Between the Bars Pt. 05

bycarsonshepherd©

"No," he said simply. He wasn't looking at me anymore, sitting on the edge of the bed pulling his socks on while I stared at him. He looked blank, emotionless. I tried never to push, never to stand in the way of what he needed to do, but I just didn't understand this. Why was he putting himself in danger? Like someone in a horror movie, he was walking down the dark corridor toward certain death, and I was sitting in the audience watching, powerless to stop him. "Adkins is a cold-blooded killer but he's only one man. He's only a link in this chain. Take him out and someone else will step right into his place. The chain has be smashed, all the way to the top, every last link. Then justice will be done. Then it will be enough."

Still that emotionless face, a cool factual tone from him, but just beneath the surface calm I could feel something vibrating in him like an electrical current. There was something more here. There was always something more, and he always shut me out, so completely I never even saw the walls coming until I crashed into them. Everything, I told him everything, showed him my darkest places, the things that made me shiver in the black hours before dawn; and in return, he gave me nothing. I knew nothing about him. The sexy grin and the hot ass were only a cover for the brick wall that kept me out. I was tired of walking into it with every other step, I wanted to fling myself at it kicking and screaming until it crumbled.

"Dammit, Daniel. You're gonna get yourself killed if you go up there. They're just waiting for you. If you'd gotten into that car in St. Louis you'd probably fucking be dead right now."

"You're probably right."

His agreement just pissed me off even more. "Why do you have to save the fucking world? Being a cop isn't a religion, it's a job. Yeah, these are bad people and they've done a lot of bad things, but this is not a personal crusade. Let it go, Daniel. Tell your captain where the evidence is and let him send someone to get it. Let someone else finish this. You've given them the rope. They'll hang themselves."

"Actually, it is personal," he said in such a soft voice that it almost seemed like he didn't want me to hear. But I did, and he knew I did; and after I stared at him intently, waiting, he finally shrugged. "You're right, Rylan, I can clear my own ass and back out of this right now with my hands clean. Hell, I know I'm not the only cop who can do this job. I know it's not altogether healthy to make an investigation into a personal mission, but Adkins and all his dirty cops got my partner killed."

"Oh, and that's part of the police code? Revenge for fellow officers?"

"Not my partner on the force, Ry. My life partner."

My impassioned rant fell flat and I stared at him, words dying on my lips. He had never talked about a lover before. All the pain and loss I'd sensed in him were so clear in his eyes right now. That was what changed him. He fell in love, but now that anchor was gone and he was adrift. It made sense, the missing pages of his life, left unspoken because he was blocking out the pain, burying that part of his life to stop the hurt.

"I didn't know."

"I know you didn't." He reached up like he was going to touch my face but his hand dropped and he rested his elbows on his knees, staring downward. "I never told you. Been almost two years. He went on a drug raid and never came back. Ray was a good cop, too good, too honest. Adkins had the whole vice squad by the balls, but he couldn't drag Ray down to their level. He knew too much, and I told him and told him that he was in real danger, but he just laughed me off. Said he always watched his back."

Sliding closer, up behind him, I watched his profile but I didn't touch him even though I wanted to. If he finally wanted to talk, I wanted to listen to every word.

"I was a vice detective too, but our captain knew Ray and I were lovers and he wouldn't let us work together, said it would compromise our effectiveness on the team if we were focused on each other. Still, I shouldn't have let him alone go that night. I should've been there looking out for him. When they called, I asked him not to go. Said I had a bad feeling, asked him to stay home with me. But he'd been working so hard on cracking this drug ring; he had to be there when the shit went down. He wouldn't let it go."

So, Ray couldn't let it go either. I couldn't help but flick back to what I'd told him less than a minute ago. Daniel, let it go. Let it go before it kills you.

Daniel shook his head, still looking down at the floor. "They said a dealer popped him in the head, but Ray would never have been that careless, not even in a crisis. He always had his wits about him, a lot more so than me." Brief smile, wistful. "I never got to see him one last time to say goodbye. By the time I got the call, he was already dead. There was, God, so much blood. I don't know who actually shot him, but I knew Adkins was behind it, and as the cover-up unfolded, I realized that it went even higher. I secretly joined Internal Affairs while keeping my vice shield, because I knew that if I could just get close, I could get Adkins. It's not revenge. Ray wouldn't want me to get revenge, but I owe him justice."

