Pairing: Liam Neeson/Orlando Bloom, minor Liam/Johnny Depp, plus a few other pair-ups among the supporting characters.
Rating: NC-17 overall
Summary: Slave Orlando's been taken and the kidnappers aren't interested in ransom. And of course Master Liam's thundering rage is only at the personal insult, that someone would disrespect him by daring to touch his property.
Disclaimer: I don't own anyone you recognize. I know nothing about their social lives or sexual activities, more's the pity. This is fiction, period. It is done as a labor of love and I make no money from it.
Notes: 1) Set in poisontaster's Kept Boy universe -- FAQ here. See Chapter 1 for more notes.
2) This is the last chapter I wrote in October. More in December, after NaNo. Thanks for your patience. [grin/hide]
Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen
"I'm still not convinced this is a good idea," Thewlis said softly.
He and Lord Neeson were approaching the back entrance to what had once been an upscale department store in a busy mall in east San Jose. The mall was closed and the area around it run-down and crime-ridden. Thewlis had gotten word that one of the floating clubs was going to be there that weekend, and had made the mistake of mentioning it in the next day's report to his employer, rather than investigating and then delivering the results.
His Lordship, who'd been winding himself ever-tighter, like a spring about to snap over the more than two weeks since his Orlando had been taken, had stated that he was going along, in a tone of voice which allowed for absolutely no possibility of contradiction.
Thewlis had contradicted him, of course, but it'd been like shouting into the wind. The best he'd accomplished was to get Neeson to agree that Thewlis would come over and advise him while he got ready to go. Personally, Thewlis doubted his Lordship had anything at all in his wardrobe which would blend in, but he was willing to do his best with whatever there was to work with.
Johnny'd been there to help as well, looking nearly as grim as his master. During a few moments alone, while Neeson was still in the shower, Thewlis leaned over to Johnny and whispered, "I don't suppose there's any chance you could talk him out of this?"
The slave's answer was a raised eyebrow. "What do you think?"
Thewlis had expected as much. He looked over Johnny, who was about Thewlis's own age but in much better shape, and had clearly had a lot more to work with from the start. He could blend in very nicely with minimal effort. "It's too bad you can't come along," he commented.
"We'll take him, then," said Neeson, who was just stepping into the bedroom with a towel around his waist. "Whatever you think will help."
"I'm sorry, my Lord," Thewlis said with a slight bow, "but we can't. Even if you allowed him to go out without his collar, a turtleneck would stand out in that crowd, and anything else would let his brand show."
Thewlis counted to ten quickly in his mind, then said, "We're going to have enough trouble hiding the fact that you're a Lord out slumming without having you drag along what's obviously a body-slave."
Neeson glared at Thewlis, his hands on his hips, completely ignoring Johnny, who was drying him off with a second towel. "Again, so what? There are Lords who go slumming, and I'm willing to be taken for one of those under the circumstances."
"That's true, My Lord, there are." Thewlis concentrated on maintaining eye contact while Johnny removed the last towel and held a pair of expensive looking boxer-briefs for his master to step into. "But you're either too old or insufficiently dissipated to be taken for 'one of those.'"
His Lordship snorted at that, but luckily relented and so they went alone. Thewlis would still have rather had Johnny instead, but sometimes you just had to play the hand fate and the nobility dealt you.
They climbed four concrete steps off the cracked parking lot and stepped up to the shadowed door, a thick, metal affair next to a larger roll-up loading bay, set into a rippling aluminum wall which had once been part of the chain's identity -- all sleek and retro-modern, like something from the mid-twentieth century. Thewlis gave the password to a bouncer dressed like a security guard. He gave them a look-over, then let them in.
The back stock areas were dark and dingy, with just enough dim lamps here and there so women in heels wouldn't break their ankles. All the windows were long-ago boarded up, but the trespassers still kept the more attention-drawing activity to the inner core of the building, where nothing would leak out whenever people entered or left.
Another bouncer, this one in a janitor's coverall, opened an inner door and the lights and music blared out.
They stepped through and to one side, taking in what they could make out of the main floor, then wandered around the periphery, watching the people and looking for side doors and passages, of which there were quite a few. Everything they could see was either found in place or portable -- partitions had been left up and the skeletons of larger displays rigged to make more, breaking the space up into hallways and cubicles. The smaller spaces surrounded the open center area, which was focused on the dance floor, essentially a cleared space on the store's linoleum, with a bolted-together bar on either end. The sound equipment was on rollers, with the wheels locked but ready to go at any time, and likewise the coolers and small refrigeration units around the bars. Pack it all into a few vans, or maybe a small panel truck, and they could be gone within minutes.
When they'd made it halfway around the main area, Neeson said, "It's a club," with a silently implied "So what?" attached.
Thewlis nodded, but pointed discreetly at a mostly-naked young woman sliding through the crowd, dancing with whoever grabbed her. "Branded, so she's a slave. But the heavy anklets are what keep her here. They'll have run a wire around the perimeter; if she crosses it, she gets a shock that feels like someone's taking her feet off with a hot saw. Like electronic dog collars, but moreso."
