Where on earth was Max?
First, he had said that he was going outside for some fresh air.Then, after having breathed enough fresh air, he was back. Then he was gone again, the second time with no explanation, but he did have a pained expression on his face.

Max was not a patient dude.

I was patient, but David Leeman and I were getting a little tired of waiting in the stupid little waiting area just inside of the New Haven police station. A few people had come out to see what it was that we were here for, but nobody seemed to know exactly where Officer Ruggazione was.

Even though it was Ruggazione we were waiting for, I was starting to get pissed off.

I already had a pained expression on my own face. And, I could probably use some fresh air ourselves. As soon as I went outside, he'd probably show up however.


"Should we ask to speak to a supervisor or something?" I asked David. He was staring at the ground, lost in thought.

"Naw," David said. "He's been like this all week. Ever since I arrived in town, Ruggazione has been late to our meetings. Every time."

"Oh," I said, not feeling un-pissed off yet.

It was a good thing the policeman was so fucking cute.

I stood up. To either stretch my legs or walk outside, I hadn't really decided.

And then, just in the nick of time, just when I was about to banish Ruggazione from my sexual fantasies for the week, he appeared. Finally!

Okay, he's back in.

I smiled as he walked up. It was nearly seven days since I'd seen him. Officer Brian Ruggazione somehow looked better than I had been picturing him all week. Here in real life however, he had his uniform on. And he wasn't strapped to a sling wearing nothing but a chest harness.

"So sorry, guys!" Ruggazione said. He looked a little worn out. More so than he was when I'd been with him last Sunday afternoon.

"I didn't mean to keep you waiting. Busy morning here I'm afraid."

Well, I know exactly how you can make it up to me. Come over here, let's talk. All is forgiven.

David and I stood up. Ruggazione approached us, one arm out. I stared at his hands, his fingers seemed strong. Thicker than I had remembered.

"It's okay. Good to see you again," I said. I stretched my arms out to give him a bro hug. He paused and had a confused look on his face. Come on man, it's just a bro hug.

Awkwardly, I readjusted and shook his hand, somehow grabbing his wrist more than I intended. I turned red while David shook his hand next.

"Hey," David said.

"Hey," Ruggazione said.

He brought us through the locked door and into the inside of the station. Just as we entered, I looked around one last time for Max, but he was nowhere to be found. Oh well, he was a big boy and we'd find him later.

We were seated on a conference room that was more like a fishbowl than a private talking area. A fishbowl with unbreakable glass on two sides. Outside our fishbowl, the place was rocking.

Ruggazione offered us some water, which we both accepted. He brought three Styrofoam cups from the water cooler. After a pointless discussion of my train ride into New Haven and what we had for dinner last night across from the Green, Ruggazione finally got down to business.

"So, we have a promising new lead," he started.

I watched David's face brighten. This would be the first good news that there had been all week since Danny disappeared.

"Is it a good new lead or a bad one?" David asked.

Oh that. David had obviously been here all week. He had more to be cynical about than I did.

Ruggazione shrugged.

"Hard to say," he said.

David and I looked at him, wanting him to go on.

"Okay, here it is," Ruggazione said, after a pause, realizing we had nothing else to say.

David and I stared at him. David for obvious reasons. Me for those too, but with a little hopeful lust sprinkled in as well. He must have sensed our hope. He held both arms up, palms down, maybe some universal police sign language for 'how the fuck should I know?'

"We still have a lot of work to do. To find Danny. But at least we have something more than we did a few days ago. So it might be good news, it might be bad, we won't know till we get over there and talk to them," he said.

Each word that would come out of his mouth would get us just a little closer to having Danny back. Okay, okay, go on.

"A report came in from a grocery store in town," Ruggazione started.

A grocery store? Danny was out shopping for food? On a Saturday night?

"Some guy got roughed up a bit, outside the store. It was reported on Sunday, but we didn't immediately make the connection with Danny's disappearance till now."

David and I looked at each other. Neither of us got it.

"Roughed up?" David asked.

"Beaten up." Ruggazione said succinctly.

"Beaten up? I don't get it," David said.

"Fag bashed."

"Fag bashed!" David and I said at the same time.

"What the fuck?" I said, forgetting momentarily that maybe there is some unwritten rule. You're not supposed to say 'fuck' to a police officer.

Ruggazione pursed his lips and nodded solemnly. David buried his face in his hands.

"Shit!" I said. My eyes started to tear up.

I put an arm onto David's neck. He was already weeping lightly.

"We aren't absolutely certain. It could have been something else, of course. It might not have been a fag bash. But this is what the person who reported the crime thought was happening."

"Crime?" I asked. "This was a crime?"

David lifted his face away from his palms and looked up at Ruggazione.

"Yes TJ. It was a crime. That's what we call it when somebody gets beaten up outside of a grocery store. In fact, if it was a fag bash, that's a hate crime."

