Taming the Stray Ch. 03byOrangeRibbon©
Here's the last of it.
"Here, Derek. I found tracks."
Derek had been wandering around the remains of his burnt-out cabin for nearly twenty-four hours. Gina had flown out immediately, as had Gorge, one of the FBI agents working with Ruben's father. They went over the property with fine-toothed combs. The basement contained no bodies, though it was where the fire started. That damned oil lamp. Derek cursed his lack of electricity for almost an hour, until Gina confirmed that people had come into the house after Rye.
"Come on, Derek. I need you thinking clearly if we're going to find him." Gina was perched on the seat of a snowmobile she'd borrowed. "Hop on. I'll show you what I found. Your boy fought hard. I want you to see that."
Derek climbed on mechanically and held on tight. She took us back to the main road and drove down a half mile before pulling off to the side and parking. Truck tires and footprints spattered the white ground. Bare footprints took off from the road and into the dark maze of gray tree trunks, and Gina urged Derek to follow. Her own prints ran beside two others, following the barefoot escapee. She pulled Derek onward, following Rye, until they made it to the shape of a sprawled body.
A distorted snow angel.
"He fell, or was pushed, here. They grabbed him, picked him up, and walked him to the road up that way." She pointed. "This was dropped in the snow."
Half the paper was soaked through, the ink running and spreading until it was barely readable, but Derek saw the threat first.
"Turn it over," Gina said. "I don't know how your boy got hold of the paper, but he did."
The other side was in pencil, written with barely any pressure and almost invisible, but Rye's sprawling script made Derek's heart leap.
Master Pagely came. Sorry I burnt the place down, but I got him in the face with the lamp and it shattered.
"Fuck." Derek sank into the snow, clutching the wet paper in both hands. He'd let his boy down, had practically handed him over to Pagely, leaving Rye alone like that.
"With this, we know, for sure, who has him. Gorge reported in already. Their case might be cinched with this, and we'll get Rye out. The chopper is ready to go when you are."
Derek stormed around the Carfi's living room as Gina watched him in silence. He was such an idiot. He was such a fucking idiot, leaving Rye alone like that. He'd been too confident that Pagely would heed his warning and wouldn't risk it all just to recapture Rye.
Four days, and his boy was still missing.
Four days, and Pagely was playing legal peek-a-boo thanks to his lawyer and not making any public appearances.
"I don't care if you've seen him lately or not," Derek tried again. "I still need his addresses—all of them you haven't touched—and I want to go take a look for myself."
"There are too many," Gina said softly. She bent to feed Fritter—now banished to a (very large) cage in their living room. Derek had raged over his lack of control hundred times in the last four days, and the woman had the patience of a saint. "You don't have the skill to break in, and Ruben's dad and his higher-ups aren't about to send people with you. Keep in mind, they don't even have a warrant on anything yet. They need solid evidence. Everything they have against Pagely is still pretty insubstantial, at the moment."
"Fuck it. This is my lover. I will do anything to get him back. I let him down. I have to make up for it all."
Gina just nodded, eyes sad.
"Let me look, Gina. Let me at least take a peek at the information for each place. Maybe I can see something you all haven't. Maybe I'll remember something he said that I forgot; maybe I can rationalize where he is from the files. Please. I'm begging you."
"He owns eighty-four properties within city limits, Derek. We've only gone through twenty-six."
"I know. That's why I need to look. I might be able to provide valuable insight into which he won't be at, and which he will. I love Rye, and I can't let Pagely break him again. It took me so long to get him to open up, the last time. This time Pagely could kill him, and it'd be my fault."
"If Pagely's men had found you in that house too, you'd probably be dead. Just keep that in mind as you beat yourself up."
"I should have taken him into town with me. I should have moved him, as soon as Pagely showed up the first time. I should have—"
"Derek, just stop." She sighed and opened her laptop. "Ruben and his dad are both going to beat me just for showing the map to you. Don't get into trouble. I don't want Ruben blaming me if you die."
"I don't actually plan on going," Derek said, sounding as convincing as he could manage. "I just think I could be more of a help if I see the information."
