Written by Shell
Tonight was his father's turn at Martha's trailer. Sometimes he changed his routine, but tonight he'd seen him head right from the church, and that meant either Martha or Rachel--the trailers were a little sparse on that side of town, because the town square took up so much room. Sometimes his father visited more than one of his wives, but Eli wasn't going to think about that or he would never have the courage to leave.
Before the move from Big Water, before his mother turned into a pale, thin, frightened mouse, the two of them would go to Page every week to shop for groceries. They even went to St. George occasionally to have the car worked on. Once they went to Flagstaff.
He knew none of those cities had a tenth the population that Las Vegas did, but he didn't know how to comprehend that difference. He'd lived his whole life in two towns that together boasted fewer than a thousand people, and he'd been a little scared by the crowds on Beaver Street, all those hippie college students. He'd only been ten years old that day in Flag, five years ago. His mom had been stronger then, had stood up at town meetings, stood up to Eisen. And so she'd taken him to Flag with her, because a band she liked was headlining the fall music festival.
She'd only been 15 herself when Eli was born, and at 25 she was full of attitude about the music she liked. His father called it devil's music and beat her when he found her listening to it. So she'd hiked out to the creek and hidden her cds and her boombox, and sometimes she'd take Eli with her to listen. So they'd snuck off one afternoon and driven south on 89 to go see Jenifur. The night had been cold, up in the San Francisco Peaks, and it had rained throughout the concert, but they'd stuck around, a little damp, until Jenifur hit the stage at the end. And now he was going to sneak off to see them in Las Vegas.
He'd been planning to run for months now, years even, but he hadn't found the courage. He'd watched his mother, beaten down by her husband and repeated miscarriages, fade away. He'd snuck off to the creek as often as he dared, to listen to the cds still hidden there. He wanted to leave, almost did once, before his cousin Heather disappeared.
He hadn't spent much time with Heather before she found his hiding place by the creek. Yeah, she was his cousin, but half the town was his cousin, or brother, sister, uncle, aunt... He didn't really like any of his brothers or sisters. His mom had just had him--never managed to carry a pregnancy past the first couple months after he'd been born- -and even though he'd grown up surrounded by half siblings, he'd always been a bit of a loner.
Heather was a loner, too, went to the creek to escape, just like he did. Only she was escaping her new husband, the one who'd raped her starting when she was 10. Jacob Smith was one of the elders, and he'd decided she was going to be his a long time ago. She wasn't given any choice in the matter-- no girl in Church Canyon was. He treated her nicely when she caught pregnant, left her alone for awhile, but beat her up after she miscarried, just like his dad beat his mom every time it happened to her.
He liked Heather, liked her a lot, but he never really touched her. She liked him too, told him so, but she held her self away from him. He used to dream about kissing her, but once, when she was crying, he'd gone to hug her and she'd pulled away, looking terrified. A lot of the girls in town were like that--frightened of any attention from a man or even a boy. The penalty for adultery was stoning, same for fornication, although the men were never punished, just the girls. He wanted Heather to know she could trust him, that he wouldn't do anything to hurt her, so he didn't touch her after that.
He told her about his mother, how she used to be. She listened to his music. She liked Jenifur, too. Then, one day, she told him she was going to run away.
They'd been meeting every few days at the creek for a couple months by then, usually talking about music or what was bad about the town, forbidden topics. Once Heather mentioned running away, though, that was all they talked about. They were going to run away together, maybe head to Las Vegas, maybe Phoenix. Somewhere big, where they could get lost, where his father and her husband would never find them. Someday, she promised, they'd see Jenifur in concert.
But Heather disappeared a couple days before the two of them were going to meet, planning to hike all night, make it to Page. He hoped she'd just left early, found some opportunity she couldn't pass up, but in his heart he knew she was dead. He'd gotten scared then, figured he'd wait until things calmed down before he tried to leave. Wasn't sure he had the guts to make any more plans.
That changed last month, when his father found him by the creek. Eli had sat and listened, as he always did, to his mother's favorite song, then Heather's, sound low even on the headphones, but he hadn't heard his father approach until it was too late. He had pissed red for days from that beating, but he'd been beaten before. This time his father hadn't stopped at beating him. He'd made Eli and his mother watch while he destroyed everything she'd hidden, then beat her into unconsciousness. Eli'd thought he'd killed her this time for sure, and he ended up being right. His mother had still been alive after the beating, but without medical attention she'd died a slow, painful death.
He'd gotten beaten again today for not paying enough attention at church, but usually his father left him alone for a couple days after a beating--after all, there were a lot more Eisen children in need of discipline--so he figured this was the night. Besides, Jenifur was playing in Las Vegas, one night only, the day after tomorrow, and he felt it would be a memorial to both of them if he went to the concert.
And if he ended up dead too, well, it was better than staying here.
A month in Vegas, and I still wasn't used to the slot machines in the grocery stores. In casinos, bars, sure, even in the airport--but who in their right mind went to Stop & Shop for bread, milk, and the slots, especially when they were available everywhere else? Sure, I went downstairs to the casino a few times, especially the first week, but the whole thing got boring pretty quickly. I'd always thought I'd love the casino scene. Maybe Quantico had changed me. Quantico, yeah, that's what did it. Not everything that had happened in Baltimore, from the shooting to zen to Gee.... I kept other memories at bay with a lot of practice.
I'm still not sure how I ended up with the Feds. Wasn't sure it would last, either, but while I couldn't stomach Baltimore Homicide any more, I felt lost until I hooked back up with law enforcement. Eight months after Ryland, another six months after that, and I needed to get back to work. And the allure of travel, of going undercover, of escaping into another place and another person, was too strong to resist.
Mike gave them my name. They were looking to recruit new agents from police forces, to try to smooth the always rocky relationship between local cops and Effa Bee Eye, and in the wake of Gee's murder investigation, not to mention the fact that Mike had jumped ship and transferred out of the sacred Quantico brotherhood, they'd come to Baltimore to recruit.
Don't know how Mike knew this was what I needed--maybe he'd just come up with my name by chance--but the Feds took one look at my service record and recruited me with a vengeance. They seemed to find the combination of Mayor's Security Detail and what they called "the best Homicide team in the country" (maybe it used to be true, but no longer) a good one. Or maybe it was just that no one else was the slightest bit interested, after the way the Bureau had treated Mike when he was their official FBI liason. So I'd gone from being Detective Bayliss to Special Agent Bayliss. Still caught myself trying to answer the phone "Homicide," though.
Whatever the reason I was here, it didn't make sense to stand here woolgathering while Ben & Jerry's Phish Food was about to melt in my bag, so I took off for the hotel. The Luxor, the pyramid, whose elevators move sideways and whose windows are at an angle. Vegas is a strange place.
I don't like Vegas. Despite the fact that it's fucking hot, fucking dry, and too fucking sunny (I never knew a place could be sunnier than LA, but Vegas qualified) with scenery (natural and artificial) completely unlike the Canadian plains, sin city feels all too familiar. I'll wake up in the hotel and think I'm back in that damned band house, or worse yet that last night in Edmonton. Jesus. It's been over five years, and I've seen a fucking therapist, gotten straight, no more booze, steady paycheck, new agent (thank god I'll never have to talk to Festus again), actual small bungalow in the Hollywood Hills. But I never know when to expect it-- the guilt, pain, and fear that makes me want to turn right around, go back into the casino, and get them to comp me (the big fucking rock star) some vodka. And some scotch. Couple of sixpacks. And send up a couple women while you're at it.
I shake my head, pull on my sunglasses, and light a cigarette with hands that only shake a little, just a little. Time to make the fucking donuts. Show doesn't start until 9, but we still need to work on that riff on the new soon-to-be-hit single. We'd fudged it on the album with some overdubbing and a lot of takes, but now we have to do it live, and that new bass player is a shit for brains who fucking doesn't know what he's doing.
Oh, the fans love him--girls think he's hot and dangerous, boys think he's brought some sort of rougher edge to our sound (untrue--Doug the bonehead makes no contribution to the band, it's all Chelle, Kat, and me). Truth is, he's been brought in by the label because he would "appeal to the demographic we're seeking." Fucking suits. Makes me miss John, who's now playing for a second-rate country band in Texas, unbelievable. But John Oxenburger would never pass muster with the suits.
The limo driver gets the door, and I head over to rehearsal, trying to focus on that riff, and how to get the dumb shit to play it right twice in a row. Make it through tonight, and tomorrow we'll head back to the coast, no, the next day, gotta do the promotional shit tomorrow. But then we won't have to come back to Vegas until the fall.
I'm not going to think about what it'll like to be in Vegas in late October. The date's not set in stone yet, after all, and fuck knows things change often enough in this business. Maybe I'll be lucky and the arena will go out of business, like that club in Winnepeg. Yeah, like I'd have that kind of luck. Maybe I'll call John tonight, catch up, see how he and that funky wife of his are doing. Exorcise the damn demons Vegas always brings out.
So I start trying to figure out, for the bazillionth time, where it all went wrong, and I want to call up Bruce and tell him (again) just where I figure that fucking camera of his should go. Fucking asshole actually took out a restraining order on me after I'd shown up, roaring drunk and ready for bear, once too many times that first month after.
After Joe went down, the band went down, fuck, my whole life went down the tubes. I still don't get what Kat & Chelle saw in me, that they fought so hard to keep me in Jenifur. Turns out they didn't want old Earl back--they went to bat with the suits to help me through the first months. And then the custody battle, I tried so hard to fall off the wagon and they just wouldn't let me.
They're a good couple, and good friends. Friends through all the shit of having a pop band with screaming teenybopper fans, through the growing pains as our music gelled and the suits fought to keep us in the same old pop box we'd long since outgrown. Makes me appreciate Alanis all the more.
And then there's Billie. Fuck, that was tough, getting through all the legal shit, and even tougher, getting to know my daughter, but we worked through it, and I see her all summer and for her school vacations. And I make damned sure we don't have any shows when she's going to be there. That's more important than anything else, and if that means I have to be in Vegas next October (after Thanksgiving, which Billie will spend with me this year), I'll fucking well do it. She loves me, amazing thing, teaches me how to be her dad, how to love her back.
