"Thank you very much, Mr. Anderson."
The woman in the black spa uniform used a voice modulated to be soft and pleasing. Her pitch was low and sultry, and she had a slight European accent, which Dylan found attractive. She handed him a beautiful ivory-colored paper bag with his purchases in it, creams and lotions, his usual assortment of cosmeceuticals.
He glanced up as he took it from her and caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. He looked vibrant and healthy, but had started to show his age. His skin was still flawless, but new, fine lines had appeared around his eyes, and grooves deepened like barely visible parentheses on the sides of his mouth. He'd just begun to worry about getting older. It approached him like a lonely single-prop airplane on the horizon, its distant noise a harmless buzzing--innocent enough to look at, but all the while carrying an atomic bomb on board.
That worried him more than he cared to admit. He wondered if Yves would accept that his boy was growing older, or if he'd expect Dylan to resort to the plastic surgeons his friends used to keep themselves looking, if not fresh, more glamorous than the average Joes and Janes who came from all over to live it up in the big Vegas hotels. Dylan worried that someday he'd have that odd, lifted, elfin look that characterized men who underwent plastic surgery. Aging, Vegas style.
Inwardly he cringed.
"Call me Dylan," he said absently as he signed for the goods and services he'd received. The very air of Ethersphere, the upscale day spa he attended weekly, throbbed with a soothing, sweet-moist vapor, like the honey-thick creams they smeared on his face and the oils with which they anointed his skin. Sometimes it was hard to go back outside after the peace and tranquility he found here.
The receptionist grew pink and glanced up at him shyly. Not flirtatiously. He was an object of nothing more to the women at Ethersphere than curiosity--Yvgeny Mosko's gay lover. As such he was as far out of reach as the moon. He privately referred to himself as The Pharaoh's Concubine. To be cared for, adorned, anointed, displayed, talked about, tittered over, but ultimately left alone.
Which didn't bother him at all, really, since there were plenty of things to enjoy and keep him busy. He had lots of free time and all the money in the world with which to enjoy it. On the way home he'd stop at the library for books. Dinner would be a perfect offering from his private chef/housekeeper, and if Yves was unable to share it with him, he'd watch a DVD he'd been looking forward to seeing. Yves would show up or not, as he chose, to share his bed. If he did, they'd make love or dine or talk for hours. At least until he had to go home to his wife.
When they were together, Yves was thorough and attentive and Dylan believed himself genuinely cared for. Yves lavished him with affection and attention, calling him a treasure and treating him like spun glass. Dylan liked his lover; he was able to return Yves's regard with genuine affection. Dylan was loyal and discreet because he knew his place.
Dylan handed over his locker key and got the key fob to his Lexus in return. "Have a lovely evening, Mr. Anderson. We'll see you next week."
He favored her with his most dazzling smile as she escorted him out through the VIP exit, using her keycard to open the private elevator and ushering him inside.
"Next week it is, thank you very much," he told her as the doors slid closed. Alone, he pressed the cool, polished stainless-steel button for the parking garage.
After a long descent, the elevator opened to the VIP parking level in what seemed more like a subterranean garden than a parking lot. The plants were nurtured by special lighting and cared for by diligent gardeners, yet still had to be changed out frequently because the automobile fumes killed them. There was probably an object lesson there, about things that couldn't thrive where they weren't naturally inclined to grow. Dylan ignored it.
It was enjoyable to walk through the small space, very much a part of the enhanced experience of visiting one of the city's most exclusive spas. As he neared his car he heard footsteps and turned because the only others allowed to park on that level were celebrities who needed the privacy of an ultra-exclusive egress. He was enough the product of his small-town upbringing to be curious as to which celebrity it might be.
The moment he turned, a body hurled into him from the side and a black fabric bag was dragged over his head. A fist slammed him in the stomach, causing all the air to burst from his lungs. Hard hands gripped his upper arms, yanking them around behind him where they were zip tied together. It pinched, cutting off the circulation to his hands. In the smothering blackness he could hear the muffled, anxious conversations of his attackers.
"Chingatelo, Memo," a voice hissed. Dylan's heart sank at the viciousness of those words--Fuck him up. He wasn't about to share the fact that he was fluent in Spanish.
The hands gripping his arms pulled him backwards. "No necesitamos. Lo tenemos." We have him. A younger voice. Uncertain.
"Tienes que chingartelo, Memo. Todo el mundo esta mirando." They wanted whoever was holding him to hurt him. Maybe it was an initiation. They'd pressure the new boy to beat him--maybe kill him--as a rite of passage.
"Don't do this." Dylan hoped to reach his captor. "You don't have to do this. I can get you money--"
"Abre el pinche baul y metelo a ese fregado adentro." Open the trunk and put him inside.
Was he being carjacked? For the first time Dylan regretted the keyless entry system on his car. As long as they took him with them they could unlock his car and drive it away without taking the key from his pocket. Would it work if he was in the trunk? The man who held him grew harsher physically, but his voice was laced with doubt. Dylan wondered if he could reason with him. You were supposed to remind people of your humanity in a situation like this. Eye contact was out because of the bag, but you were supposed to call them by name. Dylan fought a surge of fear and tried it.
