A Self Portrait
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by J. P. Bowie
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: A Self-Portrait is an enthralling mix of romance and suspense, of enduring love and friendship, even after death, and the human spirit's indomitable will to survive. Living with a private investigator can bring an element of danger into a guy's life. When his partner Jeff Stevens disappears on a routine trip to meet a friend in LA, Peter Brandon's psychic intuition alerts him to the fact that Jeff is somehow being held against his will. Determined to find him, Peter reaches out for help to his deceased lover, Phillip, through the unbreakable psychic bond that still exists between them. Traumatized into unconsciousness, he dreams and remembers the life-defining relationship he had with Phillip and the subsequent events that took him almost to the point of death-and back. On waking, and with the certain knowledge that Phillip will aid him in his search, he and his close friends Andrew and David, set out to find Jeff. They enlist the help of Nick Fallon, a NYPD detective, who flies in to help them and together they face a cult of Satanists led by Paul Lefevre, a mad illusionist promising his followers eternal life. Lefevre attempts to take control of Peter's bond with Phillip by holding Peter's mother hostage-a mistake that will cost Lefevre dearly as Phillip exacts a terrible revenge.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [324 KB]
Reading time: 213-298 min.
Laguna Beach, California
Sometimes life just can't seem to stop throwing curves at you. On this particular day when things started to go to hell, I had forgotten that my lover, Jeff Stevens, PI extraordinaire, had told me he was meeting his LAPD buddy Detective Joe French for lunch up in LA.
Jeff and Joe had been on the force together some years before, and had remained friends after Jeff had quit to set up his own private agency. Joe had actually been extremely helpful on a couple of Jeff's cases. In fact, if it had not been for him, I would have probably been dead meat not long after Jeff and I had met--but that's another story.
Anyway, when Jeff reminded me he was going up to LA to have lunch with Joe, I wasn't thrilled. Not that I minded Jeff meeting a friend. I trust him implicitly, and besides... Joe is straight. It was just that our friends, Nick and Eric, were arriving from New York the following day and I had made a list of 'to do's' that I had anticipated Jeff's help with.
On top of that, just as he was about to leave, I had a sudden feeling of apprehension. He must have seen the look on my face because he was very quick to ask me if something was wrong.
"I don't know," I told him. "I just had one of my funny feelings."
Over the years we've been together, Jeff has come to respect those 'funny feelings' of mine. Ever since I awoke from the coma that had kept me in la-la land for three years, I've been subject to these strange turns whenever I feel someone close to me is in danger. Sometimes, it's a nasty nauseous sensation and other times it's like an electrical charge making my skin prickle with an eerie feeling of anticipation.
I tried convincing myself it could be that I'd been feeling just a bit out of sorts ever since we'd come back from visiting Jeff's mother in Arizona. The dry desert air and intense heat had brought out all kinds of allergies I didn't know I had until then. That, and the fact that Jeff's mom was not the easiest person in the world to get along with, had made it a kind of tense visit.
It was the first time I'd met her and it was obvious from the get-go that she was just not about to admit to herself the kind of relationship I had with her son. We played it very low key and although it was a strain for me to keep my hands off Jeff the entire time we were there--an entire week!--I behaved myself impeccably. Mrs. Stevens and I, I never got comfortable enough with her to call her by her first name, got along okay. She was quite sweet really. She just seemed so out of touch with her son's life, and it bothered me to see my usually so 'take charge' man be at a loss around his mother.
Now, he stood in front of me, head cocked a little to one side, a questioning smile on his lips and looking better than any man had a right to. Wearing a snow-white polo shirt that accentuated his tan, that often-errant lock of wavy chestnut hair falling over his brow, and with his smoky gray eyes gazing into mine, he was, in my opinion, the epitome of masculine beauty. Okay, I'm biased, but there it is. I could get hard just thinking about him, never mind having him within kissing distance.
"You wouldn't be kidding me with this, would you?" he asked.
I wanted to wrestle him to the ground and ravish him on the spot. As if I could--he's got a good twenty pounds of solid muscle on me. I controlled myself enough to reply somewhat shakily, "No, of course not. It might be nothing at all. Just please be careful driving up there. You know there's a bunch of madmen on the freeways every day."
He chuckled and held me tight against him. "Don't worry kiddo," he murmured in my ear, making me even harder. "I'll be back before you know it." He cupped my butt with one hand, the bulge in my pants with the other. "I'll look forward to having both of these later."
Weak at the knees, I croaked, "You'll have to wait 'til after dinner. Andrew and David are coming over, remember."
