Gentleman Sadist by TL Reeve

 

1

Robert Famosa stopped his primer black Ducati Streetfighter 848 at the caution tape line and grabbed his badge clipped to his jeans. Flicking up the visor on his helmet, he peered at the unfolding scene with a critical eye. “Agent Famosa, FBI.” He showed his shield to the bored officer who stood a little taller when he noticed the insignia engraved on the gold plated metal. After the officer lifted the tape, Robert dropped the bike into gear and drove the short distance to his new crime scene, the Tampa Bay Art Museum.

The call had come in as he'd gotten out of the shower. Someone had taken an expensive piece of art from the museum—the third one in less than three weeks—the sixteenth in the last six months. Besides the basic rundown about the incident, the only information he had was the name of the assistant curator and the building's address. Tampa had one art museum and it wasn't even a large one, considering all of the other places the thieves had struck. It got Robert's mind churning while he drove, in rush hour traffic, back to Tampa Bay—what makes this place so important?

The art theft ring in Florida was new by all accounts, but sophisticated. If this incident turned out to be like the others, there was only one assailant, though it didn’t mean there hadn’t been a team backing the person up. The suspect or suspects, due to the profile he and Benjamin Wilcox, his partner, built, came at night usually when security was on break. From the records provided to them by the museum, the suspect was also able to break the security codes and erased their tracks when they were done, making it appear as though no one entered or left the building. From start to finish, each heist took less than five minutes. Those pieces of the larger puzzle had been the only aspects of their cases to remain the same.

The prime suspect for Robert was someone who'd been inside the museums, knew the layout of the place, and perhaps had the alarm codes. When it came to exiting the premises without leaving any trace of their existence behind, he deduced the person also knew how to wipe the memory on the alarm system, clearing out everything but the morning and evening deactivation and activation timestamps. Benjamin had agreed. However, without any fingerprints or DNA left at the scene, tracking or finding their person of interest had been a dead end. Not to mention the fact there were forty-eight museums in Florida and, as of that moment, only two of the Bureau's sixteen active theft cases were close together. All of the rest were spread out across the state of Florida, which momentarily nixed his idea of it being the same group of thieves, though the notion of it being an inside job, stayed on the table.

Crowds gathered as he drove along the street. People clumped together in small groups trying to piece together what happened and he assumed if they were safe. Word got around quick in Tampa Bay. Since the museum was a popular tourist attraction, even the local media was present. Thankfully, the officers holding the perimeter were doing a good job of keeping them back so as not to contaminate his crime scene. He pulled up to the curb in front of the museum and parked his bike at the same moment Agent Benjamin Wilcox, his partner for the last five years, joined him, stopping his vintage, grape-purple '67 Camaro inches from Robert's motorcycle. The guy appeared about as tired as Robert felt. They'd been going non-stop since the first robbery six months ago. Not having any conclusive clues or leads to go off of, made the assignment more tedious and exhausting. Hopefully, this time, they'd find some shred of evidence to lead them in the right direction.

Robert raised his hand in greeting after pulling off his helmet. Benjamin grunted his response as he headed for the door. Yeah, same to you too, buddy. They were at their wits ends. It made both of them cranky and in desperate need of blowing off some steam. Since he’d started this case, he’d spent less time at the Pleasure Dome than he liked.

Maybe he needed to take a night for himself.

As the majority owner of the club, it was up to him to do the monthly inventory, oversee the discipline of unruly unattached subs and attend to the application process. Today, he was a month behind on all of it, and Riggio aka Manic, one of the co-owners, was forced to pick up Robert's slack. His only saving grace in the whole mess had been the fact the majority of the Pleasure Dome's members were in some type of law enforcement or EMS. There were a few lawyers, doctors, and professors in the mix too, which made the group eclectic and an interesting mix. So, they understood Robert's lack of visibility, however, the thought had occurred to him, how much longer would they allow him to slide?

Don’t think about it for now. Concentrate on the case. Seemed he told himself the same thing more often than not and, more often than not, it didn’t do him a bit of good.

He joined his partner at the door and showed his badge to the officer standing guard. Once the man opened the door, Robert stepped into the foyer of the museum and glanced up at the giant TBMA sculpture along with the deconstructed artwork surrounding it. There were small white benches for people to sit on as well before going inside the museum proper. He took in every detail of the space. From how many windows surrounded them to the height of the impressive structure.

