Clint, Danny, and a small team of police officers stood dockside at the foot of Christopher Street and stared morosely at the empty boat slip. The Larnaka Star had sailed during the night. Danny had insisted that Clint spend the night with him--and in his bed--and once they'd gotten into work they'd spent the better part of the morning obtaining a search warrant--specifically for the Larnaka Star's crew records for sailings of that past six months. And, having obtained that warrant at last, Danny stood, holding it in his hand and facing an empty slip.
"It's OK, Danny. The freighter will be back in a few days. The search warrant doesn't have to be used today."
Danny turned and gave Clint a sour look. "Yeah, but if we'd had the warrant yesterday, we'd be ahead in this investigation by those days. And there's always a chance we could have saved another life."
"We don't know that, and it was already too late in the day yesterday to get a warrant and exercise it. Come on, we're down here anyway. Let's check out the ownership at the port authority before going back to the precinct."
They dismissed the police search team, with thanks, and went on to the port authority building, where they learned that the ship was owned and operated by a Ukrainian company. There was no hint that Brunelli had a hand in it.
The squad room was astir when they got back, with detectives on the phone and other detectives in serious conversations over maps and such on desktops. The atmosphere was heavy and quite serious. Clint noticed a new photo had been put up in the center of the case board. He went up and looked at it. Another blond guy. Good looking under those facial bruises. But quite clearly dead. He looked familiar and Clint was still trying to place him when Burton Kahn, Neil Paxton, and the assistant D.A., Henry Hodgkins, entered from Kahn's office and Kahn started calling the squad to attention.
As the detectives were settling, Kahn called out to Danny. "The ship?"
"Sailed already. Around 4:00 a.m. this morning, according to the port authority," Danny answered. "The ship's owned by a Ukrainian company; we'll have to get to it when it gets back from Bermuda. Seven days, according to the port authority's records. But what's going down here, Lieutenant."
"We're getting to that," Kahn answered. "Pipe down, folks. Neil will give report."
Neil Paxton moved behind the lectern next to the board. "As you can all see, there's another photo up on the board. Another body found shortly after 10:00 a.m. this morning. Another blond guy in his early thirties. Messed with and beaten up, just like the others. Same bruising to the wrists and ankles, so he'd been bound. Maybe even killed by asphyxiation--possibly a plastic bag over his head, although one wasn't found at the scene. According to what was found in his wallet, his name was Ted Luscum. A trader on Wall Street. No cash was found, but there were credit cards. So, whoever it is is being very careful. We could trace the cards; we can't the cash."
"How long dead?" Danny asked.
"Not more than twelve hours, the medical examiner estimates," Paxton answered. "As usual, he doesn't want to be pinned down on that until he's done an autopsy. Doesn't want to comment on whether the guy was gay or not yet, but he did say he'd had anal sex before he died and, uh, from the size of his asshole, he probably was a frequent taker--but that he'd been cleaned up, so there's not much chance of DNA. The team's still over there, though, trying to find something."
"Over where?" a voice from the crowd asked. "Found near the docks like the others?"
"Close enough to want to lump this murder with the others," Paxton answered. "He was found in a room of the Christopher Hotel on Christopher Street, yes, down near the docks."
Clint's blood ran cold. He'd just been in the Christopher Hotel. And then it hit him where he'd seen the man in that photo before. It had been just the previous day. That had been the blond guy in Chris's who was sharing the attention Clint had been getting. Clint had been in the same room with him--in a hotel that Marko Brunelli probably owned and where Brunelli had been too--the same day the victim had been there. He was about to pipe up and say something when Kahn started to speak at the lectern again.
"At this point, Assistant D.A. Hodgkins wants to say something."
Hodgkins came to the lectern and began talking, "As you know, this is the fourth similar murder in the New York docks area. The D.A.'s office is going to have to make some sort of statement on these murders and . . ."
