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Prime Suspect

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There was nothing like cruising down I-35 with the top down at sunset while basking in the satisfaction of a job well done.

He’d been through hell and back, but that was long ago, and now Tyler Seguin was living the dream.

Here he was now, dressed to kill in a grey three-piece Dolce & Gabbana suit, with the pressed white shirt, navy blue tie, and black Oxfords from the same collection to match while shifting gears in his victory green Corvette Stingray; which he bought with cash, thank you very much, as he always liked to mention.

He had it all: the car, the clothes, the cash, the penthouse apartment, and the wealthy clients.

Earlier that evening, he’d been with someone new. She was older, possibly in her 60s, from what Tyler could tell. Maybe that’s why she’d been so damn stubborn. By the time they hit their 40s, women knew exactly what they wanted and refused to tolerate anything else. If he didn’t know how to turn on the charm, the evening could have been a disaster.

Perhaps that was why Sharon had sent him. The younger studs wouldn’t have known how to handle her. Anyone with half a brain wouldn’t floor the accelerator of a 1,200-horsepower Shelby GT500 and attempt to run it right up a hill immediately after starting the engine.

No, one needed to warm it up first—start off nice and slow, gradually shifting gears as the engine revved its consent, begging you to unleash its full potential.

One needed to let every woman know just how special she was, and how much one appreciated them.

Tyler knew exactly how to do just that, which kept all his clients—female and male—coming back for more.

Looks would fade over time, and Tyler would eventually grow old and lose his testosterone and stamina.

But his clients had him now. With his chiseled physique, handsome face, and primal sexuality, Tyler was at the zenith of machismo; an absolute paragon of masculinity.

People would talk, saying how he made his living was immoral, not to mention illegal. They didn’t understand the part he had to play.

Everyone had needs. Sometimes, they required someone to fulfill those needs.

In a cruel world consumed by expanding darkness, they needed someone to bring them the light, to make them feel truly alive for the first time in ages.

Society was the whore.

Tyler was just the escort.

***

Sharon Lindemulder had built an empire of flesh over the past 30 years and ruled Dallas with an iron fist. She would not suffer no-name hookers or small-time pimps on her turf; and would immediately eliminate those who dared cross her.

Part of building and maintaining her empire involved traveling to other cities and seeking out talented and attractive streetwalkers. Five years earlier, a lucky break in Boston led her to Tyler, who had made the fatal mistake of turning the wrong trick in an alley.

Sharon remained hidden as she watched Tyler do what he did best. He was ingeniously talented in the erotic arts, and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. He would be an excellent addition to her lineup.

But when Tyler demanded his money, the trick decided he didn’t want anyone left alive to be able to tell his wife what he’d done. After a brief struggle, Tyler’s arms were locked behind his back and a knife was against his throat.

There was no time to waste. Sharon exploded out of her hiding spot and pulled her 9mm Ruger from its concealed holster on her right hip. Before the trick could react, she had fired two shots into his neck.

Once the trick’s lifeless body thudded to the ground and began bleeding out, Sharon holstered her gun, asked if Tyler was all right, and introduced herself before giving him the sales pitch.

The rest was history. Sharon’s gamble on Tyler hit blackjack. Tyler was now one of her top escorts.

Although sometimes, he needed to be put in his place.

Though it was a pleasant surprise to see him coming into her penthouse so soon. He owed her money. “Tyler? I thought you wouldn’t be here until tomorrow.”

“I owe you half from earlier.” Tyler reached into his coat pocket and produced a stack of $500 bills, which he waved in front of her. “Besides, didn’t you say you had someone else for me?”

“Oh, right. That.” Sharon snatched the money from Tyler’s hand before heading to her desk, where she rifled through papers before finding the notepad where she had scrawled notes from the call she had received that afternoon. “Your 9:00 had to postpone until tomorrow night. Their flight got pushed back.”

“‘Their’?” Tyler repeated, confused.

“Married Wall Street couple. They’re in town for some conference or other.” Sharon didn’t concern herself with the details beyond who, what, when, and how much they were forking over. “Said they wanted a companion for the evening.” Sharon looked down and counted the money Tyler had handed to her. Four thousand even. Perfect.

“They into drugs?”

“No.” Sharon shook her head. “Probably the only Wall Street bankers who aren’t.” Which was a shame as far as Sharon was concerned; she could have made some additional money off them.

“Twenty thousand?”

“Yeah.”

“How about we split it 60-40?”

Sharon clenched the money in her fist as she crossed her arms across her chest and shot an icy glare at Tyler. Apparently he needed to be reminded who was in charge. “No. You are not pulling this shit again. 50-50.”

“But you always assign—“

“You knew what the rates were when you agreed to this. But if you don’t like them, well, there’s...” Sharon cocked her head and smiled triumphantly as she twisted the knife. “Always the streets to fall back on, mmm?”

Tyler winced at the memory. “Okay, fine. 50-50.”

Sharon chuckled victoriously before suddenly remembering the other call she had taken that morning. “Oh, that’s right. Ines called this morning. Mrs. Hildebrand wants you to come over tonight.”

Tyler raised an eyebrow. “Tonight?”

“She’s attending a fundraiser tomorrow so she can’t see you then. When can you head over there?”

The conversation came to a brief halt when two of Sharon’s girls walked into the room and headed straight for the wet bar. Sharon made it a point to always have a couple of escorts hanging around to introduce to potential clients.

Junko was brand new, so Sharon didn’t have a good read on her yet. Sharon still wasn’t sure how to pronounce her entire name, let alone spell it. But so far, clients seemed to like her.

The second girl, a leggy white blonde, made more of an impression. Somewhere and somehow, Regina and Tyler had become best friends. They even spoke to one another and hung out when they weren’t working.

Regina beamed the moment she noticed Tyler’s presence. “Hey, Tyler.”

“Hey.” Apparently Regina’s smile was contagious, since Tyler was now beaming as well. “Got any work tonight?”

“Nah, just here until midnight. You gonna stick around for a bit? Been forever since we hung out.”

“Can’t. I’m going to Maggie’s.” Tyler’s expression grew serious once again as he turned back to Sharon. “I’ll be over there in an hour.”

“C’mon, stay!” Regina pleaded.

“I’d love to, but I have to work. This shit’s not free, you know.” With that, Tyler turned and strode towards the door.

Sharon waited until Tyler was gone before speaking again. “I know you’re disappointed, but I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up.”

Regina tilted her head to one side and stared at Sharon with a puzzled look.

“Zafiro’s coming over tonight.”

Sure enough, Regina perked up immediately. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Didn’t realize you’d have a slow night. Got something nice you can put on?”

The Cheshire-like grin spread wide across Regina’s face as she ran towards the stairs, stilettos clattering against the tile with every lope.

***

Margaret Hildebrand was not only Tyler’s best client, but they had also formed a strong bond. There was friendship and mutual respect, but no romance. Their relationship was symbiotic—Margaret received the companionship and sensual regard that had ended with her husband’s death, and Tyler earned her attentive ear and superfluous praise. Her considerable wealth barely factored into Tyler’s perception of her, but it certainly made his life easier.

“Sorry I’m late.” Tyler crept cautiously around the room, knowing full well that Maggie demanded punctuality, and he had been anything but. “I didn’t find out until just a couple hours ago you wanted me to come over tonight.” He raised the bottle of Dom Perignon, silently begging for forgiveness. “And I know how much you love this, so I stopped to get some on my way over.”

Maggie remained silent as she sat stone-faced on the loveseat, staring forward blankly with her hands in her lap. Yep, Maggie was pissed. But she always wanted champagne every time Tyler was over. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Wordlessly, he headed to the wine cart to fetch the butterfly corkscrew.

“Wait.”

Maggie’s voice stopped Tyler in his tracks. Cautiously, he turned to face her.

“I need your help.”

“What’s wrong?” Tyler placed the bottle onto the cart before going to join Maggie.

“Tomorrow…I’ve never met these people.”

“Really?” For Maggie, who had become heavily involved in philanthropy after her husband’s death, this was highly unusual. She was a fixture at many charitable events, so she had numerous contacts in the nonprofit circuit. Considering how many organizations were begging for cash, how was there someone who had not hit her up for donations at some point?

“The King Foundation just elected a new chairman. That’s probably who contacted me after all this time.”

“They reached out to you first? So then, what’s the problem?”

“I’m not sure what to wear tomorrow night. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”

Tyler nodded. Maggie had always wanted to be loved rather than feared, and galas tended to be the center of gossip. Of course she wanted to make a good impression. “Did you have anything in mind?”

Maggie rose from the loveseat and strode towards her bedroom. “Well, you’ve seen my navy blue dress plenty of times. But I have a couple others as well, and I was wondering.” By the time she finished speaking, she had opened her walk-in closet and pulled two gowns off the nearest rack. The pink one was an off-the-shoulder style, and the green one was Grecian inspired, but had a lower neckline. “Should I just go with the navy blue or one of these?”

Was this a test? Why was she asking him and not Ines? The whole situation was downright bizarre, but it wasn’t Tyler’s place to ask questions. “Don’t wear the navy blue. It’s too dark for summer. Besides, I think you’d look better in a lighter color anyway.”

“You think so?” The lilt in Maggie’s voice indicated interest, but her gaze remained skeptical.

“If you wanted to play it safe, the pink one would work. Even with the bare shoulder, it doesn’t show too much. But if you wanted to make a statement, the green one would show you off nicely.” Tyler leaned against the doorframe and flashed a seductive smile. “It hits you in all the right spots. Especially that neckline.”

Maggie replaced the gowns on the rack before turning towards Tyler with a smile of her own. “I’m getting awfully thirsty. Why don’t you pour me some champagne?”

***

Nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Jamie Benn reflected on the saying as he parked the squad car in the first empty spot near the front of the lawn he could find in the midst of all the other empty cars with flashing lights. The call had already come in before he was even out of bed, meaning the events had occurred overnight.

As Jamie put the car in park and turned off the engine, his partner in (fighting) crime, Antoine Roussel, glanced at him and nodded. “Here we go.”

“Yeah.” Jamie and Rous exited the car and walked past a uniformed officer that Jamie didn’t recognize before ducking under the crime scene tape. From there, they made their way through the masses of patrolmen and forensics investigators before pausing at the front door.

“Why the crowds?” Rous wondered out loud as Jamie flashed his badge at a second officer standing guard. “I mean, forensics and coroner’s guys are always at scenes, but why’d they bring the whole fuckin’ divisions here?”

Jamie shook his head as the officer lifted the second tape barrier to let them both through. “Not every vic’s a widowed billionaire. Brings out the famewhores and wannabe CSIs.”

“Wait, wasn’t it her husband’s money and not hers?” Rous continued as they proceeded up the stairs towards the bedroom. “So it wasn’t her who was the billionaire.”

“No, both were oil families.” As always, Rous was never one for the minutiae, and it was up to Jamie to bring him up to speed. “She already had her family’s fortune, but then she married into the Hildebrands, so put the two together, and…” Jamie’s voice trailed off as they reached the bedroom. He’d seen some shit over the years, but holy hell was that a lot of blood. He could barely make out the lifeless body of Margaret Hildebrand underneath the gory mess.

The other homicide guys, Spezza and Radulov, were already there. Elie from the coroner’s office was processing the body. Captain Montgomery and Lieutenant Nill were also there for some reason.

Clearly, Rous was just as confused as Jamie at the presence of the latter two, as he tapped Jamie’s shoulder before leaning in and whispering. “What are they doing here?”

“No bruising,” Elie announced. “No other signs of a struggle, either.”

“The maid found her,” Montgomery began. “Came in an hour ago. She lives on the first floor, but didn’t see or hear anything.”

Rous frowned. “She slept through a murder?”

“Maybe she’s a deep sleeper,” Jamie offered.

Rous wasn’t buying it. “Or she’s on something.”

Jamie shrugged. “Or she did it.” He turned towards Montgomery. “Murder weapon?”

“We haven’t found one,” Montgomery replied. “Nineteen stab wounds, consistent with a steak knife. Forensics has been in the kitchen already and everything’s accounted for. Maid doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Well, lookie here.” Spez was down on one knee over the garbage can, pointing the beam of his flashlight directly over a used condom at the top of the heap. “Looks like she got off before she got offed.”

“Can we have some respect for the dead here?” Nill snapped. “This is sensitive. Mrs. Hildebrand was a major contributor to Mayor Rawlings’ reelection campaign, and a benefactor of many charitable—”

Rous’ tone was just as terse. “She was giving her money away. We get it.”

“Lieutenant?” Now was as good a time as any for Jamie to ask what he really wanted to know more than anything. “You specifically asked for me to be on this case, right?”

“Correct,” Nill replied with a nod.

“Why?” Now Jamie was only more confused. Spez and Radi could handle this well enough on their own. Assigning four homicide detectives to one case was overkill.

Montgomery broke his silence. “You were with the vice squad before it was disbanded.”

Jamie nodded. He had started out in the narcotics division, then moved onto the vice squad, where he had been up until it was disbanded two years earlier. Once that happened, he assumed he’d be back in narcotics, but Montgomery had called him into his office and told him he was getting moved to homicide—and promoted to the rank of detective, to boot.

“And when you were with vice, you dealt with Sharon Lindemulder.”

Even the mere mention of the name was enough to make Jamie angrily grind his teeth. When her lawyers weren’t busy getting charges dismissed on technicalities, Sharon knew the law and what she had to do to just remain on the outskirts, carefully evading every legal trap set as she shattered lives in the meantime.

“Radi interviewed the maid already. She said Mrs. Hildebrand had a visitor last night. One of Sharon’s studs.”

Jamie’s eyes narrowed as his pulse quickened. He and Sharon had some unfinished business. “She give us a name?”

“Someone named Tyler. He came over around 20 hundred hours, then the maid went to bed and doesn’t remember anything else.”

Rous frowned. “And she just happened to forget everything that happened between then and when she called us. Awfully convenient.”

For all Jamie knew, maybe it was the maid. But this Tyler had been the last person to see Margaret Hildebrand alive.

Which made him a suspect.

Had Margaret Hildebrand pissed off Sharon? There had long been rumors in vice that Sharon had any clients that tried to screw her over whacked. But no one could ever tie her to any suspicious deaths. Sharon was too smart to leave a trail.

But maybe this time, she had sent one of her studs to do her dirty work.

And maybe this time, Jamie could finally put that bitch behind bars.

Chapter Text

POP. Clink. POP. Clink. POP. Clink.

The rondo of the gunfire and the shells hitting the floor lulled Jamie into a stupor as the bullets pierced the white ring around the bullseye. The next volley of shots didn’t quite hit their mark either, even though they were only millimeters from being a perfect score.

Not good enough.

“Benny, the fuck are you doing?”

The sudden interruption snapped Jamie out of his trance. He lowered his arms and turned his head to discover an annoyed Rous behind him.

“You were supposed to be at counseling an hour ago.”

“Shit. I lost track of time.” Jamie pointed his Glock at the floor and scrambled to unload the cartridges. “Tell Ritchie I’ll be right up.”

“For fuck’s sake…” Rous muttered through gritted teeth as he headed off.

Now there was a bigger audience watching Jamie make a fool of himself. Pits, the newbie from the traffic division, had just arrived to get some hours in. Radi had just rushed in and was panting heavily.

“Benny! Finally found you!” Radi doubled over to catch his breath. “Hildebrand’s maid called. Some of the vic’s jewelry’s gone missing.”

“Mmm.” Jamie’s lips narrowed into a frown. “Tell me later.” He returned his gun to its holster before rushing out of the room.

He wasn’t fast enough to escape the voices behind him.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him here,” said Pits. “He’s a perfect shot. Why’s he keep coming here?”

“He needs all the practice he can get,” Radi muttered derisively. “Maybe then he’ll actually know what he’s shooting for a change.”

***

Dr. Ritchie glanced up from his desk as Jamie threw open the door. “Sorry I’m late. I lost track of time.”

Ritchie raised an eyebrow. “Were you in the range again?”

Jamie nodded silently.

“I thought so. Have a seat.”

“I’m fine.” Jamie sighed in resignation as he did what he was told. “I’m so much better than I was, I swear—”

“Your symptoms have greatly improved over the past several months, but your obsession with target practice tells me you’re not fine.”

Jamie sighed and buried his face in his hands.

“There was nothing more you could have done. You followed training and protocol to the letter. Internal Affairs cleared you in an investigation. Have you been doing your relaxation techniques?”

There was no getting around this one. “Not recently. I haven’t had time, what with the Vasquez case...”

“Start again first thing tomorrow morning. You need me to go over anything with you?”

“…Yeah.”

“Any more flashbacks?”

“Not for the past three months.”

“That’s great news. Have you been drinking?”

“I’ve been clean for six months.”

“Excellent. I’m going to go over everything with you again, and we’ll schedule for next week. Now then…”

***

With no surname to go on, Jamie and Rous were reduced to interviewing Sharon to get the details on her stud Tyler.

Jamie knew the way to Sharon’s penthouse like the back of his hand. It was a route he had hoped he’d never to drive again.

Everything was the exact same as Jamie remembered—the crowded swimming pool out front, the winding botanical gardens, and the obnoxious doorman that morphed into a sniveling coward when presented with a pair of badges.

As always, Sharon kept her foyer unlocked. After all this time, she still had the same heavies working for her. Both clearly recognized Jamie as well, as they scrambled to find Sharon once they caught a glimpse of Jamie and Rous.

Rous simply stood there taking it all in: the Italian tile, the sun beaming through the floor length windows, the spiral staircase, and the Venetian décor neither of them would ever be able to afford in their lifetimes.

They hadn’t even waited an entire minute when the shorter of the two heavies returned to the foyer and stood up straight, holding his hands behind his back. “Ms. Lindemulder is in her office.”

Jamie silently marched towards the hallway leading to Sharon’s office, leaving a bewildered Rous rushing to catch up.

“Geez, you really do know your way around here,” a stunned Rous observed.

Sharon greeted Jamie and Rous with that smug grin that never failed to piss Jamie off as she leaned forward in her brown leather executive chair against the chestnut mahogany desk. “Officer Benn! What a pleasure to see you again.”

“Cut the crap.” Jamie disregarded the leather conference chairs in front of Sharon’s desk, opting to stand a few steps away. “Is Tyler here?”

“No, I’m not expecting him until this evening. Is this about Mrs. Hildebrand’s murder? I saw it on the news this morning.”

Rous placed a hand on the desk and leaned over it, positioning himself less than an inch away from Sharon. “Was Tyler at Mrs. Hildebrand’s house last night?”

“Yes. She was his top client. He would see her at least twice a week, usually three times. He was actually supposed to see her tonight, but Ines called yesterday afternoon and said Mrs. Hildebrand needed him to come over that night because she was attending a fundraiser today.”

Rous’ eyes narrowed in suspicion. “So, you knew the maid?”

“Vaguely. Ines handled all her calls. I’ve never actually met her, but it was always her that let Tyler in.”

“Did she get along with Mrs. Hildebrand?”

“As far as I know, yes. If they didn’t, Tyler never said a word.”

Rous was right that the maid was a suspect, but Jamie wanted to get back to the subject at hand. “How long has Tyler been working for you?”

“Five years.”

“And how did he get started here?”

“I met him while he was turning tricks in Boston. Asked him if he wanted to come back here and work for me. He wasn’t quite sure about it until I told him what kind of money’s involved.” A tight-lipped smile spread across Sharon’s face upon uttering those last two words. She hadn’t changed a bit.

“So he needed some convincing?” Sharon was a master of manipulation. If she had manipulated Tyler into working for her, it wasn’t much of a stretch for her to coerce him into killing for her. She knew how to exploit a person’s weaknesses and would frequently leverage them via threats.

“Not really. He was certainly interested, but the money was what convinced him. I’m expecting some important clients this afternoon, so let’s not take up too much of one another’s time. Is there anything else I can do for you and your friend, Officer Benn and…?” Sharon glanced up at Rous questioningly.

“Detective Roussel,” Rous answered. “And Detective Benn.”

Sharon waggled an eyebrow at Jamie. “Ooh, detective. Moving up in the world are we? Tyler Seguin, 2300 Leonard, number 507. Knowing Tyler, he’s probably just getting up now since he had a late night.”

Rous scribbled everything on a pocket-sized notepad. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” Sharon leaned back in her chair and turned to face Jamie before propping her feet up on her desk, flashing that shit-eating grin, and giving him a condescending look. “And let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, Detective.”

Jamie barely repressed his boiling anger as he turned to leave.

***

The second penthouse complex Jamie and Rous visited that day was less ostentatious than the first. Instead, it was a sepia monolith sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of a concrete jungle dotted with walnut trees every few feet to keep the area from being too depressing.

Inside, the complex’s minimalist décor was a striking contrast to the obscene flamboyance of the skyscraper where Sharon made her lair. Best of all, the doorman was actually polite.

Once they reached their destination, Jamie pounded loudly on the door, eliciting a laugh from Rous. “What’s so funny?”

Rous shook his head as he stifled another chuckle. “You knock like the cops.”

Jamie frowned. Was there a joke he wasn’t getting? “We are cops.”

“Yeah, it’s just…” Rous shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind.”

The door cracked open a sliver, barely revealing the figure standing behind it. Jamie studied Tyler Seguin, taking in what he could: chestnut eyes, uncombed cocoa curls, chiseled cheekbones, and full russet beard stubble to match. Clearly, Tyler had just woken up and was rather bewildered at the sudden visit.

“Mr. Seguin?” Jamie began as he flashed his badge. “We’re sorry to disturb you, but we know you met Margaret Hildebrand last night and we’d like to ask you some questions.”

Tyler’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “I thought they disbanded vice.”

“They did.” Jamie was pleased with the promotion, but not so much with the circumstances that had led up to it. “We’re with homicide.”

“Homicide?” Tyler repeated, confused.

Rous cut to the chase. “Margaret Hildebrand was murdered sometime last night. According to her maid, you were the last person to see her alive.”

Tyler gasped, mouth falling open in shock as his eyes grew wide. “M…” He took a quick, raspy breath, trying to form the next word. “Maggie’s…dead?”

Jamie nodded. “The maid found her in bed this morning. Stabbed nineteen times in the neck and chest.”

“N…no…” Tyler’s mouth fell open once more as he fell forward, barely placing a hand on the inside wall to catch himself. “Maggie…” He gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut.

Jamie analyzed Tyler’s emotions, wondering whether they were genuine. Either he was genuinely distraught, or Tyler was the best actor he’d ever seen.

Apparently Rous believed the former. “Would it be okay if we came back later?”

Tyler nodded as the first few tears fell. “Tomorrow…please. I…I’m sorry, I just can’t…” He pushed the door shut.

“Hmm.” Jamie stared blankly at the door. “What do you think?”

“Hard to say,” Rous replied. “Let’s go see what Radi has. I want to check a few things myself.”

***

Apparently rank did not equate office size. There was no other reason that Lieutenant Nill wouldn’t have had enough room to fit himself, Captain Montgomery, and the four homicide detectives assigned to the Hildebrand case in one room.

Instead, they were all seated at the conference room table, which barely had enough room for everyone’s Styrofoam coffee cups with the deluge of papers and manila folders spread across its surface.

Radi was up first. “Ines Echeverria, age 47. Born in Juarez, legal permanent residency since 2010. Worked for Hildebrand since then. No husband or children, but did send money to family back in Mexico. Said she let Sharon’s stud in around 20 hundred hours. Her instructions were always to let him in and make herself scarce unless called, which she wasn’t that night. She saw the stud out at 22 hundred and went to bed after Hildebrand did. Didn’t wake up until the next morning, when she went to check on Hildebrand and found her dead.”

Rous shook his head. “Awfully convenient she slept through her boss getting stabbed to death.”

Montgomery pointed to the map of the Hildebrand mansion situated in the middle of the table. “Not necessarily. The maid’s bedroom was on the first floor and on the other side of the mansion from the vic’s. Mansion is 11,477 square feet. That’s a lot of space to cover.”

“Something might have drowned out all the noise, too,” Spez offered. “One of the neighbors has security cameras. We’re in the process of getting a warrant on those. Neighborhood is close to 75, so if there was traffic that could be a factor.”

“Or someone could have made noise to drown anything out,” Jamie added. “If someone idled a truck, for instance, the neighbors might have thought it was freeway traffic and tuned it out.”

Spez nodded. “We’ll see.”

Rous opened the manila folder he had brought and began shuffling through papers. “Benny and I tried talking to the stud this afternoon but he was too distraught to say much so we’re trying again tomorrow. In the meantime, I ran his background.”

Jamie turned towards Rous and sat up a little straighter in his chair. He was normally able to get a good read on interviewees, but Tyler had been an unsettling enigma. Maybe this would shed some light on him.

“Tyler Seguin, age 26. Born and raised in Stamford, CT. Graduated from Westhill High School in 2010. Attended UMass Amherst as a communication major for three semesters before dropping out in November 2011.”

Rous pulled a scan of a newspaper article from the folder with the headline Stamford Family Dies from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. “His dropping out coincides with his parents and sisters dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning central heating system. Article is dated November 7, 2011.”

Spez shook his head. “Jesus Christ.”

“Makes sense though,” said Radi. “He couldn’t handle college after what happened, so he dropped out.”

Rous produced another sheet of paper from the folder. “Moved to Boston where he got a job with Baxter Anderson after that, since he’d previously interned there.”

“The PR firm?” Jamie inquired.

Rous nodded.

“Hmm.” Montgomery’s lips curled in contemplation. “Weren’t they the ones that folded after the CEO cleaned them out?”

“Exactly,” Rous replied. “You beat me to it. That was October 2012. But before that, he got engaged.” Radi pulled another newspaper scan out of the folder: an engagement announcement with a younger Tyler and a short brunette. “This one’s dated May 12, 2012. Was engaged to an Amy Tipton. But there was never a marriage announcement, so I did some digging to find out why.”

“And?” Jamie prompted.

Rous pulled one final piece of paper from the folder: a scan of a newspaper article with the headline Driver Charged in Fatal I-93 Crash. “Tipton was killed on I-93 in July 2013 by a wrong-way driver on his third DUI.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Radi muttered as he buried his head in his hands. “How could one person lose so much? And he lost his job when Baxter Anderson folded, too?”

Jamie nodded. “No wonder he took up Sharon’s offer. He needed the money. Five years, too. That fits the timeframe.”

Nill looked up from the newspaper clippings. “What do you mean?”

“When Rous and I interviewed Sharon Lindemulder, she said Tyler had been working for her for five years. She recruits escorts by traveling the country and giving the sales pitch. So if he’d just lost his job five years ago…”

“Ah, I get it,” Nill stated with a nod. “Say no more. I want you and Rous to speak to him at the earliest opportunity tomorrow.”

Jamie glanced over at Rous, who only replied with a nod. He turned back to face Nill. “Yes, sir.”

As Jamie closed his eyes and drowned out the activity around him, he thought back to the confused, then distraught, man he had met that morning.

Either the trial by fire had broken him, or it had turned him into a cold-blooded killer.

Whichever it was, Jamie was going to find out.

Chapter Text

Jamie figured he might as well memorize the route to Tyler’s penthouse. He would most likely be driving this way quite a bit in the foreseeable future.

The doorman would likely become a familiar face as well. He didn’t seem to recognize Jamie and Rous from the previous day, something that Jamie found disconcerting. Carelessness was not a good trait for personnel tasked with access control.

This time, when Jamie pounded on the door, the occupant that answered was groomed and cognizant.

“You again.” Tyler’s tone was stoic; his gaze penetrating as Jamie felt Tyler’s eyes looking him up and down, taking in every minute detail of his visitors.

With the door fully open and Tyler leaning against the doorframe, Jamie was able to get a much better look at him.

The meticulously groomed chestnut five o’clock shadow complemented Tyler’s sculpted cheekbones, drawing Jamie’s attention to the cocoa eyes regarding him with skeptical suspicion. Tyler’s eyes were nearly the same shade as his sienna hair, which complemented his angelic face now that it was combed.

Jamie’s eyes were first drawn to the serpentine mosaics of ink spiraling up and down Tyler’s arms; scaled-down masterpieces painted on the canvas of alabaster skin. Even as he studied each graven image, Jamie’s vision was still compelled upwards towards the broad shoulders shielded by the black material of the fitted tank top Tyler wore.

The matching basketball shorts barely touched Tyler’s knees since his legs were so long. His legs were as toned as the rest of him; not just muscular, but statuesque. Not only was he gorgeous, but there was a smoky sensuality about him. It was easy to lose oneself in the various twists and turns of Tyler’s figure. No wonder Sharon had hired him.

Rous’ voice snapped Jamie out of his reverie. “Would now be a good time?”

Tyler nodded. “You got here just in time. I was about to go to the gym. Come in.”

Not that Tyler really needed any more time at the gym, but Sharon had strict rules regarding the physical fitness of her escorts. Jamie had once heard her discussing the need to “protect her investments,” a statement that grated him to that day.

Tyler’s penthouse was nowhere near as large as Sharon’s. From what Jamie could tell, it was only a one bedroom. Despite that and the much smaller foyer, the combination living/dining area Tyler led them into was still rather spacious, more than Jamie would ever need by himself. Rather than walls, the kitchen boundary was delineated by an island with a quartz countertop and several drawers, as well as a cabinet. No wonder the kitchen itself was spotless—from the condition of the appliances and the pristine countertops and cabinets, it was clear that it was rarely used.

The living/dining area was decorated with a Bohemian motif; one that was so meticulous it was clear Tyler had hired a professional. Jamie couldn’t blame him; interior design was way too fiddly and time-consuming for something nobody would ever see. The various tomes on the bookshelf would likely provide more insight into the man who owned them, but Jamie wouldn’t be able to inspect them as long as Tyler was still there.

However, one detail immediately stood out. Tyler could easily afford brand new books, but there was an entire row of dog-eared paperbacks with broken spines. Either these had been handed down to Tyler, or he had purchased them from a used bookstore. If the latter was the case, how come?

“Have a seat.” Tyler plopped down on the grey loveseat.

Rous took his cue and sat down near the end of the adjacent grey sofa and leaned against the arm. Jamie opted for the opposite side of the sofa rather than the middle next to Rous. He preferred observing from a distance.

Tyler leaned back against the loveseat, spreading both arms across the top as he placed his sneaker-clad right foot atop his left knee. His blasé attitude was more than off-putting for Jamie. Either Tyler didn’t realize how much trouble he could possibly be in, or he didn’t seem to care.

Rous was the first to speak. “Would you tell us the nature of your relationship with Margaret Hildebrand?”

“She was my best client. I saw her at least twice a week. She also paid me more than my other clients do.”

“How much?” Rous prompted.

“Started out at $8,000 but went up to 25 grand a visit. The going rate is usually about $5,000.”

Jamie leaned forward and turned his head to face Tyler. “I notice you call her Maggie. Seems you two were awfully close.”

Tyler nodded. “We got to be really good friends.”

Rous raised an eyebrow. “Just friends?”

“Well, if you want to argue semantics, fine,” Tyler scoffed. “Friends with benefits.”

Jamie threw Rous a lifeline. “How long had you been working for her?”

Tyler closed his eyes and tilted his head back momentarily as he tried to remember the exact timeframe. “Sometime at the beginning of 2016. January or February, I don’t remember. But she needed a plus one for a charity ball she was attending, so Sharon sent me. Things went from there.”

Rous was now furiously taking notes. “Would your employer be able to verify this?”

“Ask her yourself,” Tyler replied with a shrug.

Jamie pressed his lips into a straight line, blocking the inevitable sardonic response that would have come out. No wonder Rous was losing his cool. This fucker had some nerve. “I think I will.”

Rous looked up from his notepad. “We interviewed Sharon yesterday. She said you’d been working for her for five years, and that she picked you up in Boston. Does that sound right so far?”

Tyler nodded. “Yes.”

Rous pressed on. “I ran your file. You worked for Baxter Anderson until the company went bust. How did you support yourself until you moved down here?”

Tyler sighed deeply and placed his hands on his thighs. “I wasn’t. Amy was supporting both of us because I couldn’t get anything beyond a minimum wage job without a Bachelor’s degree.”

“And then Amy was killed by a drunk driver on I-93.” Rous wrote something down, then looked up to gauge Tyler’s reaction. The memory Rous dredged up hit Tyler like the entire magazine of a Sig Sauer P226 had been unloaded into his chest.

Tyler took a deep, shaky breath to collect his thoughts before turning defiant. “Are you done here?”

Jamie shook his head. Rous’ investigative skills were top-notch, but his people skills really needed work. “We had more questions.”

Tyler turned towards the pair with arms crossed defensively and anger burning in his eyes. “If you want anything else from me, you’ll have to arrest me and bring me in. Otherwise, get the fuck out of here.”

***

“Was that really necessary?” Jamie snapped as he and Rous walked past two of the contractors on their way to the conference room. The homicide department had long since outgrown its current space, and was finally getting a much-needed expansion. This did not come without inconveniences—Jamie and Rous no longer had their own office, and had to share with Polak from the robbery unit for the time being.

“I wanted to see how he’d react,” Rous declared matter-of-factly.

Jamie sighed. “I know, but…” There had to be a polite way to ask him to sign up for the interviewing course that ran twice a year, but Jamie’s mind was drawing a blank.

By the time Jamie and Rous arrived, all of the previous participants of their last meeting had already reconvened. Both helped themselves to the two remaining vacant chairs on either side of the table.

Nill’s first question was for Jamie. “How’d it go with Seguin?”

“He doesn’t want to say any more unless we bring him in for questioning. Seems we’re all out of other options.”

“Do that ASAP.” Nill turned to Spez. “Any word on the security camera footage?”

Spez rolled his eyes. “We’re still waiting on Judge Slowpoke to sign the warrant.”

Nill sighed in exasperation. “Oh, for fuck’s sake…I’ll get right on that. Radi, how about you?”

“I called UMass Amherst. They verified his attendance, major, and two advisors. They’re sending me his remaining course records. I should have those in a few days.”

“Two advisors?” Spez wondered.

Radi nodded. “I did some digging to try and figure out what happened. I thought maybe someone retired or left for another teaching job elsewhere. But his first advisor was murdered in December 2010.”

The room grew silent as everyone else turned to face Radi.

