Running to Stand Still
By The Zot
"I should've figured you'd turn up, Yates," Detective Conner sneered as he caught sight of Kelly and Todd. "Regular goddamn bad penny." He waved at Todd. "How many sidekicks do you have, anyway?"
Todd had gone pale and wobbled a little as he realized what the crew were doing. They were digging up Kyle's grave. The smell of damp earth and the exhaust from the back hoe were making his stomach churn, and the 'chunk' the shovels made as they cut into the dirt cut into him. Kelly grabbed Todd's arm to steady him. "It's OK, Toad," he said. "Be strong."
Kelly guided Todd across the grass and back towards where they parked. There was a stand of old oak trees there, one of a number of copses of them that were scattered throughout the cemetery. He wasn't sure what else to do, but getting Todd out of the sun and sitting down would only help.
The phone in Conner's jacket pocket rang as they started walking away, Todd's distress slowing their pace. Conner pulled it out and answered. "Yeah, Conner here. What?"
There was some squawking from the other end. Kelly and Todd couldn't hear the words over the noise of the backhoe, but it was pretty clear from the detective's expression that he was even less happy than usual. Kelly got a little bit of pleasure from that, before the thought that whatever was going wrong would be blamed on him turned the pleasure to discomfort.
"What?" Conner yelled into the phone. "There's evidence missing. Someone took the drugs and gun from the lockup. This isn't over. Goddamn it, why?" Whoever was on the other end was yelling now. Kelly could see Conner wince. Kelly did too. Missing evidence meant the case would drag on longer, and make it even harder for him to prove his innocence.
"Yes, sir," Conner said finally. The fury on his face didn't make it to his voice, which was probably the only reason he still had a job.
"Knock it off!" he bellowed at the guys digging at the grave. The driver of the backhoe shut it off, and an uncomfortable silence spread over the gravesite. Sounding like the words were nearly killing him, Detective Conner said "fill the hole back in."
"But boss," one of the men with a shovel said, his face smudged and his overalls covered with the dirt from Kyle's grave, "you just told us you needed the grave dug up quick!
"Shut up," Conner snapped as he stuffed the phone into his pocket hard enough to make the seams strain. "Plans change. Fill the damn hole back in."
The phone in his pocket rang again. "Now what!" he snapped into it. Kelly slowed down further, straining to hear the conversation, easier now that there was no noise but the squalling of seagulls off in the distance. Todd wasn't paying any attention, his private grief drowning out nearly everything.
Conner's face softened a little as the person on the other end started talking. "You got the security camera tapes finally? Good." He frowned again as his caller said more.
"What do you mean the tapes for my office are missing? How the fuck can those things go missing? We're the police. Nobody's supposed to steal from us." Conner was furious, nearly shouting into the phone he now held in front of his face. His caller must've said something he liked, since the fury drained from Conner's face, replaced with a kind of glee.
"You do? From the hall cameras?" Conner shoved the phone into the crook of his neck, where it was nearly lost in the flesh. He pulled out a notebook from his pocket and started scribbling. "Brunette, male, early twenties, built like a musclehead? You sure? In and out of the office? Good. Get a couple of good frames and send 'em to the printer in my car." Conner snapped the phone shut again, shoving it and the notebook back into his coat pocket. Clearly glee was as dangerous for his clothes as fury.
"I should've figured you'd be involved in all this, Yates," he said as he stormed past Todd and Kelly.
Kelly shook his head, not knowing what the man was talking about. He was paying more attention to Todd anyway, as his brother was barely holding himself together.
"Don't worry, Todd," he said, trying to sound soothing. "We'll wait until they're done. You can take all the time you need."
Kelly wasn't nearly as calm as he sounded. Inside he was in turmoil. He wasn't comfortable being here, not comfortable having anything to do with Kyle Usher, definitely not comfortable with the thought his brother was gay, and something the detective had said was nagging at him. His brother was close to losing it, though, the desecration of his boyfriend's grave almost more than Todd could take. Kelly pushed his own feelings aside – he'd failed his brother once, and badly. He wasn't going to do it a second time, no matter how he felt about Kyle.
