The bathroom’s nearly the same size as the bedroom. There isn’t an actual bathtub, only a gigantic depression in the floor in one corner with those funky water jets in the walls around its perimeter. Gigantic, but not long enough for Jared or Jensen to stretch out completely in. Not deep enough for Jared to drown himself either, no matter how hard he tried.
There is a tall window with a ledge just across the jacuzzi, revealing a grand view of the city from what feels like the top of the world. Feels like he’s in a condo in the sky surrounded by thick dark gathering rainclouds. Lightning flashes so close, he winces his eyes shut against the frightful brilliance.
Jensen is ordering him about again. Fucker. Jared does as he’s told.
He sits on the edge of the ledge, legs pressed together. Hunches over with his forearms resting on his thighs, hides himself as best as he can. Doesn’t look up. Wheezes because his lungs are paralyzed and his brain’s too stunned to do anything about it.
Ackles knows. Ackles knew.
Jensen wraps a big white towel around his waist, pearl drops glistening on his torso as they quietly slither down to meet their demise in the folds of the lush fabric. He holds out another towel to Jared, who after a few seconds realizes he’s still naked, and takes it. Puts it on his lap, absently pulls up a corner to his chest. Hugs it like it’s the only friend he’s got left in the whole world.
That may quite possibly be true.
Jensen paces, rubs at his chin with a palm. Other hand poised at his hipbone teasingly visible just above the edge of the towel. Jared looks away, not sure what to do. What to say. Where to look.
He already knew. It’s a relief far greater than he’d hoped. It’s a slap in his face far harder than he’d imagined.
“H-How did you…?”
Jensen scoffs. “I didn’t build Achilles up from the ground with my Daddy’s money, you know.”
Of course. Nothing stays secret from the media. Jared feels suitably rebuked, he looks down and swallows. “Then why?”
Jensen stops pacing, stares at Jared like he’s seeing him for the very first time. “Why what?”
Why did you ask me out? Why did you bring me back to your room? Why did you let them catch you on camera? Why did you lie to me and string me along all fucking night?
Jared shudders, keeps his eyes lowered. Jensen could ask him the same thing, and at least his answer is simple. Twenty thousand dollars.
Jensen’s voice, when he speaks, is soft like velvet, stinging like nettles. “It was Friday night. I was bored.”
Huh. Jared bites his wibbling lip; guess Jensen’s answer is simpler after all.
“I spent the whole week sidestepping you, avoiding you, making sure you never got a chance and just nip this whole nonsense in the bud. But that bastard sure knew what he was doing when he chose you.”
Is that supposed to be a compliment to Marsters or to Jared?
“I had a good week, the conference was great. But it was a conference and it gets dull after the first couple of minutes. This… this was the most excitement I got all week, watching you.”
You mean watching me squirm. Watching me make a fool out of myself. Watching me fail, time and time again.
Jared can’t believe how foolish he’s been. And here he thought he was doing the right thing - barging into the shower thinking he was going to save Jensen from a humiliating ordeal that could potentially destroy his career. Even if it meant risking his disappointment, his scorn and disgust for what Jared is.
His face flushes anew. He knew. He knew all along what he is.
“It doesn’t bother you that they got you… on tape?”
“They got you too. Doesn’t it bother you?”
Jared tries to shrug. What’s he got to lose anyway? He hasn’t seen his parents in four years. Hasn’t spoken to his brother and sister in three. They probably stopped looking for him long ago.
“Or are you the exhibitionist type? Looking to break into the gay porn industry maybe?”
Jared blinks the flash flood away, swallows in vain around the giant angry lump in his throat. “Fuck you.”
And that’s all he can manage. The silence that follows is long and uncomfortable, until Jensen quietly mumbles. “I’m sorry.”
Jared turns away then, wraps his arms tighter around his chest. Once upon a time he could afford to hold all his grudges, big or small, for a very, very long time. He doesn’t have the ego (nor the energy) to do it anymore. And besides, he’s heard worse.
“I got tech teams too you know. Before we went out to the steakhouse, I got Steve to call one over.”
