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This first chapter was posted as a response to the HT100 Flash Fic Challenge: It was a Marlowe Kind of Fic. It was beta'd an encouraged along by Maverick.
Midnight Confessions, Chapter One
by Riley Cannon
My pants fastened, I scooped my shirt up off the floor and slipped it back on, but let it hang open as I went over to the windows. The carpet felt rich and soft against my bare feet and I didn't make a sound. It had turned into a chilly night, a breeze blowing strands of fog across the city, but it was good to lounge there and soak up the view. Of course it was a spectacular one; I'd known it would be, and that put a smile on my face. Back during the war, I'd managed to get back here a couple times but it'd always hurt to see her with all the lights turned down. It was good to see her all lit up and sparkly again, like some grand old dame who'd gotten done up in all her best jewelry and gone out to kick up her heels again.
A sound from the bed drew my attention over there, slammed me back to reality and all the ways this had been a really bad idea. Couldn't be anything but a mistake and I shouldn't have let it get this far. It's just ... he wears temptation like one of his tailored suits, makes it look so good a guy can't help but wonder how it would be to try it on and see how it fits. The hell of it was, the fit was good, maybe the best I'd ever had -- but I had to give it back.
One, he's my client and this isn't part of the services provided. Two, I'm not so sure I even trust him. Not that he's lied to me, not outright, but I can't shake this feeling he's holding back a few crucial chunks of information. My other hunch about him, though, that's the one wouldn't stop eating away at me. Was Toby the same guy those witnesses had seen talking with Timmy Kirk, the one who'd made threats against him -- just a couple hours before somebody pumped a slug through his heart?
I looked at Toby tumbled across those soft, soft sheets, the streetlights slanting across his body -- that body I couldn't get enough of, couldn't touch enough, kiss enough, fuck enough -- and knew he could do it. Back him into a corner, and he'd do whatever he had to, and it's not like the world's a poorer place for lack of Timmy in it anymore. Didn't much bother me if he had plugged Timmy, either. No, what kept gnawing at me was how, without him even saying a word, I was ready to do whatever I could to keep him from being slapped in cuffs and made to pay for that.
Nobody's ever pulled that out of me, never made me want to lay myself on the line -- and I'm not so sure I like it. I sure as fuck don't trust it. There's too much potential for me to wind up doing something stupid, something without any kind of profit in it, and all because being around him gives me this zing right down to my toes.
And that ain't even the fucked up thing. No, that part's how he made me feel all that long before I ever knew what it was to hold him in my arms and kiss him.
He was awake now and watching me in that way he's got that feels like maybe he can see right through me, like he knows everything that makes me tick. Hell, maybe he does. That gets to me too, that he's as good as me when it comes to sizing someone up. What if he did that with me and all this time he's been playing me along, just so I'll wind up in this place, ready and willing to lay it all on the line for him? I rake my eyes over his body, remember him all wrapped up around me like he couldn't get enough ... and I gotta wonder if maybe he's in the same place, blindsided by what's happened and wondering all those same things about me. Flip it around some, and he'd even have cause to wonder if it was me sent Timmy off to meet his maker.
Instead of saying anything -- which was damned unusual for him -- Toby just stretched out real comfortable and patted the spot beside him, wanting me to come back to his bed. If I had an ounce of sense in my head, I would have grabbed my shoes and coat and hit the door running. Instead I went over and sat down and let him pull me to him, sliding his hands under my shirt and up my back as he kissed me.
He piped up then, purring against my ear, "Were you going somewhere?"
I give him the truth. "Thought about it."
"Why?" His mouth drags along my jaw, tongue flicking against my skin.
My eyes were half-closed and I couldn't have dragged myself out of that bed if the house was on fire. "'Cause this is a bad idea," I told him, threading my fingers through his hair and bringing him around so I could kiss him.
"How?" His knuckles scrape my cheek. "How is this a bad idea?"
