FAKE First Year Together: Justice (June), Chapter 27

By Brit Columbia

Fandom: FAKE
Pairing: Dee and Ryo
Timeline: Set after my big story FAKE First Year Together: A New Day (May). Both Justice and A New Day are set after Volume 7 of FAKE
Summary: Dee and Ryo are hunting the dangerous and corrupt Lieutenant Abernathy, but he'll take them down first, if he can. They are slowly closing in on him, but he still has the advantage.
Rating: This chapter is worksafe.
Disclaimer: FAKE, featuring Dee, Ryo, Bikky, The Chief, Ted, FBI Agent Diana Spacey, and JJ, was created by Sanami Matoh. I make no claim on FAKE or Ms. Matoh or any of her characters. I just write fanfiction about them because I love the FAKE world so much.
Author's Notes: Way back in Justice chapter 6, Tigers in Chinatown, Ryo learned from the Commissioner that the bug sweep that was done of the 27th Precinct revealed two bugs: one in the Commissioner's office and one in Dee and Ryo's. This was one of the factors behind the Commissioner's decision, early in this story, to temporarily move Dee and Ryo over to One Police Plaza, where security is tighter. The Commissioner didn't want the information about the bug in his office to become widely known, so he told Ryo it was highly classified.

Thank you to my long-time friends ladyfeather and tripple_p for beta-reading this chapter for me.

Previously in Justice: Alan Radley learned that his friend and music partner, Rick, was wanted for murder, and now he's worried about associating wth him. Approximately 4 days ago in story-time, Dee and Ryo attempted to set up Lieutenant Abernathy in a sting involving a n allegedly stolen car with drugs in the trunk. They strong-armed a paroled felon, John Hambler, into helping them. Unfortunately, two uniformed officers from the 7th Precinct, Cameron Bell and Gordon Cooper, arrived on the scene and shot Hambler dead. Internal Affairs has been investigating the murder. In the last chapter, two agents from Internal Affairs tried to bully Ryo into accompanying them to the IA office for questioning regarding the Hambler incident. Luckily, they received a text from Ted warning them not to go. In this chapter you'll find out why.

Officer Cooper was found dead last night, allegedly of alcohol poisoning.

A week and a half ago in story-time, Bikky was with his two friends Jill and Penny in Chinatown when they were grabbed by two plainclothes detectives, also from the 7th Precinct. Bikky had been given a bag of Doritos to deliver to a local drug dealer, but no one knew the bag actually contained heroin- except the police. Bikky, Jill and Penny were all traumatized by being manhandled by the police.

Bikky is currently at a horse ranch in Philadelphia for his own safety.

Justice Chapter 27: Secrets and Lies

"Holy fucking shit," muttered Dee, staring at the screen.

"It gets worse," said Ted. "Stay tuned."

"Worse than me saying Bell and Cooper deserved to die?"

"How did they do this?" asked Ryo.

"Wait a sec..." Ted held up the remote. "Listen to this part."

On the screen, Dee could be seen leaning back in his chair in a badly lit room. "I ain't saying I never shot a criminal scumbag who didn't technically deserve it. But Bell and Cooper were so fucking blatant about it. If they wanted to kill the SOB, they should have been smarter. Why ice the guy, anyway? Why couldn't they be satisfied with just giving Hambler the shit-kicking of his life?"

A voice that sounded like Battola's came from off-screen. "Have you ever done that, Detective Laytner?"

The image of Dee faced the camera. "No-o-o-o-o comment." Then he smiled in a menacing way. Everyone on the CI team was familiar with that smile.

Ted paused the video and looked at his co-workers' unhappy faces. Ryo was wide-eyed with shock. Dee's expression was bitter. Both of them turned to him with appeal in their eyes. He knew they didn't understand the technology that had gone into the creation of the fake interviews he had shown them of himself, Dee, Bell and Cooper, but they accepted that the technology existed. Mainly, they were trusting him to figure out some way of proving that the videos were clever and sophisticated fakes. He hoped he could, but he was going to need help. All of their careers were on the line. He hadn't even shown them the one of the Chief, yet. They had created a real good one starring the Badger. Unlike Dee's, which was evidently a work in progress, the one of the Chief was complete, right down to time tracking. It clocked in at five minutes, forty-five seconds total. Short but effective. That promotion to Station Commander that the Badger was expecting would go up in a puff of smoke if this 'interview' ever got out.