"Damn, that's right. You just love to keep us busy don't you? Nick and Eric arriving tomorrow for a whole week wasn't enough?"
He chuckled and bussed my cheek. "What time?"
"I told them around seven."
"Fine. I'll call you when I'm on my way back." He kissed me tenderly. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
I clung to him for a moment longer before reluctantly letting him go. I watched as he ran down the steps from the front door to the driveway below where his car was parked. Before he pulled out, he smiled at me and waved and I was suddenly on the verge of running to stop him from leaving.
"Jeff!" I called out, but he didn't hear me as his car sped to the corner and was gone.
Pull yourself together, I told myself as I went back into the house, Jeff can look after himself. He'd certainly proven that several times over in the past. My cell phone jangled and I hurried into the kitchen where I'd left it.
I laughed in spite of myself, feeling relief at the sound of his deep warm voice. "Yes, come on back."
"No can do. You feeling better?"
"Yes," I lied. "Just be careful, please."
"Will do. See you later." He hung up and I walked into the living room, still carrying my phone. Dammit! Why can't I shake this uneasy feeling?
Of course, there was no way of knowing then that the events that would take place over the next forty-eight hours would probably be the most bizarre of my life. The phone, jangling again in my hand, made me jump.
I glanced at the caller ID. "Hi, Emily."
"You sound funny. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just some allergies, I think. How's it going over there?"
Our friends Emily and Jerry were having an addition built on their house now that they were expecting their second baby.
"It's a mess. Actually, I was wondering if Jerry Junior and I could come over for a couple of hours, to get away from the dust and hammering."
"Good idea," I said. Despite all I had to do that day I felt the distraction their tiny son would bring along with him would be a welcome relief from the gloom that had settled over me. At eighteen months, he was at the age of getting into everything and had to be watched all the time. Just what I needed to get my mind occupied with something else. "Come on over and I'll make us some lunch."
"See you in a few then."
I'd first met Emily when her cousin Gloria introduced us over two years before. I had been commissioned to paint Gloria's portrait as a birthday gift from her husband. Gloria insisted on throwing a big bash for the 'unveiling', as she called it, and Emily and Jerry were there too. They had just become engaged and Jerry asked me to paint Emily's portrait as an engagement present to her.
During the time we spent together I learned a lot about Emily and the awful childhood she'd endured. For years she and her sister had been sexually molested by their father. When he was murdered and the details of his perversions were revealed to the police, both Emily and her brother Anthony had been suspects. Thanks to Jeff, their names had been cleared. Emily was finally able to put the past behind her and, with a loving Jerry by her side, find the happiness she had long deserved.
The doorbell ringing signaled Emily's arrival and any dark thoughts still lurking in the back of my mind disappeared when I opened the door and a small bundle of high energy rushed in wrapping its sturdy arms round my legs.
"Jer, you little rascal!" I laughed and picked up the gurgling dynamo, hugging him to me. He chortled with delight in my arms as I leaned over to kiss his mother's cheek. With her long, dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, Emily looked radiant as usual. Such a far cry from the demure and sad looking young lady I had first met two years before.
"He hates coming here, as you can tell," she said, chuckling. "Unca Pee and Jay, Unca Pee and Jay, that's all I heard when I told him we were coming over here."
"I'll be glad when he can at least say 'Pete'." I gave her a wry grin. "Being referred to as a bodily function isn't the most flattering thing in the world." I laughed again as Jerry crooned "Unca Pee," in my ear. "Come on," I told him, "I've got a brand new toy for you to destroy with your usual dexterity." I carried him into the living room and showed him the new teddy bear Jeff and I had picked up a couple of days before, I remembered how Jeff had kidded me about Jerry maybe having a hard time getting it away from me.
"You know how you love cuddly things," he'd said, nudging me with his elbow.
"Yeah," I retorted, "but I like 'em big and cuddly."
A sharp pang of uneasiness pinched the back of my mind and I lowered Jerry to the floor so he could pounce on the unsuspecting teddy bear.
"You all right, Peter?" Emily looked at me with concern. "You seem worried about something."
"I'm okay. Just one of those little feelings of apprehension I get from time to time."
"What are you apprehensive about?"
"Oh, I don't know, exactly. Jeff went up to LA to see his friend Joe French, and I haven't been able to shake this stupid feeling all morning."
"Well, call him and put your mind at ease."
"I hate doing that. It makes me look and sound like a demented mother hen."
"Call him. It'll make you feel better."
"You're right..." I reached for my cell. "I'll tell him it was your idea if he sounds pissed." I grinned at her as I punched in the numbers of Jeff's cell phone.