Robert tapped on the glass and snorted, jacking his thumb at it. "Bulletproof."

"Interesting." Benjamin narrowed his eyes as he inspected the casing around the windows. "I suspect it's protection against gale-force winds during a hurricane."

So did Robert. Still, it'd been intriguing, to say the least, and another quandary to add to their investigation. "The assistant curator's name is Will Anders. He's the one who called it in this morning."

Benjamin pulled the small memo pad he carried everywhere with him, out of his jacket pocket. He flipped through the pages then came to a stop. “Yep. Says when he showed up, he made his rounds of the museum and found the piece missing, so he called the cops. They, in turn, called us.”

“I’ll interview the curator,” Robert said. “You have a look around.”

“Let’s just hope this isn’t like the others.” Benjamin left Robert’s side and went through the door on the right while he went through the door on the left.

As he stepped inside, one thing became abundantly clear, this museum wasn't like the others. He could smell the money emanating from the walls and not necessarily from the collections either. This place, according to the pamphlet he grabbed out of the stand beside him, had been created through donations. When he flipped it over, there was a list of people and places who sent in contributions. Reminds me of PBS, before they cut it all to hell. As he continued to flip through the brochure, he noticed two exhibitions were going on at the moment. One was for the Turn of The Century artists and the other was for the National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. This year, it appeared, from what the pamphlet said, the museum was showcasing some of the most popular Cuban artists.

Interesting.

Chatter from the room he’d been standing next to, drew his attention. He stepped closer to the entrance and glanced around the corner to see who was there. A man wearing a tailored suit stood next to a woman who wore a tan jacket and blue skirt. She wrote everything the man in the suit said, in her hardback journal then closed it and placed a black rubber band across it, securing it. She smiled up at the man before exited the space.

Robert cleared his throat, entering the area and the man jumped.

“Hasn’t anyone told you not t—” The guy spun around and paled. “I’m so sorry.”

"Don't be. My mother always threatened to put a cat bell around my neck." Robert closed the distance between them and extended his hand. "Agent Famosa of the FBI. I heard you had a break-in."

The man cleared his throat and, with a nervous chuckle, accepted Robert's handshake. "My apologies. My name is Will Anders and yes, we did."

"Would you mind showing me where the aforementioned piece should be?" Heat spread from where their hands were connected up Robert's arm. The man standing in front of him was handsome and nothing like his type. Will had light brown hair that was longer in the front and swept to the side. He had beautiful amber eyes framed by black eyelashes, so dark, he thought the man used kohl liner to accentuate them. Will's lips were full, bracketed by stress lines Robert wanted to smooth away. The thought sent a jolt through him. He wasn't there to find a lover, he had a job to do.

Keep your dick in your pants, Famosa.

“The painting is called, La Carretera Solitaria—The Solitary Road by Matías Fernández Garcia." Will pulled his phone from his pocket along with a pair of glasses. Once he had them on, he swiped his finger across the screen then tapped it a few times before handing Robert the device.

The painting had been done in vibrant reds, golden-yellows, and oranges depicting the sun setting on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. To the right, a lone decrepit tree stood proudly in the desert sand. On the left, sage bushes and sprigs of desert shrubbery pushed out of the barren ground around a solitary rock. A small skull, bleached by time and exposure, lay against the bolder in such a way, Robert wondered if the animal had purposely come to that particular spot to die. The emotional connotations of the painting were stunning. Depression being the biggest one. Lost and alone, the others. He wondered what the artist had been going through at the time he sat down to create it. "It's beautiful."

"One of my favorites." Will retrieved the phone from Robert. "Anyway, I stopped to stare at it, as I've done every morning since the arrival of the painting. Unfortunately, when I made my rounds this morning, I found the space empty." The man frowned, deepening the lines around his mouth and between his brows. "Agent Famosa, it was there last night before I left, and, like I told the officers then the detectives, the alarm was also set when I left."

“Still armed when you arrived?” Robert cocked a brow.

“Yes, it was.” Will frowned. “How did you know?”

Robert blew out a breath. It appeared they had another incident to add to their heist case. Shit. “No other entries on the alarm log?”

“No.” The man narrowed his arresting amber eyes. “Why do I have a feeling you know what’s happened here?”

“Can’t say for now,” he replied. “Do you have any tour guides or whatever they’re called, here?”

Will chuckled, erasing some of the tension in his lithe frame. "Docents. Yes, we do. We employee three, and we have three who volunteer on the weekends when we're packed."

