The gun felt heavy in Sean’s pocket and cold against his breast. His heartbeat slammed out a staccato rhythm. He took deep, measured breaths as he continued his methodical search, pushing down the voice in the back of his mind that told him he’d lost his quarry. He wasn’t giving up yet.
There had been no sign of Mark in the hotel lobby or the restaurant, but there was a bar on the mezzanine level he hadn’t checked yet. If he didn’t find him there, he would stake out the lobby or perhaps bribe one of the front desk clerks.
He stepped through the doorway into the dimly lit lounge and froze.
There he is, the fecking prick! His blood rushed hot. It seemed to sizzle in his ears as he observed the object of his recent obsession. He unconsciously clenched his fists.
Mark was laughing with the bartender about something. He appeared self-assured, witty … fecking cocky!
Kaeden used to be like that … self-assured, witty. Fecking cocky! That monster took all that away from him. Now my little bird is just an empty shell—sucked dry by that sadistic bastard.
Sean stayed the hand that crept toward the Beretta in his pocket. You can’t gun him down in the middle of a bar. That’s not the plan.
What the hell is my plan?
Sean suddenly realized he was still standing just inside the door, glaring bullets at the man. He made his way casually to a table at the back of the bar where he would have a good view of Mr. Psycho. At this time of day the bar was nearly empty. Sean took a seat facing the bar, trying to look relaxed.
It had been time-consuming and expensive, but not difficult, to track Mark down. He suspected that, since Kaeden wasn’t interested in pressing charges, the Vegas police hadn’t even tried.
He’d started his stalking activities by talking to Tommy. He’d offered the femme a fair chunk of change for information about Mark. Tommy had come through with a copy of Sally’s entire client file on Mr. Psycho and had refused payment. That had been unexpected luck. He had been sure Tommy was all about the money, but apparently there were some things that were more important to him. Sean, of course, hadn’t explained why he wanted the information, but Tommy had known.
Feeling like a detective, he had studied Mark’s client file carefully, committing the photos of that smug bastard to memory so that he would recognize him anywhere. Then, going mainly on common sense and instinct, he had started bribing people.
It was surprising what could be accomplished with few well-placed dollars wrapped around a little white lie. He had discovered, for example, that Mark had rented adjoining rooms at the hotel in Vegas. At first he’d wondered about this, but then it occurred to him that Mark might not want to sleep in the bloody bed next to his torture victim. That thought had caused his stomach to lurch.
Adjoining rooms would have been perfect for Mark’s psychopathic activities, and ultimately they were what had saved Kaeden. Sean was sure that the psychopath would have tortured him to death if he hadn’t been discovered by the hotel housekeeping staff while cleaning Mark’s room. They had heard muffled noises coming from the adjoining suite, and upon investigation, they had discovered Kaeden chained to the bed.
There had been a big hullabaloo, of course, and Mark had managed to evade the police simply by not showing up at his room again.
Mark was not his real name. Sean hadn’t managed to figure out what that was, but he’d still tracked him down. He’d found him through his boat. He was pretty sure the 42-foot yacht was his pride and joy. He’d moved it from its slip in Heartland City the day after Kaeden had been found. After weeks of searching, Sean had almost given up on the boat angle, but then an offhand comment made by a marina attendant had led him to check a small private boatyard just outside of Chicago. They had the boat matching Sean’s description, except the name had recently been changed to Asian Beauty. Sean’s blood had turned to ice.
“Hiya, honey, what can a get you?”
Sean was startled out of his thoughts by a server standing at his table. She had expressive brown eyes and long dark, wavy hair. He guessed her to be in her mid-thirties but thought she would look younger if she wore less makeup.
“Just a coke, please,” Sean said, trying to imitate an American accent and failing miserably. He needed to be discreet and forgettable, at least as much as a 6’4” mountain of muscle with flaming red hair and an Irish brogue could be. He was wearing a skullcap to cover his hair and had considered wearing sunglasses to hide his eyes, but was afraid that would just make him stand out more. “And can you put a lime in it, l—?” He bit back the “lass” which had been on the tip of his tongue.
The woman smiled at him. “So you want a virgin Cuba Libre?” she teased.
“Aye, I only do virgins.”
“Well, I guess I’m out of luck then.” She swayed her tush as she walked away.
Argh! Way to be inconspicuous there Sean, he admonished himself. He glanced back at the bar to see that Mr. Psycho was still chatting up the bartender. The man behind the counter was handsome but probably not Mark’s type, Sean judged. He was over forty and looked macho—most likely straight.
He caught sight of the server returning with his drink and smiled at her.
“Here ya go, honey. Let me know if I can do anything else for you.” She winked at him.
“Thank you,” he said, refraining from flirting back. He wasn’t interested in her and didn’t want to make too much of an impression. She looked disappointed and didn’t sway her hips quite as much when she walked away this time.
Sean looked at the bar again to make sure his quarry wasn’t leaving soon. He was having another drink. Sean sipped his coke slowly. It seemed strange to be in a bar and not be drinking Jameson, but he was pretty sure whiskey didn’t come in virgin form.