“Steve? The bartender?”
Jensen’s face pulls into a smirk. “And a freelancer. I happen to be all of his preferred clientele.”
I got me some of those too. Should have stuck with them.
“Have you seen Ocean’s Eleven? The new one?”
What the fuck?
“They make a static recording of the duplicate vault, then hack into the hotel’s transmission network and keep playing it back on loop so the security guys never get to know what’s really happening down there. And they’re able to break into the vault invisibly. Remember?”
Jensen waits, and Jared continues to play dumb. They glare at each other for a few seconds. He wonders if Jensen sees the same accusation in his eyes that he sees in Jensen’s.
“Your room and mine were rigged, and we rigged their rig. Far as Morgan and his dogs know, we never came back to our rooms tonight.”
“Morgan?” As in - Jeffrey ‘no comment’ Morgan?
Jensen frowns. Steps in closer just as Jared flinches back. “You really didn’t know?”
Hell, apparently, Jared didn’t know anything. And Jensen knew everything. His head feels light and thinks maybe he’d feel better if he could just throw up. If only there was something in his stomach to throw up…
“What did Marsters tell you?”
Awesome. He knows Marsters too. “He said he worked for your ex-wife.”
Jensen laughs. And even if it’s sort of forced and sort of dripping with sarcasm, it’s still the same sparkling sound from before that had easily sliced through the raging thunder outside, made everything okay for awhile. Now it just makes Jared angry. His shoulders rise and fall as his breaths find root in his lungs again.
“You switched transmissions to keep them occupied? Why not just call him on it and be done with it? Why go through this charade?”
Jensen crosses his arms, one eyebrow arching up proudly. “And miss out on all the fun? All the different ways I could use his own people on his own time to get some well-deserved payback? No fucking way, man. Never underestimate the power of miscommunication. I’ve got him running around chasing his own tail for the next six months at least.”
He looks up just in time to catch the dangerous glint in Jensen’s eyes. No remorse. Does he see any in mine?
“What about everything you said? All that time you spent lecturing me on ethics and obligations to the truth, all that time… you’d been lying?”
Ackles looks hassled now, cornered. Furious.
“Look who’s talking. You do this for a profession for fuck’s sake, Padalecki! I was minding my own business, but you came here to trap me!”
And now he’s pissed too. “You’re the one who came on to me at the bar. Hell I just warned you about the fucking bugs…”
“And what exactly did you do that for?”
Toes curl up on the polished marble floor defensively, but he can’t bring himself to look away.
Go ahead. Tell him, Jared. What the hell did you that for anyway?
Such a stupid, stupid fool. With stupid, foolish hopes, and foolish dreams of staircases that go all the way up to the sky…
Emotions run amok in his gut burbling up into his throat. Pushes everything down with a vengeance, everything that is, but rage.
“Because when you were going on and on about truth and justice and all that bullshit you never believed in yourself, I was actually listening to you!”
Jensen scoffs, his eyes hardening in return. “I can’t believe you’re acting so fucking self-righteous! Man you should be grateful I didn’t call the…”
Ackles bites his lip, but the damage is done. Jared curls his trembling fingers around the ledge on each side to restrain himself. Because if got up and charged the bastard in his blind red rage, he really would call them damn cops.
“Go ahead. Call the cops, blow this whole shit wide open and let everyone know you’re a fucking homo so Morgan wins anyway, you fucking hypocrite.”
His heart thunders so loud in his chest, he thinks it might just explode. Ackles uncrosses his arms and looks at him like he’s poison. Or scum. Poisonous scum. “You don’t get to judge me. Not you.”
“And you do? Why? Because you went to fucking Wharton?”
“Why are you so mad, Jared? Huh? Is it because I turned the tables on you? Or is it because you got fucked twice for nothing?”
His eyes keep threatening to water, but he isn’t going to let them. Won’t give the guy the fucking satisfaction. Not when he knows what Ackles plans to do after he leaves DC in the morning.
