Several of Jim’s accountants had worked with clients who supplied goods and services to Putnam House. Jim asked them to collect and collate information for him. As Putnam House was a private business contracting with the city, many of its records were in the public domain and accessible. Jim learned what the city paid for every child sent to Putnam and what it cost Putnam to support them. Documents showed the names of the children and the dates they entered the house and when they left it. The entire budget was open for review and turned out to be several inches thick. Jim saw his examination of the records was not going to be a simple task.
While he was taking on the business of looking at Putnam’s accounts himself, he appointed someone else the task of looking at other firms which did business with the city. He was especially interested in seeing anything Ben Cooley had authorized or any payments made to the man.
Garlen had several discussions with his investigator. Dick Rogers was a sour-looking man. His appearance made him look like one of the people pictured standing in bread lines during the Depression. He was rumpled, emaciated and stoop-shouldered and had rather vacant eyes. In fact, he was a very sharp and intuitive man. Garlen assigned him a couple of lines of inquiry, but his Tuesday-morning monitoring of Ben Cooley took precedence.
“Dick Rogers. OK, he just arrived at City Hall. I’ll follow him till he’s in his office, then call again.”
“Right. Uhm, don’t let him—”
“Hah!” Dick said, laughing and interrupting. “Like he’s about to spot me. He walks like a rooster on the way to the henhouse. Never looks behind him. He struts. Even if he did look back, he wouldn't see me. People don’t see me. I’ve made a career out of people not seeing me. It’s like I had one of those invisibility cloaks Harry Potter wore. We’re safe. I’ll call, probably in a few. He might stop for coffee. We’ll see.”
He ended the call, and Tris turned to Jordy. They were sitting at the kitchen table, a bag with five electronic bugs in it between them. The bugs, when switched on, were voice activated and picked up conversations and transmitted them to the five receivers the boys had. Each receiver both recorded and could play back what they received. “He should call with the green light in a few minutes.” He looked at Jordy, then grinned. “Nervous much?”
Jordy grinned, too. “I’m more nervous than before a football game. There, I know what to expect. Here? Anything could go wrong. What if a neighbor sees us and calls the cops? What if someone’s in the house that we don’t know about? What if—”
“The same answer to all of those,” said Tris, breaking in. “We’ll just deal with whatever happens. “Remember I live there—that’s what we tell anyone if we end up having to explain ourselves. If I live there, how can anyone question anything we’re doing? No, it’s only my dad we have to worry about. And that won’t be a problem; we’ll be out of there in just a few minutes. We’ll be fine.”
Jordy shook his head. “I don’t get it, why you aren’t nervous.”
“Maybe because I’m finally doing something about my problems instead of letting them control me. I’ve felt like a pawn, letting Dad have his way. This feels good. Exciting more than nerve-wracking. It’s like someone’s shouted, ‘Ready. Set. Go’ and fired a starter’s pistol or I’ve clipped my ripcord to the line and am ready to jump out of the airplane. A few nervous twinges, but much more excitement.”
Jordy was staring at him. “You know, you’re nothing like you were just a few days ago. When I first met you. Then, you were sad—well, despondent really. You had no energy. You were hesitant to talk and looked like you were afraid of your own shadow. Now it’s like you’re fully alive. You’re animated and a completely different person. It’s just, well, incredible.”
Tris didn’t reply immediately. He looked at Jordy, then away. “I hope you still like me,” he finally said, softly and uncertainly. “You liked who I was before. Maybe that’s the sort of guy you want to be with. No, I’m not really like who you first met. This is more who I am. This is who I always was. Who I want to be. Being with you has brought that guy back.”
Jordy jumped from his chair, came around the table and took Tris in his arms, pulling him to his feet. He kissed him, hard, and held it long enough that by the time he stopped, they were both aroused. “I like this guy just fine, Tris. The other guy would have been a lot of work. This guy, I don’t feel sorry for.
"This guy challenges me to be the best person I can be because he’s the best guy I’ve ever known. I’m not even sure we’re equals. You’re way ahead of me in many things.”
“Oh,” said Tris, and he blushed. Then he stepped forward and they were kissing again. Tris reached down and squeezed what was poking him in the groin. “Equals?” he laughed. “I don’t think so!” They were only interrupted when Tris’s phone rang with Dick’s call.