One of the first things Sean had done after making a decision to take Mr. Psycho out permanently, was acquire a good weapon. That had turned out to be ridiculously easy to come by in America. He’d started with Tim who had sent him to a man called “Skullface.”
Four hours later Sean had been shown into the basement of a non-descript house in the suburbs by a man who’d had his face tattooed with dark sockets around his eyes and teeth over his lips. He was tall and painfully thin. Sean was sure that in dim light he really would look like a living skeleton. He couldn’t help the shiver that ran down his spine.
Skullface had handed him a small handgun, and laughed as he’d watched Sean turn the Beretta over gingerly, inspecting it. Clearly he’d never handled a gun before in his life.
“That’s the safety,” Skullface had pointed out helpfully. “I suggest you keep that on so you don’t shoot your balls off.”
At that point Sean had almost changed his mind. However, when he’d remembered the spark that had been extinguished from Kaeden’s eyes, and when he’d thought about the man who had done it out roaming the streets, looking for his next victim, unharried by the police, he decided he was capable of taking a life. The memory of Kaeden’s haunted eyes steeled his resolve. He’d ponied up the money and bought the weapon along with a suppressor to silence the noise. He felt the gun weighing down his pocket now, a grim reminder of the task at hand.
He’d followed Skullface’s advice and spent some time at a shooting range practicing with the weapon until he was comfortable with it. He knew he would need to be close to his target, and his target would have to be stationary, for him to be sure not to miss. He wanted to take Mr. Psycho out with one shot. He’d been trailing him for fifteen hours and hadn’t had the opportunity for a clean kill yet. Now that he was in such close proximity, his fingers itched to pull the trigger. He was surprised that he felt no guilt over his plans, only a burning anger toward the psychopath who had so brutally tortured the spirit out of the man he loved.
He was lost in thought for little while, thinking of Kaeden and how haunted he had looked when he’d seen him. When he glanced at the bar again, he was dismayed to see that Mark was standing, getting his bill from the bartender.
Damn! I need to get better at this stalking shit. I need to pay for my drink before I lose him.
Sean narrowed his eyes as he saw Mr. Psycho show his room key and sign the tab without using a credit card. He’s got a room here!
Just then an attractive young man came into the bar and made his way directly to the restroom. Sean watched as Mr. Psycho’s eyes zeroed in on the boy’s bubble ass. His jeans looked like they’d been painted on.
The young man tossed a smile over his shoulder at Mark as he sashayed into the bathroom.
Oh laddie, you don’t want to bait this one, Sean thought. His insides turned to ice as he saw Mr. Psycho follow the young man into the restroom. His gut response was to follow and protect, but he stopped himself. He’s not going to molest the boy in the lavatory—he likes the chase, and he’s too smart to do anything in public.
Not seeing the waitress, Sean went up to the bar. As he approached, he noticed that Mark had left his sports coat draped across the back of his barstool. His Irish luck was still holding. He stood next to it as the bartender looked at him expectantly.
“What do I owe you for a coke?”
“That’ll be six dollars, please.”
Christ! Six bucks for four ounces of coke and some ice-cubes? Maybe they charged extra for the lime wedge. Sean counted eight dollars onto the bar. “Hey, thanks!”
“Sure. Thanks for coming in.” The bartender swept the money away and turned his back on Sean to open the register.
Sean immediately slipped his hand into the pocket of Mark’s jacket where he’d seen him slip his room key. His fingers found two cards there. He’s got two rooms! Sean felt the blood draining from his face as the implications sank in. Sean palmed one of the room keys and slid it into his own pocket.
Neither Mark nor the twink had come out of the restroom yet. What the hell are they doing in there? Sean could not stop himself from investigating. He barely managed to keep himself from pulling his gun out as, heart in his throat, he swung open the door.
Mark and the young man were standing together in the center of the room. The young man was smiling up at Mr. Psycho adoringly while Mark stroked his cheek. The young man had red hair, a freckled complexion, and slightly crooked teeth. He reminded Sean strongly of his younger brother, Ian, and Sean’s stomach, which had been a tight hard knot for some time now, suddenly twisted inside out. He had intended to piss, but instead he ran to one of he stalls. He barely got the door closed behind him before he was heaving into the toilet.
What the feck? I usually have a cast-iron stomach. He found he was shaking. The raw emotion that had spiraled through him when he’d seen Mark luring his next victim had overwhelmed him.
He could hear Mark and the boy talking in low tones. As his stomach settled he listened intently to their conversation.
“So, you’ll call me tomorrow?” the twink asked.
“Yes, as soon as I’m done with my meeting. Dress in something classy—and sexy.”
“I’m looking forward to it. Are you sure you’re too busy right now?”
“Yes, sorry babe. I’ve got things I need to attend to. I’ll see you tomorrow though, I promise.”
Don’t bet on it, Sean thought, fingering his gun. As soon as the boy leaves… He coughed and then spat into the toilet.
“Are you all right in there?” Mark called.
