|Primary Characters:||Cade, Eddie|
|Warning:||violence, m/m sex referred to, adult themes|
|Description:||Another case for Cade, but this time it brings back bad memories from his years on the street. Fortunately, his friends come and help him out.|
“Hey. What was that Trish sent you?”
“What? Oh, nothing. Just personal stuff.”
Cade cast an inquiring glance at his friend. He knew that an email had just arrived from Trish, and that it was supposed to contain information about a new Gua experiment. So why did Eddie claim to have received yet another of what Cade suspected was a mushy love mail?
“But Angelica told me Trish had uncovered what looks like another Gua experiment.”
“She did? Well, it’s nothing much really. In fact, you’ve been working so hard lately, I could look into it myself.”
“You? But you never work the field.”
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t.”
“Let me take a look.”
“It’s nothing really interesting. I’m thinking it might not be a Gua project at all. Just something unrelated.”
“Come on, Eddie. That stuff you just printed out, was that Trish’s email?”
“Uh, yeah. But I really don’t think -“
Cade was coming to the conclusion that his friend was hiding something from him. Could this be something connected with Hannah’s death? He walked over to the pile of papers overflowing on the side of the desk. It didn’t take him long to realize what it was Eddie had been trying to protect him from.
A series of mysterious deaths among young men, living on the street. The symptoms didn’t match any known conditions prevalent among drug addicts and prostitutes, which apparently was what these young men were.
Cade felt a knot forming at the pit of his stomach. Why did he have to stick his head into this hornet’s nest? But no matter what these poor men had been doing, it didn’t give the Gua the right to use them as guinea pigs. He took a deep breath and tried to appear unconcerned.
“It’s ok, Eddie. I’ll do it. This definitely sounds like our friends in action again.”
“Are you sure? I could just as easily -“
“No. Don’t worry about it. And you have to admit I have a unique perspective.”
“Man, I -“
“Just let me read through this in more detail, and I’ll get on it. If you can find more info on the web, it would help.”
“Ok. I’ll see what I can do. Most cases seem to have occurred in L A, two in San Francisco. So if you’re going out there, it seems you’ll be going to Hollywood. Man, I wish I -“
“Hollywood? Sounds great.”
Cade’s tone of voice seemed to imply that he could think of a number of places he’d rather go, but Eddie was too filled with visions of scantily-dressed movie divas, to really notice. He went about his search slowly and methodically, and after a while, a few hits came up.
“I’ve got something else.”
“Ok, I’m about done here anyway. What is it?”
“Some scientist has noticed the similarities between these cases and is doing a study about it. There are some facts that we could use. Like the street where most of those guys hang out. I wonder -“
“I was thinking Trish could probably go undercover at that hospital, in the lab. That way she could get first hand information about the virus or whatever it is they’re using.”
“Good idea. I think -“
“No, you don’t, man. Not again.”
“You don’t know what I was going to suggest.”
Cade had a pretty good hunch Eddie knew exactly what he had in mind, but he was deliberately keeping his voice level and unconcerned. This was different. He wouldn’t be living on the street, he’d be investigating the case.
“You’re going to go back to the street and talk to the guys out there, aren’t you?”
“What’s the harm in that?”
“Nothing, I guess. What cover are you going to use? Will you be a cop?”
“You think those guys will talk to a cop? No, I’ll have to go slumming again.”
“Not a good idea, Cade.”
“Why not? That’s the only way I can think of to get anyone to talk to me.”
“I know, but I hate to think of you out there again. Isn’t it going to be like opening up old wounds?”
“Maybe. But I’ll look around a bit first, and make up my mind later. If Trish can find enough information in the lab, I won’t have to.”
“Ok. I guess nothing I can say will make you change your mind.”
So the next morning, Cade flew out to the coast to see his friend’s lover, Trish. As always, Trish made the greyest rainiest day seem brilliantly sunny. Though in this case, it really wasn’t necessary. The sun was shining from a clear sky, at least what Cade could see of it through the smog.
In his mind, though, there was a steady drizzle making him feel younger and more vulnerable than ever. Eddie was right, this case was opening up a lot of old wounds. Would they ever heal completely? But he forced himself to face Trish bravely and ignore his own feelings.
“You ok, Cade?”
Of course, Cade knew that Eddie must have discussed his past with his lover, but it still felt a bit weird having this woman know all about him and his troubled past.
“Don’t worry about it. You said you’d found some new information?”
“Yes. It seems we have a live one right here in the hospital.”
“Someone infected with this thing?”
“Yes. A young guy, who well, to be honest doesn’t have all that long, but he’s still lucid. You should be able to talk to him. I’ve prepared a cover for you. As of today, you’re dr Cade Johnson, from the Institute for Disease Control. Here. Your ID card.”
“Thanks. Where do I find this kid?”
“He’s in ward F on the seventh floor. That’s where they put cases like this.”
“Is it contagious?”
“Not that anyone’s been able to verify. One theory is that it’s sexually transmitted, but there’s been no evidence for that. Personally, I think it’s been injected into them. Most of the patients have been drug addicts, possibly all of them.”
“Ok. Any theories as to what this thing is?”
“Yes. It seems, unofficially, that it’s a genetically modified strain of leukemia. But it’s been sort of crossed with a number of different viruses, and possibly prions.”
