Still dressed in the same tux I wore to the funeral, I step into the Florida sun. Erik has several weeks on me and this is the only lead. The humid air settles around my shoulders as I leave behind the private plane and slip into the black Hummer waiting for me.
My driver is a woman in a leopard print dress with red headphones looped around her thin neck. She slides sunglasses down her nose to look at me in the rear view mirror. “Looking hot as magma, Mr. Firoli.”
I shake my head at her. Any other time I would give into the gentle teasing. I would probably say something back about her appearance and wind up getting her number to meet me at my hotel room. It’s definitely my reputation preceding me that she felt safe enough to say something. This isn’t that kind of trip, though.
Taking out my phone, I start to scroll through my notes while she pulls out of this makeshift lot in the middle of swampy land. Erik vanished three weeks ago. He called me the day before and joked that he would put me in charge of his funeral if anything happened. Well, something happened.
I saw the crime scene. His apartment was destroyed. There’s no way my brother staged it on his own. I had the blood spatter tested. All of it came back as his. There’s no evidence of a single other person in that place.
I saw his body. Just the one time after I got the call. I wouldn’t let my parents make the identification.
I went to the damn funeral and I’m no closer to having any real answers.
God, I can’t breathe. Sticking my fingers under my tie, I pull it away from my neck. Not enough. I’m not here to look nice for anyone. I take the black tie off and toss it onto the seat next to me. My jacket is next. This woman works for my family. She’ll have it cleaned and sent back or I can just buy a new tux before the next funeral.
“You hungry, Sir? I know a place that does great spaghetti and Italian doughnuts.”
She’s being kind. I know that. I understand it, but I do not have time for it. “Just take me where you were previously instructed.”
Her hands tighten on the steering wheel. “My apologies, Sir. I just didn’t take you for a guy who likes tiki huts.”
I’m not. I quite frankly don’t like most of America, especially not tourist areas that hand out alcohol like it’s the source of fortune and health. If it was my choice, I would never set foot out of Italy. However, my brother is missing and I’ve promised to not leave a single stone unturned in my search for him.
I don’t give her an answer. It doesn’t matter what kind of man she thinks I am. She’s in charge of driving me there and then we’ll go our separate ways.
There’s an important meeting I need to take care of between me and the “tour guide.”
Erik mentioned the guy once in the last six months. They met on a dating app. Erik thought he was funny and might plan to come out here to see him in person.
That was it.
Not something for his big brother to worry about or stick his nose in. At least, it wasn’t until all of the research I could obtain through hacking his computer turned up this guy as the last person to talk to Erik.
Not three weeks ago, but three days ago.
While I stood through funeral arrangements and recitals for the big event, this guy was texting Erik. He told my brother that he was enamored with him, that he hoped his new life was going to work out, and that they would meet again. I cringed by the way he mentioned his love for Erik, not because they’re both men, but because nobody should ever say they’re “magnetized” to another human being.
The armored car cuts through the crowded streets, leaving behind beach shops and girls in bikinis as we maneuver our way to the bar this guy is known to work. He’s expecting my brother. I changed all of the passwords and took over Erik’s accounts two days ago. He’s either going to have to go through me or continue to pretend that he’s a dead man living in this country.
I haven’t told anyone else my suspicions. I held my father as he sobbed by the closed casket this morning. My mother stood over the grave as they piled each and every last bit of dirt back onto the grand plot. They’re good people. They shouldn’t have to live through losing a child.
They especially shouldn’t have to when it’s all fake.
I let my fingers tap away at the phone until I pull up my text thread with my mother. Be careful. She said it twelve times in the span of a couple of hours. I’m her only remaining child, for as much as she knows, and she’s terrified that something is going to happen to me as well. Scrolling to the bottom, I type out a quick message to let her know I’m okay, I’ve arrived, and I’ll be out of contact for a few hours while I deal with business.
She thinks I’m out here expanding my body guarding enterprise to American soil. I probably should do that while I’m here just so I don’t have to deal with the guilt of lying to her. There’s no reason to get her hopes up that I can bring Erik home until I have my hands on the motherfucker and find out why he put us through this in the first place.
It has to be something bad. Erik has always had a rebellious spirit. He fights for the smaller guy. There’s at least a dozen scuffles I’ve pulled him out of or had to clean him up from because he wouldn’t let someone be bullied. It’s a good look on him. The hero. Even after coming out queer, he was a part of the family life and welcome at ever function. Our distant relatives don’t understand it so much, but our parents and I have always been there for him.
This has to be something else and it has to be really, really bad for him to not mention it to any of us.
I don’t want to string together false theories, so I let my eyes mindlessly browse images on my phone. There’s no telling if this is drug or gang related. My family has had problems with those topics in the past. I’m old enough to understand that my parents don’t run a regular bakery. There’s shady deals made in the back of the store and odd shipments that come in during the late hours of the night. My father is the face of the business, passing down age old recipes from his mother and his mother’s mother and keeping people happy with his desserts while my mother does more than just housekeeping at the end of the night.
