Eleven Pipers Piping – All Ye Faithful, Part 11

James finds answers. All Ye Faithful Part 11 below.

I shall post all 12 parts over the next 12 days, the conclusion on Christmas Eve. Merry reading, all!

(Find out what I’m wittering about by reading my intro post)

**Please note, All Ye Faithful is an LGBT romance, M/M to be precise, and contains some strong language and adult content, so may not be to everyone’s taste. If this is not your thing please scoot along to my All Publications, Short Fiction and Flash Fiction pages for other things that might be more to your taste**

All Ye Faithful – Part 11

elevdofxmasJames buried himself in reviewing forensic reports, statements and making phone calls to Information Services and Sheriff Coyle’s office to chase up all outstanding interviews and background checks. Gibson’s words about the review echoed in his ears, but a grey, cloying fog continually attempted to swamp his thoughts and muddy his usually-instinctive lines of reasoning.

He caught himself staring into space, mind see-sawing between visions of Hannah, head thrown back, skin flushed with heat and eyes dark with desire and the sight of him sat in the cell, hollow-eyed, pale and furiously hurting. He shook his head, turned his attention back to his laptop, but the screen blurred in front of him. He rubbed his eyes, tried again, but the letters of the reports had ceased to mean anything.

He made an impatient noise, grabbed his coat and left, telling himself some fresh air would help clear his head. Without even realizing where he was heading, he found himself on the wind-whipped pier and climbing down the ladder to the small fingernail of deserted beach that lay between the sea walls and the endless rolling ocean. He looked around, vaguely surprised to find where he was, and heaved several deep lungfuls of the brisk, iodine-scented air. The waves washed against the sand. The gunmetal-grey ocean stretched to the white horizon. The flop and hiss of the water bounced off the tall sea walls and drowned out the noise of the town. He moved down to the waterline, gazing out to the cloud-wreathed sky arching over the mass of roiling water and willed it to soothe him like it had before.

The confusion in his head slowly faded to background noise, leaving one, insistent suggestion behind. He blinked a couple of times, but it didn’t go away. He swallowed, pulled out his phone, hesitated, then dialed.

The ringing tone buzzed in his ear. The wind lifted then dropped then lifted again, ruffling his hair and stinging his cheeks. He felt his heart sink when the phone continued to ring then, finally, he answered.

“Jimmy?”

“Hey, Dad.”

There was a pause. “What’s wrong?”

James took a moment to allow himself a smile. “What makes you think anything’s wrong?”

“I can hear it. You hurt?”

James swallowed. “No, not hurt,” he lied.

“Then what is it?”

James paused. “I screwed up, Dad. Big time.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “What happened?”

James chewed on his lip until his dad prompted him again then heard himself explaining everything. He kept his voice level and attempted to keep the facts salient and the emotion in check, though it got harder the more he revealed.

“And now…” He stopped, cleared his throat and continued. “And now I just don’t know. All I can think about is what we did. What I did. What he might have done and…and I don’t know. I never don’t-know, Dad. It’s sometimes harder to prove who did it than who didn’t…but it’s never been this hard to just know.”

“Jimmy…” His dad’s usually hard voice held an gentle undercurrent of reassurance which surprised him more than anything. “Pause for breathe a second, ok? Just a second.”

James took another shuddering breath. “Ok.”

“Ok.” He paced the sand as he listened to his father gathering his thoughts. “Ok,” he said again, finally. “First of all, put aside the fact that you like this guy – ”

“Like?”

There was sound over the line that might have been a snort or might have been a laugh. “You wouldn’t risk your career over just anyone, Jim. Whatever you’ve made yourself think, you really aren’t that stupid. But anyway, try and forget that for a sec.”

James swallowed, looking round at the endless sea and spreading sand, then closed his eyes. “Ok. Ok, I’m trying.”

“Now,” his dad went on. “Look inside. Deep inside.”

“Ok…”

“You looking?”

“I’m looking.”

“Do you think he did it?”

James didn’t answer.

“Come on, Jimmy. You’re a good cop. Deep down…do you think this boy has killed these people?”

James stared out to sea. He could suddenly smell cigarette smoke and peppermint. He remembered the taste of Leo’s skin, the easy warmth of his smile, his impossibly-colored but clear eyes and the honest, responsive nature of his body. He remembered the soft music, the worn but clean sheets of his bed, the sound of his voice as he breathed his name in his ear and the way he’d looked afterwards, glowing with sated warmth and smiling at him like he was a completely unexpected but not unwelcome Christmas surprise.