Clint didn't hear the rest of what he was saying. He was beginning to hyperventilate. It was a good thing he hadn't had the opportunity to speak up about seeing the victim at Chris's the day before. He'd have to try to sit here, looking calm and sitting on his patience, until this was over and he could speak to Kahn in private.
It was over an hour before he was able to do that, until Hodgkins was gone and the squad had divvied up assignments. Paxton was off to call the Bermuda authorities to tell them there had been another murder and that a crew member of the Larnaka Star might be involved--and to request that they keep a surveillance on the freighter but not to do anything until the ship could return to New York where the search warrant could be served on its crew records and schedules and interviews of the crew members could commence.
Danny had gone to the morgue to see if the medical examiner had any more information on the victim that could help him.
"I was at the Christopher Hotel yesterday, Lieutenant. At Chris's, the bar in the basement. You can check with the bartender. She knows me. I was checking there and other bars on Christopher Street to see if I could track down any of the crew members of the Larnaka Star. I didn't, by the way. The latest victim, Luscum, was in the bar. And he looked like he was cruising. So, that's a place we can start doing a timeline on him."
"OK, good, thanks for the information, Clint. Is that all? You asked for a private meeting. You could have said all of this while everyone was still together. It's information all of the detectives should know."
"No, that's not all, Lieutenant. I was starting at the Christopher because I understand that Marko Brunelli recently bought the hotel--and we're looking for links between him and these murders. And . . . and I saw Brunelli in the hotel yesterday too."
Clint was moving onto very shaky ground. What if Kahn asked him where, specifically, he'd seen Brunelli? Clint wasn't ready to open up to anyone but Danny on how deeply he was embroiled in this--and he wasn't telling Danny everything yet either. But Kahn didn't go there.
"That would have been good to bring up in the briefing too. But how do you know Brunelli owns the hotel?"
"I'm not certain he does. But that's what my informants down there tell me. I was trying to check that out, because these informants aren't the best. I wasn't going to mention it until it was firmer information. But with another homicide in that hotel . . ."
"OK, that's enough to rattle his cage a bit on this. We'll bring him in for a talk and to let him know we're on the trail. If this is his work, it might at least get him to stop doing it until we can catch up with him. So, is that all?"
"No, Lieutenant, that's not all. Got something very delicate and I can't get into where I've picked it up, but I just need to pass on a warning and a caution on just how much you want to share with this assistant D.A. guy, Hodgkins."
"What are you telling me without telling me?"
"I have some indication that he may be in bed with Brunelli. I'll let you work that out as you see fit. But I've got it from a pretty reliable source--more reliable than the sources on Brunelli owning the hotel. He may be working us from the inside for Brunelli."
Clint had to pass on just enough for Kahn to be careful what he shared with Hodgkins and to put out his own feelers on a possible Hodgkins-Brunelli connection. For Clint's part, he considered his source highly reliable. It was he himself. The voice he'd heard through the hotel room door talking to Marko Brunelli the previous afternoon at the Christopher. It had been Henry Hodgkins. He was sure of it; the man's voice was quite distinctive.
He was about to leave Kahn's office when Paxton poked his head in the door.
"Strangest thing, Burton," he said. "I got through to Bermuda and they already had the Larnaka Star on a watch list. But they say that freighter isn't headed to Bermuda this week. No scheduled arrival there this week."
Kahn looked pensive. "OK, now we have a freighter to find. A whole ship is in the wind."
* * * *
The interview of Marko Brunelli that afternoon was short and not all that sweet. It was more of a shot across the bow and both parties knew that was what it was. It was conducted at police headquarters, with Burton Kahn doing the brief questioning and Brunelli's lawyer sitting at Brunelli's shoulder and perpetually whispering in his ear. The mobster was cool enough, though, that the presence of his lawyer hardly seemed necessary. Hodgkins was there too, sitting next to Kahn. Clint, who was watching through the one-way mirror kept his eyes pinned on the assistant D.A. most of the short time the interview lasted, looking for any sign that might appear that Hodgkins was linked to Brunelli. But the assistant D.A. was showing his cool as well.
