Let Tony go. He hasn’t done anything to you.”
“Stay back, Guy.”
Now Guido reached into his jacket very slowly. He brought out his gun, holding it by the barrel.
“Look, Gavin. I’m going to put my gun on the ground. Like this.”
Guido raised his hands above his head and kept moving closer. This was a nightmare. Donna and Eddie could only watch in horror as Guido broke every rule in the book.
Donna couldn’t help crying out. She had promised Sharon she’d keep an eye on Guido. And now – he was turning himself over to a desperate killer with a hostage. How could he do this to her? They’d just found each other and now he was placing himself in mortal danger. She wanted to save the boy’s life too, but not if it cost Guido his life.
“Please. Let Tony go. Hasn’t he suffered enough?”
“You don’t know anything about it. You have no idea.”
“You don’t know what it’s like. Night after night. Always the same.”
“What are you talking about, Gavin?”
Guido felt tears sting his eyes. Was Gavin saying what he thought he was saying?
“Every night until he died.”
“I’m sorry, Gavin. I didn’t know.”
“That’s right. You don’t know anything. That’s why I had to do it.”
“Do what, Gavin?”
“Michael. I saw what he was doing to Tony here. I just couldn’t let him do that. Not again. Not another kid. I had to make sure he never did it again.”
“Don’t say that. You don’t understand. That’s the point. You don’t know anything. Neither one of you. Pretty boy, do you know what it’s like to be raped? No. You? Blondie? I didn’t think so. Back off.”
“Gavin, let Tony go. Take me instead. You wanted to talk to me. Here I am. Let’s talk. I’m unarmed. Eddie, Donna, please back off. Gavin’s going to give you Tony, aren’t you Gavin?”
For a moment, Gavin didn’t move or say anything. His eyes darted between Eddie, Donna and Guido and back again. Finally, he seemed to come to a decision.
“If you back off, both of you. Now. Back towards the exit. And you, Guy. Face down. Do it.”
Donna couldn’t believe she was seeing this. Guido got down on his knees, then stretched out face down on the ground at the killer’s feet. Unarmed. Helpless. She could take the killer out. If she fired now, she could hit his head without harming the boy. But now Eddie too reluctantly backed off. She was the only one standing there. Her eyes were overflowing with tears, as she too, backed off.
She could feel Eddie’s hand squeezing her shoulder reassuringly. He was alright. But he wasn’t Guido.
Now the killer let Tony go and the kid made a run for the door. Donna swallowed hard and held out her arms to him. It was pure instinct, but it had been the right call. Tony buried his face against her chest and began to cry.
Eddie had been wrong about him. He wasn’t tough at all. If he had been, he wouldn’t have been the butt of so many cruel jokes from the kids his own age. It was all an attitude, a desperate attempt to keep up some kind of facade against the outside world that had rejected him as one of the poor and now a freak, someone the other boys spat at and would trip over just for the fun of it. A boy with a crazy mother who couldn’t speak English and who prayed out loud in a strange language.
In the meantime, Gavin walked closer to Guido.
“Get up. Slowly. Keep your back to me. No. Don’t turn around.”
Donna could see Gavin putting one arm around Guido’s neck and pulling him back with him into the deeper shade in the shrubbery. She couldn’t see her lover anymore.
Eddie watched her anxiously, as she fought against her own sobs. He took one step closer and put an arm around her shoulders. Guido was his friend. They shouldn’t have left him alone with a killer, but how could they have foreseen Guido’s desperate wish to make amends with the person he’d let down so many years ago? Now all they had to hope for was that Guido had better judgment than he seemed to have.
“Gavin, I had no idea. You should have told me. My mum would have done something. She would have let you stay with us.”
“Told you? You? Did you think I wanted to let you know what I was? I loved you. I didn’t want you to know how dirty and worthless I was. I was nothing. Just something he could use and throw away afterwards. If you’d known -”
“You were my friend.”
“Until I told you how I felt about you. Then I lost you anyway.”
“I know. You can’t help it. I’m sorry too, Guy. When we met that night, I should have told you right away, but I was angry. When I saw you with that hottie, I thought you’d lied to me. And I was scared. Guy, I’m not going to jail. You know what they’ll do to me in there. I can’t take that again.”
“You think you could keep me out of jail? I killed a man.”
