“We’re going to need someone on the podium next to professor Peters,” Don said and looked around the room. The agents, sitting around the large table in the conference room, all seemed to be very interested in the ceiling or the floor.
Don sighed “Look I don’t want someone up there that has anything against these people.” A few snorts made Don narrow his eyes and the mumbling in the corners stopped.
“Look, those freaks…” Agent Simone began but immediately stopped when Don actually growled at her.
“You’ll…” Don started but was interrupted but Colby.
“I’ll do it, Don. No problem,” the agent said and nodded to the team leader.
“Okay,” Don said “We need to make sure this doesn’t turn into as huge a mess as the lectures held in New York,” a mumbled agreement was all he got.
“Professor Matty Peters is one of the most outspoken carrier-rights activists out there. He’s been receiving death threats for quite some time but recent events indicate that this isn’t just another crazy loon with too much time on his hands,” Don looked at the picture of Matty Peters. The professor was in his early thirties but like most carriers he looked at least a few years younger than his actual age.
“But why’ve we been assigned to this case?” David asked, “Wouldn’t this normally be a case for the police? If it’s just a question of providing protection for him during his lecture…”
“Two months ago…” Don leafed through a small collection of photos on the table, “…someone tried to run Peters off the road. He ended up driving his car into a wall,” Don put a picture of a mangled car on the board, “He was four months pregnant and lost the child.”
“Damn,” David said.
“He’s here with his partner and their children,” Megan said and put three more pictures on the board. A small girl with a face full of freckles grinned out at them, a boy with blue eyes and his front teeth missing and a thirty something dark-haired man.
“We’ve made sure they’re safe at the hotel during the lecture,” Don pointed out.
“What kind of back-up are we getting?” Colby asked.
“This is Agent Granger,” Don said as he introduced the agent to Matty Peters. The
young man nodded and shook hands with Colby.
“Is the security…sufficient?” Matty asked and looked around at the large auditorium.
“We have people situated all over the place. Not just in here but all over CalSci,” Don reassured Peters and looked at Colby.
“I’ll be up there,” Colby pointed at the small podium, “I’ll be standing close, keeping an eye on things from there.”
Colby was on the phone, talking softly “No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” he said and smiled “You tell him that…Naw I’ll talk to him about it later, tomorrow I think…” Colby looked thoughtful then smiled and whispered “Yeah, me too.”
Don looked over at Colby. The younger agent was scanning the room as he stood behind and slightly to the left of Matty Peters.
“In the start of the 19th century the first carriers were born…” the professor started.
Don’s attention was caught by a middle-aged woman sitting on the second row. She was wearing a button badge with the words Carriers: an abomination among us. Don studied her for awhile before turning his attention back to Peters.
“These boys were believed to suffer from birth defects. Doctors back then were baffled by these children. In a world where freak shows still toured the fairs - a society where Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, spent the majority of his life in a cage - these children were an embarrassment to their families. Most of the carriers ended up in insane asylums sent there by their own families. At the time the asylums were the only institutions, apart from prisons, equipped to deal with society’s unwanted elements.”
Don shifted uncomfortably, distributing his weight from one foot to the other. The clackity-clack of a student taking notes on a small laptop was grating on Don’s nerves.
As he scanned the room for possible danger he tuned in to the professors voice again.
”…and most of the carriers underwent painful surgery to make them, at least appear, more male. Even today I see young carriers, who desecrate their bodies in an attempt to live up to what society views as masculine. They take hormones that make their skin rougher, their bodies more muscular. But they pay for this deception with their lives. Heart attacks in their early thirties, higher risk of diabetes…”
Personally Don tried to keep as far away from carriers as possible. He hated handling cases that involved them. They always made him remember his mother’s sadness and his father’s ashen face. Remembered how his father had tried to explain why he wouldn’t be seeing the new baby. Why the baby was going to live somewhere else.
”The families that chose to keep their children, despite society’s obvious disapproval, were and are often victims of verbal and physical abuse…”
Colby caught Don’s attention and nodded in the direction of a group of young men. They were shifting in their seats and seemed to be gearing up for something. Suddenly one of them started slowly unfolding a large banner. He handed the other end of the homemade banner over to one of the other men and then they held the banner up, the fabric stretching, revealing the words ‘ Justice for the forgotten children’. The corners of Colby’s mouth twitched before he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
”Today, when a carrier child is born, the parents are offered the possibility to give up their child. It is still shameful…” Peters sighed, ”…to be the parent of a carrier. Most of the children who end up in the social system don’t leave the group homes, what was once known as Carrier Houses, before they come of legal age. Practically none of these children are adopted or end up in foster homes.”
”Isn’t it true…” a bulky student asked, ”That IQ test have shown that a majority of carriers score in the lower half of the IQ scale?”
”In the forties and fifties,” Peters smiled at the student, ”Australian scientists let a large group of Aboriginals take IQ tests. The results showed that Aboriginals were basically retarded and couldn’t grasp the most fundamental aspects of things like math.”
”Uh huh,” the student nodded and scribbled frantically on his notepad.
”What the scientists forgot to mention, when they presented their results to their colleagues, was that the Aboriginals tested hadn’t had any education what so ever and a great amount of them couldn’t understand English, the language the test was written in.”
”Um…how does that apply to carriers?” a woman sitting on the third row asked.
”Well, most carriers that are adults today were taught to read and write in the Carrier Houses. The level taught was very low and a great deal of carriers came out of the Houses with only the bare minimum as far as reading and writing is concerned.”
”Now,” the professor held up his hand when a few of the students started to murmur, ”I’ll be the first to admit that things have changed since the last of the Carrier Houses were closed 15 years ago and the group homes were started instead. At least now the carriers grow up surrounded by other boys and girls. They aren’t isolated and their level of education has risen because of it. Not to forget…”
“But don’t you think,” a young blond woman interrupted, ” Sorry…” she blushed, ”But don’t you think you’re asking for too much too fast? The Carrier Houses have been shut down and…”
“Ah, but why were they shut down?” Peters asked rhetorically, “They were only shut down because of the scandals. The public outcry when it became known that many of the children living in the Carrier Houses were sexually abused by those designated by the state to care for them.”
“Okay,” Don said as he escorted the professor out of the double doors and down the hall, “You’ll have to stay in this office while we wait for the crowd to thin out,” Don opened the door and Colby walked into the office first.
The young agent made sure the room was empty and then nodded to Don. Peters walked in and Don closed the door behind him.
“Thank you,” Peters said and sat down on the small couch in the office. Colby walked over and looked out the window.
“Seems we’ll only have to wait a little while longer,” Colby said as he watched the crowd slowly dissolve.
“It’s strange how hateful people can be,” David said when they sat drinking in the bar. Don just nodded.
“There’ll always be some ass who thinks he has a right to treat other people like trash,” Colby leant back in his chair.
“Yeah,” David smiled, “Peters seems like a nice guy. I just…I mean he fights a pretty hard battle and even when he’s injured…even when he loses his unborn child he still keeps going.”
“Takes a lot of guts to be doing the kind of thing he’s doing,” Don fiddled with the label on his beer bottle.
Colby nodded and was about to say something when his cell phone rang. He fumbled for a few seconds before he finally managed to fish the phone out of his jeans pocket.
“Colby,” Colby said and scratched his ear, “Oh…no that’s okay…yeah,” he smiled and nodded, “Oh yeah…no maybe an hour or so…Sure…uh huh…You do that…Bye,” Colby put the phone back in his pocket.
“Got a hot date?” David smirked.
“Yep,” Colby took a sip of his beer.
“Do we get details about her?” Don was surprised when his question was met with a frown.
“No…um…you don’t,” Colby said and got up, “I better get going.”
“You okay to drive?” David asked his friend.
“I only had one beer, Sinclair. I’ll be fine,” Colby said as he walked out of the bar.
“He’s always so secretive about his private life,” David looked at the empty chair on the other side of the table.
“I thought you guys talked about all kinds of things,” Don looked up from the beer label. It lay in tiny pieces scattered all over the table.
David gathered the small pieces of paper that Don had littered the table with and just shrugged.
“One more round?” Don asked and got up.
“Sure, one more.” David agreed.
Colby parked his car and walked up the path to the house. He almost tripped over something and turned around and picked up a toy.
“Action Man,” Colby shook his head and smiled, “Simon, how many times do I have to tell you?” He tucked the plastic soldier in his coat pocket and found his keys. He unlocked the door and walked in. Music was coming from the living room and he tiptoed over to the door and looked in.
The room was a mess. Toys scattered all over the place and a blanket fort build in the corner, using the dinner table and all the chairs to support the blankets. On the couch a three year old curly haired boy was sleeping, a floppy eared stuffed bunny hanging from his small chubby hand.
Colby silently walked over to the boy and knelt down. He ran his hand through the light-brown curls and dried a glob of drool of the boy’s cheek.
“He passed out twenty minutes ago,” a soft whisper came from the doorway.
“Yeah, figured as much,” Colby lifted his son up and cradled him against his chest.
“How’s your day been, Charlie?” Colby whispered.
“Okay,” Charlie answered and started picking up the toys.
“Just leave them,” Colby said, “You been at CalSci all day working with Larry and I’m sure Simon’s kept you on your feet all day as well.”
“You have no idea,” Charlie chuckled as they walked down the hallway to Simon’s room, “I saw you at the university,” he continued.
“Yeah?” Colby gently put the little boy down on the bed. Simon snuffled and turned in his sleep.
“I saw Matty Peters as well,” Charlie said and bent over to pull Simon’s socks off. The boy was already wearing his pjs so Colby just tucked him in.
“You weren’t at the lecture?” Colby asked.
“No,” Charlie said and walked over to the nightlight and turned it on just as Colby turned off the lamp in the ceiling, “I know you said it was safe to go…but,” Charlie unconsciously put his hand over his stomach and rubbed in a circular motion, “I just…didn’t want to risk it…if anything did happen.”
Colby nodded silently and just stood there watching his son sleep. Charlie was about to walk out of the room when Colby reached out for him and pulled him close.
“I’m glad you didn’t go, Charlie,” Colby whispered into the carrier's dark curls.
Charlie stretched. He sighed contently and cuddled closer to Colby. The bigger man mumbled and turned in his sleep, snaking an arm around Charlie and pulling him against his chest.
“Morning,” Colby’s warm breath ghosted against Charlie’s neck.
“Mmmmmm,” Charlie answered.
“How long?” Colby said and pulled the covers tighter around them. Charlie turned just enough to see the clock radio.
“If we’re lucky he’ll sleep for half an hour more,” Charlie mumbled, his mouth half covered by the pillow.
“Half an hour?” Colby opened his eyes, “That’s not a lot of time,” he said and rubbed a hand against his forehead.
“It’s gonna be 28 minutes if you keep talking,” Charlie reminded him.
“You remember when we would wake up and have sex for hours before going to work?” Colby asked, “No risk of a three year old monster attacking, no morning cartoons or Coco Pops.”
“We never had mornings like that,” Charlie answered and kissed Colby’s shoulder “We didn’t live together before after Simon was born.”
“Ah yes, now I remember,” Colby nodded, “We got drunk…you got pregnant and I stalked you cause you didn’t want to live with me.”
Charlie smiled, “But you were a nice stalker. No creepy phone calls…oh wait…”
“You’re never gonna forget that are you?” Colby cringed, “Man, I was lame,” he ran a hand through Charlie’s curls.
“23 minutes,” Charlie said and Colby looked over at the clock radio.
“Damn…What the hell can we do with only 23 minutes?” he asked and covered his face with his hands.
“Oh, I could think of a few things,” Charlie looked thoughtful.
“Does it involve actual sex?” Colby asked hopefully.
“Well, with only 21 minutes left it’d have to be a quickie,” Charlie pulled his t-shirt off.
“Is it just me?” Colby asked as he threw his boxers on the floor “Or is it always quickies?”
“You shouldn’t complain, Colby.” Charlie reprimanded, “Five more months and we’ll be dreaming about the good old days where we had time for quickies.”
“17 minutes,” Colby made sure not to put any pressure on Charlie as he pulled him closer. He put his right hand on Charlie’s belly just over the small bump.
“16 minutes,” Charlie mumbled against his collarbone.
“The romance is completely dead, isn’t it?” Colby laughed.
“You need to hurry up. I think I just heard his door open,” Charlie said.
“Daddy?” a small sleep rumbled Simon in SpongeBob pjs asked from the door.
“Damn,” Colby groaned into his pillow as Charlie found the t-shirt and pulled it back on.
“Dad said a bad word,” Simon tattled and looked up at Charlie.
“Dad’s just disappointed, Simon,” Charlie said and patted the boy’s hair.
Colby parked his car in the parking lot outside the office. He turned off the engine and just sat there for a few minutes. The case they were working on at the moment was really getting to him. A serial killer targeting pregnant carriers.
And to top it off his mother kept calling him. She wanted to visit but he already knew how she would react when he told her about Charlie and Simon. Not to mention the new baby that was on the way.
He hadn’t told her about Charlie because he honestly hoped they’d never have to meet. Charlie didn’t have any contact to his own family even though it was possible now that the laws had changed.
A knock on the roof of the car startled Colby and he turned his head and looked directly into David’s grinning face.
“Larry!” Simon yelled and threw himself into the arms of the startled professor.
“Well, good morning Simon,” Larry smiled at the happy boy, “Isn’t a big boy like you supposed to be in Day-care?”
“He has a doctor’s appointment at ten so I thought it would be easier to just bring him with me,” Charlie said and started unpacking Simon’s little backpack on Larry‘s overburdened and very chaotic table.
“Nothing serious, I hope?” Larry lifted Simon up and walked over to the table.
“No, just a check up for the both of us and Simon’s been complaining about his ears hurting,” Charlie said, “I hope it’s okay…I know I promised that I’d take that class for you later today and I will…”
“Charlie,” Larry said and put Simon down so the boy could find his toys in the backpack, “You’re my TA and despite common belief a TA is not the professor’s indentured servant,” Larry patted Charlie on the shoulder, “You always keep your promises, Charlie. I have no doubt that you’ll be back in time to take that class for me,” Larry said as he sat down on the floor next to Simon.
“And if you can’t make it in time…I’m sure my students will survive just fine. Oh!” Larry took one of Simon’s small toy cars and studied it intently, “This is a classic,” the professor of physics said and smiled down at Simon.
”It’s my bestest,” the boy grinned.
Don hated it. The smells alone could sometimes make him gag. He looked up when Dr. Tennyson came through the double doors pushing a dissecting table, with a covered body on it, in front of him. He stopped in the middle of the room.
”Eppes,” he said and nodded.
”Tennyson,” Don greeted back, ”So what’d you find?” he waved a hand at the body. The doctor pulled the cover down revealing a blond young man.
”Well, as you know he’s a carrier. 23 years old and in good health. He was drugged. Not enough to make him lose consciousness but enough to make sure he couldn’t fight back.”
”Like the others,” Don said and walked closer, ”Did you find the same injuries?”
”Yes,” Tennyson sighed, ”He was pregnant. Five months. The child, along with the womb and all the internal reproductive organs, were removed through an incision in the lower abdomen,” the doctor pulled the covers further down and Don had to look away.
”Anything new?” Don forced himself to ask.
”Yes,” Tennyson covered the body again, ”This young man was raped before he was mutilated and killed.”
”Raped?” Don asked.
”Yes, the birth canal shows signs of forced entry,” Tennyson gently touched the young man’s cold foot.
David turned off the engine and looked across the street.
“I’m always surprised when I see them,” David said and waved his hand at the small group of young carriers standing on the street corner. “They seem so damn young,” he turned and looked at Colby.
“They don’t have much choice,” Colby said, “The education they received at the Carrier Houses is useless, a lot of people won’t hire them. Even if they do get a job it doesn’t pay much. At least not enough.”
They both got out of the car and walked over to the group of carriers. The second they noticed the two agents they started dispersing.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Colby said and held up his badge, “We’re not here to arrest you.”
“We just have a few questions,” David said. The carriers were all wearing tight jeans and tops that showed off their bodies.
“Is it about Tommy?” one of the carriers asked. He was pregnant, his skin pale despite the sunlight. His strawberry blond hair curled behind his ears. He looked up at David with deep blue eyes.
“Yes,” Colby nodded, “We’re trying to find the man who killed Tommy Harding,” the carriers looked at each other, “We need your help,” Colby focused on the carrier who had spoken.
“You’ll scare all the johns away,” a short redhead scowled.
“Shut up Jerry,” another carrier answered.
“Look. We won’t take too much of your time,” David promised.
“We just need to talk to whoever knew Tommy the best,” Colby explained.
“That would be me…We shared a room at the hotel for almost a year,” the pregnant carrier said, “But,” he hastily added, “I’m not gonna go down to the station or anything.”
“We’ll buy you lunch,” Colby said when he noticed the young man’s bony wrists.
The second they arrived at the doctor’s office Simon steered toward the toys in the corner.
“Look, Daddy!” Simon said and started taking toys out of the small colorful toy chest, “Blocks!”
Charlie smiled and pulled a book and a notepad out of his backpack. He was writing a few notes when he noticed a little girl, around Simon’s age, with thick black hair walk over to the toys. The two children started playing. The silence of the waiting room broken by giggles and discussions on how best to build a tower.
“Anna,” a woman, sitting at the table in the opposite corner of the room, called and the little girl looked up.
“I’m playing, Mama,” she pouted and looked over at her mother.
“Come over here,” the dark-haired woman said and took a long hard look at Charlie. The little girl dragged her feet all the way over to her mother, red lights on the heels of her Hello Kitty shoes blinking. The woman bent down and whispered in her daughter’s ear.
Anna looked first at Simon who was reaching up, putting another block on top of the tall wobbly tower, and then over at Charlie. Charlie smiled and gave a little wave.
The mother whispered some more in the child’s ear and Anna finally sat down at her mother’s feet and started flipping through a picture book.
Simon just kept building his tower.
“I can’t go in there,” the carrier said and pointed at a sign in the window of Rosie’s Diner.
No dogs or carriers allowed, it announced
David looked over at Colby. “You can,” David said through clenched teeth, “They can’t do that kind of thing. It’s against the law.”
“Look…um…” Colby said and realized he didn’t know the young man’s name.
“Drew. My name’s Drew,” he said and nervously fiddled with his oversized t-shirt that, despite its size, still stretched tightly over his belly.
“Look, Drew,” Colby repeated, “You’re with us and you have as much right to go into that diner as everyone else.” David opened the door and Colby decisively guided Drew through it.
“Hello,” a matronly woman in a yellow dress said and smiled at David.
“Hi,” David answered and turned slightly to ask Drew where he wanted to sit.
“You can’t bring him in here,” the woman pointed a thick finger at Drew.
The young carrier turned and was about to leave when he almost collided with an unmovable Colby.
“This says we can,” Colby said and held up his badge. The woman’s mouth became a straight thin line and she just nodded her head over at a corner of the diner where the three of them could be seated without any of the other customers seeing them. David smiled and sat down at the table right in front of the big window, for all to see.
The woman sputtered, stomped over to the table and slammed two menus down on the red formica table. Drew nervously looked over at the two agents sitting opposite him.
“So what would you like to eat?” David asked and pushed one of the menus over to the carrier. Drew licked his dry lips and slowly opened the greasy laminated menu. He looked for a few seconds.
“Just order anything you want,” Colby said, “The FBI’s paying.”
Drew looked up and smiled beautifully. In the both behind them someone muttered about little whores. David turned and glared at the two middle-aged men. When he turned his attention back to Drew it was just in time to see the smile disappear.
“That’s okay,” Drew said and let a hand slide over his rumbled t-shirt, trying to make it look better, “I’ll just have some soup.”
“You’re having the steak and the salad,” Colby said as he looked over the menu, “You need the protein and the vitamins.”
A blond waitress came over to their table. “So what’d you like?” she asked and gave David and Colby her best seductive smile.
“We’ll just have a cup of coffee,” Colby said, “But this young gentleman would like the steak and potatoes, a salad and a Coca Cola.” The waitress looked at Drew and hastily jotted down the order on her notepad before she hurried away from their table.
“What kind of…customers…do you have?” David reluctantly started and put his menu on the edge of the table.
“All kinds,” Drew wouldn’t meet David’s eyes, “Some are just, you know, curious. Others…they just want something …” Drew’s looked lost for a second then continued, “Exciting, I guess,” he leant back against the chair he was sitting in. “If they’re curious then they only do it once…so they can brag about it to their friends or whatever. Some of them are gay and still in the closet. Tommy's johns were the same.”
Drew stopped and looked up at the waitress as she dumped the plate of steak and potatoes on the table in front of him and then placed the drink and salad next to it. Colby and David’s coffee cups were set down in front of them, accompanied by a sultry smile.
Drew immediately started shoving food in his mouth.
“Hey,” Colby said and put his hand over Drew’s. The young carrier flinched and Colby removed his hand, “Don’t eat so fast. You’ll make yourself sick like that. Take it easy.” David looked at Colby but the younger agent just shrugged.
Drew wiped some of the grease off his fingers and swallowed his mouthful of potatoes. He took a gulp of his Coca Cola and then slowly sat back in his chair and looked at the two agents.
"Tommy was pregnant," David said, "Did he know who the father was?"
"Um...I don't think so," Drew shook his head, "He never mentioned it anyway. Was probably one of his johns."
“Do you have any regulars?” Colby asked before he took a sip of his coffee. He made a face, the coffee was definitely not worth drinking.
David waved the waitress over to their table and ordered a piece of apple pie. She looked at Colby who just shook his head. Drew was cutting his steak in smaller bits but stopped and put his knife and fork down.
“A few,” he said the second the waitress had left the table. He took a sip of his drink, “I used to have five or six regulars but…” he waved a thin hand at his belly.
"What about Tommy?" David continued.
"He didn't have any regulars," Drew chewed his mouthful of steak, "He had three or four corners where he would hang out... a few bars too. That kinda thing doesn't get you regulars. They prefer to know where you're at."
“How far along are you?” Colby asked and couldn’t help thinking about Charlie. Pregnant and living on the streets having to…
“Six months,” Drew interrupted Colby’s thoughts.
“And you’re still turning tricks?” David asked.
Drew stuttered and looked embarrassed, ”I n-need the money. I’ll have to stay off the streets for at least six or seven weeks after I have the baby. I have to be sure I have enough money for formula and diapers.”
Colby watched Drew finish his meal. The salad was half eaten and Drew kept slowly rubbing his belly.
The waitress arrived with the apple pie and David took it and handed it to the young carrier.
Drew looked at the pie and he quickly dried the corner of his eyes with the back of his hand before he looked up at David and whispered, ”Thanks.”
”Any of your customers been acting strange?” Colby asked and watched Drew’s eyelids flutter when his lips closed around a forkful of pie.
”Define strange?” Drew said and smacked his lips.
”Maybe they want you to pretend that you’re asleep or maybe even dead…while he…” David’s voice trailed off. Drew took another mouthful of apple pie and shook his head slowly.
”Any abusive ones?” Colby asked and clutched the napkin that had been left next to his cup by the waitress.
”One of my regulars,” Drew said and looked out the window ”Before I got pregnant he’d come by once or sometimes twice a month. He…um…he’d tie me up and beat me…usually nothing too severe. Most of the time I could work the next day but…”
”What?” David and Colby both said and Drew smiled.
”It was like he…Like a computer that needed to reboot or something. Sometimes he could barely talk, you know. Like his brain was cluttered and he needed to work off some stress. As if he’d been building up to it for weeks and weeks.”
”You know this guy’s name?” David asked.
”No,” Drew said and put the last piece of apple pie in his mouth. ”He’s never told me his name and I haven’t seen him since before I got pregnant. He just stopped coming by. But he’s not the only freak paying for a little fun,” Drew looked up at the two agents, ”Thanks for the food,” he said.
”Here,” Colby put a small business card on the table next to Drew’s empty plate, ”Call us if that guy comes back or if you see or hear anything strange, okay?”
”Sure,” Drew took the card.
”How many are usually hanging out at that corner?” David suddenly asked and Drew looked up from the card Colby had given him.
”Six, sometimes eight,” Drew looked over at the door as if contemplating if he could reach the door before he was handcuffed.
”Okay,” David said and walked up to the waitress standing at the counter. Drew looked confused when David returned with a plastic bag filled with sandwiches, donuts and bottles of water.
”Um…” Drew said.
”Should be enough sandwiches and donuts for twelve people in there,” David said, reached out a hand and helped Drew out of his chair, ”You’ll make sure they all get something to eat today, okay?”
”Oh,” Drew’s eyes were big, ”Oh…that’s…Thanks,” Drew finally managed.
”Hey, Drew?” Colby looked over his shoulder at the car. David was leaning against it and talking on the phone. Colby turned back to Drew, ”Take this card,” he said and put another card in Drew’s hand.
”You already…” Drew started.
”This one is for a local carrier help group. You need to get off the streets, Drew,” Colby said and looked the carrier in the eyes. ”You should go talk to them. Ask for Charlie. He’s there on Wednesdays and Fridays. He’ll help you. Maybe get you a better, safer job, okay?”
”Okay,” Drew said and put the card in his pocket.
The house was small but the lawn and the flowerbeds outside it were well kept. A yellow police line was keeping the neighbors at a distance. A TV-reporter was discussing what would be the best background for the shot with her cameraman.
“Great! The circus got here first,” Don groaned as he showed his badge to a police officer. Don ducked under the yellow plastic line and then held it up for Colby, David and Megan.
“Do you think…” Megan began but stopped when a white clad CSI bolted out of the front door and made it as far as the nearest flowerbed before he lost his lunch.
“Damn…This is gonna be bad, isn’t it?” David asked unnecessarily.
The second the front door closed behind them, all noise seemed to fade away as they watched grimfaced CSI’s quietly do their work. If one of them needed to consult with their colleagues they did so in a whisper. The four FBI agents were greeted by a pale middle-aged detective.
”The victim is in the kitchen,” the detective said quietly and extended his hand, ”I’m Detective Simmons.”
”Special Agent Don Eppes,” Don said, shook hands with the man and turned to introduce the others, ”This is my team. Agents Sinclair, Granger and Reeves.”
”Follow me,” Simmons said and walked through the hallway and into a large kitchen.
”Oh…” was all Don could say when he saw the body displayed on the kitchen table.
”Son of a bitch,” David growled and looked away.
Colby just stared.
The body on the table was a blond carrier. His eyes were closed, his body curled protectively around the small fetus that had been cut from his womb.
”The victim was killed over there,” Simmons said and pointed to the corner of the kitchen where the tiles were painted with blood. ”He…cut up the carrier’s stomach…”
”What’s the victim’s name?” Colby said, his voice strained.
”Jordan Welsh,” Simmons said and stopped next to the kitchen table. A pale hand was hanging over the edge of the table, dried blood coating the nails. Simmons’ hand hovered over it. ”His partner found him.”
”Where is he?” Megan asked and looked away from the pool of blood in the corner.
”He’s being questioned right now…” Simmons stepped away from the table and looked in the direction of the door to the hallway. ”He’s in the living room. His name’s Michael Guthrie.”
”You better go talk to him, Megan,” Don said. Megan nodded and disappeared through the door.
Colby took a deep breath and walked around the table and looked at the small fetus. It was smeared in blood. The tiny fingers and toes almost translucent in the dim sunlight shining through the kitchen window. He heard a quiet sob come from the living room and closed his eyes.
David came out from the house and looked around. Most of the neighbors had gone home. The TV-reporters had found more interesting things to report. Cases involving carriers were mostly interesting if the offender was a carrier. He took a deep breath and enjoyed the cool evening air.
David noticed Colby sitting on the curb, his shoulders slumped and his entire body radiating loss. Colby held his cell phone against his ear. David was walking over to his partner when he heard him say,
”Hi…Really? That’s great, buddy. Give the phone to…” the last was lost in the noise coming from the coroner starting his car. ”It’s me…No, I’m…okay, I guess. I just wanted to hear your voice. Just talk about anything…yeah even computational fluid dynamics,” Colby chuckled, ”Uh huh…yeah, bad case…really really bad,” the younger agent said running a shaking hand through his short cropped hair. ”I’ll see you later…still have the paperwork so…No, you don’t need to do that. Me too,” Colby put his cell phone in his pocket and just sat there.
”Hey man,” David crouched down next to Colby.
”Hey,” Colby said and visibly pulled himself together before he met David’s eyes.
”Let’s go get the paperwork done,” David patted his partner’s shoulder.
Colby stared at the ceiling.
The shadows chased each other over the white paint. A small muffled sigh made him turn on his side so he could watch Simon and Charlie sleep.
Charlie was on his side, his arm thrown over Simon, a stray dark curl hanging over his forehead. Simon mumbled something, turned around and put his small hands on Charlie’s rounded belly. Charlie frowned in his sleep, his hand splayed over Simon’s back.
Colby slowly slid out from under the covers and walked over to the window to check it was locked. He silently walked out of the room and down the stairs.
He checked every window and every door in the house, twice, before he returned to the bedroom. Colby sat on the edge of the bed watching over his family until the clock radio announced that it was time to get up and greet a new day.
Don breathed deeply, his back protesting another night on his father’s couch. The sunlight was shining through the curtains facing the garden and Don slowly stood up.
”If you keep crashing on that couch, instead of going to your own apartment, you’ll have to crawl to work soon,” he heard his father call from the kitchen.
”I’m okay,” Don groaned as he tried to stretch. A loud pop made him wince just as Alan walked into the living room.
”Yes,” Alan smiled indulgently at his son, ”I can hear that. I’m sure that’s the sound of a healthy spine.”
”Yeah…” Don shuffled up the stairs, ”I’ll just go take a shower.”
”Don?” the uncertainty in his father’s voice made Don stop halfway up the stairs.
”What? You okay, Dad?” Don asked and started walking back down.
”I…I watched the news about the case with…” Alan’s voice trailed off.
”Yeah,” Don said, waiting for his father to continue.
”I’ve decided to try to find your brother,” Alan said quietly.
”Dad,” Don sat down on the last step of the stairs, ”You’ve tried that before…when Mom got sick,” Don rubbed his hands against his face, the stubble scratching against his palms.
”Maybe he changed his mind,” Alan said hopefully.
”Dad,” Don sighed, ”Look, I understand why you want to find him but if he’s registered a wish not to be contacted by his biological family…There’s nothing we can do.”
”It’s just,” Alan waved a hand at the living room, ”Your mother so desperately wanted to find him and now…With all this happening…”
”You want to make sure he’s all right,” Don nodded, ”Me too, but I doubt he’s changed his mind since last time you tried, Dad.”
”We should never have given him away, Don. But we just felt so unprepared, your mother and I,” Alan slumped down on the couch, ”We should have fought against your grandparents. We shouldn’t have given in to their pressure.”
A soft knock on the door made Charlie look up from the stack of papers he had been going through.
”Yeah?” he called out and pushed the papers aside.
A young carrier opened the door. He looked nervous and kept fiddling with his jacket.
”Um…I…someone gave me this card,” he said and held a small card in his hand, ”He said I should ask for Charlie…”
”Sure come in,” Charlie pushed against the table getting ready to stand up.
”No man, that’s okay,” the carrier smiled, ”I know what a hassle it is to get up when you’re finally off your feet,” he pointed at his own pregnant belly.
”Thanks,” Charlie sighed, ”I’m honestly not sure I could get up even if I wanted to.”
”Yeah…” Charlie’s visitor said and looked around the small office.
”Sit down and tell me what brought you here,” Charlie waved a hand at the other chair in the room. The carrier sat down and looked relieved.
”I…My names Drew Ellis,” he began.
”You’re from Ellis House?” Charlie asked and looked over at Drew.
”Yeah…” Drew nodded.
”Me too,” Charlie said, ”I’m Charlie Ellis. Been a long time since I meet someone from Ellis House.”
”I guess we’re kinda scattered all over the place by now,” Drew said, ”I don’t remember you though. What dorm were you in?”
”Third,” Charlie said and looked uncomfortable.
”Oh…sorry. I shouldn’t have…damn,” Drew bit his thumbnail and looked nervous.
”He’s dead and gone now,” Charlie looked down at his hands. They were shaking slightly.
”Crap! I’ve upset you now,” Drew looked over at the door.
”No…It’s okay…You said someone gave you our card?” Charlie asked.
”Yeah, some FBI agents came around and asked about a friend of mine who was killed. One of them gave me this card,” Drew put the card on the table. Its edges were torn as if Drew had been holding it often. The small umbrella logo stood out with its bright blue color against the white paper and the word Umbrella was written under it in sharp black letters.
”Okay,” Charlie grabbed his notepad, ”What kind of help do you need?” Charlie asked as he found a pen.
”Well, I’m…um…” Drew looked away, ”I’m working on the streets downtown.”
”And you want to stop?” Charlie guessed.
”It’s not the kind of life I want my baby to experience,” Drew said and tapped his fingers against the card on the table.
”Are you doing any kind of drugs?” Charlie wrote a few words down on the notepad. Drew shook his head, ”Okay…That’s good,” Charlie smiled, ”When are you due?”
”About two months I think…maybe more,” Drew said.
”Have you been to the doctor?” Charlie looked thoughtful.
”No, I don’t have the money for that. I haven’t been making much lately. The Johns prefer the younger carriers. It’s not like there’s a shortage of us on the streets,” Drew mumbled the last words.
”No,” Charlie admitted, ”Too many of us ended up there.”
”I just don’t see a connection between them,” Don said and glared at the pictures on the board, ”None of them knew each other. I mean we have a prostitute, a student and a shop assistant just to mention the latest victims. None of them have anything at all in common,” Don grabbed the chair he had been sitting in when the meeting started and gave it a shove. It hit the edge of the conference table with a metallic clink.
”We should contact some of the groups that help carriers,” Megan suggested, ”Maybe they all came to the same organization. Some carriers go to those groups to get help, get off the streets. Some just stay in touch with other carriers through them.”
”Okay…How many organizations do we have in town?” Don asked.
”I checked it,” Megan said, ”With the newest group for teenagers and the one for carriers in foster care, we’re looking at seven.”
”Well,” Don looked at the list Megan gave him, ”Looks like I’ll be going to the Umbrella group and you guys just divide the rest of them. I still have to interview the last victim’s partner again.”
”You okay, man?” David asked Colby when he noticed how pale the other man suddenly looked.
”Yeah,” Colby muttered, ”I’m fine.”
“I’m kinda on my way to CalSci right now,” Charlie said and looked at Special Agent Don Eppes.
“I could drive you,” Don offered.
“Oh…um…I just need to call my ride and tell him I’m driving with you,” Charlie put his messenger bag down on his desk and started rummaging through it. He found his phone and then said, “I’ll just send him a text message. He’s at work right now. I don’t want to disturb him.”
“Here,” Don said and reached out for the bag on the table. “You want me to take this for you?”