“No. No, I don’t think he did.”

“You’ve got good instincts, son,” his dad said. “Trust them.”

“How do I know I’m not just wanting him to be innocent? Like…really, really wanting?”

“Because you just know,” his dad concluded. “Which means someone else did it, right? Find the someone else. Problem solved.”

“But the Misconduct Review…”

Another noise that sounded like a vocal grimace of sympathy. “Leave the review to take care of itself, Jimmy. You’re a good agent. And a good man. That’s what counts, whatever happens next.”

James smiled tiredly. “Thanks Dad. I…” he struggled for words. “Thanks.”

“No problem, son. Now, hang up and get on with it.”

“Yes, sir.”

He was still smiling as he cut the call. His roiling insides had settled. His head was clearer. He walked back to the ladder, scrolling through the contacts on his work phone and rrang Information Services.

“Solomon,” the clipped, accented voice sounded in his ear. “What’s up?”

“Anything on the Benson systems yet?”

A noisy sigh. “I only got the cloned systems two hours ago, James.”

“You’ve worked magic in less time than that, Samar.”

“Ok, flattery will get you everywhere.” James heard the smile in the older man’s voice and the sound of furiously clicking keys. “I haven’t got through all the CEO’s stuff yet. But I’ve pretty much finished with the lab tech’s systems.”

James froze at the bottom of the ladder. “And?”

A pause. “Nothing, sorry. Nothing you wouldn’t expect of a twenty-six year old male’s work computer, anyway.”

“Meaning, what?”

“Well, his browsing history is a bit daring for a work system. But he knows his stuff. There’s hardly any traceable remnants of the caches left.”

“What about evidence of him hacking the security cameras?”

A pause. “There’s no trace. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Samar added. “But it’s not the sort of process that leaves a footprint. It was a live stream and he didn’t record it. And he would have probably used a security network, which his standard login wouldn’t have access to, but if he’s any kind of programmer, he’ll know how to set up dupe logins.”

James ran a hand through his hair, staring down at his sand-encrusted shoes. “So we’ve got nothing to prove or disprove his story?”

“No. Sorry.”

James pressed a knuckle to his lips for a long moment. He stared out to sea. He could hear his dad’s words in his head. Samar drew a breath to speak again when he got in first. “I want you to check into Horatio Torez’s records again.”

“Again? The man hasn’t had so much as a library fine in the last ten years.”

“Look further back,” James insisted, remembering the hot, angry black of the man’s eyes. “He was in the army. Check his duty records.”

“You got a warrant for that?”

“I can’t get a warrant. I have no evidence. It’s just a feeling…”

“You can’t check the armed forces’ duty records because of a feeling.”

“Please, Samar. It’s a strong feeling. Besides, anyone asks, you did it under my orders. I’m going down anyway, it won’t make any difference.”

There was a thoughtful pause on the other end of the line then he heard the clicking of keys resume. “Ok. As it’s you. And as you swear on your ass you’ll take the rap for any fallout?”

“I swear,” James said drily.

“Ok. Give me a second.”

James paced, fighting impatience. He strode between the pier legs, scuffing dried seaweed with his feet, releasing waves of salty, stagnant smells and firmly clamped down on the swelling bubble of uncertainty that threatened to engulf his chest as the silence stretched on.

“Oh,” Samar murmured a minute later. “Oh. Well, would you look at that.”

“What? What is it?”

“Sergeant Horatio José Torez was dishonorably discharged from the United States Army in 2003.”

James stopped pacing. “Can you see details?”

“He was court-martialed for Threatening Behavior and Misconduct Towards a Superior Officer.”

James’s heart jumped. “Any more detail that that?”

“Sorry, no. Not without actively hacking military court files, which even your doomed ass couldn’t save me from,” Samar muttered. “But as he was discharged rather than thrown in prison I would guess that either the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence, or the officer dropped the charges.”

James stared at the sea-rusted iron struts, mind whirling. He started back for the ladder at a run. “Thanks Samar. I owe you.”

“You sure do. That better be worth it.”

James climbed the ladder so quickly his heart was pumping and his muscles burning by the time his feet hit the salt-rimed boards of the pier. He didn’t wait to catch his breath before ringing Gibson and racing back down towards the seafront.