“He had just raped a boy. A good lawyer could -”
“They could never keep me out of jail. I just wanted to see you one more time, Guy.”
“I’m glad we met again. I’ve been thinking about you for all these years. What I did – it was unforgivable. Even if I couldn’t love you the way you wanted, we were mates. You were my best friend. Forgive me, Gavin.”
“Of course I forgive you.”
Guido could feel Gavin’s hand awkwardly pat his shoulder. Then he was pushed forward onto the tarmac. He hit the ground hard and lost his wind. When he got to his feet, he couldn’t see Gavin anywhere.
“Are you alright?”
Donna. She bent over him and held out a hand to him. He took it and let her help him to his feet. It felt wonderful to be in her arms again, but he couldn’t stay. He had to find Gavin before –
Over by the door, Eddie was still holding on to Tony, but he was looking around for someone to hand him over to. Someone the boy could trust. How could he know who would be reliable?
“Tony. Are you alright?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Good. I’m going to have go with my partners. Will you be alright on your own for a while?”
“Of course. I come here every weekend.”
Eddie knew that the boy had to be in shock and if he had any choice, he wouldn’t just let him go. But he had to go after Donna and Guido.
With his gun drawn, he hurried after his colleagues into the shrubbery. When he caught up with them, he nearly ran into their backs. They were standing still, looking at something further into the bushes. Donna had put away her gun and was about to step into the shrubbery, but Guido stopped her.
“Let me do it.”
Now that Eddie was right behind them, he saw what they had been staring down at. Gavin. He was lying on his back, his eyes staring emptily into the darkening sky. Eddie remembered thinking stupidly, that he hadn’t heard a gun go off. Then he saw the darker shadows around the body. Gavin had slit his own throat. It was clear even from where they were standing that there was no life left in him.
“Don’t. It’s too late.”
Donna was already pulling Guido back.
“No. He can’t be dead. Not after what I did to him.”
Donna didn’t say anything, she merely pulled his head down onto her shoulder and held on to him. Eddie got out his phone and called the station. There was no rush anymore. Their suspect wasn’t going anywhere. He might as well leave Guido and Donna some privacy, but he wanted them away from the body. He also wanted to check on Tony. The boy had to be in a state of shock after being held at knife point by a desperate killer. If he’d listened to the killer talking, he’d also know that he was the cause of the murder, if only indirectly.
He found the boy cowering up by the wall. The kid was still crying and the onlookers didn’t do anything to comfort him. So much for this being one of his places. Eddie put away gun and phone and went over to the boy and pulled him into his arms. There was no resistance. The boy didn’t associate him with that – monster who had hurt him only a few weeks ago. That was a relief. Eddie didn’t want to be connected to anything like that.
Eddie was left behind typing out the report. Sharon had taken one look at Guido and sent him home with Donna. The case was closed anyway. All that remained to be done was filling out the reports and that could wait.
Sharon would have sent Eddie home as well, but he wanted to put some distance between himself and the death he’d witnessed that night. All that blood. During his time as a police officer, he’d seen his share of gruesome crime scenes, but tonight had been emotionally draining for more reasons than one.
Finally, he was finished with the report. He got up, stretched his back and walked over to the coffee machine. But once the coffee was made, he didn’t want it.
“Go home, Eddie. You did well.”
“No, I didn’t. I should have seen it coming. If I had -”
“That man was determined not to be taken alive. There was nothing you could have done. I blame myself for letting Guido go with you. He wasn’t able to function professionally because of this conflict of interest. I should have seen it coming.”
“You know Guido. He would have come anyway. And at least he got the killer to let Tony go unharmed.”
“Yes. There’s that. Anyway, I’m going home now. You should too. Or maybe you’d prefer to go to Irena’s -”
“Thanks. Alright. I will. Here. I’ll just put the report on your desk.”
“Give me that. Just go. Would you like me to make that an order?”
“No, that’s not necessary. I’m going.”
He really didn’t want to go home and he didn’t want to be alone. Not tonight. But how could he call Irena this late? He’d wake her and the boy and she’d worry about him. But the prospect of facing the rest of the night alone made Eddie drive over to Irena’s place anyway. He did have a key. If he let himself in quietly he wouldn’t alarm her or the boy. He’d done it before. Irena had told him she preferred to have him sleeping there next to her.