She has never told me more about her extra activities and I’ve only asked once. Just before I left for college. It was late at night. There had been blood on her apron. I asked if it was safe for me to leave or if she would rather I invest in the family business and stay to help her.
Go. Make a better life. She wouldn’t condemn me to carry the burden of her career.
Erik stayed home longer than I did, though. He didn’t leave for college right away and I was gone for a handful of years while I completed my business degree. Could he have known more? If so, is this the reason he has gone into hiding? Wouldn’t my mother know something?
Her eyes were rimmed with red this morning and her fingers shook when she pulled me in for a hug. That wasn’t an act. She lost a son and almost couldn’t bear letting me walk away.
I’m going to fix this for us. No matter what this takes. Erik is going to come home and my family will be whole once again.
The car eventually stops. I slip the woman a twenty as I thank her for the ride and then excuse her of her duties. I won’t be needing someone to pick me up. I’m plenty capable of taking care of things on my own.
My black carry-on in my left hand, I stride towards the bar. Neon lights twinkle around the roof, beckoning tourists to stop in and try a fruity beverage. There’s wood etchings of Hawaiian deities and some signs with quotes dangling around the door. Well, the curtain. This place has beads covering the entrance.
I blow out a sigh. I can make this quick. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot the guy I need after all of the mostly naked pictures I’ve gone through in the last forty-eight hours. He’ll give me my answers and I’ll be on my way. No need to stay and try a coconut hurricane.
As if to prove my point, I step into the dim interior and blink to clear my vision, my eardrums immediately accosted by the awful singing of a clearly inebriated man. Not any man. TourGuide1986. Got him.
Waving off a waitress that offers me a drink menu, I watch the man finish his song. Thin, dressed in a tank top, board shorts, and flip flops, he has no chance of getting out of here without dealing with me. He falls to his knees as he finishes the ridiculously long note at the end of the song. I am going to be merciless about teasing Erik. This cannot possibly be his kind of person. My brother is so level-headed and kind. This man, Mr. TourGuide1986, is a fool.
He waves for the crowd to demand an encore, but they boo him off of the stage. Helped down by a security guard, he staggers down to a booth in the back corner. Clearly, he spends a lot of time here. Nobody steps into his way and the table is clearly filled with all of his empty beverage glasses for the night.
I waste no time joining him there, setting my bag amongst the chaos on the tabletop as I slide in next to him, cutting off any chance for him to escape. “We need to talk.”
TourGuide1986 lolls his head from one side to the other, cracking his neck in the process as he moves his thigh against mine. “Well, hello there, Sir. Are you extremely happy to see me or is that a revolver in your pocket?”
“Sober up or you’re about to find out,” I snap, more frustrated by the second as I come to understand that this worthless human being is the only tie I have to my lost brother.
Erik better be healthy when I find him. He better be in the best shape of his life because I’m going to strangle him when we finally have a moment alone. This man, this entire situation, is a ridiculous detour from my otherwise perfect life and I do not have time for it.
Seeming to use all of the effort in his body, he blinks his eyes a few times and then reaches across the table for an empty glass, slurping the last bits of the long gone drink from the ice cubes. “Look, if Benji sent you, I’m getting his money together. We don’t have to play hard to get. I’ll even take you to a private room and-.”
Nope. Not what we’re here for. I don’t let him finish the thought and offer before curling my fist in his flimsy shirt and pressing him into the darkened corner of our booth.
“My brother, Erik. What do you know?”
“Erik,” his glass falls out of his hand, spilling ice into his lap as he wraps shaking fingers around my wrist. “Erik, Erik, Erik. I don’t know man. I don’t think I know an Erik. You must have the-.”
I slam my fist on the table. Another person has started singing at the front of the room. It covers up the clinking of glasses in our area as I dip my face into his and drop my voice to a threatening whisper.
“Do not tell me I have the wrong guy right now. Erik Firoli. You’ve been in contact with him.” Blowing out a deep breath, I switch tactics. “QueerItalian93. That ring a bell?”
“Ooooooh.” He excitedly taps my wrist. “Yeah, man. I know him.” Eyes rolling back in his head, he lets out a hearty laugh. “Do I know him. That guy is one fine-.”
Why am I putting myself through this? Is my brother really worth it? He’s clearly gotten into some bad shit with bad people and it isn’t really my responsibility to clean up after him.
Even if I wanted to, I can’t walk away until this is finished. I won’t go home to my parents without Erik. I’m going to fix everything.
It is my goddamn job.
“I don’t care what you think of him. I know you’re not really a tour guide and I’m pretty sure he saw you a few days ago to pick up some forged papers. Where the Hell did you send my brother?”
