.. | exit running | chapter 1
A dark-clad cop with sandy blond hair sauntered down the block towards the flashing lights set up in front of the old apartment building. He was drawing long puffs from his cigarette and exhaling them through his nose, looking around as if nothing here held his interest. His eyes caught an askance glimpse of the flickering neon signs and billboards advertising adult movies and books from the main street through the alleyway. The steady hum of night life- honking cars, the roar of old engines, loud people on the streets- echoed down the alley, bouncing off grimy brick walls to grate on his sensitive ears.
His attention turned back to the old building. He'd been told that there had been no word for thirty minutes from the darkened balcony, not since that kid had insanely fired shots into the night sky to prove he meant business. The cops had the entire block roped off from spectators, leaving room enough only for more cars and specialty teams to move in.
Someone was approaching him.
"One hostage that we know of, Val," his partner said, his lilting British accent sounding out of place with the grime of their surroundings. "They think it's your favorite kid again too. I thought you said he'd split this city."
Val Ramsey dropped his cigarette and crushed it under the toe of his boot without a glance at Bastian.
"He should have," he muttered, moving away from his partner to the front line where his boss knelt beside a car talking into the radio.
"What's he want this time?"
"Shit, how the hell should I know? You know him, you go try to talk to him," Porter answered.
There was commotion among the gathered officers and everyone looked up at the rusty iron-wrought fire escape. The kid, dressed in all black, had dragged his hostage out and presently held a gun to his head, shoving him to bend over the railing and get a good look at the street below. The hostage was a boy just about the other's age, though in stark contrast to his assailant, his hair was black and his skin dusky toned. He was dressed like a streetboy, only cut-offs and a skin tight top.
"I'll fuckin' kill him!" the blond shouted, pulling his captive's bound hands up behind him to twist his arms. The other boy groaned in pain. He looked roughed up, but alive at least.
Ramsey watched with everyone else, how the kid kept his hostage in front as a shield. The assailant's eyes rested on him just as he scowled disapprovingly. The kid returned with a smile and disappeared back inside.
Ramsey continued to gaze up at the old building, resting his hands in the pockets of the long black coat he wore. Another cigarette sounded good right about now. He moved to take one out.
"Dammit, Ramsey!" the chief snarled angrily. "Don't you ever take this seriously?"
The blond lit up and took a long draw as he shook his head.
"Not this kid," he answered.
With that, he brushed past the specialty teams who had blocked off the entrance to the apartment complex, flicking his half-finished cigarette in their midst.
Ramsey climbed the creaking stairs with one hand on the worn rail, the other ever-buried in the pocket of his trench coat. His boots made hollow sounds as he went slowly up, craning his head back idly to see how far he had to go.
It smelled in here, like all old buildings, of dust and mildew and worse. The scent rose from the dirt on the floor to his nose and he had to keep from wrinkling it in disgust. That anyone could live here was inconceivable.
Then again, this was just the stairway. He continued up, reaching around to find the butt of his gun tucked into the back of his black pants. Just in case. A single naked light bulb hung from the ceiling at the top of the stair on the third floor, shining yellow and dull as if it had consciously given up on trying to light the entire hall.
He moved down the corridor into the darkness, pulling his gun out and pressing his arm against his side as he stepped silently to the room at the very end.
No noise came from behind the cheaply painted door. The whole building had an eerie silence to it, in fact, now that what few tenants there were had been cleared out. Gently, he reached out and silently tried the doorknob. Locked.
He sighed and stepped back. Why the hell did this kid have to make him work like this?
He kicked the door in.
The small room that was revealed to him was dark and cold like the night. He could see the open balcony that led to the fire escape from where he stood, but the whereabouts of the occupants concerned him more, though not too much.
"That you Ramsey?" a voice called out, but not loudly enough for the ear downstairs to hear.
The cop shoved his gun back in its place and stepped into the grimy room, batting at the dust that stirred up. He found the two on the floor in the main living area; the kid had his hostage down on his belly and was leaning over him, stroking his forehead with the barrel of his gun. The other whimpered at the sight of the cop.
"Are you afraid? Look who's here to save you," the blond kid hissed into his ear, trailing the gun over his captive's straining throat. The poor boy on the floor looked pleadingly at Ramsey as his assailant began to play lightly with his hair. He strained away from the other as much as he dared, while the blond kid leaned down and nuzzled his temple; brushing back his coal-black hair.
