Nine ~ Butch
When we walked into Ian’s office, my arm around Caliste, no one thought much of it. They all knew he’d been buggered up in the blast. When I eased him down beside Amber on one of Ian’s expensive love seats and kissed him on the lips, the soft murmur of conversation dropped off like a boot being tossed off a bridge.
“Uhm, forgive me for being the one to say this, but isn’t there a fraternization clause, or does slipping an employee the dick fall under managerial privilege. Asking for a friend.”
I straightened and turned to look at Diamond. I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or simply tugging on my balls a bit.
“We bonded over a life and death experience,” Caliste said, reaching up to link his fingers with mine. “Much like you and your darling Amber.”
“About time,” Shin mumbled as Diamond cracked a rare smile. I shrugged. Yeah, he had me. I’d called him out for his relationship with Amber. He totally had a right to bust my balls. “Okay, so we’ve all made calls. I’ve managed to get all the other Gems who aren’t immediately impacted by this out of Colchester.”
“Good man, that lessens the targets,” I said, then went to the bar to get some juice and food for Caliste. “Ian, any thoughts on the Marshals?”
I glanced over after filling a small glass with some orange juice. My boss was staring out the window, arms folded, fingers tapping on his biceps. No one would have guessed that the man in the eight-thousand-dollar suit was wound up in a battle with the mob. He appeared to be mulling over some deep space probe analytics or whatever it was he did inside his head.
“They’re going to investigate things if we call them.” He turned to face the few of us who remained. “And they will strongly suggest going into witness protection.”
“Probably” I lifted the lid off a pan with some chicken kebobs and placed two on a glass plate. “What did that big brain of yours come up with as a solution?”
“I am not going to hide from criminals. I’m not about to let Carlotta and a bunch of bullies make me sneak away in the night and leave a multi-billion-dollar company that I busted my ass to build. Also, this is now personal.”
“Hell yeah,” I said, then walked the food and drink to Caliste. He took both but seemed disinterested in the kebobs. “Eat, baby, you can’t fight if you’re going to pass out.”
“I’m not sure I’m much of a fighter anymore,” he whispered but did take a bite of grilled tomato.
Amber dropped an arm around his shoulder. “We’re all fighters. You didn’t get here to Colchester by hiding. We’ve all battled through stuff.”
“Yes, of course, you’re a good boy.” Caliste smiled weakly. “I suppose I feel rather disoriented. It’s been such a horrendous morning and I’m looking rather bedraggled.”
“You look beautiful, baby,” I said from across the room as I filled my plate with kebobs and some sort of rice-vegetable medley. “So, what are we doing, then? Making the call on if we go into Wit Pro or not?”
Shin and Amber fell silent, as did Caliste. Ian shook his head, the sun catching bright strands of red in his hair and making them glow like rubies. I suspected the two younger ones would want to stay with their men, as dangerous as that was. Whether Diamond and Ian would be down with that, who knew. As for Caliste…well, I’d rather he go somewhere far away to hide. Maybe back to Louisiana, way back in the swamps. But that was my wishes; his might be different. Also, he and I had no great romance going, not really. He wasn’t attached to me in any significant way. Looking back on things, I should have spoken up months ago and asked him out. Fuck my stupid whore/mother asinine hang-ups. We would have had so much time to revel in each other. Could have had something strong and solid. Should of, could of, would of. My life had plenty of regrets, but none bigger than being too scared to express myself to Caliste.
“My father is willing to see me,” Diamond slid into the discussion, which caused us all to stutter to a halt. “Yeah, I know. I’m just as fucking shocked as you all are.” He looked it. Pale, too. “He wants to meet me in an hour in his office in the federal building.”
“You’re not going alone,” I said around a mouthful of chicken and green pepper. I’d always been one of them weirdoes who could eat, no matter what. Back in my CPD days, I’d be wolfing down chili dogs while checking out a murder scene. Blood, guts, brains. Didn’t bother me. So, a small bomb? Pfft. That was a nothing. “I’m there at your side. We trust no one. Someone has already shot one of our guys, tried to blow up another, and beat the living shit out of yet another. It’s time to turn the tables and stop playing defense. We’ll go see the Senator and have a nice, long talk about things. Ian, you’re in charge of getting these three up to your cabin on Sturgeon Bay.”