He is going to laugh at him, just like he’ll laugh at Morgan. Make a mockery of Jared in front of his friends, the dumbfuck rentboy he screwed for free. The slut that fell for his brilliant ‘tune in and trust me’ speech so hard he forgot to do his job. And he’ll be just another funny story for a month or so…
And then he’ll forget all about him. Hell, what’s there to remember anyway?
“You know you remind me of this asshole I hustled back when I’d just started. The kind that fucks first then finds an excuse to not pay up. You ask me why I’m mad? I’m mad because you’re an asshole, Mr. Ackles. And you just lost my fucking subscription.”
He sees the nerve in Ackles’ neck twitching. The silence lasts for about five acutely uncomfortable seconds.
Suddenly Ackles is stalking towards him. Jared winces as his wrist is grabbed and he’s roughly pulled up to his feet. The towel slips and falls to the floor and he’s dragged naked and wet out into the bedroom.
“Stop it! Jensen, what are you doing?”
There’s terror (and resignation) in his voice, maybe he should have just kept his mouth shut after all. Ackles doesn’t respond, just keeps dragging until they’re back in the bedroom and shoves him not so lightly towards the pile of his clothes on the floor.
“I’m not gonna be the asshole who didn’t pay you for a good fuck, Padalecki.”
Ackles turns away momentarily and Jared closes his eyes. His hands stay balled into fists on his sides but he doesn’t move. He can’t be weak. Must not be weak.
The older man pulls out a table drawer, and he hears scribbling of pen on paper. Then a fierce rip so loud it startles his eyes open.
“Thank you for doing me the great favor of warning me about the fucking bugs after the actual taping. And here’s the compensation Morgan’s not gonna give you.”
He holds a check in his outstretched hand. “It’s blank. You can fill up whatever amount you like.”
“Take it. After all, you’ve earned every penny.”
Ackles runs out of patience soon enough. Flings the check to the floor just on top of Jared’s jeans. Jared resolves not to be the one to break eye contact first, and he doesn’t.
“I want you gone.”
It’s a whisper - hoarse, cold, and hopeless. Jensen Ackles turns his back to him one last time, storms back into the bathroom and locks the door behind him.
“Dude! What the hell are you doing?”
“Well, seeing as Morgan went to so much trouble organizing me this hot little date, might as well sample the goods don’t you think?”
“Jensen, be careful. He’s not as innocent as he looks.”
“I know, Stevie. Here, keep my tie. Don’t lose it, I love it.”
“What exactly do you know about him anyway?”
“Well for one, he hasn’t exactly lied to me yet. Used his real name. It’s pronounced ‘Pad-uh-lecki’ by the way. Told me he teaches basketball to twelve-year olds by day, which is about right. Left out the tiny detail about walking the streets by night, obviously.”
“Obviously. What else?”
“Threw away a potential NBA career over a bad case of DUI. Probably got kicked out or something after that. Allie spoke to his mom on the phone and she hasn’t heard from him in years.”
“Allie? Isn’t she and uh, Welling…?”
“Yep, he’s the one.”
“Lucky sonofabitch. Okay listen, good call on taking him out of the hotel. You never know who here’s clicking you two with their 1.5 Meg fucking cellphones. But don’t take your car. They’ve been watching it all week, hoping you’d go out one of these nights to that big gay club in Georgetown. Take mine if you want, and stop sniggering.”
“Thanks man but it’s okay, we’re walking.”
“Good. But stay away from the main roads please.”
“Fine, I’ll find another way, dig one if I have to. Listen, can you call in Mike and his team?”
“Ee-yeah… maybe. You never know. Tell him to call me in like an hour and I’ll let him know which room but, ask him to prep ‘em both anyway.”
“Just promise me you’ll be careful…”
“Relax, Carlson! Besides I ain’t the one you should be worryin’ about if you know what I mean…”
“I’m kidding! Don’t look at me like that.”
