The Magic in Your Touch Ch. 08bywavyscribe©
A deputy escorted Seth to the main interrogation room of the Reed County Sheriff’s Department. He was still wiping the ink off his fingertips when Bran came into the room and sat down at the table across from him.
“You mind telling me why I was brought in here like some kind of criminal and fingerprinted? Next you’ll be reading me my rights and taking mug shots.”
Bran shook his head. “I don’t think that will be necessary. As soon as my expert compares your prints to the partial found on the undercarriage of Nate’s car, you’ll be cleared and free to go.”
“If you’re so sure I’m innocent, why in the hell did you bring me in?”
Brandon held up the plastic bag containing the rental car receipt. “Because somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to implicate you. I want you cleared, with all the forms filled out in triplicate, so I can nail the bastard responsible.”
Seth eyed the baggie. “I don’t understand how I could be implicated. I didn’t rent the car. Phillip did.”
Bran opened up the file he’d brought in with him and pulled out Bingham’s copy of the receipt. He handed it to Seth. “That’s your name on the bottom of that form, and MasterCard says it’s your card.”
Seth stared at the paper with a blank face. “First of all, that’s not my handwriting. Second, I use American Express for my personal transactions. The only time I use MasterCard is in my business dealings.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He removed his driver’s license and gave it to Bran. “Go ahead. Compare the signatures.”
“Look Seth, I already know you’re innocent. You were in Georgia when Nate was attacked, and when he had his accident. Believe me, I already checked. So there’s no reason to lie about the credit card.”
“Exactly, so why would I lie?” He leaned forward. “Look, Brandon, I’ll admit that I wasn’t crazy about you the first time we met, but I’ve developed a new respect for you since then. It’s obvious how much you and Nate love each other, and since I plan on being a part of my brother’s life from now on, it’s in my best interest to get along with you. I’m not lying.”
“Then why did the credit card company identify you as the client?”
“I’m one of the card holders, but not the only one. My father and I both have cards that we use for Mor-co business. I’ve been working for Dad while finishing up my degree, so I’ve used the card quite a bit, but only for business expenses. As for the car, Phillip rented it the day he came in. If you’ll remember, I took a taxi from the airport to the hospital. The next morning, Keith gave me a ride to your house. I depended on the kindness of various members of your family to get me where I needed to go until Phillip drove in from the airport yesterday.”
“Why would Phillip sign your name, and what in the hell is he doing with a Mor-co Company Credit Card?”
“That, I couldn’t tell you. I do know that he couldn’t have used my card because I’ve had it with me ever since I flew in from Atlanta. I used it to purchase all that equipment for the hospital.”
Brandon sat in quiet thought before saying, “Seth, I know how you feel about Phillip, but—”
“But if he’s involved with what happened to Nate, I want you to fry his ass. No matter how I feel about Phillip, Nate comes first. To tell you the truth, whether he’s involved or not, I’d like to know what in the hell he’s doing with a Mor-co credit card.”
“If that’s how you feel, I think I know of a way to make him tip his hand. Does anyone know why you were brought in here tonight?”
“No. Sam dropped your grandfather off and told the rest of them that you wanted me to sign Nate’s hospital report since I’m listed as his next of kin. If anyone was suspicious, I couldn’t sense it.”
Brandon nodded. “Good. We’ll have to take Patterson by surprise. How are your acting skills?”
Seth raised his voice an octave and said, “Just call me Seth Morris, drama queen.”
* * *
It was after midnight before Brandon slid into the bed beside Nate’s sleeping body. He gathered him close and was almost asleep himself when Nate said, “Where ya been?”
Brandon sighed. He’d hoped to at least avoid this conversation until morning. He turned Nate over so he could look into his eyes. He gave him a brief overview about the case, including the latest news that Marjorie was in guarded condition, according to Eva, her partner. He also told him about Seth’s credit card and his plan to incriminate Philip.
Nate was quiet for so long, Bran began to worry. “Nate, you know I would never do anything to hurt you or your family, don’t you?”
Nate reached up and stroked his still raw cheek. “I trust you, Bran. I just have a bad feeling, that’s all.”
Bran kissed his forehead. “Me too, baby. Me, too.”
* * *
Nathan decided to have breakfast in the kitchen with the rest of the family. All of Bran’s siblings went home late the night before, except for Keith, who, after checking Nate over and finding his heart rate elevated, decided to stay, just in case. Grandma and Grandpa Taylor opted to go home, but Dean and Gale stayed. Nate had a feeling that as long as his parents occupied one of Bran’s guest rooms, Dean and Gale would be close by.