"Now let's look at the originals," said Ted. "We'll check out the one of Dee first, and you can see where they got the building blocks for what they've done so far on the fake construct."

The next one he showed them was obviously Dee's original interview.

"Bell and Cooper deserve to lose their badges over this," the grainy image of Dee said on the video screen. "But first it remains to be seen whether you guys do a fair investigation."

"Yep, I said that," Dee confirmed. He fondled his package of cigarettes and glanced at it from time to time, but he didn't dare light up. He managed a weak grin when Ryo squeezed his shoulder.

Ted fast-forwarded to the next key point. Dee's image was exclaiming, "Hambler may have been a criminal scumbag, but he didn't deserve to die!"

"See how they did that?" Ted asked. " 'Bell and Cooper deserve...' and then, here...'to die!' You can see where they got 'criminal scumbag', too."

Dee and Ryo nodded, and looked at the transcripts Ted had helpfully provided them with.

"See, Ryo, it was at this point I said they gave Ted the shit-kicking of his life, so they took parts of that and mixed it with this part here where I said 'Why couldn't they be satisfied with just arresting the two guys they thought were car thieves?'" Dee pointed to the underlined parts. "Then they made it look like I said 'Why couldn't they be satisfied with just giving Hambler the shitkicking of his life?"

"They would have done this to me too, if I had agreed to go there today." Ryo shook his head in disbelief. "Thanks for the text, Ted. It arrived in the nick of time. They were here with a car and everything."

"Don't mention it, dude."

"Dee." Ryo turned toward him. "Do you think they had time to show Gordon Cooper the one they made of him before he died?"

"I bet they did. Or they played him the tape over the phone. Shit." Dee was now fiddling with his lighter. "Hey Ted, you can prove this stuff is fake, right? I mean, there must be evidence of the editing they did... right?"

"It's real professional," Ted said slowly. "I couldn't find technical proof of the edits. The tracking has no breaks. This is clearly a copy of the spliced version, but look at the date and time. It matches the time you were there. I think I know how they did it, but it would be hard to prove. The biggest thing we've got going for us is that they haven't deleted any of the original interviews yet, and even though they hid them behind a wall of security, it wasn't good enough to stop a really determined hacker. That tells me they weren't expecting us to figure out what they were up to."

"They must not be aware of how often we have to lend you out to the Cybercrime division," Dee said. "I wonder why they wouldn't have checked that out?"

"How did you figure it out, Ted?" Ryo asked.

Ted took a swig from his can of Pepsi. "Oh, I'm a lot more observant than people think," he replied, and then turned his head away from Ryo, ostensibly to burp. At the same time he winked at Dee, just to let him know he knew their little secret. Dee's eyes first widened in alarm, and then narrowed slightly in his best attempt to give Ted a warning look. Ted ignored Dee's futile attempt at intimidation. He had his larger, tougher co-worker by the short hairs, and both of them knew it.

"Ramie and Battola questioned you for a really long time on Friday, didn't they, Dee?" Ryo asked.

"Yeah," said Dee. "At least three hours. Same questions over and over. You too, Ted?"

"Yeah. I've been questioned by IA before, but never like that. They acted like I was a suspect, not a witness."

"That's exactly how I felt," confirmed Dee.

"Well, I got to thinking," said Ted. "You guys know I minored in digital filmmaking in college? Well, it was exactly like they were making a movie, only I didn't have a copy of the script. It was as though we did take after take after take with the question repetition until they were satisfied. I realized later that they were only doing that so that they'd have enough material for a digital remix. If they wanted to, they could probably have taken the interviews in directions that would have given them footage to make me look like I was saying I murdered my grandmother or masterminded a bank job." He frowned at the thought, and then added, "The lighting in the room where they did most of the interviews was really bad, too, which I thought was unusual. But you can see it makes it easier to hide tiny mouth movements when there's a lot of natural shadow."

"Shit-sucking sons of bitches," growled Dee. "What are we gonna do with this?"