“Solomon. Ballistics are still stonewalling me. Tell me you’ve got something?”

“I’ve got something.”

“What?”

“Torez was dishonorably discharged from the army fourteen years ago. Looks like he either hurt someone, or threatened to. Someone of superior rank.”

He could hear Gibson’s mind turning over. “Where did you get this information, agent?”

James winced. “You’ll have deniability if I don’t till you, ma’am. But I think it’s worth asking him directly about.”

“James – ”

“He’s got prior tendency to challenge authority figures. Violently.”

“Thin, agent.”

“You saw the way he looked in that interview room,” James insisted, weaving between pedestrians and heading toward the hotel. “And Hannah saw him leave the presentation evening. There’s a very good chance he was having an affair with the victim’s wife. We can’t afford to ignore this.”

Gibson was silent almost for the same amount of time it took James to reach the hotel parking lot. “James, I understand what you’re saying. But think. We can’t approach him and his lawyer with illegally-obtained intelligence.”

James paused before getting in the car, taking a moment to fight back frustration. “I’ll talk to him, boss. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“You do have something to lose, Agent,” Gibson added with a surprising amount of emotion. “We both do. I won’t let you hammer another nail in the coffin of your career – ”

James hung up with a guilty flush of heat prickling his shoulder blades and climbed into the car.

No one answered the door of Torez’s fine, red-brick townhouse. He paced the covered porch impatiently, shading his eyes and peering in the windows, but the blinds were drawn. The man’s Chrysler and Porsche were both in the driveway, but there was no light in any windows.

“He’s not in, young man.” James turned and saw an elderly couple just leaving the house next door. He recognized them as the couple he’d seen strolling the pier on Christmas day. “He left about twenty minutes ago,” the man continued with a helpful smile.

James pulled out his badge and hurried over. The old couple looked at his badge, grey eyebrows rising in unified surprise.

“Would you mind answering a couple of questions Mr and Mrs…?”

“Pine. No, of course not. Is Mr Torez in trouble?” the woman’s small eyes shone with excitement.

“Do you know Mr Torez well?” James said.

“Oh, not very well I’m afraid,” the man said apologetically. “People don’t know their neighbors these days, do they?”

“Is there anything at all you can tell me about him? His habits? Whether he’s caused any trouble?”

“Oh no, no trouble,” the woman insisted with a warm smile. “But I think he works a lot. We keep very different hours. We don’t see him much.”

“You ever see anyone else here? Anyone visiting?”

The old man’s face crumpled slightly. He looked to his wife for guidance. She had a knowing smile on her lined face.

“Oh yes,” she said significantly. “He had a young friend for a while. Polite young man. Handsome. Used to call once or twice a week.” She looked around then lowered her voice. “I think it was Mr Torez’s boyfriend.”

James swallowed, pretended to jot a note. “Anyone else?”

“Well, yes,” the man put in eagerly. “Seems he has a girlfriend now. Or, rather lady-friend. She’s older. Older than him, I mean.”

“Oh, yes,” the woman added eagerly. “Very well-dressed lady. Doesn’t smile, though.”

“It was her that picked him up, actually. Not long ago.”

James examined their eager faces for a moment, then pulled up Rachel Benson’s file photo on his phone. “Is this her?”

“Yes,” the old man beamed. “That’s her. Has she done something?”

“Thank you for your help,” James said and hurried back to his car, ignoring the flurry of questions they sent after him. He climbed in and was just about to ring Gibson when the phone bleeped with an incoming picture message. His heart jerked when he recognized Leo’s number. It bleeped again as another came in. Then another. James frowned, enlarged the pictures. His mouth went dry.

He cued speaker phone through the car’s Bluetooth system as he reversed out of Torez’s driveway.

“Come on, come on,” he urged as it rang and rang.

“Agent Solomon,” Gibson eventually came on the line, voice sheet-iron stiff. “I do not appreciate – ”

“Gibson. We’ve got a problem.”

“What?” she said, voice suddenly alert.

“It’s Hannah.”

“What about him?”

“I think he’s done something…unwise.”

She swore. “He’s only been released three hours. What the hell has he managed to do already?”

“He’s at the victim’s house.”

“How do you know?”

“Torez isn’t home. I was just leaving when Hannah started sending me pictures. He’s outside the drawing room window of Benson’s house. Torez and the widow are inside.”

“Torez and Rachel Benson?” There was a heavy silence on the other end of the phone. “What are they doing?”

