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The Tantalizing Tales of the Travails of the Troubled Trubshaw - chapters 1 to 14

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Updated 23rd April.

Chapters 1 to 14: the complete story to date. This will be added to as further chapters are written.

To comment - and please do - use the working thread in the forum. Thank you!

The Tantalizing Tales of the Travails of the Troubled Trubshaw

Extrapolations of a work by Trab

Book One: There He Sat

Chapter I

by Trab

It was a Friday night, well, evening, really. Dark, wet, and cold, the weather had been anything but a pleasure to all who braved it, including me. The TV programming just totally sucked today, and I had completely exhausted my small library of tapes and DVDs. I bundled myself up, and dragged my sorry ass into the car and left for the movie rental place. As I pulled into the parking lot, I could see that there was only one other person who had braved the damp misery.

Ten feet away, in an older Toyota Corolla, which might or might not really be red, as sodium vapor lights hide colors so effectively, sat a youngish man, whose color couldn’t be disguised. The light, against the black background, highlighted the blond hair that was more like white cotton, topping a blanched face. He was looking down, and slowly picked a longish French fry out of a small packet. Putting it in his mouth, he chewed slowly. When done, he wiped his eyes. And again. Then, ever so hesitantly, he picked out another fry. Again the slow movement of his hand to his mouth, the careful and hesitant nibbling of this morsel, and again, wiping his eyes.

Feeling rather like a creep, I watched him. He was beautiful, he was alone, he was hurting. Yes, I could see that those were tears he was wiping from his eyes. I tried to imagine what could possibly be wrong. What could induce someone to go out on a night like tonight, and eat alone, in the cold and the dark? How had life screwed with him? Why does life suck so? Why? I could stand it no more. I had to do something; anything, to relieve the pain, the anguish, the despair.

I drove away without ever getting out of my car, leaving his pain behind me, for him to suffer in the now empty parking lot; and taking my own pain with me.

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Chapter II

By Camy

Arriving home I put the keys on their hook, hung up my coat, and then instead of going to watch TV, I stood on the mat by the front door, not even bothering to turn on the light. Inside I was screaming, my mind in turmoil over the total stranger in the Corolla.

As if in a dream I took my coat off the hook, slid it on, grabbed the keys and ran to the car. I was split. This wasn’t me. I’d never done anything like this before. I was being stupid: melodramatic. And yet I knew. I knew I had too. I was needed. For the first time in an age I felt I could make a difference.

Instinct was in control, whilst the me that I’d been since the end of my one brief relationship, laughed bitterly at the stupidity. ‘You don’t think he’ll be grateful, do you?’ I told myself to shut up. ‘Oh, I would if you’d only be sensible. Chasing twinks at your age, who do you think you are?’

“SHUT UP!” I screamed as I made a left turn too fast, the car sliding sideways. Instant heebie-jeebies, as fear helped me correct the mistake. I slowed from sixty, and was about to pull into the car park where I’d seen him, when I saw the Corolla pulling out. I clenched my toes, indecisive, then slowly blinked: put my foot on the accelerator, and followed.

I could see him through the rear window, his blonde hair caught briefly in my headlights, and noted in passing that the Corolla was red. For some reason that seemed important. Knowing the car's colour somehow legitimised my foolishness.

The lights ahead turned amber. I floored the gas, and shot though on red, slowing immediately so he wouldn’t suspect I was following. What on earth was I doing? ‘yes, I was about to ask that, too.’ my mind played with me. ‘Home is where the TV is. Peaceful … safe.’

“Boring. I’ve been peaceful and safe for far too long.” I said, chuckling as I turned on the radio: Carol King’s Tapestry feeding my angst as I followed the Corolla onto the mountain road.

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Chapter III

by Bruin Fisher

Off the main highway, the road became narrow and windy as it climbed upwards through the thickly wooded hillside. As I drove I tried to collect my thoughts. My mind was racing, and in there somewhere was a plaintive cry that said: "Stop, turn round and go home. This is none of your business and you may get into trouble if you continue." I was ignoring that voice, not a very loud or persuasive voice anyway. I was trying to gather my thoughts about the guy in the car ahead. So far I was keeping him in sight but he was making good speed and my big sedan was not built for windy lanes.

I needed to establish what I knew or could surmise about him. Very little. I knew he must be in his mid-twenties and I knew, as far as the sodium lights had allowed me to see, that he was drop dead gorgeous (I allowed myself that thought for the first time, now I was committed to this wild escapade). He drove a Toyota Corolla, about five years old, in red. The most reliable car in the world according to some major survey I remembered. But not a sporty car, though you'd never guess it the way he was devouring the road and making me sweat to keep up. He'd been eating fries out of a bag. Like a MacDonald's bag. There's no MacDonald's near the video rental store, I wondered where he'd got them from. So I knew not much about him.

He was pulling ahead of me and the bends in the road were occasionally obscuring my sight of him. I tried to close the gap, driving my big V8 beyond the limits of the suspension system, so on the corners the car was wallowing badly and the tyres were scrabbling on the leaf-strewn road surface. Once or twice I frightened myself as the rear end swung out and I narrowly avoided going into spin. And I was now so focussed on controlling my car at speed that when the Corolla suddenly turned off the road onto a forest track I nearly missed it. As it was I overshot and had to brake, skidding nearly into a tree, reverse, and point my hood into the narrow track. His vehicle must be a foot narrower than mine, and I began to worry that I would get stuck.

