The Way You Say My Name Ch. 16bywavyscribe©
"Now can we go to the Sheriff?" Dillon sat down on the couch, next to Jamie and across from Megan and Heath who were sharing the loveseat. He took a sip of the coke he'd brought with him from the kitchen, wishing it was something stronger.
Jamie shook his head. "Not until we know all of it."
Dillon should have known it wasn't gonna be that easy. "Why in the hell not? We know all the players, and with those pictures of Burke having sex with underage girls, there's not a doubt in my mind that he was Ben's second victim."
Heath snorted and scooted even closer to Megan, though Dillon would have swore they were already as close as two people could get without actually sharing the same skin. "Some victim. You ask me, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." He looked to Jamie. "What did you do with the pictures?"
"I asked Dillon to hide them for me, but not to tell me where they are until I decide what to do with them. I know that sounds weird, but I feel better not having to see them." He sighed. "I know I should just hand them over to the Sheriff, but I'm half scared he won't believe me. Blackmail, prostitution, pay-offs. This whole mess sounds more like a soap opera plot than something that actually happened."
"I know my brother, Jamie. If you tell him the truth and show him the evidence, he's gonna believe you. He's too smart not to." Megan leaned forward, taking Heath with her. "And I'm sure when you do talk to Brandon, Ash will be glad to go with you and back up you up with the story of his own blackmail."
Dillon, who'd just taken another sip, got so choked up Jamie had to whack him on the back a few times to clear the Coke out of his windpipe. "How did you know about that?"
Megan shrugged. "I went to see him in the hospital a few days after his near miss. I mean, I've gone to school with the guy for practically my whole life. It was only right that I go check on him. We started talking, and he told me what happened." Megan leaned back against Heath. "To be honest, I think he just needed to get the whole thing out of his system, poor guy. And he gave me permission to tell Heath, too. That's my point. If Ash is willing to let me tell a perfect stranger like Heath what happened to him, I'm sure he'd be happy to cooperate if you wanted to tell Brandon."
Jamie said, "How is Ash, anyway? I heard he was home from the hospital." Jamie lowered his eyes in that way that made Dillon's heart ache for all he'd been through. "I wanted to go see him, but I was afraid it would make things harder on him. You know, bring it all back."
Megan's smile was so warm and loving towards Jamie, Dillon could have kissed her. "Ash figured that's why you haven't been around. He said to tell you and Dillon both he'd love to see you, anytime."
Dillon set his Coke on the table and studied his brother's face, finding the way Heath's facial muscles tensed at Megan's words fascinating. "And just when did Ash tell you that? Did you go see him?"
Megan turned to face Heath. "You know I did. I told you about it."
Heath shook his head. "You told me you visited him at the hospital. You didn't say anything about going to his house."
"Oh for Heaven's sake, Heath. The guy needed a friend. I've been to see him a few times, and I don't think I should have to apologize for it. I don't know why you'd be jealous, anyway. You don't seem to care about how much time I spend with Dillon and Jamie."
Heath crossed his arms over his chest. "That's different. Dillon and Jamie are gay."
"And so is Ash."
"Ash is bisexual, meaning he plays both ways. Big difference, Meggie. I don't like it."
Megan stood up, pulling on Heath's hand so that he came to his feet as well. She gave Dillon and Jamie an apologetic smile. "Before this turns into another one of our fifty-decibel-discussions, Heath and I are gonna go." She blew them both a kiss, and shook her head when they started to rise. "Don't get up. We know the way out. And Jamie?"
"No matter what you decide about telling Brandon, I'm behind you all the way." On that note she left, taking a grumbling Heath with her.
Jamie leaned into Dillon's embrace. "I don't know what we did to deserve Megan, but I'm glad we've got her."
Dillon kissed his cheek. "She's a sweetheart, all right. I just hope Heath doesn't hurt her."
Jamie looked up at him in surprise. "You really think he would?"
"Not intentionally, no. But Heath has a whole lot of baggage he's carrying around with him. I just hope it doesn't spill out on Megan."
That peaked Jamie's interest. "What kind of baggage?"
Dillon pulled him in as close as possible. "To be honest, I'm not sure. I just have the feeling that something happened right about the time Heath moved out of Mom and Dad's house. Nothing was ever said to me, and Heath won't talk about it, but that's the feeling I get."
Jamie nodded. "You're probably right. You have good instincts."