Pain rolled off him in waves. I felt it break over me and shatter. Beneath his world-saving exterior, he was lost, and as much as I admired his courage and his strength, his pain was what finally broke down my last defenses and ground them to powder. I'd do anything to take it away, reach right inside him and tear it out, let my love fill in the broken parts.

Yeah. Love. There was no point in denying it anymore. I'd felt the strange tugging and sharp darts for a while now, but when I tested out my skin, I felt it spread out all through me, pulsing in my blood. I didn't need him to love me back right now. I didn't want anything from him; his load was too heavy already. I just wanted to give him the single most important thing he'd lost since his betrayal in Florida, the thing he most needed right now: loyalty. There was so much on his shoulders, so much I couldn't help with. All I could do was love him.

I moved closer to him, slid my arm around his waist. He resisted for a second, and then he leaned back against me and dropped his head back onto my shoulder, closing his eyes while I wrapped my arms around him and just held him. Without speaking, I let my love surround him and flow into him through my touch. Just letting himself be held was not, I sensed, something he let happen very often. But god, he felt so good in my arms.

It would've been fine with me to hold him like that all night, but finally his stomach growled audibly and he sat up and pulled away from me gently. When he swallowed hard and could only glance at me before looking away, I knew he'd felt a bit, of what I gave without question. I looked up at him, naked both physically and emotionally, stripped of my defenses and let him see me, totally open to him. Whatever you need, you can have.

I didn't push him to not look away. This was no battle of wills. What I offered was there for the taking, when he wanted it. I got up from the bed and got dressed while Daniel pulled his boots on. My hair was a mess, but at least it was clean and not greasy when I combed through it with my fingers. Daniel was a bit withdrawn now, but I just kissed him and led him to the basement stairs by the hand, accepting his silence. I knew what it was to feel exposed and caught off guard after you've revealed more than you meant to; but Daniel had made it safe for me and I could give him no less.

The steak, butter-roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli were delicious, especially after days of canned food, but I didn't have much appetite. Sitting around the table with the chattering kids and Charlotte and Paul, all I could think of was Daniel, who was eating silently next to me without looking at me. His cum-splattered shirt made me grin to myself but more serious things took precedence. He was determined to walk into danger. Thinking his convictions would save him. Thinking it didn't matter if they didn't. It just made me sick inside to think of him being hurt or killed, losing him the way he'd lost Ray, but I knew I couldn't try to stop him. I'd said everything I had a right to say, and anything more would only push him from me. All I could do now was let go. Part of the whole love thing, apparently. Trust. The hardest part.

"Is your Internet up?"

They stopped talking and looked at me, slightly puzzled. My question was totally out of the blue, nothing to do with what they were talking about. Charlotte lifted an eyebrow at me and nodded slowly.

"The phones came back on this morning, so yes, it should be working."

"Daniel needs to use it for some police stuff."

"Sure. You know where it is," she said.

Dinner wasn't over yet but Daniel was on his feet in an instant. I didn't know where he was going when he ran in the direction of the stairs, but then he came back up a minute later with something in his hand. He was just as jumpy as I was. I took him out to the glassed-in sun porch that was Paul's office, and after I logged into the dial-up connection, I got up.

"I'll leave you alone, then," I said as he slid into the desk chair and plugged in his portable USB storage device. That's what he'd gone downstairs for, then.

"No, stay. I want you to see this, Rylan."

I believed in his innocence. Even in the beginning, when I accused him of kidnapping me, I never thought he was a killer. I didn't need the video to prove that to me, but I still wanted to see it. I wanted to know what he faced, what he'd been through, really see through his eyes. My heart beat faster just imagining him there, facing that danger alone and knowing that he was staring death in the face. Eyes glued to the monitor, I waited as his fingers flew over the keyboard. The browser identified a secure site within the Tallahassee Police Department network.

Invalid Filename

1 of 3 tries


The error message pinged and he retyped it patiently.

