Fifteen ~ Butch
By the time we were getting ready to go meet Ralph and make the Sterling-for-Caliste change the next day, I was wound tighter than a damn Swiss watch. I’d not slept. Between worry for Caliste and the others, talking with the Marshals, and my headache from the gash on my head, there was no resting. Every time I had closed my eyes, I had vivid scenarios about Ralph hurting Caliste, or my fucking car blowing up, or the fact that we now were about to go face down the local mob queen.
“I wish you’d stay here,” I said to Ian for the four thousandth time. He rolled his eyes and let a Marshall strap him into a Kevlar vest that would be worn under his clothes, just like the one I was wearing, and Shin, and Diamond, and Amber. Oh, and Sterling, he had one on as well, only he wasn’t Sterling. He was a Marshall going in with us while the others would, we had been promised, surround Gems and be there to arrest Carlotta and Ralph when the switch was safely made. It was fucking amazing what could be done with makeup and prosthetics these days. Whoever had made that Marshal into Sterling Vesco needed to be working in Hollywood for Steven Spielberg or George Lucas.
There were no Feds or local cops, just the Marshals and us. It was fucking dicey and my nerves were jacked. “Seriously, I have kept your big stupid ass in one piece for over twenty years. I’m not keen on seeing you take a slug to the head over this.”
“This is family.” His words jarred me. Yeah, he was right. A bunch of male escorts had somehow become my family. “This group is all the family we have, aside from each other, and you’re a fucking pain in my ass for an adopted little brother. Emphasis on the little.”
I wanted to flip him off but found that I didn’t have it in me. Instead, I called him an asshole, then hugged him hard. Just once. After that embrace, we filed out of Blue Moon and into our own vehicles so not to attract any attention when we left the plant. The Marshalls had come in on the guard shift change, dressed as my guys in dark blue uniforms in case someone was watching from the bushes. Which I was rather sure they would be. I would if I were on the other side of this thing.
“You ride with me,” Ian said as we walked toward a dark blue Jeep Cherokee that Shin had recently purchased. I dropped down to check the underbelly, even though the Marshals had swept every vehicle we’d be using. Shin and Ian said nothing when I got up, dusted off my knees, and nodded. We climbed in, me behind the wheel, Ian riding shotgun and Shin in the back. Diamond, Amber and “Sterling” filled a red Durango truck behind us.
“I hope they fall for the double,” I mumbled as we rode over the final speed bumps, then eased out onto the four lane to head to Colchester. The headlights cut through a light fog creeping along the road.
“He’s the same height, weight, build, and skin tone. The beard will help cover the difference in their jawlines,” Ian tossed out.
“Also, keep in mind that most powerful, rich, white people think all of us who aren’t powerful, rich, white people look the same,” Shin commented dryly from the back. Ian and I said nothing, only nodded sadly.
“Hopefully, by the time Carlotta realizes he’s not the real Sterling, we’ll have Onyx out of harm’s way and the Marshals can swarm in,” Ian said, his eyes nervously locked on the side of the road. I wasn’t worried about an ambush out here. Carlotta wanted us in one place to execute us all, of that I was sure. The ride into town and then across the bridge went quickly, traffic being light at close to midnight. I shot the churning Colchester River a glance as we rode over it. I wondered if this would be the last time I saw it. If so, then I’d better make sure I went out in a motherfucking blaze of glory.
Pulling up to Gems, I wasn’t the least surprised to see a few muscle heads stationed outside the front doors. I glanced back at Shin, smiled, and then faced Ian.
“From here on out, we wear our game faces. The Marshals will be setting up along the perimeter and various rooftops with focal vantage points. Let me do the talking. No, I mean it Ian, these people and me, we speak the same language. You just stand there looking smart.”
“Don’t get shot for saying something asinine,” Ian replied.