"All kinds of ways," I whispered back, too busy kissing him to remember what any of them were, though. That's what he does to me, makes me stop thinking, makes me only want to have him, even when it's the wrong time and place...
a couple of hours ago
"Sooooo -- we just sit and wait?"
My hands rested lightly on the steering wheel. "Yeah, that is pretty much the definition of a stakeout." And if he was going to sit over there and beat his chops about being bored, he could just hit the pavement now, 'cause it wasn't like I'd sent him an invite to come along.
He confined himself to blowing out a quiet huff, gaze flicking along the street and over the humble facade of the Church of the Holy Light, watching as the evening congregation poured out into the street. Done up in their best duds, they headed for home, all aglow with their faith in God and Reverend Cloutier, cleansed of their sins and bodily ills. Toby watched them all, brow furrowed with a thoughtful frown that also pulled down the corners of his mouth. "You really think all these people are being conned?"
I watched the crowd thinning out, lifted my shoulders. "Not all of 'em, no. A couple'll be his accomplices, the ones who put on the best show during the healing," I told him. Some pitiful soul would hobble up to the Reverend on their crutches, moaning and groaning with the pain, and Cloutier'd look at them like he was right there feeling everything with them, taking it into himself. He'd lay hands on them, rolling his head and trembling like this power's working through him, and then he'd give this great shout and stagger off into the arms of his assistants, while the gimp would throw their crutches away and shout hallelujah, praise the Lord. "Then pass around the hat, of course, so the good Reverend can scrape together the bare necessities to continue with his ministry," I finished up.
"You're very cynical," Toby said, tapping out a cigarette and striking a match.
I took it for a compliment. "I've seen the show."
He sighed again, blowing out smoke, and cranked down the window. "People need to believe in something."
I watched him bring the cigarette to his lips again, take a long pull on it. "So what do you believe in?" I asked, watching him brush a speck of tobacco off his lips.
"Not too much lately." He took another drag, blew out the smoke and caught me watching him, caught me envying that cigarette and wanting to haul him over so I could taste it on his tongue. "What about you?" he asked, eyes locked on mine.
And it ain't often I'm the first one to break eye contact and look away. "Faith's been kinda hard to come by," I admitted, and had to sneak a peek, had to watch his lips wrap around the tip of that cigarette, cheeks hollowing out for a second as he sucked hard.
"It wasn't always that way, though," he said, looking at me, and I knew he was talking about that ink on my shoulder.
"Meant something once," I said and dragged my gaze away from him, reminding myself I was sitting out here to eyeball the church, not play googly eyes with my client. "Doesn't much anymore."
"Think a laying on of hands would help?" he asked and I had to skew a look around at him, trying to read his face in the dark.
"Not the Reverend Cloutier's," I said, not getting a clue from him.
"And I wasn't talking about the Reverend," Toby said and made a move toward me, cigarette crushed out in the ashtray as his other hand rested on my arm, squeezing and kneading -- and damned if I didn't feel something sharp and warm go right through me.
Remembering I was on his dime was getting harder and harder. Another second and the windows would've been too steamed up for me to spot the Reverend just coming out of the door, locking up behind himself before running down the steps and hopping into a jalopy parked down the street. Even so, I had to give myself a moment to catch my breath -- and nothing had even happened. Christ. Hands braced against the steering wheel, I gave myself a shake, keeping a sideways look on Toby back in his own space and giving nothing away. Not unless a guy looked real close and caught a glint of a cat-in-the-cream kinda smile in his eyes.
That smile rubbed me the wrong way all of a sudden. It felt like he'd stolen my game and I wasn't sure I liked being on the other end of things.
"You stay put," I told him as I climbed out of the car. "I won't be long."
"What if you are?"
"It's a piece of cake, Beecher. Now pipe down and do what I tell you," I ordered, and got a kick out of him stewing over that, jaw line firming up like he'd have words to say soon as I got back. Before he could think up something snappy, I agitated the gravel and slipped into the alley behind the church.
