"What I don't understand is why Walsh can't go with you," Eli complained.
Alec didn't respond, mostly because Eli had been whining for a solid hour on the subject and Alec wasn't inclined to repeat himself. They both knew that Walsh being at this sort of event would result end in nothing less than a catastrophe, possibly even before they managed to corner Tessaro or Casale.
Instead of saying any of that, Alec scrolled through his phone and didn't even look up, just to rile Eli up a little more, and he continued to pretend to not notice the outraged looks Eli was shooting him through the mirror.
"At least Walsh would look sort of dapper in this kind of thing, I'm just going to look like a toddler someone forced into a rented suit for a wedding or something," Eli continued, and then froze when one of the tailors started using several very sharp pins far too close to a rather sensitive part of his body.
Alec very much doubted that Eli would look that terrible in a suit, last minute though it was. But he wasn't about to indulge in Eli's pity party, so he said instead, "Quit whining, I have to go to the gala my mother has been hounding me about, and after I've refused every invitation to every event she's tried to drag me to for the last five years."
Eli tilted his head thoughtfully and flinched when this earned him a sharp poke from one of the pins. He hadn't even moved his legs; that had to have been on purpose. But you didn't argue with men holding sharp objects near your family jewels.
"Okay, you win: this sucks more for you than me," Eli said, once he was finished swearing silently.
"This will be ready for this evening, correct?" Alec asked one of the tailors, not seeming to care that one of them had nearly emasculated Eli with a sewing pin.
Sometimes Eli sincerely hated him from the bottom of his heart.
The tailor shot Alec a deeply offended look and said, "Of course it will be, Mr. Barrington-Johnsen."
Alec ignored the face Eli made at him. He knew how ridiculous his last name sounded- he'd spent more than half his life wincing whenever anyone used it. It was only after he'd been dragged into Walsh's insane little world that he'd found himself unable to continue to give a shit. It was hard to care about something so asinine as his ridiculous last name when his life regularly involved gun fights, corpses, and exceptionally convoluted schemes.
The tailor finished up and then left the room, instructing Eli to leave the suit ready to be altered on the side table. Eli looked down at the suit he was wearing with a look of apprehension. There were a lot of pins.
"Okay, so, What's our game plan?" Eli asked, expression mildly apprehensive as he attempted to get the jacket off without accidentally stabbing himself or dislodging any pins.
Alec raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean? We go to the gala and we don't get thrown out since neither of us is Walsh, then we find a way to talk to Tessaro or his assistant. Without starting a gang war, since, again, we are not Walsh."
"Yeah, I knew that much," Eli said, a touch irritably, jacket halfway off his shoulders. He hesitated and then blurted, "I meant about us. Am I pretending to be your boyfriend or am I just going as your entirely-platonic-and-straight-plus-one?"
"Huh." Alec hadn't really considered that part, having been more preoccupied with making sure Eli wasn't going to show up in worn out sweatpants and a band t-shirt.
"I don't really care either way," Eli said with a shrug and winced when this caused one of the pins to gently stab him. "I just figured I should offer- it would give you an excuse to avoid Ashley Adams or whatever her name was."
Immediately, Alec liked this plan.
"It's Ashley Abrams, and this sounds like an excellent plan," Alec said absently, already imagining the outraged faces his parents would make at him. He was nearly thirty years old, but he had figured out years ago that he wasn't ever really going to fully outgrow his teenage desire to do whatever he could to piss his parents off. He'd already accepted this fact about himself and he tried to only indulge in it when there was a real payoff. And thiswould be one hell of a payoff.
"Cool, sounds good, Velma," Eli said and winked at Alec through the mirror. Alec was pretty sure that if he hadn't been trapped in a suit jacket full of sewing pins, Eli would have done the double finger gun pose, revealing what a total dork he was, even while wearing a suit worth several hundred dollars.
Abruptly, Alec realized that while in theory this plan was gold, it would involve pretending to date Eli. He was much less certain this was a good idea.
What had he done?
"Okay, no haring off after the bad guy just because you think you have everything figured out this time," Alec said sternly as they entered the gala.
His mother had almost cried with happiness when Alec had called her to tell her that he was coming after all, and she'd actually cried when Alec had told her he was bringing a plus one. He had failed to mention that his plus one was a) a man and b) Eli, whom she had met once very briefly, and with whom she had been less than impressed by. In Eli's defense, at the time he'd been covered in mud, and it would have been tough for anyone to make a good impression, much less a man with a concussion and nearing hypothermia from a dunk in the polluted river that ran around the edge of Summerport.
"That was one time!" Eli protested, loud enough to attract the attention of several people ahead of them waiting to be admitted to the ballroom.
Alec gave him a flat stare.
"Okay, a couple times," Eli amended sheepishly. "But it's always worked out for the best, hasn't it?"
"You got shot last time."
"You were the one who told me to quit being a baby since it was only a graze!"
And Alec had said that because he hadn't known what else to do with the sheer panic seeing Eli bleeding had caused him, he reflected dourly and handed his invitation to the woman guarding the doors of the ballroom.
"Just don't get kidnapped again, Daphne," Alec grumbled and stormed off to get a drink. He got two steps before he realized this would mean leaving Eli unsupervised and turned on his heel to drag Eli along with him.
They got drinks at the bar- nonalcoholic since being drunk and talking to a drug lord about murder did not mix well- and surveyed the room. It was sumptuously decorated in silver and navy blue with an enormous chandelier dripping with what might have been actual diamonds. In one corner, a string quartet had started to play, though no one would start to dance for at least another hour, once people were finished arriving. Waiters in immaculate black and white uniforms glided unobtrusively through the crowd, carrying enormous platters of appetizers that always tasted bland no matter how expensive they were.
It was probably the last place Alec wanted to be, second only to the inside of an active volcano.
"Is Tessaro here yet?" Eli asked, casually looking around the room, though he only had the vaguest idea of what Tessaro looked like: mid-fifties, Italian, very tall.