“Yes please,” Charlie smiled and absentmindedly rubbed a hand against the small of his back, “Would give my back a rest.” Don nodded and walked over to the door, opened it and let Charlie walk through it first.
“You work here and at the university?” Don asked when Charlie put the phone back in his pocket.
“Well,” Charlie said and locked the door behind him, “This isn’t really work as such. I mean, I don’t get paid.”
Don stopped in front of the elevator and Charlie’s phone made a small short beeping noise. The carrier found it in his pocket and checked the message, “Oh…well seems you saved me from a long and strenuous journey by bus. He couldn’t pick me up after all.”
“Glad to be of service,” Don smiled. The elevator opened, it was empty and they walked in. Charlie pushed the button for the ground floor and the doors closed.
“I wanted to ask you a few questions regarding our current case,” Don said.
“Yes, you said so,” Charlie turned, “I’ll be glad to help,” the elevator stopped and the doors opened.
“I’d appreciate it,” Don stepped out and waited for Charlie.
“What would you like to know?” Charlie said as they walked through the small lobby and out of the front doors.
“I’d like to hear more about what the Umbrella Group does,” Don said and pointed over to his car, “I’m parked over there but if you’d wait here I could go get it and pick you up.”
“I’m not made of glass, Agent Eppes,” Charlie chuckled, “I can walked across the street and pass four cars just fine.”
“Sorry,” Don said, “Just…I’m not really…” Don’s voice trailed off.
“You’re not used to being around carriers,” Charlie stated as they crossed the street.
“No, not really,” Don admitted as they walked across the street and finally stopped by Don’s car.
“I’m sure Larry won’t mind if we borrow his office,” Charlie said and opened the door to the cluttered room.
“Someone actually works in here?” Don asked and tried to find a chair to sit on.
“Uh huh,” Charlie muttered and started moving a few books off one of the chairs. He unceremoniously dumped them on the floor, “Take a seat,” he said and walked over to another chair and moved a pile of papers to the already overburdened table.
“So…” Charlie said as he sat down on the chair.
“First I’d like to hear more about Umbrella,” Don started.
“Well, we’re an organization that tries to unite all the other support organizations for carriers out there. So if someone comes and asks for help we know who to ask and where to send them.”
“So you know about all the other organizations in the area?” Don asked.
“Yes. Sometimes we send the carriers directly to the organization best suited to help them, other times, especially if they need help from several organizations at the same time, we take care of the contact with the other groups,” Charlie explained.
“I see. As I’ve already told you we’re trying to find a connection between the victims in this case. Perhaps you could take a look at the list?” Don pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket and handed it to Charlie.
The carrier studied it and read out loud, “Tommy Harding, Jordan Welsh, Alex Browning, Ivy Joneston, Val Calleig,” Charlie frowned, “They’re all from different carrier houses, except for Calleig…I haven’t heard of a Carrier House with that name…”
”No,” Don said, ”Calleig was raised by his parents.”
”Okay…hmmm… if the ages listed next to the names are correct they were all in their twenties.”
Don nodded “You say they were all from different houses…”
“The last names,” Charlie explained, “A carrier has a first name, usually picked out by the staff at the carrier house, and a last name. The last name was always the same as the carrier house they permanently lived in.”
“So Tommy Harding was raised at Harding House and Jordan Welsh at Welsh House,” Don said.
“Yes,” Charlie looked down at the list in his hands again. “I don’t immediately see a connection between them…I just don’t have enough data. But I would suggest you started out by getting a hold of a list of employees in the houses concerned. You’ll end up with a hell of a list. People walked in and out of those houses. The employees seemed to wander from house to house and state to state.”
The door was opened and a short man with a huge tower of books, precariously wobbling in his arms, walked in and blindly kicked the office door shut behind him.
“Larry?” Charlie said, “I’m just borrowing your office. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Don’t mind at all, Charlie,” Larry said as he peeked around the tower of books and walked over to the corner of the room where he put the stack of books on top of an already unstable stack of books and periodicals.
“This is Agent Don Eppes from the FBI,” Charlie said and Don noticed the look the young carrier sent the professor.
“Oh well,” Larry shook hands with Don and then looked around the room, “Where is the Wormhole?” he asked.
“Wormhole?” Don wondered if the man was mad.
He’s in day care, Larry.” Charlie said as if wormholes going to day care was the most natural thing in the world, “Oh and thanks for the book about astronauts,” Charlie grinned, “Now he wants to be one:”
“What little boy doesn’t?” Larry asked.
“You need a ride home?” David asked Colby. The other agent had seemed nervous and jumpy since he’d received a text message a few hours earlier.
“No, I drove here in my own car,” Colby distractedly said and took out his cell phone again to check if there were any new messages.
“You okay?” David asked and sat down at Colby’s desk.
“Yeah…sure,” Colby put the phone away again, “Why?”
“You’ve just seemed worried lately,” David said tentatively not wanting to overstep some invisible boundary.
“It’s this damn case,” Colby said and pinched the bridge of his nose, “I keep seeing that baby on the kitchen table…” the younger agent’s voice trailed off and he closed his eyes.
“You should go see someone about that,” David said, “I did,” he admitted.
“It helped?” Colby asked uncertainly.
“Yeah…It’s still fucked up,” David stretched and sighed, “But at least I can deal with it now. I was starting to have nightmares about it.”
“Yeah,” Colby nodded, “Well, I better get going,” he stood up.
“Okay,” David watched as Colby put on his jacket.
“Hey David.” Colby look tired, “Thanks man.”
The Sunshine Day Care was filled with noisy kids and stressed parents. Colby walked over to Simon’s small coat hanging on the row of hooks on the wall. He was emptying the overstuffed pockets, wondering what Simon intended to do with seventeen small rocks and eight twigs, when a small voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Dad!” Simon knee-hugged Colby and then bounced down the hall. He returned dragging a young woman with him.
“Mary is new,” Simon proclaimed and Colby shook hands with the dark-haired woman.
“Nice to meet you, Mary,” Colby said and picked up his squirming son.
“Likewise,” Mary said, “I just started here today and Simon’s been a real big help,” she smiled.
“She has a dog called Elvis,” Simon looked excited, “Can we get a dog called Elvis too,” Colby snorted when Simon tried out his big brown puppy dog eyes on him.
“Sorry, Sport,” Colby ruffled Simon’s curls, “We’ll have to wait…you know Daddy doesn’t have time for a puppy now with the baby on the way.”
“Oh,” Simon looked miserable but immediately cheered up, “I’m gonna get a baby brother or a baby sister. And it’ll be this small,” Simon held his hands a few inches apart.
“I hope the baby is bigger than that” Colby said, “Or we might lose him between the couch pillows.”
Mary laughed, “I better go get his little backpack,” she said and disappeared down the hallway.
A few mothers stood by the entrance to the day care gossiping. Colby knelt down to help Simon tie his rainbow shoelaces. He could hear the mothers whispering and feel their curious eyes burning through his back.
Mary returned with the Mickey Mouse backpack and Simon hugged her.
“So ready to go, Champ?” Colby asked and watched as the little boy struggled with his jacket.
“Mmmmm,” Simon said and took his dad’s hand.
Just as they walked past the women by the entrance Colby heard one of them say,
“Totally wasted on some prissy carrier.”
“They said I was prissy?” Charlie asked and ran a hand down Colby’s flank.
“Uh huh,” Colby nodded and pressed his forehead into the pillow. Charlie’s hands started rubbing circles on the small of the larger man’s back.
“I think we’ll need another pillow here,” Charlie said and reached over Colby to take his own pillow. His rounded belly brushed against Colby’s heated skin and the agent hissed. Charlie patted Colby’s hip and Colby lifted himself up just enough for Charlie to push the pillow under him.
“This was so much easier before the baby bump,” Charlie mumbled and resumed his gentle massage.
“Are you gonna talk all night?” Colby moaned when Charlie’s fingers came closer to their goal.
“I thought you loved listening to my voice?” Charlie teased.
“Charlie,” Colby protested, “You’re killing me here.”
“I just want to make sure you’re ready and comfortable,” Charlie defended himself.
“Oh, I’m ready and comfortable, all right. If I get any more ready I’m gonna finish without you.”
“We can’t have that,” Charlie chuckled, kissed the small of Colby’s back before he straightened back up and slowly pushed inside him.
Colby chuckled in a strained voice.
“Seriously,” Charlie gasped, “Laughing at the man making love to you is usually considered rude.”
“Was…just thinking about those women,” Colby panted, “Wonder what they’d say if…they could…see us now.”
“Daddy?” Simon came into the kitchen wearing nothing but a sock.
“Hmmm?” Charlie said and turned another page of the newspaper as he stood with his back to the little boy.
“Mary said I can invite my granddad and grandma to the play. She said she was sure they’d wanna see me play acorn,” Simon had spent hours memorizing his line. He had wandered around the house for the past week muttering, “Oh look! The forest is green and the flowers are happy.”
Colby walked into the kitchen, only stopping for a second to stare at the almost buck-naked boy.
“Is Simon going to day care dressed like that?” he asked Charlie.
“Hmmmm?” Charlie turned and looked down at Simon, “Where’s your clothes? I just used 20 minutes to help you dress.”
“I don’t wanna wear it,” Simon said and put his chubby hands on his hips and scowled.
“You can’t go to day care butt naked,” Colby said and knelt down in front of the boy.
Simon tilted his head, a curl tumbled down over one eye, and he frowned.
“I’m a’ways naked,” he said and crossed his arms accentuating his chubby arms.
Charlie smiled and turned back to his newspaper so Simon wouldn’t see him grinning like a fool.
“No, you’re not,” Colby said.
“Uh huh,” Simon nodded defiantly.
“Simon, you’re always wearing clothes. You’re only naked when you take a bath,” Colby persisted.
“Nuh huh,” Simon shook his head, “I’m a’ways naked under my clothes,” he claimed, giggled and ran out of the kitchen. Charlie started laughing.
“I don’t know how,” Colby said and looked up at Charlie “but I’m sure this is somehow your fault.”
Charlie smiled, folded the newspaper and swatted Colby with it.
“So…” Colby said after they had dropped Simon off at day care. “You met agent Eppes?”
“Yeah,” Charlie nodded, “He seems like a nice guy. Awkward around me, though.”
“I don’t think he’s had much contact with carriers,” Colby stopped at a red light and looked over at Charlie and smiled. Charlie’s hand was resting over his rounded belly, rubbing a circle with his thumb.
“Mary at day care asked if Simon was going to be bringing his grandparents to the play,” Charlie said uncertainly.
“Shit,” Colby drove on when the light changed to green, “I’ll talk to Simon about it, okay?”
“You sure?” Charlie turned slightly in his seat, “I could…”
“No, Charlie.” Colby shook his head, “I know how much it upsets you. I’ll talk to him tonight.”
“I’m really starting to get sick of those damn photos!” Don growled and slammed a thick folder down on the table in the conference room. A few grisly photos slid out of the brown folder. Colby reached out and pushed them back inside, only touching the corners with his fingertips.
“Carey Bellinger,” Megan said and put a new photo up next to those of the other victims, “26 years old and eight months pregnant.” David let out a deep breath and rubbed a hand against his forehead.
“Who found him?” Colby asked.
“This time,” Don said and leant against the glass wall, “the victim was found by his two year old daughter, Sarah.”
“Fuck,” David said, “What about the baby?”
“It was placed in the new nursery room wrapped in a blue baby blanket,” Megan said, “If it’s okay with you guys I’d rather not put that picture up on the board.”
The men all nodded in agreement. Colby’s fingers clenched around his mug of coffee.
“How about those lists of past employees at the carrier houses some of the victims grew up in?” Don asked Colby. The younger agent was staring at the tabletop, unaware of his surroundings.
“Are you okay, Colby?” Megan asked and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah…Sorry,” Colby picked up a large pile of papers, “This is from the houses where the list had actually been saved. We couldn’t get the lists to Welsh House or Jefferson House.”
“I’ll contact Bellinger House and see if they have a list,” David jotted a few words down on his notepad.
”Bellinger was raised by his parents,” Megan said, ”I’ll be interviewing them today.”
“Don,” Colby tapped the pile of papers, “Even with the lists it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Some of these people only worked at the houses once and for a few months. One guy worked at Hardinger House for half a day before he quit his job.”
“I think we need to look for someone who was employed for at least three to six months, preferably longer. This…” Megan pointed at the pictures of the victims on the board, “…seems personal. And we’ve found nothing else, apart from the fact that they’re carriers, that connects them.”
“Our biggest problem is the fact that we don’t really know what we’re dealing with here. At least as far as the carriers who grew up in Carrier Houses are concerned,” Don pointed out, “So the four of us are going on a fieldtrip.”
“A fieldtrip?” David said and grinned cheekily.
“Yeah,” Don said and couldn’t help smiling, “We’re going to the Carrier House Museum at the old Ellis House. I‘ve arranged for a guide to show us around.”
“Man,” David looked up at the looming building, “Is it just me or does it look like a state prison?”
“It’s not just you,” Colby said as he walked past his partner. They walked up the stairs to the front door where a carrier was shaking hands with Don and Megan.
“Mr. Harding, this is agents Granger and Sinclair,” Don said and the two agents shook hands with the middle-aged carrier.
“Welcome,” he greeted them with a pleasant smile, “And please just call me Cameron.”
They walked down a grey and undecorated hallway. Cameron took them to a huge sickly green room with large windows facing north. The grey light filtering through the windows made the room seem even colder than it was.
Small metal cots stood in rows in one end of the room and larger beds took up most of the space in the other end.
“This was the nursery,” Cameron said and walked further into the nursery. “When a carrier infant arrived here they would spend the next four years of their lives mainly in this room.”
“How many kids would have lived in here at one time?” Don asked and fingered the coarse fabric of a brown baby blanket.
“This room could hold twenty newborns and up to fifteen toddlers,” Cameron pointed to a small office in the corner of the room, “The head of the nursery would run the daily care from that office and there could be from three to eight caretakers working the nursery at any time.”
The agents slowly moved down the row of small cots and beds. Everything looked old and worn. The walls were bare. Nothing broke the monotony of the sickly green color.
On the wall next to the small office was a montage of pictures. The oldest, black and white photos, showed small pale children sitting in their cots observing the world with big glazed eyes. Some newer pictures showed a group of toddlers playing with blocks but they still had that slightly vacant expression.
“The children were under-stimulated and many of them had problems with their fine motor skills because of that,” Cameron said, “Some houses were better at taking care of the children than others. A few actually did a decent job with the limited funds they had available.”
”Did all the kids on the photos grow up here at Ellis House?” Colby asked as he focused on a picture of three little boys sitting together on a small bed.
”No,” Cameron answered, ”Only very few of the pictures are actually from Ellis House. Most of them have been donated by people who worked at the houses all over California.”
Don scanned the faces of the little boys on the newer photos. He didn’t know what his little brother looked like but he checked the face of every dark haired child anyway.
“What happened when the kids were moved from the nursery?” Colby turned away from the photos.
“Well, they were moved to the dorms and in some houses they were assigned a ‘big brother’ among the older carriers. It started out as a good way for the state to save money on extra staff but eventually, it turned out that the children benefited from the arrangement,” Cameron explained and lead the agents out of the room and down another grey hallway, ”They’d stay in the dorms until they turned sixteen.”
”What happened after they turned sixteen?” David asked as they walked past several storage rooms.
”They would move into what was popularly called halfway houses,” Cameron said, ”Small group homes where they would live until they turned eighteen. After that the state would help them find a job and a place to live but really they were on their own after that.”
They walked up a flight of stairs and turned right, down a larger hallway.
“This was the third dorm,” Cameron stopped outside a door with the words ‘Dorm 3’ written on it in fading black letters. Cameron opened the doors and stepped inside.
“Third dorm?” Megan voice sounded loud in the almost empty room, “Wasn’t it one of the dorms where some of the children were abused?” Colby stopped in the doorway and waited for the answer.
“Yes,” Cameron nodded sadly, “This dorm was hell on earth for quite a few young carriers. The three men, including their leader, who committed the abuse were put on trail and convicted after the house was closed. It was one of the cases that convinced the government that the houses were too much trouble and bad press.”
“Hey,” Charlie whispered against Colby’s chest, “You okay?”
“Yeah…just,” Colby kept hugging Charlie as close as he could, “I just need to hold you.”
“It’s a really nice house,” Drew said as they walked into the kitchen.
“Thanks,” Charlie pulled out a chair for his guest, “We used to live in this tiny apartment before. But then we figured we might need more space. Especially after we started talking about having another baby.”
Drew nodded and took the bottle of water Charlie handed him, “Thanks. So where did the two of you meet?” he asked and looked over at the other carrier.
“I’d just started working for Umbrella,” Charlie sat down opposite Drew, “Back then I was part of this group they’d send out to schools and public offices,” Charlie looked thoughtful, “You know, to make people more aware of carriers and give them a chance to meet us.”
“Well, the FBI Academy invited us to come out there and hold this mini seminar, with introductions and discussion groups and lectures. The whole shebang. And Colby was there. Man, you should have seen him,” Charlie chuckled and reached out for the plate of cookies, offering them to Drew, “So there he was and he was asking all these questions about laws and culture. It was like he’d had all these questions and finally he’d found someone who might have the answers.”
Drew was listening and munching his third cookie
“So after…We were packing up. Colby and four other people came over and asked if me, Ori and Berry wanted go out for a drink,” Charlie said, “Man, by the end of that evening I was sooo drunk,” Charlie coughed as he tried to swallow the water he had just sipped, “I woke up in a motel room with Colby sprawled all over me.”
Drew sputtering cookie crumbs all over the place.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Simon came running through the hallway and into the kitchen.
“Hey there, Sport,” Charlie said and hugged the little boy.
“Dad took me to McDonalds and I got a toy,” Simon waved a small teddy bear around and stopped to stare at Drew. “Hi!” Simon tilted his head, “Who’re you?”
“This is Drew. He a friend of mine,” Charlie said and helped Simon take off his jacket.
“Hi Drew,” Simon said and pulled a chair over to Drew, “You wanna see my toy?”
“Sure,” Drew nodded and held on to Simon’s arm while the little boy scampered onto the chair.
“Kewl!” Simon said and thrust the teddy into Drew’s hands.
“Simon?!” Colby called from the hallway. The little boy jumped down from the chair and ran out of the kitchen.
Don’s hands hovered over the pictures covering the table in the conference room. Pictures that Don wanted to gather up and burn. Burn them and forget about them. Take them and throw them in the thrash…just like…God he hadn’t thought about that tape in years.
He’d just been curious. Wanted to know. Going into that porn shop, he had been sweating bullets. The damn shop owner had just smirked and given him a video. Don had paid, his hands shaking slightly. And all the way home he was sure people knew. That they could see it on his face.
He sat there in his small apartment staring at the screen. Three men and a carrier. Don had felt slightly sick when the men put the carrier on the bed. God, the kid couldn’t have been more than 18, maybe even younger, and those men had towered over the slim nervous carrier.
Don had watched five minutes before he had turned it off, taken the tape and thrown it in the trash. Then he had hurried into the bathroom and had thrown up his lunch.
Some days he really hated his job. Don collected the pictures and put them back in the folder.
Too bad he couldn’t just throw them out.
“What the hell were you thinking!” Colby asked Charlie after Drew had left.
“What?” Charlie had just finished tucking Simon in. He stood there in the living room, watching Colby.
“What the hell was he doing here?” Colby waved a hand at the door. His body tense with anger.
“He’s a friend. Don’t yell,” Charlie said, “Simon is sleeping.”
“You brought him here,” Colby said and walked over to Charlie, “You brought him here and now he knows that we’re together. Damn it, Charlie!”
“Are you…” Charlie looked into Colby’s eyes, “Are you embarrassed?”
“What?” Colby looked confused.
“You are, aren’t you,” Charlie looked away and took a deep breath, “You’re the one who wants to keep all this a secret,” Charlie waved a hand around the room and let it drop to his rounded belly, “You don’t want anybody knowing. You haven’t even told your parents.”
“You know why I haven’t told them!” Colby yelled.
“If it's such a hardship being with me why the hell do you bother?” Charlie asked and walked over to the window, “You were the one who wanted us to live together. I told you…” Charlie closed his eyes, “I said you had to be sure.”
“Drew works on the streets,” Colby started.
“He doesn’t anymore,” Charlie turned and looked at Colby, “He has a real job now, an apartment. He…”
“You can’t trust him, Charlie,” Colby said and stepped closer.
“What?” Charlie felt like the room was shrinking. His skin tingled as if the air was electric and he felt like he might suffocate any second.
“He might not be a prostitute anymore but…those kinda people…” Colby stopped talking, his eyes wide with sudden realization, “Fuck!” he reached out for Charlie’s arm, “I’m sorry I didn’t meant that. I just…”
“You promised that you didn’t…” Charlie almost choked on the words, “You promised me that you didn’t care about my past. You…You said it didn’t matter,” Charlie moved away from Colby’s hand, “Don’t. Just…don’t touch me…I can’t,” Charlie shook his head unable to find the words.
“Damn it!” Colby ran a trembling hand through his hair, “You know I don’t care about that,” Colby said, “Please, Charlie.”
Colby’s cell phone started ringing and they stood there listening to it as its persistent beeping filled the room.
“I have to take that,” Colby finally said. Charlie just nodded and watched Colby pull the phone out of his pocket.
“Yeah…” Colby said, “I’m coming down there right now.”
Charlie walked out of the living room and down the hallway. He stood there and stared at the door to Simon’s room.
“I have to go,” Colby stood behind him.
“Yeah,” Charlie didn’t move.
“You know I didn’t…” Colby tried.
“Just go, Colby. You’ll be late,” Charlie said.
“You okay, man?” David asked his partner.
“Yeah, sure.” Colby said.
“You look like shit, Colby.” Megan patted his shoulder as she passed him. David chuckled and sat down at the table.
“So,” Don said and looked over at Megan.
“I’ve found a connection between some of the victims,” she said and looked at the huge pile of papers in front of her. “More than one connection actually.”
She moved over to the board and pointed at the pictures of the victims. “Three people worked at all the Carrier Houses involved at the same time as the victims lived there.”
“Three people?” David asked.
“Two men and one woman,” Megan said, “I find it hard to believe that a woman committed these murders. It’s just too bloody, too focused on bringing pain. Not to mention the babies.”
“John Paulson, 55. Maggie Weiss, 61. Peter Conley, 45.” Megan put their pictures on the board.
“They all worked for the state and in the Carrier Services,” she continued, “They all worked at the Harding, Browning and Joneston Houses. We don’t know if they worked at Jefferson and Welsh since the employee lists from those houses weren’t saved anywhere. And we still don’t know how any of the three were connected to Calleig or Bellinger.”
“Let’s go see what they have to say,” Don said and walked over to the door.
“What the hell happened?” Don asked as he hurried over to David. The other agent was slumped in an orange plastic chair. His hands and the sleeves of his shirt covered in dried blood. David looked up at Don, his eyes confused.
“He just started shooting,” David mumbled and tried to dry the flaking blood from his hands by rubbing them against his thighs.
“What about…” Don started but was pulled away by Megan. She shook her head and pointed over to a corner of the waiting room. Don reluctantly followed Megan as she tugged him with her.
“Colby was shot four times,” Megan whispered and looked over at David’s hunched shoulders.
“Oh fuck…He’s in surgery now?” he finally asked.
“Yeah,” Megan sighed and sat down in one of the uncomfortable chairs.
“The doctors…” Don leant against the wall, “Have they been out to talk to you guys yet?”
“No,” Megan looked up at him, “David said…he said there wasn’t any kind of warning. They were questioning John Paulson one second and dodging bullets the next,” her voice hitched, “I already have the police looking for him.”
“Good…How’s David doing?” Don watched David as the other agent kept staring at his blood stained hands.
“He keeps saying we need to go to Colby’s house…I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Megan said and pushed a lock of hair away form her face.
“I’ll go talk to him,” Don said, “Maybe you could see if the doctors have something new to tell us?” Megan glanced over at David again and then left the waiting room.
Don walked over to David and sat down in the chair beside him. In the silence they could hear nurses and doctors talking in the hallways and machines beeping.
David looked up, “We need to go to his house.”
“Yeah?” Don said and turned his head and looked into David’s dark brown eyes, “Megan said you wanted to go there.”
“I promised him,” David mumbled and ran a blood stained hand down the armrest of the plastic chair.
“Why do you need to go there?” Don asked, “I’m sure the doctor’ll be out any minute now and …”
“He was barely conscious and he kept begging me to…” David breathed deeply, “He kept telling me to go to his house and that it was important…I had…” David leant back in the chair, his head gently bumping against the wall behind them, “I had to tell…someone that he was sorry.”
“Who?” Don asked but then noticed the doctor coming into the quiet waiting room, “The doctor’s here, David.”
The doctor stopped in front of them and David and Don both stood up and shook hands with him.
“I’m doctor Williams,” the middle-aged man said.
“I’m Don Eppes and this is David Sinclair,” Don said as he reached out and squeezed David’s shoulder.
“How’s he doing?” David asked.
“As you already know he was shot four times,” Williams started, “Twice in the leg and once in the shoulder. It’s the last wound we’re worried about. The fourth bullet lodged itself in his skull. Thankfully it must have passed through something else before it finally hit Agent Granger.”
“A wall,” David said hoarsely.
“But he’ll be okay, right?” Don asked and felt David tense beside him.
“We have him in a drug induced coma right now and we’ll keep him like that for the next few days,” Williams said, “The good news is that he doesn’t seem to have any severe brain damage. We’ll know more in a day or two.”
“Thank you, doctor Williams,” Don shook hands with the doctor again but David didn’t notice the doctor’s hand in front of him.
Williams looked at Don and said, ”I’ve already informed Agent Granger’s next of kin. His mother will be here as soon as possible.”
“Thank you,” Don repeated and the doctor nodded and left the room.
Charlie stood under the warm spray of the showerhead and tried to relax. His short wet curls were plastered to his nape and the heat of the water made his skin flush. He was leaning against the tiles, propping himself up with one hand and the other hand was resting on his stomach.
He reached out and turned the water off. The glass of the shower stall was steamed up and he started writing equations on it. Nothing important or anywhere near groundbreaking…just equations to sooth him. The sound of the bathroom door opening made him stop and open the door to the shower stall just enough to peek out.
A sleep ruffled Simon stood in the doorway, “I’m thirsty,” the boy murmured and rubbed his eyes. Charlie smiled and wiped the equations out with the palm of his hand.
“Can you give me that towel?” Charlie asked and pointed over at the towel holder.
“Okay,” Simon said and wandered over and stood on tiptoe to take the white towel. He walked back to Charlie.
“I’m still thirsty,” he pouted when Charlie took the towel.
“I’ll be out in a second, Simon,” Charlie said and shooed the little boy out of the bathroom.
The door closed behind Simon and Charlie started drying off. He cursed quietly when he couldn’t reach his feet.
“Look, David,” Don said and looked over at the other agent, “Colby probably didn’t have a clue what he was saying.”
“I promised him I’d go check out his house,” David said stubbornly and looked out the side window of the car. The parking lot by the hospital was almost empty. Visiting hours were over and the nightshift had just begun.
“How are we going to get in?” Don asked, using his last argument. David answered his question by holding up a set of keys.
“I took them out of his jacket,” David explained.
“Okay,” Don said and turned the engine off.
“This is the address?” David asked uncertainly and looked at the small house.
“Yeah…You haven’t been here before?” Don asked a little surprised.
“I’ve never been to his house,” David said.
“Well, this is the right place,” Don said and opened the car door and stepped out. “He lives alone, right?” Don asked as David got out of the car and walked over to stand next to Don on the sidewalk.
“Yeah,” David looked at the house, “I mean, he talks about women he’s dating but I’m pretty sure he lives alone…maybe he has a dog or something,” David suggested.
“We’ll just have to check it out,” Don said and started walking up to the house. Halfway there he almost stumbled and started cursing. The lamp above the front door turned on automatically.
“What?” David was right behind him and he reached out a steadying hand.
“I stepped on something,” Don growled and bent over to pick the offending thing up. They both stared at the snarling face of the action man.
“Must belong to one of the neighbors’ kids,” David said and took it out of Don’s hands. He put it on the grass and walked past Don. He stopped by the front door and fumbled with the keys for a second before finding the right one.
“There,” he said as the locked clicked. He turned the handle and the door opened, revealing a dark hallway. They both walked inside and David closed the door behind them. Don found the light switch and flipped it.
The hallway wasn’t very big but there was still room for a small bench and a hallway table. A few jackets were hanging on the coat rack and some shoes were pushed under the bench. David walked into the kitchen, turned the lights on and looked around. He couldn’t see any dog food bowls or anything else pointing to why Colby had wanted him to go there.
“Found anything?” Don walked into the kitchen.
“No,” David shook his head, “Nothing,” he turned around and saw the fridge door. It was covered in drawings. Drawings of big cars and trees, dogs and elephants.
Don was just about to say something when a sound made them turn around.
A small sleepy boy stood in the doorway to the kitchen rubbing his eyes with a chubby fist. He was holding an old teddy bear in one hand. Its legs dangling an inch over the floor.
“Dad?” the boy asked and blinked.
“Hey,” Don said surprised and knelt down in front of the little kid, “Where’s your mommy?”
“Dad has a gun like that,” the little boy said, pointing at the gun in Don’s holster as if he hadn’t heard Don’s question.
“He does?” David said and smiled down at the boy.
“Uh huh,” the boy nodded, “My action man’s got one too,” the boy hugged his teddy bear and shivered.
“Are you cold?” Don asked and stood up, “Maybe you could show us where your mommy is? Then we could get you back in bed.”
The little boy looked at the two agents. He narrowed his eyes.
“I don’t know you,” he said as if he hadn’t noticed that before.
“Oh,” David said and looked at Don.
“My daddy says I’m not ’lowed to speak to strangers,” the boy said and tried to look taller than he was as he straightened his back.
“Your dad is a smart guy,” David said.
“Uh huh,” the boy nodded.
“But if we told you who we are and show you our badges…” Don began.
“I’m Simon,” Simon said and waved the hand that wasn’t clutching the teddy bear.
“Hi, Simon,” David said, “I’m David and this is Don.”
“Hi,” Don showed the boy his badge. Small fingers traced the design of the golden badge and Simon looked expectantly at David. The agent found his badge and handed it to Simon.
“You hang on to that, okay,” David said.
“’K,” Simon agreed and struggled to fasten the badge to his sleeping pants. He finally succeeded and smiled up at Don and David. Then he turned around and started walking down the hallway.
“He looks a little like Colby,” David whispered.
“Yeah,” Don said, “Same smile.”
The boy stopped outside the door at the end of the hallway and looked up at Don. Don reached out and knocked quietly on the door.
“Probably sleeping,” David said.
“Yeah,” Don opened the door. A small lamp stood on the bedside table, casting a golden glow in the room. Someone was curled up on top of the bedspread.
Don was about to walked into the room when Simon pushed past him and crawled up on the bed. The person on the bed turned slowly around and sat up. The soft fabric of the t-shirt stretched as it tangled a little and showed off the rounded belly. Behind Don, David mumbled something inaudible.
“Did you have a nightmare?” a tired voice asked.
“No,” Simon said and pointed over to the door.
Surprised dark brown eyes looked into Don’s.
“Charlie?” Don asked.
Megan looked at David. The agent was sitting in one of the chairs, his head resting against the wall behind him as he snored lightly. A small boy was draped over his chest. The child was wearing a flannel pyjama with small yellow Batman signals all over the black fabric. David’s badge was clipped to the pyjama pants. A halo of light-brown curls hid the boy’s face.
“Why didn’t Colby just tell us?” Don whispered from behind her.
“Maybe he was afraid of our reaction,” she said quietly and accepted the cup of coffee Don handed her. He walked over to the small table next to David and set down the small tray with another cup of coffee and two fizzy drinks. He took his jacket off and tucked it around the boy.
“His name’s Simon,” Don gently pushed the curls away from the boys face. Simon sighed and burrowed deeper against David’s chest.
“Looks like David has a new best buddy,” Megan smiled.
“Yeah, David kept him occupied in the car on our way here,” Don said and nodded at the empty waiting room.
“I should go and make sure Charlie is all right,” Don said but stopped when David started moving.
“Hey,” David whispered, “Could one of you guys take the kid for a second?”
“Sure,” Megan said and sat down on the chair next to David. Don lifted the sleeping boy off of David. He cradled him against his chest for a second, enjoying the warm shampoo scent coming from Simon’s curls. Megan reached out and Don handed the boy over to the other agent.
“He’s out cold,” David said and tucked Don’s jacket around the boy again.
“Yeah,” Don said, “We’d better go check on Charlie.”
“But,” Don and David could hear the pleading voice of the carrier before they rounded the corner, “the nurse said I could stay with him. She said…”
“I’m aware of that but she made a mistake,” doctor Williams answered in a low voice. The doctor and Charlie were standing outside Colby’s room, “You aren’t next of kin and it would be against hospital policy if I allowed…”
“What’s going on?” Don asked and stopped next to Charlie.
“They say I can’t stay with Colby,” Charlie said and rubbed his bare arms. He was wearing an oversized t-shirt, with the FBI logo on the front, and a pair of black sweatpants.
“It’s against hospital policy…” Williams started again.
“But Charlie is Colby’s next of kin,” David said.
“He’s not registered as such and as long as that’s the case I can’t allow Mr….” Williams looked questioningly at Charlie.
“Ellis,” Charlie said quietly.
“I can’t allow Mr. Ellis access to the patient without the consent of Granger’s next of kin,” Williams said and looked apologetically at Charlie.
“Colby’s mother is coming tomorrow,” Don said and rested a comforting hand on Charlie’s shoulder.
“Mrs. Granger is coming here?” Charlie asked and Don felt the muscles in the carrier’s shoulder tense.
“Yeah,” David said, “She’s coming in tomorrow around four.”
“Oh,” Charlie put a hand over his mouth, “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“She doesn’t know,” Charlie said as he started splashing cold water in his face. He was bent over the sink in the bathroom next to Colby’s room. The early morning light made the drops of water sparkle in the short black curls.
“She doesn’t know?” Don asked disbelievingly, “But what about Simon?”
“Colby’s mother doesn’t know about me or Simon,” Charlie dried his hands in a few paper towels. He seemed to study the grey damp paper for a few seconds before he threw them in the white trashcan.
“How’ve you kept it a secret?” Don said, “Colby went home last Christmas. I remember that,” he continued.
“Colby visits his family alone,” Charlie looked up at Don, “We talked about it…telling her…but Colby said it was a bad idea.”
“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Don said and patted Charlie’s shoulder as they walked out of the bathroom.
“Where is he?” a scruffy looking man came huffing and puffing through the door to the waiting room.
“Larry,” Charlie said and started getting up from the plastic chair.
“No, no,” Larry said and hurried past David, “Don’t get up.”
“I’m okay, Larry,” Charlie reassured the professor as Larry sat down next to him.
