The Way You Say My Name Ch. 17

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It took almost an hour for Dillon to get Jamie calmed down. The minute he’d laid eyes on Mitchell Harding, Jamie had started hyperventilating. Dillon tried everything he could to convince Jamie that he wasn’t staring into the face of a dead man, but Jamie’s panicked brain couldn’t absorb the information, not in the state he was in. In the end, Dillon had little choice but to let Jamie’s panic attack run its course. Dillon let out a deep breath when Jamie’s own breathing returned to normal.

Dillon took a second to study Mitchell, who was sitting in one of their living room chairs. His resemblance to Ben was uncanny, but now that the initial shock was over, even Dillon could see some differences. Whereas Ben’s hair had been short and spiky, Mitchell’s hair was longish, clasped with a leather cord at the back of his neck. Ben’s face had been unmarked perfection, but Mitchell had a wicked scar running the length of his right cheek from the corner of his eye to his chin. And there were other differences as well, like the more muscular build of Mitchell’s body and the deeper tone of his voice as he apologized, yet again, for sending Jamie over the edge.

Mitchell looked to Jamie, who was sitting on the couch next to Dillon, still wheezing slightly. “I am so, so sorry, man. I had no idea I was gonna trip you out like that. When my sister told me you wanted to see me and that it had something to do with Ben, I came straight to Reed. I didn’t even think about calling first.”

Dillon waved away the apology with one hand while the other moved in slow circles across Jamie’s slightly turned back, trying to soothe and comfort him as best he could. “You don’t have to apologize, Mitchell. This wasn’t your fault.”

“Please, call me Mitch.” Dillon nodded and made formal introductions for himself and Jamie. Mitch pushed a stray lock of hair away from his forehead, the leather of his jacket creaking as he moved. Crossing one faded, jean-clad leg over the other and picking at the heel of one black boot, Mitch inclined his head towards Jamie. “What caused him to freak?”

Was he kidding? Dillon tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “Not to be insensitive or anything, but you have to admit that you and Ben could pass for twins.”

Pain clouded Mitch’s warm brown eyes. “Shit. I didn’t even think about that.” His whiskey-smooth voice lowered an octave. “I used to think Ben and I favored a lot, but then, after I got this scar–” His hand moved unconsciously to his cheek and Dillon had the feeling the memory was as vicious as the scar itself. “Well, anyway, I guess I just didn’t think.” He looked at Jamie again. “Is he gonna be okay?”

Jamie sat up, using Dillon for leverage and holding on to him like a lifeline. “I’m okay. Sorry about that, going all crazy on you, I mean. It’s just, for a minute there . . .” Jamie’s voice was so low, Dillon wondered if Mitch could hear it. “For a minute, I thought you were Ben.”

“I understand. You and my brother, you were tight, then?”

“Yeah.” Jamie stopped for a second, gathering himself together. “He was my best friend. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”

Mitch shifted in his chair, his movements slow and measured. Even Dillon, a total stranger, could tell that the guy was grieving. But if he cared so much about his brother, why hadn’t he seen him in over two years? Why the breach?

Before Dillon could pose the question, Mitch said, “How did my brother die? Lily told me something about a drunk driving accident, and that a couple of ‘fags’–her words, not mine–wanted to see me because they thought I might know something about his death. She gave me your names and a cell phone number, told me you lived in the town of Reed, and nothing much else.”

Jamie was about to say something, but Mitchell’s last statement raised a question in Dillon’s mind. “If all Lily gave you were our names and a cell number, how did you find us?”

Mitch sighed. “It wasn’t easy, believe me. I’ve been trying to pin you down for almost two days now. I knew that Ben’s foster mother was a woman named Slater, but when I found her house, some guy told me she’d moved. I finally tracked her down at the realtor’s office where she works, but she refused to give me your address. Said she didn’t want me hurting you the way I hurt Ben.” His voice dropped again, and he lowered his eyes. “As if I could.” He came back up to meet Jamie’s gaze. “Anyway, when she wouldn’t tell me anything, I tried looking you both up in the phone book.” He smiled, but there was little humor in it. “I must have called every Walker in the book before giving up and trying to find you both under the name Carver. Wouldn’t you know it? I had a hit the first time out. I guess I should have tried Carver first, anyway, since C comes before W.” He grimaced. “Although, after talking to the lady who answered the phone, I almost wish I hadn’t called at all.” He looked at Dillon with more than a little pity. “Your mom is one angry lady.”

