Joey had been no use to anyone for the rest of the previous day. After getting the confirmation that Grey had been playing them all this time, he felt sick to his stomach about tattooing Elliott’s name on his back. He couldn’t think of a reason for Grey wanting it. Some sort of trophy, maybe?
He barely slept, tossing and turning and disturbing Ethan enough times that he got out of bed and sat on the sofa with the remote, flicking through the options. He chose nothing. Just kept scrolling through while his mind did a similar thing with images of Elliott, Grey, Ethan, basically everyone he cared for. His mind was awash with information he couldn’t sort through.
When Ethan roused at six o’clock that morning, he’d settled on the sofa beside him and held him. No words were spoken until Ethan asked him what he wanted for breakfast around an hour later.
Now, he was pacing his studio after receiving a call from the police, asking to speak to him. Ethan sat in the tattoo chair.
A knock sounded, and Ethan opened the door, inviting Detectives Harmon and Keith inside.
“Thank you for agreeing to see us. This isn’t something we wanted to discuss over the phone,” Harmon said. “We arrested Grey Kennedy yesterday.”
Joey stared at them. “For getting David involved?”
Harmon shared a look with Keith, and Keith took over. “Yes, but also for other things. Drug supplying, assault and…” He sighed. “Grievous bodily harm.”
Joey frowned. “I can understand the drugs if he’s involved with his father, but GBH? On who?”
Joey’s legs trembled and didn’t want to hold him up again, and Ethan noticed, helping him to a chair. “I don’t…” He paused, memories resurfacing. “We’d noticed bruises on him a few months ago. Grey told us Robert’s men gave him a warning.”
“It wasn’t Robert’s men. It was his right-hand man,” Keith said.
Joey’s stomach rolled. “And you said there were more bruises that were unaccounted for.” Keith nodded. “What kind of bruises?”
Harmon shook his head. “You don’t need to know the details—”
“What kind of bruises?” he said again, this time more forcefully.
Harmon sighed, looking down at the floor before meeting his gaze again. “Finger marks in various places on his body. Straight lines on his back.”
Joey’s vision clouded. “Finger marks where?” Harmon shook his head, and Joey stood. “FINGER MARKS WHERE?”
Ethan held him back, but Joey shrugged him off, moving closer to the detectives. He stared at them both, waiting for an answer. Keith crossed his arms.
“Jaw, neck, forearms, thighs, ankles and…buttocks,” Keith finished.
Joey closed his eyes, knowing exactly what had been done to Elliott for him to drink enough to be trashed that night. To want to leave earlier than normal.
To not want to stay in the world any longer.
Joey swallowed repeatedly as he wandered the room. Heat built inside him, and he raked his fingers through his hair, scratching at his scalp. His throat closed as he tried to keep it all inside.
“What about Robert?” Ethan asked.
“We have no evidence of him taking part or being part of it,” Harmon said.
“As usual,” Keith added. “He keeps his hands clean, sending others to do his work, no doubt. We’ve had nothing we can actually pin on him.”
“Please tell me you have enough evidence to convict and jail Grey?” Joey said, his voice straining through his wrecked throat.
“Can I just ask one thing?” Ethan said, and Joey glanced at him. “What made you take another look at Elliott’s death? I know you said the bruising had come to light. Why wasn’t that noticed earlier?”
Harmon cleared his throat. “We were given a tip-off from an anonymous source that the autopsy report wasn’t…complete.” He fidgeted and sighed. “Basically, the coroner was remiss in detailing everything that he should’ve. When we found out, he provided the full report but refused to say who had paid him. It was only when Detective Hines connected the dots between David Thurl and Grey Kennedy that we took another look at the coroner, and he admitted it was Grey who had paid him. Another thing we’re adding to his charges.”
Joey shook his head, the fight gone out of him, leaving tiredness in its place. “Will you please see if Grey will answer one question for me?”
Keith narrowed his eyes. “We’ll consider it.”
Joey exhaled. “Ask him why he wanted Elliott’s name on his back.”
Keith nodded. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Joey barely noticed when they left, standing at the window and staring into the street, but seeing nothing. He didn’t jump when Ethan slid his arms around him.
“It’s a stupid question, but how are you doing?”
Joey swallowed. “I feel like he’s been taken from me all over again. But at least this time I have someone else to blame rather than myself.”
“It was never your fault. Elliott wouldn’t have wanted you to know what happened to him. He was protecting you.”