Paying that call on the preacher earlier today hadn't been a complete waste of time. Sure, Cloutier had dodged most of my questions, but he'd let slip plenty without evening knowing. A man just needed to read between the lines. Even more important was how the Reverend had given me a guided tour of the joint, letting me see what an upright and innocent operation he had going on. Not only did that let me learn the lay of the land, but the way he'd rushed me out of a couple places also gave me an idea where to start looking.
Exactly what I was keeping an eye out for ....? Yeah -- I climbed up the fire escape and had to admit that part was still up in the air. Something small, something incongruous, the kind of item wouldn't set off a ping in the ordinary way of things. It would only signify for the Reverend. And me.
I tried the window and confirmed it opened smooth and easy as I'd pegged it, and climbed on through. It was dark, but enough light came in from the street for me to make my way along the hallway and not bang into anything on the way to Cloutier's office.
The Reverend had been cordial enough in here, letting me pull up a chair and offering a cup of coffee. He'd let slip there was a safe hidden behind that third-rate Last Supper up on the wall, shooting a look over there when I'd asked him, kidding like, where he kept all the loot. No mistake, I was itching to pop that safe and have a look, but safe-cracking's not one of my particular skills, and I didn't think Cloutier would be careless -- or stupid -- enough to keep anything really incriminating stashed there. Nothing like that was liable to be hidden away in his desk, either, but like I said, might be something that pinged.
I needed some more light for this and dug out my penlight, gripping it between my teeth as I slid out the middle drawer and just let the light play over the contents for a minute. There was everything you'd expect to find -- paper clips and rubber bands, some sheets of fancy writing paper for doing business with his high class marks ... and I kept real still then, admiring the little trap he'd left. Neat: somebody carelessly riffling through the desk would trip it and never know. You'd reach all the way back and snag hold of something tucked away, felt like a box, and in the whole process you would have dislodged this toothpick jammed in there. Chances were, you'd never even notice, and you sure as fuck wouldn't think anything of it. If you spotted it ahead of time, though, you could pluck it right out and remember exactly where it went before you opened up that box to see what was inside.
Matchbooks. That was it, about twenty matchbooks lined up neat and tidy in this little box, five of them from nightclubs here in San Francisco, a couple from down in L.A., and the rest I didn't recognize. Made me wonder, though. Made me wonder what a man might find out if he did some digging. Maybe some other girls working these clubs had gone missing and turned up dead?
Twenty of them, and one was from Midnight Confessions, one match torn off -- one match torn off them all, the same one every time. Twenty. Jesus fucking Christ.
I pocketed the matches from Midnight Confessions, and then for good measure I picked up that toothpick and broke it in two, dropping the pieces smack in the middle of the drawer where he'd see them first thing tomorrow. My only regret was that I couldn't be there to see him start sweating.
Otherwise I left everything like I'd found it and let myself back out into the hall -- freezing as I smacked right into someone. "Chris?" the someone whispered, grabbing my arm, and for a second I wanted to clock him one for scaring the shit out of me.
"Thought I told you to stay put," I whispered back, latching onto his arm and tugging him back toward the window.
"You were taking a long time."
Yeah, and he'd just had to come see what was going on, just the way he'd tagged along on this whole operation. I could practically feel him vibrating with the kick he was getting out of all this. "You remember what curiosity did to the cat?" I growled at him, holding the window open for him to climb out onto the fire escape.
He fired me a huffy look. "Thought it was supposed to be a piece of cake."
"Yeah, well, a monkey wrench turned up," I told him, not sure how much else I'd tell him. What the fuck did I even know? Cloutier liked to collect matchbooks. That was it; right now, that was all I had -- that and some gut instinct.
"What kind of monkey wrench?"
I gave him a look. "You really think this is the time and place for this conversation?"
He had to think it over before conceding with a shrug. "Probably not. We should go?"