“As if I ever say anything asinine.” With that, I cut the engine, unbuckled, and threw open the door. “Hey, gents,” I called when my feet hit the sidewalk. All four of the hired hoods reached for hidden weapons. I tossed my hands into the air. “Jesus Christ, calm the fuck down, you morons. You know flashing firearms is going to bring the cops out.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Big and Beefy Numero Uno responded. Yeah, just as I figured. The CPD would be keeping a wide berth of this block for a few hours. Whatever went down wouldn’t be discovered until morning from an anonymous phone call. The dirty fucks.
Ian, Shin, and I filed up along the curb and were patted down. When they found nothing but a pack of smokes that Ian frowned at, we were asked to stand by the wall as our second vehicle arrived. Once they had those boys searched, we were escorted into our own building and the front doors locked.
“Should I bother to ask how they got inside without tripping the alarm system?” Ian asked as we were shoved and manhandled toward the sweeping stairs that led to the second floor.
“I wouldn’t,” I said, stepping in front of our “Sterling” aka Agent Marcus Potts as he shuffled along with the rest, his head bowed, the bright blue Colts ballcap shielding his eyes.
“What’s that smell?” I heard Ian asking Diamond. I’d picked it up as well. A sweet sort of aroma clung the air. Perhaps it was a new cleaning solvent…
“I’d be happy to answer that, Mr. MacDougald,” Carlotta said from the top of the stairs. I looked up and immediately latched into Onyx. Ralph had him by the arm, the barrel of a small silver Derringer resting on my man’s temple. Caliste looked terrified, but impeccably dressed in some frothy lemony dress with white high heels, tiny white gloves, a yellow handbag dangling from his wrist, and beehive blond wig complete with pillbox hat with netting. Ralph, also in a dashing suit, was glowing with pride and lust. It oozed off him. I made a vow that I would kill him for being part of this and if I found out he’d pushed himself on Caliste, I’d dig his rotting bones up and kill the motherfucker again. “We employ the same security company.”
“Welcome to Gems, Mrs. Bianchi-Michaelson,” Ian loudly said as she slowly walked down the stairs, dressed to the nines in a summery white dress and stiletto heels. “I’m sorry to see that you found the doors locked and had to enter illegally. If only your husband were alive, he could have ushered you in, then shown you around. He was quite familiar with the place.”
Carlotta’s glower would have cut the man in two if not for the bulletproof vest he was wearing.
“Yes, so I’ve learned. Seems there are quite a few prominent men in this city have less than savory tastes in bed partners. I personally find men fucking men rather disgusting, but it was fun to see Paul come all over that little whore before we beat him like the nasty dog he is.”
Diamond lunged forward. A dozen guns came up. “Settle your ass down,” I snapped at Diamond, then shoved around Ian to address the woman in charge. “We did what you asked. We brought Sterling Vesco. Now give us Caliste and let us walk out of here.”
She smiled like the snake in the Garden of Eden.
“I’d love to do that, but there’s been a small bit of duplicity that has taken place.” She leaned her skinny ass against the railing before waving a well-manicured hand at Ralph. He pulled Caliste down a few stairs until they were standing with Carlotta. My heart thundered in my breast. If they were on to this charade, Caliste was a dead man. “It seems that someone told you that certain dirty whores would be able to leave if you cooperated.” Her cold dark gaze flickered to Diamond. “The good Senator was mistaken and misrepresented things. I do so hate men who speak for me or go behind my back to ruin my plans. It’s always so tragic when the mighty fall, but on the plus side, your father did purchase a double plot and will be able to rest eternally next to his pedophile twin brother.”
The place fell into utter silence as her words sank in. I threw Diamond a peek, but he was unmoved. Or so he wanted us to think.
“So, you offed a Senator. That’s getting kind of sloppy, don’t you think?” I asked, unease gripping me by the back of the throat. The air conditioning kicked on and that sweet smell grew stronger. It tickled the nose and lingered on the back of the throat.