We came out of the forest into an area where the trees had been recently felled and my attention was caught momentarily by the breathtaking view across the valley. Even in the dark and the wet I was impressed. The lights in the windows of homesteads on the opposite hillside looked so inviting. My attention snapped back to the track ahead of me and just in time, only just in time, I slammed on the anchors. I came to a stop about a yard short of the red Corolla, stationary and with the driver's door swinging open. Beside the car stood the blond man, his hair wet and sticking to his forehead, pointing a rifle at me.

"Who are you and why are you following me?" he called, his voice cracked and hoarse.

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Chapter IV

by Camy

I didn't answer. I couldn't: frozen to a spot in time and space.

"Get out!" he called, his voice still undeniably stressed, yet somehow attractive too. 'Yep, attractive and with a gun, way to go' I thought as I pulled the door handle, the rusty hinges squeaking loudly as I shouldered it open.

"Slowly, now!" he said, "No ...."

"Sudden moves?" I interrupted him. "Yeah, I've watched cops shows too." 'nice' I thought, astounded by my nerve. 'Now he'll shoot ... and then I’ll die.' "I'm getting out." I said.

One leg followed the other while I tried to fabricate a reasonable explanation for following a total stranger five miles into the mountains. Then, as I stood up, I heard a crunch: felt a tremendous pain at the back of my head, and in slow motion the world, lit only by headlights, faded to black.

'Thanks be it was all a dream,' I thought as I woke up to find a cool flannel mopping my forehead. It was so soothing I kept my eyes shut, and felt myself smile ... then groan in delayed agony, as the pain at the back of my head flowered exquisitely. I opened my eyes just as the flannel was removed.

The blonde man was sitting in front of me, seemingly, if I was any judge of expressions, concerned. 'You're no judge, you're a fool! He's got a gun!' I reminded myself as he soaked the flannel in a bowl before squeezing it out and replacing it gently on my brow.

"You hit your head, John," he said, a flash smile crossing his face. ‘Red lips, and a nice smile,’ I thought, then groaned again.

"Hit my hea ...." I stopped to look at him. 'Forget the nice smile. He's going to kill you for being a weirdo!' I told myself to shut up, and for once, surprisingly, I did.

"You know my name." I managed. He nodded, the smile flashing across his face again.

"Uh huh, your wallet ...." His eyes were of the palest lilac, and he was, apart from not appearing angry at all, and being right in front of me, beautiful. I gulped, and the concerned look arrived back. It made him look even more beautiful: almost angelic.

He held a glass of water, helped me drink, then re-arranged my pillows. I winced as my fingers traced a large lump on the back of my head, and there was that smile again, though this time it seemed somehow mischievious. He reached forward, cupped my face in his hands and gently kissed me. Then he sat back.

“Before the others come barging in wanting to know why I have a complete stranger in my bed I thought I should welcome you to Shangri-la ….” I blinked. “Now,” he continued, smoothing down my blanket, “why were you following me?”

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Chapter V

by Bruin Fisher

Well, I knew he had just asked a question, but it didn't register; I was still floundering. How did I hurt my head? How did I get from the edge of the forest in the rain to this comfy bed? How did the tearful man with the wet hair, the beautiful eyes and the gun turn into the smiling angel of mercy with the same beautiful eyes I was looking at? And why did he think he could kiss me? I didn't have answers and my brain grew confused and fuzzy in the attempt. So he'd sat on the edge of the bed and asked a second time, and then a third, before the words filtered through and I realised what he was saying.

Knowing what he was asking me didn't help much; I didn't have a rational explanation. I mustered my resources and tried to come up with something plausible.

"I went out to hire a video. In the car park I saw you, you looked like you were in trouble, I should have offered help but I chickened out and drove off, without even getting a film. But you had worried me and I went back, just as you were driving off.”

He just watched me. He didn't make a sound, like he was waiting for me to continue. So I did.

"Maybe I should have turned around when I saw you drive off but you seemed so desperate, I was worried about you."

"What made you think I was in trouble?"

"You were crying."

He gave an odd snort like a suppressed giggle. I looked up into his face in time to see it squash into an ear-to-ear grin, crinkly eyes and all.

"That would be the onions in my kebab. I love onions but these were powerful, enough to blow the top of your head off – and make your eyes water." He was laughing now, and struggling to talk through it. "That's all it was. But thank you for your concern!"

I couldn't help but see the funny side of it, and soon we were laughing together. I reached out for his hand and grasped it in mine, a sort of friendship gesture.

When I had some control back, I asked: "How did I get here? Where are we?"

"You hit your head on the end of your roof bars as you stood up out of your car. Knocked yourself out cold, and I couldn't bring you round. So I put you in my car and brought you home. I left your car on the side of the lane, but I locked it and it'll be okay there till you're ready to get it. It's only a quarter mile back along the lane from here."

"And here is?"

"My home. My parents' home, actually, my Dad's the forest warden, and I still live here and my sister does. They'll be here soon and I'm going to have to explain you to them."

"I don't know your name."

"Eric. Eric Hofstraat. If you promise to keep quiet about it I'll admit my real name is Alveric, after the dwarf in the Wagner operas, but I prefer Eric, it doesn't need so much explaining!"

