It was the 1st of June, a beautiful bright and clear morning. Will looked out his bedroom window and grinned as he saw the weather. He loved Chicago in the summer. He loved getting out in the sun, cruising the city with Diego in their patrol car. It had been a very rainy May but, finally, it looked like the weather was turning. He could start going for runs again.
He showered and shaved, waking himself up for the day ahead. He would walk to work, he decided, since it was such a fine day. It was a couple of miles to the police station so he could skip the gym for the day and just do some yoga and weights after work.
After getting dressed in his uniform, he left his little flat and went outside. The sun was warm on his face and it lifted his mood immensely. He had been a bit down these past few days, feeling lonely. It had been too long since he’d had someone and sometimes it felt like he had always been alone.
Maybe that wasn’t fair. He had his dad. He had Diego too and he was always welcome at his house. Diego’s kids called him Uncle Will. But still, he wanted someone to love. More than that, he wanted someone to look after. But it was difficult when you were the only queer cop in the precinct.
As he walked, he was in his own dreamworld, thinking about his evening plans of sitting on his tiny balcony in the sun, with a book and a glass of wine. Diego was always telling him he should go out more, that he was never going to meet anyone if he never went out. But he knew he wasn’t likely to meet anyone he wanted to settle down with at the clubs. Diego didn’t really get it.
He had one foot on the steps into the police station when a booming voice cut across the air to him, making him jump.
‘Gorski!’ called Captain Sobczak.
Will looked up and was startled to see his Captain frowning at him. Had he done something wrong? ‘Yes, Captain?’
Captain Sobczak tilted his head curiously. ‘You speak German, don’t you?’
Will blinked, surprised at the question. ‘Er, yes, Captain. I lived in Berlin as a kid.’
The Captain nodded. ‘Come and see me this afternoon,’ he said, then disappeared back inside.
Will made his way into the building and found Diego waiting for him. ‘What was that all about?’ his best friend asked.
He shrugged. ‘Dunno.’
But his mind was taking him back. Back to being seventeen, living in Berlin and hanging out in a park with a boy he knew back then, the boy he’d known for far too short a time.
The spark of the lighter in the dark, the cigarette held between two full, pink lips, the half-grin, and the mischievous glint in that cerulean gaze.
‘Come on, Vato,’ said Diego, patting his back. ‘I’ve got a coffee and a crawler in there with your name on it.’
Will followed his best friend and partner inside, chatting with him about the usual mindless bullshit, but his mind was in that park in Berlin, in the darkness with that boy.
In a mansion in Berlin, a large black Schäferhund lay on the dark grey rug and twitched her ears in the direction of the double bed as strange noises came from underneath the grey duvet. She was panting slightly in the warm room.
‘Ugh, Scheiße,’ her master muttered as he rolled over and sat up, adding a Russian curse for good measure. ‘I know, I know,’ he said, holding out his hand for the dog to lick. ‘It’s my own damn fault, Tilly.’ He frowned and pressed a hand to his forehead as a throbbing pain pulsed through his head. Another damn hangover.
Wolfgang dragged himself to his feet and Tilly followed him, as she always did. With another curse, he staggered into his bathroom. He looked om the mirror and winced. He looked about as bad as he felt. Underneath his steely blue eyes was a big round bruise on his left cheek. He had a cut above his eyebrow and his nose and top lip were swollen. His ribs were hurt and he was pretty sure he’d at least bruised them.
He groaned and cursed again as he stripped off his t-shirt and boxers. He winced as he got in the shower to wash off the sweat and dried blood still sticking to his skin. The hot water didn’t do much to ease the aching in his body and he cursed himself and his bull-headed choices.
He glanced at Tilly, who was sitting outside the shower watching him attentively. She preferred to keep him in sight at all times. He had to admit, he felt safer when she was around too but that wasn’t always possible.
After his shower, he got dressed and peered outside. His room was one of the highest in the mansion, though that never stopped him climbing out of the window. If he fell, he fell.
It was a nice day, sunny and warm. It was a welcome change after the rain of the past few days. Tilly barked at him and he turned to give her a stroke. ‘All right, girl. Let’s go on a walk.’
He put her harness and lead on then slipped quietly out of his room, locking his door behind him. He hadn’t walked five yards down the corridor when he heard a voice he hated.
‘Wolfie! What you doing sneaking around?’
Wolfgang turned to glare at Steiner. ‘Just taking Atilla for a walk.’
‘Fuck, look at you, Wolfie,’ said his cousin, taking in Wolfgang’s injuries, the ones he could see anyway. He laughed. ‘You’re even uglier than usual!’
Wolfgang, in a rash flare of temper, pushed his shoulder hard. ‘Fuck off.’
He caught a glimpse of Steiner’s scowling face before his cousin jerked forward, grabbed him and banged him hard against the wall. Pain shot through him, pushing the breath out of his lungs.
‘Watch your mouth, Wolfie. Or I’ll tell your daddy.’
Tilly started growling. Steiner let him go, knowing she wouldn’t hesitate to bite him. Wolfgang was tempted to let her. But there was no point and, by the smirk on Steiner’s face, Wolfgang knew his cousin knew that. His threat was effective.
Obediently, she stopped growling and sat. But her ears remained forward and her back end barely touched the floor. She was still ready to spring at a moment’s notice. But she didn’t need to. Steiner was obviously already bored of threatening him and he wandered off without another word.
Wolfgang carried on walking towards the stairs, fantasising about shooting Steiner in the face or maybe blowing him up with his RPG. Either way would give him exquisite pleasure. But it probably wasn’t worth the trouble it would cause.
‘So what was all that with the Captain?’ Diego asked, as they cruised through their part of Chicago.
‘Dunno yet, do I?’ said Will, watching the familiar city landscape pass by his window. ‘Guess I’ll find out this afternoon.’
‘You’re not really fluent in German, are you? I thought all you white Americans only spoke American English.’
He laughed. ‘Yeah. Come on man, you know I lived in Berlin for a few years when I was a kid. It was after my mom died. I guess my dad wanted a change and this posting came up there. I’m still pretty fluent, I guess, though a Berliner could probably tell I wasn’t one of them.’
‘Maybe we’re getting a hot new German officer and the Captain wants to give you a shot at getting a boyfriend.’
Will smiled. ‘I doubt Captain Sobczak cares about my love life.’
‘Well I care so if that’s what happening, you go for it, all right? Maria and I are sick of you complaining about being single.’
‘Hey, I never complain.’
Diego glanced at him. ‘No, I guess you don’t. But you always have that sad puppy dog expression. You need a guy, man.’
‘I keep telling you, D, I’m bisexual. I might fall in love with a woman.’
‘Yeah, but I know but I also know you’re looking for that really hot blond German guy.’
Will rolled his eyes, wishing he’d never told Diego about his first boyfriend. He’d had nothing but teasing ever since.
‘Besides, you’re not meeting any women, are you? You’re not meeting anyone. You come to work, you go home and read and listen to music. Or you go to the gym early morning or early evening, when the hot guys all go at night.’
Will laughed. ‘How do you know that?’
‘I know how to google stuff, Pendejo. I’ve done my research.’
‘You’ve really researched how to pick up men?’
‘You need all the help you can get, Will.’ Diego reached out and patted his shoulder. ‘Never mind, man. Hey, why don’t you come round for dinner tonight. You can fill us in on what Sobczak says.’
Will grinned. He loved going for dinner at Diego’s house. His family were so bright and happy and full of love. Visiting them made him feel accepted and settled. His stomach jangled with nervous about his meeting with the Captain. What could he possibly want to talk to him about? But he already felt better at the prospect of talking it through with Diego and Maria afterwards. Diego always managed to make him feel better. There was a reason he was his best friend. Diego was also the reason Will loved being a cop, because he got to spend every day with the best friend he’d ever had.
Wolfgang managed to get out of the house without running into anyone else. He held the lead loosely in his hand as he let himself out of the back door. The guards on the door both gave him a deferential nod but didn’t speak as he walked past them. Their dogs stayed sitting at attention and didn’t react to her presence. They never reaction unless told.
He wandered out into the grounds. His body felt stiff and achy still but he tried to walk normally until he was out of sight. He didn’t like to show weakness to the guards. There were more guards on the outer gates but he wasn’t planning on going as far as the electrified fences.
He was heading for the little woods that sprawled across the East side of the grounds. It was one of the few places he could be alone. He was the only one who really went there now. That hadn’t always been the case. His mama used to take him there, a long time ago, when she still could. That was before.
Once he was out of sight, he allowed himself to slouch a bit and the pain in his ribs eased a little. He didn’t know why he did it, except that it always felt good at the time. It seemed to satisfy an itch inside him. Except he’d drank a bit too much and had missed a couple of easy blocks as a result, hence the bruised or broken ribs. He’d do better next time.
About ten minutes’ walk into the woods was a tree stump. He stopped, as he always did, and sat down on it. He unclipped Tilly’s lead to let her run about a bit. She did, at first racing around dodging the trees and chasing squirrels, without really attempting to catch any. He smiled as he watched her. She had never let him down, not once. She was about the only one who hadn’t.
He dug his cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one. As he sat there smoking, he realised he hadn’t seen his father or his uncle in a couple of days. They’d locked themselves in their study for days. Usually that meant they were planning something. Not that Wolfgang saw them a lot anyway. He tried to stay out of the way of his family when he could, when they didn’t need him for something. He had his meals brought to his bedroom and stayed in there to read. Or he went to his personal gym to work out. They never came in there. Sometimes he saw Steiner in their gun range and they’d compete over the difficult shots. Mostly he was pretty successful in avoiding the men of his family. When he didn’t, it was bad.
He stayed in the woods, watching Tilly trot around, sniffing at the undergrowth and jumping over fallen branches. Or she’d find a stick and get him to throw it for her before crunching it up in her sharp teeth.
Finally, she trotted next to him and lay down, resting her snout between her paws. He reached down to scratch her between her ears as he finished his cigarette. His stomach rumbled and he sighed, standing up. He would risk returning to the house to get something to eat. Maybe he could get the cook to sort him out something quick for breakfast before anyone else saw him. He really wasn’t in the mood to see anyone.
‘Komm, Tilly,’ he said. She immediately fell into step beside him and they walked back to the house.
This time, the guards on the door looked at him. ‘Mr Bogdanow, your father wants to see you in the study. He said not to bring the dog.’
Wolfgang’s heart sank straight to his stomach. That only ever meant one thing. And it was bad.
Will took a deep breath, then knocked on the Captain’s door. He always got nervous around the Captain, because he wasn’t quite sure he liked him. They’d had a few run ins in the past and Will was pretty sure the Captain thought he’d just got as far as he had because of who his dad was. But Will had never used his dad’s reputation. If he had, he’d be a lot higher up now. Most of the time, he just wanted to forget about it.
‘Come in,’ came the Captain’s loud voice.
Will took another breath, then pushed the door open and stepped into the office. The Captain was sitting behind his desk, his hands clasped on top of a manilla folder. Will was surprised. Normally, if he was getting ready to shout at him, he’d be standing up, making sure he had the psychical advantage.
‘Sit down, Will.’
Will’s eyes widened. He couldn’t remember the Captain ever using his first name. He sat down and waited to be told what this was all about. The Captain didn’t seem to be in a rush. He studied Will for a few moments, then glanced down at the folder on his desk.
‘I’ve been contacted by Officer Steele from the CIA.’
If there was anything Will had expected him to say, it wasn’t that.
‘They’re conducting an operation in Berlin. They refused to give me any details about it which is damn typical if you ask me. But they assure me you have the skills they require. Any idea what those skills might be?’
‘Well, no Sir, except that I can speak German.’
‘It can’t just be that. There’s thousands of those guys that speak all sorts of languages. The only thing they’d say was that you have a connection with the family they’re investigating. I’m guessing it’s an organised crime family of some sort. Any idea what that could be about?’
‘No, Sir. Not at all.’ Will was genuinely baffled. Yeah, he knew a few families in Berlin but organised crime? He was certain he didn’t know anyone like that.
‘Well, there’s some details in here about where they want you to go tomorrow. I believe they’ll be sending you to Berlin. They’ve told me not to expect you back for a while anyway so best say your goodbyes today.’
The Captain stood up and handed the folder to him. Will took it but resisted the temptation to look inside yet.
‘That’s it,’ said the Captain. ‘You can go. And er... Good luck, Gorski. I hope you come back in one piece.’
‘Oh. Thanks.’ That wasn’t exactly encouraging.
The walk down the long corridor towards the study always felt like the longest walk in the world to Wolfgang. Nothing good ever happened on the other side of that door. A few feet from the door, he unclipped Tilly’s lead and gave her a quick stroke.
She sat immediately, her eyes trained on him.
Her tail gave a little wag and he took comfort from her unwavering loyalty. He turned away, knowing she would stay exactly where she was told.
He knocked on the door.
‘Komm herein,’ he heard his father’s rough voice from inside.
He pushed open the door and stepped inside, feeling like he was heading to his own death sentence. His father and his uncle were sitting in their wing backed chairs in front of the unlit fireplace. Sergei was nursing a brandy and Anton was smoking a cigar. They were talking to each other but when Wolfgang shut the door behind him, they turned to look at him.
Immediately, Anton frowned and laid his cigar in the ashtray. He was up and in front of Wolfgang in two seconds. Wolfgang fought to control his breathing as he looked into his father’s face, cold with anger.
‘What have you done to yourself this time, boy?’ he demanded.
Wolfgang met those hard, hazel eyes dead on, trying to show he wasn’t scared, though his heart was pounding like it was about to burst out of his chest. ‘Just got in a fight,’ he said, making the effort to keep his voice steady.
Wolfgang didn’t even know how it happened but the next moment, his face was pressed to the wall and his father’s heavy weight was against him. He fought but his father was bigger and stronger and he couldn’t squirm away. The mix of cigar stink and musty leather that was his father’s too-familiar scent choked him.
‘How dare you,’ his father hissed in his ear. He pressed his fist hard to the base of Wolfgang’s spine. Wolfgang clenched his teeth to stop himself from crying out in pain. ‘You never think about the family, do you? You never think about what we need of you.’
‘It’s no worse than what you do to me,’ he snapped.
He immediately wished he hadn’t. Anton punched him hard in the ribs and all attempts at not making any sounds of pain were forgotten. A strangled cry escaped from his mouth and tears welled up in his eyes.
‘What do you have to say for yourself, boy?’
Wolfgang pressed his lips together. He wouldn’t say it. He wouldn’t. That big, hard fist moved down the back of his jeans and pressed firmly against his buttocks. Every inch of Wolfgang’s body tensed as he felt his father’s breath against his ear again.
‘Say it, boy, or you know what I’ll do.’
Wolfgang swallowed. Yes, he knew exactly what his father was capable of. Two sides of himself battled inside him. The stubborn and rebellious side, who hated to kowtow to anyone, and the scared little boy side, who knew exactly how much pain his father could cause.
‘I’m sorry,’ he choked out. ‘I’m really sorry.’
Anton pressed his fist against his ass a little harder. ‘Good. And you’ll know what I’ll do if you do it again.’
‘Yes,’ Wolfgang grunted.
Suddenly, his father was pulling away. He turned and Wolfgang heard him walking back to the fireplace. Wolfgang straightened, swallowed and wiped his wet eyes before he turned around.
He felt sick as he saw the smirk on his uncle’s face. He knew. He knew everything. Fuck, he’d like to make him pay. He’d like to make them all pay. Anger rumbled inside him but he knew there was nothing he could do. He felt like a baited rottweiler with a choke chain on. For him, he could end it all but what would happen to his mama then?
Anton was back in his armchair, relighting his cigar. He was grinning now, obviously pleased with his handiwork. ‘Listen up, my boy. We’ve got a job for you.’
Will didn’t know what to do. Diego had already gone home and wasn’t expecting for dinner for another couple of hours. He couldn’t take it in. The CIA wanted him. It didn’t make sense. Who was he? Except his father’s son.
He needed to see his dad. He was the only person Will knew who knew anything about the CIA, having been an officer himself. Yeah, he’d go and see his dad.
It wasn’t far to his dad’s house, an easy walk. He clutched the folder to his chest, his mind reeling at the information he’d read. They wanted him to go to Berlin. His heart thudded hard in his chest. He’d be able to look up that boy. Well, he’d be a man now. They were the same age, down to the day. Will wondered what he looked like now, what his life was like now.
He banished those thoughts for now as he knocked on his dad’s door. It took him a while to answer and when he did, he was mopping his damp forehead with a towel. He was dressed in his tank top and shorts and was panting a little.
‘Been working out, dad?’ Will asked.
Michael Gorski gave his shoulder a friendly slap. ‘Just a few reps on my new multi-gym.’ He patted his firm stomach. ‘I’ve gotta keep fit now I’m retired, haven’t I?’
Will laughed. ‘Yeah.’
‘Come in. You want a beer? I’ve got lights.’
Will smiled, following his dad inside. ‘Yeah, go on.’
‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ Michael asked as they sat in the living room. Will opened the folder and looked at the words again.
Then he handed it over to his dad. ‘Have a look.’
Frowning, Michael took the folder and looked at the single sheet of paper inside. After reading the words through a couple of times, he looked up at Will.
‘The CIA want you to go undercover to Berlin. Why?’
Will shrugged. ‘I know as much as you do.’
‘It says you’ve got to report to this training centre tomorrow. Any idea what they want you to do?’
‘Like I said, dad, I know as much as you do. What do you think about that bit about a connection with the family they’re investigating? I can’t think what that means.’
Michael grinned. ‘Can’t you? Have you forgotten about getting caught shoplifting with that boy?’
Will blushed. ‘I haven’t forgotten.’ He hadn’t forgotten anything about him. ‘But what’s that got to do with anything?’
‘What if I told you that that boy is now one of the most well-known safecrackers in the criminal underworld and a member of the Bogdanow family, Germany’s answer to the Russian Mafia.’
Will’s mouth fell open. ‘He … he is? How do you know?’
Michael grinned. ‘Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I still don’t have a few connections of my own.’ He took a swig of his beer. ‘You nervous about it?’
‘I don’t know what they want me to do yet but well, yeah. I mean, I’m not CIA, I’m police. What if I mess it all up?’
Michael looked at him for a moment, then smiled gently. ‘Willie, you’re one of the best cops I’ve ever known. You’ve got great instincts. You’re a great shot and you make good choices. As long as you listen to what they tell you and play the part they want you to play and you’ll do fine.’ He reached out and gave Will’s shoulder a firm squeeze. ‘I have faith in you, Willie. You’ll do great.’
He leaned back and door another swig of his beer. ‘You still remember all your German?’