Dillon didn't want to fight, but he couldn't let an opening that good pass him by. "Yeah? Well, if I have such good instincts, why won't you listen to me about going to the sheriff."
Jamie pulled away slightly, but to Dillon's relief, he didn't go far. "Those pictures we found tonight don't necessarily mean that Burke was Ben's victim, Dillon."
"You don't believe that, Jamie. Hell, it was your idea to call Megan and Heath over here to tell them what we'd found. Why would you do that if you didn't believe we had proof positive?"
Jamie did get up then, but Dillon sensed it was more a case of restless energy than anger. After a few minutes of pacing across the living room, Jamie stopped long enough to look at Dillon and say, "So what's our theory, then? That Burke killed Ben because Ben was blackmailing him?"
Dillon knew Jamie wasn't going to like what he had to say next, but that wasn't going to stop him from saying it. Jamie needed to face the truth. "Jamie, you have to stop looking for killers around every corner. Brandon's already arrested Ben's killer. His name is Barry Sledge, professional drunk, and he's sitting in the county jail right now awaiting his sentence."
Jamie pulled at his hair in a gesture of complete frustration. "Damn it, Dillon, can't you see what's right in front of you? It's too much of a coincidence that Ben was blackmailing two people for thousands of dollars each and then just happened to end up dead? Life doesn't work that way."
"Life isn't an eight-dollar mystery novel, either. It's time you stopped trying to make it one." Dillon was doing his best to hang on to his temper, but Jamie wasn't making it easy with his stubborn refusal to listen.
Jamie's cheeks were bright red and flushed with anger. "All right then. Since you have an answer for everything, answer this one for me. You're so sure Burke didn't kill Ben. Who killed Burke, then?"
Dillon stood up. "Gee, Jamie, I can't imagine who would want to kill Burke. I mean, who in his right mind would want to off a kiddy pimp/child molester. I can't think of a soul."
"Do you have to be so damn sarcastic?"
It wasn't until Dillon heard the quiver in Jamie's voice that he realized how worn out Jamie was. Dillon's anger dissipated like a thin fog, almost at once. Dillon crossed the room and took Jamie into his arms, all but crushing him against his chest. "No, I don't. I'm sorry, babe. I'm just worried and ready for this to be over."
Jamie nodded but didn't say anything. Desperate to reach a compromise, Dillon said "I don't wanna fight about this. Can we try something here, please?"
Jamie murmured "What," into Dillon's chest. Dillon smiled in spite of the tension between them. At least Jamie was interested. Dillon said, "It's too late to go to the auto parts store tonight, and I have to work every evening until closing for the rest of the week. But Saturday, I get off at four. Let's take the tire from the trunk in and let the guy at the auto parts store look at it. Then we'll make up our minds about what really happened that night, okay?"
Jamie nodded and hugged him tighter. Dillon only hoped when the evidence came in proving that Ben's death was caused by Sledge--and only Sledge--Jamie would accept it.
The guy down at Autos-R-Us--Joe, according to his nametag-- took one look at the tire Dillon had pulled from Ben's trunk and said, "Dude, who slashed your tire?"
Dillon could feel Jamie go rigid beside him. "You mean the tire was cut?"
Joe narrowed his eyes. "You're telling me your tire was cut and you didn't even know it."
Jamie shook his head. "The car belonged to a friend of mine. The tire was like that when I got it."
Joe took a pen out of his pocket and pointed to the black surface. "See this gash here, on the side?"
Jamie said, "Yeah, I see it. But what does it mean?"
Dillon tuned Joe out as he gave Jamie his explanation. Dillon already knew what it meant. If Ben had run over something which caused the tire to go flat, the gash would be on the bottom, not the side. But even in the face of mounting evidence that was contrary to his own theory, Dillon wasn't going to give up. If he admitted that the tire had been cut the night of Ben's death, then he'd have to admit the truth: someone wanted it to look like Ben had a flat tire that night and therefore had a reason to be out of his car on a deserted road in the middle of the night. Someone with something to hide. Something like murder. Nope, Dillon was not ready to believe that, not yet. To Joe, he said, "But couldn't running into something, say a ragged curb, couldn't that gash a tire on the side?"
It was Joe's turn to shake his head. "Not like this one was cut. See here?" Using the pen, he again pointed to the tire. "Take a close look and you'll see what I mean."