"We're gonna leave it with the Chief and the Commish. Chief seemed to think Rose would want in on this."

"Oh, he will," said Ryo. He hesitated for a moment before going on. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but the Commissioner's office at the Two-Seven was bugged and he thinks Liam Hennessy was behind it."

"Hey!" said Dee. "I thought it was just our office that was bugged."

"Liam Hennessy? Commander of Internal Affairs?" Ted whistled. "The corruption goes way further than I thought." He hoped it stopped with Hennessy and didn't go as high as the governor's office, or even higher. "Do Hennessy and Rose have a problem with each other?"

"Um, yes," Ryo answered, looking guiltily at Dee.

"Come on, Ryo, spill." Dee folded his arms and the look on his face indicated that there was a lot more he wanted to say. "It's not good to keep secrets from your partner."

"Or your teammates!" added Ted, with feeling.

"Dee, I already told you that Hennessy and the Commissioner were enemies! I also told you that Hennessy and Abernathy were good friends."

"Yeah, but you didn't tell me that Hennessy went so far as to put a Goddamn bug in the Commish's office."

"Um, I'm sorry, but I was told it was highly classified..." Ryo's voice trailed off. He seemed to be having trouble looking at Dee. "I don't think even the Chief knows about the bug in the Commissioner's office."

"Classified, my ass!" exclaimed Dee. "How the hell are we supposed to do our jobs here? Five minutes ago, I would have put my money on Rose. But now I find out IA has had open door access to everything that has gone on in the Commish's office for God knows how long. Who knows what they've got on him? He could go down in flames tomorrow! And if he does..."

"If he does, we're in trouble," finished Ted. "This is first-rate work." He indicated the computer terminal which still sported a paused image of Dee. "Team Abernathy has been given a hell of a budget to fuck us all up. They probably have voice files like this on Rose, too. I didn't look for anything on him because I didn't know I should."

"My money is still on Rose," said Ryo firmly. "He's got Diana behind him, which means the full power of the FBI. Remember, at that meeting we had here last week, Rose told us that the FBI has been brought in on it? They have an undercover operative already in place at IA."

Dee looked at Ryo thoughtfully. "I guess you're right," he said. "The Sea-Hag would move heaven and earth to make sure nothing happened to her darling 'Berkie'. Those IA guys won't even know what hit 'em."

Ryo nodded. "Like Mike's lawyer," he said. "Diana wiped the floor with her."

.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.

Dee fidgeted impatiently all through Ryo's phone conversation with his Aunt Elena. It had been hard enough waiting to get his partner alone after Ted had dropped that IA bombshell on them, complete with video 'evidence'. He was feeling pissed that Ryo had withheld from him the information that Rose's office had been bugged. Ryo's secretiveness was an ongoing problem for him in their professional relationship. Dee had complained about it several times over the years, and Ryo always promised he would stop doing it, but then it invariably happened again. He could still remember how sick and frustrated he felt when Ryo had taken off after that dangerous psycho-bitch Alicia Grant by himself. Fortunately she had refrained from shooting Ryo for being an uninvited witness to her totally fucking premeditated murder of her husband, but she could very easily have done so. Dee had counted four shots, so she still had a few bullets left in the clip when she got done mowing Leo down. Not that he could remember much about what happened after that, since one of her goons had come up behind him and given him his first concussion of the year.

He paced near the window of their office, trying not to glower at Ryo. His second concussion of the year had also come about due to Ryo. His partner's decision to go and confront a pack of skinheads without bothering to mention his intentions had resulted in Dee waking up in an ambulance. Okay, maybe that one wasn't totally Ryo's fault. Dee was willing to concede that upon arriving on the scene of the Ryo/scumbag dialogue he had sort of jacked up the tension by punching out the nearest skinhead within reach. It was faintly possible that they could have avoided the subsequent brawl if he hadn't done that. But on the other hand, if Ryo had just given him even the briefest of warnings, they could have gone out there with a strategy and maybe arranged for back-up before they had taken their first step into the Skinhead version of the Twilight Zone.