My daughter has two fathers and a mother who love her, and she'll never have to go through any of the shit I did. Mary was a bitch during the custody battle, but she's okay now, and Evan has actually been great through the whole thing, making sure Billie knows both of us are her Daddies, and that just makes her more lucky and special than other kids.
So now Billie, whose dad (one of them) is a rock star, takes Suzuki violin in Canada, plays soccer in Hollywood in the summer, gets too many presents, and handles it all with aplomb. I have to hand it to Mary for making sure Billie didn't turn into a spoiled brat the first year I was in the picture, because I bought her every toy, bauble, and piece of clothing I could get my hands on--having the money from Jenifur and someone to spend it on (someone to love who wasn't the asshole that, let's face it, Joe was) was a rush like nothing coke or booze ever gave me.
Yep, I'm what my therapist calls "an addictive personality," and being aware of it only makes it marginally easier to control. I can't buy all that higher power bullshit the 12- step programs push, but I can dig one thing they say--one day at a time. One more day in Vegas, then one more, then home. Billie's spring break in a couple weeks. Keep your eye on the prize, Billy boy.
I sit in my room, nursing a beer, wondering what I've gotten myself into. Another week, and I'll be under, working to get the goods on some psycho polygamists in a small town up near the Utah/Arizona border. Day after tomorrow I head to Flagstaff, where they've set up a branch office that is at least marginally closer to Church Canyon than Vegas is.
The way Bartlett, my boss on this gig, described it, they can't set up anything any closer than that. Tough shit that Flagstaff is almost 150 miles away. Over in the Navajo Nation, even in relatively big (relatively being the key word here) towns like Page (population 8000, a metropolis compared to Big Water and Church Canyon, with around 300 each), the risk is too great.
"People up here are suspicious, Agent Bayliss, and they notice everything and know everyone. Half of them think the UN is a huge international conspiracy. We try to set up an office in Page and this will be over before it starts."
The nuts are everywhere up there--I've already heard of at least 5 or 6 towns made up of polygamists, some offshoot Mormons like in Colorado City, some radical libertarians like the folks in Big Water, Utah. Word is the folks in Church Canyon used to be Big Water residents,but they had a tiff with the mayor (the leader of the Big Water group, he'd had 8 or 9 wives before he died of kidney cancer last year, and something like 40 children) and split off to found a new town.
We don't really know what happened after that. The Canyon folks keep to themselves. They'll head into Page or out to Kanab or even St. George to pick up provisions, and the men of the town still come out to the tiny Big Water Post Office once a week for what little mail is waiting for them, but that's all anyone ever sees of them.
Even the weird Big Water School, with all its children with the same last names, isn't good enough for the Canyoners. They homeschool their kids. No one knows for sure how many children there are, because Canyon folks don't like Uncle Sam to know anything about them, don't care about saving on an income tax they only pay to keep the IRS away, and try to avoid filling out birth certificates for their home-birthed babies.
For a few years, in fact, no one paid attention to Church Canyon. They'd managed to get ahold of some land before Clinton created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and folks in the high, empty desert leave you alone if that's what you want. If it hadn't been for some sharp folks at tiny Page Hospital (what kind of hospital only has 25 beds? I can't get my brain around it--the CICU at Maryland Shock Trauma had 30 beds all of its own), we never would have known about the population boom, never had any reason to investigate the goings on in a tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere Kaibab plateau.
There are two hospitals in that stretch of Utah/Arizona borderland, the one in Page and an even smaller one in Kanab. On those rare occasions that something goes wonky at a birth and the husband involved has enough heart to seek some professional care, that's where he'd find it. Most preferred Kanab, which was familiar with multiple wives having multiple babies at home with poorly trained midwives. That's what went on in Big Water, had been for years. Kanab was safer than Page, which after all tends to Navajos from the reservation and is therefore susceptible to all kinds of government hanky-panky.
One night a couple years ago, though, a bad situation developed over in the Canyon. Not only was the baby in bad shape, but the mother was bleeding uncontrollably and seizing as well. It happened while the rest of the town was at one of their compulsory three hour church services, and the family involved was rather unique--the husband was a distant relation of Jeff Eisen, the leader of the town, and had been granted the practically unprecedented benison of bringing his one and only wife with him when he moved into town, and not yet marrying another, although there were plans in the works.
Most men who come to Church Canyon come unattached, having heard of the town through underground newsletters (these folks sure as hell don't trust the internet), knowing if they bring enough money with them, they'll have their pick of fresh young brides. Young men born there are obligated to wait to marry until they have enough of a "contribution" for the church, and money's hard to obtain, given the enforced insularity of the community and the lack of gainful employment. Married men tend to be the elders of the church, 40 and up, with an average of 5-8 wives.
So Paul Finkus was a rarity, and the fact that he loved his wife, Nancy, and didn't really relish the idea of marrying the 14 year old Sally Eisen in a month, made him even more rare. Finkus' wife was pregnant. Finkus questioned the midwife, a wife of Jeff Eisen's, about her training. She told him she'd attended 30 births, all in Church Canyon, with other midwives before she started attending women on her own. Because she was their Holy Father's wife, she was blessed by God, she said, so it didn't concern her that she'd had no formal training at all and had not read a single book on obstetric care.
When things went horribly wrong, the midwife prayed. Paul Finkus, already thinking this town was crazy, struggled to get his wife and son into the car and drove straight to Page Hospital.
The baby survived after being life-flighted to Phoenix. Paul's wife was DOA. All the CPR in the world won't bring you back if you bleed to death 10 minutes before you get to the hospital. The chief of staff, the hospital's anesthesiologist, spoke with Paul, explaining carefully the warning signs that should have clued any competent midwife that medical intervention was required. Nancy should not have died.
There'd been a local investigation, and the feds got involved--it was unclear whether Nancy Finkus had died in Utah or Arizona, but a state line had definitely been crossed. They hadn't been able to prove anything, but the statements they'd taken from Finkus had gotten the Feds wondering exactly what was going on in Church Canyon--they sure didn't want another Waco, and some of the stuff Finkus told them made them plenty nervous.
Finkus had only lived in Church Canyon for 3 months, and despite his connection to Eisen, had only been to one meeting of the Elders. They needed more information. They hadn't committed to the undercover operation, though, until Heather Smith, aged 16, turned up dead, washed up in a slot canyon down by the Paria River.
At first they thought she'd gotten caught in a flash flood, ignored all the warning signs posted by the hiking trails. The ranger hadn't seen anyone head out to the trailhead, but her name was signed on the register the day of the thunderstorm. They did an autopsy before they found anyone to identify the body--she'd never been reported missing, and they only identified her from dental records from her single visit to a dentist in Page when she was 8.
The autopsy found she'd been badly beaten before she was drowned, she'd recently suffered a miscarriage, and she had several healed fractures. I saw the pictures--it wasn't pretty. The flood washed away any other evidence, and as usual the town wasn't talking. The investigation was still open, but they had no leads. It was time for the big guns.
And apparently the big guns wanted me, so I'm going in. I'll meet Eisen in Flagstaff first, put down enough of a stake to qualify for marriage. I've spoken to the man on the phone a couple times--payphone, of course, he insisted--and he has a creepy charisma that reminds me of many of the smarter class of murder suspects I've interviewed.
He's checked out my references, mostly fake ones from FBI agents undercover in organizations like the Michigan Militia and Posse Comitatis, but also a few from Big Water, where the folks are cooperating so they won't have the feds on their backs. Even so, it's not a sure thing he'll let me in. They've gotten more cautious since the Finkus incident; the town is starting to look like a prison with the fencing around it, not to mention the guards.
I'm going in, going under. Bisexual FBI agent, former Buddist, former Murder Police, and I'm going to be posing as a fundie who thinks the X-files aren't paranoid enough, as someone who wants to marry 3 or 4 teen-age girls, get them pregnant, and have them wait on me hand and foot. I don't know how the hell I'm going to pull it off. To tell the truth, I'm scared shitless, and I suck down the rest of my beer in one long gulp. The cell rings, and I answer it the was I'm supposed to-- "Rawls." I'm supposed to get used to that name. I picked it to honor Chris, before I knew what the assignment was going to be. I know he wouldn't exactly be honored by who Timothy Rawls was going to be, but I also knew he'd support anything that got rid of people like Eisen.
Bartlett's on the phone.
"Rawls, yeah, listen up. We've had a tip that there may be a runaway from Church Canyon that made it out here for a concert tonight. No idea if the kid really made it here or not, but we do know he left a couple nights ago and hitchhiked at least as far as St. George. Guy who picked him up reported him to the local police as a possible runaway, and said the kid talked about this band the whole way. He said the kid's name was Eli, and he fits the description we have of one of Eisen's kids, Elijah, 15. Also said the kid was beat up and scared, wouldn't give his full name, jumped out of the car when he tried to get him to open up. Anyway, the band's called Jenifur--you heard of them?"
"Yeah, they're not bad. So what's the plan? I go to the concert and look for this kid?"
"No, you're a fundamentalist Christian, remember? Another agent's going, but we still want you involved. Come on over to the office and we'll give you the lowdown. It's a long shot, but if we're able to find him and make contact, it'd be great. We're getting in touch with the band, too, in case the kid tries to get an autograph or something."
"I'm not sure about this, Rawls."
"Look, I understand. It's not something you think I'd do, going to a rock concert before joining Church Canyon. But it makes sense."
"Explain to me how this makes sense, because I don't see it."
I feel like I'm back in the car with Frank.
"Somehow this kid--you said his name was Eli, right?--heard of this band, got their cds, became enough of a fan that we think he made his way here just to see them in concert. Given what we know about this town, couldn't he have had some friends who listened to those cds with him? Can't you just see them sneaking into someone's basement?"
"They don't have basements, Rawls."
"Okay, right, right, on the bedrock, no basements, so they snuck off into a side canyon with a boombox or something, all right? But I'm betting he had at least one friend."
"He could just as well have gone off on his own, Rawls. He ran away alone."