He was seated at the table, drinking juice when Bran came down. He leaned in for a soft kiss then turned to the counter and grabbed the coffee pot.
Nate said, “You aren’t really going to drink that coffee in front of me, are you?”
“Since when can’t you have coffee?”
Keith came in and took the pot from Bran. “Since I checked him last night and his heart rate was elevated. I don’t want him to have caffeine in any form for the next few days.”
Brandon sat down next to Nate. “Is this something I should be worried about?”
Keith added a generous helping of cream to his coffee. “Not really. I’m sure it’s just a reaction to the blood thinners they gave him to reduce the possibility of clotting, but I don’t want him over-stimulated until they clear out of his system.”
“Damn. That cuts out what I was going to do to him this afternoon.” Keith and Bran both laughed at Nate’s blush.
Phillip came in with Seth. “Where I come from, we keep sex talk out of polite conversation.”
Nate started to say something, but Brandon beat him to it. “Considering you and Seth sleep in separate bedrooms, it looks like you don’t have much to talk about, anyway.”
Philip’s face turned a mottled shade of red, but he didn’t say anything. The sound of a door opening and then closing caught their attention as Gale came through the mudroom. She reset the alarm and walked into the kitchen.
“Sorry I wasn’t here to start breakfast, kids. Your dad got an early call from one of Wayne’s job sights, so I asked him to take me by the house so I could pick up my car. I’ll have something fixed in just a minute.”
Nate said, “Gale, you don’t have to wait on us, you know. Bran has enough sugary cereal in the cabinet to give an entire third world country diabetes.”
Bran stuck out his tongue and blew Nate a raspberry. “Just because my eating habits weren’t the best before you came along is no reason to pick on me.” He looked at Gale. “He is right, though, Mom. We can make do without you going to a lot of trouble.”
“Brandon, there isn’t a mother alive who doesn’t enjoy fussing over her children. You’re my boys. It’s a mother’s right.”
Calder walked into the kitchen. “That’s funny. I could have sworn Nathan was my son, not yours.”
Nate saw the flash of anger in Bran’s eyes and knew he was about to let Calder have it for being rude to Gale. Thankfully, Leda heard and came to the rescue.
“Calder, sit down and I’ll pour you some coffee. Gale, how about I make my Grandmother Winston’s buttermilk pancakes. Nathan and Seth just adore them, don’t you boys?”
A double reply of “yes, ma’am” took the spotlight away from Calder. Nate said a silent prayer of thanks for his mother’s interference. He glanced at the clock. Ten minutes until show time. Brandon saw where he was looking and squeezed his good hand under the table.
Gale sliced some fruit while Leda mixed pancake batter. She’d just heated the griddle when someone knocked on the back door. Gale wiped her hands on a dish towel and said, “Sit back down, Brandon. I’ll get it. It’s probably just Megan coming by for lunch money. She stayed at home by herself last night and I forgot to give it to her. I didn’t even think about it when I picked up the car.”
Nate kept his eyes on his heavy cast so now one would see his apprehension. He glanced at Seth and was rewarded with a reassuring smile.
Gale’s voice carried through from the mudroom. “Good morning, Sam. We were just about to have breakfast. Will you join us?”
“Thank you, ma’am, but no. I’m afraid I’m here on official business.” He walked into the kitchen and came to stand by Seth’s chair, whipping out his handcuffs as he went.
“Stand up please.” When Seth complied, Sam pulled his arms behind his back and snapped the cuffs on his wrists.
Calder jumped up. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing, Deputy?”
Sam ignored him. “Seth Morris, you’re under arrest for arson and attempted murder.” He pulled Seth towards the door as he read him his rights.
Calder said, “Now wait just a damn minute here. You have no proof that Seth has done anything wrong.”
“I’m afraid we do, sir. His credit card was used to rent a car three days ago. The receipt was found at the scene of last night’s arson.”
Seth let out a frightened whimper. “Dad, I’m innocent, I swear it. I didn’t even rent a car when I got here.”
“Leda, call my lawyer. Don’t you worry, Son. I’ll get you out of this.”
Bran stood up. “No offense, Mr. Morris, but if Seth’s credit card was used to rent the car, I’d say the evidence is pretty solid.”
Calder spoke to Sam. “Which credit card was used?”
Sam pretended to think about it. “I believe it was a MasterCard.”
“That’s the company card. I have one, too.”