Dillon did as he was asked and out of the corner of his eye saw Jamie doing the same thing. The minute Dillon was eye level with the tire, he knew the truth. There, amid a store crowded with engine parts and the smell of old oil, all Dillon's theories about the night Ben died crumbled.
Jamie straightened up first. "I don't know anything about cars and even I can tell that tire was cut with a knife. It's just too clean and narrow to have been made by anything else."
Joe nodded. "That's about the size of it. I can patch it if you want me to."
Dillon said, "No, don't do that. Can you get us a used tire in the same size? The one that's on there now was shredded by a tack strip. I doubt it can even be patched." He paused for a minute, thinking about the tire he hadn't had a chance to even remove in all the chaos caused by finding the pictures. "On second thought, see if you have two used tires in this size. That way we'll have a spare."
"Piece of cake." Joe looked down at the tire on the counter. "What do you want me to do with this one?"
Dillon had to drag the words out of his mouth. "We'll take it with us just like it is. We may need it for evidence."
Jamie gave him a long, searching stare. "Does that mean what I think it means?"
"Yes and no." Dillon took a deep breath. "Let's just say I'm less certain about Sledge's guilt now than I was when I walked in here. I want to keep that tire like it is, just in case."
Dillon could tell that Jamie was trying hard not to say "I-told-you-so." Instead, he said, "In other words, you're keeping an open mind."
"Yeah, something like that."
Jamie grinned. "A guy can't ask for any more than that."
As soon as they got back to the apartment, Dillon parked the Lumina and pulled all three tires out of the trunk. Jamie took the slashed tired from him and carried it into the garage, propping it against the far wall. Coming back to Dillon, Jamie pointed to the other tires. "Want to store those in the garage, too?"
Dillon shook his head. "Nah. We've got a couple hours of daylight left. Might as well go ahead, change the damaged one, and put the spare in the trunk. Wanna give me a hand?"
"Sure. What do you need me to do?"
Dillon rolled one of the tires towards the Firebird, which was still resting on the side of the driveway. "Throw this one in the trunk please. Oh, and grab the jack and the lug wrench while you're at it."
Jamie pulled the keys out of his pocket and went to the back of the Firebird. At least he knew what a lug wrench was and wouldn't have to embarrass himself by asking Dillon. Jamie had to hand it to Dillon, though. Not once had he ever made Jamie feel inferior for his lack of knowledge about cars. Just another reason Jamie was so crazy about the guy.
He threw the spare inside the trunk, ignoring the sight of the ruined lining and the memory of those pictures as best he could. He grabbed both the jack and the handle, tucking them under his left arm and reaching for the lug wrench with his right. That done, he closed the trunk and headed to where Dillon was crouched on the driver's side of the car.
Dillon took the lug wrench with a grateful smile and made quick work of loosening the lug nuts. When that was done, he said, "Put the jack together, would you, sweetie?"
Jamie grinned in spite of himself. "Sweetie? You going all girlie on me, Carver?"
Dillon laughed. "I told you that lube Megan gave us was turning me into a girl. You are sweet, though, and I can prove it."
"Oh really? How?"
"Cause, I've tasted you myself."
Damn if Jamie didn't blush just hearing that. Cheeks still flaming, Jamie set about screwing the handle onto the jack so Dillon could pump up the car. Screw. Pump. Thinking those words made Jamie blush even harder. Dillon was turning him into a total horn-dog, and Jamie didn't mind in the least.
Jamie gave the handle a twist, knitting his brows in frustration when it refused to tighten in. Finally, after five solid minutes of trying, he turned to Dillon. "I think I must be doing it wrong."
Dillon set aside the lug wrench and looked over Jamie's shoulder. "There's no way to do it wrong. All you do is screw it in."
"I'm trying, but it won't catch."
"Here, let me try." Dillon turned and took the jack handle, repeating the process Jamie had been struggling with. Jamie was strangely happy to see that Dillon was having no more success than he'd had. Finally, Dillon took a good look at both the jack and the handle and said, "No wonder they don't fit. They're different models. Hell, they aren't even the same brand."
It wasn't disbelieve of Dillon's statement that made Jamie take a look for himself. It was more like a sure certainty that Ben, who put the "P" in "picky" where it came to his car, would never have a made the mistake of pairing his jack with the wrong handle. Dillon must have had the same thought, because he said, "I don't believe this."
Jamie nodded. "I know. I can't believe Ben would have made that mistake."
