The night of free-form debauchery didn't erase reality, and early the next morning Brad lowered the boom.

"That was very, very nice," I said over a cup of morning coffee while I perched in one of Brad's robes and nothing else on the bar stool at his kitchen counter.

"Yes, it was, as a one-time deal--for now."

"One time?" I was shocked. Was he cavalierly rejecting a commitment from me that had required far more than he could ever imagine?

"Of course you can't give up your special unit assignment yet," he went on. "We still have a gang to break up, and you know as well as I do that we'll do whatever we need to do to get to the heart of this case."

"Oh, yes, I see."

"Believe me, I'm not blowing off your offer, and I do want you to move in with me and for us to keep to just each other as much as possible. But I don't think it would be wise to go without protection until we can get this case solved and rearrange our lives. I'll make adjustments too. It doesn't all have to be you."

"OK," I said after a long pause. Then with a grin, "So, should we go back to bed and try it all again with condoms--just for comparison sake?"

"No. We're both late for work."

"Work? The doctor said--"

"If you can do what you did last night, there's nothing wrong with you. The sooner we track down and dispense with this Bruno Meister, the sooner we can get to reordering our lives."

I had to admit he had a point, but that didn't mean I didn't maneuver him back into the bed for another quick fuck.

Danny wasn't the least bit pleased to see Brad and me come in to the precinct together that morning. He saddled up to me as Brad was going to his own desk and started to say something. But I waved him off with a reassuring smile that I didn't feel on the inside of me. Danny's cocking would be the hardest thing for me to give up in this new life Brad and I were pledging each other to. And this was something I couldn't just blurt out to Danny. He deserved to have a private conversation about this.

"Clint, I have to--"

"Later. We'll talk later, Danny. We do need to talk, but we've got to get the case moving again this morning. That takes priority. Losing Hans Gelber means we have to regroup. But . . . thanks for saving me yesterday."

Without waiting to hear what he clearly still wanted to say, I turned to the room and chimed out, "Gather round the boards, boys and girls. We need to reweave the threads on the Meister case."

"No, unfortunately, we don't," a voice boomed out from the doorway to Lieutenant Kahn's office. The voice was Kahn's. We all turned toward him. He was looking grim. Standing beside him, was the chief of Vice, Brad's boss, Chuck Steele, who wasn't looking quite so unhappy.

"We're standing down on this case," Burton Kahn said. "Orders from on high. Word is that the Meister gang is pulling back to Germany and so are going out of our jurisdiction. With all the department has on its plate right now, as long as the gang is leaving town, that's good enough for them. Chuck here and I have been conferring, and we've agreed we might as well close down right away. Chuck wants his Vice guys back. They've got a full docket."

I could tell that Burton wasn't quite as pleased as Steele was over this turn of events, and looking around the room, it was obvious that no one else on the team--other than maybe Danny--liked to hear that our efforts were being shut down. I could already hear the wheels spinning in Brad's mind, and I realized that this meant we didn't have to wait to make good our commitment to each other.

I should have been euphoric. But the closing out of the Meister case came as a big blow--and the sudden realization of what total commitment to one guy, no matter how satisfying, really would mean was causing a lump to form in the pit of my stomach.

* * * *

Neither Brad nor I closed our own files on the Meister gang. Brad stayed with Vice, but I transferred over to the regular Homicide unit, although Burton Kahn stayed in touch with me and I did some incidental work with his unit with the only stipulation being that I wasn't on the hook to actually engage in sex during an investigation. There was also another limit that Burton and I agreed to. I stayed away from Danny Thompson in any of Kahn's cases I worked with. I figured that Danny was the greatest temptation facing me in trying to stay committed to Brad, and so I stayed away from him to the extent I could. Danny, of course, didn't like it. I never did have that conversation with him that I knew he deserved, either.

Danny's response was to try to make me jealous--even to the extent of dating women, especially women I knew. He eventually started seeing one of the intake clerks in Homicide, Sharenda, who I had become friendly with. She'd come in to work with a glow about her and would drop broad hints about someone keeping her real happy. Danny made sure that I knew that it was him. And he was right that it made me jealous. But every day I spent with Brad assured me that Brad was worth the sacrifice. I encouraged Sharenda to keep on monopolizing Danny's time.