Will grinned. ‘Ja, ich denke schon.’
Wolfgang felt his knees trembling as he left his father’s study. As jobs went, it wasn’t a bad one but he hated it nonetheless. He hated having to do anything for them. He hated the way he felt around his father. Weak and helpless. At least when he was at the club, he didn’t feel like that, even when he lost a fight.
As he shut the door behind him, his eyes fell on Tilly, still sitting waiting where he had told her. But her ears were down and her gaze was trained worriedly on him. She always knew when he wasn’t right. He went to her, reaching for her. She licked his hand and he stroked her head.
‘Komm,’ he said. He didn’t bother putting her lead on. He knew she would follow him. He made his way upstairs, to the top floor, the floor above his bedroom. There was only one inhabitant of this floor. His mama. She had several rooms to use, because she never left the mansion. She never left her rooms.
The guard on the door stopped him. ‘Have you got permission to be up here?’
Wolfgang sighed. ‘Ring and ask him.’
The guard hesitated, biting his lip. Then he sighed. ‘Oh, go on then. Just don’t say anything to him.’
Wolfgang nodded. ‘I won’t.’
He entered the corridor and walked down a few doors until he reached the room his mama was usually in. It was a lounge, with two comfortable sofas and a television. Whatever Wolfgang thought about his uncle, he did make sure she had what she needed.
Irina was sitting on her window seat, staring out into the garden. She didn’t look round when he opened the door.
‘Hi, Mama,’ he said, the familiar old hope tightening his chest.
She still didn’t look round. He sighed and shut the door behind him. He sat on the sofa and watched Tilly trot over to his mama and lay her head on her knee. Irina made a soft sound of pleasure and stroked the dog’s head.
Wolfgang sat and watched her. ‘They’re sending me on another job,’ he said.
His mama looked at him with a vacant smile.
He sighed heavily. ‘I know. I should do whatever he says, stay safe. I am. I’m doing what he wants me to do. I just wish … I wish I didn’t have to.’
He looked down at his hands and, to him, they seemed covered in other people’s blood. Blinking away the image, he sighed again. ‘Maybe I’m stupid but I’d rather he killed me than I have to kill anyone.’ He looked up at her. ‘But I’d do anything to keep you safe. Maybe that’s selfish but I can’t risk … I can’t risk anything else happening to you.’
That same faint smile stayed on her face, the one she always wore. His gaze lifted to the scar just visible below the line of her hair, the only physical sign of the operation that had saved her life and doomed her to this empty existence.
‘I wish you would talk to me,’ he said, looking down. ‘I guess you can’t.’
She reached out and cupped his jaw, stroking his cheek gently. He looked up at her. She still wore the smile but her blue eyes, so like his, were wet.
A few seconds after Will rang his best friend’s doorbell, two children he’d known since they were babies were leaping on him.
‘Uncle Will!’ Alejandro squealed as Lucia squeezed his middle hard.
He laughed. ‘Hey kids, you gonna let me in?’
Lucia slid her sticky little hand through his. ‘Papa’s making pizza.’
‘Yum, my favourite.’
He let the kids lead him inside the warm, friendly house. He had to admit this house felt more like his home than his flat did. How was he going to cope so far away from his best friend for god knows how long?
‘Hey, Buddy!’ said Diego, as Lucia led him into the living room. Diego hugged him, then looked him in the eye. ‘So you still my partner or did you get sacked?’
Will pulled away. ‘Lucia says you’re making pizza.’
‘Uh oh,’ said Diego, turning towards the kitchen. ‘Maria, bring Will a scotch. He’s been fired.’
Will laughed. ‘I haven’t been fired but I won’t say no to a scotch anyway.’
Maria came through, carrying his drink. She looked pretty in a blue summer dress and Will felt warm inside at the image of family life. She gave him a kiss on his cheek as she handed him his drink.
‘Have a seat, Querido and tell us what happened.’
He did as he was told, grunting as Alejandro jumped onto his lap. ‘Woah, kiddo, you’re getting too big to do that you know.’
The cheeky eight-year-old smirked at him. ‘Maybe you should work out harder.’
‘Alex,’ chided Maria. ‘Don’t be rude to Uncle Will.’
‘Go and play, kids,’ said Diego, sitting down. ‘This is adult talk.’
‘Boring!’ declared Alejandro. ‘Come on, Luce, let’s go outside.’ They ran off into their back garden to play.
Will took a drink of his scotch and looked at his best friend, who was frowning at him, concern written all over his face. ‘I’ve been recruited.’
Diego’s eyebrows shot up. ‘This is beginning to sound Bourne Identity.’
‘Er, I hope it’s not too much like that but yeah, the CIA want to send me undercover.’
Diego and Maria exchanged glances before they looked back at him. ‘Is this a wind up?’ Diego asked.
‘Nope. Unless they’re winding me up too. They want me to go for training tomorrow and I don’t think I’ll be back for a while.’
Diego scrabbled for words for a moment. ‘Can you tell me where you’re going?’
‘Berlin. My dad reckons it’s ‘cause I know someone in the Bogdanow family. He says they’re Germany’s answer to the Russian Mafia.’
Diego’s eyebrows were back up again. ‘They are, I’ve heard of them.’
‘Met him when I lived there. Look, I can’t really say much about it because I don’t even know yet but, well, I think I’ll be gone a while.’
‘Shit, man. I can’t believe this.’
Will took another sip, trying to work out how to confess how he was feeling to his best friend. Maria got up and came to sit beside him. She reached out and took his hand between both of hers. Her skin was so soft and warm against him, a comfort like a mother. ‘You’re scared,’ she murmured.
Will nodded. ‘I don’t … I don’t want to die and I don’t want to have to kill.’
Diego breathed in sharply. ‘You don’t think they’d expect you to go into that sort of situation, do you? I mean, you’re not CIA.’
Will shrugged. ‘This sort of thing is dangerous. And I am a cop. I’ve already committed to putting my life on the line for my country. I guess this is no different.’
‘Fuck, that’s not … that’s not even fair. Do you have any choice?’
‘I could refuse I guess but …’
Diego rolled his eyes. ‘Oh, I know, you want to meet that hot blond German guy again, right?’
Will bit his lip. ‘Well, the thing is, Diego, that hot blond German boy is the person I know in the Bogdanow family.’
Diego covered his face with his hands. ‘Dios mío, only you, Will. Only my fucking best friend could fall in love with a member of a famous mafia family.’
‘I never said I was in love with him.’
Diego looked at him and laughed darkly. ‘Sure. You only bring him up every time you can.’
Will shrugged. ‘Well, it’s been a long time. He probably doesn’t even remember me.’
‘Let’s hope he does, Pendejo, or your connection means nothing. Mind you, at least then they’d send you home.’
That was true but Will hoped so much that Wolfgang remembered him. He wasn’t sure how his heart would cope if he didn’t.
Wolfgang checked his appearance in the mirror. He still looked pretty beaten up but it wasn’t too bad now he was clean and tidy. The bruise on his cheek would last a few days but the swelling of his nose and lip had gone down and the cut above his eyebrow had started to heal. His ribs still felt like shit, not helped by his father’s punch, but he could move about okay. He was used to ignoring pain.
Tilly was giving him a look as he sat down on his bed to put his shoes on. She knew he was going out. She always knew.
‘I won’t be late back, girl,’ he said, reaching out to give her head a stroke. ‘And I’m not planning on fighting tonight.’
She huffed and laid down on the rug, her snout between her paws. Sulking. But he couldn’t bear just staying in the house all the time. He had to get out. It was the only way he coped.
He locked his door behind him, then headed out, making his way through the quiet corridors and taking the stairs to lower the chances of him meeting anyone on his way. It was a reasonable guess that his father and uncle were still in the study, planning, but there was always Steiner. He could always be relied on to make trouble.
But he met no one until he reached the outer gates. There were two guards on there, both armed with semi-automatics. As always, one was facing out and one was facing in.
The one facing in shook his head at him. ‘Your father says you’re not allowed out tonight.’
‘Come on, I only want a drink.’
‘Sorry. Orders are orders. Look, he also told us we had to tell him if you tried to get out but if you go now, we won’t tell, will we?’
The other guard glanced at Wolfgang and gave him the smallest of smiles. ‘Sure, we won’t tell.’
Wolfgang knew when he was beaten. ‘Danke,’ he said, before turning and walking away.
Except he didn’t know when he was beaten. He did know ways around the rules. He was famous for that. He didn’t give a shit about rules.
He went back inside and back to his room. Tilly leaped about when he came in but soon realised he wasn’t staying. He locked the door from the inside this time and crossed to the window. He’d learned to do this as a kid, when Anton used to lock him in when he’d disobeyed him. The drop had been scary then but the thought of waiting in that tiny room for his father to come and deal with him had been worse.
His window faced the back of the house, well out of the sight of the guards. With quick but careful movements, he climbed down the wall until he reached the ground. It was dusk by now and the semi-darkness and his all-black outfit helped him stay unseen as he rushed to the woods. Inside, he ran to the other side, where there was a particularly tall tree with branches that hung down the other side of the fence. No one else knew about this because no one else came in here.
The danger of what he was doing made his heart thud in his chest but he didn’t care. It was so good to be afraid yet to just fucking do it anyway. It gave him a little, just a tiny sense of power. It was all he had.
The club was busy and loud, just the way Wolfgang liked it. He’d learned that the more people were around, the more anonymous you were. This night, it was especially busy and nobody gave him a second glance.
He made his way through the crowd to the bar and ordered a vodka.
‘Back again? You’re looking a bit rough, Wolfie.’
Wolfgang looked at the friendly face of the skinny bartender and tried to remember where he knew him from. ‘I feel it. Sorry, what was it?’
The bartender gave him a big smile. ‘Felix.’
‘Oh yeah. You own the place, right? You’re the only club owner I know who actually works in their club.’
Felix laughed. ‘I do it for the love.’
Wolfgang threw back the vodka shot and banged his glass on the counter. ‘Another.’
‘Not that I’m refusing your custom or anything but are you planning on getting as drunk as yesterday?’
‘Would you kick me out if I did?’
‘My rule is if you can stand up and you’re not spewing everywhere, I’ll serve you. But you might want to go a bit easy tonight, if you don’t want to get in the same state you got in yesterday.’
‘Thanks for the advice,’ said Wolfgang flatly. What business was it of this guy’s what kind of state he got in? If it made him feel better, what was wrong with that?
‘Just a friendly suggestion, Wolfie.’
‘Yeah, well I don’t need any friendly suggestions. I don’t even know you. If you won’t serve me then I’ll go but otherwise, just leave off with the friendly suggestions.’
‘Fair enough,’ said Felix. ‘Suppose you want me to leave the bottle, do you?’
Wolfgang just nodded, throwing a wad of cash down on the bar to pay for it. Felix looked at him for a moment, then put the bottle down, took the cash and went to serve another customer.
Grabbing the bottle, Wolfgang swivelled on his stool and looked out at the rest of the club. He knew it well, as it was his favourite. There were lots of different areas and somewhat unofficial zones. There was the main dancefloor, just for dancing. Then there was the backroom, which led out onto the smoking area at the back. That was where the fights happened.
He didn’t want a fight today. He wanted something different. He had a few more shots, until he could feel that nice warm tingling numbness spreading through his body. Then he got up, abandoning the almost empty bottle on the bar. He made his way past the first dancefloor and round to the smaller one. That was where you went if you wanted sex. It led to quite a few little rooms or corners where you could get a little privacy.
He knew he was good looking and he wouldn’t have any difficulty finding anyone. He never did. It was just a case of choosing the right person.
As he stepped onto the smaller dancefloor, he felt several gazes raking over his body. He scanned the room. There were lots of good looking guys but most of them were wearing leather. No. He couldn’t do leather.
His gaze met that of a large, good looking man wearing tight black jeans and a white t-shirt. He smiled. He would do. Encouraged by his smile, the man headed over. Reaching him, he leaned in close to talk over the music.
‘Want to go somewhere more private?’
‘Ja, the side room,’ Wolfgang muttered.
The man nodded and in unison they headed to one of the little side rooms. There was a couch but Wolfgang wasn’t interested in lying down. He grasped the front of the man’s t-shirt and brought him close for a hard kiss. The man reached for him, to caress his side but Wolfgang pushed his hand away.
‘Fuck me,’ he murmured.
‘You got …’ started the man but Wolfgang reached into his pocket and brought out a condom and a packet of lube. He pressed them into the man’s hand.
‘Don’t waste any time,’ Wolfgang urged.
The man chuckled. ‘Eager, aren’t you?’
Wolfgang rolled his eyes. ‘Just get on with it or I’ll find someone else.’
The man raised his eyebrows but turned Wolfgang roughly into the wall. Wolfgang reached for the button on his jeans and undid them. The man reached to pull them down but Wolfgang patted his hands away and did it himself.
There was a moment’s pause, then he felt a rough, lubed finger pressing inside him. He closed his eyes, reminding himself that he was in charge here, that he could stop this at any time.
The man didn’t waste any time. In a few seconds, the finger was gone, to be replaced by the blunt head of an unfamiliar cock. Wolfgang pushed back eagerly and his lover chuckled against him. His breath was hot on his neck and his scent was everywhere, the scent of vanilla and sandalwood. Wolfgang breathed it in, using it to keep him in the moment. He grasped his cock, working it firmly as his body responded. Yes, this was what he needed. This moment, just to lose himself in pleasure.
Afterwards, as he fastened his jeans, the man reached for him and cupped his jaw, caressing his cheek gently.
‘You’re so beautiful,’ he murmured.
Wolfgang looked away.
‘Can I have your number? Maybe we could do this again.’
Wolfgang looked at him. ‘No.’
The man frowned. ‘But I thought you liked me.’
‘Just a onetime thing, sorry.’
The man jerked forward and grabbed him by his collar. Wolfgang cursed his vodka-slowed reactions as he found himself thrown hard against the wall. His head pounded and his ribs throbbed with pain.
‘You fucking slut.’
Wolfgang felt anger pulse through him and he pushed back. ‘Get the fuck off me. Don’t you know who I am?’
The man stumbled and Wolfgang pushed him again. ‘I’m a fucking Bogdanow.’
The man scrambled backwards, going pale. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’
‘Get the fuck out.’
The man picked himself up and scrambled out of the room. Wolfgang sat back on the sofa, feeling woozy. He reached up to touch his head, felt blood, and the next moment there was blackness as he passed out cold.
Will gazed up at the stars from Diego’s back garden, feeling warm from the good company and full and happy from the delicious food. Diego was an excellent cook, for certain things at least.
The kids were long since in bed and Maria had excused herself a little while ago. Will had tried to go home then but Diego had insisted he stay for another few drinks. He knew he was a bit drunker than he should be, what with being expected by the CIA in the morning. But it was worth it, on his goodbye evening with his best friend.
‘I can’t imagine you not being here every day, man,’ said Diego.
Will sighed. ‘I know. It’s weird.’
Diego looked at him. ‘Have you thought about … if you’re part of investigation into the Bogdanow family, don’t you think you’ll be investigating him? This guy you’re obsessed with.’
‘I’m not obsessed…’
Diego held up a hand. ‘All right, let’s not waste time with denials. Have you thought about it?’
Will shrugged. ‘I guess.’ He felt a somewhat dreamy smile crossing his face. ‘But I can’t imagine he’s heavily involved in anything really bad. When I knew him, he was so … warm and he had this light in his eyes.’
‘Fuck, you’ve really got it bad, man, especially considering you haven’t seen him for ten years.’
Will looked down, examining the rim of his beer bottle for a long moment, and his mind replayed him those memories of Wolfgang in that park. That half-smirk, the hesitation before he leaned in, the softness of his lips, the warmth of his breath and the rich, masculine scent that clung to him.
‘I just feel like we’re supposed to meet again, do you know what I mean?’
Diego shook his head but smiled slightly. ‘You are a romantic soul, Gorski. You’d better be careful when you’re out there. Don’t let this crush go to your head.’
‘I won’t. You don’t need to worry about me.’
Diego raised his eyebrows, as if he doubted this very much but he didn’t say so. ‘You’d better call me, when you’re out there.’
Will grinned. ‘I will. I’ll call home every night. Promise.’
Diego reached out and patted his shoulder. ‘Good. Stay safe, won’t you? I don’t know what I’d do if you …’
‘I’ll look after myself, Diego. Maria said she’ll kill me if I don’t come back in one piece.’
Diego looked gravely at him. ‘You should believe her. I love her to bits, Will, but she’s a scary woman.’
Will just laughed.
Wolfgang came round to someone shaking him and the thin, narrow face of the club owner swam into view.
‘You all right, man?’ asked Felix.
Wolfgang blinked hard. ‘Scheiße, what’s happening?’
‘I found you passed out in here. Come on, you should go to the hospital.’
Wolfgang shook his head, trying to get to his feet but finding it strangely difficult.
‘Steady, you’ve got concussion I think.’
‘I’m all right. I need to get home.’
‘Back to your mansion, eh?’
Wolfgang gave him a dark look. ‘My family’s mansion.’
‘Whatever. I just don’t think you should be on your own right now.’
Wolfgang managed to push himself to his feet. ‘I’m fine. I’ve got to get back.’ He focused hard and managed to walk out of the club. It was so late it was almost light. Cursing in a mix of Russian and German, he hurried back to the mansion.
He managed to walk back to the place in the fence where he could climb over. It took more concentration than it normally did but somehow, he got over the fence and back down into the grounds.
A few minutes later, he was at the mansion. He knew he couldn’t climb up the wall in this state, so he risked going in by the main entrance. There would be nobody around this early.
But as he turned into the main corridor, he came face to face with Steiner. A smile spread across his cousin’s face and dread swept through Wolfgang.
Will’s heart was thudding like mad as he made his way to the training centre the next morning. His mouth felt dry and he regretted having drunk so much the night before. Though at least he didn’t have a headache.
He was met at the gates by a man in a suit and tie. He showed him the letter. ‘Will Gorski,’ he said. ‘I was told to report here.’
The man smiled. ‘This way, Sir.’
He was allowed through the gates and led to the non-descript building behind it. Inside, it was a gym and there was another man in a suit waiting for him. He didn’t look like he belonged in a suit. He was tall and broad, well-muscled and fit. He gave Will a brisk smile and held out his hand.
Will took it and received a firm handshake.
‘Will Gorski? I’m Officer Steele. Welcome. Come into my office and I’ll brief you.’
‘Is this to do with the Bogdanow family?’ he asked, once they were alone.
Officer Steele smiled. ‘You’ve got good intuition, I see. I gather you know one of the sons, Wolfgang Bogdanow?’ he asked, as they went into his office and he sat at his desk.
