Carter (Gil) Gillespie, Miles Sutherland, Tony Alessi, George Jones
introducing Lance Peabody
Early Sunday morning, 23rd January, Miles Sutherland’s house
Gil reached out and hit the alarm, expecting the thumping noise to stop. When it didn’t, his groggy mind registered that alarm clocks didn’t usually make thumping noises. He sat up, realising that the noise was coming from downstairs. Someone was hammering on the door, an urgent banging. He glanced at the clock. The display said 0550.
What the—? He’d set it for 7am giving them an hour to pack. They were not due to be collected until 8am. He looked down. Miles was stirring, his long limbs half-tangled in the top sheet. Sweat glistened on his pale skin. Miles, in his bed. Who would have believed it? More banging intruded on Gil’s pleasant recollections of the previous evening.
Yawning and scratching his head—it felt as if he had barely had any sleep—Gil rolled out of bed and stumbled downstairs, cautiously maneuvering around a large rucksack Miles had left in the hallway.
“Who is it?” he called through the door.
“Alessi,” came the urgent reply. “Gil? Def con 3 went to def con 2 about ten minutes ago. Everything has been pushed forward an hour.”
Gil opened the door. He knew it was Alessi from that phrase. He had been joking with the agent on the way over about def con 1. “We need to move,” the man said simply.
“Sorry, late night…”
The agent moved past him into the hall and Gil shut the door behind him, dimly registering the presence of another agent in a large SUV at the roadside beyond.
“We’ve been told to take you to the airport asap.” A small smile played across the agent’s mouth. “I’ll…er…leave you to get dressed.”
Gil realised in his haste he had not stopped to put his shorts on. He grinned, only slightly embarrassed. “Sorry,” he murmured. Alessi raised an eyebrow. His grin widened.
“No apologies necessary, sir. I’ll see you outside.” He consulted his watch. “Best make it no later than twenty, if you can, otherwise the boss will rip me a new one.”
“Before you go…”
“If you were me, what would you take with you?” Alessi regarded him for a moment before replying.
“I would advise you to pack what you need, travel light; clothes, washbag, paperback or two. Do not try to take the kitchen sink. You won’t need it. Pack as if you were off on holiday. The house will be safe. Anything else, you don’t need to know.”
Somehow, Gil did not find that reassuring. He watched the agent leave and then took the stairs two at a time.
Miles scrambled out of bed and headed for the shower as soon as Gil disappeared downstairs. Shit. Agreeing to the bitch’s demands had been the worst of a whole swagger of bad decisions he’d made last night. Towelling down and dressing in record time, he grimaced as he grabbed the empty backpack and dumped it on his own bed. Difficult to rank his actions afterwards in order of merit. Or order of disasters-waiting-to-happen might be a better description.
His brain refused to drop images of last night’s sex-fest. How do they counsel people who’ve been deprived of food and water for a long period? Sip it slowly. After his long stint of celibacy, he’d crammed a veritable feast into his mouth all at once. He smiled for a second as he dropped a pile of undies into a side pocket. Gil’s cock was a feast literally and figuratively. Shit, he needed to get his mind off the subject and back onto practicalities or he’d be up shit creek without a paddle or in this case a stitch to wear. The experience of living and working in hot environments finally surfaced. Light weight pants… check; long sleeve shirts… check; baggy green cricket hat… check. He’d probably look a dork wearing it, but red hair and pale skin were a bad combination. Better to cover up than smear up.
What the blazes would this place have? Was there really a disaster there? If there was, he’d need goodies. Was Darren’s medical kit still tucked away at the back of the cupboard? He hauled out a battered canvas hold-all that contained as many memories as it did items. Darren had always been the organized one. The one who made sure Miles survived. He sank back on the bed, clasping the bag to his chest. A feeling of guilt and regret threatened to engulf him. Could he cope with all this without Darren’s protective presence?
A loud bark sounded outside as he heard the quiet voices downstairs cease and the door close: Roofie. No way was he leaving his dog behind.
He threw a few more things on top of all the things he’d colected from his bedroom and bathroom and ran down the stairs, passing Gil on the way up. “Roofie,” he said as if the word alone would convey everything he needed to say. He avoided meeting Gil’s eyes. Oh shit.
