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.
Previous Chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen
The following week, Thewlis found himself driving east down a barren highway toward the California-Nevada border. He'd discovered quite a lot about Marty Csokas and he was pretty sure he'd found their rat.
Nick had been right, Marty had been a successful plastic surgeon. He'd practiced down in the LA area and had made a handsome living working on film and TV stars and assorted hangers-on and wannabes. Almost three years earlier, though, he'd been caught after doing an illegal breast enhancement on a young woman who wasn't quite old enough to authorize her own cosmetic surgery. The young woman's parents had been wealthy and powerful enough to ensure that Csokas lost his license -- so much for his career as a surgeon.
He'd sold his slaves and his house, and five months later he'd bought a casino just over the Nevada border. His address of record was less than a mile from the place, implying that he kept a close eye on his new property.
Thewlis crossed the state line, from one narrow chunk of asphalt running through dry, shades-of-dirt landscape to another, indistinguishable except for the sign. Less than fify yards beyond that was another sign, this one advertising the Silver Oasis. The sign stood in a row of other similar signs, and the casino stood in a row of other similar casinos. There were apparently quite a few people who didn't want to go all the way to Vegas for their gambling.
Or maybe not. He pulled into the parking lot and found a space more easily than he'd anticipated.
Inside, the air conditioning seemed to be working fine. Or maybe it was just that it didn't need to work with quite so much oomph on a sprawling space which wasn't packed as full of bodies as the big Vegas casinos had always been, the couple of times Thewlis had gone. The machines rang and tootled and babbled their Come Try! patter through the narrow, labyrinthine aisles, but the aisles were easy to negotiate without the usual blockage of bodies on stools. Multicolored lights swirled along the walls, up the columns and across the ceiling, but Thewlis noticed burned out bulbs here and there.
He wandered around the place, not hiding the fact that he was hunting for someone. He looked unsubtly at name badges whenever he passed a man of about the right age and coloring, reading titles as well as names. When he came across a guy with something managerish in his title, who also struck him as bored and maybe a bit lax, he made eye contact and asked, "Hey, is the boss around?"
"I'm the boss," said the man, whose name was Barry according to his badge. "What can I help you with?"
Thewlis ducked his head for a moment and gave a low, self-deprecating laugh, trying hard to project just the right bit of embarassment. "Sorry, I'm actually looking for Marty Csokas."
Barry raised an eyebrow. "Do you have an appointment to see Mr. Csokas?"
"No, not really." Thewlis shrugged and made a vague gesture with one hand. "I was on my way to Vegas for a meeting and remembered Marty's place was out here and thought I'd stop. Is he around?"
The guy gave him a look up and down, then said, "No, Mr. Csokas isn't in today."
Thewlis lit a grin widen for a moment, then said, "Well, that's too bad." He gave Barry a half-wink and straightened up a bit, as though relaxing.
Barry took the bait and said, "You don't look too upset over missing him...?"
"Well, I guess I should be." Thewlis looked down again, just for a moment, and put on a sheepish expression. "Truth is, I haven't seen him in ages. We went to college together, saw each other occasionally after, but were never best friends or anything. Good guy to hang with, but we wandered off in different directions, you know? Last time we were together, though, I was having some trouble. His practice was booming and he lent me some money. I've felt kinda bad about never having paid him back, so when another friend told me he owns this place now, I thought I could stop by and take care of it. Not a problem if I missed him, though -- it's not like he was expecting me or anything."
He got a smirk from Barry. "I guess you'd just as well keep on missing him, eh?"
"Sorta." Thewlis looked off to one side and rubbed his neck, projecting embarassment again. "It's not that I don't have the money or anything. I'm just not looking forward to seeing him, you know? I mean, he helped me out and I vanished on him and I feel bad about it now."
"You oughta just send it to him, get it over with."
"I could," admitted Thewlis. "I mean, I probably should, you're right. It's just that after all this time it's like I should put it in his hand, look him in the eye, you know?" He glanced at his watch and said, "Hey, can I buy you a drink? I don't have to be in town till three, no reason to get right back on the road."
"Sure," said Barry. "I guess I can spend some time with an old friend of the owner." He grinned and led the way between blackjack tables to a bar. They sat under one of the keno machines and ordered. Thewlis got a beer, figuring he could drink one and get over it before he got back in the car. Barry ordered a bourbon on the rocks; Thewlis didn't know whether there was no one to call him on drinking on duty, or whether the bartender would charge bourbon prices -- since Thewlis was paying -- and hand the manager iced tea. He didn't much care either way, although some alcoholic lubricant would be helpful.
He looked around, letting his curiosity show. "So how's it going? I was kinda surprised when I heard he'd changed careers and all. He'd always said he had the best job in the world, up to his eyebrows in tits. Although I guess there're some nice ones around here too?" He put on a lecherous smirk and got one in return from Barry.
