Fraser let his head hang, he simply didn’t have the energy to keep it up anymore. Cold was seeping in, but he almost welcomed it, it was peaceful.
With half-open eyes, Fraser watched the shallow rise and fall of his chest.
His ears were filled with the sound of his own blood.
He wouldn’t make it out of here on his own.
Ray tried to concentrate on getting the bar ready, but his heart wasn’t in it. He smashed a glass in the process and cursed when he cut himself on the shards. Jack knelt down next to him to help him clean up.
“What’s eating you today, Stan?”
“Nothing,” Ray brushed it aside and reached for the next bigger chunk of glass.
“Don’t bullshit me. I can smell man-trouble a hundred paces against the wind.”
Ray smiled at that. “I was stupid and you were right, can we leave it at that?”
Jack frowned for a second. “Oh. Ben wrote you a Dear John letter, huh? Telling you it would never work out and all that bs?”
“Something like that. Actually, he told me he was tired of acting like this meant something.”
“Ouch,” Jack winced.
“Yeah… should’ve known better.”
“Someone else will come along,” Jack exclaimed heartily.
See, Ray thought, that was the difference between being gay and whatever Fraser had done to him. Ray didn’t care for someone else to come along; he just didn’t care for guys like that.
Work helped at least and Ray could focus on mixing drinks, opening beer bottles, or washing glasses. When Jack restocked the fridge, Ray sidled up to him.
“Hey, I could use the distraction—do we have any VIPs visiting in the near future?” Might as well make the most of his situation, Ray thought.
“This VIP thing really tickles you, huh?”
“I’m always curious when people send me out of the room.” Ray grinned unrepentantly.
Jack shook his head with a smile. “Actually, Philly said we’d have another group tomorrow—a big crowd apparently. He said something about 6 people, which is about the largest we ever had.”
That would really be worth the money, Ray conceded. The sooner they could wrap this thing up the better.
“Greatness, so they’ll be here the same time as the last ones?”
“Guess so. Why, what’s it to you?”
Ray shrugged casually. “Nothing, really. I was just trying to keep my mind off of things.”
“I get that,” Jack said. “Oh, speaking of the devil.” He nodded towards the entrance. And sure enough there was Fraser coming down the stairs.
Ray hadn’t even noticed that the room had begun to fill and he supposed that Fraser was a little early.
Fraser’s gaze locked on his and Ray noticed that he looked a little tight around the eyes. When he saw Ray, however, a small smile appeared on his lips making the whole face seem younger. At least Fraser was being a good buddy about this.
Ray had been afraid to find Fraser in best spirits and he hadn’t been sure whether he would’ve survived seeing him happy about ending whatever it had been between them… a charade, Fraser had said.
Ray steeled himself—or he tried to. He expected Fraser to find someone else tonight, someone who suited his needs better than Ray. Fraser hadn’t even been there for more than 5 minutes and already a guy was chatting him up… Fraser would have it real easy to replace Ray.
And Ray… Ray had a turtle, beer in the fridge, and a remote control. God, he was pathetic. No wonder Fraser wasn’t interested in him like that.
Ray continued watching him throughout the evening, but he didn’t seem hell-bent on picking somebody up. If anything he seemed more withdrawn… maybe he was just decent enough to spare Ray the misery of having to watch it.
Later, when Fraser ordered one of his notorious waters, their fingers brushed when Ray slid the glass in front of him.
When Fraser withdrew his hand, Ray had a small slip of paper between his fingers. His heart beat like the wings of a butterfly as Ray opened the note.
“Would you kindly give me a ride? I’ll wait by the car.”
At first Ray felt disappointed. Some little glimmer inside of him had hoped… whatever, it was stupid to imagine Fraser would suddenly change his mind. But this was buddies, back to normal… at least they had that. Ray swallowed against the bitter taste. It just wasn’t enough—not after having had Fraser. Not nearly enough.
The car was filled with a corporeal silence and Ray was really out of words. What did you say after the guy you had been sleeping with told you he wasn’t interested in you? …what did you say when that guy was your best friend… maybe the only real friend you had?
You can sleep on the couch again. “Should I drop you off at the Consulate?” No more rejection.
“I would appreciate it,” Fraser replied stiffly. What now? Ray thought angrily. Fraser really had no right to be touchy about the whole thing—at least he had gotten some and from what Ray remembered it hadn’t been half-bad for him either.
Ray didn’t get it. Was he the only one who had felt this connection when they had… sex? He had been about to say ‘made love’, but after the most recent update Ray felt like a right fool for even thinking about it.
Ray counted silently to ten.
“The next VIP meeting is tomorrow night,” he told the windshield.
