Part I

Phippsburg, Colorado


Chapter One



THE leather strap bit into Gary’s shoulder, the clubs clanking behind him. Ultralight, ultrathin fabrics might be a mark of wealth in some sports, but the heft of cowhide still ruled for golfers who didn’t have to carry their bulky bags themselves. The clubs would probably stay in the Beemer’s trunk until the owner got home, unless some other low-paid, strong-backed flunky lifted them out at the hotel. Gary’d had eighteen holes of hauling, and the twenty-dollar tip in his pocket wasn’t making up for the crick in his spine.

He scanned for the burgundy convertible, expecting to find it near the end of this row, but enough luxurious vehicles filled the Wapiti Creek Golf Club parking lot that a brand new 2001 M3 didn’t attract nearly as much attention as the owner might hope. If Gary’d parked his 1984 Cutlass on the members’ side of the lot, now that would stand out. There. Second from the end. Gary hoisted the golf bag into a more comfortable position and started walking.

He’d dump the clubs—well, wait patiently by the BMW until the fifty-five-pretending-to-be-forty-five-year-old man with the tanning booth tan came out to unlock the trunk. Maybe he’d offer another tip if he kept Gary standing a while, but not a lot of hope there; Gary already knew how much this kind of guy valued the time of an eighteen-year-old caddy. Maybe he’d lean the bag against the paintwork.

Gorgeous car, though—all rounded curves and supple leather, a real penis extender. Probably good for three inches in the eyes of whatever liposuctioned, botoxed blonde the owner was fucking this week.

Damn but Gary wanted to find Seth and get back to Phippsburg, where people wore their own faces. Mostly.

He heard Seth before he saw him, and that pleading note in Seth’s voice made Gary break into a run. Lord, who was picking on his buddy here? Back at school he’d know if it was TJ Stonebreaker stuffing Seth into a locker, which Gary thought his mice had put a stop to, or that scumbag Eddy who’d liked to catch Seth’s hand in a come-along grip until Gary explained the error of his ways using a bench vise. Gary’d fixed Eddy’s bucket but good a year ago; he’d shied away from both Seth and Gary ever since, so not him, but none of those guys would hang around here anyway.

He didn’t have as much leverage on adults, and he sure as hell didn’t have much leverage on old rich ones. But Seth shouldn’t ever have to sound so scared. Gary ran.

Seth cried out again—“No!” Damn, Seth’s “no” should mean no like anyone else’s. There he was, in the open door of a big black SUV, its windows tinted as deeply as its paint.

“Seth?” Gary stepped into the gap between the vehicles. “What’s happening?” He tried to look big and threatening, but that wasn’t ever going to happen unless he got lucky with another growth spurt and a hell of a lot of gym time. But just showing up should help.

“Gary!” Seth’s big green eyes looked even bigger under his shaggy fringe of chestnut hair, his face turned over his shoulder. “He won’t let me go!”

“He” was an older man in a lime-green polo shirt sitting sideways on the bench seat, with both hands on Seth’s arms. “Twink-boy here made some promises and now he doesn’t want to follow through.” He gave Seth a shake.

“What kind of promises?” Gary would talk before he rushed in to get physical—he could probably get Seth out of this with nothing more than a scare. He’d managed with TJ, hadn’t he?

“Said he could show me how to make a hole in one, and took a lot of money on the promise of it.” The old fart leered. “And now I want it.”

“Gary…,” Seth whimpered and tried to break free, but flinched when the man’s hands dented his biceps.

“If Seth said he could show you that, you’d be on the golf course for it. He’s just that good.” Good Lord, how had Seth phrased that offer? He didn’t always understand the nuances of what came out of his own mouth. “Probably on the fifteenth hole on this course.”

“This punk kid? Come on. The only holes he’s gonna make are the one in his face and the one in his ass.” His laugh was ugly, heavy with lust and disbelief. “And that’s what I paid him for.”

“He didn’t, Gary! He gave me forty bucks, and you know that’s just a good round tip!” Seth protested.

“It is, you tightwad, and you probably cut eight strokes off your game for having him caddy.” The wave of fury coursing through him left Gary feeling a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier, too big for the narrow space between the SUV and the next sedan. “Let him go.”

“Don’t think so.” The man pulled backward on Seth’s arms—Seth struggled away.