“Oh God, look at him. Fucking preening away for you. This kid could be so much trouble…”
“Honestly? Man I don’t know, I don’t think so. There’s just something about him. I just… feel like I wanna get to know him more. He's younger than I expected but his eyes, his eyes they… look so old…”
Jared hasn’t spoken a word in three days. Not since he left Washington and came back to his apartment in Jersey City. Back to his old, real life. Feels like nothing’s changed. It’s all just the way he’d left it. Everything’s still the same.
He stares at a reflection in the bathroom mirror, but doesn’t recognize himself. He forgets to pull on his warm jacket when he steps out at night and barely notices the cold. Reaches the empty court, ice solidifying around the edges, glistening in the dull light of a weak lamppost at the corner. This court, this school and his students - feels like these are the only things in his life holding him together, he’s been more than ready to fall apart for years now. Doesn’t know what he’d do if he ever lost this job.
A whole minute passes before he realizes it’s Sunday, and it’s way after dark. The kids won’t be coming out to play tonight.
Marsters calls, but Jared doesn’t bother to pick up. After six unanswered rings, he leaves a message.
“You disappointed me, Jared.”
Jared scoffs. Tell me something I don’t know.
“You can keep all the stuff you bought at my expense. Consider it payment for your time and for your discretion. I hope we understand each other.”
Discretion, what’s that? Sorry, guess I failed English in high school too.
“This phone number will be de-activated after this call. Don’t try to reach me. I’ll keep you in mind if we ever need your… services again.”
Jared barely moves. The entendre falls flat, useless. After Ackles, he doesn’t think anyone else’s words could ever succeed in insulting him again. All his defiance is spent. His will to defend destroyed.
“Oh and don’t bother trying to use the credit card either. It’s been canceled.”
The message ends at last. Jared stands, hugging himself numb. Staring at the rusting hoop in the sky, until his crippled knee can’t stand the weight of his broken dreams anymore.
Reaches his door with key ready in hand out of habit, except he doesn’t need it. There’s a bullet hole where the keyhole should be, and the door is slightly ajar. He doesn’t get the time to react or panic, the door opens completely and Rocco’s ugly mug comes into view.
The goon grabs him before he can run, pulls him inside and shoves him roughly to the floor face down. Jared barely manages to brace himself on his hands, saving his face from taking the brunt of the forceful thrust.
“There you are!”
He doesn’t need to look up any further, he’d recognize that voice and the filthy green boots two inches away from his face anywhere.
“Thought you bailed on me, freak. You know you’re not supposed to do that. If you want to live, that is.”
“I… I just…”
Rocco pulls him up to his feet and punches him a couple of times. Jared knows he’s weak and nowhere close to the other man’s build or strength. But he fights back anyway, a natural instinct that never really went away. Only he forgets that Sebastian’s goons always travel in packs.
“Watch the face, boys. That’s my bread and butter you’re beating the shit out of.”
The blows keep falling but he keeps refusing to yield. Then someone crushes his knee with a baseball bat and he screams. Falls to the floor curling into a fetal position, protecting what’s left of his limb, writhing in pain so excruciating, he nearly passes out. They’ve always known that was the way to crush his rebellion.
Sebastian laughs. A low, jarring hyena-like sound even his own men quietly grimace at. Gets up from the nineteen-year old couch and crouches down close to where Jared lies on the floor.
The king pimp pulls Jared’s face up by the hair, painfully. His breath is rank with cheap cigarettes and scotch.
“You’ve been gone six days, boy. A little birdie tells me you might be working jobs of your own. Not trying to cut me out of my hard earned money, are you?”
Pulls his hair again mercilessly, another hand suddenly slaps down hard on his butt and Jared grunts. Spits out blood and bites his lip, not in the mood to give this sonofabitch any satisfaction either.
They turn everything inside out. Check his tiny wardrobe, the drawers, rip his mattress open, break all breakable objects in the room. His apartment is wrecked and still they find nothing. No brochures, no airplane tickets or tags, no new clothes (he hid everything including the Ralph Lauren underwear someplace these brainless idiots would never think of). No cash. No blank checks.
“Come on now. Talk to me. Where did you go off to, huh, freak?”