“Yes sir, the credit card company told us that, but you weren’t in Illinois when the car was rented. Your son was the only one in the state with the particular card.”
Nate couldn’t help but enjoy the look of fear on Phillip’s arrogant face. He must have sensed what was coming.
Calder said, “Seth and I aren’t the only ones on the company account. There’s one more card, and Phillip has it.”
Brandon eased over beside Sam. “I wasn’t aware you worked for Mor-co, Patterson.”
Phillip’s voice had lost its smugness. “I don’t.”
“Well, unless you can tell me what you’re doing with a Mor-co credit card, I’m afraid we’ll just have to believe you and Calder are lying to protect Seth. Sam, take him out to the car. I’m right behind you.”
“Wait, dammit.” Calder’s eyes darted around the room like a scared rabbit’s. “Patterson does have a card. I should know. I gave it to him.”
* * *
Brandon took a perverse amount of satisfaction in watching Phillip sweating and pacing through the two way mirror of the interrogation room. Sam came up with a package in his hand. “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?”
“Hit me with the worst news first. That way I have something to look forward to later on.”
“You got it, Boss. Patterson’s prints don’t match the one on Doc Morris’s undercarriage. Not only that, but the fire marshal says the fire was set between five-thirty and six o’clock. There’s no way Patterson could have started that fire because—”
“Because he was sitting in my living room at the time. Damn. What’s the good news?”
“Well, technically, we’ve got him on credit card fraud.” He held up the package he was carrying. “This is the surveillance tape from Bingham’s. It shows Patterson renting the car. The time stamps on the tape and the receipt match.”
Brandon nodded. “I doubt Seth will press charges just because Phillip signed his name to a receipt. It might be enough to scare him into telling us the deal between him and Calder, though.”
Sam’s smile was enough to light the hallway. “I’ll be out here watching. I can’t wait to see you shake that cocky bastard up.”
“I’m looking forward to it. Before we start, though, I want you to bring Seth into the hall so he can see the whole thing. Whatever’s going on involves his father. He has a right to hear it first hand.”
“Where is Mr. Morris, anyway?”
“Sitting in my office demanding that Seth be allowed a lawyer. He hasn’t caught on to the fact that it’s all a set-up, yet. I might feel sorry for him if he weren’t such a pompous jerk.”
Sam agreed and went to get Seth. When they returned Brandon put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Are you sure you’re up for this, bud?”
“No, but what the hell? It’s not like Phillip and I have this great relationship at stake. To tell you the truth, I’m starting to wonder if the guy’s even gay.”
Brandon wondered the same thing, but he didn’t comment. He clapped Seth on the back and stepped into the interrogation room, videotape in hand. Phillip gave him that hunted look that told Bran he was on the verge of cracking.
“Look Sheriff, I know my rights. You have to let me call a lawyer. Hell, I don’t even know what I’m being charged with.”
Bran turned his chair around backwards and straddled it. “That’s because you haven’t been charged with anything, yet. You’re being detained as a material witness.”
“Witness? Witness to what?”
“To the transaction that produced the receipt we found at our crime scene.”
“You mean the car rental? No, that was all Seth. I wasn’t even there.”
Bran walked over to the television in the corner and popped the tape into the built-in VCR. Patterson stared in slack jawed astonishment at the film of himself behind the counter at Bingham’s.
Brandon crossed his arms over his chest. “Funny thing about security cameras. Everybody’s got them these days, even car rental places. The time stamps on the tape and the receipt match exactly. Either Seth is a magician capable of such amazing feats as signing his name to a piece of paper from thirty miles away, or that tape proves you guilty of credit card fraud. Since I’m not big on out of body experiences, I’d put my money on the last one.”
“I didn’t steal that card. You heard what Calder said. He gave it to me.”
“What I want to know is, why?”
Some of the smugness returned. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”
Bran walked to the door. “You’re right. You don’t have to tell me anything. I’ll turn the case over to the F.B.I. and let them handle it.”
He could almost hear Patterson swallowing. “The F.B.I.?”
Bran gave him a look of feigned surprise. “Well, sure. I thought a smart guy like you, so up on the law and all, would know that forgery is a federal offense.”
“Seth will never press charges against me. He loves me.”
“After you were ready to hang him out to dry to save your own skin? I seriously doubt it. Here, let’s ask him.” Bran opened the door and Seth stepped inside.
“Seth, are you gonna press charges?”