“Do any of them have alarm codes?”

“No,” Will answered. “The docents come in after the regular staff. They also leave after the last tour of the day, before the regular staff. It’s part of the rules we have in place to ensure stuff like this doesn’t happen.”

“How many staff members have the codes?” Robert prodded.

“Myself, Ted, who is the head curator, Janice, the operator who directs all of our calls, the janitorial staff and our security guards—who should have been on duty last night.” Will frowned again. “For the life of me, I can’t figure this out.”

Robert wished he could have told the assistant curator everything, but due to the on-going investigation, he couldn’t say a word. With every answer Will provided to Robert, the facts were leaning in the direction of it being connected to his other cases. It also went with his and Benjamin’s suspicions of it being an inside job. “You said you have security guards?”

Will nodded. His hair fell into his eyes, giving him a boyish appearance. “We have three during the day when patrons are in and out of the museum while one attends to the facility at night. I suppose after this, we’ll have to hire another officer for the overnight shift.” He sighed as he continued through the museum and into the Cuban Heritage section.

"It might be for the best." Across from where they stood, was an empty white spot on the wall, no more than twelve inches wide by fifteen inches long. The starkness of the blank spot stood out in contrast with the room. Robert strode toward it and came to a stop at the roped-off area. The marker below the empty space had La Carretera Solitaria—The Solitary Road by Matías Fernández Garcia emblazoned on it. “How much was this particular painting worth?”

Will shrugged, drawing the corner of his lip between his teeth. “Honest, I’m not sure. Ted would know the exact amount. However, the insurance policy the museum took out on it before the estate would allow us to show it, was five million.”

Robert whistled. “Expensive.”

“The rendering went up in value after Mr. Fernández Garcia passed away earlier this year. This particular piece is or was, for now, one of his last.”

Robert stepped closer, pulling his phone from his pocket. “Do you mind? I want to get a few pictures and compare it to other theft cases we have.” He motioned to the area surrounding where the painting should hang.

“Be my guest,” Will answered. “Not sure what you’ll find, but if it gets our painting back, it’ll be worth it.”

Robert grunted. “Thanks.”

Benjamin cleared his throat, coming up beside them. “Sorry to intrude.”

Will glanced at Robert’s partner. “What can I do for you?”

“The security guard wouldn’t allow me to view the footage from last night without your permission.” Benjamin cut his gaze toward Robert. They’d never had an issue before when it came to obtaining the security feed. Most places encouraged it, especially when priceless pieces were missing.

“Of all the...” Will blew out a breath pinching the bridge of his nose. “I am going to kill them all.”

“Probably not the best thing to say in front of FBI agents,” Benjamin said.

Will glanced at Benjamin then Robert. “Let me guess, he’s the straight-laced, uptight one and you’re the bad boy.”

Robert smirked. “Well, now that you mention it.”

Will laughed. “I knew it.” He wiggled his finger at Benjamin. “Come with me so you can get a copy of our video from last night.”

While they were away, Robert took photos of everything from the rope cordoning the section off, so people didn't get too close, to the floor in front of the painting. He wouldn't leave any stone unturned as he made his way through the area of interest. When he was finished, his partner returned, holding a thumb drive.

“Got it.” He handed the stick to Robert who placed it into his pocket. “That man is not someone to trifle with. He threatened to turn the guard into an exhibit.”

Robert snorted. In the short time he spent with Will Anders, he didn’t put it past the man to do just as he said. There was a spunky sassiness to the haughty man in his tailored suits. He wondered what it would be like to have a man like Will under him, whimpering Robert’s name. A thrill ran down his spine as the wicked thought rolled through his head before he pushed it aside.

He wasn’t there to find a bedmate. He had a job to do.

"I'm done here as well." Robert pulled a card from the inside pocket of his leather jacket and went in search of Will. He found the man two exhibits away, in the mixed media section, talking to one of the employees. As the person walked away, Robert approached Will. "We're finished, for now, I believe."

“So soon?”

“Investigations on TV aren’t anything like they are in real life. We do more work in the office than in the field sometimes.” He held out his card. “If you can think of anything else that could help us, give me a call.”

Will put his glasses back on and ran his finger over the raised font. “Robert huh? Fits you.”

“I like to think so.” He turned from the man and started for the exit.