Fraser’s head swiveled around to look at him. “Ray, that’s good work.”
Ray shrugged. “I figured I’ll set the whole thing up with the feds tomorrow morning. Give them as much info as we have and then hope they’ll catch the damn bastards.”
“We might be able to give them even more,” Fraser said with a smile. “I have reason to believe that I have found the warehouse where the drugs are stored.”
“You’re kidding!” Ray exclaimed, flicking a glance at Fraser in the front seat. “And you didn’t bother telling me that earlier?”
“It hardly seemed an appropriate conversation to have with the barkeeper,” Fraser reminded him. “I had planned on meeting you before your shift started, but Mr. Meissner’s right-hand man, Sasha Peters, kept me busy longer than I had anticipated.”
Ray waved it off. “Yeah, okay. Wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. So, how did you do it?”
Fraser pulled two sheets of paper from his pocket and gave the information on it another onceover.
“I noticed a recurring shipment that is only imported by Meissner & Fish and then sold on to another company. I checked that company and it split into a network of other companies and whenever I tried to get some information on any of those I ended up with another list of companies. They only had one thing in common: each and every one of them featured at least one of three recurring names. One of them you have met personally, a Mr. Toru Takeda. Another is Sylvester Morgan; he belongs to the board of directors.”
“I remember him.” That was why the man with the thinning hair that had accompanied Takeda had been familiar. His had been with the other photos in the folder from the feds when they had briefed Fraser. “He was with that first VIP group.”
“That leaves the last one. His name is Aleksandr Petrovich, but he doesn’t seem to exist.” Fraser smoothed his thumb over his eyebrow. “Well, that isn’t correct as such. I could find all the official documents, birth certificate, social security number, but except for numbers he doesn’t seem to have a life. There are no current records.”
“Huh… okay, and where does the warehouse come in?”
“It was the only address underneath all these empty companies. It’s not listed as a business and its ownership is hidden by another bureaucratic trail of paperwork.”
Ray nodded as his mind slotted the different parts together to form a plan. “Good… let’s do the feds first tomorrow morning, then we can go and brief Jack at the club because he’s a good kid and I think it would help us to have someone on the inside, and then we can go and check out that warehouse before all hell breaks loose in the evening. Sounds like a plan?”
“I’m afraid Mr. Peters has requested my assistance for a few hours tomorrow morning and I didn’t think it wise to raise any suspicions before the operation is over.”
“What the hell has he got you doing on a Saturday?” Ray snapped.
“I haven’t been fully briefed at this point. As I understood it I am supposed to help with the preparations for the meeting with a group of business associates that will arrive later in the afternoon— the VIP visitors if we are not mistaken.”
“You be careful, all right?” Ray said with an uneasy twist in his gut.
“Of course, Ray. I will meet you at the Skydeep around 2 PM and we can go to the warehouse together.”
Ray pulled up at the Consulate and watched Fraser vanish inside. He sighed and rested his head on the steering wheel for a moment. He felt like crying. He had been so much better off not knowing how much more there was to Fraser… did Fraser have to point it out? Why couldn’t Fraser have said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ right there in the shower—or at least afterwards at Ray’s apartment? Couldn’t he have said ‘sorry, I’m not into you’ and leave Ray untouched?
Just one more day, Ray reminded himself, and then all the gay stuff would be over and Ray could shut the door on the alternate life he had glimpsed and Fraser could go back to picking up strangers in secret and Ray would never have to know.
Bleary-eyed, Ray dragged his tired body to the station the next morning after way too little sleep. He yawned and took another big gulp of coffee. He was too old for partying all night and then going back to work. He rapped on Lieutenant Welsh’s door.
It seemed to take hours to explain everything. He drew maps of the club, he recounted again what they had seen on the tapes, and he handed them the signed witness statement of Joey Carusso. Ray talked himself hoarse ticking off things on his fingers: the VIPs, the hidden room, the fake companies registered by a lot of hot air and the same three men, the effects of Push, and the papers with the warehouse details.
When he was finished, Welsh thumbed his nose and the federal agents smiled for the first time since the meeting began and congratulated themselves on their good work. Ray suppressed rolling his eyes.
They discussed where to position people inside and outside of the club so as not to warn anyone that the trap was about to snap shut and Ray left feeling fairly good about this plan.
It was already closer to half past 2 when Ray entered the club. He had tried calling Fraser, but he didn’t pick up. The reception inside of the club was probably dead. Jack looked up confused when he saw him.
“Stan? What are you doing here? Your shift doesn’t start for another 4 hours—hell, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t my job to organize the store rooms.”
Ray looked around with a sickened feeling.
“Ben hasn’t been here yet I take it?” Ray said, taking another look around just to be sure.