Seth’s face was a mask of disgust and hurt, but his voice was strong. “Oh, I think so. I mean, it isn’t every day a guy finds out his boyfriend is willing to send him up river for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Brandon said, “Alright, then. Let’s go get the ball rolling.”
Phillip’s desperation was sickening. “Wait! I’ll tell you whatever it is you want to know if you promise not to prosecute.”
Brandon said, “That all depends on what you have to say.”
“Please. I’ll cooperate. Just. . .don’t arrest me, man. Please.”
Bran took a seat and waited for Seth to do the same. “We’re listening.”
“Where should I start?”
“How about telling us why Calder gave you that card?”
“For expenses. I’ve been using it to take Seth out to dinner, rent hotel rooms, buy clothes, you name it.”
“Why would you need to do that? You told me your parents were well off.”
This time Phillip’s disdain was for himself. “If by well off you mean able to afford a double wide trailer instead of a single, then yeah, they are.” He lowered his head. “My folks are poor, man. Dirt poor.”
Seth just shook his head. “But you go to college. If your family is so poor, how can you afford it? Surely my father isn’t paying for that, too.”
“No. I got a scholarship. It pays for tuition and books, but nothing else.”
Brandon said, “Let me guess. It’s a drama scholarship, right?”
“Damn, you’re good. Yeah, it’s a drama scholarship. Have you figured the rest of it out, too?”
“I think so, but I want Seth to hear it from you. And don’t even think about lying. The least you owe him is the truth.”
Phillip nodded. He addressed his next statements to Seth alone. “I’m an actor, Seth. I’ve been doing community theater in and around Atlanta, but I’ve also had a few voice-over parts. Your father contacted my agent and said he wanted somebody to play the part of a rich gay guy to come on to his son. My agent chose me because your father thought I was your type.”
“How would he know? He thought I’d gone straight. ” “Apparently that campus shrink you were seeing after you broke away from Calder’s therapist has a secretary who was hurting for cash. She sold a copy of your file to your dad. Everything you told that counselor went straight to him. As soon as he found out you were still having feelings for other guys, he decided to step in and do something about it.”
Seth spoke in a flat voice that worried the hell out of Bran. “So what, exactly, did he hope to gain by hiring you?”
“I was supposed to come on to you, make you fall for me. Your father provided everything I needed to show you a good time. He wanted me to put it all on the card so he could make sure his money was being put to good use. He even told me to sign your name so if you saw the receipts, you would just chalk it up to a business expense. He wanted me to wind you up, get you hooked. He was adamant about no sex, though. I was to give you just enough to keep you interested. It was his idea to use the rape as an excuse to make you have an AIDS test. Your dad said that would buy me six months, at least.”
“Maybe I’m just stupid—and obviously I’m not too bright or I wouldn’t have fallen for your act—but what exactly did you need time for?”
Bran saw the first signs of remorse on Phillip’s face. “Seth, your dad still thinks this gay thing is a choice. He thinks you’ll snap out of it. He wanted me to make you love me, and then turn around and dump you. He wanted me to break your heart.”
Seth sank back into his chair. Brandon could only guess at the pain he must be feeling, but he didn’t have time to offer comfort now. Too many questions were still unanswered. He trained his cop’s eyes on Patterson. “Morris thought if you hurt Seth badly enough, he’d decide to try his luck with girls?” As hard as he tried, he couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his voice.
Philip nodded. “Calder thinks that Seth has chosen to be gay. He thought that if Seth’s first relationship since the rape ended in disaster, the two bad experiences combined would make him give up on guys for good.” He looked at Seth’s stony face. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Seth, I’m not gay. That’s why I took the job to begin with. My girlfriend is pregnant. Not that it’ll make you feel any better, but I don’t believe it’s a choice. And Seth, if I was gay, I’d consider myself lucky to be with a guy like you.”
Phillip was thrown by the question. “I’m not following.”
Brandon was relieved to hear some emotion in Seth’s voice, even if that emotion was anger. “How much did my father pay you to dick me around?”
“Fifty thousand. Twenty-five up front, the rest when the job was finished. That doesn’t include what I put on the credit card.”
Brandon said, “Nice work if you can get it, but where does Nate figure into all this?”
“According to Calder, Nathan is the reason Seth ‘turned queer’ to begin with—his words, not mine. When Seth started talking about seeing his brother again, Calder panicked. Then the newspaper guy’s son called and told them about the attack outside the doctor’s office. Leda wanted to fly up right then, but Calder stalled her by saying he wanted to reconcile with Nathan. He convinced her that he was alright with the whole gay thing and wanted time to make things right.”