Brian surveyed his tiny kingdom... well, not so tiny by industry standards. But then, Babylon had been a much smaller place before now. Once it had been gutted to make room for renovations after the bombing, Brian had been convinced by good old Theodore to accept the bid of an untried architect for the job of re-modeling the club. Teddy had met the young man during his NA meetings and struck up a friendship with him. The young man, Derek Brewster, had graduated from Architectural Design school, but then fallen prey to life on the party circuit while waiting for the right job to come along. Before long, he was just one of the faceless crystal queens who had destroyed their futures and lost everything. The young man saw his twenties rapidly coming to an end when he finally found the strength to get help. He had been sober for almost two years by the time he met Teddy.
Ted's new friend, had found it impossible to get hired by any of the big architectural firms and had decided to try and go out on his own. So far, nothing much had come of it. Clients were leery of him once they found out about his past. He probably would have been homeless if not for the fact that he fell in love with someone while going through rehabilitation, and the feeling was mutual. His partner was also an ex-crystal junkie, but he had inherited family money that kept him going during the bad times. He was happy to share his good fortune with Derek, having faith that his lover would someday repay the favor once he was an established architect with a thriving business. Derek's friendship with Ted had earned him his first big client... Brian Kinney.
The result of their collaboration was that Babylon had risen from the ashes twice as impressive as it been in the past. With any luck, Brian was hoping it would be twice as popular too. He would know for certain in a matter of a couple of short weeks. Everything was set up. Ads had been taken out in every gay forum Brian could think of. A full staff was hired... only the best looking men available by Brian's high standards. Specialty acts had been booked for a number of venues already planned after Opening Night. Personal invitations had gone out to everyone who mattered most to Brian. For a man who had once been known as a lone wolf in the past, that list had grown quite a bit in the last five years. Brian knew who to thank for that.
Thinking of Justin, Brian felt a sudden disquieting tug at his heart. He wasn't certain that the man he loved would show up for the re-opening, and a part of him understood the reasons. Justin had suffered two attempts on his life already and he was barely into his twenties. The very thought of it gave Brian a rapid surge of anger, which he forced down. That was the past. He knew he could do nothing about it and Brian didn't believe in wasting time on hopeless causes. But it still galled him that a man like Justin, of such beauty in both character and body should suffer so much just for being gay and yet no one paid a price for it. First that bastard, Hobbs literally walked free after nearly killing Justin and now some nameless group of haters, who supported a detestable new law, were apparently going to get away with actual murder and attempted murder.
The group which were apparently responsible for bombing Babylon had done more than kill a few people and injure many more. They had done more than destroy Brian's place of business. What they had accomplished was to tear apart families and leave behind broken hearts. A perfect example was when their actions put fear so strongly into Lindsay and Melanie that they ran away to a more gay-friendly Canada, taking half of Brian's heart in the form of his son, Gus, with them. And of course, even his best friend, Mikey lost out when his daughter, JR, was taken away... as if almost losing his life hadn't been bad enough. The only good thing that came out of the bombing was that Brian had finally realized how deep his love for Justin was and there wasn't any time to waste in telling him so.
The law was a slow-moving machine in reality. The bad guys were seldom discovered overnight like on television. In the months since the attack, every potential suspect and lead had failed to pan out. The only positive outcome from the bombing was that Prop 14 had failed at the polls. Credit for its failure was given partially to the violence that was used towards the protesters against the Proposition. Naturally this was small comfort for those who had paid such a high price because of the bombing. What they wanted more than anything was to see the perpetrators brought to justice. After what had happened to Chris Hobbs, Brian had little faith in it ever happening. But in the meantime, life had to go on. And as Brian always claimed as his mantra... the best revenge was to be a big fat fucking success. That was what he planned for himself. Hopefully, Justin would join him in that success someday.