"Here," she said, pulling up a map of the city. "These little red dots indicate properties we know he owns, and the pinker shade shows what we've already checked out. The blue ones are properties we suspect he owns, and the yellow are ones that have been linked to human trafficking in previous cases."
There were an awful lot of blue and yellow overlaps, and several instances where red was in pretty close proximity to yellow.
"I've had people check out the properties overlapping with yellow, but we haven't found any evidence of current traffic. The priciest places—such as his penthouse condo on Park Avenue—were almost immediately crossed off the list, due to the sheer insanity of trying to keep a smuggling ring in the center of the city. The FBI has forty or so places to watch and gather information on yet, and they should get a good portion of those done tomorrow."
Derek stared hard at the map and tried to think of all the details Rye had given him about his first real escape from his prison in the City. If they could find that place, they might get the solid evidence they'd need.
Rye had been in an apartment, on the third floor. He'd come out in some less than savory neighborhood, he'd said, but that could be a good number of places on the map—even more, after dark. He'd seen skyscrapers in the distance, but he hadn't been close to one. That described far too much of NYC. Derek squinted at the map and reached up to block the skyscrapers out with his hand.
There were still at least two dozen red arrows, and twice as many blue.
Pagely was smart, Derek thought. Pagely wouldn't put Rye where anyone suspected him to be.
Derek ignored the yellow and concentrated on where the red and blue stood alone.
"Try here next," he said, pointing at a cluster of five dots close together, somewhere in the depths of Brooklyn.
"Okay," Gina said, accepting his statement without question.
She pretended not to see as Derek scribbled down the addresses for himself, and then began to scroll through the various pictures.
"This place, where is it?" he asked as he came across a shot of the outside of an old apartment building. There was trash on one corner, and Derek saw shattered windows on the third floor.
"Here, it's one of the group you picked out earlier. They took that picture yesterday. Should I try to convince the dad-in-law to look into that one tomorrow morning?"
Derek nodded. Gina squinted at him for a moment, then dug into her purse.
"Here. Take this, just in case." She handed him her camera. "You never know when it might come in handy."
Yeah. Gina was a smart one.
He left Ruben and Gina's condo with the addresses burnt into his memory, and instead of driving to his apartment, he drove past the buildings he strongly suspected had been used in holding Rye hostage the first time. Two buildings didn't have skyscrapers visible, and a third was in the middle of renovations. He wound his way over to the next old apartment building, the one with the shattered windows. The whole place made him feel greasy. He parked along the street, hoping his pickup didn't get towed while he was inside. He pulled Gina's digital camera from his pocket.
The main entrance to the apartment building had no security, and Derek slipped into the dark without fanfare. The stairs were made of bare wood and had dark stains set in almost every riser. One step was still partially lined with an abandoned strip of carpet tacking.
Derek climbed up and tried to ignore the faint scent of urine.
The third floor had four doors leading from the landing, and two of them had music coming from behind them. Derek pressed his ear to the third and heard faint television noises. A faint aura tickled his skin, one of sadness and futility.
The fourth was the apartment with the broken windows. Listening through the door awarded only silence.
Derek tried the knob. Locked. Of course it wasn't going to be that easy.
He gave the door a good, solid kick. The sad aura intensified, and he heard the creak of ancient hinges.
"It ain't gonna open." The door across the hall had swung in, and light poured out behind the little black-haired, black-eyed girl. She couldn't have been more than ten or eleven. The TV was on softly behind her, running an old cartoon.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" Derek asked.
"Why won't the door open?"
"It's a strong door, it won't break. My brother tried to get in, one time, when somethin' started stinkin' inside. He had to pick the lock. There was two boys. I think one was dead, but he wouldn't let me look."
"Then it's the right apartment," Derek said. "Has anyone been back since?"
"The man who rented it, once right afterward. We stayed inside, just in case."
"Is your brother home?"
She shook her head, face somber.
"He went away a few weeks ago and don't come back. I don't got no one to take care of me, now."
"No family?" Derek asked, kneeling in front of her.
"No. Ma, she died when I was little. Marco is all I got."
"Do you have enough food, Nina?" Derek asked.
"Marco stocked up, always did. He collected denty cans. Landlord'll be kicking me out soon, I think, but until then, I'm set. I been goin' to school, too, like Marco always says I should," she said defensively.