The gala was far from full swing, the ballroom mostly empty while people trickled in through the main doors.
"Yes," Alec said, nodding towards where their target was socializing with several older ladies, and then he had to grab Eli's arm before he went charging off. "But we aren't going to go march up to him and demand to know if he's recently had a woman killed!"
Eli rolled his eyes. "I was going to start with 'hello', give me at least a little credit."
"If we accost him right away, he'll be suspicious," Alec said, and deliberately positioned himself so that his back was to Tessaro while also blocking Eli from sight.
"He's going to be suspicious no matter when we go up to him," Eli pointed out, but relaxed back against the bar, Alec's hand falling from his arm. "Since we're, you know, still asking him if he had a politician murdered."
"Well, I was going to start with 'hello'," Alec said and easily dodged the swipe Eli leveled at him. "Hey, watch it, we're supposed to be in love here."
"Oh, right," Eli said and patted Alec gingerly on the arm. "Uh, sorry, snugglemuffin."
"Ugh." Alec made a face. "Don't even try. Just be your usual obnoxious self. That will be more convincing."
"Yeah, I'm really feeling the love here," Eli said and rolled his eyes again. He peeked around Alec's broad shoulders, noting that Tessaro was moving farther away from them, one arm slung around a younger blond man's shoulders. "So, if we aren't going to go up to Tessaro, how are we going to incept him to come talk to us first?"
"What I was trying to say, is that we just need to wait for him to get a few drinks in before we start interrogating him," Alec said, and slugged back the rest of his drink, wishing it weren't just soda.
"What if he doesn't drink?"
"Believe me, at an event like this, nobody will be leaving here sober," Alec said wearily.
Eli shot him a doubtful look but shrugged and sipped his own drink. He tugged absently at the cuffs of his jacket, feeling fairly uncomfortable. The suit fit perfectly, much better than the last one Eli had owned in high school when he'd been his older brother's groomsman, but he just wasn't used to wearing such slim fitting clothing. Other than his uniform for The Jade Dragon, Eli tended towards baggy t-shirts and hoodies and hand-me down jeans. It was partially due to his own frugality and lack of finances, but mostly his own laziness. The narrow cut of the pants and the sharp taper of the suit jacket felt unfamiliar and strange to him. Stranger still were the split second looks Alec had been shooting him since the moment Eli had changed into the suit. It wasn't his usual expression of exasperation that he used for Eli or the jaded smirk that he used for everything else, but Eli didn't know what it was.
But this was hardly the place to be worrying about something so inconsequential. They were there to talk to a drug lord about a murder and a kidnapping. To distract himself, Eli looked around the room, taking in the slowly swelling crowd. They were all obviously rich in their sharply tailored suits and colorful gowns, jewelry dripping from men and women alike. It was like something out of a movie. A couple caught his eye: a short, curvaceous woman with dark eyes and deep brown hair swept into an elegant updo, standing next to a stately gentleman with a familiar looking jawline.
"Hey, Alec, would you describe your father as looking like a middle-aged, blond Pierce Brosnan?" Eli asked, eyeing the couple. They both smiled and greeted people like royalty meeting their subjects, but there was a careful distance between them and neither seemed to acknowledge the other more than strictly necessary.
Alec swore and turned to look in the same direction as Eli. He swore again, hissed curses under his breath in French that sounded nasty, and he said, "Hell. I was hoping we wouldn't have to deal with them until after we dealt with Tessaro. Maybe if we quickly head over towards the band they won't notice-"
Even as he said this, Alec's mother spotted the pair of them and gently touched her husband's shoulder to get his attention.
"Okay, plan B, direct confrontation," Eli said, as the couple started weaving their way through the rapidly filling ballroom, heading directly towards the bar where Alec and Eli were stationed.
Alec groaned under his breath and looked at his empty cup like he dearly wished it were full again, and with something stronger than Coke.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, how clingy should I be? How pissed off are we aiming to make your parents?" Eli asked. He relaxed further against the bar, until one of his shoulders casually brushed Alec's.
"Hmm," Alec said, dark eyes unfathomable as he tracked his approaching parents. "Maybe a 6. Just don't overdo it: my parents are master bullshit detectors."
"Got it, snugglemuffin," Eli said, just to try and make Alec shoot him one last exasperated look before his parents descended upon them.
"Alexander," Mrs. Barrington-Johnsen said, her voice pleasantly husky. She had no discernable accent, but it didn't surprise Eli since he remembered Alec mentioning offhand how his mother had chosen to scrub every facet of her birth country from herself once she'd married Alec's father.
"I'm so pleased you could come after all," Mrs. Barrington-Johnsen continued. "Have you seen Ashley yet? I saw her talking to Mr. White and-"
"This is Eli," Alec said, cutting her off with a surprisingly serious expression. "He's my boyfriend."
Mr. and Mrs. Barrington-Johnsen stared at Alec and then at Eli blankly for a solid ten seconds.
"It's an honor to meet you, sir," Eli said, plastering on the sort of smile he knew made him look like a brainless idiot. He extended a hand to Mr. Barrington-Johnson expectantly, smile never wavering when Mr. Barrington-Johnson continued to stare at him and did not take his hand.
A split-second later, Mr. Barrington-Johnson's ingrained manners seemed to kick in and he shook Eli's offered hand firmly. "Likewise," He said, though there was something in his eyes that suggested this was patently untrue.
Eli smiled wider and tried to look even stupider.
"Eli's why I'm here tonight, he was insistent on meeting both of you," Alec said and nearly startled Eli out of his own skin when he casually draped an arm around Eli's back, his hand resting lightly on his hip.
"Is that so," Mrs. Barrington-Johnsen said, pursing her lips as she eyed Eli up and down. Eli pretended not to notice how her eyes lingered on his untrimmed mop of brown hair or on his ink stained fingers. "You'll have to forgive our rudeness, Eli. Alexander failed to mention to us that he was seeing someone. How long have you been together?"
