“Thank you for choosing West Sky Aid, what can we fix for you?”
“You've got to be fucking kidding me.”
The kid on the other end of the line sounded twelve, maybe fourteen tops.
“No, sir or ma’am or neuter, we take our clients very seriously. What can we fix for you?”
It sounded cheerful, almost perky. As if he'd called a legitimate business instead of some dark web clean up. He scowled into the phone. “You can start by getting me someone who's not a preteen.”
“I assure you that I am of legal age to be conducting business. Are you going to tell me yours?”
“Maybe if you didn't sound like a kid, you'd do better business.”
“Yeah, well, you sound like a chain-smoker. If you're lonely, the sex hotline is a three instead of a nine in the same number you've just called.”
The fake-peppy voice disappeared with the sarcasm. He leaned back in his chair. Now they might get somewhere. “I'm not going to call a sex hotline for help. You say you specialize in solving the unsolvable. Well, I've got a problem.”
Dryly, “Yes, I can see that. Why don't you tell me what it is?”
“I'm being framed for murder. I need the charges to disappear.” He waited for the gasp of disbelief, the sudden backtracking as the kid tried to explain that they couldn't do it.
“I see. Just the charges? You have some options here. We can take care of the judge, either financially or otherwise, or if you'd prefer, we can eliminate the one pressing charges against you.”
Matter-of-fact now they were discussing business. He liked it better than the perky rainbow voice, but not as much as the snarky comment. “Just the charges will do,” he said. “The one doing the framing is my brother.”
He lit up a cigarette and tried not to think about the accusation of chain-smoking.
“Okay, I'll need your name.”
He stubbed the cigarette out. “Give me something first,” he demanded.
“I'm not giving my name out to strangers without something of equal or greater value.”
“You do realize that you called us with your problem, yes?”
He lit up another one and waited.
“My name is Nathaniel. Yours?”
“If you want my last name, you need to give me something for it.”
There was a significant pause. Finally, “Wesninski.”
Andrew considered this. The name Wesninski was like gold in certain circles. He wondered if this Nathaniel was any relation to Nathan. He didn't want to ask. “Minyard,” he gave in return.
“Andrew Minyard.” Another, shorter pause, and Andrew could just barely make out the sound of typing over the phone. “Ah, here you are. Accused of the murder of Drake Spear, I see. And Aaron is the one doing the framing? Did he do it?”
A lump of ice settled into Andrew's stomach at the words. He took a long drag on the cigarette while he considered what to say. If Nathaniel got that much information with just his name…
“Give me something before I answer your question,” he said, stalling for time.
“What do you want?”
“Your worst memory.”
“All of my memories are terrible,” Nathaniel replied, and his voice was so dry that the Sahara needed a rainstorm just to balance things out. “How about the time my father hit me with a hot iron?”
“Yeah, Drake mistook Aaron for me. Unfortunately, so did the cops.”
“No loss,” was Nathaniel's answer. “If Aaron hadn't done it, someone else would have. Spear was on our list.”
There was a wealth of information in that brief statement. Andrew tucked it away to think about later, when he wasn't half-drunk and pissed off.
There was another pregnant pause, filled with soft typing. “Charges dropped, the arresting officer has been indicted for abusing his power, and the trial has been changed from a full criminal hearing to a civil process in which the judge will apologize for the trouble. Thanks for your business.”
The line went dead. Andrew stared at his phone in shock, wondering if it had really been that easy. A moment later, an email notification popped up informing him of the changes to his upcoming court date. He stared at it for a long time.
When he moved, it was just to switch to the browser.
“Who are you, Nathaniel Wesninski?”
Ten results came back. He ran the search again, sure that there was something missing. Eleven popped up this time. At the top of the list was his name.
He clicked it, and it opened up to a simple black website with the same words emblazoned across the screen. The page refreshed automatically and came back with a 404 Not Found error. Andrew clicked back to his search. Ten results.
When he went to bed a few minutes later, he had to reach up and touch his face to recognize the expression he wore as a smile.
“All rise for the Honorable Judge Cornwall, now presiding over this court.”