“Arguing, possibly? And…more. I’ve just had confirmation from neighbors that she’s been visiting Torez’s house, too.”

“Jesus.”

“Ma’am…Hannah…”

Gibson swore again. “The goddamn kid’s gonna get himself hurt.”

“I’m heading out there now.”

“I’ll meet you there. I’m calling the sheriffs for backup.” She disconnected.

“Call Leo,” he ordered. A ringing tone filled the car. “Pick up,” he growled, but it went to voicemail. He tried again as he swung the car back out onto the main road, but this time it went straight to the answerphone without even ringing. He tore down the small, wooded road, overtaking what little traffic there was at speed. Flashing lights glimmered in his mirror as police car pulled up behind him. Sheriff Coyle killed the siren and dimmed the lights and accelerated to keep up.

He turned off the main road onto a side road sharply enough to have the tires screeching, then turned again onto the drive of the Benson’s house with another sharp jerk. They were just pulling up to the front door when a black saloon car zoomed past in the other direction.

“That was Torez,” Gibson said as she clambered out the passenger side of Coyle’s car.

“Was Hannah with him?” James asked, craning his neck to look down the drive.

Gibson shook her head. “He was alone. Do a perimeter circuit of the house, meet me inside. Coyle, wait by the door. Make sure no one leaves.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Coyle said, following on Gibson’s heels and taking up position by the open front door, drawing her gun.

Gibson knocked loudly. “Mrs Benson? Mrs Benson, it’s the FBI.”

James hurried down the side of the house. He found the drawing room window. There were fresh sneaker prints in the flowerbed under the window. He trailed round the entire house, scouring several large bushes and trees, but found no one.

He hurried through the front door and down the luxuriously carpeted hall to the drawing room where Mrs Gibson stood, rigid with emotion. Her expensive mascara was smudged around her eyes but she tilted her chin in defiance, shooting a sharp look at him as he joined Gibson on the designer rug.

“What the hell do you both mean, racing into my home like this?” Her voice was brittle.

“You are still stating that you are here alone, ma’am?” Gibson asked.

“Of course I am.”

“We saw Mr Torez leaving in rather a hurry.”

Mrs Benson narrowed her eyes. “My business partner stopped by to ask me to sign some forms about my husband. He could see it was distressing me so he left.”

Gibson gave James a significant look and he loaded Hannah’s pictures. “This doesn’t look like a business meeting to me, Mrs Benson.”

Her eyes widened at the phone screen, then burned hot. “How dare you. You spied on me? I shall have you in court.”

“Mrs Benson, you have to understand hiding your affair with your husband’s business partner does not look good.”

“My personal business is just that. Personal.”

“It’s also a motive for murder, Mrs Benson.”

Her expensively-maintained eyebrows drew down in a furious glare. “That rodent Leonardo Hannah killed my husband. You arrested him yourselves.”

Gibson shook her head. “We never charged him, ma’am. He was released a short while ago. Have you seen him?”

Her nose wrinkled disgust. “Here? Of course not.”

“She’s lying,” James stated, staring hard at her face.

“How dare you,” she said again but James thrust the phone under her nose again.

“These were sent by him. He was out that window,” he jabbed his finger towards the large, velvet-draped windows near the door. “You didn’t see him?”

“And how, pray tell,” Mrs Benson said in icy tones, “did a murder suspect come to have your phone number, Agent Solomon?”

“Where is he?” James demanded, but Gibson stepped between them.

“Mrs Benson,” she said coolly. “Our evidence of your affair, coupled with evidence that you lied about seeing Mr Torez in the conference room at the time of the murder, is putting us in a pretty strong position to charge you as an accessory to both your husband’s murder and that of Renford Muntz.”

“This is outrageous,” she spluttered, giving James a particularly disgusted look. “There is no such evidence.”

“Because you paid Renford Muntz to destroy it, you mean?” James’s voice was hard.

“This is slander and harassment,” she cried. “I shall have both your badges for this.”

“I’ll be sure and wrap it in a Tiffany’s box for you,” Gibson drawled. “But first, you need to tell us where Mr Torez has gone.”

“How should I know where he’s gone?”

“I think you know perfectly well.” Gibson’s gaze was penetrating. James shifted impatiently, keeping his hands by his sides and watching a surge of emotions swirl though the widow’s ice-blue eyes.

