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Sleuth LLC: Birds of a Feather [MultiFormat]
eBook by Etienne

eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: An Avondale Story Quentin Quasar has found that being a telepath is a mixed bag: it's great when he's catching an unfaithful spouse or tracking down a thief, but it's horrible when his bedmate is thinking unflattering thoughts during sex. It's no wonder that instead of saying his prayers every night, Quentin sends tendrils of thought out into the world, looking for another telepath to ease the loneliness. Imagine his surprise when he finds one--and the young man needs help! Nate Braddock was plenty panicked at being kidnapped by fanatics who planned to "beat the devil" out of him. With Quentin's help, and then his partnership, Nate finds the courage to take a stand against his mother's religious intolerance and together they'll confront an uncomfortable truth: telepaths may not be devils, but not all of them are angels either. Quentin and Nate will need their combined gifts to tell the difference.

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2011


9 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

Jacksonville, FL

Thursday afternoon

It was early Thursday afternoon. It had been a slow week, and I was bored. So bored, in fact, that I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for my two o'clock appointment. Why? You may well ask. As a licensed private investigator, my job is to do whatever my clients pay me to do, within legal constraints, of course--and my next visitor was going to get me involved in a divorce case. Yeah, I know, divorce work is my bread and butter, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I managed to stifle a yawn when the noise of a buzzer told me that someone had opened the front door of my office. The buzzer was a poor substitute for a receptionist, but it saved me a ton of money. In lieu of a receptionist, I left the door leading from the outer office to my inner office open to keep a watchful ear on the waiting area.

"Come on in and have a seat," I said, just loudly enough for my new client to hear me over the hum of traffic noises coming from the busy street outside.

The guy who walked through the door was in his late thirties, sported the scruffy goatee that was the dernier cri in facial decoration amongst rednecks these days, and was dressed in coveralls displaying an elaborately embroidered logo that I couldn't immediately identify. "Bill Hancock," the man said, extending a hand.

"Quentin Quasar," I said, as I shook it.

"Is that really your name?" he said. "I've never heard of anybody named Quasar before."

"It's not the surname I was born with, but I always hated my birth surname, which also began with 'Q', so I had it legally changed when I turned eighteen. If you look at the diplomas and certificates on the wall behind me, the surname 'Quasar' appears on all of them."

"Yeah, I can see that from here."

"So, Mr. Hancock, have a seat and tell me what can I do for you. In your telephone call you mentioned the possibility of an unfaithful wife."

He settled down in a side chair and said without preamble, "I know that bitch is sleeping with somebody else, and I want you to catch her at it, or at least find me enough proof to use in court."

"I can do that," I said. "What's your wife's name, and where do you live?"

"Her name is Sybil Hancock."

"With an S or a C?"

"S-Y-B-I-L," he spelled.

"Got it. And the address?"

He gave me an address in Starke, the county seat of Bradford County, about forty-five miles to the south and somewhat to the west of where we sat. I groaned inwardly, because Starke is more or less tied with Lake City for the honor of being the most redneck town in northeast Florida. I asked him a number of pertinent questions, and his answers made it sound as though his wife just might be up to something.

"I'll need a picture of her."

"Here you go."

He handed me a small studio-type portrait of a good-looking brunette and said, "You don't look like a detective."

"Really? What does a detective look like?"

"Geez, I dunno. Different, I guess."

"Mr. Hancock, successful private investigators can't afford to look different."

"What do you mean?"

"One of my best assets is the fact that I'm sort of average in appearance--average height, average build, average looks. That gives me an advantage when I'm following someone, because I don't stand out in a crowd, so to speak. Trust me when I tell you that a good investigator needs to blend in with any group of people."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense. How much do you charge?"

"For divorce cases, I charge a daily rate plus expenses, and I require a retainer up front."

"How much per day?"

I told him, and he said, "What kind of expenses?"

"My out-of-pocket expenses. For example, a mileage charge if I have to either go out of town or follow someone out of town, motel charges if I have to stay overnight, not to mention the costs of any bribes I might have to lay out."

"What kind of bribes?"

"If I follow an adulterous couple to a motel, I can often gain the temporary use of a passkey by greasing the palm of whoever is behind the registration desk."

"Okay, I get that. And the retainer?"

"The amount depends upon how many days you want me to devote to the case--generally speaking, three or four days paid in advance."

"I can do that."

He pulled out a wad of money, carefully counted out twelve one-hundred-dollar bills, placed them on the desk in front of me, and said, "I'd like a receipt."