"Yeah, but if he has a friend, just one friend still inside the town, then anything I know about this band might help me once I'm there."
He argued with me for another ten minutes, but six years experience arguing with a master makes me pretty persuasive, and he finally agrees to let me meet with the band and attend the concert.
I get to the arena around 7, an hour before the doors open, and they're still rehearsing. Their sound is surprisingly hard-driving, almost thrashy--not at all what I remember from the fluffy pop songs on the Waterfront's juke box. Those songs had worked well on Ladies' night; these sounded more like 3 am on Saturday. Jenifur apparently got some balls.
"Finally! Okay, dumbass, you think you can manage to play it like that tonight?"
I look up onto the stage and see a lean blond with a low- slung guitar. He's wearing faded jeans and a brown flannel shirt with cut-off sleeves, a grey t-shirt underneath, and there's a tattoo visible on one arm. Doesn't sound like much, maybe, but he's the most striking man I've ever seen, period.
"Listen, Billy, just because you were some hotshit punk in fucking Canada--"
This comes from the bass player, who looks more the stereotypical rock star, complete with wavy dark hair and leather pants.
"Boys, boys--chill out already," says an Asian woman, the lead singer. The drummer, her face barely visible from this angle, nods her agreement.
I take the opportunity to move closer to the stage.
"Excuse me--Tim Rawls--I think you've been expecting me?"
"Right--the meeting. Doug, I forgot, but we've got this meeting, just me and Billy and Kat--it's about stuff from before you joined the band," says the singer.
"Sure, sure, leave the new guy while you go have your fucking meeting!"
"Jesus, you are such a fucking idiot," the blond, must be Billy, says. "Meetings are something to avoid, Dougie."
The other woman--Kat, she must be--adds, "Doug, just practice that riff some more, okay, so that it might sound halfway decent tonight?"
The bassist turns around without answering, playing miffed.
"Fuck, that guy's as juvenile as Pipe," mutters Billy. "But at least Pipe could play."
I wonder exactly who Pipe is, and what he played. Wonder if he played Billy. Jesus, what's gotten into me? Focus on the job, Tim.
The group heads offstage, minus Doug, gesturing me to follow them into a large lounge. There's a buffet complete with everything from Evian to Budweiser, cheese doodles to vegetarian pizza, and I realize I never ate dinner.
"Help yourself, Mr. Rawls," the lead singer says, gesturing towards the spread. "I'm Chelle, this is Billy, and over there is Kat. I've left Doug out of this--your agency mentioned it was important to keep things quiet, and he's not exactly the soul of discretion. What exactly's going on?"
"As I believe my agency told you, I'm working for SafeTeens, a non-profit agency working to contact runaways and work with both parents and social service agencies to determine the best course of action."
"You mean you don't just send them back to their parents?" asks Billy.
"Unfortunately, sometimes runaways have legitimate reasons for leaving home--sexual and physical abuse, neglect, that sort of thing. When we've assessed the situation thoroughly, and we believe it's in the runaway's best interest, we work very hard to reunite families, but only then."
The rest of the meeting goes well, punctuated only by the sounds of Doug practicing. Sounds like he's finally getting a little better. Fuck, it's about time. Maybe we'll make it through the concert okay after all. Not that the fans would probably notice his lameness, but the rest of us would.
We're wrapping things up, talking about where Rawls will be, giving him a pass, looking at pictures and a written description of the kid, named Eli. I'm doodling, thinking more about how Rawls looks than concentrating on anything else. I look up, and the guy's staring at me. He's a little embarrassed I noticed, smiles apologetically, and I smile back. I can't help myself--that smile's like water in this fucking desert town, clean and clear and refreshingly honest. No LA in that smile.
What's a fucking social worker doing being that gorgeous, anyway? Okay, I'll give you that his beard's a little scruffy, his grey-shot brown hair a little rumpled, his suit is wrinkled, and he has dark circles under those intense eyes, but that only makes him look more mature. I can dig the bookish glasses, though. I can tell by looking at him he must have had some teen age years like mine, looking years younger than he was. Of course, he had the advantage of height--he's got to be at least 6'3 or 6'4--but I bet it took awhile for folks to take him seriously, with that pretty-boy face.
It's like Rob Lowe--couldn't take him seriously until he got a few wrinkles, you know? St. Elmo's Fire--totally lame; he looks like a fucking idiot. Don't even get me started on The Hotel New Hampshire. The West Wing--totally hot, and you actually believe he's as smart as the character, which is quite a coup for him, considering he was stupid enough to get caught on videotape like that. Don't think Rawls is stupid.
There's something a little off about him, though, even with that amazing smile. Can't tell what color his eyes are, either--I think they're brown, but I'm not sure. Even through the glasses, they have a lot of depth, and maybe a lot of pain as well. Joe would make up an elaborate story about him, probably say he was a serial killer or something.
Kat and Chelle wander away to their dressing rooms. Rawls has been eyeing the food since he walked in the door, and someone that tall, built like that (built like me), probably needs regular refueling, so I tell him to go ahead. They always send up way too much food anyway, really kind of makes me sick.
He smiles again, says thanks and grabs a slice of veggie pizza and a bottled water. Now I notice teeth--always have. I've spent good money on keeping mine up, including caps for the broken ones, even when I didn't have two nickels to rub together, and this man has good teeth. They flash, white and pearly, when he smiles, and again when he demolishes half the slice in one impressive bite.
I stick around--haven't got anything better to do. Help myself to a piece, tell him to have another. He tells me he liked what he heard, that he's looking forward to the concert, and fuck if I don't feel all warm and happy.
I always used to be a sucker for a compliment; Joe used to call me a whore for it. A few years in LA have changed that- -when everyone is sucking up to you 24-7, you wise up eventually. But this guy exudes sincerity, and I can't resist. Yeah, you always were easy, Billiam. Joe's taunts, heard for over twenty years, haven't disappeared just because he's not around to make them anymore.
A cell phone I hadn't noticed rings at his hip, and he answers it with quick grace. Didn't know someone could be graceful answering a cell phone, but he pulls it off.
"Rawls. What? No, no, I understand. Is the city sending anyone? Okay, okay. Yeah. Got it."
As he hangs up, I get another funky vibe that things are a little more complicated than they seem.
"Everything okay?" I ask casually.
"Things just got a little more complicated, that's all," he answers, echoing my thoughts, shaking his head. "This particular case, we're very concerned about abuse, and we just got word from the police that the boy's father and some of his cronies might show up here and try to take the kid back. We're going to need to be really careful. We need to get this kid to safety."
"So all that talk about the runaway's best interest wasn't just bullshit?"
"What? No, jesus, of course not," he says, sounding annoyed.
"Good, that's good," I say. We look at each other again, and I believe him. "How does this change the plan? Cops gonna be here?"
"There'll be a few detectives here, keeping an eye out. Unfortunately, Vegas police aren't able to spare many, but they did promise to keep their SWAT team on alert."
"SWAT team? That sounds more serious than an abusive father! What the fuck's really going on here, Rawls? You a cop too?" Maybe that sincerity's an act after all.
"No, no, I'm not a cop. Listen, you're right, there is a little more going on here than meets the eye, but it's not something I can really discuss, you know--confidentiality rules, can't discuss the specifics of the individual runaways' cases. I've already told you more than I probably should."
"Yeah, okay. This kid's going to be all right? No fuck-ups?"
"Yes, he's going to be okay."
"Don't know why, but I believe you."
Rawls smiles again, shy but warm. My breath catches--this man is beautiful. I still think he might be hiding something, but whatever it is, I don't think it has anything to do with Eli the runaway. This guy would not hurt a kid, I know it in my bones.
"Okay, well, enjoy the food, Mr. Rawls--I gotta go hold Dougie's hand a little before the show."
"Thanks, Mr. Tallent."
"Call me Billy. Real name's Bill Boisy."
For some reason that's important, that he knows my real name.
"Thank you, Bill. I'm looking forward to hearing you play."
"Really? 'cause you don't seem like the Jenifur type. Suit, tie, those glasses--I had you pegged as maybe a jazz fan, Mr. Rawls."
He laughs, flashing those teeth again. "There's more to me than me than meets the eye, Billy. And call me Tim, okay?"
I smile back. Cunt. Shut up, Joe.
"You got it, Tim. See you later."
The concert goes well--Doug plays competently, a big step for him, Kat & Chelle rock, and I pass that sin city vibe into a saner place. Sometimes being up there onstage is better than any fucking therapist.
I head back to the dressing room. I tore a couple calluses-- time for the bandaids. Usually a sign I played well--blood on the strings and I don't even notice until the concert's over.
There's a knock at the door, so I look up and ask who it is. A boy sticks his head in. Takes me a minute to realize why he looks so familiar--he matches Eli's description, right down to the black eye and grubby red jacket. Another kid like me, like Tim probably--Tim said he was 15, but he looks about 10, Billie's age.
"Umm, Mr. Tallent? I'm really sorry to bother you, but I'm a really big fan, and--"
"It's okay, kid. Come on in--and shut the door, okay?"
Tim'll be making the rounds in a few minutes. If he was right about the kid's father, he's safer in here than out in the open.
"Really? That would be great!"
I hold out my hand. "Bill Boisy. And you are?"
"Elijah--Eli. I thought your name was Tallent."
"That's just a fucking stage name--Boisy's what I was born with."
I hardly ever give my real name, especially not to fans, but tonight seems to be an exception. Maybe the fact I first changed my name when I ran away.
"So what's your story, kid? How'd you manage to get back here?"
"I told the security guy I was a friend of Kat's sister. I read in Rolling Stone she has a sister who's my age, who lives in Phoenix."
"Which security guy?"
"You're not gonna have him fired, are you?"
"No, just want to make sure he doesn't make the same mistake again. You seem okay, Eli, but you'd be surprised what kind of idiots there are out there."
He just looks at me.
"No, I know there are," he says quietly. I don't know what's been done to this kid, but if anyone ever does it to Billie, I'll fucking kill them.