“Like in BSE?”
“Exactly. It’s one hell of a killing infection cocktail. And the mortality is 100 %. Cade, we need to find whoever is distributing this stuff and stop them. I’ve seen the autopsy reports on these kids and it’s like their respitory system just shuts down, and the heart gives out on them. But first they just sort of get weaker and weaker. Their blood count goes down and they just wither and die within weeks.”
Cade had never seen Trish so passionate about anything so far. And he felt he could understand. No one deserved to die this way. Not even homeless people that no one was going to miss.
“Ok, I hear you. What’s his name?”
“Oh, the patient? It’s Nick. Nick Romero.”
“I’ll go see him right now, if that’s ok.”
“Sure, go right ahead. There are no visiting hours on the 7th floor. Just show the nurse on duty your card, and she’ll let you in to see him.”
In the elevator going up, Cade tried to come to terms with having to meet this kid who would bring up so many bad memories. He couldn’t let the kid see his reaction. As a government official, he needed to appear professional and detached. It didn’t seem possible.
While the floors ticked by, Cade tried not to dwell on what he would see up there. Would the kid be very weak? Pale? Have respitory problems? Even if he did, Cade resolved to sound cheerful and encouraging. He might know that this kid only had a few more days, but if the patient didn’t know it himself there was no need to spell it out to him.
When the elevator door opened, Cade found himself entering an empty corridor. Apparently, the overflowing wards further down, had nothing in common with this place. It was as if the denizens were already out of this world. He imagined a morgue could be livelier place. The desk nurse was a bony woman in her early sixties. She looked like she had seen it all, and then some, but that all of it had long since ceased to bother her.
“Is it ok for him to have a visitor?”
“It’s not going to make much difference to him, mister. This time next week he’ll be nothing but a statistic in our records. Go on.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
She barely acknowledged his words. Working long hours for little pay seemed to take up most of her energy. At least she must have a home and this job. The kid in there had nothing, and soon enough he wouldn’t even have his life such as it was. Cade was overtaken by an overwhelming feeling of apathy. But with an effort he shook it off. For the time being, he had to put all his energies into working this case.
When he pushed open the door, he took a deep breath and forced his features into a semblance of a carefree but sympathetic smile. The wasted figure on the bed didn’t look up, so Cade thought the kid had to be asleep, unless he’d already passed away. Tentatively, he said hello in a low voice. To his surprise that produced a reaction in the patient.
“Hi. You another doctor? Or a reporter?”
“A reporter? No. Dr Cade Johnson, Institute for disease control.”
“Hello, doc. I don’t suppose you’ve got some miracle treatment for me?”
The boy on the bed looked as if he was barely out of his teens. His eyes seemed to convey the same sense of hopelessness Cade recognized from his own countenance at the same age. At least he had found a way out. This kid’s only way out was in a box. The thought depressed him even more, but he tried not to let that show.
“I’m afraid not. Not today.”
“And not any other day, I guess.”
The way he said it, told Cade that there was no need to disillusion him. He already knew his chances were nil. Such a short life and such a terrible way to leave it.
“I’ve come to ask you a little about how you might have caught this thing.”
“Your guess is as good as mine, doc. At first I thought it was AIDS. Then they told me it wasn’t and I was so relieved. So I thought it wasn’t the end this time, you know?”
“Yes, I know. Go on.”
“But then I kept getting worse and I couldn’t work anymore. That was last week. Now I’m stuck in here.”
He was interrupted by a severe bout of coughing. The attack shook the emaciated frame and visibly weakened him further. It was almost as if Cade could see the relentless work of the virus inside the boy’s immune system.
He looked around for something to give him, to make him more comfortable. On the bedside table there was a pitcher and a glass. Hurriedly he poured some water for the kid. The thin hand shook, but he managed to drink some of down, before Cade had to take the glass and put it back on the table.
Now Nick lay back, his eyes closed. Cade thought the kid had had enough, so he got up to leave.
“I’m sorry. You’re tired. I’ll come back some other time.”
“Better be now. There’s no telling how long I’m going to stick around. I’ve got a big promotion coming up.”
And despite his weakened condition the boy looked towards the ceiling and smiled crookedly. Yes, there was no doubt about it, he knew what was coming and he didn’t even seem to mind very much.
Cade could relate to that. There had been a time when he had seen death as the only way out of his troubles. But it was so unfair. He had found another solution, why couldn’t this kid do the same? Nick seemed to read his face and shrugged indifferently.
“It’s no big deal. I was heading that way anyway. You know how it is. I was shooting up for a year or two before this happened. It’s kind of a one-way street. But I haven’t been able to take much of it since I ended up here. They’ve got me on methadone, but it isn’t doing much for me.”
“You say you were shooting up. What kind of drugs were you using?”
“What kind of stuff were you able to get? Do you think it might have been contaminated somehow?”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking. There’s this weirdo who deals in the area I’ve been working.”
“When you say weirdo, exactly what do you mean by that?”
The kid appeared to be thinking over his next words carefully. Finally, he seemed to come to a decision.
“Well, his stuff wasn’t more expensive than anyone else’s, but it was really pure, so it should have been. You know? And he never tried to get any freebies, like many of the others.”