Did I detect a sigh somewhere in there?
"Everything all right?"
"Uh, well yes. Except Joe has realized who is calling me, and he's rolling his eyes like I'm some poor hen-pecked soul who can't have lunch with his buddy without being stalked on the phone by a--"
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry! This was all Emily's idea."
"Huh, like I believe that. Tell Emily hello, and give that little devil a kiss from me, if he's there too."
"Oh, he's here, beating up on poor Teddy."
"Okay. Take it easy, and stop worrying. That's an order."
"Yes sir!" I could imagine Jeff shaking his head and looking apologetically at Joe, who I hoped in turn would tell him how great it was to have someone care for him that much. Most likely though, Joe would just sigh and continue with whatever they had been talking about. I felt like a wuss, but at the same time I was relieved that all seemed well.
"Joe just went to the men's room, so we can talk a bit."
"How is he?" I asked.
"Good. He's been telling me about his latest case--you know, the Satanist cult that was threatening the Governor? I read you the report in the newspaper."
"Oh yeah, vaguely..."
"Anyway, he arrested some of the members--got 'em on drug charges. The judge wouldn't let the devil worship connection stick first time around."
"Even though they threatened the Governor?" I asked, at least remembering that snippet.
"And the mayor of Los Angeles. Said they were going to sacrifice his daughter. They almost got her, too. Thanks to some quick work from Joe's department most of the cult members were rounded up."
"What jerks. I hope they're gone for a long time."
"They will be. Only thing is, the leader of the pack managed to disappear, so Joe's hoping some of the guys he arrested will spill the beans when they find out the kind of sentences they're facing." I heard some muffled voices then Jeff said, "Joe's back, so I'll see you later, babe."
"Bye. Love you." I put the phone down and smiled at Emily. "He's fine."
"See? Now you feel better," she said with satisfaction as she knelt to rescue Teddy who was about to lose his left arm. "By the way, I talked to Anthony yesterday. He and Justin are buying a townhouse in Pasadena."
"My old hometown." I sat on the floor next to her. "Good for them."
"They seem very happy. Justin's been good for Anthony. Helped him get over that entire trauma with our parents." She paused and looked at me speculatively.
"Oh, I was just thinking that what you and Jeff need--is a child."
"What?" I started to laugh. "You know that is biologically impossible, don't you? Or did they not mention that in class when you studied the birds and the bees?"
"Don't be facetious, Peter. I meant adopt of course."
"Well, look how good you are with Jerry, and with Rob and Maggie's little one. They adore you, and you love having them around."
"Yes, but then they go home and I don't have to deal with the fretting and the cleaning and the changing and the--"
"Stop. You'd manage just fine." She grinned at me while watching Jerry climb on me and put his head on my chest. "See? Case closed."
Gently, I stroked the little head that had snuggled against me and I had to admit it felt good to have someone so small and vulnerable have so much trust in me. I looked at Emily and smiled sheepishly.
"Maybe I'll get Jeff a puppy."
She grinned at me. "He already has one."
"How rude," I laughed, glancing down at my charge. "Your Mommy is picking on me, Jer. Go get her!" He just grinned up at me.
"No help there I'm afraid. Where's this lunch you promised?" She patted her tummy. "There's someone in here getting hungry and grumpy."
"You don't look hungry--grumpy maybe."
"Huh, you should try this pregnancy thing just one time." We giggled at the idea as I helped her to her feet. She followed me into the kitchen. "How's your mom?"
"Just fine--as always." I gave her a wary look. "And yours?"
"I wouldn't know."
Emily grimaced. "She'll never change, and Jerry will never forgive her for her coldness toward her grandson. When she tore up the message we sent her regarding his christening and sent it back to us, I thought Jerry was going to come unglued. I'd never seen him so angry."
"She's a piece of work all right," I muttered.
If I live to be a hundred, I will never understand a woman like Patricia Hastings. For years she had ignored the sexual abuse her daughters had endured, perpetrated under her roof by her own husband. Instead, she chose to believe that her daughters were somehow to blame for their father's perversion. She had let them suffer his gross attentions rather than lose face in society. She had kept silent, and to me that was as despicable as her husband's loathsome actions.
Now, all she had was an empty house. She had cut off all communication with her children. Even with her son Anthony, whom she had professed to love so dearly. Patricia had totally dismissed the idea that her husband's doctor friend--a man Charles Hastings had kept in thrall for his own purposes--had sodomized Anthony with his father's silent consent. She had even managed to ignore the fact that Anthony had almost been the victim again of sexual assault, and perhaps worse, at the hands of a deranged killer. Patricia preferred to retreat into the netherworld of denial, and if it meant losing the affection of her children, she had obviously considered it worth the cost.