"A hate crime! Shit!" I said again.

"So, was he hurt? Did he go to a hospital? Do we know anything about that? Has someone checked the hospitals in the area?" I asked.

Ruggazione nodded again. Of course, they had checked the hospitals. They did that on the very first day of Danny's disappearance, he explained.

There was silence. Ruggazione didn't say a word for a whole minute, apparently wanting us to digest what he had just told us. Teardrops streamed down my face, finding their way into my mouth. I licked a few salty ones from my upper lip. I rubbed my eyes with a fist and looked out the glass at the busy office, abuzz with activity.

David sobbed lightly into his hands. I rubbed his neck, making it wet with my tears. Then I looked again at the policeman sitting across from us.

"Was there like any blood or anything?" You know, where this happened?" I asked. I hoped he would say no.

"Yes," he said simply. "There was some blood."

I shook my head. I couldn't stand to think of somebody hurting Danny. This wasn't fucking happening!

My eyes filled up again.

"A lot, or a little?"

Ruggazione shook his head.

"I don't know. That wasn't in the report. But we need to go over to the market and see for ourselves today. Talk to the store manager, along with a few of the employees who were on duty last Saturday night."

David continued to sob quietly. I wondered if he could do this. Well, somebody had to. I would be the strong one for both of us.

"Today?" I asked. "You want to go to the market today?"

"Yes."

I sniffed. My face was streaked with tears. I could only imagine how red my eyes were. An image flashed across my mind. I was going to be inside of a police car, for the first time of my life. That was exactly how a lot of scenes in porno movies got started!

"In the squad car? Are we going to take the squad car?"

"We call it a cruiser," Ruggazione replied.

Right.

"Are we going to take the cruiser?"

That got a laugh out of David. He knew exactly where my brain had gone.

"Yes TJ, we will take a cruiser," he answered with a half grin. "But don't get too excited, it's unmarked. And probably pretty filthy."

Good. Filthy was okay. So long as David and I got to ride in the back.

Ten minutes, David and I had gotten ourselves together and stood outside by Ruggazione's cruiser.

I called Max to let him know that we were leaving. For the first time since I'd known him, he took four rings to answer. He was apparently back at the hotel. But that didn't sound very Max-like behavior, so I had my doubts he was telling me the truth. He said that the whole missing persons, police station business had gotten to him. That was why he had that goofy look on his face, he said. He would be glad to meet us for dinner when we were done for the day.

No big deal. Max wasn't really a friend of Danny's anyhow. So, there would be more room in the cruiser for me and David. And Ruggazione.

The back seat of the cruiser was more disgusting than anything I could have imagined. The seats were greasy, there was gross stuff on the floor that I couldn't identify, and it smelled like concentrated feet.

Ruggazione explained that this particular unit was used only by the junior detectives in the New Haven police department. The department had a sort of pecking order of filthiness. Due to financial cutbacks, washes and wipe downs were reserved for the higher level staff only. UntilRuggazione had a few more years under his belt, he had to drive one of the dirtiest cars. Apparently, even this one was an improvement on what they gave to the rookie cops.

I didn't even want to think about that.

Ruggazione insisted that nobody had actually died inside this particular car. Judging by the stench, I wasn't too sure.

While Ruggazione drove, David and I held our noses and tried not to touch anything. I hoped for a short drive to the grocery store.

I put my police car fantasy with Ruggazione on hold while I endured the horribleness of it all. My dick, however, had no sense of smell, and lengthened out to at least a semi hard-on as soon as I buckled up in the back seat behind the cage.

My dick is an amazing thing. Clearly I am not in charge when it's sick little mind is made up.

We pulled into the parking lot of a Stop 'N Shop, and Ruggazione slipped the cruiser into a spot close to the entrance. I was out of the car before he turned the engine off. David did the same

"Have you got a wipe?" I asked Ruggazione once he was out of the car too.

"A what?"

"My mom used to carry those wet wipes, you know, whenever we would... Never mind, I sound like an idiot," I said. I was not usually a neat freak, but well, this was different.

He smiled at me for the first time that day. His eyes seemed to catch the tenting in my jeans.

"You can get one inside Mr. Clean. They have then for the carts."

"Good!" David and I said at the exact same time. Ruggazione laughed and mumbled something to himself that I didn't catch.

I thought to myself: Don't worry buddy, I'll still happily lick your butt later tonight. Just don't take any place in the cruiser ever again.

We spent the next two hours in the office at Stop 'N Shop talking to staff. Ruggazione wanted us there to hear first-hand the details of what might have gone on last Saturday night.