Brad and I had been sticking with our effort of commitment for nearly two years before circumstances intervened. The Meister gang both helped us with that effort and was what eventually upset the balance. We both concentrated on doing our individual jobs well, but we also both kept our ears to the ground for any hint of the Meister gang renewing its activities in New York. We thought it was just a bit too convenient that the case had been immediately closed after Hans Gelber had been shot. Gangs like that don't disappear overnight. We both figured, though, that someone in the police hierarchy must be on the take and had protected the gang when it was most vulnerable. For that reason, whatever Brad and I found, we brought home to discuss and did our best to cover our hunt from others in our respective units.

Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that Brad was collecting more than he was sharing with me. Often when he didn't know I could see him, he was fiddling around with putting papers in a hiding place in the kitchen that I knew about but that he'd asked me not to get into--unless something happened to him. I scoffed at anything happening to him, but I respected his privacy and didn't snoop.

Having a closed-held project to work on together like the Meister case helped hold Brad and me together. As for the rest of what kept us going for nearly two years as a committed couple, I lay most of the credit for that on Brad's efforts--and his forbearance for my weaknesses. I tried, but I was weak. I would be good for weeks at a time, and then I'd have a tough homicide to deal with or I'd just get the itch, and I'd go to a bikers' bar, get half blotto, and wind up in bed with a couple of guys for the nasty sex that Brad couldn't quite give me--but Danny could--and my resolve would be blown all over again.

Brad took me back after each one of these falls from grace--and he wouldn't rag on me about commitment and my weakness. But in those nearly two years he also never got to the point again of letting us have unprotected sex. I kept striving for the day when he'd trust me enough for that to happen--which would signal our attainment of a committed couple. But I knew it was my fault that it hadn't happened. Still, I was trying my best, and Brad was being patient with me.

What changed everything after almost two years was when Sharenda appeared at my desk with a young, blond, twinky guy at her side.

"Clint, sorry to bother you, but this young man was sent over from Vice to talk directly to you. His name is Matt Dent. Mr. Dent, this is Detective Clint Folsom, the officer you were asking for."

"Thanks, Sharenda," I said as I watched her walk away. From the smile on her face and the way she almost strutted from the room, I was briefly pricked with the thought that she had gotten from Danny last night what would have been mine two years ago.

"Please have a seat. What can I do for you, Mr. . . . ?"

"Dent. Matt Dent." The young man had vice written all over him. In my time with the special homicide unit, I had become adept at identifying who was a rent-boy and who wasn't. And this Matt Dent most assuredly was. I'd seen it from the way he carried himself as soon as I'd seen him enter the squad room at Sharenda's side. He was young looking and relatively small and willowy--the preference of many habitual clients of his ilk. His hair was peroxided and spiked, he wore earrings, and his clothes were tailored to be close-fitting and a bit flamboyant. The colors of his wardrobe screamed "Look at me!" His manner, even in relating to me with the briefest of introductions, screamed, "Fuck me!"

The second time he said "Dent" the wheels in my mind started spinning. The name was familiar, and it--along with who he was showcasing his body--flipped the name "Meister" into my brain.

"Marcus Dent was my brother," the young man said right about at the same moment that his surname registered in my brain. "He was murdered, and I want to avenge that. I've managed to infiltrate the gang responsible for his death, what we call the German gang in Chelsea. Every policeman I've talked to has said the gang no longer operates in New York City. But I know differently. A Lieutenant Steele in the office I was finally sent to says you were in charge of the investigation of my brother's death. I want to know what you are doing about the case--and how I can help."

And with that, one phase of my life ended and, after contacting Burton Kahn, the investigation of the Meister gang was reopened. This time, however, we didn't bother to report the reopening of the case up the chain of command.

* * * *

"I've agreed that you and I will meet him tonight at Barracuda--just the two of us--7:00 p.m."

"I don't like it, Brad. I don't like that this Dent guy has contacted us both--separately. That he hasn't told each other that he was talking to the other."

"He probably assumes there's someone rotten in the department just as we do," Brad answered. "He's just trying to be careful."

"Maybe," I said, "but I think we should wait to pursue this further with him until our researchers have fully checked him out."

We were laying with our arms and legs entangled in post-coital calm down on our bed overlooking the lights of Manhattan. As much as we both liked this apartment, I had never been able to feel more than a visitor here--so we were spending a good bit of our time looking for another one. I was used to living in a stripped-down fleabag, but Brad was having none of that. I gave in to his desires to live well. We could both afford it--separately as well as together--so it seemed petty for me to say I preferred the simple and the unassuming lifestyle. All I truly treasured was good cock--and Brad certainly gave that to me, no matter what housing arrangement we might have. So, I just let him to his apartment shopping. He seemed to be enjoying it.