Eli and Alec exchanged a look, Alec's lips twitching slightly in suppressed amusement.
"Oh, we met about seven months ago," Eli said, completely honest.
"What do you do for a living? Are you a doctor, like our Alexander?" Mrs. Barrington-Johnsen asked, looking faintly doubtful.
Eli took great glee in smiling widely, leaning further into Alec's side and saying sweetly, "Oh no, I never even finished my degree. I work at a Chinese food restaurant. The Jade Dragon- maybe you've heard of it? We serve the best orange chicken in Summerport!"
Alec's side shook in silent laughter, though Eli wasn't sure if he was laughing at the idea of The Jade Dragon selling the best of anything or at Eli being a college drop out. Which he was, technically. He'd never finished his criminology degree, having burnt out in his second year. After finishing his bachelor's degrees in chemistry and computer programming and his master's in cryptography, of course.
"Is- is that so," Mrs. Barrington-Johnsen said, sounding a little faint.
"And where precisely did you meet?" Mr. Barrington-Johnsen asked, a faint growl in his voice. He'd given up attempts at being polite and was openly scowling at Eli. Had Eli not intimately familiar with Alec's own scowl, he might have actually been a bit intimidated. "The result of working for that woman, I expect?" His tone was derisive, and it was clear that he was talking about Walsh.
Alec stiffened and looked like he was about to snap at his father, but Eli beat him to the punch, saying sharply, "Yes. He did. He probably saved my life. You got a problem with that?"
Mr. Barrington-Johnsen barely spared Eli a glance and said to Alec, "Son, we've tried to let you choose your own path-"
Alec snorted loudly.
"-but your stubbornness has gone on long enough. Your association with that woman no longer only concerns you, it has been affecting my business relationships."
"How terrible for you to have difficulty talking to criminals," Alec drawled, knowing full well the sort of effect that particular tone of voice would have on his father.
"Alexander, you don't understand the gravity of this situation," Mr. Barrington-Johnsen said. He didn't raise his voice, but there was an intensity in his expression that would have made Eli scoot back a step, were he not effectively held in place by Alec's arm. "You are young and think actions don't have their consequences, but you must understand how the people you associate will one day come to effect how the world sees you." As he said the word 'people' his eyes flicked to Eli, a small sneer on his face telling Eli exactly who he was talking about, not that it hadn't been patently obvious.
"And you don't seem to care that I have no interest in being your dancing monkey," Alec snapped, his body was as tense as a bow string against Eli's side.
Before Mr. Barrington-Johnsen could say a word, his face flushed with anger, Alec's mother quickly intervened, saying, "Alexander, you have to understand that we are simply concerned about your future. Is this nonsense really what you want attached to your name?"
Alec was all but vibrating with rage, but he seemed to have become so angry he was at a loss for words. Eli flicked a quick glance up at him- jaw clenched, neck muscles tense as he bit back the vitriol he wanted to throw back in his mother's face- and Eli couldn't help but snap, "Your son has saved more than a few lives, if you think he should reconsider being around me and Walsh, then it's you who he shouldn't be associated with!"
Eli's voice had risen far more than Mr. Barrington-Johnsen or Alec's, drawing attention from several nearby groups of people, conversation grinding to an abrupt halt.
"Good bye, mother," Alec managed to get out. He set his jaw and firmly steered Eli away from his parents.
Several people were unsubtly staring at them as they went, having heard Eli's outburst, though thankfully no one attempted to talk to them. The further away from the bar they got, the fewer people seemed to notice them, until Alec let them stop, almost on the opposite end of the ballroom.
"Let's dance," Alec said, spotting the mother of someone he'd gone to high school with. She had a determined look in her eye that Alec didn't like and she was heading towards them. Eli spluttered as Alec forcibly towed him to the area of the ballroom set aside for actual dancing.
Eli spluttered and tried to dig in his heels. "No way! I can't dance," he protested.
Alec looked back at him and raised an eyebrow. "You know how to do so many things and yet you don't know how to do the easiest dance known to mankind?" He asked and nodded towards the couples all executing a very basic form of the waltz.
"I don't know how because I know how to do all those things," Eli grumbled. As a kid he'd been so focused on graduating high school early, and then completing his degrees- who had time for frivolous shit like learning to waltz? There was a reason Alec and Walsh could reasonably be called his first real friends. He might have been a genius, but learning still took a lot of time.
Alec seemed to recall all of this, his sardonic expression gentling into a look of faint amusement. "Well, no time like the present then," he said, and dragged Eli into the thick of things before he could protest.
"I'm going to look stupid, everyone will be looking at us," Eli hissed, hating how his pale complexion showed his blush so clearly. You could probably spot his bright red ears from clear across the ballroom.
"Everyone is busy getting drunk and will hardly notice a single idiot making a fool of himself," Alec corrected lightly. He ignored the irritated look Eli was shooting him, and easily manhandled him into position. "I'll let you lead this time, since it's easier," Alec said, and placed one palm on Eli's shoulder and grasped Eli's hand with the other. Even through his new, expensive suit jacket and collared shirt, Eli could feel the warmth of it on his shoulder. Eli's mouth ticked up when he realized that Alec had said 'this time'.
It was probably fairly comical looking, given how much taller Alec was and how Eli kept forgetting which direction he was meant to step with which foot, but it was much easier than he'd expected.
"This… isn't that terrible," he said after they'd been swaying in place for a few minutes. It really wasn't. The whole evening should have made it excruciating- the uncomfortable suit, Alec's parents, and the fact that they were only there to politely interrogate a drug lord. But somehow, standing with his arm around Alec's waist, hands clasped, their faces angled towards each other, it didn't seem so bad. In fact…
Alec's dark gaze flicked from Eli's face and over his shoulder, and his expression abruptly shuttered, his warm, amused look disappearing entirely. "There's Tessaro," he said in an undertone. "Looks like he and Casale are alone. We should try and grab him before anyone else does."