Will took the opposite chair when indicated. ‘Yeah, I know him. Or knew him about ten years ago.’
‘The German police have been investigating the Bogdanow family for some years now. They have just asked for our help as they believe they are behind the supply of weapons and money to a terrorist organisation we have on our radar.’
‘What can I do to help?’
‘Your records indicate you were a trusted friend of Wolfgang Bogdanow’s before you returned to the United States.’
Will suppressed his smile. ‘Yeah, that’s true.’
‘We would like you to infiltrate the organisation, perhaps get a job with their security force, and discover how their distribution network works. You will have points of contact once you’re in Berlin and, of course, immunity from any crimes you may have to commit whilst there. You’ll do some training here before you head out to Berlin. Money, credentials and whatever else you need will be provided for you. Your Captain says your self-defence skills are excellent.’
‘Yes, Sir, I’ve been fighting since I was a kid. My father was in the CIA. He taught me a lot.’
Officer Steele chuckled. ‘Yes, I know your father. He was a good officer.’
‘Can I ask, are you investigating Wolfgang personally?’
Officer Steele hesitated. ‘There are some indications he might want out so if he becomes an informant, he might be able to earn immunity himself. It depends.’
‘I’m sure he will. I can’t imagine him being involved in anything too bad.’
Officer Steele considered him for a moment, then stood up. ‘Right, let’s get on with your training.’
Wolfgang was woken after only a couple of hours of sleep by a hard rap on his door. He was still dressed from the night before and he vaguely remembered stumbling into bed in the early hours of the morning. Groaning and still feeling woozy, he dragged himself up and opened his door. One of his father’s men stood there, a serious expression on his face.
‘Your father wants to see you.’
Wolfgang had known it was coming but, still his stomach jolted unpleasantly at the actual words. He nodded, took a comforting glance at Tilly and shut the door behind him. He followed the man through the corridors. He expected to be led to the study but quickly realised he was being led to his father’s private rooms.
His heart was pounding and he had to force himself to keep breathing steadily. Fear jerked though him and he could taste its copper tang in his mouth. What was he to expect here? Cold cruelty? Or hot, frantic anger? Whichever it was, it would be bad.
The man left him at the door and Wolfgang had no option but to knock. He knew that hiding never helped.
‘Komm herein,’ said his father’s familiar gruff voice. There was no tone to it and Wolfgang could still not tell which sort of anger awaited him. Not that it mattered.
He pushed open the door and stepped inside. He closed the door behind him with a soft click and took in the scene before him. Anton was sitting on his sofa, smoking a cigar. His whole body was calm, cool and collected, and there was a half-smirk on his lips. Dread trickled through Wolfgang’s body and it was all he could do to stop himself from shaking.
‘Steiner informs me you went out last night. Is this true?’
‘I did but I didn’t go to fight.’
‘The state of your head shows that is a lie.’
Wolfgang hesitated. ‘Someone attacked me.’
Anton nodded slowly. ‘I see.’ He took a puff of his cigar, savouring it for a long moment before he spoke again. ‘Take your clothes off.’
‘Please, I …’
‘Take them off now, unless you would like me to go upstairs and give your punishment to your mother instead. Or your dog?’
Wolfgang swallowed. He knew his father was capable of that. He’d done similar things before. Focusing hard to stop himself from shaking, he slowly took his clothes off and dropped them on the floor. For another long moment, his father didn’t look at him. He just sat there smoking that fucking cigar, filling the room with that bitter scent, the one that choked him in his nightmares.
Then he laid the cigar down and stood. Slowly, he walked across to him. He stood before him, at his full height, taller and broader than him, just to show him the power he had over him. Wolfgang didn’t need to be shown. He knew. He knew he was entirely helpless here.
The punch to his stomach came fast and sudden. He doubled over, struggling for breath. His father grabbed the back of his neck and shoved him hard to the ground. Then he heard the creaking of the floor under his father’s feet and he knew what was coming next. He was going to get the belt. He curled up in a foetal position, trying to protect himself as best he could. But he knew the beating would not end until he was a broken body, sobbing on the floor.
He tried to take himself away but as his father returned to his side and trailed that fucking belt over his face, the scent of the leather choked him, keeping him in that moment.
His father raised the belt and Wolfgang heard the thwap of it half a second before the pain hit him. The burn of the leather ricocheted through his body, scorching his skin him again and again. The blows rained down indiscriminately and he knew Anton didn’t care where they fell. But this wasn’t the worst bit. Pain was pain. It was fleeting and it would end.
The worst bit would be what came next. The worst bit would be when his father pressed him to the ground beneath him, when that stink of cigar smoke and musty leather surrounded him. The worst bit was when he felt his father inside him.
During that bit, while his father took him, punishing him, claiming him and tainting his very self, he could only take it so it wouldn’t happen to his mama. He could only take himself away and let his mind take him back, to when there had been soft, loving touches and to that sweet kiss in the dark.
Afterwards, when Wolfgang was numb to the pain and the humiliation and he’d choked out his apology, he was allowed to leave. He picked himself up, pulled on his clothes over his bruised and bloody body and crept out without another word from his father.
Mercifully, no one was around as he staggered back to his room, though he knew they would all know. They always did. Everybody knew. The thought made him want to vomit but he held himself together.
When he opened his door, Tilly was there. Whimpering, she nosed at him and he reached out blindly to run his hands through her soft fur. He knew he was close to passing out again but he had to shower first. His father’s filth clung to him and all he could smell was the bitterness of the cigar and old leather mixing with the blood. He had to wash the stink off him.
He stumbled into the shower, shedding his clothes onto the floor. There was no much pain it was almost too much to feel. It throbbed in the background of his mind and all he could do was absorb it. He wanted his mama but there was no comfort for him with her. She would only be upset to see him like that and he would not be able to comfort her.
After his shower he pulled on a loose t-shirt and boxer shorts. Even putting those on hurt but he didn’t want to be naked. Naked felt too vulnerable. He collapsed onto the bed and immediately Tilly jumped up beside him, snuggling into him and licking gently at the wounds that were still visible over his clothing.
He buried his hands in her fur and held onto her. She was all he had, the only comfort in his world. Without her, he’d be lost.
He was woken later by a soft voice calling his name. Confused with sleep and pain, and possibly still the lingering concussion, he opened his eyes and looked around.
‘Wolfgang,’ the voice called again.
He blinked and the image of his Aunt Elke swam into view. She wasn’t really related to him, as she was his Uncle’s second wife. She had no real power in the family but she was so kind.
He didn’t have the energy to speak but he gave her what he hoped was a small smile. Her hand rested gently on his shoulder.
‘Do you need any help, Wolfgang? Anything medical?’
He shook his head, taking a few deep breaths. ‘You should... go,’ he managed. ‘He won’t like you helping me.’
‘Your Uncle Sergei gave his permission. I’ve brought you some food. Don’t say but there are some painkillers too.’
He looked and saw a tray sitting on his desk. Aunt Elke was still watching him with concern.
‘Do you want me to take Tilla for a walk?’ she asked, reaching to give the dog a gentle stroke.
‘If it won’t get you into trouble.’
She ran her hands through his hair. ‘It won’t. Sergei said you’re to stay in your room for a few days. I’ll come and walk her when I can.’
Her eyes were wet and she swallowed hard several times. ‘I wish I could help you more.’
‘I know why you can’t.’ He knew what she’d been through as well as she knew what he had. She did more than she should for him already.
‘Just do what they tell you, Wolfgang. That’s the easiest way.’ Her voice was soft but cracked with the tears she wouldn’t shed.
He gave a humourless chuckle. ‘Sounds too simple.’
She caressed his hair again and sighed softly. ‘You’re going to get yourself killed one of these days.’
He closed his eyes and let out a long breath. ‘Maybe that would be better. Maybe it would be better if we all burned. We’re all going to hell anyway.’
Will fell exhausted into his bed at the end of the long day. He had worked out longer and harder than he ever had before, testing his skills against a skilled operative. He’d done boxing, street fighting and a bit of tai chi. He’d shown off his aim in the gun range and been drilled in the basic codes they used.
Three days. He had three days of this, then he would be off to Berlin and his mission would begin. That thought was still kind of surreal. He was going to be an actual CIA operative, going off on a mission.
He hadn’t been given any names yet but he’d been told they had a contact who knew the family and would be able to get him in. The idea was that he would be one of the many security staff the family had, which would give him the opportunity to listen and hopefully glean some useful information.
His strongest wish was to get Wolfgang out. He was certain Wolfgang wouldn’t be involved in any criminal activity, or at least none he could help. Maybe he was pressured to do a little robbery here and there but surely not anything serious. He knew it had been a long time but Will was certain of one thing. Wolfgang would never hurt anyone.
Will smiled and an image of Wolfgang as he’d last known him popped into his head. That golden-haired, sun-kissed young man, with that gorgeous smile that lit up his whole face. Will remembered his eyes, sparkling blue and so full of life and love as he gazed at him. Maybe he was idealising but he was certain somebody who looked at him like that couldn’t be bad.
He closed his eyes and smiled as the memories washed over him. They hadn’t done much, just fooled around and shared kisses and touches. They’d spent so much time together, usually in the park sharing a few drinks. Wolfgang had smoked. Will hadn’t but he’d enjoyed watching those pink lips purse around the cigarette. He’d imagine what else those beautiful lips could do.
God, he really hoped Wolfgang would remember him. Surely he would? Surely, their time together had been as special to the German boy as it had been to him? He wondered how he would have changed. Would he have buffed up? Will remembered him being skinny but stronger than he looked, and he’d known how to take care of himself. Nobody messed with him. He supposed that part of him was mafia-like but apart from that, Will couldn’t reconcile the idea of a mobster’s son with the golden-haired, blue eyed boy he’d known. No, he was the boy who gave soft, sweet kisses and had a smile that could melt Will where he stood. He would still be that same gentle person, with that goodness shining out of him.
Three days. Three days of captivity so far. Wolfgang had had longer imprisonments but not after … not usually combined with the other punishment he’d had. Usually after that, he liked to get out, go walking or running in the woods with Tilly, or drink himself to oblivion. But he could do none of those things. He could only pace in his room, shower repeatedly or watch from his window as Aunt Elke took Tilly for walks in the grounds.
The first day and a half, Elke had brought him his food too. It was only on the second night that one of the household staff had brought him his meals. Wolfgang guessed it was only then his father wanted him to be fed.
It was early evening on the third day when there was a knock on his door. He was expecting his dinner so he stood and went to answer it. He was startled to find one of the security men standing there, looking nervous.
‘Yes?’ he asked, shortly.
‘Mr Bogdanow wishes to see you in the study.’
‘Fine. I know the way,’ he said, his gruffness covering the clenching of his chest.
The security man hurried away. Wolfgang glanced at Tilly for a shot of strength then made his way out. What did he want now? Surely not another punishment? Unless his father was feeling particularly vindictive, or something had pissed him off and he wanted someone to take it out on. Better Wolfgang than his mama.
He knocked on the door of the study and a low voice bade him to answer. He stepped inside and was surprised to see just his uncle waiting for him, nursing a brandy.
‘Wolfgang, sit down.’
‘No. I’d rather stand.’
Sergei looked at him and Wolfgang couldn’t decide if the look on his face was a smirk or a wince of sympathy. His uncle reached behind him and picked up another glass of brandy from the table. He stood and brought it over.
‘Have a drink.’
Wolfgang took the glass and took a sip. It was the good stuff. What did his uncle want?
‘Your father prefers the stick approach,’ said Sergei, walking casually back to his chair. ‘But I prefer the carrot. Did you enjoy the extra food?’
Wolfgang raised his eyebrow and inclined his head. Typical for his uncle to refer to it as ‘extra food’, rather than the food he should have had anyway.
‘So, what’s the price of this food you gave me?’
Sergei grinned, sitting back in his chair. ‘You’re a clever boy, Wolfgang and I love you like my own son.’
Wolfgang felt his jaw work; that ‘boy’ did not go unnoticed. And love? What did they know about love? He waited, silently waiting for his uncle to continue. He hated the mind games.
Sergei swirled his brandy round in the glass. ‘I think you will agree that I have never been cruel to you.’
Wolfgang said nothing. While it was true that Sergei had never done anything directly to hurt him, he had stood by and watched many punishments over the years. He had never done anything to stop any of them.
‘So perhaps I can persuade you to do something for me.’
Depends what it is, dear Uncle, he thought. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘The party tomorrow night, where the weapons exchange is going to take place. Your father wants you to help with security that night.’
‘Yes. You were here when he … asked me to do the job.’
Sergei smiled a little. ‘Yes, I was. But you have skills that go far deeper than just muscle. Your father doesn’t want to admit this. He likes to be the best but I know how much better you are.’
‘What are you getting at, Uncle?’
‘In one of the rooms upstairs, there is an S&D safe. Inside the safe are a collection of the finest diamonds from Mumbai. You can get in that safe. Silently. Can’t you?’
Wolfgang hesitated. ‘My father says S&D safes are impossible to crack.’
Sergei smiled. ‘But you can do it, can’t you?’
He shrugged. ‘Maybe. What’s in it for me?’
‘I can make sure you get out when you need to. The next time your father gets in one of his moods, I can make sure you get food and medical attention the way I did this time.’
Wolfgang snorted. One of his father’s moods? Was that what they were calling it now? ‘So you expect me to double-cross my father and risk his temper just to get you some diamonds? And all I’d get out of it would be a few snacks? Sorry. No.’
‘Then what do you want?’
‘A favour, whatever I ask, whenever I ask for it. One favour.’
Sergei hesitated, then nodded. ‘All right. On the condition that you hold your tongue about this, keep it to yourself, no matter what.’
Wolfgang thought about it, then nodded. ‘Agreed.’ He drained his brandy, enjoying the warmth that spread through his body. ‘Is that it?’
Sergei smiled. ‘Your father says you’re now allowed onto the grounds but not beyond. If you want my advice, I’d do as you’re told for a while. Your father is not in a good mood.’
Wolfgang nodded again, then put his glass down on a side table before he turned and left the room.
Familiar sights, sounds and scents flooded Will’s senses as he made his way through the streets of Berlin. He had been in the city a little more than an hour and already he had been to his new flat and unpacked his luggage. Now, he was making his way across the city to meet his contact. He still had no name, just an address.
He surprised himself by how well he remembered the city and it felt like he had never stopped speaking German. He’d had a few indulgent smiles from a few people he’d spoken to and he assumed his American accent was obvious.
But as he walked the streets to the meeting place, nobody gave him a second glance and he hoped that meant he was blending in well. At some point he wanted to visit the places he’d been to with Wolfgang, have a trip down memory lane, but the work came first.
When he reached the meeting place, he realised it was a club. It was daylight so there were no lights on and it seemed empty but he knocked on the door and, after a few minutes, the door opened and he stepped inside.
The door shut firmly behind him and he looked around. There were no lights on in here either ‘Will Gorski?’ asked a woman’s voice.
He nodded, squinting into the dark to try and see her. He made out little more than an outline of her in the dark. Her voice was silky and thickly accented. Italian, he guessed.
‘Yeah, Will Gorski. I was told to come here.’
‘I know. Follow me.’
He was about to ask how he was expected to do that when he couldn’t see her, when she moved in front of him and a chink of light shone into the room as she opened a door. She stepped through it and he followed her.
He found himself in the main bar of the club, lit with ordinary lights, instead of the strobe lighting. He got a good look at the woman. She had short auburn hair and brown eyes. Her skin was olive-toned, and she had a slim, attractive figure, clothed in something tight, black and lacy. She gave him a warm smile.
‘This way.’ She led him round to a corner of the club, where a skinny man was sitting at a table with a drink, a scotch by the look of it.
He gave Will an easy smile and stood up. ‘Will, good to meet you.’ He held out his hand for Will to shake. ‘Felix Berner. Want a drink?’
‘Just a beer, thanks.’
Felix looked at the woman. ‘Lila, would you mind? Just this once.’
Lila smiled. ‘Not at all,’ she said, smoothly.
‘Take a seat,’ said Felix, as Lila went behind the bar to fetch Will his drink.
Will sat, feeling nervous. ‘So, you’re my contact.’
Felix grinned. ‘Certainly am.’
‘What are your motives?’ Will asked. ‘Why help us?’
‘I love my city,’ said Felix, simply. ‘The Bogdanows are responsible for a lot of harm being done to my city. I mean, everywhere has drugs but this … they’re supplying high level weapons to terrorists. Terrorism isn’t good for business. Besides, I have it on good authority that they’re bad people who do bad things. They deserve to be taken down.’
‘The CIA said you can get me a job with the Bogdanows so I can observe them.’
‘Actually, that’s Lila’s part in this,’ said Felix, as Lila returned with his drink. She passed it over to him, then took a seat next to Felix.
‘You’ll start tomorrow night,’ said Lila. ‘There’s a party, where we believe there will be an exchange taking place. You might be able to hear something then but if not, you’ll then be providing security at the Bogandow mansion.’ She hesitated, glancing at Felix.
Felix took another sip of his scotch. ‘There are a lot of things happening in that house, some of them very bad,’ he said. ‘You’ll probably want to intervene but well, you might have to decide between that and doing your job for the CIA.’
‘I’ve been undercover before,’ Will said, though his stomach clenched. He didn’t exactly have a reputation for letting injustices pass for the great good. He always wanted to save everyone.
Wolfgang checked his appearance in the mirror. He’d gone for a simple outfit for the party. Plain black trousers, black boots and a black shirt. He’d chosen a long-sleeved shirt, to hide the fingertip bruises that had come up on his upper arms. Most of his other marks were covered by his clothes anyway. The only bruise that was visible was the faint bruise on his cheek from the fight, now nearly a week ago.
He met his own gaze in the mirror. There was still too much pain there. He had to harden his expression, get in the role. He was going where people were scared of him, where his reputation preceded him. He had to live up to it.
He fussed Tilly, then left the room, locking her safely inside. One floor down, he found Steiner waiting for him. His cousin was also dressed all in black but rather more flamboyantly with a silk waistcoat and a big silver chain over his black shirt and trousers.
Without warning, Steiner grabbed him and pushed him hard into the wall. Despite himself, a whimper escaped Wolfgang as pain exploded across the belt marks on his back. Steiner smirked.
‘You’d better remember, Wolfie, I’m in charge of this mission. You do what I say or I’ll make sure your Daddy sorts you out. I could tell him anything, you know. I can make it so you don’t walk for a week at least.’
Wolfgang grasped Steiner’s wrists, yanked and broke his grip on him in a second. He stuck his foot out and tripped his cousin as he stepped backwards. He ended up in a grumbling heap on the floor.