Neeson scowled. "Stolen?"
"I don't know, My Lord. Possibly. Or possibly the employment here is of the sort to inspire legally owned slaves to try their luck on the run."
Thewlis guided his employer down a passage to one of the smaller areas around the periphery, with one hand on the sleeve of the man's jacket -- black leather, dug out of the back of his Lordship's dressing room by Johnny, who'd also found a pair of jeans (too nice but at least black) and had donated a plain white stretch T-shirt, which was too small but appropriately so for the occasion. Lord Neeson still stood out -- as he would have in any case, if only for being six inches taller than nearly everyone else -- but at least it was a sort of standing-out which drew admiration rather than suspicion.
For a while he thought he'd have to persuade Lord Neeson to pretend they were a couple so Thewlis could fend off various interested parties, but after one or two jolts, the man slid into persona and did a fine job of it on his own, negotiating his way through the crowds with smiles and stares and raised eyebrows as well as shoulders and elbows.
Neeson caught him staring once and leaned down to whisper, "I was young once, you know," with a sardonic raise of one eyebrow.
Whenever they turned a corner or passed through a doorway, though, Thewlis tensed and did his best to scan the new faces before his employer could. They'd had a rather heated talk on the way over about what his Lordship would, or rather would not do if he did find Orlando. Thewlis was pretty sure he knew what the man would want to do, and it'd taken a good twenty-five miles' worth of argument to persuade him that grabbing him up, pounding on anyone who'd been hurting him, and trying to haul him out the door would be counterproductive. While they searched, he pointed out the many bouncers who would definitely be able to overpower even a supremely angry nobleman, and the provisions made for quick-retreat with all the equipment owned by the club organizers. He eventually got Neeson to agree that diving in and causing a fuss would only result in Orlando and everyone attached to the club vanishing long before any authorities could arrive. If they did find Orlando, Thewlis would text a contact of his with the local police department and they'd wait quietly, no matter what was going on.
Thewlis still wasn't sure everything would go to plan if the time came, no matter what Neeson agreed to when he was calm and thinking rationally, but it was the best he'd been able to manage.
The farther away from the brightly lit dance floor they got, the wilder and less legal the activities got. There were things one wasn't allowed to do to even a slave, but since the club was illegal anyway, no one particularly cared about rules and laws. The activities ranged from what one would find in the allowed-but-expensive slave-staffed brothels, to activities usually seen only in movies with large special effects budgets.
In a back room whose concrete walls muffled most of the sound -- probably a finance office and possibly a vault -- a shrieking young man chained down to an elevated display block was being violently taken apart by four wild-eyed club-goers with whips. They were so drunk they hit each other periodically, but they just cursed and laughed and went back to their "fun." The floor was sticky with blood and sloshing in places, and festive arcs of blood-spatter decorated the walls, the ceiling, and anyone who'd been in the room watching for more than a few seconds.
Thewlis saw Neeson staring wide-eyed at the unfortunate slave's dark, curly hair, and decided they were done. He grabbed the man's forearm and hauled him out.
He shoved Neeson into an empty corner with orders to close his eyes and breathe, and got out his phone.
He scowled, then remembered the aluminum-clad outer walls. Right -- the place had been built some decades before every customer expected to be able to get a cell phone signal 24/7.
Which might be a coincidence, or might mean the place had been deliberately chosen as one where stolen slaves could be used without Commerce being able to ping their chips. He definitely needed to make that call.
His employer in tow once more, Thewlis headed toward one of the periphery walls. He'd come to this store with his mother when he was a kid and remembered... right, there it was -- a set of bathrooms along the outer wall. He remembered they had windows; it'd been the first time he'd ever seen those frosted glass bricks.
There was no sign up, and no lights; the club runners obviously preferred people use the restrooms toward the center of the store near the escalators. Thewlis headed straight for the other set, though, making it clear he knew where he was going and no one objected. He and Lord Neeson went in without being hassled and were alone in the pitch-black room.
"Is there a reason for being here?" his Lordship asked in a low voice.
"I need to get a phone signal. There's a window in here." Thewlis pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket and switched it on, then crossed the room and started feeling around the edge of the window.
"Why didn't we just leave, then?"
"Because, My Lord, the pair of us rather stand out. I don't want anyone in this crowd to remember that we came in, stayed less than an hour, and then left shortly before the police arrived."
Neeson nodded and followed him across the room. He started poking at the glass bricks on the other side of the window, working his way up, higher than Thewlis could reach. "Here," he said. "I think I can get this one out, the mortar's all rotted."
"Excellent." Thewlis pulled out his phone again and typed in a text message to a certain detective with the local PD. Lord Neeson set one of the glass bricks down on the floor, then reached up again and pushed hard on the piece of plywood fastened over the window on the outside. It'd been there for quite a while, and it wasn't at all improbable that some of the locals had tried to pry it off some time in the past. A few good shoves and several nails gave with a crunch-creak, letting the wood swing away from the wall by a few inches.
