Between the Bars Pt. 02bycarsonshepherd©
You've got to be fucking kidding me. I stared at Daniel in disbelief.
"Uh, I don't think so."
"I wish I didn't have to get you involved in this, but it's the only feasible way for me to get to Birmingham right now. I had to leave my Jeep in Tallahassee. I couldn't go home to get it. An airplane is totally out and I can't risk being recognized on a bus or a train."
"But what about your Atlanta contact, the one who..."
"Ry, he can't be seen with me," Daniel interrupted. "He'd be putting his own cover on the line. IAD works independently and what we do can be dangerous, so we have to be very careful. It's hard to know whom to trust. I don't have a fallback, except you. I'll make sure you're compensated when this is cleared up. Please, Rylan."
"What're you gonna do if I don't? I saw your gun; it fell out of your bag and almost broke my toe. You gonna drag me out at gunpoint if I say no?"
I had no idea where this brave talk was coming from. The initial panic had worn off, but I was still scared and the fact remained that he had the gun, albeit not on his person, and I didn't. Nonetheless, I was pissed. I was pissed because he had scared me, that he was disrupting my life, that he wasn't the perfect one-night stand he was supposed to be. He was supposed to just leave and let me get back to my routine and it made me angry beyond words that it wasn't happening.
Now he was pacing around the kitchen, his eyebrows twisted uncertainly. It was oddly disconcerting to see his enormous self-confidence falter but at the same time, it made my anger fade a little. He was scared too, probably. One cop was already dead and he was probably next on the list, if they could find him.
"Rylan," he finally said softly, "please don't put me in that position. I don't want to have to force you. I'm asking for your help... I'd rather it be willing. But at this point, I don't see where you have much of a choice."
"That's kidnapping. Federal charges. You wanna slap that on top of murder?"
This time when he looked up, his eyes were fierce. "I didn't fucking murder anyone. Now get your ass dressed so we can leave. You got scissors and an electric shaver?"
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, Daniel cut his hair to the scalp in big chunks, and then shaved his head totally smooth with my electric razor. The four-day stubble became a goatee that I grudgingly had to admit to myself was sexy. Who knew he would look so hot bald? All this took a long time, but he wouldn't let me out of the bathroom alone because he didn't want to take the chance of me getting to a phone, calling the police or someone I knew and alerting them to what was going on.
Glumly, I sat on the edge of the tub until he finished. Thank god, Birmingham wasn't far, because I couldn't stand being watched like a puppy on a leash like this very long. Finally, he asked me if I had some clothes he could wear. He was two inches taller and much more muscular, but I liked my clothes a little big so it shouldn't be too hard to find something.
Going through my closet, he found my baggiest khakis and a plaid button-down I wore around the house. When he'd buttoned it to the neck, tucked it into the pants and put on one of my belts, with his shaved head and goatee he looked nothing like the hot guy I'd picked up at the WETbar. He also looked nothing like the Police Academy photo shown on TV. The transformation was actually pretty amazing.
"Part of the job," he shrugged. "Changing your look. When you're undercover, you have to be nondescript. No tattoos, nothing to make you stand out. Nothing that people will remember."
Then they haven't seen you naked, I thought, but I kept it to myself because I was still angry. I'd pulled on a t-shirt and sweater over my jeans and sat on the bed waiting for him to make his next move. The sooner we left, the sooner I could get his ass to Birmingham, leave him there and resume my nice peaceful life. A whole day of writing lost. Dammit, didn't he know I had a deadline? My editor got cranky when I fell behind schedule.
At last, he folded his other clothes and tucked them under his arm. "Okay. Let's go eat that breakfast you were making, and then get out of here."
"Breakfast? I thought you were in a hurry." I grumbled and groused as I followed him down the stairs and he shot me a look.
"I don't know when I'll get to eat again."
That shut me up. Dammit. The last thing I wanted to do was sympathize with him when he was practically forcing me to aid and abet a fugitive; but my cock, being the self-concerned traitor it was, wouldn't let me forget all the pleasure it found with Daniel last night. My brain might hate him, but my dick didn't care about the politics.
