WHEN Gabe Vargas first woke up, he didn’t know where he was. Hell, he didn’t know who he was. After taking a deep breath, the crushing pain and antiseptic smell told him everything he needed to know. Slowly opening his eyes confirmed it—he was in the hospital. Again. The light in his room was off, but a few rays of sunshine peeked through the window. It was enough light for him to see he was in a hospital room. The blinds highlighted the institutional-green walls that Gabe was becoming all too familiar with. He tried to relax and remember, but he couldn’t remember how he’d ended up here or what had happened. No matter how hard he tried, the memories would not come.
His friend Cristian Flesh, a detective with the Reno Police Department, had been the one to break the news about Violet. According to Cristian, Gabe and Violet had been attacked in their apartment and had been stabbed several times. Fortunately, a nosy neighbor had heard their screams and called the police. However, by the time the police and EMTs arrived, Violet—his girlfriend and the mother of his son—was dead. Gabe wasn’t much better off, and without the quick actions of the officers and medical team, he would be right there with her.
Gabe shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position. He lay on his side, because his back and ass were bandaged and throbbed with pain. He tried to take a deep breath, but the pain stopped him. As he closed his eyes and let his mind drift, the reality of being a single parent slowly began to take hold. What if he couldn’t be everything his son needed? A boy needed his mother, right? What if Violet’s family tried to take Victor from him? Tears of grief and doubt began to fill Gabe’s eyes. If it weren’t for his son, Victor….
The sound of a throat being cleared made Gabe realize he wasn’t alone in the room, and he quickly wiped away the signs of his emotions. “Who’s there?” he asked. Whoever it was stood at the door, so the shadows obscured their features. Recognition seized Gabe as a man stepped into the light. A wave of emotions crashed over Gabe: fear, anger, grief, and for a moment, unadulterated hate.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you, Gabe.” FBI Agent Drew Bradley walked from the doorway to the middle of the room and stood there with his hands shoved into his coat pockets.
“I got nothing to say to you, Secret Agent Man,” Gabe said sarcastically. Seeing this man was the last thing Gabe needed right now. A fresh sense of loss swept across him. He’d lost Casey, and now Violet. How much grief could one man endure?
“You don’t have a choice,” Drew replied sternly. “I’ve been assigned to this case. To your case.” He was totally straightforward and businesslike.
“What case are you talking about? Why does the FBI care about a couple of spics being attacked?”
“We think the attack on you and Violet is linked to an active FBI case,” Drew answered.
“I don’t give a shit,” Gabe spat. He just wanted to see the back of Agent Bradley’s head going out the door.
“You don’t want to help find the person who tried to kill you? The person who did kill Violet and almost orphaned your son? You want to just slink away and hide? That’s not what you did when Casey was killed.”
Hearing Casey’s name spoken aloud wrenched at Gabe’s heart. He tried to sit up in the bed, but the pain held him back. “Don’t you fucking say his name, Bradley! It’s your fault he’s dead.”
“I know it’s my fault,” Drew admitted. Gabe could see the sadness on Drew’s face, but it didn’t matter to him. “I didn’t ask to be put on this case, Gabe. I know how much you hate me. I asked, I begged my boss to assign someone else to this case. He refused. He wants me here because I know you.”
“He’s a goddamn idiot,” Gabe cursed.
“That may be true,” Drew chuckled. “But that doesn’t change a thing. So I’ll ask you again—are you going to help, or are you going to run with your tail tucked between your legs?”
For a few moments, the silence was palpable. Gabe’s need to seek vengeance for Violet warred with his desire never to have to deal with this man again. After a few moments thought, Gabe’s street roots came through and vengeance won out.
“You know the answer to that, Bradley. You know I’ll do whatever it takes to find the fucker who killed Violet. Even if it means putting up with your sorry ass.”
“I knew it. You’re a good man, Gabriel.”
“This isn’t about me, Bradley. This is about Violet. So what is it you need me to do?”
“I need you to die.”
GABE woke, sweaty and screaming. Trying desperately to see the face of his attacker and not succeeding. He wanted the memories, but not the pain associated with them, the knife slicing into his skin. Piercing, stabbing, slashing his flesh.
He wiped the sweat from his face and lay back down. The door to his bedroom swung open, and Drew asked, “You okay?” as he stepped in.
“Yeah, doing peachy, Bradley.” A feeling of failure swept over him. If only he could remember.
“What do you think?”