“How is Colby doing?” Larry asked.
“He’s still…The doctors are keeping him in a coma so he can heal,” Charlie said, “Oh, I forgot…” Charlie’s eyes moved to the clock hanging on the wall, ”I have to proctor a mid-term in an hour and a half,” the carrier started getting up from his seat.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Larry said and gently pushed Charlie back in the chair, “I’ll take care of that. You just stay here and look after Colby.”
“Are you hungry, buddy?” Don asked the little boy.
“Uh huh,” Simon nodded and rubbed his bleary eyes, “I want pancakes,” he demanded.
“Well, there’s a diner around the corner,” David said and stretched, “I’m sure they have pancakes.”
“Mr. Ellis?” a young nurse, with shoulder long blond hair, walked over to them, “I heard about doctor Williams denying you access to Mr. Granger’s room. I’m so sorry…”
“That’s all right,” Charlie said resting his hands on Simon’s shoulders. The little boy tilted his head back and looked up at his daddy.
“No, it isn’t,” the nurse persisted.
“At least I got to sit with him a little,” Charlie smiled gratefully at the nurse.
“I’m still sorry,” she said.
“I want pancakes,” Simon reminded the grown ups.
“I’m sorry, Simon,” Charlie said, “But we’re not really dressed for a trip outside,” Charlie tucked at the collar of Simon’s Batman pyjama shirt.
“Oh,” Simon said disappointedly.
“Hey,” Don said and knelt down in front of the little boy, “I’m sure they won’t mind Batman eating their pancakes.”
Don was not a stranger to racism or bigots. He’d had a few run-ins with neo-Nazis and he had been called kike enough times to remember what it felt like to be the outsider. But the stares he was being treated to as he sat in the diner with Simon and Charlie were beyond anything he had ever experienced before.
Judging by Charlie’s clenched jaw he was well aware of the scrutiny. Simon was, thank God, oblivious and kept swinging his legs back and forth under the table.
“When’s the pancakes coming?” Simon asked and looked up at Charlie.
“They have to make them first,” Charlie said and straightened the little boy’s clothes.
Don watched as the waitress walked by them again, serving people who had ordered after Don and Charlie.
“I’ve had about enough of this,” Don said and stood up.
“Agent Eppes,” Charlie looked slightly alarmed but Don didn’t hear him.
Don walked up to the counter and caught the attention of the waitress.
“Yes?” she licked her lips nervously.
“We ordered thirty minutes ago,” Don pointed at the large clock hanging on the wall behind the woman.
“T-The kitchen is a little slow this morning,” she said and looked over at the manager.
“What’s the problem here?” the manager, a middle-aged man, asked.
“We ordered half an hour ago and…” Don started.
“Let’s just go back to the hospital,” Charlie’s quiet voice begged from behind Don.
“No,” Don said and glared at the smirking manager.
“Simon fell asleep,” Charlie said. Don turned around and saw that Charlie was holding the sleeping boy in his arms. Don glared at the manager and gently took Simon out of Charlie’s arms.
Don put his free hand on Charlie’s shoulder and steered the carrier over to the door. Just as they left the diner Don heard someone sneer,
“Yeah, you just get your carrier slut out of here.”
“You sure you’ll be okay?” David asked Charlie.
“Simon needs to sleep,” Charlie said, walked over to the window and closed the blinds blocking out the morning sun, “Thanks for giving us a ride home.”
“Don’t mention it,” David said and followed Charlie out of Simon’s room. He walked into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table. David could see how tired and worn out Charlie was. He looked like he was seconds from passing out.
“I wish Colby had told us about you,” David said as he took the mug of coffee. The carrier pulled out a chair and sat down at the table opposite David. Charlie sipped his chamomile tea.
“I’m…” David put his mug down and ran a hand over his scalp, “I’m really sorry Colby got hurt. I should’ve…”
Charlie reached over and held David’s shaking hand.
“Thanks,” David whispered.
“Daddy?” Simon was standing in the door to the master bedroom, his hair flat on one side and standing straight up on the other. Charlie tiredly reached out and turned on the bedside lamp.
“What is it?” he asked and slowly sat up.
“Bad dream,” Simon mumbled and walked over to the bed. The little boy’s hands were clutching a stuffed piglet to his chest. Charlie just nodded, scooted over and helped Simon climb under the covers.
“You wanna tell me about the bad dream?” Charlie asked and brushed the unruly curls away from Simon’s sweaty brow with his fingers.
“No,” Simon whispered and hid his face in Colby’s pillow.
“Okay,” Charlie kissed Simon’s cheek and pulled him closer, “Then we’ll just try to sleep some more.”
“’Kay,” Simon sniffled.
Charlie listened to Simon’s hitched breathing slowly grow steady and deep. He watched the rising sun chase the shadows across the ceiling. Simon made a small frightened noise and curled his small body around Charlie. Small sweaty hands grabbed on to the carrier's shoulder while the piglet lay forgotten on the edge of the bed.
“Shhhhh,” Charlie soothed, “It’s going to be all right, Simon, I promise.”
“God,” Don walked into the bullpen, his fingers loosening the blue tie, “I hate press conferences. It’s not like they give a damn about Colby or the case,” he pulled the tie over his head and slapped it against his thigh, “Vultures.”
“At least we got them to air John Paulson’s description,” Megan said.
”Yeah,” Don reluctantly agreed, ”But we all know how it is with cases involving carriers, especially if the victim’s a carrier.”
”Not a lot of people care,” Megan sat down in Colby’s vacant chair, ”How’s Charlie doing?” she asked.
”David talked to him yesterday evening, told him Mrs. Granger’s been delayed by the bomb scare in the airport. She should be landing in…” Don looked at his watch, ”Three hours or so.”
”David say how Charlie was handling her coming here?” Megan fiddled with a folder on Colby’s desk.
”He seems nervous,” Don pulled over a chair and sat down facing the other agent, ”I just don’t get how Colby could keep it a secret for so long. I mean, Simon’s what? Three years old?”
”Yeah,” she nodded.
”Not to mention that this case…” Don sighed, ”It must’ve hit far too close to home.”
Simon brushed his teeth. The little boy stood on a step stool, a small frown on his face as he stared at his own reflection. Every few seconds he would stop brushing and bare his teeth at the mirror and study his toothpaste foam covered mouth.
”You need to get finished, Simon,” Charlie reminded.
”Uh huh,” Simon nodded and tried to spit a big glob of foamy spit into the sink. Most of it just dribbled down the front of his t-shirt, ”Oops,” he looked up at Charlie.
”We’ll go find another shirt before we go to day care,” Charlie helped Simon get the dirty t-shirt off.
”I wanna go see Dad,” Simon said and jumped down from the step stool.
”You can’t today,” Charlie dropped the shirt in the laundry basket, ”Dad is still sleeping and the doctor said we shouldn’t disturb him.”
”I wanna go!” the little boy demanded. Charlie pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
”I’m sorry, Sport, but we can’t go,” he mumbled.
”But I wanna! I wanna! I wanna!” Simon started stomping his feet.
”Yeah, me too,” Charlie pulled the sobbing boy into a hug, ”Me too.”
David looked at each and every woman that came out of the gate. He still hadn’t seen anyone who might be Colby’s mother. A woman around the right age walked through the gate. Her dark blond hair, reminding David of Colby’s.
David reached out his hand to stop her, “I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Mrs. Granger.”
The woman glared at him and snarled, “No. I really don’t have time for this!” she pushed past him and disappeared down the busy hallway.
“Excuse me?” a slightly rumbled looking woman said.
David turned around. “Yes?”
“I’m Mrs. Granger,” she smiled tiredly at him, “I must look like a mess,” Mrs. Granger mumbled and tried to straighten her clothes, she ran a hand through her shoulder long graying hair, “Spending almost 19 hours at the airport waiting for the plane to arrive was…” she shrugged.
“I’m special agent David Sinclair,” David said and shook hands with Colby’s mother.
“Louisa,” she said, “Please call me Louisa.”
“Don?” Alan asked when he heard the front door opening.
“Yeah,” a tired voice answered and the sound of shoes being toed off followed.
“You all right?” Alan walked into the hallway, surprised that his son was visiting in the middle of the day. Don was taking his jacket of, a creased tie hanging limply from his pocket.
“Not really,” Don mumbled. He looked exhausted and Alan patted Don’s shoulder as he walked into the living room.
“How’s agent Granger doing? Any change?” Alan asked gently.
“They’re keeping him in a coma for now,” Don slumped down on the couch, he closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the couch, “He’s been lying to us dad. To the whole team ever since he joined it.”
“Is this about the carrier?” Alan sat down in the recliner facing the couch.
“Yeah,” Don sat up and massaged his tense neck, “He didn’t trust us not to judge him.”
“Well, you told me his own family doesn’t even know,” Alan said and studied his son. Don looked about ready to pass out, his clothes rumbled, his body language screaming defeat.
“You think he’s ashamed?” Don asked, suddenly more awake, almost angry, “I’ve met Charlie before, through this case, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I didn’t know you’d already met him,” Alan watched as Don stood up and started pacing back and forth.
“He works for one of the carrier organizations,” Don said and kept pacing, “He’s smart, he’s at CalSci, a TA,” Don looked down at his father, “He helped on the case and they have a son, Dad. Simon…he’s a cute kid.”
“Maybe Colby didn’t want to take the risk of you or the others finding out because he’s been burned before,” Alan suggested.
Don stopped pacing, “The doctors at the hospital won’t let Charlie sit with Colby.”
“I see,” Alan clenched his hands for a second, “That must be difficult for him.”
“He’s probably sitting in the waiting room right now, just to be close to Colby,” Don sat down on the couch again, “You should see some of the looks the kid is getting. It’s like people lose their common sense when they see a carrier. Normal friendly people …some of the things they say and they don’t even care if he hears it.”
“I can’t imagine what it must be like for him,” Alan said as Don disappear into the kitchen.
“It’s just…” Alan could hear Don open the fridge, “It’s just…” Don tried again as he came out of the kitchen holding a cold beer in his hand. He briefly held it against his forehead.
“What?” Alan asked. Don sat down on the armrest of the couch, it creaked ominously.
“At least if Charlie had someone he could turn to…” Don studied the label on the beer bottle, “But he doesn’t. He’s all alone.”
“He doesn’t have any contact with his biological parents?” Alan asked. Don just shook his head and started peeling the label off the damp bottle.
“David asked him but apparently Charlie chose not to have any contact,” Don shook his head.
“Invite him over for dinner,” Alan said.
He was running out of time. Mrs. Granger would be arriving soon and he couldn’t deal with facing her yet. Even if the doctor wouldn’t let him see Colby they couldn’t throw him out of the waiting room.
Charlie leant back in the uncomfortable plastic chair. His back was killing him and the baby was crowding his bladder. He’d been waiting for an hour now, hoping to get a glimpse of one of the nice nurses that had allowed him to sit with Colby the first night.
He shivered and pulled the bulky sweater closer around himself. Suddenly one of the nurses walked into the waiting room.
“Charlie,” she said and looked around the room to make sure they were alone.
“Ginger, right?” Charlie started getting up but the nurse waved him back.
“Yeah,” Ginger nodded, “Look, the doctors have a meeting in an hour. You can stay with Colby for a while then, before they come back.”
“Thanks,” he said gratefully.
“Where’s the handsome little man?” Ginger asked and looked over at the corner of the waiting room where the toys were.
“I took him to day care,” Charlie answered, “He’s been very upset about all this.”
“I have to go,” she smiled apologetically, “I’ll come get you when you can sit with him.”
“Thanks,” Charlie said.
“See if you can’t get a little sleep while you wait,” Ginger said before she left, “It’s not good for you or the baby if you get too stressed out.”
Louisa’s hand hovered over her son’s chest. The machines in the room beeped and their green eerie light made her uneasy.
“The doctor’s going to be here in a minute,” the nurse promised.
“T-thank you,” Louisa managed to mumble and accepted the chair David pulled over next to the bed. She held Colby’s hand, her thumb stroking over the knuckles.
“I need to call the office,” David said.
“I’ll be fine, Agent Sinclair,” Louisa reassured the man.
David was walking down the white hallway when he saw Charlie walking out of the waiting room.
“Charlie?” David hurried over to the carrier before Charlie could disappear into the elevator.
“David,” Charlie seemed uncertain what to do.
“You’re leaving?” the larger man asked.
“Yes,” Charlie nodded, “Ginger, one of the nurses, just told me Mrs. Granger is here…”
“She’s sitting with Colby,” David said, “I’m sure she’d like to meet you.”
“You told her?” Charlie looked horrified.
“No…I…Look,” David put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder and guided him away from the elevator, “I just think you need to go meet her.”
“I-I can’t do this right now, David,” Charlie nervously tugged at a loose thread in the sweater he was wearing.
“Yeah, I get that but…” David started.
“Agent Sinclair?” both Charlie and David turned when Colby’s mother walked over to them.
“Is everything all right?” David asked anxiously, he could see the woman had been crying.
“He’s not getting worse, is he?” Charlie looked from David to Louisa, he suddenly looked very pale and tired, “The nurse said…” Charlie abruptly stopped talking.
“I’m sorry,” Mrs. Granger studied Charlie, “I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” she looked expectantly at David.
Charlie took a deep calming breath and felt the baby move.
He reached out and took two mugs out of the cupboard, placed them on the kitchen counter and filled both with steaming hot coffee.
Colby’s mother was sitting at the kitchen table, the sun shining through the window made her hair seem golden and erased the worry and tiredness from her face.
“Colby took that picture just a few hours after Simon was born,” Charlie said and put the mugs on the table beside the other photo albums. Louisa looked up at Charlie for a split second before her attention returned to the pictures.
“He was so happy and proud,” Charlie continued as he sat down, desperately trying to keep the non-existing conversation going.
David cleared his throat and looked at Simon. The little boy was playing with his toy cars on the table. “Why don’t you show me your room, Simon?” David asked.
Simon hopped down from his chair and grabbed on to the agent’s hand. “’Kay,” Simon agreed and dragged David out of the kitchen and down the hall.
Louisa silently turned another page and intently studied a picture of Colby sleeping on a couch, an old cramped apartment visible in the background. Louisa touched the picture, her eyes half-closed in an attempt to keep the tears back.
“I’m so glad you’re here now,” Charlie said quietly and reached out to touch Louisa’s hand. She pulled her hand away and the silence in the room seemed to grow and take on a life of its own.
“I want proof,” she said.
“Proof?” Charlie echoed.
“A DNA test,” Louisa said and finally looked Charlie in the eyes for the first time since they had been introduced at the hospital.
“Colby n-never…” Charlie stuttered.
“That’s a mistake I won’t make,” she said and closed the photo album. Her blue eyes locked with the carrier’s.
“Please wait,” Charlie said and held a hand protectively on his belly, “When Colby wakes up…”
“Colby should have asked for proof that Simon was his when the boy was born,” Louisa pushed her chair back and stood up, “You have to understand that I’m simply trying to keep my son safe,” she said and looked down at Charlie.
He wanted to get up, wanted to argue but his legs felt like jelly and his vision was blurry.
“If I had known that Colby had his father’s tendencies…” her voice trailed off and her hand seemed to indicate everything in the house, from Charlie to the laundry basket in the bathroom, “I would have made sure he didn’t make any mistakes.”
“Could…” Charlie felt his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth, “Could you tell the doctors to let me sit with him…They won’t…”
“I’ll tell them today,” Louisa nodded.
“T-thanks,” Charlie muttered, his eyes locked on a picture of Colby holding a small pink Simon cradled against his chest.
“Everything go all right?” Don asked when David joined the rest of the team in the conference room.
“Mrs. Granger is resting at the hotel now,” David said as he sat down at the large table, “But something’s not right.”
“What do you mean?” Don leant back in his chair, his hands resting on his thighs.
“We ran into Charlie at the hospital,” David explained, “I’ve never felt so damn uncomfortable in my entire life.”
“Is Charlie okay?” Don asked.
“He seemed nervous, you know, I mean what else would he be…” David rubbed a hand against the back of his head, “But we ended up going to Colby’s house. Mrs. Granger seemed to be doing okay. She was shocked but that’s to be expected.”
“What happened?” Megan pushed the file she had been looking at away .
“I don’t know…Charlie went and got Simon from day care…Everything looked all right but when Colby’s mother asked me to drive her to the hotel…Charlie was pale and he didn’t look good.”
“Maybe they were both just exhausted,” Don suggested.
“Yeah,” David nodded, “Maybe…”
Louisa watched the nurses attend to her son. Watched the doctors check on him. Everything Colby was had been reduced to numbers and diagrams, scribbled notes and the quiet beep of the machines.
She closed her eyes and thought about the little happy boy she had met that morning. Curly hair a halo around his head, happy laughter ringing through her son’s house.
Louisa pulled one of the plastic chairs closer to Colby’s bed and sat down. She gently caressed the back of her son’s hand, taking care not to disturb the IV needle.
She wouldn’t let it happen again. Wouldn’t let another carrier ruin her family.
Charlie sat next to Simon on the couch, the TV providing the afternoon’s entertainment. Colorful characters sang and played on the screen to the delight of the little boy.
“Daddy look!” Simon clapped his hands.
Charlie nodded numbly, looking but not seeing.
Don knocked on the front door and waited. He looked to his right and noticed that one of the neighbors, an old woman, was watching him from her lawn. Her hand had stopped halfway to the letterbox, her frail old hand shaking slightly.
Don knocked again.
The old woman frowned disapprovingly and shook her head as she pulled her mail out of the small box and started walking back to her own house.
The front door opened and Don’s smile vanished.
“Charlie? Are you okay?” Don pushed past the younger man and into the house, not waiting for an invitation, “You don’t look so good…Maybe you should get some rest?” he suggested.
“I’m going to go see Colby in an hour,” Charlie ran a hand through his short curls.
“His mother talked to the doctors?” Don asked, feeling relieved.
“Yes,” Charlie nodded and turned around and walked down the hallway.
“David said…” Don didn’t know how to ask without upsetting Charlie, “He had a feeling that things didn’t work out so well between you and Mrs. Granger.”
Charlie shrugged and picked up Simon’s little blue jacket, “She wants proof.”
“Proof?” Don frowned.
“A DNA test to prove that Simon is Colby’s,” Charlie walked into the living room, the blue jacket hanging limply from his hand. He turned his attention to the little boy sleeping on the couch.
“That’s…” Don honestly didn’t know what to say, “Maybe…you know, maybe she was shocked.”
“I’m sure she was,” Charlie started dressing Simon, the boy made a few protesting noises but soon calmed down and kept sleeping.
“Look,” Don touched Charlie’s shoulder, “Give her time. She’ll calm down and when Colby wakes up…”
“You don’t get it. Do you?” Charlie’s dark eyes were filled with fear.
“Colby is…” Don started but the carrier held up his hand and stopped the other man’s words.
“If anything happens to Colby,” Charlie said his voice deceptively calm, “Anything at all…If the doctors decide to keep him in the coma longer or if…” his hand tightened around Simon’s hand, “If Colby dies…Then she can try to get full custody of Simon,” Charlie bent down and started lifting the boy up.
“Let me,” Don said, “You shouldn’t be straining yourself like that.”
“Thanks,” Charlie mumbled, his hand still resting on Simon’s back as the agent lifted the small boy, “The DNA test will show that Colby is the father and then she can…” Charlie’s breath hitched, “Ultimately she can take him away from me. There’s no other reason for her to want the test.”
Alan let his thumb trace the edge of the official looking envelope. He finally reached out for the old wooden letter opener and sliced it through the top of the envelope. He put the letter opener back down on the kitchen counter before he slowly pulled the single sheet of paper out and unfolded it.
”We regret to inform you…” Alan read out loud as his eyes scanned the rest of the letter, ”…request denied.”
”Hey, Dad?” Don called from the living room.
”I’m in the kitchen,” Alan managed to reply.
”Have you…” Don started as he entered the kitchen, a dark t-shirt draped over his arm. He was fiddling with the zipper on his jeans when he looked up and noticed his father’s expression, ”You okay?”
”I received the answer to my request…for contact…” Alan dropped the letter on the counter. It landed on top of the envelope.
Don sighed and reached out for the folded piece of paper. He didn’t bother to unfold it, though. His father’s sad expression told him all he needed to know.
“Simon made this drawing for Colby,” Charlie said uncertainly and handed a drawing to Louisa, “He asked if I could hang it in Colby’s room.”
Louisa looked at the little boy’s drawing of a big blue stickman holding hands with a much smaller green one. She moved the plastic vase with flowers so the drawing could lean against it.
“Is…” Charlie began but didn’t know how to continue.
“Yes?” Louisa turned her attention back to the carrier.
“Your hotel room,” Charlie finally found the words, “Is it comfortable? I only ask because the house has a guestroom, a small one but still…You’re very welcome to come stay with me and Simon…”
“I appreciate that,” the older woman said and fiddled with the sheets on Colby’s hospital bed, “But I don’t think it’s a good idea. I…”
A soft knock made Charlie and Louisa look over at the door. Doctor Williams stepped into the quiet room. The doctor was leafing through a few papers attached to his white clipboard.
“Mrs. Granger,” he nodded at her before he smiled briefly in Charlie’s direction, “I have some things I would like to discuss with you about your son’s further treatment.”
“I see,” Louisa said, “Mr. Ell…” she stopped and took a deep breath, “Charlie,” she amended, “Could you please give us a moment?” Charlie looked over at Colby, the man’s body connected to several machines, all of them beeping and monitoring every change and progress.
“I’ll just…” Charlie mumbled and walked out of the room.
Don walked down the white hospital hallway. He hated hospitals. Memories of his mother slowly withering away surrounded by the horrible stench of disinfectants made him clench his jaw. Thank God she hadn’t died in a place like that. She had died surrounded by family and friends.
He turned a corner and spotted Charlie standing outside Colby’s room. The carrier looked tired and fragile as he stood there leaning against the wall, one hand pressed against his side, just above his right hip.
“Hey,” Don said as he walked up to Charlie.
“Oh,” the younger man turned and looked at Don, “Hi, Don.”
“I thought Mrs. Granger okayed you having access to Colby’s room,” Don pointed at the closed grey door.
“She did,” Charlie nodded, “But the doctor wanted to discuss some things with her so…”
The grey door to Colby’s room opened and Mrs. Granger walked out to join them in the hallway.
“Agent Eppes,” she said and shook hands with Don.
“Mrs. Granger,” Don greeted her, “Charlie says the doctor…”
“Yes,” she smiled, “They’re going to bring him out of the coma tomorrow. The last MRI scan showed a significant improvement.”
“That’s good news,” Don said.
“Did they know if he would be all right?” Charlie anxiously looked back at the closed door, “They mentioned earlier…some talk about brain damage…” the carrier’s voice trailed off, the sound of his words swallowed by the white hospital walls.
“Dr. Williams said he expected Colby to recover fully,” Mrs. Granger took Charlie’s hand and squeezed it. Charlie looked down at their joined hands with obvious surprise. Louisa seemed to realize what she was doing and quickly let go of the carrier’s hand.
“Well, that’s great news then,” Don said and he smiled brightly at the both of them, “We should celebrated it. My father wanted me to invite you to dinner, Mrs. Granger.”
Charlie took a step back as if he wanted to give them some privacy.
“You too, Charlie,” Don put a warm hand on Charlie’s shoulder.
“I um…I’m terribly exhausted,” Mrs. Granger said and looked from Don to Charlie, “I was hoping I could get some sleep tonight before…”
“Of course,” Don smiled understandingly, “Maybe another time, then. Do you need a ride back to your hotel?” he asked.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” she said, “I have some things to take care of before I go back, phone calls to make…that sort of thing.”
Don walked out of the hospital with Charlie next to him.
“You okay?” Don stopped walking and turned to look at Charlie.
“Yes,” Charlie said, his hand pressed against his side.
“Then what’s with…” Don looked down at Charlie’s hand.
“The baby’s turning,” Charlie said with a frown, “Well, it was turning but halfway there it must have dozed off because I’m pretty sure there’s a tiny foot pressing against my lower ribs.”
“Ouch,” Don grimaced, “So you’re coming to dinner?” Don asked as they reached Charlie’s car.
“No,” Charlie shook his head, “I’d love to, really I would. But I don’t have anyone that’ll baby-sit with such short notice.”
“Just bring Simon with you,” Don stepped back as Charlie unlocked the car and opened the door, “My dad would love to have him there.”
Alan took the lettuce out of the fridge and put it on the kitchen counter. He walked over to the radio standing on the windowsill and turned it on. At first he was only rewarded with static. He turned the dial a little until a deep voice filled the kitchen.
“There is no denying that carriers are dangerous to modern society.”
“Please, Professor Francis,” a woman said and sighed, “Explain how a group…and at that a group that only consists of as little as two to three percent of the world’s population, can be a danger to a healthy society?”
“Scientific experiments have proven,” the first voice, that apparently belonged to Professor Francis, continued, “Have proven that carriers have more than a thirty percent risk of breeding carriers themselves. By letting them procreate we are allowing them to flood the world with carriers.”
“But given the fact that the carriers are as few, relatively speaking, as they are…” a familiar voice, Alan recognized as that of a popular radio talk show host, tried to interrupt.
“A disease is dangerous no matter how slowly it kills the patient,” Professor Francis pointed out.
“They’re human beings,” the woman protested angrily.
“I never disputed that,” the professor said as Alan stared angrily down at the innocent radio, “But we can’t forget that they can’t even be looked upon as a gender…”
“They differ from women and men…” the woman began.
“Yes, but carriers are nothing but a mutation, Miss Hanson,” Professor Francis continued, “They are a stray attempt by nature to further the development of the human race. But it is a failed attempt.”
“How exactly is it a failed attempt, Professor Francis?” the host asked.
Alan turned the radio off, closed his eyes and let the soft rays of light, shining through the kitchen window, sooth him.
“Do I gotta?” Simon asked and eyed the blue shirt disapprovingly, his lower lip getting ready to pout.
“Yes, you do,” Charlie nodded as he ran a comb through the little boy’s wild brown curls.
“I don’t wanna,” Simon crossed his arms.
“I thought you wanted to see Agent Don and Agent David again,” Charlie said and kissed the top of Simon’s head.
“I can go see them with my Spiderman shirt on,” Simon pulled at his dirt and jam stained sweatshirt.
“I don’t think Agent Don’s dad is going to let you into his house if you’re that dirty,” Charlie rubbed at the largest dirt stain.
“No fair,” Simon sulked.
“Go open the door, Don,” Alan yelled from the kitchen when the doorbell rang.
“Okay, Dad,” Don put the last plate on the dining room table and walked over to the door.
The doorbell started ringing with urgency.
“Okay okay, keep your pants on,” Don said as he opened the door. A laughing Simon stood on the doorstep. He turned around to yell over at the car where Charlie was lifting something carefully out of the backseat.
“He opened it, Daddy!”
“Can’t leave a fancy schmancy guy like you standing outside, buddy,” Don tussled Simon’s curls. The little boy pulled on Don’s hand, forcing the agent to bend down.
“Did you put on a clean shirt?” Simon asked seriously and looked at Don’s white shirt, “Cause your Dad is not gonna let you eat if you gots a dirty one on.”
“Thanks for telling me,” Don imitated the boy’s stage whisper, “But I think my shirt is clean enough.”
Simon shook his head, “Daddies can see invis’ble dirt,” he said sagely.
“Hey,” Charlie walked over to join them, “Didn’t I tell you to wait for me before ringing the bell?”
“I forgot,” Simon looked as innocent as possible.
“I bet you did,” Charlie shifted the small basket he was holding in his arms.
“What’ve you got there?” Don said.
“I just brought your father a present,” Charlie stepped into the hallway when Don waved them through the door.
“You really didn’t have to,” Don said and took the basket from Charlie.
“It’s just a few things,” Charlie helped Simon take off his jacket, “A friend of mine works at a farmers market…Simon can you take your shoes off on your own?”
“’K,” Simon mumbled as he started struggling with his sneakers.
“Dad,” Don said when Alan came out of the kitchen, the older man was drying his hands on a dishtowel, “This is Charlie,” they shook hands, “And this little guy is Simon.”
“Hello Simon,” Alan said. The little boy straightened up and looked up at the older man.
“Is my shirt clean ’nuff?” Simon asked and brushed his hand down the front of the blue shirt. Charlie chuckled.
“I’m sure it is,” Alan laughed.
“No no no,” David was almost choking on his beer, “Please tell me he didn’t do that,” the agent begged as he looked pleadingly at Charlie.
“I’m not joking,” Charlie grinned, “We weren’t living together back then so I called him and told him my water broke.”
Megan was holding her hand over her mouth and Alan was laughing heartily.
“So I was panicking,” Charlie’s eyes widened to illustrate, “I actually had to dial his number four times before I got it right and it’s the middle of the night so when I finally managed to call him he was tired and still half asleep,” Charlie let his hand rest on Simon’s back. The boy had passed out after dinner and was sleeping on the couch next to Charlie. “Colby asked me if I knew what time it was…And I told him my water just broke. I swear to God he groaned and said ’Then call the plumber’ and he…he hung up on me.”
Don had abandoned any attempt of drinking his beer, he was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.
“Did you have to go to the hospital alone?” Alan asked.
“I dressed and started filling a bag with clothes,” Charlie mimicked grabbing stuff and throwing it in a bag, “And I was halfway down the stairs, because the elevator never worked in my block, when Colby came storming up the stairs wearing a pair of sweatpants turned inside out and a ratty old army t-shirt.”
Louisa shifted uncomfortably on the chair and looked at the many framed diplomas on the wall. The room was very tastefully furnished and the sun was casting its last warm orange beams through the big office windows.
“Mrs. Granger,” a man in his late thirties walked in, “I hope it wasn’t too hard for you to find my office,” they shook hands and he walked around the table and sat down in his own chair.
“Not at all,” Louisa said and put her handbag down on the floor next to her chair, “I only had trouble finding a parking space.”
“Yes, parking here in the middle of the city can certainly be a challenge,” he pulled a notepad and a pen closer.
“My oldest son recommended you, Mr. Sheller,” she began, “He said you would be the best for a case like this.”
“I often handle cases involving carriers and I’ve also dealt with a few concerning custody,” Mr. Sheller said, the pen hovering over the unmarked paper.
“Well, I’m hoping I won’t have to take this quite as far as the courtroom,” Louisa said and rubbed her hand over a crease in her skirt, “My son is in the hospital and…did Peter call you about the details?”
“He did,” Sheller nodded, “And from what he’s told me I think you have a pretty good case, if you choose to go all the way with this.”
Charlie woke Simon up by gently massaging the boy’s shoulders. The little boy mumbled incoherently and smacked his lips before his eyes fluttered open.
”Hey, Sport,” Charlie said and helped Simon sit up on the soft couch cushions, ”You need to wake up. We’re going home.”
”Don’t wanna,” Simon drawled and scratched his nose. He looked around the living room, ”Where’s agent David and Megan?” he asked.
”They’re home in their beds. Sleeping,” Charlie said, ”Like you should be.”
Simon yawned and smiled at Alan, ”Hi, Don’s Daddy,” he mumbled and waved his hand in Alan’s direction.
”Hi,” Alan chuckled and handed Charlie Simon’s jacket. Charlie took it and tried to get the sleep pliant boy’s arms through the sleeves. The sound of a cell phone ringing made Simon look over at the coffee table where Don’s phone was sitting on top of a folded newspaper.
”I got it,” Don said as he jogged out of the kitchen and over to the table. He picked the cell phone up, ”Don Eppes,” he said after flipping the cell phone open, ”Mrs. Granger?” Charlie stopped struggling with Simon and the jacket, ”I understand… yes…” Don looked over at Charlie, ”He’s right here…Do you need a ride to the hospital? Okay, yes…we’ll see you there,” Don put the phone in his pocket.
”Colby?” Charlie whispered.
”The doctors started giving him some of the meds to prepare him for tomorrow but…something went wrong,” Don looked from Charlie to Simon. The little boy had fallen asleep again, the jacket only half on.
”I…I should,” Charlie said and looked torn between running outside and driving to the hospital and getting Simon dressed.
”You should drive him to the hospital,” Alan said and looked at his son. Don nodded, noticing Charlie’s hands shaking.
”Yeah,” Don agreed, ”Colby’s mother is catching a ride with a friend of hers. She’ll be meeting us at the hospital.”
”I need to…Simon should…” Charlie started dressing the sleeping boy again.
”He can stay here,” Alan said, ”He’s asleep and you’ll need to focus on Colby when you get to the hospital.”
Louisa stared at the lights floating by as they drove to the hospital.
”Do you still want to proceed?” Mr. Sheller asked when they could see the hospital looming over the other buildings in the area. Louisa closed her eyes. ”I only ask because…depending on what happens with your son now…” the lawyer took his eyes off the road and looked at Louisa, ”I don’t want to sound harsh, Mrs. Granger, but now would be the best time to start the procedures necessary for you to gain custody of the boy.”
”Simon,” Louisa reminded him.
”Yes…Simon,” Sheller said as he waited for the light to turn green.
”I’m not sure,” she said as they entered the hospital’s parking lot, ”I…”
”I understand,” he said, ”Perhaps if you let me do what is best?” he parked the car and turned off the engine, ”Then you could concentrate on your son.”
Louisa nodded absentmindedly.
Don looked around the waiting room when he guided Charlie through the glass door. Charlie shuffled over to one of the orange chairs and carefully sat down. Mrs. Granger wasn’t anywhere to be seen. A man in a suit sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs but apart from him the room was deserted.
”I’ll go see if Colby’s mother is talking to the doctors, okay?” Don asked Charlie.
”Yeah,” Charlie said, his fingers fiddling with the hem of his shirt.
”Will you be okay on your own?” Don asked and touched Charlie’s shoulder. The carrier looked up at him, shook his head, then nodded.
”I…I just need to know what’s going on,” Charlie grabbed Don’s hand and squeezed it.
”How’s he doing?” Don asked when he found Mrs. Granger coming out of Colby’s room.
”Agent Eppes,” she said, ”They say he’ll be fine but…” she quietly closed the door to Colby’s room, ”He had a seizure. They say it happens sometimes…Post traumatic…” her voice trailed off, ”They’ll have to proceed at a slower pace. They’ll continue as planned if things keep looking good tomorrow.”
”But he’ll be all right?” Don let out a deep breath.
”Yes,” Mrs. Granger looked over her shoulder at the closed door, ”For now. They say he’ll be clearheaded enough for us to talk to him in a day or two. The meds they’ll be giving him to counteract the seizures will make him a little…” she made a small gesture with her trembling hand.
Charlie looked up at the man standing in front of him.
”Yes?” Charlie said and slowly got up, his hand resting on the back of the orange chair.
”I’m Patrick Sheller. Mrs. Granger’s lawyer,” the man in the charcoal suit handed Charlie a business card, ”I have some papers for you to sign here,” he put a dark brown leather attaché case on the chair next to the one Charlie had been sitting on.