Gil stood to the side as Miles passed him, allowing him unimpeded passage. It was no surprise that Miles was giving him the silent “let’s not talk about what happened” shit. Whatever the doctor was thinking, judging by the activity, at least he wasn’t considering staying behind. As far as Gil knew, anyway. On the way back to his own room, Gil grabbed a quick shower, barely doing more than dipping under the hot jets, wondering at the way fate was taking hold of his life. He felt massively out of control and yet, his pragmatic deal-with-it-as-it-comes attitude was kicking in. In terms of disaster management, he knew how to handle all this.
He towelled off quickly, then rummaged for clothes. He needed his lightweight stuff, specially if they were going somewhere hot and humid. Gil packed his rucksack carefully, as he had been taught. Gear lasts longer that way, and where they were going, he had no idea if his kit would end up being a precious commodity. Gil doubted that there would be a camping supplies outlet anywhere within a thousand miles. He hunted out his trainers, sandals and his tracksuit bottoms and added them. Equipped with this kit, Gil felt ready to meet the challenge. While he might lament his lack of experience in a tropical situation, Gil had plenty of skills where hiking, camping and survival were concerned. A two-man bothy, a sleeping bag and camping mat were still packed into the base of the army surplus bergen and the side compartments still contained his microfiber towels, mosquito net, emergency blanket and travel wash kit. The other pockets were packed with plenty of useful bits and pieces which he didn’t intend to leave behind.
Miles grabbed some food and filled Roofie’s dish. Who knew when he’d get a chance to feed him again. The dog seemed surprised but didn’t need an invitation to scoff up the proffered biscuits. He was still little more than a puppy and growing fast. He never knocked back tucker.
The kitchen cupboards yielded a few packets of dog biscuits and Miles grabbed other things his dog needed, shoving them all in a plastic shopping bag. He didn’t have any sort of carry cage for him. Hopefully Eidolon would have one, or his dog could just sit on the seat beside him. His mutt’s legs were quivering. Had he caught a whiff of the tension that seemed to be echoing around the whole neighborhood? It was a wonder the sudden arrival on the scene of a bunch of strangers whose appearance screamed Feds hadn’t alerted the whole neighborhood.
Miles took Roofie outside and checked the windows of the neighboring house. Sure as eggs, the blind on the house next door twitched: Mrs Danvers checking up on what was going on. Pity she couldn’t have seen into Gil’s bedroom last night, then she would have really copped an eyeful. Just as well they were all leaving. It was a wonder she hadn’t filed a complaint about the noise they’d made last night. Gil said he’d been loud. He hadn’t been aware of anything except a roaring in his ears as his body seemed to take over his brain.
He watched as Roofie wandered around looking for a place to take a dump. Of course of all mornings, the dog took his time, as if saying goodbye to all the smells he’d carefully marked the yard with. He couldn’t wait any longer. He’d let Roofie have his freedom for as long as possible. Who knew what was going to be in store for them? As Miles headed back into his room he could hear Gil muttering to himself in his bedroom. Miles shut the door and sat on the bed for a second, trying to gather his thoughts. Did he have everything?
Gil stuffed his mobile and MP3 player into the pockets of his cargo pants, shoved his wallet into his back pocket and patted the pockets on his polar fleece. He had his pouch at his waist with his emergency first aid kit in it and his passport tucked into the pocket on the reverse. He stood and counted off all the things he was taking with him. Satisfied, he shouldered the rucksack and went downstairs. Gil checked his watch and wondered where Miles was, imagining the doctor packing everything in a hurry. The photos lay on the mantle piece, untouched. Agent Alessi chose that moment to bang on the door again and Gil went to open it. The man was looking harassed.
“Sorry to urge you along, but my boss has called. We really need to start moving.” He glanced past Gil as if hoping to see Miles but was disappointed. Gil handed the rucksack over and looked back, but there was no sign of the doctor.
“Put that in the boot… sorry, trunk,” Gil corrected himself. “And I’ll be out in a moment. I’ll go see where he’s got to. I have my other bag to pick up.” Alessi nodded and turned away, carrying the backpack to the car.
“Please hurry him up,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away. “We do not want to miss that flight.” His voice was getting a hard edge to it; stress, Gil thought as he turned back inside. He wouldn’t have the agent’s job for love nor money.