Dillon wrinkled his nose. “That’s one conversation I’m glad I kürt porno didn’t hear. I can just imagine what my mother told you. Needless to say, I’m not exactly the favorite son around the Carver house.”

Mitch snorted. “Total understatement, dude. The minute I said your name, your mom went off on a ten minute tear about you and James Walker being shacked up in, what was it she called it? Oh yeah, ‘that Lambert Lane Den of Sin’.” Mitch shrugged. “At least I got your address out of it, even though I had to ask around town before I found the place. Not to mention the fact that it took me forever to spot this apartment behind that big ole house in front.” Mitch gave a sheepish but sincere grin. “Then it took me another couple of hours just driving around town, trying to work up the courage to come knock on your door. I wasn’t even sure I’d have the guts to climb the stairs.”

Jamie spoke, and Dillon was relieved to hear some of the strength returning to his voice. “I understand. It was the same way for me when I knocked on your sister’s door, looking for you.”

Mitch put both feet on the floor, propping his elbows on his knees. “Don’t think I’m not grateful that you came and told us about Ben, but why did you come looking for me? If you and Ben were as close as I think you were, you must have known that I haven’t seen Ben in almost three years.”

“That’s just it, though. I didn’t even know you existed. My best friend in the world had a whole family I didn’t even know about. Why is that?”

Mitch sighed again, this time making the sound of a man torn apart inside. “You’ve met my sister, James. Would you brag about having a family like us? No, Ben did the right thing. He saw a chance to get out and he took it. Good for him.”

As much sympathy as Dillon felt for Mitch and what he’d lost, there was too much riding on what he might know for Dillon to let it go at that. Jamie was too tenderhearted to grill him, but Dillon was determined to get to the truth. “There’s more to it than that, and you know it. You need to tell us what really happened between you and Ben to cause such a split between two brothers who by all accounts cared so much about each other. We also need any information you can give us about Burke Carpenter’s death.”

Mitch went on the defensive. Dillon figured him for a man tired of taking orders. “Oh yeah? You think I drove here from Michigan just to spill my guts to two guys I don’t know from Adam? If I wouldn’t talk to the cops when they came nosing around, what makes you think I’ll talk to you?”

Jamie’s voice came through loud and clear. “Because as soon as we’re done talking to you, we’re going to see the sheriff here in Reed, a guy named Brandon Nash. We’re taking with us evidence of blackmail and murder, and all hell is going to break loose. Which side of all this you’re on when the smoke clears depends on what you tell us within the next five minutes.”

Dillon stared at Jamie in slack-jawed astonishment. So much for underestimating his partner. He should have known better. Jamie might be tenderhearted, but when it came to Ben, he was single minded and determined to a fault.

Mitch was just as astonished but for different reasons. “Whoa. Back up a minute. Like I said before, Lily told me Ben was killed by a drunk driver. How does that tie in with blackmail and murder?”

Jamie spelled it out, going from Barry Sledge and the supposed accident that took Ben’s life, to finding the money and both sets of pictures, to the slashed tire, and then ending with the mismatched jack handle. By the time Jamie was done outlining each point, there was no doubt in Dillon’s mind that Mitch was a believer.

“And you’re sure that this Barry Sledge guy couldn’t have killed Ben?”

Jamie shook his head. “I can’t be sure of anything in all this mess, but, like I said, Barry Sledge swears Ben was already dead when he hit him.”

Mitch raked his hands through his hair, dislodging the leather cord, which fell unnoticed to the floor. He all but tied the silken black waves of his hair in knots as he tried to take it all in. “And the last set of photos you found, you’re sure those are of Burke?”

“As sure as I can be. All I saw was that one photo of him in his folder at the police station.”

More surprise came from Mitch, and Dillon could also see a hint of admiration. “You went through Burke’s folder?”

Jamie blushed. “Um, yeah. That’s how I got your name and number. I sorta swiped a paper listing all the known occupants of Burke’s house at the time of his death.”

Mitch whistled. “That took a whole lot of intestinal fortitude, kid. If the police catch you, you are so screwed.”

“Maybe, but it was worth it. And who are you calling kid? According to your sister, you’re only two years older than me.”

Mitch’s eyes took on a faraway, almost wistful gleam. “According to the calendar, I’m two years older than you. But the way I’ve lived, the things I’ve seen . . . it ages you.” He cleared his throat and came back to the present. “What do you want from me?”