The key turned noiselessly in the lock and he let himself in. He shed his jacket in the hallway and tiptoed into her room. As always, when he walked in to find her asleep, he couldn’t resist watching her for a while. There was hardly anything he enjoyed more. In sleep her solemn face looked more innocent, more carefree. It was hard to guess that Irena had been a street child, even more than Tony. He’d been drawn to older men out of a hidden desire that was part of who he was. She had had a much more direct and perhaps even more irresistible need to fulfill.
Eddie felt so tired, he had to lie down or he’d fall over. He undressed quickly and slid down beside Irena on the bed. She didn’t wake up, but after a while, she rolled over and snuggled closer. Reassured by the feeling of her slight body pressing against his, Eddie closed his eyes and tried to will away the images of tonight’s events. The gaping wound in the killer’s neck. The haunted look in the boy’s eyes. Guido’s anguish. Donna’s tears as she feared her lover was gone.
He fell asleep and the images changed. The familiar surroundings closed on him and the memories returned.
A scream woke Irena up and, disoriented, she thought of her son. But the scream was coming from right next to her ear and the shape next to her revealed itself to be Eddie. Eddie. Why was he screaming like that? Gently, she began to speak to him.
“Eddie, it’s alright. It’s only a dream. Wake up, darling.”
Her hands moved across his neck and began to stroke his hair, slowly and soothingly.
At first, her touch caused him to tense up violently and he shot away from her. He nearly fell to the floor, but by now, he was wide awake.
Now the door to her room was opened and Irena could see her son standing there, anxiously staring at her.
“It’s alright, baby. Eddie’s having a bad dream. Go back to bed, sweetie.”
“Nothing. It’s just a bad dream. Go on. We’ll be fine.”
To her relief, the boy nodded sensibly and closed the door again.
“Eddie? Are you alright? You came in very late last night.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake any of you.”
“I know. It’s not your fault. But what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Just a dream.”
“Not just any dream. You were screaming so loud, I was afraid someone was dying.”
“Someone did die last night. A killer. A suspect, I mean.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
She wrapped her arms around him and continued to stroke his hair, like she would comfort her son when he was upset.
Eventually, Eddie relaxed again and she felt his head slide onto her shoulder. After a little while, she heard his breathing become slow and regular. He was asleep.
Irena sighed. She didn’t think she’d be able to go back to sleep herself. What had really caused Eddie to come awake like that? He’d been terrified. In fear of his life, she was guessing. Or maybe – Frowning, Irena couldn’t help recalling a time in her life when she’d been in that much pain. But surely Eddie couldn’t have any reason to feel that way?
She knew he’d lost his parents when he was quite young, but there had to be more to it than that. With an effort she pushed away the gloomy thoughts. It was still night. If she could, she ought to go back to sleep. Her shift began at 8.
That morning at breakfast, Eddie told her a little more about the case, but since the boy was present, he didn’t go into details.
“I’ll have a word with Donna as soon as I can. And Guido – if he wants to, I can put him in touch with a psychologist -”
“If he’ll agree to see one.”
“Yes, there’s that. If he doesn’t want help, no one can make him accept it.”
Irena wasn’t talking just about Guido, but Eddie didn’t seem to be paying attention to her. When she left for the hospital, he went with her. They dropped the boy off at his school, then Eddie took her to work. Irena anxiously watched the car drive away.
She’d never known Eddie to be this distraught and she didn’t think it could be just over a case. In the time they’d known each other, he’d had his share of gruesome cases, just like she’d seen much suffering at the hospital, and even more in her personal life. But this – this was an entirely new situation. In the past, if anyone had felt need of comfort, it had been her. Especially when Anna died. Perhaps now, it was Eddie’s turn to need help.
To her relief, Eddie returned that evening, and they had dinner together. Again, he apologized to the boy for interrupting his night’s sleep. Sensing his mother’s need for privacy, the boy withdrew to his own room, to do his homework. Irena suspected that he was also planning on playing some computer game. She didn’t mind. There was nothing on that computer she hadn’t taken a good look at and made sure it was safe for her son to use.
“How was Guido? And Donna?”
“They had taken the day off, so we had our hands full without them.”
“I see. That was probably wise of them. Perhaps you should have done the same?”
“The man who died wasn’t my friend.”
“No. But Guido and Donna are your friends.”
“It’s alright, Irena. I’ll manage.”