Invalid Filename

2 of 3 tries


"Huh?"

Now he was frowning in confusion as he carefully typed his password a third time. The error message pinged again and a security notice popped up.

Unauthorized User. Access denied and then the screen went blank. Daniel stared at it, eyes wide.

"Fuck," he breathed.

"What happened?"

"I dunno. Someone's changed the security codes so I can't access the encrypted files." He looked up at me in stunned disbelief.

"But who?"

"I don't know. Adkins and his boys couldn't have done it; they don't have my user codes. Only one person knows... Ah, fuck."

His fist came down hard on the desk, making me jump. The stunned look was gone; instead, he was pale with rage.

"Fucking Olmos. He was the one who blew my cover. It all makes sense now... Shit." Daniel took a deep breath. I knew he was clearing his head. "Olmos is my captain," he told me grimly. "I didn't know who leaked my IAD investigation. Now I know."

"Oh god, Daniel." The impression I got from the couple of times he'd mentioned his captain, was that he was one of the few people Daniel trusted. This had to be a huge jolt. I put my hand on his shoulder in concern but he shook it off impatiently, standing to pace the room.

"What are you going to do now?"

"There's one copy of that video feed. I sent it to Scott Wyman. I can't get into the Chicago PD intranet on my own, not from here. I'm just gonna have to go up and find my old buddy Scott and get him to help me."

The way he said help and the dangerously calm look on his face gave me a chill.

"Daniel," I said softly. I stopped because I couldn't say the things that were teeming in my head: No, don't, it's too fucking dangerous.

"Tomorrow, if it's okay with you, we'll leave for Chicago. Once we get there, I want you to take me where I need to go and then leave. Drive back to Atlanta. I don't want you involved in this, Rylan."

"I'm not just leaving you there."

"You don't have a choice. You're a civilian and I'm not putting you in harm's way. You'll just be a distraction."

That hurt, but I refused to let it show. He didn't know stubborn.

"Fine," I said with a shrug and meant exactly the opposite. There was absolutely no way I was leaving him alone. He'd already been abandoned too many times. He didn't know it yet, but I was staying.

He gave me a long appraising look and he opened his mouth to say more, but then Paul's voice from the other end of the house startled us, calling my name loudly and the running of Maddie's feet coming closer.

"Rylan! Rylan, get in here, quick! You're on the news!"

******

Chapter 24

"And in local news, the St. Louis county sheriff's office is asking for your help in their search for Detective Daniel Braden, a Tallahassee police officer who's wanted in the shooting death of a fellow officer. Although there has been no official comment, sources within the department have revealed that Braden was involved in a drug-trafficking ring that may operate across state lines. Braden was last seen in St. Louis three days ago, in a green Honda Passport registered to Rylan Kennedy, a resident of Atlanta, Georgia. The driver of the vehicle was not identified, but Kennedy has not been seen since Friday. In a phone call, he told friends he had returned to his home in Milam, Illinois, but the ice storm paralyzing the area has halted the search effort. Anyone with information on Rylan Kennedy or Detective Daniel Braden is urged to call the county sheriff's office at..."

A rushing sound cut in my ears off any more words as a photo of my own face popped up on the screen next to the same photo of Daniel I'd seen on the news back in my kitchen.

Charlotte, Paul, and both of the kids were staring at us with their mouths and eyes wide while we stood next to the couch, facing the TV. Daniel had turned pale and I gripped his hand at my side. I stepped slightly in front of him. I had to make them understand. I had to make the shocked, horrified, and slightly fearful looks go away.

"It's not like they're saying," I said when I could speak.

"Sit," Charlotte whispered, pointing at the other end of the couch. "Tell."

We sat. I pulled Daniel's hand into my lap. There had always been an unspoken rule around Charlotte's kids, they knew I was gay and they knew what it meant, they'd met some of my boyfriends, but they'd never seen me hold anyone's hand before, or kiss, or anything like that. I didn't care; they were old enough to deal with it now and I wasn't letting go of Daniel, not ever. I held his hand firmly while he slowly told them story from the beginning, going back to the night of the shooting. The only details he left out were the two of us meeting in a club and going back to my house to fuck. He glossed over that part but Paul and Charlotte picked up on it and traded a quick look. They couldn't believe I'd gotten involved in something like this and their look plainly said, Should've known.