“He’s in his office. Go. But make sure no one sees you leaving Jim’s house. It could be being watched. You don’t want anyone knowing you’re still living there,” Dick reminded him.
Jordy had Jim’s car for the day. It was parked in the attached garage behind a closed door. Tris got in the back and lay flat on the seat. Jordy threw a blanket over him, then activated the door opener and backed out. He clicked to close the door and drove away, watching his mirrors. No one followed them. People going to work had already gone, and the streets were pretty much deserted. Jordy made a couple of turns just to be sure no one was following, then headed for the Cooley house.
One of their concerns when discussing this operation was that Jordy only had a learners’ permit; it wasn’t legal for him to be driving by himself and driving with another underage teen in the car compounded their flouting the law. The boys argued that this was balanced by the fact that it wasn’t all that far to the Cooley house, it was late enough in the morning that there was little traffic on the roads, they were taking only back streets, and Jordy was driving just under the speed limit. Their main selling point, however, was that this way, no one would be aware of where they were going. No witnesses. It was a risk the boys had wanted to take, and they’d talked both Jim and Garlen into accepting it.
They’d discussed it, and both agreed it would be better not to look surreptitious when they got to the house. Jordy pulled to the curb in front of a house two down from the Cooleys; parking in the Cooley driveway would have meant they could easily be blocked in, and parking in front of the house suggested to anyone passing or looking out a window that their car was associated with the house. They got out and walked at a normal pace up to the front door. Both were wearing jeans, hoodies and backpacks, a common look for high-school students.
“Hope this works,” Tris said, trying his key in the front door. It seemed unlikely to him that his father would have changed the locks, but it was possible. They’d decided on a different, much more complicated plan if the key didn’t fit. The problem wouldn’t be getting in; their problem was getting in without leaving a sign that they’d been there.
The key worked, as Tris had been 98% sure it would.
In the living room, which Tristan knew wasn’t used that often, they fastened a bug to the underside of an end table. They peeled the backing off the adhesive strip on the bug and stuck it near the back of the bottom of the table, then pushed the tiny switch to the on position.
The next one was for the kitchen area. They’d discussed several places there, and Jordy liked the sound of the space between the kitchen and the breakfast nook. That way they’d have both areas covered. There was a pass-through opening with a countertop that extended several inches into the nook; they could locate the bug on the bottom of that. Tris was afraid it might not catch talk from the kitchen well enough. They’d ended up deciding to wait till they were in the house to decide, and Jordy agreed, seeing the layout, to have the bug stuck to the decorative chain holding the suspended light fixture over the breakfast table. Tris attached the bug onto the inside of one of the loops of the chain near the ceiling, standing on the table to reach it. From the floor, it was hidden by the girth of the chain. He was climbing down when he stopped, slapped his forehead, climbed back up and switched the bug on.
Next was the family room. Dick had told them to keep it away from any sound devices, so Tris found a place as far as possible from the TV set and stereo speakers. That was on the chair his father preferred. The bug went in the bottom back corner of the chair, underneath. He didn’t forget to turn this one on.
That covered the first floor. They moved to the stairway and climbed to the second floor. Tris stopped at the first door. “This was my room. Funny, it wasn’t all that long ago this was where I lived, but it feels like a lot longer.”
“Can I see it?” Jordy asked, even though he was feeling the time pressure that surrounded their mission.
Tris opened the door. It was a large room, fitting for a large and fairly opulent house. Jordy saw a desk with a computer, a TV set, a game console, and several bookshelves, full of books. There was a king-sized bed and a closet full of clothes.
Tris was standing, just looking around. “I had so much stuff,” he said wistfully. “I’ve found out I don’t need all that.” He reached over and took Jordy’s hand. “I need you, and not much more than that. With you, that’s enough.”
Jordy pulled Tris into his arms and they kissed.
“I always wanted to do that, have a boy in here and make out with him. Pity we don’t have more time.”
Jordy grinned. “There’ll be time at home.”
“Yeah. I’m looking forward to it.”
They had two more bugs to install and were heading for the bathroom when Tris’s phone vibrated.
“He’s on the move. In his car. I’m following. He’s heading in your direction. I’d have called sooner but lost my signal for a couple of minutes. He’s probably about five minutes out. Hurry.”