He appeared to be embarrassed by admitting to being a prostitute, which seemed to be exactly what he was referring to.
“I see. Can you tell me anything more about this guy? Like his name and where I could find him?”
“I don’t know where he is now, but he usually hangs around the neigborhood, looking for clients. And his business is going well. Everyone wants to buy his stuff. They call him Toro. But he doesn’t sound like a Latino to me. He’s tall, with brown hair and he wears sort of commando gear. You know, camouflage pants, jacket, the works. But he doesn’t seem to be carrying a weapon. Maybe he doesn’t need to. He’s a big, strong guy. And I never heard of anyone who picked a fight with him.”
“That’s very helpful, Nick. Thanks. Now I’ll let you get some rest.”
“If this bastard is infecting us with some shit, you get him, ok? Two of my friends have died from this thing already. It might not be much of a life, but he’s got no right to do this to us.”
“I know. I agree. And I’m out to get him alright. Don’t worry about it. He won’t get away with it. Nick?”
There was a pause, and for a second Cade thought the long conversation had exhausted Nick too much. Was this the end? But again, the kid seemed to draw on some unexpected source of strength.
“Is there anyone you want me to get in touch with? Your family?”
“There is no family. Well, I had a sister who was a lot older than me, but I haven’t heard anything from her in more than ten years. She married some sales rep and moved to Florida. Besides, I wouldn’t want Janey to know what happened to me.”
“Not for a long time. Dad died when I was 8 and mom was killed in a car crash when I was 15. After that I went into care. Funny word. Makes you think someone’s going to care about you. They should call it storage.”
Nick cast Cade a penetrating look.
“I guess you do. Then you know what it’s like.”
“Yes, I do. I promise you, Nick, I’ll get this bastard.”
“Good. Now I think I have to sleep a little. I feel so tired.”
“You do that. I’ll go find this sonofabitch and shut him down.”
When Cade got up to go, he had made his decision. No matter what it would cost him, he would get back out on the street, and he wouldn’t rest until he found the Gua behind this particular scheme and shut the operation down.
He took a bus down to the part of town Nick had come from, and got a room in a shabby hotel. The guy behind the desk stared rudely at Cade and asked for an outrageous sum of money “as a deposit”. Fortunately, he had enough to pay for a week. After being handed the money, the man lost interest and pointed Cade in the direction of the small stuffy room. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned this side of the millennium.
Dejectedly, Cade put down his sports bag and looked out the window. It was grubby enough not to show much of the blank concrete wall on the other side of the alley. All this was depressingly familiar. Even the smell reminded Cade of his past.
But the memory of the emaciated kid in the hospital bed made him get up and back to the street. Dusk was falling, and he knew the tricks and the pimps and the dealers would be out in force soon enough.
It was time he established himself as a newcomer, but with a legitimate reason to be here. Since he was no longer a minor, he knew he had to affect a drug habit. A man his age wouldn’t need to resort to this desperate measure unless he had a compelling reason. He would prefer signing on as a day laborer rather than do this again, but he knew he wasn’t here to support himself, just looking for information.
This was a different city, but much was familiar to him, even after all those years. He recognized the looks from the other guys, the dirt, the smell of the overturned garbage cans, the thin wary-eyed alley cats, all of it.
By asking around, he found the right street corner for a guy like him. At first he didn’t dare to ask for the dealer, Toro. A newbie would hardly have such specific information and the last thing he wanted was to be taken for an undercover narc. One false move, and he could forget about the job, if he was lucky enough to even get out alive.
Something dawned on him as he walked around and got a feel for the area. He had lost much of his streetwise ways. If he wanted to fit in, he had to get back the cold hard edge that had kept him alive when he was a kid. At least he wouldn’t actually have to get into another car with a trick. All he needed to do was stick to his role, stay out of trouble and avoid antagonizing his competition.
After a miserable meal of a nearly rancid burger and some limp fries, washed down with a stale soda, Cade returned to the room that would be his home for the duration of this case. The people he met on the stairs and in the corridors didn’t stop to say hello, except for an unhealthily skinny Latino girl who looked at him hopefully. But since he wasn’t buying any more than he was selling he disappointed her and turned to the pay phone on the wall outside his room. Eddie was always telling him how easy cell phones were to bug.
“It’s me. I’ve moved into a hotel and I’ve checked out the neighborhood.”
“You’re not going through with this, man? Don’t do this to me, Cade. I won’t be able to sleep for worrying about you out there. Let me join you and watch your back.”
“Hm. What would you be?”
Cade thought to himself that maybe Eddie could pose as one of the more eccentric homeless, or possibly a wino, but that wouldn’t get him close enough to be of any help.
“How about a dealer? I watched a lot of Starsky and Hutch and I think I could -“
“Ok. Come on out here and we’ll see. I’ll see what I can come up with for you.”
From his own experience, Cade knew that Eddie didn’t stand a chance on the street, if his only knowledge of street life came from watching old cop series. But there was no denying he’d feel a lot better if his friends were nearby. Trish was already in the same city, and if Eddie was closer maybe he’d feel a little safer.
“Will do. See you soon. And Cade – don’t do anything rash, ok? Stay safe.”