"Not bad, Duchy, though I think tears would be more convincing for you," Ramsey remarked casually, looking about the dingy place.
The black-haired kid shoved his captor off of him and sat up. He smoothed his hair and straightened his wrinkled clothes. "You think so? Marlow said I'd look girly if I cried," he said in his slightly accented tenor of a voice.
Marlow rubbed the back of his head with the gun and looked indignant. "I wouldn't take a crying pussy captive," he said. "You'd ruin my reputation."
"I don't understand why I have to always be the captive. Why can't I be the tough guy for once?" Duchy said, standing up and dusting himself off.
Marlow tucked the gun into the front of his leather pants and stood up. "You're too queer."
Ramsey idly listened to their exchange as he wandered into what he assumed to be the kitchen. Duchy followed him in and latched onto his arm.
"You don't think I'm too queer, do you sugar?" He reached up to play with the longish locks of Ramsey's hair.
The cop shrugged him off and pulled out another cigarette. He caught Marlow entering the kitchen out of the corner of his eye as he lit up.
"You're not supposed to be here," he said. "So what is it this time, Marlow?"
The blond kid scratched his forehead. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said innocently enough.
Ramsey grabbed the blond kid's arm, then his chin and pulled him close, studying his dark eyes. "You pushing again?" he demanded. Marlow didn't look like he was on anything, but with this kid, you could never quite tell.
Marlow shoved his hand away. "Not me," he insisted. "I'm just the messenger."
"Reika then, is it?"
Marlow sighed and took the cigarette from Ramsey's lips and drew from it. "We're on your side this time, Ramsey. Someone else was dealing around here," he said.
Duchy appeared again, moving to cross his arms over Marlow's right shoulder and lay his head on them.
"Of course, not anymore as of an hour ago," Marlow continued smugly, looking proud of himself.
"You boss's got you hitting the competition now, does he?" Ramsey said, grabbing Marlow's arm and moving to leave. "Come tell me more about that."
Duchy slapped his hand away from his friend's wrist. "Stop that."
"Did I say I was the one to knock 'em off?" Marlow hissed. "I just sniffed them out. We did you a favor."
Ramsey stared at him. "That's a bit below you, isn't it? Besides, if your intentions were so pure, you could have come and told me about them first, you know."
Marlow snorted a laugh and walked back into the other room. Duchy just giggled. "He answers to one man only, you should know that." He leaned close to Ramsey again, smelling of the alcohol he'd consumed earlier that night.
"Besides, can you see Reika's top proxy walking right into a police station?" He laughed again. "Now if you would just give me your phone number-" His hand toyed with the buttons on Ramsey's coat. "I could just call you at home next time."
Ramsey smiled disarmingly as the boy's hand crept under his coat and pressed against his chest. The warmth of it spread through his shirt.
"How much are you charging now, Duchy? Five? Six?"
The boy backed off in disgust and smoothed his hair. "Tricks are a no-no nowadays," he said with a 'tsk'. "You know I don't do that anymore." He looked off in the direction Marlow had gone.
The cop leaned against the counter and brushed his hair behind his ears as he settled into his favorite form of teasing.
"Really? Kids with your looks are rare around here. I brought one in who boasted he was worth at least eight given a few hours to work on it." Ramsey narrowed his eyes in an almost seductive manner to catch the boy's attention.
"He was an independent too. Don't tell me you couldn't pull that much in a night."
The black-haired boy looked tempted to speak. He furrowed his delicate brows and lifted his chin. "Pocket change," he said with a lift of his chin. Then, relenting, "But I don't do that anymore. Stop mocking me."
Marlow sauntered back in, an unmarked bottle of an undoubtedly alcoholic substance at his lips.
"Is he making fun of your old profession again?"
Duchy made a splendid gesture with his fingers. Meanwhile, the cop was looking towards the balcony where he could see the rotating reflection of the cars' spotlights. He'd been up here long enough. He took the beer bottle from Marlow's hand and poured the rest down the sink.
"I doubt you're of age," he said.
"Not like you enforce it with anybody but me," Marlow spat back.
Ramsey gave him a warning look and headed for the door. "You two get out of here before I decide to be a good cop and take you in." He stopped halfway out the door and turned back.
He winked at Duchy. "Next time, cry," he said.
Porter glared at him as he stepped out of the building.
Ramsey shrugged. "Just a prank I guess."