Eli sighed and nodded, pulling away from Alec. Tessaro was standing several feet away, head bent towards a slighter, blond man, both of their expressions relaxed. Alec lead the way, casually heading towards Tessaro's corner without making it appear like they were heading directly towards him with intent.
Mentally, Eli steeled himself and tried to think of casual ways to start a conversation with a very rich man without tipping him off that he knew that he was a criminal. Nothing came to mind, which wasn't surprising considering he was also attempting to think of ways to casually bring up the murder of Lydia Fukui. Eli resolved to let Alec handle the conversation-starting part of things. He'd said that he'd met Tessaro before, surely he'd be able to talk about mutual acquaintances or something.
As it turned out, all of the evening's careful planning was for nothing. Tessaro looked up from speaking to Casale, spotted Alec and Eli a few feet away, and said, "Ah, Walsh's boys. To what do I owe the pleasure of seeing the two of you this evening?"
Alec and Eli stared blankly at him, completely taken aback. Tessaro smiled politely at the pair of them, like he hadn't just ruined all of their plans. It was fairly well known that Walsh had two male assistants, but they'd been counting on the fact that Walsh herself was more well-known with Summerport's crime lords, which often let Alec and Eli get away without being recognized on sight alone.
Alec recovered his composure first, and offered Tessaro his hand, saying, "Mr. Tessaro, a pleasure to see you again."
"Of course, good to see you again, Alec," Tessaro said, with a smile that said he knew this was anything but the case, and shook Alec's hand. He turned that smile on Eli and continued, "And you must be Walsh's Eli Doyle."
"I-it's nice to meet you, Mr. Tessaro," Eli managed to get out, and tried not to think about how sweaty his palm was as he accepted a handshake from Tessaro.
"So, why has Walsh sent her dogs all the way to an event such as this?" Tessaro asked lightly. "Surely she has no quarrel with an upstanding citizen such as myself?"
"We're only looking for some information," Eli said, thinking quickly. Tessaro was smart, he'd notice a lie straight away, but Eli hoped that a partial truth would do well enough. "You've heard about Lydia Fukui's death, right?"
"Yes, it was unfortunate to lose such a remarkable woman, and before she made it to office," Tessaro said. Eli tried not to frown- but it was odd, because Tessaro had actually sounded genuinely regretful. He was obviously a decent actor, given his double life and public persona, but why would he fake regret while having such a blunt conversation with them? It didn't quite add up, to Eli's mind.
"It was a homicide, the police are still searching for the culprit," Alec put in calmly, like he was talking about the weather and not about murder with their best suspect. "Which is why Walsh sent us here tonight."
"Are you accusing me of murder?" Tessaro asked and slowly raised one dark eyebrow. Rather than seem offended or defensive, he seemed genuinely amused by the prospect.
"No," Eli said quickly, because the last thinghe wanted to do was be kidnapped to a drug lord's secret hideout after accidentally implying something he didn't mean, again. "The crime was too messy, and we both know you're a careful man, Mr. Tessaro."
Tessaro chuckled and asked, "So you are merely here to ask if I had a hand in it? Or did Walsh only want you boys here to gain a little more culture?"
A waiter paused in front of them, holding a tray of champagne flutes. Tessaro took one, held it out to Casale.
"I need to make a call, sir," Casale said in a soft undertone, declining the flute. Tessaro waved him off without looking at him and took another champagne flute from the waiter as Casale disappeared into the crowd.
He offered one to Eli and said with a lazy smirk, "I'm uncertain if this is the best way of going about becoming cultured, if that's the case. But I'd certainly be happy to help you do some… learning."
Eli accepted the champagne on auto-pilot, since he wasn't one to refuse free booze, and then abruptly realized that Tessaro was flirting with him. That smirk, the heavy-lidded gaze… Yup, definitely flirting.
"But you're old enough to be my dad!" Eli squawked loudly and nearly dropped the champagne on Tessaro's very expensive leather shoes.
Behind him, Alec slapped a hand over his face. "Only you, Daphne…" He muttered, just barely audible.
Tessaro threw his head back and laughed. "Well, what information were you looking for then, if this isn't a social visit, Mr. Doyle?"
Eli was too busy spluttering helplessly, so Alec took over and said, "We have reason to believe that Ms. Fukui's death may be related to her push for regulation on Luminex. We were hoping-"
"That I would be foolish enough to have had Ms. Fukui killed, and then admit to it in a public venue?" Tessaro supplied, still appearing immensely amused.
"Of course not, we only thought you might at least be aware of anyone that might have had reason to want her dead," Alec said primly, lying through his teeth.
Tessaro snorted and leaned in closer towards the pair of them and said conspiratorially, "You boys aren't terribly good at this interrogation thing, but since you've been so very entertaining, I'll throw you a bone. The very last thing I wanted was Lydia Fukui dead. In fact, now that she is no longer able to push forward her little prohibition, I find myself in a bit of a financial pickle."
Eli raised an eyebrow. "You'll have to forgive me if that seems a little far-fetched," he said and crossed his arms.
Beside him, Alec let out a small, soft oh of understanding.
"Your partner gets it," Tessaro said, with a shark-like smile. "Lydia Fukui's prohibition on Luminex was going to be one of the greatest leaps forward for my… side project, shall we say."
"Huh?" Eli said, still not getting it. Why in god's name would Tessaro want a tighter leash on his biggest money maker? It would not only drive down his ability to sell it publicly, but also reduce the number of potential customers.
"Did you ever study the prohibition of the 1920s?" Tessaro asked, and when Eli continued to stare at him blankly, he continued, "The rum runners were self-made billionaires by the end of the prohibition. When it ended, so did their influx of money. Now why do you think that is?"
Eli bit his lip and hesitated. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer. Working for Walsh was one of the most thrilling things he'd ever done, but seeing the new lows human beings could sink to was always a certain kind of awful.