"Absolutely."

He glanced at his watch as I handed him the receipt. "I've gotta get to work," he said. "I'm working the three-to-eleven shift out at the brewery."

So the logo was Anheuser-Busch, then. Now that I knew that, I could read and understand the somewhat flowery initials "A.B." on his coveralls.

I decided to lower my mental barriers for a moment and tune in on my new client, a decision I immediately regretted as I was overwhelmed by a wave of angry emotions....

"If that fucking cunt is screwing that fucking Jack Nelson, I'll fucking kill both of them...."

There was more in that vein, but I slammed my barriers shut in disgust. Take it from me, now that you know one of my dirty little secrets--most people have minds like cesspools. If anybody ever says to you that they wish they knew what someone else was thinking, trust me when I tell you that their wish is so far beyond stupid that it's off the charts--after all, who wants to go swimming in a cesspool? I've been afflicted with the curse of telepathy all of my life, and it isn't a lot of fun. In fact, it very nearly drove me crazy for the first decade of my life, and it wasn't until puberty set in that I finally figured out how to build a sort of barricade to shield myself from the thoughts of others. I've never told my secret to a living soul, although my Great-Aunt Ida guessed that there was something "different" about me. She was always the black sheep of the family because she claimed to be psychic and did indeed have occasional flashes of intuition about things--including bits of information that couldn't be explained in a rational manner.

Aunt Ida had taken me aside when I was very young and explained to me that she knew that I was somehow different and that I would be better served if I never revealed that fact to a living soul. "Look at me," she had said. "Everybody in the family thinks I'm crazy, and all because I made a few claims about being psychic. Take it from me, Quentin, being openly different is not a good thing."

It was good advice, and some innate instinct of self-preservation enabled me to heed it. Which was why I kept my mouth shut, even as a child, and that's a good thing, as I'd probably have been locked up in a loony bin by now had I told anybody.

I was so distracted by this train of thought that I missed something my client was saying. "Sorry," I said, "could you repeat that?"

"I was asking when you could start on the job?"

"I'll drive down to Starke this evening and have dinner at the restaurant where your wife works. Can you recommend an inexpensive motel?"

"The Starlight Motel is supposed to be cheap but clean--it's right there on 301."

"All right, then. I'll have a full report ready for you in a couple of days. Meanwhile, I have your cell phone number if something urgent turns up."

"Okay. I guess I'd better get to work then."

We shook hands and I walked him to the door, after which I put the "Closed" sign in the front door, turned out the lights, and left by the back door after setting the alarm and securing the lock. I walked across the small backyard to the privacy fence, opened the gate, and entered the backyard of my house. My office is in a former residence situated on Blanding Boulevard in the Cedar Hills section of Jacksonville, and I live in a house located on the opposite side of the block facing a street running parallel to Blanding.

I had lavished a great deal of time, effort, and money on remodeling the house. The first thing I did was to enclose the double carport and turn it into an actual two-car garage. I also added a master suite upstairs over the garage, moved into it, and gutted the rest of the house right down to and including all of the non-load-bearing interior studs. Then I rebuilt the interior of the house, changing the room sizes and layout to suit myself. It had taken me almost five years to finish the job, and what had once been a small fifties tract house was now an extremely comfortable home.

Fresh from the shower, I pulled on a pair of khaki pants and a muscle tee and stepped into a pair of deck shoes. It wasn't necessary to pack, as I kept an overnight bag ready at all times, and, with that in hand, I grabbed the case holding my laptop and cameras, retrieved my gun and shoulder holster, and went downstairs to the garage.

My one indulgence in life is a ten-year-old pony car--its outward appearance is as plain and nondescript as myself, but under the hood is another matter. The Ford Interceptor engine and drive train were virtually new, very powerful, and immaculately maintained. In a pinch, I could get away from anything in one hell of a hurry if necessary.

I made a side trip to the bank to deposit most of those wonderful hundred-dollar bills before I headed over to Normandy Boulevard and followed it to where it intersected US-301 in the tiny hamlet of Maxville. US-301 had once upon a time been a major north-south artery bringing tourists to sunny Florida, but all of that changed with the coming of the interstate highway system. Many of the mom-and-pop motels that had once lined the highway had succumbed from the lack of business, but the highway still carried a good flow of traffic, due mostly to the fact that tourists and truckers exited I-95 in Jacksonville, followed I-10 roughly fifteen miles west to Baldwin, and then picked up US-301, which took them to a connection with I-75 just north of Ocala.