Daniel went through the story carefully, showing his trained eye for detail. When he caught up to the present time he looked over at me hesitantly. "I think that's about it, unless Ry noticed anything I left out. He's the storyteller."

I shook my head. "No. You got it all."

"And you trust him?" Paul looked past Daniel, straight at me. "In your heart, you believe he's telling the truth about everything."

"Yes. Absolutely." I nodded without hesitation and Daniel gave my hand a little squeeze. He was still pale. Everything rode on Charlotte and Paul right now. All they had to do was pick up the phone and call that number and it was all over.

"Okay." Paul looked at his wife and she nodded. The kids nodded enthusiastically when he looked at them for their agreement. It had to be unanimous. "Then we trust you too, Daniel. We believe you and we're not going to call the cops, so you can relax. We'll do everything we can to help you."

Next to me, Daniel caught a breath and I felt him go limp with relief, but he still hesitated looking at Paul with a mixture of doubt and disbelief. "You'd help me? Even if you might get into trouble? But why?"

"Because it's the right thing," Paul shrugged and the rest of them nodded their heads.

Daniel had always lived in the city and he'd never been surrounded by a tight-knit community where everyone stuck together and fiercely looked out for each other. Friendships between families went back generations and at the first sign of trouble, the wagons circled and people stepped up to help each other. The bonds of family blood were even stronger, unbreakable, unconditional. The love between Charlotte and me had encompassed Paul many years ago, and now it stretched to include Daniel, because she knew from the first time she saw us together, even before I did, that I loved him and she would do anything for me. This love was huge and eternal and I only now realized how much I'd missed it living so far away. My gratitude was so overwhelming I couldn't speak; and Paul didn't give Daniel time to say anything. He wasn't interested in thanks.

"So tell me your plan of action. What are you going to do next?"

"Well, I'm not sure. This," Daniel gestured toward the TV, "changes everything. I guess I shouldn't be surprised there's a search on... these people aren't going to give up until they kill me. Right now, the law is on their side and they have all the resources at their disposal. They won't stop just because I disappeared for a couple of days. I should've planned for this. I shouldn't have let it catch me off guard."

"And what were your plans before you saw the news?" Paul asked after giving Daniel a moment to ponder.

"I have to get into the network to retrieve that video file. I was going to have Ry drive me to Chicago and take me to Scott Wyman's place, but I see now that's too dangerous. I could've dealt with him alone, but now he's sure to be followed because they know I'll be looking for him, and I can't take on the whole Chicago PD by myself. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to a little persuasion." He paused to think that over. "I have three things I need to accomplish. One: Get into the network and download my video. Two: Take the video to someone I trust. Three: Get access to the rest of the evidence."

"Who do you trust up there?" I asked.

Wyman had been instrumental in setting him up, and now that Captain Olmos was out of the equation, Daniel was pretty much alone. He had no one to go to. The thought was chilling.

"That's the problem. I don't know," Daniel admitted.

Charlotte had gotten up and she came back and handed us all a beer, which I opened gratefully. Maddie and Jeremy were given sodas. I would've expected them to get bored and wander off, but they were fascinated with the proceedings. Nothing this interesting ever happened around here.

"The way I see it, you need someone on the outside," I said slowly as an idea turned in my brain. Sometimes, it took a bit of time for my thoughts to fully develop. I was good at doing it in the pages of a novel but it could be challenging in the real world, where things happened much more quickly. "Someone impartial and not accountable to the police department."

"Yes... and the FBI would've been the place to go, but after what happened in St. Louis, I'm just not sure about them either. It could have been a ruse, or it really could have been FBI involvement. There's no way to know and I just can't take that risk."

"What about the ATF?" Charlotte said.

"I can't involve the ATF until after I get the video. I can't call them with unsubstantiated accusation; they don't act on rumors, they have to have proof. Besides, if I do it before I clear myself of this murder, I'll be arrested." He shook his head, his frustration growing with each dead end.

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