“He was found lying in bed the next morning. He had been stabbed 19 times in the neck and chest with a steak knife.”

Chapter Text

Jamie had gone from the lap of luxury back to his crappy studio apartment, where he was slumped onto the couch and channel-surfing.

Even if he had a house, there was no one to share it with. Back when he still had a house, he and Alicia didn’t do much more than share it.

They had a house, but they never made it a home.

For as long as he knew her, Jamie was never sure how to feel. Sure, they dated for a while, but weren’t you supposed to feel a spark or something when you were in love? He never had, not even when Jordie had been pushing him to either shit or get off the pot.

One’s wedding day was supposed to be one of the happiest days in their life. So…why hadn’t he been happy? Why had he watched his bride walk down the aisle with an overwhelming sense of dread?

Jamie put down the remote when he found MeTV. There was always something for him to watch there, whether it be one of his cop shows or old family sitcoms.

Sure enough, “Leave it to Beaver” was on. Jamie envied Ward Cleaver: loving, devoted wife and two bright, wonderful kids. He had always wanted a family just like Ward’s.

But he’d married the wrong woman, so it was not to be.

Jamie would normally discuss his regrets with Jordie, but they hadn’t spoken in almost two months. Anadarko had Jordie up in Fort Collins for the next five months studying some basin or another. Jordie had been blessed with all the brainy genes and had earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in geoenvironmental engineering from Colorado State. The fact that Jordie had a free ride through grad school thanks to graduating summa cum laude the first time was the icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, Jamie got his Bachelor’s in criminology and criminal justice from UT Dallas, and then it was off to the police academy. Jamie was living the dream—he had always wanted to be a police officer, ever since he was old enough to know what one was.

But it always felt like something was missing.

Maybe that was the tradeoff to being a cop. Jamie could either have his dream career or a family. He could count the number of guys on the force who were still married and had good relationships with their kids on one hand, so maybe it wasn’t just his own poor decision making or personal deficiencies in play.

He could either have a family or keep millions of other families safe. For him, the choice was a no-brainer.

It was just the burden he had to shoulder.

***

“The hell’s Nill thinking?” Rous asked dubiously as the elevator opened onto the fifth floor of the penthouse complex. “He’s got enough money to take out the entire department.”

“He was the last person to see her alive,” Jamie reminded Rous as they left the elevator banks and began heading towards number 507. “Bringing him in for questioning’s the obvious thing to do.”

“It’s not gonna do any good,” Rous insisted. “He’ll come in with Nicole Knox and—”

“No he won’t.”

Rous stopped in his tracks and turned to stare at Jamie in disbelief.

“I don’t think he’s going to hide behind an attorney. He’ll say he has nothing to hide.” Jamie pounded on Tyler’s front door.

Rous shook his head. “I don’t believe you.”

“Just you wait.” Almost an entire minute elapsed before Jamie raised his arm to try knocking again. Before he could, Tyler opened the door wearing nothing but a pair of black low-rise trunks.

Jamie forced his line of vision away from Tyler’s shoulders and chest to make eye contact. “Mr. Seguin, we’d like you to come with us and answer some more questions.”

The suspicious look returned to Tyler’s face. “Are you arresting me?”

“If that’s how you want to play it,” Jamie replied.

Tyler frowned for a few moments as he pondered the situation. “Am I allowed to get dressed first?”

Rous nodded. “Yeah.”

“Come in.” Tyler pushed the door fully open before retreating inside the foyer. As he and Rous stepped inside, Jamie watched Tyler head into the bedroom. While Rous was inspecting the furniture and various effects in the hallway, Jamie caught a glimpse of the figure behind the half-open bedroom door.

Tyler’s back was turned, so he couldn’t tell Jamie was staring as he zigzagged a pair of grey trousers up his shapely legs and the curves of his voluptuous ass.

Tyler was distracted. This would be a perfect time to snoop around his bookshelf.

But Jamie couldn’t bring himself to look away.

His gaze was transfixed as Tyler reached into the middle drawer of his oak dresser for a black slim fit polo shirt. Jamie watched every muscle up and down Tyler’s back ripple as he raised his arms and lifted the shirt over his head to pull it on.

Tyler then turned and headed for the closet. If he turned his head, he’d notice he had an audience. Jamie edged away from the door and crept past Rous, who was examining the framed prints hanging on the wall with a great deal of interest. They just looked like a bunch of Southwestern photos and paintings to Jamie, but then again, he had never understood art.

Jamie hadn’t been fast enough. Tyler was already fully dressed and standing outside of the bedroom door in the time it had taken him to get past Rous.

Tyler had added a pair of brown trainers to his ensemble and stood with his hands on his hips, staring directly at Jamie and smiling. “Okay, I’m ready.”

Rous turned away from the print of Leon Krill’s Santa Fe Hills and towards Tyler. “Will your attorney be joining us at the station?”

Tyler cocked his head away from Rous dismissively. “I don’t need an attorney.”

***

As always, Jamie was driving and Rous was in the passenger’s seat. However, Tyler was now in the back, with both arms across the connecting back seat and his left foot propped up on his right knee. From what Jamie saw in the rear view mirror, Tyler was no longer smiling, but still looked incredibly carefree for someone being brought in for an interrogation. What was with this guy, anyhow?

It wouldn’t hurt to make a little conversation, though. Besides, Jamie’s personal curiosities dovetailed nicely with the investigation. “So, tell me about your job.”

Rous sighed and rolled his eyes. “Oh God, not this shit.”

Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle. Rous was always incredibly squeamish about any of Jamie’s vice squad stories.

Now it was Tyler’s turn to be amused. “Your partner doesn’t seem to want to hear about it.”

“He’s used to it by now.” Jamie cut through the 7-11 parking lot once he saw the barricades blocking Routh Street. “What kind of clients do you have?”

Tyler raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “I know what you're insinuating. No, I’m not a cougar chaser.”

Rous turned towards the back seat. “You said it, not him.”

“I actually prefer men, but somehow, several of my clients end up being middle-aged women. Funny how that worked out.”

Jamie frowned as he hit the second red light in a row. “Do you prefer men in your personal or professional life?”

“Both,” Tyler replied immediately.

“But you work with women, too?” From Rous’ tone, his question was more for his own personal clarification rather than any investigative purpose. “So, you’re bi?”

Tyler couldn’t have looked any more bewildered if someone had asked him whether water was wet. “I was engaged to a woman, remember?”

Rous turned away and slunk back into his seat. “Look, I’m straight as all hell, okay? I don’t know how any of this works.”

Once again, it was up to Jamie to redirect the conversation and save Rous from his big mouth. “Is there any difference in pay between men and women?”

“Oh, yeah.” Tyler nodded enthusiastically. “Major difference. The women always tip better. At least, the older ones do.” Tyler placed his foot on the floor and returned his arms to the back of the seat as he leaned backwards, making himself comfortable. “But the men are more fun.”

Jamie raised an eyebrow. “How so?”

“There’s no pretense, no bullshit. It’s raw and visceral. They know what they want and go right for it.”

Jamie nodded silently as he tuned out his companions and stared blankly at the shuttered storefronts on the side of the road. Tyler was making him remember things now, recollections he hadn’t mused upon for years.

With women, it was a game, where they carefully monitored your every move. Even though Alicia had made the first move, there was still a choreographed routine with which she demanded compliance. Jamie never figured it out, and she never gave him any hints. But she sure as hell was mad whenever he missed a step.

With men, it was an adventure.

Women wanted to be charmed. Men wanted to be conquered.

The sudden stream of memories was unsettling, but Tyler’s clairvoyance fascinated Jamie. Professionalism began falling by the wayside, yielding to intrigue. “What about you?”

Tyler, who had been glancing out the window as they turned into the police station’s parking lot, turned his head back towards Jamie. “What about me?”

Jamie pulled into the nearest space and put the car in park. “Which do you prefer?” He released the steering wheel and fully turned to face Tyler, eying him intently. “The routine, or the conquest?”

Rous gawked in confusion. “The fuck?”

Tyler returned the gaze, staring straight into Jamie’s eyes as he smiled coolly. “I don’t make any rules, Jamie.” Tyler’s voice lilted slightly as he pronounced the syllables of Jamie’s name. “I just go with the flow.”

Jamie recoiled in shock. “How do you know my name?”

“I asked Sharon about you.” The cool smile remained on Tyler’s face as he rested his arm on the door console. “Seems you two have some history.”

Jamie’s eyes narrowed in chagrin. “One I’d prefer to forget.” Upon suddenly remembering that the engine was still running, he quickly turned and twisted the ignition, shutting it off.

“Not that she had to tell me much. I figured it out on my own.”

Jamie turned to face Tyler again, stunned. Tyler spread his legs slightly, maintaining eye contact as he leaned forward towards the front driver’s seat. “I know who you are.”

Chapter Text

Apparently Tyler’s arrival had been highly anticipated, as the three were greeted by a small crowd upon reaching the interrogation room: Montgomery, Spez, and Radi were present, as expected. But seeing how Assistant District Attorney Klingberg decided to get in on the action as well, clearly they were just as suspicious of Tyler as Jamie was.

Klingberg stepped up to the three and extended his hand to Tyler. “I’m John Klingberg, Associate District Attorney. Would you like some coffee? Water?”

Tyler accepted Klingberg’s hand and shook it firmly and briefly before letting go. “No, thank you.”

Klingberg nodded. “Are your attorneys—”

Jamie cut Klingberg off. “Mr. Seguin has waived his right to an attorney.”

Spez, Radi, and Rous all gawked at Jamie, whose only response was a triumphant smile.

Tyler noticed the reactions and smiled as well. “Is there something I’m missing here?”

“I told them you wouldn’t want an attorney here,” Jamie responded.

Montgomery broke his silence. “Why have you waived your right to an attorney, Mr. Seguin?”

Tyler turned towards Jamie, cocking his head inquisitively. “What made you think I wouldn’t want one?”

“I told Rous you would say you have nothing to hide.” Trusting his instincts had always worked well for Jamie.

Tyler nodded. “You’re right. I have nothing to hide.”

Jamie and Tyler continued watching one another even as they all sat down, with Tyler in a chair in the middle of the room, several feet away from the long table Jamie and his compatriots sat behind. Klingberg was at the center, flanked by Montgomery to his left and Spez to his right. Radi was at one edge of the table. Jamie was at the opposite edge, with Rous to his right, next to Montgomery.

Klingberg referred to his notes, which were neatly stacked on the table in front of him. “We understand from your previous testimony that you and Margaret Hildebrand became rather close. How did that happen?”

Tyler reverted back to the previous pose he had assumed several times, with his left foot propped up on his right leg. “Well, when you work with someone a lot that tends to happen. Though she was much easier to talk to than some of my other clients.”

Radi frowned. “What do you mean by that?”

“Most of them don’t want to make conversation. Guess I can’t blame them though, if they’re getting charged by the hour.” Despite the rising and falling notes of his various intonations, Tyler’s expression never changed, nor did he move a muscle. He was incredibly calm and poised, a trait Jamie found rather unsettling.

Spez glanced over at Klingberg’s notes before raising his head and looking at Tyler. “The maid said you left around 10 PM. Does that sound right?”

“Yeah, she always paid for two hours rather than one. I got there around 8.”

“What did you do after you left Margaret Hildebrand’s residence?” Spez continued.

“I met my friend Regina for a drink and then she had a client call, so I went home.”

This was where Jamie’s previous experience on the vice squad was helpful. “So, this Regina also works for Sharon Lindemulder?”

Tyler nodded. “Correct.”

“And you’re friends?” It didn’t hurt to ask.

Tyler folded his hands in his lap and shot Jamie a derisive look. “I just said as much, didn’t I?”

This time, it was Rous bailing Jamie out. “What time did you meet this Regina?”

“Right afterwards. I met her at Bola 8. It’s her favorite. We only had time for one drink before she had to go work.”

Jamie nodded. “This Regina, she have a last name?”

“Harrington.”

“And would she verify that she was with you at that time and place?”

“Absolutely.” Tyler’s figure remained still, but he scanned the room with his eyes, looking pointedly at each of his inquisitors as he spoke. “I owed her.”

Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Meaning?”

“I saw her at Sharon’s earlier in the day and she asked me to stay and hang out with her. But Ines called Sharon and said Maggie wanted me to come over that night and not the next night, so I had to head out or I would have been late. I texted her later and asked if she had any work, and she said no, so we decided to meet up.”

Getting Tyler’s phone records would be easy enough. But the conversation at Sharon’s was something else Jamie would have to confirm with the bitch herself, and it was looking increasingly likely he’d have to pay her another visit. Even Spez’s task of sitting through hours of surveillance camera footage once it finally arrived was beginning to look preferable.

Rous was beginning to put two and two together. “So, you and Regina both work for Sharon Lindemulder, then? Is that correct?”

Tyler nodded. “Yes.”

“You’re both escorts.”

“Well yes, that is the term for it.” Tyler returned his left foot to the floor.

Jamie and Rous had worked together long enough that they could finish one another’s line of questioning without missing a beat. Jamie crossed his arms over his chest as he watched Tyler shift in his chair until he was slightly spread-eagled. “How does one even get into that business, anyway?”

“Sharon made me an offer and I accepted it.”

But Rous wouldn’t have known to ask Jamie’s next question. “I’ve dealt with Sharon before. She only extends offers to people already in the business.” Jamie narrowed his eyes, gazing intently at Tyler. “How long were you in the business before she hired you?”

Tyler bent down slightly as he turned to look at Jamie. That was when the collar of Tyler’s shirt splayed open, making it clear that he had neglected to fasten any of the three buttons of his polo shirt. As Jamie’s gaze bounced between Tyler’s russet eyes and the sudden display of ink and skin, he pondered whether Tyler’s failure to dress properly had been intentional.

“Right after Amy was killed, I had to pay the bills somehow. So, from then until...” Tyler closed his eyes as he summoned more memories. “April 2014.”

“And how did Sharon approach you?”

Tyler winced and shuddered at the memory; the first display of emotion since the interrogation began. “Well, first, she saved my life.”

The answer piqued Montgomery’s interest. “What happened there?”

“I turned the wrong trick in an alley and he had a knife to my throat. She exploded out of nowhere and shot him.”

Jamie nodded. It made sense. Sharon would hide so she could watch potential recruits in action. She also had a concealed carry permit.

“Then she asked me if I was okay. I said I was, and she made me an offer.”

Spez gawked in disbelief. “Even though there was blood and guts all over the place?”

“No better time than the present, I suppose,” Tyler surmised with a half-shrug.

Radi decided to get one more question in. “When she made her offer, did you hesitate?”

“A little,” Tyler admitted. “But once I heard about the money involved, I was sold. Also, I really wanted to get the fuck out of New England. There’s nothing there for me anymore.”

Radi nodded in silent understanding.

Now it was all up to Jamie. With his background in vice, it was up to him to deliver the coup de grace. Jamie held Tyler’s gaze, returning it with an intense stare of his own. “Doesn’t it ever bother you?”

“Does what bother me?” Tyler’s eyes were a beacon shining right into Jamie’s soul.

“What you do for a living.”

“What, giving pleasure to lonely people who need it?” Tyler’s face remained stoic, but there was a gleam of defiance in his eyes. “I’m supposed to feel guilty about that?”

Jamie rested his forearms on the table and leaned forward, tuning the others out. “It’s not legal.”

Tyler shifted so that he was facing Jamie. “Governments make laws all the time. That doesn’t mean they’re right.”

“And you know better?” Neither Jamie nor Tyler took their eyes off one another for a second.

Tyler’s eyes were digging into Jamie now, as if Jamie were the only other person in the room besides him. “Some things can’t be solved just by passing a law.”

Jamie’s eyes narrowed in chagrin. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“I had a newly single client two weeks ago.” Tyler kept his eyes on Jamie as he propped his arms on the back of the chair. “Finally free after her husband ignored her for 15 years. He never cared about her. Recently abandoned her for some trophy girlfriend barely out of college.”

Tyler had total mastery of the room as he spoke. He was bold, deliberate, and in consummate command of himself. “She hadn’t had an orgasm since her honeymoon. It took me 45 minutes to get her off. I thought I was gonna get lockjaw.” Tyler closed his eyes and chuckled, shaking his head.

Had Jamie been paying attention, he would have seen Rous wince at the last statement.

But his concentration was focused solely on Tyler: his words, his movements, his expressions.

“But when I did…” Tyler’s expression grew solemn as he opened his eyes and composed himself. “She was a completely different person. Like an anchor had been cut off her leg. And if I can at least do that for her, or for others…” Tyler’s fingers wrapped around the edges of the chair. “Then I’ve done some good in the world.”

Perhaps he was jaded, but Jamie remained unmoved by Tyler’s confession. “So your sense of civic responsibility is why you’re an escort?”

“We all have needs,” Tyler replied coolly as he placed his left arm in his lap and leaned against his right bicep, still propped on the back of the chair. “Even you, Jamie.”

Klingberg attempted to steer the conversation back on track. “Do you two know each other?”

“No,” Jamie and Tyler answered simultaneously.

Klingberg gawked at the joint response before thumbing through the remainder of his notes. “We have no further questions at this time. Thank you for coming in, Mr. Seguin.”

Tyler turned his head as he scanned the faces of everyone in the room. “Can someone give me a ride home?”

Jamie nodded. “Sure.”

“Thanks,” Tyler said with a grin.

***

The rain was coming down in sheets as Jamie drove back to Tyler’s penthouse. The windshield wipers could only do so much against the outer bands of a hurricane, which forced Jamie to concentrate more than usual. Perhaps that was why he and Tyler spent most of the drive in silence.

Tyler stretched languidly in the passenger’s seat as Jamie turned into the parking lot. “I’m beat. Might need a nap before I head back out tonight.”

“Must be tiring evading all our questions.” Jamie pulled into the nearest open space and put the car in park. “Speaking of, I’ve got another one for you.”

Intrigued, Tyler silently turned towards Jamie.

Jamie turned his head to face Tyler. “What did you mean when you said you know who I am?”

Tyler paused for a moment before replying. “Well, you know who I am.”

“I don’t know anything about you that isn’t police business.”

“Sure you do. You know all about my life.” Tyler gazed intently at Jamie. “I’ve only recently met you, but I already know who you are. You’re easy to read.”

Jamie wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or fascinated. “Okay then, so who am I?”

“A by-the-book hardass who probably has never had a day of fun in his life. You knock like you’re about to break the door down. You need to relax. You’ll give yourself a heart attack someday.”

Jamie was taken aback. Was that why Rous had made fun of him before they first met Tyler?

Tyler stared at the distance between the car and the entrance to the penthouse, watching the raindrops splattering onto the pavement. He would get soaked on his way inside, and probably knew it.

Yet, he didn’t seem to mind as he turned back towards Jamie and smiled peacefully. “I love the rain. Don’t you?”

Jamie couldn’t help but crack a half-smile in response to Tyler’s earnestness. “Not when I have to drive in it.”

“You’ll like it better once it stops being so humid.” Tyler unfastened his seatbelt and placed his right hand on the door handle. “Thanks for the ride.”

Before Jamie could reply, Tyler jumped out of the car and slammed the door, but still couldn’t prevent the passenger side seat from getting wet. Jamie watched Tyler hustle through the rain, trying and failing not to get wet as he rushed towards the front door.

His gaze remained transfixed until Tyler hurriedly opened the front door and was safely indoors.

***

Jamie took deep breaths through gritted teeth with every step, clenching his hands so hard his nails were digging into his palms.

Of all the places Spez and Radi wanted to meet up after work, they picked a bar.

At least Rous was looking out for Jamie. He wanted a drink so fucking badly.

“I’ll have just one,” he used to tell himself. Then one became five, and once he lost count, he’d need Rous to drive him home, and he’d spend the next morning puking his guts out.

If he didn’t go, he’d have to explain to Spez and Radi why he was staying home, and that was a conversation he didn’t want to have.

So there he was, sliding into a booth alongside Rous, trying desperately to calm down and think of something else.

The fat, balding, middle-aged male bartender yelled over to them when he saw them coming in. “Rous, I’ll get your usual. Coke for you, Benny?”

Jamie nodded silently. At least someone understood.

Radi slammed his empty highball glass on the table. “What the fuck was that earlier? Jamie this, Jamie that, ‘Jamie, can you give me a ride’?”

“He didn’t ask me for a ride,” Jamie noted tersely. “He asked anyone.”

Radi eyed Jamie suspiciously as Spez came back from the bar with two Rusty Nails. “And you volunteered.”

“What is it with you and him, anyhow?” Spez asked as he slid back into the booth. “How did you know he wouldn’t want an attorney?”

Jamie disregarded the tumbler of Coke that Rous slid across the table once he returned from the bar. “Guys like that, it’s a matter of pride. Cocky motherfucker, needs to be taken down a few pegs.”

“You can say that again,” Rous muttered before taking a swig of his Sazerac.

A smile crept across Jamie’s face as he turned to face Rous. “Cocky motherfucker. Needs to be taken down a few pegs.”

“Fucker.” Rous rolled his eyes.

Jamie’s chuckle was cut off by the obnoxious voice approaching their booth. “You back on the booze, Chubbs?”

Jamie clenched his teeth as Captain Hitchcock smiled at his use of the nickname he knew Jamie hated.

Spez put down his glass and shot Hitchcock a death glare. “You have some fucking nerve showing your face around here.”

And he was right. Hitchcock was the reason the vice squad had been disbanded after the audit found he had mishandled the squad’s funds. It had resulted in his demotion from lieutenant to captain, but Jamie and the other guys felt he had gotten off way too easily.

Hitchcock laughed derisively. “What? I’m here as a private citizen. I’m off-duty. Are you?”

“We’re discussing a case,” Radi stated matter-of-factly, not even bothering to look at Hitchcock.

“I’m sure you are,” Hitchcock said as he stared Jamie down. “Still married to the job, Chubbs?”

Apparently Jamie’s tactic of not responding to the offensive moniker didn’t work. “I’m off-duty, Hitchcock. You hear me? We’re all off-duty discussing a case. Internal Affairs shouldn’t have any problem with that. Maybe I should put in for overtime.”

“You do that, Chubbs.” Hitchcock smiled when Jamie winced at the offensive syllable. “Still married to the job, I see. Can’t unwind, can’t relax, can’t think of anything but police business.”

Jamie’s heart stuttered when he realized that Hitchcock was saying essentially the same thing Tyler had said to him earlier. Was he really that easy to read?

“You know that’s why Alicia started fucking around behind your back, right?”

The table shook as Jamie shot up onto his feet. Rous bolted up and seized Jamie in a bear hug.

Hitchcock glanced at Rous. “This your new partner?”

Jamie nodded silently.

“Well, try not to shoot this one in the head, too. Take care, Chubbs.” With that, Hitchcock turned and walked away.

Rous tightened his grip as he felt Jamie try to break free. “Come on. We’re leaving.”

***

If it hadn’t been for the four cups of coffee he’d drank once he woke up, Jamie would have fallen asleep in the shower that morning. Hitchcock had triggered memories and feelings he’d wanted to remain buried, forcing him to break out the Klonopin, which always had that effect on him regardless of how much sleep he got.

Rous frowned in concern when he saw Jamie walk into the conference room. “You look like shit.”

“I had a bad night,” Jamie mumbled as he staggered in and sat down in the empty chair next to Rous. Spez and Radi were already seated in two of the other chairs around the table.

Nill rushed in with a stack of papers and took the remaining vacant seat. “We got a call a few minutes ago. Ines Echeverria was found dead outside the Hildebrand residence around 0600.”

“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” Radi muttered.

Spez glanced at Rous and smiled. “Told you it wasn’t the maid.”

Rous didn’t seem convinced. “Murder-suicide?”

“We can’t really say,” Nill explained. “Not many details yet. Coroner’s guys are still working the scene. No signs of foul play, and no marks anywhere on her body. We’ll have to wait for toxicology to know what really happened, but right now they think it’s medical.”

Rous frowned. “So they don’t know for sure.”

“Right.” Nill glanced down at his papers. “Rous and Radi, I want you at the Hildebrand residence ASAP.”

Jamie turned towards Nill, confused. “Wait, you’re splitting us up?”

“Rous is the one who ran her background,” Nill explained. “And we finally got the surveillance footage, so we’ll need Spez to start looking that over.”

“Finally,” Spez muttered in exasperation before getting up and heading out.

“Wait, what about me?” Jamie inquired as Rous and Radi took their leave.

Nill peered at the doorway, waiting for the others to be safely out of earshot before lowering his voice. “See where Seguin leads you.”

Jamie felt his temperature rise and his pulse quicken as he slowly nodded.

Chapter Text

MATH 100. COMM 121. ENGLISH 354.

There wasn’t much in Tyler’s UMass Amherst transcripts for Jamie to go on as he was spending a late night in the office with his sixth cup of coffee.

Until one course piqued Jamie’s interest.

COMM 310: Social Influence and Persuasion.

Social Influence and Persuasion. Tyler had something about him; something that skyrocketed him to the top of Jamie’s “tough nut to crack” list.

Or it could be just another coincidence.

Jamie had spent the entire evening diving deep into the murder of Tyler’s advisor. It turned out that the professor had a habit of fucking freshman coeds and his wife had finally had enough. She was in the middle of a 22-year prison sentence for his murder.

There was nothing else for him to check. He was just putting the transcripts away when Rous came in, followed closely by one of the contractors.

Rous shook his head. “The fuck you doing here, Benny?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Jamie replied as the contractor began taking measurements of various spots on the wall.

“Radi and I just got done briefing Montgomery and Nill on the maid’s death. If toxicology agrees with our findings, it’s an open and shut case.”

“Yeah?” Jamie looked up at Rous as he scooched his chair away from his desk.

“Looks like the maid was a bulimic. You can’t buy ipecac syrup anymore, but you can buy ipecac tablets from any homeopath. We found 30 bottles in her room.”

“Shit.” Jamie’s eyes grew wide. Apparently the lessons from Karen Carpenter’s death were completely lost on some people.

“Yeah.” Rous shook his head. “Looks like a dead end.”

“Speaking of dead ends, I found out who killed Seguin’s advisor. His wife had enough of him fucking freshman coeds and killed him. She’s doing 22 years in Norfolk.” Jamie bit his lip, banishing the incoming memories. “Can’t say I blame her, really.”

Rous frowned. “So the manner of death was purely coincidental.”

“Right,” Jamie replied. “Another dead end. I’m thinking we need to talk to this Regina Harrington.”

Rous nodded. “I agree. I want to run her file first.” Rous was better with the databases than Jamie, so Jamie was happy to defer to his expertise. “Tell you what though, I’ll make you a deal.”

Jamie raised his head and looked up at Rous. “What?”

“I’ll do all the background work on Harrington before we speak to her, and you focus on Seguin. But on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You go home and go to bed.” Rous wore an expression of concern. “Seriously, Benny, you need some rest.”

Jamie sighed, knowing full well that Rous was absolutely right. “What about you?”

“I was just getting ready to leave and came to check on you.”

There was no getting out of this one. “Fine, it’s a deal. See you tomorrow.”

Jamie had just stepped into the hallway when Rous called to him.

“Hey, Benny!”

He stopped and turned to see Rous sticking his head outside the doorway.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”

Jamie stood rooted to the ground, ruminating everything past and present until finally answering Rous after a long pause.

“…Yeah.” Jamie wanly shook his head. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” With that, he continued down the hallway and to the exit.

***

Jamie crouched behind the open driver’s side door, looking for an opening as the wave of bullets shattered the window above him. He barely moved in time to avoid the hail of glass fragments that rained down immediately after.

Brownie returned fire from his spot on the other side of the car, giving Jamie the opportunity to dart out into the open long enough to fire three shots of his own. It wasn’t clear which one connected, but it was enough to send one of the shooters to the pavement. One down, three more to go.

Before Jamie could duck back behind the door, the gunmen threw their AK-47s to the ground and retreated back into the building.

“They’re out of ammo!” Jamie called over to Brownie.

“Cover me!” Brownie shrieked back, running out from behind the passenger’s side door and over to another vacant cruiser, quickly scanning the area before an explosion pierced the sudden silence. The glass panes in the nearby building flashed for a split second before thick white smoke began billowing out of one of the windows. SWAT had arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Both Brownie and Jamie took the opportunity to charge forward, reaching the building during the respite while Zafiro’s men were preoccupied. They rushed into what was apparently a business, as there was one long hallway and several open rooms that looked like offices. Brownie rushed into an office on the left, while Jamie exploded into the nearest office on the right, pivoting with his Glock drawn as he looked around the room.

“Clear!” Brownie yelled after a few seconds.

“Clear!” Jamie replied.

Jamie couldn’t see Brownie, but could hear him nearby as he ran back into the hallway and darted into the next office. He repeated the process, scanning the empty room before calling out. “Clear!”

There was no reply. Jamie was just about to reenter the hallway when he spotted a figure carrying a M4 Carbine in the nearest office to his left.

“Chanate!” Jamie screamed. If its holder used the attached grenade launcher, they were as good as dead in such a small space.

Fortunately, despite the firepower, it appeared these guys weren’t too bright. The gunman raised his barrel, but Jamie was the faster shot, shooting two rounds before the gunman could even aim for Jamie.

Before Jamie finished firing his next round, Brownie dashed into the hallway, then crumpled over as the blood gushed from the fresh hole in the back of his head.

***

The world was shrouded in silence as Jamie sat upright in bed, clutching the sheets as the sweat poured down his body.

When his hearing returned, he momentarily wondered what that noise was before realizing that he had been screaming at the top of his lungs.

Jamie took several ragged breaths, trying desperately to slow the tachycardia crushing his chest. Once his eyes began to focus, he zeroed in on the framed picture of himself and Jordie on top of the dresser before suddenly remembering to slow his breathing down. He could hear Jordie somewhere in the back of his mind counting out the intervals. At first Jamie could barely breathe without hyperventilating, but it gradually became easier.

Now that his frame was no longer rigid, Jamie allowed himself to collapse backwards onto the pillows. Even indirectly, his big brother was bailing him out of trouble again.

Jamie rolled onto his right side and propped himself up halfway with one hand while reaching for the nightstand drawer in the other. The contents of the drawer shifted as he pulled it open, rattling a ball metal chain against his medicine bottles.

Once he shifted into a seated position on the side of the bed, Jamie reached for the chain, picking it up before cupping the dog tags in his palm. He ran his thumb over the raised letters, which he’d long ago memorized: HEWITT, KEVIN N., US 18 858 073, A NEG, CHRISTIAN.

It had been ages since he’d allowed himself to think about Kevin. He really needed to find a much better place to keep the only thing he had left of him.

But now was not the time for reminiscence.

He had a suspect to follow.

***

The thing Jamie really hated about stakeouts was that they involved a whole lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen.

So it was a pleasant surprise when Tyler emerged from the front door of his condo less than five minutes after Jamie had hidden nearby.

Tyler sure cleaned up nicely. Today, he wore a navy blue double-breasted Ted Baker suit, complete with black Oxfords and a pressed white shirt and matching tie. The ensemble probably cost Jamie’s entire paycheck for the month.

Once Tyler was safely past his hiding spot, Jamie crept out, following several steps behind.

Tyler headed for the garage, where he climbed into a green Corvette Stingray.

Jamie frowned. Stealth was especially important here. If Tyler spotted him on the road, there was no way his Crown Vic could keep up. But at least now he had make, model, and plates. With that information written down, he left the garage and returned to the unmarked car he was driving that day to wait for Tyler to emerge.

Once Tyler exited the garage and headed for the intersection, Jamie put his own car into drive, remaining far enough behind Tyler not to be spotted in the rear view mirror as they both merged onto 75.

It was soon clear where Tyler was headed once he got onto Loop 12. He had another client in Margaret Hildebrand’s neighborhood.

Sure enough, Tyler got off on Park Lane and headed several blocks past the now-former Hildebrand residence before parking in the driveway of a French country style mansion. Jamie parked one block away and turned off the engine before retrieving his binoculars from the glove compartment.

Tyler was now at the front door, where he was greeted warmly by a woman who appeared to be in her late 40s or early 50s. Jamie peeked at the mailbox, then wrote down the address before grabbing his laptop and wishing Rous were there to take care of the lookup for him. He always worked so much faster.

According to the database, the house belonged to an Abigail Dawson. He typed in a few more commands and waited for the database to work his magic.

Finally, after far too long, the words popped up on the screen: RELEASED, J4, JUNE 8, 1991.

Jester IV? That was a psychiatric facility for the most violent prisoners in the system. If Abigail Dawson had been housed there, she not only had a history of mental health issues, but had also committed an extremely violent crime.

Jamie typed in the phrase prior convictions and waited for the database to fetch the records.

It took almost a minute for the database to answer: CAPITAL MURDER, FEBRUARY 10, 1985.

Tyler did business with convicted killers. Was this just another coincidence?

As curious as he was about Abigail Dawson’s case, Jamie couldn’t go looking it up right then. He had a stakeout to worry about. He’d speak to Rous later. Rous had worked homicide much longer than Jamie, so he was more familiar with the more sensational cases.

Over the next hour, Jamie wished he could look up that case. It would at least give him something to do other than stare through binoculars at absolutely nothing.

At long last, Tyler emerged from the front door. He and Abigail shook hands before Tyler headed back to his car.

Just a handshake? That was awfully chaste considering what Tyler did for a living. Jamie would have to ask him about it at some point.

Once Tyler pulled out of the driveway, Jamie turned on his car and put it into gear before coasting two blocks behind Tyler. Tyler suddenly stopped in the middle of the street before gunning the engine and taking off like a bat out of hell.

Jamie floored the accelerator and raced after Tyler, turning in the direction where Tyler had last been.

There was a fork in the road. Jamie made the split-second decision to head right. He drove a couple hundred feet before realizing that Tyler was long gone.

“Shit,” Jamie muttered through gritted teeth.

***

Jamie headed back to his office, coffee in one hand and his notepad in the other. Rous was at his desk chatting with the contractor that had been in their office before.

“Hey, Rous,” Jamie greeted him as he came in. “Get any leads?”

“Sure did. Hey, I was just talking to Kris here.” Rous pointed the thumb of his right hand towards the contractor. “He needs us to move everything away from the back wall by Wednesday so he can start knocking it down.”