It took me almost an hour to make the forty-five mile trip from Jacksonville to Starke, and I observed the speed limit religiously when I got to Lawtey, one of two notorious speed traps on that route. The Florida Department of Transportation recognized the problem and posted signs with yellow flags warning unwary travelers that speed limits were strictly enforced. Someone, I don't know who, had even paid for billboards a few miles north and south of the little town, warning motorists of the speed trap ahead.

* * * *

Starke, FL

Thursday afternoon--late

It was a little after four when I checked into the Starlight Motel, left my bag and other equipment in my room, and got back in the car to cruise around the town a bit. Armed with a MapQuest printout, I located my client's home on a side street. An elaborate swing set in the backyard confirmed the presence of children--he had told me that their ages were one, seven, and ten, and that the children's paternal grandmother looked after them while he and his wife were at work.

Then I retraced my steps to US-301, pulled into the parking lot of Sonny's Bar-B-Q Restaurant, and went inside. Sybil Hancock was on duty until closing time, and I wanted to get a look at her--if I could do so without being noticed. The hostess determined that I was alone, pulled a menu from a stack, and instructed me to follow her, but when I spotted my quarry working in the section to which I was being led, I expressed an urgent wish to sit in a booth in the adjacent section, and the hostess obligingly led me there instead. I settled down in my seat, pretended to study the menu, and immediately got lucky. Just a few feet on the other side of the low partition from where I sat, my quarry was talking to the customers sitting in a booth. I lowered my shields a bit and focused on Sybil's thoughts, which were only peripherally devoted to her customers and were in sharp contrast to her table-side manner.

"I just can't wait until tomorrow night." ... "No, Sir, take your time." ... "I wish these idiots would make up their minds and order. Bill's working the graveyard shift, and Jack's gonna get us a room at the Dixie Motel." ... "No, Ma'am, we don't." ... "Do you see corn on the list of side dishes, you stupid old twat? It's perfect... my bitch of a mother-in-law is keeping the kids at her house for the whol

weekend--"

My concentration on Sybil's thoughts was interrupted by a much more powerful thought being broadcast nearby.

"Geez, look at the bulge in this guy's pants. I wonder how big that thing is and what it would feel like inside me...."

Startled, I looked up to my immediate right and into the baby-blue eyes of my waiter. His eyes didn't meet mine, however, as they seemed to be aimed directly at my crotch. He was of medium height, kind of skinny, and had a face full of freckles that made him look younger than he probably was, and his head was topped by an unruly thatch of red hair. In sum, kind of cute, but not really my type.

Okay, so now you know my other little secret--I'm gay. And, take it from me, being gay and telepathic isn't a lot of fun. How would you like to be in the middle of having sex and be able to hear your partner of the moment thinking things like, "Geez, I wish it was bigger," or, "Is he ever gonna cum?" or.... Trust me when I tell you that I usually, but not always, keep my shields firmly closed when I'm doing "it."

He must have seen the movement of my head out of the corner of one eye, because he said, "Hi, I'm Jethro, and I'm going to be your server."

"Hi, Jethro," I said.

"Can I get you something to drink?"

"Iced tea, please."

"Sweet or unsweet?"

"Unsweet, please."

"I'll be right back."

He hurried away to get my iced tea, and I sat back, watching his retreating and very enticing bubble-butt. I was thinking, Okay, you know where your quarry's going to be tomorrow night, you haven't gotten yourself laid in a while, so why not flirt a little with good old Jethro and see what happens? The kid has an ass just made for fucking.

Having made my decision, I launched into flirtation mode every time Jethro returned to my table, and by the time he brought my check, I knew that he was nineteen, attended the local community college, and lived with his grandparents, who, and this was a vital piece of information, allowed him to pretty much come and go as he pleased. As he started to lay my check on the table, I grabbed his hand and held it for a minute.

"Jethro," I said in a low voice, "what time do you get off work?"

Following my cue, he sort of whispered, "Nine."

"I'm staying at the Starlight Motel. Wanta come over and watch a movie or something?

"You bet. Which room?"

I gave him my room number, and he moved to another table to wait on a customer, so I took the check up to the cashier and paid it, adding a generous tip to the credit card charge.

After I left the restaurant, I drove around for a bit, eventually locating the residence of Jack Nelson, which also had a swing set in the backyard. How depressing: two families about to be split because two people simply could not--or would not--keep their pants zipped.

