A Place of Safety ~ Chapter 9: The Villain Returns

Dominic now coped more easily with the stresses of working away from home. He’d always been aware that the technical aspects of the job were well within his competence but he often found it a strain staying on his own in a hotel and having to interact with strangers throughout the day. But Jude’s firm instructions, coupled with plenty of gentle encouragement, had given him greater confidence in dealing with clients and colleagues. When he arrived at the start of a new project he now knew that he looked every inch the competent young executive. Thanks to Jude’s makeover, he was no longer written off as the computer geek from head office and he’d learnt that making a good first impression was half the battle.

Not that his latest project had been a battle. He’d been staying in a luxury hotel in Manchester for most of the week whilst evaluating the IT requirements for a new office which Semdar was planning to open in England’s second city. The recently appointed director of the regional office was a Mancunian whose bluff, northern, plain speaking suited Dominic’s literal understanding of language and the two of them were soon getting along well. Dominic was much taken with the nineteenth century grandeur of the great industrial city and was delighted that the company’s newest offices were to be housed in a stone building constructed in the elaborate, Victorian Gothic style. By the time he was ready to pack his bags and head home, Dominic felt he had a clear idea of what was needed to equip the Manchester office and he was looking forward to working on costings and specifications when he got back to his desk at Semdar’s London headquarters.

As he sped down the M6 his heart lifted at the thought of going home to Jude Merrow.  He still marvelled at the way his life had changed for the better since he and Jude had got together. It had little to do with moving out of his cramped, rented flat into the luxury of Jude’s spacious home, although he had never imagined that he would be enjoying such an affluent lifestyle so soon after leaving university. What filled him with joy was the thought that there was someone waiting for him at home; someone who would be eager to hear about his adventures, who always understood his anxieties and perplexities, who praised and encouraged him, who steadied him and buoyed him up and, above all, who loved him for who and what he was.

It had taken Dominic some time to understand that he was loved so unequivocally. It was a new experience for him to be the centre of another man’s life, especially a man as handsome, considerate and competent as Semdar’s Project Manager, and he had initially suspected that Jude was motivated primarily by pity. Dominic had feared that he would prove too needy, too demanding of Jude’s time and attention, to become his long term partner. Only frequent reassurance, backed up by lived experience, finally convinced Dominic that the very characteristics which he felt must disqualify him from a permanent relationship were the ones which Jude found attractive. Far from finding his need for structure and discipline a burden, Jude seemed to relish having a young man to support, to guide, to correct and to love.

Eventually Dominic came to understand that he was loved with all the ardour, joy and devotion which he himself felt for Jude.  Not only that, he had gradually been persuaded that Jude had admired him, lusted after him even, long before he himself had recognised a reciprocal attraction towards his boss. He knew he was in a relationship which not only met his own needs; it also enabled him to meet the needs of his partner. The certainty that he gave as much as he received and that Jude found him sexy and desirable empowered him to face the world with a new found confidence. Jude was the source of his strength and his self-belief, and he couldn’t wait to get home to the man who would have a meal in the oven and a bottle of wine ready chilled to celebrate his return. There would be a leisurely conversation over dinner, sharing all the information and impressions which could not be conveyed during their evening telephone calls. They would probably watch a bit of television after dinner, with Dominic curled up beside Jude on the sofa, and then, by mutual consent, they’d call it a day and retire early to bed, not necessarily to sleep. Dominic smiled at the thought. Colleagues at work would be amazed to know that the reserved and correct Mr Merrow could be so vocal and uninhibited in bed. Dominic looked forward to ending the day falling into a post orgasmic slumber, wrapped securely in his lover’s arms.

His plans for the evening hit a bit of a setback as he approached the outskirts of London. He’d had a clear run down the M6 but as soon as he joined the M25 the traffic slowed to its customary crawl on the London orbital motorway. He considered using his hands free phone to let Jude know he’d be late for dinner but finally decided to wait and see if the jam eased after he’d passed the Heathrow spur. There was still a chance he could make up for lost time and he didn’t want to disappoint Jude unnecessarily. He turned on the radio to check for traffic updates and caught the end of the BBC news. What he heard turned his blood to ice.

The police were appealing for help to trace a young man who’d been missing for over a week. Dominic had read about the disappearance in the newspaper but it had not made much of an impression on him. However, it seemed that new evidence was now emerging. James Evans, who lived alone, was thought to be gay and had been in the habit of accessing bondage websites on his computer.  The police apologised for releasing embarrassing and distressing details about the missing man but they hoped that, by doing so, they might elicit valuable information from members of the public.  It was believed that Evans may have visited a gay club known for its fetish nights, possibly in company with an older man who was driving a dark coloured sports car. If anyone had any information about the missing man, his companion or the vehicle he was driving, they were urged to contact the police.

An insistent blast on the horn from the car behind alerted Dominic to the fact that the stationary traffic was once again on the move. He had sat in frozen shock from the moment he heard mention of the sport car. He was reliving the experience of sitting in Chris Wilkins’s sporty black roadster inside the garage which was later to become his prison.

Mercifully that imprisonment had been short lived, thanks to Sarah Powell’s quick thinking and Jude Merrow’s dogged determination to effect a rescue. Despite Jude’s subsequent attempts at persuasion, however, Dominic had been resolute in his refusal to report Chris Wilkins to the police. He couldn’t face the prospect of his own naivety being made known, to say nothing of the fact that he'd gone willingly with his kidnapper and consented to being tied up and even to being flogged.