The interview was at the police station rather than in Brunelli's office or home precisely because this was just a shot across his bow. And he obviously understood it as such, but when it was evident that serial killings at and near the docks were a target of the questioning and not just the death of the court case witness, Will Trent, Clint thought that either Brunelli's reaction of surprise was genuine or that he was a consummate actor. Clint had turned to Danny, standing next to him behind the glass, to make this observation and Danny had just grunted. Danny was very interested in pinning all of this on Brunelli.
"Why, yes," Brunelli answered, "I do own the Christopher Hotel. A recent acquisition; I'm still in the process of renovating it."
"Yes, I am quite distressed that a man was found murdered there this morning. But it's the docks area. Not the best part of town--yet. I'm trying to help clean it up--the whole area. It's certainly not good for my business to have people murdered there."
"Yes, I was there yesterday, as a matter of fact. As I said, I'm renovating the hotel. I have to show up there frequently for surprise inspections. You know how the trades are in this city. You have to ride their butts to keep them working."
"No, I'm sorry, I can't help you there. I didn't see the young man in the hotel yesterday. No, I didn't get down to Chris's bar in the basement during my inspection yesterday."
"Me? Last night. Ah, yes, I was with a young man. He's a great bartender and I was trying to convince him to move over to Chris's bar. I'm trying to upgrade that club. Yes, I can give you his name. Yes. His name is Greg Garrison. He works at The Dugout club now. I'm sure you can find him there almost any time--at least until I can convince him to come work at Chris's."
"So sorry I couldn't help more. But, you know, you could have asked me these questions at my office. I didn't need to be brought down here. I think my lawyer will be talking to someone in the mayor's office about the police wasting their time--and mine--like this."
Clint almost shrank back from the window, because Brunelli was now staring directly at him--just as if he could see through the glass.
The interview with Greg Garrison, conducted by Danny, with Clint once again behind the glass with Burton Kahn and Neil Paxton, didn't go any better. Garrison was nervous without appearing to be surprised about what he was being asked about, and it was evident that Brunelli's people had gotten to him and coached him before he was brought in. Still, what he said was telling.
"Did he say I was with him last night?"
"Yes, Greg, Marko Brunelli said you were with him most of the night--at his home on Long Island. That isn't true?"
"Yes, of course, it's true," the blond bartender said, obviously flustered. "He brought me in because he wants me to come work for him at Chris's. I'm a bartender, and he's jazzing up things at the Christopher Hotel. Making changes."
"He had you brought to his house to offer you a job?" Danny knew how to put just enough disbelief in his voice to keep a suspect off guard.
"And it took him all night to offer you the job?"
"Hey, man. Do we really have to get into that stuff? It's private. I was with him most of the night. I know he didn't go anywhere. What else do you need to know? This doesn't have to get around, does it?"
"Most of the night? Until when exactly?"
"Damn. I went to sleep, OK? He was there when I went to sleep and he was there when I woke up."
"And all that time he was offering you a job, right?"
"Fuck you," Garrison said, not being able to hold it back. Danny could have gotten all in his face at that point, but he liked how Garrison was answering--and how it would likely come across in a courtroom if he answered the same way there. All the same, he couldn't resist pushing it home.
"You can't just say the guy was screwing you? You work in a gay bar and you dress like you are now and you're worried about your reputation?"
Garrison crossed his arms on his chest and withdrew into himself. Kahn rapped lightly on the window, and Danny must have gotten the point that they didn't want Garrison just shutting down on them, so he changed the tone of his voice.
"I'm just confused, Greg. You didn't seem sure when I first asked you that you were, in fact, with Marko Brunelli last night."
"I was with him, OK? And I was in his bed and we were having sex, OK? It's just that I got flustered. I've never been called in and grilled like this before. And how am I to know what Mr. Brunelli wants known about who he screws?"
"OK, you can go now, Greg, but if you think of something else you want to tell us, be sure to call. And, Greg . . . this wasn't grilling. If you hold back on us or if you don't tell us the truth, you'll see what grilling is all about. And try to remember that there are prison-time sentences for perjury." Danny was using the softer voice tone, but his words quite evidently had the desired effect of making Greg Garrison scared.
