Yanko paced along the terrace’s west wall. He ignored the view of the Castillo de Santos Sergio y Baco lit up against the darkness of the Bay. He didn’t think of this spot as the place Dieter proposed to him or the place where they were married. His entire being focused on finding the spark of two men.
He sensed Boris, the man he died for, behind him serving coffee. Tamás was on a bicycle frantically peddling through the night. Dieter, Tucker and Meg were on their way. His family was gathering, being pulled together, but two strands were missing. He pushed harder. Harder than he should. Nothing. Nothing but shock and horror on the very edge of perception. He slumped against the wall. “Bad juju,” he whispered.
Flashing blue and red lights grabbed his attention. A Bennett Bay Police Department cruiser pulled up in front of the Inn. Tamás came around the corner on his bike and skidded to a halt as a female officer exited the car. She exchanged a few words with him as a male officer scanned the street and the Castillo’s empty parking lot.
The female officer followed Tamás into the courtyard. Yanko walked over to the railing to watch them. He wanted to call out, ask what was wrong. Ask them to turn off the flashing lights. But maybe there was security in them. Another kind of protection spell. Was there a threat to the Inn? Wouldn’t they have called? He touched his phone like it was a talisman. She scanned the courtyard as if she was looking for someone hidden among the planters along the walls. She looked up. Their eyes met. “I’m the manager,” Yanko called down.
She gave him a curt nod and headed for the steps. Tamás turned around from locking his bike in the rack and shrugged. He followed the officer up to the terrace.
“I’m Officer Gomez,” she said as she shook his hand. She surveyed the terrace and the crowded bar.
“Yanko Santiago, assistant manager.”
“You know about Orlando?”
“Isn’t it past last call?”
“We’re serving coffee. People didn’t want to be alone.”
She gave him the curt nod again.
“Why are you here?”
“Mayor ordered protection for all the LGBT spots in town.”
“Three cars dispatched down to Pier Five while the Jolly Roger closes. We’re here and a car went to Steam.”
Yanko nearly laughed. Steam had the appearance of a gay leather-biker bar, but it was really the secret hang out of the surprisingly large number of dragons living in the Bennett Bay area. He took perverse pleasure in the idea of a band of homophobic terrorist trying to take that bar. It’d be an early Sunday brunch.
He took a deep calming breath. “So is there a threat?”
She shook her head. “Not that I know of. There’s still a lot of confusion. All we know is a gay club was targeted and the shooter is spouting about ISIS. It’s Pride Month, it’s got people on edge.”
He nodded, but felt something else. She appeared calm and professional, yet she radiated fear. Very gently, he asked, “There’s something else. What are you afraid of?”
She turned to him. The light from the bar caught the moisture in her eyes. “My husband and my brother-in-law.” She took a breath. “It’s his twenty-first birthday. He just came out and the family hasn’t been very good about it. Javie, my husband, went to support his little brother on his big night.”
He reached out and touched her arm. “News?”
“They’re trapped in a bathroom with a bunch of other people.”
“Oh God. Why the hell are you here?”
Her face became hard steel. “Duty. I can’t do anything there—right now. I’ll be out of here at the end of shift, but just let some bastard try that in my town.”
She looked at the people gathered in the bar. Everyone was touching someone. Hugging. The need to connect was an overwhelming instinctual thing. “I’m here to serve and protect.”
In that moment, his heart swelled. He wanted to wrap all the first responders in his arms and thank them. The men and women running into the club with a shooter. The people getting the wounded into the back of pickup trucks. The patrons risking their lives to save their friends. In the face of darkness, the human flamed burned the brightest.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
A slight nod was all she gave him.
“So you’re just here to keep an eye on things?”
“So would it be okay to kill the lights? Folks are a little jumpy.”
“Right,” she said and muttered something into the mic attached to her uniform.
“Would you and your partner like some coffee?”
“That would be very kind of you Mr. Santiago.”
Tamás met him halfway across the terrace. Yanko asked, “Anything yet?”
He shook his head. “Do you think we should call Gus’ mom. If he contacted anyone, it’d be her.”
“Do you want to be the one to wake her up and tell her this is going on?”
“Shit. I don’t even want to know this is happening.” He opened the door for Yanko and looked around the room. “Wow, I’ve never seen the place this packed. Anything I can do to help?”
“Bus tables, fill coffee, be pretty.”
Tamás grinned. “Now you sound like Rolf supervising his catering staff.”
“I wish Rolf was here. I’d be nice to have an adult around.”
“Yeah. Doesn’t feel like it sometimes. Feeling a bit overwhelmed. I must have missed the lecture on how to manage mass shooter situations in the hospitality business.”
“Are you okay?”
Conner came up and cut in, “People are getting hungry. The pretzels and peanuts aren’t cutting it. And I’m starving. Folks usual go out to eat after last call.”
“Right,” Yanko said. “I’ll see what I can do in the kitchen. Tamás is here to help. Put him to work. And make sure the police outside get coffee and whatever else they want.”
He gave them both a nod and made his way through the crowd and pushed his way into the dark kitchen. He liked the way the stainless steel glowed in the low lights. He didn’t know why, but there was something sexy about an empty restaurant kitchen. Someday he might have the balls to tell Dieter about his little fantasy, but tonight was not the night.
He leaned against the steel door of the walk-in cooler and slid down to the cold terracotta tiles. He pulled put out his phone and opened his contacts. Luca smiled at him. A black fedora tilted jauntily on his head. He touched Luca’s face. Seven years ago, he found Yanko, a little con artist of a hustler turning tricks down in Saint Pete. Called him on his bullshit. Challenged him to do better. Taught him that sex could be a thing of friendship—brotherhood, not a means to an end. He touched the phone icon.
It rang. And rang.
“You got Luca. Message now.”
“I need you to be okay…”
Beep. The call ended.
He pulled his knees up to his chest. “I should be able to feel you.”