I had just learned, though, that while Brad was supposedly looking at a couple of apartments with our Realtor this afternoon, he'd actually been meeting with Matt Dent--who had contacted him. I was more than slightly pissed that Dent was contacting each of us separately.

"There are things you don't know, Clint. I've been working another angle of this case."

This was the first time that Brad admitted to what I had been suspecting for a couple of weeks.

"It's not like you to keep secrets from me on this case, Brad. I don't like the smell of any of this. Until we have this guy checked out, we don't even know if he's talking about the Meister gang. We've been assured that they are operating only in Europe now."

"Dent dropped the name 'Wolfgang' when he talked to me--and he's not the only one who has come to me. A guy named Frenchie walked in yesterday saying he was being run by a Wolfgang too. And I gave him your name. He promised he'd come see you today."

"But what you're not telling me is something else?"

"If I'm right, it should blow this whole case open. If not, no one should even know that I considered it and was checking it out. Sorry, Clint, you'll just have to trust me. And now, you'd better get to work. This Frenchie guy could be at your desk already. We've got two angles on this thing now--both the Dent guy and Frenchie. We should be able to prove to the brass now that the Meister gang hasn't left New York."

We had breakfast together. I tried not to pout, but Brad could tell that I was ticked at him for not telling me everything. I had been put in charge of this investigation again--or at least the phantom of an investigation that Burton Kahn was enabling. I wasn't cutting Brad out, who had been kept at Vice, as Burton didn't want what we were doing known across departmental divides. But Brad was cutting me out. This wasn't the partnership we had been maintaining this past two years.

I let him kiss me when we both left for work, but I didn't put my whole heart into it. He could tell that I didn't, and his expression was one of hurt when we parted.

When I was going in to the special homicide squad room, the door was blocked by Lieutenant Kahn and Danny Thompson, both of whom were putting on their coats as they were coming out of the squad room.

"Good, Clint, you're here."

"What's going down?" I asked. "We've got a call?"

"I'm afraid so," Burton said. "A nasty homicide at the Chelsea Hotel over on 23rd. I have a bad feeling about this one."

When we got there, I saw immediately why Burton had gotten that feeling. The victim, a young black male, was staked out on a bed in the hotel room, cuffed on all four points. He'd been sliced up like the centerpiece at a luau. The first name that popped into my mind was Hans Gelber. This looked like work we had attributed to him two years earlier. But Gelber was dead.

"The Meister gang," I said dully.

"I'm afraid you're probably right," Kahn confirmed. "You were telling me they never left the city. I guess you knew what you were talking about. This looks like their work all right. After a lot of rattling, the hotel manager admitted that this guy worked businessmen at the hotel. The businessmen seemed to like it and kept rebooking, so the hotel management turned a blind eye to what he was doing. He worked mostly out of the bar downstairs. His name was Frenchie."

"Frenchie? Christ, almighty," I said. I flipped out my cell phone and tried to call Brad. But he wasn't picking up. I left a voice mail on what happened.

"You know this guy?" Burton asked, giving me an intense look. Danny also came in close.

"Maybe. I'll check a few things out and get back to you," I replied. My defenses had gone up. I could have kicked myself for not confiding in Kahn and Danny, but I suddenly was worried about what Brad meant about what he was working on and how it needed to be so close held that he couldn't even tell me about it. At this moment, I couldn't trust anyone--not even Kahn or Danny.

"Anything else to link this to the Meister gang?" I asked.

"Maybe," Kahn answered. "We showed some photos and drawings to the hotel manager. The only one that came up as a maybe was linked to the guy who often was with Frenchie down in the bar. The manager said that the drawing we had done years ago from your description of the Wolfgang character who shot Hans Gelber looked like that guy. So, what are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking the Meister gang is still operating here--and may never have left, Lieutenant. I'm thinking we'd better hurry and track them down before this goes up the chain of command and we're closed down again."

"That's what I'm thinking too. But I don't want you running off half cocked on this and playing superhero. You stay here until forensics is finished and the body taken away. The rest of us will go back to the squad room and brainstorm this. You can do so too, while you're here--and we'll compare approaches and notes when you get back."

"Lieutenant, I need to--"

"You need to get this cleaned up," he said gruffly. And the way he said it made me snap my jaw tight shut. Was he trying to keep me tampered down so I would keep my eye on the ball and not jump off sides, or did I need to worry about what Kahn's role in all of this was? Whichever, this was not the time for me to be doing something stupid, like arguing with him or even letting him know Brad was working this case too.

For the next three hours, up to lunchtime, I was tied down at the Chelsea Hotel. I repeatedly tried calling Brad, but it was no go. I wasn't surprised. The Vice guys often were out doing their thing and had their personal cell phones turned off or left back at the squad room.