Gil went inside and listened. Sure enough he could hear Miles moving about upstairs. For a brief moment, Gil wondered why he hadn’t gathered any of the photos of Darren that were still lying untouched on their shelf. Making a spot decision, Gil went to the shelf and examined the selection of pictures in their frames. If he remembered correctly, the one of the two boys—Miles and Darren when they were teenagers—was the one Miles had shown him when he had first visited. He took that one and chose another three, the happiest ones, and the one of Miles and his dark-haired sister. He had no idea if he had done right or not, but he wasn’t going to leave them now. He quickly wrapped them in a tea towel from the kitchen and stowed them in the outside pocket of the canvas bag his laptop was carefully packed in. He could but hope they would survive the trip.
He was ready. For what, he didn’t know, but he was ready. Now all he had to do was make sure Miles was as well. “Miles, hurry up. We have to leave now!” There was no response.
Gil yanked open the door to Miles’ bedroom. The man was just sitting there, his head buried in his hands.
“I can’t do it.” Miles stared at the young man in front of him. Clothed or unclothed he was fucking gorgeous. All he wanted to do was rip the clothes off him and carry on from where they’d left off last night. “Once I would have had no problem organizing myself. Heck, we used to do these things all the time. Leave at short notice with little or no preparation. That was half the attraction of the job. Feeling we were needed, that what we did mattered. Quite frankly, these people scare the shit out of me. It took me ages to find somewhere safe to live, a haven, and now I have to leave.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m on shift in an hour. Mrs Fitzpatrick….”
“Will be fine. They’ll look after her. We, on the other hand, need to move or we won’t be. Come on, Miles, snap out of it. They’ll find someone else.” Gil grabbed the doctor’s’ elbow and hauled him to his feet. Miles seemed to be at a total loss in this situation. There was a submissive willingness to be directed so at odds with the way he was in bed. Gil glanced at the barely completed packing. He leaned over, stuffed the remaining articles inside and fastened the bag. If anything was missing, Eidolon could no doubt provide.
Alessi ran into the room and virtually propelled them out the door. “I am sorry, gentlemen, but we have run out of time. We cannot wait any longer, we’re going, now…”
“Not without Roofie, I’m not.” Miles shook his head. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or something but he really felt lost. As if by going with these people he’d be cutting himself adrift from everything he’d known and been close to. Gil had hold of his backpack so he flew downstairs and collected Roofie from the backyard, ruffling his ears as he fastened the lead. “‘Fraid there’ll be no more digging in Delphina’s dahlia bed for you, mate. Not even sure there’ll be gardens where we’re going. No buried hands either, I hope.”
Passing back in through the kitchen, Miles grabbed the bag of dog food and other goodies. He glanced around. There were still some cups in the sink. Should he bring implements from the kitchen? What would the island have? Most of the gear in here didn’t belong to him anyway as the house had come fully furnished, but there were so many things that might come in handy. He grabbed some scissors and other things he was sure the Hospital Board wouldn’t miss and shoved them in with the dog biscuits.
The agent placed a hand under Miles’ elbow, urging him out the front door.
Gil deliberately allowed Miles to go in front of him, to be ushered hastily into the big car as he locked the door to the house and followed on behind. He was concerned that the situation seemed to have thrown the doctor off balance rather badly. Miles was complaining that he wasn’t ready, that he still had some things he needed, that the fridge wasn’t emptied. Alessi was busy placating him, telling him that their own clean-up crew would be along to tidy and secure the property for them, to store their gear until they received instruction from Eidolon what to do with it; either ship it, store it or burn it. Miles looked alarmed at that, but Alessi grinned mirthlessly and explained that the crew often had to clear property belonging to murder victims, not just live clients. “They do know what they’re doing.” Alessi’s brand of humour wasn’t lost on Gil, even if he couldn’t say the same about Miles. “They will take care of things, they’re experts at what they do.”
“The house isn’t mine, it belongs to the Hospital Board. Christ…” Miles wondered what the Board would do in his absence. They would have to appoint someone else. He vaguely wondered if they would try charging him rent while he was away. Possibly. They were stingy bastards.