Jared pretends the hand still fondling his ass is not Spence’s and stays silent. He can’t tell him that Marsters was the one who went around the pimp’s organization and tracked Jared down all on his own, with the help of nothing but his mug shot in Spence’s dirty catalog. And Jared obviously can’t admit to taking the job, the payoff for which was simply too good to pass on, or share.
“You know if you wanted to take some time off, you shoulda come to me! Got a serious new client, wants to take you away to Hawaii.”
Jared winces, the pain in his knee still threatening to rob him of consciousness.
“Likes to play rough, but I told him you’re a big boy, you can take it. You’d like that, won’t you, babyface? Sure you would… it’s why you’re my favorite little slut.”
Spence smirks, squeezing his ass again, lot more forcefully. “Do you remember when I found you, huh? OD’ing on crack? Squatting with twelve other homeless junkies wrapped in old newspaper rags to keep yourself warm, hmm?”
He closes his eyes, doesn’t wanna go back there. But Sebastian likes to rub it in, every damn time.
“You’d be dead by now, if you didn’t have me watching out for ya, ain’t that right, Texas?”
He’d rather be dead, he thinks, except he’s too much of a coward.
“Listen to me boy, listen to my voice very carefully. If you ever try to leave me again, I’ll chop both your legs off at the knees. The whorehouse in Trenton needs a model for their disability catalog. Fix that freaky Sasquatchian height problem of yours too. Major turn-off for some people I know.”
“Be ready at nine tomorrow night. Hawaiian’s comin’ for a test ride.”
Spence presses a finger to his lips first and then the same finger to Jared’s lips in a vulgar mockery of a chaste kiss. Jared flinches hard, but there’s nothing he can do. This is his life now, the life he chose for himself, his penance that until three days ago didn’t quite seem enough.
Then why does he find himself praying for it to end?
Damn you, Ackles.
The men clear out, Rocco whacking Jared’s head hard one last time before he goes. Behind them the door swings open and shut again and again, as a storm picks up outside. Jared holds his shattered knee in both hands and closes his eyes. The cold from the floor seeps through into him and he shivers, but nothing can stop the world from fading away to blessed blackness.
He’s back at the Wolf Creek court.
The court he pretty much grew up on. The court Jeff took him to when he was seven and showed him how to throw his first ball through a not-elementary size hoop. The court where he and Alan first met when they were ten, disliked each other instantly. Butted heads over and over and over again. Until the day the sixth graders came. And they tried to bully their way in, kick the younger ones off the court. Alan and Jared became the talk of the town that day. Everyone talked about how they made one hell of a team, back then and ever since.
That’s where he is now, gazing up at the hoop with longing. He feels small, tiny, and ring seems so far away. The ball’s huge in his little boy hands, he can barely hold on to it. He’s seven again.
Jeff holds his larger, much larger index finger out for him to latch onto. “Time to go home now, baby bro. Come on…”
He wants to take that finger, hold onto his big brother because, God, he misses Jeff so much. Only, if he did, if he let go, the ball will fall. And he can’t drop the ball…
“Here,” A familiar voice calls from his left side, and Jared turns, looks up into the bright, smiling face. The one with the sandy brown hair and sparkling blue eyes.
“Let me hold on to that for ya.”
He is ten now, but Alan looks just the way he did when he saw him last, sitting next to him inside the mangled car…
“It’s okay, Jare’. You can let go now.”
Jared is eighteen now, and he’s running. Running with the basketball in his hands, to hell with the fucking rules. Running on useless legs, running because they’re giving chase, running because they don’t know what it’s like – surviving in the face of his failures, staring hopelessly into the endless voids of his life that can never be filled again.
And so he just keeps running… on empty days and harrowing nights for weeks, months, years. Running because he can’t stop, and he can’t let go. Not yet.
Something cold and prickling is dabbed into the side of his head and he hisses. Remembers the punches he took before Spence told his dogs not to pummel his face. Wishes for a shiner, then hisses again. And what the hell’s that smell? Iodine?
“Shh, it’s okay.”
Jared thinks he knows that voice, just not sure from where.