"Sometimes I do feel sorry for her," Emily said. "When I think of what she's missing in her life--what she's always missed, really--but at the same time, it's hard to feel sympathy for someone so cold and unapproachable."
I put Jerry down and filled our plates with the pasta salad I'd prepared earlier. There wasn't a whole lot you could say in Patricia's defense. As far as I was concerned she was worthless as a mother. So different from mine, which once more gave me the occasion to count my lucky stars that I had been blessed with loving parents.
"Okay, let's eat," I said, leading the way to the kitchen table.
"How was the trip to see Jeff's mom?" she asked as I set Jerry on her lap.
"So-so. I'm glad we went, for Jeff's sake if nothing else. I think she'd rather he'd gone alone, though."
"You didn't get along?"
"We managed, but I think I made her a tad uncomfortable. It was our first meeting. Jeff had told her a lot about me..."
"I mean about my painting, smarty!" I gave her the arched eyebrow look. "I think maybe, she was a bit intimidated. She's actually quite sweet, but very reserved."
"Does she know about you and Jeff?"
"Oh yeah, he's told her. But she's put that somewhere in the ozone layer of her mind so she doesn't have to think about it too much--if at all."
"That must have been awkward for you both."
"Uh huh. I felt like I was in no man's land most of the time."
"How did Jeff cope?" she asked.
"It was kinda hard on him. I left them alone a couple of times so they could talk, but she just doesn't really know how to open up. I think it comes from all those years of having a husband who just wasn't interested in anything she had to say. Apparently, he was a bit of an ogre and left her alone a lot. They were not a close family. Jeff left home pretty early on. He's trying to bridge that gap now with her, but it's not easy."
"You think she's lonely out there in Arizona?"
I shook my head. "She's got friends there. Quite a social life, actually. I think we got in the way of a bridge party once or twice."
"Well, that's something, I guess..." Emily's attention was distracted by her son, narrowly managing to stop his attempt to wear his lunch on his head.
"Is that what you think of my culinary expertise, Jer?" I said, laughing, "or are you just bored with all our grown-up talk?"
He gave me a big grin as his mother returned his fistful of pasta to his plate.
Later, after Emily and her little one left, I busied myself tidying the place up before getting the guest bedroom ready for Nick and Eric. As I picked up a pile of newspapers I noticed the article Jeff had mentioned on the phone. The one about Joe French busting up the Satanist cult. Feeling a bit guilty that I hadn't paid much attention as Jeff read it to me, I sat down to read it through properly. The part I found intriguing was that although the police had closed in on them very quickly, their leader had managed to 'mysteriously disappear'. According to reports not one of his followers could quite remember if he had actually been with them at the time of their arrest.
"Strange," I muttered, and felt a shiver run down my spine. I put the paper aside, thinking I might get some more info from Jeff when he got home. Something was rankling in my brain. Something I couldn't for the life of me understand.
Mom and Fred stopped by in the late afternoon just to say hello. They were going to the theater in town and having dinner beforehand.
"Jeff still at work?" Mom glanced at the new watch he had bought her at Christmas.
"No, he went up to LA to have lunch with Joe. He should be back soon." I had resisted the temptation to call him again. I really didn't want to piss him off altogether.
"Aren't you having Andrew and David over tonight?"
"Yeah. He'll get back in time to help--he always does."
"That traffic on the freeway is miserable this time of day," Fred remarked. "Don't expect him any time soon."
I sighed, knowing he was right, and once again that insidious feeling of apprehension gnawed at me. Trying to shake myself free of it for a moment, I said, "Don't forget dinner with us Wednesday night. You'll get to meet Nick and Eric, the guys from New York."
As soon as Mom and Fred left I picked up my phone and hastily pressed speed dial. No answer. Not even a ringing tone--nothing. I hung up and pressed speed dial again. Still nothing.
"Damn!" I said aloud, "his phone must be dead." Jeff had programmed Joe's number into my phone 'in case of emergencies', so I punched in his number and got the same result--silence. What were the chances of both their cell phones going dead at the same time? I didn't like this one bit. Trying not to panic, I called Jeff's office.
"Stevens' Investigations." Monica's chirpy voice had a reassuring sound.
"Monica, hi--it's Peter. Have you heard from Jeff?"
"Not since lunchtime, Peter. But he did say he'd be tied up most of the day with Joe so I haven't been concerned."
"I can't reach him on his cell."
"Let me try on the other line," she said. A moment later she was back. "No luck. Have you tried Joe's number?"