"Memo, I can give you whatever you need. I can get you cash. Right now. Lots of it, with no strings attached except you let me go. I can put my hands on fifty thousand in less than an hour."
Dylan heard a grunt just before a fist connected solidly with his rib cage. Sparks shot off behind his closed eyelids as he doubled over in agony. He tasted blood where he'd bitten his lip to keep from crying out. The fist slammed into him again, two more times, even though the man who held him pulled him backwards, away from the blows. He tried leaning back against the solid body behind him, but the man let him fall to the ground.
"My name is Dylan, Memo. You don't have to--"
"You don't talk." A hard kick connected with his body, just inches above his balls, and then another, and another. He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. He didn't want to throw up with a bag over his head.
"We'll get twenty times that. Your man will give us whatever we want for his pretty mariquita." Taunting voices joined in with lewd noises and jeers.
"Dale en toda la madre. No le toques la cara," someone ordered. "We don't want to mark up that pretty face."
Dylan wanted to say something more, but pain forced all the air from his lungs. He clenched his teeth against the desire to sob. A vicious kick to his back knocked his head into the pavement. "You don't understand."
"We understand all right, puto. Yvgeny Mosko thinks he runs this town. We're here to tell him he doesn't."
"Paco, dejalo. Basta ya." The one with the young voice didn't want it to continue.
"No, Memo. Tienes que hacerlo, si no nadie va a respetar a tu hermano ni a la familia. Piensa que diria tu jefe." If you don't, no one will respect your brother or your family. Think of what your father would say.
"He's not my father," the one named Memo said decisively. Dylan heard the crack of a hard slap.
A deeper voice growled, "Tu hermano es veterano, Memo. No lo vayas avergonzar. No seas pinche puto." Don't shame your brother. Don't be a fucking pussy.
Another voice commanded, "Chingatelo. No me hagas que te pegue." Fuck him up. Don't make me hurt you.
Someone, probably Memo, kicked him halfheartedly. While he was still reeling, rough hands dug through his pockets and got his key fob before they lifted Dylan and shoved him into the trunk of his car. He heard laughter as the lid was slammed down.
Yves had warned him. The possibility had always existed that he would become a pawn. He'd lived so securely in the rarefied world of VIP entrances and high-luxury, high-security hotels he'd become complacent, never really anticipating such an event. Dylan's home was a fortress, manned day in and out by guards armed with automatic weapons. Yves had even had his security team brief Dylan on what to expect in the event of a kidnapping. Plans were in place. If his captors didn't kill him outright, if he didn't get caught in the crossfire, if he could only survive the beating he'd already been given, he'd be free within hours.
Their mocking laughter got under his skin, itching and poisoning him, making his blood boil. If they thought it made him weak to beg for his life, they could think again. It didn't matter what they tried to take. They were dead men. No one touched what belonged to Yvgeny Mosko and lived long enough to brag about it. Their laughter only made him regret he'd gone to the trouble of trying to warn them off.
The parking garage had a number of speed bumps, and each time the Lexus went over one, despite the legendary smooth ride, Dylan was treated to a new kind of torture. No doubt they'd cracked his ribs. Maybe they'd damaged his kidneys. Another rough jostle hurled Dylan airborne for a time. He gave in to tears, knowing no one could see him.
The last time he'd cried was the day he'd left his family behind. A hymn from his childhood came to him then. There was irony in that. It was possible the last song on his mind might be the first he'd ever heard--his mother's favorite, though he hadn't thought of it in years. It currently played in the jukebox of his memory, complete with the sweet, dulcet contralto voice that had been his mother's gift from God.
For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies.
The final dip of the car as it careened onto the Strip with its tires squealing threw him against some tools he kept in the trunk. Sick and sweaty, he tried to brace himself as the car dodged around traffic. His left arm was gouged by something--he didn't know what--but a sticky wetness pooled in the crook of his elbow. Each time they stopped, his right shoulder nudged something cold and hard, battering it to the bone.
For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies.
Eventually, the car made a wide slow turn that indicated they were taking the freeway onramp, and the ride from there was fairly smooth. He felt vibrations as they merged on, a result of the raised pavement markers--Botts' dots--under the tires as the car changed lanes. He had no way of knowing where they were headed, but he knew that by now Yves would be aware he wasn't coming back home. Even though security hadn't gotten to him in time to prevent it, someone would realize he'd been carjacked. They had to have seen his attack on the security cameras. The tapes would be scrutinized.
The car transmitted a signal, and for that matter so did his watch. They were both essentially private GPS trackers, the technology monitored by Yves's own men. They would come after him armed, and there would be no mercy. Heaven help him if he was in the way.
Lord of all, to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.
Dylan's heart hung suspended on an invisible wire that stretched tighter with every mile they travelled. He held his breath, listening carefully, certain that at any moment his connection to Vegas, to home, to Yves and the life they'd shared would snap, and he'd be blown into a million pieces.