"Uh-huh," Ryo was saying. "Uh-huh. Wow." He was hunched over the phone almost protectively, and his voice sounded muffled. It was almost as though he was trying to keep this phone call a secret, too. Dee had picked up enough from listening to Ryo's side of the conversation to know that Elena was calling to discuss what she had learned about the Ryo-look-alike guy in the photo she'd been given. Bikky had brought it home the night Lieutenant Abernathy had been so unwise as to trash his own apartment and pass out drunk amid the wreckage. But Ryo had seen fit to keep the existence of the photo a fucking secret until Dee found out, almost by accident, when Aunt Elena came over for brunch a few days later. Even Carol had known about it. The only person in the room who appeared not to have been briefed was Dee. What the fuck was up with that?

"You're right," Ryo was saying now. "But that's a dead-end road, isn't it?" Aunt Elena obviously had a few suggestions about what kind of road it was because Ryo went right back to 'uh-huh'-ing.

Dee listened as carefully as he could and gazed out of the window at the slim and jagged expanse of blue sky that could be seen above the other buildings around One Police Plaza. He tried to unclench his teeth and relax. He knew from experience that if he jumped all over Ryo the minute he got off the phone, his partner would clam up defensively, and nothing would be achieved. He had to remain calm. But he also couldn't let this go.

"Okay, love you," said Ryo into the phone. "I will." His light brown head nodded as though his aunt could actually see him. "Talk to you soon." He then put his phone back in his pocket and sat down at his desk looking at the files on it in thoughtful silence.

Dee counted to ten, but when Ryo still hadn't said anything, he spoke up. "So, what did she say? Did your grandfather have a little too much fun on those buying trips to Ireland?"

"Maybe, yes," said Ryo. "We don't know for sure. According to my Aunt Rosie, he was always a bit of a womanizer, but no one in the family acknowledged it. My grandfather talks a lot of gibberish since his last stroke, but Aunt Elena got the impression that there might have been a woman he had a relationship with in Derry. She couldn't get a name out of him, though."

"How about the Abernathy connection?"

Ryo's lip curled. "Yeah, right. He's not going to talk to us."

"I don't mean Mike. I mean Mrs. Abernathy. And maybe even Thomas."

"Thomas doesn't know anything. Bikky already talked to him." Ryo turned toward the computer on his desk. "But it's possible we could find Mrs. Abernathy, even though she appears to have done a pretty good disappearing act."

"You could also hire a private dick in Ireland. But that would likely be pricey."

Ryo nodded. "Probably too pricey. I don't know if I can afford that right now, what with those bills from Lindsay Masters. He's a very good lawyer, but he sure is expensive. And he wants me to go see him tomorrow, too."

"Could Elena help pay for an investigation in Ireland?" Dee didn't see why not. She and her husband Rick seemed to be rolling in dough.

Ryo shrugged. "I guess so. We'd have to talk about it. She has a couple of other ideas to try first. We don't really have enough information yet to launch an investigation in another country." He started flipping through his files. Dee could tell by his partner's tone that he wanted to get off this topic as soon as possible.

"Are you gonna talk to the Badger about this?"

Ryo looked at him. "No, it's a family matter. I wasn't planning to."

"Oh, like you didn't mention it to me, either? If I hadn't been at your place for brunch a couple of weeks ago, I wonder if you would have even told me." Dee folded his arms and looked at Ryo through narrowed eyes. A moment later he cursed inwardly because Ryo stiffened and his guard went up.

"Dee, we had a lot going on at that time, if you'll remember. I probably put it out of my mind for a few days. But I invited you to that brunch. If I hadn't wanted you to know about the photo, I wouldn't have done that. Now could we please drop this and get some work done?"

"Sure we can drop it." Dee pushed away from the window sill and walked closer to Ryo. "But if you don't tell the Chief about that picture, I will. I think the fact that Mike is going after you and Bikky has a lot to do with that guy in the photo, even if we don't know what it is yet."

Ryo's mouth compressed into a hard line. "Fine," he said. "I'll show the Chief the picture. Now can we drop it?"

"Sure. 'Cause now I want to know why you didn't tell me about the bug in the Commish's office." It cost Dee an effort, but he managed to keep his voice calm and his body language neutral.