”I don’t understand,” Charlie said when a few sheets of paper were placed in his hand.
”You’ll have to sign these papers acknowledging that you’ve been asked to have Simon Ellis, the alleged son of Colby Granger, DNA tested in order to prove whether Mr. Granger is or is not the boy’s father,” Sheller said and held out a pen for Charlie.
”She…she still wants to do this?” he said disbelievingly.
”Mrs. Granger is simply interested in….”
”She can’t have him,” Charlie said and pushed the papers against the lawyer’s chest.
”I understand…” Sheller said as he put the papers back in his attaché case, ”that you work for Umbrella. I’m sure you’ve helped other carriers through the court system,” Charlie looked away, ”And I’m almost certain that you know how reluctant the judges are when it comes to letting carriers raise children. Especially children, like Simon, that have a chance to grow up in a…normal home.”
”Colby isn’t dead,” Charlie said and looked straight into Sheller’s blue eyes.
”What the hell is going on here?” Don asked as the glass door shut behind him.
”Daddy?” a disorientated voice called from the living room.
Alan put the last plastic container with leftovers in the fridge. He opened the freezer and pulled out a small tub of ice cream and left it on the kitchen counter before he walked into the living room.
”Your Daddy had to go with Don to the hospital,” Alan explained as he helped the little boy untangle his legs from the blanket.
”Agent Don?” Simon asked.
”Yes,” Alan folded the blanket and draped it over the back of the couch, ”I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
”Promus?” Simon asked and looked up at Alan.
”Promise,” Alan said, ”But while we’re waiting…I was wondering…Naw,” Alan shook his head.
”What?” Simon asked, his eyes big.
”Well, I was just thinking…but you’re much too small to help me with my problem,” Alan sighed and slumped his shoulders.
”Am not small,” Simon said and pushed out his chest, ”I’m a big boy,” he held out his arm, ”See? I got big muscles,” he flexed his arm like he’d seen people do on TV. Alan leant over and squeezed skinny biceps.
”Well…” Alan looked hopeful.
”See?” Simon asked again.
”Yes, you are very strong,” Alan nodded, ”But you see I have a lot of ice cream that needs eating and…”
”I can do that,” Simon’s eyes grew even bigger, ”I’m really good at eating ice cream.”
”You can’t be serious,” Don said to the lawyer.
”I assure you,” Sheller said, ”I’m very serious. I represent Mrs. Granger…”
”Show me those papers,” Don demanded and Sheller fumbled for a second with the locking mechanism on the attaché case. He finally managed to get the papers out and handed them to Don.
”As you can see all of these are completely legal and…”
”How far is she willing to take this?” Don asked and pointed at the papers.
”All the way,” Sheller said, ”Mrs. Granger simply wants to make certain that her son and grandson aren’t being taken advantage of.”
”Mrs. Granger…” Don started but was interrupted by Charlie.
”The DNA test…” Charlie said and took the papers from Dons hand, ”It’ll show Simon is Colby’s. Then what? She’ll go all the way? She hates me, people like me, that much?”
”This has nothing to do with hatred,” Sheller said and glared at Charlie.
”I’ve heard about you,” Charlie said, ”You’ll turn every stone, dig up all the dirt, just so you can win.”
”Well,” Sheller said, ”If you have nothing to hide then there’s really nothing for you to worry about, now is there?” Sheller closed the attaché case and picked it up, ”I’d like those papers on my desk by tomorrow, signed, Mr. Ellis,” he said as he walked out of the waiting room.
”Everybody’s got something to hide,” Charlie whispered.
He curled up under the covers, his fingers clenching the edge of the grey blanket.
Someone was crying somewhere at the back of the big room, the quiet sobs echoing against the grey and white walls. He closed his eyes and hummed. The song almost forgotten. Someone had taught it to him and a few of the other boys. She hadn’t worked there long. A month…maybe even less. The song was something about sleeping. Dreams. He remembered a line or two about dreams.
Bailey kept twisting and turning in his sleep. The exhausted bedsprings squeaking in protest. He could just make out Bailey’s blond hair sticking up from under the covers. He turned his back to the other boy, his own bedsprings simply sighing in defeat.
The door opened, letting in a flood of yellow light. He pulled the covers all the way over his head and tried not to breath too loudly…maybe if they didn’t see him.
The crying had stopped as it always did, leaving behind a scary silence. The sound of steps came closer, stopped for a second and then…moved further down the line of beds. Down to where the smaller boys slept.
“Daddy?” a small voice broke the silence.
“What?” Charlie sat up so fast Simon took a step back, the little boy’s eyes big and scared.
“Bad dream?” Simon asked and bit his lower lip.
“Yeah,” Charlie ran a shaking hand over his face, “Did I wake you up?”
“Uh huh,” Simon nodded, “You wanna come sleep in my bed?”
Charlie pulled the sleepy boy close, “No,” he whispered into the curls, “Your bed is too small.”
“I could sleep in here,” Simon said hopefully and Charlie kissed the top of his son’s head.
“I’d like that,” he said and scooted back on the bed, making room for the little boy.
“So…” Don said and looked around at his diminished team, “How far are we on digging up anything about John Paulson?”
”He doesn’t have any family,” David said and looked up at the picture on the screen, ”The neighbors say he’s a nice quiet guy…helpful, polite…But none of them actually have a close relationship to the man. Kept to himself mostly.”
”Fits the profile this far but…” Megan frowned down at her notes.
”What?” Don leant forward, resting his elbows on the table.
”It’s like we’re missing something,” she said, ”He fit’s the profile but…Still there’s something odd about all this. I mean,” Megan pushed her chair back and walked over to the screen, ”What’s his motive? Why go after those victims? He worked at the Houses but apart from that his connection to each victim is…Why them? At any given time he must have been in contact with hundreds of young carriers through his job. So why these specific carriers?”
”Did we find anything in his house?” Don looked over at David.
”We still have a team looking through his stuff but I honestly don’t think there’s anything there,” the other agent said, ”And on top of his connection to the victims being almost nonexistent he seems to have vanished.”
”This profile is correct about at least one thing,” Megan said, ”The motive isn’t sexual.”
”But the last victims were raped,” Don pointed out.
”Yes, but…” Megan sat back down at the table, ”It didn’t start out as something sexual…it progressed…almost like a disease. There’s the whole staging of the victims after the crime. If it was hate or anger then he wouldn’t be clearheaded enough to actually take the time to position each victim or the unborn children. I think we should focus on the children…Why only kill pregnant carriers?”
”To make sure they don’t procreate?” David asked.
”But why?” Megan persisted, ”What makes it so important to destroy not only the unborn child or the carrier…I mean he takes out all the internal reproductive organs. It’s symbolic.”
”So it’s not just the victims he’s killing,” Don looked over at the picture of John Paulson, ”He’s making a statement. Removing the ability to give birth? To procreate?”
”I think we’ve only seen the beginning of this,” Megan said, ”I think he’ll keep getting worse, keep trying to get his point across. Whatever his motive…I think it’s something very personal. Maybe even something in his past.”
”So we start digging deeper,” Don said.
”We need to look at cases that are similar,” David tapped his pencil against the table, ”If Megan’s right and this has been escalating then maybe Paulson didn’t kill his first victims.”
Charlie watched Louisa hold Colby’s hand. She stroked her thumb over the back of his hand in gentle circles. They hadn’t talked much apart from the polite greetings and the silence was so heavy Charlie was certain he could feel it press against his skin. Persistent and relentless.
”The doctor said the last tests were perfect,” she said, her back turned to Charlie.
”Good,” he answered.
”The nurse said we could expect Colby to wake up tonight,” she looked over her shoulder, ”He’ll be disorientated because of the drugs they’re still giving him…”
”I signed the papers,” Charlie said tonelessly, hoping to keep the anger at bay, ”Mr. Sheller has them.”
”I…” she finally turned around and looked at him, ”…thank you.”
Charlie gave a short and sharp nod, ”I have to go. I have some work I need to finish at CalSci.”
Louisa reached out and touched Charlie’s hand, ”I don’t hate you,” she said in a hushed whisper as if she feared Colby would hear, ”I want you to know that.”
”Do you have the number to my cell phone?” he said and took a piece of paper out of his pocket, ”You called Agent Eppes last night so I guess…” he handed her the folded note, ”You can always reach me at that number. If anything changes…” he looked over at Colby.
”You’ll be the first to know,” she promised and closed her fingers around the note.
”Hey, Melinda,” Don knocked on the open door to the legal adviser’s office.
”Don,” the redhead smiled, ”What brings you to my humble abode?”
”You got a second?” he asked and looked at the large pile of folders and papers stacked high on her table.
”Sure,” she stood up and waved him inside, ”I can always spare a minute or two for an old friend.”
”Thanks,” he closed the door behind him, ”You heard about Colby getting shot?”
”Yeah,” she sat back down and pushed a few folders away, the edge of one green folder unintentionally knocked against one of the piles of paper and the stack wobbled precariously for a second, ”You need my help with the case?”
”No…this is…uh…you can’t tell anyone else about this,” Don looked her in the eyes.
”Don, I have as high clearance as you do. I can keep a secret.”
”Colby is living with a carrier, they have a three year old son and one more kid on the way,” he said and studied her face.
”Whoa,” she leant back in her chair, ”Did you know?”
”Before all this happened?” Don asked, ”No, I didn’t.”
”So what…” she looked around the room and then back at him, ”What can I do to help?”
”Colby’s mother is trying to get custody of the boy. What I want to know is whether she has a chance of doing that or not?”
”She doesn’t just have a chance, Don,” Melinda sighed, ”The way the laws are…she’s almost certain to get custody. Officially the judges are suppose to look at where the child would be best cared for but…”
”Unofficially?” Don asked.
”Unofficially…most judges prefer to give custody to anyone but carriers. Eight out of ten times the kid ends up having little if any contact with the carrier.”
”That’s fucked up,” Don sighed, ”Anyone can see Charlie loves that kid more than anything else.”
”Unfortunately love plays a very small role in the legal system,” Melinda said quietly.
David frowned at his computer screen.
“Hey, Megan?” he called over to the other agent.
“Yeah,” she got up from her chair so she could look over the cubicle wall separating them.
“I think I found something here…” he pointed at his screen, “Might explain why the profile is a little off.” Megan walked over to him and leant over his shoulder, looking at the screen.
“We need to get Don in here now and a new description out to the public,” Megan said as she studied the picture on the screen.
“All you have to do…” doctor Brogan said and handed Simon a long cotton swab, “is open your mouth like this,” the man opened his mouth, “And then I’ll rub a cotton swab on the inside of your cheek.”
Simon looked doubtfully down at the long q-tip.
“I’ll go first,” Charlie said and patted Simon’s knee.
“That sounds like a good idea,” the doctor nodded and took a new and sterile cotton swab from the box. He popped the plastic lid on the yellow container and pushed the tip of the cotton swab out. Charlie opened his mouth and the doctor made a big production out of gently rubbing it against the inside of the carrier’s cheek.
“There,” he said and pulled the cotton swab back into the yellow container and closed the lid. His surgical glove made a squeaky sound as it rubbed against the plastic.
“Can I try?” Simon asked and opened his mouth.
“Sure you can,” Charlie said and watched as the doctor wiped the inside of the little boy’s cheek. Simon smacked his lips and grinned up at Charlie.
“How long until you get an answer?” Charlie asked.
“I still need a sample from Mr. Granger but I’ll go down and get that in an hour or so,” Brogan said and put the sample from Simon in a grey envelope and sealed it, “Then it might take a week or so, depending on how busy the lab is.”
Like small needles running over his skin, leaving behind a stinging sensation that made his eyes water. Slowly he opened them and studied the room. The ceiling and the walls were all white. A low beeping sound coming from the right irritated him. Made his ears ring.
He heard a soft sound he’d recognize anywhere. He sometimes stayed awake at night listening to it.
He painstakingly turned his head and looked over at the only other occupant of the room. Charlie was awkwardly sitting sideways in a green chair, sleeping, making that small sighing sound he always made instead of snoring. The jacket spread out over him was dark blue and stretched over his stomach.
Colby closed his eyes, filtered out the annoying beeping and focused on the sounds Charlie was making.
“Wait,” Don said and held up his hand stopping Megan’s explanation, “So John Paulson isn’t John Paulson?”
“No,” Megan said and shook her head, “He is but he hasn’t always been John Paulson.”
“So he changed his name?” Don said.
“He did a hell of a lot more than change his name,” David pushed a folder across the table in Don’s direction. The other agent opened it and looked at the picture.
“Who’s this?” Don asked.
“That’s Nance Ellis,” Megan answered and put a picture of John Paulson next to the picture of Nance Ellis.
“A carrier,” Don studied the black and white picture in the folder, “They look alike. Family maybe?” he looked over at David.
“Those two photos show the same person,” David pointed at the pictures.
“Come on,” Don said and took both pictures and walked over to the board. He pinned both to the board with magnets, “They look alike, I’ll admit that, but Nance Ellis is obviously a carrier and John Paulson…” Don tapped the picture of the bearded man with his index finger, “Clearly isn’t.”
“Corrective surgery and hormones,” Megan started pulling some papers out of another folder, “Apparently,” she said and waved one of the papers in the air, “Nance Ellis was one of 300 carriers, maybe more, that were given corrective surgery and then a lifelong hormone treatment.”
“Corrective surgery?” Don reached out and took a few of the papers from Megan.
“Basically the carrier had all internal reproductive organs removed and were given…” Megan frowned, “They were physically changed so they would appear male.”
“And the hormones were used to change what couldn’t be changed with surgery,” David elaborated.
“Oh man,” Don pinched his nose, “Okay…so you guys think he could be hiding in the carrier communities?”
“If he shaved and stopped taking the hormones he might but that would take time…” Megan was staring at the pictures on the board, “He’s lost, Don. Everything he is… he’s a shell of a person. He’s not a carrier anymore but he’s not really male either. The way he killed those carriers…”
“He’s reenacting what was done to him,” David said and the other two agents nodded, “So if he hates carriers…”
“He doesn’t,” Megan interrupted, “Not really. He hates himself and what he is. The carriers he kills…to him they represent what’s wrong with him.”
“What if he was desperate enough?” Don took the picture of John Paulson down from the board, “Could he panic and try to hide among carriers?”
“If he was desperate enough, yes,” Megan said.
David knocked on the doorframe and stepped into Colby’s room.
“Hey man,” the agent said and smiled at Colby, when he groggily looked over at him.
“H-hey,” Colby croaked.
“Heard my bad ass partner woke up,” David pulled a chair over to Colby’s bed and sat down.
“Yeah,” Colby nodded faintly, “Spend most of the…day…getting poked by doctors and…nurses.”
“Gotta be better than being unconscious,” David grinned. Colby snorted and then winced.
“You need me to get you anything?” David asked.
“N-no,” Colby lifted his hand and awkwardly patted David’s arm, “’M good.”
“Where’s Charlie?” David looked around the room as if the carrier was hiding behind the heart monitor. Colby looked uncomfortable, “Hey,” David said, “I get why you lied…well, not get but I see where you’re coming from.”
“Is he okay?” Colby asked and shifted in the bed so the tape holding the IV in his arm steady got tangled with the sheets.
“You haven’t see him?” David asked and carefully helped Colby untangle the tape.
“He was here when I woke up,” Colby’s voice was a little slurred, “We talked…a little but…I fell asleep.”
“He probably just needs some rest,” David leant back in the chair.
“Yeah…“ Colby whispered.
“Have you seen this man?” Megan asked and held out a copy of the picture of John Paulson. The black carrier narrowed his eyes and studied Megan.
“Why?” he asked.
“We’d appreciate any help you could…” Megan began.
“Three weeks ago,” the carrier continued as if he hadn’t heard her, “Wynne down the hall…” the carrier pointed down the grey hallway to a green door, “got mugged in broad daylight just outside our block. We called the police. Guess what happened?”
“I’m not with the police department…” Megan tried.
“Nothing,” the carrier went on and crossed his arms, “Not a damn thing. See, most of the people that live in this building are carriers and the ones that aren’t are druggies or prostitutes. You don’t see no cops patrolling here…”
“I understand that you’re upset but please just look at the picture tell me if you’ve seen him,” Megan looked pleadingly at the carrier.
“Okay,” he said reluctantly and took another look at the picture, “No,” he shook his head, “I haven’t seen him. But I work three jobs so…” a little girl appeared from behind the carrier, her small chubby hands smeared in melted chocolate.
“’M sticky,” she said helpfully to Megan.
“I can see that,” Megan grinned.
“I haven’t seen him,” the carrier said and lifted the little girl up, “Sorry.”
“Any luck?” Don asked her when they met outside by the car.
“No,” Megan shook her head, “Most don’t even want to talk to me and those that do, haven’t seen him.”
“Nobody wanted to talk to me,” Don said and dried the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Law enforcement isn’t very welcome around here,” Megan looked up at the dirty apartment block.
“We need a carrier, someone they’d trust,” Don said and opened the car door.
”So what’ve you got?” Don asked David.
The other agent dropped the pile of folders on the table and put his hand on top of them, trying to make sure they didn’t slide off the table.
”I think Paulson started honing his skills years ago,” David said and picked up the folder on top of the pile, ”I’m not sure he’s behind all these unsolved cases but some seem connected to him.”
”Okay,” Don leant against the wall of David’s cubicle.
”See, the first five cases…” David picked the folders up and put them aside, ”…are the ones I’m almost positive Paulson was involved in.”
”What makes you so sure?” Don said and took the folder David handed him.
”All the victims were carriers. All of them, except one, were pregnant and all of them were attacked by someone who used a knife as the assault weapon.”
”What about the one case where the carrier wasn’t pregnant?” Don said as he looked through the old crime scene photos.
”His name was Zaire Penniman,” David continued, ”He was attacked in the basement of his apartment block in 1979. He was forced down on the floor and the bastard started cutting at his stomach with a small hobby knife.”
”Looks like the cuts weren’t very deep,” Don said and studied the photo of a dark tanned flat stomach with thin red lines across it.
”They weren’t,” David confirmed, ”The thing that struck me was the fact that Paulson lived in the same apartment block as Penniman.”
”Did the victim get a good look at his attacker?” Don put the folder down on David’s desk.
”No,” David shook his head, ”But you have to admit that it’s just too much of a coincidence for a carrier to be attacked with a knife, for the wounds to be limited to the abdomen and for Paulson to be living in the same block.”
“Wow,” Don said and watched Charlie fill blackboard after blackboard with math.
“It can be quite an experience to watch,” Larry agreed.
Charlie had his back to the two men, the headphones blocking out their voices. He was wearing black pants and a dark blue pregnancy shirt. Even though the shirt had been designed for pregnant carriers the soft cotton fabric still seemed to stretch across Charlie’s rounded belly.
“What’s he calculating?” Don asked.
“He's helping me with my String Theory,” Larry said.
“I think I’ve heard about that,” Don said, “The Theory of Everything, right?”
“Yes,” Larry smiled, “String Theory is a branch of theoretical physics that combines quantum mechanics and general relativity into a quantum theory of gravity,” he continued and didn’t notice Don’s eyes taking on a slightly glazed look, ”A way to describe all the known natural forces in a mathematically complete system,” the professor sighed, ”But many scientists criticize string theory because it hasn’t yet provided experimentally testable predictions.”
”Why is he still a TA if he can do complex math like that?” Don waved his hand at the blackboards Charlie was still scribbling on.
”Charlie is brilliant,” Larry smiled affectionately at the carrier’s back, ”He’s one of those people who, if circumstances had been different…Well, he could have been a professor of applied mathematics by now. One of the youngest professors in his field. A force to be reckoned with. But…” Larry looked at Don, ”Charlie was born a carrier. The education he received at Ellis House was, to say the least, inadequate. After he took all the necessary classes to bring himself academically up to speed…and then Simon came along…not to forget that any university, even CalSci, is a political playground just as much as the world that surrounds it and there are still many that don’t want to see…” Larry started muttering to himself.
”Oh hey,” Charlie said when he turned to pick up a new piece of chalk and noticed Don.
”Hi,” Don smiled. Charlie’s cheeks were flushed, his short dark curly hair was sticking to his forehead and nape.
”Shouldn’t you be out there chasing bad guys?” Charlie asked and wiped his dusty hands in his black pants, leaving long white chalk stains down his legs.
”Yeah,” Don sat down on the edge of Larry desk, the physicist was still muttering as he looked through a stack of books at the back of the room, ”But we’ve run into some difficulties and I think maybe you could help us.”
”So you haven’t caught him yet?” Charlie asked and nervously rubbed his fingers over the spine of one of the books on the table.
”No. But we’ve found some information that might explain why he’s doing this and it could help us catch him,” Don said.
”So what can I do?” Charlie sat back in the passenger seat and pulled the seat belt out. Don took it and buckled it in, ”Thanks,” Charlie laughed.
”Don’t mention it…Yeah so we’ve found out that Paulson, the killer, is a carrier,” Don started the car and drove out of the parking lot.
”But I saw his picture on the news,” Charlie said as he frowned, ”He didn’t look…oh…poor guy.”
”What?” Don stopped at a red light.
”He had corrective surgery didn’t he?” Charlie asked.
”Yeah,” Don tapped the steering wheel and stared at the traffic lights, ”Back when he was in his early twenties.”
”I’ve worked with a few cases like that at Umbrella,” Charlie sighed.
”What we’ve been trying to find out is if he’s hiding in plain sight…as a carrier,” Don drove on when the light changed, ”But nobody wants to talk to us. At least not in the neighborhoods we’ve been looking.”
”You want me to help you out with the interviews?” Charlie asked.
”How’s he doing?” Charlie asked quietly, not wanting to wake Colby.
”He’s been awake a few more times after your last visit at lunchtime,” Louisa said and pulled the blanket up over her son’s hands, ”But I talked to the doctor…”
”Is everything all right?” Charlie looked from the monitors to Colby.
”The doctor says he's been showing some symptoms of increased…” Louisa looked as if she was trying to remember the exact words, ”Inter-cranial pressure but that it’s within what he called normal parameters, whatever that means.”
”But he’ll be…he won’t get worse will he?” Charlie ran a hand over Colby’s shoulder. He could feel the bandages underneath the hospital gown.
”He needs to stay calm, not get stressed,” Louisa said, ”They’re monitoring it so it shouldn’t get worse.”
”Good, good,” Charlie touched Colby’s cheek and then stepped back, ”The DNA test…I’m expecting an answer tomorrow.”
”Oh,” Louisa looked uncertain, ”That’s…good.”
”I wasn’t sure if you wanted to proceed now that Colby is…”
”I still want to know for sure,” she interrupted, ”I have nothing against you personally, Charlie.”
”No,” he said, ”You just don’t like carriers.”
”That is not true,” she said, ”I don’t think I should be discussing this with you,” she continued quietly, ”Not like this...without my lawyer.”
Louisa sat on the bed in her hotel room. The TV was on, the sound muted. She took a sip of her water bottle and then put it down on the little bedside table. She reached out for the small photo album that was sticking out from under her pillow.
The dark red leather cover was worn at the edges, the leather itself soft after years of use. She opened it and smiled. Colby and his older brother stared out at her, not much more than toddlers. Colby’s mouth was smeared with ice cream and Peter glared at the photographer, while the boy was holding a half eaten ice cream in his hand.
She turned a few pages. Her children growing up in small leaps of time. Colby proudly standing next to his new bike. Peter playing catch with his father. Emily swirling around in a beautiful blue dress.
And then the last two pages were filled with pictures of a little red-haired girl, her big eyes looking vaguely unhappy. Her eyes, green like the carrier who had given birth to her, were filled with so many questions. A picture of her husband, Colby’s father, holding the little girl’s hand. He looked faintly embarrassed as if he would rather not be anywhere near the little girl.
She remembered how relieved he’d been when the carrier had finally taken the child back. One day the little bed had been empty, all the clothes and some of the toys gone.
”We ran DNA tests on all the old cases,” Megan said and pushed away from the conference table, ”Luckily all the samples had been stored correctly so we could use them.”
”And the results?” Don asked.
”DNA traces found in all five cases, including the Penniman one, match Paulson,” Megan answered.
”He might have started earlier than ’79,” David pointed out.
”Yes,” Don nodded, ”But right now I think we should try to figure out what drives Paulson,” Megan opened her mouth but Don held up his hand, silencing her, ”I think you’re right, Megan. Paulson is repeating what was done to him. But I think there might be something else involved here. Something we’ve been overlooking.”
”Like?” David asked and too a drink from his coffee cup.
”Like, why pregnant carriers?” Don asked, ”Apart from Penniman all the victims were pregnant. If Paulson just wants to reenact what was done to him…then why not just pick any carrier?”
”Maybe we shouldn’t focus on them being carriers,” Megan said and looked thoughtful, ”Maybe the fact that the victims are carriers isn’t the most important part of this for Paulson.”
”Maybe Paulson lost a child?” David suggested.
”No…” Megan shook her head, ”The medical files show that Paulson never had a child, wasn’t ever pregnant either and then he had the surgery…”
”You thing we should investigate this some more?” Don looked at Megan, ”Or would we be wasting our time?”
”I think…” Megan said and pulled the folders on the table closer to her, ”I think I need to talk to the coroner again before I can answer that.”
Charlie knocked on the open door to Colby’s room. Louisa looked up and waved him in.
“Hi,” Charlie said softly. Colby was sleeping and his mother was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed holding his hand. “I just wanted to give you this,” Charlie handed her a sealed envelope, “Mr. Sheller probably got one in the mail this morning as well but…” Louisa just stared at it.
“You haven’t opened it,” she whispered.
“I already know what it says,” Charlie let go of the letter when the tips of her fingers closed around the edge of it. He turned and walked over to the door.
“I ah…” Louisa began tentatively.
“Come over to the house tonight,” Charlie said, turning his head so he looked at her over his shoulder, “Come have dinner with me and Simon.”
“I’d…I…” she stuttered.
“Please…” Charlie said, “Please, say yes before you open the letter, Louisa.”
“I…” she swallowed, “I would like that very much.”
“Why are you taking all the photos down?” David asked when he entered the conference room and saw Don painstakingly take down the more than fifty crime scene photos.
“Charlie is coming here in a hour to help with the case and I really don’t want him to see these,” Don waved a photo of a blood covered four month old fetus in front of him.
“Of course not,” David said and started putting the photos in the different case folders, “You really think he can help us?”
“Yeah…I mean,” Don slapped the last bunch of pictures down on the table, “I tried interviewing the carriers downtown and all I got was the profound sense they really didn’t like me.”
David snorted, “Megan said she didn’t have much more luck.”
“They don’t trust law enforcement,” Don put the last photos in the folders and then stacked them, “And I honestly don’t blame them.”
“Yeah…patrol cars have a tendency to arrive a little late when the victim is a carrier,” David said with disgust.
“So I’m hoping it’ll help if Charlie‘s there. He’s going to take a look at the stuff that isn’t classified as well. Maybe he’s got some idea about what angle we should be attacking this damn case from.”
The elevator door opened and Charlie stepped out into the bullpen. He looked around trying to find a familiar face. A few of the agents sitting at the computers looked up and openly stared at him.
“Hey,” David said as he came out from the restroom.
“Hi. Do you think Don wants me to go out and start the interviews today?” Charlie asked as they walked through the large office.
“I think he’ll want you to look at some of the information we already have first,” David said and opened the glass door to the conference room. Charlie walked in and looked around.
“Very modern,” Charlie said and nodded at the large screen mounted on the wall.
“Yeah,” David grinned, “We get all the cool toys.”
“Hey…” Charlie said absently as he swung his black laptop bag off his shoulder and put it on the table, “You think you could get me something to eat?”
David looked at his wristwatch, “It’s 9 in the morning…Didn’t you eat breakfast?”
“Sure,” Charlie said as he took his laptop out of the bag, “I had breakfast with Simon before I took him to day care.”
“And you want something to eat?” David asked.
“Yeah,” Charlie nodded and took off his grey jacket, “Maybe Chinese take out…or…I don’t know…just something really greasy,” he draped the jacket over his chair and looked expectantly at David.
“Greasy. Right,” the agent nodded, turned around and walked out of the room.
“Okay,” Charlie said as he put the empty take out box on the table, “You said they don’t have anything in common and as far as the information that you have or at least the stuff you can let me see shows, you’re right.”
“That’s what gave us the most trouble,” Don said and pointed at the photo of John Paulson, “The only connection was him.”
“But you couldn’t connect him to all the cases,” Charlie pointed out and reached out for another of the take out boxes.
“That’s right,” Megan smiled as she watched Charlie close his eyes in pure bliss as he ate some of the garlic prawn, “We couldn’t connect him to all the cases because we didn’t have access to the old employee lists from all the houses. And we’re still not sure how he got in contact with Val Calleig. He was raised by his parents so Paulson didn’t know him from one of the houses.”
“They didn’t save them…the employee lists?” Charlie asked and wiped his fingers on a paper napkin.
“They conveniently disappeared,” David snarled.
“So you don’t really know if the connection between the carriers and John Paulson is his work at the carrier houses?” Charlie asked and took a sip of his soda.
“Not conclusively. That’s why we only wanted to interview him and the other suspects to begin with,” Don added, “Paulson’s reaction to seeing two FBI agents on his doorstep kinda spoke for itself.”
“All evidence points to Paulson as the murderer but…” Megan took the empty take out boxes and threw them in the trash can, “…the profile still feels off somehow. Finding out who Paulson really is helped. It brought the profile into focus but it’s still,” Megan made a tilting movement with her hands.
“What about the partners of the victims?” Charlie asked.
“We checked them out,” Don said, “None of them had motive.”
“No,” Charlie shook his head, “That’s not what I mean,” he started looking through the lists on the table, “Did the partners have any contact with each other or maybe Paulson?”
“Not that we know of,” David leant back in his chair, “We checked them out, even looked into things like where they studied or if they’d met in the army. But we didn’t find anything.”
“One of the carriers was a prostitute,” Megan said, “He didn’t have a partner.”
“Maybe he was not part of the puzzle Paulson was assembling,” Charlie mumbled, “Maybe he just accidentally noticed…” Charlie looked through the papers looking for the victim’s name.
“Tommy,” David reminded the carrier.
“Maybe Tommy was just there. Wrong time, wrong place. An opportunity for Paulson,” Charlie suggested.
“But if the houses aren’t the connection…” Don’s voice trailed off.
“Did the partners go to counseling?” Charlie suddenly asked.
“Counseling? What kind? Like a therapist?” Megan asked.
“No, just…” Charlie voice trailed off, “Umbrella offers support groups for men who’re in relationships with carriers. They often have to deal with harassment and being rejected by their family,” Charlie looked uncomfortable.
“So maybe Paulson gained knowledge of his victims through a group like that,” Megan continued, “But would he go as a member of the group or would he be there as a support for the men?”
“Either way he would have access to personal information about them,” David said.
“He might even know about their day to day lives. When the partners wouldn’t be home…” Don grabbed his phone, “Maybe if we could find out which group he was in we can find out who his next victim might be or maybe even where he’s hiding.”
“You okay?” Colby asked Charlie and reached out to touch the carrier’s hand.
“Yeah,” Charlie nodded, “I was just thinking.”
“Hmmm?” Colby murmured sleepily, “’Bout what?”
“I want you to ask your mother to come stay with us while she’s here,” Charlie pulled the green chair closer to Colby’s bed and sat down.
“Sure,” Colby nodded, “I’ll ask her when she comes by again.”
“She’s coming over for dinner later,” Charlie’s hands smoothed over the white sheets on Colby’s bed.
“Good…It’s good you get along,” Colby sighed and closed his eyes.
“Yeah,” Charlie held Colby’s hand, “We’re getting there.”
Megan walked into the quiet hospital room. The heart monitor and all the other equipment that had filled the room with noise on her previous visits were all gone. Colby was sleeping on his side with his back to her. Her shoes made a loud clicking noise as she walked further into the room.
Colby stirred and turned slightly revealing that he wasn’t alone in the bed. Charlie was curled up next to him, the carrier almost hidden under the covers.
“Hey,” Colby whispered.
“Hi,” Megan smiled, “I’ll just let you guys get some sleep,” she pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.
“It’s okay,” Colby said, “Come on in.”
“He looks exhausted,” Megan said and sat down in the chair on Charlie’s side of the bed. Colby just nodded and moved a little so he could run his fingers through Charlie’s short curls.
“He worries too much,” Colby said quietly, “The doctors say my inter-cranial pressure is almost back to normal now. My shoulder still hurts like hell and I’ll have to do some physical therapy for my leg before I can get back to work…but they say I’ve been really lucky.”
”You still getting a lot of pain medication?” Megan asked.
”Yeah…makes me sleepy and a little disorientated sometimes but they’re already talking about lowering the dose,” Colby stopped talking to look down at Charlie, who was mumbled in his sleep, ”How’s the case going?” he asked when Charlie was quiet again.
”We still haven’t found him,” Megan started pulling on a loose thread in her shirt, ”Charlie pointed out we were missing information that might be important…therapy groups and support groups for men involved with carriers…we’re still looking into that. At least he hasn’t committed another murder while he’s been on the run.”
”Yeah…” Colby said and coughed, ”Megan?”
”Yes?” she looked up and saw that Colby was watching her.
”Look…um…I need a favor,” he said, grabbed the edge of the bed and moved a little until he was comfortable. Charlie snuffled and Colby put his hand on the carrier’s rounded belly.
”Sure, anything,” Megan said.
”Charlie’s got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow,” Colby began, ”He’s getting an ultrasound.”
”Everything all right with the baby?” Megan asked and stood up, the chair scraped against the floor for a split second and the sound made her wince.
”Yeah…just…Almost two years ago, Simon was just a year old, Charlie got pregnant,” Colby shifted a little, ”It wasn’t planned, actually it was really inconvenient. I was still new on the team and stressed all the time. Charlie was trying to catch up on all the things he’d missed because of having Simon…”
”You decided not to have it,” Megan guessed.
”No…We wanted it and everything looked fine…but then, when he was four months pregnant he started bleeding and…We lost the baby.”
”I’m really sorry,” Megan said and looked down at Charlie. He was still soundly asleep.
”Things went down hill after that,” Colby pulled the covers up so they almost hid the carrier entirely, ”The doctor said that it wasn’t our fault, we didn’t do anything to make it happen. But that didn’t really stop Charlie obsessing about it. He started doing…” Colby rubbed his hands against the sheets, ”He started staying up all night working on the math. Odds, you know? He made all these scenarios where he calculated the odds of the baby surviving or the baby being born and then dying.”
”That explains so much,” Megan said quietly, ”You seemed very stressed out and angry for a long time after you joined the team.”