Jamie nodded. “Got it. Before hearing what you have, I got an interesting lead today I wanted to ask you about.”

Rous nodded before turning to Kris. “Hey, can you come back later? Benny and I have some things to discuss.”

“Sure," Kris replied before leaving the office and closing the door behind him.

Jamie placed his coffee and the notepad on his desk before sitting down in the rolling chair. “Do you remember a case involving an Abigail Dawson?”

Rous’ mouth hung open in shock. “Holy shit, how could I not?! Nill always used to tell me stories about it. It happened when Abigail was 14.”

Jamie propped his arms on his desk. “Go on.”

“Abigail had a female friend she was very close to, and her mother was afraid they were lesbians. Keep in mind, this was back when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Since Abigail’s mother forbade them to see each other anymore, they ganged up and killed her.”

Chapter Text

Jamie once again wished he could switch places with Spez as he and Rous entered the foyer of Sharon’s penthouse. One trip there had been more than enough.

Apparently Sharon felt the same way, as the heavies now allowed Jamie and Rous to proceed directly to Sharon’s office without the previous wait. Although Sharon continued to rifle through the papers on her desk as the two walked in, she couldn’t resist looking up and flashing a wry smile at Jamie. “Back for more, I see.”

“I always was a glutton for punishment,” Jamie replied drolly. “Let’s just get this over with. When did Seguin attend the charity ball with Margaret Hildebrand?”

“February 2016,” Sharon immediately answered. “She initially just hired him as a plus one for the ball and nothing else. But they hit it off so well she had me send him to her house a week later. The rest is history.”

Jamie didn’t bother dignifying her with a response. “We’re also looking for a Regina Harrington.”

“Unfortunately, Regina is booked solid today. But she’s off until tomorrow afternoon, so you could try getting ahold of her in the morning.”

Aside from Sharon’s typical bitchiness, this was going much better than Jamie had expected. Perhaps they could leave fairly quickly. “Before Seguin left for the Hildebrand residence before the murder, did this Regina ask him to stay here and hang out?”

Sharon nodded. “She did. They’re best friends. They’ve had opposing schedules over the past two weeks so they really hadn’t spent that much time together.”

“Just friends?” Rous inquired.

“Just friends, nothing more. Almost like they’re brother and sister.”

Jamie frowned in speculation. Was Regina filling a void left by the death of Tyler’s sisters?

“Well, speak of the devil.” Sharon straightened up in her chair and grinned as Tyler stepped through the open door into the office. “You’ve all met, haven’t you?”

Tyler smiled as he eyed Jamie rapaciously. “You love me so much you just had to come and visit me at work, didn’t you?”

Jamie rolled his eyes. “Fuck you.”

“That’s $5,000 for one hour,” Tyler quipped. “But for you, I’m willing to negotiate.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Tyler,” Sharon scolded. “Why don’t you go get me a drink?”

Tyler headed over to the wet bar, with Jamie following closely behind him. Rous was saying something to Sharon, but Jamie wasn’t paying attention.

“I’m glad you showed up,” Jamie said as Tyler retrieved a highball glass from one of the shelves. “I had some more questions for you.”

“And I had some questions for you,” Tyler replied.

Jamie disregarded Tyler’s comment as he leaned against the wet bar, placing himself only a few inches away from Tyler. “Tell me about Abigail Dawson.”

“What, don’t they give you access to her files?” Tyler lifted the lid from the ice bucket before reaching for the tongs.

Jamie resisted the urge to smack him. No wonder Rous nearly blew his top during their first meeting. “You know what she did, don’t you?”

Tyler retrieved one ice cube before frowning once he noticed that the contents of the ice bucket had frozen into one solid cube. “I know that her friend put her up to it.”

Jamie had read up on the Dawson-Ackerman case prior to heading over to Sharon’s penthouse, but this was a new angle for him. Clearly, Abigail Dawson had discussed the case with Tyler at some point. “What do you mean?”

“It wasn’t Abby’s idea. Bethany talked her into it.” Tyler put down the tongs before opening the top drawer.

Jamie furrowed his brow in contemplation. “So, the dominant figure exploited the younger submissive with mental instability to maintain psychological control. Interesting.”

Tyler gawked at Jamie as if he had three heads.

Jamie shook his head dismissively once he realized he was falling into yet another criminology hole. “Cop stuff. Never mind.”

“God, you really are obsessed.” Tyler rolled his eyes.

“Obsessed?” Jamie repeated as Tyler grabbed an ice pick from the open drawer.

“Yeah. You’re way too interested in that sort of thing. Seriously, you need to relax.”

There was no way Jamie could relax at this point. Not when Tyler was methodically stabbing the ice; raising his arm and plunging it down, over and over.

He was breaking it apart too well, almost as if he was trying to stab it to death.

Jamie forced himself to remain professional and banish the sudden doubts from his mind. “Were they a couple?”

“No.” Tyler put the icepick back in the drawer and pushed it shut. “They were just really good friends.”

“Does Abigail Dawson have any attraction to women?”

“Not that I’m aware of.” Tyler used the tongs to place four more ice cubes in the highball glass. “Now it’s my turn to ask you something.”

“What?” Jamie asked warily.

Tyler gripped the neck of the Drambuie bottle before turning around to face Jamie. “Were you following me yesterday?”

“And if I was?” It felt good to be the defiant one for a change.

Judging by the icy glare in return, Tyler could dish it out, but he didn’t like taking it. “I don’t like you following me around or bothering my friends.”

“I don’t like you avoiding my questions.”

Tyler turned back towards the bar and opened the Drambuie bottle before pouring some in the highball glass. “What do you want with Regina?”

“Why don’t you want me talking to her?”

“She’s been through more than enough shit already.” Tyler sealed the Drambuie and set it aside, then grabbed the nearby bottle of Chivas Regal. “I don’t want her getting in any more trouble.”

Jamie stared in silence as Tyler mixed Sharon’s Rusty Nail. Maybe Tyler and Regina really did see one another as adopted siblings. It was a long shot, but if Tyler was this willing to defend Regina, would this include taking the rap for murder?

“And you don’t mind getting into trouble?” Jamie inquired.

The rebellious gleam returned to Tyler’s eyes as he turned to face Jamie, smiling voraciously. “I can get myself out of trouble. Can you?”

Jamie caught himself before he ground his teeth. “I stay out of trouble.”

“Really?” Tyler raised an eyebrow. “Because you seem to go looking for it.”

“What?” Now it was Jamie’s turn to stare in flabbergasted silence.

Tyler smiled ardently as his eyes dug right into Jamie’s; examining every facet of his psyche. “You enjoy jumping in headfirst. You went and looked up Abby’s murder case on your own time because you love looking for trouble so much.”

Jamie shook his head, desperately trying not to appear nervous. “No. My job is to punish criminals and keep others out of trouble.”

“What happened, Jamie?” Tyler’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Did you get so caught up in your job that you started liking it too much?”

Jamie didn’t answer. Instead, he silently watched Tyler take the Rusty Nail over to Sharon’s desk.

But then Tyler returned, moving closer to Jamie until the tips of their shoes touched.

“Tell me,” Tyler raised his right hand and placed it on Jamie’s left cheek. “Tell me, Jamie. Did you fly too close to the sun?"

Jamie seized Tyler’s wrist with his right hand and pulled it away, but continued holding it roughly. Jamie’s forward motion pressed their bodies together so that they were face-to-face; staring right into each other’s eyes.

They remained that way for a few moments until Tyler broke his silence with an ardent smile. “You don’t have to say anything. I know who you are.”

“Benny?” Rous called from the other side of the room. “I have Harrington’s address now. We’re done here.”

Jamie nodded. “Got it. Let’s go.” He released Tyler’s wrist and went to join Rous before they began to leave Sharon’s penthouse.

Tyler called out to Jamie as he and Rous headed out. “My offer still stands, you know.”

But Jamie never heard him. He and Rous were long gone.

***

There was one last thing Jamie and Rous needed to do before calling it a night. Spez finally had some security camera footage worth examining.

The camera’s field of view was mostly limited to the front yard and driveway, and cut off in the middle of the front steps. However, the former Hildebrand residence was right across the street, and the front doorway along with a quarter of the front yard were visible near the top of the frame.

Jamie frowned at the initial frame that popped up after Spez typed in some commands. The footage came from a standard analog CCD black-and-white camera, and the resolution left much to be desired. At least the sensitivity was decent.

Spez noticed Jamie’s expression and chuckled. “Yeah, I know. I asked Sharpy to convert everything to digital once I’m done going through all of it, but he said it’s gonna take a while.”

“Figures,” Jamie muttered.

Rous stared intently at the screen. “Where exactly is this camera?”

“They hid it under the windowsill of the window directly above the front door,” Spez replied. “They didn’t want it to be conspicuous, so the camera’s a lot smaller than it probably should be.”

Now Rous wore the same look of disapproval as Jamie. “Which means plenty of opportunities to screw up the lens.”

“Exactly. Time of death for the vic was sometime around 1 AM. This was taken around 12:45 AM.”

Nothing happened on screen as soon as Spez pressed play. After ten seconds, the front end of a car stopped at the very edge of the frame.

“No headlights,” Rous observed. “Didn’t want to be seen. Can we get a plate number?”

“I tried.” Spez shook his head. “We can’t see one from this angle.”

Before Rous could finish cursing under his breath, a figure emerged from the car and walked across the front of the Hildebrand lawn to the front door. The figure opened the front door and walked inside.

“Wait a minute.” Jamie gawked in disbelief. “The front door was unlocked?”

“Seems so,” Rous replied. Spez could only nod in dumbfounded silence.

“Jesus Christ.” Jamie covered his eyes with his left hand and shook his head. “I was wondering why there were no signs of forced entry. The perp didn’t even have to force his way in.”

Rous leaned over the keyboard and inched closer to the screen. “Can you go back to where the perp was on the lawn?”

Spez nodded, typing the commands for the proper frame to appear.

The person wasn’t close enough to clearly identify, and the low resolution made matters much worse. However, the figure appeared to be a dark-haired man in a fitted tank top and skinny jeans, with serpentine tattoo sleeves winding up and down his arms.

Rous frowned at the image on the screen, then turned his head to face Jamie. “What do you think?”

Jamie frowned for a few moments as he pondered how to put his impressions into words. “It does look like him, but something’s a bit off. For one, we don’t have a height for either him or this person.”

Rous nodded. “The build seems a bit lankier too. Spez, is there any footage of the perp leaving?”

“Yeah. Timestamp is 1:20 AM, so the perp was efficient. Knew his way around.” Spez fast-forwarded to the footage showing the man exiting the front door, closing it behind him, and walking across the lawn before getting into his car and driving away.

“That’s all we have for now,” Spez announced.

Jamie blinked as his eyes left the screen. “…That’s it?”

Rous shot Jamie a derisive look. “What were you expecting, the Zapruder film?”

“No…just…” Jamie shook his head. “I was expecting something a little more concrete. Like I said, it looks like him, but we need more proof than this.”

Rous nodded. “Hopefully Sharpy can get something more concrete for us. We can’t use this for subject identification. It wouldn’t hold up in court. Spez, thanks anyway. I’ll see you two tomorrow. Benny, you should call it a night, too.”

Even though Jamie wouldn’t be able to sleep for at least an hour after climbing into bed, he didn’t need Rous breathing down his neck. He followed Rous down the hallway to the staff exit, where Rous placed a hand on the exit handle before turning around to face Jamie.

“I gotta know…” Rous began. “What the hell is it with you and him?”

“With Seguin?”

“Yeah.”

Jamie shrugged, dumbfounded. “…I don’t know.”

“But there’s something going on between you two.”

Jamie sighed in resignation; knowing full well Rous was right. “Yeah,” he muttered. “…Something.”

Chapter Text

“You ran the files,” Jamie stated matter-of-factly as he watched the traffic turning onto 30, knowing full well he wouldn’t make it before the light changed. “Tell me about Regina Harrington.”

Rous took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “Not sure who had it worse, her or Seguin.”

“Is it really a competition?” Sure enough, the light turned red when Jamie was three car lengths behind the onramp.

“Like Seguin, she’s an out-of-towner. Age 30, born and raised in Chicago. Parents were losers, with her father in and out of the Cook County Jail and her mother with a rap sheet of her own. Couldn’t get any further records, but she and her siblings were removed from the home when she was ten.”

“Damn.” Jamie knew it was unlikely he’d ever know what happened since Illinois sealed juvenile records, but he was curious nonetheless about the circumstances leading up to CPS getting involved. “Any idea what the mother did?”

“Larceny, child endangerment, neglect, that sort of thing. Basically, a ton of little things that finally caught CPS’ attention once she pissed off the cops one too many times. Mostly larceny, though.”

Jamie sighed as he wondered why one needed a license to catch a fish but not to pop out a kid. “So what happened after that?”

“Her siblings were adopted, but she wasn’t. Languished in foster care until she was 18. For whatever reason, she dropped out of high school sometime. After that, she had three convictions for solicitation and two convictions for prostitution, all within a two-year period. The trail runs cold after that.”

“No jail time?

“Just some fines. It’s only a misdemeanor in Illinois even if you’re a repeat offender. Then again, Chicago’s got bigger problems.”

“Two years…” Jamie pondered the timeframe as he pulled onto Olive Street. “Wait, so she’s been in the business all this time?

“Ask her yourself,” Rous replied with a shrug.

Even with the sun at its zenith, the monolith of Museum Tower didn’t cast a shadow, meaning that Jamie and Rous would have to walk in full sunlight once they left the parking garage where Jamie had pulled in and was now searching for an open spot. The 96˚ heat was bad enough, but they were both in full suits. Jamie suddenly found himself longing for his old uniform, which at least had short sleeves.

Sure enough, once Jamie had parked his Crown Vic and him and Rous had made it across the street to the entrance of Museum Tower, he was a clammy mess. Clearly it was noticeable, as the doorman couldn’t help but crack a smile as he allowed the pair inside.

Almost immediately after Jamie pounded on the door, the stampede of footsteps grew louder and louder before it swung open to reveal a rail-thin blonde in an ensemble more suitable for Amsterdam’s former red light district than Dallas in mid-July.

The strappy red top was a cross between a corset and a tank top, embellished with the same red and black geometric pattern as the matching pencil skirt. Jamie could only assume it had been the stiletto heels of the strappy red and black gladiator pumps that had made so much noise before the door had opened. Jamie wasn’t sure which was more impressive: that the heels could make so much noise, or that their wearer could run with them on, especially with her impossibly skinny legs.

Beyond her loud ensemble, Regina Harrington didn’t look much older than Tyler, with long wavy hair and faint blue eyes. Her eyes, however, betrayed a horrible secret.

The dilated pupils of her bloodshot eyes barely focused on Jamie and Rous as Regina wiped her nose with the back of her forearm. Her feet rose and fell as she bounced her legs, as if she wanted to run a marathon despite her inappropriate footwear.

Jamie had seen this deadened gaze and synthetic energy several times during his days in narcotics. There was no mistaking it. Regina was high on cocaine.

But she had already opened the door, and ditching her now would only arise suspicion. Jamie fought the urge to avert his gaze as he flashed his badge. “Ms. Harrington—”

Regina's voice was curt as her eyes narrowed. “I know who you are.”

Jamie hoped nobody noticed him wince at those words. He’d been hearing them far too often recently.

“Seggy told me you’d be coming.”

“You call him Seggy?” Rous inquired.

Regina nodded. “Yeah. I’m still getting ready for my 12:00; I hope you don’t mind. Come in.” She disappeared almost as quickly as she had arrived at the door.

Jamie heard some clamoring in the nearby bathroom as he stepped into Regina’s penthouse and took a look around. It was mid-morning, but the blackout curtains remained drawn. The only lights came from the bathroom and a solitary lamp over in what Jamie assumed was the bedroom.

Rous looked at his watch. “You have a client at noon? It’s not even 10:30 yet. Why are you getting ready now?”

Regina had several stands of hair wrapped in the curling iron she held in her left hand as she poked halfway out of the bathroom. “My client’s in Fort Worth.”

A sudden thought occurred to Jamie. “Doesn’t Sharon usually want her girls to dress more formally than that?”

“Normally, yes,” Regina replied as she ducked back into the bathroom. Jamie and Rous inched closer as she continued speaking. “But this particular client likes me to dress like this.” Regina picked up a nearby makeup compact and began applying powder to her face.

There was just enough light as they stopped outside of the bathroom door for Jamie to notice the baffled look Rous gave him.

Jamie couldn’t help but smile as he whispered to Rous. “I’ve interviewed people in much weirder places. This is nothing.”

“Guess Seggy was right,” Regina observed as she tilted her head to powder the other side of her face. “You do know Sharon pretty well.”

“I was in vice before it was disbanded.”

“That’s what he said.” Regina closed the makeup compact and put it down before reaching for a tube of mascara.

Rous decided to move things along. “What else did he tell you besides that we were coming to talk to you?”

“That you came to ask him about Maggie. He was devastated, you know.” Regina leaned forward until she was only a few inches away from the bathroom mirror. Jamie wondered how on earth she could apply her makeup when she was obviously higher than a kite, but she seemed to be managing just fine.

“Devastated?” Rous repeated.

“Oh, absolutely. He pretty much cried all morning. I called him once I heard about it from the other girls and I couldn’t calm him down. He and Mrs. Hildebrand were really close.”

Jamie changed the subject. “Did you meet Tyler at Bola 8 the night of the murder?”

“I did.” Regina exchanged the mascara for a lip pencil.

“What time?”

“He left Mrs. Hildebrand’s around 10. So I’d say 10:30. We only had time for one drink, though. I had to go see a client.”

“What time were you supposed to meet this client?”

“Midnight.” Regina was struggling with the pencil; as her arm was now twitching.

Jamie remembered the security camera footage. “Was Tyler still at Bola 8 when you left?”

“Yes.” Regina continued fiddling with the pencil.

“Do you know what he did afterwards?”

The pencil slipped out of Regina’s fingers and clattered into the sink as she stood motionless and rigid, searching for an answer for several long moments. “…No.”

Jamie and Rous exchanged glances and nodded. It was time to wrap things up.

“Thank you for your time, Ms. Harrington. We’ll let you know if we need anything else.”

***

Jamie sighed deeply as he leaned into the couch. He couldn’t even muster up his normal aggravation towards the Texas Rangers shitting the bed yet again. He couldn’t stop thinking about the case.

Tyler, Regina, and Sharon had all testified that Tyler and Margaret Hildebrand were extremely close. If all three of them had said so, it was probably true. Besides, Tyler didn’t have any motive to kill his best client. Even if they weren’t close, it wouldn’t make sense for him to kill his best source of income.

But the figure Jamie had seen on the security camera footage, lousy as it was, sure looked like Tyler.

And Tyler didn’t have an alibi.

Given that she was not entirely lucid when Jamie and Rous had spoken to her, Regina could be considered an unreliable witness. But there was no guarantee of when she would be sober, so he and Rous pressing their luck with a second interview wasn’t an option.

Reliable or not, she was all Jamie and Rous had until Sharpy was finished digitizing the security camera footage. And even that wasn’t reliable. Jamie hadn’t run the numbers, but it probably didn’t meet the field of view standards for subject identification. Moreover, they couldn’t identify the car on the screen.

According to Radi, Margaret Hildebrand’s neighbors weren’t much help. Nobody saw, heard, or knew anything. Forensics had finished processing the scene, but so far, they hadn’t had much luck, either.

At this rate, they’d be stuck groveling for tips from the public.

Jamie nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard someone pounding on the door. He sat dazed for a few seconds before the visitor pounded once more.

Hopefully it was maintenance. Jamie was beyond tired of having to shower in 10 minutes or less before losing all the hot water.

But when Jamie undid the locks and opened the door, he was greeted by Tyler, standing triumphantly with one hand on his hip, smiling avariciously.

“You were following me around the other day.” Tyler held Jamie’s gaze as he inched forward until they were only a few inches apart. “Well, it’s my turn to follow you.”

Chapter Text

“H…” Jamie stared blankly at Tyler for a few moments, jaw agape as he tried and failed to compose himself. “How did you even get into the building?”

Tyler sighed and rolled his eyes. “Figures. Instead of asking me how I found you, you had to go with the most boring question you could ask. I should have known.”

Jamie shot Tyler an irritated look. “You already said you followed me.”

“That I did.” Tyler peered over Jamie’s shoulder, taking in the scenery behind him. “Damn, man, you live like this?”

The look of irritation evolved into a glare. “Answer my question.”

“Well, if you must know, someone propped the door open.”

“Again?!” Jamie clenched his hands into fists. “I already told the landlord it was a security risk—”

“Nobody likes a snitch, Jamie. You of all people should know that.” Tyler barged through the doorway and past the open space next to Jamie before stopping by the couch and looking around. “Try hanging some more pictures in here. Might make it look a little less like a prison cell.”

Jamie couldn’t manage to be upset at the security breach, let alone the intrusion. Instead, he silently watched Tyler as he closed the door and headed into the nearby kitchen; with Tyler’s gaze upon him as well the entire time. “Can I get you a drink?”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Tyler’s smirk was ambiguously devious; lascivious even, as he sidled into the kitchen, watching Jamie like a tiger stalking its prey.

Jamie felt Tyler’s stare burning through him as he turned his back and opened the refrigerator door. “I don’t drink alcohol anymore, but I have lemonade and sweet tea in here. Which one do you want?”

“Sweet tea,” Tyler answered as he leaned against the closest counter and crossed his arms over his chest, never taking his eyes off Jamie for a single moment.

Jamie’s hands were slightly unsteady as he opened the cabinet door to fetch two highball glasses. He needed something, anything, to dispel the white-hot tension hanging over them like heavy fog descending over a pond. Perhaps that was why his throat was suddenly dry.

The instantaneous arctic blast that shot from the freezer once Jamie yanked open the door provided a split-second reprieve. However, once Jamie retrieved the ice tray, he discovered that he had overfilled the tray once again, and each individual cube had congealed into one solid block of ice.

“Shit. Hang on.” Jamie slammed the freezer door shut before placing the tray on the counter next to Tyler. He proceeded to open the silverware drawer under the adjoining counter and grab a knife.

Jamie froze once Tyler’s hand seized his wrist. Adrenaline coursed through him as he turned to face Tyler, who was smiling like the cat that ate the canary and standing very, very close.

“Let me do that,” Tyler purred, smiling as he relaxed his grip and traced his fingers across the ridges of Jamie’s hand and wrist. “You like watching me do it, don’t you?”

Jamie paused for a moment before handing Tyler the knife. Tyler turned away from Jamie and proceeded to attack the contents of the ice tray; jamming the knife into it again and again. He was much too proficient at it for Jamie’s comfort.

Tyler noticed Jamie’s uneasiness and smiled as he discarded the knife on the kitchen counter. Chagrined, Jamie snatched the knife and the ice tray away and dumped the contents into the two glasses, then retrieved the pitcher of sweet tea from the refrigerator before slamming the door shut.

Tyler’s smile grew wider as he eyed Jamie intently. “Why are you pouring yourself a drink? I thought you were just offering me one.”

Jamie quickly glanced over at Tyler before pouring the drinks. “I’m thirsty all of a sudden.”

“Funny,” Tyler remarked with a slight chuckle. “So am I.”

Silently, Jamie lifted Tyler’s glass and handed it to him. Tyler reached for the glass and splayed his fingers across Jamie’s, tracing the ridges of Jamie’s skin with his fingertips as he tightened his grip. Before Jamie could decide whether or not to let go, Tyler had placed his second hand on the other side of the glass, cupping Jamie’s thumb with his palm. Their eyes dug into one another as Tyler tightened his grip while Jamie loosened his; eventually retracting his hand from Tyler’s grasp.

“Thanks.” Tyler raised the glass to his lips and took a long swig. Jamie took Tyler’s cue and raised his own glass, drinking so slowly he almost choked when he felt the whisper of fingertips just below the right leg of his boxers.

“Mmm, interesting.” Tyler’s smile blossomed into a full grin as he admired the thigh piece. “Bear and panther. Bear represents strength, panther represents death and rebirth. Masculine and feminine symbolism complementing one another. Nice.” Tyler spoke again before Jamie could get a word in edgewise. “You surprised I know all this?”

“Not really.” Jamie suddenly found himself wishing he had bothered to put on a pair of lounge shorts, but couldn’t bring himself to remove Tyler’s hand, even with the touch scorching his skin. “Symbolism seems right up your alley.”

Tyler appeared genuinely flattered as he eyed Jamie before draining his glass. “I don’t get to see all your ink when you’re wearing those long suits. Such a shame.”

“I don’t get to see yours, either.” One piece partially hidden underneath the right strap of the grey Under Armour tank top Tyler wore had piqued Jamie’s interest. Jamie threaded the edges of the material with the index and middle fingers of his free hand, pulling it away for a better look. “What’s this?”

Tyler placed his fingers over Jamie’s and slipped the strap down his shoulder, revealing a date: 8-17-13. “That was supposed to be my wedding day.”

“So she died a month before the wedding? Damn.” Jamie withdrew his fingers from the material as Tyler nodded sadly. “Did you have this done before or after she was killed?”

“Before.” Tyler returned the strap to his shoulder. “I probably should have had it removed, but I just can’t.”

“I’d want it gone,” Jamie observed. “I wouldn’t want the constant reminder.”

Tyler shot Jamie an icy glare. “Maybe you can figure that out once you lose the most important person in your life.”

Jamie clamped the glass in his hand as he returned the glare. “As a matter of fact, I have.”

Tyler’s features softened as he drew back slightly. “…What?”

Now Jamie was clutching the glass so tightly he feared it would break. Fuck. He’d let his guard down.

It would most likely come back to bite him later, but now Jamie had no choice but to speak up. “I was with an Army officer in college. He got sent to Iraq halfway through junior year. Four months later, he and two other guys hit a roadside bomb. None of them made it.”

For once, Tyler was at a loss for words, needing several long moments to come up with a response. “I’m sorry. What was his name?”

“Kevin.”

“Is that him?” Tyler raised his free arm and gestured towards the open door of Jamie’s bedroom with his thumb.

Jamie realized that Tyler was referring to the framed photo of himself and Jordie on top of the bedroom dresser, which was visible from their vantage point. “No, that’s my brother.”

“Huh. No pictures of your parents?”

The mere mention of his parents was enough to make Jamie quietly seethe. “My mother died of breast cancer six years ago.”

“Oh, geez.” Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Jamie recalled the final conversation he had with his mother, and the last thing she had told him—none of this would have happened if you’d been a better husband—before he stormed out for good.

“What about your dad?” Tyler asked.

“We don’t speak,” Jamie replied bitterly.

Tyler blinked, face betraying his bewilderment. “…Oh.”

Jamie set his glass down on the counter. “Why are you here?”

“I brought you something.” Tyler set his glass down next to Jamie’s before pulling a pocket-sized manila envelope out of his pocket. “This showed up in my mailbox this morning.”

Tyler handed the envelope to Jamie, who immediately noticed the lack of a return address. Stranger yet were the contents: a cameo pin and an embossed pendant with a monogrammed H.

“Maggie used to wear that pendant all the time,” Tyler explained. “I’ve never seen the pin, though.”

Jamie frowned in contemplation. Both of the items matched the description of some of the jewelry that the maid had reported missing after Margaret Hildebrand’s murder. “And you just got these this morning? Why didn’t you turn them in to the police?”

“Do you really think they’d have let me leave if I showed up with stolen property?”

Jamie returned the pieces to the envelope and set it down on the counter a safe distance from the glasses. The envelope and the jewelry were too contaminated to process at this point, but he at least had a postmark to track. “Should I let you leave?”

“Why? Are you arresting me?” The standoffish look returned to Tyler’s face as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Do I have to stay here forever?”

Jamie returned Tyler’s gaze and held it as he took several steps closer. “You’re more valuable to the investigation out in the open.”

Tyler scoffed as he moved closer, moving into Jamie’s personal space as they watched one another; their eyes heavily involved. “What? Don’t you enjoy my company?”

“You wouldn’t enjoy mine.” Jamie’s tone was stern, but he continued to look directly at Tyler as he met the intrusion with one of his own; moving closer until their faces were only a few inches apart.

“We’ll see about that.”

They stared at one another for several long moments before Tyler backed away and headed for the door. “Thanks for the drink.”

Jamie nodded. “Sure.”

Tyler opened the door, then turned to face Jamie. “I have a client in a couple of hours, but I’ll be done at 10. Regina’s taking a bunch of us to Stereo Live tonight, so I’m leaving my place around midnight.” Tyler smiled lasciviously as he looked Jamie right in the eyes. “You know…in case you want to follow me again.”

And with that, he left and slammed the door behind him.

Jamie stared blankly at the door before snatching his glass from the counter and downing the contents in three large gulps.

Chapter Text

Jamie had a choice.

It was completely up to him whether or not to follow Tyler that night.

He was weighing his options as he sat at his desk filling out the evidence forms for the envelope and jewelry he had just turned in.

Alicia almost never gave him a choice. On the one occasion where it was up to him, it was the worst decision of his life.

Jordie had been far too trusting of others when they were younger, which was how Alicia was able to sink her claws into Jamie in the first place. She tagged along with a couple of friends that Jordie had invited to the party he threw after getting his Master’s. Although she showed up uninvited, Jordie let her stay. Jamie didn’t blame Jordie; as Alicia seemed harmless at the time. But Jordie had never stopped blaming himself.

Jamie and Alicia hadn’t even known each other for more than five minutes before she started acting like she owned him. She insisted that he tag along with her to Frankie’s the following night, and refused to take no for an answer.

No matter how many times he tried to decline, telling her he had plans with his own friends (which was true), she kept pressing the issue until he finally gave up and agreed to go with her.

Despite her initial pushiness, Jamie enjoyed himself. And she wanted to see him again. For once, a girl was actually interested in him long-term; as opposed to all those one-and-done dates he had gone on in college to try and fix whatever it was that his parents kept insisting was wrong with him.

He didn’t dislike women. He just wasn’t all that interested.

His parents were over the moon once he and Alicia began going steady. “Finally,” they kept saying. “Remember, we want grandchildren.” They’d already written Jordie off as a lost cause; as they kept reminding both of their sons at every opportunity.

Jamie’s attention snapped back into the present upon hearing the door slam and seeing Tyler walk into the room.

Except…upon closer inspection, it wasn’t Tyler. But the figure sure as hell looked like him, right down to the sleeves of ink winding up and down his chiseled arms. Only the slightly lighter shade of hair told Jamie this was not actually Tyler.

Once Jamie’s attention span had reentered the real world, he noticed the contractor’s badge hooked to the right-hand pocket of the man’s pants.

Jamie searched his memory banks, digging for whoever it was Rous had been talking to the other day. “Kris…right?”

Kris nodded. “Wow, you remember. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I’m a detective. I’m supposed to remember those things.”

“And here I thought you weren’t paying attention. Any news on the jewelry yet?”

Jamie recoiled in surprise. “How did you know about that?”

“I overheard Radi and Rous talking about it. Did you know Seguin and I went to college together?”

Had Jamie not had his arm propped up on the desk, the shock would likely have knocked him out of his chair. “Why didn’t you tell us before?!”

“I’m telling you now.” Kris leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms over his chest. “Truth is, I hadn’t even heard his name mentioned until today. I had no idea it was him you guys were after.”

Jamie propped his other arm on the desk and leaned forward, staring down Kris. “What was he like?”

“I didn’t know him all that well. We only had a couple freshman classes together. He wanted to be everyone’s friend, though. Swear to God, he never stopped talking. You could ask him ‘how’s the weather?’ and you’d get a three-hour response.”

“Heh.” Somehow, Jamie could believe that. “Were you ever with him outside of class?”

“Saw him at parties. That was about it. We didn’t hang out in the same circles. Anyway…” Kris paused for a moment before changing the subject. “We’re gonna knock down that back wall tomorrow morning, so I’ll need you to move the file cabinet before then.”

“It’s Polak’s. You’ll have to take it up with him. Rous and I already moved our shit.”

“Figures,” Kris muttered with a scowl. “Thanks anyway.” With that, he turned and left as abruptly as he had come in.

Jamie stared blankly at the doorway as he mulled over their conversation. After a few moments, he picked up his phone and dialed Rous’ number. Unsurprisingly, it went to voicemail, since Rous had left an hour earlier.

“Hey Rous, it’s Benny. I need to talk to you about Kris.”

***

Jamie’s mind wandered once again as he turned the ignition and cranked the A/C to maximum.

No matter how many times he tried to kill his past, the memories crawled back out to haunt him.

Jamie’s father had several questions before his senior year of college began. “You’re not a virgin, are you?” he asked derisively.

“Of course not,” Jamie replied in disbelief.

“Oh, thank God,” was his father’s response, along with a sigh of relief. “I was afraid you were turning into a loser like your brother.”

That had apparently been the correct answer, since it got his parents off his back for a little while. They didn’t need to know that Jamie had lost his virginity to Kevin. That would open a whole other can of worms.

Jamie would never have met Kevin had he not been one of Jordie’s friends before Jamie started college. Kevin was a year older, and Jordie asked him to keep an eye on Jamie since he couldn’t while he was out of state. The mentorship soon became a friendship, which later blossomed into so much more.

But nobody knew just how close Jamie and Kevin had been. He had never told anyone else about it; not even Jordie.

When Kevin and his platoon members were killed in action, Jamie withdrew into his studies; barely speaking to anyone for almost a year.

He didn’t have academics to fall back on after Brownie died because of him.

Instead, he started drinking.

It was the first rung on a ladder of increasingly erratic attempts to kill the guilt and pain. When he wasn’t getting blackout drunk, he was cruising. If the places hadn’t had different names, he’d never have been able to tell them apart: Station 4, Kaliente, Havana, Hidden Door, the list went on.

Wherever he was, whatever and whoever he was doing, it was a distraction.

But only a temporary one.

It became a ritual: Drink and cruise and fuck and puke—and not necessarily in that order. Sometimes he’d pass out once he staggered back to his apartment.

No matter what the order was that night, once the morning and the hangover came and he was slumped over the toilet, the distraction would be gone and not only was Brownie still dead, but he’d realize just how fucking stupid he’d been the previous night—just in time to do it all over again.