From what we could piece together, Danny, or somebody who looked an awful lot like Danny, came into the store around10:30 p.m., just before closing. Danny bought a banana, a granola bar, and a water and was at the express cashier checking out when a group of guys came up behind with a few sixers of beer. According to the cashier, Danny may have been dressed a little on the skimpy side. Somebody from the group of guys whistled, somebody made a comment about how tight his pants were.

Sounded like Danny.

Some words were exchanged. They taunted him. One member of the group tried to get his friends to shut up, but that apparently didn't work. They kept up. Somebody made a joke about Danny's banana, and Danny placed the fruit in a sexual position in front of his zipper.

After one guy called Danny a faggot, Danny apparently volunteered himself to receive a blow job from each member of the group. According to the cashier, they didn't politely decline.

Once they bought their beer, they followed Danny into the parking lot where Danny was waiting for them. The cashier was surprised that Danny didn't just take off once he got outside.

David and I agreed that this was sounding even more like Danny.

The cashier then saw the group surround Danny. Unfortunately another customer came up to her register about then and she was unable to see much else.

Outside in the parking lot, the sun was hot. I watched Ruggazione undo a button on his shirt. I tugged at my t shirt collar. David had gone white and made no adjustments.

The store manager escorted us.

When we arrived at the rack where people are supposed to put their shopping carts, we all looked down. There was a dark red puddle of dried blood on the asphalt. Just above it, there were dark red dots of dried blood on the railing of the shopping cart rack.

I was sick to my stomach.

David walked away, one hand over his mouth.

"This was not the spot where my employee saw the group of boys gather around your friend," the manager said quietly, looking directly at me.

He pointed to a place closer to the store windows.

"It started over there, apparently," he said. "But we didn't find any blood over there. Just here, by these bars."

I stared at Danny's blood. Holy fuck! What the hell happened here? My knees buckled and I stumbled, unable to hold myself up. Ruggazione caught me before I fell onto the pavement.

"I am very sorry about your friend. I wish we could have done more to help him," the manager said earnestly. He put a hand on my shoulder while Ruggazione held me. Across the parking lot, David was on his knees beside the police cruiser, his forehead bouncing against the rear fender.

We stood like this a while. Nobody said anything. Nobody moved.

Finally, Ruggazione spoke.

"I will get a forensics team here to sample this dried blood," he said.

Through my sobbing, I looked at my friend's blood on the shopping cart rack. I gripped Ruggazione harder and buried my face in his shoulder. He let me be while I cried for a long time. The manager went back inside. Ruggazione phoned a colleague at the station, more investigators would be here soon.

Still holding onto Ruggazione for dear life, I looked into his face. I never wanted to kiss somebody so much in my entire life. Instead I broke free and jogged over to where David lie on the cement.

I sat him upright and placed his head against my chest. He wasn't crying anymore. The sun beat down against my face as I mashed it up against David's hair.

Danny's hair.

I felt cold inside, chills coursed through me. David and I were both shivering.

I don't remember very much about the rest of what we did that day with Ruggazione.

I'm pretty sure we made a couple more stops before we headed back to the police station. I'm pretty sure we endured the stench and indignities of the New Haven police cruiser again. I'm pretty sure Ruggazione bought us lunch at some Italian place he knew, but I'm certain I didn't eat a bite of it. And I'm pretty sure that David and I barely spoke to one another.

The shock of seeing Danny's blood on the pavement, having dropped down the bars of that shopping cart rack, was just too much to bear. Hearing first hand from the Stop 'N Shop staff a description of exactly what transpired between Danny and that gang of thugs--what else could they be called?--made me sick.

While nobody could yet be certain, the whole set of events sure sounded like Danny Leeman. Danny would definitely be eating if he was out and about the night before a big race. Danny would also be the one stroking a banana in front of a crowd of strangers. And Danny would definitely stick around out in the parking lot, hoping that he might find at least one boy in the crowd who he could fuck. I knew it and Danny's brother David knew it.

Danny was definitely the guy whose blood we saw in that parking lot. And that scared the hell out of both of us. Where was he now?

When we got done with Ruggazione, we still hadn't found Max.

David and I agreed that we wanted to stay together. We needed to call his folks and tell them what we had learned. The idea of being alone in New Haven was a no go. Not after what we had just seen at the grocery store.

Ruggazione must have thought the same. He seemed to sense that we were totally freaked out. Which was true of course.

Ruggazione said that he had a quick errand to do, but then he would be glad to hook up with us later. Both David and I agreed immediately.

"I'll call you in an hour or so," Ruggazione said.

I nodded. Not sure what to say. It was really nice of him to offer to hang out.

"And guys," he added. "Call me Brian. I'm only a few years older than you. Enough of the Officer Ruggazione stuff."

"Okay," I agreed.

David did too. Brian it was.

We went back to the Omni Hotel.

Still no Max. He wasn't at the hotel like he said on the call earlier. That was just great! Now I had two friends who were lost in New Haven. It was turning out to be an even lousier week than I thought. I wanted to go home.