"Just a prank?" he boss demanded.
Bastian jogged up to them. "What happened? What's Marlow doing on this side of town?"
Ramsey led his partner away from the rest of the officers. He leaned against a car to light up again. "He claimed he was hitting some amateur pushers."
Bastian appeared thoughtful. "Do you think there's something more to it than that? Seems like wiping competition out would be a small thing for him to send Marlow out on."
Ramsey studied his cigarette. "Marlow's harmless to us. He doesn't do any pushing himself, and the guys he hits are usually the ones we're after ourselves. He just knows how to find them." He sighed. He usually didn't have to explain why he kept letting the blond kid go. Marlow was used to having free rein from his boss, and pulling stunts like this was usually his idea of a fun night.
He pulled on Bastian's arm to move him towards his partner's car. "We'll search out Marlow tomorrow. I know where he sleeps, if he hasn't moved again. He'll be sloshed by dawn and out like a light, I promise."
Duchy sat on the dirty counter swinging his feet. "God, what I wouldn't give for a bath and a martini." He played with the blue-black locks of his hair.
"How much longer do we have to stay here? You said we could go out tonight to a real club. I want to dance."
Marlow lounged on the floor, spinning an empty bottle. "Until the cops clear out. We'll go. I promised didn't I?"
His friend hopped down from his perch and came to sit on the floor with him. Duchy was thinking about the tall cop. Despite how much they liked to tease and taunt him, he and Marlow knew well enough that Val Ramsey was one hell of a sleuth if he could catch just the right scent.
And with the Big Boss on the move, pranks like these would be getting dangerous.
"Ramsey says they're charging up to eight now," he sighed.
Marlow looked up at him. "Don't, Duchy-"
"I've been out of it for a while, but I bet I could top that eventually-"
"Hey." Marlow reached up and pulled his friend's chin to look at him. "You promised you wouldn't. Don't you remember what happened that made you stop?"
"That's a lot of money, Liefje," Duchy answered softly.
Ramsey finally made his way to his own apartment around four in the morning. Bastian had graciously offered to cover the paperwork, though he wasn't being entirely selfless. The new intern was pretty, and this was her first night assignment. There was no doubt that his wonderful, polite British partner was going to offer her some company.
He sighed as he unlocked his door, entered and then kicked it closed.
Home was dark and cool. There were no lights on signaling someone waiting for him to come home, no sleepy greeting from the darkened bedroom. He hadn't heard a greeting like that in years.
Ramsey neglected to turn on the lights- the dim glow at night always reminded him of her and how she'd never let it get completely dark, even as they slept.
But time for that had passed years ago. That was old pain, better off not thought of. He had long gotten used to the dark and being the only one.
The was a small white flash in the near-dark, followed by the tingle of a bell on a collar. Well, almost the only one. He picked the black and white cat up and cradled it to his chest as he toed his boots off on his way to the kitchen.
"Dinner?" he asked the purring cat softly. "Cold pizza?"
He yielded that thought and poured dry cat food into a bowl and set it skidding across the linoleum floor. The cat went mewing after it into the darkness.
The cat forgotten, he made his way to the bedroom. "What are you up to?" he mused aloud. He fell back on the bed with a sigh and figured he would eat sometime later.
"Why endanger your best in something like this?" Why Marlow?
Marlow groaned and batted at the hands that pulled him from his sleep. "Cut it out, Dutch..."
A hand smacked his cheek and he shot up, automatically reaching for the non-existent gun under the couch cushion. He glared up into Ramsey's face, reaching to cover his nakedness with the coverlet Duchy had snatched from the bedroom last night.
"Rise and shine, punk."
"What the fuck?" Marlow yelped, sitting up as best he could all tangled in his blankets as he was. He caught a glimpse of Duchy moving about the tiled kitchen, singing to himself. Another man that he didn't recognize stood next to the glass top dining table. He had reddish chestnut hair and was wearing a starched white shirt, black slacks and a shoulder gun holster. He was watching Marlow with a raised eyebrow.
Leaning over him, Ramsey neglected as usual to look like a cop. He wore his customary black, though from underneath peeked the collar of a white shirt open over his throat and upper chest. A small silver cross Marlow hadn't noticed before rested slightly below his collar bone from a fine chain.
Ramsey sat back next to him on the couch, toying with the gun that Marlow had made to reach for. "Imagine a place like this and you don't even sleep in the bed."