Andrew grudgingly got to his feet as the judge entered through the back door and seated himself at the desk.
“Mr. Andrew Minyard, please approach the bench,” said Cornwall, dispensing with the formalities. Andrew was escorted over by the court officer, who winked at him. “First of all, we owe you an apology,” the judge said once he was close enough. “Certain documents and files have been made available to this court that prove without question that it was not only self-defense, it was justified.” He raised his voice to be heard in the rest of the room. “All charges dismissed,” he said. In a lower voice, he added, “Please follow Officer Pike into the next room, we need to discuss a few things privately.”
Baffled, Andrew did as he was told. The next room looked like a business area, with a large table and almost twelve chairs arranged around it. An open laptop beckoned.
Pike, who'd visited his class recently to talk about the merits of courtroom duty versus patrol, invited him to seat himself while they waited for the judge.
“What's this about?”
“An anonymous tip came in that Spear was a first class asshole,” Pike said. “Videos were included.”
Still confused but getting wary, Andrew sat stiffly. When the door opened again, it didn't admit a judge but a woman Andrew thought he'd never lay eyes on again.
A sobbing Cass Spear threw herself at him. “I'm so sorry, AJ!” Andrew let her hug him without moving. “I didn't want to believe it, but then they told me he recorded everything and I - I had to identify y-you on that horrible f-film!”
Ice dropped into his stomach at her words. The door swung open a second time to admit the judge. Cornwall settled himself at the head of the table.
“Mrs. Spear has agreed to speak today in exchange for a lesser sentence,” he said. “Do you know why we're here?”
He didn't want to say it. “I can guess.”
Cass pulled back and took her own seat, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “I didn't want to believe it,” she said again, beseeching the judge. “He's my son. ”
“Just as you wanted to make Andrew your son.” Cornwall’s voice could have frozen ice into steel. “And subject him to Drake Spear for years, perhaps longer.”
Cass burst into a fresh round of tears. “Why didn't you tell me?” she demanded.
“Because he was your son,” Andrew heard his voice as if from a distance.
“This isn't the way we usually operate with cases like this, but seeing as how the perpetrator is deceased and the tip came from someone who wanted this wrapped up as quietly as possible, Andrew, I'm giving you this flash drive.” He gestured to the computer, which displayed a folder full of video files. Each one was labeled with a date and a name. Andrew found his own almost immediately. There were more of them than any other. He felt sick. “I have been assured that this is the last remaining copy of these files, and now they're yours to destroy however you want.” He unplugged the drive, and the folder vanished from the screen. After handing the flash drive over, he settled back.
“This will be the end of communication between yourself and Andrew Minyard. If you are found in violation of this order, you will be sentenced to ten years with no possibility of parole and a $500,000 fine. If Andrew initiates communication, you are to keep it brief and under supervision.” Cornwall turned to Andrew. “Do you understand?”
He understood, but there was a niggling suspicion growing. “I thought it was an anonymous tip?” he asked suddenly. Cornwall blanched, having been caught out.
“Officer Pike, please see Mrs. Spear to intake.” Once Cass had been removed - in handcuffs - Andrew turned back to the judge. The plastic casing of the flash drive creaked in his grip.
“Why is she being arrested? Why did you give me this USB?”
“Mr. Minyard, the most I am at liberty to divulge is that you have some very powerful friends. As to Mrs. Spears’ arrest, she's being charged with withholding information regarding a case.”
Andrew was seen out of the meeting room peremptorily and then ushered out of the courtroom. Aaron was white-faced and his hair was disheveled.
“So that's it? You're done? They said all charges dropped, how is this going to affect you getting onto the force?”
The plastic creaked and finally cracked in his fist. “It won't.”
“It's not going to affect me, either, right?” His ashen face begged for a fist, but Andrew controlled the urge. “It's just… you know how Nicky's been asking us to move east with him? Well, I just got hired for a job in Maryland, so you might want to reconsider the offer.”
Andrew barely heard him. He'd gotten hung up on something the judge had said. Powerful friends. The only name coming to mind was Nathaniel Wesninski.