“I want you to leave my house,” Rachel Benson said, her voice catching.

“It’s over, Rachel,” Gibson stated, crossing her arms. “You’re making it worse by lying. And if Mr Torez is about to do something stupid to that boy, helping us stop him is in both your best interests.”

Mrs Benson’s eyes flashed. She gave James a long, assessing look. “He got to you too, didn’t he?” she hissed. “The whore. What the hell is it about that boy that has perfectly rational men losing their all their senses over him?”

“Are you saying Mr Torez reacted when he saw Mr Hannah at the window?” James pressed.

“He didn’t see…we didn’t see…he wasn’t here.”

“Mrs Benson,” Gibson said in a dangerously low voice. “Tell us where Horatio Torez is, or we’ll be charging you with kidnapping and attempted murder on top of everything else.”

She clenched her fists, looked between them both. A single hot, angry tear squeezed from her eye. She swiped at it angrily.

“Help yourself, Rachel,” Gibson said. “Tell us where he’s taken him.”

Rachel swallowed thickly. “He didn’t say where he was taking him.”

James’s stomach clenched. “Where do you think he’s taken him?”

Mrs Benson sent him a poisonous look. “I don’t know. Somewhere quiet to finish the job.”

James was already running back to the car, Gibson hot on his heels. Gibson shouted to Sheriff Coyle to arrest Mrs Benson as she passed, then pulled out her cellphone.

“I need an APB on a vehicle…”

The rest of her orders went unheard as James flung himself into the car and started the engine. She shouted something after him but he was already speeding down the drive. The black car was long gone, but James tore down the road toward Winton, scouring every lay-by and side road for any sign of it. The second time Gibson’s number flashed up on his phone he activated speaker phone.

“James, don’t be stupid. Let the local PD handle it.”

“I can’t let him get killed,” he snapped.

“This isn’t our fault.”

“We should have believed him,” he growled. “I should have believed him.”

“Getting yourself killed won’t help anyone, Agent Solomon.”

“You know where he’s gone?” James said, hearing something in her tone.

Silence.

“Lisa, please,” he grated out.

A noisy sigh. “His car was spotted taking the turning toward Benson Industries HQ,” she said. “But James – ”

James cut the call and increased his speed.

Another car swerved and hooted angrily as he tore into the parking lot of Benson Industries.  He spotted Torez’s car, parked sideways across two spaces, the trunk and driver’s door wide open. There was a battered sneaker on the floor of the trunk. An overweight man in a security guard’s uniform stood scratching his head and peering at it.

“Where’d they go?” he demanded of the security guard.

The middle-aged man straightened, looking startled. “Who are you?”

“FBI,” James ground out. “Where did they go?”

“Where did who – ”

“The men from this car,” James growled, restraining himself from grabbing the other man with an effort.

The guard, face slack with fear, shook his head so his jowls wobbled. “I…I didn’t see.”

“You didn’t?”

“No, I was just doing my perimeter patrol,” he said. “Saw the car. There was no one in it.”

James swore, scoured the parking lot, but there was no one else around. There were lights on in some of the building’s windows and he could see staff moving around, but no one seemed to be acting out of the ordinary. He looked around at the dense surrounding woodland with a cold, sinking feeling in his insides. He could hear sirens in the distance, but they were still too far away.

He rubbed his mouth, glanced up to the sky and froze. An access door to the building’s roof stood open. He took off at a run, the security guard’s startled questions whipping away in the wind. A woman in a suit was just swiping herself out of the front entrance as he arrived. He pushed her out the way and ran in, ignoring her squawked protest.

“Have you seen two men come through here?”

The wide-eyed receptionist blinked at him. “Two men?”

“Yes. Horatio Torez and Leo Hannah.” She stared at him opening and closing her mouth a few times. “Have you seen them?”

“Yes,” she said. “They just came by. Is something wrong?”

He swore. “How do you get to the roof? Quick.”

“Sir, I don’t – ”

He thrust his badge at her and repeated the question. She pointed down the hall and he ran. He skidded round a corner found a door onto the access stairs ajar. He took them three at a time, his heart hammering, sweat sticking his shirt to his skin. He got to the top and slowed, approaching the open door to the roof cautiously and drawing his gun, willing his noisy breathing to calm. He put his face to the gap, gun ready, and strained his ears.

