Libby Drew
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Paying The Piper - 31. Chapter 31

Quent woke with a gasp. The various files that had been scattered on his lap tumbled to the floor. The clarity that had been so elusive earlier was back - times two.

"White," Quent whispered. Where in the hell was Braden, he wondered. He knew Cale would argue that the man had simply skipped town. Quent knew better. He knew Braden. He was a mongrel. He never strayed far and he always came home before dark.

Blurry eyed, he reached for the phone and dialed Drew’s apartment. It rang twenty times before Quent slammed down the phone. Marcus left with Cale hours ago. Wasn’t playtime over yet? He grabbed the phone and dialed again. Thirty rings later, the phone clattered back onto its cradle. Quent brooded.

**********

The phone rang one final time and fell silent. Drew sighed deeply and rolled back over to spoon his body against Cale’s.

"He’ll let it ring forty times the next time he calls," Cale muttered sleepily into the pillow.

Drew nuzzled the back of Cale’s neck, enjoying how the soft blond strands felt against his face. "I’ll take it off the hook," he answered softly.

"He’ll be over here as fast as he can hobble if you do that."

"I’ll unplug it then."

Cale stroked Drew’s fingers where they rested against his stomach. "Maybe he really needs something," he offered charitably.

"Besides an attitude adjustment and a bottle of scotch?"

"Maybe he wants company."

Drew laughed into Cale’s neck. Cale smiled, mostly at the sound and feel of Drew’s laughter. He arched his back, barely resisting the urge to roll over and swallow the sounds with his mouth.

Drew’s laughter died slowly. "I’m calling Stuart again. You’re brain was obviously rattled a bit harder than they thought."

Now Cale did roll over. "He’s not as bad as you make him out to be."

Drew looked ready to spout another off-color comment, but held back when he saw Cale’s face, which was quite serious. He settled for, "He’s difficult."

"He’s always been that way."

Drew eased his other arm around Cale and pulled him flush against his blanket-heated body. The expected rush of arousal washed over him, but it was strangely tempered. Contentedness stole over him. "Always?" he asked. "How on earth did you become friends?"

"He knew my father first."

"He was a friend of your father’s?"

"No, he was never that."

***********

Brooding, Quent remembered after a few short minutes, was highly overrated. While he waited for the lovebirds to resurface, Quent went back over his notebook. Nothing new came to him and he wondered how much of that he could blame on the medication and how much of it was due to his highly amusing, if amateur, doodles spaced here and there throughout the pages.

Next, he picked up Cynthia’s diary and flipped to the page he and Marcus had read last. There were only a few entries beyond it, so he skipped backward – past the entries talking about Marci – until he reached an entry dated one month ago.

"I caught him again. This time he was parked in my driveway. This is getting way too creepy. I almost called Sarah and had her come over, but I know what she’d say - I should have dealt with this long ago. Now, I wonder if it’s too late."

Quent frowned in thought. Now he understood why Cynthia had called Steve a ‘nutcase.’ He turned the page.

"He caught up with me at the grocery store of all places. I managed to be polite, but I really wanted to scream at him to leave me alone. Of course, he started in on that Angus McCoy thing again. I am so sick of hearing that tired old line. Angus is a monster, Angus liked to ruin people’s lives, blah, blah, blah. So what? He’s dead now. Christ, give it a rest!"

A cold chill stole over him. No doubt caused by the mention of Angus. Any reference to the bastard usually affected him this way. And Cynthia’s stalker, for lack of a better word, was not voicing anything he had not heard dozens of times before. Still, it was the second time in two days Angus’s name had come up. It’s not that he didn’t believe in coincidences. It’s just that he didn’t like them.

The next page was equally disturbing.

"I wonder what he has against Cale McCoy. I mean, Cale wasn’t the nicest guy in school, but I don’t think he’s like his father. Besides, the mill’s closed and is going to stay that way. How could Cale possibly do any more damage?"

Quent resisted the urge to pick up the phone a third time to check on his friend. He flipped a few pages ahead, past innocent ramblings and hastily scrawled lists, until he reached yet another entry where Angus’s name popped out at him.