“Not really. He was a shitty senator. I’m sure the voters will be happy to replace him with someone I approve of. You know how easily the uneducated can be led.” She coughed delicately. “Ugh, I do hate the smell of ethyl ether. Tie them all up and have them kneeling in the middle of the room,” she called out, her glittering eyes watering slightly as that damn sickly-sweet smell intensified.
Fucking hell. The place had been doused with an accelerant. The haughty bitch planned to set the place on fire and burn us alive.
“What?! No, that’s not what we agreed on!” Ralph shouted as we were shoved into a tight circle by the twenty or so goons she’d brought along. He lowered the gun from Caliste’s sweaty temple. “You said I could have Onyx. You promised me that she would be mine! You promised!”
“Oh, stop being a moron. He’s a fucking gay whore, not Jacquelyn Kennedy. You can do better.” Carlotta sighed wearily. “Now shove his ugly ass down the stairs so he can be tied up with the other faggots!”
I saw it happen. The thin string that Ralph held onto his sanity with snapped when Carlotta grabbed Caliste by the wrist. It took place in a split second. Someone shoved me to my knees just as Ralph took a shot at Carlotta, catching her in the shoulder. Caliste screamed and dropped down to one knee as the boss lady tumbled down the stairs with a yelp of pain. All the armed men opened fire, mowing down Ralph. One of the bullets hit the trendy plastic bollard covers that hid the gas lines. Ralph crumpled into a bloody heap, Caliste fumbled down the stairs, falling over Carlotta lying at the bottom.
I rolled to my back, kicked the man hovering over me in the balls, and made a dive at Caliste. Carlotta pushed up to sitting position, her face a dark mask of pure hatred. The front door was kicked in with a resounding crash. Our “Sterling” opened fire on the Bianchi hoods. I watched her eyes widen as she reached for her purse lying on the stairs above her. US Marshalls exchanged fire with Carlotta’s men. Carlotta pulled a small silver lighter from her purse, lit it, and tossed it to the carpeting.
“Get down!” I roared as the gas and ether ignited with a rushing WOOSH that shattered windows. I dove on Caliste as the walls and ceiling burst into flames. “Get up! Get up!” I barked, pulling violently on him until he was up and moving. Dead and dying bodies littered the floor. I shoved Caliste to a dazed Marshal, then spun to locate Ian. He was getting Shin to his feet, both stunned by the blast. Diamond and Amber were by the doors, the Marshalls herding them outside as the fire roared around us. “Go, go!” I yelled, taking Shin from a wobbly Ian. We ran to the doorway and fell out the door, coughing, eyes watering.
Someone inside screamed for help. A woman. Carlotta. I had a moment of indecision. Then, because I was a stupid fucking ex-cop, I ducked my head and charged back inside over the screams of Caliste telling me not to. I didn’t get far. The entire first floor and most of the second was fully engulfed. The heat and smoke were unbearable. She shouted once more. I turned to see her backed into a corner, her face and hair singed, her legs blistered. I took a step toward her, then the ceiling fell in. I threw my arm up to shield my face and felt the skin blistering up on my right forearm. I stumbled back, howling in pain, the flaming timbers burying Carlotta. Someone jerked me out of Gems by my collar; a Marshall I didn’t know. We rushed outside and were hurried from the inferno by men in bright blue jackets with bold yellow lettering. Off in the distance, the wail of fire sirens could be heard.
“Caliste! Caliste!” I shouted, coughed, spit out black mucous, and hacked until I nearly passed out.
“Butch!” I heard him calling, that sweet Southern accent of his the most beautiful melody I had ever heard. “Oh, my darling brave man!” He fell into my arms. I held him close, burying my face in his neck, kissing his throat and jaw and face and lips until another coughing fit had me slipping to my ass right there in the street. Caliste knelt down beside me, cradling me to his chest, as firetrucks howled around the corner.
“Stay here, baby, right here. Don’t you never leave my side again,” I rasped.
“Never ever again will we be parted, Chere.”
He kissed my cheek and held me close. Ian, Shin, Diamond, and Amber dropped down beside me as Gems went up in flames.