‘You might have the power in this house, Steiner,’ said Wolfgang. ‘But we both know if it comes to a straight fight, I’ll win.’
Steiner got to his feet, furiously pulling his waistcoat straight. ‘It’s not going to be a straight fight, is it? Who have you got, Wolfie? You haven’t fucking got anybody, have you?’ he said, then stalked off.
Wolfgang smirked. Thanks, Steiner, he thought, now I’ve got my hard face on. All I had to do was think about what I could do to you in a fair fight.
He wasn’t sure exactly how he was going to achieve the cracking of the safe. For a start, Steiner wasn’t to know about it. He was completely reliant on his own wits to get him into that room. Then, once he was there, it would just be his skills versus that S&D safe.
He was nervous. One thing that his father had drummed into him, except obedience, was to never, ever mess with an S&D safe. They were impossible, everybody knew that. No one could break into one, unless they drilled. Certainly no one could do it silently. But he could. He was certain he could. Well, almost certain.
He took a moment, rolled his shoulders and breathed deep, before he headed downstairs. He was ready for this.
His father and uncle were downstairs waiting for them. Anton gave Wolfgang a hard look and Wolfgang dropped his head, showing him how obedient and broken he could be. He glanced up in time to catch his father’s smirk but he kept his own face schooled.
‘Now remember,’ said Sergei. ‘You’re there to make sure the exchange goes off without a hitch. It’s a simple enough job so you shouldn’t need to get your hands dirty but well, you know who to kill if you have to.’
‘I still think I’d be able to smuggle a gun in,’ said Steiner, bouncing on his heels.
Sergei reached out and patted Steiner’s cheek with a little more force than was necessary for an affectionate pat. ‘Be sensible, Steiner,’ he said, warningly. ‘The weapons being exchanged were difficult enough to conceal. If the security on the door finds you’ve shoved a handgun in your crotch, they’ll do a more thorough search of everyone and the real weapons will be discovered. No, you can in as you are. You both know how to kill with your bare hands. Or at least, Wolfgang does. Is he better than you?’
Steiner cast a glare at Wolfgang. ‘No. I’d never let myself be beaten like he does.’
Sergei suddenly slapped Steiner hard across his face.
‘Hey!’ Steiner complained.
Sergei fixed him with a look. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked, with a challenge.
Steiner glared at him for a moment, rubbing his cheek, then dropped his gaze. ‘Nothing, Sir.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ said Sergei.
Anton laughed. ‘At least my boy can take a beating,’ he said. He reached out and squeezed Wolfgang’s shoulder. To anyone watching it would look like fatherly affection but Wolfgang had to clench his fists to stop himself from flinching.
‘Now, you need to work together on this,’ said Sergei. ‘If you let your petty bickering ruin this job, you’ll both be punished.’
Wolfgang looked at his uncle. ‘We’ll get the job done, Uncle.’
Sergei nodded and his gaze held Wolfgang’s for a moment, before he looked away.
‘Shall we leave them to it, Anton?’
Anton nodded but before he left, he leaned into to whisper in Wolfgang’s ear. ‘If you mess this up, boy, you’d better come to see me afterwards.’
Wolfgang clenched his jaw and didn’t reply.
Will was nervous. He knew for a fact that the party was full of criminals and that any one of them would probably kill him in a second if they knew who he was. But he wasn’t planning on revealing who he was to anyone. As far as they were concerned, he was just an ordinary guy, employed as security for the Bogdanow family.
He hadn’t seen any of them yet, though he knew what they all looked like. As well as Wolfgang, there were his parents, his aunt and uncle and his cousin. According the intelligence they had, the fathers did the planning and the sons did the work. Will was still certain Wolfgang wouldn’t be doing anything that bad.
He remembered how good he’d been at stealing things. They used to shop lift together sometimes and really it had been Will’s fault they’d got caught. Wolfgang hadn’t seemed to mind. Will smiled as he remembered him laughing when they’d been let go with a caution. He’d teased him about how obvious he was, before producing a bar of chocolate the police hadn’t even found on him.
On the surface, the party looked like any other party. There was music, food and people enjoying themselves. The front lawn was lit up with many twinkling lights and, since it was a warm night, many people had spilled out across the lawn and there was lots of laughter, loud chatter and dancing.
But there were guards on the gates and people being checked for weapons. Will wondered how they were getting the weapons to be exchanged past the searches. Maybe they weren’t even coming in through the main entrance. Maybe there was some other way.
Will was part of a team of four men. The others had all worked for the family before but they had been welcoming enough to Will. The one who had been particularly friendly was called Seb. He nudged Will.
‘This is them,’ he called, over the music.
Will looked across the large front garden and saw two men emerge from a large black Audi. One was bald and had a sneering expression on his face. The other, Will knew immediately was Wolfgang.
As they were searched for weapons, Will took the time to examine him. In his face he didn’t look any older, though he know had designer stubble. He was still slim, but a little more muscled and there was a frown between his eyes that Will didn’t remember from back then. But apart from that, he was barely changed. He looked good, in those tight black pants and matching black shirt. He was still Will’s golden-haired, blue-eyed, sun-kissed angel, a vision of a man.
The search passed, the two Bogdanows moved on, walking up the path. Will stood up straighter, his gaze still fixed on Wolfgang. As he came closer, he noticed the faint bruise on his cheek and he wondered how he’d got it.
He met his gaze and something clenched inside him. There was no sign of the mischievous smirk, or the twinkle in his eye. His face was deadly serious and there was a cold, empty, dead look in those gorgeous blue eyes. His gaze raked over Will and the other security guards and there was not one hint of recognition in his face.
Will swallowed down the lump in his throat as he watched Wolfgang move across the lawn and into the house with the other man. He moved with a quiet grace and a purpose that gave the impression of utmost control. The crowd parted for two men and Seb and the other guards with Will started following them.
‘That’s Wolfgang,’ muttered Seb. ‘He’s the son of the oldest of the Bogdanow brothers though he’s younger than his cousin Steiner. But they’re both dangerous. Could kill you as soon as look at you, either of them.’
Will watched Wolfgang, whose gaze was focused on his surroundings. He looked calm and in control, except for a muscle working at his jaw. Why didn’t Wolfgang recognise him? Surely he hadn’t changed that much? They had spent so much time together back then. Surely Wolfgang had to remember him.
But he didn’t even glance back at him. He was moving with purpose, not the usual way to act at a party. He didn't look like he belonged in the slightest.
The cousin, Steiner, was acting more like a partygoer. He accepted a drink from a pretty young woman and immediately put his arm around her, pulling her close and whispering in her ear. Wolfgang gave a slight roll of his eyes and Will smiled. There was a glimpse of the Wolfgang he remembered.
It looked like Wolfgang was intent on something, on edge and ready to act on a moment’s notice. Will kept his gaze trained on him, waiting for what was going to happen. He could feel something was about to happen.
Two men approached Steiner and talked to him in low voices. Wolfgang stayed back, watching. Steiner laughed loudly and followed the men further into the house. Will expected Wolfgang to follow him and, for a moment, he looked like he would. But then he didn’t. He turned and slipped through the crowd and away. His cousin didn't even glance at him.
Will glanced at Seb, who shrugged. ‘Probably going for a smoke. He's a bit of a loner, that one. Always sloping off on his own. Doesn't talk much either. Not like the other one. He never shuts up.'
‘Maybe I’ll just keep an eye out for him,’ said Will. 'We have been told to make sure they're both safe.'
Seb shrugged again. ‘If you like.’
Will slipped through the crowd in the direction Wolfgang had gone. He followed him through to the back of the house and up the back stairs. Will was good at this; he’d always been able to move silently when he had to. It was both his training and his natural ability. Wolfgang didn’t notice he was being followed. He stopped outside a bedroom door and pulled on a pair of black disposable gloves. He picked the lock in a few seconds. Then he slipped inside and closed the door silently behind him.
Will hesitated for a moment, then slipped in after him. He took a quick glance around the room, absorbing the details in a second thanks to his police training. It was a huge bedroom, more like a suite. There was a living area and a fully stocked bar as well as a large bed. In one corner, there was a safe and standing in front of the safe was Wolfgang.
As Will allowed the door to close with a soft click, Wolfgang’s eyes snapped to him. They held each other’s gazes for what felt like a long moment but was probably only a couple of seconds. The next second, Wolfgang took two strides across the room, grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against the wall.
His grip wasn’t painful but it was firm and Will would have had to fight to get out of it. Those bright blue eyes blazed with emotion and his breath was hot on Will’s face. Will had to admit to himself that he was caught between arousal and fear. He could just kiss Wolfgang, right there and then.
‘Scheiße,’ Wolfgang muttered, his voice low and rough. ‘What the fuck are you doing here, Will?’
Will grinned, his stomach doing somersaults. ‘You do remember me then?’
Wolfgang let him go, turning away from him and dragging his hands through his hair. ‘Fucking hell, of course I remember you.' His voice was high with stress. ‘But what are you doing here? I’m on a job here.’
‘So am I. I’m your family’s new security guard.’
Wolfgang shook his head. ‘You’re a damn idiot, Will. You don’t want to get involved in this, believe me. We are not a good family to work for. It's not safe with us. I thought you went back to the states anyway.’
‘I did. Came back again. Thought you might like to get back in touch.’ Part of him wanted to tell Wolfgang why he was really there but he thought perhaps it was not the time. He didn't want to put Wolfgang in danger.
Wolfgang turned to him and his eyes had a strange, empty sadness in them. The sight of it made Will’s chest ache. What had happened to his sun-kissed angel?
‘If you go into that mansion, I can’t protect you.’
Will met his gaze. ‘I thought you were the son of the most powerful crime-lord in Berlin,’ he teased, with a smile.
Wolfgang just looked at him for a long moment, then sighed sadly. ‘I have no power in that house, Will.’
Something about the way he said that made Will’s heart ache. How could this strong, beautiful, wonderful man, his sun-kissed angel, how could he feel like he had no power? But before Will could reply, Wolfgang was walking away again, back to the safe.
‘Since you’re here you might as well make yourself useful. Guard that door and let me know if anyone’s coming.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘I have to get into this safe,’ he said, sitting down in front of it. Will watched him take out what looked like a pair of earphones but Will realised it was a listening device. Will smiled as an intense look of concentration came over Wolfgang’s face. He remembered that look.
Wolfgang glanced at him. ‘Can you concentrate please? I don’t really want to get caught doing this.’
Will nodded, smiling a little, then turned to listen at the door. Though how he was supposed to listen for anyone coming when his heart was pounding so loudly, he didn’t know.
Wolfgang could hear nothing but the sound of his own heartbeat. What the fuck was Will doing here? He hadn’t ever expected to see him again since he’d gone back to the States. He hadn’t ever expected to be confronted with all those feelings again. It was just like being seventeen again, falling in love, fooling around in the park and getting into ordinary trouble like any other teenager.
He felt hot and out of control. He needed to get a grip of himself. He was here to do a job and he had a lot riding it. He had to leave all this personal stuff for later. Or never.
He wondered how much time he had before he was missed. He had to get this safe cracked. But he was an expert at compartmentalising. He’d had to do that every single day of his life just to get through.
He narrowed his focus, until there was only the dial in front of him and the sound of the tumblers. He felt the sweat running down his brow, but he ignored it. He could do this. He needed to do this.
He didn’t know how long it was. It felt like an age but finally, he heard that scrape he was listening for. He pressed the button and it lit up green. With a grin, he opened the door, pulling the earpieces out.
‘You got in,’ said Will.
Wolfgang smirked. ‘Did you doubt me?’
‘Never,’ said Will, immediately.
Wolfgang laughed, then reached in took the tray of diamonds and tipped them into the little velvet pouch he’d brought. In seconds, he’d shut the safe, reset the dial, and there was no sign it had ever been opened.
‘Let’s go,’ he said.
‘Great,’ said Will. ‘Hey, when we get back, you can show me your bedroom.’
Wolfgang stopped and gave Will a hard look. It was vital he understand. ‘Will, you don’t know me, okay? When we get to my family’s mansion, you’ve never seen me before tonight.’
Will frowned. ‘Why…’ he started.
Wolfgang grabbed his arm. ‘Just listen to me,’ he snapped, his tone harder than he meant it to be but this was so important. Will had to understand. He couldn’t put himself in danger for Wolfgang. ‘You do not know me.’
Will still looked confused. He swallowed hard, then he nodded. ‘Got it.’
Wolfgang let him go, then stepped past him and slipped out of the door. He heard Will follow him.
Wolfgang was so serious. It made Will feel nervous, especially after all that stuff in the bedroom about it not being safe. Of course, Will knew that a mafia family mansion wasn’t exactly going to be a safe place but the intense way Wolfgang had said it made him feel like there was something more going on.
As Will watched him, Wolfgang didn’t seem to be enjoying the party at all. While Steiner drank and danced with lots of pretty girls, Wolfgang stood against a wall, watching the party happen around like. His face was set and he looked ultra-alert, like he expected to be attacked at any moment.
God, this was going to be difficult. How was he supposed to pretend he didn’t know him when he all he wanted to do was get over there and make him smile? He focused on scanning the crowd. He had to keep his head.
Finally, the party was over. Will found himself in a car with Seb and the other guards, following behind the car driving Wolfgang and Steiner.
‘So what happens now?’ he asked Seb.
‘Two of us will go on the door and they want two of us inside patrolling the halls.’
‘What do they want us to patrol the halls for?’
Seb laughed. ‘You’ll soon learn that nobody in this family trusts each other in the slightest. Both brothers want to know what the other is doing all the time. And the sons, well. They can barely move without father and uncle knowing what they’re up to. They’re an odd family that’s for certain.’
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ said Will.
Seb patted his shoulder. ‘Don’t worry. You’ll probably be asked to go on the door for a while, since you’re new but when you do get inside, if you’re asked to spy by either of them just go with it. It wouldn’t be worth it to refuse.’
Will nodded. ‘I’ll remember that.’
As they reached the house and got out of the car, Will had to fight to keep his eyes in his head. The house really was a mansion, massive and sprawling, with many floors. The grounds seemed huge as well and, as far as he could see, there was an electric fence all the way around. The gates they’d just passed through seemed to be the only way in.
Wolfgang and Steiner had just started to head to the house when one of the guards on the gate called out to Will.
‘You the new guy?
‘Yeah,’ said Will.
‘Mr Bogdanow wants to see you.’
‘Which one?’ Will asked, noticing that Wolfgang had stopped walking and was listening, holding himself tense.
The guard shrugged. ‘Keine Ahnung. Whichever one is in the study.’
Will nodded, allowing his gaze to meet Wolfgang’s. Wolfgang turned and walked away but his fists were tightly clenched.
Wolfgang’s heart was hammering so loudly in his chest he was surprised Steiner couldn’t hear it but he forced himself to keep on walking. He knew which Mr Bogdanow was in the study because his uncle was in his rooms waiting for him.
He wanted to run back and stop Will going anywhere near his father but he resisted, clenching his fists hard. There was no reason to think his father would hurt Will. He was nothing to him, just one of his staff. There was no reason for him to treat staff badly. None at all. But still, his heart raced and his skin felt hot and clammy.
He was an expert at hiding his feelings so he fought to keep his breathing steady and his step normal.
‘You don’t have to come,’ said Steiner, dismissively. ‘You didn’t even do anything. I did all the work.’
Wolfgang rolled his eyes. His cousin sounded like a petulant child. ‘Tell your father that if you want but he’s the one who asked to see me. Or maybe you want him to slap you again.’
Steiner scowled at him. Then he smirked. ‘Why, do you want your father to fuck you again?’
Wolfgang didn’t think; he was already too wound up. He turned and punched Steiner hard in the face. He heard a satisfying crunch and his cousin crumpled to the ground.
He didn’t stop to check if he was all right, because he didn’t give a fuck. Instead, he carried on towards his uncle’s rooms.
Sergei was expecting him. He was in his living room, having a drink of brandy. Wolfgang slipped in when bidden to and shut the door behind him.
‘Ah, Wolfgang. Is Steiner not with you?’
Wolfgang hesitated. ‘He’ll be along shortly, I expect. Anyway, the mission was a success. Both were actually.’ He reached into his pocket and brought out the velvet pouch the diamonds were in.
Sergei held out his hand but Wolfgang hesitated. ‘Still the same deal. One favour, whenever I ask.’
‘Of course. Are you asking now?’
‘Not yet. But I will and I won’t forget about it.’
Sergei gave him a slow smile. ‘I didn’t think you would.’
He dropped the pouch into Sergei’s open hand. Sergei checked inside the pouch then slipped it into his inside pocket. ‘Have a drink,’ he said, indicating the bottle of brandy and the clean glass on the table.
Wolfgang poured himself a drink and sipped slowly. He sensed that Sergei wanted to say something more to him, so he waited.
‘You’re a good boy, Wolfgang.’
Wolfgang’s stomach lurched at those words. When he was young, he’d have done anything to hear those words, from either his father or his uncle, but he never had. Now, that young boy inside him jumped at the praise but, as an adult, he remembered the smirk on his uncle’s face as he’d watched the things his father did.
His stomach lurched and, for a moment, he thought he was going to be sick. He swallowed hard, took a deep breath and another sip of brandy.
‘I might want your help again. Would you be willing to do that?’
‘A favour for a favour. Sure.’
Sergei nodded and smiled. ‘Good. I’ll send for you if I need you.’
Sensing he was about to be dismissed, Wolfgang tipped the rest of the brandy down his throat and swallowed down the liquor. It burned a path down his throat and settled comfortingly in his stomach.
‘Send my son in, will you, Wolfgang?’
Wolfgang hesitated, holding back his smile. ‘I’m sure he’ll be along soon.’
He turned and left, striding purposefully out of the room. He had to find Will.
Will had no idea what to expect when he stepped into the study. He’d seen profiles of each member of the Bogdanow family during his training so he knew the large man standing in front of him was Wolfgang’s father, Anton Bogdanow. He was a large man, tall and broad. He had a bit of a beer belly but mostly he was thick with muscle and he had a hard, intimidating face.
He looked over Will in cold appraisal, with a look that gave away nothing. Then he sat down in his chair and picked up his cigar. He took his time to relight it while Will stood there, at attention, wondering what he wanted. He recognised the technique of making him wait, to put him on the backfoot.
Will kept his face calm and his breathing slow and even. He would not be intimidated. As he stood there, he thought back and tried to remember if Wolfgang had ever mentioned his father when they were young. He frowned as he realised he hadn’t But he’d swiftly changed the subject if the topic of fathers had ever come up. He remembered seeing his mother once, when she’d come to bring him home from the park one day. He remembered being surprised about how young she was. There had been a sort of sadness in her eyes but she’d been friendly and had spoken to Will with a soft voice and a warm smile.
