New Infected universe story – Troublemaker

You can consider this a tease of the new Infected novel, coming out in February. But really, I felt like cheering myself up, so here we are. A story about Holden and Chai, perhaps the strangest private investigators in the business, searching for someone, with an unexpected third wheel …

**

1 – Boy Division

Chai had never been in a straight club before, and he felt like a spy behind enemy lines. Well, that was a tad over-dramatic, but he honestly couldn’t shake the feeling he didn’t belong here.

The club had a sign near the door saying that all sexualities were welcome, so technically it wasn’t a straight club at all, right? Except he was surrounded by hetero couples, man/woman pairings all over the dance floor, and part of him felt like fleeing before he was discovered. If he wasn’t here with Holden and E he probably would have.

E was a random, late edition. He and Holden were searching for a missing man, one who had last been seen in the company of a very minor drug dealer who called himself “8-Ball”. As Holden pointed out, no one who was even approaching cool gave themselves a nickname, although Chai felt he really had no room to talk. After all, he’d been given the cool nickname of Fox, and what nickname did Chai end up with? Chai. His own name. They didn’t even try and give him a nickname, and he felt an irrational stab of jealousy about that. He still wanted a cool nickname, damn it.

As it turned out, E was vaguely familiar with 8-Ball. He was a guy who was friends with another guy he knew – E tried to explain the connection, but it was way too complex and meandering for either Holden or him to understand. E had a tendency to tell stories that meandered in many different directions, and some days were worse than others. This day was not his best.

But from what they were able to discern, 8-Ball did a good bit of his business here, at Hideaway, a club with a terrible name. (What was it hidden away from? It was clearly visible on the corner of 6th Street!) Chai was honestly worried it might have a tiki theme, but luckily it didn’t. On the other hand, there seemed to be no coherent theme. Maybe hipster restaurant? There was random crap on some of the walls, and the bar had an old fashioned look of a wooden bar and shelves of colorful and purely decorative booze bottles, as well as a chalkboard for daily drink specials. The bartender had intricate facial hair, but also a death metal t-shirt, so Chai wasn’t sure if he was in on the theme or not.

Maybe if he had a drink this wouldn’t bother him as much, But they were technically working, so he was staying sober, and his extra sweet ginger ale was not helping him in any way. E was sitting across from him, having the featured drink of the night, a “fireball”, which was, according to E, cinnamon whiskey mixed with something that may have been grenadine, with a hint of jalapeño. Chai thought it sounded vile, but E was already on his second one.

Holden had gone to check the men’s room, as he said that was the most common place for drug deals, and Chai was dying to ask how he knew that, only to find E nodding.Right. How the heck could he be a former sex worker, and yet feel so naive? He even got into porn, briefly. There were a lot of drugs on most sets, even if he wasn’t using them, and yet he knew about them, right? Chai wanted to blame his off-kilter feeling for being back in Seattle and still alive, not to mention playing private investigator, but it was more than that. So much so he should probably schedule another therapy appointment as soon as he got home.

It was a collision of his old life and his new one. Here he was with Fox and E, guys he used to work with as sex professionals – as Holden sometimes called it in his whimsical moods – and now here they were in an ostensibly straight club, tracking down a minor dealer to see if he could recall what a missing man was doing when he last saw him. And Fox was now an investigator – and more? He wasn’t sure – and E was … what was E? He was’t a hustler anymore, but Chai honestly didn’t know what he did for money anymore. At least he had a free night.

Shouting to be heard over some aggravatingly generic Justin Timberlake remix, E said, “This is all kinds of weird, isn’t it?”

At least he wasn’t alone in thinking that. “Kind of, yeah.”

“I mean, last time we were all together, wasn’t it for Tomcat’s funeral?”

Tomcat. Holy shit, that name sent a pain through Chai’s heart. How the hell had he forgotten about Tomcat? He lived fast and hard, and had more of an appetite for drugs than Colt, E, and Apollo combined. And yet, that wasn’t what killed him. That was an ex-boyfriend, who then shot himself after killing him. It was shocking and terrible, and Elite Escorts went dark for about a week and a half after that. There was the possibility of press, which they didn’t need – sex work was still illegal, after all – but Chai had already been planning to move to California and try his luck with the porn industry down there. Tomcat’s demise pretty much sealed the deal, and he left earlier than he’d been planning to. He hadn’t been close to him – was anyone close to Tomcat? He just wasn’t the type. But after this they all scoured their brains, wondering if Tomcat had hinted at domestic violence before. But all he’d ever really say about his ex was he was “kind of an asshole”, which was vague enough to apply to almost everyone. It was awful to think they missed a sign that could have saved his life. It was somehow worse yet that he didn’t say a goddamn thing to any of them.