With the backhoe, it only took a few minutes for the workmen to fill the grave back in. The result was a mess, dirt heaped over the grave and the surrounding grass torn up by the treads of the machinery. Kelly took a deep breath and tried hard to steady his voice. "Go ahead," he told Todd. "Take your time. I'll wait here."
Todd stumbled across the grass towards the headstone as the workmen left. Kelly took the opportunity to pry.
"Hey," he said to one of the workmen, waving as they walked past, "what was all that about?"
"Ah, waste 'a time," came the reply. The man stopped by Kelly. He took a second to knock some of the loose dirt off his overalls, then dug out a pack of cigarettes from the bib pocket and lit one up. "Some cop wanted to dig up some drug dealer," He said, the lit cigarette bobbing as he spoke. The workman shrugged. "Guess he didn't really."
"Thanks, man," Kelly said as the men left. He felt dizzy then, and sat on the ground before his legs gave way. There was something nagging at him, something…
"Hey, man, wanna score some weed?"
Kelly had ducked into the bus shelter after he'd gotten off the campus shuttle at the far parking lot he'd gotten stuck in today. It had been raining and there hadn't been a spot closer than a half-mile from campus. He hated parking here – the campus cops never patrolled it, so the lot seemed to attract the stoners and the homeless, especially when the weather was bad. And today the weather was very bad, the cold rain sheeting down.
The guy who'd propositioned him was about his age and size. He looked a little ratty, his jean jacket needing a good washing and his combat boots dull and desperately needing a shine. Probably someone paying their way through school selling pot. Kelly wasn't impressed.
"No thanks, dude," he said, digging his umbrella out of his backpack and trying to brush the guy off. Without much luck, he was persistent.
"You sure?" he asked, hovering right next to Kelly. "Got some prime stuff, it'll make you feel real nice. Maybe some X? Or crystal? Show your girl a good time this weekend…"
Kelly tensed up as the guy said that, his blood boiling, half tempted to swing out with the cheap folding umbrella, not that it would do any damage. Pot was one thing, but Kelly'd seen the results from meth use, watched the brain dissections and seen the MRI scans in class. Meth fucked you up good, and it did it permanently.
He kept his cool, though he had the umbrella handle in a death grip, figuring maybe he'd turn this guy into the campus police. "Nickel bag of weed," Kelly said, trying to keep his voice steady. "Payday's not 'til next week."
"That's cool, man," the dealer said, digging into a pocket and pulling out a small baggie. "I understand." Kelly pulled out his wallet and traded cash for the bag. He tried hard not to let their hands touch. The thought of it creeped him out.
"Catch you then, maybe?" Kelly was trolling for a name, he only hoped the guy he was talking to was too stupid or too far gone to catch on.
"Sure," he said, grinning. "Ask for Kyle Usher. People know me."
'I bet they do,' Kelly thought to himself, as he committed the name and face to memory before opening the umbrella and running out into the pounding rain.
"Hey, Kelly, you OK?"
"What?" Kelly started awake. Todd was kneeling in front of him, looking concerned. Kelly could see the tracks of Todd's tears on his face, his eyes red and his cheeks puffy, little smears of dirt on the arms of his shirt, as if he'd been clutching at himself. He probably had. His brother had been crying. Over Kyle. Kelly fought down a wave of anger – Kyle may have been scum, but that didn't matter. He was dead, but Todd wasn't.
"You don't look so good," Todd said. That he could be so concerned when he felt so bad himself, and after what he'd said, was touching.
"It's OK, Toad," Kelly said, starting to get up. "Flashback. They're kind of weird."
* * *
Back at his car, Detective Conner tore the page of the cheap black and white printer the department had equipped him with. It went with the cheap laptop and cheap cellphone, but it worked well enough, and beat having to go back to the station to pick things up. The quality of the picture stunk, a single blurry frame from a cheap security camera, captured on reused video tape, printed on a printer that on a good day didn't work half the time, but it looked familiar.