He didn’t want to talk about it. She could understand that. After getting to know Eddie, it had taken her a long time to trust him enough to tell him about her past. If he needed to take his time, it was alright. He didn’t mention the case again that night.
Instead, they discussed more personal matters. They had from time to time talked idly about going away on holiday together, all three of them. Irena couldn’t help smiling at the thought of her son and Eddie and herself on some paradise beach. When she was a teenage prostitute she always dreamed about that sort of holiday, but had never been able to imagine that she’d one day actually go on one. And now she not only could go on holiday, she also had Eddie to go with.
Later that night, they went to bed. Irena sensed that Eddie was still on edge, so she kept her distance. He seemed to be tossing and turning for hours before finally drifting off to sleep. She wasn’t entirely surprised when she was once again woken up by a horrifying scream. At least her son had already guessed the source of that scream and he stayed in his room, leaving her to calm Eddie as best she could.
When Eddie finally relaxed a little, Irena looked at him searchingly. What was wrong? Why was he in such pain suddenly? She had to know.
“Eddie, what is really wrong? It’s not the case from the other night, is it?”
“I’m fine. It’s nothing.”
“You don’t look fine to me. Don’t shut me out, Eddie. I love you. Why won’t you talk to me?”
He wouldn’t meet her anxious gaze. She was right. Sooner or later he would have to tell her. She’d been honest about her past. He owed her as much honesty in return. They loved each other. If he couldn’t confide in her, what did their relationship really mean?
Still, he hesitated. He’d never told anyone. No one knew. Most of the time, he kept the memories locked inside him so deeply, he almost managed to forget about them entirely. But if he didn’t love her enough to share even this with her, how could he stay in the relationship? If he didn’t open up to her, he might as well tell her it was over between them.
It was too late anyway, the door that hid the memories was now wide open.
When he’d ended up alone, he’d tried his best to be grown up and look after himself. He knew that if social services found out he was by himself, he’d end up in foster care and he just wouldn’t accept that. Somehow, he had to manage on his own.
So he begged, turned over garbage cans, looking for leftovers and stole food from street vendours. He even managed to get jobs though what little they paid didn’t help much. Working so hard every day, made him neglect school, but fortunately, the teachers were so tired and burned out they didn’t care that he hardly ever did his homework and was absent more than any other kid in the class. When he needed to, he forged a signature on the notes that were sent home with him.
But it was so hard to make ends meet. The first year, he more or less scraped by, but after that he began to grow so fast, his clothes didn’t fit him anymore. If the authorities noticed that he wasn’t getting any new clothes, they’d be sure to investigate. So he had to come up with something else. Clothes weren’t as easy to steal as food.
He was getting desperate. One day he managed to take a switchblade from another boy. That gave him an idea. Late that evening, he went out, carrying the knife in his pocket. He was scared, but he didn’t see any other solution to his problem. Circling around the back streets near his home, he searched for a likely victim. An opportunity presented itself when he saw a drunk go into an alley to relieve himself.
He took the switchblade out of his pocket and released the blade. His hand shivered slightly when he held it out.
“Give me your money.”
His voice didn’t sound menacing enough. The guy turned around quickly and lunged at him. Before he even had time to react, the switchblade clattered to the ground and rolled away, out of his reach.
The guy held on to his arm and looked him over. A wide grin spread across the guy’s features as he took in his would-be attacker.
“Aren’t you a little young to be mugging people?”
He tried to twist out of the guy’s grip but the grip on his arm was too tight.
“Sorry. Let me go.”
Now the guy laughed.
“Why? Waste an opportunity like this?”
The guy still hadn’t closed his pants in front and now he pulled his prisoner closer.
“Not until you do me a little favour. How about it? Otherwise, I think I’m going to have teach you a lesson.”
He stared at the guy’s crotch as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Was this some kind of joke? A sick, disgusting joke. But the guy didn’t look like he was joking.
“Make up your mind, kid.”
To add emphasis to his demand, the guy raised his hand in the air. The hand landed with a thud, causing the captive’s ears to ring.
“What about now?”
His hand was shaking and again, he made a desperate rush to twist out of the tight grip. It was no use. The hand descended again and again. By now, tears were streaming down his face. Too scared to disobey, he did what he was told. He kept his eyes averted. When it was over, he snatched his hand back and ran, blindly.