"Okay, enough. Honestly, I’m no genius, but Angus McCoy didn’t make me a whore. What kind of fucked up leap of logic is that? It’s official, he’s a nutcase and I’m being stalked. I’m getting my phone number changed."

Quent reached for the phone again. This time, anticipating no answer at the apartment, he dialed Cale’s cell phone. The voice mail answered immediately. Quent lost his temper and slammed the receiver back onto the cradle with an angry crash.

He found his call button and pressed it. When nothing happened – that is, when no one came rushing to see what he needed – he pressed it again. This time he kept his finger on the button. Down the hall, he heard a loud insistent buzzing at the nurse’s station. Thirty seconds later, a frowning young woman appeared.

"You only have to push it for a moment for it to work, Mr. Quent."

"A likely story," Quent snapped. "Where is Cobb?"

The nurse’s eyes turned to ice. "Doctor Cobb has gone home for the evening."

"Why did he do that? It’s not like he’s got anybody waiting for him," Quent asked nastily.

The nurse’s mouth formed a thin line across her face. "Is there something you need?" she asked through clenched teeth.

"My clothes. I’m leaving."

Her lips turned upward. "You really shouldn’t."

Quent peered at her suspiciously. "Is that what they taught you to say in nurse school?"

She appeared to war with herself a moment before answering. "I know that Dr. Cobb wants you here for at least a couple of days."

"I’m sure he does. But I’m still leaving."

The nurse shrugged. "If you insist, I can’t stop you." There was no mistaking the happiness in her voice.

Quent watched as she opened the wardrobe and pulled out his clothes. She tossed a handful of things onto the bed. "Your trousers were cut off of you, if you recall. I’ll get you a pair of scrub pants if you like."

She was out the door and down the hall before Quent could offer a yes or no. Stuffy, superior little thing. What was health care coming to these days?

*********

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

Cale rolled onto his back and stretched his arms above him. "I guess." He sounded unconvinced.

Drew backpedaled. "You don’t have to."

"No, it’s all right," Cale replied. He turned to look at Drew, who was perched beside him on his stomach, head resting on his folded arms. Mussed hair, day-old beard and all – he still made Cale’s heart stutter to a stop. After a moment, Drew’s face crinkled into a confused frown.

"What?"

"Nothing." Cale shook his head. "Just can’t believe you’re here."

Drew smiled. He reached out to stroke Cale’s face. "Are you avoiding the subject?"

"Yes." Cale closed his eyes.

Drew’s hand slipped to his shoulder and squeezed. "Really, it’s all right. You don’t have to talk about it."

"No," Cale whispered. "No," he said again louder. "I want to. I want to tell you."

He sighed and in response, Drew slid closer, molding their bodies together, chest to toes.

"It’s rather cliché, actually," Cale began. "Cold, emotionally crippled father. Attention starved, overachieving son. My father built his corporation – started it – in this town."

"The mill?" Drew interrupted.

Cale nodded. "The mill was the biggest part. But when the money started to roll in, he got greedy. He branched out, eating up other struggling companies as fast as he could. After a few years, he was rich. I was rich. But…."

Drew played his fingers over Cale’s shoulder. "But?"

"He lost interest in Farther's Run. Both in the mill and the other industry here. One day, he simply shut it all down. He told me - I was in high school then - that closing it was the cheapest alternative."

Cale paused and bit his lip. Obviously, this piece of information disturbed him.

"Business is about making money," Drew reminded him.

Cale’s head jerked around. He glared at Drew. "Cheapest alternative it might have been, but not by much. After he died, I reviewed the books. He saved close to nothing. He could have continued to operate and break even, perhaps even make a small profit. But instead, he shut down the only industry this town had."

He rolled over and sat up. He looked down at Drew, who stared up at him. "Drew, he put hundreds of people out of work. Overnight. Parents of my friends, my schoolmates. With no warning. And no explanation. Nothing. And do you know why?"

"Money?" Drew guessed.

"Because he could. Is it a wonder everyone hates him?"

Drew didn’t answer.

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