Blood of Love
Laguna Beach. California
The early morning sun, rising in the east behind the hills and canyons that separate the town of Laguna Beach from the rest of Orange County, spilled its light onto the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean, touching the whitecaps with silver as they broke gently on shore. It was early October, but a Santa Ana condition had kicked in the day before, bringing a warm, dry, off-shore wind from the desert that could already be felt, despite the fact it was not yet six a.m.
The runner on the beach churned up the sand as he ran with a long, loping style. Tall, broad shouldered, with lean, hard muscles gleaming under a fine layer of perspiration, he drew admiring glances from the scattering of men and women likewise engaged in their early morning exercise. As he approached Main Beach he stopped, wiped the perspiration from his eyes, then pulling off his tank top, he ran into the ocean before diving headfirst beneath the waves. He swam with strong, sure strokes against the tide, enjoying the coolness of the water, feeling energized by the tugging of the riptide. For a time, he floated on his back on top of the rolling waves, gazing up at the azure sky, his mind turned off to the rigors he knew the day would eventually bring him. This he considered his just reward for getting out of bed at the crack of dawn and running for an hour every day.
The roar of a speedboat’s engine close by shattered the early morning quiet, and he was caught in the undulating wake created by its passing. His reverie interrupted, he flipped himself over, and with a strong kick of his legs, headed back to shore.
Nick Fallon waded from the water and stood for a moment surveying the pleasant view in front of him, his hazel eyes squinting against the glare of the morning sun. From his vantage point, he could look across the sand to the boardwalk and the green swath of grass beyond, dominated by palm and cypress trees. At this time of day, the town was still quiet, affording him a relatively relaxed run back up the hill to the apartment he shared with his lover, Eric. He bent to pick up his tank top, shaking the sand from it then using it to wipe his face and chest, before he set off at a leisured pace toward home.
Nick and Eric had moved to Laguna from New York the year before, mostly at Eric’s urging, but also so that Nick could take advantage of the offer from Jeff Stevens to become his business partner in Stevens’ Investigations, a thriving private investigative business. Jeff had insisted he needed help with his ever increasing client base, and had dispelled Nick’s notion that he’d be bored with the on-the-surface sedate Orange County lifestyle. Nick had learned very quickly that all is rarely as it appears to be, and that wealth and refinement do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Some of the more lurid cases of larceny and fraud were perpetrated by the extremely well heeled of society. Greed, not need, was their motivation. Still, that’s what kept people like him and Jeff, along with the police force for that matter, in business.
Jeff and his lover Peter Brandon, a celebrated local artist, had taken off on a well-deserved vacation, leaving Nick in charge of the investigative business and Eric looking after Peter’s art gallery in downtown Laguna. They’d be in Europe for a month, maybe longer if they weren’t needed for any urgent business back home. Rounding the corner of the apartment building, Nick bounded up the steps and flung open the front door.
“Hey, stud!” Eric smiled at him from beneath the towel he was using to dry his light brown hair. He was naked, and Nick paused for a moment to drink in the sight of his boyfriend’s lightly tanned, lithe and compact body. In New York, where they had met two years before, Eric had been a paramedic, a job that had kept him in great physical shape. Now that he had what he called the “cushy life,” managing Peter Brandon’s art gallery in town, he worried about getting soft and had joined a nearby gym to keep himself toned, working out regularly with Peter and Andrew, a mutual friend. From the look of things, Nick thought carnally, it was paying off.
“You’re the stud,” he whispered. His voice husky with desire, he pulled Eric’s smooth skinned, still damp body into his arms, and delivered a scorching kiss to his mouth.
“Those early morning runs sure seem to agree with you,” Eric gasped when they came up for air. With a sensuous curl of his lips, he ran his tongue over Nick’s left nipple, tasting the salt from the sea mingled with the sweat of his body. “Mmm…look at you. You’re all sweaty, and I’m suddenly all horny—”
Nick pulled him closer. “I can take care of that for you.”
“I knew there was something I liked about you,” Eric said, wrapping his arms around Nick’s neck and pulling him in for another long and hungry kiss.
Later, after they had showered together, Eric made some pancakes while Nick perused the morning paper. “Jeez,” he muttered, looking at a gruesome photograph of yet more carnage in the Middle East. “When the hell are we ever going to get some good news?” His eyes were suddenly riveted to a piece on an inside page:
Death Row Inmate Escapes From Pa. State Prison:
Francisco Garcia, sentenced to death three years ago for the drug related murders of two Pittsburgh homicide detectives, escaped from prison yesterday during a riot that prison officials are now calling a smoke screen to cover the escape…
“Aw, shit—” Nick exclaimed.
Eric turned to look at him with concern. “What is it?”