”I’d come home and find Charlie filling these blackboards with math. He put them up everywhere. One night, a month after it happened, I came home and Simon was screaming his head off. He hadn’t been fed and his diaper needed changing. I found Charlie crying because he couldn’t make the numbers stop.”
”Oh, Colby,” Megan whispered.
”He’d reached his breaking point I guess,” Colby sighed, ”He stopped working on the math and we gave away the things we’d bought for the baby…”
”You should have told us,” Megan said.
”Yeah,” Colby agreed, ”Thing is…I don’t want him going to the doctor alone. We’ve been going there for check ups every month just to make sure everything is all right… We were so relieved when he passed the four months mark. I understand if you don’t want to…”
”Don’t worry,” Megan said, ”I’ll go with him.”
”Are these all the groups?” Don asked and looked at the four lists on the table.
”These are the ones we could get without a court order,” David said.
”The other three groups were lead by a psychiatrist and are covered by doctor-patient privilege,” Megan pointed at the lists, ”But unless the partners of the victims turn up on the lists we still haven’t got then I’m afraid this is a dead-end.”
”Not a single one of them on any of those lists?” Don asked, reached out and started flipping through the pages.
”Nope,” David shook his head.
”Oh,” Louisa said and looked down at her cell phone. It was ringing, ”I’ll just…” she picked the phone up and looked apologetically at Charlie.
”That’s okay,” Charlie said, ”Simon can help me set the table,” he walked out of the living room giving Louisa some privacy.
”Louisa Granger,” she said as she stood in front of the bookcase studying the pictures scattered between the many books about math, ”Mr. Sheller? I was going to call you. Yes, Charlie gave me the letter he…Yes. It’s such a relief to be sure…No I…I don’t want to proceed. No. I’ve decided not to file for custody,” she picked up a picture of Simon dressed as an acorn, ”That won’t be necessary…New information? I don’t see what…If you really think I need to know…I…Yes I could…tomorrow yes…I still don’t…I know it’s a bad idea to make decisions without all the facts but I’m sure…of course…tomorrow then. Goodbye.”
”I was the acorn,” Simon’s voice startled Louisa.
”Oh,” Louisa almost dropped her phone. She smiled and handed the picture to her grandson.
”Daddy says I was a real good acorn. The best,” Simon said proudly.
”I’m sure you were. I’m sorry I missed it,” she said honestly.
”Daddy says dinner’s ready,” Simon started dragging her out of the living room.
“Dr. Tennyson?” Megan knocked on the coroner’s door. A muffled reply made her open the door and peek inside.
“Agent Reeves?” Tennyson smiled as he looked up from the paperwork he was signing. The room was brightly lit by the large office lamp hanging from the ceiling.
“Do you have time?” Megan said and looked over at the clock on the wall, “I know it’s late and I don’t…”
“Sure, sure,” the older man waved Megan into the room, “I’m just finishing up here.”
“It’s about the carrier serial murder case,” Megan put the folders on the doctor’s desk.
“Hmmm,” he reached out and opened the folder on top, “I’ve already given your team all my findings.”
Megan nodded, pulled a chair over to the desk and sat down, “I’m aware of that…What I’d like to talk about are the babies.”
“I see,” Tennyson looked up at Megan, “Well, all the fetuses were basically unharmed despite the violence of the crime.”
“Could you have a look at these old unsolved cases?” Megan tapped her finger against the folders she had brought with her, “We think these might be the first victims.”
Don logged off the computer and leant back in the chair. He stared up at the ceiling, tipped his head back and winced when his neck made a snapping noise.
The case was killing him. It seemed to leach all energy right out of him like a virus rampaging through his body. He hadn’t slept much for the last two months and even though the team had worked on other cases in between trying to catch Paulson, Don just couldn’t focus on anything else.
It was like trying to complete a puzzle without knowing what the puzzle would end up depicting. Every new piece of information revealed a little part of the main picture but it was out of focus. Even knowing that Paulson was a carrier hadn’t given the team the edge it should. It just made things more difficult and forced them to expand their search, spreading their resources so thinly that he knew they might be overlooking vital clues.
“You sure we can’t get more agents assigned to the case?” David asked from his seat at the desk next to Don’s.
“Apparently this is a low priority case,” Don sighed and closed his eyes.
“Low priority my ass,” David slammed the folder he had been looking through down on the desk, “Why don’t they just come out and say that they don’t want to waste manpower on a case where the victims are carriers.”
“They’d never admit that was the reason,” Don sat back up straight and looked at David.
“I bet if Paulson started carving up women we’d be swamped with extra agents,” David’s voice clearly carried the disgust he felt.
“I guess we should…” Don started but was interrupted by his cell phone ringing. He unsnapped it from his belt and opened it, “Megan,” Don told David and answered the insistent ringing.
“What’ve you got; Reeves?” Don asked, “Sure…yeah,” Don pushed a button on the phone and Megan’s voice filled the otherwise quiet office.
“I talked to Tennyson,” Megan said, her voice slightly distorted, “He took a look at the old unsolved cases we’ve connected to Paulson’s MO.”
“Did Tennyson find anything worth mentioning?” David said and leant closer to the phone Don was holding.
“He confirmed a suspicion I’ve had since we found the old cases,” Megan continued, “We were looking at this all wrong.”
“Wrong? How?” Don put the cell phone down on the desk.
“We were wrong to think this was about the carriers,” Megan said, “It’s not really about them.”
“I don’t get it,” David frowned.
“It about the babies,” Megan sighed, her breath sounding like a small gush of air.
“We already figured he was trying to get revenge or maybe re-enact…” Don started.
“No…I mean,” Megan cut Don short, “Tennyson says that maybe Paulson’s been practicing.”
“For what?” David asked.
“He was practicing doing a cesarean,” Megan answered.
“He wants the babies?” Don asked unconvinced, “Why’d he kill them then? I mean, why pick carriers that were only five or six months pregnant?”
“Because he didn’t really want them,” Megan explained, “He’s practicing on them. Making sure he can do it perfectly so that when he finds the carrier he wants, the baby he wants, he can do the cesarean without harming the baby.”
“But why display them like he does? Why rape the last few victims?” David said.
“The old unsolved cases didn’t have any kind of display of the victims,” Megan’s disembodied voice went on, “But he developed. It turned into a ritual and all rituals have some basis in familiarity. By displaying the victims he let his crime become…like a religious act. Certain things had to be done for the ritual to be a success.”
“And the rape?” Don asked.
“Power,” Megan said firmly, “Rape is never about sex. It’s about power. Paulson could be trying to make the unborn child his own by raping the victim.”
“So he’s not done?” David said.
“No,” Megan agreed, “Paulson isn’t done before he succeeds. He won’t stop before he has the child he so desperately wants. This is far from over.”
Louisa touched the brown envelope in front of her. The brown thick paper contrasted with the soft red bedspread on the big hotel bed. She slipped the tip of her index finger into the flap of the envelope. She could feel the smoothness of the photos inside. Louisa finally took the envelope and dumped its contents out on the bed. It was remarkable how different the Charlie on the pictures was compared to the Charlie she had just had dinner with a few hours earlier.
Those big expressive brown eyes were wide with fear as the young carrier stared out at her from the photos. Pale fingers were clutching a sign with Charlie’s name and case number on it.
He looked so young and fragile, his hair a rumpled mass of dark curls falling into his eyes. She could see why men would be attracted to him. Why they would be drawn to his youth and brittle looks.
She just couldn’t imagine Charlie whoring himself for a few dollars.
She wondered if Colby knew.
Megan stared at the screen in disbelief. She hadn’t actually expected that. She should have known there would be a huge amount of porn featuring carriers on the internet. Megan erased her search words and tried again.
“Carrier reproductive system…pregnancy,” she muttered as she filled out the search box. She hit enter and pushed the chair back, got up and walked into the kitchen.
She wanted to be prepared for Charlie’s visit to the doctor. She didn’t know much about the physical side of things. Sure she had seen the crime scene photos and the ones from the coroner but that was different. She wanted information that wasn’t seeped in blood…or porn for that matter.
Taking an apple from the fruit basket by the kitchen sink she returned to her laptop.
“Guess Wikipedia is the most likely none pornographic thing here,” she clicked the link.
The medical drawings were the most interesting.
“Oh…” Megan tilted her head, “No testicles,” she giggled and held a hand over her mouth, feeling like a teenager again. She scrolled down and saw three pictures. One showing the male, one the female and the last the carrier reproductive system, “Hmmm…best of both worlds,” Megan smiled and took a bite of her apple.
Don glared at his cell phone. It was buzzing as it vibrated against his bedside table. He reached out and snatched the cell phone before it tumbled on to the floor.
“Agent Eppes…Megan, yeah good morning to you too,” Don grunted. He sat up and rubbed a fist against his left eye and made a face when he saw the gunk sticking to his thumb, “So the cops think it’s the same guy?” Don asked as he stumbled out of bed, rubbing his hand against the t-shirt he was wearing.
“But he’s okay?” Don asked and sat down on the toilet lid, “Good. Yeah, Let’s hope he saw enough to give us some new info about Paulson.”
Don listened for a few seconds, “No, no. You have that thing you need to do with Charlie, right? So me and David’ll take care of the interview. You just go do your thing.”
“He did?” Megan laughed as she waited for the traffic light to turn green.
“Uh huh,” Charlie chuckled, “He called me every night for a week until I finally relented and let him take me out shopping for baby clothes. He had this bull in a china shop thing going where he was accidentally shoving tiny booties and jumpers on the floor.”
“Well, if you wouldn’t move in with him I guess he wanted to at least contribute with something,” Megan said as she started driving again.
“It wasn’t really because I didn’t want to move in with him,” Charlie confessed, “I mean…We’d only been together that one night after the lecture Umbrella did at Quantico,” he looked over at Megan, “Next thing he knows I’m knocking on his front door telling him I’m pregnant.”
“You didn’t see each other after the…” Megan voice trailed off.
“No,” Charlie shook his head, “We woke up and did the whole awkward thing and then hurried off in opposite directions.”
“How very romantic,” Megan deadpanned.
“Very,” Charlie smiled, “I hadn’t done anything that stupid in years and just tried to forget about it…which turned out to be impossible.”
They drove on in silence for a few minutes. The traffic moved slowly along and Megan tapped her fingers on the steering wheel.
“I was really nervous when I finally got the nerve to find out where he lived. I had this ugly orange Toyota that kept breaking down and I’d drive over to his apartment block and park my car and just stare up at his windows,” Charlie shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“You didn’t know how he’d react,” Megan said.
“For all I knew he could be married…Then one night, a week after I started sitting in my parked car staring at his apartment, I finally grew a pair,” Charlie continued.
Megan started laughing.
“Oh shut up!” Charlie snorted, “Anyway…” he said loudly, “I boldly walked up the stairs, nervously threw up in a potted plant standing on the landing, and knocked on his front door.”
“What did he say when he opened the door?” Megan asked curiously.
“He didn’t. Open it, that is,” Charlie answered, “Turned out he wasn’t home. So I just started walking down the stairs again and literally bumped into him. I must have looked like hell cause he just grabbed me by the elbow and dragged me into his apartment.”
“Oh,” was all Megan mumbled as she made a left turn.
“He asked me if I was doing okay and I just blurted out that I was pregnant…I didn’t deliver my very well rehearsed speech about how I didn’t expect anything from him.”
“Was he shocked?”
“He got really pale and asked me how it happened,” Charlie smiled.
“Men,” Megan snickered, “What did you tell him?”
“That I was just as drunk as him that night and if he didn’t remember then how the hell did he expect me to.”
“Smooth, Charlie, very smooth,” Megan parked the car.
“I think I really hurt his feelings,” Charlie admitted, “Not accepting his help. He wanted to help and wanted to be there for me but I was just waiting for him to freak out, you know? Freak out and leave.”
“That’s why you didn’t want to live with him,” Megan surmised.
“Yeah…I let him go with me to the doctor’s appointments but that was really it,” Charlie mumbled and looked out at the clinic next to the parking lot.
“Wait…” Megan said and turned the engine off. She turned in her seat and looked at Charlie, “Are you telling me that you guys didn’t have anything going on for eight months?”
“Nothing,” Charlie said.
“Colby didn’t get laid for eight months and you worried he’d leave you?” Megan asked incredulously, “He stayed through that and you doubted him?”
“Ten months actually,” Charlie said and blushed, the color spreading over his cheeks.
Megan held up her hands as if warding off any of Charlie’s arguments, “Colby isn’t a man. He’s a saint,” she announced.
“I-I didn’t really…” the teenage carrier mumbled and clutched the heavy blanket a little closer.
“Anything you remember could be important,” Don said and sat down in the chair next to the hospital bed, “Even things you just noticed in passing.”
“Sometimes it’s the little details that help the most, Deniz,” David said from his position by the foot of the bed.
“Okay,” Deniz nodded and let go of the blanket.
“Is it really necessary for you to do this now?” Mrs. Martin put a hand on her son’s chest just above the bandages covering the knife wound.
“The chances for your son to remember exactly what happened are bigger if we do the interview as soon as possible,” Don said apologetically.
“Could you at least keep it short?” Mr. Martin asked.
“We’ll try to be as quick as possible, sir,” David reassured the father.
“It’s okay, Dad,” Deniz said and took a deep breath.
“Okay,” Mrs. Martin said and looked over at her husband.
“Do you want us to wait outside?” Mr. Martin pointed over at the door.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Don nodded.
Mrs. Martin leant over her son and kissed him on the cheek, “We’ll be right outside.”
“Okay, Mom,” Deniz said and patted the woman’s hand. Mr. Martin looked over at his son and nodded once before opening the door and leading his wife out of the room.
“You feeling all right?” Don said as he pulled the chair closer to the bed.
“I’m okay,” Deniz fumbled with the blanket.
“So,” David smiled at the young man, “Just tell us what happened.”
“I…uh…I was just done helping out at The Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen and we were just closing up…”
“We?” Don interrupted the carrier.
“Uh…me and Billie,” Deniz elaborated.
“And she is…” David asked.
“Oh, no…Billie is a carrier too. We both volunteer down at the soup kitchen twice a week. And we were the ones who did the locking up last night…We do that every Thursday.”
“Okay,” Don nodded, “Did you notice anyone hanging out by the door or maybe someone who wouldn’t leave before you were ready to close up?”
“Lots of people wait for closing time before they leave,” Deniz winched as he tried to find a better position, “And last night wasn’t any different. It’s not like they have anywhere else to go.”
“Anyone you hadn’t seen before?” David looked up from the notepad he was writing on.
“We get new people down there all the time,” the carrier said, “Billie wasn’t feeling too good so I was taking care of most of the…”
“Deniz,” Don reluctantly interrupted again, “I have to ask you this…and this question is partly why we wanted to take your statement without your parents being present…”
“Uhhh…” Deniz looked over at the door.
“Are you pregnant?” Don asked.
“Pregnant?” Deniz almost snorted, “I’m only 19.…No. Why’d you ask…” the carrier suddenly looked pale, “Oh…oh my god, you think…”
David stepped closer to the bed, “We don’t know anything for sure but it looks like the person who attacked you might be the same as the one who’s been attacking other carriers.”
“Oh…” Deniz pressed a shaking hand against his mouth, “That’s so horrible.”
“But he only attacks pregnant carriers,” Don continued, “That’s why I asked.”
“I’m not,” Deniz shook his head, “I’m not pregnant…” he suddenly looked alarmed, “But Billie is. Billie’s pregnant.”
“Is there any way the person who attacked you could have mistaken you for Billie?” David had the feeling they might be on to something after all.
“We…When we volunteer at the kitchen we wear these blue and yellow t-shirts,” Deniz said and looked around the room, “I don’t know what happened to my clothes…”
“The nurse bagged it,” David said, “For evidence.”
“We’re going to need Billie’s address,” Don added.
“These are so neat,” Megan said and looked at the sonograms.
“Well, sonograms are pretty cool when you get this far in the pregnancy,” Charlie said and got into the car, “I remember the first sonogram we got of Simon,” Charlie buckled in, “It just kinda looked like greenish splotches on a greener background.”
“Can I have one of these?” Megan pointed to the sonograms.
“Sure,” Charlie nodded, “And now…if you have the time, I’d like to buy you lunch,” Charlie said.
“Sounds good,” Megan smiled and turned the engine on.
“Good people, the Martins,” David said and looked out at the cars speeding by in the other lane.
“Hmmm?” Don mumbled.
“Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen how most people react to carriers. So raising one in a…well, I guess you could call it a hostile atmosphere…must really take guts,” David concluded.
Don looked over at David. After a few quiet minutes Don finally asked, “Would you say my dad is a good man?”
“Sure,” David nodded, “Why’d you even have to…” David turned in his seat and stared at Don, “Don?“ David studied Don’s face for a moment and then looked out at houses they were passing. “Shit…Don. Why’d you never tell us?”
“Didn’t seem important,” Don said and fumbled with the car radio.
“Not important?” David shook his head, “With everything that’s been happening you didn’t think it was important? Jesus. Knowing your dad…It must have been really hard on him and your mom.”
“He doesn’t like talking about it,” Don began, “He was unemployed and my mother wasn’t working because of the pregnancy. My grandparents helped them out. Paid the rent…stuff like that,” Don sighed, “I was just a little kid. I don’t remember much. When my brother was born, my parents they wanted to keep him but my grandparents said they didn’t want to be embarrassed like that. The one thing I do remember is how sad everyone was. My mother especially.”
“They gave him up,” David concluded.
“Reluctantly…yeah,” Don turned the radio on then switched it off again.
“They ever try to contact him?” David asked.
“Twice,” Don said and stopped when the light turned red, “Got a no both times.”
“Looks good,” Colby said and fingered the sonogram. He smiled up at Charlie.
“So does your new ride,” Megan grinned and tapped her shoe against the wheelchair.
“Yeah, doctor said it’ll be okay for me to start walking in a few days but he wanted me up…” Colby laughed, “Well, relatively up and moving just to get used to things again.”
“Good,” Megan smiled.
“So,” Colby took Charlie’s hand, “Doc say everything was okay?”
“Mmmm,” Charlie murmured and ran his thumb over Colby’s knuckles, “She said everything looks fine. Baby’s growing like it should. I’m certainly gaining weight.” Colby reached out and put his hand on Charlie’s hip, his fingers fanning out and the thumb drawing small circles.
“You guys need me to leave?” Megan asked and winked at Colby. The agent blushed and laughed a little self-consciously.
“Naw, I can wait until I get out of here and home,” Colby said.
“When is that going to be anyway?” Megan asked and sat down on the edge of the hospital bed.
“Doctor says a week or two,” Colby answered, “Depends on the physical therapy.”
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.
“Come in,” Charlie said and David and Don entered the room.
“Hey,” David closed the door behind them.
“We just wanted to give you an update on the case,” Don said and patted Charlie’s shoulder in greeting.
“Well,” Charlie leant down and kissed Colby, “I have to go pick up Simon and then your mother.”
“She coming over for dinner?” David took off his jacket.
“Nope, moving in,” Charlie said and walked over to the door, “See you guys later,” he waved as he walked out.
“He seemed to be in a good mood,” David said and picked up the sonogram from the bed, “This Junior?”
“Yeah,” Colby proudly took the sonogram and held it up so Don could see it.
“Looks just like you,” David teased and Colby laughed.
“So what did you guys find out?” Megan asked.
“Deniz Martin was attacked last night in an alley…” Don started, “…because Paulson mistook him for Billie Ellis, a pregnant carrier who volunteered with Martin at a soup kitchen downtown.”
“Billie gave us a good description and it fits Paulson pretty much perfectly,” David continued, “Paulson got rid of the beard and cut his hair but that’s about it.”
“We got the kid under protection?” Colby asked and moved the wheelchair closer to the bed.
“Got police officers at Billie’s apartment,” David said.
“Seems very impulsive to attack someone in an alley,” Megan frowned, “Doesn’t sound like Paulson’s MO.”
“We figured he’s getting desperate,” Don said, “He knows we’re looking for him so he can’t hang around too long at one place and the carriers are more careful now that they know he’s out there.”
“I’ve been thinking about this case,” Colby said and rubbed his palms against his thighs trying to massage the pain away, “It’s not like I have that much else to do. I’ve been wondering if there really is a connection between the victims or if it’s all just random.”
“Things are almost never random when we’re dealing with a serial killer,” Megan protested.
“But it does happen,” Don held up his hand to forestall any more comments from the other agents, “There was that Spanish serial murderer…The card killer?” Don looked thoughtful.
“Alfredo Galan. The playing card killer,” Megan nodded, “He picked out his victims randomly.”
“So Paulson might be doing the same,” Don said.
“But he doesn’t care about the carriers,” Megan said and looked down at the sonogram Colby was holding, “He wants a baby and right now the possibility of getting what he wants is slipping out of his hands.”
”And he starts doing stuff like picking out a carrier he happens to see,” David said, ”Only now he doesn’t have the time to familiarize himself with the victims schedule or pick the time he wants to do the deed.”
”He gets restless and if we’re lucky he’ll make a mistake and we’ll get him,” Don said and took the sonogram Colby handed him.
”So we’re down to waiting,” Colby slapped his hand on the armrest of the wheelchair in frustration.
”Hey,” Don said, ”The kid really does look like you.”
“You need any help?” David asked as he put down Colby’s duffle bag.
“No, man,” Colby shook his head and leant heavily on his crutch, “I just need to catch my breath.”
Charlie gently pushed past Colby and through the door. He turned and looked at Colby, “Don’t pull that macho crap on me,” the carrier said, “You’re pale as a sheet.”
David couldn’t help smirking when Charlie put his arm around Colby’s waist and started guiding him into the living room.
“Sit,” Charlie commanded.
Colby reached out, held on to the armrest and slowly lowered himself on the couch. Charlie took the crutch and propped it against the coffee table.
“Well,” David said, “Obvious who’s got the pants on in this relationship.”
Colby just snorted and leant his head back against the back of the couch.
“And don’t you forget it,” Charlie said over his shoulder as he disappeared into the kitchen, “You want some coffee, David?” he asked.
“Yeah,” David sat down in the recliner opposite the couch, “Yeah, that’d be great.”
They both sat and listened to Charlie rummage through the cupboards as he fixed the coffee. The sun was shining through the large windows facing south and Colby turned his head and let the sun warm him up.
“Man, it’s good to be home,” the agent mumbled.
“Hospital food getting to you?” David asked teasingly.
“Oh, yeah,” Colby nodded, “The worst thing is how it all tastes the same. Yesterday I swear the strawberry jello tasted just like the mashed potatoes.”
“Your plate was empty when I got there,” David said.
“Charlie ate it,” Colby whispered conspiratorially, “He’s at that point where he’ll eat anything.”
“I heard that,” Charlie said from the doorway. He was holding two cups of coffee.
“What do you mean, it’s been down-prioritized?” Megan asked and dropped her folder down on Don’s desk.
Don ran a hand through his short hair and flexed his shoulders in frustration, “Exactly what I said,” he pushed away from the desk and stood up, “We’re going to leave the case open but we’ll be taking on some more cases.”
“But he’s still out there,” Megan almost yelled and lowered her voice when a few of the other agents looked over at them.
“I told them that,” Don started walking over to the conference room. There was no reason to have this conversation in the bullpen. He closed the door behind them and turned back to Megan, “The official explanation is that we don’t have enough leads to work on.”
“And the unofficial?” she asked.
“Unofficially,” Don pulled out a chair and sat down at the large table, “It’s just carriers.”
“They said that?” Megan slumped down on her own chair.
“More or less,” Don looked over at the pictures on the board. Paulson’s victims were staring down at him almost accusingly.
“Now?” Don said and looked over at Megan, “Now we focus on our new cases and keep an eye out for Paulson.”
“That’s all we can do,” Don sighed and closed his eyes, “For now, that’s all we can do.”
David was on his way back to the living room from his short visit to the bathroom when he heard Colby sigh.
“God, I missed you,” Colby sounded breathless and David stopped walking. A breathy chuckle was cut of by moist sounds.
“David’ll be back any minute,” Charlie’s voice floated down the hallway.
“Mmmm,” Colby’s muffled voice answered.
“He’ll see us,” Charlie persisted and then made a low groaning noise.
“It’s not like he doesn’t know,” Colby said, “This gotta be a big clue.”
“That tickles,” Charlie chuckled again.
It suddenly hit David like a ten ton truck. It was stupid really because Colby was right, the proof was there for anyone to see. Charlie was almost eight months pregnant. It wasn’t like you could miss it. But still…being confronted with the reality of it? The fact that Colby and Charlie were sexually intimate… It threw him. Stupid as it was, it still really threw him.
He stood frozen in the hallway until he heard Charlie move off the couch and go into the kitchen. Then he breathed deeply and entered the living room.
“Don,” Alan looked up from the grater and put the carrot back down on the wooden chopping board.
“Hey, Dad,” Don said and opened the fridge.
Alan studied his son. The dark bruises under his eyes, the slump of the shoulders and the way Don quickly emptied the beer bottle he had just opened, worried him.
“They down-prioritized the case,” Don said and leant against the kitchen counter.
“But you haven’t caught him yet,” Alan forgot about the dinner preparations and focused solely on Don.
“Yeah,” Don swallowed the last mouthful of beer and just held the empty bottle in his hand, “Seems a carrier’s life isn’t as important as bank robberies and fraud.”
“So the case is closed?” Alan asked.
“No,” Don shook his head and put the beer bottle down on the counter, “We’re keeping it open but…unless Paulson kills again or someone sees him…” Don sighed, “What’re you making for dinner?”
“Pepper steak and vegetables,” Alan turned back to the chopping board and grabbed the grater a little too hard. Its edges cut painfully into his hand. He eased up on it, “Colby said they’d be here around seven.”
“Simon coming with them?” Don took the steaks and started marinating them.
“No,” Alan handed Don the pepper mill, “Mrs. Granger is taking the boy to the cinema.”
David felt out of place as he drifted down the aisle in the book store. He was slowly making his way down to the adult section, stopping now and then to furtively study some novel in the hopes that the other customers wouldn’t notice him.
He was absolutely sure they could see it on his face. He couldn’t help but blush as he finally stopped by the adult aisle. He looked over his shoulder, checking that no one was watching. He turned back to the many rows of books.
The book titles seemed to shout at him. 101 sex positions. The orgasm Bible. The low down on going down. Naughty tricks and sexy tips.
Oh, God. He was going to be the first human being to die from blushing too much.
Suddenly one title in particular jumped out at him.
So you hooked up with a carrier? 100 questions and answers about carriers and sex.
He reached out for it and then stopped. His fingers hovering inches from the book’s spine. He took a deep breath and snatched the book out. The books on either side of it fell down on the floor and David fumbled with them until he managed to pick them up and put them back.
He could feel his ears burning as he made his way to the counter.
Louisa unlocked the door and let Simon walk in first. The boy was dragging his feet.
“Are you tired?” she asked.
“No,” Simon said and blinked up at her.
“You look tired,” she tried.
“’M not,” he protested, “Where’s Daddy and Dad?”
“The car is in the driveway so I think they went to bed,” Louisa helped Simon take his jacket and shoes off, “But it’s late and your dad is still very tired…”
“I’m not,” the boy said and stared wide eyed up at her.
“You’re not?” she couldn’t help smiling when she watched him stifle a yawn.
“I’m hungry,” Simon walked into the kitchen.
“Okay,” Louisa laughed, “What do you want?”
“Chocolate,” Simon demanded.
“You already had candy at the cinema,” she pointed out.
“Oh…” Simon looked crestfallen.
“I could make you a nice sandwich,” she suggested.
“Okay,” Louisa gently pushed the boy into the living room, “You sit by the coffee table and wait.”
“Can I watch cartoons?” Simon asked as he crawled up on the couch.
“But very quietly,” she said, “Your Daddy and Dad are sleeping.”
David was studying the book, flipping through it and stopping here and there to read passages.
“Most men who get involved with carriers consider themselves straight. Asked if they would have an intimate relationship with another man more than 85 percent answered negatively.”
David wondered if Colby was part of those 85 percent. Actually he hadn’t done much else but wondering what turned Colby on about Charlie. David had no problem admitting that the carrier had beautiful eyes but from noticing those and to having sex…having a kid…well it was a pretty far leap.
He kept returning to the pictures of a naked carrier. The young man was depicted from the front, the side and from behind. The explanatory text next to the pictures described the differences between men, women and carriers. The next few pages were pictures of the sexual organs of the three sexes. The carrier seemed to be a cross between a woman and a man. The genitals a soft mixture of female and male.
David closed the book and put it on the kitchen table. He was just going to go see what he had in the fridge. He felt a little hungry. Opening the fridge he stood there scrutinizing the sad content. Then he closed the fridge door and returned to the book.
Louisa could hear the TV droning on in the living room. The cartoonish sounds muffled but still loud enough to almost cover the sound of Simon singing along with the SpongeBob theme song.
She walked down the hallway and stopped outside Charlie and Colby’s bedroom. The door was standing ajar and she couldn’t help herself. She reached out and gave the door a small push, just enough to open it another inch or so. Just enough to see the two on the bed.
Charlie was straddling Colby. The carrier was naked except for the pregnancy shirt almost falling off his shoulders. Colby was still mostly dressed. His pants undone and shoved past his hips. Charlie’s dark brown shirt fell completely off his shoulders and exposed the round belly.
Colby fanned both his hands out to cover as much of the stretched skin as possible.
“You sure,” Charlie panted.
“Doc said it was okay…just…” Colby’s hands traveled from the belly to Charlie’s shoulders, “Take it slow.” Charlie started moving. A slow and steady rise and fall.
Colby caressed Charlie’s thighs, the soft hairs brushing against his overheated palms.
“God, you feel so good,” he drawled and bucked up.
“Don’t strain your leg,” Charlie pushed down against Colby, forcing the man to lay still.
Louisa couldn’t take her eyes off them. She followed her son’s hands with wide eyes. They fluttered tentatively over the carrier’s curves.
“Missed you so much,” Colby whispered and his hands drifted into Charlie’s short curls. Charlie tilted his head back, his fingertips pressing against Colby’s chest as he arched his back on the upstroke.
Louisa turned away from the sight and hurried down the hallway and into the guestroom. She opened the closet door and reached up to the top shelve and grabbed hold of the handle on her travel bag. The folded sheets under the bag fell unnoticed down on the floor.
She unzipped the bag and frantically rummaged through it. Her fingers closed around a brown envelope. Sitting down on the bed her hands started shaking. Louisa opened the envelope and slowly pulled out the photos.
Charlie’s wide frightened eyes stared back at her and she found it hard to believe that this terrified boy was the same young man making love to her son. She wiped a tear away with the back of her hand and started ripping the photos into long narrow strips.
She looked around the room wanting to get rid of the filth. She couldn’t risk Charlie or Colby - or God forbid, Simon - finding them. Louisa dropped the strips back into the envelope and stuffed it back into her leather travel bag. She would deal with it later. Safely.
“Granma?” Simon’s voice asked from the hallway.
“Just a second, Honey,” Louisa answered and hurried over to the closet, pushed the bag as far back on the top shelve as she could before she picked up the sheets and put them back as well.
“It’s okay, Simon. You can come in now,” she said and closed the door to the closet.
Don was drinking the first cup of coffee he’d had since getting up three hours earlier.
“You certainly look like shit,” Megan greeted him.
“Thanks,” Don grinned and took another gulp of the hot liquid.
“Coffee any good today,” she asked as she poured herself a cup.
“Tastes like usual,” Don remarked as he looked through the case folder in front of him.
“That bad, huh?” she smiled and sat down opposite him. She sipped delicately from her cup and grimaced.
“So I’ve been looking over the MO in this case,” Don said, “Seems they hit one bank in every big city. Then they move on.”
A knock on the open glass door made them look up.
“Edgerton?” they both exclaimed and the sniper smirked.
“One and only,” he quipped.
“What’re you doing here?” Don asked as he shook hands with him.
“Just passing through,” he answered and shook hands with Megan.
“I find that unlikely,” Megan said and studied the man.
“I heard about the carrier case and Colby getting wounded,” Ian explained, “How’s he doing?”
“He’s back home,” Don said, “He’s still going to the hospital a couple of times a week for physical therapy, though.”
”I was thinking that I could lend you guys a hand tracking down Paulson,” Ian said and looked over at the board still filled with the photos from the case.
”Sounds good,” Don said, ”But the case is unofficially closed.”
”Closed?” Ian asked in surprise, ”But he’s still…oh, I see…” the agent nodded, ”No need to waste resources on a case when it’s only carriers.”
”Basically,” Megan agreed.
”Still,” Ian continued, ”I want to look into it.”
”You’re more than welcome to,” Don said, ”But there’s something you need to know.”
David had never noticed the receptionist before.
But now David was extremely aware of him. Aware of the way he moved, the way his long hair brushed against his shoulders and the color of his eyes. Big blue eyes.
”You okay, Agent Sinclair?” the carrier asked.
”Y-yes,” David stuttered and felt like an idiot, ”I’m fine,” he looked down at the blue nametag, ”I’m fine. Thanks for asking, Jaden.”
Jaden smiled shyly and handed David his messages.
”I need you to understand that if you have a problem with Charlie helping us with the case…” Don’s voice trailed off when Ian held up one hand and pulled a leather walled out of his back pocket with the other.
The wallet landed open on the table, revealing a picture of a young woman, dark hair falling past her shoulders, and a teenage boy. The boy’s fine features and his slightly curved hips and narrow shoulders were enough for Don to identify him as a carrier.
”My nephew,” Ian simply said.
Alan pulled the cardboard box closer. He was kneeling on the dusty floor of the garage. One corner was crammed with boxes. Most of it stuff from when Don was just a little boy. A few boxes were filled with Margaret’s things. Books, knickknacks and little pieces of her life.
He had postponed going through them for two years now. Her clothes had been the first thing he’d gotten rid of only a few weeks after her death. Even that had felt like ripping his heart out with his bare hands.
He opened the cardboard box and picked up a few notebooks. He leafed through them but it seemed to mostly be little snippets of things she’d had to remember. Birthdays and recipes. A few photos were hidden between the pages, most of them showing a young Don playing.
Alan put the notebooks down on one of the other boxes and returned to the open cardboard box. Under an old quilted blanket he found a green diary. The leather on the covers felt smooth and soft under his fingers.
He opened it on a random page and read about how much Margaret had been annoyed by her mother’s interference in their life. How she felt forced to at least listen to her mother’s reprimands now that they were living with her parents.
He turned a few pages and then started looking for a specific date. The birth of their second child. Empty. Two whole weeks worth of pages were empty.
The first entry after their child’s birth was short and the handwriting looked strained, the letters didn’t have the beautiful flow Margaret’s usually did.