"Hi, Eric. I'm John Trubshaw. You checked my wallet so you know that."

"Yes, sorry, I hope you don't mind, I was trying to find who to phone about you when I couldn't bring you round. There's a picture of you hugging another guy. Your brother?"

"No, my boyfriend. That was four years ago, we split up not long after the picture was taken, but I keep the photo."

I'm always like that. If being gay comes up I come right out and say, but I always have to watch faces after I've spoken to see if I'm going to have trouble. I watched Eric, and there was no reaction. I kind of guessed there wouldn't be – I still hadn't asked him about kissing me – and the way he kissed had told me enough about him.

There was a commotion coming from below – downstairs, I guessed.

"That'll be the folks home. You ready for this?" asked Eric.

I nodded, without any idea what to be ready for.

The door of the bedroom opened, and a short, buxom woman with a pretty, round face and elfin features walked straight in, with a puzzled frown, and a very large policeman right behind her.

"Eric, darling, there's a policeman here to see you. You're not in any trouble, are you?" - and at that moment she spotted me on the bed and took a step backwards, putting her hand to her mouth and wailing "Oh, oh... oh!"

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Chapter VI

by Cole Parker

My head was swimming as events kept unfolding. I’d begun the evening on a lonely quest to find a video to watch, and now I was who knew where, but supposedly in a mountain cabin with an attractive but enigmatic man, an emotional young woman who I knew nothing at all about, and a gargantuan policeman who was wearing an intimidating scowl and look of no nonsense on his face. Top that off with a throbbing headache and the swimming feeling was easily explained.

The woman was still looking at me and sort of gurgling, her hand covering her mouth and her eyes wide, and it suddenly occurred to me why. When she had appeared, old habits had taken over, and I’d struggled to stand up. My head had rebelled as I’d tried to rise, but I had made it up far enough so I was now sitting on the side of the bed, both my hands holding my head firmly, as it felt like it was going to explode at any moment and my hands might help to contain the mess.

It was then, watching the woman ogle me, that I realized I was entirely naked. Eric must have undressed me before helping me into bed. With my head in the state it was in, I hadn’t realized it. The woman’s wide eyes, focused as they were on my middle half, my somewhat thickened by Eric’s kiss of moments ago middle half, seemed to be memorizing me. Should we meet again some day, she might not know my face, but other parts she’d certainly be able to recognize.

I lowered my hands and attempted to pull the covers over me, but I was sitting on them and that didn’t work at all. I grabbed a pillow and set it in my lap, blushing furiously. Just what I needed, more blood in my head. The pounding was now worse than ever.

“What’s this, then?” asked the policeman, drawing himself taller and assuming an expression of disgust. “What’s going on here? And are you Eric Hofstraat?”

“Yes, that’s me,” the man who’d told me that was his name answered.

“Then you’ll have to come with me. You’re wanted for questioning.”

“Questioning about what?” Eric looked completely befuddled. I was still somewhat out of my wits, nothing was making a great deal of sense to me, and my attention was split between what was going on between the policeman and Eric, and the woman who’s eyes were now fastened on my pillow, but that Eric seemed to be lost was apparent.

The policeman reached onto his belt and took off a pair of handcuffs. “There was an incident at a video store tonight. We’ve had a string of murders at video stores lately, always on a Friday night. Now, we have another dead body, and a surveillance tape shows your car leaving the scene. Now, are you going to come peacefully, or are we going to have a bit of fun here?”

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Chapter VII

by Trab

“I want to talk to my lawyer, before I go anywhere.” Eric spoke up. He turned to his mom, who had finally stopped ogling my nether regions upon hearing the policeman’s demand, and used his eyes to plead with her.

She turned to the officer, and stated vehemently, “You’re not taking him anywhere. Not without a warrant. You’re not in an active chase, and therefore you’ll need a warrant to take my client away. You may step out of the house now, and let my son and his ‘friend’ get decent.” She turned away from the officer dismissively, knowing that he really had no choice.

“Ma’am? You’re a lawyer?” he shuddered a bit, knowing that he had no legal right to be in the house at this point.

Turning back momentarily, Eric’s mom shot visual daggers at the officer, gestured towards the door with a sweeping movement of her arm, and softly muttered, “Off you go, officer. Off you go.”

The crestfallen officer retreated to the door, opened it with a quick jerk, and then tried a second time, this time turning the knob first. As he angrily slammed the door on his own foot, I heard him mutter, “Damn. I’m gettin’ to be as bad as cousin Bryce and his buddy Eran. What a bummer.” With that, he was gone.

I still had no idea of what was going on, and sat there, the pillow still clutched to my middle area. Fortunately, Eric came to the rescue. “Sorry, John. I didn’t do anything at that store, I really didn’t, but I’m on the watch list. A few years ago, I did something really stupid, and now I’m a marked man. If it weren’t for mom, I’d have been in even more trouble than you could imagine.” Eric was looking terribly down at this point, and I wanted to give him a huge hug, but there was still the issue of Mrs. Lawyer Hofstraat.

“It’s a long story, John, but I’ll let Eric tell you. Suffice to say that we were really upset as parents. I’m going to head to the kitchen to let you boys get straightened around, and you can meet me there in a short while.” With that, she left, taking away the danger to my modesty.