Tessaro smiled indulgently and continued, "I'm certain you know the answer, but I'm always a sucker for a pretty face like yours, Mr. Doyle." He smiled as Eli completely failed to stop his face from flushing brick red. "The answer is this: why waste time and energy attempting to predict the demand, when it is so much cheaper to control the supply? Particularly without certain organizations sticking their noses where they aren't wanted and demanding a cut of profits for doing so." Tessaro shrugged, as if breaking the law was an obvious cost-saving alternative. Given the sort of people Eli interacted with, this sort of attitude shouldn't have taken him by surprise. The fact that it did either meant he was more naïve than he'd thought he was, or just more optimistic. Maybe he just wanted to believe for once that every person in Summerport wasn't morally bankrupt while making bank.
Tessaro didn't seem to notice Eli once again losing a little faith in humanity, or was just too well bred to let on that he'd noticed, and continued on, "Now in my case, it's somewhat different, Fukui's proposed bill would have made things more difficult for my pharmaceutical company, but my side project would have absolutely thrived. My accountant was expecting profits to triple, and now we're in a bit of a tizzy trying to recover from this change in plans."
Eli sighed and exchanged a look with Alec, feeling a little stupid. He really should have clued in sooner. "I see," he said eventually, when Tessaro continued to smile indulgently at him, which was beginning to surpass 'mildly discomforting'.
Tessaro casually drained the last of his champagne and said, "So you can see how Ms. Fukui's death would not be to my benefit, Mr. Doyle."
Alec sighed as one more lead evaporated on them. He had no idea where to go from there, aside from leaving Eli to try and dig up anything more on Casale and Quinn's connection on his own. Someone had to know something. Summerport's high society was known for its rampant gossip more than its integrity.
"Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Tessaro," he said politely and began to steer Eli away before Tessaro could get any more ideas about flirting with his partner. Just as they were turning away, another thought occurred to him, and he paused and asked over his shoulder, "I don't suppose the name Giovanni Quinn means anything to you?"
Tessaro's face went entirely blank. "No," he said, the words sound ever so slightly stilted. "Why do you ask?"
"He's missing," Eli explained, peering over Alec's shoulder at Tessaro. He'd gone pale beneath his deep tan, his lips thin with tension. "And he's tied up in Ms. Fukui's death as well."
"I'm afraid I can't help you there," Tessaro said, emotion creeping back into his voice. By the time he finished speaking he was almost back to normal. If Eli hadn't known better, he would have thought the man entirely at ease. "If you'll excuse me."
"Of course," Alec said politely and did a very good job of not showing how completely baffled he was.
The moment Tessaro was out of sight, Eli turned to Alec and said, "Well, that was really weird and yet incredibly not helpful at all."
"That just about sums it up," Alec sighed and turned to look out at the party they were on the fringes of. It was late enough that things were in full swing, alcohol flowing, couples clumsily dancing, and scarcely an empty spot to stand in. It was such a strangely familiar sight, almost nostalgic given how frequently he'd attended similar events in his adolescence.
"I guess we can go now, unless you want to go infuriate your parents more," Eli said, watching Alec's face, noting the strange bittersweet expression he had as he watched Summerport's most elite mingle.
"Let's call Walsh first," Alec said, pulling his cellphone with a sigh. "Just in case she's found another drug lord for us to fail at interrogating."
Walsh frowned at her computer screen, glowering when her migraine throbbed angrily. She'd have to give up soon, or she'd be unable to work on anything for the rest of the evening. But for the time being, she persisted- she knew she was getting somewhere. She was close to the breakthrough she'd been waiting for this entire case.
Researching Giovanni Quinn had been simple. At first glance, he appeared an ordinary man who led an ordinary life. He was 32 years old, worked as a computer technician. He had moved to Summerport five years previous and he had no criminal record. He was also most certainly dating Chanda Chlebek, though he'd done an above average job at concealing it from public purview.
More interestingly, he owned a home that was far beyond what his pay check should have allowed for. A quick check proved that the brownstone was not something he had inherited, and yet Quinn had somehow managed to purchase it while paying nearly 75% of the mortgage. It only took a little digging to figure out that it was a purchase that had been funded by Luvardo Tessaro himself, who had also deposited nearly five thousand dollars a month into Quinn's banking account.
This gave Walsh pause. There was only so many reasons a man like Tessaro would spend nearly sixty thousand dollars a year on a nobody like Quinn, and very few of them were what could be called wholesome. The most probable answer was either that Quinn was blackmailing Tessaro, which seemed unlikely, or that Tessaro was paying Quinn handsomely for sex, which was only slightly less far-fetched.
Luvardo Tessaro was a self-made billionaire, and he could be considered conventionally attractive- why would he be paying a small fortune to an average computer technician? Of course, rich men like Tessaro frequently did incomprehensible things, but somehow Walsh's gut was telling her she was on the wrong track. Walsh hadn't gotten to where she was by ignoring her instincts, even if a part of her was continually annoyed by something so intangible being so integral to her work.
With so little hard evidence, Walsh was forced to admit to being stymied, and was forced to move on, leaving the sixty-thousand-dollar question behind.
Researching Saul Casale, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter. He was all but a ghost. Simply searching using his name revealed nothing relevant. She found a few shell companies that were filed under his name, but no photos or anything even resembling anything personal.
It wasn't terribly surprising: she suspected the name was an alias, since it wouldn't be beneficial for a drug lord's right hand to be easy to track down. She'd quickly changed tracks by searching for Luvardo Tessaro, who, as a public figure, was much more easily found. After reviewing nearly a hundred candid photos taken by aspiring paparazzi, she was fairly certain that she had a clear idea of what Tessaro's right hand man looked like. He wasn't in focus in most photos, or he was turned away, or partially cut out of the shot, but Walsh managed to managed to piece together an idea of what he looked like. He was a relatively handsome white man with short blond hair and appeared to be in his early thirties.
There was something eerily familiar about Casale's face, though Walsh was certain she'd never met the man. Tessaro's particular group was one of the few she'd yet to deal with directly. Her memory was all but infallible, so she would have remembered encountering him, even if only in passing.