Thewlis reached up with his phone, saw that he had a signal, and hit "Send."
"There, that'll do it. The cavalry will be arriving within a few minutes. Let's go have a drink and wait for them. I don't know about you, but after seeing that boy, I could use a Scotch."
Neeson nodded and they both went back to the main area and up to one of the bars.
After he knocked back the glass Thewlis had fetched for him, Neeson muttered, "Ambulance coming?"
Thewlis looked away and said, "No. Or rather, yes, they'll have a couple waiting. The boy's nearly dead, though; he's lost far too much blood and the rate of loss will only increase as they continue cutting him. By the time help arrives, it'll be too late."
Of course, there were varying values of "late." For a free man, particularly one with money, they'd likely have time to pump in a few units of blood, along with enough drugs to keep him stable until they hit a hospital and could get him in for emergency surgery, probably the first of several rounds. For a slave, particularly a slave whose master was in jail, or who'd been stolen long enough ago that he was essentially off the books, no one would bother. Commerce would cut its losses and move on, focusing more on prosecuting the (temporarily) free offender than on salvaging the merchandise. Emergency workers knew the policy and wouldn't try any heroic measures unless there was an owner or a Commerce agent standing right there giving orders and authorizing payment.
Neeson gave him a hard stare and said, "You're damn cold about all this."
"After a while one becomes hardened to it," Thewlis replied. "I don't like it, but I couldn't do my job otherwise."
"I suppose." Neeson stared off into the crowd, looking both thoughtful and angry, and Thewlis left him alone until the police came bursting in from all sides. They had riot gear and bullhorns, and Thewlis made sure he and his employer obeyed their orders explicitly until things had calmed down to a more orderly clean-up operation.
By the time he spotted his contact, who eventually pulled them out of the processing line, they'd seen a good fifteen injured slaves helped or carried out, plus two bodies. Detective Juarez steered them outside and into a dark patch of parking lot.
"What do you know about this operation, Thewlis? We got some weird stuff going on."
"Very little, I'm afraid," Thewlis said. "I heard through a contact -- friend of a friend of a friend sort of thing -- that the club would be here. My employer is searching for a stolen slave, and I suspect the sort of people who run these clubs would be likely to buy on the black market. Even Commerce would never stand for some of what we saw inside."
"And just who's your employer?" asked Juarez, eyeing Neeson up and down with the typical suspicion of a long-time cop.
Thewlis squeezed Neeson's arm and said, "His Lordship will be happy to give you his name, but would prefer it be kept out of official records if possible."
Juarez snorted and said, "Great, just what I need on top of everything else. So, name?"
"William Elliot Neeson." His Lordship pulled a wallet out of an inside pocket of his jacket and handed his driver's license to the detective, who tucked it between two fingers while copying info into his notebook.
"Heh. Bill-E? Will-E? Your parents weren't thinking much ahead, were they?"
Neeson gave him an unamused glare down his nose and said, "It's Liam, actually."
Juarez ignored the attitude and said, "Sure, that works." He finished writing and handed the card back. "All right, the department appreciates the call and all, but I doubt there's anything here for you. You can stay and eyeball everyone we bring out if you want, but so far none of the employees are actually slaves. They all have brands, probably faked, but none of 'em are chipped. They're likely just playing slave to add to the thrill, jack up the price some."
"None of them have chips?" Thewlis asked sharply. He scowled and wondered what was going on. Something had to be wrong because he couldn't imagine free employees agreeing to some of what'd gone on inside.
Of course, black market slaves weren't always legally slaves. Runaways, homeless, prostitutes and other bottom-feeders -- it wasn't unknown for gangs to pick them up, people who wouldn't be missed or whose associates didn't have enough power to chance a complaint, and just declare them slaves. A good tattoo artist could probably fake up the brand pattern well enough, for enough cash, and most people had never seen a real one up close.
Although there was a simpler solution....
"None so far," said Juarez with a shrug. "Like I said, you can stick around just in case, but don't get in the way."
"If it wouldn't be any trouble, may I see one or two of the non-slaves up close?"
Juarez gave him a hard glare. "You got an idea? What's up?"
"I thought of another possibility. Let's look for scars."
"Scars? From--?" Juarez stopped and scowled.
"A scar?" Neeson, who'd been looking distracted since Juarez had said there were no slaves in the group, straightened up and stared over at the scuttle of activity near the lights and vans. "Like from an incision to remove a chip? Orlando's chip never showed up on scans. They could've removed it so he couldn't be found."
"Exactly," Thewlis said, nodding. "Detective?"
"I'll go look. You two stay here." Juarez headed off, not quite running.
"So Orlando could still be here," Neeson said. Thewlis could tell he wanted to charge right over and start tearing through the huddled slaves, searching. The man had more self-control than Thewlis would've expected, under the circumstances.
"Possibly." Or possibly the operation had just gotten bigger. He definitely needed to talk to Nick Cage.
Next Chapter: Chapter Fifteen