The number was disconnected when he dialed again. Checking it, he replaced the 9 with a 3 and tried again. A husky voice invited him to try talking to one of their hot, sexy singles tonight, and he hung up. Turning back to his computer, Andrew typed in the IP address and hit send. The same black website turned up, but the phone number was different. He dialed the new one. It rang for a long time, and he nearly hung up when a familiar voice came over the line.
“Thank you for choosing West Sky Aid, what can we fix for you?”
Andrew sagged in his chair. “You can start by telling me why and how you told the judge about Drake recording - himself.” He couldn't bring himself to say “his victims.” Admitting that would be tantamount to calling himself a victim. Nathaniel made a startled noise.
“No, it's Daenerys Targaryen, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea.”
Andrew snarled silently. “Tell me what the fuck you did.”
“Anh-drew,” Nathaniel yawned halfway through the name. “I don't know what you mean. Please call back at a better time.”
“It's only nine o'clock,” Andrew snapped.
“It's after one in the morning.”
He looked at the clock, realized it was actually ten pm, and then added it into the growing file of things he knew about Nathaniel. East coast, then.
His cousin Nicky had been after him and Aaron to move to South Carolina with him. He tried to place Nathaniel's accent, but couldn't. It wasn't a southern accent, although the thought of moving to the east coast triggered hints of a memory that lurked just outside of his awareness. He shoved it aside, more interested in getting answers.
“Just fucking tell me what the fuck you did and go back to sleep then, you baby.”
Nathaniel yawned again. “Took apart Drake's security, saw what he had on his computer, and sent a message with some of it to Cornwall with the message that his job was to keep it as quiet as possible. How the fuck did you find out it was me?”
“Because you're the only one who knows.” Knows . All the things Nathaniel knew about him suddenly crashed through his mind. He knew next to nothing about this kid, but like some Bat-Hacker Dark-Web Knight, Nathaniel knew every piece of his personal history, knew everything he would have killed to keep secret, probably even knew his social security number.
“Big deal,” Nathaniel said through another yawn. He was going to set Andrew off in a moment. “It's done now, so go be a good little cop and have a nice life.”
Andrew yanked the phone from his ear when the deafening dial tone came through, indicating that Nathaniel had hung up on him. Again. Andrew dialed right back. This time, Nathaniel picked up immediately but didn't say anything.
Quietly, as if he'd dropped his phone, Andrew heard him speaking. “No, I don't know anything about it!”
An older man's voice roared through the receiver. “You need to talk to cops, you come to me first, you understand?”
The sound of flesh striking flesh, a muffled thump. Nathaniel's voice was quiet. “Yes, sir.”
“Shoulda taken you out when I killed your whore mother.” Stomping noises, a slamming door, and a hiss of pain. He heard Nathaniel swear softly, and the gentle rustle of bedding. Andrew parsed through what he'd heard. The man, probably Nathaniel's father, had hit him. He listened to Nathaniel's quiet noises until they faded into the deep and even breathing of sleep before he hung up again.
It was after midnight before he managed to get any sleep of his own.
Be sure to check out Neil's side for more! I wrote both of these at work on my breaks, so...
Also, the order seems to be going Andrew, Neil, Andrew, Neil, etc.
“All I want to know is why you didn't tell me before you left for Baltimore!”
Aaron sighed. “Because I didn't want to fight with you about it and because they'd already bought my plane ticket. What was I supposed to do, tell them ‘thanks for spending so much money on me, but unfortunately my brother is a controlling bastard who won't let me leave the state without him!’”
Andrew stubbed out his cigarette and scowled at his phone. “At least tell me where you're working. Is it a hospital?”
The silence went on a beat too long. “It's a private company, and I've signed an NDA already.”
Andrew made no comment on the non-disclosure, stinging and not wanting to admit it over Aaron's comment about not being able to leave without him. He did feel a little bitter about the whole thing. Aaron had fought so hard to be in his life, and then skipped out without a word at the first chance he got.
But it wasn't without a word , his treacherous brain reminded him. He mentioned it the day of the trial. He could be forgiven for having had other things on his mind, couldn't he?