“I miss him so much,” Alan read silently, “They wouldn’t let me hold him. Said it was best if I didn’t get attached. Attached? I’ve loved him for nine months,” Alan’s fingers tightened around the green leather, “I was attached the second I realized I was pregnant. Mom won’t let me talk about the baby. She pretends he doesn’t exist. I wish I could pretend that strongly…”
Charlie pulled the sheets off Louisa’s bed and bundled them up before he left them by the door. Small specs of dust danced in the sunshine coming through the open window. He could hear Simon talking in the garden where he was helping Louisa weed the flowerbeds.
Charlie opened the closet door and spotted the clean white sheets on the top shelf. He stood on tiptoe and grabbed the edge of the sheet, wincing a little because of the strain he was putting on his back, and pulled.
Just in time he saw the bag that followed the sheets. Charlie took a step back just in time not to get hit by it as it fell to the floor. Something had fallen out of the open leather travel bag. He carefully reached down and picked up a slim strip of paper. Curiously he turned it around and just stared for a few seconds. Then he apprehensively started picking up the other strips and with shaking hands he stumbled over to the bare bed, sat down, and put the strips in the right order.
“Charlie?” he turned to look over at the open door. Louisa walked in, her hands a little dirty, and smiled at him, “I can’t find the garden pruners. I looked in the shed but…” Louisa stopped speaking and just stared at the reassembled pictures on the mattress, ”Oh, God.”
“How could you?” Charlie asked, his fingers still clutching the corner of one of the strips.
“I…My lawyer…he gave me those photos and… I don’t…” Louisa tried.
“You. You brought these into my home,” Charlie’s voice seemed hoarse.
“I made a mistake,” Louisa said and walked further into the room.
“What if…” Charlie started but found his throat was too dry to speak.
“Please, Charlie,” she begged.
“What if,” Charlie managed to continue, “If Simon had found them?”
“I was going to destroy them, throw them out,” Louisa said.
“I thought we were beginning to… That you were beginning to care about us…me,” Charlie swept up the pieces and crumpled them up in his fist.
“Please forgive me,” she whispered, “I was never going to use them.”
“But you thought about it,” Charlie said.
“Yes,” Louisa admitted, “I thought about it and realized how much damage I could do to my own son. To you and to Simon. And I didn’t want that.”
Charlie just nodded slowly, his eyes bright with tears.
“I won’t tell Colby,” Louisa knelt down in front of him, “If you want him to know…It’s your story to tell, not mine.”
“He knows,” Charlie let the pieces fall down on the floor between them, “He’s always known.”
Louisa started picking up the pieces and looked up at him, “I’m glad. And envious.”
“What?” Charlie asked.
“I loved Colby’s father with all my heart but…” she shrugged, “I wasn’t enough. Wasn’t what he really wanted. He…” she took a deep breath and Charlie put his hand on her shoulder, “He cheated on me…with a carrier. Had a child with him. Everybody in town knew. I felt so…like the world was crumbling around me.”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said.
“So am I,” Louisa smiled sadly.
“Damn!” Colby said and shifted in his seat, “I hate surveillance. It’s not like he’s going to come visit his girlfriend when he knows the feds are after him.”
“Have some more coffee,” David said and held out the thermos.
“If I drink anymore of that I’ll have to take a leek and I’ll bet you a month’s wage that I’ll be standing with my dick out when the idiot decides to show up after all.”
David chuckled and put the thermos back in the holder attached to the dashboard. They sat in silence for awhile. Colby tapped his fingers against the side of his seat absentmindedly.
“How’s stuff at home?” David asked hoping the new topic could keep the both of them from dying of boredom.
“My mom agreed to stay until after the baby’s been born,” Colby looked over at David.
“That’s good,” David unzipped his jacket and got a little more comfortable in the driver’s seat.
“Yeah,” Colby scanned the street, “Charlie’s starting to get tired more easily. He sleeps a lot now.”
“He’s okay, right?” David was eying the thermos, trying to decide if he wanted some more coffee.
“He’s doing okay. It’s not unusual for carriers to become easily tired in the last months of pregnancy,” Colby looked out at the big building to their right, “We don‘t get to spend much time together. I‘m still only on light duty but….”
“So I take it you’re not getting any,” David grinned mischievously.
Colby just snorted and smiled. He thumped his head back against the headrest and shook his head.
“Look, man,” David looked everywhere but at his partner, “I um…”
“What?” Colby was studying him intently.
“Just, you know…I’ve got some questions,” David scratched at his cheek and tried to look confident.
“Well…kinda…but more like, you know,” the black man waved his hand in the air.
“Just spit it out, man!” Colby laughed, “I’ll keep an eye on the house and you can stutter your way through the questions,” he turned his attention on the house.
“Okay…fuck,” David ran a hand over his scalp, “So I bought this book about carriers.”
“You know how to read?!” David could see Colby’s teasing grin reflected in the window.
“Shut up, Idaho,” David punched Colby in the arm.
“Sorry, sorry,” Colby didn’t look the least bit sorry.
“So, yeah, I bought this book about carriers and how to… I don’t know… how to deal with dating one,” David saw Colby’s facial expression change from amused to surprised, “Anyway, what I wanted to know is…What’s it like?”
“What?” Colby looked at David.
“Sex…with a carrier,” David mumbled.
“Whoa,” Colby leant back against the seat, “You want like details?”
“I’m…look there’s this carrier at the office,” David continued.
“Jaden?” Colby asked.
“Yeah, yeah, Jaden,” the other man confirmed.
“So what do you want? Blow by blow explanations?” Colby made sure to accentuate the word blow.
“How old are you?” David glared at Colby, “Twelve?”
“Sorry,” Colby grinned and patted David’s shoulder, “I’ll tell you what you wanna know.”
“Thanks, man,” David relaxed.
“So you want to know about everything?” Colby suddenly blushed.
“Just… what do you think I should know before getting sexually involved with a carrier,” David nodded.
“Right,” Colby cleared his throat, “I bet that book of yours had pictures in it,” David nodded, “Right, so you know the basics. But look… I’m just gonna use the real words for this, all right?”
“Sure,” David said, “We’re both big boys.”
“Right,” Colby looked from David to the dashboard and back to David, “So a carrier’s…dick…is smaller than the average male’s.”
“And well…the va…um vagina is pretty much like a woman’s…works the same way… God, this is really weird to talk about.” Colby looked mortified.
“You don’t have to…” David started.
“We’re buddies and who the hell are you going to ask if you can’t ask me?” Colby closed his eyes for a second, “Charlie is the only carrier I‘ve ever been with. Everything I can tell you builds on what I share with him and that makes it really difficult for me to…” Colby waved his hands in the air.
“I get that.”
“Look maybe if you just asked,” Colby suggested, “Then I’ll answer.”
“Sure,” David monitored a woman walking down the street. She walked past the building they were parked outside and he turned his attention back to his partner, “Does it feel any different than having sex with a woman?”
“Um…could you be a bit more specific?” David asked.
“I won’t lie and tell you I remember that first night with Charlie, cause I don’t,” Colby admitted, “We were drunk and stupid…so my second time with Charlie was really my first if you get what I mean,” David nodded, “I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t feel strange or that it’s just like having sex with a woman. It does feel weird the first time…and the second and the third. You know, it’s like being a virgin again. You don’t really know what you’re doing and you’re nervous you’ll suck…”
David snorted and Colby shot him a glare.
“Look,” Colby said, “Jaden is a nice guy. He’s cute too and smart. I say, go for it.”
“Yeah,” Colby took the thermos and unscrewed the lid, “But you have to know that some people will take offence of the two of you being together.”
“I’m not a stranger to prejudice,” David pointed out.
“Well, multiply the shit you’ve had to deal with because you’re black with…I don’t know…4...and you have a rough idea what you’ll have to deal with,” Colby poured the steaming coffee into his cup.
Drew put his plastic grocery bags down on the ground and took a deep breath. A small hoard of pedestrians walked by him and he shifted a little to the right, closer to an office building, to make room for them.
The sun was shining relentlessly and he wiped the back of his hand over his sweaty forehead. A woman rudely brushed by him, shoving him into the wall. Drew protectively put his arms around the swell of his belly and suddenly felt a warm hand on his shoulder.
Drew turned around and smiled at the man touching his shoulder. He wasn‘t much taller than Drew himself. “Yeah, she was just in a hurry,” Drew excused the woman.
“Doesn’t mean she can be rude,” the man said and moved his hand.
“Guess not,” the carrier shrugged.
“You need a hand with those bags,” the man nodded down at the grocery bags.
“I only have another block before I’m home,” Drew shook his head, “I’ll be fine.”
The man looked down at Drew’s belly and nodded, “But I wouldn’t mind helping you carry it home.”
“I’ll be fine,” Drew answered, suddenly feeling a little queasy by the man’s hungry eyes.
“Really,” the man reached out and Drew took a step back, “I’m just trying to be helpful.”
“I don’t need any help, thanks,” Drew awkwardly reached down and grabbed his bags. He started walking as fast as he could through the crowd of people.
Before he turned the corner he looked over his shoulder. The man was still standing there, watching.
David looked around the bar. The room wasn’t as busy as he’d expected but he figured more people might be arriving later. He found a table that could be seen from the entrance and sat down.
“What can I get you?” a tall woman in a pink dress asked and smiled down at him.
“Um,” David looked over at the door and then back up at the waitress, “A beer.”
The waitress nodded and disappeared. David went back to keeping an eye on the door. He checked his watch and then the door just in time to see Jaden come through it. David stood up and pulled out the other chair for the carrier.
“Thanks,” Jaden said and sat down. He ran a hand down his purple blouse.
“I’ll just go get you a drink,” David said after having stared a little too long at the slim hand resting on Jaden’s knee, “Uh, what can I get you?” he finally managed.
“Just a beer, thanks,” Jaden turned to look up at him.
“A beer,” David said, “Then…I’ll just go get that beer.”
“Okay,” Jaden grinned.
“Okay,” David agreed and headed for the bar mumbling to himself.
The room was slowly filling up and David had to weave back and forth through small groups of people. He waved at the bartender and caught his attention.
“Yes?” the bartender, a middle-aged bald man, asked and handed a drink to a black carrier sitting at the bar.
“The waitress just took my order but I’ll need another beer,” the agent nodded over at his table. The waitress, who had taken David’s order, appeared just then and the bartender took the beer she was carrying on a tray. The woman shrugged and instead filled the tray with small bowls of peanuts.
“And another beer,” the bartender said and reached into the fridge under the bar top. He put the second bottle of beer in front of David and dried his fingers on a towel he had tied to his jeans, “That your date?” he asked, nodding at Jaden waiting at the table.
“I uh…yeah…” David replied and stood there holding the two cold beers in his hands.
“Cute,” the bartender said, “First time dating a carrier?”
“That obvious?” David asked.
“Yeah, sort of,” the bartender started topping off a shot glass and then handed it off to a man standing to the left of David, “You have this look.”
“Look?” David frowned.
“Like you’re scared shitless,” the bartender dried the bar top off, “But you can relax here,” he indicated the whole bar with his towel, “Everyone’s welcome here. Isn’t that right, Avery?”
The black carrier standing next to David smiled and said, “You’re safe here.”
Don looked at the short report Edgerton had given him earlier that day. It more or less consisted of a piece of paper with Ian’s scribbled notes and the other agent’s signature neatly written at the bottom.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Alan said and Don looked up.
“You sure you don’t need any help with that?” he asked.
“It’s just a casserole,” Alan disappeared into the kitchen leaving Don to study the report.
Ian hadn’t gotten very far. He was still going through their case folders trying to get an idea what John Paulson was like, how he’d react and where he could be hiding. Nothing had turned up that would give them the push they needed to find the bastard and Don had the feeling it might never happen.
“I’ve been thinking,” his father interrupted his thoughts.
“Hmmm?” Don put the report down on the coffee table.
“The victims,” Alan sat down next to Don on the couch and looked at the folder on the table, “Do you think their parents, their biological parents, have been notified?”
“I’m sure the state takes care of that,” Don tilted his head, resting it against the back of the couch.
“But you don’t know for sure,” the older man pressed.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Don admitted, “The ones raised by their own family… well, those parents know of course but the others...I’m pretty sure the state registers them as deceased in the Carrier Contact Database.”
“Could you,” Alan stood up when the kitchen timer started ringing insistently in the kitchen, “Could you check if it’s been done?”
“Sure, I guess,” Don stood up as well, “But why?”
“If it was my child that had been…hurt,” Alan wouldn’t meet Don’s eyes, “I would want to know.”
“David’s been staring at me lately,” Charlie said out of the blue.
“What?” Colby looked up from the Tv-Guide he was studying.
“I didn’t know how to bring it up cause it’s…I don’t know,” Charlie tried to explain.
“When you say he stares at you…” Colby sat back against the pillows.
“Like he‘s curious or maybe like he wants to ask me something,” Charlie shrugged.
”Well,” Colby put the TV-Guide down on the coffee table, ”He’s dating the secretary from the office.”
“Jaden?” Charlie reached out and held on to the armrest as he slowly sat down.
“Yeah,” Colby moved over on the couch so he was sitting closer to Charlie. He kissed Charlie’s throat, “Is Simon asleep?”
“Mmmm,” Charlie nodded, “And your mother won’t be back for a couple of hours.” Colby slowly let his hand slide from Charlie’s knee up his thigh.
“David asked me what it’s like to be with a carrier,” Colby whispered against Charlie’s ear.
“Mmmm, what did you tell him?” Charlie giggled when the other man suddenly blew a raspberry against the shoulder exposed by his pregnancy shirt.
“Told him it’s the best sex ever,” Colby started unbuttoning the carrier’s shirt.
“Well…” Charlie shrugged, “You’re only telling the truth,“ Colby started laughing and Charlie put his hand over the larger man’s mouth, “Shhh, you’ll wake Simon up.”
“You’re so modest,” Colby sniggered and put his hand over Charlie’s big belly, “Not long now,” he said and put his ear against the belly.
“A month,” Charlie said, “Drew’s due any day now. I’m going to visit him Tuesday. Make sure he’s got everything he needs. Hear anything?” he petted Colby’s short hair.
“You…digesting,” Colby said and frowned and closed his eyes, “I didn’t get to do this when you were pregnant with Simon.”
Charlie’s fingers stopped massaging Colby’s scalp, “Sorry,” he said quietly, “I’m really sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” Colby caressed the swell of Charlie’s stomach, “I get to do it now.”
Ian stood in the dark parking lot looking at the people slowly walking away from the small community center. The agent had been following the man, who pulled the old coat around his small frame trying to keep the light evening rain out, for a few days.
“See you next week, Pete,” an old woman waved to the man who smiled and waved back.
“Take care,” Pete yelled back and started down the street to the parking lot.
“Pete Larsson?” Ian asked.
“Um…” the smaller man looked nervously around, “Yes.”
“My name is Ian Edgerton,” Ian held out his badge, “I’m an agent with the FBI.”
“Uh…You must have the wrong guy,” Pete seemed to shrink a little under the agent’s watchful eyes.
“I’m here to talk to you about an old friend of yours,” Ian said, “John Paulson.”
“Oh, shit,” Pete mumbled.
Don eyed the computer and looked up at the pretty secretary, “So all I have to do is enter the carrier’s name and then change the status to deceased.
“Yeah,” Arleen nodded, “I can do it if you want. I’m sure you’ve got other stuff to take care of,” she smiled invitingly.
“No,” Don said and looked down at the folder next to the keyboard, “I want to do this myself.”
“Okay,” she leant over him and clicked the mouse a few times until the computer screen showed a search field and a few search parameters, “You just insert the name here…under carrier and then you click here,” her left breast brushed against Don’s shoulder as she moved the mouse, “You can search for the parent’s name as well but you won’t need that.”
“What’d I get if I did a search on a parent’s name,” Don asked and looked up at Arleen.
“Well, you’d get a result stating whether or not that person has a child who’s been in the state controlled care facilities for carriers and then you can enter the number you get in that search here,” she clicked a few more buttons, “And get the carrier’s name.”
“That easy, huh?” Don asked.
“Yeah,” Arleen nodded, “But you’ll only need this part,” she returned to the first search field, “Cause you already know the name of the carrier and you’re not looking to identify the parents. Just to change their status in the system.”
“Yeah,” Don slowly agreed and stared at the search field under the title Parent Identification.
Megan tapped away at the keyboard when she caught a glimpse of David talking to the secretary. The shorter carrier beamed up at David and patted the agent’s arm affectionately.
Megan pushed her office chair away from the keyboard and just observed.
Jaden blushed. His pale cheeks turning pink and he fumbled with the pen he was holding.
“I had a really good time yesterday,” he said and couldn’t quite make himself look up at David.
“So did I,” David smiled, “I haven’t danced in years.”
“Too macho?” Jaden asked.
“Naw, man,” David laughed, “Too clumsy.”
“I didn’t notice that last night,” Jaden said, “You did pretty good.”
“Yeah, well,” David rubbed a hand against his nape, “I had a good dance partner.”
The elevator opened behind them and Colby walked out, a stack of folders in his arms. The other agent stopped, looked from Jaden to David and smiled smugly, “Hi, Jaden.”
“Oh,” the carrier suddenly found the pen he was holding very fascinating, “Hi, Agent Granger.”
“David,” Colby nodded, smirk still on his face.
“Colby,” David mumbled, “You got anything new for us in the blackmail case?” he nodded at the stack of folders.
“God, I hope so,” Colby sighed and forgot about teasing them, “I’m getting real tired of light duty. All I seem to do is go through cold cases and check up on stuff for Don and Megan.”
“You’ll be going to the doctor tomorrow,” David said and clapped his partner on the shoulder, “He’ll give you a clean bill of health and then you can get out of the office more. Get shot at like the rest of us.”
“See you later, David,” Jaden said as the two agents walked over to the conference room.
“Yeah,” David looked over his shoulder, “I’ll pick you up for dinner,” Jaden smiled and disappeared behind her cubicle.
“Dinner?” Colby asked.
“Yeah, Colby, dinner,” David grumbled and held the door to the conference room so Colby could edge his way in with his armful of case files.
“As in romantic or are we talking more about maybe going to MacDonald’s?” Colby gratefully dumped the folders on the table.
“You take Charlie to MacDonald’s for date night?” David arched a brow.
Colby snorted, “I’m a family man, David. Date night is whenever and wherever Simon isn’t awake and me and Charlie aren’t asleep.”
Don couldn’t stop thinking about that damn Carrier Contact Database. He kept seeing that cursor blinking at him in the Parent Identification search field. Like it was taunting him. He’d done what he’d gone there to do. All the victims from the Paulson case who had been wards of the state were registered as deceased now. If their families ever decided to search for them they would at least know for sure.
But he couldn’t get that fucking blinking cursor out of his mind.
Ian opened the door to the conference room and looked over at Don. The other agent was precariously tilted back in an office chair, the edge of his shoe resting against the glass table.
“You got a moment?” Ian asked.
“What?” Don looked up, “Oh, yeah, sure.”
“I’ve got a lead in the Paulson case,” Ian walked over and pulled one of the empty office chairs out. He sat down.
“You know where he is?” Don was fishing his cell phone out of his pocket, ready to make the necessary calls.
“No,” Ian shook his head, “But I’ve found one of his old friends and I think he could give us the edge we need to catch that sick bastard.”
Don pulled a notepad and a pen closer and looked at Ian.
“He met Paulson through a support group for carriers who’d gone through corrective surgery back in the seventies. He says he last talked to Paulson a year ago. I haven’t interviewed him properly yet so that’s about all I’ve got,” Ian put his hands palm down on the table, “I think he might know more than he thinks. Part of the reason he didn’t contact us when we asked the public for help is because he hasn’t seen Paulson for so long.”
“Figured he’d be wasting our time,” Don put the pen down, “So you planning on bringing him here for questioning?”
“Actually I was hoping we could use Granger’s partner to make the guy trust us,” Ian flexed his fingers, drumming on the glass table.
“Sinclair?” Don asked a little confused.
“No,” Ian said, “I’m talking about the carrier…Charlie?”
“Yeah, his name’s Charlie,” Don pushed his chair back and stood up, “Why do you think he might be of help here?”
“Pete Larson is nervous and bringing him here for a formal questioning isn’t going to make him less so,” Ian stood up as well, “Charlie might make it all seem less…rigid, more informal.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Don walked over to the door and opened it, letting Ian walk out first, “This Larson…he’s not violent in any way, is he?”
“I wouldn’t ask Charlie to help me out if I thought he was,” Ian said when they reached the elevator, “Larson is harmless. He’s used the majority of his life getting to grips with what the corrective surgery has meant for his life.”
“I’ll talk to Colby first,” Don said as the elevator doors opened and Ian stepped into the elevator.
“Give him my phone number,” Ian said and put his hand against the doors making sure they wouldn’t close.
“Will do,” Don said.
“And Don,” Ian said, “Get some sleep, man. You look like shit.”
“Oh,” Arleen said and stood up, “You’re back.”
“Yeah,” Don smiled at her, “I forgot about something…uh…forgot one of the names I needed to check.”
“Okay,” the young woman clicked a few times with the computer mouse and then looked up at him, “What name should I search for?”
“Could I do it myself? Like last time,” Don asked and leant over her shoulder.
“Sure,” Arleen nodded, “Is it okay if I go get something from the canteen?”
“Yeah,” Don said, “I’ll hold down the fort.”
“Just don’t, you know, tell anyone I left you alone to use the database. I’m not even supposed to let you key in the information. It’s a confidentiality thing.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
“Thanks. Oh and don’t worry,” she found her purse in the small leather bag draped over the other chair in office, “People don’t normally come here for information this late. I’m usually just archiving case files and folder for the agents this late anyway.”
“Okay,” He sat down in the chair. She waved over her shoulder and closed the door on her way out.
Don watched the cursor blink in the search field named Parent Identification. He slowly wrote Alan Eppes in it and let his finger hover over the enter key.
The sounds of an animated conversation drifted into the kitchen where Don stood staring into the open fridge. His eyes search the shelves but didn’t really see any of the many items stored there.
“Don?” Alan called from the living room, “You fall asleep in there?” Don heard Louisa laugh, “Boy gets distracted…” Alan mumbled and Don blinked a few times and reached out for the ketchup on the top shelve just as his father entered the kitchen.
“Ah,” Alan said and took the bottle of ketchup from Don’s hands, “I was worried you’d gotten lost in here on your hunt for the ketchup,” he held up the red bottle and shook it a little.
“Sorry,” Don coughed, “Couldn’t find it,” he closed the fridge and walked over to the door leading into the living room.
“Don?” Alan asked softly, “Are you okay? You’ve been so quiet these last few days and tonight…you’ve hardly said two sentences.”
“I’m okay,” Don looked back at his father, “Really, Dad, it’s just work. I’ve been a little stressed out, that’s all.”
Alan walked over to him and reached an arm around his son, giving him a one-armed hug.
“Where’s the katchap?!” a voice called from the living room and Don laughed as he slipped away from Alan, opened the door and held up the ketchup bottle.
“Hold your horses, buddy,” Don put the ketchup down on the table in front of Simon, “Ketchup, just as you ordered, sir.”
“Yay!” Simon grabbed the bottle and started lifting it up.
“Easy,” Colby gently warned, “I’ll help you do that,” he held the bottle, his big hand wrapped around Simon’s and they both squeezed until the red condiment landed with a loud splat on the boy‘s plate.
Simon immediately started dunking his fries in the ketchup and ate them with clear relish. He reached out for another handful of fries and was stopped by Charlie’s hand as he awkwardly reached over across Colby.
“Slow down and drink a little water as well, Simon,” Charlie admonished.
“’Kay,” Simon nodded and carefully lifted the glass up and took a tiny sip.
“Boy knows how to work an audience,” Ian chuckled from the other side of the table.
“You have no idea,” Colby patted Simon’s curls, “he knows just how to wrap people around his little finger.”
Louisa passed the small basket of bread to David and said, “You were just the same, Colby. Could you pass me the potatoes?” she asked Don. Alan nudged Don’s shoulder and Don picked up the bowl and passed it to her, “Thank you.”
He reached down into his pocket and let his fingers graze the small piece of paper he had hidden there. He looked up when Charlie laughed at something Ian said and Don pushed his chair back and stood up.
“Excuse me,” he managed to mutter and hurried up the stairs.
Unfolding the piece of paper, he had just fished out of his pocket, he sat down on the edge of the bathtub. The paper was a small part of a larger printout. Its edges were worn from Don handling it so often these past few days. The name printed on it had caused him sleepless nights and he’d felt tempted to just tell his father every time he saw him.
Don covered the last name with his thumb so only his brother’s first name was visible. Alan laughed downstairs followed by Charlie’s clear laughter. Don closed his eyes and breathed slowly, inhaling and exhaling through his nose.
“There he is,” Simon said and pointed at Don as he walked into the living room.
“Yep,” Don nodded and forced himself to calm down. He managed to avoid Megan‘s worried look and said, “Here I am.”
“Your daddy says you have lots an’ lots of fishes,” Simon pointed at Alan almost as if he was accusing him of lying. The boy grunted softly as he crawled down from his chair, “Show me?”
“Sure,” Don nodded and took the small, slightly sticky, hand extended to him, “Is it okay?” Don asked and looked from Charlie to Colby.
“Look at that one,” Simon excitedly yelled and pointed into the water, “It’s got spots.”
“Yeah,” Don knelt down next to Simon and held out his hand, palm up. On it was a small handful of pellets.
“Wha’s that?” Simon asked and pushed at one pellet with his small index finger.
“It’s Koi food,” Don said and threw one pellet in the water.
“They eat that?” Simon pinched a pellet between his index finger and thumb and threw it in the water.
“They mostly eat those but they like eating the water plants as well,” Don explained and held out the pellets for Simon.
“Don’t they get ice cream?” the little boy asked but didn’t give Don time to answer before he continued, “I like ice cream and chips but Daddy says that I gotta eat green stuff too. I like fries and katchup.”
“I saw that,” Don watched the boy take the last pellets and feed them to the fish, “I like pizza,” he confided.
“Ummmm,” Simon licked his lips and rubbed his stomach.
Don suddenly picked the little boy up and held him high in the air as he ran a lap around the garden. Simon shrieked loudly and giggled madly when Don finally put him down.
When Alan closed the front door behind the last of their guests he turned and stared at his son.
“Don,” he walked past his son on the way to the kitchen, “Do you want a beer?”
“Sure,” Don agreed readily, “Wouldn’t mind one,” he entered the kitchen and Alan handed him the cool bottle, “Thanks.”
“I have to ask you this…“ Alan leant against the kitchen counter and sighed, “You were acting sort of odd tonight so…” he shrugged and looked embarrassed, “Are you attracted to Charlie?”
“What?!” Don laughed disbelievingly.
“Well, you been staring at him all night,” Alan explained.
“Oh,” Don held the cool beer bottle against his forehead and felt cold water drops slide down his cheek, “I guess I have. It’s…see…I,” Don stuttered.
David pushed Jaden up against the wall and kissed him before he reached out to flip the switch and turn on the light in the hallway.
“Finally,” Jaden laughed when David kicked the front door shut and started dragging the carrier past the living room and down the hallway into the bedroom.
“Come on, I was only half an hour late,” David fumbled with the small buttons on Jaden’s shirt. He managed to get the first five buttons undone before he simply pulled the shirt over the carrier’s head and tossed it on the floor. Jaden was breathing fast, his eyes dark and inviting.
Reaching down to unzip the tight jeans Jaden was wearing David suddenly stopped and pressed his trembling hands against his own thighs.
“I…” Jaden began and swallowed hard, “It’s okay, David. If, you know, if you don’t want to…” he gestured down at his crotch, “I could just um…you know, with my mouth if you want me to…”
David looked Jaden in the eyes and slowly shook his head.
“Oh, o-okay, then,” the carrier turned and started looking for his shirt on the floor, “I’ll just…T-there it is,” he picked up the shirt and started pulling it on, “I can catch a cab home,” his muffled voice filtered out from the shirt.
“I don’t want that,” David said and grabbed Jaden’s hand just as he finally managed to get the shirt back on, “I’m just a little nervous here.”
“I know,” Jaden nodded, “We don’t have to do anything.”
“But I want to,” David took a step closer and reached out and caressed Jaden’s soft cheek, “I’ve just never had sex with a carrier before so…” he shrugged uncomfortably.
“We’ll go slow, okay?” Jaden ran his hands up David’s chest and stopped to rest them on the man’s broad shoulders.
“You have to tell me what feels good,” David said and reached down to unbutton Jaden’s jeans.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Alan slammed the empty beer bottle down on the kitchen counter and winced when the glass shattered. Don hurried over and took his father’s hand in his. He slowly checked to see if there were any cuts.
“Let go of my hand, Don,” Alan said quietly and pulled away from his son, “You shouldn’t have…”
“You don’t want to know?” Don asked disbelievingly.
“He asked not to be contacted. Twice,” Alan held up two fingers, “Twice, Don. And considering what he might have gone through just because your mother and I were too cowardly to keep him…Well, I respect his wishes.”
Don crumble the small piece of paper in his pocket and looked uncertainly around the kitchen.
“Please tell me you didn’t go through with it. Tell me you didn’t get his name from the database,” Alan pleaded and turned pale when Don wouldn’t meet his eyes. Alan covered his tired eyes with a shaking hand.
“You don’t want to know?” Don repeated and finally looked at his father.
“No, Don,” Alan whispered hoarsely, “No, not like this. Your brother made it clear he didn’t want anything to do with us.”
“But…” Don’s voice trailed off when Alan’s breath hitched and the older man’s shoulders shook briefly, “But I already know.”
“Then forget,” Alan’s said quietly.
“I-I don’t think I can,” Don admitted.
David looked down at Jaden laying beneath him. The carrier’s blond hair was spread out over the pillow. David slowly pressed forward and Jaden’s hands grabbed tighter around David’s shoulders.
“You okay?” David breathed heavily.
“Mmmmm,” Jaden nodded and relaxed against the mattress with a soft sigh.
Don kept turning the folded piece of paper in his hand. The edges were slightly crumbled and he straightened them out with his thumb. What was he supposed to do now? He looked up at the ceiling. He could hear his father walk around upstairs.
The older man seemed restless and Don felt uneasy about his own part in his father’s sadness and uncertainty. But he couldn’t forget… Even if he had wanted to. Don put the note back in his pocket and walked over to the front door. He need a drink.
Drew unlocked the front door of the small semi-attached house he rented. The door swung open without a sound and he turned around and looked up and down the street.
“Hmmm,” the carrier mumbled, “Coulda sworn…” he shrugged and walked into the house, locking the door behind him.
Colby watched as Ian held the door to the interrogation room open so Charlie could go inside. Ian looked over at the other agent and nodded.
“I’m keeping an eye on things,” Colby said and pointed to the observation room he was standing next to.
Ian simply nodded again and followed Charlie into the room. Colby walked into the observation room and closed the door behind him. Reaching out to the control panel hanging on the wall he pressed a button and Ian’s voice filled the small room. Colby stood close to the one-way mirror watching as Charlie smiled at the nervous man sitting across him.
“Charlie Ellis is helping us with this case,” Ian pulled out a chair and sat down, “I hope it’s okay that he sits in on this interview?” Ian looked up from the folder he was flipping through.
“Um…sure…uh,” Pete looked over at the door.
“Agent Edgerton tells me that you know John Paulson,” Charlie began.
”Knew,” Pete stressed the word, ”I knew him. Haven’t seen him for some time now.”
”But you were very good friends,” Ian pushed a piece of paper across the table. Pete picked it up and studied it, ”You shared an apartment in the late seventies.”
”Yeah,” Pete nodded and put the document down on the table again, straightening its edges with shaking hands.
”Would you like something to drink?” Charlie reached out and put his own hand over Pete’s.
”S-sure,” he nodded, ”I’d like something cold, please.”
”I’m sure agent Edgerton wouldn’t mind getting you a soda from the vending machine,” Charlie looked pointedly at Ian.
”Cola okay?” Ian asked as he got up and moved over to the door.
”Y-yeah,” Pete nodded and then looked at Charlie as if asking permission.
”What about you?” Ian looked down at Charlie.
”A soda sounds good,” Charlie smiled.
Colby cussed quietly as Ian left the room. He ripped the door open and stomped out into the hallway.
”What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he growled at Ian and grabbed the man’s arm as he was walking past.
”I’m giving Charlie a chance to calm down a witness scared senseless,” Ian said and looked down at where Colby’s hand was wrapped around the other man’s upper arm.
”You told me you’d keep him safe,” Colby hissed and stepped closer to Ian.
”He’s safe,” Ian said quietly his dark eyes staring into Colby’s hazel ones, ”You really think I’d jeopardize him by walking out if he had the slightest…”
”Guys?” they both turned to stare at Charlie standing by the closed door to the interview room, ”Could you keep it down?”
”You okay?” Colby asked and let go of Ian’s arm.
“I’m fine,” Charlie said and pointed back at the interview room, “But he’s starting to panic and I think we need to wrap this up before he has a nervous breakdown.”
“I’ll get the drinks,” Colby said, “You just get back in there and find out what he knows.”
Charlie walked over to Colby and patted his arm, “Could you bring us the drinks and then maybe…” Charlie looked from Colby to Ian and back again, “Um…if you could do something to make him calm down a little around us, maybe touch me or something,” he blushed and then turned back to the door.
“Keep him safe,” Colby hissed at Ian as he walked over to the break room to get the drinks.
“We met through the support group,” Pete said and looked nervously from Charlie to Ian.
“How old were you when you had the corrective surgery?” Charlie asked sympathetically.
“Nineteen. I um…lived with my parents and they really wanted me to get it done. Said it would make things easier,” Pete’s hands started restlessly mapping the tabletop.
“Did it?” Ian closed the folder in front of him.
“No,” Pete shook his head slowly, “It just messed everything up. The surgery was bad enough but then the hormones I had to take…still take, they…”
“I’m sorry,” Charlie said and again touched Pete’s hand, “They shouldn’t have forced you. What does your parents feel about it now?”
Pete laughed suddenly and then looked shocked to hear his own laughter, rubbed a hand across his mouth and mumbled, “They died in a car crash three months after I had the surgery done. Such a waste. All of it. Them dying and me,” he motioned at himself with a shaking hand.
“Is that why you joined the support group?” Ian asked just as the door to the interview room opened and Colby walked in. The blond agent handed Ian a cup of coffee and put a soda can down in front of Pete.
“Thanks,” Pete said and licked his lips anxiously.
“Here you go,” Colby said and set the last can of soda down in front of Charlie. The carrier smiled up at Colby when the other man let a hand run from Charlie’s shoulder up to the short curls at his nape, “Don’t overdo it,” Colby continued, “Doc says you need to take it easy.”
“I’ll be careful,” Charlie promised and shifted in the plastic chair.
“You need a pillow or something?” Colby looked over at the door as if expecting pillows to be offered immediately.
“I’m fine,” Charlie reassured him.
Colby looked a little surprised to find Don standing in front of the one-way mirror when he entered the small observation room.
“Quite a show,” Don grinned.
