Christopher, Craig & Co.
Part 107: Luck.
Leatherman was dead. It was odd. I was having a hard time imagining him gone. I’d miss his harassing yet friendly phone calls. And what would become of the Club? Granted, our friendship had drifted, but when the chips were down I always knew I could count on him.
“You know, if you don’t want to talk about this tonight, we don’t have to,” Wade was saying.
I was jarred from my musings. I had sat down at my desk in the den to check my messages after Scott dropped Wade and me off at home, though I never got that far. The heck with it. Anything would keep until morning.
“Tell you what; let’s get into pajamas and then we can talk about anything you want to talk about. But let’s not do it in here.”
“You have a thing about serious conversations in this den, you know that?”
I nodded. He was right. “This room is usually where I hypnotize guys. Including you,” I added quietly.
“Okay, I’ll meet you in your bedroom in a few.”
I watched him tear up the stairs and then bounded up to the bedroom. I shucked off my clothes and pulled on a T-shirt and sleep pants, then set about straightening up the bed.
A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. “Okay to come in?”
“You bet,” I called.
Wade was wearing flannel pants, a sweatshirt and a pair of brightly colored socks. He bounced onto the bed and landed on his stomach. I sat on the side.
“So, what is it you’d like to discuss, Wade?”
“Well, I don’t want to bring up bad memories, Chris.”
“There are a lot of things I don’t like to think about or talk about, but I’m giving you full access tonight. Ask me what you want to know.”
Wade laughed nervously. “I don’t know where to start.”
I waited. I instinctively knew what he was going to want to talk about, but I wasn’t going to push him until he was ready.
“Why did you hypnotize me?”
“You asked me to.” That answer was a dodge, but it was not untrue.
“I remember that. At the Club. I asked you to make me like Bootboy.”
I nodded. “Leatherman asked me to meet the boy of a friend of his. You were not what I expected.”
Wade rolled onto his side and propped his head on his hand. “What do you mean?”
“You were so obviously mistreated and undernourished. I knew there was no way I was sending you back to Donald.”
“But you made me forget Donald for a while.”
“I had intended for it to be more than a while, Wade. The more I helped you block those memories, the healthier and more well-adjusted you became. You even forgot about the attack that started it all at the time.”
“I remember that now. I remember it all now. And I’m not mad, Chris. I get why you did what you did. But I didn’t know you had had the same thing happen.”
“It was similar.” I cleared my throat. “We were both abused.”
Wade sat up tailor-fashion. “How did you meet Richard?”
“Well, you have to understand a couple things about that. When I met Richard I was nineteen and naïve. And Richard was wealthy and worldly and older and more experienced. And believe it or not he was charming. He was charming right until I spent a night at his house. And then I wasn’t able to leave.”
Wade looked a bit shaken.
“I know you saw a bit of that tape. I wish you hadn’t. I don’t want you to be upset by it.”
“I’m not upset for me, if that’s what you mean. I just don’t understand how someone could treat you—could treat anyone—like that.”
“I didn’t know it then, but Richard is a narcissist and a sociopath. It’s all about him, no matter who gets hurt. And unfortunately tonight it seems that Leatherman was the latest victim.”
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Wade said.
“Thank you. He and I really were good friends for a long time. We grew apart.” I chewed my lip. “Well, maybe I grew up and grew a conscience.”
“Is that why you don’t hypnotize Scott like you did Craig?”
My eyes widened. “You’re really asking the hard stuff here tonight, Wade.”
He smiled. “You don’t have to answer.”
I moved to sit up against the headboard with my legs straight out on the bed. “No, I said I would answer your questions and I will keep my word. Craig started out as a fling with a guy who wanted to try being submissive and who was into the idea of hypnosis. I started going down the wrong path. I learned from Richard, after all. But things shifted when I realized I was falling in love with Craig.”
“But Craig cheated on you.”
“Craig wasn’t in the same place in life that I was. I don’t think he was ready for commitment. He wanted to have fun. I got serious.”
“You’re blaming yourself for him cheating?”