Conner dug out the Usher file from out of the pile of folders and hamburger wrappers on the passenger seat of his car. The official one was filed away somewhere when the case had been closed, but after having things go missing from it he'd made his own copy. He was glad for that now.
Flipping through it he found what he was looking for, photos. Or photocopies of photos, but that was good enough for what he needed. It took a minute but he found what he was looking for. Steve Perkins, construction worker, friend of Usher's. Conner remembered him. Big guy, but shifty. He was hiding something. At the time Conner didn't think much of it – everyone thought they had something to hide when the cops talked to 'em – but now there was obviously more. He didn't have an address, though.
Normally Conner would've called into dispatch and have them look up what he needed, but right now he didn't think that was a good idea. Files were missing, evidence was missing, someone had tampered with the precinct security tapes, a homicide case was shut down. Conner smelled a rat, and where there was one rat, there usually were others.
He pulled out his other phone, his personal one, and made a call. The phone only rang twice before it was answered.
"Livingston Security." The voice was gruff and no-nonsense.
"Mac, it's Conner," he said. "Listen, I need a favor. Got a Steve Perkins, white, mid-twenties, construction worker. Lives in or around Springfield. I need an address and anything you can dig up on him."
Conner heard a pencil scratch for a minute. "Yeah, got it. What's up, Conner? Why not run it through the department?"
"Part of a dead case, Mac. Something stinks, and I want to know what." The implication was unsaid, but clear to both of them.
Conner put the file back in order as he talked. When he looked up he saw Yates and his brother by Usher's grave. He frowned and pulled out his binoculars. The younger brother walked over to the grave, while Yates hung back. Conner wondered if something was still going on. Yates might've been off the hook for the murder, but he sure as hell was involved somehow. Conner itched to know how.
"Anything I should know about?"
"Not sure. Part of a fucked up homicide case." He saw Yates sit. Through the binoculars it was clear the kid was in a bad way. Too damn bad for him, and maybe it'd shake out more from his head. He knew more than he was telling.
"I'll let you know, Conner. Shouldn't take too long."
"Thanks, Mac," he said, snapping the phone shut. He saw the kid come over and tend to Yates. Conner frowned, then started his car. He wanted to head back to the station before he went any further.
* * *
Something nagged at Kelly as he drove back to his house. He'd heard what the detective had said at the cemetery. Someone had stolen evidence from the cops, evidence about Kyle's death. And something was important enough that they were digging the body back up again. Kelly'd watched enough TV to know that something was very wrong. Kyle was involved, and he was worried that Todd was involved too.
The description of the guy who'd taken some of the evidence was familiar too. Brunette, muscled, mid-twenties. Dammit, if only his brain was working better! He was still a little foggy, and the gaps in his memory were bothering him. He hoped it would come to him. In the mean time he had more immediate things to worry about.
Todd hadn't said anything since they left, and Kelly had been too wrapped up in his own thoughts to say anything, but the silence had gone on too long. He still wasn't comfortable thinking of his brother as gay, and while it wasn't freaking him out as badly this time as it apparently had the last time Todd had told him, he still didn't like it. Still didn't want to think about it, really, though it was tough to deny, coming back from visitng his brother's boyfriend's grave. The thought of his brother having a boyfriend was just so… wrong. Especially slime like Kyle Usher.
Still, Usher was dead, and maybe this time Todd would find a nice girl or something. Or at least another boy who was better than… him. Whatever, it had hit Todd hard, and Todd was his brother, no matter what. It wasn't too long ago that Kelly thought maybe he was gay. That made it a little easier. A little.
"Get a chance to say your goodbyes, Toad?"
Todd turned and smiled at Kelly. You could still see in his face that he had been upset, but there was a sort of calm that hadn't been there before.
"Yeah," he said. "Thanks, Kelly. I really… I really appreciate it, y'know? All of it."
"I know, Toad," Kelly said. He reached over and gave Todd's shoulder a squeeze. "I really fucked up the first time. I'm trying not to the second."