So, I warmed up the now-cold cheese omelet and bacon in the microwave and brought him toast and coffee, and he thanked me politely and ate it like the very picture of domestic bliss. Why was my life so fucked up? Neil lived here for three years and I never felt even a fraction of the desire I felt with Daniel. Neil was a whiny, passive-aggressive alcoholic who never took responsibility for anything, and we never had more than mediocre sex. Why did the very first fucking guy I picked up at a bar since Neil moved out have to be 1) so good in bed and 2) an accused murderer on the run? Never, ever again was I bringing home a man without references, a full set of fingerprints and a DNA sample. No matter how hot he was.
Daniel finished eating and thanked me again after telling me how good it all was. While he ate, he'd been flipping through the channels checking all the news networks to see if there were any more news stories about him. The fact that he didn't see any seemed to relieve him; it sure as hell did me. Maybe it was all a mistake, or a bad joke...
Daniel shook his head adamantly when I slid my laptop into the case to bring along. He was putting his folded-up clothes into his bag, rearranging the gun over the side where it could be accessed. I watched everything he did closely, just in case he wasn't what he appeared. Details were invaluable. You never know when a minute detail might be the key to something important.
"But I take it everywhere," I protested indignantly. "What if I get stuck? If I don't have it I can't work."
"I know you've got a wireless receiver in there. I saw the router in your office. If we hit somewhere with wireless Internet, you could use it to email someone about my whereabouts, and I need this head start. Deal with it, it's only a day."
"Bastard," I muttered under my breath. We were heading toward the door to the garage and I grabbed my cell phone off the table in passing. He stopped again.
"Leave it here."
"But I need it."
"No you don't. I don't want to have to drag you into the bathroom with me so you don't call the cops while you're waiting in the car."
"And what if we have an accident, asshole?"
He lifted an eyebrow at my calling him such an endearing term, but after pausing for a moment's thought, he finally nodded his head. "Okay. Bring it, but no calls. I'll carry it and give it back to you when you drop me off."
I gave an annoyed sigh and handed him the phone. He grabbed a bottle of juice out of my fridge and we headed out. I felt a little sick to my stomach from apprehension, but I told myself again it was a short drive and then this would all be over and I'd never see him again.
"Wait a minute." Stopping, he turned around and went back into the living room; he returned a minute later with a copy of one of my books, another Regency story called Legend. Grinning, he tucked it into his bag. "For the ride."
A few minutes later, we'd climbed in my SUV, a sensible dark-green Honda, and were heading toward the interstate. He looked over at me, seeming to hesitate a moment before he spoke.
"Rylan, you do believe me don't you? That I didn't kill anyone?"
"If you say so," I shrugged.
"No, I want to know what you really feel. What does your gut tell you?"
"I haven't asked it."
"Well, ask it now. You need to listen to what your instincts tell you. I've learned that in ten years of undercover work, your eyes can deceive you, but if you go with your gut feeling, you'll be all right."
I knew nothing about being a cop, but I did know writing; and in order to write a convincing story that people can relate to emotionally, you have to find the vein of truth that runs through all of humanity. Some things are universal, and without the ability to see people's motives and truths, a story is just so much bullshit. This is the difference between a true writer and a hack.
What I wrote was not Shakespeare, but I put real emotions into my characters, and part of the reason I was able to do that was my intuition, my ability to find that underlying truth in people. When I told Daniel I hadn't asked my guts, I was just being an asshole because I was pissed at this whole mess. When I really did listen to my feelings, it was obvious I did believe he was innocent. If I thought he was a murderer, I would've been a lot more scared, a lot less willing to help him. I would've forced him to kidnap me to gain my help. As it was... well...
"Yeah. I guess I believe you, sort of," I finally admitted grudgingly. "But it's probably just because your ass is so fucking hot."
He gave a little snort and picked up the book. It was Saturday, so the mess of Atlanta traffic wasn't quite as bad as on a weekday. It was straight down Interstate 20, a bit over two hours. While he read, I drove and tried to calm myself down by running through dialogue, reminding myself to do it in my head and not under my breath. I often found myself talking aloud under my breath in public and not even noticing until people started staring at me like I was crazy. I'd finally gotten a voice recorder that I kept in my glove box in case I was on a car trip and needed to remember something for later, but I didn't use it much. I usually remembered things pretty well. Having an eye for detail was a big help.