"Jamie, this wasn't a mistake."
Jamie wondered if his face was as blank as his mind at that moment. "I don't understand. You just said you didn't believe it. Now you're saying you think Ben choose the wrong handle on purpose."
Dillon laid the handle on the ground, right in front of Jamie. "Look at the handle, Jamie. It's solid steel. They all are. And judging by the way this one is too small to catch on the threads at the base, I'm guessing the handle that goes with this jack is even more solid, thicker. Just the right size to club a man over the head with--"
"And then leave him lying in the middle of the road for some drunk to run down." Jamie finished Dillon's sentence with a horrifying realization. "You think the guy who really killed Ben bashed in his head with his own jack handle and then dragged his body into the middle of the road?"
"Yep. I also think that the killer slashed Ben's tire to make it look like he was fixing a flat and had a real reason to be out of the car that night. But he couldn't leave a bloody jack handle behind, so I think the killer probably switched Ben's jack handle with his own thinking no one would ever check it. And it worked, because no one did. Not until now, anyway."
Jamie closed his eyes, his brain doing it's best to keep up. When he was together enough to open them again, he looked at Dillon and said, "But how did he do it without being seen? And if Ben didn't really have a flat that night, what was he doing out of his car? And how did the killer get the jack handle out of the trunk to hit him with in the first place?"
Dillon leaned back against the car. "The first part is easy enough to answer. Tully Road is isolated enough that no one would be out there at that time of night except the occasional drunk on his way back from the beer joints. If I had to guess I'd say that's why Ben and the guy who killed him were meeting out there in the first place." Dillon rubbed his grimy hand over his face, leaving more than one smudge. "As for the rest of it, who knows? Just more pieces to add to this dam jigsaw puzzle Ben created."
Jamie wanted to argue that getting killed wasn't exactly Ben's fault, but he knew it would be a hard sell, even to himself. Blackmail and extortion weren't exactly conducive to long life and good health. One thing he couldn't argue against any longer, though, was going to see Brandon. Jamie couldn't keep fighting the truth. He and Dillon were over their heads, and they needed backup. Looking to Dillon, he said, "Can we wait about changing the tire?"
"Yeah, we can, but we don't have to. I have a jack in the trunk of the Lumina."
"It's not that. It's just that, well . . . " Jamie cleared his throat. "We need to go see Ash before we do anything else."
It was Dillon's turn to look confused. "Ash? Why?"
"Because I want to clear it with him before we go to see Brandon." Jamie looked Dillon dead in the eye. "You were right, Dillon. It's time we tell Brandon the truth. All of it."
Dillon grabbed the back of his neck and kissed him, hard. When they broke apart, he summed up his feelings in four simple words. "It's about damned time."
Thank God, Ash was home. Jamie was so nervous, Dillon was afraid he was going to have to strap Jamie to the seat of the Lumina with duct tape just to get him to sit still long enough to fasten his seat belt. When Ash answered the door on the first ring, Dillon sagged against the doorframe with relief.
Ash looked worlds better than he had the last time they'd seen him. The bandages were gone, revealing a rope-shaped scar encircling the entire circumference of his neck, but other than that, no one looking at him would ever be able to tell he'd had such a near-miss. The thing that put Dillon the most at ease, though, was the warm smile Ash gave the minute he saw them.
"It's about time you assholes came to see me. I was beginning to think I was gonna have to barge into your little love-nest just so you'd know I was still alive." Even Dillon had to admit that Ash's damaged vocal cords gave his voice a low, sexy pitch.
Dillon laughed. "Yeah, yeah. Cry me a river, why don't you?" He grew more serious. "You look good, man. Real good."
Ash ushered them inside. "I feel good. And Dr. Carson is so happy with my progress, he's decreased my therapy sessions to once a week. With any luck, I'll be discharged from care completely by the time school starts in the fall."
Jamie clapped Ash on the back. "That's great, Ash." Jamie hesitated. "That makes what we came to ask you even harder."
Ash led them into the den and motioned them towards the couch, taking one of the chairs for himself. Once they were all seated, he said, "If this is about you telling the sheriff what happened with me and Ben, I'm all for it."
Jamie seemed too stunned to speak, so Dillon took over. "You know about that?" "Sure. Megan told me you were thinking about it, and might want me to back up the story with your brother. I'll tell you the same thing I told her. I think you should tell him what's going on. Especially until you find out where that other money came from."