“Ben? Man, what are you talking about? Are you drunk?”
“Jack, listen, this is important. Have you seen Ben at all today?”
“No,” Jack said as if Ray was daft. “Why should he have come here hours before we open up?”
Ray’s hands felt clammy as he reached for his badge. He held it out to Jack.
“I’m Detective Ray Vecchio and Ben is my partner. We are investigating the drug that circulates the Skydeep. Ben was supposed to meet me here to set up the operation for tonight.”
Jack stared at him with his mouth hanging open. “I hit on a cop,” he exclaimed, shocked. “Shit, I’m sorry, I thought you were—”
Ray grinned. “Relax, I’m flattered. It’s not against the law to chat up an officer.” His gaze turned serious again. Fraser, where are you?
“Here’s the deal. There’s a whole thing going on with your VIPs in this club and tonight we’ll bust them and their whole stinking operation. You’ll have undercover agents in here tonight and I assured them that you would cooperate.”
Jack was still staring at him as if he had just become part of the latest CSI episode.
“Will you?” Ray snapped and Jack nodded his head vigorously.
“Good, okay, here’s the number of my Lieutenant.” Ray scribbled Welsh’s number on a piece of paper. “Call him to give you the details—tell him Detective Vecchio told you to. And tell him that Fraser is in trouble.”
“Fraser?” Jack asked with an empty expression on his face.
“Yeah, Ben, Benton Fraser. My partner.”
“Oh, sure. I will. What about you?”
“I’ll go rescue that damn Mountie… again.”
“Mou—” Jack began, but Ray interrupted him.
“Don’t even ask. If all goes well,” – and it better – “I’ll see you later for the grand-slam.”
Ray left in a hurry to get back to the GTO. Shit. Now what? Ray ruffled his hair in agitation. Fraser had said he was going in to work this morning, something about Peters asking him to, and then he had wanted to come to the club. Well, he wasn’t here now so something about that work schedule must’ve gone wrong.
With unease, Ray remembered the cell he hadn’t been able to reach. Maybe something had gone more than a little wrong.
Maybe Fraser’s cover had been blown. Maybe taking those papers was the one thing that had given him away. Maybe they had been on to him for longer.
Where would they bring him? …the warehouse… maybe. If they hadn’t shot him. Cold sweat broke out over Ray’s back. No, he couldn’t think like that. And as sick as the thought was… Fraser had the looks… what if they had thought they could use him for tonight’s VIP program? God, Ray felt like gagging.
He wouldn’t allow them to hurt Fraser. Not on his watch.
For a moment Ray agonized over where to go, the warehouse or the company.
Ray got out his mobile and called dispatch.
“This is Detective Vecchio, I need you to trace a signal for me.” Ray rattled through the digits of Fraser’s mobile phone number. “Do you copy?”
“Copy that, Detective,” the female on duty replied and Ray felt that the minute it took to locate Fraser’s cell was long enough to create the next civilization.
“The signal comes from an industrial area—” she began and Ray sighed with relief. The warehouse then.
Ray reached the warehouse with screeching tires. There were no other cars to be seen, but that didn’t mean much. They could have parked them inside or at the back.
Ray checked his gun one more time before he got out of the car. Fraser had better be all right or bodies were going to pile up.
Getting inside was child’s play and Ray hoped this meant they weren’t expecting any company. Ray almost collided with a guard as he rounded a wall of crates. Breathing quietly, Ray drew back and plastered himself against the wall. He counted to three and then he rounded the corner and knocked the guard out. He caught him before he could drop to the ground.
Ray dragged him back and pulled him behind another set of crates.
You didn’t see nothing in this forest of containers, Ray thought with dismay. He needed to get higher up. Ray climbed the first crate and moved higher. He realized that he was on the left side of the building. His view was partially obscured by a metal bridge connecting one side with the other, but at least it shielded him from being immediately noticed as well.
Ray spread out low on his stomach to peer down beneath the bridge and his heart squeezed painfully tight when his eyes hit upon Fraser.
He was sitting on a chair with his hands bound behind his back, but from his lax posture Ray figured they didn’t really need the restraints. His head was lolling from side to side as if he couldn’t quite control it or as if he was trying to do something else but couldn’t gather the necessary strength.
Miserable, low-life scum, Ray cursed under his breath. They had drugged him.
Ray took a deep breath. It wouldn’t do to lose his head now. Ray could see one more guard positioned a few feet behind Fraser, but they didn’t seem to expect trouble. Good, as long as they felt safe Ray had the element of surprise on his side.
He could make out two men in front of Fraser and was pretty sure he recognized Sylvester Morgan from his VIP visit. The other one was younger, of slender build, with very dark hair and fair skin. Ray thought of Joey’s description of the good-looking man who had offered him Push the night he was abused and wondered if this might not be that man.