“Dude, you’d better start talkin’.” I murmured, as I looked around for something to put on.

“Here, John,” Eric said, handing me some clothing from a dresser. “This is really embarrassing to talk about. Just remember, I was young and stupid, and now I’m paying for it for the rest of my life.”

“Surely it can’t be as bad as all that,” I questioned. You don’t look like the type to do anything nasty, and your mother’s a lawyer and dad’s a forest warden, those are practically peace officers.”

“Well, that’s probably the only reason I’m not in jail. My mom fought for me, and my dad assured the sentencing judge that he would make sure I would never cause the system trouble again. And now this, and I didn’t even do anything.”

“What happened? What did you do?”

“I was caught having sex. With a guy. Unfortunately, he was also underage. They charged and convicted me of statutory rape, and I’ve been restricted as to where I can live. Luckily, we live in the woods, so there aren’t any children around here, but even me being at a video store is enough to put out an alert. Now that poor Peter is dead, all hell is going to come about.”

I paused in my dressing, my brain whirling about like a cork in Niagara Falls, and felt truly nauseous. I felt faint, for moment, then finally managed to get my voice. “Eric, if you didn’t do anything, how do you know the video store clerk’s name? You weren’t really crying from the onions, were you? And your mom wasn’t practically at the point of screaming about my privates, was she? What did she see that made her react like that to seeing me naked, and bloody in your bed?”

Erik blanched, then ran out of the room the second he managed to fumble open the door.

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Chapter VIII

by Bruin

It didn't take me long to realise why he ran for it. My brain gradually returned to form as I finished dressing.

I'd made a mistake. If I hadn't been so muddle-headed I'd never have tripped up so stupidly. I'd challenged poor Eric on why he knew the video store clerk's name was Peter, after he'd said 'Poor Peter's dead'. And now, after fast winding the exchange back in my mind, I realised no-one had said it was the clerk who died and not a customer. Eric would realise that straight away and ran in fear, assuming that my slip-up meant I was the murderer.

What should I do now? What would Eric be doing? Getting the police back? Probably. So I had to get away before they returned. I finished tying the laces of the sneakers Eric had passed me – about my size, but definitely not my sneakers – and opened the door. The corridor was empty and I slipped out and closed the door, incongruously aware that the door had opened smoothly and without trouble for me, though both Eric and the cop had struggled with it. I made my way down the corridor, the sneakers quiet on the carpeted floor. I heard the sound of a motorcycle starting up and roaring off, and was surprised to see from the window above the stairwell a classic Harley Davidson being ridden, I was sure, by the woman I'd taken for Eric's mother.

I tiptoed down the stairs. If you tread on the side of the stair instead of the middle part, it is less likely to creak, and I got down to ground level without any noise. As I headed for the outer door ahead of me, Eric appeared from a side door and jumped as he saw me. He disappeared again and I ran for it, but not quickly enough – he re-appeared holding his rifle, pointed it straight at my heart and said: “stand very still!”

The fight went out of me and my shoulders slumped. Who was this guy? What did he want from me? Why was he acting so erratically – and how did he know the dead man was called Peter?

Just minutes previously, he had kissed me tenderly. Now he marched up to me and swung the butt of his rifle against my jaw. I went flying against the wall, pain washing through me, and slid down to the floor. He followed up with a kick in the ribs and his heel slammed down on my hand, grinding my knuckles into the carpet.

“Get up!” he barked, and I struggled to my feet and stood doubled over with the pain. With his rifle he gestured me forward towards a door under the stairwell. “Open it and go in!”

It was pitch dark but I felt my way into the gloom and nearly lost my footing when the ground wasn't there ahead of me. I realised I was at the top of another stairwell, and began carefully to climb down. Eric followed me in and felt for a light switch, lighting a dim naked bulb below us, which gave me adequate light to negotiate the stairs safely. At the foot we were in a bare cellar and Eric motioned me against the far wall.

He just stood, looking daggers at me in the light of the bulb above his head.

“What do you want with me? What have I done?”

“Ha! You ask that? You scum. You killed Peter, didn't you? Did you kill all those others the cop was talking about too? Why would you do that? Why....” and he faltered, his shoulders shaking as he began to cry, his face contorting in anguish. When he began speaking again his voice was different, agonised, reminiscent of a wolf baying at the moon. “Peter was the boy I was caught with. I loved him, you killed him...”

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Chapter IX

by Camy

"So why did you kiss me?" I said, thinking the question would at least make him pause before putting a bullet in me. The result was far more spectacular. With a wail, Eric crumpled to the floor, dropping the gun in the process. It was unfortunate that it went off, deafening us both, and tearing a nick out of my upper arm. Had either of us been able to hear it, my shriek might well have harmonised with Eric's wail. As it was I managed to kick the gun away from him, and wincing, knelt down and took him in my arms.

"You poor boy," I murmured, stroking his thick blonde hair and trying to calm him down. "I can see why you might think I was the Video Store Killer, but I'm not. I'm an undercover agent with the F.B.I." He froze, then turned and looked at me with lilac eyes that simply pierced my soul … and I felt ... I felt ….

"Can you prove it?"

"Sorry?" I blinked, forcing myself back from the wonderful possibilities that my mind had magicked.

"I said can you prove it?" He smiled, and I knew it didn't matter.