"Mijn Liefje and I never make it to the bed, Beautiful," came the expected chirp from the kitchen.
Ramsey looked about the comfortable apartment. High-rise lofts like these were not a place one would expect to find two young street kids who fit the bill of what was hip and fashionable in underground youth. The room was, of course, lavish enough to satisfy the high standard tastes of the few wealthy yuppies that still populated this side of town. The furniture in the living area was some gray brush weave with a subtle print, and the lamp stands were polished brass with glass surfaces.
Ramsey had already propped his feet up on the coffee table.
Marlow was bunching up the feather comforter around himself in preparation to get up. Ramsey gestured to the room. "Your boss sets you up nicely, doesn't he?"
Marlow snatched the gun from him but the cop had already removed the bullets. "Fuck you," he snarled, tossing the useless weapon to the floor. "What are you doing here?"
"I want to know more about what you were doing last night in that old building."
"There's nothing to know," the kid answered, rubbing his face.
Duchy came in, sucking on his fingers. "It's not the building, Sugar, it's the area."
Marlow shot him a cold, silencing look.
Bastian roused himself. "Almost sounds as if you want your boss caught."
"He's not my boss," Duchy snapped, resisting Marlow, who was tugging his arm to pull him back, as if trying to get him physically out of the conversation. Duchy indignantly slapped the blond's hands away from him. He straightened his navel-revealing tanktop and gracefully excused himself back to whatever he was cooking.
Marlow rubbed his face again and stood up, wrapping the blankets around his waist with clipped, annoyed movements, obviously very displeased at being woken up at such an unholy hour as eight in the morning.
"How did you get in here anyway? Duchy let you in?"
"I'm a sucker for a handsome face," the raven-haired boy put in from the kitchen. "How did I know he didn't come here to fuck me?"
Bastian cleared his throat uncomfortably, but Ramsey just looked bored with their conversation.
Marlow grumbled something else under his breath and made his way to the other end of the loft down a hallway that they assumed led to a bedroom or shower.
Ramsey sat back on the couch and fingered the gun he'd picked up from the floor. Bastian sat next to him and looked around.
"Nice place," he said softly to avoid the ears of the boy in the kitchen. "What do you suppose they do for Reika?"
"Marlow does a number of things I'm willing to bet," his partner answered. "We've just never caught him right in the act."
"What about the other one?"
"Duchy's just along for the ride." He looked off through the open bar to see the black-haired kid moving about with dishes, singing softly to himself again. He kept his voice low.
"I'm not quite sure where Marlow picked him up from. We can't find anything on him except that he was arrested once for selling downtown. After he met up with Marlow he disappeared for about a year. He was one of the best, or so he boasts."
"And he doesn't work for Reika?"
Ramsey shook his head. "I doubt it. I'm not even sure the big guy knows about him. Could be one of Marlow's best kept secrets."
"He's pretty," Bastian commented idly.
"Mmm." Ramsey kept forgetting that his partner was still new to this group; they'd only been assigned together for a few months now. Things had been quiet except for the common crime in the nighttime streets- muggings, murders. Things that had become so common they were virtually untrackable. Prostitution at least was enforced with a vengeance, even more than homicide. That at least could still be stopped. After all, a dead body was already dead once you found it. But pretty faces just weren't to be found in this place anymore, that was why prices were as high. Supply was low; these groups catered to the rich and corrupt; the only ones who could afford it.
This was Bastian's second time in dealing with Marlow, but he'd had to hear about or deal with Reika and his spider web of 'businesses' at one time or another. Everyone had.
"I don't think he's pushing drugs anymore. That would be below him," Ramsey mused, speaking of Marlow.
"You don't think he's whoring out, do you?"
Ramsey snorted a laugh, but the sound was humorless. "Certainly not." As far as he knew Marlow had never walked that path. But Duchy had been an independent, though nowadays those had all but disappeared. They had either been bought out or done away with because of their competition. "Not for Reika at least," he finished quietly.
If only they could ever get anything out of Marlow besides riddles and games. But no. Despite how he loved to play around, the kid was his boss's minion first. He was friendly with Ramsey with the confidence that he was clean, which maddened the cop to no end. Ramsey slammed his fist on the coffee table in a sudden show of frustration. If only they could catch him at it, whatever it was.