Just then there's another knock, and Tim comes in. He smiles when he sees Eli, shuts the door, and stands in front of it with ease and confidence. I realize he's blocking it, so the kid can't escape.
"Eli, this is a friend of mine, Tim Rawls," I say, surprised to find I'm telling the truth. But Eli, he freaks out.
"Oh shit! I knew that was too easy! Listen, I don't know how you found me, but I'm not going with you."
Tim crouches down, not so tall and imposing.
"Hey, Eli, it's okay. I'm not here to take you home. I'm from a group called SafeTeens, and all I want to do is make sure you're safe."
"Yeah, right, like I'm supposed to believe that. Where is he? I know he's got to be here somewhere."
"Who, Eli?" Tim asks gently.
"My holy fucking father, of course! I told you, I'm not going back."
Eli steps away from Tim and backs into me.
"Look, Billy, I don't know what he told you, but he's either with some group that'll take me back, or a private eye, or a cop or something, or even a friend of my father's, and if he's any of those he's just going to take me back to Utah, and I can't do that!" Eli's panicking, reaching to find something in his coat pocket.
"Eli, it's--" I stop, my hands halfway to his shoulders. He found what he was looking for. He's pulling a gun out of his jacket, and just like that I start to shake.
I look up at Tim, and he doesn't look scared. He looks concerned, focused, conflicted about what to do, incredibly intense. Not scared. Surprisingly sexy. My cock twitches. What the fuck? This kid's ready to shoot somebody, and all I'm thinking about is jumping someone's bones? I'm fucking useless.
Eli's unsure about where to aim the gun, wavering between pointing at Tim and at his own temple. Jesus. Tim's very aware of the gun, but he's calm as he speaks to Eli.
"Hey there, Eli, hold on a minute. I know you're scared. I'm not going to take you back to the Canyon, I promise. You are right about one thing, though--your father is here, along with some of his friends, and they are looking for you."
Eli begins to shake, then decides which way the gun's going- -he holds it against his head. I start shaking again. Couldn't stop Joe, can't see how to stop Eli, how can this be happening again?
"I am not going back. I'm not going anywhere. I don't believe you. No matter what, I'm not going back." Eli stands, pale and resolute, and takes the safety off the gun.
"Okay, okay, hold on, Eli," I say. Will he listen to me? "Whatever's waiting for you at home, whatever you're scared of, we'll get you out of it. Please don't do this!"
"Eli. All right. I understand why you're scared. I know about what it's like in the Canyon. I really am here to help you." Tim's voice is calm, soothing, but it doesn't seem to be having much effect.
"No one knows what it's like in the Canyon. If you know, that just means you must be a friend of my father's!"
"Eli. I'm going to tell you something, show you something, that will prove to you I'm not the bad guy, okay? I wasn't supposed to tell you this until later, because Billy wasn't supposed to know about it, but I can see that we've got a problem here and this is the only way to solve it. Now I'm going to get something out of my belt. I need to show it to you. Please just hold on a sec, okay?"
I have not an earthly what the fuck Tim is talking about.
He holds up his hands, then reaches one down to the waistband of his pants and draws something out of a hidden pocket there.
"Billy, Eli, this is a big deal. You're putting your life on the line there, Eli, and this is me putting my life on the line, okay?"
He takes a big breath, then hands the card over. Eli grabs it quickly with his free hand, too quickly for me to see anything other than it's some sort of ID.
"My name isn't Tim Rawls, Eli, and I'm not from SafeTeens. I'm Special Agent Tim Bayliss from the FBI, and I'm about to go undercover in Church Canyon as part of a federal investigation. We need to know what's going on there. We know what happened to Heather. She was your sister, right?"
"Cousin," Eli mumbles, still staring at the ID. His other hand, the one holding the gun, lowers slightly.
"She's dead, isn't she? Never saw her after that night. She was so scared, but she was going to get out. We were supposed to go together."
"Yeah, Eli, she's dead. I'm sorry--I thought you knew."
"S'okay. I figured. You're really from the FBI? I knew you were a cop."
Eli flicks the safety and hands me the gun. I practically drop it giving it to Tim, I want it out of my hand that fast. Yeah, big fucking rock star, Billy-boy, scared of a little gunsie-wunsie.
Tim, though, he just takes the gun and empties the clip, puts the gun in one pocket and the clip in the other, and never takes his eyes off Eli. It hits me--the gun was fucking loaded, the safety was off, he really was going to do it--and I sit down before I fall and make even more of an ass of myself.
"Used to be a cop in Baltimore, but I joined the feds a couple years ago. And I am going to get you out of here safely, without your father seeing you. And next week I'm going to the Canyon, as Timothy Rawls, to find out exactly what your father has going there. Okay?
"Look, Billy, I've got to get us out of here. You and the band should be okay--we've got agents posing as security guards and roadies all over the place--but Eli really is in danger, and I can't let anyone from Church Canyon see my face."
"Jesus, no, of course, get out of here, get safe."
I watch Tim stand up, put his arm protectively around Eli, start to head for the door. I realize I don't want them to leave. I want to find out more about this Baltimore cop turned FBI agent. And I want him to know he can trust me. "Your secret's safe with me," I say.
Tim turns on that warm smile again, says, "I don't know why, but I believe you."
I'm grinning back. Then he gets serious and says, "I, uh, I really shouldn't have told you. The brass is going to want to talk to you. Can you come down tomorrow morning? They'll give you a call and let you know where and when."
"Sure, no problem." I'll see Tim again. That's worth a little lost sleep, even if I have to talk to FBI agents.
"Great," Tim says, holding out his hand. He's got a good handshake, long fingers, firm, calluses on his palm.
I bend down and give Eli a hug, something I never would have thought to do before Billie.
"Listen, kid, I ran away when I was about your age, and while I don't know shit about your family life, mine was fucked up enough that I at least have some idea how you feel. You've got a better chance here than I ever did, so don't fuck it up, okay? Let these folks help you. And you, Agent Bayliss--take care of him or I'll find you and beat you, okay?"
"Okay, Billy," Bayliss smiles.
"Okay, Billy," Eli echoes. As they walk out the door, I hear him add, "Did you know his real name is Bill Boisy?"
By the time I get Eli settled with Zoe, then get thoroughly chewed out by several superiors, it's after 3 am. Seems a waste to go back to the hotel for only a couple hours, so I find an empty conference room, put my feet up, and close my eyes.
I open them again two minutes later, my mind a jumble of images--Luke Ryland, Eli, Adena Watson, old favorites like my uncle, like Frank, mixed with new faces. Eli--listening to him tonight, telling his story in a flat voice, amazing the kid got out. All those abused kids out there.
Eli ran away. Bill said he'd run away too, hinted at being abused himself.
Me, I stayed. I never really considered running--didn't see any way out except telling my dad, and look what that got me. I just tried to get away whenever Uncle George was coming over. One year a friend invited me over for Thanksgiving at his house. That was the best Thanksgiving ever. But Eli, he escaped, and so did Bill.
I can't get the man out of my head. Saw him light a cigarette tonight, and suddenly I needed one for the first time in years, just so I could smoke it with him, maybe get him to light it for me like he had for Chelle. I haven't been this attracted to a man since--well, since ever, really. Chris, he's gorgeous, but he couldn't hold a candle to Billy.
I've come a long way in the last ten years, and I like to think I'm pretty comfortable with my bisexuality. My affair with Chris, that was kind of a watershed, but I haven't really been seriously attracted to anyone, male or female, since Roger Fisk called me a faggot in the station that day.
I saw him once, when I went to Chris' restaurant to say goodbye. Chris had called when Gee was shot, invited me over for a meal on the house, and I took him up on it before I left for Quantico. Imagine my surprise when I see Fisk come in with a hot young Latino. He took one look at me, turned around, and left.
And let's face it--I don't exactly have the best track record with relationships. Emma Zoole, Fisk, Julianna, even Chris--he was great, I just wasn't ready. He tried to take things slow, I pushed, then I left, and I hurt him pretty badly. Deciding I've got the hots for a rock star is just about par for the course.
Yeah, an attraction for Billy Tallent makes about as much sense as having sex in a coffin with Emma Zoole--sounds hot, probably would be, but totally nuts. The guy's probably straight, and even if he isn't, he could have any man or woman he wanted. I may see him again this morning, if Bartlett and the others allow it (sometimes I miss Gee terribly), but it will be brief and professional and over. Maybe I'll be able to use my vast knowledge of Jenifur to get closer to some kid in Church Canyon (hey, did you know their guitarist's real name is Boisy?), and I'll pick up their cds at the mall after I finish the assignment, but that's as far as it will ever go.
I close my eyes again. Then I remember--there's a computer in the corner. One that's on the FBI database, and wired for the internet as well. Before I can regret it, I'm up and over and typing in Boisy, William. Then I add Tallent, Billy, under the alias section, hit enter, and start reading.
Three hours later, I wake with a start as Zoe, Bartlett's assistant, comes in with a pot of coffee and some pastries. "Oh, I'm sorry, Agent Rawls, I didn't realize--"
"It's okay, Zoe, don't worry about it. I needed to wake up anyway--you did me a favor."
I stand up, stretch, wince a little. Sleeping at the desk wasn't exactly good for my back. "Is this where the meeting with Boisy's happening?"
"Yes, I believe so. You'll have to ask Agent Bartlett to be sure."
"I'll do that, thanks, Zoe."
"You're welcome, sir," she says, smiling. "Don't let them yell at you anymore, okay? I heard what happened--you did the right thing to save that kid."
"Zoe, that is part of a classified federal investigation!"
"Agent Rawls, as you well know, I am Agent Bartlett's assistant. I know about the investigation, and I have clearance."
"I know, Zoe--that was me teasing you."
"Oh." She blushes. "Okay. You seem to be in a pretty good mood this morning, considering."
"Yeah, I think I am, actually."
It's surprisingly true. Sometime between starting to research Bill Boisy and waking up, my mood shifted. I have no idea why, but I'm going with it.
Keeping the positive attitude gets more difficult as the morning wears on. I have another argument with Bartlett, this time about letting me stick around for the meeting with Billy. He wants me to go to Flagstaff today. I bite back a few choice comparisons between him and Gee. At least he's not as bad as Gaffney.