Back in my room, I changed into shorts and a more comfortable T-shirt, opened the bottle of wine I'd brought with me, and settled down for a boring evening of television. A little after nine, there was a knock on my door, and I let Jethro into the room, carefully locking and chaining the door behind him.

"Hi, Jethro," I said. "I wasn't sure you would come, but I'm glad you did."

He grabbed me and kissed me for a long minute. Then he said, "I spent the last thirty minutes of my shift helping out in the kitchen, so I'm hot and sweaty. Do you mind if I take a shower?"

"Not if I can join you."

His clothes were off and tossed on a chair faster than I would have thought possible. Then he stood naked in the open bathroom door, watching as I undressed, carefully folded my clothes, and placed them neatly on the chest of drawers. "I knew you'd have a big one," he said when I was naked.

"Yeah, but I'm a shower, not much of a grower, so it doesn't get a whole lot bigger."

"It looks mighty fine from here."

"You're no slouch yourself, kiddo. Let's see if we can fit into that shower together."

By the time we emerged from the shower and began toweling ourselves dry, we had thoroughly explored each other's bodies, and needless to say, we were both sporting the hardest of wood. When he was dry, Jethro went straight to the bed, lay back on it, legs apart, and said, "I want that thing inside me now."

I stood beside the bed long enough to retrieve a condom from the nightstand, open it, and roll it into place. Knowing that he was already lubricated with soap and well stretched from our foreplay in the shower (I had inserted more than one soapy finger into his willing ass), I knelt between his legs, hoisted his feet to my shoulders, and slowly entered him.

"Oh, my God," he said, sighing. "You don't know how good that feels."

Actually, I do, I thought, as I tuned into what he was thinking and, more importantly, what he was feeling. I never get over the sensation of having sex with someone while simultaneously sharing what they're feeling--provided they aren't complaining about my performance, in which case I shut them out. With Jethro it was especially enjoyable, given that his mind was as uncomplicated as it was uncluttered. He was totally focused on three things: getting an education, earning the money to pay for it (his grandparents provided only room and board), and getting laid. There was no background clutter of distractions in his thoughts at all.

While I was pounding his ass, I bent down, took his erection into my mouth, and used the feedback I was getting from his brain to hold him on the edge until he quite literally couldn't stand it any longer--and then I finished him off. When he was spent, I focused on my own needs, came, and collapsed on top of him after I lowered his legs to the bed. We kissed for a long time.

"You're a really good kisser," I said a few minutes later.

"You're really good at everything. You kept me on the brink forever--how in the world did you do that?"

"Years and years of practice."

"You're not that old... are you?"

"Not really, but when I'm in bed with someone your age, I sometimes feel it."

"Can we do it again?"

"As soon as my batteries are recharged."

I felt a hand slip between our bodies and begin to grope and explore. I pulled back from him just enough that I could begin to kiss my way down his torso, starting with his nipples and working my way downward.

"Someone's batteries are already recharged," I said after a moment.

"I'm always ready."

That's because you're only nineteen. Enjoy it while you can.

"Would you like to fuck me instead? I believe in reciprocity."

"No--I get to fuck my friend Donny all the time. In fact, that's all he ever wants to do."

"Then your friend Donny would be known in gay circles as a bottom, right?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"I don't particularly like those kinds of labels," I said. "And a little diversity in bed never hurt anyone."

He leaned up on his elbows and looked at me. "Looks like you're ready to go again."

"So I am."

I fumbled in the nightstand again and prepared my erection for duty. This time it took us quite a bit longer to finish, and by the time we did, we were both sweating like pigs. We lay side by side for a while afterward, talking, cuddling, and kissing.

"Do you mind if I take another shower?" he said.

"I'll join you."

"Cool. Then I need to get dressed and go home. I've got an early class in the morning."

We took a quick shower, after which I lay back on the bed and watched him get dressed. Then I followed him to the door and kissed him before he opened it.

"I'm glad your room is on the back side of the motel," he said.

"I guess you have to be really careful, living in such a redneck town."

"You have no idea. Can I see you tomorrow night?"

"Only if you want to drive to Jacksonville. I'll be completing my business in Starke and checking out tomorrow afternoon." Actually, I planned to haul ass out of town just as soon as I took some incriminating photographs, but I wasn't about to tell him that.

"Donny and I are going to Jacksonville Saturday afternoon."

"To do what?"

"The plan was to go to the mall and then to the movies."

"Which mall?"

"Orange Park."