“Buckle up gentleman and restrain your dog; we’re going to have to push it if we’re to get to the airport on time.”
“No rest stops then?” Gil smiled but his attempt at humour was ignored.
“Where are we going?” Miles knew the words came out tersely, but he couldn’t give a shit. He didn’t only get out of the wrong side of bed this morning; he’d got out of the wrong bed.
“There’s a private airfield about a hundred and fifty miles down the road. Eidolon said to take you there.” The Agent turned in his seat to talk to them. “Apart from that, I’m as much in the dark as you are.”
“What about Flynn? Will he be joining us?” Something flickered in the man’s eyes at the mention of their missing friend’s name.
“I’m not at liberty to divulge any information about Mr. Archer’s whereabouts. All I was told to do was get you to the airstrip by ten hundred hours and we’ve still got a fair way to go.”
Miles broke eye contact with the Agent and stared out at the passing scenery. Given the speed they were travelling at, they’d be lucky to arrive there in one piece. He hardly had time to mentally wish the Falls a brief good-bye as they passed through the town and onto the road leading to the freeway.
Gil studied Miles as they travelled. He was doing his best to hide in plain sight and there it was again; between the abstracted periods of stroking Roofie’s head, Miles was playing with his ring, twisting it round his finger. Gil couldn’t blame him for being worried. There were too many unanswered questions and half-truths flying round for any of them to feel secure. He could but hope that the others were waiting for them, that Lyle and Aiden—even if he didn’t know the teacher all that well—were safe and secure. His chief concern was Miles, though. The doctor was anxious, upset and seemingly unable to do anything but be swept along by the current.
“Miles, I meant to say….” Gil paused, his ears catching a familiar wail behind them—a police siren. Alessi twisted to glance out of the rear window.
“Shit. Better pull over, George.” The agent looked across at their driver who had so far remained the strong silent type. George nodded and took his foot off the gas, coasting over to the roadside and allowing the pursuer to catch up. “I’ll deal with this….” Although to go by the look on Alessi’s face, the agent wasn’t certain how. Did they not have contingencies for this sort of thing, Gil wondered? For the first time he wondered whether Alessi was FBI or Eidolon or something else entirely. On impulse, Gil unbuckled his seat belt and opened the door.
“Mr Gillespie, stay in the vehicle…” Alessi began, but it fell on deaf ears.
“Lance?” Gil looked the surprised Sheriff up and down and smiled tentatively. Behind him, the door opened as Alessi followed him out. “You’re back.”
“Gil? Hey, man. How are you? I got back last week after wrapping up some stuff left over from my job back in Connecticut. What’s going on? Who are all these people?”
Lance leaned over and peeked into the car to see who else was in the big SUV. “Oh, hi Miles.” Lance saw the driver, but he didn’t recognize either of the strangers. He knew Miles, of course, and assumed that was Miles’ dog, since he had heard Miles talk about it before.
Damn, now what could Gil say? He had jumped at the chance to see Lance but now he wasn’t sure what explanation to give. He glanced back at Alessi. The man was wearing a neutral expression, just waiting. Gil turned back and smiled what he hoped was the most professional, reassuring smile he owned. “Er… colleagues. Look, Lance, we—Miles and I—we have to go away for a while. We’re both on the books of a rescue agency, so we get called up now and again. There’s been a disaster and we’ve been asked to help with the rescue effort.”
“Oh? Where’s the disaster? I haven’t heard about anything; well, not in the States, anyway.”
“These men were sent to collect us and give us a lift to the airfield. Our destination is in the back of beyond… somewhere in the Pacific; my geography is crap. It’s been hit by a cyclone….” Well, that answered one of Lance’s questions. Pity he didn’t look satisfied. “Sorry, Lance, I’d love to talk but we have to meet a plane heading out in….” Gil checked his watch. “Less than two hours and we’re already late.” Something occurred to Gil as he stuffed a hand in his pocket and his fingers connected with his keyfob. Could he ask…?
Lance nodded in agreement, although frankly he was a little puzzled at the escort. Two men to escort two medical professionals? And the one standing outside looked more like secret service or something.