“Agent Famosa,” Will called out. “Stop back anytime when you’re not working. I think you might enjoy a day at the museum.”

He lifted his hand in acknowledgment. The museum wasn't what he wanted to see. It'd been the man who'd captured his attention. As he stepped out into the mid-day, early fall sun, he glanced around. It was a long shot, but before they left, he'd stop by each business to see if they had any camera footage from the night before. At least, maybe then, they'd have something more to go on.

“Agent Famosa,” the lead investigator from the Tampa Bay’s police department, called out.

Instead of heading to his bike, as he’d intended, Robert joined the investigator. “What can I do for you, Investigator?”

“Do you have a specific email or fax number I can send over the preliminary evidence and incident file to?”

Robert pulled another card from his pocket. “All of my information is there. When you have it together, send it on.”

“Thanks,” the man said. “One more thing. Can I bend you ear for a second?”

“Sure.” Wasn’t like he had anywhere particular to be on a Saturday morning. “What are you thinking?”

“It’s a copycat,” the investigator said.

Robert tilted his head. “Oh? What gave you that impression?”

“The scenes are identical to be sure, but something is off. I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Well, the evidence will tell us what happened here. If it’s a copycat, we’ll be able to catch them. If not...” Robert didn’t even want to contemplate it. “Anyway, thanks for the tip. I’ll start going through the evidence when I get back to the office. Hopefully, we’ll find a lead.”

* * *

Will puthis key into the lock on his condo door and turned it. It’d been a long ass day and all he wanted to do was get out of his suit and into something comfortable. Tristan, his live-in boyfriend of two years, wouldn’t be home for another hour—since he’d been working out of town delivering artwork for Da Vinci Couriers, he wouldn’t tell Will which piece or where it was going but that wasn’t here nor there. Anyway, it gave him plenty of time to unwind before Tristan wound him back up. As he pushed open the door, he noticed Dio, his rescue German Shepard, was out of his crate. Will knew he’d put the puppers into his crate before leaving for work. Did that mean Tristan had already been home and stepped out again?

Dio jumped on him, licking his cheeks while trying to climb into Will’s arms. The beast of a dog put on almost thirty pounds since he’d rescued the skinny canine. He’d also grown so attached to Will, the only way to keep him from injuring himself while Will was at work, had been to crate train Dio—which brought him back to why his dog was out.

“Hey, boy. How’d you get out? Did you break out?” He went to the back bedroom he’d transformed into a playroom for Dio and found the crate still intact. “Houdini.” Will scrubbed the pup’s head while he started for the bedroom he shared with Tristan and stopped. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. The eerie sensation of someone being there unnerved him. He should have grabbed Dio by the collar and backed out while calling the police. The absurd thought made him chuckle a little because obviously, they were alone.

Dio whined and licked Will’s hand, drawing his attention back to his canine companion. Something was wrong. He might not be able to put his finger on it immediately, but in the time he’d had Dio, the dog had never had as strong of a reaction to anything except for when Will left him alone.

Will flipped on the light in his room as he stepped into the space. He didn't see anything out of place, but the energy was off. His heartbeat kicked up a notch. If it'd been one of those stupid horror movies Kristen and Angie enjoyed, the killer would pop out at him at any second. "So stupid. There's nothing to be afraid of." Will jerked at his words. The sensation crawling through him was fear, of what, he didn’t understand, however as he stood there it mixed with the thread of anxiety already churning in his gut due to the events at the museum. “Stop being so silly. Nothing is wrong. It’s all because you had a bad day at work.”

The little pep talk spurred him into action. He went to the closet first, opening it with a shove, determined to prove he'd been acting like a fool for no reason. Instead, he gasped. All of Tristan's things were gone. A knot formed in the pit of his stomach. Sure, they'd been distant the last couple of days—a week at most, still, Tristan had led Will to believe it was due to the stress of work and they were fine. Now, he stared at the empty side of the closet and realized, maybe they'd been anything but fine. He glanced down at the small safe he kept all of his important documents and some cash in, in case of an emergency, and feared the worst even though Tristan never gave him a reason to feel as he did. Until that moment, he'd thought they were perfect together and he was the 'one,' for Will.

Now...

He replayed all the small doubts he’d had over the last two years, reminding himself how many times he’d made an excuse or three for Tristan’s absences and wondered how blind he could have been. Love makes you do stupid things. His hands trembled as he went to his knees. No one but him had the code. It was irrational to believe Tristan had robbed him, yet, his now ex, also left him without an explanation of why. Add in the kind of day he had at the museum, and he wouldn’t put anything past anyone, including his ex-boyfriend.