The husky-built young man was only twenty-three, but he already showed signs of developing a beer gut from too many nights spent in front of the television set with several empty cans strewn about on tables and floor. He stared at the TV screen and felt his pulse quicken in anger. The pert little lady who gave out the local news was chirping on about the local gay dance club that had been bombed nearly six months earlier and its coming resurrection. The young man uttered a curse word and tossed an empty can at the girl's head. It was empty so it bounced impotently off the screen and onto the floor.
Chris Hobbs had a quick temper, but he had learned to control it after nearly going to jail five years earlier when he hadn't been able to stop himself from acting without thinking. He now felt his temper rising again and he struggled to keep it from erupting. He knew if he wasn't careful, he would be in more trouble than he could ever get out of. Now was not the time to go off half-cocked. After all, he had used his head the second time he had tried to pay Justin back for humiliating him, with the added bonus of paying back Taylor's lover too for destroying his college career with a bat to the knees. He had gotten away with it only because everyone was convinced that radical pro-Prop 14 supporters were behind his deed. Chris had never even been on law enforcement's radar. He felt smug about using the bad blood between pro and anti-Prop 14 supporters as his cover. It proved how brilliant he was... at least in his own mind.
It hadn't been easy for Chris to convince his oldest friend from high school to plant the bomb behind the bar at Babylon. His buddy hated gays as much as he did, but the guy had reservations about going so far. In the end, his pal's desperate need for money to pay off mounting debts was enough to gain his acceptance. Chris knew he could never get inside the club himself and make the plant. Too many of the queers knew his face after all the publicity he received from the bashing earlier on. No one but Justin knew his buddy's face, and he was careful to get the job done before Justin arrived at the club that night.
Of course only half of Hobbs' goal was reached. He had destroyed Babylon, but his main focus had been to kill Justin. The fact that a number of others were killed instead was of no real concern to Hobbs. It was just collateral damage. They were a bunch of queers. They wouldn't be missed. But Justin had come out of it unscathed. That rankled like soured milk for Chris. He could still picture his abject terror when he found himself swallowing the barrel of a gun held tightly in Justin's hands. He barely heard the voice of the stranger who egged Justin on, telling him to shoot. But he could still remember Justin's voice. He had peed his pants. Such humiliation couldn't go unpunished. Justin had to pay. But this time, Hobbs decided to bide his time, and it paid off.
But now, his one triumph had turned to dust. The club that catered to all the sicko's and perverts was about to re-open. Justin had moved out of town, but he would probably be back to revel in his boyfriend's success. It would all be for nothing. Chris plopped back down onto his couch after pacing back and forth in frustration. He popped open another can from the six-pack on the table in front of him and thought of what to do next. He could just let it lie, but then he'd have to face the fact that he had failed again. Justin and his lover were a thorn that had embedded themselves deep into his psyche and he couldn't shake it away. Thanks to internet instructions, he had made one bomb that worked. He could do it again. According to the news, he only had a couple of weeks to figure things out. It would have to be enough time.
As it always did, the sound of Brian's voice caused an immediate reaction throughout Justin's body. It never failed. Just his voice made Justin's skin flush and his body feel warm all over. The distance between them had not lessened the power Brian had over Justin. He ached to feel Brian's skin under his fingers... to taste the sweat that popped up on his chest whenever his lover pounded into him... to feel the pressure inside as Brian filled him up and brought him to a glorious climax. Damn! Just hearing his voice made Justin wonder why he was still in New York City while Brian was so far away in Pittsburgh. He swiped his hand over his eyes and concentrated on 'what' Brian was saying instead of the sound of his voice.
"So, are you going to indulge me and let me pay for a ticket home so you can attend the re-opening of Babylon, or are you going to let your pride stand in the way of sharing my success? Your call, Justin."
"I know, Brian. You never make decisions for someone else. You always give them the choice. And if I recall, giving me such freedom wasn't always your best move. I didn't always choose wisely, now did I?"