Ryo heaved a sharp sigh and looked away, coloring slightly. "Dee...he told me it was classified, that the station commander knew, but not the Chief." He paused for a moment, obviously hoping that he had said enough. But Dee waited silently and Ryo was forced to go on. "He said he was trusting me with the information." His eyes flickered briefly in Dee's direction. "If even the Chief didn't know, I didn't think I should say anything... to anyone."

"That's where you're wrong, bro." Dee moved closer and took a seat in his own desk chair opposite Ryo. "The Commish shouldn't be sucking you into his little inside intrigues. I mean, what the hell? That can only end badly for you. It's way outside the chain of command. He basically ordered you to keep a secret from your partner and your commanding officer. Have you even thought about how the Chief would feel, how he might look at you, if he found out you knew this key piece of information before he did, and colluded with someone else to withhold it?"

Ryo's flush deepened. He finally managed to meet Dee's eyes, and Dee saw confusion and regret there. Ryo didn't answer his question, but then Dee hadn't really expected him to.

"Partners are supposed to trust each other, Ryo. You know, I'm not sayin' I expect you to tell me all your deep, personal secrets, but I do expect you to keep me in the loop on the work stuff." The penitent expression on Ryo's face had done a lot toward settling Dee's resentment down, and he was therefore able to speak gently. "I don't know why we gotta keep having this conversation over and over. You say you get it, but then nothing changes, and you go back to withholding information again."

"I... I do get it, Dee. And I do trust you. I would have told you about this if I thought it was important."

"You know, if it's about work, or our cases, then that's not necessarily your call to make." Dee picked up his stapler and fiddled with it. "I should also get a shot at saying whether or not I think it's important, not just you. Now, look, I'm not about to give you a list of all the times you've done this before, but I'm tellin' you, it has got. to. stop. We work as a team, we gotta present as a team." He put the stapler back on his desk. "Ted's not the most clued-in guy in the world, but he's probably wondering why you didn't tell anyone about that bug, and why you and the Commish have secrets together that the rest of the team don't know about. Including your partner."

"Dee, it's not like that." Ryo's eyes showed a flash of annoyance. He never had been good about admitting to being in the wrong, and Dee realized he probably couldn't push him any further for now.

"Look, dude, I don't know what that rat-bastard is up to, but I'm not gonna let him drive a wedge between us. From now on, you put me first, okay? Not him and his shady fucking secrets. Am I your partner, or what?"

"Okay, Dee. No more secrets."

"Good, then." Dee wiped his palms on his thighs and stood up. He knew that was as close as he was going to get to an apology from Ryo. He just wished that there had not been a hint of sullenness in his partner's voice. He loved Ryo with all his heart, and would be the first to admit that he had never had a better fit in a cop-partner, but each time he learned that Ryo had kept key information from him, his uneasiness grew. Why the hell couldn't Ryo just share what he learned? There was potential here for someone to get hurt; maybe even killed. Twice it had been him. Next time it might be Ryo. Dee couldn't bear the thought of that. Not that he was looking forward to his own third concussion, either. But he didn't know how to make Ryo understand the seriousness of what he was doing.

.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.

The two girls who were perched on one of the large white planters outside the Mid-Manhattan Library stared at Carol when she stepped out through the front door. It was evident that they had been waiting for her. She recognized them as Jill and Penny, Bikky's friends, the girls who had been unlucky enough to get caught up with him in the Doritos incident in Chinatown. She stopped and waited when they came toward her.

Jill was the taller of the pair, thin and darkly pretty. Penny was shorter and rounder, a red-cheeked strawberry blonde. Penny was usually a cheerful sort of girl, but at the moment she looked uncomfortable and vaguely hostile. Jill's face, however, was giving nothing away.

Carol greeted them brightly. "Hi there. Are you girls looking for Bikky?" She asked this mainly for something to say. She realized that they probably knew Bikky wasn't in New York. All Bikky's friends seemed to know. She figured he was dying of boredom at the ranch because she had received a number of calls and texts from him since Saturday even though it had only been a little over 24 hours. He had also popped up on several of their friends' Facebook pages.

"Hi, Carol," said Jill, who was obviously the spokesperson. "No, we know he's out of town. We were looking for you, actually."