Her migraine throbbed again, but she ignored it in favour of attempting to enhance her only shot of Casale facing directly at the camera, which was exceedingly out of focus. It was also several years out of date, evident in how more recent photos showed he'd gained several more pounds of muscle and had grown a rather bushy beard. Irritatingly enough, the man seemed to have an eerie sense for when he was being photographed, making it the only full shot she could find of his face. Unfortunately, her migraine was leaving her all but incapable of looking at the screen.
She stamped down the instinctually childish frustration at not having the capacity to do what was necessary, and called Raul Mullins.
He answered the phone on the second ring, sounding almost obnoxiously cheerful. "Well, hello there stranger."
"Quieter," Walsh grumbled, and gave in to the urge to close her eyes.
"Ah, migraine?" Raul asked, his voice much softer and filed with sympathy. Despite herself, Walsh found herself relaxing at the sound of it.
"Yes. Damn computers," Walsh said and forced herself to focus. This wasn't a social call. She had a job to do.
"You aren't calling just to hear my voice then. What do you need help with?" Raul asked. Walsh had to hold back an irrational rush of affection at the knowledge of how well he knew her. Some might, when faced with Walsh in her taciturn case-mode, continue to attempt to engage in pointless pleasantries. Raul cut right to the point when necessary.
"I need a photo enhanced, I can't get a clear look at someone in the background," Walsh said and cracked her eyes open long enough to send Raul the photo.
"Hm, not my specialty, but I'll see what I can do," Raul promised.
Walsh didn't hang up, content to listen to Raul mutter softly to himself. She was tired, her head ached terribly, and she hadn't been able to see Raul or his wife Helen in over a week. She allowed herself this small comfort.
After a few minutes, Raul asked curiously, "Are these guys related or something?"
"What?" Walsh asked, her eyes popping open on reflex before she quickly shut them again when the light in the room stabbed her through the skull.
"They look pretty similar, if you ignore their skin and hair colour," Raul explained and then said, "Here, I'll email you the picture. It's not the best quality, but you can still see both of these guys' faces well enough."
Walsh reluctantly cracked her eyes and opened up the enhanced photo Raul sent her.
Sure enough, two shockingly similar faces were angled together in the photo. Tessaro had dark eyes, deep olive skin and slicked back dark hair that was greying at the temples. Casale was blonde, with blue eyes and pale, freckled skin. But if one ignored that, their faces were nearly identical, aside from Tessaro's signs of his age.
Walsh frowned, pushing aside the throbbing in her temples. There was someone else both men resembled.
She opened up one of her images of Quinn and swore violently into the phone.
Giovanni Quinn's mother was likely Latina, but he also clearly resembled Tessaro.
"I'll let you get working on this," Raul murmured softly in her ear. "Get some rest when you can- you can't do any crime fighting if you're flinching at every sound."
Walsh grunted and hung up the phone, only barely registering what Raul had said.
Immediately her mind raced through the possibilities, but the most obvious one was clear: Quinn and Casale were half-brothers, through Tessaro. There was no other feasible option, the three looked too similar for them to be cousins or any other distant relation. Publicly, Tessaro had never married or had any children. And yet, he chose to keep Casale close to him. It was a miracle that their similar appearance had never been subject to gossip. Walsh was uncertain if it was because Casale was so unremarkable to avoid notice, or if it was because no one would look past Tessaro's race.
Well, at the very least it almost certainly meant that Quinn wasn't being paid for sex by Tessaro.
She could almost see how the whole puzzle fit together, but there were missing pieces that alluded her. Namely, how had Casale or Tessaro found the gun in Fukui's home?
Before Walsh could continue to puzzle things out, her phone rang again, ruining her concentration.
She bit back a curse, and answered with a terse "Walsh."
"Walsh, it's Alec," Alec said. He paused, frowning at the strange note he heard in Walsh's voice. "Are you alright?"
"Migraine. No, I did not take my medication, doctor, I have things I need to focus on without them clouding my mind. Why did you call?"
Walsh's tone made it clear that she wouldn't allow Alec to fuss over her health so Alec sighed and said, "We spoke to Tessaro, he sends his regards."
Walsh pinched the bridge of her nose irritably. "Eli, did you march up to him and demand to know if he killed Fukui?"
"Why do both of you think I'm that stupid?! I'm technically a genius!" Eli shouted, voice indistinct, since Alec hadn't put the phone on speaker, to avoid being overheard by the few passersby in the hallway they'd ducked into. An effort rendered entirely moot, given Eli's shouting.
"He made us as soon as we approached him, Walsh," Alec said apologetically, elbowing Eli when he crowded in too close. "But he was willing to speak to us. He took a liking to Eli."
"Did he?" Walsh growled. There was something about the unruly mess Eli called a hair style, along with his slightly too thin face, that appealed to criminals, possibly portraying a false sense of innocence and fragility that appealed to them. It frankly appalled Walsh that she employed a man who was so frequently abducted by men like Tessaro, just as much as it angered her because Eli was hers, just as much as Alec was, and Ye and her other officers. Alec often said Walsh had a frightening possessive tendency, but Walsh knew that she simply had to take care of those who were useful to her.
"Calm down, he didn't do anything other than embarrass the hell out of Eli once he finally clued in," Alec said, but there was a similar irritation in his voice rather than amusement. Walsh approved. She'd need to find a suitable enticement to encourage such a sentiment.
"Okay- changing the topic to the real reason we called you, Walsh," Eli said, having stolen Alec's phone, face flushed with embarrassment. It wasn't his fault he was sometimes slow about these things, he'd been too busy getting his degrees as a teenager to pick up the necessary skills to notice when he was being flirted with. "Tessaro isn't the killer, he all but told us he had wanted Ms. Fukui to get elected since it would help his less savory side of his business thrive."
"So in short, we learned basically nothing," Alec grumbled. "The whole night was a wash, apart from Eli shouting at my parents in front of a good hundred people."