“Oscar worthy,” Colby agreed and stood next to the team leader, “Let’s hope he knows something that’ll give us enough to find the bastard.”
“At least he hasn’t killed again,” Don said.
“Only a question of time, Don,” Colby sighed, “He’s not gonna stop just because we’re hunting him. He still hasn’t gotten what he wanted.”
“He was obsessed with his infertility,” Pete said, “Guess he still is.”
“His infertility?” Ian got up from his chair and walked a little around the room.
“The hormones we get…I mean the surgery gets rid of all the female…parts,” the witness looked a little ashamed, “Internal and external and then they leave just the male genitalia. But we have to get hormone treatment cause we don’t make enough testosterone to really look male.”
“And the hormone treatment causes the patients to become infertile. Even if they find an understanding woman they can’t produce offspring, ” Charlie ended the explanation.
“And John…He was obsessed with having a child. He’d talk about adopting but back then in the eighties carriers couldn’t adopt,” Pete’s angry voice filled the room, “He bought all this baby clothes and took it with him out to the cabin…”
“Cabin?” Ian stopped moving and stared at Pete.
“He had this friend who’d bought a cheap cabin out in the woods. He’d go there sometimes…to think about things, I guess.”
“Do you remember where this cabin was?” Ian sat down across from Pete.
“Not really. I never went there. I do remember that it used to be part of this small group of cabins that hunters would rent but then the…whatever it was they were hunting grew scarce and the other cabins were demolished and only the best one of them was left standing,” Pete continued, “But that was in the late seventies, early eighties…I doubt the cabin is even still there…”
Colby spread his jacket over Charlie’s sleeping form. The break room couch squeaked when the carrier moved around a little and Don handed Colby a sweatshirt.
“For his head,” Don wouldn’t meet Colby’s eyes and the younger agent just took the shirt and bundled it up so it could be used as a pillow.
“Shouldn’t you get him home?” Don asked as they quietly walked out of the break room.
“He needs to calm down a bit,” Colby looked over his shoulder at Charlie, “I’ll just finish my report and then I’ll drive him home. He‘s visiting one of his friends tomorrow so he‘ll need all the rest he can get.”
Alan shook his head and picked up the jeans Don had tossed on the bathroom floor earlier that morning. The jeans were crumbled into a heap and Alan shook them out and noticed the small piece of paper that fluttered out of a pocket and down on the tiled floor.
He put the jeans in the hamper and then picked up the piece of paper. He groaned when his knees protested the movement and then unfolded the paper.
For a few seconds he just stared at the name printed on it in confusion. Why did Don carry around a piece of paper with Charlie’s name on it?
He took a deep ragged breath and sat down heavily on the edge of the bathtub, his fingers feeling numb where they tightly held the small piece of paper.
Charlie opened the door to Drew’s house and walked in. He could hear the radio playing a popular tune somewhere in the small home. He put the paper bag with the soft baby towels down by the hallway table and toed off his shoes before he took off his jacket and draped it over the chair standing next to the table.
“Drew?” he yelled and walked through the short hallway and into the living room. The music and the voice humming along with it seemed to come from the kitchen.
“Drew? I brought you the baby towels I told you about,” Charlie said loudly and walked over to the door leading into the kitchen. His socked feet suddenly felt wet and he looked down at them to see what he had stepped in.
A large wet blood red stain covered the carpet just outside the closed kitchen door. He took a step back but his socks were already soaked through and he left red footprints on the clean parts of the carpet.
“Drew?” Charlie whispered, reached out and pushed the door to the kitchen open.
He stared at the horrible sight in front of him; the blood covering the kitchen walls, the man kneeling next to Drew, the gleaming knife cutting through Drew’s fragile stomach.
The screaming had Colby pushing past a few other agents in a hurry as he made his way to the break room. He skidded to a halt right in front of the couch where Charlie was curled up in the corner with Colby’s jacket pressed against his rounded belly.
“Charlie?” Colby knelt in front of the crying carrier.
“Oh God,” Charlie sobbed, “It was horrible, so horrible…”
“Just a nightmare,” Colby stroked Charlie’s trembling back as he hugged him close.
“He was all cut open and there was blood all over the place…on my feet. Soaked through my socks,” Charlie pressed his face against the other man’s neck.
“Take him home,” Don said from the doorway.
“I will and Don?” Colby helped Charlie stand up, “He’s done helping us out. I won’t risk him or the baby.”
“You okay?” Jaden asked and stroked David’s back. They were cuddling on the couch. A thin bluish beam of light, coming from the streetlamp just outside the agent’s apartment, gave the living room a strange outer-worldly feel.
“Just remembering the way Charlie screamed,” David murmured against Jaden’s chest. He was resting against the carrier, carefully making sure not to put too much weight on his lover’s smaller frame.
“Must have been a really bad nightmare,” Jaden started running his thumb over David’s lower lip.
“Maybe I should call Colby,” David shifted a little getting ready to find his cell phone but Jaden’s arms kept him in place.
“It’s late,” Jaden whispered and stroked David‘s arms, “You’ll just wake up Simon or Charlie.”
“Yeah…” David kissed the soft skin on Jaden’s throat.
“Mmmm,” the carrier stretched under the bigger man.
“I’ve uh…”David began and Jaden smiled up at him, “I uh…read some more in that book I bought,” he admitted.
“Oh, God,” Jaden rolled his eyes and pressed his face against David’s shoulder.
“It’s a good book,” David defended his unofficial bible on all things concerning carriers.
“You know you can’t read your way to everything, right?” Jaden teasingly pushed his hand against David’s crotch.
“I…that’s,” David intelligently stuttered.
“So,” the carrier breathed against David’s neck, warm moist air ghosting over his skin, “What did you read?”
“I read about carrier’s and their partners and their roles in…during sex,” David forced himself to push a little away and sit up, knowing he’d never manage to say what he needed to say with Jaden so close, “I’ve been thinking and I’m just not…not ready for…you know.”
“I do?” Jaden frowned.
“Penetration,” David blurted out.
“But we already did that,” Jaden looked confused and propped himself up on his elbows.
“I…Yeah, we did but that was. You know, me um…doing you,” David couldn’t keep his voice from breaking on the last words.
“I don’t get it,” Jaden said and then his face suddenly split in a large smile, his blue eyes filled with mischief, “Oh! Oh, you mean you’re not ready for me…” he made an obscene hand gesture, “…to you?”
“Yes…I mean no. I’m not and I don’t honestly think I will be,” David looked apologetically at Jaden. The carrier ran a hand through his blond hair, lifting the soft strands from his shoulder and making them cascade back in place again.
“Don’t worry about that,” Jaden moved closer to David, “I never liked that anyway,” he straddled the larger man, “My little guy gets performance anxiety.”
“Your little guy?” David repeated puzzled. Jaden looked pointedly down at his own crotch, “Oh,” David grinned, “Your little guy,” he pulled Jaden close and rubbed his palm against the carrier’s crotch.
“But,” Jaden pulled a little back, cheeks red with excitement, “We’re going to have to keep it to petting, though.”
“What?” David tried to focus, “Why?”
“I’m having my period,” Jaden said a little reluctantly.
“I can do petting,” David said and ran his fingers up over Jaden’s shoulders and past his nape to tangle in the carrier’s blond hair.
Don parked the car outside his childhood home and just sat there for awhile staring at the house. The house never seemed to change, almost as if it was frozen in time. The plants outside looked different than they had when he was a kid but everything else was the same. Right down to the dent next to the front door where he’d once accidentally slammed his baseball bat against the painted wood.
The light in the kitchen went on and Don reluctantly got out of the car and walked up the short driveway and stopped in front of the door. Taking a deep breath he turned the door handle and walked inside.
He stood still for a few seconds listening to his father moving around in the kitchen.
“Yeah,” Don walked into the living room. Alan came out with a steaming cup of tea in his hand.
“Sit down,” he pointed at the couch and Don did as he was told.
He felt like a kid again sitting there on the couch with his father looking down at him with a frown on his face. Don stared down at his father’s feet.
“You forgot something in the bathroom,” Alan said and a piece of paper fluttered down and landed on Don’s knee. He picked it up and was just about to ask what it was when he recognized it.
He clutched the paper in his hand and finally, after taking a deep breath, managed to look up at his father, “I…You didn’t…”
“I read it,” Alan said and put the steaming cup of tea down on the coffee table, “Question is what do I do about it.”
“I should have thrown it out,” Don crumbled the note in his fist, “You didn’t want to know and I wasn’t trying to…I honestly forgot to throw it out before I…”
“Doesn’t matter,” Alan waved his hand, sweeping Don’s apology away, “Harm’s done now. The only thing left to decide is what I do with my knowledge.”
Colby crawled out of bed, his bladder feeling like a heavy stone. Blinking lazily he managing to find the door to the master bathroom in the darkness. He took care of business and hurried back to the bed and the warmth trapped under the covers.
Charlie mumbled in his sleep and Colby propped himself up on one elbow and studied the carrier’s relaxed face. The soft suntanned skin beckoned him to reach out and touch a cheek flushed red with sleep. Charlie opened his eyes and looked sleepily up at Colby.
“’S morning?” the carrier asked and pulled the covers up to his chin.
“No,” Colby shook his head and lay down as close to Charlie as he could, slowly worming his way under Charlie’s warm blanket.
“Holy shit,” Charlie moved away, “Your feet are like big lumps of ice.”
“Sorry,” Colby said and just cuddled closer.
“Just keep your icicle toes to yourself, mister,” Charlie demanded.
“You could help me get warm,” Colby suggested and started moving around under the covers.
“What’re you doing?” Charlie asked just as Colby triumphantly held his own boxer shorts up in the air.
“Getting naked,” Colby disappeared under the covers and Charlie made a noise in protest.
“That’s not…” Charlie started but stopped when his eyes grew wide. His boxers were pushed out from under the covers and his legs very carefully and gently spread, his knees pushed up.
“You okay like this?” Colby’s head appeared from under the covers, his hair sticking straight up in the air.
“Yeah,” Charlie nodded and watched as Colby kissed the swollen belly and then pulled the covers over his head again.
Ian spread the maps out over the small desk in the empty bullpen. He was using Colby’s cubicle and there just wasn’t enough room for the many folders and maps. Grumbling quietly he gathered them all up and walked over to the dark conference room and pushed the door open with his hip. He dumped the maps and folders on the table and walked over to turn on the lights. The glass enclosed room was illuminated by the fluorescent lamps in the ceiling.
Ian started putting the maps and folders in order. He needed to find that one little piece of information that would point him to where the killer was. They had some information to go on. But the entire team had been surprised by how many small cabins were scattered around the local forests.
He started unfolding the maps, grabbed a yellow highlighter and started circling all the cabins that were indicated on the maps. When he was finished he took a step back and tiredly rubbed his hand over his eyes. Every map had at least ten to fifteen cabins highlighted on them.
He needed to find an easier way to filter through all the information if they were to stop Paulson before he killed again.
Colby opened the door and took a step back to let Megan in. The bright blue morning sky made the man blink.
”Good morning,” Megan said as she stepped inside.
”Looks like it,” Colby agreed and checked his wristwatch, ”Thanks for picking me up today. Charlie needs the car later and my mom is borrowing Charlie’s car so….” he shrugged, ”Got time for a cup of coffee before we have to go?”
”Sounds perfect,” she said and walked ahead of Colby into the kitchen. The sunlight was streaming in through the kitchen window. A small decoration, made from what looked like pasta in different colors glued together and then tied on a string, hung in the window occasionally catching the bright beams of light.
Colby opened one of the kitchen cupboards and took out two mugs and filled them with steaming coffee. He handed one to Megan, ”I see you’re admiring the art,” the agent said in a stuffy imitation of a professor.
”It’s really colorful,” Megan grinned and inhaled the fragrant steam of the coffee.
”Well, I know the artist and he get’s all excided when you give him a stick of glue,” Colby drank some of his coffee.
”One day Simon will be a famous artist and we can sell that pasta thing for millions,” Charlie said as he entered the kitchen. He was carrying a few books and a black backpack. He put the books on the kitchen table and the worn old backpack ended up on one of the kitchen chairs.
”Are those heavy?” Colby nodded at the books.
”I can carry a few books, Colby,” Charlie got a carton of juice out of the fridge. He opened the cupboard over the sink and tried to stretch up so he could get one of the tall glasses. He grunted when his rounded belly collided with the edge of kitchen counter.
”I’ll get it,” Colby reached up and took the glass down.
”Thanks,” Charlie poured the juice into the glass until it was half full and then took a sip, ”Mmmmm,” he licked his lips. Colby took a step closer to the carrier and rubbed a hand on the smaller man’s back, ”You need me to pick up any groceries?”
”Naw,” Charlie looked up at Colby and Megan suddenly felt like a peeping Tom, ”I’ll do a little shopping when I’m done at Drew’s.”
”Just don’t strain yourself. You and Drew are both almost ready to pop,” Colby kissed Charlie briefly.
”A month,” Charlie patted his belly, ”I still have a month to go.”
Colby smiled and drank the last of his coffee, ”Yeah, but Drew is going to give birth any day,” he walked over to the hallway door, ”I’ll just go get my jacket,” Colby said in Megan’s direction before he disappeared down the hallway.
”You spilled some juice,” Megan pointed at Charlie’s dark purple pregnancy shirt and took a Kleenex out of the box on the counter and wiped at the wet spot on Charlie’s chest. The spot just grew and seemed a little wetter.
”Aw, damn,” Charlie blushed, the rosy color spreading over his cheeks. He took the tissue from Megan’s hand and pressed it against the spot.
”Is that what I think it is?” Megan asked fascinated and watched the wet spot on Charlie’s chest grow a little in size.
”It’s just colostrum,” Charlie said and took a few more tissues from the box in a futile attempt to save the shirt so he wouldn’t have to go change again.
”But I didn’t think carriers could breastfeed,” Megan said.
”We can’t,” Charlie looked down at his shirt and sighed, he definitely needed to find a clean shirt, ”But we still secrete colostrum late in the pregnancy. Sometimes the milk keeps coming after birth but it isn’t very nutritional.”
”Charlie?!” Colby called from the bedroom.
”Yeah?” the carrier answered and walked over to the door and looked down the hallway.
”I can’t find my badge. Did Simon play with it again last night?”
”A week?” Ian asked skeptically and frowned down at the analyst. The smaller bookish man pushed his glasses back up on his nose and just stared right back at the sniper without blinking once.
”I’m working on other stuff too and it might even take me more than a week,” the glasses slowly slid down the man’s nose again.
”Look,” Ian growled, ”I have a shit load of maps and folders. Information that I need processed now,” he accentuated the last word by stabbing at the dry office air with his index finger, ”Not in a week or later but now.”
”And I’m saying that we don’t have the time for that sort of thing,” the man persisted.
”Can’t you just put all the info into a computer and have it spit the answer out?” Ian looked around at the many computers and laptops in the large office.
”I could if I had a program that was any good at processing that sort of info. And if we were just looking at a flow of money from one bank to another it would have been much easier for me to help you. But feeding the information you have into the computer without a specific program to process it…well,” the man grabbed the two cd-roms on his desk, ”That would have been different but that’s not what I have.”
”A week or more?” Ian asked again.
”Yes,” the man answered, ”We’re drowning in embezzlement cases right now and…” the man continued talking as Ian left the office with a armful of maps and folders.
David watched Jaden sleep. The carrier’s slim body was only partly covered by the dark red blanket. It pooled around his curved hips. David sat down on the edge of the bed and gently caressed Jaden’s warm flank, letting his hand stray and disappear under the soft cotton of Jaden’s yellow t-shirt.
Stretching Jaden opened his eyes, ”Hey,” he mumbled and moved closer to the edge of the bed and David.
”I have to leave,” David leant down and kissed Jaden’s sleep warm cheek.
”Can’t you stay?” Jaden reached up and rubbed his hands over David’s shoulder.
”I need a change of clothes and Don wanted us at the office at eight sharp,” David said.
”Mmmm, next time you should bring some of your clothes here. Got lots of space in the closet,” the carrier sleepily sat up and kissed David again.
”I’m going to be late if you keep that up,” David chuckled against Jaden’s soft lips.
”No,” Don said and shook his head.
”Look,” Ian pointed at the maps strewn over the large conference table, ”The FBI geeks say it’ll take at least a week. A week, Don. A week where that sick bastard can pick a new victim and cut out the baby he so desperately wants.”
”I promised Colby that we’d…” Don began.
”What?” Colby asked just as he, David and Megan entered the room.
”Nothing,” Don said and glared at Ian.
The sniper turned around and tapped a finger on the map closest to him, ”I need Charlie’s help.”
”You might need it,” Colby took a step closer, ”But you’re not getting it.”
Ian scowled at the younger agent and picked up one of the maps, ”It’ll take our people too long to look through all this information and I called CalSci to ask who they would recommend. I talked to the head of the math department and he mentioned Charlie.”
”Charlie already helped enough,” Colby clenched his hands so hard the knuckles turned white.
”Maybe we could ask him?” David tried.
”No,” Colby said so loudly that it attracted the attention of a few of the other agents in the bullpen. Colby took a deep breath and continued in a slightly more subdued voice ”We already lost one baby. I’m not taking any chances,” Colby turned and left the room. The rest of his team quietly watch him disappear out of the office.
”What’s he talking about?” Don asked David and the other agent shrugged.
”Charlie miscarried last time he was pregnant,” Megan quietly explained.
Ian sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he pulled a chair over and sat down, ”I didn’t know.”
”Colby only told me and I don’t think he wants anyone else to know,” Megan walked over to the table and looked down at the maps, ”Maybe…maybe we should just ask Charlie’s advice on who to ask for help. He’s bound to know someone who could handle this info faster than our own team.”
Amita started arranging the folders in small piles only to change her mind and redo it. The laptop was silently working on the information she had already fed it.
”Charlie and I wrote this program as part of a project we did with a marine biologist about whales and their feeding habits,” she pushed her dark hair away from her face and continued, ”What this program does is it categorizes the information and gives us a number of different ways we can analyze it,” she excitedly pointed at the maps that lay unfolded on the table next to her, ”The really great thing about it is that even as I’m feeding it the information it’s processing the numbers and that cuts down on the time needed for the final results.”
”So,” Ian looked over her shoulder at the laptop, ”How long do you think it’ll take you to pick out the most likely location of the cabin.”
”Oh,” Amita looked thoughtfully at the pile of information the program still needed to process, ”If all goes well and the program doesn’t crash I’d say I could have the five most likely cabins picked out by tonight or maybe early tomorrow.”
”The five most likely,” Don said as if tasting the words.
”Still better than waiting a week and a half,” Ian pointed out.
Drew opened the door and moved back so Charlie could step into the small hallway, ”Hi, Charlie.”
”Hey,” Charlie put down the plastic bags he was carrying and then proceeded to take off his jacket, ”I brought pastries,” he pointed at one of the bags on the floor.
”I love pastries,” Drew said and picked the bag up and moved further in to the small house, ”Sometimes if I wasn’t getting picked up much or the weather was bad and the johns just weren’t interested, I’d go to this small Greek cafe and just sit and get warm. They had the best pastries there.”
”If I buy pastries Colby’ll eat one or two and then start poking at his stomach whining about how hard it is to stay fit,” Charlie laughed and followed Drew into the kitchen.
Drew took two plates out from one of the green kitchen cupboards mounted on the wall and put them on the table, ”Sit, sit,” he waved at the kitchen table and Charlie pulled out one of the chairs and sat down.
”So how’s everything going?” Charlie asked and looked around the kitchen. It reminded him of the kitchen in his and Colby’s old apartment. The cupboards could use a coat of paint and the floor was scuffed a few places, ”We used to have a kitchen like this,” Charlie looked over at Drew, ”Only the cupboards were orange.”
”Orange?” Drew scrunched up his face and placed the small box from the bakery on the table and then handed Charlie a cup of tea.
”The whole block had been build in the seventies. The kitchens were orange and the hallways were this deep moss green color that just seemed to suck the light right out of the air. The bathroom was brown.”
”Brown? Doesn’t sound very nice,” Drew commented as he sat down and took a sip of his tea.
”It wasn’t half bad actually,” Charlie took a bite of his chocolate covered pastry and moaned when the sweet creamy taste exploded in his mouth.
”Good?” Drew asked and picked up his own pastry filled with apricot.
”Heavenly,” Charlie said and happily chewed.
”So we just wait?” David asked and looked over at the woman hunched over a laptop. She would periodically take a sip from her big styrofoam cup of coffee and then go back to reading the maps and feeding new information into the computer.
”No,” Don said and gave David a handful of folders, ”We do some follow up on our latest cases and finish our reports on the blackmail case we just closed.”
”No rest for the wicked,” Colby said and pulled the tower of reports, that needed his signature or his comment before they could be archived, closer.
Charlie looked around the small nursery. The walls were white with pictures of animals taped on them. They looked as if they had been cut out of an old calendar. Drew looked anxiously from Charlie to the cheaply decorated room. He was biting his lower lip nervously.
”You know,” Charlie walked into the small room, ”When I moved in with Colby, right after having Simon, we lived in his apartment for the first few weeks and we didn’t have room for the crib so Simon slept in the living room in his moses basket. We didn’t have a lot of money right after Simon was born because I didn’t have any health insurance so the bill from the hospital ate up a lot of our savings.”
”I’ve uh…been thinking about that,” Drew said and walked over to the crib, ”I don’t have any health insurance either and…I don’t have any savings.”
”Umbrella has a lot more money now than they did when Simon was born,” Charlie put a hand on Drew’s shoulder, ”The help you can get from them won’t cover all the costs but it’ll make sure you won’t be drowning in bills and I’ve signed you up for free formula. I hope that’s all right?”
”Wow, yeah,” Drew nodded and couldn’t hide his relieve, ”I’ve been pinching pennies for a long time, Charlie, I’m good at being frugal but I was starting to worry about formula and,” he patted the crib in front of him, ”All this stuff I borrowed from Umbrella…It’s really helped a lot. I couldn’t have afforded a crib and the changing table if you guys hadn’t let me borrow all this stuff.”
”Well, when you’re done with it we’ll give the crib and changing table to someone else who needs it,” Charlie said.
”I’ll take good care of it,” Drew promised.
”How’s it going?” Don asked as he stood behind Amita. He tried to make sense of the program she was using but it mostly just looked like long rows of numbers interspersed with a few words here and there.
”Um…” she gnawed on the pencil she had in her mouth and looked up at him, ”Not so good, actually.”
”What’s wrong? Do you need more information?” Don looked from the laptop to the folders and maps littered over the table.
”I think there’s a problem with the program,” Amita answered, ”See, the program,” she pointed at the numbers on the screen with her pencil, ”was constructed to follow whales and their journey. It was used to find out which areas they frequented the most, where they found their food and just generally tracking their behavior.”
Don nodded and then picked up the map closest, ”How exactly does that help you find a serial killer?”
”Well, I’m looking for the cabin he, according to Agent Edgerton, lived in on and off since the late seventies. What we know is that the cabin was part of a larger group located in the same area. When the hunting stopped due to lack of game in the forest only one cabin was left standing. The problem is that there are cabins spread around in the forests and you only have manpower to check on five or so at a time.”
”And while we’d be stomping around checking the cabins we might tip off Paulson,” Don nodded.
”Exactly,” Amita smiled and then pointed to the map Don was holding, ”Using only the maps makes the whole thing a little like looking for a needle in a haystack. But combining the location of the cabins with the information from the California Department of Fish and Game we also know where there was a lack of animals to hunt at different times,” she pulled a piece of paper closer, ”The problem is that when the computer starts doing its calculations…well, something isn’t working right. I think we might need to use a different approach.”
”So you fix the program,” Don said with confidence.
”Charlie did most of the programming and he could fix the problem in a second,” Amita began.
”Colby wants to keep Charlie out of this one,” Don sat down in the empty chair next to Amita.
”He wouldn’t have to come in,” she put the paper down on top of the map Don had abandoned on the table, ”All he would have to do was tweak the math he used to write the program. I could call him.”
”Okay,” Don got up, ”As long as you don’t get me in trouble with Colby,” Don smiled down at Amita and the younger woman blushed.
Colby massaged his neck and groaned.
”Getting tired of paperwork?” Megan walked over to the cubicle Colby was sitting in. The other agent rubbed at his eyes.
”Feels like my eyes are on fire,” Colby blinked at the screen, ”I need a little TLC.”
”Oh,” David snickered from his side of the cubicle, ”I’m sure Charlie is more than happy to provide it when you get home.”
Colby stood up and stretched, ”My mom is living with us, or did you forget that, Sinclair?”
”Send her to the movies with Simon,” Megan suggested, ”I’m sure she’d understand.”
David signed another report and put it in the pile on the side of his desk, ”Better get some TLC before the baby arrives, partner,” he flipped a new folder open but then turned in his office chair and looked up at Colby, ”The second Junior makes an appearance you’ll be too busy changing diapers and losing sleep.”
”You just wait,” Colby warned, ”One day you’ll be drowning in dirty diapers and laundry too, partner,” the last word was said with thick sarcasm.
”Don’t shoot the messenger, man,” David laughed and stopped abruptly when he noticed Jaden walking over to them.
”Dirty diapers,” Colby mock whispered and Megan shook her head and returned to the mountain of unfinished reports on her own desk.
”Um,” Jaden began, ”Agent Sinclair, the receptionist downstairs just called and said there’s a man here to see agent Edgerton.”
”Yeah,” David smiled.
”Only…” Jaden returned the smile a little shyly, ”he isn’t in the building right now and I thought maybe…The man claims it’s about the carrier case.”
Drew held up the green baby sweater, ”It’s really cute, Charlie, thanks.”
”Well, I thought…” the cell phone on the table started ringing and Charlie reached for it, ”Sorry.”
”It’s okay, I’ll just go get us some more ice water,” Drew pushed his chair out from the table and slowly got up. He picked up the empty pitcher from the table and walked over to the sink.
Charlie looked down at the caller ID and pushed the green button, ”Amita, what can I do for you?”
Larry was sitting at his overloaded desk, books mingled with papers and small models of spaceships and cups filled with pens and pencils. His elbows were resting on the edge of the desk, his fingers steepled in front of his face, the tips of his fingers pressing against his lips.
”Hmmm?” Larry finally looked up and noticed Charlie standing in the doorway.
”I asked if I could use your computer for a second and access my notes on CalSci’s server? I’ll only be a minute I’m going back to Drew’s place the second I’m done,” Charlie repeated.
”Ah,” Larry leant back in his chair, ”Naturally, Charles,” he stood up and looked around the room as if he wasn’t sure where the computer was, ”I’ll just look through some of…” he looked at the mess on his desk.
”That’s fine,” Charlie said, patted Larry on the back and inched his way behind him so he could get at the computer. He moved some papers away from the keyboard and searched around under a rocket model to find the mouse.
He turned the computer on and looked up noticing that Larry was still staring at the mountains of books and piles of paper. The professor was squinting his eyes and his head was tilted to the left as he contemplated the sight.
”Uh, Larry?” Charlie tried.
”Yes?” Larry looked a little surprised to see Charlie sitting behind his desk.
”You were going to do some work,” Charlie reminded him.
”Yes, yes, ah, um…” Larry turned around and left the room leaving a grinning Charlie behind.
Drew dried off the last plate and put it in back in the cupboard over the sink. The last few pastries were placed back in the box they had been in when Charlie had arrived with them and placed in the fridge. Standing back, Drew looked around the small kitchen and couldn’t help sighing happily.
It wasn’t much, his small house, but it was his first real home and so different from the rundown room he’d shared with Tommy at the hotel. He could still, if he closed his eyes, smell the musty cabbage like stench that used to hang in the dark corridors of the hotel. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath. The only thing he could smell was the lavender soap he had just used to clean the dishes and the somewhat sweet scent of the tea they’d had.
The door bell rang and Drew looked at the clock on the wall. Only a little over half an hour had passed since Charlie had left. Maybe the problem he needed to help his friend with had been easy to solve.
Drew put the dishcloth he still held in his hand down on the kitchen counter and walked out into the hallway.
”That didn’t take long,” he said as he opened the door only to stop speaking when he realized it wasn’t Charlie standing on his doorstep.
”I…I don’t know if it’s much help but I found this. I knew I had it somewhere, pictures of the cabin, but I just wasn’t sure,” Larson held out a few photos.
”Okay,” David took them and handed one of the photos to Colby, who was standing next to him, ”Tell me what I’m looking at here,” he said and looked from the old photos to Larson.
”Well, we shared an apartment for some time and when he moved out he forgot some stuff. Mostly just books and…anyway he forgot some pictures and I just kept them,” Larson stepped closer to David and pointed at the picture the agent was holding, its edges were bent and the colors looked washed-out, ”All those are from the cabin he’d go to. A few of them have notes on the back.”
David turned the picture over and could see Colby do the same.
”He uh…didn’t have the best handwriting so some of it is sort of hard to read,” Larson apologized.
”What is that first letter?” Colby asked and held a picture out so David could see what was scribbled on the back of it.
David took the picture out of Colby’s hand, ”P or T? Maybe Don can make out what it says. Thanks, Larson,” David said and Larson reached out and shook hands with the agent, “This might actually just break the case for us.”
“Really…I’m…just glad to help,” Larson said.
“I’ll walk you out,” Colby guided the carrier over to the elevator, “This really is a great help, Pete,” the agent said just as the elevator doors opened, “Thank you.”
The large conference room was a little warm so Amita shrugged off her shawl as she put the cell phone down. She started writing the new equation into the program, scrolled down and tweaked a few other parameters and then restarted the program while biting her lip and impatiently tapping the mauled pencil against the table.
“Amita,” David walked into the conference room and around the big table so he could look down at the laptop.
“Hi, agent…Sinclair, right?” she looked up at him.
“Yeah, I think I got something to narrow down your search. Is the program up and running now?”
“Charlie just called and helped me fix the problems so it should be okay now,” she pushed her chair back and stood up so she could see the photo David was holding, “What’s that?”
“One of Paulson’s old friends found these photos with a few notes on the back,” David turned the photo of the cabin over and showed the smeared note to Amita, “It has the name of the forest or maybe just the name of the area written on the back.”
“That looks familiar,” Amita started searching through the maps on the table. “Does it say Patres?”
“No,” David shook his head, “It looks more like Pathros to me,” he held the photo up in the air, tilting his head back, as if that would make the letters more readable.
“Hey,” Don breezed into the room, Ian hot on his heels, “Colby says you have something,” he took the photo David handed him and tried to decipher what the note said, “Puthros?” he handed the photo to Ian.
“Hard to say but there can’t be that many forests or areas in them around Los Angeles that start with a P.”
“Finally,” Amita exclaimed, “The program is up and running. I’ll make a search based on that partial name and single cabins and cross reference it with the information from the Department of Fish and Game.”
”How long?” Don asked tersely.
“Oh,” Amita looked up, “half an hour…an hour at the most. All the info is already…”
“Good,” Don nodded and walked out of the room, “I’ll go get a team ready.”
The warmer air from the street breezed past Drew into the apartment and created a draft around his feet. “Can I help you?” he asked the man standing outside the door. “I’m sorry but…“ the carrier narrowed his eyes, “Have we met before?”
“I was hoping you’d remember me,” the short man took a step closer and seemed to study Drew. He looked curiously past the carrier into the house and Drew, suddenly feeling exposed, started closing the door.
“No,” the man pushed his hand against the door forcing Drew to stumble back. He almost tripped but just as he was about to fall the man grabbed hold of Drew’s arm keeping him on his feet.
“I knew it was going to be you the second I saw you,” the stranger whispered against Drew’s neck and kicked the front door shut.
Charlie leant back in the car seat and glared at the rearview mirror. The long line of cars behind him made him scowl at the cars in front of him. An angry cacophony of car horns played as the drivers realized they were stuck in a traffic jam.
Charlie reached out and turned on the car radio. A guitar solo mingled with static screeched out and made him grimace. He stabbed his finger against the buttons until the music changed to something more soothing with less static.
The car in front of him started driving and Charlie sighed happily only to groan when he realized he would only be capable of inching the car five feet forward. He took his cell phone out of his pocket and sent Drew a text message.
Amita watched as the laptop ended its calculation and the result was presented on the screen in a small simple box.
“I have it,” she said triumphantly and looked around the empty room. Clicking the save button she hurried out of the glass-walled conference room and almost bumped into Don.
“Whoa,” Don held on to her shoulders attempting to keep them both on their feet.
“The results,” Amita grabbed Don’s hand and dragged him into the conference room and over to the laptop, “It found two possible answers.”
The silence in the truck was intense. Colby watched David drive, the other man’s eyes on the road and his shoulders tense. David was holding on to the steering wheel in a white knuckled grip.
“Do we have any information on whether he’s at the cabin?” Agent Yong asked from the backseat and broke the silence.
David answered, “We have two cabins that could possible be Paulson’s current location.”
“Eppes and Edgerton are taking a team to the other cabin,” Colby turned in his seat so he could see the two other agents. Yong nodded and De Boer opened the folder on her lap scanning the information a second time.
“Come on,” Charlie mumbled under his breath and turned the car radio off when Dolly Parton started reminiscing about her old coat of many colors.
The car in front of him started moving and Charlie held his breath until it became obvious that it still wasn’t moving more than a few more feet.
“Great,” he sighed at the rearview mirror, “Just great,” he turned the radio back on, closed his eyes and started running though the first 10.000 decimals of pi while absentmindedly humming along to Dolly’s song.
“Clear!” Don yelled making sure they all heard it. Small specks of dust lazily floated on the stale air in the cabin. Don would swear he could hear the mice scurrying around in the walls.
The two junior agents visibly relaxed and Don let out a breath of air.
“Nothing,” Ian said and fished out his cell phone, “The cabin hasn’t been used for a long time. Nobody’s been here for at least six months,” he pressed a few buttons on the phone, “Check your phone, Eppes.”
“Bad reception?” Don asked and found his own cell phone, “I’ll go outside and try to get a signal.”
David put his gun back in its holster strapped to his thigh, “He’s definitely been here.”
Colby looked around the small cabin. It was separated into two larger rooms with a tiny bathroom situated at the back of what appeared to be the bedroom. A crib was pushed up against the wall, the happy giraffes frolicking across the baby blanket seemed out of place.
“That’s just creepy,” De Boer said as she peered into the crib.
A purple baby jumpsuit had been stuffed with newspaper to fill it out. It made it look as if a headless infant was laying in the crib. Colby glanced down at it and couldn’t help notice that he’d seen that exact jumpsuit in one of the catalogs Charlie had been looking through a week earlier.
“I’ll start looking through the papers on the kitchen table,” Colby said and turned away from the crib, “You never know we might just be lucky and find out where he went.”
“He couldn’t have planned to stay away for long,” David said from the corner where the gas powered camping fridge stood. David closed the fridge door, “Looks like he stocked up on groceries recently. Milk can‘t be more than a day old.”