"I was with him all night last night and he didn't go anywhere--except to the john a couple of times. That's what happened."
"He's lying about something," Danny said when Greg was gone and he came into the room adjacent to the interview room.
"Right," Kahn said. "And maybe a good prosecutor can make his claim that he was with Brunelli last night look as iffy as you did in there. But we'll just have to see how that works out. If he says in court what he just said, they'll have an opening to discredit his statement."
"Oh, how?" Clint asked. He knew what the other two didn't know--that Greg, in fact, was being fucked by Brunelli and that his claim he spent the night at Brunelli's Long Island house was a credible one. Clint had already been at that house when he was there and it was pretty clear that Greg was going to be spending that night in Brunelli's bed.
"He lied about never being in a police interview room before," Kahn said. "We ran a check on him before bringing him in. He's been in prison already for lying about engaging in gay activity and for forced sodomy. He was a witness in a case and while the case was going on he was charged with forced sodomy and chewed up by the prosecution in his attempt to be an alibi and character witness for a guy subsequently convicted of murder. If he tries it again with Brunelli, the prosecutors will chew him up again."
"So, I say we just leave this as is," Danny said, "and let that happen if we can find anything else that can get Brunelli into court for these murders."
"We might have something," Neil Paxton said. He had been gone for part of Garrison's interview, because he got a cell phone call and had to leave the room to take it. But he came back in when Danny did.
"What?" Kahn asked.
"I got a call from the lab. The guy who murdered the witness, Will Trent, wasn't as careful as he was when he poked and murdered the others. Pubic hairs were found in Trent's channel. The lab tests and run of the DNA through CODIS have just come back."
"And?" Danny this time.
"Two guys were on him. The tests came up positive for Brunelli, which is what we were looking for. And another guy, name of Jack Wilde, was inside him too. And he comes up positive as Brunelli's personal bodyguard."
Jocko, Clint thought. They can link Brunelli through his bodyguard, Jocko. I wonder what DNA they could pull off me from both of those bruisers, he went on to think.
"Good linking," Kahn said. "But let's not pull Brunelli and this bodyguard back in just now. Now that we have a link, it's time to talk to the D.A. and start putting the screws to Brunelli in our research."
"To the D.A. directly? Not through Hodgkins?" It was Paxton who asked the question, but it was Clint who Kahn turned toward to give an answer.
"I think to the D.A. directly. I think we'll keep this close to our vests for the moment. This is a case we want to stick on Brunelli if we can get him to court on it. He's been entirely too slippery in his previous brushes with the court system."
"We may only need enough to get him in a cell at Riker's Island without bail," Danny said.
Everyone turned their questioning eyes in his direction.
"Well, he's got so many enemies in the underworld that we may only need to get him away from his minders and trapped in a cell he can't slither out of, and then someone might save us money and court time."
When the stares continued, Danny said. "What? We all know he's guilty of enough to fry--beyond these cases. I, for one, ain't gonna cry crocodile tears if someone else takes care of him for us."
* * * *
Clint didn't know if he would have done anything differently when he walked up the stairs to his apartment that evening if he'd been paying better attention. Chances are it wouldn't have mattered a bit. When he opened the door to the apartment, noticing that he didn't have to turn over as many locks as he usually set and had entered his living room, he just shrugged and moved to the kitchen area. He had to admit he wasn't thinking too hard about his routine when he'd last left the apartment . . . but . . . it was a routine, and he was thinking clearer now. While he was taking his suit jacket off and draping it over the back of a chair pulled into the kitchen island and facing the living area, he was slipping his cell phone out of his trousers pocket, stroking the buttons that would hook him up with Danny, and dropping the phone in his jacket pocket.
Then and only then did he lift his head to look into the eyes of Jocko, who was sitting in an armchair at the other end of the living area.
