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by Alex Alder
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: When the new neighbor first moves in, Jacob thinks everything is going to be perfect: Nate is smart, funny, gorgeous, and basically everything Jacob ever wanted wrapped up in a pretty green-eyed package. But when a string of horrific murders starts up in the city shortly after Nate's arrival, his new neighbor's quiet, reclusive nature starts to take on new meaning. Jacob could be falling in love with the serial killer next door, and he may very well have to risk everything he cares about in order to make it out alive.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [190 KB]
Reading time: 120-168 min.
Jacob first noticed the moving boxes on Tuesday morning.
He didn't think much of it at first. It had been almost three months since old, cranky Mrs. Parker moved out with her six equally old, equally cranky cats, and it was about time someone new came in to fill the apartment next to his own. Preferably someone without Mrs. Parker's penchant for playing daytime soap operas at a volume loud enough to vibrate Jacob's walls.
There were six boxes total, unmarked cardboard, all the same size and all unlabeled. They were set in a neat stack in front of the closed door, three on top of three. No one was around. The hallway was empty.
Jacob didn't give it much thought. He was an early riser, and as it was barely six o'clock, it made sense no one was around. Six normal-looking moving boxes were nothing to blink at. By the time he got back from his run, ate breakfast, and headed off to work, he'd pretty much forgotten all about it.
When he got back at five, all but one of the boxes were gone. By the next morning, the hallway was clear. No U-Haul out front, no big, burly moving men hefting furniture up the stairs. Just those six boxes that had been there and now weren't. Jacob had yet to see or hear anyone entering or exiting the apartment next door.
That was when it threw him a little. Jacob had never been the nosy type, but the walls here were pretty thin--he used to be able to hear Mrs. Parker's cats meowing at dinnertime, so it seemed logical that he should be able to hear something of his new neighbor: the television playing, furniture moving around, something. The silence was a little creepy.
When he went to work that morning, some of the uneasiness must have shown on his face, because they were barely halfway through introductory exercises when Shawn remarked off-handedly, "Somethin' bothering you, Teach?"
Shawn Patrell was a forty-three-year-old African American with a surprisingly lean physique, considering he was an ex-Marine. Now a beat cop well known in the precinct for terrorizing local thugs on a regular basis, Jacob always found himself wondering why Shawn even bothered taking a martial-arts class when one dangerous look was usually enough to send the gangbangers running. Not that he particularly minded, though. Whether it was from his years in the military or as a police officer, Shawn had an almost uncanny ability to pick up on the smallest details, which meant he was often able to figure out what Jacob was feeling long before Jacob himself did.
Like today. Jacob shrugged, casting a quick glance over the rest of his class to make sure they were doing their lunges properly. "Not really," he answered as he took the class up to a faster tempo. "I think--you gotta go lower than that, Leila--that's right, good girl--I think I got a new neighbor this week."
"Oh." Shawn didn't break his rhythm, matching Jacob's form perfectly. "Ain't that a good thing? You hated that creepy cat lady."
"Mrs. Parker wasn't a creepy cat lady," Jacob answered automatically, but even he could hear the lack of conviction in his voice.
Shawn just laughed. "Whatever you say, Teach. So, what's the problem?"
"There's no problem," Jacob answered, but when Shawn just gave him a decidedly skeptical look, he sighed. "It's just that... well, he--or she, whatever--has apparently already moved in and everything, but I haven't heard or seen anything all week. Isn't that weird?"
"Maybe they doin' all the movin' while you at work," Shawn offered.
"Yeah, but when I'm home I think I'd be able to hear something through the walls, at least," Jacob replied, and Shawn chuckled.
"Well, Teach, number one, you're gettin' a little creepy there yourself, and number two, it don't strike me as nothin' strange. I once got a call from a woman who hadn't seen or heard her neighbor leave the house for two weeks, thought we was gonna go in there an' find a DB, but it turns out he just broke his foot playin' basketball or some shit and was just lyin' in bed watchin' porn all day."
Jacob couldn't help but smile. "So you're saying that, with one week of silence, I'm being paranoid, but with two weeks, I'll have precedent?"
"Sure, sure," Shawn replied, eyes twinkling, "then, if it comes down to it, I'll bust in your neighbor's door myself."
"Why, officer, you make me feel so well protected."
"Just doin' my job. Oh, and Teach?"