Joey leaned his forehead against the cool pane. “Maybe. But not knowing was worse than knowing what he went through. I want to kill Grey—with my bare hands—but I have a feeling he’ll get his comeuppance. I doubt Daddy dearest will take too kindly to being arrested. After all, Robert has evaded the police for years. Grey obviously doesn’t come with the same strength of genes.” As he spoke, his body released the tension, and he twisted in Ethan’s arms to face him. “Thank you for being here.”
Ethan smiled, though it didn’t sparkle in his eyes like it usually did. “I’ll always be here.”
“I’m going to call Polly and ask her to get in touch with her contacts about my statement.”
Ethan nodded. “I’ll be right beside you.”
Five hours later, he stood outside his shop, Ethan by his side, and faced the gathered reporters. He’d changed some bits of the speech once they’d returned to the apartment, his newfound knowledge needing to be mentioned in passing, even if he couldn’t directly.
“Thank you for being here.” He glanced at everyone and exhaled. “Elliott Kennedy was my best friend. Some of you have been asking why I haven’t spoken out before now, and my answer is this. My grief is for me and Elliott alone. I do not have to share it with anyone if I don’t want to. That being said, I would now like to offer you these words.
“Elliott was an amazing person and friend. Anyone would have been grateful to know him. He was passionate about so many things in this world. So many charities he wished he could help. So many causes he tried to assist. But he was mainly passionate about his family and friends. They meant the world to him.” Ethan’s hand rested on his back, knowing what was coming.
“Family is a big word. It doesn’t have to encompass just blood relatives. My best friend was part of my family. But you don’t have to include relatives at all. I know Elliott had at least one person he would’ve now wished were not included in his family legacy.” Those words caused a rumble through the crowd, but he ignored it.
“Elliott’s bright light was taken from us far too soon. It’s not something I will ‘get over’ quickly. It will stay with me—Elliott will stay with me until my last breath. As he will with those he meant a lot to.
“Please give us this time to grieve properly because burying someone does not end the grieving period. If anything, it restarts it back at ground zero. Along with random memories that crop up at inopportune moments.” He swallowed, trying to push down some such memories so he could get through the rest of his words.
“Depression and suicidal thoughts are not something to trivialise. They matter a lot. We need more light shed on such subjects. More help for those who need it. More support for those suffering. It’s a dark world, and people need to realise it’s not as easy as just ‘thinking happy thoughts.’
“Elliott Kennedy was a great person, and our loss is profound. I know I can continue living my life without my best friend beside me because he’s here, in my heart, every day. I don’t want to, but I will.
“Thank you for your time.”
The crowd burst into questions, flashes of light and noise, but Joey turned and went back inside the shop, Ethan at his back. They closed and locked the door, the blinds having already been shut, and Joey settled into a chair. Ethan crouched in front of him.
“How are you holding up?”
Joey exhaled. “I’m okay, but I’m sure I’m in for hell when John and Melinda hear it.” He shook his head. “They deserve everything they get. Playing with people’s lives like they meant nothing. I would’ve backed them up with anything before we found out they knew about it all and did nothing.”
After he’d recovered from the police’s visit, he’d called Elliott’s parents and told them the news. They hadn’t seemed shocked, and when Joey had pressed further, they’d admitted to knowing Robert and Grey were targeting Elliott. At that moment, he had cut them free. He would never forgive them for abandoning their son.
“I’m sure the police will have words with them at some point if they haven’t already,” Ani said.
He’d wished his tattoo brothers had been there, too, but the needs of the shop came first. Elliott had been the first one to drum that into his head.
“We need to visit Italy,” Ethan said suddenly.
Joey frowned at him as Ethan rose and rounded the counter. “Why?”
“Two reasons,” he said, nudging Ani out of the way of the computer. “One, you need to tattoo Ginevra—she called for an appointment earlier. And two, you need to show me the sights if we’re going to retire there.” Ethan’s mouth curved. “I better polish up my Italian.”
“You speak Italian?” Ani asked him.
Ethan chuckled. “Not a chance. I’m really bad with languages.” Ani laughed. “There we go. I’ve booked Ginevra in for Monday afternoon. That means,” he wandered towards Joey, “we have to pack and book flights so we can spend Sunday evening lazing in a hotel.” He frowned and glanced back at Ani. “Dallas will be back by then, won’t he?”
Ani nodded, a smile playing on her lips. “He will.”
Ethan smiled at Joey again. “See. We’re going to Italy.”
Joey found his smile. “So I’ve heard.” He grabbed Ethan’s hips, dragging him between his spread legs and staring up at him. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
Ethan leaned down and kissed him, and just when Joey suggested taking it upstairs, he pulled back. “I know.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ethan asked him.
Joey blew out a breath as the taxi pulled up to the curb. “Not really. But I want answers.”