His mind was racing. How had they traced where he lived? Was it that the black guy who had brought him home from the cemetery had been sent by Brunelli? Had they known all along where he lived? And he'd told that guy he was a homicide cop. Had Brunelli known that all along as well? What a chump he'd been. Danny had told him to keep in touch at all times and he'd brushed him off tonight. Clint had told him he just wanted to come home and have one night at home not thinking about anything. He'd promised he wouldn't go out the bars. And he had fully intended not to. And so, here he was, alone and without backup.
"Hello Jocko," he said. Hoping that somehow what he was saying was going out on the telephone.
"You walked out on the boss yesterday. That wasn't a real bright thing to do."
"He actually walked out on me Jocko. He didn't tell me to stay. And he left. For all I knew he'd be bringing someone else back to the hotel room. And then there I'd be. That would be an awkward moment. He's always been able to find me. I waited around for a long time before I left. And speaking of finding me, how did you find where I lived?"
"I followed you that night the boss had me drive you back. I knew you didn't live where I left you off. I parked and followed you here."
Clint tried not to show his relief. Maybe they didn't know he was a cop after all. "OK, so you found me here. You can go back and tell the boss that you found me--coming home to my apartment alone. And that I didn't mean any disrespect when I left the Christopher the other night. I didn't know he'd want me to stay."
"He wants me to bring you back."
"Tonight? To the Christopher or to his house out on Long Island?" Clint was saying this with the hope that either Danny or his voicemail could hear it.
"It will be a long drive--in case you want to take a piss or something before we go."
"Ah, out to Long Island then. No, I'm good. We can go." Clint started around the kitchen island in the direction of the door to the outer corridor.
"Don't you want to take your coat?"
"Nah, it's OK. It would be just one more thing to have to take off."
Although he showed a bit of irritation that Clint hadn't been in the Christopher Hotel bedroom when he'd returned the previous day, Brunelli didn't show any signs when Clint was delivered to his Long Island estate basement playroom of having been leaned on by the police earlier that day or that he had anything to worry about concerning whatever they were investigating. Must have balls of steel, Clint thought as he was being strapped up, face down, on a padded-top restraint board.
He'd seen the apparatus the first time he'd been in the basement playroom and it had set his juices going. He had been restrained and fucked on one before, but nothing this elaborate. It was a platform, with a padded vinyl top and wide enough so that his arms were stretched out straight from his sides and cuffed flat at the wrists on the table top. A more heavily padded wedge under his belly lifted his torso up and back, putting his butt up in the air and his knees in a wide-stanced kneeling position, with his ankles cuffed to the surface of the platform. His cock and balls went through an opening in the rear side of the wedge and a mesh cage trapped and separated the ball sack. His head was in a harness at the top edge of the table with his chin in a cup at the table's edge.
Clint was completely incapacitated on the platform by Jocko and one of the guards who had been patrolling the rim of the sunken patio leading to the basement room before Brunelli appeared in a robe, which he shucked off, revealing his massive, hairy, powerful body, already in half erection.
"For now," Clint answered through clinched teeth.
"You aren't afraid?"
"Yes. But excited too. Don't make me wait."
"Ah, you've done this before. You never cease to amaze me, Mr. Movie Star. I still want you working for me--working under me. I want you here all of the time. I don't want to have to send Jocko out to fetch you. I want you here for when I feel the urge for you. We got a room upstairs just for you. All ready."
Clint didn't respond. He was still unsure of going this far into the investigation--certainly not without the squad being more in on it. Jocko's appearance in his apartment had unnerved him--that he could be touched that easily without any backup in place. He hoped that Danny had heard whatever went out on that cell phone. If he said "yes" to working under Brunelli and living here right now, would he ever get out of this house again? Would Danny and the rest of the squad have any idea this was where he was?
Brunelli was walking circles around the platform. He had a switch in his hand with leather prongs and was lightly swishing it on Clint's exposed buttocks, thighs, and back. Clint grunted for him and pulled at the restraints, to no avail.