Paranoia is a bitch sometimes...

Will punched in the code for his safe, kicking himself as Ian and Devon’s words filtered through his mind. Put that shit in a safety deposit box. Them safes are shit for reliability. He closed his eyes, opening the door, afraid of what he’d find while also pleading to whatever higher being would heed his call, for it all to be some wild joke or a dream he’d wake up from.

He was going to be sick.

Cracking open his eyes one at a time, Will peered into the safe. No. A sob escaped him. Bile bit at the back of his throat as dread pooled in his stomach. Everything was gone, even his passport. Dio whined again, pushing his face against Will’s throat and chin trying to comfort him. I’ve been violated. The words whispered through his mind while he continued to stare at the empty safe. Though Will didn’t want to believe what he saw, Tristan left him and took everything with him in the process. But, why?

What had Will done to deserve this? Hadn’t be been attentive? Loving? Understanding? There were weeks Tristan would disappear on courier business and Will never questioned it. He’d been around his friends long enough to understand sometimes things happened. Not even in the last few weeks had Tristan hinted he wasn’t happy anymore. Or you’re too oblivious. Sitting there, he doubted everything about his relationship. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

His phone rang and the ache in his knees and legs registered for the first time since he kneeled in front of his safe. How long have I been sitting here? He grabbed his phone and groaned. Pins and needles, shit. “Hello?”

“Where are you?” Kristen. “We were supposed to have drinks tonight, remember?”

He pressed his hand to his forehead. “I’m... I’m going to have to bow out. I’m not feeling well.” I feel like I’m going to puke.

“Oh, honey,” Kristen said. “I hope it’s not that nasty bug going around. Drink plenty of fluids and call me tomorrow.”

“I will, love.” He hung up then tried to stand or at least climb onto his bed. The office. “Shit.”

His legs shook as he stood, and his knees locked momentarily. With each step he took, the pain receded in his extremities, but not in his heart. After the bitter disappointment of not being able to find a Dom who could handle his snappiness or his ‘bratty behavior,’ as Kristen called it, he’d given up on joining The Covenant. And, when Tristan came along, well, he rushed into the relationship headfirst. At twenty-eight he hadn’t wanted to be left behind by his friends or left out, crazy as it sounded. He loved the idea of being in love. Of being part of the crowd. Now, on the cusp of turning thirty, he wondered where it’d all gone wrong.

The apartment was pitch black when he stepped out of his bedroom except for a single light in his office. Will swallowed hard. Half of him wanted to run away and never come back. The other half of himself wanted to rip the band-aid off and open the door. The battle raged within him. Though he didn't keep anything from the museum in the office, he did occasionally procure artwork for individuals and he kept those records in there. Fear clogged his throat. His heart hammered. If Tristan took all of his important documents, what would stop him from ransacking the rest of the place.

Please...

Will pushed the door too and stepped inside. All of his paperwork lay strewn around the floor. The framed photo of him and Tristan from their trip to Aspen last Christmas, lay cracked and broken amongst the other items, just like his heart. But, it appeared, nothing had been taken. Reason told him to call the police, yet he couldn’t make the call. It felt like an invasion of his privacy having people traipsing through his home. He understood he had to report his passport being taken, everything else...

A lesson.

He needed to get out of there for the night. Escape the mess and the heartache. His day had already been long as it stood, considering the break-in at the museum, and appeared to be never-ending now. He went back to his bedroom and packed a few things. It struck him then, he should have called Kristen back, as well, and told her the truth, but she'd want him to call the police and he didn't want to. It wasn't like someone broke in. It was Tristan.

His thoughts swirled as he placed his toiletry bag into his suitcase before he zipped it up. Dio stuck by his side, keenly aware of the turmoil raging inside of Will. He stroked the pup’s head then forced a smile, hoping it would calm Dio. “We’re going to go on an adventure.”

Dio's face brightened as he tilted his head. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, giving Will a momentary reprieve from the emotional tsunami swallowing him whole.

"We can't stay gone for long, because I have to make kibble money." He placed a kiss on Dio's forehead while he finished gathering their things. On Monday morning, he'd go to the police department and report his passport being missing. As for the rest, he'd deal with it as it came.

It was his fault after all.