Justin's mind briefly traveled back in time to when Brian refused to just tell him that he didn't want him to leave to be with Ethan. He had been so young and inexperienced. He hadn't recognized the true value of Brian's love and the way he dealt with it. He had told himself that Brian didn't really care if he left in order to excuse his behavior. But he knew better now. He knew that Brian wouldn't force him to return home with emotional blackmail or pleading, but he also knew that Brian wanted it with all his heart. The fact that Brian still respected Justin's rights to decide things for himself warmed the young man's heart all over again.
As if reading Justin's mind, Brian responded with, "That's true. If I recall, a certain nameless Fiddler was the cause of one very poor choice. But as you know, I will respect any decision you make. So, do I order your ticket or not? If it will make you feel better, I won't order a first-class ticket. That will save me a few bucks."
Justin couldn't help himself. He laughed out loud, causing Brian to grin on the other side of the line. The thought of Brian being economical with anything he truly wanted was just too much to imagine.
"Okay. You've won me over. If you get a coach ticket, then I can probably pay you back in installments. I'll just tack it onto the back end of the debt I still owe you for my education."
Brian's grin grew even broader. Justin was still a struggling artist in the Big City, but he did manage to pay his bills. He had used some of the money he made while working on the disastrous film, 'Rage', to pay back a portion of what Brian had put out for him when Craig Taylor had refused to help Justin with his schooling, but it had only put a small dent in the total amount due. Brian wanted to forgive the debt entirely but Justin would have none of it. Brian knew it was important to his lover to be able to stand on his own two feet, and it made him respect and love Justin even more, if that was possible. He was careful with the rest of his 'Rage' income, supplementing it with a part-time job at an art supply store in order to take care of the high expense of living in New York City. For a young man who had been raised in comfortable upper-middle-class circumstances, Justin was an inspiration in dealing with his less affluent lifestyle.
Since leaving Pittsburgh, Justin had only returned home once for the holidays. His mother had paid for the ticket as her gift for the Season. He had refused to let Brian pay for any tickets that would have brought him home, relying on those occasional visits that Brian made to New York whenever he found time in his busy schedule. Those visits were the highlight of Justin's time away from Pittsburgh, and each one made him wonder even more why he let himself live so far from the only man who could ever own his heart. The brief visits, along with numerous phone sex encounters were becoming less fulfilling every time they occurred. Maybe it was time for him to reconsider his move. This thought was directly responsible for Justin's acceptance of Brian's offer. But he wasn't telling Brian that... not yet. The couple made their agreement and hung up. Just a couple of more weeks, and they would be together again... at Babylon.
Chris Hobbs felt his irritation growing by the second. He tried to remain calm, but his buddy had just screwed up everything. He had been certain he could pull off his plan a second time with no trouble at all, but he hadn't counted on his past cohort in crime being such a pussy. When Chris sought him out at his favorite bar and suggested another attack on the dance club during its reopening, his old friend turned pale and pulled away from him. The guy had considered himself lucky not to have found the cops looking for him for the first attack. As far as he was concerned, he had done his part in cleaning out a few queers in town. He had no intention of risking another attack. Besides, the money Chris had paid him before had cleared off all his debts. He didn't need to take such a risk again for nothing.
Chris had returned home from that meeting and popped open a few more beers as he desperately tried to think of what he could do to get his bomb planted this time around. He knew plenty of other guys who thought of gays as a plague too, but none that he felt safe revealing his plans to. It only took one loose lip to send him straight to prison. If the wrong person found out what he planned to do at Babylon this time around, the trail from the previous attack could lead right back to his doorstep. He had a bad feeling that his old friend wouldn't protect him if he was brought into it either. He'd probably make a deal with the cops and give up Chris in a heartbeat if the offer was made for a reduced charge. It wasn't a risk Chris was willing to take. He knew he was in this alone this time around. But how to get the job done... that was the question?
The opening was now only days away, but Chris was ready. He had already put together the same kind of bomb he had the first time. It sat out in his shed in the back yard. He lived alone and the shed was locked up tight. He wasn't worried about it being discovered, but it was no good where it sat. He needed to get the thing into Babylon. Chris popped another brew and went into deep thought, even though his brain was growing foggier by the minute. He'd figure it out. He'd have to.