Nobody noticed or cared until Jamie didn’t show up for work one morning.

Even then, the only person who bothered to check on him was Rous. Jamie literally owed him his life.

If Rous hadn’t breached the door and found him passed out in the bathroom in a puddle of his own bodily fluids after half a bottle of Jack Daniels and no solid food for the past day and a half, Jamie would have been six feet under.

Even after being discharged from the hospital, diagnosed with PTSD, put on all sorts of medication, and seeing Ritchie on a regular basis, Jamie still teetered on the razor’s edge; ready to tumble back into hell at any moment.

Then he met Alicia.

She was a positive influence. With her help, he was able to shun alcohol. Everyone was happy for them.

So why couldn’t Jamie be happy? Everything was perfect. But he couldn’t shake the feeling of being a bird in a gilded cage.

He had finally worked up the strength to leave Alicia. Maybe if he was by himself for a while, he could sort out his feelings.

Then she told him she was pregnant.

Despite the initial panic, Jamie took responsibility and married her.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!” Jamie’s tires squealed as he barely stopped in time to avoid the woman cutting him off. Since she was yapping on the iPhone pressed to her left ear, she didn’t realize that she wasn’t in the turning lane for 35E and overcorrected by nearly sideswiping Jamie.

Instinctively, he reached down to turn on the lights before remembering he was off-duty and in his own car.

Jamie sighed deeply as he dragged his brain kicking and screaming back into reality.

***

Jamie raided his closet and dressers, continuing his previous reminiscences while he searched for some club wear that wouldn’t scream “off-duty cop”.

In retrospect, he should have seen the red flags from a mile away. First Alicia pulled the bridezilla routine; and then she got angry when he told her that no, he really couldn’t afford that honeymoon in the Virgin Islands. But the wedding went well enough. She got to be queen for a day, just as she wanted.

Once she had staked her claim on Jamie, Alicia abandoned the façade and showed her true colors.

No matter what Jamie did, it was never good enough. He’d changed his wardrobe and his appearance, lost contact with his friends, isolated himself from Jordie, and gotten a raise. But if she wasn’t insulting him about one of those things, she’d find something else.

He stayed later and later at work, even coming in on days off; as he was so desperate to avoid her and her screaming outbursts which always ended with something getting thrown or smashed because she hated this shitty house and why didn’t he get off his ass and get a better job? Even if he already was at work, she called every hour to make absolutely sure he was there.

It was horrible, but Jamie actually felt relieved when she miscarried during her fifth month of pregnancy. While he was devastated at the loss of his son, at least he wouldn’t have that bitch for a mother. The kid could escape—why couldn’t Jamie?

When he was dumb enough to reach out to his parents for help, he was told to shut up and man up.

“I don’t believe it,” his father declared. “I didn’t think anyone could be a bigger pussy than Jordie, but you’ve proven me wrong.”

“None of this would have ever happened if you’d been a better husband,” his mother added.

That was the last time he ever spoke to them. Jordie had already cut them off three years prior, but Jamie had been stupid enough to believe he could fix things.

Jamie knew what everyone at the precinct was saying behind his back. He knew just as well as they were that Alicia was cheating on him. But she was smart enough not to leave a trail.

That changed the morning Jamie found a positive pregnancy test in the bathroom trash.

He was most certainly not the father—he and Alicia had only ever had sex twice, and that was before they were married.

Jamie hadn’t even wanted to. But Alicia broke him both times with the same words: what’s the matter, don’t you love me?

After almost an entire year of hell on earth, Jamie found the strength to stand up for himself. He dug the pregnancy test out of the trash and confronted Alicia, making it absolutely clear that he would not support another man’s child.

Unbowed, Alicia looked Jamie square in the eyes and laughed mockingly. “What? You were perfectly willing to the first time.”

“…What?”

Alicia’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my God. You really are fucking stupid.”

Jamie could only stare in dumbfounded silence.

“What, you thought that kid was actually yours? Dear God, no. I had to do something to get you to marry me. I knew you’d be dumb enough to think you were the father.”

Nothing before or after that moment had ever been as painful as the moment Jamie doubled over, physically ill, as his entire world and everything he had ever believed in rend asunder.

Their entire marriage was based on a lie. She had been cheating on him since they had been together.

Jamie ignored the churning of his stomach and the bile in his throat as he forced himself to run. He ransacked the bedroom, throwing everything he could into his backpack before jumping into his car and escaping to the apartment where Jordie was living at the time.

It was the first time he had spoken to Jordie since after the wedding. Jordie had been on an eight-month geological survey of the Alberta Tar Sands and had no idea that Jamie’s life had been a living hell.

The first thing Jamie did when he woke up the next morning was call off work. The second thing was to drive to the courthouse and file for divorce.

The divorce was granted, but Alicia cried poverty and the judge bought it, so she got the house. Jamie didn’t bother to appeal and settled for going back for the remainder of his things, then leaving for good. If he had to give up the house to be rid of her, it was a price well worth paying.

Jamie was resigned to never having the family he wanted. He was done with women. He was also done with men.

Or so he thought.

He survived by cloistering himself away from the world, not allowing anyone but Jordie to get close. Even Rous, his only friend, was kept at a safe distance.

But here he was, chasing after Tyler.

It was dangerous, both personally and professionally. The professional consequences could be mitigated since he’d been ordered to track Tyler, but Jamie was walking an incredibly thin line.

The personal consequences were a much greater hazard. If things went badly, Jamie wouldn’t be able to handle the regret.

Yet there was something about Tyler, something that made Jamie want to chase him.

It was nothing short of a miracle that Jamie could still fit into clothes he hadn’t worn in years. He had secretly been worrying about his physical fitness now that he had more of a cerebral rank and was no longer wrestling crackheads on a biweekly basis. But the figure in the skintight grey tank top, distressed skinny jeans, and black sneakers staring back at him in the mirror looked pretty good to Jamie.

Jamie leaned close to the mirror and fixed his hair with his fingers one final time before grabbing his wallet and keys, then heading out the door.

He’d made his decision.

Chapter Text

The cynic in Jamie wondered whether he was wandering right into a trap.

He barely had to wait in line. The bouncer spotted him, called him over, and confirmed his identity before letting him in. On top of that, Jamie had full access to the VIP area.

Clearly the bouncer had been told he would be there. It was also obvious that Tyler knew Jamie would follow him.

If it was a trap, Jamie really didn’t mind falling in headfirst.

The earsplitting music pulsated throughout the building as Jamie ascended the stairs, scanning the throngs of scantily dressed clubgoers for any sign of Tyler.

Everyone was far too engrossed in the music to notice Jamie. He couldn’t blame them; this place actually played trance, not that godawful big room or EDM shit that was popular.

One of the lights instantaneously shone over Jamie as he reached the VIP area upstairs. Despite being directly in the path of the lights, which was annoying, there were far fewer people in the VIP area than there were downstairs on the main floor. Studio Live was a warehouse-style club, which meant everyone below Jamie were packed in like sardines. For a brief moment, he wondered if there was a decent fire suppression system and enough emergency exits, or whether the place was a catastrophe waiting to happen.

But the thought quickly exited his mind. He had far more important things to consider.

Jamie caught a glimpse of Regina, who was dancing with a leggy Asian woman. Once again, she was loudly dressed, this time in a tight-fitting red minidress that barely touched her thighs, and a pair of matching red gladiator heels.

Regina soon stopped dancing and abandoned the woman, opting to walk along the back wall of the VIP area. Jamie followed her through the mass of people and saw her head towards the outdoor patio.

Jamie waited for Regina to reach her destination before stepping onto the patio and finding a vantage point along the wall near the entrance. The patio was nearly as crowded as the dance floor, with several clusters of people engaged in various activities: smoke breaks, conversations, making out, doing molly.

It took a few moments for Jamie to find Regina since she was crouched in front of a table in the darkened corner of the patio furthest away from the door. Three Latino men huddled around her as she dumped a vial of cocaine onto the table.

One of the men looked extremely familiar. Jamie couldn’t remember his name or any other details, but he had seen him in a mugshot back while he was still with narcotics. The mugshot had been part of a briefing prior to the raid on Zafiro’s gang that Jamie and Brownie had participated in.

Jamie had seen enough. If he continued watching, he’d start having flashbacks. Instead, he went back inside and resumed searching for Tyler.

Then Jamie saw him.

He was dancing alone, his movements accentuated by the black holographic leggings and matching tank top clinging to the curves of his figure. Jamie watched Tyler move, taking everything in: the exhilarated expression, the sweat forming on the nape of his neck, the rippling of his muscles, the writhing of his hips.

Tyler turned and spotted Jamie, eyes gleaming as he continued to move, smiling euphorically as he raised his right arm and beckoned Jamie with one finger.

Their eyes remained locked on one another as Jamie strode forward purposefully, watching Tyler play to him with his body as he moved closer and closer, everyone else in the club fading away with each step.

Once they were mere inches apart, Jamie reached out with one arm, aiming for Tyler’s waist before pulling in.

Tyler had read his intentions and pulled away at the last moment, chuckling mischievously before turning his back to Jamie and moving against him. His gaze burned as he watched Jamie over his shoulder, smiling lasciviously as he continued to move, grinding his ass against Jamie’s pelvis.

Jamie used both arms this time as he instantaneously reached forward, seizing Tyler’s hips before jerking his arms back, turning Tyler to face him in one rapid movement. Even with the deafening music around them, Jamie could still hear Tyler’s startled yelp.

Now it was Jamie who was pressing his body forward, pressing firmly on the small of Tyler’s back with one hand while snaking the other down Tyler’s hip, letting it slide into the junction of Tyler’s inner thighs, eliciting a low moan.

Jamie dragged his parted lips across Tyler’s cheek; cock stirring at the sound. Tyler stopped moving, then placed his hands above Jamie’s hips, clutching firmly as he sandwiched their bodies closer together before tilting his head back slightly, panting through parted lips as their eyes burned into one another.

Tyler remained still, allowing Jamie to lean in and graze one lip, then the other, with his own open mouth before they both pulled one another even closer together, closing the remaining distance with a deep, electrifying kiss.

Regina wiped her nose with her wrist one final time before heading back inside to find Junko. Junko was long gone; and Regina instead saw Tyler making out with the cop that had interrogated both of them.

She would have asked what was going on, but Tyler and the cop were now leaving.

***

The lock had barely clicked shut before Jamie slammed Tyler against the wall; pinning Tyler’s wrists above him as he engulfed Tyler’s mouth with his own. After numerous rough, forceful kisses, Tyler slid his tongue across Jamie’s, triggering a whimper before Jamie pulled away and removed his shirt before immediately diving back in for more.

They explored every inch of one other’s mouths in kiss after kiss; which only paused long enough for Jamie’s insistent hands to pull Tyler’s shirt off and toss it somewhere in the foyer.

Before Jamie could grab him again, Tyler shoved Jamie towards the open bedroom door on the opposite wall and lunged forward.

He soon discovered that his reflexes were no match for Jamie’s.

Jamie seized Tyler’s upper arms and pivoted twice; turning Tyler’s back to the opposite wall, then swiveling to stand behind Tyler. He pulled Tyler with him as he moved backwards, slamming into the wall right next to the door. Undeterred, he continued manhandling Tyler, keeping his left hand on Tyler’s upper left arm and sliding his right hand across Tyler’s inner right thigh, coaxing his legs apart while diving in for another fierce kiss.

Tyler was just as aggressive, reaching behind them and clutching fistfuls of Jamie’s hair in each hand while pulling Jamie’s mouth deeper into his. Jamie snaked his hands up, down, and around Tyler’s waist, occasionally brushing ever so slightly across Tyler’s arousal, making Tyler moan into his mouth.

Jamie broke the kiss and tilted his head sideways, branding the skin up and down Tyler’s neck with his teeth as he walked them both through the bedroom door. Tyler was quickly coming undone; barely able to stand on his quivering legs as he moaned with every nip and touch.

Once Jamie had advanced far enough into the bedroom, he released Tyler just as roughly as before, shoving him down onto the bed before undoing his pants and removing the remainder of his clothing.

Tyler waited passively, simply watching and admiring every last inch of his soon-to-be lover until Jamie leaned over the bed and pulled of the remainder of Tyler’s ensemble with an audible rip. Jamie crawled onto the bed and relaxed his full weight onto Tyler before their mouths fused into another deep, passionate kiss.

Jamie broke the kiss and began exploring every inch of Tyler with his lips, teeth, and tongue: neck, shoulders, chest, nipples, hips, legs, and thighs; thrilling in every cry, whimper, and moan he provoked. He’d finally shut that smartass mouth of Tyler’s in the most exhilarating way possible.

A sudden thought occurred to Jamie: how often did Tyler get his dick sucked? Judging by the magnitude of Tyler’s arousal, not nearly enough. It was time to fix that.

Tyler cried out as Jamie slowly took his length into his hot, wet mouth. Jamie’s movements were slow and deliberate—trying to enthrall Tyler, not to push him closer to the edge.

Eventually Tyler had enough of the teasing, and expressed his frustration with a quick tug of Jamie’s hair. Jamie got the hint, pulled away, and reared back onto his calves and knees.

Tyler knew exactly what he wanted; and made his point by grabbing Jamie’s shoulders and slamming him onto the other side of the bed. He crawled on top of Jamie, who by now was lying on his back, and plunged down into another long, rough kiss. Their movements caused their cocks to brush together, making both of them moan.

It was Tyler’s turn to explore Jamie. He placed three fingers in Jamie’s mouth before marking Jamie’s neck and shoulders with his own lips and teeth, the way Jamie had branded him. Tyler wasn’t sure what he liked more: branding Jamie as his, or Jamie’s helpless moaning around his fingers. Jamie almost bit down once Tyler turned his attention to a nipple.

Tyler removed his fingers from Jamie’s mouth and moved down to Jamie’s thighs, spreading them open before slowly kissing his way up Jamie’s left inner thigh. Once Tyler reached his destination, he swirled his tongue around the perineum of Jamie’s rock-hard cock a few times, teasing Jamie just as he had teased him.

Jamie clutched fistfuls of the green satin sheets as he cried out, spurring Tyler on. Tyler got to work: moving, sucking, deepthroating, and finding the spots that drove Jamie wild and giving them extra attention.

Tyler was an escort. He knew his way around a blowjob. But this wasn’t just another client for him.

He wanted to please Jamie without any compensation. And he loved doing it.

Jamie’s hand insistently pushing on the crown of Tyler’s head prompted him to pull back. Tyler slithered back up Jamie’s body, then relaxed all his weight on top of Jamie before moving in for another rough kiss.

Jamie wrapped his arms around Tyler’s back and rolled them both onto the opposite side of the bed, which put Tyler on his back and him on top. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a nightstand on the opposite side of the bed. “Where’s—”

“Bottom drawer,” Tyler rasped.

Jamie wasted no time in climbing off Tyler and making his way to the nightstand. The bottom drawer contained five boxes of condoms and seven bottles of lube. Jamie made short work of one condom wrapper and got himself ready, then crawled back over to Tyler with one bottle of lube.

Since Tyler was an escort, Jamie wouldn’t have to do much work to get him ready. But teasing him was so exhilarating.

The noises Tyler made as Jamie shimmied and curled two lubed fingers inside him were the hottest thing he had ever heard. Jamie silenced Tyler with another kiss, opting to extend the delicious torture just a little longer.

Jamie spread Tyler’s legs one final time before extending his arms and pinning Tyler’s wrists to the bed and looking straight into his eyes. Their mutual gaze never broke for one second; not even when Jamie began pushing in.

“Fuck!” Tyler clenched his hands into fists as Jamie bottomed out; then began moving ferociously, shaking the bedframe with every thrust. The mutual moans, curses and whimpers were occasionally interrupted by a hot, frantic kiss.

Tyler barely had enough time to announce his impending orgasm. “Oh fuck, Jamie, I—” Before he could finish, white ropes of come shot across his chest and stomach. The sight of Tyler’s surrender, as well as the associated muscle spasms, tore Jamie’s own orgasm out of him.

They both lay there, panting for a couple of minutes, before Jamie headed to the trash can near the door.

“J-Jamie…” Tyler’s voice barely worked after such an intense experience. “You…You’re not just gonna leave me like this, are you?”

Jamie tied off the used condom and threw it in the trash before turning towards the bed with a lascivious smile. “Fuck, no. We’re just getting started.”

***

Jamie stretched languidly as he woke up, feeling more refreshed than he had in years. The bed was luxuriously comfortable, the blackout curtains made the room easy to sleep in, and he’d had the best sex of his entire life a few hours earlier. Jamie smiled bemusedly as he glanced at the three used condoms in the trash can.

He looked at the clock on Tyler’s nightstand. 10:00 AM. That was much longer than he usually slept. At least he had the day off. But he needed to think about getting up.

Jamie pushed himself into a seated position and pushed his legs to the side of the bed. As he did so, he felt something strange under the mattress. He pushed the spot again, and sure enough, it still felt strange.

Jamie stood up and turned on the bedside light before partially lifting the mattress to investigate.

There was a manila envelope under the mattress.

Jamie grabbed the envelope and opened it to examine the contents. Inside were three rings: one diamond, one emerald, and one sapphire.

Hildebrand’s maid had reported all three rings missing.

Chapter Text

It was the latest in a long line of clues that made absolutely no sense.

Why would Tyler keep expensive jewelry under the mattress? And why was he receiving it in the mail? Tyler had turned in one set, but not this one.

There was no way Jamie could seize the envelope without jeopardizing the investigation or incriminating himself. If he brought it to the precinct, everyone would want to know what he was doing in Tyler’s bedroom off-duty to begin with.

A search warrant wouldn’t work, either. There wasn’t any evidence linking the jewelry Tyler had turned in with these pieces. Even if a judge was dumb enough to sign one, any defense attorney with half a brain would have it deemed inadmissible in court on Fourth Amendment grounds.

Jamie returned the envelope to its previous hiding spot and turned off the bedside light. It was best to forget about it unless he had something concrete. For now, it was invisible evidence.

Instead, Jamie began picking up his clothes and getting dressed. He opened the bedroom door to retrieve his shirt from the foyer. He was greeted by the smell of coffee and a partial conversation.

“Ten thousand? You kidding me?! You only take four thousand from the other guys!”

Jamie paused and turned his head to stare at Tyler, who was pacing around the kitchen in a pair of navy blue lounge pants with his phone to his ear, looking rather annoyed as he heaved an exasperated sigh.

“…Okay, fine. I suppose someone has to. How long? …Including the drive? …Okay. Tell him I’ll be there then. See you tomorrow.” Tyler hung up and placed the phone on the kitchen island before noticing Jamie and beaming. “Morning. Want some coffee?”

“Please,” Jamie replied as he located his shirt, but chose to leave it on the floor. “What was that all about?”

“Sharon’s been demanding a bigger cut. Says I owe her.” Tyler opened one of the kitchen cabinets and fetched a coffee mug. “Not that I really have any grounds to complain, but…”

Jamie frowned. Sharon had a history of extorting handfuls of high performers after some time had passed. He never heard many complaints—perhaps because many of them either disappeared or died under suspicious circumstances before they could.

“I didn’t expect you to sleep in that late. Figured you’d get up and leave me.” Tyler walked into the foyer with the now-full mug.

“How’d you know I like my coffee black?” Jamie asked as he peered at the mug’s contents. Tyler was reading him like a book, and it was more than slightly unnerving.

“I figured you’d like boring.” A devilish grin crossed Tyler’s face as he handed the mug to Jamie. “I’d say it was boring like you, but you sure as hell weren’t last night.”

Now it was Jamie’s turn to smile as he recalled their conversation at his apartment. “So you’re saying you do enjoy my company after all?”

“I never said I didn’t. I was asking you.” Tyler moved even closer, brushing his left hand across Jamie’s right forearm before gently confiscating the empty mug from Jamie’s grasp with the right. “Tell me…” Tyler’s gaze dug into Jamie, disassembling and rearranging every facet of Jamie’s psyche that it could find. “Was it what you expected?”

Jamie stared silently, wondering just how Tyler could divine things they never discussed, right down to his idle fantasies. “Why? What did you think?”

“I thought it was a pretty good beginning.” Tyler chuckled when he heard his phone vibrate. “Regina’s been using up all my data this morning.”

“Is she mad you ditched her?”

Tyler shook his head. “I think she was more confused than anything else.”

The turn in conversation provided a perfect opportunity for Jamie to ask about Regina’s companions at Studio Live. “Who were those guys I saw Regina with last night?”

“Guys?” Tyler gawked in confusion. “The only guys were me and Miguel. The rest of us were Junko and some other girl friends of hers. If there were any other guys, she met them there.”

Miguel. Tyler’s reply suddenly jogged Jamie’s memory. The guy in the narcotics mugshot had a name beginning with an M. Had that been him?

But chasing him was narcotics’ job. Jamie had other things to worry about. “Who’s Junko? Was she that Asian woman with Regina?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know her all that well. Her English isn’t that good yet.” Tyler crossed his arms over his chest as he gave Jamie a suspicious look. “Why all the questions all of a sudden? I thought you were off today?”

Jamie’s eyes narrowed as he leaned into Tyler’s personal space. “I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity.”

“You think this is my idea of morning-after conversation?” Tyler’s tone signaled irritation, but his smoky expression and low voice betrayed his intrigue.

“So getting inside you isn’t going to get me any answers?”

A slow smile crept across Tyler’s face. “You might not like the answers I give you.”

“I’ll get them.” Jamie backed away from Tyler and retrieved his shirt from the floor. “And I’ll get my proof, and get you convicted.”

Tyler stared dumbfounded at Jamie; incapable of any pithy comments as Jamie pulled his shirt back on and headed for the door.

“Don’t worry,” Jamie reassured Tyler as he opened the door to leave. “I’ll show up for conjugal visits.”

***

“I’m sorry, Detective.” Jamie could hear the woman typing on the other end of the phone. “We don’t have a record of a Kristopher Neusmann during that time period.”

Jamie leaned against his desk and propped his head on his free hand. “Did anyone by that name attend any other schools in the UMass system?”

“No,” the woman replied. “I checked the registrar records there too. I also tried spelling the first name with a C. There are no records anywhere in our system.”

Jamie frowned. “I see. Thanks for your time.”

“You’re welcome. Have a good day.”

“You too.” With that, Jamie hung up.

Another dead end.

The desktop computer on Jamie’s desk pinged, signaling the arrival of a new email. Jamie straightened up in his chair and clicked on the Outlook tab.

Even though Jamie had left Miro behind when he was promoted to vice, Miro continued helping with any drug-related cases. Jamie’s hunch had paid off. Miro knew exactly who the Miguel Jamie saw at Studio Live was, and had attached the mugshot and relevant case files.

Miguel Garcia Castillo, who held a high rank in Zafiro’s cartel, had an extremely lengthy list of drug, gun, and immigration violations. According to the case files, he was active in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, and Boston.

Sharon had brought Tyler to Dallas from Boston. Was it just a coincidence?

Jamie wondered if Regina knew just what kind of company she was keeping. Perhaps she did—Castillo was active in Chicago, where Regina lived before moving to Dallas.

The common denominator between Tyler, Regina, and Castillo was Sharon.

Jamie and the rest of the vice squad had always suspected Sharon was involved with Zafiro’s cartel in some way. Narcotics had launched their own investigation, which stalled shortly before vice was disbanded.

There was something there; Jamie knew it.

But the next email that arrived informed him that investigating any possible connection would have to wait.

Spez and Radi had something on the envelope that Tyler had given Jamie.

***

Spez tapped his fingers against the keyboard, signing in exasperation as the homicide team gathered behind him to face the screen. “Remind me why I’m the one who always has to do this shit?”

“Because you’re the only one who knows how to work everything,” came Radi’s immediate reply.

Spez shot Radi a dirty look before typing in a few commands. “Radi tracked the label from the envelope Seguin gave Benny. Sent from the FedEx on Ross two days after Hildebrand was killed. They looked at the timeframe and this was the guy who sent it.” The frame that popped up on the screen displayed a dark-haired man in a green polo shirt and skinny jeans with tattoo sleeves covering his arms.

Rous leaned closer to the screen. “Sure looks like the guy we saw on Hildebrand’s lawn, whoever that was.”

Spez nodded. “It does, but Sharpy doesn’t have the digitized frames ready yet. We won’t be able to tell for sure until he does.”

Jamie studied the face of the man on the screen. “Can you zoom in a little more?”

Spez shook his head. “This is the closest their camera can get.”

“Figures,” Jamie muttered. “The reason I ask is because the eyes don’t appear to be the same color.”

“How do you know?” Rous inquired.

“I don’t.” Jamie leaned in as close as he could without bumping into Spez’s shoulder. “But this guy’s eyes look lighter than Tyler’s.”

Rous eyed Jamie suspiciously. “Why are you calling him by his first name all of a sudden?”

Jamie clenched his teeth before reminding himself to keep it professional. “Old habit. But we need to compare both videos to see if it’s the same guy.”

“There could be more than one person involved,” Radi offered.

“Or it could be the same person,” Spez stated. “But we don’t know whether or not it’s Seguin.”

Jamie nodded. “It’s the same as with the footage of the lawn. It looks like him, but not quite. Another thing, this guy doesn’t appear to have the same physical build Seguin does. Sharon makes all her escorts spend a lot of time in the gym.”

“Hmm.” Radi frowned. “What if it isn’t Seguin? What if it’s someone else in both images who just looks like him? Look at the ink sleeves. If they’re not identical to his, they’re pretty damn close.”

Rous eyed Radi intently. “You think Seguin’s being framed?”

Radi shrugged. “I’m just throwing out possibilities here.”

“Well, if he is being framed…” Rous crossed his arms across his chest. “Then we’re dealing with someone so obsessed with Seguin that he is willing to kill someone simply to place the blame on him. This would have to be someone who was very close to Seguin in the past. Someone extremely dangerous and very emotionally disturbed, likely mentally ill, trying to live out their fantasies.”

Everyone stared at Rous in stunned silence.

“Whether it’s Seguin or someone trying to frame him…” Rous narrowed his eyes. “We’re dealing with one sick motherfucker.”

Chapter Text

“I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen first,” Radi quipped as he leaned closer to the screen. “The Feds finding Jimmy Hoffa’s body, or Sharpy getting the footage digitized."

“Take it up with him,” Radi muttered as he started the video.

Digitization did not improve the first few frames. The license plate of the car that pulled into the frame wasn’t visible from the camera angle, and it was impossible to tell what make or model the car was due to the limited field of view.

But the figure that emerged from the car was the spitting image of Tyler. If there were any differences between the ink sleeves on Tyler’s arms and on the arms of the subject, Jamie couldn’t see them.

“No mistaking it,” Rous stated. “That’s the same guy that was in the FedEx video.”

Radi nodded. “Yeah, but I can’t tell if it’s Seguin or not. From what I see, this guy’s, what, six-four? Did we ever get a height on Seguin?”

“Six-one,” Jamie immediately replied.

Radi turned his head towards Jamie, eying him suspiciously. “How do you know?”

“Figured it out on my own.”

Spez quickly gave Jamie a side-eyed glance before turning his attention back to the screen. “Well, you’ve certainly spent enough time around him to figure that out.”

Rous threw Jamie a lifeline. “Well, that’s one strike in Seguin’s favor. This guy’s taller.”

“The next few frames have much better resolution,” Spez announced.

The footage of the perp exiting the Hildebrand residence and walking back across the lawn was much clearer this time. The resolution had improved greatly, and this footage would be admissible in court. Jamie had to give Sharpy props—he worked incredibly slowly, but he really knew what he was doing.

“Wait.” Radi leaned closer to the screen. “Can you give us a still of the perp on the lawn?”

Spez nodded and typed the commands to bring up the specific frame.

“Hmm.” Radi rested his hand under his chin. “I still can’t tell if the sleeves are identical to Seguin’s or not.”

Jamie peered at the frame, looking for clues in the ink before noticing something amiss out of the corner of his eye. “Spez, can you zoom in on his right shoulder?”

Spez narrowed his lips in confusion. “Uh…sure. Hang on.” Spez clicked on a few screen prompts before highlighting the specified area with his mouse. “Give it a few seconds.”

After about 20 seconds, the clue Jamie had been looking for finished loading.

There was no tattoo on the perp’s right shoulder.

“It’s not Seguin,” Jamie announced. “It’s someone else.”

The others turned towards Jamie, stunned.

“How do you know?” Radi inquired.

“Seguin has a tattoo on his right shoulder: 8-17-13. That was supposed to be his wedding to Amy Tipton. This person doesn’t have any tattoos there. Seguin showed it to me the day he turned over the jewelry he got in the mail.”

Radi crossed his arms across his chest and glared at Jamie suspiciously. “So he barges in, shows you his ink, and hands over evidence?”

“I asked to see it,” Jamie replied. “I was just shocked he followed me to my apartment and managed to get into the building.”

Spez changed the subject. “Y’know, that’s what always bothered me about this case. Seguin had no motive to kill Hildebrand. But the perp might have.”

Rous nodded. “And the perp appears to be trying to turn himself into Seguin’s doppelganger. We might have a case of erotomania on our hands.”

“How so?” Radi asked.

“I’m just spitballing here, but like I said before, this would be someone obsessed with Seguin. So not only is he willing to frame him, but he’s trying to be him as well. The problem is figuring out what type of obsession we’re dealing with here. Also, would Seguin have known this person in the past?”

Jamie turned away from the screen to face Rous. “Any chance that T—uh, Seguin might be in danger?”

“Quite possibly so,” Rous confirmed. “If this person’s not a stranger, we need to figure out what kind of relationship he could have had with Seguin in the past. Classmate? Casual acquaintance? Coworker? We have no idea.”

Jamie looked down at the floor as he folded his arms across his chest, frowning in contemplation. It appeared that his earlier presumption of Tyler’s guilt may have been wrong.

Radi broke the ice. “The easiest way to clear Seguin’s name would be to bring him in and have him show us his ink. If what Benny says is true and his shoulder doesn’t match the perp’s, he’s home free.”

Rous nodded. “And now that we have evidence that doesn’t place Seguin at the scene of the crime, we can start digging more into his whereabouts that night and see if he does have an alibi. For starters, I’d like the security footage and access logs from Seguin’s penthouse complex.”

“They’ll probably demand a warrant,” Jamie noted.

“I figured as much. But if we’re going that way to bring Seguin in, it wouldn’t hurt to try.”

“...Yeah, that’s true.”

Spez rolled his eyes. “Great, more security footage. We’ll probably also need to get a warrant for the security footage from the timeframe Seguin and Harrington said they were at Bola 8.”

“Tell you what,” Rous offered. “You handle Bola 8. If the doorman and his friends at Seguin’s penthouse complex don’t bite, I’ll deal with the warrant for that.”

Spez cradled his chin in his hands as he heaved a sigh of relief. “Thanks. You’re a lifesaver.”

Radi took one final look at the screen. “Spez, can you send me the stills later? I wanna see if I might be able to ID the perp.”

Spez nodded. “Of course.”

Rous scanned the faces of everyone around him. “What are we waiting for? Let’s move.”

***

If Jamie never had to drive to Sharon’s penthouse again for the rest of his life, it would be too soon.

So of course that was where he and Rous were heading.

Thankfully, Rous had already volunteered to take care of the warrant for the security camera footage and the access logs from Tyler’s penthouse complex. As Jamie had expected, the doorman refused to hand either over to him and Rous without one. To make matters worse, Tyler had already left his penthouse for the day, and Sharon was likely the only person who knew where he was.

As Jamie and Rous approached the entrance to the foyer of Sharon’s penthouse, it soon became apparent they were not alone. Jamie paused for a few moments to confirm that yes, he had heard footsteps approaching them.

Jamie tugged on Rous’ wrist and motioned towards a nearby stairwell with his free hand. “Someone’s coming.”

Rous got the hint and pulled open the stairwell door, which they both scrambled through before Jamie pulled the door closed behind them. Jamie and Rous stood on opposite sides of the stairwell door’s vision panel; positioned so they could see through the panel, but nobody in the hallway could see them.

Once the approaching person was close enough for both of them to see, Jamie immediately recognized the man he had seen at Studio Live. “Castillo.”

Rous blinked in confusion. “Who?”

“One of Zafiro’s guys,” Jamie explained. “I followed Seguin to Studio Live and I saw Castillo with Harrington. She was doing coke.”

Rous frowned in contemplation as he and Jamie watched Castillo enter the foyer of Sharon’s penthouse. “Interesting. How do you know he’s one of Zafiro’s guys, though?”

“I remembered his mugshot and asked Miro. You know…” Jamie watched the foyer doors for a few moments, but nothing happened. “Narcotics always suspected Sharon was involved with Zafiro’s gang in some way. They’ll want to know about this.”

“Yeah, but how do we know he’s not just one of Sharon’s clients?” Rous inquired.

“We don’t,” Jamie admitted. “But there’s clearly a connection here.”

Although the walls muffled the sound, they could now hear what sounded like shouting coming from the hallway. Rous cracked open the stairwell door, but neither of them could make out what was being screamed. However, it was apparent that three men were having a very loud argument, and the increasingly agitated voices were now in the foyer.

Rous pulled the door shut and slunk back into his hiding place. “Did you hear that?”

“Yeah,” Jamie replied. “I can’t tell from here, but one of those voices sounds awfully familiar.” Rous nodded in agreement.

The foyer doors flung open violently, and Sharon’s heavies shoved Hitchcock into the hallway and straight into the opposite wall, which thudded right behind Jamie’s hiding spot. Hitchcock’s face turned crimson with rage as he shrieked several curses at the rapidly slamming doors before storming down the hallway.

Jamie and Rous stared at each other in stunned silence.

***

The deeper Jamie dug into the case, the more questions he had than answers.

If Tyler was willing to come back to the precinct or had any more information, Jamie wouldn’t know for the next couple of days. According to Sharon, Tyler was booked solid until later in the week.

Rous and Spez were in the process of obtaining warrants, and Radi had jumped in headfirst trying to ID the person in the stills Spez had provided.

Each of them had something to work on. Until he could find Tyler again, Jamie’s productivity was zero.