"I know a couple people who might be able to help you out," Derek said. "They're helping me find out why there were boys in cages, and who the boys were, and where they went. They're taking care of my rabbit right now. They might be able to find you another place to live, too, and help you find your brother."
She just blinked up at him, and he could see the disbelief in her eyes. She wasn't the sort to hope.
"I'll make you a deal, mister, 'cause I like you. You call and see if you can get me taken care of," she said wisely. "I can pick the door for you in return. Marco was teachin' me."
"Would you? I wouldn't know where to start," Derek said, feeling for all the world like a horribly corrupting influence.
She nodded, darting back into her dingy little apartment. When she returned, she had a cheap set of lock picks clutched in her little hands. She watched as Derek dialed Gina's number on his cell phone and started talking. He quickly told Gina about the girl, and she agreed to come over and talk to Nina after cursing Derek a blue streak for taking off and investigating on his own. Not that she hadn't expected it. Then she reminded him to take pictures, and possibly a movie of the apartment once he was in. After Gina's lecture wound down, Derek handed the phone to Nina, who immediately started to bargain over where she ought to get sent as she fiddled with the lock in a careful, studious manner.
The door popped open a few minutes later, and she stepped back, triumphant. The faint scent of decay wafted over them both, and she wrinkled her little nose. She handed the phone back to Derek and backed up toward her door.
"Here, Nina," Derek said, pulling his wallet out of his pocket. "Take this for your hard work. It should hold you over until Gina comes. And thanks."
She grinned at the handful of twenties and darted back into her apartment, door closing softly behind her.
"Oh God, Gina," Derek whispered. "It's bad. I can smell it."
"Is he there?"
"No, it's abandoned. It's been abandoned for a while, but I'm sure it's where he was held last time."
"If it's that bad, get out of there. We'll get law enforcement in there tomorrow morning."
"No. I need to see. For Rye's sake, I need to see."
"Derek—" Gina said, but he was already hitting the end button and tucking the phone back in his pocket.
He pushed the door open further and slid inside, trying to keep himself from puking at the faint rotting stench that still permeated everything inside. He slid his video camera out of its case and began to record.
The living room contained the two broken windows, and two heavy, moldy curtains kept the light from permeating inside. A bloody mattress was tipped against one wall. A cheap plastic toolbox sat next to it. A pair of rusty pliers rested on top of the lid.
The walls had been hastily soundproofed, and the door had been reinforced with metal bars and cheap insulation. Even in this cheap little apartment complex, nobody would have heard the sheer panic behind the screams. The muffled noises would be brushed off as TV programming, or something from a video game. He kept going, looking for any sort of clue as to where Rye might be.
Six giant dog kennels sat in the bedroom. One had skeletal, half-rotting remains inside. Four were empty. The last was open, with nothing more than a little dried blood and a lot of broken down bodily waste to mark the former occupant.
Oh, Rye. Derek wanted to kneel down and cry. Instead, picked up the phone to call Gina again. The cops would have to come soon, if only for the body. Then he held up the camera. He needed documentation. Evidence for Gina and the FBI to work with.
He had to find his boy, and he had to find him soon.
He knew what Pagely was capable of. He was seeing it with his own two eyes. Pagely wouldn't have cared if Rye had died, just like the nameless skeleton.
The fact that the skeleton was still there made Derek even more frustrated. Pagely was so confident in his ability to keep his secrets that he hadn't done anything about the evidence.
Pagely was more confident than Derek was, when he'd left Rye all alone.
The man was so cocky he probably had Rye in his fucking penthouse.
"What do you mean, they won't go in?" Derek shouted at a disheveled Ruben. He'd been on the phone with his father for hours, trying to find some way to get into Pagely's condo.
"Dad won't authorize a move without a warrant, and for that we need proof. We already sent a contingent out to check on the body you found last night—that gave them what they need to convince a judge—but the convincing itself will take time."
"Is the body not proof enough?" Derek gave Ruben a thoroughly disgusted look. "You saw the pictures."
"I know, I know. After seeing that, I was ready to go, but they need to check out the place and make sure Pagely had some sort of connection to the building."