"Oh?" Carol pretended to be surprised. They probably wanted her to tell them where Bikky was, or something. She had no intention of doing that, of course. Bikky's safety was at stake, and besides, she had promised Ryo. "Well, what can I do for you?" She smiled disarmingly, although she didn't trust them. Especially not Jill.

"Do you have time to come and have a coffee with us?" Jill's voice was brisk and businesslike. She tossed her cigarette onto the sidewalk and gave Carol the smallest of artificial smiles.

Carol looked at her watch. "I think so, but it's going to have to be a real quick one. I promised my aunt I'd help her with laundry."

"This is important," insisted Penny plaintively.

"It won't take long," said Jill, her tone reassuring. "There's a Starbucks right over there."

"Let's go, then." Carol repositioned the straps of the tote bag full of textbooks on her shoulder and tossed her ponytail back. "After all that studying, I think I deserve a Frappuccino."

.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.

"Alan, can we afford this?" Mrs. Price's voice came out as a surprisingly loud stage whisper.

Alan thought there was no way the locksmith could have missed it. "Don't sweat it, Gram. My tip money from last night will mostly cover it." It wouldn't, but his grandmother didn't need to know that.

"Is it really necessary? I thought Rick was your friend."

"Well, he is. But he didn't give me back the spare key, and I heard he's hanging with a pretty wild crowd nowadays. I don't wanna take any chances."

"Can't you just call him?"

Alan shrugged as he watched the strong brown hands of the locksmith installing a heavy deadbolt on their apartment door. "I tried, but he's not the greatest guy in the world for returning calls. I may not hear from him for a while." Actually he hoped he didn't hear from Rick again for a really long while. He had been shocked to learn that his music partner was wanted for murder. Rick had always been a little on the sketchy side, but Alan still had trouble wrapping his mind around the whole 'murder' part. When Tyrone had told him about Rick and the Dyre Street Devils, he had hoped it was just rumor or hearsay. It was the kind of rumor that Rick would enjoy starting. He was always trying to be such a tough guy, and had great admiration for all the gangsta rappers. Alan had wanted to assume that what Tyrone had told him was just talk, and that Rick wouldn't really go so far as to seriously hurt someone.

But now it had been corroborated by the NYPD. A state-wide warrant, Dee had said. Shit. Alan didn't want Rick in the same room as his grandmother anymore.

He kept replaying his last face-to-face conversation with Rick over in his mind. Rick said he was going to go after that asshole Detective MacLean to get revenge on him for beating up Alan. But if so, why had he gone after Dee's partner? That didn't make sense at all. "I got a plan to get that fucker put away." Rick had said. "Me and my guys, we're gonna do this anyway. All you gotta do is enjoy the results. This is my gift to you." Alan frowned. Me and my guys. What the hell did that mean? Was Rick really in with the Devils now? If so, they must be a pack of incompetents, because they had obviously gone to the wrong address. And what was that Dee had been saying about a dirty cop working with Rick? It made no sense. Either Rick was working with a gang like the Devils, or he was being run by a dirty cop. No way could Alan see it being both. He had to find out the truth, or he'd never feel comfortable letting his grandmother leave the apartment long enough to go down to the building lobby to fetch their mail, let alone head out on her weekly outings to the Silver Threads Seniors Center.

If anyone knew what was really going on with Rick, it would be Tyrone. Alan felt a prickle of fear at the thought of willingly walking into Stone Blood territory. He had done his best to let that connection fade. It would never be altogether gone, of course, but he had sure learned his lesson about hanging out with gang guys. He hoped he would never have to set eyes on Essien Ibo, Tyrone's extremely intimidating father, ever again. Of course that guy was still in hospital, apparently having come within a hairsbreadth of death during a shootout and fire. Tyrone was currently the acting leader of the surviving remnants of the Stone Bloods. He might be too busy to meet up. But it was more probable that he would want an exchange of information.

Alan kept his face blank and his thoughts to himself. He needed time to make up his mind. Should he talk to the cops through Dee Laytner? Or go to the Stone Bloods? Or should he just stay home behind his newly dead-bolted door and watch the soaps with his grandmother? At least the last option wouldn't involve having to trade what was left of his honor.

"Bikky, honey, are you ever going to unpack that suitcase of yours?" Karen stood in the doorway of Bikky's room with her hands on her hips and a pleasant but determined expression on her face.