“Got it,” Tris said, and disconnected.
“Got to move. Two more. No time. You do the big bathroom down the hall to the left; I’ll take the bedroom.”
They’d decided to bug the bathroom because of the chance Ben would use his phone there. Jordy stuck the bug on the bottom of a drawer under the counter and turned it on.
Tris was in his father’s bedroom, looking around. They hadn’t decided where to put the bug here. His phone vibrated again, and he answered it. It was Dick again.
“He’s almost there. Get out!”
Tris slipped the phone back in his pocket and made a quick decision. He got on the bed and, after turning the bug on, stuck it as far down on the back side of the headboard as he could reach. Then he climbed back onto the floor, smoothed the depression he’d made on the bedspread, and hurried back to the bathroom where Jordy had just finished.
“We’ve got to move!” Tris said. “No time.”
They raced down the stairs and to the front door. There was no sign of his father’s Audi. Should they go out the front and risk him seeing them if he showed up as they were leaving? Or go out the back and, and…and what?
“The back,” said Tris, making the decision. They ran through the house to the back door and out. Tris used his key to relock the deadbolt, then took Jordy down the steps into the back yard.
There was a detached garage, and Tris led Jordy to the rear of it. He peeked around the corner, looking down the far side of it to the driveway and saw his father’s car pull in. As he watched, he saw his father get out of the car. “Damn!” he murmured.
“We in trouble?” Jordy asked.
“No, I doubt he’ll come out here. In fact, listen.”
Jordy did and heard a car idling. “He left his car running!”
“He must have…he probably forgot something and just stopped by to get it.” Tris spoke softly. “We can just wait here. If we hear the back door open and shut, then we can hop the fence and go across the neighbor’s back yard. Dad won’t see us because the garage will be in his way. But he’s not likely to come out here.”
They waited, both their hearts beating faster than usual. In less than a minute, they heard the front door close, and then a car door slam shut. Tris’s father was leaving.
When the boys got home, both were keyed up. Their escape hadn’t really been that close a call, but their adrenaline had still been pumping.
“What now?” Jordy asked. In so doing, he realized he’d been letting Tris call the shots. The boy was smaller than he was, yet he had a charisma, a bearing, that made it easy to treat him as one you’d follow.
Tris grinned. “That was fun!”
“Fun!” Jordy was scowling, yet he too felt what Tris did, and it was difficult to maintain the sour expression. Tris just kept grinning, and Jordy ended up doing the same. “Anyway, now what? Garlen is involved in investigating, Jim looking at financial stuff, and we’re here sitting on our thumbs.”
“Yep,” said Tris, his eyes alive. “We’re here. All alone. What do you think we should be doing.” The way he said that, drawing out the last few words, lowering his voice, Jordy instantly understood.
“Uh, well, I think, maybe we take a shower? All that tension at your house and almost getting caught and all, maybe a warm shower would help calm us down, allow us to relax.”
“You mean, together? Like last time?” Tris couldn’t help himself. He giggled.
“You’re such a kid!” Jordy snorted. “I can see I need to take charge here. Come on upstairs. We’ll figure it out there.”
He ushered Tris to the stairs, then climbed them, walking behind him. Tris did his part. He swayed his hips provocatively.
“Into the bathroom,” Jordy commanded once they’d reached the upper floor.
“Yes, sir,” Tris meekly replied.
They moved into the bathroom where Jordy said, “Off with the clothes!”
Tris complied, and Jordy removed each piece of his own clothing right along with him. When they were both naked, they were also both hard. They took a moment or two to ogle each other.
Tris said softly, “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?”
Jordy cooed, “You are gorgeous. There’s nothing about you that isn’t perfect.”
They moved together and embraced. Tris raised his face and gently kissed Jordy, then nibbled on his lower lip, licking it and caught it in his teeth, stretching it out, playing with it. He realized his lower half had begun small, will-of-their-own, forward thrusts against Jordy. Jordy was responding with identical rhythmic movements.
“Let’s get into the shower,” Jordy murmured throatily.