"You're a good writer, Rylan. This is good stuff." He lifted the book after having smiled a few times while reading. "Nice writing, good characters. Funny too."
I shrugged. "Thanks. It's basically like getting paid to goof off all day. It's not serious work."
"And do you do serious work?"
"Well." I squirmed before admitting, "Not at this point. I make my living with this, but what I'd really like to do is write sci-fi."
"Then why don't you?" he asked, as if it was just that simple.
"I dunno. Because it's a lot harder. And I wouldn't be any good at it."
"That's silly, Rylan. You're obviously talented."
"Not really. I have ability but not so much talent. I can write toy fiction with my eyes closed... it's easy. The sci-fi story I want to write is something I've had in mind for a while but every time I try to start writing it, it's just... hard. And what if I work hard on it, and it's no good?"
"You shouldn't be afraid to take a risk and do something you really want to do."
With a shrug, he picked up the book and resumed reading, leaving me to dislike myself for having admitted my insecurities to him. It sounded so stupid when I tried to explain it to someone. I didn't feel qualified to write something that complex and detailed and imaginative... I just didn't have that spark of creative genius. I could slog through historical stuff day and night, but there was no genius needed for that, only hard work. A PhD in English literature didn't magically bestow divine inspiration.
Birmingham was rising up around us. I took the exit Daniel pointed out and he directed me to the other side of town, where new subdivisions without any trees marched along in rows, every house exactly the same as the others. He watched intently for street signs until he honed in on one that said Bobwhite Lane.
"Right there. Take a left."
I turned on the street and Daniel's eyes widened when he saw what was happening ahead of us. Three police cars, blue lights flashing, were parked in front of a house and uniformed cops were crawling all over, guns drawn. One officer was stringing up yellow crime scene tape, while another kept back a small group of neighbors gathered in the street.
"Slow don't, but don't stop," Daniel ordered. I glanced over at him and noticed he'd turned pale. "Just drive past. Not too fast. Look out the window like you're rubbernecking." Before I knew it, he'd ducked his head and gotten down on the floorboard, sinking as low as he could so that it looked like I was in the front seat alone. I did as he asked and as soon as we were out of sight, I found a major intersection and turned, letting us into Saturday shopping traffic.
Daniel climbed back into the seat. "Fuck," he swore softly. My heart was racing a mile a minute but I just waited for him to speak. "That was the house. They got him. Go to that Wal-Mart over there."
Without question, I obeyed and soon we were walking into the cool, crowded Wal-Mart, getting lost in the mob of shoppers. Casually Daniel strolled along to the electronics department and I tried to keep up with him without seeming obvious about it.
"What're you doing?" I hissed.
"Don't ask questions," he told me pleasantly.
That didn't help my confusion one bit, but I just followed along and eventually Daniel ended up in the electronics department, on the aisle with the radio equipment. There was a display of CB radios and he flipped the switch on one and started turning the dial. Other people around us were playing with the radios, and it was Wal-Mart after all, so there wasn't a single store employee to be seen anywhere.
Fuzzy voices began to crackle over the frequency as Daniel picked up the police scanner.
"Dispatch, this is Victor-oh-five, in need of an ambulance at 2011 Bobwhite Lane. We've got a 1026, victim white male, shot in the back. Be advised, no need to hurry with the ambulance, as the victim is DOA. Units Victor-oh-five, Victor-oh-two and Victor-two-six already on the scene."
Daniel turned the dial to another frequency and turned away. I rushed to follow him. He didn't talk to me. I stuck with him as he wandered the aisles and picked up a few things: sunglasses, a notebook and a package of pens, a dorky-looking hunting cap.
"Should've gotten a basket."
I couldn't believe how calm he was. He even chit-chatted with the cashier, smiling, as he checked out, pulling cash from his wallet. Once we were back at the car, he told me to drive, and worked on taking the tag off the sunglasses while I pulled out of the parking lot.
"It doesn't matter. Just drive."
I followed the flow of traffic and we ended up heading toward the center of town. Daniel's eyes scanned around us constantly behind the sunglasses until he saw a big sports complex, with tennis courts and ball fields and a track, and told me to pull over. I parked under a tree and shut off the engine.