Todd didn't answer him, but he put his hand on top of Kelly's. That was enough – Kelly knew that they weren't OK, not yet, but they would be.
"So, was Kyle…" Kelly swallowed. He didn't want to talk about Kyle, but he had to. Dead or not, Kyle had secrets he needed to know, had done something that ended up trashing Kelly's Camaro and taking away his memory. "Was he good to you? Treat you right?" He had to force those questions out. He really didn't want to think of how Kyle treated Todd, and especially not what they were doing together.
The smile on Todd's face got huge, though there was a streak of pain underlying it. "He did, Kelly, he really did. I, um… I think I loved him." Todd gave Kelly an appraising look. "You sure you want to hear this?" Kelly was uncertain, but he smiled back anyway. He wanted to know.
"You're my little brother, Toad, and he was your…" Kelly's voice caught on the word. "Your boyfriend. You're supposed to let me check out the people you date before you do. It's like a law or something. So, um… tell me about him."
The expression of happiness – of gratitude – on Todd's face when he said that blew away any reservations Kelly might have had. He didn't understand this whole dating guys thing, he didn't even want to think about the sex, and he sure as hell didn't like what he remembered of Kyle Usher, but he knew that look. Jessie had it the day she told everyone she was getting married, he was pretty sure he had it when he was still dating Lisa, and now Todd had it. He was in love, and it was the real thing.
"He was the nicest, gentlest person I've ever met," Todd began. "I knew he was doing things he shouldn't have, but…" And for the rest of the drive back, Todd poured out his heart. Months of hiding, sneaking around, pretending, all flowed out. Kelly didn't learn much about Kyle, but he learned an awful lot about his little brother.
There was nobody home when Kelly pulled the car into the driveway of his house. He was oddly happy about that, like having other people around would spoil something special.
"Uh, Todd," Kelly said as they got out of the car. "If… when you start dating again... I'm…" he stopped, trying to think of how he wanted to say this. "I'm not sure I like it, but… I'm OK with it, y'know? I get to meet them first, though. Make sure they're good enough for my little brother." And it was even true, Kelly realized. Mostly.
"Thanks, Kelly," Todd said. He looked happier than Kelly could remember. "That means a lot to me."
"I'm going to go shower," Kelly said, walking into the house. "Maybe get some lunch. Want anything?"
"No," said Todd, as Kelly walked down the hall to his room, "I'm good. Thanks."
"No problem," Kelly replied. He grabbed a clean pair of pants out of his drawer when he caught sight of the picture on his desk. It was the photo he'd printed out a few days ago, the one with Mark and Steve in it. Steve. Brunette, mid-twenties, musclehead. Kyle's friend.
Kelly's eyes widened as he made the connection. He grabbed the picture and ran back out to the kitchen.
"Todd," he said urgently. "This Steve guy. What do you know about him?"
Todd was startled, dropping the milk carton he'd been drinking out of. Milk splattered all over Todd and the carton lay dribbling milk onto the kitchen floor. "He was one of Kyle's friends. They worked construction together. We used to hang out in his and Mark's apartment when, you know…"
"You know where he lives? Show me," Kelly said, dragging Todd back out to the car.
* * *
Detective Conner was back at the precinct, digging through the mound of paperwork that perpetually hid his desk. He was looking for notes he'd made, copies of receipts and ledgers. So far in the Usher case the coroner's report had gone missing, the drugs and gun that'd been found in his truck were gone with no trace they'd ever been checked in, and the security tapes for his office were gone. He glared up at the camera in the corner. He half expected the damn truck was going to vanish next.
His phone rang, his personal phone, not the one the department gave him. He pulled it out, saw the number on the caller ID, and grinned. He was finally getting somewhere.
"Conner," he said, answering the thing.
"Got your details," said the voice on the other end, wasting no time. "Steve Perkins, 23, works construction for Burns General Contracting. Started eleven months ago. Current address is listed as 447 Montgomery Avenue, apartment 3B. There's another guy same address, Mark Larsen, also 23."