‘So, Gorski, you’re my new guard, are you?’ said Mr Bogdanow at last.
‘Yes, Sir,’ he replied.
‘What can you do?’
‘Kick-boxing, street fighting, firearms.’
‘All Americans know how to shoot guns. What about surveillance?’
Will ignored that comment about Americans and nodded. ‘Yes, Sir. Some surveillance.’
‘I know many things go on in this house that I don’t know about and I don’t like that.’
Will stayed quiet, waiting to see where he was going with this. He had a guess.
‘I don’t like that. I want to know everything that goes on in my house. So if you hear anything I should know, you ned to tell me.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ said Will
Anton narrowed his eyes. ‘My son, particularly, is far too secretive.’ He laughed and the sound made a shiver go down Will’s spine. ‘You’re probably his type. Maybe you can get the little queer to trust you.’
Will felt sick. Despite the community claiming back that word, it still hurt when somebody said it with such contempt.
‘I’ll do my best, Sir,’ he said, determined that he would never tell this man a single thing about his son.
Anton nodded. ‘Good to hear. Hmm, yes, I think you’ll do well. You can go now, patrol the halls.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Will said again. He gave Anton a respectful nod, then turned and slipped out. As he went, he had to hold back a smile as it occurred to him that he now had a reason he could go and see Wolfgang. The trouble was, he didn’t know which room was his. Maybe Seb would know.
Wolfgang hadn’t been able to find Will. He’d waited outside his father’s study for a little while, at a safe distance, but Will hadn’t come out and he could hear no noise coming from inside. Maybe he’d missed him.
He went outside to check if he was on guard duty on the gates but he wasn’t. He headed back inside, worry gnawing at his stomach. What had he come here for anyway? Damn idiot, putting himself in danger like that. He didn’t need to be here. He didn’t need to be involved in any of this.
He wandered the halls for a little while but he didn’t find him and it was dangerous to be out too long. Steiner was bound to be pissed off about that punch and he had no desire to run into him. And what if he’d told someone?
He headed up to the second highest floor, where his bedroom was. As he turned into the corridor, he stopped. Scheiße, what the fuck is he doing? Will was standing waiting outside his door, as though he’d just knocked.
Wolfgang glanced around to make sure there was no one else there, then hurried towards him. As he approached, Will turned and gave him a friendly smile. Wolfgang ignored the pleasant flutter in his belly.
‘What the fuck are you doing here?’
Will’s smile faltered. ‘I’ve just come to see you.’
‘Weren’t you listening when I said you don’t know me.’ He shook his head, getting out his key. ‘Never mind, get inside quick before anyone sees you.’
He opened the door and they stepped inside. Wolfgang locked it quickly behind them. He heard Tilly give a low uff of warning and he turned to tell her ‘Platz’ then stopped. Will had crouched down and was holding out his hand for Tilly to sniff. She was standing, sticking her head out as far as it would go to sniff Will’s hand from a distance.
‘Hello, girl,’ he said softly.
Wolfgang felt a rush of warmth for Will. He was still the same sweet, good-natured person he had been back then.
Tilly looked at Wolfgang, checking if this stranger was allowed inside. ‘Yeah, he’s all right, Tilly,’ he said, then flopped down on his bed.
Tilly stepped closer to Will and licked his hand. Will slowly reached out and gave her side a gentle stroke. She immediately flopped down on her side and rolled over onto her back so he could rub her belly. Will laughed.
‘She’s a big softy,’ said Wolfgang. ‘Unless I need her not to be.’
‘You’re a good dog, aren’t you?’ Will said, in gushing tones.
Wolfgang grinned. He knew someone else who was a big softy. But then the gnawing worry in his belly came back and his smile faded.
‘You shouldn’t be in here,’ he said.
Will sat on the carpet so he could keep stroking Tilly’s belly then looked up at him. ‘Actually, it doesn’t matter who sees me come in here. Your father practically told me to. He wants me to keep an eye on you.’
Wolfgang stared, fear pulsing through his body. ‘He … what?’
Will smiled. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell him anything.’
‘Scheiße,’ muttered Wolfgang, getting up and pacing back and forth across the room. Tilly righted herself and sat alert, watching him.
‘Wolfie, what is it?’
Wolfgang stopped. ‘Don’t call me that,’ he snapped, then immediately felt guilty at the hurt look in Will’s eyes. He shook his head. ‘Look, you can’t not tell him anything. He’ll … get mad. You can’t get him mad. You have to … you have to tell him something.’
Will stood up and his expression turned tender. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll think of something to tell him together.’ He reached out, fingers curled to caress Wolfgang’s cheek.
Immediately, every inch of Wolfgang pulsed with the thought 'no' and he jerked away. His heart was hammering and he just knew he couldn’t let Will touch him.
‘You can’t just pick up where we left off, Will,’ he snapped, to cover the disgust pulsing through his body. Disgust in himself. ‘I’m not the same person I was then.’
‘Oh. I’m sorry, I just thought…’
‘I think you should go now.’
He couldn’t bear the hurt look in Will’s eyes but it was better than him knowing, better than having his body betray him. Will just looked at him for a moment, then turned and left in silence.
Wolfgang sank down on his bed and let out a long, unsteady breath. He was too damn fucked up for this.
Wolfgang paced back and forth, clenching his fists and trying to stop his hands from shaking. He felt hot and sick and his breathing was ragged. Tilly sat on the rug and watched him, whimpering.
His mind took him back to the hurt in Will’s face and he felt sick. Then he saw, as clear as if he were right in front of him, Will’s face if he knew the truth. Disgust and revulsion. He didn’t deserve Will’s soft touches or affectionate gazes. He only deserved that disgust.
His stomach flipped and he ran to the toilet and threw up. As he collapsed next to the toilet afterwards, holding his head in his hands. Tilly nosed at him, then took his shirt sleeve in her teeth and tugged gently.
He looked at her and she barked urgently at him. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Let’s go outside.’
He stood, a bit wobbly on his feet, and cleaned his teeth. He splashed his face with cold water and changed into a t-shirt, hoodie and jeans, then headed out, with Tilly on her lead.
He didn’t see any sign of Will but then he didn’t need to go near the gates to get to the woods. The night air was pleasantly cool on his face and it immediately made him feel better. The floodlights showed him up in the open space so he hurried quickly to the cover of the trees. He was allowed to be out but he had no wish to be seen by anyone. Even though the night’s work had gone well, he had learned that his father’s good moods could be just as dangerous as his bad ones.
He slipped into the woods, hopefully unseen, then let Tilly off her lead and followed her as she trotted off. He walked slowly, taking in deep breaths of the cool air and letting it calm him.
Why had Will come back? Why had he put himself into this situation? He could work anywhere, why come here? Why come back to Berlin? He’d been just fine, just getting on with it and doing what he had to do, making sure his mama was all right and not thinking more than he had to. How was he supposed to do that now, with that kind gaze on him? What was he supposed to do now the person whose soft, loving touches had got him through so much, was now actually here in the flesh.
He reached the clearing and sat on the stump. He still felt hot and shaky. He pulled his hoodie off and dropped it onto the ground, then took out his cigarettes and lit one. He watched Tilly trotting about, sniffing. She had been right; he’d needed to get out. He was already starting to feel better, or at least he didn’t feel sick anymore.
Suddenly, she stilled, looking into the dark and sniffing the air. Wolfgang tensed. Nobody usually came in here. Who invading the only safe place he had?
Will had spent the rest of his shift walking the halls, not really expecting to see or hear anything. And he didn’t. But his mind was full, mostly of Wolfgang. That look on his face. On the surface of it, it looked like anger. But anger covering what? Fear? And something else. He wanted to find out. He wanted to make Wolfgang feel better. He wanted, he had only ever wanted, to make Wolfgang happy.
Near the end of his shift, he headed back to the gate to see Seb. ‘Hey, Will, how was your first shift. Been recruited yet?’
Will glanced at the other guard. Seb saw this and pulled him away. ‘Go on, who’s asked you to watch who?’
‘Anton Bogdanow asked me to watch his son.’
Seb’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. ‘Oh. I thought he liked to handle his son himself. Well, he went off into the woods with that dog of his if you want to spy on him. Not that he’ll let anything slip, mind you. Tough guy, that one. Silent type.’
‘Yeah, I’m beginning to see that. Thanks, Seb.’
‘No problem. Watch yourself.’
‘I will,’ he said and headed off towards the woods. He had to speak to Wolfgang, somewhere alone and safe, where they couldn’t be overheard. He had to find out what was wrong with Wolfgang.
The trees were thick in the little woods but there was a well-trodden path so he followed it. It wasn’t long before he heard movement up ahead. He pressed on, until he came to a clearing. Before he could look around, he was knocked down by something big and furry. He laughed as he found his arms full of dog, as the German Shepherd licked and snuffled at his face.
‘Aus, Tilly, Komm,’ barked a voice.
Immediately, Tilly jumped off him and ran over to her master. Will picked himself up and brushed off the soil and bits of leaf that had stuck to him and looked at Wolfgang. He started and felt a lump in his throat as he saw him. The light wasn’t great but it was enough to see what Wolfgang’s long shirt sleeves had covered up, what was now visible due to the short-sleeved t-shirt he was now wearing. His arms were covered in bruises. Not small bruises, but wide, dark, uniform bruises. Will felt cold. He had seen bruises like that before. A child protection case he’d been involved with. He’d know them anywhere. They were marks from being beaten with a belt.
He looked up into Wolfgang’s face and found him glaring at him. ‘What do you want?’ he snapped, like Will was the last person in the world he wanted to see.
‘I was worried about you.’ He looked down at the bruises again. ‘Now I’m more worried.’
Wolfgang scowled, stabbed out his cigarette and pulled on his hoodie again. ‘I didn’t ask you to get involved in this. I didn’t want you to come here.’
‘How did you get those bruises, Wolfie?’
‘I told you not to call me that,’ he growled. He huffed, looking away. He reached for Tilly, burying his hands in her fur. ‘I told you this was a dangerous place, Will. Maybe you should find a job somewhere else.’
Will gave him a smile. ‘I think I’m right where I want to be.’
Wolfgang stared at him for a moment, then gave a bitter sort of laugh. ‘Scheiße, what sort of life would I have had to have to be that positive?’
‘You should’ve had that life, Wolfie… Wolfgang. You certainly don’t deserve this one.’
Wolfgang stood up, bristling with anger. ‘What do you know about what I deserve? You haven’t seen me since we were seventeen. You don’t know anything about it.’
‘Nobody deserves that,’ Will said, simply.
Wolfgang gave that bitter laugh again and turned away. ‘God, you’re so fucking idealistic.’
‘Did I do something to upset you? Now or … back then?’
Wolfgang dragged a hand through his hair. ‘No, you didn’t do anything wrong.’ He turned back to look at him and there was that look in his eyes again. What was that? Self-disgust? Self-hatred?
‘You should just go back to the States and find some nice guy to fall in love with, someone who shares your idealistic view of the world.’
Will gave him a gentle smile. ‘Is this you trying to tell me you’re no good for me?’
Wolfgang held his gaze for a moment, then dropped his head. ‘Sometimes clichés are true, Will.’ He turned and picked up the lead from the tree stump.
‘Komm, Tilly,’ he said, then walked past Will without looking at him again.
Will folded his arms across his chest to stop himself reaching out and pulling Wolfgang into his arms. He thought he probably wouldn’t appreciate that.
Will had gone back to the flat the CIA had provided for him feeling like shit. The image of those belt marks on Wolfgang’s arms wouldn’t leave his mind. He also kept seeing that look in those clear blue eyes, the self-disgust and the self-hatred. It haunted him. Such a contrast to that bright-eyed gaze he remembered, the one so full of fun, mischief and love.
He tried to sleep but the unfamiliarity of the new flat and the thoughts and images in his mind made it impossible. It wasn’t his mission that concerned him, only Wolfgang. How could he help him? He would have to get him to trust him somehow. That was the only way.
Does he have anyone to trust? Will thought, as he gave up on sleeping and poured himself a glass of scotch. It didn’t seem like he had any friends at all. Certainly not in that house anyway. What a life to have lived. He was like a broken man.
Will thought back to the Wolfgang he had known. He’d always thought of him as bright and confident, full of laughter and fun. He’d been sexy and eager. He’d wanted Will. He’d kissed him with such feeling and softness.
Although thinking back, he remembered odd moments. An evasiveness sometimes, or a dark look in his eyes. They’d got in trouble together sometimes. Shoplifting usually or hanging round at night where they shouldn’t have been, drinking and fooling around.
Sometimes, Wolfgang had acted like it was all just fun and that nothing bad could happen. Others, he’d been silent and sullen, and when Will had grasped his hand, he’d felt him trembling. Was this stuff going on back then? Maybe Will had just missed it, or maybe it had all gotten worse.
He felt sick with grief and guilt. He should have come back years ago, should have found him and helped him. How could he not have realised? Had he been that self-absorbed?
This was no good. He was never going to sleep like this. He got changed out of his shorts and tank top and put on jeans and a shirt. If he couldn’t sleep, he might as well get out for a bit. Maybe a few drinks and a bit of a dance to a heavy beat would be enough to blast these worries away long enough for him to sleep.
Wolfgang hadn’t tried to sleep. He knew it would be impossible. He felt too sick and shaky. The good the brief visit to the woods had done had been undone by Will’s presence. It’s not his fault, Wolfgang thought with a guilty twinge. He’s so good and innocent. He has no idea what happens in the world.
Tilly whined at him as he got changed to go out. He stroked her head but left anyway. He just hoped the guards would let him out. There was still too much pain in his body to climb the tree and jump the fence.
Luckily, both guards on the gate were ones he knew to be under his uncle’s control and he was pretty sure Sergei’s need to keep him onside would make sure his father didn’t find out, even if the guards told him.
This time, he wasn’t going for a fight or for sex, not yet. No, he just needed to drink and let that heavy beat blast his thoughts away for a little while.
There were lots of people in the club and he remembered that it was Saturday night, or rather early morning by now. The music was loud and the lights bright and flashing different colours. He could lose himself here, allow himself to sink into the oblivion of having a good time, of being just like anyone else. Here, it didn’t matter who he was. It didn’t matter who his father was. All that mattered was that he could dance and drink.
‘Back again,’ shouted Felix, over the music as he sat down at the bar and ordered himself a drink.
‘Yeah. No fights this time.’
‘Good. I don’t fancy picking you up off the floor again.’
Wolfgang shrugged. ‘I was fine.’ He frowned, looking down at the drink Felix pushed across the bar towards him. ‘But thanks.’
‘No problem,’ said Felix. ‘But please don’t do it again. I prefer you alive.’
Wolfgang looked up at him and felt his frown deepen. ‘Why should you care?’
Felix looked surprised. ‘You’re a human being, aren’t you?’
Wolfgang huffed and picked up his drink. ‘Barely.’ He tapped his card on the card machine and headed off into the crowd.
As Will entered Felix’s club, he was aware of how different it looked at night, with the strobe lights flashing over the crowd of people. It was obviously popular as it was filled with people, all dancing and drinking and having the time of their lives. He got a drink and moved through the crowd towards the dancefloor. They parted for him and he sank into movement with them, letting himself just feel the music.
Dancing was one of his favourite things. It made him feel alive and free, like nothing could touch him and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought of him. Diego wasn’t one for clubbing but Will had had a small group of friends who he’d gone with sometimes, mostly other queer people. He’d dated a couple of them but it had never worked out. He knew why. He was always thinking too much of Wolfgang and he’d never been able to put his heart and soul into any new relationship. Will knew he was an all or nothing kind of guy. He’d tried all sorts to make himself happy. He’d gone for guys who reminded him of Wolfgang, and he’d gone for women who were nothing like him. Nothing had worked to distract him from thoughts of his sun-kissed German angel.
He chuckled to himself. Okay, he knew Wolfgang was no angel. Hadn’t been back then and certainly wasn’t now. He was a criminal, a top-class safe cracker, and he might have shot people, to keep himself and his family safe. He was no angel, but he was all Will wanted.
He stopped in the middle of the crowd and stood still. There was the object of his affections. Wolfgang was dancing too, moving to the music with his eyes closed. He looked lost in his own world, though Will couldn’t tell if he was oblivious to the crowd around him or simply losing himself in them. Will stood still, watching him, with no idea whether to go over to him or simply leave him alone.
Wolfgang danced, giving himself up to the pure beat and just feeling it. He moved by instinct, letting the music and the atmosphere wash over him, sweeping his troubles away. This was why he loved this club. Here, he didn’t have to think. He could just dance, or drink, or fuck, or fight. Nothing else mattered.
He wasn’t sure what made him open his eyes and look around. Maybe it was that slight warmth at the back of his neck that let him know he was being watched.
He looked up and met Will’s soft blue gaze. Will just looked back at him, biting his lower lip and looking worried. Wolfgang couldn’t stand the naked care and concern in his face. He turned, worked his way through the crowd and slipped out of the back door into the smoking area.
There was no one else outside. Wolfgang didn’t bother lighting a cigarette. He just stood against the wall and breathed deeply. The air was cool on his face, which felt good on his warm cheeks.
He felt torn in different directions. Part of him wanted to go in there, grab hold of Will and just sink into him, losing himself in kissing him. But the strongest part of himself was filled with fear at the thought. He knew Will cared about him or had back then at least. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Will when he said he was worried about him, that he wanted to help him. In fact, he believed it completely. But the idea of allowing Will in, to let him see his vulnerabilities and the bad shit that happened all the time in his head; that was something he couldn’t bear.
His indecision kept him frozen to the wall, unable to decide whether to go back inside or to leave. He closed his eyes and his mind took him back to those nights as a teenager, when all his free time had been spent with Will. Those long hours spent in his company were a bright spot in his life and he remembered each moment so clearly; the softness of him and the warmth of him were the things he held onto in his darkest of moments.
The temptation of sinking into that warmth again was so strong but at the same time, he knew that if he allowed himself to give into that temptation, those memories would no longer be a soft, warm, loving place to retreat to. They’d be the present, attached to a real person.
The memories came so easily. Standing there, in the cool air and the quiet night, it was so easy to remember that feeling of Will’s mouth against his, the scent of him and the taste of him. The want, the desire and the need for Will inside his chest was so strong, it made him feel breathless and he didn’t know what to do with those feelings.
Will hesitated. His first and strongest instinct was to follow Wolfgang straight away but doubt held him back. Wolfgang had said he didn’t want him but, at the same time, Will felt like Wolfgang needed him, like he was desperate for someone to prove that they did care about him, that he did matter. Well, Will was going to do that for him. Somebody had to care about him. Somebody had to show him what he was worth.