As luck would have it, Fate stepped in the very next day and the painful headache from his hangover disappeared like dew under a blazing sun. Chris was not the kind of man that was happy with no money in the bank. All of his savings had been wiped out when he had paid his friend to plant the bomb the first time. His job at construction was seasonal at best, so he had taken on a part-time job delivering for a liquor supply company to supplement his income. When he reported to work the next day, he overheard a few of his co-workers cracking jokes about a last-minute increase in an order for the new homo dance club that was opening in a couple of days.
As if manna from Heaven had dropped into his lap, Chris knew exactly what the guys were talking about. It didn't take long for him to insert himself into the conversation and find out who was scheduled for the run. He also discovered that a delay in shipment of part of the order would mean that it couldn't be delivered until the very day of the opening. That was good news for Chris. It gave him one extra day to finagle his way into the driver's seat for the delivery.... and he would, one way or another. He was a man on a mission.
Brian took one last look at his reflection in the mirror. Yes, he approved. Black had always suited him. His skin-tight pants and sleeveless shirt hugged every inch of skin to perfection, bringing out all of Brian's best features. He knew he looked good, but the wolf-whistle he heard directly behind him was a reassuring bonus. He glanced at the reflection of the figure that had moved up behind him while he stared into the full-length mirror. Beautiful blue eyes stared back at him from over his shoulder.
"You look like a king about to mount his throne," Justin pronounced with pride in his voice.
"And you still look like the prince I want standing beside me," Brian answered, turning around and gathering Justin close to his heart.
They kissed, then stood back a bit to give each other the once-over for the second time. When Justin had first arrived at the loft the night before, they had been much too busy making up for lost time in bed to really talk. They had saved that for the morning. They had risen early and eaten a leisurely breakfast while they caught up with each other on trivial matters. It hadn't taken long for the talk to get around to what Justin really had on his mind. Falling asleep in Brian's arms after making love over and over again in every position they could think of had only reinforced Justin's determination to make Brian understand that their long-distance relationship was not enough anymore. It was obvious that their feelings for one another had only grown stronger through the separation. But enough was enough. During their mutual shower, which included another good fucking (though Justin wasn't sure where Brian got the energy after the heated activity from the night before), Justin made his play.
"Brian, I think I could get far more work accomplished at the studio you built for me at Britin than I can in New York City," Justin declared, wasting no time on preliminaries. "Of course that is dependent on whether the invitation to live there is still on the table. I know you haven't sold the place yet."
Brian's mouth fell open. Had he heard right? This is exactly what he had hoped for ever since the moment Justin walked out the door of the loft on his way to the airport, but would never have said it out loud. He was never going to stand in Justin's way of success as an artist. He had not even put Britin up for sale in hopes of this happening, but had refused to think it possible. And now, here was the man he loved asking him to agree to what he wanted more than anything in the world. Brian knew exactly how to respond. He pulled Justin into his arms and gave him a kiss that literally curled his toes. He then whispered into his ear.
Now the couple was prepared to attend the opening of their club. Thirty minutes later they arrived at their destination. The couple walked into a place that was abuzz with activity. Teddy, who had agreed to manage the club temporarily until a more permanent Manager could be found, was overseeing all the last-minute details of preparing for a grand opening. Emmett was just as busy seeing to all the party details, having been hired to cater the special event. Brian made a mental note to remember to ask Emmett about the Manager position later on. If anyone could make every night at Babylon a party night, it was Emmett. The suggestion had come from Justin... just one of the things they had discussed the night before. As he glanced around the room, Brian hoped that everyone receiving an invitation to the club this night would come. They would, but he couldn't know that there would be one uninvited guest too.