"My office is on Blanding Boulevard in Cedar Hills, and my house is directly behind it facing a back street--it's just a few miles north of the mall."

"I know where Cedar Hills is."

I handed him my business card and said, "Give me a call when you get to the mall--I don't have anything scheduled for Saturday. On the other hand, I do get calls for rush jobs from time to time."

"What'll I do with Donny?"

"Bring him with you, of course. I've got a king-size bed."

"Cool. We've never done a threesome."

I kissed him one last time and stood behind the door as he left the room--no need for a passerby to see a naked man showing a teenage boy out of a motel room late at night, even if the boy in question was of legal age. I secured the door, poured myself a glass of wine, allowed the alcohol to help me come down off of my sexual high, and crawled into bed.

As I always did when I was in a smaller town, I lay back on the pillow, lowered my shields, cast a tendril of thought in all directions, and found nothing. The background noise of thoughts--think radio static magnified almost beyond endurance--in a city is too much for me, so I couldn't attempt to do this at home--I'd tried, but it just doesn't work. In a small town, with most of the population sleeping, it wasn't a problem. Somehow, in the back of my mind, there was always a lingering hope that I would one day encounter someone else with my gift (curse?)--with wonderful results. I finally succumbed to sleep wondering yet again why I bothered.

I slept late the next morning, but I managed to pull myself together by nine. Then I called my client on his cell phone and asked him if he was free to talk.

"Yeah," he said, "my wife took the kids over to my mom's because they're gonna be there all weekend, and because she had a hair appointment. Do you have some news?"

"Maybe, but I don't want to talk about it over a cell phone. What time do you leave for work today?"

"Normally when I'm gonna work the graveyard shift I don't leave the house until about nine thirty in the evening, but today's different--I'm working a double shift for the extra money, so I'm out of here right after lunch."

"Would your wife run into us if we met at McDonald's before you go to work?"

"Shit, no. She don't much like fast food."

"Why don't you meet me there a little before twelve? When you hear what I have to tell you, you might want to run an errand before you go to work."

"What kind of errand?"

"Not on the cell phone. McDonald's before twelve, okay?"

"Sure."

* * * *

Chapter Two

Starke, FL

Friday

I went to a little cafe for breakfast; then I killed a couple of hours exploring the town some more. There was a former county courthouse building that dated to the turn of the previous century and was now occupied by the community college--the new courthouse was on US-301, a mile north of the old one. In addition to a short main street that was obviously struggling to survive, there was a really quaint old brick street that ran north from downtown parallel to the railroad. It was lined with mostly old, mainly multi-story houses, so I figured it must be where the power base of this town had once, and might still, live.

I arrived at the Golden Arches at a quarter to twelve and found my client already sitting at a corner table in the most out of the way corner of the busy restaurant. I set the tray holding my chicken Caesar salad and iced tea on the table across from him.

"Okay," he said, "I'm here."

"Good, because I have news. Just remember one thing though--you absolutely must not go off half-cocked with this, okay?"

"Why would I do that?"

"If and when I provide you with proof that your wife is having an affair, you might be tempted to get physical with someone."

"Yeah."

"And, however satisfying that might be, you won't do your children any good if you're in jail for beating someone up."

"I know."

"I hope you do, because right now you have the moral high ground. On the other hand, if you do something stupid, that high ground can and will turn into instant quicksand under your feet."

"I read you, loud and clear."

"All right, then. I think by this time tomorrow I'll have evidence that you can take to court."

"Really?"

"Yeah. What I need to ask you is this: do you and your wife have joint bank accounts?"

"Yeah, checking and savings."

"If you're smart, you'll stop by the bank on your way to work and move the savings account balance to an account that's in your name only."

"Why would I do that?"

"If I get the goods on her, she'll know it, and she might haul ass. When a spouse decides to leave in a hurry, they frequently raid the bank accounts, so you need to protect your assets."

"Shit... I hadn't thought that far ahead."

"Then it's time you did. I wouldn't mess with the checking account--she's liable to make a purchase using a debit card or something--but people don't pay that much attention to savings accounts unless they're saving for something and the goal is getting close."

"Thanks," he said, "I'll do that. When will you have some information for me?"

"You get off at seven in the morning?"

"Yeah."

"Call me when you do. I might want you to stop by my office and pick up some evidence."

"Evidence?"

"Digital photos, maybe. Depends on how things go tonight."

"Shit. You know something, don't you?"

"Nothing I can take to court at this point, but yes, I know something."

"Can you tell me?"