“I will. Don’t worry about me. I know street life like the back of my hand. There’s nothing to it.”
After he’d hung up, his false air of bravado left him, and he headed back into the dump where he’d have to sleep for the next week at least. He wondered what would be worse, the smell, the noise or the heat. In reality none of it bothered him much. It was just having to return to where he’d come from all those years ago that really got to him.
For a while it felt as if the intervening years hadn’t happened and that this was where he belonged. How had he ever thought he could outrun his past? To boost his morale a little, he leafed through the paperback copy of Nostradamus’ prophesies. It was worn and coming apart at the seams, but reading it sometimes helped him remember his purpose. He was more than the former street kid, or even Hannah’s husband. That was something he had to believe, not just say it to himself.
Towards dawn he fell into a shallow dreamless sleep. He didn’t wake up until close to midday when he heard a chilling scream from a room few doors down the corridor. Not long afterwards he heard the sirens of a squad car, and the sound of purposefull footsteps on the stairs. He broke into a cold sweat. What if the cops found him here?
But the footsteps passed his door and continued towards the scene of the crime. He heard a sharp knock, then the traditional warning, and when no one answered the door, it was kicked in. Not long afterwards, a woman was dragged kicking and screaming from her room. Her vocabulary seemed to extend to curses in two languages, many of them unknown even to Cade. Those curses hinted at a somewhat too close attachment between the cops and their own fathers, as well as various types of livestock.
When the screams faded a little, he dared to open the door and look out. He wasn’t alone. Almost every door in hall was open and the tenants were staring at the woman who was being dragged down the stairs. Cade got a glimpse of a small, skinny woman with a huge pink whig, wearing not much more than what looked like a bikini. The face staring out the next door turned to him and grinned a little.
“Yeah. What was that all about?”
“My guess is Crystal had enough of her man and stabbed him. He’s been keeping us all awake the past couple of nights using her as a punching bag.”
“I’m J. If you’re looking for merchandise I’ll help you out. My stuff is the best on the block. Ask anyone.”
“Thanks. I’ll remember.”
He wasn’t here to make friends or make purchases from anyone but this Toro guy. Besides, the fewer people saw of him the better. In this crowd, there was bound to be someone who would sell him to the cops for a lot less than the reward that was being offered for information about him. Fortunately J didn’t seem to take offense. Here everyone minded their own business.
Later in the day, he contacted Eddie again and found that his friend had been held up by bad weather and hadn’t come any further than Nevada. It would be at least another day before his friend would be around.
Cade used the rest of that day to make discreet inquiries. The money he had brought was dwindling, but not really fast. In this environment, Cade found that he had lost his appetite. He had to force himself to eat at least two meals a day. Mostly he just gulped down a few bottles of water or soda. For the rest he tried to swallow a little junk food.
It soon became apparent that on his floor there was a Haitian who mainly supported himself by pimping little girls from the islands to Californians who preferred their women really young. So young they were hardly into their teens.
The man got on Cade’s nerves. Soon he learned that even on his floor there were two more pimps as well as three dealers, not to mention at least four hookers. And that was only the women. He suspected that most of the younger men were at least part time prostitutes.
No one questioned his presence, so he assumed he still looked the part, even though he was older and less skinny now. He needed to work on the addict look. The days without food helped a bit. And the sleepless nights did part of the rest.
Cade drew on his memories of addicts he’d known in the past and tried to mimick their behavior. But he was careful not to overdo it. If someone offered to sell him some stuff, he’d be forced to buy it, so he wouldn’t arouse suspicions. And he didn’t have that kind money.
Next morning he had some good news at last, even though he hadn’t seen a trace of Toro. Eddie was in California and would be in L A by early afternoon.
“You haven’t done anything dangerous, have you?”
“Like what? There’s this guy I’d like to wipe the floor with, but I haven’t done anything, honestly.”
“Just don’t put yourself at risk, Cade. I mean it. It isn’t worth getting killed over.”
Cade was touched. Eddie rarely showed his concern this openly. Out of consideration for his friend, he refrained from pointing out that merely living in this environment was dangerous. Drive-by shootings, drug dealers fighting it out and junkies on bad trips were very real risks every day in this world. But Eddie didn’t need to know that.
“Don’t worry. I have no intention of getting killed. See you soon. I’ll meet you in the city just in case. Out here, you’d stand out a mile.”
“Ok. Oh, I’ve just been in touch with Angelica and she’s heading out here too. She wasn’t sure when she’d make it but she said there was no way she was letting you do this without her to watch your back.”
This brought a pale smile to Cade’s lips. Angelica’s love for him warmed him, despite everything.
“I’m looking forward to seeing you both.”
A few hours later, Cade caught a bus into the city, and soon enough he could see his friend. Eddie was like a kid on a carnival, staring open-mouthed at all the well-dressed, or eccentrically attired people. He didn’t even notice Cade until he was standing right beside him. Cade had to call his name twice before Eddie reacted. But his entire face lit up when he caught sight of his friend, apparently safe and well. Before Cade could make a move to stop him, Eddie drew him into a bear hug. Cade tensed up, but Eddie hardly noticed.
“Man, you look worn out. Are you getting any sleep at all?”
“What about you? You seem to have been driving more or less non-stop since we last talked.”