He told Miro about seeing Castillo at Sharon’s, but beyond that, couldn’t do anything else. Investigating Castillo and Sharon’s possible connection to Zafiro’s gang was a job for narcotics, not Jamie. For now, he was stuck sitting on his hands.

Which only made the situation that much worse.

Even the repetitive sounds and motions of firing at the paper targets couldn’t calm Jamie’s mind or nerves, which were affecting his aim. The more he missed, the more anxious he became.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake…”

Jamie nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard the voice behind him. He pointed his Glock at the floor and unloaded the last three cartridges before turning his head just in time to see Rous rolling his eyes.

“Benny, everyone else left an hour ago. Why the fuck are you still here?”

Jamie pondered the question for a few moments before realizing he didn’t even know himself. “…I don’t know.”

“Honest to God, Benny. The guys are already at Mac’s. They’ve been asking where you were.”

“Tell them I’m not coming.” Jamie holstered his Glock and returned the cartridges to their holder.

“Benny—”

“I don’t feel like it.” Jamie began walking away, with Rous tailing closely behind him. “I’ll see you all on Monday.”

“Dammit, Benny!” Rous’ tone changed from frustration to full-blown anger. “Stop pushing us away!”

“I know, just…” Jamie winced and shook his head, unable to face Rous. “Just…” His words were quick; his tone quiet and pathetic. “Leave me alone.”

Rous remained rooted to the ground, staring worriedly as Jamie took four more steps towards the door.

“…Please?”

Rous didn’t answer; nor did he react when Jamie ran out of the room.

***

Dusk was fast approaching as Jamie pulled onto 35E, unable to corral the thoughts stampeding through his mind.

No matter how much he thought about the case—and even when he wasn’t thinking about it—his thoughts invariably turned to Tyler.

There was a nine-month timeframe between the death of Amy Tipton and Sharon hiring Tyler. Nobody knew what Tyler had been doing during that period. Clearly, he had been working the streets of Boston for some time before meeting Sharon, but for how long? And how did a seemingly bright kid from a normal family go from public relations to prostitution?

That was one more thing Jamie would have to bring up when he got Tyler back to the precinct. In the meantime, he had to shut off his brain or he’d need Klonopin.

Jamie put the car in park and turned off the engine before heading across the parking lot to his apartment building. It was early enough he could probably catch the tail end of the game on TV. Whether or not the game was still on, he needed to try calling Jordie later. If Jamie remembered correctly, Jordie’s basin study was coming to an end and he’d finally have some time to talk.

Jamie’s thoughts and stride came to an abrupt halt when he spotted a fully-suited Tyler leaning against the building entrance with his arms crossed across his chest.

“Hey.” Tyler lowered his aviator sunglasses and eyed Jamie over the frames, smiling edaciously. “I heard you were looking for me.”

Chapter Text

Jamie scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest. “So you decided to save me a trip?”

“Exactly. Wasn’t that nice of me?”

“Fuck you,” Jamie muttered as he rifled through his pockets for his entry card.

Tyler raised an eyebrow. “Again so soon? Why, am I that good?”

Perhaps if Jamie indulged Tyler, he’d shut up. “Now I know why they pay you the big bucks.” Jamie held his card to the access reader and pulled open the door shortly after the beep.

Tyler beamed, appearing genuinely flattered as he followed Jamie into the building and up the stairs to his floor. “You know, for the prick you are sometimes, you’re a fucking stallion in bed, you know that?”

“Let’s just say I’ve had some practice.” They arrived at Jamie’s apartment, which he promptly unlocked before opening the door and motioning inside. “You first.”

Once Tyler was safely inside, Jamie stepped in, then closed, locked, and deadbolted the door. One could never be too careful.

“Why all the security?”

Jamie nearly jumped at the sound of Tyler’s voice. He turned to see Tyler leaning against the kitchen wall.

“Afraid I might get you in trouble?”

“At this point, I’m more worried about you getting in trouble.” Jamie took long, purposeful strides right into Tyler’s personal space. “That’s twice you’ve been here now. Why do you keep showing up here?”

Tyler’s smile was recalcitrant, but his eyes burned with lasciviousness. “To see if I can get away with it.”

Jamie’s eyes burned with their own wanton darkness as his gaze met Tyler’s. “You don’t even know why I wanted to talk to you.”

Tyler moved his face closer to Jamie’s; their eyes searing into one another. “No, but I can guess.”

Jamie clutched the blade of Tyler’s tie; pulling until their faces were only millimeters apart. “You shouldn’t play this game.”

“I’ll take my chances.” Tyler clasped his right hand over Jamie’s. “I had five clients today…” He zigzagged his fingers over Jamie’s hand, tracing every ridge of skin they could find. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Jamie narrowed his eyes, staring dubiously.

“Let me guess, you don’t believe me. You’ve always been like that.” Tyler used both hands to unravel Jamie’s fingers from his tie, then dropped his left hand while guiding Jamie’s hand with his right. “None of them were anything like you…” He placed both hands at the junction of his thighs; moving them over the stiffening bulge. “Nothing like what you do to me…”

Now it was Jamie taking the initiative; recapturing the blade of Tyler’s tie with his free hand while coaxing Tyler to full hardness with the other, thrilling in every gasp and whimper. “You didn’t come here to talk about the case. You had one bite of the forbidden fruit and now you can’t get enough.”

Tyler’s face and voice were desperate. “I—fuck, Jamie, there’s no such thing as—”

Jamie silenced Tyler with a jerk of the tie, bringing him in for a deep kiss. Their hands meandered up and down one another, tugging vainly at any clothing they could grab. Only when they began to lose oxygen did they separate to breathe, panting heavily.

Tyler’s expression was far more serious as he regarded Jamie between heaving breaths. “Why…what are you…why are you doing this?”

“To see if I can get away with it.” Jamie muzzled Tyler with one last kiss before walking them into the bedroom.

***

Jamie’s heart slammed against his chest as he jolted upright in bed, clutching the sheets in his fists.

Once his senses and his breathing returned, he realized what had scared him awake. His phone was ringing. Until then, he hadn’t realized that he had fallen asleep.

Jamie slipped out of bed and fumbled around the floor until he located his pants. He grabbed his phone out of the left pocket and exited the bedroom before closing the door. Somehow, Tyler had managed to sleep through the noise.

“Rous?” Jamie answered in a sleep-addled tone.

“Holy fuck, Benny.” Rous couldn’t keep the astonishment out of his voice. “You were actually asleep at a decent hour? I’m almost sorry I called you.”

“Well, what the hell are you doing up? What time is it?”

“It’s not even midnight yet. That’s the thing. Anyway, Roope called. There was a domestic down the street from Hildebrand’s residence and the perp ran. He’s still out there, but while they were searching the area, they found a bloody steak knife in a muhly grass bush near a sewer grate.”

Jamie’s eyes widened. “Go on.”

“Dimensions match the stab wounds on Hildebrand. Nothing was missing from her kitchen, so the perp probably brought it with him. My guess is he was trying to throw it into the sewer and missed.”

“It was after 1 AM,” Jamie recalled. “So if he was escaping under cover of darkness, there was no way he would have known, especially with the headlights off.”

“Right. Roope’s checking it for DNA and prints, but it’s gonna take him another day or so. If you wanna bring in Seguin anyway to show us his ink, think you could convince him to give us prints and a DNA sample?”

“I talked to him earlier. He already agreed to come in for the ink.” Rous didn’t need to know that they’d done far more than talk. “He was pretty receptive to the possibility of clearing his name, so that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.”

“You talked to him already?”

“I knew where to find him.”

“Hmm.” There was a hint of suspicion in Rous’ voice. “Well, just see if he’ll do it so we don’t have to bother with a warrant. I’ll let you go back to bed for a change.”

“Shouldn’t you be the one going to bed?”

“Hey, it’s not my fault it went to 14 innings. See you tomorrow.”

“Later.” Once he spotted Tyler, Jamie had completely forgotten about the game. It was also unusual anymore for Jamie to be in bed at a decent hour, but he and Tyler seemed to have a tendency to wear each other out.

Jamie put the phone down on the kitchen counter before returning to the bedroom. He climbed into bed and adjusted the sheets as he lay flat on his back. Instinctively, he stretched his left arm across the other pillow before wrapping it around Tyler.

Although he was still asleep, Tyler burrowed into the remaining space between them; resting his head on Jamie’s left shoulder and his right forearm across Jamie’s sternum. “Jamie.”

Jamie turned his head in sudden realization at what he had done. What on earth had prompted him to start snuggling Tyler?

But the more he thought about it, the less he wanted to remove his arm. Tyler’s presence was…comforting. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this peaceful.

Jamie placed his free hand over Tyler’s before closing his eyes.

***

“Thank you for coming in, Mr. Seguin.” Nill’s voice was all business as he led Tyler to the interrogation room; where Jamie, Montgomery, Spez, Radi, and Roope were already seated. “This shouldn’t take long.”

“So what do I need to do here?” Tyler inquired.

Radi picked the camera up off the table. “Mr. Seguin, would you show us the tattoo on your right shoulder, please?”

Wordlessly, Tyler unbuttoned his green polo shirt and pulled it over his head. He continued holding the shirt while Radi rose from his chair and snapped a few photos.

Jamie hoped the others didn’t notice his demeanor cracking. No matter how many times or how much he saw of Tyler, he never got tired of looking at him.

“8-17-13,” Radi read out loud before addressing Tyler. “That was supposed to be your wedding to Amy Tipton, wasn’t it?”

Tyler nodded sadly. “It was.”

“Okay, you can get dressed now. Have a seat next to Roope over there.” Radi motioned towards the empty chair next to Roope before returning to the chair he had vacated.

Roope temporarily disregarded the laptop and other electronics in front of him and retrieved his sampling kit. Once Tyler was seated next to him, he swiveled in the chair to face Tyler. “Open your mouth, please.”

Tyler stared blankly at Roope.

“Do as he says,” Jamie advised.

Once Tyler did so, Roope pulled a cotton swab from the kit and swiped the inside of Tyler’s cheek. “There. That’s it.”

“That’s it?” Tyler repeated in bafflement.

“For that, anyway,” Jamie said. Once Roope was done tagging the DNA sample, he’d get to play with his favorite toy, the Live Scan fingerprint machine. Roope had been like a kid on Christmas morning when the Dallas PD finally got one, and he still got excited when he got to use it, much to Jamie’s amusement.

All everyone could do was sit and watch while Roope manipulated the machine and Tyler’s hands, which soon became awkward. Getting usable prints required Roope to roll and push Tyler’s hands and fingers against the surface over and over. Tyler was clearly trying to remain stoic, but Jamie could tell he was uncomfortable. He couldn’t blame him—Roope didn’t exactly have a light touch.

Fifteen minutes later, Jamie was finally able to do something other than sit and watch. Roope was finishing the data entry on the laptop, and Nill was signing off on the evidence collection. Tyler just needed a ride home.

“How long before I get any results?” Tyler asked as he, Jamie, and Rous headed down the hallway to the parking lot.

“Depends,” Rous replied. “If you’re clean, about three days.” He glared at Tyler suspiciously. “If you’ve had run-ins with the law before, we’ll know much sooner.”

Tyler shot Rous a dirty look. “I haven’t—”

Whatever Tyler intended to say immediately died as his throat tightened and his face froze in shock. Tyler was motionless; not even breathing as the color drained from his face.

Before Jamie or Rous could react, Tyler turned and ran in the opposite direction.

The narcotics meeting in the nearby conference room came to an abrupt halt as everyone rose from their chairs. On the other side of the hallway, Hitchcock and Kris, who had been having a conversation in Hitchcock's office, stared perplexedly through the glass.

Miro rose from his chair and flung open the conference room door. “The hell’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Jamie stated before running after Tyler, with Rous following closely behind him.

Clearly Tyler had caused a commotion, as the further they ran, the louder hallway chatter and more confused looks they observed. The others were standing around, but not acting; possibly waiting for orders.

Once they turned their third corner, they found Julle slumped against the wall, panting heavily.

“Did you see him?” Rous asked tersely.

Julle nodded, giving himself a moment to catch his breath. “Lost him.”

“Where did you last see him?” Jamie inquired.

Julle raised his arm and pointed towards the east wing. The east wing only had the locker room, and was a dead end.

Without another word, Rous and Jamie turned and hustled towards the locker room. Rous yanked the door handle and barreled into the locker room, triggering a scream from within.

Jamie immediately recognized the voice as Tyler’s and scrambled inside to find Rous standing by the showers. Upon joining Rous, Jamie discovered Tyler in the corner of the nearest shower stall, curled into a ball with his arms braced over his head.

“Tyler?” Jamie took a step forward, but was immediately halted by Rous’ hand on his arm. “Tyler, it’s me.”

Tyler lowered his arms and raised his head, looking up over his clenched fists through damp eyes. “Is he gone?”

***

Why did Tyler run?

Several hours and cups of coffee later, Jamie still didn’t have an answer.

He and Rous hadn’t been able to get much out of Tyler, who had been incoherent and hysterical. Once they got him back to his penthouse, it was Rous, not Jamie, who finally calmed Tyler enough to cry himself to sleep. Jamie wanted to stay and keep an eye on Tyler, but Rous said it would do more harm than good.

Jamie couldn’t quite remember all the divisions Rous had worked in before making his way to homicide; as he’d been on the force longer than Jamie. But he knew that Rous had worked with the victim services unit for a while, which explained how he knew just what to say. Jamie was happy to defer to his expertise, as the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Tyler.

Roope didn’t have any hits on Tyler’s DNA or prints, so odds were he didn’t have a criminal history. What disturbed Jamie was that Tyler didn’t seem to have any history in that nine-month period between the death of Amy Tipton and Sharon hiring him. All of the residential and employment background checks came back empty.

Tyler testified that he had been working the streets of Boston before Sharon hired him. Had he…literally been on the streets of Boston?

Before Jamie could finish compiling a list of homeless shelters in Boston, Miro stepped into the office.

“Hey, Benny.” The coffee in Miro’s left hand barely opened his heavily-lidded eyes. “Normally I’d ask why the hell you’re still here, but I’m glad you are. I need your help.”

Jamie saved the list he was compiling and turned to face Miro. “Sure, what’s going on?”

“We got a call from Ten Eleven about a body found by the employee entrance. We got an ID already and Montgomery said you know the vic and can help us.”

“Why? Who is it?”

“Regina Harrington.”

Chapter Text

The names would change, but the situation was always the same.

They were all looking for something: love; thrills; an escape. And all roads led to taking their first hit.

“Just one,” they’d always insist. But it was never just one. They’d keep going back, and they’d build up a tolerance. So they’d need more. Then more, then more, then so much they’d overdose and wind up dead.

During his days in narcotics, Jamie had lost count of how many families he’d have to inform that one of their loved ones hadn’t survived their final hit. Each house he visited had the porch lights on to guide that lost soul home, where their family was waiting for them.

No one had been waiting for Regina.

True, there was Tyler, but he’d come into her life far too late. Perhaps if someone had told her much earlier that she deserved so much better, she wouldn’t have been lying dead on the pavement with ashen skin and vomit clogging her throat.

Lindell was made of far stronger stuff than Jamie, who winced as he watched him jam the thermometer into Regina’s sternum. It took a special kind to work in the coroner’s office.

“Rigor just started setting in,” Lindell announced. “Only her neck’s stiff. So she couldn’t have been here long.”

“When was the last time anyone was out here?” Jamie inquired.

“About 9 PM,” Montgomery announced as he approached. “One of the line cooks came out for a smoke break. Then they got busy and no one got any breaks until half an hour ago.”

Jamie checked his watch. 11:35 PM. “So that’s a two-hour window for her to show up. Question is, did she come on her own or was she brought here?”

Lindell leaned closer to the thermometer and squinted at the display. “95.3 Fahrenheit. Time of death is about two hours ago, but like Benn says, we don’t know if she was alive when she came here.”

Miro knelt down next to Lindell and peered at Regina’s body for a few moments before raising his head to look at Jamie. “You said she used cocaine? Anything else?”

Jamie shook his head. “I only saw her doing coke when she was with Castillo at Studio Live. I didn’t recognize the other guys and Seguin doesn’t know who they are.”

“Hmm.” Miro dug a pair of rubber gloves out of his pocket and snapped them over his hands. “Reason I ask is cocaine doesn’t do this.” He picked up Regina’s right wrist and pushed her hand forward, highlighting a bluish tint on her lower arm. “Maybe she wasn’t getting the same high from coke alone anymore.”

“Or she didn’t know what she was taking,” Jamie offered.

Montgomery frowned. “You think she was murdered?”

“I can’t say,” Jamie admitted. “But we haven’t figured out Castillo’s relationship to Sharon Lindemulder yet. And I lost count of how many of her girls died under suspicious circumstances when I was in vice.”

Miro returned Regina’s wrist to the pavement. “Well, we’ll know what killed her once toxicology comes back. Do you think this has anything to do with your case?”

“I don’t know.” Jamie pressed his lips together in contemplation. “But I’m going to find out.”

***

According to the doorman, Tyler was still in his penthouse. Hopefully Jamie wouldn’t have to be the bearer of bad news a second time.

Apparently Tyler was already awake, as his door was cracked slightly open. He must have already heard, since he was clearly expecting Jamie.

Jamie pushed the door open and stepped inside. “Tyler?”

There was no reply. Jamie closed the door behind him and looked around the living/dining area. There was no sign of Tyler anywhere.

“Tyler?” Jamie called again. After a few moments of silence, Jamie heard something from the bedroom. He hurried over and pushed the slightly ajar door fully open to find Tyler on his bed, lying face down on the pillows and sobbing uncontrollably.

It was obvious Tyler had already heard the news. “Tyler—”

Tyler looked up; tears gushing down his face and eyes red from crying. “Why does everyone important to me always die?”

“It’s okay.” Jamie rushed over to the bed and cradled Tyler in his arms. “It’s okay.”

“She always promised me she’d quit, and I believed her…” Tyler shook his head and gnashed his teeth for a few moments. “I should have pressed harder, but I gave up on her—"

“No,” Jamie declared gently. “She gave up on herself.”

“But I –-” Tears streamed down Tyler’s face once more.

“You did all you could.” Jamie held Tyler reassuringly with one hand on his back, while stroking his hair with the other.

“If I just – she could still—” Whatever Tyler meant to say was lost in several rounds of hysterical bawling and weeping.

Once again, Jamie wished he had Rous’ ability to calm down Tyler. He wasn’t sure what he could say to keep Tyler from feeling any worse.

But as he continued stroking Tyler’s skin and hair, eventually causing Tyler to calmly snuggle against Jamie’s shoulder with a contented sigh, he then realized: perhaps he didn’t need to say anything at all. He pulled Tyler closer and closed his eyes, permitting himself to enjoy the moment.

As much as Jamie enjoyed the evocative silence, he had to ask. “Feel any better?”

Tyler nodded. “I do, but…how did you get in here?”

Jamie blinked in confusion. “You left the door open for me.”

Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “No, I didn’t.”

Jamie felt his heart stop. Someone had broken in. Perhaps this was the danger Rous had hinted at?

“Is anything missing?”

Tyler jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. Jamie made a beeline for the front door and shook the doorknob. Sure enough, it felt loose.

Jamie opened the door a crack and got down on one knee to inspect the bolt, which he soon discovered was slightly lower than it should have been. He snapped two pictures with his phone before standing up and bending over to inspect the plate. Nothing appeared amiss, but he didn’t have the equipment to be certain.

Jamie pulled the door inwards until the lock was visible and leaned in for a closer look. There were no obvious signs of damage, but the metal edges of the lock looked much too shiny for the lock’s age. He took two pictures of the lock before opening up his contacts tab and hitting the speed dial for Rous. Tyler had already been hysterical before realizing there had been an intrusion, so leaving him alone any longer was not a good idea.

Fortunately, Rous was prompt as usual, picking up on the second ring. “Yeah?”

“Rous, it’s Benny. I need you and Roope at Seguin’s penthouse ASAP. Someone broke in and the lock’s got obvious signs of tampering.”

“Okay, but…” Rous couldn’t keep the hint of suspicion out of his voice. “Why did you go there without me?”

“Because Miro roped me into the investigation of Harrington’s death. I came to interview Seguin about her whereabouts that night, but he was already too distraught to talk. Now he’s downright hysterical.”

“No shit. Which reminds me, Miro wanted to talk to you about something when you get back to the precinct. I’ll go grab Roope right now. Later.”

“Later.” Jamie hung up and headed towards the living/dining area, from which he could hear loud, repetitive thudding every few seconds. Upon his arrival, he discovered Tyler kneeling on the floor; frantically throwing books off the bookshelf and onto the floor a few feet behind him, which explained all the racket.

"It’s not here!” Tyler shrieked before chucking the remaining three books off the shelf. “It’s not here!”

“What’s not there?” Jamie asked.

“The spare key for the Corvette.” Tyler dropped his hands onto his thighs; hyperventilating as his pupils dilated.

“Tyler.” Jamie knelt next to Tyler and placed one hand on Tyler’s right shoulder and the other on his back. “Close your eyes and take a deep breath.”

Tyler squeezed his eyes shut and tried to comply with the second command, but his breath hitched midway, causing him to shudder.

“It’s okay. Breathe out.”

Tyler tried, but shuddered three more times before he was able to fully exhale.

“Good. Breathe in.”

This time, Tyler was able to inhale without any trouble. Jamie guided him through deep breaths for the next few minutes, feeling Tyler relax underneath his hands.

Everything went awry when the front door loudly slammed against the doorstop. Tyler screamed and curled up into a ball, covering his face with his hands. Jamie bolted upright and stormed to the foyer, clenching his fists so tightly his nails dug into his palms.

“Jesus Christ!” Jamie felt his teeth grind as he glared daggers at Rous and Roope. “Are you trying to kill him?!”

“It was an accident.” Roope’s voice was almost a whimper. “I was inspecting the hinges.”

Rous remained stoic; unmoved by Jamie’s seething rage. “Where’s Seguin?”

Jamie calmed down a bit once he remembered Rous’ previous ability to calm Tyler down. “Over here.” He led Rous back to where he had left Tyler, who was still curled up on the floor and was now trembling.

Rous knelt down next to Tyler and looked up at Jamie. “I’ll take care of him. Don’t worry. Go search the rest of the place.”

Jamie felt himself shudder. Rous was being awfully compassionate all of a sudden. What did he know?

Jamie then realized: this was the opportunity he had previously hoped for. He couldn’t dig as much as he’d like with Tyler right there, but he could at least examine some of the books that were now strewn about.

The newer books mainly consisted of travel guides and hardcovers about music and film. Those books seemed to fit Tyler’s personality, but the older books were all science fiction and fantasy. Perhaps Tyler had a greater cerebral depth to him than Jamie once presumed.

Jamie picked up each book and thumbed through the pages. Nothing was conspicuous save for one of Tyler’s older books: a dog-eared paperback copy of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. Not only did there appear to be something shoved in the back few pages of the book, but one of the top corners was highlighted in red.

Jamie opened the book to the highlighted page and skimmed the contents until one particular passage jumped out:

“Grief reunites you with what you've lost. It's a merging; you go with the loved thing or person that's going away. You follow it as far as you can go.

But finally, the grief goes away and you phase back into the world. Without him.

And you can accept that. What the hell choice is there? You cry, you continue to cry, because you don't ever completely come back from where you went with him — a fragment broken off your pulsing, pumping heart is there still. A cut that never heals.”

The words impaled Jamie’s psyche like a knife through his heart.

Kevin.

Jamie read on: “And if, when it happens to you over and over again in life, too much of your heart does finally go away, then you can't feel grief any more. And then you yourself are ready to die. You'll walk up the inclined ladder and someone else will remain behind grieving for you.”

Jamie lowered the book onto his lap and took a deep, shaky breath; forcing himself to blink a few times. He never could forget how many times he wished it had been him and not Kevin.

He’d considered joining Kevin one month after his death; when he snuck up to the roof of the Jonsson Center one night after class. Jamie had stood at the roof’s edge, trying to quell his nerves until he realized that Jordie would be left behind grieving; because their parents sure as hell wouldn’t.

Jamie and Jordie were all each other had; emphasized by their brothers forever ambigram tattoos.

Rous, who by now had calmed Tyler enough to escort him to the bedroom, stopped mid-stride and glanced at Jamie, tilting his head in concern. “Benny? You okay?”

Jamie nodded. “I’m fine. Just had a flashback. I’ll be all right.”

“Still? You should make another appointment with Ritchie.”

“I already did." Jamie had made his upcoming appointment after his most recent nightmare.

Rous nodded approvingly. “Good. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna finish up in here before I see what Roope’s up to.”

Rous nodded and helped Tyler into his bedroom. Jamie began flipping through the back pages of the book to see what was hidden there.

Once he reached the right page, a photo fell onto the floor.

Jamie put down the book and picked up the photo. There were several people in the selfie from what appeared to be Tyler’s college days. Tyler, who was taking the selfie, had his free arm wrapped around who Jamie recognized as Amy Tipton.

None of the others looked familiar; but there was another guy who was the spitting image of Tyler, staring right at him.

Jamie moved the photo closer to his face and peered at the guy before finally recognizing him.

Kristopher Neusmann.

It was true that Kris said he had classes with Tyler. But Tyler said he’d never met the guy; and the registrar’s office confirmed that Kristopher Neusmann had never attended UMass Amherst.

What the hell was going on?

***

“Bad timing, Benny,” Spez greeted Jamie as he entered the conference room; where Rous, Roope, Spez, Montgomery, and Miro were waiting. “Your brother called earlier.”

Jamie blinked a few times, shocked. “Wait, he called here?”

“Yeah, Spez replied. “Go see what he wants later.”

“I will.” Jamie sat down in the empty chair next to Rous.

Montgomery finished his coffee. “Anything from the door?”

Roope shook his head. “Whoever broke in was smart enough to not brute force it but dumb enough to leave marks on the keyhole. Building management switched out Seguin’s lock and hinges and the old ones are in the lab. Nothing obvious yet, but they’re still being processed.”

“Speaking of…” Rous began. “It’s interesting Benny found the break-in when he did, because I got the access logs from security at Seguin’s penthouse complex. They don’t match Seguin’s testimony or the footage Spez has from Bola 8.”

“What testimony?” Montgomery inquired.

“The Bola 8 footage shows Seguin and Harrington at the restaurant from when they both testified they were there. Harrington arrived at 10 PM and Seguin arrived 10 minutes later. They both left at 10:40 PM. But according to the security logs, Seguin returned to his penthouse at 10 PM, left at 10:30 PM, then returned at 11 PM.”

“Hmm.” Montgomery frowned and glanced at Spez. “Do you have the penthouse security footage yet?”

Spez shook his head. “I’m still reviewing that, but I’m done with the Bola 8 footage.”

Jamie broke his silence. “Rous was right. Someone’s impersonating Seguin. We already have two other tapes of someone who looks like him. Security at Seguin’s penthouse has a very short memory, so I can see how they’d fall for it. Do we know their access control protocol?”

“Not yet,” Rous replied. “But if someone already had a bump key, it wouldn’t take much to forge a signature or fake an ID. That is, assuming security checks every time and doesn’t just let someone they think they know just barge in.”

“Rous, get the access control protocols,” Montgomery ordered. “Miro, we haven’t heard from you yet. You said you needed something from us?”

“Yeah.” Miro nodded. “When we found Harrington, she didn’t have her phone on her. Which is strange enough in this day and age, but especially so when you consider what she did for a living.”

Spez gawked at Miro. “That is strange.”

“Which makes it more likely she was dumped there,” Jamie noted.

“That’s why I wanted to check her condo for her phone,” Miro continued. “If we can unlock that, we might be able to retrace her steps before she died. But I’m not homicide, so I’d need one of you with me.”

“Understood,” Montgomery said. “Benny, you go.”

Jamie frowned. “I can’t. I have an appointment with Ritchie. Unless you want me to—”

“Keep it.” Montgomery turned his attention back to Miro. “Did forensics take any—“

“No,” Roope interrupted.

“Yes, they did.” Miro gawked at Roope, confused. Scraped under her nails and swabbed her nose and mouth.”

Roope shrugged and shook his head. “We don’t have any samples for a Regina Harrington.”

Miro narrowed his eyes; glaring at Roope as if he wished he had a knife handy. “I watched them process the scene. You’re telling me you have nothing there? Did forensics fuck up and lose everything?”

“No!” Roope insisted, clearly taken aback. “That’s the thing. Nothing was even entered into our system for a Regina Harrington or any homicide case for that date and time. So it never happened as far as forensics is concerned. Look, I wasn’t on duty, okay? You’ll have to take it up with whoever was there.”

Jamie propped his elbows onto the table and rested his head against his hand. Miro was right—forensics had processed the scene. The scenario paralleled his days in vice: just when he and the squad thought they’d finally cornered Sharon, she’d find some loophole that just happened to address the current situation she was in, and she’d get off scot-free.

The timing would always be far too convenient. Jamie had long suspected she was getting insider information, but he never had proof; nor did he know where to go looking for any.

The evidence concerning Regina’s death had suddenly disappeared into thin air. And Regina worked for Sharon, who was the common denominator in each of these cases.

Suddenly, Jamie’s worst fears no longer seemed like paranoia.

The Dallas PD didn’t just have missing evidence.

They had a mole.

Chapter Text

Jamie had already read his library copy of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said in one sitting over the past 90 minutes, but he was finally beginning to understand.

Tyler moved from New England to Dallas, where nobody knew who he was. There were no records of him anywhere in Texas, so he might as well have not existed. He was leaving demons, tragedies, and lost love behind.

No wonder Tyler liked that book so much. It was just like him.

Jamie still had a stack of Tyler’s other books to read, but he needed to call Jordie first. He reached for his phone and pressed the speed dial button for Jordie.

“Jamie!” It was unclear what Jordie was surprised by: the fact that Jamie missed his call; or that he was even returning it in the first place. “I tried calling you earlier!”

“Yeah, I know. I was out on a case. You called the precinct, though. What’s going on?”

“I’m changing my number again. Guess who called me.”

“Seriously?!” It was the third time their father had violated Jordie’s no-contact order. Jamie had one of his own, but he had the full weight of the Dallas PD behind him. Not only was Jordie a private citizen, but living in another state made enforcement tricky. “If you don’t have a lawyer by now, get one.”

“I did,” Jordie immediately replied. “At least he figured out what happened.”

“I’ve been wondering that myself. You erased yourself from public searches already, didn’t you?”

“But my voting registration is legally public.”

“For fuck’s sake!” Jamie didn’t know whether to be livid at the system or at himself for never having considered that possibility. “He seriously…Yeah, it’s beyond harassment if he’s looking that up. Unfortunately, I might have to bail you out since the address confidentiality laws up there aren’t as strong. I’ll talk to some people tomorrow and I’ll call you back when I have something more concrete you can use up there.”

“Do I have to keep the voicemails?” Jordie’s tone was slightly hesitant. “I really don’t want to listen to these—”

Jamie didn’t need to listen to them to know what was said. He and Jordie had heard it all repeatedly over the years. “Don’t listen to them, but make backups. You’ll need them.”

“I was afraid of that.” Jordie heaved a long deep sigh. “It sucks, because I finally get to talk to you again, but it’s about this…”

“I know.” Jamie frowned, scolding himself. “I get caught up in everything and I don’t talk to you, and when I do…”

“I’m assuming no news is good news then?” It was actually a good thing in a fucked-up way that Jamie hadn’t needed to call Jordie; since the last time he’d had to was when he was forced to admit he’d had a relapse.

“You could say that.” Jamie shook his head. What a terrible thing to say. “I mean, it’s not good, but—”

“I get it. I’m not good at this shit either.”

Jamie suddenly realized that maybe his earlier pursuits had altered his mood too much. “Now that you mention it, I was actually reading, so maybe that’s why I’m fucked up myself all of a sudden? Got me thinking too much.”

“Really?” Jordie’s voice rose in interest. “You haven’t read anything non-work related in years.”

“Uh…” Jamie chuckled nervously. “Actually, it is work-related, but it’s not cop stuff for a change, so yeah, you’re right.”

“Why don’t you read more? Does it make you nervous?”

Jamie paused and considered the question for a few moments. “…No.” Jordie had read three books a week for as long as Jamie could remember, but Jamie barely touched books at all. The more he thought about it, the more he realized he didn’t have a good reason. “Guess I’m just not as smart as you are.”

“Don’t talk shit about my little brother or I’ll beat you up.” This had the intended effect and made Jamie laugh. “I’m not saying you have to read or anything, I’d just like you to focus on something other than cop stuff all the time. Seriously, I worry about you.”

“No, you’re right. Maybe I should. Might help me figure a few things out.”

“Why, are you trying to understand something?”

“No.” Jamie stared mindlessly at the blinking city lights out the window. “Someone.”

***

Five cups of coffee weren’t enough to get Jamie moving any faster as he trudged drowsily towards Ritchie’s office, mulling over everything he and Jordie had discussed the previous night.

Until he heard Ritchie scream.

Jamie took off running and hustled into Ritchie’s office just in time to find Hitchcock holding a struggling Ritchie up by his collar.

“All appointments are confidential…” Ritchie vainly kicked his legs back and forth, trying to wrest himself free. “And it would be a major HIPPA violation—”

“The fuck are you doing?!” Within seconds, Jamie closed the distance between himself and Hitchcock and thrust his elbow between Hitchcock’s shoulder blades, springing Ritchie out of his grasp and onto the floor.

“I knew it.” Hitchcock smile triumphantly as he turned to face Jamie. “You are psycho. What would Internal Affairs say if I told them we had an unstable whacko on the force?”

Jamie recoiled, seething in vexation.

“I bet he’s got you on all sorts of crazy pills, doesn’t he? Ooh, what do we have here?” Hitchcock snatched a manila folder with Jamie’s name on the tab and sauntered into the hallway. “I bet this’ll make for some very interesting reading.”

“Gimme that!” Jamie shrieked as he reached for the folder, which Hitchcock swiped away at the last minute.

“Hmm, what else is in here?” Hitchcock cracked open the folder and began thumbing through its contents. “Will this tell me how many guys Alicia was fucking behind your back since you couldn’t be a man?”