"That'd be good, yeah." I kept a hold on his arm, starting to head him back to the car, when I heard footsteps scuffing on the gritty pavement and caught a flash of movement up at the mouth of the alley, something crashing and clattering along the ground, and suddenly felt very disinclined to linger in the vicinity. "Come on," I whispered, low and fierce, and we set off running back the other way, somebody shouting behind us, more racket, and then I spotted the stairs angling up between a couple of houses and caught hold of Toby's hand, dragging him over that way. We stumbled up the stairs to a landing and I pulled him deep into the shadows there, one hand clamped over his mouth, my lips right against his ear as I breathed, "Keep quiet." This close, I could really feel how wired he was, and not from anything sensible like being afraid, but just that he was all fired up and rarin' to go. Fucking nutjob.
His heart was beating a mile a minute -- mine too -- as shadowy figures charged on down the alley, never spotting us, and I almost yelped and gave us away as the goddamned nut bit down on my hand. I did jerk my hand away, having another urge to pop him one, when he whispered, "There's better ways to keep me quiet."
Yeah, gag him and put him in a strait jacket maybe. "Yeah, like what?" And I'd barely got the words out before he was hooking a hand around the back of my neck, fingers pulling at my hair as he yanked me to him and kissed me, flicking his tongue into my mouth. Yeah that ... that was a pretty good technique. I got both arms around him and pressed him back against the railing, and think I might've whimpered as he licked the roof of my mouth.
"Jesus..." I dragged my lips along his cheek, breathing hard, reaching out to steady myself against the handrail. The wood was firm and solid, but so was Toby and all I could think was how I'd never felt anyone come to life that much in my arms. No, that's a lie. I could think of something else. Kissing him some more, and some more after that until our lips were bruised and swollen and all we could taste was each other.
I chased the taste of that cigarette and made him moan this time before easing up and leaning my forehead against his. "There's better places for this," I told him, starting to pull back.
He snagged hold of my coat, kept me there. "Here's fine," he said and got my mouth again, putting up quite the persuasive argument. I might've caved, might have gone along with him -- if a goddamn cat hadn't come screeching out of nowhere, bouncing off the railing and tearing off down the stairs like a pack of hellhounds was on its tail. That wasn't even what killed the mood, though. Nope, that came as a door creaked open and some dame bawled out, "Foofie! Foofie, come back here!"
This time it was Toby covering my mouth to keep me from laughing, the same wild humor dancing in his eyes. "Oh God," he got out in a tiny gasp, hanging onto me. "Rain check?"
I nodded, didn't have any choice, and kept any disappointment to myself as we made it back to the car without any further hullabaloo going on -- aside from Foofie sittin' on the fence and serenading whatever lady cat he was after. I slid behind the wheel, knowing there wouldn't be another time, Beecher'd just been fired up by the excitement -- and so I wasn't expecting it when he reached over and dragged me back for another kiss. Maybe this kiss wasn't charged with the same kinda reckless abandon, but it wasn't lacking much. And opening my mouth to him and kissing him back, I could've sworn I felt the power of the lord.
"Sooooo..." Toby stroked my belly, fingers dabbling in the sticky mix of sweat and semen splattered there.
"So." I turned my head on the pillow to look at him, about all I could move now. "This still ain't a good idea, Toby."
He sighed. "Do I have to give you another demonstration as to why you're wrong about that?"
I managed a tired smile and reached over to touch his face. "Beech, if you can get us both up again now you got a medal comin'."
He smiled back, scooted closer. "Just don't try sneaking off in the dark again," he said, real serious now. "Be here when I wake up, Chris."
I told him I would be and even meant it, and lay awake for a long time with him warm and sleeping in my arms, halfway hoping the sun would never rise.
The sun was barely climbing the sky when something jarred me awake. For a second I couldn't place it, there was just Toby spooned up behind me, feeling heavy and warm -- then a fist pounded the door again, my name barked out at the same time, and I stretched over to the nightstand to grab my gun as our visitor barged on inside.
...to be continued...
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