"You about ready to move on to somethin' else? Leila looks like she gonna collapse if she gotta do another lunge."
Fifty minutes later, Jacob clapped his hands decisively together, ending the final sparring session. "Okay, that wraps it up!" he called, nodding at each of his students in turn. "Remember, work on those uppercuts and the dropkicks. We'll do advanced takedowns next time. Have a good day, people!"
There were a few polite thank-yous tossed his way before his students promptly headed to the back of the workout room to collect their duffel bags and work clothes. Jacob smiled quietly to himself. Despite the little lunge fest at the beginning, it had been a good class. Everyone was a regular and, as usual, had followed his instructions to the tee. It was why Jacob loved teaching advanced classes, and also precisely why he definitely wasn't looking forward to the two beginner classes he was slated to lead before noon. More often than not, they tended to be filled with either bright-eyed teenage girls looking to become the next Lara Croft in order to impress their boyfriends, or young tough-guy types who gave Jacob so much trouble it was all he could manage not to punch them in their sneering faces and just be done with it.
"Steelin' yourself for the newbies, Teach?" Shawn asked, coming up to stand beside him, duffel bag slung over one shoulder.
Jacob shrugged. "Gotta make a living somehow," he answered, and Shawn laughed.
"Maybe you oughta just kick those punks right outta your classes," he said. "Sure would make my job easier, anyhow. I ain't lookin' forward to the day I come up against some banger who just happened to learn his jujitsu from you."
Jacob just grinned. "Well, in that case, I guess you'll just have to counter with the judo and Krav Maga moves I taught you. Can't be damaging your street cred, after all, officer."
Shawn's jolly reply was cut off by a familiar voice. "Hey, Jacob?"
Inwardly, Jacob sighed, but when he turned around to address the woman who had spoken, his smile was real. "Yes, Amy?"
Amy Lockhart was a graduate student at the local university, twenty-seven years old, a pleasant--if slightly shallow--young woman with long, blonde hair and expressive blue eyes. She was smart when it came to doing lit reviews and writing ethnographies, but not so quick on the uptake when it came to taking a hint, and Jacob already had a good idea where this conversation was headed.
"So I was thinking of going tonight to check out that new restaurant that opened on Thirty-Second Street, the Italian place?" Amy said and gave him a charming smile. "I could sure use some company."
Jacob gave another inward sigh, reaching a hand up to run his fingers backward through his hair. He'd already lost count of how many times Amy had asked him out, and each time he had gently but firmly refused. For good reason too, he knew. Amy was a sweet girl, pretty and petite, but in Jacob's case it was a textbook case of, "It's not you, it's me." But Amy was persistent, and he was running out of excuses. Maybe it was time to just tell her the truth. She deserved it, anyway. After faithfully attending his classes for so many months, the least she deserved was to be told she was barking up the wrong tree. He rather suspected the only reason she continued coming to class was because of him, anyway.
Next to him, Shawn cleared his throat. "Y'know, Miss Amy, me an' Teach was just gonna go out for drinks at the pub tonight. Some o' my guys been complainin' they ain't seen him since the MMA seminar in the summer, and they lookin' for some pointers, know what I mean? So s'okay if I steal 'im, just for tonight?"
Amy frowned, and for a moment Jacob thought she was going to insist. Shawn gave her his most winning I'm-just-your-friendly-neighborhood-policeman smile. "Pretty please, Miss Amy?"
Amy sighed. "Well, all right," she said, rolling her eyes as if extremely put-upon, although they could all tell it was mostly for show. "I guess it's okay with me, but only because you asked so nicely, Officer Patrell."
"Thank you kindly, ma'am," Shawn answered, tipping an imaginary hat. Amy laughed, winked at Jacob, and walked away. Jacob let out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding.
"Wow, Shawn, I owe you one," he said, giving his student a grateful smile, and Shawn grinned back.
"No problemo, Teach," he said, giving Jacob a friendly pat on the shoulder. "I wasn't kiddin' 'bout the drinks, though. Me an' some other boys from the precinct're hittin' up O'Toole's after the shift, pro'ly be there around six. You down?"
Jacob thought briefly about his plans for the evening, which basically involved eating dinner alone, watching Jeopardy, and surfing YouTube. The decision really wasn't that hard to make. "Yeah. I'm down."
"Awesome. Oh, and, Teach?"