“Okay, I’ll go call…” Colby was interrupted by his cell phone ringing.
Pressing his hand against one ear and the cell phone against the other, Don yelled into the phone, “Yeah, pretty bad reception out here. What? I can’t…This place is empty and…You did? Good,” Don turned to give Ian a thumbs up and a nod, “What? He‘s not…Hello?” Don grumbled as he ended the phone call, “Lost him. But it‘s definitely Paulson‘s cabin but he isn‘t there,” he said to Ian.
“We should go join them,” Ian waved the two other agents out of the cabin, “It’s only five miles to the other cabin.”
“Agent Sinclair, could you come take a look at this?” De Boer called and David put the stack of papers down. They were covered in the same almost indecipherable scribbling as the photos had been and David was having a hard time making any sense of the words.
“I’ll go see if the reception is better,” Colby held up his cell phone and walked out of the cabin.
“Keep an eye out for trouble,” David reminded him and Colby nodded his understanding just as he opened the heavy wooden door.
“Hallelujah!” Charlie whooped when the cars started moving at a much faster pace. Maybe he could still take Drew out for lunch. He looked at the clock on the dashboard.
“Late lunch, anyway,” Charlie mumbled as the traffic started moving along.
“Colby,” David called from the bedroom at the back of the cabin, “You…shit. You better come take a look at this.”
Colby walked past Yong who was going through a heap of unopened mail. He entered the bedroom and looked over at David standing next to De Boer in front of an old wardrobe. The paint was peeling off it in places revealing an older coat of red under the blue color it now sported. One of the doors of the wardrobe was open.
De Boer stepped back, making room for Colby, and David pointed at something pinned to the inside of it, “Is that who I think it is?” David asked uncomfortably.
Colby frowned and stepped closer to the grainy photo held in place with a small rusty nail, “Drew?” he said.
“Looks like him,” David agreed, “I haven’t seen him since we interview him but…”
“Give me your phone,” Colby demanded and held out his hand.
“You won’t get any better signal on mine…” David started taking his phone out of his pocket only to have it snatched from his fingers.
“Charlie,” Colby said as he walked out of the cabin closely followed by David, “He’s visiting Drew today,” he held the phone up and dialed the number to Charlie’s cell phone. It rang once then the signal was lost, “Damn it!” Colby started dialing the number on his own phone only to be met with the same result.
“Oh, come on!” Charlie slammed his hand down on the steering wheel as the traffic stopped again. He leant over and searched through his backpack until he found an open pack of crackers, “At least I won’t starve to death.”
Don and Ian just made it into the driveway leading to the other cabin when they were blocked by Colby and David driving in the opposite direction.
Ian stopped the car, only just managing not to slam into the other car, and Don jumped out, “What’s going on?” he asked.
“I think we know who the next victim is,” David opened the car door and, leaning out, waved at Ian to back the car out of the driveway, “We need to get out of here fast.”
“It’s Drew,” Colby told Don as he rolled the window down.
“Drew?” Don looked confused.
“A carrier we interviewed,” David said and leant over Colby, handing Don a photo of Drew standing outside a small rundown house.
“Charlie’s friend,” Colby said and moved restlessly, “He’s visiting him today.”
“Charlie,” Don felt his stomach drop, “Give me Drew’s address. And call Charlie.”
“We can’t get a signal,” David reminded his team leader.
“Shit. Where’s De Boer and Yong?” Don asked when he noticed the backseat was empty.
“They’re securing the cabin, looking for any papers on rental cars or registration on a car,” David shot Colby a look when the other agent visibly started grinding his teeth.
The pained bleeps coming from the cell phone was driving David mad. Colby kept dialing and redialing the same number over and over again. His whole body tense, his muscles flexing again and again as he switched between his own and David’s cell phone.
“Come on, piece of shit, come on,” he mumbled in frustration, “Yes! Come on! Keep ringing.”
David looked over at Colby and watched as his partner started biting his thumb nail and mumbling, “Pick up, pick up, come on, baby. Pick up.”
Colby suddenly sat straight up in his seat, “Charlie?! Listen…what? I can’t hear you. Just,” Colby was sweating and rubbed his hand over his forehead, “Don’t go to Drew’s house. Did you get that?! Charlie?”
An enraged roar filled the truck and Colby slammed his fist against the dashboard.
“Hey!” David yelled.
“I lost the signal,” Colby clenched and unclenched his hands, a faint cracking noise coming from the cell phone. His eyes roaming uncertainly around the cab of the truck, his face growing pale with fear, “I lost the signal,” he repeated, his voice almost a whisper.
“Who’re you calling?” Ian asked as he managed to speed past an old Volvo going 20 miles below the speed limit.
“Dad?” Don said into the phone, “Yeah, it is a bad connection but you have to listen to me…Dad? Dad? Okay, Charlie might be in trouble. I need you to call Louisa. I don’t know…try Colby’s house and… Dad…You still there? Okay, just…this might be really bad. Hallo?”
“We should be getting a good signal any minute now,” Ian said.
“Shit,” Don rubbed his palms against his face, “I can’t even imagine what Colby is feeling right now.”
Charlie took his cell phone out and noticed that the little battery icon in the corner was blinking. He leant over and grunted as he rummaged through the glove compartment. He found the car plug-in charger and started recharging his phone.
Whatever Colby had been trying to say could probably wait. It had been impossible to hear anything through the bad connection and Charlie was sure he would call again if it was really important.
He got out of the car and locked it.
“Anything?” David said as they finally arrived at Drew’s house. The agent parked the car a few houses down the road just in case Paulson was keeping an eye on the street.
“No,” Colby ran a shivering hand through his short cropped hair, “It’s going straight to voice mail.”
Don reached over and punched the steering wheel making the car horn honk impatiently at the many cars in front of them.
“God damn it!” Don threw his hands in the air and winced when his knuckles hit the roof of the truck.
“We shouldn’t have made that left turn,” Ian simply said, then backed up as much as he could without ramming into the car behind them and drove up on the side walk, “If we get down the next street we can take a shortcut,” he explained as he honked at a couple of teenagers standing in the way.
Looking up and down the street David suddenly said, “Colby, your car isn’t here.”
“What?” Colby asked, his eyes not moving from the front door.
“Your car,” David tried to get through to his partner, “Charlie is driving your car today. It’s not here.” Colby looked up, “He’s not here,” David stopped moving when he was right beside the door.
“Charlie’s not here,” Colby repeated like a child learning new words.
“You with me, Granger?” David said and held his hand up, ready to knock on the door.
“Yeah,” Colby straightened up to his full height and gave David a nod, “Ready.”
David knocked on the door and waited.
“Drew?” Colby yelled and knocked on the door a little harder than his partner had, “It’s Colby Granger.”
The two agents looked at each other. David held up a hand and slowly counted down from three. On three Colby took a deep breath and grabbed hold of the door handle, he turned it and let out a puff of air when the door silently opened. They slowly moved into the small hallway, putting themselves in a very dangerous position. If someone was to take a shot at them they would have no cover and no room to maneuver.
They stood on each side of the open door to the living room David nodded and moved into the cheaply furnished room, his gun ready in his hands. Nothing. The room seemed tidy enough at first glance but a book was laying facedown on the floor, a small side table stood at a strange angle and the wrapping paper on the coffee table was only hanging unsteadily from its corner, a tiny piece of tape the only thing holding it in place.
A scratching sound came from what David assumed was the kitchen and he silently pointed at it. Colby moved forward, making sure he didn’t cross his partner’s line of fire as they both moved closer to the kitchen door. Colby held up his hand and David stopped moving. Colby felt his foot slide and looked down at the old scratched floorboards.
He was standing in a puddle of crimson blood. Involuntarily he took a step back and almost slipped in it. His shoes left red prints behind on the floor. Closing his eyes briefly he tried to calm down and make his heart stop banging against his ribs like crazy. He pushed the door open, a reassuring pressure between his shoulder blades telling him that David was right behind him, aiming over his shoulder and steadying himself with his other hand on Colby‘s back.
They both stopped, Colby so abruptly that David bumped into him.
The kitchen looked like a set piece from a horror movie. Blood was smeared all over the floor, the kitchen cupboards were spattered with more of it and the heavy metallic smell made David gag.
Sitting in the middle of it all was John Paulson cradling what looked like a bunched up blanket against his chest. He was wearing a large see-through plastic bag over his clothes. Holes had been cut in the clear plastic for his head and arms and blood was dripping from the front of the makeshift shirt.
Just behind and to the left of Paulson lay Drew. The young carrier’s stomach had inexpertly been cut open, the edges of the skin, where the cut had been made, looked ragged as if the wound had been made with a butcher’s knife.
“It’s all wrong,” Paulson said and held the bundle out from his body. A corner of the blanket fell away revealing a pale infant. Paulson had tried to clean it up but blood still streaked the baby’s skin.
“Put the baby down,” Colby heard himself say and wondered how the words had made it past his clenched teeth.
“But it’s all wrong,” Paulson continued and held the baby as if it was a bomb ready to detonate. The infant made a small mewling noise that reminded Colby of a sick kitten.
“Just,” Colby held his hand out, “Just put the baby down, John,” he could still feel David at his back and although he couldn’t see it he knew the other agent was aiming his weapon at Paulson.
“I just wanted a little girl or a-a boy. A perfect little boy,” John shook his head as if to clear it.
“John, you don’t want to hurt the baby,” Colby said, inching his way further into the kitchen. His eyes flicked from Paulson holding the infant to Drew’s mutilated body.
“I worked so hard,” John mumbled, “I practiced and practiced. I didn’t want any of them to die but I needed to learn. To perfect my technique so I could get it right…but now,” he started fumbling around on the floor out of the agents’ sight.
“Keep your hands where we can see them,” David warned and carefully took a step closer.
Paulson looked up at Colby, his eyes glazed over with confusion and fear, “This isn’t what I wanted,” he said and it struck David how absurd it sounded. It made Paulson sound like a disgruntled customer complaining about his purchase. David saw a reflection glinting off the knife Paulson was fumbling for on the floor.
“Knife,” David warned Colby and the other man nodded solemnly his gun pointing straight at Paulson’s forehead. Paulson lifted the knife up with one hand while pressing the baby against his chest with the other.
“John,” Colby made sure his voice was steady and commanding when he spoke, “Put the knife down and push it across the floor to me.”
“I can’t do that,” John said and blinked.
“Sure you can,” David moved a little away from Colby, “Just put the baby down and get up and walk in my direction with your hands on your…”
It all happened so fast. The knife gleaming in the light from the kitchen lamp in the ceiling. The baby slid from Paulson’s hands to the floor, the almost inaudible thud making David flinch. He watched as Paulson pulled his arm back getting ready to throw the heavy kitchen knife and felt his own finger pull on the trigger of his gun.
The absence of sound was deafening. David just stood there, the scent of gunpowder in the air and his hands tightly wrapped around the weapon. Paulson made a wet throaty sound and toppled over, his left hand grabbing for the baby on the floor but missing its target.
Colby stood next to David, his own gun trained on the dying man on the floor. The sudden wail coming from the infant startled both agents and Colby moved across the floor and kicked the knife away and out of reach.
“He’s gone,” Colby said as he felt for a pulse by pressing his fingers against Paulson’s neck.
“What about the baby?” David put his gun in its holster.
Colby knelt down and very carefully picked up the mewling infant, “Take your shirt off,” he said without looking up at David.
“What?” David stopped moving.
“Take your shirt off and give it here,” Colby started peeling the bloodstained blanket away. He dried the infant’s face with a clean corner of the blanket and placed it on the floor. Colby began to check the child for injuries, using the blanket to dry off the sticky blood when he couldn’t quite make out if it was Drew’s blood covering the soft skin or the infant‘s own.
“Is he okay?” David crouched down and handed his shirt to Colby.
“I don’t know,” Colby was checking the baby’s stomach and then let his hands slide over the tiny hips and around and down to the small butt, “I think all the blood is Drew’s but I need to be sure,” his warm hands touched the thighs and his right hand came away with fresh blood on it.
“I’ll go call the ambulance and get the police here as well,” David said the second he saw the blood.
Colby didn’t respond but simply started wrapping the infant in David’s shirt.
David disconnected the second he was sure the police understood the situation, took a deep breath and ran into the small bathroom only just making it to the sink in time. He splashed cold water on his face when his stomach was finally empty and tried to make his heart stop pounding. David closed his eyes and took deep breaths until his heart didn’t feel like it was trying to pound its way out of his chest.
He heard Colby calling his name and hurried out of the bathroom and into the kitchen.
A rookie was already taping off the street and telling curious onlookers to move back. A large woman was especially adamant and kept asking the young man questions, her voice grating Don’s ears as he approached the semi-detached house.
“I knew a carrier would ruin this neighborhood,” she confidentially told the rookie, “I told Aggie that with one of them living on our street we wouldn’t be safe. They do all kinds of strange things and most of them are hookers,” she said the last word with a knowing nod over at the house, “I bet you he killed one of his customers. You hear stuff like that all the time.”
Don pushed past her and showed the kid his badge. The rookie just nodded and lifted the tape enough for Don to pass under it. He caught the young man smiling when Don heard an squeak and then Ian apologizing.
“Sorry, didn’t intend to step on your feet there, ma’am,” the sniper said just as he passed under the tape. Don turned and watched the woman limp away. An ambulance made it’s way to the only part of the street that hadn’t been taped off and the three officers standing there moved away, making room for the vehicle.
Don and Ian turned and saw Colby standing by his truck.
“You okay, Granger?” Don asked when he noticed all the bloodstains on the younger man’s shirt.
“None of it’s mine,” Colby self-consciously straightened his ruined shirt.
“And David?” Don persisted.
“He’s fine too, a bit shook up I think but…he went with the baby to the hospital,” he pointed at the ambulance disappearing down the street.
Don noticed the way Colby was standing, his body leaning against the truck, his hands clenched and resting at his sides. Every cell of Colby’s body was screaming for privacy. For somewhere he could go and let the anger he felt out without having to worry about the cops noticing or the people seeing him fall apart.
“Ian,” Don turned to the sniper, “You okay with driving Colby to the hospital?”
“Sure,” Ian readily agreed.
“I’m fine, Don,” Colby insisted.
“I don’t doubt that but you should go check on your partner and the infant,” Colby watched Don for a second and then just nodded, his reluctance to stay and work the crime scene enough evidence that he was no where near as okay as he thought he was.
“Charlie,” Colby suddenly said, “I haven’t gotten a hold of him yet. The car isn’t here…”
“I have his number,” Don assured him, “I’ll keep calling him. He’s fine, Colby, I’m sure of it.”
Not a single word was spoken as they drove to the hospital. Colby kept scratching at a dried spot of blood on his pant leg, the slow motion and the sound of nail against denim slowly driving Ian up the wall. He was just about to say something when Colby’s cell phone started ringing. The younger agent took the phone out of his pocket and looked at it as if he had no idea what to do with it.
“Maybe you should answer that?” Ian suggested.
“Yeah,” Colby agreed and fumbled around with the small buttons on the phone a bit before he put it to his ear, “Agent Granger,” Colby said, “Mom? No…I don’t have time right now we’re driving to the hospital…” Colby turned to Ian, “What hospital?” he asked.
“Mercy,” Ian said and changed lanes.
“Mercy…” Colby said into the phone and then immediately followed that up with, “I’m hanging up now.”
“Detective Simmons,” Don greeted the older man as he entered the house. Simmons was standing in the small living room talking to one of the forensic people taking photos.
”Agent Eppes,” Simmons nodded at Don, ”I was surprised you weren’t here when I arrived.”
”We got caught in traffic,” Don looked around the room, ”Seems mostly untouched,.”
”Killer didn’t do much more than drag the victim through this room,” Simmons pointed over at a door where a man was dusting the frame for fingerprints, ”Bastard killed the poor kid in the kitchen. Not a pretty sight.”
”But the baby was all right,” Don said, ”At least as far as Colby told me.”
”Colby?” Simmons frowned then nodded, ”Agent Granger. Yeah, he told me the child had a shallow cut on its thigh - probably from the cesarean…and I use that term very loosely. Looks more like Paulson hacked his way to what he wanted.”
”That bad?” Don asked as he walked over to the kitchen door.
”Worse,” Simmons admitted and followed the agent through the door the crime scene investigator was holding open.
Don stopped moving the second he saw Drew’s mangled body on the floor. The tips of the carrier’s strawberry blond hair were coated with drying blood coloring it a rusty red. The floor around the body looked as if it had been painted crimson.
”Good thing your boys got the bastard,” the detective said and walked over to Paulson’s body. Simmons crouched down and seemed to be studying the dead man’s face, ”Funny how they never look like homicidal maniacs, isn’t it?” Simmons asked rhetorically.
It always amazed him how entertaining people found death and murder. People were lined up outside the yellow tape trying to get a good look. They would almost certainly talk about what they had seen at the dinner table in a few hours, regaling their families with the bloody tale of the dead carrier. He saw some of the onlookers holding up cell phones frantically taking pictures.
A flash of curls and a familiar face made Don run up to the crowd and call out Charlie’s name, ”Charlie! Hey!”
”Don?” Charlie managed to push his way through the crowd resulting in a few sneers from the people around him. The carrier was holding a large paper bag in his hands, his fingers grabbing the paper tightly.
”Let him through,” Don told the rookie and the tape was lifted to allow Charlie inside.
Megan got up and as she poured the steaming coffee into the mug she nodded, listening to Ian’s voice through the earpiece, ”So far the police seem to have a handle on things down at the crime scene,” she said, knowing that her voice would be picked up by the small microphone attached to the earpiece.
”I’m coordinating with their forensic team and we’ll have our guys there in a few minutes. This whole thing happened so fast,” she walked over to the computers and tapped the technician on the shoulder. He got out of the chair and she sat down, ”We’re working on the press release right now. Sad how the news channels can’t seem to get all this fast enough now that it has a nice helping of blood and tragedy attached to it. We could barely make them air Paulson’s description and now their calling us and practically banging on the door demanding full access to all the information.”
Don kept checking on Charlie. The carrier was sitting in the passenger seat. His hands were empty, the takeout bag forgotten on the lawn in front of Drew’s house. Charlie finally let out a small sound, his shoulders shaking. Don took a right turn and parked the car in front of a supermarket. Charlie didn’t seem to notice before Don unbuckled the carrier’s seatbelt and then his own.
“What?” Charlie blinked, a few tears running down his cheeks.
“Come here,” Don reached over and pulled Charlie closer, wrapping his arms around the smaller body and hugging him. He could feel Charlie’s warm breath against his shoulder, moist through the fabric of his t-shirt. Charlie shivered once and then began to cry. His body shaking with the effort, his hands grabbing hold of Don’s shirt.
“I’m sorry,” Don whispered against Charlie’s curls, “I’m so sorry.”
Alan burst through the double door leading into the emergency room and hurried over to the receptionist‘s desk. Louisa was trying to keep up, her cheeks red and her breath coming a little fast.
“Ellis,” Alan almost yelled at the receptionist, a middle-aged woman.
“Excuse me?” she looked up from her screen and looked from Alan to Louisa.
“Ellis, Charlie Ellis,” Louisa huffed and leant against the desk.
The receptionist pulled her keyboard closer and started tapping away at the keys and studied the screen, “I’m sorry,” she looked up at them, “We don’t have a Charlie Ellis. When was he admitted?” she asked calmly.
“Just now,” Alan informed her, “He would have been admitted just now.”
“Then he might not have been registered yet,” the receptionist said and turned the screen away when Alan tried to take a look at it.
“Wait?!” Alan said disbelievingly, “Charlie’s my son! I have a right to know!”
Alan turned and saw Don standing at the end of the hall, Charlie beside him.
Charlie looked from Alan to Don and back. He faintly heard Louisa’s surprised voice. A rushing sound filled his ears, the air suddenly feeling thick as syrup, lazily running down his throat, filling his lungs. Don’s hand flexed painfully on Charlie’s shoulder and he could distantly hear the agent talking. Charlie turned, looked up at Don and managed to mutter, “I-I don’t feel so…” before he collapsed.
A blurry whiteness intersected by square boxes of light flew over his head making him feel dizzy. He closed his eyes, hoping the dizziness would go away. A warm hand on his arm made him look up at a man dressed in green walking next to him as he floated down the never ending hallway.
“Mr. Ellis?” the man said and patted Charlie’s arm, “I know you’re feeling nauseous but that’s just the drugs taking affect. We’re prepping you for a cesarean,” someone handed the doctor a clipboard and he flipped through the papers on it, not missing a single step or slowing down, and then handed the clipboard back, “Your baby’s heart rate is irregular,” Charlie tried to swallow but his throat felt dry.
“You just let us take care of things,” the hand resting on Charlie’s arm disappeared, “We’ll get the both of you through this, don’t you worry.”
“You son of a bitch,” Don was slammed against the wall, the suddenness of the attack making him gasp, “You stupid son of a bitch!” Colby spat in his face.
“Come on, man,” David tried to pull Colby away but the other agent wasn’t letting go.
“Dear God, Colby,” Louisa whispered from behind them, “this isn’t the time for…”
“He didn’t want any contact,” Colby slammed Don against the wall one last time, “But you just wouldn’t take no for an answer, would you?” Colby stepped away, his body shaking with unspent anger. Don slid back down into the plastic chair, “If anything happens to him or the baby,” Colby grounded out through clenched teeth, “I’ll fucking shoot you myself.”
The doctor smiled at the people assembled in the waiting room. The sun was up, not that any of these people would have noticed it. Most of them looked ready to keel over. The young man that had been introduced to him as the carrier’s partner abruptly stood up causing three unopened magazines to fall to the floor.
“Is he all right?”
“Yes,” the doctor pulled one of the few unoccupied chairs over so he could sit closer to the waiting relatives, “He did lose more blood than I liked and we had a close call with the infant. But…” the doctor smiled, “Your daughter is fine. A little small but she’s four weeks early so that‘s to be expected.”
“A girl,” came the happy question from Louisa as she sat up straighter in the chair, “And she’s healthy?” she asked with concern.
“We’ll keep her in an incubator for a few days just as a precaution. She did make a rather dramatic entrance after all,” the doctor patted Colby on the arm, “Charlie will be moved to the carrier maternity ward as soon as the nurses have him ready. You can see him when he’s settled there.”
“Doctor…” David asked and looked down at the man’s nametag, “Kuska, do you know anything about the infant we…”
“Oh, yes,” the doctor interrupted, “The cut on his leg was minute. He was full term and fit as a fiddle as soon as we had him warmed up and tended to his injury. He already has quite a few fans among the nurses.”
“Thank God,” David sighed and some of the tension left his shoulders as he breathed deeply for the first time in what felt like hours.
Colby entered the room and waited while the nurse checked the readings on the monitor standing next to the bed. The twenty-something carrier wrote down a few notes on his clipboard and then quietly talked to Charlie, smiling down at the groggy patient.
Colby cleared his throat and the nurse looked up and waved him inside, “It’s okay,” he said, “I’m done checking on him. He’s still a little out of it but that’s mostly just the anesthetics,” the nurse pointed to a kidney bowl on the tall bedside table, “He might get nauseous.”
“Thanks,” Colby said and the nurse left closing the door behind him. Colby walked over to the bed and noticed that a ray of light was shining through the window and right onto Charlie’s face. He moved over to the window and turned the blinds, blocking the sunlight.
“C..Colby,” Charlie whispered in a raspy voice.
“Hey,” Colby turned around.
“Baby?” Charlie managed and then coughed, wincing when the motion pulled on the stitches.
“A girl,” Colby carefully sat down on the edge of the bed, “You did great, Charlie.”
“Seen her yet?” Charlie licked his lips trying to moisten them.
“No,” Colby reached out for the glass of water on the table and then looked uncertainly at Charlie’s prone figure, “I’m going to call the nurse back. I don’t want to make you sit up if you shouldn’t.”
“You should go…go see her, make sure she’s okay,” Charlie closed his eyes.
“I will the second I’m convinced you’re doing fine,” Colby opened the drawer in the bedside table, “A straw…that should work. Here have a drink but not too fast.”
“I’m okay,” Charlie sighed when he finished drinking the water. Colby reached out and dried a few stray droplets away, “Go see her,” the carrier repeated and closed his eyes, “I’ll sleep a little…”
Colby stopped short when he walked through the doors to the nursery. He was wearing the green scrubs that allowed him to enter the room and his hands had been washed with the disinfectant soap the nurse had provided. Over by the corner of the room Alan stood with Louisa. They were both peering into an incubator and whispering to each other.
One of the nurses approached Colby, “You must be Mr. Granger,” the blond woman smiled, “I just offered your mother and your father-in-law to take your little girl out so they could hold her.”
“I-I’d like to do that,” Colby felt a little uncertain when he walked over to join Alan and Louisa.
“She’s so beautiful,” his mother said, “I think she looks like Charlie. Look at that face,” the woman gushed and Alan chuckled.
“Congratulations,” the older man put a hand on Colby’s shoulder, “I’m aware there’s a lot of things we need to discuss but…” he looked back at the incubator.
“All that can wait,” Louisa ended the awkward silence, “This is more important,” she said as they watched the nurse open the incubator and wrap the little infant in a blanket. The blond nurse turned and carefully handed the precious bundle to Colby.
“Feels different,” Colby murmured, “Simon was much bigger. She feels tiny.”
“She’ll be fine,” the nurse reassured him, “The doctor says she’ll be out of the incubator for good in two days or so. Everything looks fine. She’ll gain weight soon, fill out a little,” the nurse pointed over at the other end of the room where a desk stood, “If you need anything I’ll be right over there. You can hold her for a little longer but then she has to go back in the incubator.”
Don tiptoed into the bedroom and did his best not to make any noise at all. He almost fell face first down on the floor when he stepped on a soft toy that let out a loud squeak. He stumbled a few steps and ended up bracing himself against the small bed causing it to move a few inches, digging a scratch into the floor.
“Daddy?” a sleepy voice asked and Don reached out to fumble near the wall for the switch on the Mickey Mouse lamp he knew stood on the bedside table.
“No,” Don said and grinded his teeth when his knees protested as he stood up just enough to sit down on the bed, “Just me.”
“My Daddy coming home soon?” Simon sat up in bed, pillow creases on his cheek.
“Doctor says it’ll be a few more days before your daddy is okay to come back home,” Don rubbed his hand against the place where his knees hurt from the impact with the floor, “Your baby sister needs to be ready to come home too.”
“Dad said I can go see her tomorrow,” Simon nodded as if challenging Don to contradict him.
“Better get all the sleep you can then,” Don said and started to pull the covers back up over the squirming boy.
“I’m thirsty,” Simon said hopefully.
“Oh no you don’t,” Don held up his index finger and shook his head, “Your Dad warned me about this. First it’s water, then you need to go pee, then it’s monsters or another bedtime story. No, Sir. Not falling for it.”
Simon giggled and pulled the covers up to his chin, “How long until it’s tomorrow?”
“Well, if you close your eyes and sleep,” Don hobbled over to the door, “Then it won’t feel like a long time.”
“’K” Simon closed his eyes tightly.
Colby entered the nursery and looked a little surprised to see Charlie sitting by a small plastic crib in the opposite end of the room of where their little girl’s incubator stood.
The carrier looked up from the sleeping infant, “Hi, Colby. I’m just sitting with him. He doesn’t have anyone else,” he explained as Colby walked over to join him, “The nurse says Child Services are coming for him tomorrow.”
“Drew didn’t have any contact with his family?” Colby asked and took one of the chairs standing in the corner and sat down next to Charlie.
“No,” Charlie traced the infants cheek with a thumb and the child moved a little in his sleep.
“Charlie…I…Is this a good idea. I know you,” Colby said quietly, “You’ll get attached and I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“He’s just so alone,” Charlie voice quivered.
“He might get adopted,” Colby took Charlie’s hand.
“You know he won’t. Nobody wants a carrier when they could adopt a perfectly healthy girl or boy,” Charlie leant against Colby’s arm, “He’ll end up in a group home surrounded by people who’re getting paid to care for him.”
“I wish we could take him in, adopt him, but you know they don’t allow carriers to adopt. And I’d be out of question because of my job,” Colby put his arm around Charlie, “I wished there was a way but…”
“I know,” Charlie sighed and closed his eyes.
“Maybe if we contacted Drew’s family through the database,” Colby suggested, “Asked if they would be interested. If we went through the official channels the authorities might accept a sibling or maybe another close relative to adopt him.”
“Maybe,” Charlie whispered, “But…you know what I see when I look at him?”
“Don’t do this to yourself, baby,” Colby begged.
“I…I’ve seen Alan around and I know he’s been here to see our girl but I haven’t talked to him yet…” Charlie turned his head, resting his forehead on Colby’s shoulder, “What am I supposed to say to him.”
“I don’t know,” Colby kissed the top of Charlie’s head, “I kinda slammed Don against a wall.”
“It’s all fucked up,” Charlie mumbled. They sat there for a few seconds. Colby watched the baby squirm around a little under his covers but the second Charlie reached out and touched the baby’s hand the squirming stopped, “Do you think…” Charlie began, “You think Don went as far as getting my record from the police.”
“No,” Colby said with a certainty he didn’t really feel, “God, Charlie, I hope he didn’t.”
“If he did…he wouldn’t have told Alan…would he?”
“I…I honestly don’t know,” Colby felt the rage that had been simmering flare up again, “You need me to stay?” he asked.
“No,” Charlie shook his head, “I’ll feed our girl and then head back to my room to sleep.”
“Guess we have to find a name for her,” Colby kissed Charlie and got up from his chair.
“Don’s mother’s name…I mean…my mother’s name was Margaret. I asked Don,” Charlie said hesitantly.
”You want to name her Margaret?”
”I was thinking we could name her Margaret and call her Maggie,” Charlie looked up at Colby.
“Colby?” Don said when he opened the door to his apartment.
“Don,” the other agent simply said and shouldered his way into the hallway.
“You gonna throw me against the wall again?” Don asked and closed the front door.
“Not unless you give me reason to,” Colby simply answered and walked into the living room. The entire room looked as if someone had only just moved in. Boxes were stacked in the corner and not a single picture had been put up, “You actually live like this?” Colby asked disbelievingly.
“I’m mostly at my dad’s place,” Don sat down on the couch, “Sit down, Colby. I just got out of bed and you're giving me a headache pacing back and forth like that.”
“Right,” the younger man stopped pacing and turned to face Don instead, “I’m going to ask you a question, Don, and if I find out you lied to me I’ll ask for a transfer.”
“Did you get your hands on Charlie’s police record?” Colby asked.
“His record…He has a record?” Don felt like his whole life was slowly sliding out of his grasp.
“I’ll take that as a no then,” Colby slumped down on the couch next to Don.
“He…what did he do?” Don’s voice was strained as he tried to keep it under control.
“What he had to do to get by,” Colby tilted his head back and stared at the loft, “You should paint this place,” he said, “Don’t tell your dad about Charlie. If Charlie feels it’s something you guys need to know he’ll tell you.”
“Right,” Don got up and looked around his depressing apartment.
“And paint this fucking place and get some more furniture. And some goddamn pictures up on the walls,” the younger agent carried on.
“You changing careers, Granger?” Don asked, “Starting your own interior decorating business?”
“No,” Colby answered as he walked into the hall and opened the front door, “But I won’t have you babysitting my kids in a dump like this.”
“Babysit?” Don stared at Colby’s broad back, “I’m going to babysit?”
“Yep,” Colby said just as he left the apartment and slammed the door behind him.
“We’ll look into Drew’s family. If they’re interested we would be glad to see the child adopted,” the burly woman from Child Services said.
“You’ll keep me informed?” Colby asked and held out his hand. The woman shook it.
“You know, we have programs that make it possible for you and your partner to stay in contact with the child even if he isn’t adopted,” she informed him.
“We’d be very interested in that, Mrs. Bianchi,” he continued, “If the laws were different we would be adopting him but…”
“Maybe in a few years,” she said and picked up her heavy leather backpack, “But I’ll make sure you get a chance to be involved.”
“Let’s hope Drew’s family steps up to the plate,” Colby said as he followed her out of the office.
Don looked down at the sleeping baby. The small card on the plastic see-through crib said “baby girl Granger”. He reached out and removed the pink knitted cap that covered her head. Stray wisps of black hair were valiantly trying to cover the child’s head. She crinkled nose and her rosy lips moved restlessly.
“Be careful,” Alan whispered from behind Don, “She’ll get cold.” The older man very carefully put the cap back over the soft hair. The infant’s face creased, she started whimpering and her small fists waved aimlessly under the soft pink blanket.
“Is she okay?” Charlie asked from the hospital bed.
“She’s fine,” Alan reassured his son, “Don just woke her up.”
“Hey,” Don protested quietly.
“Could you bring her here?” Charlie slowly sat up and yawned. Alan hurried over and fluffed the pillows so Charlie could sit more comfortably.
Don picked up the baby.
“Support her head,” Alan reminded him.
“I know, Dad, I know,” he tucked the blanket around the small body and carried her over to Charlie. He carefully placed her in Charlie’s arms and took a step back. The infant started moving her head searchingly against Charlie’s chest.
“She’s hungry,” the carrier pushed the tip of his little finger against the infant’s lips. She greedily started sucking on it.
“I’ll go ask the nurse to bring in a bottle,” Alan disappeared out the door and silence fell over the room.
“Look,” Don started and then realized he had no idea what to say, “I-I um…I’m sorry.”
“Colby told me he paid you a visit,” Charlie smiled down at the child nursing on his finger.
“Yeah, he did,” Don sat down in the chair next to the bed, “And I want you to know that I never tried to find out more than what the database could tell me. Just your name. And if you ever want…If you ever get to that point where you feel you can trust me enough to tell me about your past then…I’d be honored.”
Charlie was just about to answer when Alan came through the door with a full baby bottle in his hand, “Simon and Colby are out in the hallway,” he handed the bottle to Charlie, “Seems the whole team plans to come by and shower you with gifts.”
“Really,” Charlie said and looked over at the door, “Um…Alan could you maybe help me find some clean clothes. I honestly can’t remember when I last changed…or when I last had a bath.”
“Knew something stank,” Don mock whispered and only just avoided the hand reaching out to slap him upside the head, “Hey, watch the hair, Charlie.”
“Well, that was nice,” Charlie closed his eyes and smiled when Simon cuddled closer to him in the bed, “A little hectic but still nice.”
“David said, Jayden used three hours to pick out that pink outfit,” Colby grinned as he put the baby down in the plastic crib, “I have the feeling Jayden has him wrapped around his little finger.”
“They look happy,” Charlie rubbed his hand up and down Simon’s side.
“Mmmm,” Colby tucked the baby in and kissed the small frowning brow, “Is it just me or does she look serious all the time?”
“She’s thinking big thoughts,” Charlie whispered when Simon turned in his sleep, ending up with one hand hanging over the edge of the bed.
“God help us all,” Colby chuckled.