"Got it," Conner said, scrawling down the details. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, one thing. Records on this guy all start last summer. All of 'em. Driver's license, social security payments, apartment rental. Before that, there's nothing. No license, no school, no work, no nothing."
Conner grinned a very nasty grin. "That's what I wanted to know, Mac. Thanks."
He put the phone back in his pocket, checked his gun, and grabbed his keys. Conner had a feeling this was going to be the break he needed in the case.
* * *
"You had to come all the way out here when you wanted time?" Kelly asked Todd as they pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex. They hadn't spoken the whole drive over.
"Yeah," answered Todd. "Mark and Steve were friends. It was safe."
Kelly winced at the safe comment, remembering what Todd had told him about how he reacted when Todd had come out, and he had been one of the people Todd had thought would understand. There was more going on than Todd knew, he was sure of that, but Kyle was dead and there was no point in saying anything.
"Have I… been here?" Kelly asked. The complex didn't seem familiar.
"No," Todd said. Hesitating a little he added, "You should know, Steve… he doesn't like you."
"That's OK," Kelly said. "The feeling's mutual."
Todd frowned. "If you don't like him, what are we doing coming over here?"
Kelly debated what to tell his brother. Things were fragile right now – Todd still looked like he was waiting for Kelly to freak out again, and Kelly himself was really uncomfortable with the whole gay thing. He was tempted to lie, but was afraid that might backfire.
"It's just… something the detective said back at the cemetery. I think I remembered... It's probably nothing, but I want to check it out. I'm tired of having to look over my shoulder all the time," he said as they exited the stairwell and started down the hall.
Looking over his shoulder is exactly what Kelly should've done. If he had, he would've seen Detective Conner at the end of the hall, leaning against the wall and waiting for something. He didn't, though.
"Well, I don't know what Steve would know," Todd said as they stopped in front of the apartment door. Todd knocked, the sound echoing hollowly behind the door. The two waited for a moment, Kelly fidgeting and Todd frowning.
"That's weird," Todd said, looking at his watch. "Steve's normally here around now." He knocked again, but there was still no answer.
"Huh," Todd said. "He must be out or something. Are you really sure you need to talk to Steve?"
"Yeah," Kelly replied. "No matter how much I don't want to," he muttered to himself.
Todd grabbed the doorknob and started to turn it. Kelly stopped him in alarm. "Are you sure we should just barge in? They could be…" He didn't finish the sentence, the thought of what Steve and Mark might be doing that wouldn't let them answer the door making him a little queasy.
Todd caught the meaning quickly enough. "Don't worry," he said, "they would've yelled if they were in the middle of something. Just in case, though," Todd said, feeling the need to needle his brother, "don't look behind the couch until I check first."
Kelly gave a weak grin, but moved to one side of the door, just in case. "Maybe it's not even open," he said.
"Probably is. Steve always forgets to lock it." Todd turned the knob and, sure enough, it was unlocked. "See?" he said, turning the knob.
Conner decided this was the time. He'd knocked earlier, but there was no answer, and he didn't have cause to just go in, no matter how much he wanted to. That worked for cops on TV, but he'd get his ass busted hard, and if there were dirty cops there was no way in hell he wanted to give any of them any way to get out of it.
"Breaking and entering, Yates?" Conner said, coming up behind them. "Not looking good, kid."
Kelly and Todd whirled, to see Detective Conner behind them. Kelly frowned. "Are you following me or something?"
"Nah," Conner drawled. "I just know I'm on the right track when I see you around. Don't tell me, let me guess. You're here to see Steve Perkins?"
Todd stiffened in surprise. "How…?"
"I'm a detective. We know things, kid," he said. Conner waved them forward towards the open door. "After you."
"Holy shit," Todd said, looking in.
The apartment was completely empty.
Editors Note: If you would like to contact the author of this chapter, you may use this email address, CollisionAuthors@Deweywriter.com . Please include the author’s name. Thank you.