"Yes. Nothing there either."
I looked at the second number by Joe's name--the police department. "I'm going to call Joe's office, Monica. I'll call you back later." Quickly I dialed the number and asked to be connected to Detective French's extension.
A female voice said, "Sorry, he's not here right now."
"Oh...is his supervisor available?"
"He's on the other line. Do you want to hold?"
"Yes, I'll hold." And I did, for what seemed an eternity. I tried to rationalize my anxiety as I waited. Okay, both their phones are out--strange, but not entirely impossible. If Jeff was on his way back, and he'd have to be to make it home in time, he'd probably be cursing modern technology right now, or blaming himself for not charging the phone sufficiently. I tried to imagine him sitting patiently in his car while the traffic crept along at a snail's pace. But somehow, I couldn't quite get that vision. He had to be in his car, I reasoned with myself. Where else could he be? And where the hell was Joe?
"Sergeant Lawson here." The voice that interrupted my thoughts was gruff and unfriendly.
"Yeah, hi, my name's Peter Brandon. I'm a friend of Jeff Stevens. He was having lunch today with Detective Joe French and I can't seem to reach either one of them. Can you tell me what's going on?"
"Mr. Brandon, we're experiencing difficulty reaching Detective French, but it's way too early to be concerned..." His voice took on a condescending edge. "We are checking it out. There's a patrol car out looking for them. If you leave your number, we'll call you when we have news. But I assure you they are in no danger."
"How can you be so sure? I know Jeff, and I know he'd never leave me hanging like this. He knows I was worried about him going up there today. I had this feeling that something was wrong--"
"Sir--please calm down. We're doing everything we can. Leave your number with the desk and we'll call you when we have something."
I sat gaping at the phone in my hand. He'd hung up on me--the jerk! I looked around the darkening room and shuddered with a sick fear. I knew now without a doubt that something was very wrong.
"Jeff," I groaned, running my hand through my hair in frustration. "Where are you?"
I called Andrew at home. His usual cheery greeting changed with quick concern when he heard the quaver in my voice. I explained what had happened.
He tried to reassure me. "But he's just late, Peter."
"No, it's more than that. I've had this sick feeling--you know how I get when something's wrong. It just won't go away and it won't until I hear him pull into this damned driveway!"
"I'm coming over right now," he said. "I'll call David at the office and tell him to come straight to your place when he's done."
"Thanks, it's this waiting that's driving me crazy--and I haven't even started dinner."
"Don't worry about that. We'll order pizza or something. Sit tight. I'll be right there."
I tried calling Jeff's number again after Andrew hung up, but still there was only the sound of silence. I walked to the window and looked out hoping against hope that I'd see his car pull into the driveway. I leaned my forehead against the windowpane and moaned under my breath.
"Please don't let this be something really bad."
By the time Andrew arrived I was a mess. After giving me a big comforting hug, he took me by the arm and led me into the kitchen. "You need a drink." He poured me a large Scotch and water.
Why hadn't I thought of that
I took a long gulp and enjoyed the sensation as the amber liquid warmed my insides. I looked at him and shook my head. "It's the not knowing that's killing me," I told him. Andrew's face was solemn as he watched me put away my drink in about one minute flat. "If there was just some word..."
"No news is the best news, so they say." Andrew grimaced after he'd said those words. "Sorry, that was dumb," he murmured. "But Jeff can take care of himself, you know that."
"But what if he and Joe have been in an accident and can't get word to anyone? What if they're trapped somewhere no one can see them? What if..."
"Peter, for cryin' out loud--you'll drive yourself nuts imagining all the worst scenarios." He put his arms around me. "Try to calm down. I'm sure we'll hear something soon."
But we didn't. David arrived about an hour later and still we'd heard nothing. Having my best friends there with me was a big help but even they could not stop me from becoming more and more frantic as the time went by.
"You know," David said suddenly, "I'll bet Joe's wife will have gotten more out of the cops than they'd tell you. She probably knows most of them there in the precinct. Why not call her?"
"Good idea." Andrew looked at me. "D'you have her number?"
"Yeah, I've got Joe's home number." I speed-dialed and waited with bated breath. The line was busy.
"Damn!" I jumped to my feet in a fury. A combination of fear and frustration was playing havoc with my senses. The nauseous feeling that I'd had off and on all day now returned with sickening intensity.
"Peter..." Andrew gripped my arm. "You look really bad. Maybe you should lie down."
"I can't do that!"
But even as I spoke, I felt my body go limp and I collapsed into Andrew's arms. My vision faded and I felt myself falling--falling into blackness...