“Don’t worry about me. Now, how do you like my get-up?”
Not until then did Cade notice the monstrous suit Eddie had managed to get a hold of. Apparently, he had meant the suggestion about posing as a dealer seriously. With a sinking feeling Cade realized that he would have to discuss this with Eddie. Like this, Eddie looked like he had come straight out of a seventies cop series.
“Interesting look. But listen Eddie, there’s no way you could be a dealer. The real dealers would tear you up. It’s really competitive out there. Besides, don’t be offended, but you’re far too old. Dealers don’t last into their thirties. Either they die or they retire.”
Eddie’s face fell, and he looked crest-fallen. But he didn’t doubt his friend’s expertise in the area.
“Ok. Then what?”
Cade sighed. He had given this a lot of thought since Eddie had announced his attention of backing his friend up. It didn’t seem likely that he would accept merely staying at a hotel, waiting for a phone call. And if he wanted to put in an appearance on the street, Cade only knew of one possible role Eddie could play.
“The only thing that wouldn’t cause suspicion would be if you posed as a trick.”
“What? You mean I’d have to pick up some of those guys and -“
“No, of course not. But you could drive by and pick me up. I might as well go off with someone, or it’s going to look odd. If someone were to take me for a narc, this operation would be over. And I could consider myself lucky to get out of it alive.”
“Sure, I could do that. I’ll just pick you up and we’ll go for a snack and then I’ll drop you off again. Sounds ok.”
“Yes, I guess so.”
Cade had to agree with Eddie. Just getting into a car with someone, in this case a friend, wouldn’t cost him anything. And it would help him look the part. But he still felt awful, having to do this. It was reminding him uncomfortably of things he would prefer to forget entirely.
“What about Trish?”
“What about her? She’s still working at the lab, right?”
“Yes, but I thought she could come along. I don’t like having to look like some gay guy out to pick up another guy. So I was thinking if I had my girlfriend along, it would look more – normal.”
“No. You’re right, sometimes you do get couples, but there’s no way anyone would believe you’d be out looking for this kind of thing with a woman like Trish. Unless you had some pretty unusual tastes.”
“Let me get this straight. Trish looks too good to be out picking up hustlers but I don’t?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. It’s not the same thing when it comes to men. Tricks come in all sizes and shapes.”
“Oh. Bad idea, I guess.”
“I’m afraid so. Look, Eddie, I don’t like this any more than you do. But if you don’t want to do this, you’d better just stay at a hotel so I can call you if I need help.”
“Right. Then I guess we’ll have to do this. I need to be out there and make sure you’re ok.”
“Ok. Remember, it’s not as if we actually have to do anything. Most tricks hardly make any move until later.”
“Yeah, I hear you. Ok, when do we do this?”
“How about tonight? It’s about time I went off with someone. I don’t want anyone to start wondering what I’m really doing around there.”
“Ok. Oh, Angelica should be in touch any time now.”
“Great. I’ve missed her terribly.”
“I thought you’d be pleased to hear from her. Personally, I can’t wait to spend some time down at the beach with Trish, when all this is over.”
“Yes, sounds nice.”
Cade knew he really should get back to the street, but it felt so nice being an ordinary guy for a while, so he let Eddie drag him along to some cafeteria said to be a hangout for celebrities. If that was true, apparently the celebrities were busy elsewhere today. The coffee was outrageously expensive, but Cade wasn’t really there for the coffee.
Right on time, Angelica got in touch. She would be arriving some time later that night. That meant Cade wouldn’t get to see her until the following day. Still, it felt good to know that she was nearby. Angelica told him she would go over to the apartment where Trish was staying and spend the night there. When Cade hung up, he felt a little better about the night’s course of action.
On the bus back, Cade tried to pull himself together. He had to remind himself that he was only going to get into the car Eddie was renting. Nothing more. So far, no one had tried to catch his attention, but it was only a matter of time. He wasn’t sure what he would do then. It was something he hadn’t wanted to consider more closely.
His plan had been to find Toro and focus on shutting the operation down. No one seemed to be able to tell him where to find the dealer, and he was worried that maybe the Gua had moved on to some other location. Then he’d have to start over somewhere else. That wasn’t a pleasant thought.
When he got back to his room, he removed his jacket, and changed his t-shirt for a shorter, tighter top. This was the part he hated the most. The jeans would do, he knew that. They were tight enough. But on top he needed something more revealing. He knew far too well how things worked.
Once down on the street, Cade warily studied his competitors. It wouldn’t do to get into a fight over something as petty as choice location under a street light. Before long, he was standing in a spot clearly visible from the street, assuming the pose most calculated to express his intention.
He found that it was much harder than before. When he was younger he hadn’t reflected so much on what he had to do. Now it felt increasingly alien to him. But he hadn’t lost his touch, and that was what counted right now.
Some cars drove by. One man picked up a blond guy. No one seemed interested in Cade, to his relief. Then another car cruised by slowly. A hard knot began to form at the pit of his stomach, but as the guy got closer, he realized that it was only Eddie. What a relief. He snapped back into his role and sauntered over as if to negotiate a price. Soon he was being driven away. Not until the car had rounded the corner did he dare to face his friend.
“Was this ok?”
“Yes, it was fine.”