Once again my experience with Frank the Jesuit helps me win the argument--I can leave for Flagstaff tomorrow, and he'll call me in to the meeting when they're ready for me to join them.
So I sit in his office, thinking over what I found out this morning before I fell asleep. Doug's comment about Billy being a punk makes sense now--he used to be in a band called Hard Core Logo, up in Canada. The lead singer shot himself-- on camera, apparently after a fight during a reunion tour. That explains the panic in Billy's eyes when Eli threatened to shoot himself.
Billy and the lead singer, guy named Joe Dick, had been the main force behind the band--when Billy left for LA, five years before the reunion tour, Hard Core Logo died.
Billy and Joe had been together for years--Bill apparently ran away from home to join Joe. Both of them had sheets in Canada--juvie stuff, mostly, but a couple drunk and disorderlies over the years. And there was a restraining order out on him--apparently he'd threatened the film-maker who'd gotten the suicide on tape. Sounds like McDonald had it coming. But there have been no arrests since he moved to the US in '96.
It sounds like the two of them lived the stereotypical life of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, at least as far as I could tell from the few websites devoted to the band. Some of them are full of speculation about "the true nature of the partnership between Joe and Billy." Even the Jenifur sites, much fluffier in general, often take a partisan view of Billy's custody battle.
Billy has a daughter, ten years old, up in Canada. Younger than Eli, than Adena. Apparently he's quite protective of her, refuses to tour when she might be visiting, that sort of thing.
The official Jenifur website is short on information and long on fluff, but some of the fan sites are more informative. One fan insists Billy's "the best thrash guitarist in North America." A lot of fans gush about how hot he is, so apparently I'm not the only one who's noticed. A few bemoan the loss of a previous guitarist named Earl, but more have reviews ("Jenifur Grows Up" in the Rolling Stone; "New Edge for Jenifur" in Spin) praising a maturing sound attributed to Billy's influence.
The FBI probably has access to the stuff McDonald filmed, the stuff that's never been released. I'd like to see footage of the band and people who've been so influential in Billy's life. Like Joseph Mulgrew, Joe Dick, who killed himself because Billy was leaving the band.
The intercom buzzes. "They're ready for you, Agent Rawls."
I stand up and walk through the hallway, the morning sun shining. My palms are moist, and I wonder what Billy will look like this morning--will he be tired, rumpled, from getting up so early? I get a sudden flash of that tattoo on his arm, body tangled in the sheets, gold in the morning light. I will my inconvenient erection to subside, carrying Eli's file in front of me, as I walk into the conference room. Seeing Bartlett scowling by the door does the trick.
But then I see Billy, smiling an encouraging smile, blue eyes warm and supportive, and my mood lifts again, not to mention other things.
"I was just explaining to Mr. Boisy exactly how you fucked up our operation last night, Agent Rawls--or should I say Agent Bayliss?"
It's going to be a long time before I hear the last of this.
"And I told him you weren't the one who fucked up, Tim--it was whatever assholes didn't know the kid's fucking father was going to show up. You did the only thing you could to save that kid--he knew the SafeTeens stuff was bullshit, and he was ten seconds from blowing his brains out. I sure as hell couldn't think of anything to help him, but you did."
"Thanks, Billy, I appreciate it, but maybe I could have found another way that didn't involve blowing my cover before I even got started."
Billy shrugs. "Nothing I can think of. And I also told your boss here that you can put me through whatever fucking tests or have me sign whatever papers you want--I'm not going to let anyone know. No one else in the band knows about the gun--I told them he went with you to SafeTeens, no problems."
"We appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Boisy, and we have an agent who will talk to you about all the ramifications of this incident."
"Fine, fine, but I want to know what else I can do to help," Billy says in a determined voice, like he's expecting resistance to this idea.
"There's absolutely nothing more you can do, Mr. Boisy, beyond never talking about this with anyone."
"I'm not so sure about that, Agent Bartlett. What if there are some other kids, friends of Eli, who run away? Isn't it possible one of them will try the same thing, try to see Jenifur? You need someone to be on the lookout for these kids. Bayliss can make contact with kids before they leave-- maybe we can set up some way for them to make it out, a sort of underground railroad, with a Jenifur concert being one of the stops, or something."
I stare at him. I know Bartlett will never go for it, but I think it's a brilliant idea. And that has nothing to do with the hard-on I'm hiding. Sure it doesn't, Tim.
Just then the door opens, and Zoe comes in. She goes to Bartlett and speaks softly in his ear. I can't hear what she says, but Bartlett's head comes up quickly, wary. He nods at Zoe.
"We have a problem. Bayliss, Mr. Boisy, both of you have to get out of this room and out of sight. Eisen's here, demanding help getting his son back from the kidnappers he says stole the boy. Waterman's trying to reason with him, but he's got a bunch of his buddies here and they're becoming a containment problem."
"Great, this is great," I mutter. "Okay, where to, boss?"
I hear raised voices coming down the hall and recognize Eisen's. Shit--no time to get out of the room. Bartlett gestures to the bathroom in the back, behind the computer station, and Billy follows me in, locking the door behind him. It's dark, but there's a little light coming in through the cracks, and as my eyes adjust, I can see Billy next to me.
So we crowd into this room, a bathroom, and I can't believe it. I'm stuck in a tiny bathroom with Tim Bayliss, Mr. Sexy Secret Agent Man, hiding from some psycho cult leader or something. Weird shit for a thousand, please, Alex.
I start to say something, but Tim gestures for silence. He's leaning up against the door, listening to whatever's going on out there. Probably not a bad idea.
Last night I watched Tim salvage what I was sure was going to be another fucking mess, Joe all over again, this time in real time, and I was blown away.
I have no idea what to make of Special Agent Bayliss, formerly a cop, with eyes that are sometimes brown, sometimes hazel, filled with depth, compassion, and pain. I want to know what makes this man tick. I want to know what makes this man hot.
I haven't felt this way about anybody I've met since--well, since I first laid eyes on one Joseph Mulgrew. I didn't think you could make that kind of instant connection with someone once you'd gotten past adolescence. Guess I was wrong.
He walked into the room this morning, obviously having slept in last night's clothes, hair and beard delightfully scruffy, circles under those intense eyes even darker, and he looked for me.
His boss was yelling at him, but he looked for me, and smiled as soon as he saw me. Obviously exhausted, fucked over by his boss, involved in some dangerous investigation, knowing I had his life by the balls, Tim Bayliss came in, looked for me, and smiled, genuinely happy to see me.
And I smiled right back, suddenly knowing I'll do anything I can to help him. Putz.
There are definitely some raised voices out there, arguing about FBI jurisdiction and kidnapping. I move closer to the door, closer to Tim, and I trip over a fucking roll of toilet paper. I reach out a hand for balance, end upgrabbing Tim's shoulder. He reaches up to steady me, bringing me closer. My dick is in favor of that. Then he bends to my ear.
"Sorry I had to put you in this position," he whispers.
I'm smiling again at the images this brings up, and I shift a little to accommodate the pressure in my groin.
"I think your idea was a good one," he tells me, and I shiver a little at the warmth of his breath in my ear.
"Bartlett won't go for it, but it's a good idea." He stops to listen, then continues.
"I don't know if we can pull it off, but I'm willing to try if you are."
Startled by this unexpected development, I turn to face him. Turn so quickly that Tim doesn't have time to move away, and his lips brush my cheek. Down, boy, he didn't know you were moving, it's dark in here.
I take a breath, focus, then nod. He takes out a business card and writes a phone number on it. I dig for something, anything, to write on and finally come up with an almost- empty pack of cigarettes. I write my cell number on it, start to hand it to him, then take it back and add MGM 1245, my room number.
Like he's going to come to my room tonight, right. Our hands brush with each exchange--his card, his pen, his pen and the carton back to him. Tim's hand is warm, and his fingers seem to linger just a shade longer than necessary.
The voices outside get louder, then end, a door slamming. I start to reach for the door, but Tim grabs my hand and holds it, motioning again for silence. We wait a few more minutes. Tim's listening intently. He hasn't released my hand--he's rubbing his thumb over my knuckles, absently, like he isn't even aware he's doing it.
Finally there's a knock, and Bartlett tells us it's okay. Tim gives my hand a quick squeeze, then lets go and opens the door, leaving me glad I'm wearing my baggies today instead of my jeans.
"That was too damned close, Bayliss. You're heading to Flagstaff tomorrow, you hear me? From now on you're Rawls, 24-7, 110%, you understand me?"
"And you--Boisy--just consider this one more thing that never happened, you got me?"
That's it--I've had it with this prick.
"I got you, asshole. I fucking told you already, I'm not doing anything to fuck this up. I saw that kid last night-- hell, I was that kid, or near enough, and I want the son of a bitch who did that to him gone, okay? You got that?"
Bartlett's staring at me like I've grown horns or something, and Tim's staring too.
"Okay, Mr. Boisy, we get that. But you better not slip up some night at a post-concert celebration, you hear me?"
"I hear you just fine, you prick, and it's not going to happen."
I turn away from Bartlett and back towards Tim, reaching my hand out. Yeah, I'm a whore. Want one more touch before I leave.
"It's been an honor to meet you, Agent Bayliss. Good luck putting that bastard away." I get another nice, warm, firm handshake.
"Thank you, Mr. Boisy."
And then I head out of the room and to my taxi, my hand tingling and my dick throbbing. Yes, it's a good thing I wore my baggies today instead of my jeans. I don't think anyone noticed--but I half hope Tim did.
Am I imagining things, or was there actually a vibe there? FBI agent, former cop, sure, and he likes guys. Right. But I can't help but think that brush of his lips wasn't totally an accident, and he had to have been aware he was holding my hand, stroking my knuckles.
Jesus. It had been a tense situation, and Tim had been really focused on the conversation outside (except when he was whispering in your cute little ear, you cunt). Shut up, Joe.
Tim does want my help, though, gave me his number, I'm not imagining that.