"Ah, I see that you are getting a little nervous now," Brunelli said. "I can see the glistening of sweat now." The switch stung against Clint's buttocks a little more forcefully, and he gave a gasp followed by a little moan.
"Please," he murmured.
"Please what, Mr. Movie Star."
"Please don't make me wait for it. Fuck me please. Ride me." Clint wanted to get on with it.
"This session isn't just about pleasure, I'm afraid," Brunelli said, his voice taking a harder edge. "You were found cruising the bars, picking up who knows what, and you left the hotel the other day. Jocko had to come get you today. A little lesson is needed on who is the boss here."
Brunelli lashed out with the hand whip, striking Clint five times on the buttocks, back, and thighs.
Clint howled and strained ineffectively against the restraints.
"I'll bet you liked that," Brunelli said, his voice a little breathless from the exertion. "You're such a slut. Jocko, go under and check how much our guest liked that."
"Hard as a rock," a muffled voice reported from under the platform. Clint felt the hand on his cock under the platform.
"Oh god, now, please!" he cried out. He was only half acting.
"Shit. I'm too fuckin' hard already too," Brunelli said. He mounted the platform and then Clint's ass and began pumping him hard. Clint sighed a satisfied sigh. He not only had shortened the punishment but now he also had a thick cock working inside him.
Brunelli went on for a while, with grunts and groans and passing on instructions to Jocko and the other guard.
While Clint was being fucked by the mobster, the other two were busy adding toys. Weights were applied to extend Clint's balls down toward the floor, and a mouth attachment was added to the head gear, which stretched Clint's lips wide and depressed his tongue. A mouth began working his cock from underneath and Jocko was standing at his head with his hands holding Clint's head and his cock using the open channel the mouth gear had created.
Clint came before Jocko did, and Jocko came before Brunelli did.
"There you are," Clint heard Brunelli say as he was lifting his weight off Clint's pelvis.
Clint moved his eyes to where he could get a fleeting look of Brunelli putting his robe back on and taking the arm of a blond guy and moving across to a door into the interior of the house. Greg. Greg Garrison. Clint was sure that was who it was.
At the door, Brunelli turned, and said to Jocko, "Let any of the guards use him who want to and then take him home. We'll be talking again about my offer in a day or two, Mr. Movie Star. Remember, the rest of tonight was because you weren't where I left you when I came back."
Unless he had lost count, Clint figured he was fucked by four different guys while restrained on the platform before he was released and permitted to shower in an adjacent locker room. Then Jocko drove him home, came up to the apartment with him, and pushed him into his bedroom and onto his back on the bed after he'd stripped. Jocko tied Clint's wrists to the headboard, wishboned his legs, and took his own, leisurely--and very satisfying to Clint--turn at the fuck.
Clint had to work his own wrists free when Jocko had gone. When he'd done so--and taken a piss and a quick shower--he went straight to his suit jacket at the kitchen island and fished into his pocket. He fiddled with his cell phone but could find no evidence that his earlier message had gotten through to Danny.
He rang Danny's number. A hoarse-voiced Danny answered. Clint could hear the heavy breathing of someone else in the background.
"Clint? You OK?"
"Yes, I just wondered if anything was up?"
"You could say that. But you got a problem? Need anything?"
So, he hadn't gotten any distress message from Clint. "No, no. Everything's fine. I just thought I'd call and check in."
"You want that I come over there."
"No, it's fine. I'll see you in the morning at the precinct. Enjoy yourself."
He clicked off. This was entirely too much risk. He needed to keep Danny--and maybe the rest of the squad--closer to him. And maybe he needed to find someplace else to bunk out until this case was over.
They were determined to nail Brunelli. But the strange thing was that Brunelli wasn't acting at all like he was cornered. He was offering Clint a longer, closer arrangement, and he didn't act at all like a man under the microscope. And Clint--and it looks like the similar looking Greg--had been with Brunelli multiple times now without getting murdered. Clint--and maybe the rest of the squad--needed to rethink where they were going with this.