Aaron sighed. “I think the father is abusive,” he said at last. “Nathaniel said he fell down the stairs, but he flinched when I went to touch him and make sure he was okay.”
Andrew perked up, his ears and the back of his neck prickling. “Nathaniel,” he repeated. What are the odds of there being two abused Nathaniels on the east coast?
He was willing to bet they were astronomically low. “Wesninski,” was the next thing he said. Aaron made a disbelieving noise.
“How the fuck do you do that?” he demanded. “Can you read minds? Been steaming my mail open before I get to it?”
Andrew exploded into rage. “You signed a working contract with the Wesninskis ?! Have you lost your goddamn mind? They're fucking criminals!”
“He's an investment banker ,” Aaron stressed. “With an extensive personal staff. The pay is fantastic, it comes with lodging, and benefits, and pretty much everything I need. Anyway, it's only for six months, but I figured that'd be enough time to save up enough money to pay off my student loans!”
Andrew's phone chirped at him, signalling an incoming call. He pulled it away to glance at the screen, and was baffled by what he saw.
The 'Incoming Call’ notification was there, but in the caller ID, which should have displayed “Unknown Number” or the incoming number or even “Identification Blocked” there was just … nothing.
“I've got another call, hang on,” he told Aaron, giving into a sneaking suspicion as he clicked over to the new call. “Hello?”
“Tell your brother to keep his voice down,” Nathaniel hissed into his ear.
Before he could finish the statement, he heard a dial tone. He flipped back to Aaron's call.
“Nathaniel says keep your voice down,” Andrew said, almost smugly.
“ What ?” Aaron was quick; it took him less than ten seconds to put things together. “That's how you know,” he accused. “You've been talking to Nathaniel somehow.”
“He's the one who got my charges dropped,” Andrew confided.
“I'm not even going to ask how you managed that one. The lunch bell is ringing, I better go.”
“For fucks sake, Aaron, be careful,” Andrew managed before Aaron hung up. One of these days he was going to be the first one to hang up and they'd figure out how unpleasant it could be.
First things first, however. He pulled up a new tab and began researching plane tickets to Baltimore.
Landing in the Baltimore-Washington International airport was a mixed blessing. On one hand, he was finally out of the air and back on solid ground. On the other, Aaron was going to flip ten kinds of shit when he found out Andrew had followed him out here.
It's not stalking if you know he's working for shady people. I'm only here to make sure he's alright.
It was a familiar mantra. He'd been telling himself variations on the same theme from the moment he discovered where Aaron had taken off to. Nicky was delighted to have Aaron ‘within driving distance’ and had redoubled his efforts to get Andrew onto the east coast. His phone pinged with multiple incoming messages now that he'd turned it back on. Glancing at it, Andrew found they were all from Nicky, and contemplated turning the device back off. He had two weeks before his classes would suffer - Dr. Harmon had given him leave to work remotely, but Mrs. Fentley would flip shit if his ass wasn't back in her classroom for the final. With three classes remaining before he graduated with his Criminal Justice degree, he wasn't about to tempt fate.
His phone buzzed in his hand, and he looked at it automatically. No name, no number. Nathaniel. What, he wondered, could his caged bird be texting him about?
His mind leapt to the worst possible conclusion. Aaron.
He nearly cracked the screen, he hit the “open message” so hard.
::Have you lost your mind?::
Baffled, Andrew stared at the message. It failed to resolve itself into anything meaningful. Another message appeared on screen.
::You obviously know who my family is, what the hell made COMING HERE a good idea?::
Andrew texted back. :: Eyes in the sky, little bird?::
::Eyes everywhere. The walls have ears. Don't call anyone, don't tell anyone where you're going or why you're here.::
Another one followed before Andrew had even finished reading the first.
::Why ARE you here?::
::Didn't you just tell me not to tell anyone?::
::Fine. When you end up in pieces scattered around different dumpsters, don't say I didn't warn you.::
Ice trickled down his spine. He literally hadn't even left the airport and Nathaniel knew where he was. And Nathan? Were they watching him specifically or just noticed him arriving because he was Aaron's brother?