Jamie gritted his teeth and growled as he slammed Hitchcock against the wall behind him.

Hitchcock remained smug; unflinching despite any pain he may have felt. “See, you never could control yourself. I’d tell you to go have some fun, but the last time you did, your new partner found you passed out in your own puke.”

Immediately after Jamie slammed Hitchcock into the wall a second time, he heard a gun cock behind his head. Upon twisting around, he discovered Hanley and Janmark from Internal Affairs both had their HK45s pointed right at his head.

“Let him go, Benn,” Janmark ordered. “Nice and easy.”

Jamie struggled not to hyperventilate as he lowered Hitchcock to the ground and released his grip.

“You’re on sick leave, Chubbs,” Hitchcock stated. “As of right now, pending the outcome of a psychiatric investigation.” Hitchcock’s eyes narrowed into a steely glare. “Don’t worry. You’ll still get paid enough to make the rent on that shithole you call an apartment.”

***

“What the fuck, Benny?” Rous propped his elbows on the kitchen table, throwing his arms to the sides in exasperation.

Jamie sighed heavily, paying no mind to the slice of soppressata pizza on the plate in front of him. “I got tired of him fucking around with me.”

“You sure have one hell of a way of showing it.”

“I’m more worried about Ritchie.” Jamie turned to face Ritchie, who was also sitting at Jamie’s kitchen table with Rous. “Are you okay?”

Ritchie nodded. “It doesn’t even hurt. He’s done worse.”

Jamie’s eyes widened in shock. “You mean that’s not the first time he’s assaulted you?”

“No,” Ritchie replied.

Now it was Rous who was stunned. “Why, though?”

“Because he can,” Jamie muttered.

“He wants your badge.” Ritchie lowered his head. “He wants to recommend your discharge to Internal Affairs based on behavioral and mental disability, but he doesn’t have the evidence to do so. So he keeps trying to get the paperwork from your diagnosis and your sessions. Even if it weren’t illegal, no way in hell would I let him have it.”

Rous blinked in astonishment. “So he just beats you up?”

“Pretty much. And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.” Ritchie raised his head and looked Jamie straight in the eyes. “Because he knows.”

“Knows what?” Jamie asked.

“Not about you…” Ritchie began. “But about me. Specifically, Celeste Safir.”

“You mean…” Although Jamie was able to retract his jaw, he was unable to keep his eyes from bulging. “Station 4 Celeste Safir?”

Ritchie nodded silently.

“Wait.” Rous turned his head back and forth; alternating his gaze between Jamie and Ritchie. “I don’t understand. What’s going on here?”

“Station 4 is a gay bar,” Ritchie explained. “And Celeste Safir is my drag queen name.”

Both Jamie and Rous sat in stunned silence.

“Somehow, he found out,” Ritchie continued. “And if I ever report him to Internal Affairs, he’s gonna tell everyone about what I do in my spare time. As he keeps reminding me.”

“That motherfucker,” Rous muttered before suddenly jolting upright in his chair. “Wait…” He turned to Jamie. “How did you know about Celeste Safir?”

Jamie’s heart stopped. Shit. Rous had figured it out.

There was no denying it. “I used to spend a lot of time there.”

“You used to spend a lot of time at a gay bar?”

“That’s what I just said!” Jamie snapped. He didn’t need Rous prying any further into his private life.

Rous sat silently for a few moments, processing everything he had just learned. “Wait…Why didn’t you ever tell me any of this?”

“Because it’s none of your fucking business!” Jamie lunged forward, slamming his fists against the table.

“I’m your partner!” Rous shot back. “It is my—”

Ritchie cut him off. “Not if he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“Benny…” Rous sighed in exasperation. “How the fuck are any of us supposed to help you if you won’t tell us anything?”

“We came here to check on him and we brought pizza,” Ritchie told him. “That’s already going a long way.”

“I guess,” Rous said with a shrug. “Listen, I gotta get home, and Ritchie probably can’t stay long either. Take care of yourself, OK? Let me know if you need anything.”

“I will,” Jamie replied with a nod.

“Yeah, I need to get home too,” Ritchie stated. “Call me if you need anything.”

With that, he and Rous got up and headed for the door. They were barely in the hallway before another voice chimed in.

“Hey, Tony.”

Intrigued, Jamie got up to see what was going on. He poked his head out of the doorway to find Rous glaring at Tyler.

“Don’t call me that.” From the look on Rous’ face, he clearly wished he had his Glock handy.

Jamie was less astonished by Tyler’s presence than by how casual his wardrobe choices were. The green polo shirt, khaki shorts, and basketball shoes looked like Tyler’s normal wardrobe choices, but he wasn’t wearing expensive brands. Instead, the clothes were more JCPenney than Nordstrom. This was not the chic, cocksure Tyler Seguin he knew. What was going on?

Rous pivoted away from Tyler and Ritchie and stormed back towards the doorway, where he crossed his arms and glared at Jamie. “Forgive me for asking, and I don’t mean to overstate the obvious here, but why is it that you’ve got your head so far up your ass?”

“He wanna play?” Jamie snapped. “Fine. I can play.”

“Everyone he plays with dies,” Rous muttered as he turned away from Jamie and headed back out.

“I know what that’s like,” Jamie said to no one in particular.

Once Rous and Ritchie were both gone, Tyler came into the doorway and leaned back against the frame, cocking his head as he stared into Jamie's eyes. “I get the feeling he doesn’t like me.”

“I like you,” Jamie blurted out.

Tyler smiled ear-to-ear; peering right into Jamie’s soul. “Do you now?”

Jamie’s throat tightened. Shit. He’d done it again. He paused awkwardly, searching for a response before arriving at only one solution. “So, uh, you wanna come in?”

“I was hoping you’d ask.” Once Tyler was inside, he perked up at the sight of the pizza box and made a beeline for the kitchen table. “Hey, Cane Rosso’s! My favorite!”

Jamie gritted his teeth and clenched his hands into fists. “Did I say you could have any?!”

Tyler opened the box and gazed longingly at the contents like a desert castaway who hadn’t eaten for five days. “Seriously, you have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve had this. All my clients want to go to places like Five Sixty and Oceanaire. I’m so fucking sick of fancy restaurants.”

“Huh.” Between that admission and Tyler’s apparent love of secondhand books…perhaps he wasn’t cut out for the glamourous life? “So, where would you take them if you had the choice?”

“Pecan Lodge, Cowboy Chicken, Iron Cactus…you know. Those kinds of places.” Tyler grabbed the nearest slice of pizza and took a huge bite. “Oh, fuck yeah. I’ve missed this so much.”

Tyler was a much more down-to-earth person than Jamie had ever considered. He was beginning to see him in a new light.

“All I need is some cold beer to wash this down with.”

“Yeah, but I don’t drink anymore, remember?” Jamie reminded him.

Tyler winced at his mistake. “Shit. Sorry. Got any Coke or Pepsi in there?”

Jamie had recently gone shopping, so the fridge was stocked for once. “I prefer Coke.”

“Me, too,” Tyler said with a smile.

As Jamie poured two tumblers of Coke, his eye kept wandering towards the marinara sauce under the left edge of Tyler’s lower lip. He wanted to lean over and lick it off himself, then slide it into Tyler’s mouth with his tongue.

“Not one for the finer things in life?” Jamie took the tumblers over to the kitchen table.

“Not when they’re all fake.” Tyler instantaneously darted the tip of his tongue below his lower lip, cleaning up the sauce as he eyed Jamie voraciously. “Sometimes I like things rough around the edges, you know?”

“Are your clients fake, too?” Now it was Jamie who was eyeing Tyler as he took a long swig of Coke, trying not to look too triumphant as Tyler’s eyes narrowed in chagrin.

“Some of them,” Tyler admitted. “Why? What are you insinuating?”

Jamie returned his tumbler to the table. “I get the feeling you might not really like your job.”

Tyler scoffed as he shot Jamie a dirty look. “Sure I do. Don’t you hate being a cop sometimes?”

“We’re not talking about me.” Jamie rested his arms on the table and leaned over, getting as close to Tyler as he could with the table between them. “We’re talking about you. We’re talking about someone who signed a contract for indentured servitude to escape his old life and tried to start a new one. He thinks he’s in control, but he’s in over his head.”

Now Tyler was glaring at Jamie, clearly offended.

“Because the minute he falls out of favor with his boss, she’ll stab him in the fucking back. Maybe even literally, though she’ll have someone else do it. She doesn’t get her hands dirty; it’s beneath her. I bet he doesn’t even know how many of her former employees died of unnatural causes. Many of those deaths were cocaine overdoses. Not just any cocaine, mind you, but it had all sorts of shit added to it.”

Tyler’s features softened as the first vague stirrings of alarm crossed his face.

“Even when he’s in his boss’s good graces, he doesn’t really like his job. He just tells himself he does. He buys all sorts of expensive clothes and drives a sports car to trick himself into believing it. He never could handle losing his family and his fiancée so he had to create a new identity and a new reality for himself. But he’s just playing a role. Someday, that screenplay is gonna end, and it won’t be pretty. Then what will he do? He doesn’t have a clue.”

“You don’t know me.” Tyler’s voice was firm and his expression stone-faced, but the apprehension in his eyes betrayed him.

“You don’t have to say anything.” Jamie looked straight into Tyler’s eyes. “I know who you are.”

Chapter Text

Jamie knew that he had struck a nerve and pressed on. “So why did you come here? You had to have an ulterior motive besides the obvious.”

Tyler nodded. “I wanted to know if you found out what happened to Regina.”

“Until the autopsy results and toxicology come back, we won’t know. Toxicology takes at least two weeks.” A sudden thought occurred to Jamie. “I thought you said you knew she used cocaine. So why are you asking?”

“Sharon told me she OD’d.” Tyler’s expression was blank, but his voice betrayed his uncertainty. “Told me to stop obsessing over it.”

“I think she did, but…” Jamie cut himself off.

“But what?”

Jamie knew what Tyler was getting at and quickly changed the subject. “Are you saying you don’t believe her?”

“…I don’t know.” Tyler hung his head.

“Did something happen?”

“That’s what I want to know. She was supposed to have a client then.”

“Any idea who?” Jamie continued leaning closely towards Tyler, his interest piqued.

“I don’t know.” Tyler slunk back in his seat and looked down at the floor.

“Did you talk to her that day?”

“I didn’t get a chance to. I was booked solid.” A mournful look crossed Tyler’s face. “Maybe I should have.”

“Why don’t you believe Sharon?” Perhaps Tyler was finally realizing the truth about his employer?

“Because none of this makes sense. It’s not like Regina at all. She wouldn’t skip out on work.” Tyler straightened up in his chair and eyed Jamie inquisitively. “When will you know what happened?”

As much as Jamie hated to admit it, he had no choice. “Even if they do find out anytime soon, I won’t know until I get reinstated. If I get reinstated. They put me on sick leave.”

Tyler’s jaw dropped. “What?!”

“I have to wait until they decide what to do with me.” Jamie’s intense desire to change the subject gave him an idea. “Tell you what, though. If you know anything, you should talk to the lead detective on the case.” Jamie rose from his chair and went to the kitchen drawer for a pen and paper. “He’d know more than I would, anyway.”

“Would he tell me anything?”

“Maybe.” Jamie finished jotting down Miro’s number and tore the Post-It note off the pad. “Assuming he knows anything. But maybe you know something he doesn’t.” He handed the note to Tyler.

Tyler examined the note. “Do you have any idea when they’ll decide whether to reinstate you?”

“No.” Jamie closed the pizza box and picked it up. “I have to wait for them to call me in.” He lifted the box off the table and turned to head back towards the kitchen, but bumped the edge of the table and shook it, sending his glass of Coke crashing onto the floor.

He nearly dropped the pizza box upon hearing Tyler scream.

Jamie spun around to see Tyler teetering at the edge of his chair, curled up in a ball with his arms braced over his head.

“I…” Tyler lowered his arms and jumped out of the chair. “I should go.” With that, he rushed towards the door.

“Tyler—”

Before Jamie could finish his sentence, Tyler had slammed the door behind him and was running down the hallway towards the main stairwell.

***

“I can’t say what,” Rous continued. “But something very, very bad happened to Seguin in his past. But unless he says what or it comes out during the investigation, we won’t know.”

“Figures.” Jamie switched his phone to the other ear.

“Speaking of not telling me anything…Why didn’t you ever tell me you’re gay?”

Jamie shuddered. “I’m not gay.”

“So you were just hanging out in gay bars for shits and giggles? You really expect me to believe that?”

Jamie opened his mouth to retort, but couldn’t come up with anything.

“Look, Benny, I know you have issues. Fuck, most of us do. But you not only keep it all to yourself, you don’t even understand yourself to begin with.”

“That’s not—”

“You’re never gonna understand yourself unless you start opening up to people. Especially Ritchie. Otherwise, we’re never gonna be able to help you. And you’ll never be able to help yourself.”

“I—”

“If you want to have PTSD and relapses the rest of your life, be my guest. Otherwise, I suggest you think very hard about this before your psych evaluation. You’ve got more than enough time.”

Rous hung up before Jamie could say anything.

Jamie sighed and dropped the phone on the couch. He’d married a woman, for chrissakes. He wasn’t gay.

But…Kevin had been the only person he had ever loved.

And he couldn’t stop thinking about Tyler. Especially about his reactions in the precinct showers and after Jamie broke the glass.

Tyler definitely had some issues of his own. Three weeks earlier, Jamie would have figured they’d drive Tyler to homicide.

But he no longer believed Tyler killed Margaret Hildebrand.

The more Jamie thought about Tyler, the more confused he became.

Since he wasn’t going to work anytime soon, he figured he might as well clean his apartment. It was long overdue.

***

Jamie had finished the stack of Tyler’s other books, and the apartment was now spotless. The books didn’t crack the enigma that was Tyler, but their content clearly showed he was more inquisitive and much smarter than Jamie had initially thought. It made him wonder what could have been if Tyler hadn’t lost everyone important to him. He could be successful with a good job and a nice family; not walking the tightrope of a backstabbing madam who just might want him dead someday.

Nothing was on TV; and he’d tried calling Jordie earlier, but Jordie must have still been out in the field.

For the first time in as long as he could remember, Jamie was incredibly fucking bored. He’d already gone grocery shopping, but maybe going somewhere else would do him some good. Besides, he had to return all the books.

It was a 20-minute trip, but Jamie managed to spend an additional hour at the library looking at books despite being too indecisive to decide on anything to borrow. The more he considered it, the more he thought Jordie was on to something.

The rest of Commerce Street was blocked off due to an accident. Just his luck. Jamie turned onto Main Street, cursing to himself until he noticed the green Corvette Stingray turn out of a valet parking lot.

Intrigued, Jamie cast aside his plans and followed several car lengths away.

The driver pulled over to the Dallas Chop House, where Tyler and a tall, muscular blond man were standing at the curb. The other man was way too pale to be a local; as any exposure to the summer sun would burn him to a crisp. He had to be visiting from another country.

Tyler was clearly working; as he was wearing a soft pink linen suit with a white blouse and a cream tie. The colors were an audacious choice, but very attractive. Very Tyler.

The valet exited the Corvette and returned Tyler’s keys before accepting a stack of bills and going on his way. Once the valet was at a safe distance, the blond man closed the distance between himself and Tyler before cupping Tyler’s cheek in his hand and kissing him deeply.

All of a sudden, Jamie was really, really pissed off.

***

Jamie had managed to spend the rest of the afternoon doing absolutely nothing.

True, he’d been productive earlier in the day, but the lack of structure was making him anxious. Maybe he should have taken out some books after all.

The library didn’t close for another two hours. He might as well go grab some titles he had been looking at during his earlier trip.

Jamie headed into the parking lot and was walking towards his car when he noticed a telltale shade of green in his peripheral vision.

Startled, he turned to see a casually-dressed Tyler leaning against the hood of his car.

“Took you long enough to look up.” Tyler chuckled through a wry smile.

“What are you doing here?” Jamie asked, bewildered.

“Well, if just so happens I have a rare night off and I was wondering if you’re free.”

Jamie scoffed. Had Tyler even listened to a word he said before? “Of course I’m free, I told you—” He stopped as he suddenly realized what Tyler was implying. “Wait…Are you asking me out?”

“Call it what you like,” Tyler replied with that damned coquettish expression and teasing voice of his.

As much as Jamie wanted to, his mind was screaming no. “Do you know how much trouble I could get in if anyone at the precinct found out?”

Tyler grinned mischievously. “Can’t get in trouble if you’re not on the force, can you?”

Now Jamie was grinning as he realized that Tyler had a point. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

“Did you always want to be a cop?”

“Ever since I was little.” Jamie grabbed a handful of tortilla chips. “My parents were happy I was going to the police academy for an ‘actual job’ as opposed to Jordie.”

Tyler finished his Coke. “What’s he do?”

“He’s a geologist. Works for Anadarko up in Fort Collins, so I don’t see much of him.”

“How many babies has he delivered?”

Jamie narrowed his eyes in a deadpan stare.

“Oh, come on!” Tyler laughed as he squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m just messing with you. God, you’re always so serious. Lighten up, will you?”

Jamie ignored Tyler’s attempt at humor. “What about you, though? How’d you get into public relations?”

Tyler’s expression was more serious as he faced Jamie again. “I settled.”

“What do you mean?” Jamie’s eyes narrowed in interest.

“I didn’t have a degree, and I already interned there. I figured it was my best option.” Tyler looked down as he jabbed at his enchiladas with his fork. “Truth is, I always wanted to be a writer growing up, but I had to give up on that. My parents told me I’d never make enough to live on that alone and basically forced me into college.”

“A writer?” Tyler really was a bookish intellectual after all. “What kind of books were you thinking of writing?”

“I’ve always loved science fiction. I had to leave all my favorite books behind after I left Boston, so I’ve been going to used bookstores here trying to reclaim them.”

“Huh.” That explained all of Tyler’s old books.

“I envy you,” Tyler admitted. “You got your dream job.” He sighed as he stared at his plate wistfully. “I never had a chance.”

“Not all of us can achieve our dreams,” Jamie reassured Tyler. “And that’s fine. That’s just how life is.”

“…I guess.”

“I’m surprised, though. I never would have guessed you’ve always had your head in the stars.”

“Stars...” Tyler straightened up in his chair as his expression brightened.

“What’s up?” Jamie asked, confused.

“You’ve just given me a great idea where to take you once we’re done here.”

***

The trees surrounded them as they drove further from Dallas to the sanctuary of Cedar Hill State Park.

Jamie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Rous would say you were bringing me out here to dismember me and dispose of my parts in random areas.”

Now Tyler was laughing as well. “If I wanted to kill you, would I have wasted money buying you dinner first?”

“Good point.”

“Exactly. Forget about him.” Tyler pulled into the space and put the car in park before resting his hand on Jamie’s wrist and gazing into his eyes. “You’re with me now.”

Jamie cracked a wan smile as he nodded.

“HAH! I did it!” Tyler cried triumphantly. “I got you to smile again!” He turned off the Corvette. “You’re always so serious all the time. One of these days you’re gonna get an ulcer or have a heart attack. So please…” Tyler curled his fingers around Jamie’s wrist. “Try to relax…okay?”

Jamie nodded. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” Jamie couldn’t quite read the expression on Tyler’s face, but the honesty in his voice was crystal clear. “Anyway, we’re here.”

Once they were outside, Jamie followed Tyler along the trail path for a few minutes before finally having to ask. “Um…where exactly are you taking me?”

“You’ll see.” Tyler couldn’t keep the giddiness out of his voice.

The further they walked, the more skeptical Jamie became. His fight-or-flight response was just beginning to kick in when Tyler stopped and gently pulled him towards an overlook.

Tyler stopped and looked up at the sky, keeping his hand on Jamie’s wrist. “I haven’t been here in forever.”

Jamie looked up at the tapestry of stars above them, allowing himself to be swallowed by the darkness and the feeling of Tyler against him. “…Wow.”

“I know, right?” Jamie couldn’t make out Tyler’s features in the dark, but his tone of voice told Jamie he was smiling. “No light out here. It’s perfect.”

“I’m guessing you’ve been here enough to know where you’re going in the dark?”

“You have to overthink everything, don’t you?” Judging from the slight movement, Tyler was shaking his head. “Yeah, I’ve been here by myself a few times.”

“By yourself?” Jamie repeated. “Nobody to bring with you?”

“Well…nobody I wanted to bring, anyway.”

Jamie blinked. “But you brought me.”

The confident tone departed Tyler’s voice entirely, and instead he sounded uncertain “…Yeah.”

They stood in silence for a long while, staring up at the sky as Jamie slid his arm out of Tyler’s grasp and encircled it around his waist instead, pulling him close.

The sight dredged up a conversation Jamie didn’t even know he remembered. “Astronomers are very useful in the artillery.”

“Huh?” Now it was Tyler who was confused.

“Kevin told me that once.” Jamie tightened his arm around Tyler’s waist. “Mostly navigation, but they can do surveys and figure out trajectories.”

“Huh. They still use astronomy to navigate in the Army? I figured it was all maps and GPS and shit.”

Tyler’s last sentence made Jamie laugh.

“You’re laughing again!” Tyler proudly noted.

“Yeah…” Jamie looked away, amused and embarrassed at the same time. “But he also told me, we wouldn’t know so much about astronomy if it wasn’t used by the military. So, in a way, it’s an accessory to war. Think about it. We only landed on the moon because we were trying to embarrass the Soviets. And a bunch of NASA projects got cancelled after the Cold War ended. So maybe the two sides need each other.”

Tyler turned towards Jamie. “Huh. I never knew that. Or thought about it that way.”

Then the realization hit Jamie like a ton of bricks. “So NASA needs war…but if it weren’t for war, Kevin would still be here.”

“Jamie,” Tyler said gently as he placed a hand back on Jamie’s forearm. “I’m here.”

Reticence gave way to instinct as Jamie matched Tyler’s movements with his own, pulling him into a kiss.

The chained kisses and subsequent movements were different than before. The previous aggression and urgency was absent. Instead, everything was gentle as they floated into their own world.

The sudden snap of a branch in the woods threw Jamie back into reality as he pulled away, startled.

“Jamie…” Tyler pled. “Try to relax, please.”

The possibility of discovery was now at the forefront of Jamie’s mind. “I think I’d have an easier time relaxing if we took this somewhere private.”

Tyler chuckled; understanding what Jamie was getting at. “I agree. Let’s get out of here.”

***

Everything was different.

Tyler’s hands were pressing Jamie’s wrists to the bed, but were not attempting to restrain them. Nor was Jamie pulling or clutching at Tyler; instead simply holding Tyler’s waist steady while remaining still and just watching as Tyler rocked his hips back and forth where their bodies were joined.

The animalistic look from their previous trysts was gone as well; replaced by a relaxed, innocent expression as Tyler held Jamie’s gaze, never once breaking eye contact.

Jamie met Tyler’s smile with one of his own as he allowed Tyler to gently pull his shoulders up before joining their mouths in a tender kiss.

They exchanged kisses and mutual smiles until Tyler threw his head back and pressed his arms against Jamie’s back as his movements became more urgent. Jamie pulled gently at Tyler’s waist, using just enough force to let Tyler give him that final push.

“Jamie…” Tyler gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut as his warmth surged onto Jamie’s stomach.

Jamie threw his head back as he cried out; his hips rising from the bed as he pulled at Tyler’s waist one final time, entwining their bodies even closer as he came in a blinding flash of light.

Tyler collapsed onto Jamie and rested his head against Jamie’s shoulder; letting Jamie cradle him as they came down.

Jamie idly threaded his fingers through Tyler’s hair, blinking as his vision gradually returned. He could easily fall asleep that way, with Tyler still on top of him.

He didn’t want either of them to move at all.

***

Seeing Tyler off in the morning was now bizarre.

Jamie had made him coffee and kissed him goodbye; but this time, it felt strange letting him go, knowing full well that other people would know Tyler the way that Jamie had known him the previous night.

The buzz of Jamie’s intercom snapped him out of his daydream. Who the hell was visiting this early in the morning?

Jamie pressed the button. “Yeah?”

“Jamie!” Tyler shrieked. “My car’s gone!”

Chapter Text

“Gone?!” Jamie repeated in disbelief. “Someone stole it?!”

“That’s what I said!” came Tyler’s panicked reply.

“Stay there. I’ll be right down.” Jamie headed to the bedroom and began throwing on some clothes. Tyler would need a ride home, but they needed some sort of alibi for both of them. Rous was already asking some uncomfortable questions; and Spez and Radi weren’t far behind.

Also, if Tyler’s car had been stolen…it was likely by whomever had the spare key to his Corvette. Which meant that person had access to Tyler’s penthouse.

Jamie pulled his Glock out of his bottom nightstand drawer and made sure it was loaded. He had a bad feeling about this.

***

“Is there any way we can get away with not reporting this?”

Jamie turned his head and gave Tyler a baffled look as he put the car in park. He had been wondering the exact same thing. “What do you mean?”

“Because sooner or later, they’ll find out you were with me.”

“Yeah.” Jamie turned the car off.

Tyler was about to say something, but stopped and leaned forward, staring intently at something outside. “Wait a minute…”

“Huh?” Jamie glanced out the windshield and saw what Tyler had spotted: his Corvette parked right next to the building. There was no damage from what Jamie could tell.

Tyler unbuckled his seatbelt and shoved the door open.

“Wait—” Before Jamie could finish objecting, Tyler was halfway across the parking lot. Jamie reached down to unbuckle his own seatbelt, keeping his eyes fixed on Tyler.

Tyler reached the driver’s side of the Corvette and reached for the door handle. He yelped as someone dragged him backwards and out of Jamie’s line of vision.

Jamie’s worst fear had been realized. It was a trap. He threw the glove compartment open and grabbed his Glock before exploding out of the car. Tyler’s screams spurred him forward; hoping he wouldn’t be too late.

He pivoted around the side of the building to discover two men in ski masks attempting to drag a struggling and shrieking Tyler into a white panel van. They would have been long gone had Tyler not been putting up a serious fight.

“POLICE!” Jamie aimed the barrel of his Glock at the open hatch of the van as he continued forward, looking for a good vantage point. “Get your hands up!”

Tyler recoiled in terror as the men disregarded the command and jerked him into the back of the van. Jamie fired at the taller of the two masked men, eliciting an agonized groan before he released Tyler and scrambled into the van.

Not only did the second man still have Tyler in his grasp, but he now had a syringe in his free hand. Jamie fired a second shot, which missed and shattered the window of the right hatch door.

The second man shoved Tyler to the ground before jumping into the van, which began speeding away as he clambered to close the hatch doors.

Jamie lowered his gun before running over to Tyler, who was trembling on the ground. “Tyler! Are you hurt?”

Tyler lifted his head and opened his mouth to speak, but was stymied by a sob. Blood seeped down his forehead as tears brimmed in his eyes.

“Just…” Tyler began. “Get me home. Please.” The dam broke, and tears streamed down Tyler’s face as he began crying hysterically.

“No. You’re going to the hospital.” Jamie leaned over and extended his hand to Tyler. “Come on.”

***

He’d missed. He’d fucking missed.

All those hours he’d spent practicing in the range, and he still wasn’t good enough. The worst-case scenarios flooded Jamie’s brain as he wondered just why the second guy had let Tyler go. What if he hadn’t? Jamie wouldn’t have been able to save Tyler, not with that horrible aim of his.

It didn’t matter how well he kept scoring at the range or in competitions. He wouldn’t have been good enough when it really counted.

Jamie barely avoided banging his head against the nightstand as he thrashed in bed. The near-miss made him realize he needed to take some Klonopin. If he didn’t, he’d fall deeper and deeper into despair.

Jamie pushed himself into a seated position and opened the top nightstand drawer with enough force to send Kevin’s dog tags rattling to the front of the drawer against the medicine bottles.

He forgot about the Klonopin as he picked them up and stared at them in his hand for several minutes. He felt uneasy holding them, but couldn’t figure out why.

There was no point in thinking about it. Jamie returned the dog tags to the drawer and fetched the Klonopin, then headed to the kitchen for a glass of water.

His mind wandered to the night Tyler took him to Cedar Hill State Park and he’d told Tyler what Kevin had once said about astronomy.

Then it hit him.

No wonder Jamie had felt uneasy holding the dog tags. He’d felt like he was betraying Kevin.

He’d stayed with Tyler in the ER much longer than he needed to, and had been worried sick about him. He’d been incredibly relieved when Tyler’s head wound turned out to be minor. Tyler didn’t have a concussion, and only needed a few stitches and some Tylenol.

Jamie had offered to stay with Tyler that night, but Tyler wanted to be alone. Jamie let him have his way, but he still really wanted to be there with him.

Jamie’s heart beat faster as he chased down the Klonopin with some water. He was beginning to understand.

He’d thrown himself into the Hildebrand case not only because of his tendency to get obsessed with cases, as Tyler had noticed and pointed out. But he’d spent an inordinate amount of time running Tyler’s background, even after he was no longer a suspect.

That was because Jamie wanted to know more about Tyler.

Because he couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Not even after that night they met at Studio Live and fucked each other’s brains out. Jamie had been down that road before. He’d go cruising, meet some guy, they’d fuck, and then they’d never speak to one another again.

But he’d kept seeing Tyler. Because he wanted to.

Tyler was different.

The same way Kevin had been different. Different from all the girls Jamie had dated during his adolescence so his father would quit saying “the fuck’s wrong with you, boy?”

He didn’t like those girls the way he did Kevin. Or Tyler.

Jamie’s fingers went limp, causing the glass to slide out of his hand and shatter on the kitchen floor. He stared blankly at the darkness, overwhelmed by the sudden epiphany.

Those girls were pretty and all…but he’d never been attracted to them like he had been to Kevin or those random guys he’d fuck during his cruising days.

Nor did they have the magnetism that pulled Jamie and Tyler together as if it was fate.

Jamie finally understood after all those years. He ignored the broken glass and grabbed his phone before running back to the bedroom.

It was 3:30 AM, but that didn’t matter. He had to talk to Jordie right that minute. Jamie hit the speed dial for Jordie and became increasingly fidgety the longer Jordie’s phone rang.

Finally, Jordie picked up with a half-asleep grunt. “Jamie? What’s wrong?”

Jamie could barely sit still at this point. “Jordie, I’m gay.”

There was a confused gasp on the other end before it went silent.

“Come on, say something!” Jamie pled anxiously.

“Uh…” Jamie paused for several long moments. “…Are you sure?”

“That’s all you have to say?!” Jamie snapped.

The sleepiness left Jordie’s voice. “Well, you called me in the middle of the night and told me that out of the blue. How do you expect me to react?”

“Mmm.” Jamie had to give him that one. “Do you remember Kevin Hewitt?”

“Of course I do. He was one of my best friends. Why?”

“He and I were more than friends.” It was faint, but Jamie could hear Jordie’s startled gasp. “You know why I wasn’t at his funeral? Because his sister hates my guts.”

“But…why?”

“Because after Kevin died, she wanted his dog tags for whatever reason. But he willed them to me. They’re in the top drawer of my nightstand, right by where I keep all my meds. I can send you a picture if you don’t believe me.”

There was another period of silence before Jordie spoke again. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this?”

“Because I…” Jamie was finally forced to admit the truth to himself. “I was afraid you’d rat me out to our parents.”

“Why would I ever do that to you?!” Jordie objected.

“…I dunno,” Jamie replied, ashamed. “I guess I was just scared. He could have been kicked out of the Army if anyone knew.”

“That’s true.” Jordie paused for a few moments. “But why are you telling me all of this now?”

Jamie took a deep breath as he stared into the darkness. “Because I’ve met someone.”

***

Jamie faded out of a deep slumber, gradually regaining consciousness before realizing his phone was ringing.

He shoved himself out of bed, glancing at the clock before shuffling over to the dresser to answer it.

4:57 AM. He never got calls that early unless he was being called to a crime scene. But he’d been suspended. What the hell was going on?

A quick glance at the screen indicated it was Montgomery calling, which made the wake-up call even more bizarre.

Jamie answered the phone and held it up to his ear. “Yeah?”

“Benn, we’ve got a situation. Come down to the Grapevine ASAP and bring your gun. We’re behind the building.”

“Okay.” Jamie hung up and slowly lowered his arms as he stood rooted to the ground, feeling the first stirrings of a panic attack.

***

The swarm of empty police cars with flashing lights, forensics investigators, patrolmen, and coroner’s officers reminded Jamie of the Hildebrand crime scene. With this many people responding, something major had gone down. It almost made sense that Montgomery had called him.

Jamie headed towards the scrum behind the building, walking past several patrolmen with stone-faced glares that silently backed away from him.

Montgomery, Nill, Rous, Spez, and Radi were all standing around a black BMW X6. Spez was the closest homicide guy to Jamie once he got to his destination. “What’s going on here?”

“Get away from me!” Spez shrieked, recoiling in disgust as he backed away.

The others all silently turned towards Jamie, staring intently at him as they backed away from the vehicle, enabling Jamie to see inside.

The driver’s side window had been shot out, and Hitchcock was slumped over the steering wheel, with a horrified expression frozen on his face and blood seeping from two bullet holes in his left temple.

Chapter Text

“Two shots, close range,” Radi announced. “Most likely a Glock.” Radi’s lips tightened into a straight line as he glared at Jamie.

Nill turned away and raised his arm, beckoning someone in the distance. Roope came running, and both he and Nill stepped forward, placing themselves in front of Jamie.

There was no emotion in Nill’s voice or expression. “Detective Benn. Hand over your gun.”

Jamie felt his stomach churn as he pulled his Glock out of its holster and handed it to Roope. Roope sniffed the barrel before pulling out the magazine. “Missing two bullets.” He shot an instantaneous glare at Jamie before walking away.

Jamie’s jaw dropped. “You think I—”

Rous shook his head. “I don’t, but I’m in the minority here.”

***

“I lost my temper.”

Now it was Jamie in the interrogation chair facing Hanley and Janmark from Internal Affairs; as well as Montgomery and Nill.

“Did he ever look inside your psychiatric file?” Hanley asked.

“Not that I know of.”

Now it was Janmark’s turn. “Where were you last night?”