“I was afraid someone else had picked you up.”
“Relax, Eddie. You think I’d go off with anyone else? Not anymore.”
“But what would you do, if someone asked?”
“I don’t know. Business isn’t exactly booming these days. Gee, I wonder why.”
“What are you on about, man?”
“Just that I’m ten years older. Not as much demand anymore.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
“No. Well, right now maybe it is. But normally -“
“Yeah, I understand. How about a snack?”
At least he had now established himself in his role. If only that guy Toro would show up so he could get on to the next phase of this case.
Half an hour later, Eddie dropped him off where he had picked him up. Cade forced himself to stay for another couple of hours. But if he was to act true to character, he’d have made a buy by now and would be retreating to his room for a fix or some nose candy.
Going through a routine of withdrawal symptoms for the benefit of whoever might be watching, Cade finally called it a night. For once, he fell asleep almost immediately and when he woke up, he couldn’t remember any dreams.
Rather than arousing suspicions, Cade held off calling Angelica. A man in his position wouldn’t have many people to call, other than a dealer. And he was supposed to be looking for better offers, not contacting some old friend.
Again, he was interrupted by the sound of screaming and what sounded like someone being beaten up. It was right next door, in the Haitians apartment. Cade winced when he realized that the victim of this abuse had to be some adolescent girl. He wished there was something he could do, but acting out of character wasn’t an option right now, unless he wanted to give up the case entirely.
Today, he just went out briefly to have an unappetizing snack, before retreating to his room. During the daytime most addicts would be lying low anyway. If anyone was wondering, they’d assume he was laid out on his bed. Which he was. There wasn’t much else to do in here.
The window wouldn’t open and at times he felt as if he was going to suffocate. He doubted that there had ever been air conditioning installed in this dump. Later, when the sun was lower in the sky, he emerged from his room, looking more and more like a guy in need of a fix. The dark circles under his eyes contributed to the look, so he didn’t think anyone would question his actions.
In the corridor, he ran into the skinny Latino hooker from the first day. She told him her name was Shirley. After a few moments of small talk, Cade decided to risk asking about Toro. To his surprise, the girl seemed to know who he was referring to.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him around. My man won’t let me buy from him, on account of him being a dealer himself. But I think you’ll find him over in the pool hall. Garry – that’s my man – sometimes goes there to play the pinball machines.”
“Thanks, Shirley. I’ll check it out.”
She gave him a calculating look. Then she pouted slightly and puffed up her minimal chest.
“You know, Garry’s picking up some new merchandise from his contact, and he won’t be back until later. If you like we could have a party, you and me.”
Unbelievable. At least he hadn’t lost it. But right now that didn’t bring him any consolation.
“Thanks, Shirley. Some other time.”
“You into men?”
“What? No. Well, yeah. Sorry. You’re a very attractive lady. But that’s how it is. Don’t tell anyone, ok?”
“No problem. But if you like we could -“
What was she suggesting now? If not even admitting to being gay could put her off, what was he going to do about this minor complication?
“Sometimes, I find that gay guys like me to -“
“No, thanks. I really need to find this guy Toro. You know how it is. I’m not feeling too good.”
“Sure, I understand. Good luck. See you later.”
At last, a lead. The pool hall was crammed, even at this early hour. It didn’t take Cade long to spot the man who had to be the one calling himself Toro. There was no question about it, he had to be a Gua. Something about his eyes and the way he moved, gave him away. Subtle signs like that were getting more and more obvious to Cade.
So far so good. After a little while, he decided to risk asking one of the other customers, if Toro was a regular in this place. It turned out he was, so as soon as Cade had managed to get more funds from Eddie, he would make his move. The first step would be making a purchase. From then on, he would have to trace Toro’s movements, and find the lab where the Gua had to be producing the virus.
When he emerged from the pool hall, it was getting dark outside. It was time he took up his position on the street. He’d have to arrange with Eddie to come by a few more times to make things look good. Before he had time to go upstairs to change clothes, he found himself cornered by two uniformed cops.
Of course he recognized Angelica and Trish, but to act in character, he turned on his heel and made a run for it. As a drug addict, he couldn’t be expected to be in perfect shape. It wouldn’t be too surprising if he was caught. He rounded a corner and pulled to a stop, facing a blank concrete wall. So they had dreamed up this plan without informing him?
“Hold it right there. Hands in the air.”
Wasn’t this overdoing it a bit? But he could tell both ladies were enjoying themselves enormously. He wondered if they would treat him to a show of good cop, bad cop, or what else they had in mind. At least it was good to see his lover again.
“I’ll cover this lowlife while you search him.”
That was Trish. Apparently, she loved this new character of hers. Cade didn’t take offence. This was far from his usual experiences of law enforcement.
Now he felt Angelica move closer. Her scent caressed his nostrils. What a nice change from the drudgery of his everyday existence. Her hands began moving across his body and this time he allowed himself to enjoy it. Far too soon, she backed off.
“Ok. He’s clean. You can turn around now. Slowly.”
“I don’t want any trouble, officer.”
“Good boy. Then I’m sure you won’t find any.”
Cade took a discreet look around. No one seemed to be in the vicinity. Maybe they could drop the act for a second.
“Nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you too. Are you ok?”