“Well, sir,” he said, looking over at the man near Gil. “I clocked you going twenty miles over the speed limit here, and I’m going to have to give your driver a ticket.” Lance had pulled out his tickets while speaking and walked over to the driver’s door, rapping on the window to get the driver to lower it. “I need your driver’s license and registration, please,” he said as he checked out the driver. He looked solid and muscular, and was dressed a little too nicely for a limousine driver, but that could just be the man’s style.
“Lance, this is an emergency. We have to make that plane. Could you overlook this just once?” Something in Lance’s eyes said he wouldn’t but Gil still had to ask. “Please? He’s only doing his job, and this is for charity.”
Lance was checking out the documents, and looked over at Gil as he mulled it over. “Well, since you’re on a mission of mercy, I guess it wouldn’t be too charitable to give you a ticket for rushing to the rescue. I don’t want you to miss your flight.” Lance handed the documents back to George Jones from Ridgewood, New Jersey, committing the name to memory. Something just didn’t seem right, but there was nothing illegal going on other than speeding, so he couldn’t really do much more. Gil was not his usual calm self, but maybe that was because he was on the way to the Pacific and was rushing to catch a plane. “I’ll do it for you, Gil, but you’ll owe me one.”
“Might owe you more than one then.” Gil smiled and drew the keys out of his pocket. He wasn’t entirely trusting that this so-called clean-up crew would take care of his beloved bike. “Lance, could you do something else for me too? I just don’t know exactly how long we might be away. It’s my bike… I can’t take it with me where we’re going. Would you be able to look after it? You could speak to the hospital, get the number of the agency who arranged my transfer. They can ship it home for me; they shipped it out in the first place. It’s just… it’s in the yard at Miles’ place, I….” He paused, realizing Lance didn’t know about his move. “I’m renting a room from him; you know, reducing costs. Now that we’re leaving, it’s not going to be safe to leave the bike out back.” Gil hated not being able to tell Lance the whole truth; he was the law after all, but Gil knew Alessi would never allow him to get away with it. In truth it made sense. They had no idea who they could trust. “They should ship my leathers back too. They’re in the bedroom.”
Oh, those sexy leathers, Lance thought. He remembered seeing Gil in the total red and black leather outfit, and how sexy he was sitting on his motorcycle. “Sure, I guess so. You’re not going to let me keep the bike for you, huh?” Lanced smirked at Gil.
“Well… I guess you could. I just don’t know when I’m going to be home. I tell you what, yes, you keep it for me. As long as it’s secure… Might even agree to you going for a spin if you promise to take care of him?”
“That’s okay, I was just pulling your leg. I’d hate to have something happen to it while it’s under my care. I’ll make sure the bike and those leathers are shipped back, don’t worry. But you don’t know when you’ll be back? Damn, that sucks. I was hoping to catch up with you.”
Gil let himself smile as he started handing the keys over. “Sorry, that’s the way of these things.” Gil reached out and made to put the keys in Lance’s hand but the Sheriff had other ideas. He grabbed Gil’s hand and pulled him into a quick hug then planted a hard kiss on his mouth. Knowing it wasn’t the place to do anything more, and that the men were in a hurry, he smiled back at Gil as he let him go, grabbing the keys as he stepped away.
“Don’t be a stranger, Gil. Give me a call or something so I know you’re staying safe.” Gil was looking a little stunned, but he nodded in agreement as he was bundled into the car by the man who had been standing quietly by his side.
As the car pulled away, accelerating back onto the two-lane highway, Lance walked back to the car and opened the laptop there. He entered all the information from the driver’s license, the license plate, the car make and about the cyclone in the Pacific. He listened to the news fairly often but he had missed that story, and he was now curious. That done, he wrote up the event and shut down the computer to get back onto the road.
Damn, Gil looked good, he thought as he also pulled out onto the highway. Lance hadn’t seen the sexy man in ages, but hadn’t forgotten him or the time they’d spent in bed. He had been pulled away soon after that night to testify in a case that he was involved with in Connecticut before he had left the State Police—more than six months ago—and hadn’t been able to get back with Gil. Now that he was home again, Lance was trying to catch up on what he had missed at work and hadn’t had time to do anything socially. But Gil had been at the top of the list. That opportunity was now gone, at least for a while, he realized and was a little surprised at the regret he felt. Oh, well, that’s how the cookie crumbles. Life goes on.