He made his way through the crowd and out the back to the smoking area. He was surprised to see that Wolfgang wasn’t smoking. He was just leaning against the wall with his eyes closed.
Will cleared his throat so he wouldn’t startle him. Wolfgang glanced at him then closed his eyes again and didn’t speak.
‘I swear I’m not following you,’ Will said.
‘I know. You were here first,’ said Wolfgang, still with his eyes closed. He sighed. ‘Discovering all the hot spots of Berlin, are you?’ he asked, turning to look at him.
‘Don’t you remember?’ Will asked, excitement flooding into his voice as he remembered. ‘We tried to get in here once, when we were sixteen. Somebody else owned it then, I guess. They wouldn’t let us in because we were underage and you only looked about fourteen with that cute babyface of yours.’
The barest hint of a smile crossed Wolfgang’s face and Will’s stomach flipped.
‘Didn’t we go and fool around in an alley somewhere over there?’ asked Wolfgang, still with that ghost of a smile.
Will leaned sideways against the wall and grinned. ‘Yeah.’
Wolfgang looked at him for a moment and his eyes were bright in the darkness. Will wanted to reach for him, wanted to pull him into one of those deep kisses, where there was nothing but the feel of each other.
But he held himself back. He didn’t want to push it and Wolfgang had already made it clear he didn’t want to be touched.
He licked his lips, nervously, as he wondered what to say next. He suddenly realised how intensely Wolfgang was looking at him, and he wasn’t sure what to do. He took a cautious step forward, bit his lip, then took a breath to speak.
In half a second, Wolfgang was on him, both hands on his jaw and claiming his mouth in a kiss. Past and present, memory and desire mixed and all Will’s focus was on Wolfgang.
He wanted to reach for Wolfgang, to wrap his arms around him and hold him close but he didn’t dare. He didn’t want to do anything to make this stop. Wolfgang had all the control and all Will could do was experience it.
Wolfgang parted his lips and pushed his tongue into his mouth. Will moaned against him as he felt that firm pressure, taking him, allowing the passion to explode between them. Will wanted to reach up, to touch that golden stubble, to feel it scratching his fingertips. Wolfgang was all heat and passion and pressure and Will couldn’t get enough.
But then Wolfgang broke the kiss. Will held back his whimper of loss. But Wolfgang didn’t pull away. He pressed his forehead to Will’s, his eyes closed and his breath hot and heavy on Will’s face.
Will had lost himself in the feel of his once-time boyfriend and he didn’t notice at first. But then he felt wetness on his cheek. He opened his eyes and saw tears on Wolfgang’s face. It was only then that he gave into his urge to touch Wolfgang. He reached up and wiped the tears away.
Wolfgang opened his eyes, pulling back just a little to look at him, but didn’t speak. He swallowed and blinked hard, trying to stop his tears.
Will placed a tender kiss on the corner of his mouth. ‘What is it, baby?’
Wolfgang swallowed again and took a deliberate step back. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t … you shouldn’t be … you should be with somebody better.’
‘I want you,’ said Will, simply. To him, it was simple. It was so simple. Will wanted Wolfgang and he knew, knew, that Wolfgang wanted him. That kiss proved it.
Wolfgang shook his head. ‘No, I can’t. I want … I want to but …’
‘Why can’t you have what you want?’
Wolfgang dropped his gaze. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’
‘Then talk to me.’
Wolfgang just shook his head and wouldn’t say anything. Will watched him for a moment, then dug in his pocket for his wallet. Inside, he had a few cards with his new address on. He pressed one into Wolfgang’s hand.
‘I’m here, anytime you need me, okay? You can come to me, absolutely anytime.’
Wolfgang closed his fingers around the card and just looked at Will, in wonder for a moment. ‘Oh, Schatz, you always were a sweetheart. You just can’t help being a good guy, can you?’ The words could have been bitter, but they weren’t. They just sounded sad.
Will took a cautious step towards him, leaned in and kissed Wolfgang’s cheek. ‘You’ve got me in your corner, baby. Always.’
Wolfgang looked back at him for a moment, then there was that faint smile again. ‘I know, Sußer, I know.’
Then he just turned and walked away. Will, left alone in the little smoking area, leaned against the wall and let out a long breath. For a moment, he kind of wish he smoked. He could do with something to steady his nerves.
Wolfgang wandered home in a dreamworld, his mind still with Will. He shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t have let himself give into his desires. But it had been so good, just to feel Will again, to taste him, to breathe in his scent. He had been his usual tender, affectionate self and Wolfgang ached for more of it. There was no one else in his life who gave him that.
But allowing himself to fall for Will again would only be dangerous, for both of them. Wolfgang could only imagine what his father would do if he discovered how much he cared for Will. Will would be in danger. His father’s favourite thing to do was to hurt people he cared about.
He was in such a daydream that he didn’t notice the man lurking at the side of the mansion. All he knew was his wrist being grabbed and he was pulled around the side of the building. He could smell that musty scent, and worse, the burn of vodka. His stomach dropped and he knew it was his father before he saw his face.
‘My boy,’ he grunted and Wolfgang felt sick. His father was in a good mood.
He gripped Wolfgang’s shoulders hard, pushing him into the wall. ‘Just like me, you are,’ he said, laughing that big laugh that sent shivers down Wolfgang’s spine. ‘Drinking, fighting, and fucking.’
On the last word, he pressed his body against Wolfgang and put his mouth close to his ear. His breath was hot and stinking with vodka and it made Wolfgang’s eyes burn. He turned his head away and his father laughed. ‘Don’t pretend you don’t like it, you little queer.’
He grabbed Wolfgang’s crotch through his jeans. ‘You fucking love it when I fuck you, don’t you? You always did, ever since you were a teenager.’
Wolfgang squirmed, trying to get away but his father held him hard against the wall, his hand squeezing hard. I was fucking twelve, you bastard, and I hated it, Wolfgang thought. He wished he had the courage to say it.
‘You did well today, my boy,’ his father said, breathing his vodka-breath in his face. ‘Now you can take your reward.’
No, no, he thought. He hated this more than when his father was angry. When he was in a good mood, his hands were everywhere and he would force the pleasure from Wolfgang’s body, making it impossible to take his mind away from it. He couldn’t let it happen, not when he’d shared that kiss with Will, not when he’d felt that deep desire.
Anton pulled back to turn him but the alcohol made him unsteady. Wolfgang took his chance. He pushed his father hard, saw him stumble, then turned and ran, before he even knew whether Anton was on the ground or not.
Will had gone back to his flat and managed to drop off. His dreams were full of Wolfgang, of that kiss and the brightness of his eyes in the darkness.
The hard rap on his door startled him awake. He grabbed his gun and headed to the door. He looked through the peephole and frowned. It was Wolfgang. He was staring down at the floor and Will couldn’t see his face. He put the gun down and opened the door.
As soon as he did, he realised that Wolfgang was shaking. He didn’t look up, just stared at the ground, his fists clenched.
‘Wolf, what is it?’
Wolfgang didn’t speak. He didn’t move. It was like he was frozen to the spot. Carefully, not wanting to startle him, Will reached out and tenderly touched his shoulder. ‘I’m here, baby,’ he murmured.
Wolfgang fell on him, grasping hold of him like he was the only thing keeping him from drowning. Will shut the door behind him and wrapped his arms around him, holding close as he shook in his arms. After a while, Will realised he was sobbing silently.
‘Baby, what is it? What’s wrong?’
Wolfgang shook his head. He took a ragged breath. ‘I can’t …’
Will smoothed a hand through Wolfgang’s short golden hair. ‘You can tell me anything, baby.’
Wolfgang pulled away, to look up into Will’s face. ‘Make me feel good, Will.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Fuck me,’ he begged.
Will swallowed. He wanted to. Fuck, he wanted nothing more than to take Wolfgang to bed and make love to him but he was so upset. Shaking, crying. It wasn’t the right time.
‘You can’t just fuck to make your feelings go away,’ said Will softly.
Wolfgang looked away, biting his lip. ‘I want … I just want somebody to touch me … I just want something gentle.’
Will took his hand, brought it to his mouth and kissed his palm. ‘Come on, you need gentle, I can give you gentle.’
He tugged him to bed and they lay down together. Wolfgang was looking at him like he was the only person in the world. Will had to admit, he liked that. But this was about what Wolfgang needed and nothing else.
He traced Wolfgang’s cheek gently, drying the tears that had tracked trails on his cheeks, then leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. Wolfgang’s breath was heavy and still a little ragged. Watching his face, Will’s hands went to the buttons on his shirt.
‘Tell me if you’re not happy with anything,’ Will murmured.
Wolfgang just breathed deep and watched him. Slowly, carefully, Will undid his shirt buttons, placing a kiss on his collar bone as it was revealed. As he saw the further belt bruises criss-crossing Wolfgang’s skin, he kept his face impassive.
Wolfgang dropped his gaze. ‘I know. It looks awful.’
‘It must hurt.’
Wolfgang shrugged and winced. He pulled his arms out of his shirt and pushed it out of the way. He reached up for Will, cupping his jaw and bringing him close for a deep, slow kiss.
‘Don’t ask me about it,’ he murmured. ‘I don’t want to think about it anymore. I just want to feel you.’
Will pulled off his shirt. Wolfgang reached for him, tracing his pecs and trailing down his abs. He looked up at his face and smiled. ‘Still so pale. You’ve got a few more muscles now, Schatz.’
He smiled. ‘I was such a skinny kid.’
Wolfgang chuckled gently. ‘So was I if I remember.’
‘You were perfect,’ breathed Will. ‘You are perfect.’
Wolfgang shook his head. ‘I’m not perfect, Will. I’m screwed up, fucked up, broken, whatever you want to say.’ He looked down. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have come.’
Will wrapped his arms around him, tugging him close so they were chest to chest. ‘I’m so glad you did, baby. I told you, I’m here for you. I know you’ve been through a lot. I just want to help.’
Wolfgang didn’t say anything, just kissed Will again, slowly, like he wanted to make the moment last as long as possible. After they parted, Will lay down and tugged Wolfgang into his arms. He pulled the covers over them both and dropped a kiss on the top of his head.
‘You’re safe here,’ he murmured, trailing his hand over his chest, his touch fingertip light. ‘You’re always safe here.’
Wolfgang turned his head into Will’s chest, took a deep breath and lay still. Will just kept stroking him, so gently and lovingly, until he felt him fall asleep against him. It was only when Wolfgang was safely asleep that he allowed himself to fall asleep too.
The bear towers above him, advancing slowly on him. Its bulk is massive, a giant creature, growling and snarling as it stumbles towards him.
Spittle dribbles from its huge mouth full of sharp teeth. It stands before him, legs apart in a solid stance. Its belly is huge and its body ripples with music. He knows he cannot fight it.
Its roar rumbles through him, sending fear through his body and making him shake.
The creature lurches towards him, pinning him to the wall. It paws at him, scratching at his clothes, ripping them from his body and digging into his skin. He tries to fight but he can’t move. The bear’s claws rip at his body.
He shrinks before it and it bends his head to devour him. He chokes on the stink of vodka and bitter cigar smoke.
Wolfgang woke with a scream that tore at his throat as his tears choked him. For a moment, danger tugged at him and he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know where he was. Was he safe?
A hand touched his arm and he fought, hitting out and squirming away as panic jolted his body.
‘Wolfgang, it’s Will. You’re safe.’
He was in a haze of fear but the words reached him. He saw Will through the tears in his eyes and he blinked. He breathed hard and sagged against Will.
Will’s arms slipped around him and he held him close. Wolfgang closed his eyes and pressed his face against his bare chest, letting his scent surround him. It was a clean, fresh scent, so unlike the odour that haunted his dreams, and too much of his waking hours. Will didn’t ask him anything and Wolfgang was so fucking grateful for that. He just held him.
He didn’t want Will to see him cry, didn’t want him to see how truly broken he was. He didn’t want anybody to see.
Will’s fingers trailed gently up and down his arm, tracing the muscles and caressing the bruises on his arm. His touch was so gentle, it didn’t hurt and it was strangely soothing.
As he managed to stop crying and calm his breathing, he suddenly felt embarrassment sweep over him. What was he doing, crying in Will’s arms like a child? He pulled away and sat up, turning away from Will and dragging his hand through his hair. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t …’
He felt Will’s hand on his back, so gentle and mindful of the bruises on his skin. ‘It’s all right. You don’t need to be embarrassed. Nightmare?’
Wolfgang nodded but didn’t reply. Will sat up, pressed a kiss to the back of his head and rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘You’re safe here,’ he repeated.
Wolfgang looked at the window. Will’s blinds were pulled down but he could see it was starting to get light outside. He remembered last night, remembered how he’d begged Will to fuck him. There was that embarrassment again. He’d felt frustrated last night but now, god, he was so grateful Will hadn’t fucked him. It would have been so wrong, just using Will to push away his feelings.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘About what I asked you to do last night.’ He glanced at him, meeting that clear blue gaze directly for a moment. ‘Thank you for not doing it.’
Will gave him a gentle smile. ‘I just knew it wasn’t right.’
‘No, it wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’ll always be like that.’
‘There’s no rush. Whatever you want, whatever you need, is good with me.’
Wolfgang smiled at him. Was this man really real? How could one really be this kind and this good?
Will’s stomach flipped as Wolfgang looked at him, his eyes full of emotion. Will just wanted to kiss him, to make him feel good, to make everything all right for him. But what could he do? If there was anything he could do to make Wolfgang feel good, he would do it. He would do anything.
Wolfgang was still gazing at him, in wonder. He found his hand and gripped it, rubbing his thumb gently over his skin.
‘Wolf, if there’s anything I can do…’
The ghost of a smile crossed Wolfgang’s face, then he was leaning in and kissing Will softly on the mouth. ‘I just want to feel you,’ he murmured. ‘I’m so sick of feeling bad. I just want to feel good.’
Will’s chest contracted with pain at that thought, that Wolfgang had so much pain and misery in his life. He deserved to feel so good.
He returned Wolfgang’s kiss, tender but deep. ‘Lie down, baby. I’m gonna make you feel good.’
Wolfgang smiled and lay down on the bed, absolute trust in his eyes. Will looked back at him. ‘Just say if you want me to stop,’ he murmured.
Wolfgang nodded, just watching him. Will kissed his jaw, then his neck, enjoying the soft sighs he produced from Wolfgang as he kissed his way down his chest, as gentle as he could. Wolfgang’s hands came to rest on his shoulders and he kept his gaze trained on him the whole time.
Will moved lower, palming his strong thighs gently, the denim of his jeans rough beneath his hand. He glanced up at his face to check he was all right. He put his hands on the fly of his jeans. ‘Is this okay?’ he asked.
Wolfgang nodded. ‘Keep going.’
Slowly and gently, he opened Wolfgang’s jeans and tugged them down. Wolfgang wriggled out of them impatiently.
Will grinned. ‘Getting eager, aren’t you?’
Wolfgang reached out and touched Will’s cheek gently and reverently. ‘Only for you, Schatz.’
Will held his gaze for a moment, then focused on what he was doing. He saw the bruises on Wolfgang’s legs, some older than others but he passed no comment on them. Instead, he gently peeled down his boxers.
Wolfgang was hard and he whimpered softly as Will bared him. Will settled between his thighs and Wolfgang’s legs instinctively wrapped around him.
Will took another look at Wolfgang’s gaze. ‘Still good?’
Wolfgang nodded. ‘So good,’ he murmured.
Will just smiled, then took the tip of his cock into his mouth. Wolfgang gave another soft sigh and Will took him deeper, sucking gently at first, then harder as he felt his lover respond to him. He remembered this, remembered the feel of him and the taste of him.
He also remembered what Wolfgang liked, though he hoped he was better at this now. All at once, he was back all those years ago, to the first time he’d given Wolfgang a blow job, the first time he’d done it at all. On his knees in the park, his jeans getting damp and just the sound of the distant traffic in the darkness.
Wolfgang’s hands were in his hair, brushing it back and sighing softly against him. But then his soft sounds of pleasure became louder gasps as Will gave him pleasure.
When Wolfgang came, it was with a cry that sounded like Will’s name. Afterwards, he collapsed back onto the bed and Will climbed back up to lie beside him. Wolfgang turned into him, wrapping his arms around his waist and holding onto him so tight. Will kissed his head and held him gently.
‘Thank you,’ whispered Wolfgang.
Will stroked his hair. ‘Try and get a little more sleep,’ he said and pulled and covers over them.
‘What about you?’ Wolfgang asked, sleepily.
‘I’m just happy to look after you,’ he murmured.
Wolfgang smiled against him. ‘Soppy fucker.’
Will laughed and closed his eyes, holding Wolfgang close.
‘I need to get back,’ Wolfgang said, sitting up.
They’d been to sleep again, cuddling together in their boxer shorts and Will had felt like he was keeping Wolfgang safe by having him there in his arms.
But then Wolfgang was pulling away and Will was looking at his back, his back that still had those horrible bruises criss-crossing over it. Wolfgang still hadn’t told them where he’d got them and Will didn’t dare ask again, but the image of his strong, broad father and his intimidating manner came to his mind. He remembered that cold laugh and the contempt with which he’d spoke about his own son.
Will sat up, reaching for his lover and touching his sore back gently. ‘Your father did this to you, didn’t he?’
Wolfgang tensed, glancing over his shoulder at Will, then quickly away. ‘He gets angry. Sometimes I … I push him too far. I’ve always been rebellious.’
‘That doesn’t give him the right to…’
‘It’s better than …’ He stopped abruptly, as if he’d been about to say something then remembered it was something he shouldn’t say. He took a deep breath. ‘Look, I can handle it, okay?’
‘You shouldn’t have to.’
Wolfgang turned to him, then leaned in, cupped his jaw and kissed him sweetly on the mouth. ‘Oh, Schatz, the world doesn’t work the way you think it does.’
‘Why not?’ He took Wolfgang’s hand and held it. ‘We should run away. Come back to the states with me. You don’t need to stay here.’
‘He’d come after us.’ He looked down at their joined hands. ‘Anyway, it’s not just me. If …if I weren’t around, he’d go after my mama.’
‘She’s still around then? I haven’t seen her.’
Wolfgang didn’t look at him. He just looked at their joined hands for a moment, then turned away and got up. ‘I need to go back. Tilly will want to get out for a walk.’
‘Bring her next time, then you can stay longer.’
Finally Wolfgang looked at him. ‘I’m not sure I can come back at all. In fact, I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t.’
‘Your father asked me to keep an eye on you, remember? He’ll expect to see us together.’