“Fine. This was a surprise. I had no idea you ladies had managed to get hold of a squad car and these uniforms.”
“Oh, well. I’m a resourceful person, didn’t you know? Besides, I still have a few contacts from the old days. Right. I just wanted to make sure you’re ok. I don’t suppose it would be helpful if we cuffed you and took you away for further questioning?”
“Not really. Actually, I just found this guy Toro. He likes to hang out at the pool hall across the street. Maybe you could dig something up. We need to find his lab and shut it down.”
“I know. Will do. Watch your back ok, Cade. I’ll be really pissed if you get yourself hurt.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not planning on getting in any trouble.”
Dropping back into character again, Angelica gruffly told Cade to get going. Cade didn’t waste any time taking off. Perhaps this was a good enough excuse to stay in his room tonight. He’d made some progress. Tonight he would allow himself some rest.
In the days that followed, he had to keep avoiding Shirley, and try to ignore the disturbing noises from the room next door. Despite his efforts, the skinny hooker appeared to have taken a liking to him, and that landed her in trouble before long.
On the night Cade had picked to approach Toro, after getting a substanstial contribution of money from Eddie, Shirley’s pimp, Garry decided to get his woman back into line.
This didn’t dawn on Cade until he came back upstairs. The purchase went ok. He didn’t think Toro had suspected anything. Now all he needed to do, was let Trish have the stuff analyzed.
On his own floor, he ran into two paramedics carrying a stretcher. The person lying on the stretcher looked familiar. As he got closer, he realized it was Shirley. Her bony face was covered with bruises and one eye was swollen shut. But she still appeared to be conscious.
“What happened to you?”
“It was Garry. He didn’t like me hanging around you so much. I tried to tell him you weren’t interested, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“I’m really sorry. How bad is it?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ve been worse. It’s going to be ok, resting in a hospital bed for a couple of days.”
Her false cheerfulness pained Cade. He hadn’t done anything to encourage her interest, but the fact remained, he was the cause of what had happened her. Filled with anger towards the girl’s pimp, Cade decided to go look for Garry. It wasn’t a good idea, but right now he didn’t care. That man was going to pay for what he’d done to that poor girl.
He had a long wait ahead of him. It wasn’t until close to sunrise that the man put in an appearance. The pimp wasn’t very impressive in any way. Maybe he was man enough to beat up on a petite woman, but faced with Cade’s wrath, his nerve broke and he began to plead for his life.
For once, Cade wasn’t listening. All the frustrations, all the pain and humiliation he’d felt in the past 15 years surfaced and the pathetic creature on the floor at his feet became the personification of every man that had ever hurt and humiliated Cade, or the little girls in the room next to his, or poor Shirley.
Through the red haze, Cade suddenly noticed how immobile the man was. Garry wasn’t trying to cover his head with his arms anymore. What was he doing? Whatever this lowlife was guilty of, he didn’t deserve to die. Frantically, Cade felt for a pulse. Don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead.
And there it was. A weak, irregular pulse. He had to call an ambulance. No one had seen him enter Garry’s apartment, he was fairly sure. Even if someone had seen him, he doubted anyone would care. A petty jealousy spat between two guys wouldn’t arouse any particular attention.
He wouldn’t give his name to the operator, but he didn’t hang up until he’d made sure the ambulance was on its way. What had gotten into him? Normally, he wasn’t a violent man. The only times he was provoked into this kind of aggression was when faced with a Gua trying to kill him.
This was just a man. Petty, mean, pathetic, sure. But still just a fellow human being. What if the man died? How could he live with himself if he was responsible for ending another life? What’s the matter with you, Cade? You’re not a killer, no matter what your record says.
Back in his room, Cade buried his face in his hands and gave in to the despair. Right now, he didn’t feel at all like the Twice Blessed Man. What would Angelica think of him now? What would Eddie and Trish say? This wasn’t the way he was supposed to be behaving.
He must have dozed off, but he woke up to the sound of someone knocking on his door. It only took him a few seconds to get on his feet, agile as a cat. If the real cops had found him – But he recognized the voice.
“Come on, Cade, wake up, man. It’s me. Eddie.”
Eddie? What was he doing here? They had agreed it wasn’t a good idea for him to show up in this place. Something had to be wrong. Hurriedly he rushed to the door to shut Eddie up. The racket might bring more trouble.
“Ok, come in. And keep it down.”
“Trish has news for us. You can get out of here now. She’s analyzed the stuff. The report should be ready when we get over to her place.”
“But only half my work is done. We need to find that lab and close it down.”
“I know. But we can manage without you risking your life out here every night.”
“Eddie, slow down. I -“
“We’ll argue on the way, but I’m telling you right now, you’re not going back here. I know you’re the Twice Blessed Man, but this time you’re going to do what I tell you to, ok?”
Cade stared at his normally so mild-mannered friend. This was a new and more assertive Eddie. Slightly amused by now, Cade decided to let his friend have his way.
“Fine. If you say so. Let’s go. I’ll just get my stuff together.”
It was a relief to leave the shabby hotel behind. Cade promised himself he would inquire about Shirley at the nearest hospital and find out if she was ok. That still weighed on his conscience. But right now, all he wanted was to see Angelica again. He needed to talk to her about what had happened the night before.