"Try being there, Ruben. God. I never thought I'd see something worse than Seth in the basement, but that got close. How soon do you think they'll be able to get a warrant?"
"It's too late. He put himself under my protection, Ruben, and I know he's got to be at the penthouse."
"There's nothing we can do until they decide to move."
"Then I'm going to go knock on the front door," Derek said. "If I so much as feel Rye's aura, I'll do everything I can to get into that condo."
"Are you a fucking idiot?" Ruben asked, snorting. "Knocking on the front door?"
"He knocked on my front door. I can do the same to him," Derek replied. "I have nothing to lose, Ruben. Not any more. He took it all away when he took Rye."
"He took away your brains, too. Idiot."
"Yup. Derek is an idiot in love," Gina said from the kitchen. She brought out plates heaping with breakfast and settled them in front of the men. "I just have one request. Wear a tracer, so we can find you once everything starts moving. And watch the language, we have little ears around." She darted back into the kitchen for her own plate and the juice carton before Derek could thank her. Nina came trailing out with her own food.
"You're supposed to be helping me keep Derek alive, not encouraging him," Ruben said.
"If I were in his shoes, I'd do the same for you," she said, pouring orange juice into her husband's glass. "I'll go get that tracer," Gina said with a fond smile at the both of them. "I'd love to give you a gun, but I don't think the FBI would like that. When they get the warrant, they'll chase after you as quickly as they can," she reassured him.
She sped out of the room, a woman on a mission. Nina began to pick at her food, though she watched Derek and Ruben when she thought they weren't looking.
"Great. We can find your body faster." Ruben snarled. He still hadn't jumped into the plan the way his wife had, and Derek winced at the harshness in his voice. His friend had always been there for him, but Ruben cared for Derek like a brother, and he was having a hard time letting Derek walk into what could, potentially, be a very bad situation.
"I'd appreciate that," Derek said with a grim smile. "I don't want to start stinking before you find me. You'd never be able to look at me the same way again."
"I don't think I can look at you now," Ruben said, heaving his most put-upon sigh. Derek stood when Gina came back, and she studied his body from top to bottom.
"Where would a gay man not see this?" she asked, holding up the giant syringe.
"Um," Derek said, staring at the needle. "I'm pretty sure he'd find that if he frisked me. It's big."
"The capsule inside, silly," she grumbled.
"We can just stick it under my shirt, can't we? No injection needed?"
"And what if he gets you out of your clothes?" Gina asked sharply. "He isn't exactly the sweetest man in the world, and you're waltzing into his house. Bad things could happen to you if he's home, Derek."
"Little ears," Ruben called, exchanging a wide-eyed look with Nina.
"All right, all right. It'll make a bump, right?" Derek glanced down at himself. "My feet. He didn't seem like a foot fetish kind of guy, and if he is, he might not be able to distinguish between tracer bump and vein." He took off his shoe and sock and pointed at the lightly haired, veiny skin. "See? Not something he'd find in the middle of a r—" Derek glanced over at Nina and bit off the rest of the word.
"Great. Now you're treating rape like a viable possibility," Ruben said. "You know, he'll probably kill you just to make sure you stay out of his way."
"Nina, will you bring the orange juice back to the fridge? I don't want it to get warm," Gina said.
Nina bounded out of the room with the carton. Derek was pretty sure the girl would start eavesdropping, now.
"I know death is a possibility, Ruben." Derek sighed. "And won't that just cinch the FBI case? I will do whatever it takes to get Rye out of there now. He was fragile when I had him. This might break him completely. Even if I die in the process, I expect you to take care of him and then send him out to Seth and Curtis's place. What if they had Gina? You'd expect the same from me."
That finally shut Ruben up. Gina stuck the giant needle in Derek's foot, and he tried not to think of what was squeezing under his skin. When she was done, a little red circle and a faint bump that blended in with the rest were all the evidence of his new tracker.
"Take the cell phone, too. We'll have you on speakerphone. Call me before you try and get into the building, and I'll find Ruben's dad so he can listen in to whatever happens. When you hang up or stop talking, we'll know you're in trouble." Gina tossed him a black brick of a phone, and Derek pocketed it obediently.