“I know it’s difficult, Gabriel. I’m just trying to help.”
“You got no fuckin’ idea what’s going on in my head, Bradley. And there ain’t a goddamn thing you can do to help me.”
Ignoring the rude comment, Drew sat on the side of Gabe’s bed. “Did you remember anything?”
“Nothing new,” Gabe sighed. He threw the blankets back, swung his feet around, and put them on the floor. He put his face in his hands and took a deep breath.
Drew remained sitting, not sure if Gabe wanted to talk or not. Despite their adversarial relationship, there were times when Gabe wanted—or needed—to talk.
It had been four long weeks for both men. They left Reno for Santa Cruz, California, as soon as Gabe was able to travel. Drew’s job was keeping Gabe safe, and his past failure at this task loomed in the back of his mind. Gabe’s only job was to remember the face of the person who attacked him. If the nightmares and lack of memories weren’t enough, faking his death and not being able to say goodbye to Victor and Cristian, kept Gabe up at night.
“So what is it that you need me to do?”
“I need you to die.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Bradley?”
“It’s imperative that everyone, especially your attacker, thinks you are dead.”
“So you’re gonna fake my death?”
“What about Victor?”
“It’s too dangerous to take him with us,” Drew replied.
“You want to trick my son into thinking I’m dead?”
“I don’t like it anymore than you do, but it’s the only way.”
Gabe hated the plan, but didn’t see an alternative. Cristian promised to watch out for Victor. Afterward, an FBI doctor injected Gabe with a drug that lowered his heart rate so he appeared dead. Drew never gave him the details of how he got Gabe out of the hospital and into the temporary safe house. After Gabe regained consciousness, they spent a couple days making sure Gabe was stable, before heading to Santa Cruz. On the morning they left, Gabe caught sight of the local paper that had been left on the kitchen table.
It was eerie reading your own obituary, imagining your family and friends mourning at your funeral.
Finding the attacker hinged on the return of Gabe’s memory. But in the month they’d been in Santa Cruz, Gabe hadn’t recalled anything useful. Memories from that entire night remained hidden, deep in his subconscious. When Gabe wasn’t having nightmares about the attack, he was dreaming of being a mourner at his own funeral service and hearing Victor crying for his Papi. At this point, Gabe didn’t know which nightmare was worse.
Gabe stood up and walked by Drew. Drew glanced up and then quickly looked away. “Geez, Gabriel, do you think you could put some clothes on?
“Hey, this is my bedroom, and you know I sleep in the raw. Don’t be so uptight. You act like you’ve never seen a naked guy before.”
“It’s certainly not something I do on a regular basis,” Drew responded.
Gabe walked into the attached bathroom and splashed water on his face, then turned and pissed in the toilet.
“Couldn’t you have shut the door before you urinated?” Drew asked.
“Again, this is my bedroom and my bathroom. I will do whatever I want, and that includes taking a piss.”
“I don’t know how you can be so comfortable, being naked and performing bodily functions in the presence of another man.”
“Damn, you talk like such a tightass. I bet you do have a tight ass.”
Gabe saw Drew blush a bright red and couldn’t help but chuckle. Gabe grabbed a pair of pajama pants, quickly slipped into them, and walked into the living room of their safe house. He took a seat on a brown leather couch, and Drew followed him and sat on the opposite side of the couch.
Gabe turned on the television and began flipping through the channels. He finally settled on a channel airing Brokeback Mountain. He watched Drew for a reaction.
Drew pulled out a file he’d already looked at more than a dozen times. He wasn’t sure why he kept looking at it, but he kept hoping he would see something he hadn’t seen before. Glancing up at the TV, he took note of Gabe’s choice of programming and resumed studying the file.
The first deaths had occurred four years ago, in Phoenix. An older married couple was stabbed several times and died before the ambulance arrived. The murders were originally handled as a case of burglary gone wrong. Three months later, across the country in New York, almost exactly the same situation—a middle-aged white couple was stabbed to death. A few weeks later, a black couple was stabbed to death in Washington, DC. The close proximity of the last two murders alerted the FBI to a possible connection. A fourth set of murders took place in LA. Based on the similarities in the crime and weapon used, the FBI suspected that they were dealing with the same suspect and connected them to the East Coast murders as well as the murders in Phoenix.