I didn't go back to the precinct after I was released at the Chelsea Hotel. I roamed around the district, hitting the gay bars, trying to track down any of the guys who had been on the watch list two years previously as being in the German gang's stable--and looking at every face I could, wanting to see that of Wolfgang, whose visage had been embedded into my mind two years previously. I hadn't managed to get a photo shot of him back then, when Gelber had tried to kill me while Wolfgang was slicing up Trax. But that didn't matter. I had been able to describe him enough for a dead-ringer drawing to be done, and I knew I'd recognize him if I ever saw him again.

But all of my scouting work was fruitless. And then it was nearly 5:00 p.m., and I decided I needed to get back to the squad room and catch the research staff and rattle their cages about the background check on Matt Dent before they could escape for the evening.

The only one present in the squad room when I returned was Danny, who was sitting at his desk and glowering at me when he saw me walk in. I said nothing to him. I felt wrung out and the need for a shower and a change of clothes before meeting Brad and Matt Dent at the Barracuda at 7:00. I stopped at my desk, though, and rang the research department and was assured that some information would be sent to my cell phone momentarily--that they were just about finished.

I looked at Danny and he looked at me.

"Clint," he said in a low, hoarse voice.

"Not now, Danny," I answered. "I've got to go out again and meet with Brad about something."

"Brad," he spat out.

I ignored him and trotted into the squad locker room, stripped, took up a towel, and went into the showers.

When I came out, Danny was standing there--naked, and with a magnificent erection. I had forgotten how melting his powerful and beautifully muscled-up body was. And the muscle standing out from his crotch was possibly his most magnificent one.

"Danny, no," I whispered.

"You can't avoid me forever," Danny growled. "I don't accept that you don't want it. I don't think that Brad can give it to you like I know you want it."

"Danny. We can't."

I tried to move past him, but he reached out and grabbed me and ripped the towel away from my waist.

"You can't fool me. You want it. You're hard for me."

Of course I wanted it. Every time I'd seen Danny in the past two years, I'd wanted it. I couldn't change in that way. I was addicted to cock--and his cock was one of the best I'd ever had. Of course, I wanted it. Like an alcoholic, the want would never leave me.

"Danny, no," I moaned.

He wasn't listening to me--or he didn't care how much I told him no. I wasn't struggling with him. He knew he was going to fuck me. He knew that I knew he was going to fuck me.

He pushed me down on my back on the narrow bench running down the space between the bank of lockers, squatted between my thighs, and, holding my legs spread with strong hands under my knees, attacked my cock and then my hole with his tongue and mouth.

"Danny, no," was all I could moan. But there was no pretense.

"Here. You crown it," he growled. He was standing over me with a condom in his hand.

Hating myself, and whimpering my unwillingness, I rolled the condom on his cock.

He straddled the bench and crouched between my thighs, lifting my legs up and out, and bringing my butt up off the bench. He was smiling cruelly, knowingly down into my face as I took his proud, jet-black cock in both hands and guided him inside me. Then he was fucking me to beat the band, hard and deep and rapidly, as my "no's" turned to "yes's" and "oh, shit. Fuck me hard. I've missed you so much."

When I had come--and then Danny--we held there, both panting hard.

"When I want it, you'll give it to me." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes," I answered weakly, my whole carefully constructed life crashing down around my shoulders. Ashamed but not able to say no, knowing that my weakness, my love of cock, didn't permit me to avoid the truth.

"Good," he said. Then he turned me over, belly to surface of the narrow bench, and crouched over my hips and fucked me hard again.

When I had showered a second time, not wanting Brad to smell the victory of Danny on my body, and dressed and come out into the squad room, he was gone. My computer monitor was flashing an incoming message, though. It was the report from the research department. Marcus Dent had had no brothers. And there was no record of a Matt Dent--at least not from the photo I had surreptitiously fired off of him with my cell phone.

"Oh, Christ," I exclaimed. I looked up at the wall clock. 7:15 p.m. I tried, frantically, to call Brad on my cell phone. Again no answer. I ran for the door.

* * * *

I sat, numb, in my car outside the Barracuda bar. He hadn't been there when I showed up--a half hour late. They hadn't been there. Brad and whoever was pretending to be Marcus Dent's brother.

I had begged Brad to wait until we checked him out.

Oh, lord. Where do I start looking now?

My cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and almost didn't click into the call. My hands were shaken.

"Clint? Burton here. I'm so sorry. Bad news. The worst, I'm afraid."



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