Once back home, he kept scrubbing his hand until it was raw. It didn’t help. He was in too much shock to feel hungry or even tired. The following day, he didn’t go to school.
That evening, he didn’t want to go out, but before too long, hunger drove him back to the garbage cans and the yards behind the stores where he might find something to eat.
When he passed the alley where he’d been caught last night, he kept close to the other side. Despite that, he ran into the same man.
Eyes wide with fear, he backed off, trying to find an escape route.
“Not so fast. Last night you wanted money, right? You can have some.”
He stared in disbelief. All he wanted was to run as far away as he could. But he’d just hit the wall behind him and he needed to pass very close to the man if he wanted to get away.
The man now began to look through his inner pocket and brought out a wallet. He pulled out a dollar.
“You can have this if you do it again.”
He could hear his own breathing coming out raggedly, and knew the man could tell how scared he was. Even if he’d wanted to reply, he knew his voice wouldn’t obey him.
The man pulled out two more dollar bills.
“Alright. Is that enough?”
He didn’t wait for a reply. Instead he pulled out a few more bills and waved them in the air.
“That’s my final offer. There are other kids. If you don’t want it, they will.”
By now, there was enough money for a pair of second hand shoes or a dinner. It wasn’t much, for something like that, but it was what he needed. He swallowed hard and held out his hand.
Afterwards, he rubbed his tears away with his sleeve, then forced himself not to think. He ran to the store that he knew would be open still. For the first time in weeks, he went to bed with a full stomach. After an hour or so, he woke up and ran into the bathroom. He threw up until his throat felt as raw as his hand. It took him two hours to go back to sleep, while the tears dried on his cheeks.
He swore to himself that he’d never do it again and did his best to forget it had even happened. But soon he was hungry again and he needed a new jacket. So, while refusing to dwell on what he’d have to do, he went out again, in search of other men, like the first one. It wasn’t hard to find them. He’d known all along that they existed. Some of them were familiar to all the kids in the street. The one he found that night paid him more.
After that, he stopped begging. He wasn’t getting much anyway. By now, he was too old and only a few old ladies would give him some change once in a while.
One night, what he’d learned to do wasn’t enough. At first, he was going to refuse, but the money he was offered was much more than he’d held in his hands since he was left alone. He needed that money.
Looking away from the man kneeling in front of him, he tried to think about anything but the stinking alley he was in and what was going on. This was different. He couldn’t stop the tears from falling and had to dry his nose all the time. The man wasn’t too happy with him afterwards.
“Next time I’ll want you to go all the way. Do you understand what I’m saying? This wasn’t worth it.”
And before he could stop the man, he’d taken back a few of the dollar bills he’d stuffed into his pocket.
“If you want more, you’d better show me you like it. Do you hear me?”
He turned and ran. He didn’t stop running until he was at home. The shower kept on running, until the water ran out. He still didn’t feel clean.
But the next night, he went out again. And again. The money he earned got him through the rest of that summer and into the autumn. Jeans and trainers and t-shirts. And food every night.
Then one night, the guy wanted him on his knees. Again, he was offered more money and since he had a tooth that needed filling, and the pain kept him awake at night, he didn’t have to think too long about that.
He was to remember that night for a long time. Later, back home, while he was throwing up, he kept remembering every single second of it. All of it.
He looked up and met Irena’s eyes, filled with love and concern. She touched his face gently and the love he felt for her made him decide.
“I was you.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”
“I was you. The way you were back then. Not now.”
“But you’re not. Let me deal with my own nightmares, alright? Don’t we have enough with our own memories?”
“What’s wrong? You’re not still thinking about what I did?”
He could see that he’d hurt her. Made her think he couldn’t accept what she’d been through as a teenager. This wasn’t helping. He’d need to explain himself better.
“But I was you. I didn’t do drugs, but the rest is the same. And I was younger than you were.”
She looked at him searchingly, trying to understand what he’d just told her. He couldn’t mean – No. Was there evil everywhere? Not Eddie too. She should have known. The pain he was in, how could it be anything else?
“When I was fourteen, I was on my own. And I had to find a way to stay out of foster care. I didn’t want them to come and take me away. It was my home. So I begged, stole food from street vendours and sometimes I was able to get a job. But it wasn’t enough.”
“I’m sorry. When you told me about your past, I should have told you this.”
“I understand. I do.”