Just as his friend Tommy had requested, Brian Ruggazione checked out an extra pair of handcuffs from the supply room. He was happy to drop them off at Tommy's condo. Guys were always leaving their cuffs someplace, so it was really no big deal. Brian himself had misplaced his cuffs a few times. Nobody would think that these were for Tommy, and Brian had no intention of telling anyone who they were for. Brian had to admit that it was a little unlike Tommy to lose something, especially something like his cuffs. Tommy had to be one of the most careful and fastidious people that he knew.

If Brian timed things right, after he stopped by Tommy's, he could still get home and shower before he met up with the David and TJ.

He felt awful about today.

Danny's brother David and TJ should not have been at the Stop 'N Shop with him. The last thing that David and TJ needed was to see that blood-Danny's blood-all over the pavement! Brian should have followed up with the store manager on his own. He should never have brought the guys along for that horror show.

Brian had to admit to himself that this case was eating at him.

Obviously it was awful about Danny Leeman. It had been a full week since he had disappeared. Every day that passed made it that much less likely that anybody would ever see Danny again. In one piece that is. The odds were stacking up. People who were gone for a week were either long gone since they didn't want to be found, or else they were dead. From what Brian had learned, Danny didn't seem like the type to go off on his own--the guy seemed like he really thrived on human companionship--so it was unlikely that Danny had caused his own disappearance.

It was much more likely that Danny had been taken, and that he would not be coming back.

But why? That part made no sense.

This guy comes into town for a big track meet, he does a little partying, he happens to aggravate a group of guys out for some partying of their own on a Saturday night, but then the guy gets beaten up and kidnapped by a group of guys who just wanted to drink some beer?

That last bit about the partying was the most confusing of all.

From what he had learned, the guys were in the Stop 'N Shop to grab some beers and then head back to one of their houses probably, then have a little fun. It just didn't fit. Brian couldn't imagine that one of them said, "hey let's just bag this whole partying idea, let's bag this faggot instead!"

Policeman 101 courses taught quite a lot about kidnapping. Usually it was just a lone lunatic who did the kidnapping. At most, the lunatic might be working with a single accomplice, so two people max. Definitely not a group of guys who were cruising through Stop 'N Shop and just get a wild hair! They would simply not do a thing like this.

So why did they? Why would they take Danny?

This case didn't come together for Brian. It made his head spin. He could only imagine how it was making David and TJ feel. Poor guys.

Brian hoped that by getting together with David and with TJ tonight, he could get them to relax. As the cop in charge of the investigation, it was his job to help. However he could help. He'd taken a pledge to serve.

Serving tonight would involve being served a couple drinks. They were underage to drink in Connecticut, but Brian didn't give a shit about that. In fact, maybe a little liquid truth serum would get the boys to talk, cough something up that could help in the investigation. He could use a break in the case, fill in that final piece of the puzzle that he needed. Hopefully there was something else. Anything!


Of course at the end of the day, the odds were still pretty lousy for Danny. All things considered, they were unlikely to find him alive after seven days. Danny would still be dead, but, well, at least Brian would have done his job and the Leeman family would get some closure.

But Brian was troubled by more than the Danny Leeman investigation. There was still something else, something Brian had been able to bring to front of his mind. Something that was tugging at him in a different way.

Brian walked to his car, trying to figure out what it was that eating away at him.

Why had he brought the victims brother and his friend along with him to the Stop 'N Shop? Why didn't he go by himself, as he should have? Why was he so intrigued by the unusual friendship that existed between Danny Leeman and TJ? Why did TJ look at Brian the way he did? And who was this third friend-TJ called him Max-that was apparently here to help, but didn't happen to show up all day?

Brian rolled his eyes and shook his head. He unlocked the door with a click.

Getting into his car, Brian threw the envelope with the spare cuffs into the backseat.

It had been a long day, and there was still more to come. He thought about this morning at the gym, after his class. What had been on his mind when he was in the shower cleaning up? Or rather, who had been on his mind? A familiar image filled his head

Buckling in, Brian caught a reflection of his own face in the mirror. His lips were curled up at both ends, he was smiling.

He knew who he was thinking about. He knew why he had a grin on his face. But he pushed the thought away. He had a job to do right now.

First drop off the cuffs for Tommy. Second, if possible, find out why Tommy's acting weird. Then, meet the boys and ply them for information that would solve the case.

Only then would he focus on himself. Only then would he let himself relax a bit.

Despite the knowledge that he knew he had to extract from the guys, it surprised him to realize that a part of him was actually looking forward to this evening. He knew that was what was making his stomach churn. When he met up with the guys for dinner, he figured that a lot of this would become very clear.

Tonight he would know.

 

TJ Tachet

[email protected]

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