Shawn leaned close, whispering as if it were a secret. "If you wanna throw Amy off your track, just tell 'er to come by in the afternoons, y'know, when you teachin' your other class. That oughtta set her straight, if y'know what I mean."
Jacob rolled his eyes at the lame joke but couldn't keep from smiling. Shawn, after all, made a very good point.
* * * *
"Okay, girls, and... reach! Reach for the sky! That's right, feel that beat. Can you feel those muscles working? And... to the right! To the left! To the right! Yeah, you got it now!"
The music was upbeat, his students were smiling, and despite the fact that he was twenty-eight years old, over six feet, and capable of taking down three simultaneous attackers in under four moves, Jacob was having fun. And okay, so when he'd first applied to teach self-defense at the gym two years ago, the last thing he'd expected was to also be assigned to their intermediate aerobics class. But the choreography was simple, his students were nice, and the extra pay was nothing to complain about. As long as he didn't go around advertising the fact that he spent every afternoon wearing light-green shorts and dancing to '80s disco music, Jacob was fine with his job.
It certainly helped that, in this context, even surrounded by female students, none of them bothered approaching him after class to ask him out. Maybe Jacob ought to take Shawn's advice and tell Amy to drop by to see him in the afternoons. That would surely get the message across.
It wasn't that Jacob liked to broadcast the fact that he was gay. In fact, he didn't talk much about his sexuality or relationships at all, which in retrospect was probably what clued most people in, in the end. After all, all the other guys he knew spent their time talking about how their wives were always nagging them about one thing or the other, or for those who weren't yet married, how good their last piece of ass had been in bed. Jacob had always found that more than a little disrespectful. Add to that the fact that he hadn't had a serious relationship in several years, and it made him pretty closemouthed in those types of situations.
Of course, he was far from celibate, having had his share of drunken hook-ups, bathroom blowjobs, and one-night stands over the years. However, in almost five years, he hadn't seriously dated anyone for more than a few weeks at a time. The way his last relationship had ended was enough to turn him off the idea completely for the foreseeable future. Most days, he tried not to think too hard about it.
He took the class into their cool-down exercises, and broke them at ten to five. His students gave their pleasant goodbyes, as usual, and by the time Jacob had changed and clocked out, it was five fifteen. He figured half an hour was enough time for a shower and a change of clothes before heading down to O'Toole's.
The hallway was still empty when Jacob stepped out of the elevator on the third floor. The apartment complex was fairly small: twelve units total, three on each floor. Jacob lived in the middle unit, 302. Unit 301, the one to his right and closest to the elevator, was occupied by an older Mexican lady, Mrs. Aguilar, a pleasant, brown-skinned woman with crow's feet spidering out the corners of her eyes and the kindest smile Jacob had ever seen. She had moved into the building six years ago, shortly after her husband passed away, and though she lived alone, her family always came to visit every couple of weeks. She was generally soft spoken and always fussing over Jacob, asking if he ate enough, reminding him to wear a thick coat on cold winter days, but her gentle exterior housed a fiery, commanding spirit. Once, a couple of college kids living on the second floor had decided to throw a party at 2 a.m., complete with bass pounding loudly enough to shake the entire third floor, and Mrs. Aguilar had very calmly put a coat on over her nightgown, tottered down the stairs, knocked on their door, and proceeded to screech at them in rapid-fire Spanish until they'd gotten the message and turned the music off. Following that incident, Jacob had always been very careful to remain on Mrs. Aguilar's good side.
Today, he stopped in front of Unit 301's door and knocked quietly. There was some shuffling before the door slid open just a crack, a wrinkled face peering briefly out before there came a soft, "Oh!" and the door swung open the whole way.
"Jacob!" Mrs. Aguilar said, reaching forward to clasp his hands in her own warm, dry ones. "You finish the work? You eat the dinner?" Her voice was gravelly, her accent thick.
"Yes to the work, no to the dinner, but I'm about to," Jacob assured her, smiling. "How was your day?"
"Oh, good, good! Luisa call me, she bring the children on Sunday. No Jose. Stupid bastard Jose."
Jacob couldn't help but laugh at that. Jose was the ex-husband of Mrs. Aguilar's oldest daughter, Luisa, and Jacob couldn't blame Mrs. Aguilar for hating his guts. He'd be pretty pissed too, if the husband of his daughter had been caught banging the neighbor's wife.