"I told you I didn't mean to!" Eli protested. "It's their fault for being such judgmental jackasses!"
Alec badly stifled a snort of amusement, and Walsh rolled her eyes yet again at the pair of them.
"I had a more fruitful evening. Casale and Quinn are both Tessaro's offspring."
"They're both his sons?" Eli demanded, loud enough that Alec had to smack him on the arm for drawing the attention of every occupant of the hallway. Thankfully there was only one distracted waiter, who swiftly went back to ignoring them, but it was the principle of the matter.
"I suspect Tessaro only recently found out about Quinn, as he purchased him a house only a year ago and has sent him nearly sixty thousand dollars since then." Walsh let her gritty eyes close again, her head aching in a way that told her she only had a short while before she'd lose control of her faculties entirely if she didn't take the damned mind-fogging medication.
"Apology money," Alec surmised, not sounding terribly surprised. It was something he was familiar with- albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Then again, his father had only ever had to apologize for missing his violin concerts and his high school graduation, not a solid thirty years of his life.
"Precisely. It leads me to believe the real victim of this whole debacle was Quinn, not Fukui or Chlebek."
"You mean someone wanted to hurt Quinn so badly that they framed his boyfriend for murder?" Eli asked, torn between amazement and revulsion. "I'm not sure if I'm impressed at how complicated this plan was, or disgusted with how botched that crime scene was for someone with this much foresight."
"So where do we go from here?" Alec asked, wearily rubbing at his face, feeling the way the stubble was already thick enough to scratch at his palm.
"We need to uncover who would have enough of a grudge to attempt to organize something on this scale, regardless of how sloppy the crime scene was," Walsh said. Her voice had gone thin with pain and she had her free hand clenched in a fist on her thigh. Of all the damned times. It always seemed that the mind was willing while the body remained irritatingly frail.
"And we don't know who would have access to Fukui's gun safe either," Alec added. "But that can wait until tomorrow. Take your pills and go the fuck to bed, Walsh. Doctor's orders."
Walsh had to admit defeat, the pain was beyond enduring. She grunted in agreement and hung up the phone without ceremony.
Eli and Alec regarded each other silently. Their suits were slightly rumbled, and Eli's hair was back to its usual disaster from running his fingers through it constantly while they'd spoken to Walsh.
Finally, Alec broke the silence and said, "I'm almost offended that Walsh figured out so much while incapacitated and we managed to end our evening with even fewer leads."
Eli hummed consideringly, his eyes going distant. "Well," he said slowly. "Not necessarily. I just had a thought- Casale was acting kind of weird around us, right?"
Alec considered this. "I suppose. He did leave a bit abruptly, and he was certainly less happy to see us than Tessaro was. But that's not surprising, given our reputation. If Tessaro recognized us from a half dozen feet away, Casale probably would have too."
"Yeah, but… Well, this is just me speculating, but what if Casale knew about Quinn? And he was, I don't know, jealous or something?"
Alec quickly double checked that they were still alone in the little hallway, and said a little skeptically, "That's a bit of a leap. Why would he be jealous of a regular joe?"
"Well, I'm willing to bet that Casale's job is no walk in the park, probably has its perks, but no one's allowed to know he's Tessaro's son. And then along comes some other kid, and he gets all of daddy's attention and a shitload of money to boot? Without having to clean up after Tessaro's shit?"
Despite himself, Alec found himself nodding along. "If this were the case… I doubt Quinn would be all that comfortable around Tessaro, a mob kingpin showing up out of nowhere and showering you with money would be more than a little disconcerting. I doubt he'd be soaking up all the attention happily."
"Right!" Eli said, snapping his fingers at Alec excitedly. "So, there's Casale, watching as this asshole nobody rejects what Casale's wanted all along, and this pisses him off. So, he decides he's gotta do something about his new baby brother- but if he whacks Quinn directly, Tessaro's going to notice right away, and there's no way he can hide this from Tessaro forever. So, he goes after baby brother's closeted boyfriend instead."
"Okay, going along with your crazy theory- which is based almost entirely on speculation, I might add- what's stopping Casale from just killing Chanda and being done with it? He's not in the mob to paint fences, he wouldn't be squeamish about doing things quick and easy. Why bother with all the theatrics?" Alec asked, unable to stop himself from being drawn into Eli's story. He was just so damned charismatic, when he wasn't paying attention.
Eli only had to consider this for a moment, before he grinned and said, "Well, we were talking about the motive for Fukui's murder either being political or personal- what if Casale isn't as high up on the mob food chain as we think? Maybe he hears about that prohibition Fukui was gunning for, and he figures he can kill two birds with one stone- get rid of that pesky problem for dear old dad and get into his good graces, while at the same time putting his new brother through the emotional wringer as his boyfriend is dragged through the mud and eventually jailed for it. Maybe he even figured Quinn would split town with Chanda gone. Out of sight, out of mind, sort of thing."
"What about the crime scene?" Alec asked, almost eager in spite of himself. It was moments like these when he could see what Walsh had seen Eli the first time they'd met- his incredible capacity for greatness, maybe the likes of Walsh one day even. "If the false evidence was as obvious as Walsh suggested, it doesn't seem like it could be the work of a mobster, even one low on the food chain, as you said."
"If he had an accomplice, one who somehow knew where and how to get into Ms. Fukui's gun case, then maybe the accomplice was the one setting the scene while Casale took off, just in case someone spotted him," Eli said, then shrugged and sighed, the incredible light leaving his eyes. Without it he just looked like his regular shabby self, wearing a suit that didn't quite sit right on him. "I don't know. You're right, it's almost entirely speculation based on next to nothing. I think I'm chasing ghosts here. I just want to find Quinn. It's been two days, god only knows if he's even still alive. I can't imagine what Chanda must feel like…"
He looked so despondent that Alec couldn't help but say, "You might be onto something. It makes a certain sort of sense, even if we can't prove anything one way or another."