::Tell me something first.::
Andrew could feel the sarcasm in the unmodified text. He sent an eyeroll emoji and received three question marks in return.
He ignored it, and was gratified a moment later when Nathaniel prompted him.
::What do you want to know now?::
Everything, Andrew didn't say. He started with the most pressing question.
::Are you watching me specifically or just the airport?::
Nathaniel's sketchy silences didn't lose their quality because they were via text instead of vocal. A full three minutes went by before he received an answer.
::Both. My father keeps an eye on who comes and goes.::
It was a complete non-answer.
::You, specifically,:: Andrew clarified.
A thirty second pause this time. :: Yes, I was watching you, specifically.::
No answer. His phone rang in his hand, startling him. Aaron's name scrolled across the screen. Andrew rolled his eyes. “Here we go,” he muttered. As he picked up, it occurred to him that he hadn't answered Nathaniel's question.
“You're seriously not doing yourself any favors,” Aaron said in lieu of a greeting. Andrew, having expected an explosion, was take aback by the cordial tone in his twin’s voice.
“Already picking up the Wesninski Cryptic Statements, I see,” Andrew replied once he'd gathered his scattered wits. Nathaniel's warning skittered through his mind about not letting anyone know why he was there. On second thought, saying Wesninski aloud in a crowded airport was probably the last thing he wanted to do. He made a mental note to keep his voice down and his eyes open.
“Asshole,” Aaron muttered. “Nathaniel asked me if you were abusing me. Why do you think he got that impression?” His tone was still conversational, but there was an undercurrent of anger, now, too.
'All of my memories are terrible,’ Nathaniel's voice rang in his memory. 'How about the time my father hit me with a hot iron?’
“Because he's a victim so he sees it everywhere.”
Aaron let out a gusty sigh. “Should I ask how you know that?”
“He told me.”
“Who just tells people about things like that?”
“I asked him.”
“You...asked him.” Andrew could picture his brother pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “No wonder you two get along, you're both freaks with no understanding of social cues.”
It was Andrew's turn to sigh. “I asked for his worst memory, and he told me his father hit him with an iron.”
“A clothing iron?”
“Or a nine, or a tire. I don't know, I didn't press him. Check him for scars next time you're looking at him.”
Aaron let out another frustrated noise. “He creeps around like a mouse, and is always covered from the neck down. If I so much as look at him too quickly he panics.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
“You're the one going into the police academy next month, use that fancy degree of yours and get him out of here.”
And Nathaniel was worried about Andrew saying too much in public. Aaron was in the house.
“Says the doctor,” he snapped back. “Just be careful about what you say.”
“Right.” Aaron hung up without another word, leaving Andrew to seethe at the added insult. He texted Aaron instead of calling back.
:: Asshole. Learn some phone etiquette before you lecture me on social niceties next time.::
Aaron glanced at the message from Andrew and scowled. Andrew was convinced Nathan was some sort of criminal underworld lord, but in the week he'd been there, the worst he'd seen was evidence of Nathaniel's abuse. Considering he'd been brought in specifically to take care of Nathaniel, and given what he'd already noticed, he was beginning to suspect he was there to clean up after Nathan beating his son. Tilda had hit him a few times when he was younger, but then he'd stood up to her and she'd quit. He got the impression that Nathaniel might actually die if he stood up to Nathan. He's an adult, though. He can take himself out of here if he's unhappy.
He was so wrapped up in considering Nathaniel that he almost didn't realize he'd forgotten to yell at Andrew for following him out to Baltimore. Another text chime alerted him and he looked down to see Andrew requesting that they meet up for dinner that night - if he was allowed out of the house, of course. Aaron bristled at the implications, but decided he'd ask permission just in case.
He wondered if Nathan had used the iron on Nathaniel's face, and if his jaw had been more seriously injured than Aaron initially suspected. He made a mental note to ask Nathaniel to let him make a full examination of him, and wondered how the skittish young man would react.
He wandered down to Nathan's office, where the man did most of his work and spent most of his time. He knocked politely on the open door and waited for an acknowledgement.
