Long after Davie had wrapped himself in his blanket and presumably fallen asleep, Brad continued to stare into the dying embers of the fire, wondering if, like Davie, he should take to the road for a spell. With Rob gone, he no longer had a personal life, and after the review board met on Monday, he probably wouldn’t have a job either.
He should have told his superior officer he’d just lost a close friend, instead of going on something as tricky as an undercover detail of all things with his mind not properly on the job and trying to tough it out. Better still, he could have called in sick and saved himself a whole bunch of embarrassing explanations, bearing in mind the attitude of most of his fellow officers toward gays. Not that either option would have made a scrap of difference to the eventual outcome.
Even if he hadn’t been mourning Rob, even if he’d been 100 percent bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that night, he’d never have suspected the security guard was cutting the phone line and turning off the fucking alarm, instead of doing what he was supposed be doing, which was checking to make sure it was on. His partner hadn’t thought anything of it either. Security guards went around checking things like that all the time. The guy looked like the real thing, therefore he must be, which had been the real beauty of the thief’s plan.
Brad and his partner Des’ assignment had been to stake out the jewelry store on Main Street and watch for any unusual activity. The police had received a tip that the owner was expecting a large shipment of uncut diamonds sometime after he closed on Friday night, and there was a good chance the shipment would be intercepted at some point. Intercepting an armored car wasn’t quite as easy as it was made to look on TV or in the movies, so Brad’s superiors had figured if there was a heist planned, it would take place at the moment of delivery or immediately thereafter.
For this reason, Brad and Des had set up their surveillance in an empty storefront across the street, while several manned police cruisers were waiting in nearby alleys and side streets. The armored truck turned up a little after ten, and the delivery went down exactly as expected. Shortly after the truck left, the shop lights went out. The owner had been told, if nothing untoward happened, to convey this by turning out the lights, slowly counting to ten, and then quickly turning them on and off again.
The signal didn’t come. A few minutes later, a man they assumed to be the owner came out, got into the owner’s car and drove away. Although they hadn’t actually discussed it, both he and Des assumed the owner had been nervous, waiting for something bad to happen, and when nothing did, he was so relieved he just forgot. That’s why they’d given the all clear and gone back to the station.
Still, the fact remained a man had died and it was their fault. At least morally. He and Des were both experienced officers who knew never to assume anything…ever. At night, perceptions changed and what looked like one thing could turn out to be something quite different. When they didn’t get the pre-arranged signal, they should have gone over to the store and checked regardless. If they had, they would have found the owner and untied him. The man would probably still be alive, and the thief, who was wearing the owner’s clothes and took off in his car, wouldn’t still be out there, enjoying the fruits of his labors.
As it was, one of the employees had found the owner the following morning when he arrived for work. The official verdict ended up being the poor bastard had suffered a fatal heart attack while trying to get free of the ropes with which he’d been bound to his chair.
Brad knew he couldn’t continue to blame his part in what had happened on Rob’s death and his own ensuing grief. Des had had no such excuse. The truth was the pair of them had been sloppy and instead of following procedure, they’d taken a shortcut. If they’d taken those few steps across the street and made quite sure everything was good, instead of just assuming, the diamonds might be long gone, but he was pretty sure the owner would still be alive and breathing.
“Can’t sleep?” a soft voice enquired from behind.
“I thought you were asleep.”
“I was, for a while. Something wrong?”
“Nah.” Brad shook his head. “Must’ve eaten too much supper, or maybe it was that extra cup of coffee.”
While the department looked into the circumstances surrounding what had happened, he and Des had been on suspension. The waiting was a killer, during which time Brad had barely slept, wondering if he would still have a job. Now the waiting was over. Yesterday, he’d received official notification the department had concluded its internal investigation, and tomorrow, he and Des would find out what their superiors had decided.
“My mom always used to say the only thing to keep a person awake was fear or a guilty conscience. You got either one of those?” As he spoke, Davie’s fingers began to work on the tightly bunched muscles across Brad’s shoulders. “I know some people can’t sleep outside like this cuz they figure a bear might come along and eat ’em up.”