“Home. Watching baseball.” They hadn’t asked where Jamie was during the evening, so as far as he was concerned, all the time he had spent in the ER with Tyler didn’t fit the timeframe.

Jamie’s answer didn’t satisfy Janmark. “All night?”

“Well, I called Jordie around 3 AM. You can call him and ask about it.”

Nill frowned. “The hell were you calling him at 3 AM for?”

“Personal crisis.” Jamie didn’t want to elaborate.

“When are you ever not having a personal crisis?” Janmark probably thought he was muttering under his breath, but Jamie could still hear.

Nill looked Jamie in the eyes. “I’ll ask you once, Detective Benn. For the record, did you kill Captain Hitchcock?”

“No.” Jamie glared, offended that Nill was even asking. “Think about it. I’d shove him around and strangle him in the hallway in front of everybody, and then I’d follow him later that night and kill him, when everybody would immediately suspect me? I’d have to be really fucking stupid to do that.”

“Going after him beforehand would get you off the hook for killing him,” Hanley surmised. “That would be your alibi.”

“No, it wouldn’t.” Jamie gawked at the four. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s as good an alibi as visiting your best client that evening and then coming back later and killing her,” Montgomery replied.

Hanley turned his head and stared at Montgomery, confused.

“Inside joke,” Montgomery explained.

“I don’t think it’s funny,” Jamie shot back.

Montgomery scoffed. “Well, you have to admit it has a certain ring to it.”

***

Jamie heard the stairwell door open behind him, but didn’t look back. He didn’t feel like talking to anyone.

“Benny.”

It was Rous. He didn’t have much of a choice. Jamie stopped at the edge of the stairs and turned to face him.

“I’ve been thinking.” Rous crept into Jamie’s personal space and looked around before lowering his voice. “Did you see that car Hitchcock was driving?”

Jamie got the hint and replied in a near-whisper. “The BMW?”

“Yeah. No way in hell a guy making his salary could have been able to afford that.”

Jamie felt himself seethe as he immediately understood what Rous was implying. “Unless he was skimming squad funds again.”

“I always had a bad feeling about him. But I couldn’t do anything about it until now.”

“Until now?” Jamie replied, confused.

“Ever notice that whenever he got involved in an investigation, it suddenly ended?” Rous took Jamie’s nod as permission to continue. “I still have some contacts in Financial Crimes. I bet if I loop them in, they can dig up a few things.”

“Yeah.” Jamie nodded again, this time much more enthusiastically. “Yeah. Go for it.”

“Get some rest, okay Benny?” Rous’ face softened. “You look like hell.” With that, Rous began heading down the stairwell.

“Rous!”

Rous stopped in his tracks and turned halfway to look up at Jamie.

“I…” There were so many things Jamie wanted to say, but he couldn’t formulate the words. “…I’m sorry.”

Rous chuckled. “Relax. I can handle it.”

***

The green Corvette stuck out like a sore thumb in the parking lot as Jamie searched for a space away from the road.

He didn’t see Tyler anywhere as he found a suitable spot and turned off his car. But unless someone had propped the door open again, he couldn’t have gone far.

The heat of the night hit Jamie like a sucker punch as he stepped outside and fumbled for his keys. He couldn’t wait for autumn.

Sure enough, Tyler was right by the entrance. His presence and posture against the stucco were to be expected, but everything else was…off. Not only was he in inexpensive clothing again, but from his expression, something was clearly bothering him.

“Hey,” Jamie called out as he approached the door. “I didn’t think I’d see you today. What’s up?”

Tyler lowered his head, staring forlornly at the pavement. “….Eh.”

“Damn, that sucks. Come upstairs and we can talk about it, okay?” Tyler nodded as Jamie’s access card let them both in. They ascended the stairwell and went down the hallway to Jamie’s apartment. Once they were both locked and chained inside, they both sat down on the couch.

“What’s wrong? Jamie asked Tyler.

“Where do I start?” Tyler sighed.

“From the beginning?” Back when they first met, Jamie would have been happy with such a sarcastic reply, but now that they were actually having civil conversations with one another, it didn’t feel right. “No, seriously. What’s the first thing that happened?”

“I went to see Sharon and her guys threw me out.”

Jamie blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Literally threw me out. Said Sharon’s pissed at me and don’t come back until she’s good and ready.”

Jamie felt the sudden need for a Klonopin as he drew the parallels between Sharon’s and Alicia’s behavior back when they were still married. “Did she say why?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Tyler replied with a shrug. Clearly Jamie’s look betrayed his inner turmoil, as Tyler immediately picked up on it. “Is something wrong?”

“My ex-wife used to pull that shit all the time.”

Tyler’s expression softened as he perked up in interest. “You were married?”

Jamie stared down at the floor. “I was.”

“And?” Tyler prompted.

“I’m not married anymore,” Jamie responded tersely before changing the subject. “What else happened?”

“I ended up having to change the sheets this morning, so I picked up the mattress and…” Tyler’s voice trailed off as he winced.

Jamie’s throat tightened as he remembered the rings he had found under the mattress. Shit.

There were several long moments of silence before Jamie looked up to discover that Tyler was about to have his own panic attack. “What was it? Tell me.”

“There…there was…” Tyler stammered.

“There was what?” Jamie spoke gently now, trying to coax everything out.

“There was an envelope with some of Maggie’s rings in it. How…” Tyler shuddered. “How long had they been there? Especially after what happened…”

“You mean when someone broke in? But you changed the locks, right?”

“That didn’t help. They came back. I’m sure of it.”

Jamie was almost as nervous as Tyler now as he leaned forward. “What do you mean?”

“I went home last night and all my stuff was out of place.”

“Are…” Jamie hoped Tyler wouldn’t hear the anxiety in his voice. Rous was right; someone was after Tyler. “Are you sure you didn’t just misplace anything?”

Tyler fixed his gaze on his hands, which were planted firmly above his knees.” “That’s what I would have figured if this wasn’t the second time it happened. This time it was the bedroom instead of the bathroom.”

A sudden knock on the door nearly made Jamie jump out of his skin. Tyler looked up at Jamie, confused.

“Shit, I bet that’s Rous. He’ll freak out if he sees you.”

“Should I go?” Tyler offered.

“Nah, just go hide in the bedroom for a minute. I’ll get rid of him. Hang on.” Jamie stood up and rushed towards the door as he heard another knock. “All right, all right! I’m coming! Jesus!” Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Tyler slink back towards the bedroom.

Jamie undid the chain and unlocked the door before cracking it open, then recoiling in utter shock at who he saw on the other side.

“Jordie?!”

Chapter Text

Jamie stood rooted to the ground, flabbergasted with his mouth agape. “What are you doing here?”

“Saving you from yourself.” Jordie let himself in and slammed the door behind him. “I got a call from your lieutenant asking about your whereabouts the other night. On top of that, he told me you’d been put on sick leave for assaulting one of the captains and you have to undergo a full psychiatric examination.” Jamie’s stomach churned as Jordie leered at him like a child who’d been caught playing video games way past his bedtime. “What the fuck’s going on?!”

Jamie sighed deeply. Where could he even start? “Did Nill tell you why he was calling?”

“No. Just everything else.”

Jamie stared down at the floor, hanging his head in shame. “What did you tell him?”

“That I’d come here to testify in person.”

“Huh?” Jamie’s head jolted up in sudden interest. “But, your job—”

Jordie silenced Jamie with a raised hand. “I took family leave. You’re in trouble again. I wasn’t there for you the past couple of times.”

Jamie shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back tears. “Not this again. None of it was—”

“YES IT WAS!” Jordie shrieked. “I let Alicia hang around you and I helped force you into a marriage you didn’t want. It’s all my fault!”

“Jordie—”

“IT’S ALL MY FAULT!!” Jordie doubled over, clenching his fists in his hair hard enough to pull. “That’s why I’m here,” he declared, voice barely above a whisper. “Because I really suck at being your brother.”

“Is everything okay out here?!”

Tyler’s anxious question caused both brothers to turn and realize that not only was he now standing right by them, he was on the verge of a panic attack.

Jamie shook his head. Of course Tyler would be concerned with all the yelling. “Tyler, this is my brother, Jordie.”

Jordie quickly glanced at Tyler, then focused back on Jamie. “Is this him?”

Jamie nodded. “Yeah.” He’d hinted that he and Tyler were seeing one another, but didn’t elaborate much further.

Jordie reached over to Tyler and grabbed his right wrist, making Tyler jump. “We are going to have a chat,” he declared, eyeing Tyler suspiciously.

“Wait!” Jamie suddenly remembered Kevin’s dog tags. “Before you do that, I have something I need to show you.”

Jordie released Tyler’s wrist and stared confusedly.

“Come here.” Jamie strode into the bedroom and turned on the light before heading for his nightstand. After turning around to confirm that Jordie was behind him, he opened the top drawer and grabbed the door tags, then held them up for Jordie to see.

Jordie froze and stared speechlessly; thunderstruck as he realized that everything Jamie had told him really was true.

“Hold out your hand.” Once Jordie did so, Jamie went over to his brother and dropped the dog tags in the center of his palm. Jordie staggered to the bed and slowly sat down at the edge, staring wordlessly at all that was left of Kevin.

After several minutes had passed, Jamie needed to ask. “Are you all right?”

“G…” Jordie could barely form the words. “Give me some time.” He sighed raggedly; closing his eyes and clenching his hand around the dog tags.

Tyler broke his stunned silence. “I should go.”

“Can you come back later? Jordie wants to talk to you. He’s gotten overprotective since my divorce.”

“Yeah, I get it.” Tyler nodded in understanding. “I’ll see you later.” And with that, he left.

Jamie returned to the bedroom and sat down next to Jordie, watching the emotions play out across his face. After several more minutes elapsed, Jordie relaxed his hand and opened his eyes, staring wistfully. “Why didn’t he ever say anything to me?”

“Probably for the reasons I never did. That, and he probably thought you’d freak if you knew what was going on between us.” Jamie suddenly realized that might have been a valid concern. “Would you have?”

“I’m not sure.” Jordie threaded the chains between his fingers. “I mean, he wouldn’t have ever done anything to hurt you, but you’re still my little brother.”

“I know.” Jamie had never considered Jordie’s perspective until then. “But he’s the only person I’ve ever loved.”

“Enough you gave him your virginity.”

Jamie nodded solemnly. “Remember our father bugging me about being a virgin? That’s why I wasn’t one. Not that he needed to know.”

“Neither did our mother.” Jordie paused for a few moments, taking everything in. “I just wish you would have told me sooner.”

“I know. I should have called you and said something. Hell, I should call you more often, period. But you know what? I suck at being your brother, too.”

Jordie stood up and returned the dog tags to the nightstand drawer before returning to his spot on the bed. “I guess we both suck at this family thing.”

“Not like we had good role models to show us how.”

“Look, any time you’re in trouble, I want you to call me, okay? Don’t try to take everything on by yourself.” Jordie took Jamie’s nod as affirmation and extended his arms.

Jamie obliged, leaning against Jordie as he returned the hug.

***

“Ms. Lindemulder will see you now.”

Apparently Sharon wasn’t mad anymore, but Tyler was confused nonetheless. Normally Sharon’s guys let him in without even as much as a second glance. But this time, they made him wait. And why had Sharon been mad to begin with?

Out of the corner of his eye, Tyler saw the guy on his left wince in pain. He kept his face forward, pretending not to notice as he opened the door. But he used his peripheral vision to take a closer look, since he had noticed a red spot under the guy’s unbuttoned collar.

He soon realized: the red spot was actually a circular scab. Was that…a gunshot wound?

Sharon’s office was empty. She never left her desk while Tyler was around. Initially Tyler wondered whether she didn’t know he was coming, but that couldn’t be the case. After all, she had told her guys to let him in.

“Leave the money on the desk.”

Tyler jumped at the sound of Sharon’s voice and turned his head from left to right, looking for the source.

“Leave the fucking money on the desk.” This time, the command was much sterner.

Chastened, Tyler reached into his pocket and took out the envelope before going to Sharon’s desk. Once he was there, he noticed the sliding glass door leading to Sharon’s balcony was open. He placed the envelope on the desk before heading out onto the balcony.

Sharon was leaning against the railing with an unlit cigarette in her mouth. Her eyes met Tyler’s before narrowing in a ruthless glare as she produced her lighter from her Michael Kors clutch.

“I…” Tyler scrambled for something, anything to say to get the daggers out of Sharon’s gaze. “I brought your money.”

Sharon scoffed as she flicked the lighter. The heat of the day was now unbearable as the silent tension hung in the air while Sharon took a long drag before blowing smoke onto Tyler, making him wince. “I have eyes.”

“…Right.” Tyler stared at the ground, shuffling his feet. “Um…I can go if you—”

“It looks like you didn’t get hurt too badly.”

Tyler recoiled in shock, lifting his head up to look at Sharon just in time to see the satisfied smirk before she returned the cigarette to her lips. “Wait…” Tyler took a sharp breath. “You…know about that?”

“That was just the boys saying hello.” This time, Sharon blew her smoke straight into Tyler’s eyes. “You needed something to remind you not to fuck around outside your contract.”

Tyler’s jaw fell open as he felt his heart stop and the blood leave his extremities.

“You’ve been fucking that detective behind my back, haven’t you?”

“And if I was?” Tyler tried to sound nonchalant, but couldn’t keep the anxiety out of his voice.

“So you fuck around with other people and cheat me out of money? And then you have the nerve to come back here and pretend you weren’t double-crossing me? You’re forgetting something very important.” Sharon took one last drag before tossing the cigarette off the balcony.

“What?”

“I made you.” The merciless glare returned to Sharon’s face. “I taught you everything you know. How to dress, how to act, how to treat clients. And now you think you’re too good for me?”

“I—”

“Don’t forget!” Sharon lunged forward, pointing her finger a few inches from Tyler’s face. “I saved your life. You’d be dead if I hadn’t shown up. I saved you, I brought you here, I gave you a new life, and this is how you repay me?”

Tyler looked back down at the ground for a few seconds before looking back at Sharon. “…How did you even know, anyway?”

“I have my sources.” Sharon pulled a second cigarette from her clutch. “Stay away from that detective, or I will fucking make you regret being born. Is that clear?”

Tyler crept backwards, putting as much distance between Sharon and himself as he could. “…Yes.”

“Good.” Sharon put her hand back in her clutch, searching for her lighter. “Now get the fuck out of my sight.”

She didn’t have to tell him twice. Tyler took off running, footfalls echoing on the tile until he was gone.

Sharon was just about to light her cigarette when she heard her phone ring. She threw the cigarette back in her clutch and returned to her office. Upon picking up her phone, she smiled when she saw the name on the caller ID.

Sharon swiped up and pressed the phone to her ear. “Just the man I wanted to talk to.” A devilish grin crossed her face as she sat down at her desk. “Any news from the precinct?”

Chapter Text

So…” Rous took a long swig of his Mexican Coke. “Your brother’s in town?”

Jamie nodded, waiting to finish his rather ample bite of carne asada before answering further.

“Doesn’t he have a job in Colorado? He can’t just fuck off to bail you out.”

“He said he took family leave,” Jamie replied. “To save me from myself. Besides, he’s my alibi.”

Rous’ eyes widened in intrigue. “What do you mean?”

“There’s no way I could have killed Hitchcock during that timeframe. I was on the phone with Jordie for almost an hour when I was awake at 3:30 AM, and then I went back to sleep. Then Nill called and told me to come down to the murder scene.”

“Mmm.” Rous nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t think you’d be crazy or stupid enough to kill him. That’s not like you.”

“Right. He told Nill he’d testify in person.” Jamie returned to his carne asada, then mindlessly gazed at the scenery of Klyde Warren Park.

“Makes sense.” Rous turned his attention to what remained of his brisket enchiladas.

Jamie swallowed, then put down his fork when he saw two men in the park walking in their direction. Once they were close enough, Jamie realized they were Jordie and Tyler. Both were men of their word, so it wasn’t surprising Tyler came back for that chat as promised.

“What are you looking at?”

“Huh?” Jamie’s attention snapped back to the table and Rous’ baffled face. “…Nothing.” Jamie shook his head. “Nothing at all.”

“I see,” Rous stated dubiously. Jamie went back to eating, hoping Rous wouldn’t investigate any further.

But he did. And he saw exactly what Jamie had.

Rous abruptly stood and pushed his chair in. “Listen, I gotta get back to work.” He grabbed his wallet and tossed six $20 bills on the table. “Tell her to keep the change.” Rous glared suspiciously at Jamie before brusquely leaving, leaving his entrée unfinished.

That was way more than Rous needed to cover the bill and tip. What the hell was up with him all of a sudden?

***

Upon returning to his apartment and placing the to-go boxes in the fridge, Jamie discovered it was empty. Jordie and Tyler were probably still at the park.

He got back into his car and headed to the Olive Street parking garage. Hopefully he could catch up with them before they left.

At least Jamie wasn’t in a suit that day. Wearing shorts and a tank top made the sprint to where he had last seen Jamie and Tyler somewhat bearable, even if it was 95˚ and incredibly humid. Even so, he immediately regretted not bringing any water.

Jordie was gone, but Tyler was sitting on a bench near the Children’s Park. It wasn’t long before Jamie sat next to Tyler and watched the children play that he shook his head and sighed wistfully, fighting off tears.

Tyler took a deep breath, nodding solemnly. “Jordie told me everything.”

Jamie folded his hands in his lap and looked away from Tyler. He’d been afraid of that. “So, then…you know.”

Tyler’s voice wavered slightly. “Jamie, look at me.”

Jamie slowly turned his head, then stared right into the pleading chestnut eyes.

“Jamie…” He allowed Tyler to place a hand on his left cheek. “How can I make it better?”

Jamie squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, making one last-ditch attempt not to cry. “I’m not sure anyone can.”

Tyler moved his hand up to stroke Jamie’s hair. “You know…all my life, I never thought this would ever happen.”

Jamie opened his eyes, his interest piqued. “What do you mean?”

Now it was Tyler with his hands in his lap, shaking his head. “That I’d find someone just as fucked up as I am.”

“You want to talk about it?” Jamie offered.

“I…” The emotions played out across Tyler’s face: wistfulness, despair, longing, benevolence—and one small gleam of…terror? “…Not really.”

“Okay.” Jamie wanted to say it wasn’t fair; that Jordie had already told him everything. But Tyler clearly had his own dark past as well; and that past terrified him. Tyler wasn’t ready yet, but something in the back of Jamie’s mind told him he’d find out about Tyler’s past sooner than both of them would think.

“There’s something else I need to tell you.” Tyler wiped his eyes with his forearm. “Remember when those guys tried to kidnap me?”

Jamie nodded, seething at the memory.

“Turns out those were Sharon’s guys. She ordered them to do it to scare me into staying away from you.”

“That cunt,” Jamie hissed before having a sudden epiphany. “Wait…”

“Huh?”

“I can’t say whether it was them who did it or not…but whoever broke into your condo gave them the key to your Corvette. That’s how they set up the trap.”

Tyler covered his face with his hands.

“Get out of there while you still can.”

“I…” Tyler pressed his hands against his face, robbed of the ability to speak for several long moments. “I really should. But, if I do…what do I have left?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t have a degree. I haven’t had a legal work history in years. What would I do? I…” Tyler had a point, but Jamie figured it was best to let him talk. “Even if I did somehow manage to get a legal job, I wouldn’t make anywhere near as much as—” Tyler froze mid-sentence, staring blankly with his mouth hanging open.

The cocoa eyes that had previously displayed each of Tyler’s emotions and thoughts were now completely devoid of life. “…Tyler?”

Tyler blinked slowly before finally remembering to breathe. “If I quit…what would I have left?”

“I don’t understand.” Was Tyler talking about his finances, or something else entirely?

“It…it’s not the same.” Tyler slumped over, shaking his head as he buried it in his hands. “Everything was fine when I had Regina there with me, when we could hang out and sometimes bitch about work, because she understood. But now that she’s gone, and God knows what Sharon would do to me if I quit…” Tyler wept into his hands.

Jamie barely finished placing his hand between Tyler’s shoulders before Tyler shook it away, squirming to the edge of the bench and throwing his fists to his sides and his face towards the heavens. “What the fuck have I been doing with my life?!”

“Tyler, there are kids here!” Jamie hissed through his teeth. Sure enough, they were getting dirty looks from some of the nearby moms.

“All these years…” The tears streamed down Tyler’s face as he shuddered with every sob. “I could have gone back to college, could have changed my career, but it’s too late.”

“Come on.” Jamie rose from the bench and gently tugged Tyler’s shoulders, coaxing him to move. “Let’s go somewhere quieter.”

“IT’S TOO FUCKING LATE!!” Tyler shrieked maniacally at the top of his lungs as he allowed Jamie to lead him away from the bench. “I’VE WASTED MY ENTIRE LIFE!!”

Jamie gave the moms a final apologetic glance before ushering Tyler away. There were still some glares from some of the moms, but many of the previous dirty looks had been replaced with expressions of bewilderment and concern.

Tyler continued crying hysterically while allowing Jamie to lead him to the Chase promenade. As his breathing slowed, Jamie figured Tyler was likely over the worst of it.

“I should have known,” Tyler rasped, wiping his eyes. “That they were right.”

“That who was right?” Jamie inquired.

“All those people who told me it’s no way to make a living…They were right. I…” Tyler sobbed again, clearly on the edge of another crying jag. “I’m nothing but a common whore.”

Tyler collapsed into Jamie’s arms, bawling uncontrollably for a very long time.

***

Somehow, Jamie had calmed Tyler down enough to give him a ride home. It turned out that Jordie had picked up Tyler and taken him to Relish for lunch before they hung out in the park for a bit. Why had Tyler given Jordie his address sooner than Jamie had learned it? Perhaps it was the family connection.

But once Tyler was safely inside his penthouse, he collapsed into a distraught, disheveled mess; leaving Jamie powerless to do anything besides comfort him until he finally fell asleep in the middle of the bed.

Jamie pulled Tyler’s shoes and socks off and threw them on the floor before arranging Tyler so he could pull the sheets up to his shoulders. While he’d definitely had a revelation, he’d be able to think clearly once he had some sleep.

Jamie pressed a kiss to Tyler’s forehead before drawing the blinds and leaving the bedroom, closing the door behind him. The first thing he wanted to do once he got back to his apartment was ask Jordie how his chat with Tyler went.

Jamie left Tyler’s penthouse and headed down the hallway to the elevator, pressing the button for the ground floor. He exited the elevator and headed towards the parking lot, where he spotted something intriguing.

Kristopher Neusmann was escorting a drunken Junko home.

Jamie hid behind a walnut tree, watching the pair.

“I’m cutting you off,” Kris said tersely. “Madam Lindemulder would have my head if she knew how much you drank. I’ll get you upstairs, and you can sleep it off, okay?”

Jamie frowned suspiciously. Kris was a contractor. There was no way he’d be able to pay for one of Sharon’s escorts.

Or was he more than just a client for her?

Chapter Text

How could Ritchie be so calm?

Jamie was tearing into eight million pieces, each crumbling into a pile on the floor, and Ritchie remained expressionless, writing notes on his clipboard.

The levee had finally broken, and Jamie was telling Ritchie everything: about Kevin and how he considered joining him; about Alicia and how he completely blew his chance at being a father; about the cruising; the drinking; about shooting Brownie in the head and Brownie’s subsequent refusal to stay dead and buried. Instead, Brownie occasionally came back to haunt his dreams, and they always ended the same way: with Jamie upright in bed screaming his lungs out. How he’d never received a noise complaint from the neighbors or the landlord was beyond him. What did they know?

Even when Jamie finally ran out of things to talk about, Ritchie kept on writing, scratching that pen across the paper, scratching, scratching, into the overwhelming silence. The sound became intrusive, driving Jamie mad. He’d let his guard down and was now at Ritchie’s mercy, making Ritchie’s studious expression that much more excruciating; as if Ritchie didn’t know or care that he was judge, jury, and executioner all in one.

The seconds felt like days before Ritchie finally spoke. “I think I understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“Look, I get being in the closet. God knows I know a few things about that.” Ritchie shifted his eyes away from Jamie for a split second. “But you weren’t even out to yourself. Now that you’re finally being true to yourself, we can start helping you recover.”

Jamie blinked in confusion. “…I don’t understand.”

“If you lie to yourself, you will lie to me. And if you lie to me, your treatment plan will lie to you. Do I have your permission to discuss this session with Internal Affairs and your brother?”

“Of course…but why Jordie?”

“You talked about him a lot today. From what you said, he has several demons of his own. I think it would be beneficial to have both of you in a session so you can both work out your issues together. That would go a long way towards helping both of you recover from your pasts.”

Jamie nodded. “I guess you’re right.”

“Right now, what really concerns me are the nightmares that are causing your flashbacks. Keep taking the Klonopin as needed, but I’m putting you on 2mg of Minipress. I’ll call you in for an appointment in two weeks and we’ll see how it’s working then.”

“Okay.” If Minipress could keep Jamie from waking up screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night, he didn’t mind taking yet more pills.

“I’ll write up the report for this session and leave you to Internal Affairs. Stay at your residence until further notice. But if you have any problems in the meantime, give me a call.”

***

Jordie shoved his foot into the sliver of space between the front door and the metal frame and kicked it wider open. “Tyler’s outside.”

“Huh?” Jamie looked up from his phone. “I thought he was booked solid the rest of the week.”

Jordie somehow managed to shrug despite having several bags of groceries slung up and down his arms. “He didn’t say anything. I don’t think he even saw me. I didn’t see his car, so maybe he got a ride here. I dunno.”

Jamie tossed his phone on the couch and scrambled to put on his shoes. Something was amiss.

Jordie gawked in confusion as Jamie threw open the front door. “Aren’t you gonna take your keys?”

“Stay put,” Jamie ordered; then darted down the hallway before Jordie could respond. He bolted down the stairwell and reached the bottom of the stairs just in time to see someone in the parking lot run towards the road.

Adrenaline coursed through Jamie’s veins as he yanked the door open and took off running, keeping the figure in his sights as they changed course and ran back towards the apartment complex. Jamie was faster, but the subject was cunning enough to sprint back and forth between buildings, making pursuit difficult.

Until the subject erred by heading towards the landlord’s office, which consisted of a lone building and a fenced-in garden with only one egress point.

No wonder Jordie had mistaken the man for Tyler. He looked just like him, albeit taller.

Panic instantaneously twitched across the man’s face before he scrambled away from the oncoming Jamie and jumped the fence.

Jamie was a few steps behind, leaping over the fence before catching a glimpse of the man jumping inside of a running black pickup truck with tinted windows, which sped away the moment the door slammed.

Jamie collected his thoughts as he caught his breath, comparing the man’s features with those of the contractor he had seen at the precinct. They matched perfectly.

“Neusmann.”

Jamie leapt back over the fence and hurtled back to his apartment.

***

“It doesn’t make sense.” Rous paced around the kitchen. “Why would Neusmann be poking around here?”

“Hell if I know.” Jamie leaned against the kitchen table and propped his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes. “But there was a getaway truck waiting for him. He had help.”

“Were you able to see the driver?”

“No.” Jamie shook his head. “Tinted windows. I couldn’t see anything. Couldn’t get plates, either.”

Rous stared at the floor in contemplation. “If the tint’s that dark, the truck will stick out like a sore thumb. I wonder if traffic’s cited anyone for window tint recently.”

“I doubt it. This was obviously planned. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went to a body shop beforehand to get it done. Might be organized crime, in that case.”

Rous stopped in sudden realization. “I wonder if Zafiro’s cartel is involved somehow. They’re the only ones I know of around here that are that organized.”

Jamie nodded. “And we saw Castillo at Sharon’s—” He suddenly remembered Neusmann and Junko. Perhaps there was a connection after all, but there was the matter of him being at Tyler’s place on non-police business. Rous didn’t need to know about that.

“You think Neusmann is connected to Lindemulder somehow? I know she might be connected to Zafiro’s cartel, but isn’t that a bit of a stretch?”

“No.” Jamie rose from his chair and headed toward the bedroom. “I saw Neusmann with one of Sharon’s escorts. I think he was taking her home. She was drunk as hell.”

“Where was this?” Rous inquired as he followed Jamie.

“Seems she lives in Seguin’s complex. Neusmann’s a contractor. He wouldn’t be making anywhere near enough to pay those prices.” Jamie opened his nightstand drawer and reached for the Minipress bottle.

Rous’ eyes narrowed in suspicion as his voice lowered. “What were you doing at Seguin’s complex?”

Jamie felt his heart leap into his throat. He needed an explanation, and fast. “Here’s the thing. He reported his car stolen, so I gave him a ride back to his place. And when we got there, two masked men tried to kidnap him. Turns out they were Sharon’s heavies.”

The room was deathly silent. Jamie put down the pill bottle and slowly turned to face Rous, who was eyeing the used condom sitting on top of the other contents of the trash can.

Jamie opened his mouth to speak, but his reply was squelched when Rous lumbered towards him.

“You fucked him, didn’t you?”

Before he could react, Rous’ right arm was in the air.

“You goddamn stupid motherfucker!” The haymaker landed squarely on Jamie’s left cheek, forcing Jamie back a couple steps, stumbling to remain upright. “You fucking stupid son of a bitch!” Jamie narrowly evaded the left hook headed right towards him. “Do you have any idea what deep shit you and the investigation will be in if anyone else finds out?!”

Jamie silently nodded.

Rous heaved a heavy sigh, shaking his head “…I never understood you, Jamie. You’ve always seemed hellbent on throwing your life away. The alcohol, the cruising, and now Seguin…why?”

“I’m not afraid of him,” Jamie answered resolutely.

“Why the fuck not?!”

“I’m just not. Probably because I’m still trying to figure out what happened in that nine-month gap between him leaving Boston for Dallas. You said it yourself. Something very bad happened to him then. I think it might have to do with the investigation, but I can’t act on that until I’m back in the saddle.”

Rous nodded. “Right. We were discussing the possible doppelganger. Did you have your psych evaluation with Ritchie yet?”

“Three days ago,” Jamie replied with a nod. “Ritchie told me to stay here until Internal Affairs called me in.”

“So it might be a while, unless they get their asses in gear.”

“Pretty much.” Jamie tasted blood in his mouth and went to the nightstand for some tissues.

Rous drew a long, calming breath before speaking again. “Did I ever tell you what happened to my last partner?”

“No.” Jamie shook his head.

“H-he…” Rous shuddered at the memory. “His wife moved her stuff out of their house and put a pile of divorce papers on the kitchen table for him to sign. He didn’t come to work the next morning, so I went to check on him. I found him in the bathroom with a gun in his mouth, a hole in his head, and his brains all over the walls.” Jamie noticed the faintest glint of a tear in Rous’ right eye. “If I lost you, too, I don’t know what I’d do—”

“Antoine—”

“My family doesn’t want anything to do with me. I never married or had kids. I have no friends. This job is all I have. You’re all I have. Don’t—” Rous buried his head in his hands. “Don’t ever do something that could you fired or killed. I barely handled it the last time. There’s no way I could handle it now, especially if it’s you.”

“Antoine…” Jamie stood rooted to the ground, unsure of what to do. “…We really don’t know each other all that well, do we?”

There was no answer from Rous, who slumped down onto the bed, sobbing hysterically.

***

“Congratulations, Detective Benn.” Nill placed Jamie’s Glock on the desk. “You passed. However, you’re to see Ritchie twice a week until he says you’ve progressed enough. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Jamie reached for his Glock before pausing with his hand in mid-air. “Wait…if you’re giving me my gun back, does that mean you no longer think I killed Hitchcock?”

Montgomery exchanged glances with Nill before replying. “I think it’s best the others bring you up to speed.”

Jamie nodded and placed his gun in his holster, its return somehow comforting. He’d been off the force for a week and a half, which might as well have been an eternity. How Jordie had not killed him when he was practically climbing the walls was beyond him. The man had the patience of a saint.

Jamie wasn’t even two steps into the hallway before Rous motioned him over. “Come here. We’ve got some catching up to do.”

Rous couldn’t lead him to Spez and Radi’s office fast enough. His enthusiasm was rubbing off on Jamie, who was scurrying behind him at the same frantic pace.

Once the door was safely closed, Jamie had to ask. “So, you found out that I didn’t kill Hitchcock, then?”

Spez was at the computer, as usual. “Well, first off, between you and your brother, your alibi’s airtight.”

“But it wasn’t just that which cleared you,” Rous explained. “Financial Crimes went into Hitchcock’s records, and let’s just say, they weren’t pretty.”

“He’d been living beyond his means for at least the past five years.” Spez began loading an Excel spreadsheet.

Jamie frowned. “Like Rous said before, no way in hell he could have afforded the BMW on his salary.”

“But he could with sudden large infusions of cash that kept showing up in his accounts periodically.” Spez narrowed the spreadsheet down to two files. “He kept getting payments of $25K on random dates. I was looking for a pattern, so I went through all our files. Those payments were wired to his account every time something went missing from our evidence room.”

Jamie felt his throat dry up. “Hitchcock was the mole.”

“Exactly. But he was still in over his head. He was making monthly $10k payments to the same entity wiring him the money.”

“Which was?” Jamie prompted.

“A shell company called Sapphire LLC. Financial Crimes went digging, and it’s hidden behind a Cayman Islands tax shelter. But that Cayman Islands company doesn’t conceal client names. As it turns out, Sapphire LLC is owned by Sharon Lindemulder.”

“No way.” Jamie felt his heart stop. “No fucking way. No wonder she kept getting off scot-free. He was helping her the entire time.”

“And it worked. Until Hitchcock got greedy.”

“What do you mean?”

Spez adjusted the filters a second time. “He started shorting her. The $10K became $8K, which became $6K three days before he was murdered.”

Rous broke his silence. “If she didn’t kill him, she hired someone to do it.”

“Of course she did. She doesn’t get her hands dirty.”

Spez nodded. “And your alibi doesn’t place you anywhere near the scene of the crime that night. So congratulations, you’re in the clear.”

“There’s also the possibility that Sharon Lindemulder is involved with Zafiro’s gang,” Rous reminded everyone. “So it could have been anyone from there.”

“Actually, that’s the first thing I wanted to tell you guys,” Jamie began. “I think someone from Zafiro’s gang was driving the getaway truck when Kristopher Neusmann went poking around my apartment complex over a week ago.”