A slender woman with bright red lipstick over too-white teeth beckoned him into the room. Aaron didn't recognize her, but Nathan's huge presence behind the desk soothed his momentary anxiety. She was obviously one of the other staff members.
“Ah, Aaron, welcome. I was just discussing you and your brother with Lola. She's my personal assistant, I don't think you've met. Lola, this is Aaron Minyard, Nathaniel's new doctor. Aaron, Lola Malcolm.”
Aaron murmured something polite to her, and watched her blood-red grin stretch wider. He was caught up on the fact that they'd been talking about him and Andrew. “Actually, sir, my brother is the reason I came down here. You know he's in town to visit for a few days, I wanted to ask if I could take the night off and have dinner with him.”
Nathan was thoughtful for a long moment. “Why not bring him back here for dinner?” he suggested. Aaron felt an unreasonable spike of alarm.
“Thank you sir, but maybe another night? I'd like the opportunity to show him around town. He's never been here before.”
“Very well,” Nathan acceded gracefully. “You may take the Jaguar.”
Lola fetched a set of keys from one of the nearby cupboards. Aaron blinked at them in surprise as she dropped them into his palm.
Aaron thanked him and left, mind swirling with the new information. He just casually gives out keys to expensive cars to new employees?
Andrew was going to freak out. He drove a shitty little Toyota and had pasted the walls of his dorm room with pages torn from Car & Driver featuring pictures of Jaguars, Maseratis, Maybachs, and other high-end sports cars. Aaron had teased him in the past about making enough money to afford one before Andrew would, but Andrew had threatened to go to all his teachers, pretending to be him, and “confess” to having cheated on all his exams. That put an end to the teasing.
And why in the world were they discussing us?
It was vaguely alarming. He found his way to the garage, a massive building that was bigger than Tilda's house, at the back of the main building. He noticed a pool, carefully fenced off, further into the backyard. Then the array of cars on display arrested his attention. He didn't care about cars the way Andrew did, but he knew enough to know there was an obscene amount of money laid out before him. There were two Jaguars, and he hit the unlock on the key fob to figure out which one he'd been given for the night. Sliding into the car was a sensual experience. Leather seats gleamed, and there was a touch screen embedded in the dash in place of buttons, dials, and knobs.
:: I'll pick you up,:: he texted Andrew, and wasn't surprised when Andrew called him instead of texting back.
“Mr. Wesninski loaned me a car.” He could hear how smug he sounded. While Andrew sputtered, he started the car and listened to the engine purr in the enclosed garage. “Just be outside when I get there,” he instructed, and hung up. An email notification popped up, announcing that he had a direct deposit of $600 and he opened it in surprise. A message accompanied it.
If you'd be so kind as to fill the tank before you return tonight, here is an advance against your paycheck for your evening with Andrew. I'd like to discuss the opportunity of a job offer with him, but I'd appreciate it if you kept that to yourself for now. Drive safely.
Aaron tried to remember if he'd ever told Nathan his brother's name, and thought about Andrew's insistence that the Wesninskis were a crime family. He laughed to himself as he maneuvered out of the garage and onto the main road. He's so full of shit, his eyes should be brown.
::Why the fuck is your father loaning my brother a car?:: Andrew texted Nathaniel, stepping into the smoking section outside the airport and lighting up.
The response came almost immediately, and he wondered what Nathaniel was doing.
::He what? Why?::
::Info for info, birdy.::
::Your best memory.::
There was a pause. ::Seems a little steep.::
A longer silence, but finally Nathaniel answered. ::Getting my first PlayStation for Christmas. Now why is Aaron leaving?::
:: We're going out to dinner since I'm in town.::
::Keep your mouth shut. Both your mouths.:: Was Nathaniel's response. Andrew debated on pressing him further, but decided against it as a beautiful black Jaguar rolled to a stop in front of him. He was admiring the shapely body, the quiet hum of an efficient, powerful engine, even the sparkling chrome of immaculately-kept rims when the passenger side window rolled down and Aaron appeared, leaning over the center console.
“Get in, asshole.” The fierce words were accompanied by a smug grin, and Andrew decided that he'd be on his best behavior - provided Aaron let him drive the Jag.