Underhanded, Excerpt #2

The Boom,
Oklahoma City

I don’t know why, but I felt anxious about making my proposal to Brian and Davis. Brian joined us at the table a moment later, squeezing my shoulder affectionately and giving Davis a smooch on the cheek, which seemed to embarrass him.

“So tell us what’s going on with Josh,” Brian said to Ren as he sat next to Davis.

“Wait,” Davis interrupted. “Could someone please tell me who we’re talking about?”

“Josh Hayes. He’s the only child of our neighbors to the south at the new house on Castle Row,” Ren started. “He’s thirteen years old, but tall and thin for his age. We’ve only recently discovered his dad was an abusive drunk and used to beat him and his mother. Josh has gotten attached to Terry and has been hanging out with him while he’s been working on renovations.”

While he was explaining, I swiped through some photos on my phone and found one of Josh I’d taken recently. “Here he is,” I said, and passed my phone over to Brian and Davis.

“I can see why you’re worried. He’s gorgeous. Are you sure he doesn’t just have a crush on you? Maybe you should recruit him, if he isn’t already inclined our way,” Davis said with a wink. I stiffened in my seat.

“Maybe you should shut the fuck up, Davis,” Brian said harshly just as a server stepped up to the table.

“Well,” Boom Boom Becky drawled, “fancy seeing you here,” she said lightly to Brian and Davis. “What can I get you boys to drink?”

“I’ll have a Corona, dressed, and I’d like to buy Davy here a strip of duct tape to cover his mouth so he’ll think about what he’s saying before he says it,” I told her.

An awkward silence fell, while my face and Davis’ flushed red; mine in anger and his in embarrassment. His eyes shot to Brian, pleading for help. Brian shook his head.

“Don’t look at me, sweetheart. You’re on your own with this one,” he said, unsympathetically. Then he turned to Becky. “We’ll have another round of the same from the front bar, Becky.”

“And you, sir?” she said to Ren.

“I’ll have a double-tall Crown and soda, please. And can we get some menus?” Ren’s tone was deliberately calm and soothing.

“Sure thing. I’ll be back with your drinks in a moment.”

“Look. Um. Terry, I’m really sorry. I was just making light of the situation,” Davis started, “which I can see was a mistake. I apologize. It won’t happen again, I promise,” his words trailed off and his puppy-dog eyes begged for forgiveness.

“Don’t believe him, Terry,” Brian said in a stage whisper. “With him it’s like a recipe. Open mouth, insert foot, chew vigorously. He has it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Brian,” Davis shot back angrily and stood up. “I’m gonna get some air,” he said, stomping toward the exit to the enclosed patio.

“That wasn’t necessary, Brian,” I told him. He shrugged.

“Maybe not, but I’ve found he pays more attention to the message when it’s delivered with a four-by-four upside the head. Don’t worry, he’ll cool off in a few minutes.”

“Everything okay here, guys?” Boom Boom asked as she delivered our drinks and set menus on the table. “I noticed the boy storm off to the patio with a five-gallon bucket of pissed-off hanging over his head.”

“He’s fine. He’ll be back,” Brian assured.

“If you say so. Okay, I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order,” she answered. Then she stuck a strip of duct tape to the edge of the table by me and whispered, “Just in case.” She winked, then turned away to tend to another table.

“So what’s the rest of the story about Josh,” Brian asked Ren. Ren gave him the basic outline, minus the gory details, saying only that Josh’s parents had been found murdered and apparently Josh had run away.

“No wonder you were so upset,” Brian said to me. “Where do you think he’ll go?” I took a pull from my beer before answering.

“As far as we know, his only living relative is his paternal grandmother, but she lives in California. If he tries to go there, he’ll likely get a bus ticket or try to hitchhike,” I told him. Looking at Ren, I added, “But I’m sure Ren and Detective Masters have a plan to locate him, right?”

“Yeah, this isn’t new territory for Ajax. He’s putting all that in motion while we’re having dinner.”

I grabbed Davis’ drink and stood. “I’ll be back in a minute,” I told them and headed toward the patio. Outside, Davis was sitting on a low concrete bench, trying unsuccessfully to disengage politely from a couple of old queens who were intent on chatting him up.

As I approached, I called his name to get his attention. When he turned his head in my direction, so did the two queens.

“You left your drink,” I said lightly, handing it to him, then drew him to his feet with a light touch on his elbow. “Come on, we’re about to order dinner,” I told him. The two queens glared at me like chicken hawks who’d been deprived of their dinner. I smiled at them and nodded in greeting. “Excuse us, please,” I said then led Davis back inside.

“Terry, I really am sorry,” he started.

“I know, kid. Me, too. Let’s put it behind us, okay? I don’t want things to be awkward between us, for Brian’s sake,” I replied, patting him on the back.

“Neither do I,” he agreed. “The one thing I told Brian before we came here is that I was worried you wouldn’t like me, and practically the first thing I do is piss you off. I’m afraid I’ve not made a good impression. I’m not usually such an ass hat, Terry. I hope you’ll give me another chance.”

“Listen, Davis, it’s okay, really. I over-reacted anyway, mainly because I’m worried about Josh. But I do like you and a simple argument isn’t going to frame our friendship, especially now that you’re with Brian. Okay?” He nodded.

“Yeah, okay. I appreciate that. Now I know why Brian looks up to you so much. You’re a very kind man.” I was a little surprised by his statement, but didn’t comment on it.

“It’s settled, then. Come on, let’s eat. I’m starving.”