“Know so.” Gary had a pack of weapons on his back to make sure of it. He dropped the golf bag, pulling one pom-pommed iron out as the rest fell. Hefting it like a southpaw with a baseball bat, he glanced at the rear windshield, more darkly tinted than he thought was legal. “Think the car alarm will go off when the glass breaks?” He waggled the club. “Or should I aim for the sheet metal? Or both?”

“I’ll tell the cops some punk kid just started whaling away at my truck, officer, no idea why,” he sneered. “Maybe just rage at wealth. Have fun making bail.”

It might almost be worth the jail time for vandalism, but not the beating from his dad. Gary had to break the stalemate somehow. “You hand Seth a hundred bucks and let him go—” Oh Lord he didn’t want to offer this, but he’d be a hundred bucks closer to getting away from his old man, and Seth would be safe. “—and I’ll make good on whatever you think he offered.”

“A hundred?” The man lifted one side of his mouth.

“What did you think you’d get for forty?” Gary countered, waggling the club behind his head. Maybe he could get some noise out of the backhand strike and then shift around to get more leverage with a forehand swing.

“I’ll take a kid with some fire to him.” The old lech kept a grip on Seth’s right arm and dug his wallet out of his pants, stretching out one leg to do it. He dropped the billfold on his lap, fumbling out the bills. A great flash of green winked at Gary from within the leather. The man handed Seth two bills—he took them without really looking.

Gary had to prompt Seth to check. “Is it right?” Maybe someone would come along and interrupt this strange scene, but everyone seemed to be back at the Nineteenth Hole, no doubt sucking down screwdrivers and salty dogs, telling themselves the orange and grapefruit juices counted and the vodka didn’t. A little humiliation for this old shit would be handy right about now, but no one came by with curious looks.

“Uh, yeah.” Seth stumbled backward, clutching the money.

“Okay. You keep it for me.” Gary didn’t trust the man not to demand it back once he was in grabbing range. “And this.” He handed Seth his wallet, too, and the golf club in its ridiculous hat. “Take the clubs to the BMW convertible at the end of the row. The owner should be there soon, and if I’m not there in fifteen minutes, come back and scream bloody murder, okay?”

“Uh, yeah, sure, Gary.” Seth looked totally confused but took the club and the wallet. “Fifteen minutes.”

“We’ll be longer than that, boy,” Old Lech interrupted.

“Only if you can’t get it up, old man,” Gary fired back. “We aren’t going anywhere—that thing you drive is a traveling bedroom.” He turned back to Seth, needing to calm those frightened eyes. “Go on. It’ll be okay.” He smiled weakly. “If the convertible guy comes soon, wait at my car.”

“Okay.” Seth jerked the bag of clubs off the blacktop and ran, stealing a look over his shoulder.

It would be okay. He’d deal with whatever he had to do, and Seth was safe. Gary advanced into the SUV’s open door. “Scoot over.” His khaki slacks swished against the buttery soft leather as he followed the man into the back seat. The rewards of being a rat bastard were pretty good.

He closed the door, the interior darkening as the deep-tinted window filtered the light. Anyone not looking straight in through the windshield wouldn’t see them. Maybe the guy had chosen the vehicle for just these traits.

“Get busy, boy.” Old Lech jingled his belt open and unzipped his golf slacks, which at least weren’t a plaid that might blind Gary from close range, though he’d never like lemon yellow again. “Start with your mouth.”

And finish with my mouth, Gary thought. He’d make that happen somehow; he wouldn’t give this fucker a chance at the rest of his body, and he sure as hell didn’t expect the man to return any oral favors. He stared dubiously at the first real erection he’d ever seen besides his own. Gary’d dreamed of sucking cock, but not this one.

“Bite and I’ll rip your ear off,” the man warned him.

“Might be worth it to bleed all over this interior.” Shaking away Old Lech’s insistent hand from the back of his head, Gary closed his eyes and got started.

Pretend it’s Seth, pretend it’s Seth… kept him going, and experience or not, they were done in a lot less than fifteen minutes, even with the choking. Gary’d barely finished swallowing when Old Lech started trying to zip his pants and shove Gary from the SUV all at the same time, accomplishing neither very fast, but frantic in his demands. “Get out! Get out!”

Was that his wife? A woman in pale peach ambled down the row of parked vehicles, chatting with another man in pastels meant for the course. Or maybe that’s his partner? Didn’t matter. “It’ll cost you everything in your wallet for me not to say, ‘Hi, your pal has a tan mole on his hip.’” Gary exhaled hugely on each vowel and H, making the point about the scent his breath carried.

“Fuck, okay, yeah, here.” The man dug in his pocket, extracting bills. “Go! Go!