I get into the taxi, tell him to take me to the MGM Grand, and sit back. It occurs to me just how much Tim must trust me. I literally hold this guy's life in my hands. No one's ever trusted me this much, except maybe Billie-Joe sure as hell didn't, and Joe was closer to me than anyone else ever got.
The cab's starting to pull away when I see Tim walking out of the building. I tell the driver to wait and get out, walk toward him.
"Hi," I say. Brilliant conversationalist, that's me. My mind's gone blank, and I think I may be grinning like a loon. I've officially lost any street cred I had left over from my punk days.
Tim grins back, then assumes a professional demeanor.
"Mr. Boisy, it's important that we not be seen together, especially here."
My face falls as I realize what he's saying.
"Shit, I'm sorry. I'll get going. I just wanted to know how- -if the--" I stop. I want to ask about Eli, find out how the kid is doing, but I don't know how to do it without giving anything away.
"Everyone at the agency is well, Mr. Boisy, thanks for asking."
"Great. I'll be going back to the hotel now." It's that connection again--he figured out what I was trying to ask, and answered it.
Tim nods, then turns away. And I head back to the hotel for an afternoon of promotional bullshit.
This is fucking nuts. There is no way I'm going to sneak out of my hotel room, stroll down the strip to the MGM Grand, and head up to the 12th floor. I'm Timothy Rawls now, can't be Tim Bayliss, and Rawls wouldn't--well, I suppose Rawls wouldn't be in heathen Las Vegas to begin with, really, but that's not the point. If Rawls were in Las Vegas, by some unutterably odd circumstance, staying in this fucking pyramid (have to remember to stop the fucking swearing), he sure as shit wouldn't sneak out to go see a rock star.
I don't know where Eisen and his gang are. They could still be in town. I can't risk them seeing me, can't risk seeing Billy.
I flash back to something he said today. "I was that kid." Basically the same thing I said to Frank, when I told him just why cases with kids affect me so strongly.
Fuck procedure. I grab my keycard and raincoat, put on my Orioles cap, and leave.
Twenty minutes later, standing in front of room 1245, I'm not as sure. I take a deep breath and knock anyway, ignoring the Do Not Disturb notice sticking out of the key slot. If I read him right, I'll be welcome. He wouldn't have written down his hotel room otherwise.
The door opens. Billy's dressed in sweats, and he quickly gestures me inside, closing and locking the door behind him. He looks concerned.
"Tim, hey, what's up? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, I mean, I guess. Listen, is this okay? I don't want to disturb you or anything."
"Oh, the sign? Wasn't meant for you. But, shit, not that I'm not glad to see you, Tim, but is this a good idea?"
"Probably not, Billy, probably not."
I sigh. "The thing is, tomorrow--well, tomorrow I become a different person. I've put on a show for people before, you have to when you're murder police, gotta get into the perp's head, get that confession. But then you walk out of the Box, and it's done. There's a difference between spouting some racist shit to nail a white supremacist and living the lie completely, day in and day out. And tonight's my last night as Tim Bayliss, and there's no one here who knows who that is."
He nods, nods like he understands, so I keep going.
"Look, I may be way off base here, and I know it sounds crazy, but I can't help but think you might know who that is. Which is amazing, because I'm not even sure I know who Tim Bayliss is. So I came here, hoping maybe we could figure it out, before I have to be Timothy Rawls."
Billy watches me intently throughout this speech, not what I planned to say, I was going to say something about helping kids in Church Canyon. My breath catches as Billy reaches out, reaches up and puts a hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. I realize for the first time he's a few inches shorter than I am.
"Okay, Tim. Okay. Have a seat, talk to me."
We sit at a round table in front of the window. There's a sliding glass door out to a sizeable balcony, and Billy's room is really more of a suite. We're in a living area-- there's a couch on the right, big screen tv on the left, and there are three guitars scattered around the room. There's a small kitchenette behind me, and the open door in front of me leads to a large, comfortable bedroom. Another guitar, an acoustic, is on the bed, along with some papers. I look down at the guitar case by the table and see a picture of a young girl--must be his daughter--taped to the inside.
It's always easier to ask questions, so that's what I do.
"You're two people, too, aren't you? Bill Boisy, Billy Tallent--how is that? How do you do that? How do you remember who you are?"
"I don't half the time. It's better now--easier to be Bill Boisy, to keep Billy Tallent an act. Because Billy Tallent, he's an asshole. Mr. Hollywood Rock Star, sell-out, liar, fucking shithead, a drunk. He's the guy from Hard Core Logo, the guy who fucked over his best friend. I don't want to be Billy Tallent anymore. Boisy's the name on the songs, at least the ones I've written the last few years. Boisy's the one I want to be."
The venom in his voice is a surprise.
"I read about your friend--Joe, right? That must have been tough."
"Tough, yeah." Billy's voice is softer now. After a minute, he turns his expressive face back to me.
"What was so tough about being Tim Bayliss, Homicide cop from Baltimore, that you wanted to be someone else?"
I pause, my throat tight. I can't talk about Ryland. Someday, maybe I'll be able to tell someone besides Frank, who couldn't give me absolution. Frank watched me write Ryland's name in blue under Meldrick's cases, watched me leave the room, with him still holding my badge in his hand.
I can't talk about Ryland. But after all, Ryland was just the one event in a long string I've been trying very hard to forget. I can talk about some of the other events; maybe that will be enough.
"I was thirty years old when I joined Homicide. I came fresh from the Mayor's Security Detail, and I can't tell you how excited I was. Back then, before they started shifting detectives from squad to squad with no rhyme or reason, Homicide was the elite. Murder police, speakers for the dead, using their brains and not their guns.
"I was the rookie, see, the new guy. I took a lot of ribbing from the first day. And then, my first case, my very first case--it was a little girl, only 11 years old, raped and murdered, and I never closed the fucking case. My partner didn't want a partner, I was in the middle of a redball, and I couldn't lay it down. I knew who did the deed, all right, but once I finally got him in the Box, I fucked up. I couldn't get a confession, and we had to let him go.
"For years I kept Adena Watson's--that was her name, Adena, in her red raincoat and school uniform, dead in the rain--I kept her picture on my desk, or in my desk. I couldn't let it go."
Billy's blue eyes are filled with compassion.
"I got better at my job. Frank, my partner, he was amazing in the Box, and he taught me how to be a murder police. When we were in the car, together in the squadroom, we fought constantly, challenged each other on every issue you'd care to name. See, Frank, he was raised by Jesuits, and to him, everything is black and white. There's right and there's wrong, and no in between. Me, I think too much about the why for that. When we were in the Box, it was magic; we could read each other's minds after a while. We played off each other, played on the perps like they were musical instruments. But Frank, he was the leader, he was my teacher, my father-confessor, the one who drove that shitty Cavalier. I was the student, the supplicant, second fiddle. That was my role, and I accepted it."
I keep talking, tell Billy about working with Frank, the cases, Frank's stroke. I tell him about Crosetti's suicide, Frank standing at attention on the steps as we went by. I tell him about some of the other people who challenged me, challenged what I thought of myself. Zeke Lafeld's father, so relieved, able to cry for his dead son only after I told him we'd misspoken, his son was not gay. Meeting Chris Rawls, figuring out what I'd been hiding from myself for 35 years, getting stood up by Roger Fisk, Ryland using my website to stage a murder, Gee's death.
And I finally tell him about when I got shot. When I got shot, Frank quit the force, and I became a Buddist, only to throw that away by shooting someone in self-defense.
And Billy listens, those blue eyes intent on my face. Doesn't ask any questions, just listens, just accepts everything I'm telling him. It's such a shock after all those years with Frank, who questioned everything I ever told him, challenged every statement. And I think it's just what I need.
Tim talks, and I listen. It seems to be what he needs, and I'm actually fascinated by his years as a cop, by the cases he's worked on, his relationship with his partner. He tells me so much--me, someone he's only known for 24 hours, someone he has to know comes from such a different place you'd think there's no way we could speak the same language.
I think there's something more to the story, something he doesn't feel comfortable telling me, not yet. But he tells me enough for me to know that there is a hell of a lot in common between Detective Frank Pembleton and Joe Dick, and who the fuck would've ever thought that? Tim and I, we've gone through some of the same kinds of hell.
His voice takes on a different tone.
"You know, Frank never was a good shot. Me, the whole reason I was drafted into the Security Detail was my shooting, but Frank, even before the stroke, he had a hard time passing that firing test every time. He wouldn't admit it, of course. He wouldn't admit it when he froze in the squadroom that day Junior Bunk took out three uniforms, nearly killed some of the detectives as well. But I saw it--he froze, he couldn't take the shot, and that gave Junior Bunk the time he needed. And he froze again that night, I could see it happen. He had one eye closed, trying to aim, but he couldn't take the shot, and he was about to go down.
"So I took the bullet. I have to admit I thought the vest would protect me, but even if I'd known, I still would have stepped in front. I was closer to Frank than I've ever been to another person, still love him, couldn't bear the thought of the world without his righteous defense of good, the truth, the innocent dead. He held me in his arms, and he was screaming for help, and Munch was crying, and it hurt worse than I thought anything could, and I knew I was going to die. I was ready to die, knowing I'd saved Frank.
"But I didn't die. They told me, later, that Frank was there in the hospital, that he rode in the ambulance with me and held my hand. That he was there, along with everyone else. I don't remember that. I don't remember anything for days, really. And when I started to be awake more than I was asleep, when I really started to know what was going on, Frank, he wasn't there anymore.
"I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. He never went to see anyone when they were shot--Felton, Kay, Big Man, anyone. Shit, he didn't even see Gee--said we had to catch the shooter, that was more important. Never mind that I'd been at that hospital every fucking day when he had his stroke, I'd been there for him when Mary had pregnancy complications, I'd swallowed my pride and asked him to be partners again, because Mary asked me to-- none of that made any difference to the almighty Frank fucking Pembleton."
Tim takes a breath, and I nod to him, try to let him know I'm still here with him.