"I can if we go to my car, my agency ID is in a floor safe."

"Oh. Okay." And with that he melted back into my arms. I continued stroking his hair, the single naked bulb in the ceiling casting deep shadows: making the scene even more surreal than it already was.

“You’re wet,” he said presently. “I can feel it.”

“That’s because you shot me.” I chuckled, the pain reduced by a flood of endorphins and other natural goodies my brain was releasing as a result of Eric’s closeness. “We should get out of here before we start to suffer rising damp.”

“Yes,” he giggled, pulled me to my feet and pointed at the gun. “What should we do with it.”

I liked the sound of the ‘we.’

“Prop it in the corner, then over coffee we need to think about tonight’s problems.”

“Oh,” gently he touched my arm, and not surprisingly I screamed. “Sorry!” he squeaked, “I thought it was your other arm.”

“What, the one without any blood?” I said somewhat acerbically through clenched teeth, holding back a sudden desire to hit him. “Anyway, I didn’t mean that problem.” I added. “I meant we need to work out who it was that told the police you had killed Peter.”

“Oh,” he said, again.

We managed to get to the top of the stairs without further difficulty, only to find the door had swung shut and was locked. With a sigh and using a part of my FBI training hitherto unexplored, I had it open in two kicks. Eric helped me into the kitchen, found a clean towel for my arm, and put on a pot of coffee. We were sitting around the kitchen table waiting for it to percolate when he cleared his throat.

“In the car park ….” He glanced at me, tears in his eyes.

“Yeah?”

“When I was crying ….” He blinked, a tear running down his cheek.

“Mmm.”

“Well … I was lying when I said I’d had an onion laden kebab. I was crying ‘cause I saw Peter in the video store.” Pausing, he took a deep breath and sniffed: silent tears freely falling. “Petey in another man’s arms … maybe he told the police I was there ….”

The clock on the wall was overwhelmingly loud until the dam broke.

“Oh Petey!” Eric wailed. “Petey!!!”

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Chapter X

by Trab

I held Eric close, as his wails slowly decreased in intensity, more from exhaustion than any reduction of his anguish.

“Eric? Eric, will you be okay if I let go of you? I really need to ‘go’”

A sort of a semi-laughing snort, and he let go of me somewhat. “I guess. Funny, isn’t it? No matter how you feel, your body just keeps on working…fluids, solids, hunger…whatever…”

“Yeah, and right now I need to address that.” I fully untangled myself from Eric's limbs, and stood up. “I’ll be right back…uh, where’s the bathroom?”

“On the left, just past the door you kicked out. Mom and dad are gonna be so pissed.”

“I’ll pay for it, I guess, although nobody should ever have a door in the house that locks by itself. Be right back.”

I quickly found the john, used the facilities, and headed back to Eric. On the way though, I noticed a phone in a shallow nook in the hallway. Making a quick decision, I delayed my return, and picked up the phone, then dialed a secret number.

~Control.~

“This is Special Agent John Trubshaw, Id #19496329. I need known details of a murder which took place a few hours ago, at the video rental store in Parksdale. I believe the clerk, first name ‘Peter’ was killed in the same way as a number of other recent video store killings.”

~Hold, sir~

I twiddled my thumb on the handset, anxious to get back to Eric, but anxious to get any kind of information I could, on this mystery directly involving me.

~Sir. There was no murder at any video store in Parksdale, at least not that has been reported to the police. Where did you get your information?~

“Directly from a police officer who came to question the man I was with, at his home in the Eastvale Forest Reserve.”

~Sir, I don’t want to point out the obvious, as I’m only dispatch, but how would that officer have known to go deep into the woods to find him, even if there had been a crime committed?~

“My god!” I exclaimed loudly. “That was no police officer at all. Thinking about it, I never saw a badge, and he never actually named himself. And he lied about there being a murder.” My head reeled from confusion, and maybe a bit of blood loss too. “Thank you, Control.”

~Are you okay, sir? Do you need any assistance?~

“No. Yes. Shit. Don't ask questions that way. Yes, I’m okay, and no, I don’t need any assistance. Thanks again, Control.”

~Goodnight, sir.~ A click, and I was listening to the dial tone. I looked up, and Eric was standing there, right in front of me, a quizzically hopefull expression on his face.

“Petey isn’t dead?”

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Chapter XI

by Bruin

“Eric. We need to talk. Back in your room?”

He stopped in his tracks and just looked at me with a totally blank stare. “You have to tell me: Is Petey alive?”

“We don't know he's dead, but just now we don't know what has happened to him. So you have to talk to me. Come on, we need to be somewhere private.”

I led the way back to his room and closed the door once we were both inside. He seemed dazed and just stood there, so I took him by the elbow and guided him to sit on his bed, the bed that I had occupied so recently, and I sat beside him.

“Now, think carefully, and tell me exactly what you saw at the video store.”

Eric bowed his head, dredging his memory.

“I went to the store. I've gone there three times now, hoping there would be no customers and I could talk to Petey. Each time I've waited in the car, but I haven't gone in because there have been too many people around. I'm not supposed to approach him, it's a restriction the judge set.”

“What did you see this time?”

“I pulled up outside and I couldn't see anybody in the store at all. So I thought I might be able to talk to him. I got out of the car and walked towards the store. But as I got near I could see through the glass that Peter was there behind the counter, and so was a man, tall, big built, much older. Grey hair. I didn't recognise him. He was ... he was kissing Petey.”