In the meantime, that uninvited guest was parked just outside the outdoor restroom of a service station. It hadn't been easy, but Chris Hobbs had managed to make a shift change with the designated driver for the Babylon delivery this night. It had taken a few free drinks and a big fat lie to convince his co-worker at the bar that many of the drivers liked to stop at after work. Chris' complaint that he was going to miss an important family event if he had to work his shift on Saturday convinced his friend to trade for the Friday night shift which included the delivery to Babylon. His co-worker's snide remark that Chris had better watch his back and keep his zipper tightly closed while making the delivery brought the drunken man a crooked grin from Chris in response. The grin stayed on Chris' face as he exited the bar. He had gotten what he came for.
Now Chris was busy adjusting the wig he had bought in order to disguise himself for the delivery he was about to make. The red wig, along with slightly darkened glasses did give Chris a very different look. As he double checked himself in the cracked mirror over the sink in the dingy bathroom, he felt satisfied. He knew it was going to be a risk, but he was sure no one would recognize him. He'd keep his head down and do his job. He had already set the bomb inside one of the cases so he could get it inside the club without detection. Then he only needed to set the timer and make his escape. He knew there was no way he could take a risk and plant the bomb behind the bar as before, but he had doubled the strength of the explosives so if his plan worked the explosion would cause far more damage than the first attempt. With any luck, both Kinney and Taylor would be casualties this time.
Shortly afterwards, Chris Hobbs was parking his truck in the alley behind Babylon near the service entrance to the club. He glanced in the rear view mirror, made a quick adjustment, and satisfied... stepped out of the cab with his glasses on. He made fast work of unloading the supplies and entered the club. A staff member ushered him to the storage area where all the liquor was stacked up. Chris made several trips, saving his special delivery crate for last. Fate was on his side again as the staff member was called away to help someone else. He asked Chris to wait so he could sign for the delivery when he returned. Chris was happy to oblige. It didn't take Chris more than two minutes to determine where the bomb would do the most damage and set the timer for one hour. It would be enough time for Chris to be back home and the club to be open and probably full of patrons.
Justin was proud of the improvements that Brian had made to the old club. The new architect he had hired was really skilled. The place looked more festive and inviting than ever before. Brian had given him a tour of the place when they first arrived and was obviously eager for Justin's opinion. His delight with Justin's response was hard to hide. At the end of the tour, Justin wanted to toast Brian's accomplishments with a glass of champagne. He excused himself and headed back to Brian's office, where he knew his lover always kept a bottle of his best. On his way to the office, Justin had to pass by the hallway where the storeroom was located. He suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
Two men were standing outside the door to the storeroom. Justin recognized one of Brian's employees, but the other man was a stranger. He had a mop of red hair and was turned sideways to Justin's view. But it wasn't his looks that had halted the young man. The two men were exchanging goodbyes and shaking hands. What had brought Justin up short was the voice. He had heard that voice hundreds of times in his worst nightmares for years. Even though the nightmares had stopped, that voice was still as familiar to Justin as his own Mother's... familiar, but unwelcome.
Chris dropped the hand he had been shaking. He looked down the hallway and saw the object of his hate staring at him. Both men were frozen in place for several long seconds. There was no longer any question in Justin's mind. Chris was disguised but he knew he was right. He'd know those eyes anywhere, even through the darker lenses.
For a brief instant Chris thought of playing it cool, but fear had gripped him at the sound of his name. Instinctively, he clutched the signed order form to his side and turned around to hurry out the back door of the club. Justin only hesitated for a few seconds, but it was long enough. By the time he reached the closed door to the alley, Chris was already back in his truck and starting the engine. As Justin called out to him to stop, Chris pulled away, leaving the alleyway like a cat with his tail on fire. Justin shook his head in bewilderment. What the hell was Chris Hobbs doing in Babylon?
Justin rushed back to Brian, who was surprised to see him return empty-handed. He was about to ask why when he saw Justin's face.
"What's the matter, Sunshine? Couldn't find the bubbly?"
Justin wasn't smiling. "No! I mean, I didn't get the chance to look. I found something far more interesting... or rather, disturbing."
"What are you talking about? What's got you so flustered?"