"In the time between when I was shot and when Gee was shot, almost two years, I spoke to Frank exactly twice. Both times were when I called him, and neither conversation lasted longer than two minutes. He was fine, the kids were fine, Mary was fine, what was I calling about. Nothing, just to talk, to see how he was. Well, he was fine. That was it, that was the extent of our conversation. We'd been partners for six years, he'd spent more time with me than with his wife or kids, and he just didn't care to talk." "That's fucking bullshit, Tim."
"What? What do you mean?"
"I think he was scared of you."
"Oh, no, no, Frank Pembleton does not get scared, Bill."
"He was scared to talk to you, because he knew it was his fault you got shot, his fault those other cops got shot, and his high moral standards wouldn't let him just fucking deal with it. He'd been with you for six years, and you yourself said, you were the one who always wanted the why, he just wanted to catch the bad guy and go on to the next case. You talk about how he taught you, how you became a better detective, but he didn't want to learn from you, did he? You opened up a chink in his armor, and he panicked. He was fucking scared of you, Tim, because he knew he didn't deserve you." I'm well and truly pissed. If I ever meet this Frank fucking Pembleton, I'll put the fear of God into him.
"Billy, no, see, Frank, he's not like that. He's just, he's got different standards, he doesn't let things affect him, he's always in control."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better about what he did to you? That's fucked up, Tim. I know what I'm talking about here. Joe--he might have had different standards, but he had a lot in common with your Frank. He was only comfortable when he was in control, when I was his, what did you call it, supplicant. It was all about him, how he would never sell out, and I went along with it for years. Played right along with his mind games, knowing he always won-- always had, always would. Fell right back into it when I thought the Jenifur gig was gone. I had to be Billy Fucking Tallent, second to the almighty Joe Dick, and when other things opened up for me, things he didn't have the balls for, he couldn't take it and he fucking blew his brains out. And I blamed myself for years; part of me still does. But since when is growing up a little some fucking great sin? Because that's all you did, Tim, you grew up, you didn't need him the way you used to, and he couldn't grow with you because he was too scared."
"You really think that, Billy? Because I never thought of it that way."
"You were there for him, Tim, and he wasn't there for you. That's not buddies. I may have only known you one day, but I can tell you you deserve more."
I reach for Tim's hands across the table, hold them tightly. Tim looks up at me, something like wonder in his eyes.
"You know, the last time I saw Frank, I asked him what he would do if one of his kids got into trouble, addicted to drugs or something. He couldn't even see it as a possibility. 'Never gonna happen. Case closed.' Even after all that time as a cop, he still didn't get it--that his Olivia could grow up to be another Adena Watson, that Frank Junior could get involved with someone like Luther Mahoney. As far as Frank was concerned, by the pure strength of his will, nothing bad would ever happen to his kids. And I had to wonder, if something did happen, if Olivia came to him one day and said, Dad, this person you trusted, they hurt me, would he believe her? Would he finally lose that complacency?
"I like to think he'd believe her. But I know, parents, they don't always believe their kids, they can't always protect their kids. Even the ones who try, and god knows not all of them bother to try."
"I know, Tim, I know."
His eyes are bright with unshed tears, and I have this fierce urge to pull him into my arms and hug him, hug him the way I hug Billie when she scrapes her knee or has a fight on the soccer field. This isn't just about Pembleton anymore.
Tim looks up again.
"You know, you said something today that I said to Frank once."
I wait, still holding his hands.
"You said, 'I was that kid.'"
I nod, not taking my eyes from his.
"My father beat us up. My mother was a drunk. That's all I ever knew, growing up. Meeting Joe, starting the band, that was my escape. Then my Dad came home one night, got pissed off at the noise, smashed up my guitar, started beating on me. Joe attacked him, and then he beat on both of us. Nearly put Joe into the hospital. Next day, we both left."
He looks at me. I look at him. I hold his hands.
"You were that kid, too, you told Frank. What was it for you, Tim? What didn't they believe when you tried to tell them?"
"My uncle. Starting when I was five. In the bathroom, shhh, don't tell, Timmy. For years. And my father, when I finally told him, he yelled at me not to lie. And I never told anyone again, until Frank, and he, he just said he was sorry, but I could see the disgust in his eyes. And it was never the same between us after that. I wasn't pure enough for him anymore--I was just another victim."
I sit back, stare at him in shock.
"Fuck, Tim. You're not a victim--you're a survivor. It wasn't your fault! You were just a kid--fuck!"
Where are my cigarettes? I've been cutting back, trying to quit, but I need a cigarette.
I stand up and start pacing around, looking for them. They're in my pocket. I light one, inhale twice, stub it out. I'm pissed.
I take a breath, count to ten. I'm still pissed.
"Tim. Listen, it took me a long fucking time to figure this out, and I'm going to sound like some idiot sensitive new age putz instead of a 40 year old punk from Canada, but sexual assault is sexual assault. It does not make you less pure, and it does not make you a victim. I bought into that once, but no more, and I'm not going to sit by and listen to you spout this bullshit about not being pure enough for Frank!"
I step toward his chair and kneel down. I grab him by the shoulders, make him look in my eyes again.
"It wasn't your fault, Tim."
I reach up and stroke his cheek. His beard is so soft.
"It wasn't your fault; you were just a kid."
The tears start to fall then, but he's not making a sound, just sitting there with tears running down his face, and I want to kick the shit out of his father, Frank, all the friends and lovers and relatives that never told him it wasn't his fault, never comforted him. I stand up again, holding out my hand.
"C'mon over here a minute, Tim."
He takes my hand and walks over to the couch with me like a zombie, and I do what I've wanted to do from the moment I met this strange and wonderful man, self-described "bisexual zen detective and FBI agent." I put my arms around him and hold on, rocking him back and forth, murmuring comfort. Finally, finally, he starts to sob.
"That's it, Tim, it's okay, you're okay."
I hold on, keep rocking him, for long minutes, until he quiets, still curled in my arms. He lifts his head slowly, cautiously, afraid to meet my eyes, oh Tim, it's okay.
"Sorry, Billy, I don't know why I just fell apart like that. I guess it just all caught up with me or something."
He looks at me then, and he must see what I'm trying to tell him, because the fear's going, and the wonder's coming back.
"It's okay, Tim. Really."
"I think--um--I'm gonna go wash up a little, so I don't get any more snot on your furniture."
"Not my furniture, Tim, so I really don't give a shit. Get snot wherever you want--maybe they'll think it's some new rock star way of making a mark on the room--we've got reputations to uphold, you know." I smile at him, and he grins back weakly, then stands and walks to the bathroom.
He comes out a few minutes later, and he's taken off his shirt and tie, exposing the white t-shirt underneath. His face and beard are damp and freshly scrubbed, his skin pale and creamy. I hadn't realized before just how thin he is. He's long and skinny, like me, in better shape--probably has to pass physical fitness tests for the FBI--but he's too thin. He looks beautiful.
"My shirt was kind of a mess," he says apologetically. His eyes are still red, but he looks at ease, for the first time since I met him last night.
"No big deal. You okay?"
"Yeah, I think I am. Thank you." He sits back down next to me.
"Frank--he wasn't the hugging sort, you know, and I think after I went out with Chris Rawls, he pulled back even further. And, you know, sometimes it helps. So thank you."
"You're welcome. Any time you need a hug, Tim."
I reach out again, put my hand on his shoulder, squeeze gently, and stroke his back. He's okay, he's at ease. He's mentioned more than once that he's bisexual. Fuck. Maybe I'll get to do more than just hug him, and wouldn't that be just, just, well, great. It would be great. My dick definitely thinks it would be great.
"That feels nice, Billy."
I keep stroking him, moving my hand up and down, neck, forearm, back, reveling in the soft, warm skin. Tim closes his eyes, leans back into me, turning a little, bringing his long legs up on to the couch, giving me better access to his back and shoulders. Hey, I can take a hint, so I start massaging his shoulders, encouraging him to lean back even more. I bring one leg up on the couch and stretch it out next to his thigh.
I've never done this for a man before. Women, yeah, groupies like Mary, but never with a man. Sex with Joe, it was all about power, a violent struggle to get each other off, mind fucks and hand jobs, not this warm, gentle sensuality. Being on stage was the only foreplay we'd ever needed, the only foreplay Joe would even tolerate. Called me a pussy if I kissed him.
The few other times I've been with men have been quick, faceless encounters. Even the women I've been with, the ones I've given backrubs, it wasn't like this.
This is different. This is fucking terrifying, because I don't just want to get off together, have some fun--I want to know this man, sleep next to him (only ever did that with Joe), see what he looks like when he wakes up, find out what he likes for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner.
The longest relationships, if you could call them that, that I've ever had have been with Mary and with Joe. I'd spent a year with Mary as my exclusive groupie, but we'd been drunk more than we were sober. I really didn't have a clue what made her tick until the custody suit. And you know, I think a lot of the attraction was that she wanted me. Me, as in not Joe. She wouldn't even let him in bed with us, and that pissed him off.
Joe was jealous. Jesus, maybe that's why it went as far as it did. Why I woke up one morning after passing out in the room, wondering why I was sore, went to the can and discovered I was bleeding.
He'd been pushing to fuck me for so long, but he'd always seemed to respect that it was a line he couldn't cross. I blew him, he never blew me; he was in charge in bed as in everything else, but I wouldn't agree to that. Thought he was okay with that. Found out wrong, and that was why I left.
Tim's turned to face me, and I realize I've stopped massaging. I'm just sitting there with my hands on his shoulders, not moving.
"What's wrong? Is it--did I make you uncomfortable? Look, it's okay, I don't expect anything--"
"Tim, no, it's okay. Got lost for a minute. I, I'm not uncomfortable. It feels good to be with you, really good. It's just been a long time for me, and I don't want to screw anything up."
"You're not uncomfortable? So, it's okay, you don't mind, it doesn't freak you out?"
I move my hand up, stroke his cheek again, his beard, brush his lips with my fingers.
"I'm not freaked out, Tim."