“Yeah, just had a wee bit too much o’ the cheer last night,” Sean replied. Feck, why am I talking to this psycho? “I was supposed to meet the lads here for a hair o’ the dog, but I think I’d better just go back up to me room.” Sean’s nervousness caused his brogue to thicken.
He heard Mark chuckle. “Well take care,” he called.
Sean flushed the toilet and stepped out of the stall in time to see Mark and the boy disappearing together out the door. He went quickly to the sink to wash his hands and rinse out his mouth. He noticed his face was unnaturally pale, but that would fit with his hangover story. He hurried out of the restroom in time to see Mr. Psycho shrugging into his jacket.
The twink was sitting at the bar, still smiling at Mark. The older man brushed a strand of the boy’s hair out of his eyes and winked at him before turning and heading out the door. Sean trailed after him, still fighting the churn in his stomach.
Mark made his way directly to a bank of elevators and Sean followed, stopping a little behind him. While they waited for the elevator, Mr. Psycho turned and smiled at him. Sean gave him a weak grin through gritted teeth. He really just wanted to wrap his big hands around the psycho’s sadistic neck and squeeze. Mark didn’t look like a pushover though, and Sean had no recent experience with hand-to-hand fighting. The gun was his best option.
Presently the door opened and they both entered the elevator, Sean taking up a spot in the back.
“Which floor?” Mark asked.
Sean noted that Mr. Psycho had already pressed eight. “Seven, please,” he said.
Mark stood with his back to him as the elevator doors slid shut. They were the only two on the elevator and it occurred to Sean that he could pull his gun out and shoot Mark right then, but he hesitated. He had a key to one of his rooms. It would be better to kill him in his room, if possible. It would take longer for the body to be discovered and might give him a chance at a clean getaway.
He’d already decided that even if he were caught it would be worth it if he was able to prevent this psycho from traumatizing any more young men and possibly give Kaeden back some piece of mind. He didn’t want to get caught if he could help it though. He valued his freedom.
Mark turned to him and asked conversationally, “What was the occasion for the overindulgence?”
Sean steeled himself to be polite to the man. “An Irishman doesn’t need an occasion to drink,” he replied with a grin.
Mark chuckled. “Well, drink plenty of water. It’ll help.”
Sean nodded, not trusting himself to say anything else.
The door opened on the seventh floor and Sean stepped past Mark into the hallway.
“See you around,” Mark called after him.
Next time I see ye, it’ll be at the other end of me gun. “Aye, sure,” Sean called over his shoulder.
As soon as the elevator door slid shut, Sean bounded for the stairwell. While taking the stairs two at a time, he pulled on a pair of thin black gloves. He paused at the landing on the eighth floor to don a black hood with cutout eyeholes that he’d purchased on a whim at a costume store. He was most likely going to be caught red-handed, but he wanted to minimize his exposure if at all possible.
He listened carefully at the door. His heart was beating so loudly he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to hear anything else, but presently he heard the elevator ding and the door swish open.
He counted to five to give Mark a chance to get a little ways down the hall, then he cracked the door and peeked cautiously up and down the hallway. He spotted Mark strolling jauntily down the hall to his left. Sean watched as he stopped at a door about two-thirds of the way down and slid his key into the reader.
Sean held his breath. Didn’t he notice that one of his keys is missing? It was a gamble Sean had taken. He’d assumed that Mark would realize his key was missing when he got up to his rooms. At that point Sean thought he would go down to the front desk to get another key, giving Sean the opportunity to slip into his room and hide before the old key was deactivated. Mark disappeared into the room.
Feck! Well, I’ll just have to follow him in, then. The hallway was deserted. Sean hurried down it to Mark’s room, his tennis shoes making no noise on the thick carpet. When he got to the door that he thought Mark had entered, he paused. It’s either this one or the next one. He had been too far away to note the number on the door. He listened carefully at the first door and heard nothing. Going to the second one, he did the same with like results. He glanced at the next door down. It wasn’t that one, was it?
He stepped up to the third door and listened. His gut tightened as he heard Mark’s voice, talking in a quiet but chilling tone. He must have gone in the other door and this is the adjoining room, Sean guessed. But who the hell is he talking to?
Just then Sean heard what sounded like a muffled scream come from behind the door. The hair on the back of his neck lifted as chill bumps ran down his body. Holy Mother! He’s got another victim!
Sean started to reach for his gun in a panic and then stopped himself. Get a grip! He’s not going to kill him in the next thirty-seconds. He took a deep breath and channeled Swami Sripal. His emotions seemed to drain away and his head cleared.
Reaching into his breast pocked, he took out the Beretta, which he’d already fitted with the suppressor. It felt heavy in his hand. He fumbled a bit with the card key; the gloves made his fingers clumsy and he was using his left hand because the gun was in his right. All the while he could hear Mark talking, taunting his victim. The sound of his voice was punctuated by muffled screams. It was incredibly unnerving. Finally Sean got the card out and facing the right direction. He took one more deep steadying breath.
For Kaeden, he thought as he slid the key through the reader. The light flashed green.