"Tomorrow morning, okay? Go to the bank and take care of business, then go work your double shift. You're paying me to handle this, so let me handle it, okay? And remember to keep your cool."

"Okay."

"And this is most important: stay calm and don't give your suspicions away to anybody. Be careful what you say at the bank--you don't have to explain your actions to them."

"Yeah, and that son of a bitch at the bank knows everybody in town."

"Any chance he might call your wife?"

"He doesn't like her, so I don't think so."

"Good, because I won't be able to catch her doing anything if somebody spooks her."

"Yeah."

He left to go to the bank, and I finished my lunch. Then I went back to the motel and took a nap. I've got the rest of the day to kill, I thought. Might as well get some rest.

* * * *

Starke, FL

Friday evening--late

A little after nine, I checked out of the Starlight Motel, drove down the street to the Dixie Motel, and parked on a side street. I spotted a car nearby that belonged to the hapless Sybil--my client had described it in some detail, including the tag number. I walked the short distance to the motel and entered the office, where a middle-aged man was watching television behind the front desk. "Help you?" he said, when he finally registered my presence.

"Do you have a Jack Nelson staying here?" I said.

"Who wants to know?"

I handed him my card and said, "I do. Is he registered under his name?"

"I can't give out that kind of information."

I carefully placed a twenty on the desk.

"There just might be someone by that name in room twenty-seven, around back. Why do you want to know, Mr. Investigator?"

"Because he's shacked up with a woman who's married to somebody else."

"I can't help you there."

"You could let me borrow a passkey for a few minutes." I placed two more twenties on the desk.

"I guess I could do that, but what happens if the chain is on the door?"

I placed a fifty beside the twenties.

"Mister, for fifty bucks, you can break the door down for all I care. I'll fix it and still be money ahead. Can I watch?"

"Sure you can, as long as you don't get in the way. A witness is always good to have."

He retrieved a passkey from under the desk and said, "Follow me."

He placed a sign saying "Back in ten minutes" on the office door and locked it behind us. Signs like that always crack me up, because they seldom say when the ten minutes began, thus rendering them meaningless. He led me to a breezeway that took us to the rear of the motel. It was a slow night; there was one lone car in the rear parking lot, and it was parked right in front of room twenty-seven. We walked to the door of the room and stood for a minute. I reached out with my special senses long enough to determine that Jack and Sybil were lustily rutting away in the room.

"How do you wanta do this?" the man said.

I took a small digital camera out of my pants pocket, turned it on, and held a finger to my lips. Then I whispered, "Just unlock the door and step quickly to one side."

He did as instructed, and the minute the door hit the chain, I gave it a good kick. The chain pulled out of the doorframe, and the door slammed back against the wall. I stepped into the room, found the light switch, flipped it on, and was able to snap half a dozen pictures before the couple on the bed managed to untangle themselves from one another and the sheets. Luckily for me, they stood facing the door for a full minute before reacting any further, and I got several full-frontal shots of them.

The yelling and screaming began in earnest then, but by the time they were dressed enough to give chase, I was back in my car driving slowly down the side street. Another day, another dollar, I thought.

Instead of driving back up US-301, I took SR-16, which carried me east to Camp Blanding, a military reservation that was the headquarters of the Florida National Guard and the site of their summer training sessions. I had often wondered what those "summer-vacation soldiers" did, cooped up in a barracks for two weeks without access to their women. One of these days, I'm gonna get curious enough to drive down there one evening, park on the side of the road, and do a little mental sleuthing to find out. From SR-16, I followed Blanding Boulevard all the way home.

I pulled into my garage, locked the car, and carried my bag into the house. Then I went to my office, where I spent thirty minutes dumping the pictures into my computer and printing them out. Because of the nature of my work, I had invested in a decent-quality photo printer. Job completed, I went home, set the alarm for six thirty, and crawled in bed.

* * * *

Jacksonville, FL

Saturday morning--early

When my client called at seven fifteen, I was already at my desk writing a report for him.

"You told me to call," he said.

"Yes, Sir, and if you aren't too tired to stop by on your way home, I've got everything you need."

"I'll be there shortly."

He was as good as his word and rang my doorbell less than thirty minutes later. I unlocked the front door and said, "Come on in."

I led him back to my desk and offered him a seat.

He sat, looked at me expectantly, and said, "Well?"

I handed him a dozen color photos and sat quietly while he digested their contents. "Son of a bitch," he said. "Son of a fucking bitch."

"Did you go to the bank yesterday?"