It seemed like a straight couple thing, but it wasn’t. It was a sadly human thing. Domestic violence knew no sexuality or gender; a polyamorous group could have issues. Toxic people were toxic, full stop. And they would never know if Tomcat didn’t trust them, or really didn’t think he was being abused.

“I haven’t thought of him in ages,” Chai admitted, frowning at his own guilt.

“Oh, I know. I hadn’t either, until three days ago, when that psycho in Kent killed his girlfriend? And then it all came flooding back.”

“Oh, I didn’t hear about that.”

“Yeah. Sometimes I fall asleep with the TV on a local station, and I wake up with the news on. I don’t recommend it.”

Chai smiled at the moment of old fashioned domesticity. “You fall asleep watching TV? How retro of you.”

E shrugged. “Noise helps me sleep. I tried one of those white noise machines, but they didn’t work, and I found out that if I leave the radio on, songs that annoy me wake me up, and I haven’t figured out how to do Spotify or whatever that way.”

That struck Chai as kind of poignant. “Why -” He stopped asking his question as Holden cut through the crowd and returned to the table.

Holden had put a lot of thought into his “straight guy drag” wardrobe of a Mariner’s t-shirt, baggy, frayed jeans that were probably stylish in the ’90’s, and worn Converse. Chai thought Holden really liked dressing up, but didn’t say it, as he knew Holden would just deny it. But he totally did. “He’s not in the men’s room. Although the tackiest goddamn mural I’ve ever seen is.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” Chai admitted.

Holden held up his phone. On its tiny rectangular screen was a mural over the urinals, of … what the hell was it? Chai had to lean in and stare at it to get some idea of what looked like a jumble of colors. Eventually he saw lines, which sort of became tentacles … or noodles? Kind of hard to say. But some of them clearly had naked boobs on them. “What the fuck?”

E joined him in studying the mural. “Is that some kinda eel gang-bang?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Holden said. “Although a gang-bang between boobs and eels sound anatomically dubious.”

“I dunno, man,” E said. “We’ve seen and done some shit.”

None of them could argue with that. Still, hentai boob party wasn’t one of them.

They were mulling over whether they should give up for the night or not – the shitty music was getting to all of them – when a man melted out of the crowd and approached their table. He was a bald white guy wearing blue hued sunglasses indoors, as well as beige skinny jeans – who even knew those existed? – and a tank top with some kind of retro ’80’s design of triangles and palm trees. Chai had to keep his face a blank mask, because he did get this sudden, wild urge to slap those stupid fucking sunglasses off his face. He would swear, before he came back to Seattle, he was a peaceful man.

The guy came up to E, who gave him a hand slapping sort of handshake, one of those weird straight white guy ones that always looked like failed choreography. “Hey dude, I thought it was you.”

E nodded, and said, “Guys, this is 8-Ball.”

8-Ball nodded like his neck was on a spring. “You guys looking for something? Molly? Aura? Freddie?”

“Freddie?” Holden repeated.

8-Ball touched the side of his nose, winked, and leaned in to whisper – as much as anyone could whisper in this club – “Can’t call fentanyl by name, man.”

Holden’s lips thinned into a tight line, which Chai knew was Holden trying to keep himself from springing up and slamming this asshole’s head through the table. Was Holden rubbing off on Chai, or was Chai rubbing off on Holden? Hell, maybe their tolerance of straight guys was growing weaker by the day. “We aren’t after drugs,” E said. “We’re looking for a dude.”

8-Ball scoffed and attempted a smile that collapsed at birth. “Yeah, can’t help ya there.”

Chai watched a muscle in Holden’s jaw twitch as he called up a photo on his phone. “Not like that.” Chai heard the silent ‘dickbag’ that was almost choking Holden. He really wanted to go after this guy, but couldn’t, because they kind of needed him for now. Chai wondered what would happen when they didn’t. Holden held his phone screen out towards 8-Ball, which now showed a photo of the missing man, Sean Driver. “You seen this guy?”

Holden was setting this guy up. If he said no, he’d automatically be a suspect in his disappearance. If he said yes, it would depend on everything that came after. This poor bastard didn’t know it, but Holden was dropping him into a box. How he ended up depended entirely on how honest 8-Ball was. Chai hoped he was in the clear, because he really didn’t know what he’d do if he wasn’t. But he’d bet all the money in his wallet that Holden knew exactly what he was going to do.

    To be continued …

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