Nick closed the paper quickly. “Nothing.”
“Nothing? ‘Aw shit’ about nothing?” Eric narrowed his light blue eyes. “I can see on your face it’s a lot more than nothing.”
Nick rose from the table. “I gotta get dressed and get to the office.”
“Nick.” Eric advanced on him, his eyes glittering. “You do not get to do this, my friend. You are not skipping out of here without telling me what just bothered you. That was the deal remember? Anytime we have a problem, we share.”
“Eric,” Nick groaned. “Don’t push this. I really don’t want to talk about it right now. Later, maybe…”
Eric could not quite conceal the hurt look that shadowed his face, but he turned away quickly and went back to the stove. “Pancakes to go then?”
“Eric, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to piss you off.”
“But ya did, Blanche. Ya did!” Eric tried to keep his voice light as he imitated Bette Davis, then he turned round to look at Nick and smiled. “Okay—tell me when you want to.”
Nick took him in his arms. “Thanks Eric. I love you, you know.”
Eric kissed Nick’s chin. “I know. Now go do what you have to do.”
* * * *
Nick pulled into his allotted space outside the office he and Jeff shared. For a moment he sat in the car, mulling things over in his mind, then with a sigh he climbed out and pushed his way through the heavy glass doors that led into the reception area.
“Hi, Nick.” Monica Kwan, their secretary, gave him a wave as he entered.
“Monica. Any messages?”
Monica gave him a shrewd look. “That kind of day already?” She handed him a couple of telephone messages.
“Mmm.” The smile he started became a grimace as he thought of the calls he had to make. “I’ll be on the phone for a time. Just take messages. Okay?”
“You got it.”
“Thanks, Monica.” He went into his office and closed the door behind him quietly. He looked over at Jeff’s empty desk and wished like hell his partner was sitting there so he could talk with him. Jeff was the kind of guy who remained calm under attack, resilient when pushed, and usually had a sensible spin on situations that seemed crazy at times. Nick felt he could certainly use some of that calmness right about now. Francisco Garcia somewhere out there on the loose. This was not good. Not good at all. He punched in a number on his phone, then sat back listening to the ringing tone.
“Andy, it’s Nick Fallon.”
“So you heard, huh?”
“Read about it in the paper this morning.”
“How are you?”
“Fine, until all this shit happened. Margo’s threatening to take the kids over to her mother’s ‘til he’s caught.”
“That might not be a bad idea, Andy.”
“You think he’s crazy enough to try something?”
“Yes, I do. You know what he threatened to do when we brought him down, and you know he’s capable of just about anything. The guy’s a killer first and a homicidal maniac second.”
“Jesus,” Andy blew the word out on a long breath.
“What’s the word, anyway? How did Garcia manage this?”
“Beats me—he was on death row. It should never have happened.”
“He had inside help then.”
“That’d be my guess. They’ve got search teams all over the state looking for him of course.”
“Let’s hope they get lucky.” Nick drummed his fingers on his desktop as he spoke. “Andy, make sure you take precautions there. Don’t go anywhere alone. I have a bad feeling about this. Garcia—that son-of-a-bitch is clever.”
“Not so clever. He got caught.”
“And we got lucky, Andy. Don’t forget, he still managed to take out two of ours.”
Andy was silent for a while then he said, “Maybe I should take Margo and the kids to her mother’s house.”
Nick felt like saying he should have done it right away, but Andy was a stubborn guy who thought he could handle anything that came along—even someone like Garcia. Nick wasn’t so sure he could, but he didn’t want to voice that opinion right then.
“So, you don’t have to worry way out there in sunny California, right?”
“Andy, just watch your back. If you hear anything, let me know. Okay?”
“And tell Margo I said hello.”
He hung up and rose slowly from his desk chair to look out of the window at the now bustling activity on Coast Highway. Pittsburgh sure seemed a long way away, he thought. Once it had been his home, where he had gone to school, to college, to work, and where he and his family and friends had gathered to celebrate birthdays and Thanksgivings. Where he had met Martin and lived with him for close to ten years. And then all that had changed in such a short space of time. Martin had died in a plane crash, and Francisco Garcia, along with his henchmen, had shot two of Nick’s associates to death. Yes, they had brought the gang down, but at a terrible price.
Nick had never really been able to find closure in the death of his lover and friends. His move to New York and his year with the NYPD had helped because it had brought Eric into his life. That he had found a man as loving and as caring as Eric had seemed to him, at the time, to be something of a miracle. Nick knew he wasn’t the easiest guy to live with. He could be quick-tempered, pig-headed, sullen even—but Eric rarely seemed fazed by Nick’s moods. Sometimes, showing a great deal of patience, he would just wait quietly for the mood to pass, then other times he would use humor or start a lively discussion to distract Nick.