He leans into my hand. Puts his hand over mine, brings it up to his lips, kisses my palm softly, then leans forward and kisses my forehead, my nose, my cheeks. Then his lips meet mine, so softly, slightly parted, moving against mine with gentle pressure. My cock fills as he tastes my lips, soft and gentle, incredibly erotic. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced--amazing, beautiful. Beautiful man. I'm losing my edge here, but Joe can go fuck himself. If this makes me a pussy, so be it.
Tim reaches for my torso, lifts my sweatshirt, strokes my chest, my nipples, with those long fingers. I gasp, press my tongue into his mouth, deepening the kiss, and bring my arms around him, under his shirt, glorying in all that soft skin, pulling him close. I reach up higher, and my fingers find something. It's long, raised, and bumpy, with a sunken center, close to his underarm, and I'm startled as I realize what it is. Tim pulls back a little. "Where you were shot?"
Tim nods, face flushed.
"Can I see?" I start to pull his shirt off, and Tim finishes, grimacing a little as he pulls it over his head.
"It still hurts?"
"No, it's just a little tight sometimes."
Tim lifts his arm obligingly when I ask, and I run my fingers over the scar, examining it closely. Jesus, it looks angry, even now, years later. No wonder it gets tight. I bend quickly and run my nose over it, enjoying Tim's clean scent, then lips and tongue. Tim's arm comes down around me, pulling at my sweatshirt, so I take it off. We kiss again, so sweet, and then Tim falls back onto the couch and pulls me down with him.
We both gasp as our chests meet, then stretch our legs out. I can feel his erection next to mine, and I bury my face in his chest and moan, rocking against him. His hands slide down my back and under my sweats, cupping my ass, working our cocks into alignment. He's kissing, licking, nuzzling my shoulders and neck, and I'm tasting first one tight pink nipple, then the other. I can feel his beard, soft and wiry, against my collarbone as he suckles my neck. Fuck that's good. I feel like I'm drowning in sensation, and all of a sudden I'm close, too close, have to back off or it'll all be over, so I break away. "Fuck, Tim, hold on a minute, okay?"
"Something wrong, Bill?" Tim asks, reaching those long fingers around to the front of my sweats, brushing gently against the tip of my cock.
"No, no, it's just--oh god--Tim, this is amazing, but wouldn't it be even better without the pants? And maybe on the bed, because you know your feet are sticking two feet off the edge of this fucking couch."
"Of course, yeah, Billy, you're right, the bed, no pants, my legs--"
"Tim, you're babbling. Come on."
Somehow we make it into the bedroom, managing to avoid furniture, guitars, dirty clothes, and suitcases. I move my acoustic off the bed, the songs I was working on land on the floor, and then Tim's practically on top of me, reaching, pulling down my sweats, freeing my erection.
I go for his belt, but, fuck, he's managed to get it off already, along with all the rest, while I moved the guitar. We stand a minute together beside the bed, and I'm aware again how tall he is, and then I hold out my hand and guide him onto the bed beside me.
We lay there for a minute, hands on each other's hips, lips meeting for another one of those mindblowing, amazing kisses, tongues tangling, exploring, tasting. Then Tim wraps long arms and legs around me, pulling me up and over, hands on my ass again nudging us perfectly together.
I reach down, find the long, hard length beneath me, and stroke. Tim moans and bucks, then his hand covers mine and opens my fingers, showing me that we can each put our hands together around both our dicks, both slick and weeping, so close.
His other hand, still on my ass, moves lower, then lower still, caressing, moving, exploring. Those long fingers stroke from my balls to my hole and that's all it takes to send me over the edge, grunting, moaning, spraying our chests with spurt after spurt. Tim joins me seconds later, shuddering, crying out, and coming just as hard.
I rest my head on his heaving chest, my heart pounding, waiting to catch my breath, our hands still entwined around our softening cocks. That--that was fucking incredible. I know it's been awhile since I've been with someone, but I don't remember ever coming that hard, even high on coke, sharing a groupie with Joe, sharing Joe with a groupie.
Our breathing slows, and Tim caresses the back of my neck, urges me up for a slow, sweet kiss. I settle in his embrace. It feels right to be here, right to be in his arms, feeling him stroke my back.
He stops stroking, tenses up.
"Tim?" Fuck, what's wrong?
"Bill, I hate to do this, but I've got to go."
I look up and see regret in his eyes, hazel now in the lamplight. "Got to go, huh?"
"I've been gone for hours--someone may have noticed--and I leave in--" he looks at the clock next to the bed "--six hours for Flagstaff. Believe me, I'd like nothing better than to stay, you have no idea how much I wish I could, but I can't. This investigation--it's too important. I can't do anything else to screw it up."
"Yeah, I get that. Let's get you cleaned up, at least."
I stand up, go over to the bathroom for some washcloths, run the warm water over them, and clean his belly, his chest, his cock, which stirs at my touch, and I wish he didn't have to go, but I think about Eli and know he has to. I gather up his clothes, belt, shoes, and bring them over to the bed. Tim's sitting at the edge, and he grabs me, pulls me down for a deep, burning kiss.
"Bill, I don't know how to thank you for tonight. You gave me something--gave me back a piece of myself, I think--an incredible gift."
I stroke his face for a minute, trying to memorize his features.
"How long is this assignment, Tim?"
"Six months at least, Billy; it could be years. As long as it takes. I'm sorry I can't give you any better answer than that, and I wish more than I can tell you that we'd met under better circumstances."
"Years. Tim, I can wait years. But I want to know that you're going to be safe."
I just said I'd wait years for this man, and fuck if I didn't mean it. Just keep him safe, please keep him safe, so I can figure this out. Even if it's years.
"I can't promise that, Bill, I'm sorry. And I don't expect you to wait for me."
"I think I will, though, Mr. Secret Agent Man Timothy Bayliss. And when you're done with this, I'm planning on fucking your brains out, if that's okay."
He smiles. "Bill, I'm not a secret agent. I'm an FBI agent, going undercover. But it's definitely okay."
"If I like thinking that I have a Secret Agent Man for a lover, you're not going to take that away from me, are you? I've got to have something to fantasize about while you're off saving the world for the fucking American Way."
He laughs, kisses me again, and finishes dressing.
"Fine, fine, I'll just fantasize about my Hollywood Rock Star, Billy Fucking Tallent, who definitely has talent where it counts, okay?"
"Whatever keeps you warm at night, Tim." I pull up my sweats and follow him to the door.
"Will I hear from you? Will you let me know that you're safe?"
"I don't know, Bill. I--I may send you some more runaways, if I can, but I really don't know if I'll find any way to contact you without putting you and the investigation in jeopardy. If I can, if there's any way I can, I will contact you."
I nod, knowing he will. I hug him again, holding on tightly, then he kisses me quickly and walks out through the door.
After I convince Agent Kowalski, who came looking for me, that I just went for a long walk--"you know what it's like, man, it's my last night here and I couldn't sleep, needed to get out"--I drop off to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. I dream of Billy.
The next morning, I shave my beard, and someone from the Bureau comes and cuts my hair, short, like it was before Frank's stroke. They give me some new glasses--cheap plastic ones, they look odd in the mirror--and a new wardrobe. No more suits and ties, from now on it's jeans, hiking boots, flannel shirts.
It feels strange to be carrying a boot gun but no shoulder holster, no badge. I keep my cell phone, but I turn in all my identification and get an Illinois driver's license issued to Timothy B. Rawls, 41, remember that new birthday, new social security number.
Timothy doesn't believe in credit cards, resents the fact that he has to carry a license and have a social security number. He's a cash kind of guy. Doesn't trust banks because they're not on the gold standard. He's fucking nuts, a racist, homophobic, sexist pig, and I get to be him all the time now. Lucky me.
They give me a briefcase with my stake--$150,000 in a mixture of gold coin and non-sequential bills--every serial number has been copied. Timothy B. Rawls makes his money shipping illegal guns to militias and hate groups. They also give me $10,000 in cash for my own use, and I sign vouchers for all of it. The paperwork involved in something like this is pretty deep. I also sign vouchers for the IDs, three guns, four rifles, a jeep, and the Winnebago I'll be living in until I build a house in Church Canyon.
"Can I talk to you for a minute, Agent Bayliss?" It's weird to hear my own name. I look up, and Agent Bartlett's standing in front of me, looking, well, concerned.
"Sure, boss, what's up?"
"Listen, Tim, what you're doing, it's going to be the hardest thing you've ever done. You'll have no way to contact us easily--you'll be on your own, with no one to talk to. Going undercover is hard enough when you've got support nearby."
I nod to show I'm listening. I've been expecting this little pep talk.
"I just wanted to let you know that I think you can do this, and do it well. We all know this is an extremely important assignment, and an extremely dangerous one. No matter how much we want to take Eisen down, he's not worth your life, Tim. If you need to, you get the hell out of there, understood?"
"Good. I know you've memorized the contact words and numbers. I only hope you won't have to use them. We'll expect monthly reports to the PO box in Flagstaff."
I nod again, gather up my gear, and follow him down to the service elevators. We take an unmarked car to the airport, watching to make sure we're not being tailed. The Winnebago, jeep hitched behind it, is in long-term parking. I get in it and head to Flagstaff, trying not to think of Billy.
Notes: Page, Big Water, Kanab, Church Wells, and Colorado City are all real places, much the way I described them. There are several direct entry (lay) midwives in Big Water, but most of them are very dedicated and have indeed studied obstetrics textbooks. The former mayor of Big Water did indeed have 8 or 9 wives and was the leader of a group of radical libertarian polygamists. When I left the area in 1997, he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. I don't know if he's still alive. The polygamists in Big Water left me alone once they found out I planned on midwifery school-- they knew I didn't agree with their lifestyle, but they were perfectly pleasant to me.
Page Hospital really does only have 25 beds. I worked there for just over a year. Their anesthesiologist, Ron Harbut, is the medical director, and he's very dedicated, as well as being a huge fan of The X Files.
I've tried to keep physical descriptions of the Kaibab Plateau (in this and other stories) as accurate as memory and my atlas will allow. Church Canyon, however, is completely fictional. But people up there really are pretty insular, despite the outward friendliness to the roughly 3 million visitors that come through Page every year, and there is a lot of paranoia about government interference.