His face twisted and he choked a sob.

“He was holding him by the waist and leaning into the kiss so that Petey was leaning backwards. It was such a shock...”

and he faltered again.

“Did Peter see you?”

“No, no I don't think he could have. He was bent over backwards and I think the other guy's head was between us. I don't think he could see the front of the shop.”

“Would you say Peter was active or passive in this kiss?”

“Huh?”

“Did you see him do anything or was he just having things done to him?” Bad turn of phrase there, I hoped Eric wouldn't be hurt by it.

Apparently he took my awkward question in his stride.

“The other man was leaning into him and kissing him, his lips and his neck too. Petey was sort of just being kissed. I didn't see him move at all. That was a bit odd, wasn't it?”

“So you didn't see him dead?”

“No.”

“The policeman who arrived here. Did you recognise him?”

“No. I've never seen him before.”

“He couldn't have been the man you saw with Peter?”

“No, the man with Peter was older.”

“Do you know the Sheriff and his team?”

“I know the Sheriff, he used to come to my school. And I think I would recognise both of his deputies.”

“And the man who came wasn't any of them?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“Didn't you find that strange?”

“Strange? No... I guess I didn't think about it. Perhaps he's new?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps he's not a policeman at all.”

***********

While this rather disjointed conversation was taking place, five miles away in the nearest hospital events were unfolding that at the time neither of us knew about: a young girl asked a question at the reception desk, and, getting her answer, sped on down a series of corridors and eventually found a ward and a bed and its occupant. She was tall, willowy, blond, with a narrow face and bright blue eyes, a little red from crying. The unconscious patient on the bed that she approached was likewise long and thin, with ash-blond hair but darker eyebrows, and a long face, still and at peace, asleep. A monitor by the bed recorded a series of statistics and beeped steadily.

She picked up his hand, the one without the cannula attached, and stroked it gently, keeping hold of it as she sat on the orange plastic chair by the bed. “Oh, Peter,” she whispered, “what have you done?”

***********

Eric finished his account. He told me that as soon as he'd seen the older man kissing Peter, he'd turned tail and run, back to the car. And he'd just sat there, crying steadily, eventually trying to eat some of the takeaway meal he'd picked up on the way to the store hoping he and Peter might share it. And that was when I first caught sight of him.

We relapsed into silence, each thinking our own thoughts. There were too many oddities, too many puzzles, and my training wasn't serving me well. I knew that I should report in and then leave the case to the regular police. As an involved person I should not take part in any investigation. But I wasn't going to let that stop me.

Deep in thought, I didn't notice the sound of heavy footsteps thundering through the house. Eric grabbed my shoulder and shook it.

“Someone's in the house. Coming up the stairs!”

I listened, he was right.

“Your father?”

He shook his head, fear in his eyes. I stood up, grabbed the table lamp from the bedside table and pulled its lead from the wall. I flattened myself against the wall beside the door, hinge side, and held up the lamp like a cudgel.

“Are you a policeman?”

“Sort of. It'll be all right. You'll see.”

At that moment the bedroom door shook. Someone was trying to get in. It wasn't locked, they were having difficulty with the latch. Eric watched transfixed as the handle turned a second time and this time the door opened, revealing the intruder. Eric just stared, mouth hanging open. I couldn't see the guy at first except his hand on the edge of the door, but as he came into the room I got to see his back, and the rifle in his free hand. It was the policeman, the same man mountain as before but this time in jeans and a check shirt, not police uniform.

“Well, what have we here? Where's your faggy friend?”

----------

Chapter XII

by Trab

At the hospital, Peter started to move. His eyes remained closed, but it was obvious he was coming out of it, as he groaned, and moved his free hand. Immediately, the girl jumped up and hugged him, saying, “I love you, Peter. I love you. Please wake up. Please.”

As she was plying Peter with reassurances of her love, the door to the room opened quietly, and a man entered. The tall, big built, older man with grey hair immediately saw what was happening, and dashed over, as fast as heavyset older men can dash anywhere, to join in the hug.

Peter, feeling the press of love and bodies, and finally able to make sense of what he was hearing, opened his eyes. “Melony!” What am I doing here? Why am I in the hospital?”

“You had an attack last night, Petey. You were almost dead, but they saved you. Oh, thank God, they saved you. I love you so much.”

At that point, Peter noticed the man, and smiled a bittersweet smile. “Hi.”

“Oh God, son, I’m so glad I came to the store just in time to find you and get help for you. You were just lying there, trying to breath and obviously not able to. I used that assisted breathing technique I learned years ago, and it worked. I know we’ve been at each other over what happened ‘before’ but when I realized I might lose you, I had to do what I could to save you. I realize it now. I DO love you, no matter what.”

“But dad, Melony, what happened? I don’t remember anything.”

“There was another attack, Pete. I came in, and there you were, on the floor, gasping for breath. I held you up, and helped you to breath, but couldn’t leave you to get to the phone. I finally managed to grab your cell out of your pocket, and called emergency services. They came right away.”

“I’m so glad, dad, that you came just then. Are the police investigating the attack? I don’t remember anything.”

“Uh. No. Why would they?”

“Duh, dad. Attack. Me almost dead.”

