A C21 Story
What's a C21 operative to do when his partner is kidnapped by Barone, the man who runs a prostitution ring Tate and Gwen are trying to shut down? In Tate Butler's case, he unwillingly hooks up with Van Layton, an FBI agent and his ex-lover, to find Gwen, the daughter of Tate's handler. First, they need to locate where Barone has her hidden. Barone is also, according to Van, a drug dealer Van plans on putting out of business.
Can Tate and Van put aside their splintered past to find Gwen and stop Barone? Or will working together only destroy the last vestiges of what they once felt for each other?
It was midafternoon when Tate squatted down beside an old man leaning against the concrete wall. After getting a few hours’ sleep, only because he knew if he didn’t he’d be worthless for what he had to do, Tate had begun approaching homeless people, showing them photos, asking them if they had seen Barone or Gwen -- as well as Hicks, even though he was dead. If Hicks had been spotted anywhere in the slum areas around downtown, it could be because he was visiting somewhere Barone used as a hideaway. There was a fourth photo as well, of a woman who had promised to help him and Gwen, and then disappeared.
The man looked at him askance, as if fearing Tate was going to lecture him about getting off the streets. Or start preaching to him, even though Tate was dressed in a pair of older jeans, and a blue work shirt covered by a lightweight jacket.
Smiling, to ease the man’s wariness, Tate said, “I could use your help, if you’re willing. Umm, Mr. ...?”
“Say what? Help? Man, I ain’t got nothing I can afford to share. And the name’s Connor. Mr. Connor.” He smiled, revealing toothless gums. “What’s yours?”
“Tate. And not that kind of help, Mr. Connor. I’m looking for someone.”
“Like a runaway kid? Uh-uh, I don’t help anyone trying to grab them back, if you get my drift.”
“Not a kid.” Tate took four pictures from his jacket pocket, handing two of them to the man. “Have you seen either of these women around here recently?”
Mr. Connor looked at the pictures, then at Tate, and back to the pictures. “Not family. They don’t look like you. Your wife run out on you, Tate?” He tapped Gwen’s photo.
“No. I’m not married. She’s someone I work with and she went missing late last night. We were trying to help the other girl.” Not quite the truth, but it would suffice for now.
“Ain’t seen either of them.”
“How about these guys?” Tate handed him photos of Barone and Hicks.
After studying them for a long moment, Mr. Connor tapped Hicks’ picture. “Seen him around on and off. Not in this area. More like down ... shit ... other side of downtown if I remember rightly. They got something to do with your missing women?”
“They might.” Tate put the pictures back in his pocket and took out a couple of bills, handing them to the man. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Connor.” He got up, intending to quiz a few more men who were sitting or lying against the buildings farther down the street.
“Hey,” Mr. Connor called out when Tate was a few yards away. Tate went back and the man said, “You should look for a guy calls himself Lay. He travels around the city a lot. He might have seen those dudes, or your ladies. Don’t recall Lay’s last name, if he has one, but all of us who live on the streets know who he is.”
“Is he a social worker?”
Mr. Connor snorted. “Naw. He’s down-and-out like the rest of us, only he ain’t staked his claim in one area of the city.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Skinny, but then most of us who’re legit are. Maybe your height, your age. Hair’s too long and he needs a shave.” The old man rubbed his hand over his own beard. “Not as bad as me though.” He smirked.
“Thanks. I’ll keep an eye open for him.”
* * * *
Lay watched the store across the street from his perch on a wall between two old houses in a rundown neighborhood of the city, a few blocks from one of the homeless teen drop-in spots. It was around five in the evening and he was thinking about heading back downtown to panhandle, since sitting here was getting him nowhere at the moment.
Hopping off the wall, he started down the sidewalk when he saw a couple of men he knew from his wanderings through the area. Do I want company, or not?
One of them, Jon, was pushing an overflowing grocery cart. His friend, Pat, had a large, very battered, backpack slung over one shoulder.
“Hey, Lay,” Jon called out. “We got a bottle, if you want to share.”
“Thanks, but not right now. I got places to go and things to do.”
“Downtown?” Pat asked.
“Be careful. There’s some guy been asking about you.”
Lay frowned. “Cop?”
“Naw, I don’t think so. He told Jamie that old Connor said you might be able to help him with something.”
“Okay. Thanks for the heads-up. Any idea what he looks like?”
“Nope,” Jon replied. “‘Cept Jamie said he’s young, about your age, and his name is ... Tate. Yeah, that’s it. Tate.” He shrugged.
No fucking way. What the hell is he doing here? Lay forced himself to chuckle, saying, “That could be half the guys downtown over the age of consent,”-- despite his dismay at knowing Tate was around here -- and looking for him. But he can’t know ‘Lay’ is me. Can he?