I knew the protests would come, and they did. Shin, Ian, and Amber both shot to their feet, beyond irate, while Caliste lowered his barely eaten kebob to stare at me with melancholy brown eyes. I saw his reply reflected in his eyes. He would go to Wisconsin without a peep of protest. I was glad. Whatever this new incredible thing was that had sparked between us was, I needed him gone. He’d be a distraction. And distractions would get us dead. My being shot in the face was probably inevitable. How I’d reached forty growing up where and how I did was a motherfucking miracle. But Caliste had years of life ahead of him. I wanted him to—
“Shut up! We’re all staying. That’s that.” Shin shouted over the various discussions taking place in Ian’s office. “My phone…” He held it up so we could all see the incoming call. It was Raphael Ortez. Shin gawked at us, his phone vibrating madly. Caliste made a weak sound akin to a person on a respirator. “What the shit does he want?”
“Hang up,” I growled.
“Answer it,” Ian said.
A small but heated discussion broke out between my boss and I for a few seconds, ending in my being fired for being a hardheaded moron. Which was fitting. We both petered out and stood there glaring at each other. Then I quit because I always had to have the last word. It’s a flaw.
“There is only one way to find out,” Caliste whispered during the lull and held out his hand to Shin. My eyes flared.
“No!” I yelled but Shin, looking like he was sitting on a mound of fire ants, placed the phone into Caliste’s soft hand. Ian caught my arm as I lunged around him. Hell yes, I was going to wrench that phone out of my lover’s hand. Then stomp on it, but only after I told Ralph what I thought of him. Oh, and where his Mustang was.
Caliste hit me with a look that would have stalled a runaway freight train. “Why yes, hello, Raphael! I’m so glad to hear your voice.” My jaw dropped. In a mere second Caliste had switched to Onyx, the flirtatious and sensual Southern beauty. “Oh, Lord, yes! It was harrowing to say the least! No, no, no need to worry overly. I am fine, just slightly abraded. How are you? Oh, yes, it was terribly upsetting. No, I’ve not heard if anyone died.” I shook free of Ian and thundered over to Caliste. He held up one long finger. “That’s a relief. No innocent bystanders were killed. Yes, this city is becoming quite dangerous. So many unsavory characters. What? Today? Oh, well, I…of course, I am greatly concerned about you as well. You’re so sweet but I’m not sure you’d like to see me looking as I do.”
“Oh, hell no,” I snarled. Caliste shook that finger at me just like the nuns used to when they’d catch me stealing from the tin donation boxes in front of the devotion candles. That set me back on my heels.
He blinked a few times, his sight locked on his half-eaten kebob, then he lifted his eyes to me. “Why, yes, of course, and it’s sweet that you’re so concerned. I am fine, though, and with friends. Your car? Please don’t tell me that it was harmed in that dreadful explosion! Thank goodness. Gone?! Honestly, who would do such a vile thing during an emergency such as…cameras outside the hotel?”
“Fuck,” I grunted, then dropped down to crouch beside Caliste’s long legs. “Don’t cop to anything,” I whispered to him.
He nodded his head. “You’ve not checked the cameras yet. Well, of course, the police would get them first, given there was a bomb planted on a car. Oh, they did. My goodness, the local constabularies are quite efficient. Today? Well, that’s wonderful. I’m glad they’re allowing you to view them.” His brown eyes were wide and filled with worry, but he carried on like a queen. “Well, since you are so bereft about my well-being, I suppose we could see each other before you go to speak to the police. Yes, somewhere discreet. Say Bucknell’s Pub on the corner of Pine and Millstone? You do know it! Isn’t it delightful? Yes, of course. I’ll be pretty. For you, I’m always pretty. Two hours. Yes, until then. Au revoir.”
He ended the call and slowly passed Shin his phone back. “Caliste, there is no way in hell that I’m letting you go meet with guy. I’ll go and tell him exactly what happened to his car. Then we’ll have a nice talk about his ass and my fucking foot.”
“No, I am going.” He handed off his plate and his cold kebob to Amber and got to his feet. “Everyone else is doing their part. I shall do mine. He might have information to pass along that could help us end this all.”
“But Caliste…” I said as I stood.
“But nothing. If we’re all staying, then I shall do what I can to aid us. Now, can someone give me a lift to my apartment so I can pretty myself up for my dinner date?”
This man was going to be the death of me, unless Carlotta beat him to the punch.
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