Dial L for Love
By Heloise West
“I wasn’t drunk,” Gray insisted. His editor’s office had a ground level view of the February day as another storm battered the small town. “I’m being framed.”
Ellen rolled her eyes with a huff, taking up a stack of paper to straighten again. “It’s automatic termination, Gray, you know that.”
“I can take the damn bus to work,” he grumbled, sitting back.
“Having a car and a valid license is mandatory to the job.” She wouldn’t look at him.
“I was supposed to meet my informant in that dive. I had one beer.” That he could remember.
“You were driving over the speed limit when they stopped you,” she replied.
His brain tried to penetrate the fog that was two nights ago. “Someone put something in my beer.”
“And the cop who stopped you? Your blood work didn’t show anything but alcohol.”
“They said. I’m investigating a bunch of dirty cops in a dirty town, why wouldn’t they try to get me off the story by causing me to lose my job?” Do not say conspiracy, Gray.
“And your informant?”
“I don’t recall meeting him, but he told the investigating cops that I was slurring at the bar. So did the bartender.”
“Then why did he serve you?”
“It’s not that kind of place, El.” Gray ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “You know me.”
“Oh, Jesus,” she said. “You think I don’t want to believe you? It’s my job to terminate you. But I can move you to office staff until you get it straightened out.”
Answering phones and re-writing obituaries, great.
Gray grimaced and stood, went to the door, and glanced out at the small news office. “Seven years down the tubes because of a bunch of dirty cops.” He looked back at her. “You put me on that rumor.”
She dropped her head into her hands. “Aw, Gray.”
“Because you knew I’d find the story and not let go. I can still find the story, and if I do, I can prove to you that I’ve been framed.”
Ellen popped her fists on the desk. “What the hell are you thinking? If you really believe you’ve been framed to get you off the story, what do you think they’ll do next to keep you off it permanently?”
“You want me to give my notes to someone else?” He was a possessive bastard, and it hurt like hell to ask her that question.
“It’s not worth losing your life, and I’m not pushing for that story anymore.” She stood with an air of decisiveness, a small, plain-looking woman with fire in her eye.
“Does that mean we only do the stories that are safe from now on? I’m really starting to hate this town.”
She gave a reluctant nod. “What does Mark say about all this?”
His partner of three years, the love of his life, was a cop. “He said there’s an internal investigation but it’s slow going.”
She grimaced. “I meant about losing your driver’s license.”
And my damn job.
Gray laughed without humor. “He’ll be happy. He’s been asking me to back off.”
“You haven’t told him yet?”
“Mark took a quick trip home, an emergency with his dad. But he promised to be back tonight for our anniversary.”
“Aw, that’s so cute. Valentine’s Day—I mean,” she smirked at his glare. “For a couple of hardasses like you and Mark.”
“I moved in on Valentine’s Day.” Hallmark gimmick or not, it gave them the chance to make room in their schedules to be ridiculously romantic with each other.
* * *
When Gray let himself into their apartment, arms full of roses and dark chocolate, his heart was lighter simply because Mark’s car was in the lot below. He felt safer, too. He laid the roses and packages on the counter that divided the kitchen and dining area and laughed at the dozen roses already sitting in a vase. The shower was running down the hall, small suitcase on the bed, so Gray unpacked for him, which only meant shoving everything into the hamper. He worked through the pockets of Mark’s jeans and removed an empty pill bottle.
He glanced at the label before he put the bottle in his shirt pocket to remind Mark to get the prescription refilled. Prescription sleeping pills? The job was getting tougher, apparently.
Wishing the shower was big enough for both of them, he knocked softly on the bathroom door and called out his name.
“Open the wine!”
Gray went back to the kitchen to the fridge. Shelled shrimp and fat white scallops with garlic marinated in a bowl. He removed the brie to soften and located the corkscrew for the French Chardonnay. He poured a glass for both of them and sipped until Mark had finished in the bathroom. Mark emerged from a fragrant cloud of Old Spice and steam dressed in jeans and a navy T-shirt. Gray almost spilled his wine when Mark rushed him for a tight hug.
“God, I’m glad to see you.” Mark pulled back.
Gray searched his face. He looked so worried. “Did you already hear?”
“What’s in your pocket?” Playfully Mark grabbed out the prescription bottle. “Oh, my God, Gray!” He sounded horrified, stepping back from him as he reached for the wine glass. Mark gulped at it until the glass was empty, still gripping the bottle and not looking at Gray.
A few moments passed and Mark appeared calmer, though his handsome face was still flushed an ugly red. “Did I already hear what?”
Gray looked from the pill bottle clutched in his hand to the guilty expression on his face. He drained the rest of his wine, too, as fear began to shift in his belly.
Not Mark. It can’t be Mark. He wouldn’t…he’s not one of those dirty cops…please God, not Mark.
Jesus. Don’t be so Barbara Stanwick!
“I got an OUI,” Gray said. “I lost my job.”
“You did?” Mark sounded hopeful but confused. “When did this happen?”
“The night I was supposed to meet my informant for the story on the cops. I remember going to the bar and having one beer, but even that’s vague. I remember you left to go to your dad’s.” It was hard, but he thought back. “You made my favorite protein drink and left it for me. I drank the whole damn thing.”
Mark was half Italian and half Irish, it was hard for him to hide—anything, unless he was wearing his stone-cold cop face. Gray’s paranoia about conspiracies fell away at the miserable expression on his lover’s face.
“I love you,” Mark said. “I’m sorry about the OUI. I only wanted to keep you away from the informant and safe at home because I was worried, and the thing with my dad was an emergency. I couldn’t be here for you.” Now he was pale and shaking. “I don’t want to lose you. But I’d rather lose you because of this than because they hurt you.”
Gray almost laughed. Almost. “Mark, I’m allergic to those damn pills. I have sleep behaviors if I take them. No wonder I can’t remember drinking and driving. I was asleep!”
* * * end * * *
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