He needed to get closer; it was impossible to hear their talk. At least Fraser didn’t seem in any immediate danger of getting blown away.
Ray moved a little back and down to a lower container to get farther to the other side. He noticed a crane a little further back and a staircase leading up to the metal walkway that went once around the hall.
He pulled himself up on the next container and found himself in front of the control panel on the bridge. He slid down with his back against it and peered around it. He was now almost directly above the group.
“He inhaled too much,” Morgan hissed at the fair-skinned man.
The man glared at him with contempt. “I wasn’t the one who pushed him into it.”
Ray’s gaze moved to Fraser and now he could see that the table next to him was covered in fine white powder. Shocked, his eyes went back to Fraser and half of his face was covered in what looked like dust.
“What was I supposed to do? You told me to keep him quiet.”
“I’m working with imbeciles. Does he look like he’s in any condition to tell us why he was snooping around now?”
Both men looked at Fraser’s barely moving form.
“He wouldn’t have told us anyway,” Morgan replied sullenly. “What about Mr. Whyte’s visit tonight?”
“We’ll stick to the plan,” the man said in a harsh voice. “And no more mistakes. He paid a generous amount and he will take the whole load if we get it ready for shipping by tonight. He’s our best customer on the East Coast and I want it to stay that way. Is that clear?” His voice could have cut ice.
“Certainly, Mr. Peters, sir.”
A light dawned on Ray. So this was Sasha Peters, the man Fraser had been supposed to meet. And he was also apparently one of the most important people involved in this deal. Ray would bet good money that he was indeed the man who supplied the victims. Getting them in and out of the hidden room with the help of the back entrance so no one ever saw anything. Clever.
“Do you think we can still use him?” Morgan asked anxiously with a glance at Fraser.
“If he doesn’t die on us first,” Peters sighed. “He isn’t used to the effects of Push; his tolerance level has to be next to none. He must’ve inhaled almost as much as that Gregory Klein and his nervous system simply shut down when the drug reached its peak.” He glanced at his watch. “If he doesn’t make it we’ll have to make sure that this one won’t be found. Whoever had him snooping around will be looking for him.”
Ray gnashed his teeth with anger. A real sliver of fear spread through his chest while he watched Fraser. He was hardly moving and it was only with the utmost concentration that Ray could make out the subtle rise and fall of his chest.
Okay, they needed to get out. Now.
Ray looked around; there had to be something he could use. His eyes went back to the crane. Hmm.
Carefully, he raised himself up to look at the control panel. Ray had never operated heavy machinery, but he figured one of these buttons had to do something interesting.
He hit the first one, causing the grappler to shoot all the way to the right where it used the remaining momentum to clang against the rails of the walkway with an ear-throbbing gong. Ray pushed another button and the grappler soared down, hitting one of the metal containers.
From below came surprised cries and shouts and Ray peered over the panel again and saw that the guard had left his post to investigate.
Quickly, Ray followed his movements from above until he had reached the site of the crash. Ray really didn’t like heights, he thought as he jumped down, taking the guard to the ground with him.
What was taking the goddamn backup so long?
“What was that?” Ray heard Morgan shout. He only had a couple of seconds, but all he needed was one moment to surprise them. Ray put on the black jacket from the unconscious guard and took his beret, angling it to obscure a part of his face. He took the automatic weapon and moved swiftly along the containers to where Morgan and Peters were waiting.
Peters had drawn his own gun, but his stance relaxed when he recognized the uniform of his security guard. Ray walked as quickly as he could without running and both men looked at him expectantly.
“Well, what was it?” Morgan asked, but Ray didn’t listen to him. He swung his arms and brought the whole weight of the automatic weapon down on Peters’s gut, knocking the breath out of him. Ray saw the realization in his eyes and took a certain satisfaction from the pain he caused. He raised his arms and brought them back down on his neck.
Ray heard a fearful gasp behind him when Peters dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks. Morgan wasn’t much of a fighter apparently and was rather looking for a quick get-away. Ray let the automatic clatter to the ground and reached for his gun.
He hadn’t gone far and Ray wouldn’t miss at that distance, with or without his glasses. He trained the gun on the back of Morgan’s head. His lip curled in anger and his finger tightened on the trigger. He should pay.
With a snarl, Ray’s aim moved lower. The shot rang out through the echoing warehouse and Morgan went down as Ray’s bullet tore through his thigh.
Ray followed him and cuffed the howling man to the chain of the nearest container without so much as a second glance. Peters was still out for the count.
Ray’s heart was in his throat as he approached Fraser.