"You bet I did. I moved the savings money into an account in my name only. Then I withdrew all but three hundred dollars from the checking account. I also did something else."

"What was that?"

"I called my mother and asked her to go visit her sister for the weekend and take the kids with her."

"Where does her sister live?"

"When she and her husband retired, they bought a house on a lake down near the Ocala National Forest. As far as I know, Sybil doesn't know where it is."

"Mr. Hancock, I have a couple of suggestions for you."

"What?"

"First, take a close look at the photos. I actually caught them in the middle of having sex, and as you can see, the guy in the photo is still tumescent, and he isn't wearing a condom."

"So?"

"Maybe you ought to go by the health department and have some blood drawn just in case. Tell them it's for STDs and it won't cost you anything."

"Yeah. What else?"

"Your youngest child is less than a year old, right?"

"Yes."

"Was she a surprise?"

"Yeah, you can say that again. Sybil was supposed to be on the pill."

"Are you absolutely certain that you're her father?"

"Oh, shit! I never even thought of that."

"If the affair has been going on for a long time, it's possible that she isn't yours. Be sure you ask your lawyer to demand a DNA test to prove paternity--if she isn't yours, then you hold all the cards, plus a couple of jokers."

"Yeah."

"You still have that moral high ground I mentioned yesterday, provided you don't do anything stupid--remember our conversation in McDonald's. You need to get these pictures and my report into the hands of your lawyer, and do exactly what he tells you to do."

"Yeah, that makes sense."

"Do you know a lawyer?"

"Yeah. We were friends all through high school. After that, he went off to college and I went to work. He moved back home a few years ago and set up his office in downtown Starke."

I handed him a sheet of paper and a check, and he said, "What's this?"

"My report, along with an itemized bill for two days' services plus expenses, and a refund check for the balance of the retainer."

He scanned the report; then he glanced at the check and tore it in half. "Keep the refund; you've damn well earned it."

"Thanks. If your lawyer will send me an e-mail, I'll send him digital images of the photos."

We were both yawning, and he said, "I need go to home and get to bed. I feel every one of those sixteen hours that I worked."

"I understand. I had kind of a late night myself, and I'm gonna go home and take a nap after a bit."

He thanked me again, and I walked to the door with him. When his car was out of sight, I hung the "Closed" sign in the door, locked it securely, set the alarm, and went home and to bed for a couple of hours.

When I got up, I felt more or less recovered from the late night/early morning. In fact, I was so energized that I gathered up my dirty clothes and took them down to my laundry room and started a load of clothes in the washer. Then I carefully packed my overnight bag so I was once again ready to haul ass on a moment's notice.

While waiting for the washer to do its job, I went back to the office and settled down at my desk to catch up on my recordkeeping, which carried me through the morning until my clothes were both clean and dry. All that busy housekeeping-type stuff left me feeling so virtuous that I decided that a nice lunch had been earned, so I drove over to The Loop to indulge myself in the best grilled-chicken sandwich in town.

The restaurant has several locations around town, but the nearest one, and my absolute favorite, is located on Fishweir Creek, where St. Johns Avenue intersected with Herschel Street. I took my sandwich and iced tea out onto the deck and sat, watching the sea birds. The tide was out, leaving the little tidal creek nothing more than a series of mud flats and an occasional pool of water, and the birds were busily scavenging for fish that the retreating tide had left trapped in the little pools and eddies. My reverie was interrupted by a familiar voice.

"I told you I recognized that pony car."

I looked up and smiled at the speaker.

"Hey, Q," Mike Foster said. "Mind if we join you?"

"Not at all."

Mike and his partner, George Martin, set their trays on the table and took their seats. "Where's Robbie?" I said.

"He's over at Kevin and David's house," George said. "He and Anthony are best buddies, and they sleep over a lot--sometimes with us and other times at their house." Robbie was an orphan whom George and Mike had adopted a year earlier, and Anthony was Kevin's nephew, whom he and David had adopted.

"How's the detective business?" George said.

"Great," I said. "I just spent a couple of days in Starke on a divorce case. I actually caught my client's wife in bed with another guy."

"Really?" George said.

"Some money changed hands, and a friendly motel owner opened the door of their room for me."

"Sounds like fun."

"Oh, yeah, surprising people in the middle of sex is always fun."

"What if the guy had a gun?"

"He was too busy scrambling for his clothes. Even if he'd had a gun, I was long gone before he could have used it."

"I don't suppose killing time in a place like Starke was much fun," George said.