Mrs. Aguilar sighed. "I tell Luisa, go out, find new husband, new father for the children! But she say no. Bastard Jose." She smiled wickedly, and winked. "But you, Jacob? You a nice boy, maybe you marry Luisa, become my son?"
Jacob grinned. "Well, it's awfully tempting, Mrs. Aguilar. Luisa is a very pretty young lady, but you know she's not really my... type."
Mrs. Aguilar laughed, a cheerful sound, and reached up to gently pat Jacob on the cheek. "Yes, you no like the girls, you like the boys, eh? Too bad, too bad. Guess Luisa keep looking."
"Yeah, guess so." Jacob cleared his throat, tilting his head in the direction of the apartment at the end of the hall. "Hey, Mrs. Aguilar, did you know someone moved into 303? I saw some moving boxes a couple days back."
To his surprise, Mrs. Aguilar smiled and nodded. "Oh yes, yes, I know," she said. "New boy, very nice boy. Tall like you. He help me take the, ah... la basura, the trash. He help me take the trash out this morning."
"Oh." Jacob blinked. "So... you've seen him then. The new neighbor."
"Yes, yes. Very nice boy. Tall, handsome." Mrs. Aguilar winked again. "Maybe you like him, eh?"
Jacob huffed a little, embarrassed, and Mrs. Aguilar laughed, patting his hand gently. "You go knock his door, he answer, you talk. Very nice boy."
"What's his name?" Jacob asked, and received a shrug in response.
"I not ask. He tell me when he wants. You go knock his door, talk to him."
Mrs. Aguilar nodded, a touch of exasperation seeping into her voice, as if she couldn't comprehend why he would even bother questioning her. "Yes, now, you nice boy, you make friends. Go now, knock his door." She made shooing motions, laughing softly and shaking her head to herself as she closed her door.
Jacob was left standing alone in the hallway, blinking as he listened to Mrs. Aguilar clicking her locks back into place. Leave it to her to put it so bluntly, he thought, before sighing. Well, it couldn't hurt, could it? Jacob was a social guy, he got along with almost everybody, and if he was going to be living next to this guy for however many years, he might as well go and introduce himself. Besides, the neighbor had apparently been nice enough to help Mrs. Aguilar with the trash, so he couldn't be that bad.
Turning, he took the few steps down the hall that planted him in front of the door to Unit 303 and, without thinking too much about it, raised his hand and knocked.
A beat of silence. Two. Three. Jacob blinked, reaching up and knocking again. Still nothing. Frowning, he leaned forward, carefully pressing his ear to the door. He could just barely make out a very soft rustling, muffled by the thick wood. With the distortion, he couldn't tell what it was, but someone was evidently home.
He knocked again, louder. Still no response. Huh.
Maybe he's asleep, Jacob thought to himself as he finally turned away from the door and walked toward his own apartment, fishing in his pockets for his keys. Maybe he's in the bathroom. Maybe he's just busy with something.
If there was that small, niggling sense of doubt at the back of his mind, Jacob chose to ignore it.
* * * *
Shawn and his cop buddies were already there by the time Jacob walked into O'Toole's. He recognized a couple of them: Peter Callahan, a young blond from Wisconsin who started out as Shawn's rookie but had since graduated to FTO himself, and Danny Yang, a half-Chinese, half-white homicide detective who had been transferred from the Boston PD for "hazardous behavior on the job," which he explained as a well-deserved punch he had delivered to a particularly bigoted deputy when he'd overheard him complaining about "the yellow fever." Jacob didn't recognize the two other guys.
Shawn spotted him within seconds and waved him over with a bright grin. "Glad you could make it, Teach," he said as soon as Jacob was within earshot, dragging a nearby chair over for him.
"Thanks for inviting me," Jacob answered, sliding onto the seat and flagging down the nearest waitress for a beer. "Hey, Pete. Danny."
"Sin... clair," Danny answered, a little slow, and Jacob couldn't help but grin. Danny had a notoriously low alcohol tolerance, and judging from the way he slurred out Jacob's last name, he was pretty far gone already.
"Don't you worry, Callahan's our DD tonight," Shawn assured him, before motioning to the two other men seated at the table. "This here be Alex, Danny's partner"--indicating a Hispanic man who nodded politely at Jacob in response--"and this is Sonny, my new rookie." Sonny, a tall, broad-shouldered man who looked like he probably played football in college, was too busy chugging his beer to look Jacob's way.