They climbed out of the car, and Joey glanced up at the barbed wire along the top of the fences surrounding the prison they were entering. He turned to the driver.
“You’ll wait here until we return?”
“Yes, sir. I will be here.”
“Thanks.” He closed the door and exhaled again before taking Ethan’s hand. “Please keep reminding me he’s only doing this to annoy me.”
Ethan nodded. “I will.”
Detective Harmon had called Joey that morning to tell him that Grey refused to answer Joey’s question unless they were face to face. Initially, Joey had thought to say no, but he really did want to know. So, Harmon had arranged for them to make a short visit to Grey, who had been remanded into custody until his court date. The courts had decided he was too much of a flight risk, amongst other things, like potentially interfering with witnesses to his case. Joey didn’t blame them for not trusting him. He wished he hadn’t in the beginning.
They went through security, handing over everything they had on them before being allowed into a room with several chairs facing a wall with windows. Harmon had told them they would not be allowed to be in the same room as Grey, as he was unpredictable. Joey stared at the window as Grey sat in the chair opposite it. Joey’s anger pushed to the surface with Grey’s smirk.
Grey cupped his hands around his ear and waved them forward, his smile never wavering. Why had Joey not seen the maniacal look in his eyes before?
He took the seat, Ethan standing behind him with his hand on his shoulders.
“I hear you have a question for me,” Grey said. “Go ahead. Don’t be shy.”
Joey bit his lip, trying to contain an outburst that wouldn’t help anyone. He swallowed it down. “Why did you want Elliott’s name on your back?”
“That wasn’t too hard now, was it?” Grey chuckled. “You gave me the idea for it, actually.” He crossed his arms.
When he said nothing further, Joey gritted his jaw and played the game. “What idea was that?”
“A list of my conquests.”
Joey frowned. “Conquests? How did you get that from me?”
“I heard you spouting off several times about the people who could’ve been involved with Elliott’s death. It made me realise I could have a list of all those who I’ve…dealt with. Kind of like a tally.”
Joey clenched his fists, and Ethan’s hand tightened. “Why get me to do it?”
Grey laughed, a full belly of humour that echoed through the grate. “I wanted to see how far I could push you.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I was sure you were on to me. So sure. But when you agreed to tattoo me, I second-guessed myself. Maybe you weren’t so clever after all.” He grinned. “It’s the best feeling in the world.” Joey couldn’t say anything, but Grey was on a roll and didn’t need any prompting. “Having my brother’s name tattooed on me by his best friend. My brother—the man I helped destroy. And the first of many conquests I plan to claim.”
Joey closed his eyes and battled with the heat rolling through him in waves. “Are you not planning on leaving this place, then?”
Grey’s confidence faltered. “What do you mean?”
“If you plan to claim all these ‘conquests,’ as you put it, surely, you’re advertising what you’ve done. If the police get wind of it…” Joey didn’t finish. He didn’t need to.
Grey shook his head. “No one will know.”
Joey chuckled and shook his head. “How will they not know?”
“They’re just names. Could be anyone.”
“What did you want with Elliott?” Ethan asked.
Grey glared at Ethan. “Dad wanted him in the business, but when we realised he wouldn’t be turned, we needed him gone. He knew too much.”
Joey stood, finished with the guy once and for all. “Good luck then. I’m sure the police will love to wait and see who you ‘claim’ so they can charge you for it.” He gripped Ethan’s hand and walked away, stopping when Grey said his name.
Ethan shoved him through the door before he could hear what Grey was going to say, and as much as he wanted to hear it, he also didn’t.
“Sorry. I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say, and it would’ve riled you up on purpose.”
Joey hugged Ethan, taking strength from him to replenish his own. “Thank you. I probably would’ve listened and ended up in prison myself.”
“Yeah, we don’t need that.” Ethan kissed him and led him back to security. “Let’s go home. We need to pack.”
Joey chuckled. “Yes, we do.”
Despite wanting to know every titbit of information Grey could give about Elliott, just to shed some light on the parts of his best friend he hadn’t known, he couldn’t trust what the man said. But he could trust one person. Denny. After they visited Italy, he planned to sit down with the man and fill some gaps in his knowledge, and maybe he could share some things with Denny, too. Something that might ease the pain of Elliot’s death. Nothing would ever take away the pain, but the memories would always be with him. And with Ethan at his side, he could weather even the most heartbreaking memories.
They settled into the back of the taxi, and Joey slid his arms around his boyfriend. He had plans for Italy. Plans Ethan didn’t know about. He couldn’t wait to see his face when they arrived.