Although Davie had hit it squarely on the head with his diagnosis of fear and a guilty conscience, Brad wasn’t about to tell him he was right. Instead, he smiled his thanks for Davie’s lighthearted attempt to help. “Actually, I’m more worried about the bunnies and the chipmunks. I’ve heard tell those little suckers’ll eat just about anything if they’re desperate enough, even a tough old bird like me.”
“You’re not that old, are you?”
“A few more years and I’ll be thirty.”
“Wow! Couple more years after that and I suppose you’ll be collecting your pension and checking out wheelchairs,” Davie teased, moving his fingers down Brad’s back to another set of muscles that needed loosening just north of his waistline. “Or maybe one of them fancy motorized scooter things they have nowadays.”
Despite everything, Brad roared with laughter at the mental picture he had of himself, driving along the sidewalk some morning, drinking take-out coffee and spinning tall stories, along with all the other old coots. “That’s not funny.”
“No? Then why are you laughing?”
“Because—” The truth was Davie’s amazingly efficient massage technique had been exactly what Brad needed. The tension that had had him tied in knots for weeks was just about gone. He felt ten years younger, loose and relaxed, ready for anything, especially a good night’s sleep. “Because you’re good company, and you’ve got a great attitude. I may have lost someone I loved, but my troubles are nothing compared to what you’ve been through.”
“I’ve met lots who’ve had it worse than me,” Davie said. “I believe what don’t kill a person usually makes them stronger. At least it has me. After my dad sold me to a guy who used to rent me out, I swore if I ever got away from him, I’d never let anything bad happen to me again. There, that feel better?” he asked as he finished what he was doing and sat down beside Brad.
“It does indeed. Thank you. You said your dad sold you? How old were you?”
“I’m not sure. I must’ve been about fifteen or sixteen, I guess, and being small made some folks think I was a whole lot younger. Anyway, seems one of the neighbor ladies reported him for not sending me to school after my mom died. When the welfare people turned up for the hundredth time wanting to know why, instead of saying I’d been sick like he usually did, he spun them this great little story. Told them it was because he was sick, and he was sending me up north to live with my uncle and his family for a while. Of course, the real reason he wouldn’t let me go back to school was because he was scared I’d take off.”
“So you’ve had no schooling?”
“I’ve had some here and there. Enough so’s I can read, write, and add up numbers. I’m not stupid.”
“How do you know your dad sold you?”
“I didn’t have any other family I’d ever heard about apart from him. When I came downstairs after packing my stuff like he told me to, I saw this other guy there and Dad pocketing this big wad of cash. At the time, I thought the guy was just being nice, you know, helping my dad out. Then we got in his truck and drove for about an hour or more to this big old house where the guy lived. The moment we got inside, he showed me to a room with a bed and lots of books and told me to put my stuff away. When he left the room, I heard him lock the door, so I knew something wasn’t right.
“After that, the only time that door was opened was when he brought me food or the room needed cleaning or whatever, and when one of his customers came to visit with me. At least I had all those books to read—lots of them had pictures and stories about faraway places. I may not have gone to school regularly like most other kids, but I bet I learned a whole lot more about the world than them.”
This wasn’t the first time Brad had heard a story like Davie’s. He also suspected Davie was giving him just a bare bones, highly sanitized version of what had really happened. “How long were you there?”
“I’d say about two years. Just as well that by then I knew for sure I was gay, otherwise, I couldn’t have taken it. I didn’t have a radio or a TV, just the books, so I didn’t know what month or even what day it was. I didn’t much care either because I was sure I’d never ever get out. Then one day I didn’t get any breakfast, and the house was so quiet, no noises or voices like usual, and I knew something must’ve happened.
“I figured the guy who owned the place was sick or maybe he’d had an accident, but he never told me his name, so I never did find out. All I know is around noontime this other guy came by and unlocked the door to my room. He handed me a bag with some chocolate bars and stuff in it, gave me a few bucks and told me to get the hell out of there. He said if I knew what was good for me, I’d keep my mouth shut.”