"Nice to meet you both. I'm Jacob."
They shook hands, and Alex blinked. "So, do you work with the department too?"
"Naw," Shawn said, grinning broadly. "Though we all wished you did, eh, Teach? With you patrollin' the streets, those damned bangers would be out the window faster 'n Paris Hilton's panties!"
"Why's that?" Sonny asked, finally setting his beer down.
Peter reached over to clap Jacob on the shoulder. "Jacob here's a martial arts instructor," he said, and Alex lit right up.
"No shit? What do you know?"
"Ah, jujitsu, tae kwon do, Krav Maga, judo, some tai chi. I learned a bit of penchak silat, but not enough to qualify to teach it." Jacob always felt a little uncomfortable listing his credentials and rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
"Whoa," Alex said, duly impressed.
Sonny grunted. "You box?"
Jacob shook his head. "Don't like the brain damage that comes with it." Sonny nodded, turned back to his beer, and didn't say anything else. Jacob blinked at the obvious dismissal.
Next to him, Shawn cleared his throat. "So, Teach, any new dope on the new neighbor?"
"Wait, you have a new neighbor?" Peter said. "Did the creepy cat lady move out?"
"She's not a--oh, Christ, whatever, yes, Mrs. Parker moved out," Jacob answered. "I still haven't seen the new guy though."
"Oh, so he's a dude, huh?" Shawn said, a hint of teasing in his tone, and Jacob glared at him.
"Yes, and whatever you're about to say, don't say it. Mrs. Aguilar's already trying to set me up with him, so I don't need you joining the mix."
Across the table, Alex blinked. "Wait, setting you up with him? As in...."
Jacob shrugged as nonchalantly as he could. "Yeah."
A beat of silence. Then: "Oh," was all Alex offered, before ordering another beer. Sonny narrowed his eyes but didn't say anything.
"Hey," Shawn said, smoothing things over quickly, "you should listen to her. Them women, they know what they talkin' about."
"She's sixty-seven," Jacob answered.
"You get wiser with age," Danny offered from his place slumped over the table.
"Yang got a point," Shawn said. "'Sides, you oughta listen to your elders."
"Oh, Christ, not you too," Jacob said. "I don't even know what the guy looks like, for crying out loud."
"That doesn't really matter," Peter said, winking. "As long as he's got the plumbing, right?"
Jacob rolled his eyes, opening his mouth to retort, but was interrupted by Sonny. "Wait."
He turned. The rookie was currently staring at him over the top of his beer, eyes glinting, face ever so slightly flushed. "Ya mean to tell me," Sonny said, "that you're a fuckin' fa--"
The sound of the beer mug crashing down on the table was enough to make everyone jump. Jacob spun to see Shawn glaring at Sonny, eyes glinting furiously in the half-light of the bar. The hand gripping his mug was shaking with barely contained rage, but when Shawn spoke, his voice was even, measured, and carefully controlled.
"You best be real careful the next words come outta yo' mouth, son," he said.
Silence fell. Everyone looked from Shawn to Sonny, not daring to move. Sonny took a breath and looked as if he was about to speak, and Jacob tensed, ready to break up a potential fight. But instead, the rookie seemed to deflate a little, turning slowly to Jacob. "Sorry," he said, terse and more than a little reluctant, but it did the job. Shawn relaxed.
Jacob didn't. It happened less often than he expected, which was nice, but whenever it did he always felt irritated, wired, and anxious for a few rounds with a punching bag. And seeing as all he wanted to do at the moment was make Sonny the punching bag, he knew he couldn't stick around.
"Hey, look," he said, rising from his seat and tossing a couple of bills onto the table, "it's been great catching up with y'all and everything, but I'm gonna call it a night."
Alex frowned. "Jacob, come on, man--"
"No, seriously, it's okay," Jacob said, smiling at each of them in turn but pointedly passing over Sonny. "I'm pretty beat. Gonna turn in early."
Shawn sighed but didn't try to stop him. "Just drive careful, ya hear?"
"Yes, Dad." Jacob smiled before looking up. "Oh, and Sonny?"
Sonny returned his look but didn't say anything. Still smiling, Jacob reached down and clapped Shawn lightly on the shoulder. "If you have any manners, you'll want to thank your training officer here," he said. "He saved your life tonight." And without waiting for Sonny's reaction, he turned and walked out of the bar.