“Oh. Sorry, son. I guess, since you don’t remember anything, you wouldn’t know. It was another of your allergy attacks, not one of those video store attacks. I’m really, really not going to let you put off that battery of tests any more. In fact, I’ve already talked to the doctors here, and before you even get discharged, they’re going to find out what is causing those attacks.”

“Yeah, Petey. You just can’t keep putting us through this. You have to find out what’s going on, and fix it.”

“You’re right. I love you all too much to do this too you. I’m terrified of the needles they stick in you, and don’t shit me, I know they do that, ‘cause I’ve looked online, but I guess I’m not ready to die over it.”

“Thanks, son. I’ll let the doctors know you’re going to cooperate, right now. And I’m going to let mom know you’re fine too. Back in a while. Love you.”

******

Back in the bedroom, the tableau only held for a brief moment.

“Here, dude,” which was the last thing he heard before I smashed the lamp onto his head, and he crumpled to the floor.

----------

Chapter XIII

by Camy

"Damn!"

"What?!" Eric looked up at me from where he was checking the grey haired man's carotid pulse.

"I cut my thumb," I mumbled, sucking on the gash. "How is he?"

"You care?" Eric stood up, then sat on the bed and looked out of the window. "It's all gone wrong, and it's getting weirder by the minute." The man moaned.

"Alive then." I said, wishing my thumb would stop bleeding.

"Well, duh!"

"No need to get snarky, Eric. He had a rifle pointed at you, would you have preferred that he...?"

"Alright! Alright, I'm sorry. It's just that ...."

"Yeah ... Petey. I know." There was an overly pregnant pause while we glared at each other. "Enough of this hostility, Eric. Would you see if he's got a wallet? Then maybe we can find out who he is."

"Why don't you?"

"'cause I'm bleeding!" I snapped, finally fed up with the whole mess. Eric sighed, knelt next to the man, rolled him over, pulled a fat leather pocket book out of his back pocket, and offered it to me. I shook my head. "You look. I'm gonna get a plaster."

I walked down the corridor into the bathroom and found a medicine box in the cupboard over the basin. After rinsing the cut and disinfecting it, I put a sticking plaster on, and as an afterthought took a couple of aspirin as a preventative for the headache I felt creeping up. I was walking back to the bedroom when Eric wailed: a guttural, heartfelt, keening sound. I ran the last few steps and skidded on a throw rug, my shoulder colliding with the door frame.

"Fuck!" We cried in unison; me with pain, and Eric looking glassy eyed at a card he held in his hand.

"What?" I said, clenching my fists.

"Him!" Eric pointed at the grey haired man. "H … him!"

"Him? Yes? Him what?" I said, now grinding my teeth.

"He’s Petey's dad."

“Oh.” I almost chuckled, then thought better of it. This was getting to be one huge comedy of errors. A mess, that even my brilliant PA would have difficulty sorting out.

As I reached for my cell phone, Eric bent down and picked up the rifle I’d kicked over by the dresser; when the grey haired man had dropped it. He stood thinking, then, and without so much as a by-your-leave, he checked the breech, and pointed it at me: the black round hole looking more than menacing.

“You hit Petey’s dad over the head.” He said dully, a small tick evident under his right eye. “You hit Petey’s dad over the head and you killed him!”

“Eric!” I spoke sharply, trying to snap him out of whatever fugue he was settling into.

"Hmm?" He blinked slowly, though the gun didn’t waver.

“Eric! He’s not dead!” I was more than aware I was beginning to sound hysterical, but I really, really wasn’t happy. “ERIC!” I gulped as my heart started doing a wacky breakneck rhythm, sweat merrily seeping from every pore. "ERIC!" I repeated, “HE IS NOT DEAD!

Eric blinked again.

“But he could be ….”

----------

Chapter 14

By Trab

“Look, Eric. For God’s sake LOOK at him. He’s alive. He came here with a gun. He came here to KILL you. Why the Hell would you be upset that he could have been killed, even if he IS Petey’s dad?” I shuddered and shook as adrenaline coursed through my body. I could barely control my voice, but I had to. I just had to calm Eric down. “Eric, I’m going to sit down on the floor. I’m shaking, I’ve been hurt several times now, and I’m in no shape to fight you. I have to sit down. Okay?”

Eric looked at me, saw how battered I was, and nodded, “Okay, John. You’re right. Sit down.” Thankfully, Eric also lowered the gun.

“Have you ever met Petey’s father before this? Was he at the sentencing before, when, you know, you were caught with Petey and charged?”

“No, I never saw him, that’s why I didn’t recognize him when he came here as a cop. And because the case involved a minor, only the court staff and the lawyers were there, to protect his identity.”

“Uh, Eric? I don’t mean to be thick, or question your judgment, but…how do you know that’s Petey’s father?”

“His drivers license…”

“Eric? Those things don’t say, ‘Pete’s dad’ on them. They just show people’s names and addresses. What makes you think he’s Petey’s dad, Eric? What did it say?”

“Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? ‘Peter Lachmanetz, Sr.’ That’s the same name as Petey. Only difference is, Petey’s is ‘Peter Lachmanetz, Jr.’”

I couldn’t believe it. Why would Pete’s dad first dress up as a cop, a fake cop, then show up with murderous intent? It made no sense. I had to check into this further. “Eric, would you mind awfully much throwing Mr. Lachmanetz’s wallet to me? You know I’m FBI, and I really need to take a closer look at it, and the license.”