“Not at all. But looking back I think ‘Christopher & Craig’ was doomed. But that worked out because you introduced me to your friend Scott.”
“Who wasn’t really who I thought he was.”
I studied Wade’s face. The smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks always made him appear younger than his actual age. His brown eyes were watching me plaintively. “Scott did all right by you and me, Wade. Between us, I think he took a lot of heat at work for telling us the truth.”
I nodded. “From what I gather that was one rule he wasn’t supposed to break. But you’re right, I’m not going to hypnotize Scott. Just like I won’t hypnotize you again. The real relationships in my life need to be based on more than how much I can control someone.”
“What about Andrew? And Mike? And Austin? And the others?”
“Some of them need my help at this point. And I wouldn’t rule hypnosis out. But it’s been a crazy couple of years here. I think we could all use a little more normal in our lives.”
Wade swung around on the bed and sat shoulder to shoulder with me. He crossed his ankles.
“Fun socks,” I commented.
“I think I kind of picked that up from you,” he said, wrinkling his nose. “Socks can be fun and crazy.”
“Is there anything you want to ask me?” he asked in a small voice.
I nudged him with my shoulder. “You usually tell me what you want me to know when you’re ready to.”
He pushed back playfully. “You noticed that?” he said with a laugh.
“You can always tell me anything, Wade. But since you asked, do you remember everything clearly?”
He nodded. “I think so. Anything I don’t remember at this point is probably just as well.”
I nodded absently. “There’s one other thing. You were with Andrew and now you’re with Austin… You’re being safe, right?”
“I can’t believe you asked that,” he said. “Yes, I’m always safe. I was lucky I didn’t get anything from Donald. I’m not taking any chances.”
Wade slid down the headboard a little and rested his head on my shoulder. “I’m really lucky you were who Leatherman introduced me to that night.” He yawned.
“I think we were both due for a change in our luck.”
“Are you really gonna adopt me?” Wade sounded half-asleep now.
“I will happily. But only if it’s something you want.”
“I think I want to be Wade Thompson Boldt.”
“I’d like that,” I whispered, swiping at my eyes. I stroked his hair a few times and then could hear from his breathing that Wade had fallen asleep.
To be continued in Part 108…
Christopher, Craig & Co.
Part 108: Dungeon.
The next morning by the time I woke both Scott and Wade were gone for the day. I did the domestic routine: laundry, vacuuming, grocery shopping; and on my way home from the store I drove past Leatherman’s Club.
I had spent a lot of my social life in that building over the past few years. The place wouldn’t be the same without him. I knew Scott would be furious if I tried to break in today to get a look around. But there was nothing saying we couldn’t go there while it was open for business…
“Absolutely not!” Scott crossed his arms and leaned against the kitchen doorjamb. “Do you have a death wish? The body count is rising in this town like we’re in some horror movie.”
“Leatherman isn’t just another slasher victim. If Richard is the reason he’s dead, then we have to bring him to justice.”
“Look who’s suddenly all about truth and justice.”
“He was my friend, Scott.”
“I know. And that’s why you should stay as far away from Richard as possible. The club is under surveillance. Sooner or later Richard will make a mistake. All criminals do.”
I grinned. “But if the club is under surveillance that means it would be perfectly safe for you and me to go there tonight.”
Scott shook his head. “I know this is a mistake.”
I stood toe to toe with him. “I’ll make it worth your while when we get home.”
He pulled me toward him until we were chest to chest. “Don’t forget you said that.”
Leatherman’s Club was hopping when we arrived. Of course, none of the revelers here tonight knew what had happened to Leatherman. I wondered if many of them even knew who he was.
I could feel the thudding of the bass in my chest as we walked through the front door and surveyed the crowd. Scott had changed into low-slung black jeans, a black T-shirt that was two sizes too small and a pair of black boots. If I hadn’t been the reason we were coming to the Club tonight I probably would have pounced on him before we left the house. I was in my typical club drag—boots, jeans, crisply pressed button-down shirt. I felt Scott’s palm at the small of my back and let him lead me toward the bar where he ordered us drinks.