"Hobbs! I found Hobbs in the back."
The very name caused Brian to flush with anger.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded, grabbing Justin by the shoulders.
"Just what I said, Brian. I was on the way to your office and I heard his voice in the hallway leading to the storage room. He was in disguise and talking to one of your employees, but it was him. I'd know that bastard's voice anywhere. When I called out his name, he turned and saw me and then rushed away. I followed him and he got into a delivery truck and then peeled out of there. Something is wrong! I can feel it!"
"What kind of truck was it?" Brian's voice had risen with fear. If Chris Hobbs set foot in Babylon, it wasn't for any good purpose.
"I don't know. I was too stunned to read the name on the side."
"You said he was talking to one of my employees? Take me to him."
It only took a few minutes of talking to the employee for Brian to determine why Hobbs was at Babylon. Brian was no fool. Chris Hobbs would not set foot inside the club just to do an ordinary job such as delivering liquor. There had to be more to it. Memories of the damage done by the cowardly attack on Babylon before stirred up new fears in Brian. The idea that Hobbs meant for similar harm to come to the club or either Justin or himself was very much in the realm of possibility. Brian now knew that Hobbs had only been left alone for a few minutes so he couldn't have gone far from the storage room. The first place the couple needed to look for clues as to what Hobbs had been up to was in there.
Calling for reinforcements after ordering Teddy to delay the opening of the front doors, the couple began their search of the storage room. It took nearly fifteen minutes before the bomb was discovered. There was less than a half hour left on the timer that was attached to the bomb. Justin called 911 while Brian evacuated the club. The crowd outside grew as the police and bomb squad arrived en masse within minutes. Brian and Justin were surrounded by their friends as they held tight to one another, waiting to see if their club would suffer the same fate it had once before. It turned out that even though the bomb was deadly, Chris was enough of an amateur at bomb-making to make it easy for the bomb squad to defuse it without too much trouble. Brian and Justin gladly explained how they knew to look for the bomb in the first place, although they hadn't been sure what they were actually looking for.
Babylon was searched thoroughly for any other unwanted devises before the police announced that it was safe to return. The opening had been delayed by a couple of hours by this time, but surprisingly few folks left. As the party-goers filed back into the club, Teddy could be heard telling Emmett... "the indomitable spirit of queers everywhere! That's what it is."
Chris Hobbs was a bully and a monster, who was capable of murdering innocent people without remorse, but he wasn't stupid. He knew the moment that Justin called his name that he was in deep shit. He didn't even bother to return his truck to the warehouse. He hurried home, packed a single suitcase, gathered what little money he had left, and left town. It had done him no good. His fingerprints were on file from the bashing years ago and they were found all over the bomb. A warrant went out for his arrest. He was found within days while trying to cross into Mexico. While waiting for trial on the attempted bombing charges, experts were able to match the new bomb to the one that had caused the destruction of the club the first time.
It was enough evidence to re-open the first case, with Chris Hobbs as their primary suspect. It took months of detective work before the noose tightened even on his co-conspirator. Just as Hobbs had suspected, once his old friend was offered a deal to testify against him, he grabbed it. When Hobbs went to trial, first-degree murder charges were added to the list of the indictment. Almost a year to the day of the first Anniversary of the re-opening of Babylon, Chris Hobbs was found guilty on all charges and sentenced. Justice had been done at last. The man who had walked away laughing after trying to kill Justin for no other reason than hate would not ever walk free again as long as he lived.
As Chris Hobbs was driven to the penitentiary where he would spend the rest of his days, many of which were spent living in fear of another attack from a fellow inmate in the middle of the night, Brian and Justin spared not a single thought for the man who had once been so angered by their open display of affection on Prom Night that he had tried to murder Justin. They were far too busy with living their lives exactly as Brian had preached. The best revenge was to be the happiest couple in town, and the biggest successes around... and they were. As they would continue to be, even to the day Chris Hobbs drew his last breath. Justice may have been delayed... but not denied.