Dillon took that one. “We want the truth about all of it, from your split with Ben to the night Burke died, anything that might tell us whether or not Burke killed Ben in retaliation for the blackmail.”

Mitch balked. “You think Burke killed Ben for blackmailing him? No way. Burke was a slime ball, sure, but he didn’t have the balls to kill anybody.”

“He could have hired someone to do it.”

Mitch shook his head. “You’re not getting my point, James. If Burke really was Ben’s second blackmail victim, why pay Ben off in the first place if Burke was just going to kill him later? Why not do it at the get-go?” When Jamie started to argue, Mitch said, “Before we take this any further, do you think I could take a look at those pictures? It might not even be Burke. You said yourself you couldn’t be sure.” When Jamie hesitated, Mitch went on with, “If you expect me to spill my deepest and darkest secrets to you, you’re gonna have to give me something in return. Trust works both ways.”

Dillon had to admit, the guy had a point. Jamie gave him a small nod and Dillon stood up. “I’ll get ‘em. Jamie asked me to hide them for safekeeping.”

He hated leaving Jamie alone with the guy, even if Mitch did seem sincere enough. Still, Dillon didn’t waste any time retrieving the pictures he’d taped to the back of one of Jamie’s framed sketches. Having a budding architect in the family had its advantages.

Dillon came back in, handing the pictures to Mitch and reclaiming his place beside Jamie. He watched the emotions swirling across Mitch’s face as he flipped through the pictures, finally throwing them down on the coffee table in disgust. “That’s Burke. No doubt about it. The fucker was doing those girls in his own damn bedroom.”

Jamie said, “Are you sure you don’t need to look again. Those pictures have got to be at least two-and-a-half to three years old.”

“What are you talking about? Those pics were taken just a few months ago. Four, maybe. Five tops”

Jamie was on the edge of his seat, literally. “That’s impossible. Ben left Burke years ago. How would he have gotten recent photos?”

Mitch picked up the top picture, wincing at the image on the paper. “There’s no way these pics are two or three years old. See that scar right there?” Dillon and Jamie leaned in and looked to where Mitch’s finger pointed towards a long, narrow gash trailing down the length of Burke’s back. Even in the grainy photo, it was impossible to miss.

Dillon leaned back against the couch. “So he has a scar. So what? How does that prove when the pictures were taken?”

Mitch placed the photo back on top of the pile. “Seven months ago, Burke was in a car accident. Wrapped his Porsche around a tree. That scar came from a piece of jagged sheet metal slicing into his back. Took almost two hundred stitches to sew him up, and he was out of commission for another two months recovering from all his broken bones. That’s why I say those pics had to be taken somewhere in the four to five month time frame.”

Dillon rubbed his fingers over the back of his stiff neck. “Then that leaves us with two choices. Either Ben snuck back to Chicago, set up a camera, and photographed good old Burke in action, or he had someone do it for him.”

Mitch held up two fingers. “I vote for the second scenario. After what happened the night Ben left, I don’t think he would ever willingly have stepped foot in Burke’s house again.” Mitch shuddered. “God knows, I wish I’d had the same choice.”

Jamie’s voice was filled with compassion. “What happened that night, Mitch? It’s obvious that you loved Ben, that you’re nothing like your sister. What happened that pulled you and your brother apart?”

Mitch closed his eyes, but not before Dillon saw the tears. When he opened them again, the tears had been replaced with an iron resolve. Resolve to help bring his brother some justice.

Mitch cleared his throat. “Before I start this, do you think maybe I could have a glass of water?”

Jamie nodded. “I’ll get it.” When he came back in and handed Mitch the glass, Mitch said, “Thanks, man. Talking about this makes my mouth go dry.” He wasn’t kidding. While Jamie was sitting back down, Mitch drained half the glass in one long swallow. Placing it on the table near the pictures, Mitch said, “How much information did you get out of my sister?”

Dillon rolled his eyes. “Depends on what you call information. We know that she was in prison for dealing drugs, and that you and Ben were sent to more than one foster home. Oh, and we know that you aren’t really ‘bent,’ as your sister so elegantly put it.”

Mitch laughed. “Show’s what she knows, huh?” Seeing Jamie’s rounded eyes, he laughed again. “Yeah, I’m gay. I knew I was before I ever started working for Burke.” He cringed. “Didn’t make fucking guys for money any easier, but hey, you do what you gotta do, right?” He shrugged. latin porno “I guess Lily needs to believe that I’m not really gay so she can keep living in that fantasy world of hers. More power to her, but I’m through hiding. Is it hot in here to you?” He pulled off his leather jacket and hung it on the back of his chair, revealing a wide, well-developed chest hidden beneath a tight black t-shirt. “Is that all she told you?”