Wolfgang shook his head urgently. ‘No, Will. You can’t tell him anything.’
‘I’ll tell him a load of bullshit. You can tell me what to say.’
‘No,’ Wolfgang said, his voice hard and stern. ‘You can’t let him think we’re close. No matter what happens, you can’t let him know or even suspect about any of this. Have you got it?’
Will frowned, but then nodded. ‘All right, I’ve got it.’
Wolfgang nodded, then got up and started getting dressed. Will watched him for a moment, feeling a pull in his chest. He just wanted to make everything all right for Wolfgang but the other man wasn’t making it easy. He was still so closed off and Will sensed he still had many secrets.
‘What should I tell when he asks then?’ Will asked.
Wolfgang pulled on his shirt. ‘Tell him I won’t let you get close.’ He gave Will half a smile. ‘He’ll believe that. I don’t let anyone in.’
‘So, why did you make an exception for me?’
Wolfgang shrugged. ‘I dunno.’ He slipped his shoes on and crossed to the door. Will got up, pulled his jeans on and stood awkwardly by his bed, not knowing what to do or what to say.
At the door, Wolfgang stopped and sighed. He turned back to Will, studying him for a moment. Then he was back in front of him, cupping his jaw gently. ‘I made an exception for because I trust you, Schatz.’ He smiled and kissed him gently. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t,’ he said, looking into his eyes. ‘But I just can’t help it.’
He trailed his hand down Will’s chest as he reluctantly pulled away, then let himself out.
Left alone, Will let out a long sigh and sat down on his bed, an ache in his chest.
Wolfgang was nervous as he returned to the mansion. He half-expected to find his father still flat out on the lawn. He entertained the image of him lying there. Maybe he’d hit his head. Maybe his blood had been soaking into the grass all night until his heart finally stopped pumping it around his body.
But no, there was no sign of him on the grounds and Wolfgang met no one as he made his way back to his room. He was glad of that. He wasn’t in the mood to meet anyone.
Tilly greeted him uproariously, forgetting all her manners and jumping up to lick his face. He felt guilty about leaving her so long but he noticed his bed had been tidied and he realised his Aunt Elke had been in and had probably taken Tilly out for a walk at some point. He knew she couldn’t help him much but she did what she could, in small ways. She’d done the same for his mama. It just hadn’t been enough.
He took Tilly out, into the woods and to his usual spot. There, he sat down on the log and smoked a cigarette. His thoughts took him immediately to Will. It had been so simple for him to calm Wolfgang down, to make him feel safe. How did he do that?
He grinned as he thought back to the blow job. That had been good; Will had improved his natural skill over the years and it had been so easy just to surrender to that pleasure. It had been a long time since he’d allowed anyone to be that close to him, since he’d allowed anyone to touch him like that. Maybe not since the last time Will had come to Berlin. Pleasure had been a weapon used against him. He’d tried to claim back the violence used against him, to make himself feel good. But he knew it never really worked.
He finished his cigarette and stood up. Tilly looked up at him, waiting for the command she knew was coming.
‘Komm, Tilly.’ She came, following him closely as he made his way out of the woods. It was properly morning but maybe he’d get back to his room and be able to sleep a little more before anyone saw him.
He should have known better. One of the guards was waiting for him.
‘Mr Bogdanow wants to see you in the study.’
Wolfgang nodded and headed inside to the study. He left Tilly outside the door, knowing they wouldn’t let her in. He didn’t know what to expect when he went inside.
He was relieved when he saw just his uncle waiting for him. ‘Wolfgang. Please sit down.’
‘I’d rather stand.’
Sergei shrugged. He walked across the room and sat down in one of the chairs by the fire. ‘Suit yourself. Anton would have been here but it seems he’s sleeping off a hangover. Where did you spend last night? You weren’t in your room.’
Wolfgang held his gaze. ‘I stayed out.’
Sergei looked back at him and there was an unreadable look in his eyes. ‘Good. You’re best off staying out when your father drinks.’
Wolfgang scoffed. ‘Oh, you think he just does it when he’s off his head, do you?’
Sergei looked away, shifting uncomfortably. ‘How he choses to raise his own son is his business.’
Wolfgang let out a bitter chuckle. Raising me? Is that what you think this is, you piece of shit?
‘Why am I here?’
‘We’re going to need you to do an important job in a few days, when your injuries have healed. So look after yourself, don’t get into fights.’
‘What’s this job? Why does it matter about a few bruises?’
‘You’ll see. Get yourself fit and we’ll tell you more soon. Maybe do a little target practice, get used to a silencer.’
Wolfgang frowned. ‘What for?’
There was a flicker of impatience in his uncle’s face and he knew that if his father was there, he’d have probably got a slap or one of his threats for that.
‘You’ll find out,’ said Sergei. ‘Now, go and get some sleep. You look like you didn’t get much.’
All sorts of retorts came to Wolfgang’s mind but he kept his mouth shut. There was no sense getting himself into trouble.
He turned and left. Tilly licked his hand as he joined her and he gave her a reassuring pat. ‘Komm, Tilly. Let’s get some sleep.’
He was too tired to even start think about what job his uncle might have for him now. It didn’t really matter. Whatever it was, he’d have to do it. The consequences of refusal were too dire to contemplate. He knew he had no other choice. He never did.
Will had started to get used to the permanent ache in his chest. He went about his official duties and kept an ear out for any information he could pass on but his real focus was on Wolfgang. He thought about him all the time. He dreamed about him. He thought about him in his bed all the time.
But Wolfgang was avoiding him. Will told himself he knew why. It was obvious, wasn’t it? Wolfgang had told him they couldn’t know each other. That was all it was. Will told himself Wolfgang didn’t regret what they’d done. He’d not pushed him into it, he thought, and it had been Wolfgang who’d made the first move.
He smiled at his post as he thought about that kiss. He was guarding a door on the top floor and had been told to let no one without permission of Sergei or Anton Bogdanow. He hadn’t been told who he was guarding exactly. All in all, it was very odd, this place. Even for a family in the criminal underworld, they were odd.
Will felt anger bubbling inside him when he thought of those bruises covering Wolfgang’s body. So many bruises. But there was something else as well, that he couldn’t put his finger on, some deeper hurt. All Will wanted to do was to help him, make everything all okay for him. But he didn’t know how. And somehow, he had to complete his mission as well.
How was he to do that? More importantly, how was he to do it without getting Wolfgang into trouble? He’d already seen him do illegal things. Though nothing that bad. Just the diamond stealing, and maybe he was involved with the drug deals but, well he didn’t have much choice, did he? Will wanted to tell him why he was really there, but he knew he couldn’t. Not yet. Not until he knew more. After all, he told himself, he didn’t really know this new Wolfgang, not yet. He was too good at keeping his own secrets.
Will straightened as he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. The sound was loud and echoing and he felt a shudder pass through his body as he saw the face of the man who’d come up the stairs. Anton Bogdanow. Already a man he hated. He’d like to punch him right in the face and break his nose for what he’d done to Wolfgang. How could a man hurt his own son like that?
Mr Bogdanow strode towards him and looked him over. ‘Found anything out yet?’
‘Not yet, Sir.’ It was an effort to keep his voice steady and free of the hate pounding through his veins, but he thought he managed it.
Mr Bogdanow nodded. ‘My son is a tough nut to crack. But I’ll give you a hint.’ He leaned in and Will tensed, trying not to recoil as the musty scent of old leather and cigar smoke choked him. ‘He likes it rough.’
Will felt another shudder go through him. What kind of father said that about his son?
But Mr Bogdanow didn’t notice the shudder and didn’t say anything else. He just pushed past Will and went through the door, shutting it behind him. Will heard a key turn in the lock and he wondered again what was behind that door.
As the days drifted by, Wolfgang stayed quiet and kept his head down. He was worried his father would deal with him for what happened out on the lawn but it wasn’t mentioned. Either his father had been too drunk to remember or he was laying off him because of the mission, whatever it was.
Will was on duty most days. Wolfgang was good at hiding his emotions; he’d been doing it all his life. So it wasn’t too much of a challenge to pretend Will was just a guard. But it made his chest ache the way Will looked at him. Will wore his heart on his sleeve and he always had.
So it was easier for Wolfgang to stay away from him as much as possible. Wolfgang didn’t mind. He was used to keeping to himself. He stayed in his room or took Tilly out to the woods. Just him and her. It had been that way for a long time and he could deal with it. At least, without being confined to his room, he could go and see his mama.
One of the more unfriendly guards was on duty guarding his mother’s door so he had to wait, anxiously, as the guard called down to see if he was allowed to see his own mother. With effort, he kept the scowl off his face as he waited, with his hand resting on Tilly’s back.
Finally, he was allowed in. He made his way down the corridor, with Tilly following closely at his heel. He expected his mama to be in her living room but when he opened the door, she wasn’t there. He frowned, then went to her bedroom across the corridor. He let out a breath of relief when he saw her on her bed, but then the frown returned. She was lying on her bed murmuring softly to herself. Although her voice was soft and quiet, it sounded pained. There were no words, just soft whimpering.
He crouched down beside her and reached out to touch her hair. ‘Mama, what’s wrong?’
She flinched away from his hand and buried her face in her pillow. Tilly whimpered and jumped up on the bed beside her. Mama grasped onto her fur and held her tight, a desperation in her face.
Wolfgang felt a coldness run through him. ‘Mama, has he been here?’
She let out a sob and buried her face in the dog’s fur. She started chanting and this time it sounded like real words. One real word, over and over. No. No. No.
Wolfgang started up, anger pulsing through him. ‘I’ll kill him. I’ll fucking kill him.’
Tilly barked urgently and his Mama cried out. She reached for his arm and tugged him. ‘No,’ she gasped, a clearer word than she’d spoken in months, years. He could hear the effort she had to put into the word.
‘Mama, he can’t do that to you. He can’t.’
She just held onto his wrist as tightly as she could and her eyes were wet. He gave up, sinking back down beside her.
‘Mama, he shouldn’t do that to you,’ he said, hearing his voice crack. ‘Not you, Mama.’
She reached out and ran her hands gently through his hair, then tugged him to her. He nuzzled into her chest, like he was a little boy again, hiding from the monster that raged through the house. A monster there was no escape from.
Wolfgang had finally managed to calm his mama down but he didn’t want to leave her unprotected while he did what he had to do.
He got up and kissed her head. ‘It’s going to be okay, mama.’ He stroked Tilly’s head. ‘Bleib, Tilly.’ He looked at his mama. ‘I’ll come back. Just stay here with Tilly, all right?’
His mama just looked at him, holding onto the dog tightly. Wolfgang touched her cheek lightly. ‘I’ll come back,’ he repeated.
He really didn’t want to leave her but he had to do this. He had to make it stop. The anger was still pulsing inside him and he had to do something. All he could picture was shooting his father in the head and watching him bleed into the carpet.
He stormed downstairs to his father’s rooms and rapped on the door. ‘Come in,’ he heard his father’s gruff voice from inside.
He opened the door and his gaze went straight to his father, who was sitting in his chair smoking his cigar. He raised his eyebrows when he saw Wolfgang.
‘Ah. This must be a first. You coming to see me without being asked,’ said his father, smiling.
‘You’ve been to see Mama without being asked,’ Wolfgang said.
Anton smirked and put down his cigar. ‘She’s my woman. I can do what I like with her.’
‘She doesn’t even know what fucking day it is, what year it is. How can you …’
Anton stood and stalked, slowly, towards him. Wolfgang’s courage began to desert him and he remembered just what his father could do to him, exactly how much power he had.
‘She’s my woman,’ Anton repeated. ‘I can do what I like.’ He reached out and grabbed Wolfgang by the throat, pushing him hard against the wall and squeezing lightly. ‘And you’re my boy so I can do anything I like to you too.’ His breath was hot in his face and stinking of cigar smoke.
Wolfgang gasped for breath as his father squeezed his throat. Wolfgang pulled at his hand, desperately trying to dislodge it. ‘Please,’ he gasped, his barely audible rasp of a voice shocking him.
Anton laughed and let him go. But his body was still holding him against the wall. Wolfgang took in several frantic breaths. But he wasn’t done yet.
‘You said,’ he gasped. ‘She’d be safe if I … you said you’d leave her alone if … I didn’t fight you.’
Anton looked at him and a smile crossed his lips. ‘But you did fight me, Wolfgang. The other night, in the grounds. Did you think I was too drunk to notice?’
Wolfgang stared at his father, disgust and fear shuddering through him.
His father laughed and the sound sent waves of revulsion through Wolfgang. Anton reached out for him and stroked his cheek. Another time, another place, another two people and the gesture would have been tender. But there was no tenderness here, no love here. There was nothing here but hate and pain.
‘This is what happens when you fight me, Wolfgang.’
Wolfgang turned his face away, not wanting to look into those hazel eyes he hated so much. But Anton leaned in again, his scent crawling into Wolfgang’s throat and choking him.
He kissed Wolfgang’s cheek, his scraggly beard scratching his skin. Wolfgang pressed his lips together. Not this, please not this.
‘I think you need to make it up to me. I think you need to show me that you’re not going to fight me anymore.’
He pulled away and, when Wolfgang had got himself together enough to look, he saw him making his way over to the bed. Before he reached it, he stopped at the bedside table and poured two measures of vodka into glasses, one large, one small. He drank the small one, before he started to undress.
Wolfgang felt frozen to the wall but he knew he had to move. He had to do this. He had to submit himself to this. It was the only way to protect his Mama.
He squeezed his eyes shut. ‘You won’t … you’ll leave Mama alone.’
‘As long as you come to me when I ask for you, and never fight me again.’
Wolfgang swallowed hard, wincing as his throat ached. He stood up straight and slowly started walking across the room, focusing on that glass of vodka. He downed it in one, feeling the haze of it go straight to his head. He needed that haze. It would get him through this.
His hand went to his shirt buttons and he slowly began to undo them. His eyes closed and his mind already taking him away, he said. ‘I won’t fight you.’
Will was starting to get seriously worried about Wolfgang. He’d barely seen him in days and, when he had, the German had refused to look at him, or speak to him. His cop instincts were flaring and he knew that something was wrong, something deeper than he could imagine.
He’d been on the outside gates all afternoon but he’d just been sent back to guard the same corridor he’d been guarding that morning. There was no sign of anyone around once he relieved the other guard, just him and that closed door. What the hell was behind it?
He’d been there for about half an hour when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. He straightened, where he’d been leaning against the wall.
Wolfgang came round the corner, but he didn’t look right. His gaze was off somewhere else and he was gripping the banister with white fingers as he staggered up the stairs. It looked like every step was a massive effort. Will looked him over. There were no new bruises or marks, although his throat looked a little red. What had happened?
‘Wolfgang? What is it?’ he asked, as Wolfgang reached the top of the stairs.
Wolfgang’s gaze snapped to him. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’m on duty.’ He crossed to Wolfgang, reaching out for him. ‘Baby, has something happened?’
Wolfgang jerked back as though he’d been hit. ‘Don’t touch me,’ he snapped. ‘You …’ He swallowed. ‘You shouldn’t touch me.’
‘I just want to help, baby.’
Wolfgang flinched. ‘Don’t call me that.’ He glared down at the floor. ‘Are you going to let me past?’
Will glanced at the door he was supposed to be guarding. ‘What, in there? That’s not your room. What’s behind there?’
Wolfgang glanced at him and Will was startled to see that dead look in his eyes, worse than that first night. There was absolutely nothing, no emotion, no spark in his eyes.
‘My mama lives in there. Are you going to let me past?’
‘Well, yeah but I feel like I shouldn’t leave you alone.’
‘You shouldn’t be near me,’ said Wolfgang, then he moved past Will, keeping well away from him as he let himself in through the door.
Wolfgang woke with his hand wrapped around an empty bottle of vodka. He groaned, his dry, musty mouth barely able to form words. His head was banging and his stomach churned, but at least it was something to focus on. Something else.
His stomach lurched and he scrambled out of his bed and made it to the toilet just in time. He threw up into the toilet, until his stomach was empty and the bile burned his throat. He sat back against the tile and stared up at his bathroom ceiling. How had it come to this? How had his life ended up here? What possible way out was there?
There was no way out. He’d thought about drinking himself to death, or slitting his wrists, or taking enough ecstasy that eventually it had to kill him, or shooting himself in the head and putting an end to it all. But he couldn’t do it. He didn’t care what happened to him, but he had to protect his mama and Tilly.
Tilly crept up to him, whining anxiously. He reached for her and she nuzzled into his chest. ‘I’m sorry, Tilly, I should never have brought you into this.’ He hugged her tight. ‘But I’m so glad you’re with me.’
He looked at her. She looked back at him, her eyebrows twitching curiously. ‘What can I do, Tilly? I can’t fight him anymore. I … if I do anything, he’ll just hurt mama. I just … don’t know what to do.’
She licked his chin and he held her to him, burying his hands in her thick fur. ‘Come on. I guess you want a walk, don’t you?’
He got up and looked at himself in the mirror. The faint bruises that had appeared on his neck after that night were gone now. He’d stayed out of sight while they healed, only going out to walk Tilly with his hoodie on. He didn’t want anyone to know. He thought his uncle knew but he knew if he did that he didn’t care. He’d been called to his father’s rooms again three times in the past week and he hadn’t fought. He’d done what he was supposed to do. He’d kept his mama safe. Thank fuck for the vodka. It was the only thing that helped.
He splashed his face with cold water, then cleaned his teeth. He should get a shower but he didn’t have the energy.
He went back into his bedroom and pulled on jogging pants, a shirt and his hoodie. Then he headed out with Tilly.
He didn’t know if he was seen. He didn’t care either. What more could happen to him?
His head swam and he couldn’t wait to get to the usual clearing. Only muscle memory kept him coming until, at last, he sat down on the log. Tilly watched him anxiously.
‘Go on, Till, have a run around. I’m all right.’
She didn’t look convinced but the pull of exploration was too strong and she trotted around the clearing, sniffing and snuffling through the undergrowth. Wolfgang just sat there, too low on energy to light a cigarette or do anything at all. He barely had the energy to breathe.
Will had seen Wolfgang leave and go into the woods but he was stuck on duty for another twenty minutes. He didn’t see him come out again so, when he was released, he went straight to the woods. He’d been increasingly worried about Wolfgang for days. He’d barely seen him. When he had, Wolfgang had refused eye contact and he’d still had that dead look in his eyes, as though there was nothing left in the world caring about. Will hated to see him like that. All he wanted to do was hold him and make it all better. But he didn’t know how.
If only Wolfgang would talk to him. If only he would tell him what was wrong, what he could do to help.