Eli's lip twitched, like he wanted to smile but was too tired, and he said, "Well, it doesn't really matter. There isn't much we can do except go home and-" He cut himself off abruptly, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
"And?" Alec prompted when Eli didn't say anything further. He wasn't sure he liked that look in Eli's eyes.
"Or we could go check out a few of Casale's properties," Eli suggested with a grin that did not promise good things for the state of Alec's dress shoes.
"Absolutely not," Alec said and crossed his arms firmly. "You'll say you just want to poke around, take a look at a few places and next thing you know we'll be trying to rescue a half dozen teenagers without any weapons or anything on our side, again."
"That was one time!" Eli protested. He paused, considered things, then amended himself and said, "Well one and a half if you count-"
"I do," Alec snapped.
"Okay, well both of those times worked out okay!" Okay-ish, Eli had to admit, even to himself, but that wasn't something to own up to when attempting to convince Alec of anything. "And I swear, no daring rescues this time. Strictly reconnaissance, just so we have something tomorrow when Walsh is back to her usual self. I just don't want this whole evening to be a total wash."
"There is no way I'm agreeing to this," Alec said. He refused to indulge in Eli's wild speculations, no matter how persuasive they were or how much Alec almost thought they could be plausible. He also refused to let Eli convince him to skulk around some abandoned warehouse like low-budget twin James Bonds in their suits, sans the guns and gadgets and actual combat awareness a real spy would have. "There is not a single thing you can say that will make me-"
"How the hell did I let you convince me to do this again?" Alec muttered to himself as they slunk around the corner of a garage in the center of the second most run-down part of Summerport. Eli didn't even notice him, too busy peering into cracked, dirty windows and climbing over broken bits of metal with no regard for the state of his suit pants. There was already a tear on one of his cuffs and oil stains on both of his knees.
They'd left the gala two hours ago, and they'd spent the interim time checking out two empty warehouses and one abandoned parking garage. Each time they'd come up with nothing Eli had sworn they'd look at just one more place, this one was for sure the one. If he tried to pull that shit one more time, Alec was going to put his foot down- it was beyond late and well into what some might consider the witching hour, and Alec was done freezing his ass off and creeping around buildings owned by mobsters.
Just as he was about to really give Eli a piece of his mind and mean it this time, Eli turned away from the window and whispered, "There's people in there."
Plans immediately forgotten, Alec picked his way over the broken pavement towards Eli and squinted through the filthy glass. Inside was one big room, filled with car parts and other pieces of equipment Alec couldn't easily identify. On the far side of the room were two figures, likely both men from their builds and clothing. One was sitting on a chair, the other standing over him. They were too far away and the window too dirty for Alec to make out any distinguishing features aside from the standing man's blond hair.
Alec looked down at Eli who was shooting him an expectant look. Alec rolled his eyes. "There's no law against two men being in a garage in the middle of the night."
Eli gave him an unimpressed look. "Right. In a garage owned by Saul Casale. One that's been out of business for nearly two years. There's nothing hinky about that at all. That blond guy is definitely not Casale either. I'm sure he's just politely asking that other guy when his brakes are going to be fixed."
"There's no way you can be sure that's Casale," Alec said, squinting through the window. The blond man was gesturing wildly at the seated man, and pacing a tight circle in front of his chair. It looked like he was holding something small, dark, and gun-shaped in one hand.
"I recognize that suit," Eli argued and then stood on his tiptoes so he could look through the window too. "Also, he's holding a gun. Clearly something not good is going down."
"Oh well, in that case, it has to be Casale," Alec said and rolled his eyes.
"Like Casale would be cool with some other dude hanging in his garage with a-"
Eli was abruptly cut off by the unmistakable sound of a gunshot.
They both immediately looked through the window. The blond man had his gun pointing above the seated man's head. There was no sign of blood. The shot had just been to scare the seated man.
Alec looked away from the window to say something to Eli, only to see him slinking along the wall towards the garage entrance.
"What are you doing?" Alec snapped and grabbed Eli by the upper arm before he could get any more bright ideas about going into the building with the guy holding a gun, rather than away from it.
"I know I said we'd just look around- but that was before Casale started waving a gun around!" Eli hissed back at him, eyes filled with a determined fervor that Alec had long since known to dread. "We have to go in there now, before Casale actually hurts him!"
"There is no way I'm letting your unarmed ass go in there!" Alec said, shaking Eli by the shoulders for emphasis. "We can just call the cops and get them to do their damned jobs for once."
"You and I both know that a call reporting gun shots from inside a building that Casale owns- and by extension a building that Tessaro owns- isn't going to get the attention of the sort of police officers we want to show up," Eli said back. He didn't even try to twist out of Alec's grip knowing it was too firm, so he settled for glaring balefully up at Alec and setting his jaw stubbornly.
"What, so you want to march in there and demand that Casale let Quinn go because we said so?"
"Come on, give me at least a little credit," Eli said, a little huffily for a guy who'd been kidnapped or held hostage on what seemed like nearly half the cases he'd worked on with Walsh. "We'd go in, wait for Casale to go take a piss or something and then hustle Quinn out of there, ninja-like. And worst comes to worst, Walsh's been making me go to her martial arts classes like four times a week, I could probably kick Casale really hard before running away."
Alec seriously wondered about him sometimes. Eli had to be joking. At least Alec was sincerely hoping he was.
Eli rolled his eyes, "Okay, not actually. But we could-"
At the same time as Eli began to speak, a dangerously cool voice said from behind Alec, "Perhaps you gentlemen would consider coming inside now. It is rather cold out here."
Eli's face went very pale and Alec very carefully turned around. Behind him Saul Casale was casually aiming a gun at Alec's head. His voice might have been collected, but his face was anything but. His eyes were wild, and there was something about the way his mouth was twisted that Eli didn't like. But the hand holding the gun was steady. He wouldn't hesitate to shoot.
"That wasn't a request," Casale added.
"Goddamnit, Eli," Alec muttered and headed towards the garage entrance.