"What in the world would a gay male find to do in Starke, other than working at a boring job?" Mike added.

"Well, now that you mention it, there was this nineteen-year-old waiter at Sonny's Bar-B-Q with a bubble-butt."

"You didn't?" Mike said.

"I invited him over to my room after he got off work and had a great time. Two great times, actually."

"Oh, the single life."

"Yeah," George said, "that sounds like someone I know--back before we became a couple."

"Guilty as charged," Mike said.

The conversation switched to other topics, we finished our lunch, and then went our separate ways. I stopped by the Lake Shore Post Office and emptied my post office box. Then I headed back to my office, where I sat down at my desk and went through the mail. I spent an hour catching up on bills and e-mail and completed my weekly computer maintenance. I was truly proud of the fact that I had actually managed to create a more or less paperless office. All of my many documents, files, and images were scanned into the computer and from there were automatically backed up every night to a secure off-site storage facility. The nightly backup consisted only of files that had been added or changed since the last full backup, and I did a full backup every weekend without fail. When I had to go out of town over a weekend, I did the backup as soon as I got home. Secure in the knowledge that the building could burn down that night and no irreplaceable records would be lost, I went back home to take a brief nap. I was awakened some time later by the ringing of my cell phone.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi, Quentin."

"Jethro?"

"Yeah."

"Where are you?"

"We're at the Orange Park Mall. Can we come by?"

"Absolutely. Do you need directions?"

"Thanks, but I printed them out on MapQuest."

"See you in a few."

"Yeah, bye."

When I answered the door twenty minutes later, Jethro and Donny were standing on my small front stoop, so I said, "Come in, guys."

Donny was everything that Jethro was not--stocky instead of skinny; tall rather than average; his face was free of freckles; and his dark hair was as organized as Jethro's red hair was unruly.

"Have you guys already been to the movies?" I said.

"We decided to come see you instead," Jethro said.

"What if somebody asks about the film?"

"Lots of websites have spoilers for any movie you can think of."

"Got it all figured out, don't you?" I said.

"When you live in a place like Starke, you have to be careful," Donny said.

"No argument there."

"Where's your bedroom?" Jethro said. "I'm ready to try that king-size bed you talked about."

The next two hours were as much fun as they were exhausting--nothing like a pair of horny teenagers to wear you out. At one point, while Jethro used the bathroom, I tuned in on Donny's thoughts and almost wished that I hadn't. His mind was not nearly as focused on important things as was Jethro's, and I learned a couple of things that put me in a moral dilemma. Much later, when I walked to the door with them, I asked Jethro to linger for a moment, and when Donny was out of sight--and earshot--I said, "Jethro, when you get home and are alone, give me a call."

"Why?"

"There's something I need to tell you."

"You can't tell me now?"

"Not with Donny waiting outside--it sort of involves him. Just call me when you're home and by yourself, okay?"

"Sure."

He gave me a quick kiss and left.

I secured the house; then I took a long hot shower, followed by a short nap, which lasted until the ringing of my cell phone woke me sometime later.

"Quentin?"

"You got me."

"This is Jethro."

"I know."

"You've got my curiosity up. What was it you wanted to tell me?"

"Are you alone?"

"Yeah."

"How long have you known Donny?"

"Ever since I started going to Santa Fe Community College--about a year and a half ago, why?"

"I don't know how to say this, Jethro, but Donny isn't really your friend."

"What do you mean?"

"Have you told anybody what you and Donny do with each other in your spare time?"

"Of course not--other than you, that is. Why?"

"Donny has told several people."

"I don't believe you. Who?"

"Frank, Beth, and Darcy, to name a few."

"How the heck do you know that?"

"Jethro, I'm a detective, and I spent two days in Starke, snooping around, detecting things. People talk, and I listen."

"I don't believe it."

"Okay, kiddo, don't believe it, but don't say I didn't warn you."

"Shit. Now you've got me confused."

"Sorry about that, Jethro. Trust me on this, I like you, and I'm looking out for you by giving you this information. Be careful what you tell Donny, because he doesn't have your best interests at heart."

"Shit."

"That about sums it up... sorry."

"Can I see you again?"

"Next time you come to town, as long as I'm not out on a case. Give me a call."

"Okay, bye."

I looked at the clock and realized that I needed to change clothes, because I had a prospective client due in the office in half an hour. I don't usually make appointments for Saturdays at all, let alone Saturday evenings, but I'm never too proud to turn down any prospective business.


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