The red-faced fool fumbles his words. “Look, man, I can’t just be telling you these things. There’s like client confidentiality or whatever.”
I tighten my grip. “You can tell me or we can go outside, so I can show you what the fuck’s in my pocket. Where is Erik?”
Snot dribbles from his oversized nostrils and his long, blond bangs fall into his eyes as he tries to shrink out of my hold. “No, man. It’s okay. We don’t have to do any of that. I got him an I.D. That’s it. He could go anywhere with it.”
I swear, if he makes me ask him again…
I don’t have to, though, as his nervous tongue keeps talking. “Vegas, okay? He told me that there’s a job waiting for him in Las Vegas. Nevada. You need a map. I’ll mark it down for you. Vegas. I promise that’s the best place to go. He probably didn’t even need fake I.D., but he’s covered now and anyone out in that godforsaken desert will employ him without a question. Vegas,” he repeats, his bloodshot eyes wild as he searches my face for a scrap of mercy, “I know it’s Vegas. Vegas is my final answer. You wanna find your brother, you go there.”
It’s a lead. Not the most concrete evidence out there, but I’m already grasping at straws and in over my head. I’ll take what I can get.
“I find out that you’re lying to me,” our faces are an inch apart, his acrid breath washing over my face as I keep my threats between us, “I’ll be back. It wasn’t hard to find you.”
There’s no reason to wait for his response. Dropping my hand, I slide back out of the booth and pick my bag off of the table. No one turns to watch me leave.
Las Vegas, Nevada.
I thought Florida was far for him to run.
I still don’t know what’s wrong with Erik, but if he felt the need to fake his death and get fake identification in a different country, it’s something real bad. It won’t be today and likely won’t be tomorrow, but I’m going to find him and get to the bottom of this. Family matters more than anything else. No drunk forger is going to stop me from finding my brother. The Devil himself could try to chain me down and I would break away.
My phone buzzes and I answer without checking the screen. “Yeah?”
“Is this Malcolm Firoli?”
The full force of the Florida sunset beating down on me, I pause at the accented voice on the other side of the line. “Who’s asking?”
“Gideon Carter. Your secretary passed on this personal number. I have an urgent job for you.”
I shake my head. I’ll have to reprimand Amy for that. This is the third time she’s given a potential client my personal number. “I’m sorry, Sir, but I’m out of town right now. I won’t be able to set up a new account at the moment. If you want to call back at my office, then-.”
“Money isn’t a problem. There’s a woman in trouble. I am willing to do anything I can to get her the best security in the world right now.”
How am I supposed to say no to that? Erik’s currently evading me. I may as well set up an American account while I’m looking for my brother.
“Where is she?”
Well, that’s just purely convenient. “Name?”
“Lucy Lore. She’s a burlesque dancer.”
I don’t need to ask anymore questions. “Fine. You’ve got a bodyguard. Call the office back to finalize details. I’m on my way to Nevada for another job anyway.”
He doesn’t hang up right away. “Mr. Firoli, there’s something else I can only tell you.”
Shit. This is about to be one of those prank calls. “What?” I bite out, fighting every instinct to just hang up.
The next statement out of his mouth makes no sense and all the sense in the world at the same time. I know why Erik left. There are greater evils in the world than those brought forth by regular men. Plenty of good men fall ill or are overtaken by this specific evil. My mother is terrified one of us will fall prey to the disease online articles are coining as Stoker’s virus.
They’re real and they’re going to hurt this girl.
Their influence has been growing in Italy. Erik must have made a bad connection with one of them. He fled the country to keep us safe, to keep us from being the next victims of this growing bioweapon.
“I understand the danger, Mr. Carter. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
He murmurs his thanks as I turn off my phone and tuck it back into my pocket. There’s some supplies I’ll need to gather before I head to this job. Enough gear to protect myself and this girl and my brother.
It’s a good thing that playing the hero pays well.
Thank you for reading this far! I hope you enjoyed the introduction into Malcolm Firoli’s mind and the tiny peek at the end of his importance to the overall story. I cannot wait to come back next week with something else for you all!
As always, please take a moment to read through my writing partner’s story, too!
2 thoughts on “Florida Isn’t Far Enough”
This was a fun and exciting read! Your use of descriptions and dialogue is always impressive. I was fully invested immediately in finding Erik and enjoyed this introduction to Malcolm. I love how you used the words this week, especially using tourguide as a user name. So clever. I want to know what happens in Vegas—I have a feeling it’s nothing good.
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Thank you!! I didn’t know if this would play out as too cheesy using the usernames!
Malcolm and Erik play into the main plot line for Lucy’s novel, so not sure how much I’ll share before the book is published, but I can definitely say that they are a handful and will keep things incredibly interesting ❤️