At autopsy, each victim presented the same type of wound pattern. Based on that pattern, it appeared the same type of knife was used in all the killings—a hunting knife with a six-inch, serrated blade. While the victims ranged in ages and races, they all shared one thing. They all engaged in a polyamorous lifestyle—they were all swingers. Physical evidence from the victims’ bodies made it evident that the killer was bisexual. Several of the male victims had signs of recent, consensual, anal intercourse, and all the female victims appeared to have engaged in both vaginal and anal intercourse. Even with all of the physical evidence from the crime scenes and the autopsy results, the FBI had little clue as to who the killer was. He was smart, and used a condom and took it with him. He left no DNA at the scene, and there were no witnesses who saw the victims with a strange man. Without an eyewitness or DNA, the FBI didn’t have a clue who they were looking for. Gabe was the only surviving victim and the only person who might be able to give a description of the killer—if his memory would only cooperate.
Gabe and Violet appeared to be the killer’s seventh set of victims. The fifth and sixth sets of murders took place in Chicago and Dallas, respectively. The MO for Gabe and Violet’s attack seemed to match, and Drew assumed one of them had picked up a man and taken him back to their place for a ménage à trois.
“Did you do that often?” Drew looked up from the file and asked Gabe, as if Gabe had been privy to Drew’s inner thoughts.
Amazingly enough, Gabe knew what Drew was asking. He never took his eyes off the television as he answered. “Not all the time, maybe once a month or so. It was the most fun when we found a bi-guy. But sometimes it was a straight man, and we took turns fucking Violet.”
There were a hundred questions Drew wanted to ask Gabe—but they weren’t about the case. He wanted to know how, and why, Gabe could have sex with men. He wanted to know how he could watch the woman he loved have sex with another man. Instead of asking those questions, he asked one about the case.
“Where would you meet these men?”
“Bars, most of the time. Sometimes we used the Internet.”
“What bars? What sites?”
“Shit, Bradley, we’ve been over this a thousand fuckin’ times,” Gabe ground out in frustration.
“And we’ll go over it a thousand more times, if we need to.”
“I’ve told you everything I remember,” Gabe snapped as he stood up. “I told you which bars we went to. I’ve told you the sites we surfed. There is abso-fuckin’-lutely nothing new for me to tell you.”
“Where are you going?” Drew asked as Gabe stomped past him.
“Back to bed. Hopefully I can sleep now.”
Gabe said nothing else as he walked to his bedroom and shut the door. Drew looked back at the television. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were fucking for the first time. Drew couldn’t look away as Ledger pounded Gyllenhaal.
“Damn, Ledger was a good actor,” Drew mumbled to himself. He turned his attention to the files, looking at the different websites Gabe and Violet had used to find men to have sex with. He grabbed his laptop, went to Adult Friend Finder, and signed in using an FBI-created identity and password.
He looked around on the site and checked out several member profiles. He was shocked, not only that so many men so easily put pictures of their dicks online, but also at the varied sizes of cocks. He hadn’t seen many other dicks and just assumed they were all pretty much the same.
Drew checked out the pictures of the female members. The vaginal and breast shots made him realize how long it’d been since he had sex. His engagement to Chloe had ended just before he came to Reno to work on the case where he first met Gabe. The case that had changed his life.
Drew had gone to Reno to investigate an underage male prostitution ring. His job had been to protect a young man named Casey Thompson, Gabe’s friend and lover. Drew and Casey had been staying at a safe house near Reno. The friendship part of Gabe and Casey’s relationship began before the case began, and they had progressed to the sexual phase while in the safe house. Casey was sweet and attractive, and Gabe had fallen for the young man very quickly. Drew had liked Casey, an intelligent and funny young man who liked old disaster flicks as much as Drew did.
The case had ended badly, when Drew left Casey alone and he was killed. Before Casey’s death, Drew and Gabe’s relationship had been adversarial, but after Casey’s death it became downright hostile. Gabe had thrown Drew out of Casey’s funeral and made it abundantly clear that he never wanted to see Drew again. After the funeral fiasco, Drew had never planned on seeing Gabe again and wouldn’t have if his boss, Miles Sharpe, hadn’t assigned Drew to protect Gabe.
Drew had never begged in his life, but he implored his boss, who was also a good friend, not to give him the case. But Miles had insisted Drew was the right agent—the only agent—for the job.
Being a glorified babysitter wasn’t a thrilling job. Drew would much rather be in the field and actively investigating the case. However, while on his forced quasi vacation, the only investigation Drew would be doing was on his laptop. But he was a man who took pride in giving 110 percent, and this job wasn’t going to be any different.