Jamie said, “No, she also mentioned something about Burke having a partner.”

Again, Mitch did a full body shudder. “Yeah, I’ll get to him in a minute. First I want to answer your question about the night Ben left Chicago. I believe you’ve been honest with me, and now it’s my turn.”

“When Lily went to prison, she blamed Ben for getting her busted.” Mitch sniggered. “Personally, I always figured the little shit did it on purpose, and I was damn proud of him for it. Me and Ben, we were two of a kind. He hated living with Lily and selling that junk on the street corner as bad as I did. When we were busted and CPS moved us into foster care, Ben and I were relieved, especially since the social worker was trying to find a home that would take both of us so we could stay together.” Mitch’s expression turned dark. “If we’d only known what we were walking into, we’d have run away and never looked back.” He shook himself. “Hindsight’s a bitch. Anyway, the lady at CPS found several places that would take us, but each placement was only temporary. And Ben and I weren’t exactly the easiest kids to deal with. Hell, we’d practically raised ourselves, and here were these perfect strangers harping at us to do our homework and go to bed at ten o’clock. We pitched up so much hell, it’s no wonder they couldn’t find a foster home to keep us. Enter good ole Burke.”

Mitch paused, his hands shaking slightly. Dillon wondered how evil Burke had to have been so that just the mention of his name could cause such a reaction from Mitch. But Mitch went on with the story, in spite of the obvious distress he was feeling. “When I first met the guy, I thought he was the answer to all our prayers. Well-spoken, dressed to kill. I thought Burke was a regular Superman, ready to come in and save us. After two weeks in his house, I knew better.” Mitch fidgeted, trying in vain to find a more comfortable position. “I’m not sure how long we were there before he started pimping us out, but I can tell you this, I believe the dirty bastard is roasting in a black pit for the things he made us do. And the hell of it is, no one could do a damn thing to stop him. He had so many freakin’ cops and councilmen on his client list, I honestly think the guy could have screwed a goat on the mayor’s front lawn and gotten away with it.”

Jamie bit his lip. “You and Ben didn’t have anybody you could turn to? No family besides Lily?”

Mitch shook his head. “We didn’t have anybody but each other. And for a while, that was enough. As much as I hated whoring, we made decent money, even if Burke did take most of it. Ben and I saved what we could, hoping one day we’d have enough banked up to make a break for it.” Mitch sighed. “We almost made it, too. And we would have, if it hadn’t been for dear, sweet Uncle Jared.”

Dillon and Jamie said, “Who,” almost in unison.

“Burke’s partner. Uncle Jared. That’s what he called himself, anyway, though I doubt it was his real name. See, he and Burke had a sort of silent partnership. Jared would provide and screen new customers for Burke in exchange for a cut of the profits.”

Dillon said, “If he helped out in the operation, why do you call him a silent partner?”

Mitch fiddled with the leather bracelet he wore on his left wrist–his only jewelry save for the tiny gold hoop in his ear. “Because even though Jared brought in guys, he had nothing to do with the day to day running of the business or the management of the boys. Nope, that was all Burke.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of the front pocket of his t-shirt. Tapping one out with less than steady fingers, Mitch started to light up, then stopped. “Sorry.” He held the cigarette up to Dillon and Jamie. “Do you mind? It helps settle my nerves.”

Normally Dillon would have said no, but the guy was doing them a favor by telling them this. Hearing no protest from Jamie, Dillon said, “Go ahead.” He went in search of an ashtray, finding nothing better to use than an empty soft-drink can. He handed it to Mitch with an apology on his lips. “Sorry, man. It’s all I could find.”

“Works for me.” Mitch set the can on the table next to his water glass and lit the cigarette, striking his Zippo lighter against the leg of his jeans in one fluid motion. He took a long, grateful drag before returning to his story. “Like I said, Jared’s job was to bring in business and screen the customers. Burke was always solid on one thing, and that was no violent stuff. None of that bondage or S and M shit. Not that he was worried about our welfare. No, Burke didn’t want anyone damaging the merchandise.” Mitch took another drag, and Dillon noticed that the shaking had settled somewhat. “Jared must have done a pretty good job screening, because Ben and I were there for almost three years without incident. Then, just before Ben’s sixteenth birthday, everything changed.”

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