"Sure, sure, a few. Not so many as there used to be, though." Barry crossed his arms and leaned back against the padded booth. "My aunt worked here back in the day and she says the place was really jumping then. Packed every weekend, and a decent crowd weekdays. Some good acts, brought people out from LA sometimes. And lotsa meat, both sexes."
"So what happened?" Thewlis asked, sounding curious but not too curious.
"Hey, if I knew, I'd fix it." Barry shrugged. He took a sip of his bourbon or whatever it was, then said, "Buncha stuff I guess. Hardly anyone drives to Vegas anymore so we don't get the through traffic. No airports around here. Train goes from LA to Vegas in two hours so who wants to stop here? Anything we've got, they've got more and bigger and better."
"Sounds like you might as well just liquidate," Thewlis commented. "Shut down before it all trickles away, you know?"
"When Mr. Csokas bought out Mr. Dominguez, we thought he was gonna do exactly that," Barry admitted. "Then he didn't sell and we thought he had some investments lined up or something. Refurbish, maybe. Get some good acts in again. Advertise like crazy. Something. But he didn't do that either. Tell you the truth," he said, leaning in toward Thewlis and lowering his voice, "he's hardly ever here. Comes in once or twice a month, max, so even if you do stop by on your way home, he probably won't be here then either."
"Really?" Thewlis raised an eyebrow and frowned. "Well, thanks for telling me. I'll remember that."
"--so he's hardly there," Thewlis wrapped up with a shrug. He could all but hear Lord Neeson scowling over the phone, so he added, "For a man who was used to living quite well, and who has no other source of income I can discover, it's odd that he ignores the place."
"Which means it's not his sole source of income," snarled Neeson. "He's our thief, then."
"I think it likely, My Lord, but all the evidence so far is circumstantial. He might well be content to siphon whatever profits the Silver Oasis provides and otherwise leave the drudgery of everyday management to his staff." Not that Thewlis believed that, but the last thing he wanted was to have his employer go off half-cocked in a rage, on scant evidence and a lot of supposition.
"You said that when he was in college he was all about the money, though," Neeson argued. "That doesn't sound like the sort of man who'd be content with whatever change he can squeeze out of a marginal business."
"That's true, but people do change," Thewlis countered. "I went by his house and it was modest, perhaps twelve hundred square feet, and reasonably well kept but not elaborately so."
"Maybe he has another house somewhere else. Under another name?"
"That's possible, My Lord, but difficult to manage. Although it's always possible he has a confederate and a second residence is in that person's name."
"And we have no idea who that might be."
No, My Lord." Thewlis felt like apologizing; his wonderful lead was turning out to be considerably less fruitful than he'd hoped. "I think it's best at this point if we keep that thought in mind, but act on what we have, which is Csokas's business and primary residence of record."
"He wasn't home," Neeson stated, with no tone of question at all.
"No, My Lord. Nor was there a car in the driveway, although it might've been in the garage." Thewlis shook his head. "We have nothing to give to the police at this point. I'll continue watching for a few days and see if he comes home."
"Do you think you'll get anything useful out of him?" Lord Neeson sounded skeptical.
"No, and I'm not going to try speaking with him. If he'd been at the casino, then of course I'd have sounded him out, but at this point I think it would be better, when he comes home, if I watched him instead and followed him. If we're lucky, and assuming he is our thief, he might lead me to wherever he holds the slaves before selling them."
There was a brief pause, then Neeson said, "Unless he's just as hands-off that business as he is with the casino. For all we know he leaves that one to staff too and just collects the money. Especially given the distances. Why would he have taken Orlando from San Jose if he's based down in the middle of nowhere, four hundred miles away?" The man sounded suddenly exhausted. No, not just tired -- empty. As though the thought that this might be yet another dead end had let all the wind out of him.
"That's always possible, My Lord, but even in this day and age, criminal activity requires a certain amount of contact. Power in that community is much more direct and needs constant reinforcement, otherwise the criminals one has hired are likely to make off with one's profits, or even one's entire business. At the same time, it's not that far and being based at a distance gives him an additional measure of security.
"I'll keep a watch on the house. If Csokas shows up, I'll wait until he leaves and see where he goes. If he doesn't leave, I'll see who comes to visit him, and try following them. That trusted confederate might be a go-between. Either way, there's most likely some contact between the boss and the business, even if it's through intermediaries. This isn't the sort of thing which runs well via e-mail, in my experience, and that's not even considering the possibility of one's communications being intercepted. Personal contact is more secure, in more ways than one."
"Fine, fine." Neeson muttered something under his breath, then said, "Keep me informed."
"Of course, My Lord."
Neeson hung up without a word of farewell. Thewlis put away his phone and started his car. He needed to make a grocery run, then get back to his chosen watching post, in some scrubby, dried-out underbrush about a quarter mile from Marty's place. He had a feeling he was going to be there for a while.
Next Chapter: Chapter Twenty-one