"Mmm, you need a vacation, don't you Sugar?" Duchy leaned over the back of the couch and draped his arms over Ramsey's shoulders, nuzzling his cheek. "How about the beach? I could rub you down," he purred, playing with the lapels of the cop's coat. "You always wear so many clothes?"
The blond ignored the boy's proximity and the smell of the oranges Duchy had been slicing. He pulled out a cigarette and lit up. "Tell me, Duchy, why do they call you that?"
The boy laughed. "Omdat ik een Nederlandse jongen ben, stom," he said, batting at the smoke.
Bastian raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"He said because he's Dutch, moron." Marlow had emerged from the hall, half-dressed and rubbing his wet hair with a towel.
The boy nuzzled Ramsey’s ear and walked two fingers up his neck into his hair. “Leuke ook. Ik weet u me wilt.“
“Duchy,” Marlow admonished. The other boy tsk’ed and let off at the scolding, and Marlow threw the wet towel at him. He then turned on the cops. "Now get out or I'll have you thrown out."
Duchy hung on his arm. "Shall I call the cops, Leifje?"
Marlow pinched his cheek and disengaged himself. "And you can go with 'em for all I care."
"Can I?" Duchy latched his arms tightly around the blond cop's neck and lipped a lock of blond hair in-between his teeth and chewed on it. Marlow scowled at the gesture but said nothing. "Oh but wait-" He let go of Ramsey and moved to Bastian, reaching out to finger the chestnut locks at the base of his neck. "He's got a pretty voice."
Bastian gave a slightly pleading look to his partner, who was already heading for the door. They wouldn't be able to get anything out of these two, not now anyway, and there was no doubt they would have to hunt out Marlow again after having found this place. Surely the kid would move soon, today perhaps, but they were running out of nice high-rises to hide in.
"Fucking cops!" Marlow scowled, stabbing his food. "Why the hell do they have to be so nosy?"
Duchy set another plate down on the bar where Marlow sat and wiped his hands on a towel. "Your fun last night attracted their attention. They'd thought you'd split the city already." He delicately sniffed an orange slice before sucking on it.
"Yeah well. I can't have that, now can I? Where's the fun then, if no one knows you're around?"
There were slurping noises. "This business with Reika is enough without getting Ramsey pissed at you. You make it harder on yourself."
Marlow's brown eyes had fallen to where Duchy had leaned against the counter, sucking his fingers. "I can handle Reika. You make it hard on me with all the little comments you make to your loverboy there." He watched his lover pick up another orange slice from the cutting board.
Duchy shrugged. "I figure a little push couldn't hurt." More slurping. His tongue darted out to clean his lips. Marlow had lowered his fork in watching him.
"Come here, beautiful," he said reaching for him.
The black-haired boy obeyed, licking his lips again and reaching for the towel to clean his sticky hands. "What did you call me?" he said with a grin, letting Marlow's arms pull him to stand between the blond's knees.
"Beautiful..." Marlow purred, bending and nuzzling the bare part of Duchy's stomach. "My gorgeous, sexy little..."
"Bullshit," Duchy whispered, his hands coming up to ruffle Marlow's shaggy bangs. "Don't pull that romantic crap on me. You always want a fuck in the morning."
Marlow sat up. "Don't you?" He sounded somewhat surprised.
Duchy chewed his finger and smiled impishly as only he could. "Anything you want. You know that."
"Do I?" Marlow nipped at his neck.
Duchy sucked at his throat and remained with his head bent there for a few moments before sighing and relaxing into Marlow's arms. "What will you do? With that area clear it will be another hotspot for yuppies in a year. And if you don't find out what's pissed Reika off-"
"He wants to move in his top-notch classies and make a casino or something if they're gonna clear the land out," Marlow said, cutting him off. "I told you, I can handle Reika."
Duchy had pulled from his embrace. "I wish you wouldn't."
The black-haired boy moved away to the large window that gave a view several stories above street level. "I wish you would just forget all of it," he said.
Marlow rubbed his denim-clad thighs. "We've been through this already." He took a breath to gain control of the volume of his voice. He continued, softly. "I've been doing this long since before I knew you-"
"And you'll be doing it long after too, I suppose!" the black-haired boy suddenly said, spinning around. "Liefje, if he knows, if that's why he's acting this way-"
The other rubbed his temples. "Fine. Nevermind. Just finish your breakfast and I'll go start packing."
part 2 | back to main