“I guess.” And with that, Eric kicked it over to me, close enough for me to grab it without getting up again.

“Thanks. Now, let’s see. Ah, here we go. Eric, what’s Petey’s address?”

“Why?”

“Just checking. You do know where he lives, right?”

“Of course. We love each other. Just because I was convicted doesn’t mean I don’t love him.”

“Well, you never told me where.”

“Sorry. 454 Mulberry Boulevard, Parksdale.”

“Wow,” I almost shouted. “Eric, this guy’s address is in South Orchard. It’s not Petey’s address, and not even the same town.” Holy shit. I was rocked, and I could see by the look on Eric’s face, he wasn’t in much better shape.

“What the hell? You’re shittin’ me, dude. Throw me that damned license. I don’t believe you.”

I threw it back at him, and with one glance, he could see I’d been telling him the truth. Who Peter Sr. might be was a mystery we needed to resolve, but he was most certainly NOT Petey’s father. The wheels in my head started to get some traction again, after spinning uselessly for a while now.

“Eric? Do you remember when this guy was here before, as a cop?”

“Yeah. He was pretty aggressive, but didn’t seem violent or anything. Why?’

“Why do you think he was here? He wanted to take you away, but why was he here, right then, at that time?”

“I don’t know. No idea. You have some idea?”

“Well, assuming he’s related to Petey, somehow, he must want revenge or something. Nothing else makes much sense. I know for a fact that he’s not a cop.”

Eric suddenly blanched. In fact, he slowly, almost gracefully, sagged to the floor. “John. Did you say he’s from South Orchard?”

“Yes. That’s what it says there, on his license.”

“Oh my God. I know who it is. That’s Petey’s uncle. Pete mentioned him once, long ago. When we first came out to each other, and were just talking about what it might mean in our lives, he mentioned that he couldn’t tell his family. When I asked why, he said, ‘My family is 100% homophobic, and my asshole uncle runs this gay rehab center in South Orchard.’”

“What? What’s a gay rehab center? Some place to kick a drug habit for gays?

“No. Much worse. It’s where families of gay kids send them to have them rehabilitated so they’re no longer gay.”

“That’s crazy!” I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought everyone knew orientation wasn’t a choice, and you don’t change. “You think that’s what this is all about?”

“I think so. I’ll bet Pete’s family called up the uncle, and he’s trying to round up the ‘guilty party’ in the subversion of his nephew. My God. What if he’s also after Petey?”

With the situation changing fast, I went for my cell phone, and dialed again, for the second time during this adventuresome night.

~Control.~

“This is Special Agent John Trubshaw, Id #19496329 again. I’ve learned that the video store in Parksdale was not attacked, but that there was an incident there. It seems that may have been some kind of accident. Please check the current reports about anything involving a Peter Lachmanetz, Jr., of 454 Mulberry Boulevard. I’ll hold.”

~Yes, sir. I’ll be a moment.~

While I was holding, it looked like Mr. Lachmanetz, Sr. was starting to come to. With slow, careful movements, I eased in behind him, and pulled out a plastic zap strap that I always carried in the hollow section of my belt. It could flex with the belt, and nobody ever spotted it, as only the tiny little black head ever showed, and not very well, against the thick black leather. I might not have a gun on me, but I was always able to confine a suspect. I grabbed his wrists, and pulled the strap tight, but not quite tight enough to ensure a lawsuit later.

~Sir?~

“Yes, control.”

~There is a report of your person of inquiry being transported to the local hospital, accompanied by his father. It seems that the subject collapsed, but there was no crime involved. He is currently at the hospital and not expected to be released till later this morning.~

“Thank you, control.”

~Is there anything else, sir?~

“Actually, yes. I have a suspect in custody, and he’s unconscious and not been read his rights. I’ll need transport and security for him. There will be several charges, including attempted kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, and impersonating a police officer.”

~Yes, sir. And the address?~

I proceeded to give control the address, and was amazed that it only seemed to be mere minutes before I could hear sirens approaching. However, within a short time, Mr. Lachmanetz, Sr. had been carted away, and an attendant was ministering to my own wounds. Although I protested, she insisted that I return with them, and be checked out at the hospital. Eric, fearful of being alone, asked for, and received permission, to accompany me.

Not too much later, we arrived at the hospital, and I was helped in, to ambulatory emergency care. Not far away, I could see officers, a doctor, and some nurses working with the still unconscious Peter, Sr. They hadn’t even bothered to draw those ubiquitous white curtains. I was seated on a chair, to await my turn. The room was nearly empty, but not quite. Eric sat next to me.

“No, Maggy. No. He’s fine. Melony is with him right now. Really, dear. He’s fine. Our Petey is okay. He’s agreed to have those test done, finally…Yes, dear…Yes, I know. He’s been so depressed that he hasn’t cared about his health at all, but for some reason, tonight, he’s finally changed his mind…Yes, I’m so happy too…Okay, Mags, you should come down at visitation time…No, I don’t know when that is. Hold on…”

The older gentleman looked over, and addressed Eric, “Young man, do you know…” He stopped in mid-sentence, got this shocked look on his face, dropped the phone, and stuttered, “Yyyyou…”

----------

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