“You awake? Open your eyes, Jared.”
Why are people always telling him what to do? Jared flinches away, extremely unwilling to wake up just yet.
“Hey, it’s okay, Redster.”
His eyes fly open. Pretty sure he’s still dreaming because…
Jared looks around and every nerve in his face and neck aches. He’s still in his dingy little apartment. But someone’s moved him from the floor to the bed and covered him with his threadbare quilt. Bandaged his knuckles and inflamed knee.
“Is that really you?”
The older brother smiles, as he looks down at him from one side of the bed. Nods subtly, his eyes kind as he leans closer to Jared. “It’s me, little brother.”
Jeff brushes the unruly hair back from a slightly swollen temple. “How’re you feeling? Does your head hurt?”
Jared mutely shakes his head, still not sure if this was real or another hallucination. They must have kicked him in the head again.
“Wow, you’ve grown so much,” the illusion says, the kind eyes running down to Jared’s toes before returning to his face again.
“I haven’t changed, have I? Put on a little weight maybe, yeah?”
He looks at his brother real carefully then. When he speaks, he doesn’t recognize his own voice. “A little.”
Jeff smiles, looks around the dump. His face is pinched tight like he’s doing his damndest to control an outburst of both rage and elation.
“Some place you got here, huh, kiddo? Guess I could live with it. For awhile.”
“Can’t say the same for your friends, of course. Jesus. I missed you so much.”
The tears start to fall then. Uncontrollable. Jared’s face contorts, at which Jeff rushes to gather him into his arms, pulls him up from the bed so Jared can hide his face in his brother’s neck and weep in peace. Jeff rocks him, soothes him, talks to him, the words are all utter nonsense but Jared craves them, clings to them like a dying man to the voice of God.
“I’m so sorry…”
“Shh… it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Time to go home now, kiddo.”
A gasp turns particularly painful. “No! Please, I can’t…”
“Alright, okay! We won’t go back home yet. How about Chicago instead? You can check out my new place, bunk with me for some time? Please say yes kiddo, please.”
He doesn’t know if his consent is obvious through his shameful breakdown but Jeff seems to be satisfied enough, understanding that Jared’s not ready to face the past yet, or his folks. Or Alan’s folks.
Truth is, Jared doesn’t want to live like this anymore. Stuck in this inescapable quicksand, with no way out in sight. He doesn’t think he could go on any longer with this constant dread in his heart, the feeling that he’s coasting in reverse, wasting away, and the painful awareness that if he died it would be no big loss to anyone anyway.
Least of all, to Jensen.
“I… I… don’t wanna be w-worthless anymore. Help me Jeff, p-please…”
“I’m here, kiddo. I got you. I got you… hey, look at me Redster. Guess what?”
Jeff is smiling through his own tears. “It’s October.”
Everybody goes home in October.
Jared’s sobs are harder, like he hasn’t let them out in four years so they’re making the most of their short-lived freedom. And Jeff is holding him tighter.
“Oh Jesus. Thank you. Thank you so much! God, Jared, I don’t know how we could ever thank your friend Allison.”
He snivels. “Who?”
“Allison Mack, your friend from school?”
Jared frowns. Jeff seems reluctant to loosen his grip, but he has no choice when Jared pulls away. Just a bit.
“This girl called Mom like, two weeks ago. Asking for you. Said she was an old friend of yours or something? Mom told her we hadn’t heard from you in four years.”
Ms. Mack. A not so distant memory prickles at the back of his still muddled head.
“And then she called up again this morning. Said she was a reporter in Manhattan now and that she’d used her sources to find out exactly where you were and that you might need our help. So Mom called me and I took the first flight out and…”
Mr. Morgan! Thomas Welling, Vice President of Achilles once said that Morgan house should not be making any new product investments and concentrate on organic growth of your magazines instead. Do you agree?
“Jared? Hey… you okay?”
“Boss? You okay?”
“I’ve never seen you so quiet before.”
“Are you sure about this, Allison?”