And then there was the sex, or rather the lovemaking, as Nick preferred to call it. Those moments of sheer bliss when they were alone together, when they could express their love for one another, making everything seem right and worthwhile. That was why he could not tell Eric of what he had read in the paper that morning. He would have to eventually of course, but right then, he had felt that cold shudder of fear when someone you cherish might just be taken away. In the years since Garcia’s trial, Nick had almost forgotten the man’s existence. Now, the events of the past had come back to haunt him.
Francisco Garcia was a cold, lethal killer with many options for revenge. Nick knew there was a network of like killers in almost every section of the country—there just for the paying. Garcia had vowed revenge on the men who had brought him, and his empire, down.
But there was a greater need for vengeance in Garcia’s heart, because of the fact that his son had died in the shootout that had claimed the lives of the two detectives. Nothing would appease him, he had said at his trial. His soul would never rest until his son’s killers had all been destroyed.
That meant Andy Hawkins—and Nick Fallon.
Nick was worried about Andy’s being on the front line. If Garcia was not apprehended in the next couple of days, it put his friend’s life in a great deal of danger. Nick did not doubt for one moment that Garcia would attempt to carry out his threat. Despite the man’s need for obscurity at this point in his escape, no matter how risky it would be for him to get close to a police detective, Nick innately knew that Garcia would gladly take that risk. He had seen him in court, railing against those who had “murdered” his son. The man’s eyes, small, dark and glittering with hate had met Nick’s from the other side of that crowded courtroom, and Nick had been left slightly shaken by the malevolence in the prolonged stare Garcia had cast upon him.
Garcia had been sentenced to death, but it had not stopped him from delivering his own sentence on the two remaining men he considered guilty of taking his son’s life. Before he was led away in the shackles he had worn during his entire trial, Garcia had pronounced his judgment across the courtroom on those who had taken his son’s life. His son would be avenged, he had yelled as he was hustled out amid a rush of reporters and photographers, intent on capturing the moment for the headlines of the day.
Nick could still see the photograph that had appeared in the paper later that day. Andy and himself, standing side by side in the courtroom under a headline that had screamed, “Garcia Threatens Arresting Detectives!” The reporters had a field day recounting Garcia’s threats and promises to “seek out and destroy the men who had taken his young son’s life.” Nick knew that the cops in Pittsburgh would be doing everything they could to find the escaped prisoner, but would it be enough? He also knew that Andy would be given protection until Garcia was caught and back behind bars once more. But what if Andy let his guard down before that happened, and what if Garcia could get through the protection?
“Christ,” he muttered, running his hand through his dark brown hair. There were just too many possibilities, and all of them not good. Garcia was clever. Clever enough to engineer his escape from a maximum security prison and still be on the loose. Nick did not like the feeling he was getting from this. Instinctively, he knew this was going to be bad. Returning to his desk, he pulled a name from his Rolodex and quickly dialed the number. After a couple of rings, a voice with strong nasal overtones answered.
When Nick was still a detective with the Pittsburgh Police Department he, and a couple of his associates, had used Carradine as an informant. Once upon a time, Carradine too had been a police officer. He’d been fired several years before for taking bribes. The popular opinion among his fellow officers was that Tom was not a bad guy, just stupid. He’d managed to get a private investigator’s license, but his propensity for trying to make a quick buck frequently got him into trouble. On one occasion, when a man he was dealing with turned ugly, he’d run to Nick for help. Nick had stepped in and made the man back off, earning Carradine’s undying loyalty—or at least as loyal as Tom Carradine could ever be.
“Hey, Nick…” Carradine’s voice took on a wary edge. “What’s up?”
“Garcia escaped from prison.”
“What else have you heard?”
“Nothin’—too early yet. All’s I heard was what you read in the papers. Looks like an inside job, so they say.”
“It had to be, Tom. And he has to have people helping him on the outside. I need a favor.”
“Talk to the people you know. Anything you hear, get back to me right away.”
“I mean it, Tom. Don’t forget what you owe me. I’m pulling in all my markers on this one. Andy’s right there in the line of fire. You hear anything, you let me know. Got that?”
A deep sigh sounded on the other end. “Okay,” came the mumbled reply. “But Nick… Garcia…man…he’s—”
“I know what he is, Tom,” Nick said, his voice harsh. “I know only too well what he is. That’s why I need you on this. Andy’s life could depend on what you can find out. You owe him too, don’t forget.”
“I don’t forget. Okay, I’ll be in touch.” Carradine paused then asked, “You all right?”
“I’m fine, Tom. Just help me with this one.” Nick put the phone down and sank back in his chair. He closed his eyes…and let himself remember.