“Jump. You know you want to.” James could just make out Torez’s slightly accented voice, muted by distance and the wind. He pushed the door open and stepped out, keeping his back to the wall and edging slowly toward the sound.

“And how do you figure that?” James’s knees almost buckled with relief at the sound of Leo’s voice, a little shaky, but otherwise strong.

“The cops think it’s all you,” Torez replied. James stopped himself running out into the open with an effort, forcing himself to approach slowly, assessing, checking the field. He reached the edge of the wall that housed the access stairs and peered slowly round the corner. Leo was stood near the railings at the roof’s edge. His clothes were rumpled, his hair loose and blowing in the wind. There was blood from a cut on his lip smeared across his chin, but otherwise he looked unharmed. His eyes were fixed on Torez who stood about ten feet away, black eyes burning. He held a gun clenched in a white-knuckled grip, its barrel levelled at Leo’s face. “You’ll go to prison,” he said with a nasty smile. “Do you know what prison will be like for someone like you?”

“Someone like me?” Leo drawled.

“Your pretty face won’t help you in there. They’ll rip you to shreds.”

James muttered curses, keeping himself still with an effort, trying to decide if he could get into position and take Torez down before he fired at Leo. His palms were sweaty. He forced himself to wait. He needed Torez’s attention off his target.

“They know, Ray,” Leo said, audibly controlling his voice with an effort. “They know I saw you leave the meeting. If I get splattered across the parking lot, they’ll figure it was you.”

“I’ll be the business man in the good suit and the thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyer,” Torez took a step closer. “You’ll be the high-school-drop-out screw-up who jumped from a roof rather than face the consequences of his actions.”

“You’re crazy,” Leo grated and James winced. “They know I had no reason to kill the old man.”

Torez barked a sharp laugh. “They took Benson’s computer this morning. They’ll find the emails.”

“What emails?”

Torez took another tiny step closer. Leo took a step back and James swore, looking around the flat, empty rooftop for any extra cover. “The ones from Derek telling me to break it off with you. They’ll find my humble, noble replies and eventual acquiescence.”

“That’s bullshit. There were no emails.”

“You’re not the only one with IT skills, Leo. And I’ve ensured little Miss Andrews has spread it far and wide. It’s as good as fact.”

“All this,” Leo cried, beginning to sound desperate. “All this, for what? The company? Rachel? What?”

Torez bristled. “I’m owed it.”

“How’s that, Ray?”

“I fought for this country. I bled for it. It owes me.”

“It owes you money? Power? A shiny corner office?”

“Fucking respect,” Torez ground out. “Something you have absolutely no understanding of.”

“And Benson?” Hannah pressed, shifting closer to the railings, keeping his hands out at his sides. “He didn’t give you enough respect, was that it?”

“He was going to fire me,” Torez said, voice high and shaky. “Fire me. Over what?”

“I dunno, maybe having your rebound screw with his wife?”

“He didn’t know,” Torez growled. “The blind old fool. Even if he had, he wouldn’t care. He’s never cared about Rachel. He didn’t understand things worth valuing when he looked it in the face. I recognize people worth my time.”

“You shot him. Then shot Renny.”

Torez’s face twisted. “All these years I’ve worked for him, day and night, holidays and weekends. I’ve taken his side in board meetings. Took out competitors, engineered the best deals. I fought for his damn company. Then he told me I was out by text. Text.” His teeth clenched. “I just wanted to talk. But he didn’t even stand up. He just sat there and said my career was over.” His sudden grin was like a knife wound. “He got the gun out. To frighten me. He didn’t know what it’s like to stare down gun barrels. I know. I know.”

“And now I know,” Leo said with gritted teeth. “Is that what you wanted?”

His white smile, sharper than a paper cut in his handsome, taut face, pulled tighter. “It’s over, Leo. End it. Let it end.”

“And then what?” Leo shouted. James saw his eyes moisten, his face white with fear. “You and Rachel take over the company and get all the money and get married and start popping out babies?”

“That’s not your concern.”

“Does she know you sleep with men?” Leo cried and James swore, shifted himself ready to dive.

“I do not sleep with men,” Torez bit out, gun trembling in his hand.

“Sorry, pal,” Leo retorted. “Sergeant Major Lawson? The guy you beat to shit for breaking it off? Deffo a guy. Oh, and last time I checked, I have a dick too.”

“You’re not a man,” Torez sneered. “You’re a waste of breath. A nothing. You’re not even human.”