"You heard what the scanner said?"
"Yeah... your friend got shot in the back, right?" I asked with sympathy.
"He wasn't my friend, he was a piece of shit drug dealer, but he was a good informant and he was my only way to Chicago. Vice was already there, so that means they're in on it. It also means they were alerted by someone in Tallahassee, so they're probably waiting for me. I've got to get the fuck out of here."
"What are you gonna do?" I couldn't help but be interested, even though I wanted nothing more than to drive off and leave him here.
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out. "Only thing I can do. You and I are going to Chicago."
"What? Wait a minute," I protested after a stunned silence. "I can't go to Chicago. I didn't bring anything with me. No clothes, no nothing."
"We can buy what we need along the way. It'll only take a couple of days."
"But I need my computer and my medicine. Shit, Daniel! I've got a novel to write, I can't just..."
"That's why I got you this." He took the notebook out of the Wal-Mart bag and held it up. "And this medicine, do you need it to live?"
"It's for my ulcer..."
"We can get something over the counter. Rylan, don't leave me hanging. Please. If you do, I'm dead in the water. This is more than just an investigation now. I don't want to put you in any danger, so we have to leave now, before vice knows I'm here. I'm begging you."
"You're kidnapping me," I protested, my heart pounding wildly. My hands were shaking on the steering wheel as the reality of the situation began to dawn on me.
"We can argue semantics later, once we get out of this fucking town. Just drive. "
Nashville, Tennessee is five hours north of Birmingham. We got to town just as drizzle began to fall from the night sky, and Daniel started looking for a place to spend the night. Driving past the hotels, just outside of town, he scrutinized each one carefully. Finally, he pointed to a Red Roof Inn.
"Why this one?" I complained as I pulled into the parking lot. "They don't even have continental breakfast in the morning."
"Well, the parking lot is behind the building and not visible from the street. Each room has its own entrance and not an interior hallway accessible through a central lobby where I could be filmed or spotted. You're going to go to the desk and rent the room. Ask for one facing the parking lot; tell the desk clerk we want to be able to see the vehicle from the room so it doesn't get broken into. Pay with cash, and don't use your real name. I'll wait in the car."
I had to admit, I was grudgingly impressed with his thought process. He was focused, decisive and confident. Not many people could've handled the situation in Birmingham like he did. Damn him. I didn't want to like him and I definitely didn't want to respect him, not when I was being forced to go along with all this. I should've been home writing, not driving through the rain to Nashville in the middle of the night.
"But what name should I use?" I asked. I had bitch about something amidst all his flawless logic, didn't I?
He flashed me his breathtaking smile in the dim dashboard lights. "How about Ethan Montgomery?"
I rolled my eyes, but I had to hide a grin because Ethan was the hero of Legend, my book Daniel had been reading off and on during the trip. I parked the SUV and he peeled off some bills from his wallet.
"Get a room with one bed," he told me and when I stopped and gave him a "don't even think it" look, he shook his head in exasperation. "I don't want anyone to know I'm with you... why would you, a single guy, get a room with two beds? And hurry up, I'm tired."
I made a face at him, but I did exactly as he asked at the desk. It was starting to rain when I returned with the room key. I was tired and looking forward to a night's sleep, where I wouldn't have to think about any of this for a while. In the morning, I planned to convince Daniel that I had to go back to Atlanta. There was no way I was taking him all the way to Chicago; he just didn't know it yet.
"Food and beer," he said when I got back in the car. "Then we can go back to the room and veg."
Food and beer sounded good to me, but naturally, it meant me running into the liquor store and standing in line at the fried chicken place. Daniel couldn't get out, not with the surveillance cameras almost every business had now. Even though he looked totally different with his shaved head and goatee, he knew exactly what kind of technology was available to the police now in sharpening and magnifying the security tapes, and the databases they ran the images through to find a match. For that matter, so did I. I watched cop shows on TV. Daniel wasn't taking any chances. He didn't want me to be linked with him in any way, so I couldn't be seen with someone. It was safer for me if it appeared in all ways that I was traveling alone.