When the water was warm, they stepped in. Jim had had a large walk-in shower built into the main bathroom; there was plenty of room for both boys. Jordy soaped up Tris, running his sudsy hands over the smaller boy’s entire body. To reach the lower part, he got down on his knees. He washed everything, but seemed to be paying more attention to the rigid pole sticking out at him and the tight sack hanging below it. He soaped, rinsed, and repeated till Tris was squirming. Then Jordy took him in his mouth.
They’d been quite simple in what they’d done with each other so far. It all had been new to them, and Tris had been very anxious at first. They hadn’t reached the stage of oral explorations. Tris hadn’t expected this, and he gasped. The feeling was astounding. He couldn’t help himself and instinctively thrust farther into Jordy’s mouth. Jordy was able to accept him and was instinctive himself, using suction as Tris pulled back before thrusting in again.
Tris was already on the brink from the washing Jordy had been lavishing on him. With what was happening now, both the physical pleasure and the mental understanding of what was happening, he reached his peak with only a few thrusts. Then he was over the top and no longer in control, erupting and erupting again. Jordy didn’t let him go, keeping him in his mouth, enjoying not only what Tris was giving him but the amazingly warm feeling he had from giving Tris such joy.
When Tris finally stopped, Jordy kept Tris inside his mouth for some time, just tonguing and nursing him lovingly while rubbing his hands up and down his legs. Eventually, he stopped and let him go, standing back up.
“Oh, Jordy,” Tris stuttered. “That was…that was….”
“Sorry,” Jordy said, “I should have asked your permission first, but I was overcome with how sexy you looked, and I really didn’t think you’d mind.”
Tris reached down and grasped Jordy’s erection. “Hmmm,” he said. “Hand me the soap, please. Something feels very dirty down here. It’s going to need lots of washing. ”
Mildred Coppinger stopped by to see Ben that evening. He was in the kitchen, pouring himself a drink. “You eaten yet?” she asked him.
“No, just got home. Want a drink?”
He made her a gin martini—minus the vermouth—knowing that was her preference, then brought both drinks to the table in the breakfast nook.
“How’s the investigation going into what happened to Marco? The tox results in yet?” she asked him after swallowing a healthy sip of her drink.
“No, and I can’t ask. I’ll have Marv let me know when they’re in. I guess that’ll turn up the heat a little, but I’m covered. I was with you. We went to Tully’s for dinner. We’ll go there tonight, and I’ll slip Felix a c-note. For that he’d even lie for his ex-wife.”
He took a draw on his scotch rocks and asked, “What about those three boys? Police looking for them?”
“Just Charlie and Sam. Won’t be a problem unless or until the paper gets involved—or a TV journalist—but it’s not like those guys even know what day it is. If the paper gets into it at all, I’ll just have the boys moved. Right now, we’ve got them locked in.” She ate her olive and drained the glass.
He got up to make her another. “Good.”
When he got back to the table, she asked him, “What about your boy? You on that?”
“I called the school. They told me he’s visiting a relative. That’s bullshit. He doesn’t know any relatives. The only ones are way down in South Carolina, and he’s never met them. He hasn’t been working at Antonio’s either. He’s hiding somewhere. I got Marv trying to look for him without making any noise. The boy’s a wuss, though; we’ll find him.”
“And when you do?”
Ben laughed. “I still say, he don’t know shit. If he did, he’d already have spilled. But OK, OK. Don’t start yelling at me. We find him, he goes to Putnam and you work on him. He’ll tell you all you want to hear the second you start on him. But I know how much you enjoy that part.”
Mildred frowned. “I think he’s probably still with that guy where I found him the first time. The son of a bitch obtained an emergency foster license. Had some help with that. Had to. But I’m going to send Charlie and Sam around there in uniform. They’ll say he’s needed for questioning. Don’t need a warrant to take him in for that. They’ll take him to Putnam instead, maybe soften him up a little, we get paid, and he’s not a danger any longer.”
“That ought to work,” Ben agreed. “Hey, I’m starved. Let’s go eat.”
The bug hanging over the nook picked up every word that was said and sent it to the receiver that, along with the others, had been hidden in Jim’s secret wine closet. When Jim got home that evening, he invited Garlen over after dinner. He arrived when the three of them were finishing doing the dishes. They sat around the kitchen table to talk.
While Jordy told them about their somewhat scary adventure at Ben’s house, making it sound worse than it had been, Tris got up to check the receiving equipment. He saw a green light was blinking.