Radi, who had been silent until then, stopped typing and raised his head from his computer screen. “You mean Brian Weisling?”

“What?!” Jamie shrieked, taken aback.

Rous nodded. “Radi, we just figured it out two days ago. Why don’t you fill Benny in?”

Radi nodded and began typing furiously. “The real Kristopher Neusmann is an insurance agent in Oklahoma City. Neusmann reported his identity stolen last year, and it wasn’t until the contracting company fired Weisling that we realized something was amiss.”

Radi pulled up some pictures from the security cameras at the FedEx store and Tyler’s penthouse complex. “He was disguising himself as Seguin and wearing heavy makeup, but Triple-Eye’s facial recognition software ID’d him right away.”

Jamie moved closer to Radi’s screen, intrigued. “So, if he’s in Triple-Eye, he’s already in the criminal justice system. Did you find what for?”

“Multiple drug and assault charges in Boston, along with one accusation of rape. He was acquitted, but I’ve written to the Boston PD asking for the DNA sample from the rape case. I could be wrong, but right now, I believe Weisling killed Hildebrand. If the rape DNA sample matches the knife, we’ll know for sure.”

Jamie heaved a sigh of relief. “So, it wasn’t Seguin after all.”

“Funny you should mention that…” Radi typed a few more commands. “Weisling has a permanent protection from abuse order against him…filed by one Tyler Seguin.”

Chapter Text

Rous once again bailed out the speechless and gobsmacked Jamie. “Any info on what happened there?”

Radi nodded solemnly. “Apparently it had been going on for some time and Seguin finally had enough. This was filed in December 2013, but the first incident was that October.”

“October…” At last, the pieces finally fit together for Jamie. “Amy Tipton died in August 2013. Seguin left for Dallas in February 2014.”

“He didn’t just want to leave New England,” Rous realized. “He was trying to escape. But that still leaves December 2013 through February 2014. Where was he, and what was he doing then?”

Jamie felt his heart stop and his throat dry up as he had a sudden epiphany. “Now I understand.”

“Understand what?” Rous asked, confused.

“Why he ran from us when we brought him in to see Roope.” Jamie could still remember it like it was yesterday. “Both Hitchcock and Weisling were in Hitchcock’s office when we passed by the window.”

Rous’ normally stoic exterior cracked ever so slightly. “Of course. He recognized Weisling and thought he’d see him. So he panicked.”

Spez broke his silence. “Whatever happened, it was serious enough the judge granted a permanent order rather than a temporary one. But what does this have to do with the Hildebrand case?”

“You saw it yourself,” Rous replied. “You worked with the security footage. He was dressed like Seguin at FedEx and Seguin’s complex. So it’s probably him who broke into Seguin’s penthouse.”

“We still can’t ID the perp in the footage from the night of the murder,” Spez noted. “But knowing what we do now, I don’t think it’s erotomania. I think Weisling wants revenge.”

“For Seguin leaving him.” Rous nodded in agreement. “We still don’t have DNA evidence, but we have a motive now.” Rous turned to face Jamie. “I hate to do this, but we’re gonna have to talk to Seguin again.”

“I know.” Jamie wondered if Tyler had any idea how much danger he was in.

***

“Let me take the lead,” Rous advised as he and Jamie headed towards Tyler’s front door. “I’ve done this hundreds of times before.”

Jamie nodded silently, remembering Rous’ career track: starting in auto theft, then domestic violence until he maxed out his three years there and was moved to the assault squad, and finally becoming a homicide detective.

He’d needed to be reminded of Rous’ experience, even though he should have known the history of his only friend. If he didn’t even know Rous, how well did he know anyone else, let alone Jordie? Hell, he hadn’t even known himself. Tyler was right: Jamie was just as fucked up as he was.

Jamie’s pounding on the door would have normally elicited a chuckle from Rous, but they both understood the gravitas of the situation.

It took less than a minute for a partially-dressed Tyler to open the door. The unbuttoned white dress shirt and grey pinstripe pants indicated he was in the middle of getting ready for work.

“Wha—” Tyler’s eyes widened and his mouth hung open; the shock robbing him of whatever he had planned to say.

“Mr. Seguin?” Rous began. “We need to ask you some questions about the case. Do you have a few minutes?”

Apprehension overwhelmed Tyler as he staggered away from the door, trying not to hyperventilate. “I already told you I didn’t kill Maggie.”

“We know that now,” Rous replied. “But we think you may be able to lead us to the person that did. May we come in?”

Tyler stood up rail-straight and took a long, deep breath as he clenched his fists, steeling his nerves. “Okay. Do you mind waiting for me in the living room? I need to finish getting dressed.”

“Sure.” Jamie followed Rous to the living/dining area, where this time, they switched places: Jamie on the side of the sofa closest to the loveseat Tyler preferred, and Rous on the far end of the sofa. Jamie kept his head down and his gaze on his hands, his curiosity about his surroundings thoroughly squelched.

Tyler didn’t keep them waiting long. He was now clad in the remainder of the Lardini suit, with a navy blue tie and black loafers to match.

“Sorry about that,” Tyler apologized as he sat down. “I have a client in a little over 90 minutes.”

Jamie frowned. Hopefully the interview wouldn’t mess with Tyler’s mind right before work.

Rous got straight to the point, speaking gently. “Tell us about Brian Weisling.”

Jamie watched every last fleck of color drain from Tyler’s face before Tyler doubled over, lying his elbows on the loveseat and cradling his head in his hands. “Why…” Tyler could barely force himself to form a sentence. “Why do you want to know?”

It was best to rip off the kid gloves. “Right now, Weisling is our prime suspect in Mrs. Hildebrand’s murder,” Jamie replied.

“…No..” Tyler began to sob. “…What else?” Tyler lifted his head and clenched his fists, which were now soaked with the tears streaming down his face. “What else can he take from me?!”

Rous remained calm, his voice constantly assuaging. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Let’s start from the beginning. How did you two first meet?”

Tyler took a long, shaky breath as he sat back up. “We had a bunch of core classes together our first semester. He started talking to me and we hit it off.”

“How long were you dating him?”

“Almost until the end of freshman year. Then he started getting creepy.”

Rous’ eyes narrowed as his voice lowered a bit. “What do you mean, ‘creepy’?”

“He started following me everywhere. Started dressing like me. Even dyed his hair and started getting tattoos to look more like me. It freaked me out, so I told him it was over.”

“And what did he do?”

Tyler’s expression now mirrored the one Rous wore. “Before or after campus police got involved?”

“Let’s go with both.”

“He went ballistic. Screamed and threw things at me. Apparently he made enough noise someone called the cops, since they came and arrested him.”

“And after?”

“He threw a brick through my window the next day. I didn’t see him again until sophomore year started. He tried to get me to take him back.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t?”

Tyler shook his head. “By then I was dating Amy. Didn’t stop him from slashing her tires, though.”

“And then what happened?”

“I didn’t see him again. Not until after Amy was killed.” Tyler wiped his eyes with the palms of his hands. “He showed up at the funeral home.”

Jamie frowned. “He probably saw the article and the obituary.”

“That’s what I figured. I really didn’t think anything of it, back then. I was too shocked by everything that had happened.”

Rous nodded. “What did he do at the funeral home?”

“Said he was sorry about Amy and everything that happened. He asked me if I had a place to live. I said no, I couldn’t afford the apartment on my own. I was desperate.” Tyler grimaced, beating himself up internally. “So I was dumb enough to agree to move in with him.”

Jamie figured it was best to remain silent. This time, Rous knew far better what to say than he ever would; especially when Rous arrived at his next question.

“And you started dating him again?”

“He was different. He wasn’t creepy anymore. He was funny, he was charming, and he took care of me.” Tyler closed his eyes as a defeated expression instantaneously crossed his face. “Maybe that’s why I let him talk me into selling my car and opening a joint bank account.”

“And then he changed.” Rous already knew where the story was going.

Tyler sighed. “He’d be fine one minute and have his hands around my neck the next. Then he’d act like nothing ever happened.”

Although it was clear that Tyler didn’t want to elaborate, Rous had no choice. “Boston Police records indicate they were called to a domestic in October 2013. Can you tell me what happened?”

“He put my head through the bathroom mirror.” Tyler sat up rail-straight and rested his fists in his lap. “I was getting dressed and had on a nicer shirt than usual, so he thought I was going to go cheat on him.”

“And you called the police?”

“No. One of the neighbors heard everything and did. Whoever it was, all it did was just give me a black eye later.”

Jamie wanted to be the one asking the questions, but all he could do was sit in silence. Even though Rous seemed to be reading Jamie’s mind, it was still pure torture. Perhaps it was because everything was finally starting to make some sense?

“And then what did you do?” Rous inquired.

“I couldn’t leave him. I didn’t have a job or a car.” Tyler shook his head. “I tried looking, but all the shelters only took women.”

“But you still got a permanent protection from abuse order that December. Something else had to have happened for the judge to grant one.”

“I didn’t have a plan, but once I found out he was selling drugs and keeping them in the apartment, I knew I had to get out one way or another.”

It wouldn’t hurt for Jamie to ask one question. “What kind of drugs?”

“Cocaine.”

Jamie and Rous looked at one another and nodded. It was just as Jamie thought.

Rous returned to his line of questioning. “Did you confront him about it?”

“No.” Tyler unclenched his fists and shrunk back against the loveseat. “But at that point, I didn’t have a choice.”

“So something happened to make you leave.”

Tyler nodded ever so slightly as his body and expression slipped into catatonia.

“Can you tell us about it?”

Tyler remained unresponsive; his eyes unfocused.

“Tyler.” Jamie’s tone was sterner than he would have preferred, but it at least made Tyler recoil back into the present. “If you don’t tell us what happened, we won’t be able to find him before he finds you.”

“A—” Tyler gasped, trying not to hyperventilate. “All right, but…”

“But what?” Rous repeated.

The catatonia had been replaced by pure, animal fear. “…I’m not going to be in any trouble for any of this, will I?”

“Not as long as you tell us the truth.” Jamie couldn’t be sure whether Rous was telling Tyler the truth himself, but they were out of options.

***

The sound of the unfamiliar voice as Brian entered the apartment announced the presence of one of his “associates,” as he called them. Tyler closed the bedroom door and scrambled inside the closet, sliding the door closed and backing into the assorted garments.

“That’s five grand,” the voice snapped. “Where’s the rest of it?”

“Ask Chico,” Brian muttered. “He was supposed to come by with the rest of it yesterday but hasn’t been picking up. Fucker.”

“Either give me the rest of it or Zafiro cuts you off.”

“Tell you what…” Brian’s suddenly conniving tone made Tyler’s blood run cold. “I can make you a deal.”

“Like what?!”

“I know how much you love twinks. My boyfriend’s in the other room.”

Tyler held his breath as he felt his heart stop, knowing full well the implications of what the two were discussing as the associate asked Brian to describe Tyler to him; catching the associate’s rising interest as he clearly appreciated Tyler’s features.

“All right, you’ve got yourself a deal. Here’s your cut.”

“Sweet. I’m gonna go make the rounds. He can be a bit of a screamer, but just smack him until he stops. Works for me. You two have fun.”

“Oh, we WILL,” the associate called after Brian as the front door slammed shut.

Tyler’s eyes darted side to side as he remained motionless, praying to any gods that existed that the associate wouldn’t find him as he frantically scanned the closet for any potential weapons once the bedroom door opened.

“Tyler, sweetie,” the associate crooned. “Hiding isn’t gonna help. Come say hi to Daddy.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Tyler spotted an umbrella in the corner to his left and grabbed it as the door opened.

Although the associate yanked Tyler out of the closet by his right wrist, his left arm remained free. He jammed the metal spike of the umbrella’s tip into the clenched hand, forcing it open as blood gushed from the skin, triggering a shriek of pain.

With both hands now free, Tyler seized the lamp on the dresser to the right and clocked the associate in the face, breaking the lampshade and light bulb as the associate staggered a few steps back, clearly dazed from the hit.

Upon realizing he had a solid club, Tyler ripped off the broken lampshade for additional impact. Before the associate could grab Tyler again, he lunged forward and struck the associate in the nose before clubbing him on the crown of his head, sending him to his knees.

The next few minutes were a blur as Tyler struck over and over, swinging like crazy, paying no mind to the blood spurting all over the walls and himself until the associate no longer moved.

Tyler’s breathing slowed as he regained his bearings and realized what he had done.

He dropped the lamp and tore off his bloodstained clothes before running into the bathroom for a prompt shower to wash the blood out of his hair and skin. Once he dried off, he threw on some clean clothes, put on his shoes and coat, grabbed his wallet, and left the apartment for the final time.

He ran as far and as fast as he could in the late November snow, not stopping until he passed out several blocks away.

***

“I don’t know how long I was out of it,” Tyler admitted. “Some woman found me and asked if I needed help. I said yes, and she took me to a homeless shelter.”

“Was that when you filed the restraining order?” asked Rous.

“No, it wasn’t until Brian showed up a week later. I have no idea how he knew I was there.”

“Then what happened?”

“He pulled me outside and beat the crap out of me. One of the workers called the cops. That’s when I got the restraining order. But then the shelter kicked me out.”

Jamie’s jaw dropped. “Why?!”

“I knew the wrong people and it made the other residents unsafe. That’s what they told me.”

Thankfully Rous took over the questioning again, as Jamie was now speechless. “Were you homeless until you left for Dallas?”

“Yes and no.” Tyler shifted in his seat. “I moved around Boston for a couple of days so Brian wouldn’t find me, but then some guy offered me $500 to spend the night with him.”

“And that’s what got you into prostitution?”

“I suppose you could call it that.” Jamie couldn’t help but notice Tyler was no longer glamorizing what he had been doing for a living. “I wasn’t going to say no to the money or having a place to stay for the night.”

“So…” Rous began putting two and two together. “You stayed with someone new every night?”

“Up until I had enough to rent an efficiency. Not like I had any furniture, but I at least had four walls and a ceiling. If it were summer I’d have stayed on the street, but Boston in December? I would have died before the end of the month.”

Rous’ eyes narrowed as his cool exterior began to crack. “You didn’t care how dangerous that was?”

Tyler shot Rous an icy glare. “It was that, try not to freeze to death on the street in winter, or stay with Brian. What would you have done?”

“I’m just thinking…” Rous softened his gaze. “How bad your situation had to be for you to decide that was the best option. So, you lived in an efficiency and turned tricks until Lindemulder picked you up?”

“Exactly.”

Jamie had heard enough. He stood up and pulled his phone out of his pocket.

Rous looked up at Jamie, confused. “What are you doing?”

“Calling Miro.” Jamie headed into the foyer and pressed the speed dial button. Tyler had confirmed that Zafiro and Weisling were connected. It could be the missing link between Zafiro and Lindemulder.

Jamie didn’t wait for Miro to finish answering. “Hey, it’s Benny.”

“Benny!” Miro sounded pleasantly surprised. “I was literally about to call you!”

“You gonna be around the rest of the afternoon? I need to talk to you about something.”

“What a coincidence. So do I. I have something on the Harrington case.”

Miro had piqued Jamie’s interest. “What?”

“Something you and your partner need to see.”

Chapter Text

“There you are.” Miro rushed Jamie and Rous over to the conference room. “Both the captain and the lieutenant want to talk to us.”

“Both of them?” Rous repeated, confused.

“It’s hard to explain. Just take a seat,” Miro advised as he did the same.

Only two empty seats remained. Montgomery, Nill, Spez, Radi, and Miro occupied the others. Jamie wouldn’t be able to sit near Rous, but neither of them had a choice as they sat on opposite ends of the table.

Nill briefly scanned everyone’s faces. “Everyone’s here, so let’s start with Miro.”

Miro nodded. “Toxicology came back for Regina Harrington. Turns out I was right; it wasn’t just cocaine. She did a speedball.”

“Comprised of what?” Jamie prompted.

“Cocaine and heroin as you’d expect…” Miro quickly gave Jamie an uncertain glance. “But they also found 20 mg of fentanyl.”

“Fentanyl?!” Jamie shrieked. “Two milligrams is a lethal dose. The fuck was she doing taking 20?!”

Miro shook his head. “It’s probably what we’ve seen with addicts in the past. They don’t get the same high, so they look for something stronger. I doubt Harrington knew about the fentanyl though.”

“Where was she getting narcotics from?” Rous asked.

“Most likely Castillo, as we’ve previously discussed,” Montgomery noted. “But Spez ran the surveillance video inside and outside Ten Eleven and picked up some very interesting details. Spez, start with inside.”

Spez loaded the video from inside the restaurant, then zoomed in on a table with four people: Castillo, Harrington, Weisling, and Hitchcock. There was a black briefcase under the table by Weisling’s legs.

Rous’ eyes grew wide. “Holy fuck.”

Jamie’s reaction was more subdued. “They all knew one another. No wonder Weisling was hanging out in Hitchcock’s office.”

“Watch this.” Spez switched to the view behind the restaurant. Hitchcock and Weisling stood in the area where Regina Harrington’s body was later found. Weisling had the briefcase at his feet, which he stooped over to retrieve before handing it to Hitchcock. Hitchcock briefly opened the briefcase a crack to inspect its contents, which Spez zoomed in on: several bags of pure cocaine.

“There it is,” Jamie triumphantly announced. “We finally have ties between Zafiro’s gang and Lindemulder. Looks like Hitchcock was her drug mule.”

“Why were they doing it out in the open where they could be caught on camera?” Radi wondered.

“Because Ten Eleven only installed those cameras three weeks ago,” Montgomery answered. “They got tired of tweakers draining their propane tanks to make meth. They’re hidden cameras, so they wouldn’t have known.”

“Clearly they’ve been doing this for a long time,” Miro noted. “They’ve gotten away with it for so long that their opsec’s become sloppy.”

Jamie nodded. “So…do we have footage of Harrington on these cameras?”

“Gimme a few seconds…” After furiously typing several commands, Spez loaded the video beginning at 9:30 PM. “She’ll show up. Just wait for it.”

It took a little over a minute for a discombobulated Regina Harrington to stagger into the frame and sit down on the pavement. Her eyes were glassed over and her skin was turning blue as she struggled to breathe.

Three minutes later, she lost control of her limbs and collapsed onto the pavement, attempting one final breath before she died.

Everyone stood in stunned silence for a few moments before Jamie broke the ice. “Hypoxia?”

Miro nodded. “Brain hypoxia caused by respiratory depression, induced by the speedball. If someone gave her that much fentanyl, they wanted her dead.”

“Lindemulder?” Rous offered.

“Maybe.” Jamie nodded in agreement. “But Harrington and Seguin were extremely close. Maybe Weisling got jealous.”

Nill nodded. “You might be on to something there. Either way, we need to pursue both possibilities. We’re still waiting for DNA from the knife, but Weisling is enough of a flight risk we won’t need a search warrant to investigate his apartment. Miro, I want you looking for evidence of drug activity to tie him to Lindemulder.”

Miro nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“I want all of you here at 0700 hours tomorrow morning. Dismissed.”

Once everyone had cleared the room and Jamie was safely in a corner of the hall where no one could see him, he texted Jordie: I’m going to Tyler’s for a bit. Don’t wait up for me.

***

Something was wrong. Tyler was home tonight, and he usually came to the door right away. By the third knock, Jamie was becoming increasingly concerned.

The lock slowly clicked and the door opened a sliver, revealing an anxious Tyler. “Y—you shouldn’t be here.”

“I can’t stay long anyway. I have an early start tomorrow.”

“So why are you here?” Tyler couldn’t keep the quiver out of his voice.

It was best to give it to him straight. “I found out what happened to Regina.”

Tyler stopped dead in his tracks.

“Can I come in for a few minutes?”

Tyler frantically shook his head. “I don’t want to do this—”

“You don’t want me around anymore?” Jamie inquired worriedly.

“Of course I do!” Tyler cried, bending over and clutching his head in his hands. “I can’t allow myself to care about you—I can’t, I can’t—”

Jamie pushed the door open and pulled Tyler as close as he could, holding him.

“I don’t want to do this—I care about you, I really do—but, if she finds out—”

“Sharon?” Jamie asked gently.

Tyler nodded and raised his head, looking at Jamie through tear-stained eyes.

“Listen.” Jamie spoke solemnly, using a tone he hadn’t invoked in years. “I won’t let her or Brian hurt you. I promise.”

Tyler snaked his arms around Jamie, clutching him tightly. “Promise?”

Jamie nodded. “I promise.”

“Okay…” Tyler took a few deep breaths, then waited almost a minute before seeing again. “Come in. We’d better talk inside.”

Jamie released Tyler and stepped inside the penthouse, knowing Tyler was right.

Once the door was safely locked and bolted behind them, Tyler wasted absolutely no time getting to the point. “What happened to her?”

Jamie steeled his nerves, knowing he’d make Tyler break down once more. “She did a speedball.”

Tyler turned white as a sheet. “Jesus Christ.”

“Not just any speedball, either. This one had fentanyl in it, and that’s what killed her. I don’t think Regina knew it was in there, though.” That was all the information Jamie would volunteer. He didn’t need to make Tyler feel any worse.

Tyler covered his face with his hands, shaking his head. “Why?!”

“We’ll never know,” Jamie sighed. “Even as a cop, all I can do is guess.”

Apparently Jamie wasn’t that much better as a human being, as far as he was concerned. All he could do was guide the hysterically sobbing Tyler back to the bedroom, where he held him until he finally cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

It was always a game of Russian roulette whenever the front door had to be breached while serving a search warrant. Even if there wasn’t someone with a gun on the other side, there might be explosives.

But Brian Weisling’s apartment was eerily quiet.

There were no unpleasant surprises as they ran through with guns drawn clearing each area. The apartment was deserted, but the presence of food and beverages with far-off expiration dates in the pantry and fridge indicated that Weisling had been living there fairly recently.

The apartment was pristine, excessively so. Jamie had searched some filthy hovels in his time, so this was far more pleasant. But everything seemed a little too orderly for a bachelor.

The pristine condition also made it easy to search. Spez had already hit pay dirt and was bagging at least one dozen burner phones in the living room. Meanwhile, Jamie and Rous were in the bedroom. Rous had already searched the bathroom, but came back empty-handed.

Jamie opened the top nightstand drawer to discover Weisling’s fake Kristopher Neusmann driver’s license and passport, which he was in the process of bagging when Rous paused behind him.

“What the hell…?”

Jamie turned to see Rous crouched on the ground, staring confusedly at something inside the open closet in front of him. “What’s up?”

“There are three boxes of clothes here that are way too small for Weisling.”

“Lieutenant!” Radi shrieked from the living room.

Jamie and Rous sprung to their feet and rushed towards the sound. For Radi to have that reaction, he must have found something major. They arrived to find Radi next to the couch, which had been moved away from the wall to reveal the Glock that Weisling had hidden there.

Radi finished putting on a new pair of gloves before picking up the Glock and sniffing the barrel, then immediately grimacing in disgust. “This thing hasn’t been cleaned since it was last fired. Weisling probably stashed it back here right after using it.”

“How long ago would you say that was?” Nill inquired.

“The residue’s been there for quite some time now. I’d say at least three weeks, but forensics would know better.” Radi pulled out the magazine and inspected its contents. “Missing two bullets.”

“Bag that up and take it to forensics. Have them check it against the Hitchcock case.” Nill turned towards the rest of the group, who had all come to see what the commotion was. “Anyone else find anything?”

Spez beat Jamie to the punch. “Hey Rads, you got your kit?”

Radi shot Spez a sardonic smile. “Which one?”

Spez rolled his eyes. “There’s a safe in the kitchen utility closet. The tumblers are loose enough I can probably pop it with a magnet.”

“That’s the green bag. I left it by the front door.” Radi went back to processing the Glock.

“Find anything?” Jamie asked Rous.

“Not a damn thing,” Rous replied. “You?”

“Just some fake documents, but I’m not done on my side of the room yet.”

This time it was Spez interrupting the pair. “Hey, Miro! Benny! Come look at this!”

“That was fast,” Jamie remarked as they went to investigate.

Once again, it was a major finding. Even before he could get close enough to spot the rest of the items inside the safe, Jamie could see the scale from his initial vantage point. That alone would be enough for narcotics to start their own investigation of Weisling.

Sure enough, once Jamie knelt in front of the safe, he saw the rest of the items: three wrapped bricks of what was most likely cocaine, several small bags, a case of razor blades, and a leather-bound journal.

Miro immediately zeroed in on the journal, pulling it out of the safe and quickly thumbing through some of the pages. “Jackpot.”

“What’s it say?” Jamie asked.

“Nothing too obvious,” Miro answered. “It’s written in some sort of code I’ll need to dig into. But this is clearly a ledger of some type.”

“Makes sense,” Spez noted. “It’s locked up where nobody can get it, as opposed to on a cloud account or a device we could intercept.”

Miro pulled the top brick out halfway for a better look at the stamped logo of a snake wrapped around a gemstone, which Jamie immediately recognized as Zafiro’s symbol. “No mistaking it. He’s in Zafiro’s gang.”

Rous narrowed his eyes in contemplation. “Now that you mention it, Seguin did imply Weisling was one of his dealers in Boston.”

Jamie frowned. “I don’t get it. This is quality product. The street value is astronomical. Why did he just leave this behind when he disappeared?”

“If he bailed out beforehand, he must have known we were coming,” Spez suggested before his eyes widened in concern. “Someone must have tipped him off. Do we have another mole?”

“I doubt it.” Rous shook his head. “If he’d had advance notice, he would have grabbed this stuff and the gun before he left. Which means he left in a hurry.”

“So, in other words…” Jamie began. “He either saw us in the parking lot or someone tipped him off when we were on our way here, and he didn’t have time to grab anything.”

“Exactly.” Rous looked towards the living room.” “But the living room and bedroom windows are closed. He couldn’t have gone out that way; we’re several floors up and it would be way too conspicuous to try. He probably took one of the stairwells and is long gone by now.”

Miro returned the brick to its previous spot. “Which means he has a second hideout somewhere.”

“Right,” Rous replied. “I’m sure he was living here while going back and forth though. He needed to keep up his front while he was working with the contracting firm.”

If there was one thing Jamie had learned about Rous from all his years working with him, it was how to jump onto his train of thought. “Which he was working with to have access to both Hitchcock and the precinct. I’m wondering just how much he knows about the investigation, seeing how he came into the office one night to tell me he went to college with Seguin.”

“Somehow, he got word that Seguin was in Dallas and followed him here,” Rous continued.

Jamie gnashed his teeth in sudden realization. “Sharon.”

“Or Hitchcock,” Spez interjected. “Remember, they knew each other.”

Apparently Rous had his own epiphany, as he suddenly ran towards the bedroom. Before Jamie could say anything, he was already gone.

“Hang on.” Jamie stood up and jogged to the bedroom, hoping to catch up in time. Clearly Rous had an idea.

Jamie was a few seconds too late, as Rous was frantically cleaning the contents out of the nightstand Jamie had been searching and setting them on the bed. Most were personal effects, but several items immediately stood out: twelve photos of Tyler; the obituary for Amy Tipton with written directions to the funeral home on the margin of the page; Tyler’s escort profile, printed from wherever Sharon was hosting her “business” website this time; and the engagement announcement for Tyler Seguin and Amy Tipton from the Stamford Advocate, with Amy Tipton’s face gored out of the photo of the couple.

Rous pulled a thirteenth photo out of the nightstand and inspected it closely. It was a photo of Tyler and Weisling, with Weisling’s arm around Tyler. Rous’ eyes widened as he had another realization.

“Hey Benny, open those boxes of clothes in the closet, would you?”

Jamie nodded and did so. Almost immediately, Rous was rifling through the clothes, comparing the red and navy striped shirt Tyler was wearing in the photo to the clothes in the boxes. After several minutes of rummaging, he found the same exact shirt.

“No wonder these clothes are too small for Weisling,” Rous noted. “They’re all Seguin’s.”

Jamie’s jaw dropped in shock. “He kept them?!”

“In a way, it makes sense. Seguin left almost all of his things behind when he ran. But…” Rous trailed off as his normally stoic exterior began to crack.

“…But what?” Jamie prompted, knowing he wouldn’t like the answer.

“If he kept all of Seguin’s things and moved them all the way from Boston to Dallas, he plans on bring Seguin back here too, whether Seguin agrees to it or not.”

“Or wherever it is he’s staying now.” Jamie hoped Rous wouldn’t notice he was on the verge of a panic attack. He wished he could place Tyler in protective custody, but knew damn well Tyler would never agree to it. It would be no different than holding him hostage.

“Same difference. If Weisling moved them once, he’ll move them again. It’s nothing to him at this point.” Rous closed the closet door. “We need to find Weisling’s second hideout, and fast.”

***

“Ah, there you are.” Sharon looked up as she heard Tyler enter her office. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

“A new client?” Tyler asked.

“Well, yes, but that’s not what I meant. They’re paying for two of you, so I’m sending one of my new recruits with you.” Sharon rose from her chair.

“Singular they or plural they?”

“Plural,” Sharon said as she headed towards the balcony. “Another married couple, this time from San Francisco.” Sharon opened the sliding glass door and stepped outside. Tyler couldn’t make out what she said before she closed the door.

Tyler looked mindlessly around the room as he grew impatient. Whatever Sharon was doing outside with the new recruit, she was certainly taking her time. Upon glancing at Sharon’s desk, one partially-covered paper with the word HARRINGTON caught his eye.

Intrigued, Tyler went to investigate, but was stopped dead in his tracks by the slide of the balcony door.

Sharon returned with a tall brunette man next to her. The first thing Tyler noticed about him was how young he was.

“Tyler, this is Jake. He’ll be coming along with you tomorrow night. Show him how to behave. He doesn’t quite have the experience yet.”

Tyler declined to approach the pair, even as he turned his attention to Jake. “…How long have you been at this, anyway?”

“Three years,” Jake replied. “Why?”

“How did you even get into this business, anyway?” Tyler was growing more uncomfortable by the second.

“I wasn’t college material, so I dropped out. I’m making way more money than I would have with a degree, anyway.” Clearly Jake had picked up on Tyler’s insinuation, as he was now glaring. “Look, I’m 22, okay? I’m not a kid. I know what I’m doing.”

“Twenty-two…you must have started around the same time I did, then.”

“See?” Jake smiled triumphantly. “I’m good. I can handle this.”

“I suppose so.” Tyler needed to get back to business. He didn’t need to arouse suspicion from either Jake or Sharon. “Do you have any experience with more than one client at a time?”

Jake shrugged nonchalantly. “No, but I figured I can pick it up if you’re there.”

“Fair enough.” Tyler wanted to say something else, but couldn’t formulate an appropriate response.

One of Sharon’s guards interrupted the conversation. “Ms. Lindemulder, someone’s here to see you.”

Sharon frowned in confusion. “That’s strange. I wasn’t expecting anyone for another hour. Who is it?”

“Some lady with a Southern accent.”

The frown blossomed into a wide grin as Sharon chuckled. “I haven’t seen her for months. Send her in.”

“Certainly.” The guard disappeared behind the office door. A few moments later, a short middle-aged brunette woman emerged.

“Sharon!” The Southern drawl was as strong as they’d been told. “It’s been ages! How are you?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Sharon replied. “Would you like a drink?”

“Of course!” The woman perked up. “You got any more of those Gin Rickeys?”

“Coming right up,” Sharon said with a nod before heading to the wet bar.

Like Sharon, Tyler had known Sharon’s guy was referring to Tricia right away. “Hi, Mrs. Jeansomme. How have you been?”

“Tyler!” Tricia beamed at the attention. “You remembered me?”

Tyler couldn’t help but chuckle a bit himself. “Your accent’s pretty hard to forget.”

Tricia raised an eyebrow once she noticed Jake. “Ooh, you have got to introduce me to this new friend of yours.”

“This is Jake. I just met him, too.” Tyler turned his head to look at Jake. “Jake, this is Mrs. Jeansomme. She comes here from Biloxi every now and then. So does her daughter.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Sharon returned with a Gin Rickey in hand, which she handed to Tricia. “How’s Mrs. Deveraeux been? We haven’t seen her since March.”

“She married that lawyer and moved to Baton Rouge,” Tricia replied. “So I don’t see her as often anymore. Last time was Easter.”

Jake had the temerity to insert himself into the conversation. “So, your daughter comes here sometimes?”

Tricia didn’t seem to mind the interruption. “Last I heard she still does.”

Sharon nodded. “She was here in May to see Evan, but unfortunately, he’s no longer with us.”

Tricia’s expression turned solemn. “It really is a shame, what happened to that poor boy. May the Lord rest his soul.”

Tyler hoped none of them saw him shudder. How could Sharon be so casual about it? From what Tyler had read in the paper, Evan had been struck by a car while crossing North Harwood Street. But Jamie’s warning came to mind. Perhaps he had been right about Sharon after all.

Tricia took another sip of her drink. “That’s actually why I came here today. I was looking for someone new since I’ll be here for two weeks in September. And lo and behold, this fine young man is standing right here. How long have you had him?”

“He’s brand new here,” Sharon answered. “Tell you what, how about we go sit down in the other room? I can get everything arranged and you can get to know Jake better. You’re in town now, so maybe we can set something up if you’re sticking around?”

Tricia smiled at the insinuation. “Now that you mention it, I’m not leaving until tomorrow night. Perhaps I won’t be spending tonight alone after all. Jake, why don’t you come over here and tell me all about yourself?”

Jake followed Tricia and Sharon into the lounge area with zero hesitation. Tyler couldn’t tell whether Jake was fearless, opportunistic, or just naïve.

But now was his chance.

After looking around one more time to confirm the coast was clear, Tyler returned to Sharon’s desk and slid the papers away to reveal the remainder of the header on the document that had caught his eye: POLICY #TX13792187-5, HARRINGTON, REGINA.

Tyler folded up the document and slipped it into his suit pocket before resetting the papers on the desk to their previous positions. He casually left Sharon’s office and the penthouse; knowing Sharon’s guys wouldn’t suspect anything if he acted normal, as they’d seen him hundreds, if not thousands, of times already.

Once he was a safe distance away from the penthouse, he took off running as fast as he could.