The woods were so quiet, even as he approached the clearing, that he began to wonder if he’d just missed him leaving. But then he heard Tilly give a low bark and he heard her trotting through the undergrowth.
He walked into the clearing, taking care to make noise so neither the dog nor her master became startled by his approach. He saw Wolfgang. The other man was slumped on the log, looking like a puppet with broken strings. He didn’t move, didn’t even look up at Will.
‘Hey,’ he murmured. ‘You all right?’
Wolfgang didn’t respond. Carefully and cautiously, Will approached, giving Wolfgang plenty of time to pull away but he didn’t. Will sat down next to him and put his arm around his shoulders. Wolfgang stiffened beneath his touch but didn’t pull away.
‘You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong,’ said Will. ‘Just … I’m here and you can trust me. You’re safe with me, all right?’
Wolfgang didn’t reply. He held himself stiff for a moment, then seemed to collapse into himself. He turned his face into Will’s shoulder and all the tension seemed to drain out of him. He gripped the front of Will’s shirt with a desperate clench of his fingers. Will just kept his arm around his shoulders, rubbing gently and dropping kisses into his hair.
‘It’s all right,’ he murmured. ‘You’re safe.’
He was reminded of that night in his flat, when Wolfgang had come to his door. He’d been so full of fear and sadness. He was like that now, except it seemed worse. But what could be worse? What was he missing?
‘You can trust me, baby,’ he murmured. ‘You can trust me.’
Wolfgang sagged against Will, all fight gone out of him and he gave in to soft, quiet sobs. The barely there sound was so full of pain, so heart-breaking that Will almost couldn’t stand it. But he would be there. Wolfgang needed him.
‘I’ve got you,’ he whispered. ‘I’ve always got you.’
Wolfgang didn’t respond, just sobbed and gripped his shirt like he was afraid Will would just slip away.
Wolfgang’s sobs eventually died away. Will kept holding him until Wolfgang pulled away. Tilly was at their feet, her paw on Wolfgang’s knee and concern on her face. Wolfgang reached for her and fussed her. Will took the opportunity to look him over. There were no bruises visible but he still looked terrible. He looked pale and weak, as if he’d not been eating or sleeping properly for a while.
‘What’s going on, Wolfie?’ he asked, gently.
Wolfgang looked at him and there was so much pain in his eyes Will couldn’t stand it.
‘I thought you said I didn’t have to tell you,’ said Wolfgang, with a trace of a smile.
Will smiled back, relieved to see a little of the real Wolfgang in his face. ‘You don’t have to but it might help.’
Wolfgang shook his head. ‘It won’t help.’ He sighed heavily. ‘If only there was a way out …’ He trailed off and tugged Tilly close for a hug. She licked his face.
‘What if there was a way out?’ Will asked, his heart hammering. Maybe this was what he could do to help. Get Wolfgang into witness protection maybe.
Wolfgang looked at him. ‘If there was a way to get me, my mama and Tilly out, then yeah of course I’d go. But there isn’t.’ He sighed. ‘This is my life and I’m stuck with it.’
‘But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can take Tilly and your mama and just leave. We can disappear.’
Wolfgang shook his head sadly. ‘My family is more powerful thank you think, Will. They’d come after us. They’d find us and they would make us pay.’ He looked up into Will’s face. ‘He’s done it before.’
‘There must be something we can do, Wolf. Nothing is impossible and you can have the life you want.’
Wolfgang reached up and touched Will’s cheek tenderly. ‘You’re so idealistic, Liebling. It’s cute. It really is.’ He sighed. ‘But you have no idea what my world is like. There’s no happy ending here, Sußer.’ He stood up.
The hurt and the pain were still there in his eyes but he looked like he had more energy after his conversation with Will. He gazed around the woods for a moment and sighed. ‘This place is the only freedom I can have,’ he murmured. He turned back to Will, leaned down and kissed Will tenderly on the mouth. ‘Thank you,’ he whispered against his mouth.
‘But I didn’t do anything,’ said Will.
Wolfgang smiled, a faint but real smile. ‘Yes you did.’ He turned away. ‘Komm, Tilly.’
Confused but relieved to see that real smile, Will watched Wolfgang and Tilly leave the clearing. He sighed. He didn’t know yet how he could help Wolfgang, except be there for him. Maybe that was enough, just for now. Until he could work out something more.
He sat there a little longer, then returned to the house. He had his duties to be getting on with. Again, he was guarding Wolfgang’s mama’s rooms.
As Wolfgang returned to the house, feeling so much stronger for that little time with Will, he was met by one of the guards with a message from his uncle. He was wanted in the study. As always, his heart sank a little at the request, although not too much. He hadn’t done anything wrong and, if it were both of them, it was most likely about the mission he’d been waiting to hear about.
But still, he couldn’t stop his heart hammering with nerves as he walked through the house to the study. Tilly kept with him and, since he hadn’t been instructed otherwise, he kept her with him as he entered the room.
His uncle was sitting in front of the fire, with his customary glass of brandy. But his father was lounging on the sofa at the far end of the room, seemingly not paying attention. But Wolfgang knew he was.
‘You wanted to see me,’ he said, evenly.
‘You always have to bring that dog with you,’ sneered his father. ‘Are you afraid of us, boy?’
Wolfgang didn’t look at him. His uncle tutted impatiently.
‘We’ve called him here to tell him about his next job, Anton. Try to control your cruelties for a moment.’
Wolfgang kept his face impassive, though his stomach was in knots. Tilly put her head against his thigh and that gave him a little strength. He stayed silent and waited to be told.
‘That club you’re so fond of, you need to go there, tonight and meet a woman names Lila Faccini. She knows you are a Bogdanow but you are to pretend you want to leave us, that you want to defect to her side.’
‘Which side is her side?’ asked Wolfgang, choosing not to comment on the irony of being told to ‘pretend’ he wanted out.
‘She works for a man called Sebastian Fuchs. He is King of the North of Berlin and the only way to him is to through her. Do whatever you can, Wolfgang. Charm her, fuck her if that’s what it takes. Make her trust you.’
‘To what end?’
‘Are you stupid?’ spat Anton.
Wolfgang glanced at him, pushing down the flare of anger in his belly. ‘I assume this is yet another plan to conquer another kingdom, because the last one that resulted in the deaths of twenty people did so well.’
Anton jerked up, anger making his eyes flare. ‘How dare you speak to me like that, boy? Do you want me to beat you again?’ He smirked. ‘Is it something more you crave?’
‘Sit down, Anton. How would it look to the beautiful Miss Faccini if you beat the boy black and blue?’
Anton growled in frustration, then sat down.
Wolfgang kept back his smile at seeing his father put in his place a little. If there was one person who had some control over his father, it was his uncle. Just most of the time, he chose not to use it.
‘This time, we’re choosing stealth,’ said his uncle. ‘You’re a clever boy, Wolfgang. We trust you to infiltrate successfully.’
‘Do I have free reign with this? To accomplish this how I think is appropriate?’
His father made a noise but Sergei silenced him with a raised hand.
‘Yes, but you’re to report to me daily.’
Sergei nodded. ‘Excellent. We have faith in you, Wolfgang. You will start tonight?’
Wolfgang nodded. ‘I will.’ He turned. ‘Komm, Tilly,’ he said and left, without waiting for permission. They needed him for this and they weren’t about to damage their asset.
Will had learned that guarding Wolfgang’s mother’s room was one of the quietest positions in his new job. He had been told not to let anyone but the Bogdanow brothers past without permission but he had no intention of stopping Wolfgang if he wanted to go in. He’d also been told not to let Irina herself out.
Will was more and more convinced that he needed to get Wolfgang and his mama out of here. He just didn’t know how he was going to do it yet. But he had to get them away from here. Neither of them were safe in this damn house.
He’d been on duty for nearly two hours when he heard a noise from behind the door. It was the first time he’d ever heard any noise from Irina. He kept still and listened. There was another thud and then what sounded like a soft cry.
His heart hammering, Will listened, doubting himself on what to do. He had been told not to go inside. But if there was an emergency, if there was something wrong, he had to help.
There was another cry, then a wail and Will darted inside, without even pausing to glance around to make sure there was nobody coming, he darted inside.
Immediately, his gaze found Irina. She was huddled up in the corridor, almost completely curled up in a ball and sobbing into her arms.
Suddenly, he didn’t know what to do. It had been a long time since he’d seen her. Would she even remember him? Would she feel safe with him? Or would she see him as just the Bogdanow Brothers’ guard, the staff of people who had hurt her.
‘I’m Will,’ he said, softly. She didn’t look up.
‘Irina, I’m a friend of Wolfgang’s. I want to help. What’s wrong?’
She looked up and it took all his training not to gasp. She looked so different than he remembered. It wasn’t just the ragged scar below the line of her hair. She was thinner, more aged than she should be. But the thing that really challenged his composure was the look in her blue eyes. It was the same look he’d seen in Wolfgang’s eyes, that dead, hopeless look, like their souls were already dead.
But he was relieved to see that she didn’t look afraid of him. He crouched down, keeping eye contact. ‘I knew you when I was a boy,’ he said. ‘You were always kind to me. I’d like to help if I can.’
She didn’t say anything and he began to wonder if she could speak. He glanced up again at the scar. From an operation maybe? He realised suddenly that he was shaking and seemed incapable of asking for what she wanted, what she needed.
He sat down on the floor beside her. ‘It’s okay, Irina. You’re safe here with me. I’m your friend.’
She looked at him for a moment, then sat down next to him and lay her head on his shoulder. Carefully he put his arm around her and she leaned in and started to sob again. Will just murmured softly to her and rubbed her back, hoping to comfort her a little.
After a little while, he took out his phone and texted Seb. Do me a favour, get Wolfgang to come to the top floor. Tell him Will wants him. He knew he could trust Seb not to blab.
‘Wolfgang’s coming,’ he said to Irina. ‘He’ll be here soon.’
Irina just held onto him as she sobbed.
Wolfgang was in bedroom, curled up around Tilly and trying to keep his mind focused on the mission and not on … the other stuff. It was harder without the vodka but he had to stay sober. Later he needed to keep his head together. He was going to go down to the club and see if he could make a connection with Lila. He didn’t know her but from the photo he’d seen of her, he remembered seeing her around a little at the club but he was reasonably sure she wasn’t there for pleasure.
A sudden knock on his door startled him and Tilly growled. He got up and went to the door, bracing himself for the intrusion. He was surprised to see one of the guards, one of the door guards who he knew didn’t have a particular allegiance.
‘Er, can I help you?’
‘Will says he wants you on the top floor.’ He shrugged. ‘No idea you why but said I’d pass the message on.’
Seb gave him a nod, then walked away.
Wolfgang looked back at Tilly, who was watching him expectantly. ‘Komm, Tilly,’ he said and headed off. If Will wanted to see him, he had no objection to going, none at all.
He smiled a bit as he locked his bedroom door behind him. It was only when he had one foot on the stairs to the top floor that he realised that if Will wanted to see him on the top floor, he must be with his mama. Scheiße. He rubbed his hand through his hair. What would he think? How could he explain what had happened?
He kept going up the stairs, with Tilly following closely at his heels. The door to the corridor was shut but there was no guard on it. He opened the door and went inside, locking it from the inside before turning.
Will was sitting on the ground, his arm around Wolfgang’s mama. Her head was buried in his chest and she was crying.
‘What’s happened?’ he asked.
Will looked up. ‘I just heard her crying. She won’t tell me why.’
Wolfgang shifted awkwardly. ‘She can’t.’
Will didn’t question him but Wolfgang could see the information going into his head. He headed over. Tilly was ahead of him, already trotting over to his mama’s side and putting her head on her lap.
‘Mama, it’s okay, you’re safe,’ Wolfgang said, sitting down on her other side and putting his arm around her waist. His arm brushed Will’s and a pleasant tingle went through him.
‘Nobody’s going to hurt you,’ he murmured, finding her hand and stroking it.
Gradually, she stopped crying and rested, still and quiet, in their arms. Wolfgang looked across at Will and was surprised to see his gaze on his mama, watching her with tender concern plain on his expressive face. He was stroking her hair with such care and tenderness, something Wolfgang wasn’t used to.
Fuck, he knew he needed to stop himself feeling the things he was starting to feel about Will. It wasn’t safe to feel that, not in this house. But he just couldn’t help it. Will was making it impossible to not to. He was falling in love with him.
‘It was the last time we ran away,’ said Wolfgang suddenly.
They were still in the corridor, sitting on the floor with their arms around Irina. She wasn’t crying anymore but she made no signs of wanting either of them to go.
Will glanced at him, frowning in confusion. ‘What was?’
Wolfgang took a long, deep breath. ‘When Mama got hurt.’ She glanced at Will, then away. He focused on his hand, gently caressing his mama’s hair. Will just watched him, not wanting to push him.
‘It … wasn’t long after you went back to the states. A few months maybe. I didn’t want … there was all this shit going on … my father … and I was sick of it. I … I told Mama what he was doing … what … was happening.’
‘What … what was happening, Wolfie?’ Will asked, cautiously.
Wolfgang briefly met his eyes, then his gaze skirted away and he stared off into the distance in silence for a moment. Will could feel him trying to get control of himself. Then he started to speak again.
‘She was angry, so angry I’ve never seen her like that before. She wanted to confront him. I begged her to leave it, said we should just go. So we took off, in the middle of the night, just us.’
‘He came after us. We almost got to the train station.’
Irina whimpered and grasped Will’s shirt tightly. Wolfgang held her hand, rubbing his thumb gently across the back of it.
‘It … it was bad when he caught us. I’ve still got the scars and … Mama … well, he nearly killed her.’ He looked at his mama, gazing at her face. Yet his expression was twisted with the pain in his memory. ‘He had a car waiting to take her to hospital. It wasn’t a loss of temper or control. He wanted to hurt her badly enough to go to hospital. He wanted to punish her. She had had to have an operation. It saved her life but afterwards, she was like that.’
‘What did he do to you, Wolfgang?’ Will asked, softly.
Wolfgang looked down at his lap. ‘He took me back home and showed me he could do what he liked with me. I couldn’t fight it, because I knew what he would do.’
Will didn’t know what to say. He thought, maybe, that he knew what Wolfgang meant. But it couldn’t be. Surely? Not to his own son. Wolfgang wasn’t going to say it, he knew. Maybe he would never say exactly what Anton had done. Maybe he couldn’t say it.
Will didn’t know what to do. There was nothing he could do, except be there. He reached out and laid his hand on top of Wolfgang’s, where it gripped his mama’s hand.
Wolfgang looked up at him, gratitude in his eyes but also, that hopelessness was still there. ‘Do you see why we can’t leave? He doesn’t care what he does to us.’
‘But it can’t get any worse, can it? Isn’t it worth the risk to get out now? You don’t deserve to live like this.’
Wolfgang gave an empty smile. ‘Things can always get worse, Schatz. Don’t imagine he’d leave you alone if you helped us try to escape.’
‘I’m not frightened of him.’
Wolfgang shook his head. ‘Then you haven’t seen enough yet.’ He sighed. ‘Look, it’s not just what he can physically do. We’re one of the most powerful families in the country. Getting away without being caught would be more difficult than breaking into a bank.’
To break the tension, Will smiled a little. ‘After seeing you break into that safe, I reckon you could do that too.’
Wolfgang smiled but all too briefly. ‘I’m serious, Will. If you’re going to stay here, you need to stop thinking about me getting out of here. It’s just not possible. If you can’t do that, then maybe you should go back to the States.’
Will looked back at him for a moment, then nodded. He didn’t speak because he didn’t want to make a promise he couldn’t keep. There was no way he was going to give up on getting Wolfgang out. He just had to think of a plan and keep it to himself until he knew what he was doing.
Wolfgang shifted. ‘Come on, Mama, lets get you back in your room.’
Together, they helped Irina up and Tilly kept with them as they guided her back into her room.
‘Thank you,’ Wolfgang said, once they’d got her settled in her lounge and walked back into the corridor. ‘For looking after her.’
Will looked at him. ‘She needed help.’
Then Wolfgang gave him a real smile, before reaching out and cupping his jaw. He pulled him close for a kiss, one so full of feeling that Will could barely breathe. ‘You’re a hero, Schatz,’ he murmured against his lip.
He pulled back and there was that sadness in his eyes again. ‘But you can’t save me.’ He turned away. ‘Komm, Tilly,’ he said and walked away, the dog following close beside him.
Wolfgang returned to his room feeling warm all over. What had he done to deserve Will? Someone so full of kindness and love. He was so optimistic, so certain that everything would work out all right eventually.
He wished he could have that sort of optimism. He smiled suddenly as he remembered his mama telling him once that he was an optimist. He’d only been a little boy before … before everything was quite this bad. It hadn’t been good but all he’d known was that sometimes his father shouted, sometimes they had to get away from his temper, sometimes his mama was scared.
It was one of those times and they’d gone to the zoo. He’d loved to sit and watch the tigers with her. He hadn’t noticed when he was really little how sad she would get. But he’d noticed that day. It had been a hopeless sadness, as if she’d known even back then that there was no way out. It had taken him some time to realise that for himself.
Will would realise it too and he’d get himself out. Wolfgang hoped he did, that he got himself to safety. And until he did, Wolfgang would be glad to have him around, so he could keep feeling that warmth.
‘Where have you been?’ asked an unwelcome voice.
Wolfgang looked up and glared at Steiner. ‘Seeing my mother. What’s it got to do with you?’
Steiner smirked. ‘How is the vegetable?’
Anger blazed in Wolfgang and before he knew it, he was grabbing his cousin by the throat and shoving him hard against the wall, not giving a damn about the consequences. Tilly leaped at him, barking, but keeping back.
‘You fucking dare say anything about my mother and I’ll fucking kill you.’
Steiner glared at him, then pushed him off. ‘All right, all right. Fucking psycho.’
Wolfgang was pleased to see he looked a little rattled. ‘What do you want, Steiner?’
‘My father told me you’re going undercover. I want in.’
‘What does he say about that?’
‘He said you should make use of me if you can.’
Wolfgang smirked. ‘Well I can’t. Stay away from it, Steiner. I’ve got it all under control.’
Steiner scowled. ‘You’re useless. You’ll never succeed at this.’
Wolfgang kept his smirk on his face. ‘Well, if I fail, I’m sure your father will put you in charge.’
Steiner glared at him, clearly picking up the undertones in his voice. ‘You need to watch yourself, Wolfgang.’
Wolfgang laughed. ‘Why? You don’t think I’m afraid of you, do you?’
Leaving Steiner speechless, he turned away and entered his room. Tilly waited to growl at Steiner again before following her master into his room.