I was still scanning the crowd looking for familiar faces. I admit I hadn’t been frequenting the bar since Richard had usurped running the place, but much of the crowd tonight was unfamiliar to me. I felt a bit removed from it all. They were young and on the prowl and I was neither.
It was then that my eyes fell on Bootboy. It always strikes me funny how your mind can play tricks on you. For a moment I imagined Mitch Driver looking like he did when I first met him—boyish, with a mop of brown hair and warm brown eyes. He had a thin build, though he obviously worked out, and in socks he was probably 5′9ish. He was an ex-Marine and, unbeknownst to me at the time, an undercover detective. Leatherman had introduced me to him because Mitch had said he was interested in learning hypnosis. Though he was pretending to be gay when I met him, he actually had a girlfriend at the time. His true feelings about homosexuals came to light early on in our time together and I admit the bad angel on my shoulder won that round. I’m not proud of the transformation I forced on him.
Of course, Leatherman went even farther than I did. He took the new and improved Mitch on as his Bootboy, eventually tattooing “Property of Leatherman” on the sole of his right foot and keeping him as his sometime pet, sometime slave.
I strode toward him, picking my way through the crowd. Up close, Mitch looked a little older and a little careworn to me tonight. He was dressed in leathers and boots and his hair was growing out from a buzz cut. I wondered if he knew about Leatherman.
“Mitch!” I called to him.
I could see recognition spark in his eyes. “You shouldn’t be here,” he said.
I leaned toward his ear. “Mitch, are you ok?”
“Everything is fine. Everything is under control,” he replied mechanically.
“Mitch, I heard about Leatherman. Are you doing ok? I was worried about you.”
“Everything is fine,” he repeated. “Everything is under control.”
I reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. “If you need anything, you know you can call me.”
“Everything is fine. Everything is under control.” Mitch’s grip tightened on my hand.
I studied his expression. He seemed so blank. No trace of emotion; no recognition of the death of his—for lack of a better word—partner. Yet he was not releasing my hand.
“Mitch,” I began. His expression didn’t change. “Bootboy?” I tried. No response. I leaned into his right ear. “Polish your boots,” I said.
I saw him waver. My old trigger phrase for him was still active. With the booming music and crowd of drinkers and dancers, this was hardly the place to try to hypnotize him. Still, there had been a flicker in his eyes when he heard the familiar phrase.
Scott approached us, holding a glass in each hand. “What’s going on?”
“This is Mitch, Leatherman’s companion,” I said by way of explanation. “Mitch, is Richard King here tonight?”
“Mr. King has not been seen at the Club tonight.”
I frowned. Could I trust him? Would he even know for sure? “Can we go into Leatherman’s office?”
Mitch did not release my hand. He turned and led the way through the crowd toward the door marked PRIVATE. He produced a key and turned it in the lock then led the way into the back area of the club.
Nothing had changed here at all. Everywhere I looked I could see Leatherman in this room, drinking, toasting, laughing. In that moment I missed my friend.
I didn’t have time to mourn right now. I shut the door and was thankful for how soundproof the back are of the club was. “Mitch, polish your boots. Polish your boots, Mitch.”
Mitch began to sway on his feet. I walked him toward one of the leather couches.
“Sit down, Mitch. Polish your boots. Let go. That’s right. Feel the welcome relaxation washing over you. Let your mind drift. Polish your boots.”
Mitch slumped into the couch.
“Look around,” I mouthed to Scott as I began to do the same. I ducked behind the private bar. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary or out of place.
Scott set the two drinks on the coffee table and rifled through a stack of mail which had been carelessly tossed there.
“Mitch,” I called, “are you aware of what has happened to Leatherman?”
“Leatherman is gone,” he said softly.
“Gone?” I repeated. “Gone where?”
“Master King will not tell me.”
I gasped. Bastard. “That’s ok. Have you been hurt or injured in any way since Leatherman left?”
“What has,” I paused, “MISTER King asked you to do?”
“I am to oversee operations of the Club until I receive further instructions.”
In the grand scheme of hypnosis from Richard, that seemed innocuous. Maybe Mitch Driver had gotten off lucky so far. I had a hard time believing it though.