Trish and Angelica had managed to get hold of far more than the squad car and the uniforms. It turned out that they were staying in a very nice apartment overlooking the beach.
They found the women poring over the report Eddie had mentioned. In a few words they filled Eddie and Cade in on the results. There didn’t seem to be any way of counteracting the effects of the mutated virus, but as long as they could stop the Gua from producing more, they should be able to contain the situation.
“Trish, I’ve been wanting to ask about Nick -“
He already knew what the answer would be, but he found that the truth hurt anyway. And he could tell Trish felt as bad about it as he did.
“He’s gone, Cade. Passed away a few days ago. I – I was with him when it happened. I can tell you this: He was at peace.”
“When is the funeral going to be?”
“I’ll find out. Do you want to be there?”
“Yes. Nick told me he didn’t have a family, so I guess I’ll be the only one to go.”
Angelica squeezed his hand encouragingly.
“We’ll all go.”
“Cade wasn’t very keen to leave that dump, but I convinced him it was time to go.”
Eddie seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in recounting that tale.
“I still think it might have been wise to stay there a while longer. Maybe I could have found out where that guy Toro has his lab.”
“We’ll do it the old-fashioned way, Cade. You and me, with Trish and Eddie taking turns. Staking him out from a car. Just like the old days.”
“Ok. Sounds like a good idea. When do we start?”
“Tonight, if you’re up to it. There’s no time to waste.”
Just as he had outlined earlier Eddie was really keen on going down to the beach, so before long, he had talked Trish into joining him. That left Cade and Angelica alone in the apartment.
“Are you ok, Cade?”
He had no idea how she did it. There must be some built-in radar inside Angelica’s head. She always knew when he was upset about something.
“No, I’m not. I did something last night that I didn’t think I was capable of.”
“What was that?”
“I beat up on a guy.”
“Ok. I suppose you must have had a very good reason.”
“He’s a pimp and his girl, Shirley was, well, to tell the truth she was a bit partial to me.”
“Of course she was. And?”
“And I tried to discourage her. In a nice way, of course. I even told her I was gay.”
“You did? I see. Did that help?”
“Not much. Everytime I turned around, there she was. And eventually, this guy Garry thought he had to do something about it. He put her in the hospital. This tiny, skinny girl barely out of her teens. You should have seen her. Her face was all bruised and swollen. I just blew a fuse or something. When that creep came back I beat him to within an inch of his life. You have to believe me, I’ve never done anything like that. I don’t know what got into me.”
“Most people would say there was enough provocation to warrant such a reaction.”
“And what do you say?”
“I say there’s more to this than you’ve told me. Isn’t it time you confided in me about whatever it is that’s been bothering you for so long? You know you can tell me anything at all.”
“Yes, I know that. Alright. I’ll try.”
“Take your time. And if this makes you uncomfortable, I can wait.”
“You’re right. It does make me uncomfortable. But I have to do this. You deserve to know everything about me. Alright.”
When he’d finished he felt a little better. Exhausted but better. And it was obvious that Angelica could understand. She was supportive and loving as always.
“There. That wasn’t so tough, was it. Cade, you really need to learn not to be so hard on yourself. Whatever happened when you were a kid, wasn’t your fault. You did the best you could under the circumstances.”
“Maybe. But knowing that, doesn’t really make me feel better. The only thing that could was meeting Hannah, and later you.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. And I think all this helps explain why that creep made you snap. He’s an asshole and deserved it. Of course, you need to think about your temper so it won’t happen again.”
“I know. And I will. I really don’t think I’ll do anything like that again.”
“Good. Now I guess you and I need to get ready for tonight’s stakeout. We need masses of coffee, or Coke if you prefer. Then I think we should take sandwiches, because if there’s anything I hate it’s the kind of food you can get at those cheap diners. Let’s find a good radio station and listen to some music while we’re waiting.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Towards morning, Trish and Eddie came and replaced them at the stakeout.
For a few nights they made no progress, then finally they had a stroke of luck. Toro stalked out to his car, a sleek, black Ferrari. They let him get ahead of them, but not far enough to lose him. In the end it was as easy as that. He led them to his lab, which was located in an empty warehouse.
When he left it some hours later, Cade and Angelica broke in, trashed the place thoroughly and set fire to it. It might not set the Gua back too much, but without the lab they would be unable to continue infecting innocent people with their deadly disease.
On the Friday of that week, they all attended Nick’s funeral. Just as Cade had suspected, they were the only people to show up. What a sad ending to a short, miserable life. It occurred to Cade that it might easily have been him. He could have been infected with AIDS, beaten to death by one of his tricks, or shot dead by a cop, while breaking into some store.
Why had he been spared? Cade didn’t feel that he deserved it. But on the other hand, he wasn’t just Cade, he was the Twice Blessed Man. Maybe that was why. All he knew was that he would work harder to earn the right to live, when so many others weren’t as lucky.
Never again, would he let his temper get the better of him. He was supposed to save lives, not place people at risk. This was something he would never allow himself to forget.
He felt Angelica’s hand reach for his and he held on to her, gratefully. What had he ever done to deserve a woman like her? But he wouldn’t question his luck, just do his very best to be worthy of her love.