“We’ve got something,” he called back to the kitchen. He brought the blinking unit back to the table. All four of them listened to the playback.
“Wow!,” Jim said. “It sounds like either Tris’s dad or Coppinger was directly involved in Marco’s death.”
“But it isn’t conclusive,” Garlen said. “Suggestive, yes. But it does establish for us at least without a doubt that those two are working together and that they’re a threat to Tris.”
“What she said about sending cops here to get you, Tris,” Jordy said. “Are you good with this, staying here? I mean, we could hit the road for awhile. It would be safer.”
“No, I want to be here helping out. I’m not running away.” Tris was very positive about that. “And no one can find me in that wine closet. Jim can let them look around the house, satisfy them I’m gone. That should be enough.”
Jordy was shaking his head. “This whole thing scares the shit out of me.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Tris said, ignoring Jordy. “Sounds to me like Charlie and Sam are policemen. Perhaps, extrapolating a bit, they’re the ones assigned to Putnam if there’s a need for the cops there. Also sounds like they’re working with Coppinger,” Tris said.
“And who’s Marv?” Jordy asked.
Garlen was shaking his head. “It’s like I thought—or might be. The only Marv I know is Marvin Gardener. He’s the police chief. And if he has a role in this, he’s dirty as hell. Our problem just got worse. Oh, and I learned who Burrows is. Austen Burrows. He’s the CEO and Managing Director of Putnam House.”
They were digesting that news when there was a knock on the door, accompanied by the doorbell being rung. Jim and Garlen looked at each other, and then Jim said quickly, “Tris, into the wine closet; Jordy, make sure no trace of Tris exists upstairs. Make it look like there’s only one teen in the house.”
While he was saying this, Garlen was collecting the glass Tris had been drinking out of and sticking it unwashed back in the cupboard.
Jim waited a moment or two. The knocking got louder. He ambled to the door and opened it. Two policemen were there, both large men.
“Yes? Can I help you?” Jim asked, smiling.
“You have a boy here, Tristan Cooley, who’s needed downtown for a little more questioning. A couple of facts they’re wondering about. We’ll take him down. Should have him back in an hour or so.”
Jim stopped smiling. “I’m sorry. Because of what happened today, I wasn’t sure how safe he was. He left this afternoon. I sent him to where he’d be safe.”
The second policeman crowded his way forward. “Sure you did. Just like that. I
don’t think so. I think he’s still here. Now why don’t you get smart, avoid
trouble, and bring him out here.”
“Can’t do it.” Jim was quite firm. “He’s gone. Was here; not now. Sorry.”
“As I said, I don’t believe it. We come back in a half hour with a warrant, we’ll tear the place apart. Best for you if you just cooperate now.”
Jim stared at the guy, whose hand was resting on his weapon, and the guy stared back, looking for all the world like someone who’d like it if Jim didn’t cooperate.
Jim gave it a moment, then smiled again. “No need for you to play the hard guy. It’s simply that he’s not here. If you don’t believe me, you’re welcome to come in and see for yourself. I’m here with my son and lawyer. We just finished dinner.”
He stepped aside, and the second cop burst in, bumping Jim as he did, offering no apology. The two went through the house, looking in every room, every closet, the garage, even the crawl space above the ceilings. They gave Jordy a menacing glare, and he returned a quizzical look, evincing puzzlement at their attitude, showing them innocence itself.
It took them twenty minutes to search the house completely. When they were done, they didn’t even make any remarks. They just walked to the front door, opened it, and left, not even bothering to pull the door closed behind them. They got in their car, then looked back at the house and saw Garlen standing there with a pad and pencil in his hand. The cop nearest him opened his window and stuck his head out.
“What the hell are you writing down?” he demanded.
“Your license number. That search would have been illegal if Jim hadn’t invited you in. But you were both rude and obnoxious. I happen to be on friendly terms with the DA. Neither of you introduced yourself, and neither of you is wearing a nameplate. I need the license number for my complaint.”
The cops glared at him, and the worst one, Cop Number 2, opened his door, but they could see the other cop lay a hand on his arm and say something. Cop Number 2 slammed his door again, and the car drove off.
The three looked at each other, and Garlen said, “Thank God for wine lovers.”