"Huh?" Bikky pulled out one of his earphones and sat up on the bed. He looked nervously at her. So far she had been nice, but he wondered how long it would be before he inadvertently did something to piss her off.

"Your suitcase. Why don't you unpack it and put it in the closet? It's been more than twenty four hours, you know." She gave him a friendly smile and added, "Stay for a while, why don't you?"

Bikky knew he ought to smile back, but somehow he just couldn't. The still-packed suitcase gave him a strange feeling of security that he couldn't explain to himself. He felt that if he unpacked it, something bad might happen. It didn't make any sense. He knew there was no point saying anything. Maybe he could stall.

"I'll, uh, unpack it in a little while," he said. "If that's okay."

She came into his room and looked at him kindly. "Why put off until later what can be done now? Let's get it over with. I'll help you, and then maybe you can come out to the barn and help me with the horses."

"With the horses?" Bikky's voice cracked embarrassingly in the middle of that question.

"Yes, but don't worry. You don't have to touch any of them if you don't want to." She hefted his suitcase up onto the bare surface of his desk and unzipped it briskly.

"Wh- what do I have to do?"

"If you could muck out a stall or two and feed the chickens, that would be very helpful. Maybe you could climb up into the loft and get down some fresh hay for the horses, too." She took out one of Bikky's tee shirts, gave it a good shake and then hung it up in his closet. "I'm really sorry to ask you, but I can't find Pedrick anywhere. He seems to have disappeared."

That was good news to Bikky. If that dickhead Pedrick wasn't in the barn, he thought he could just about handle going out there, as long as no one expected him to get up close and personal with any of those horses. He had checked out their feet, and was of the opinion that it was going to hurt like hell when one of them finally got around to kicking him.

"Maybe the guy's sick," he ventured.

"He would have called," she said, opening one of the dresser drawers and transferring a pile of neatly paired socks into it. "He's normally so responsible. I can't imagine what's going on with him."

Bikky could. Pedrick had a case of terminal asshole-ism. He was amazed Karen couldn't see it. But Pedrick probably had an advanced degree in brown-nosing.

"Oh my," said Karen, and Bikky's head came up sharply at the slight sound of doubt in her voice. To his horror, he saw that she was holding a pair of red, lacey girl-gaunch. Shit! What the fuck? How the hell had that gotten in his suitcase?

"I'm so sorry!' Karen exclaimed, hastily stuffing the offending panties back where she had found them. "Perhaps I should let you do your own unpacking."

"Karen, jeez, it's not what you think!" Bikky protested. His face felt hot enough to toast a waffle on. "I didn't- They're not-" but he couldn't find the right words, and Karen was already waving a hand and telling him that it was all right.

"It's really none of my business, anyway," Karen said breezily. "How about we meet in the barn in ten minutes? I'll leave you to it."

She disappeared as Bikky worked through the realization that he had been set up, and that it didn't need too many brain cells to figure out who was behind it. Shit. Now Karen probably thought he was a teenage perv or something.

He jumped up and went to his suitcase to investigate the panties. Holy crap, they were big! He picked them up and stretched them, amazed at how much of them there was. Carol's panties were a lot smaller than these. Had Shantaya actually worn them? Like right up against her- That was another thought that made him blush. He dropped them like they were hot, or something and returned to the bed to think. Jesus in a jumpsuit, what should he do? He had been at the meeting with Ryo and Dee and their co-workers, and he remembered that old man, the Chief, saying something about panties in the search warrant. Obviously Dorkhead had found them and kept his trap shut about them. The jerk was probably laughing his ass off back in New York. Bikky's fist clenched on his thigh as various vengeful thoughts unfolded in his mind.

Finally, he went and had another look in his open suitcase. They were still there, a splash of redness draped across his basketball shorts. Bikky hesitated, not sure what he ought to do with them. Giving them back to Shantaya was out of the question. And who knew when he might next see Dee? Sexy red girl-panties like this were kind of dangerous to have around. First of all, they gave him weird feelings below the belt which he didn't want to have to deal with right now. He shuddered to think who might find them next. He had to get rid of them ASAP. Or find a damn good hiding place for them.

~end of Chapter 27~