He began to look for his clothes and when he found them, he got up, and began to get dressed. He couldn’t stay here. How could he expect her to want him when she knew what he’d done?
“Eddie? Where are you going?”
“I have to go.”
“Why? Why do you run from me? I thought you loved me. Do you think I won’t love you anymore? Answer me.”
“You don’t understand. What I did -”
“You think I don’t understand? Of course I do. Of course.”
“But it’s different.”
“How is it different? You were a prostitute?”
“Yes. I told you that.”
“So was I. What’s the difference?”
“You don’t understand.”
“So you keep saying. Then explain to me how it’s different, because do you know what it sounds like? Do you? Are you saying it’s ok, because I was only a girl? Are you?”
“No. Of course not. But it’s not the same.”
“In what way? Talk to me Eddie.”
“I can’t. If you don’t understand I can’t explain it to you.”
“Because you’re this tough macho guy, it’s not ok for you to have this past, but it’s ok for me? Because I’m just a female. You, of all people. I never thought I’d hear that from you. Alright. Go away then. Go. If you don’t think better of me, then you should go. I don’t want to see you again.”
“Irena – please. You have to understand -”
“How can I understand when you’re not explaining to me?”
“You didn’t – it didn’t make you feel -”
She stared at him, her eyes wide, and her face tense, but she didn’t scream at him again. It seemed she was thinking, trying to puzzle out what it was he wasn’t saying. Then understanding seemed to dawn on her.
“Oh, Eddie. Is that what’s bothering you? I know. I knew boys back then. Friends of mine. My first boyfriend. He was also my pimp, until he started using heroin, and I wasn’t making enough for both of us, so he had to do it too. I know. They don’t pay you until – But, Eddie, that’s not your fault.”
“That’s not – ”
“It’s exactly the same. Just because we’re different anatomically doesn’t mean you liked it. It doesn’t work that way. You know that, don’t you?”
He was going to say no. It didn’t make any difference. What had happened had happened. He’d reacted to those men’s touch. Couldn’t she see that it made him a pervert too, just like them? But now he recalled Tony and the way his face had looked on the day he’d been raped. And just after he’d been held at knifepoint by the killer. Tony was just a kid. He had been just a kid back then.
Maybe Irena was right. He hadn’t liked it. He hadn’t wanted to feel the way they made him feel. For years afterwards, he’d felt unclean. He hadn’t wanted to face himself in the mirror and he hadn’t even been able to have sex with the girls who looked at him just like those men did. They had been beautiful, pretty, sexy. But he hadn’t been able to face them anyway. It had been years until he’d overcome that barrier and first made love to a girl.
Irena was the best thing that had ever happened to him. If he left now, because he didn’t like the boy he’d been back then, what was left for him? People like Madeleine? A little sex when she had time for him. No relationship. Getting drunk in a bar and picking up a girl who might infect him with something that would cure his bad memories for good, given time? No. He’d found love and he wasn’t going to run away again. She understood better than any other woman could.
“I suppose I do. But it doesn’t make much difference. I’ll never be able to forget.”
“Of course you can’t. I can’t forget either. Eddie, if someone had told me to have sex with another girl back then, I would have. Nothing was more important than the heroin. That never happened, but – it might have. Do you really think I’d hold this against you?”
“No. I know you don’t.”
“Exactly. It’s you who can’t let go of the self contempt. I understand. I felt that way too, for years. Until I joined the church. I’ve lost my faith now, after Anna died, but I regained my self respect on the way.”
“I don’t need the church. All I need is you.”
“Oh, Eddie. Try to forgive yourself.”
He nodded. Yes. He didn’t know if he would ever be successful, but he’d found Irena. That was a miracle in itself. Maybe the miracle would happen again. And he’d never quite lost his faith. Didn’t Irena prove that there was some good in the world?
To his surprise, he felt a little better. She’d listened to his story and she’d never backed away from him. In her eyes he could see nothing but love and acceptance.
“I love you, Eddie.”
“I love you too, Irena.”
He dropped his clothes back onto the floor and lay down again, beside her. She moved closer and put her arms around him. His head rested on her shoulder and he could feel her sweet-smelling hair tickle his forehead. He held her close and buried his nose in her smooth, silky skin. Whoever had touched them hadn’t left any traces. They were clean and one day they would be free of the past. Lying like this, he could almost believe it.