“Positive. Took me awhile to uncover the whole picture. Because it’s a partial juvenile delinquency case and because it involved so many of their local kids, the cops weren’t very willing to share all the sordid details. But yeah, I’m sure.”
“The kids were celebrating after winning the State Championship that night. All underage and drinking and one kid’s car hit another. A boy called Alan Cohen died on the spot. He was riding shotgun with Jared.”
“But Jared was not drinking?”
“I have a copy of his blood test right here. And his friends all backed him up. Apparently he was the only designated driver that night who took his job seriously.”
“Then why did he tell me it was his fault?”
“Maybe, he feels guilty? Alan Cohen was his best friend.”
“He’s got this huge, loving family and a great circle of friends that misses him. I mean, think about it – why on earth would a kid like that run away from home and live the life he does today?”
“He’s punishing himself.”
“He also hurt his left leg in the accident badly, truck crashed into his side of the car, and lost his scholarship to Duke’s. Apparently the kid lived and breathed basketball for nearly all his life. And then when he couldn’t anymore…”
“Tell me about this Sebastian Spence.”
“Guy’s a class one dirt-bag. Runs the entire prostitution ring in New Jersey. Girls and boys. Got the whole shebang covered – from streets to brothels to high-end escort agencies, nobody solicits in Jersey without paying him a commission.”
“And he’s never been arrested?”
“Sure he has. Got a rap sheet a mile long but just not enough to put him away for good. Walks free every time. You have to understand this guy’s not your everyday pimp. Got connections with the mafia apparently, and owns a fucking army of hitmen. Word on the streets is that nobody’s allowed to leave on their own. If you’re still fit to solicit, you better be dead if you want out. Don’t know if Jared’s ever tried, but he couldn’t possibly escape alive.”
“He was right, Allie. And I was so wrong. He couldn’t even bring himself to lie to me, and all the time I was lying through my teeth. Everything I presumed about this boy was dead wrong. I had no right to judge him, or anyone else for that matter.”
“What are you…?”
“Make the call. Tell the Padaleckis where their son is so they can take him home. We’ll take care of Spence and his goons in the meantime. Keep them too occupied to so much as think of going after him.”
“How do you know he’s back in Jersey? Maybe he took the money and split? That’s what I’d do.”
“This boy’s something else. I got a phone call from a Daniel Glover last night. He’s Principal of the Norman Middle School in Jersey City.”
“Said he’d just received a check in the mail with my name and signature on it. Made in the name of the school for the amount of eighteen thousand dollars, the exact amount that they needed to build a music program and a basketball program for the school. He wanted to thank me for my generosity. And also verify that the check was legit, I guess.”
“Make the call, Allie. And when you’re done, get to work on Spence. I want this flesh trade racket blown wide open, I wanna see him behind bars for the rest of his miserable fucking life.”
“Will do. Uh, Jensen? Permission to speak freely?”
“When have you not spoken freely, Allie? Kidding. Go on.”
“I… well, we’ve been friends from way before I started working for you, right? And I just… we all saw what your break-up with Danneel did to you. You put up such a brave face when she left for the benefit of everyone else and I can only imagine how much that must have fucked you up inside. And since then, you’ve thrown yourself into your work and it’s been almost a year and you haven’t even looked at another woman. Or man, and…”
“Is there a point to this rambling, Ms. Mack?”
“Yes sir, there is.”
“Would you like to get to it sometime this week?”
“When did you take the ring off?”
“Your wedding band. I saw you wearing it all year. When did you take it off?”
“Please answer me, Jensen.”
“Last week. In Washington.”
“I… I spoke to Jared at the bar out of sheer curiosity, is all, but… next thing I knew I was asking him out to dinner. And that’s when I slipped it off and put it in my pocket. I don’t know why, I just…”
“I think you do know.”
“You say it yourself all the time, Jensen. We’re Achilles. We don’t run and hide from the truth. We give chase, remember?”
“Yes, of course. But, uh… you know how some people can’t multi-task?”
“Are you saying you’ve got something more important than this boy on your mind?”
“Guess my work’s done here. Later, boss.”
Part Five >>