“And Rachel thinks that too, yeah? That I’m just a nothing, not someone you said you were falling in love with?” A tear worked its way free of his panic-filled eyes and slid down his face to mingle with the blood on his jaw.

“She knows you’re a manipulative, self-absorbed weakling who messes with people’s heads.”

Leo’s chest heaved. His jaw was so tight James could see the muscles in his throat standing out like cords. Torez was smiling, taking another step closer, flicking the barrel of his gun toward the railings.

“Finish it, Leo. Just let it all go. You know you want it over. You’ve told me so, once.”

When Leo looked over his shoulder at the edge of the roof for a long, considered moment, James sprang out from behind the wall before conscious thought could stop him.

“Drop the weapon!”

Torez gaped at him for a startled moment, but recovered instantly and fired at him. James swore and ducked behind the wall. Brick dust showered down. Torez fired again and again. He heard Leo yell and his blood ran cold. He scrambled to the edge of his cover. Leo was further along the railings, crawling backwards whilst Torez looked frantically from him to James. He raised the gun aimed at Leo. James fired.

The shot grazed Torez’s right arm. He yelled, dropped the gun and grabbed the wound.

“Horatio Torez,” James said, pacing forward, keeping his gun trained on the older man. “You are under arrest for – ”

A wild look overtook the other man’s face. He let out a roar and flung his huge frame forward. James fired but he was moving too fast. They collided, knocking the air clean out of James’s lungs. The gun flew from his hand. James was trained, but Torez was  ex-military, thick with muscle and next to unhinged. He rained down blows, connecting with his gut, his arms, his shoulders. James fought most of them off but the older man managed to land blow to the side of his head, making his ears ring and his vision blur.

The other man’s weight on him shifted and there was a scrape of metal on concrete as Torez grabbed James’s dropped gun.

The noise of a shot piercing the air ripped everything apart. Torez screamed with pain and fury and rolled off James. James blinked up at the white, swirling sky, tasting copper. Over the roaring in his ears he heard the sound of sirens and screeching tires.

He sat up, his muscles screaming in protest. Torez lay on the concrete, writhing, cursing in a weak, bubbling voice and clutching at a wound blooming blood in his shoulder. Leo stood a few feet away, face ashen and Torez’s gun shaking in his hands. James tried to go to him, but his chest refused to pull in air. He got to his knees, wincing. Leo dropped the gun and sank heavily onto the concrete. James crawled toward him.

“Leo. Leo, look at me.”

The younger man’s eyes were wide and fixed on Torez. His chest heaved and sweat shone on his forehead.

“Leo, it’s ok. Just breathe, it’s ok.” He reached out, arm shaking, and put a hand to Leo’s face. His skin was cold to touch. He tried to turn his face towards him but the younger man was frozen, staring, his swollen lips white under the smeared blood and blossoming bruises.   “Solomon!” called Gibson as she ran out onto the roof, taking in the scene with one furious glance tinged with obvious, angry relief. “Christ Almighty, what’s happened?”

Sheriff Coyle hurried out after Gibson, followed closely by more police officers and paramedics in yellow coats. The police quickly secured the dropped guns and the roof access door. The paramedics rushed straight for Torez who still lay, moaning and bleeding all over the concrete.

“Here, I need a medic here,” James waved frantically, keeping a hold on Leo’s shoulder like he could keep him stable by holding on tightly enough. The second paramedic glanced at the gurgling Torez, then at James’s insistent gestures and hurried over. She knelt by Leo and shined a light in his unresponsive eyes.

“He’s going into shock,” she murmured, opening her case and pulling out a foil blanket. “Please, step back, sir.”

James obeyed. He felt Gibson’s strong grip on his elbow helping him to his feet.

“You hurt?”

He shook his head, unable to take his eyes of Leo as the paramedic wrapped him in the blanket and attempted to get a response from him as she checked his bruised mouth.

“He’s ok, James,” Gibson murmured softly, pulling him back gently. “Let them look after him. Come on. You need to get checked out yourself.”

“I’m fine,” he croaked.

“You’re bleeding,” she insisted.

James reached up a shaking hand and touched the warm stickiness at his still-ringing ear. His fingers came away bloody.

“Come with me to the ambulance, Agent Solomon. That’s an order.”

He allowed her to lead him away, but didn’t look away from Leo until the wall obscured him from view.

TBC

<——— Back to Part 10

On to Part 12 ———–>

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