“Chris,” Scott hissed.
I whipped around. He was standing by the bank of security monitors. I joined him.
“We’re on camera,” he said quietly.
I frowned. I hadn’t thought of that. I looked at each of the screens. The Club appeared to have gotten more crowded. The dance floor was packed, and the men were three deep waiting at the bar. Scott, Mitch and I were covered by two angles in the office. The camera over the back entrance showed an empty parking pad.
And the last screen was a surprise. I didn’t recognize the room on that screen at all.
“Mitch, open your eyes and walk to me.”
He jerkily got to his feet and paced toward Scott and me.
I pointed at the bottom right screen. “Where is this room?”
“The dungeon is downstairs,” he said sleepily.
I turned to Scott. “Leatherman never had a dungeon.”
He held up his hands to me as if to say he had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
I whispered in his ear, “Should we take a look?”
Scott shook his head no.
“Richard isn’t here right now. This may be our only chance.”
Scott leaned into my ear. “Five minutes. Then we come upstairs and leave this Club.”
“Deal.” I took a breath. “Mitch, lead the way to the dungeon.”
Mitch shambled toward a door that as far as I ever knew led to storage and again inserted a key and turned the knob.
A dimly lit staircase led down behind the door. It was impossible to make out what was in the shadows at the bottom. I followed Mitch, with Scott directly behind me.
At the bottom of the stairs I could see the surveillance camera mounted on the wall. I stopped Mitch and reached into my pocket, retrieving a handkerchief. In a matter of moments, I had secured the handkerchief over the camera lens.
Scott and I proceeded into the dungeon. He flicked on the flashlight on his phone and swept it around the vast space. This was no small area and no half-assed sex room. Richard had to have spent a pretty penny outfitting this area. There was bondage furniture and what I assumed were custom torture pieces. There were shackles on the wall and ceiling, and assorted sizes of cages.
I shut my eyes. Bad stuff had happened here and would continue happening here until Richard was stopped.
“Chris,” Scott whispered urgently, “We need to go. Now.”
I nodded. “Lead the way upstairs, Mitch.”
Mitch turned and Scott waited while I grabbed the handkerchief off the camera. We took the steps two at a time and met Mitch in the office.
“Chris, we need to get out of here,” Scott said in the measured tones he used when he was taking charge and was not open to debate.
I knew if Richard found out Mitch had let me into the office that he would punish Mitch. I couldn’t let that happen. There had to be a way to avoid that.
“Mitch, do you know how to erase the videos recorded by the cameras here?”
“Good! When I count to three you will awaken. And before you may do anything else you will erase the last hour of surveillance video at the entire Club. Do you understand?”
“Good boy. Mitch, do you remember how to get to my house on Greenhill Road?”
“That’s good. If you run into trouble or you need me, you come there immediately. Do you understand?”
Mitch stretched briefly as his eyes focused on me.
“Are you feeling ok, Mitch?”
“Everything is fine. Everything is under control,” he said, then crossed to the computer near the surveillance monitors.
I hated leaving him like this, but I didn’t see much choice. I took Scott’s hand and did my best to keep up with him as he led the way back into the Club and zigzagged through the patrons on the way to the door.
Once we were safely in the car Scott placed his hand on my thigh. “Richard built that dungeon for a reason.”
“I’d say so.”
“If I call it in and CSI can find any evidence that it’s where Leatherman died then we have a crime scene and can look for physical evidence linking Richard to it.”
“You know as well as I do that Richard will lawyer up and say the dungeon is in his Club and any physical evidence could be weeks old.”
Scott squeezed my leg. “He won’t get away with this.”
I was running a mental tally. Since Richard returned he had hypnotized Craig, Nick, Leatherman and Mitch. Wade had been kidnapped. It turned out Mike’s movie contract had been owned by Richard. And he had sent that old home movie of me to Scott. My inner circle was being systematically attacked. I was the common thread in all of this. Why had Richard come back? What did he want from me? Where was all of this going?
There was only one way to find out. I was going to have to talk to Richard.