Bad time to hold back. “All of it.” Once he’d slapped the last bill—a fifty, nice—into Gary’s hand, Gary slid out the door and closed it with a last-second slam. He could go greet the advancing pair, but he checked for Seth instead. The glossy convertible’s slot contained a silver Audi now, so Gary abandoned his idea for a double cross and went in search of his friend. Seth needed some reassurance more than Gary needed revenge. More revenge. He shoved the bills into his pocket and headed to the employee section on the outskirts of the lot.

He could see Seth pacing near the faded salmon Oldsmobile that got them to and from the little town down valley where so many of the resort’s staff lived. Maybe one day he and Seth could have an apartment in the three-story buildings Wapiti Creek maintained for seasonal workers, but for now, they both lived with their parents and dreamed.

Or Gary dreamed. He wasn’t sure what Seth saw as their future; he seemed content with their present.

Gary could tell the exact moment Seth saw him coming across the asphalt—he stilled and slumped, waiting in one place for Gary to finish his journey. Standing tall would show even at this distance that everything was okay—Gary found another inch in his spine and worked up a smile.

“Fourteen-and-a-half minutes when I saw you, Gar.” Seth waited for Gary to unlock the passenger door, a matter of reaching across the vehicle and lifting a knob. He got in, his eyes still wary. “You’re okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” Not really, but he’d walked away with a pocket full of cash, and he wasn’t going to bitch and moan to Seth about how he’d earned it. Nor would he count his bonus for silence here. “Let’s go home.”

“He didn’t—” Seth started to ask, about ten miles into a silent drive on the two-lane highway, but either ran out of words, or maybe ideas.

“He didn’t hurt me, he didn’t even get my clothes off, and he was way off on how much time he needed.” He wouldn’t lie to Seth, but if the mistaken impression the old bastard had creamed his jeans in the mere presence of a teenager got out there, Gary wouldn’t correct it. “It’s okay. He’s less of a problem than TJ, even.”

Seth laughed without humor. “We’ll see if TJ’s a problem again in a week.”

“Think we should start trapping mice?” Good, something to distract Seth, maybe even make him laugh. “It’ll take me about a day and a half to get his locker combination once classes start.” Maybe less, if he could sweet-talk Mary Ellen; she had a job in the office and didn’t like TJ much more than Seth did. This could liven up the start of their senior year. Well, Seth’s second senior year, but Gary wouldn’t comment on that. “I can rig it so the box pulls apart when he opens the door. Be even better than last time.”

“Oh my Gawd!” Seth threw his head back, his eyes closed and lips curved with his laughter. “I can still see his face. When that mouse fell on his foot. He danced around screaming like a little girl.” Most of the junior class had seen that performance.

The memory floated them most of the way home. TJ had ceased being a problem after he’d connected pushing Seth around with finding vermin in his belongings. Gary’d been a bit concerned about the one mouse chewing its way out of TJ’s backpack too soon, but no, it had made its appearance in second hour English, where only half the junior class had seen and snickered. If he reverted to his old ways, Gary would reduce him to class joke.

The highway became the main street of Phippsburg, making Gary slow to what felt like a crawl after the last twenty-five miles at speed.

“You want to come by the house? Make some hotdogs or something?” Seth offered. “Mom’ll be home in another half hour or so.”

If Mrs. Morgan didn’t work at the Pamida, hotdogs would be about as scarce at Seth’s house as they were at his. Somehow Dad always had plenty of beer. Gary checked the time and calculated how many cans might have disappeared down the parental gullet so far. Not enough to make sure Gary didn’t have to talk with him if he went home now, and it wasn’t worth it, no matter how desperate he was to clean his mouth. “Sounds good. But I want to make a stop first.”

He chose Ray’s Drug rather than the grocery store where he might encounter Seth’s mom. Right now he didn’t want to have to exchange pleasantries with someone who’d worry about him or wonder about his purchase. Seth offered Gary’s wallet and Old Lech’s two fifties once they’d pulled up, saying nothing. Taking his billfold and one of the bills, Gary left Seth holding the other and didn’t wait to see what he did with it.

Once inside, Gary knelt at the bottom shelf of the oral care section to select the least awful of the stiff, cheap toothbrushes better suited for cleaning grout than teeth. No. Not this time—Old Lech was buying. Gary would choose from the bright white brushes with the colorful, squashy grips that would feel very strange after the hard, thin handles he’d used all his life.

He’d never had a red and white toothbrush before.