In the circumstances, the likelihood of a conviction for false imprisonment and assault struck him as being remote and he knew enough about the criminal justice system to appreciate that he would be the subject of hostile cross examination in court. He could not endure the thought of such public humiliation, and the prospect of his mother reading about the case in the paper filled him with horror. He was adamant that there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost by going to the police who, he suspected, were unlikely to by sympathetic to a gay man who had dabbled so disastrously with bondage and domination.

What Dominic had never fully appreciated was the fact that his silence left Chris Wilkins free to perpetrate a similar subterfuge on another unsuspecting young man who might not be so lucky to escape. It was only then, sitting at the wheel of his car in a traffic jam on the M25, that the possible consequences of his decision to remain silent struck him with full force. He was suddenly sure that Wilkins was the man the police were searching for and he was overwhelmed by the thought that his own cowardice might have contributed directly to fate of James Evans. He slipped his car into gear and inched forward but his mind was consumed with anxiety for a young man who might, even at that moment, be suffering at the hands of a sadistic kidnapper.

By contrast, Jude had never been in any doubt about the threat posed by Chris Wilkins but he had reluctantly acquiesced to Dominic’s unwavering resolve to remain silent. In the early days of their relationship, Jude was still getting to grips with Dominic’s apparent inability to see a situation from another person’s point of view. He couldn’t quite decide whether Dominic was just blocking out the risks of leaving Chris Wilkins free to reoffend or whether he truly hadn’t considered the full implication of his determination to take no further action.

With the benefit of hindsight, Jude came to the conclusion that there was an element of deliberate self deception but it was magnified by Dominic’s difficulty with empathic understanding. At the time, however, Jude’s first priority was Dominic’s wellbeing and he had no intention of adding to the young man’s mental anguish by playing on his guilt feelings. He made no attempt to force Dominic to report the assault by making him feel responsible for anyone else. He contented himself with ensuring that Wilkins’s employment with Semdar was terminated and he was relieved when the caretaker facilitated that process by not reporting for work.  It had taken much longer for Dominic to recover from the trauma of his encounter with Wilkins and Jude suspected that he would never totally get over the experience.

As Dominic had hoped, the traffic eased once he passed the Heathrow turn off and he calculated that he wouldn’t be much above an hour late. He decided not to telephone Jude, knowing that his partner would make allowances for the almost inevitable delays at that time in the evening. The reality, of course, was that his mind was in such turmoil that he didn’t feel ready to converse with Jude, even on such a straightforward topic as his estimated time of arrival. He was so upset by what he’d heard on the radio news that he was quite incapable of thinking straight. He felt he ought to inform the police of his suspicions but he was unsure how to go about contacting them. When he tried to work out what he would have to tell them, the flashbacks to the abuse he suffered during his captivity were so intense and distressing that he struggled to drive safely in the dense and fast moving traffic.

It was a relief when he got off the motorway and could drive more slowly down the minor roads leading home. All the joy of coming back to Jude had drained away and he was actually dreading getting to the house. He had barely parked his car on the drive when the front door opened and Jude stood on the doorstep wearing an apron over his suit. He had clearly got straight on with the cooking as soon as he arrived home from work, without even taking the time to change. “Welcome home, love,” he said as Dominic got out of the car, and he walked over to open the boot and retrieve Dominic’s luggage.

“Thanks,” responded Dominic mechanically, lifting his cheek to accept the kiss of welcome. His clipped tone and controlled movements all signalled to Jude that something was wrong but he didn’t want to start asking questions before Dominic had even entered the house. He feared that things might not have gone well in Manchester but it was also possible that his partner was just tired after a stressful day and a long drive home.

“I’ve got the dinner on but you’ve got plenty of time to have a shower and get changed before we eat. Or I can postpone the meal if you want to lie down first and have a nap. I take it you had a difficult journey back.”

“Fine until I hit the M25. Just the usual holdups.”

“Did you wrap up the job in Manchester alright?” Jude enquired lightly as they crossed the threshold. He didn’t want to pressurise Dominic and he was acutely conscious that, as Dominic’s line manager, he always ran the risk of bringing too much work related discussion into their home life. On the other hand, Dominic found it more difficult to compartmentalise his experiences and, if things were going wrong at work, his worries would spill over into all aspects of his relationship with Jude.

“Yes. The new man up there was easy to work with. I’ve got everything I need to complete the project.” His words were at odds with his demeanour which showed none of his customary animation and enthusiasm. Jude was certain that he hadn’t misread Dominic’s keenness for the Manchester assignment when they’d spoken on the phone. Dominic had sounded as though he was enjoying himself and had given no hint a problem. This all led Jude to conclude that whatever was upsetting his volatile young partner must have occurred on the final day.

Dominic took his suitcase from Jude’s hand and headed upstairs without further comment. Jude went back into the kitchen, turned the heat down on the oven and made himself a cup of coffee. He’d been looking forward to a happy evening with his partner, celebrating a successful conclusion to the first stage of Dominic’s latest project and hearing him talk about his experiences in Manchester.  He’d missed the young man’s company and conversation so fiercely over the last few days that he’d found himself counting down the hours until his return. Jude Merrow had always considered himself something of a loner, perfectly content with his own company, but that had all changed when he met Dominic McAvinchey.  He was surprised by the speed with which Dominic’s companionship had become essential to his happiness and by the strength of his own determination to care for and protect the young man.

He sat at the kitchen table sipping the hot coffee. Clearly the evening was not going to pan out as planned but Jude was unconcerned and not in the least bit disappointed. He was deep in thought about possible causes for Dominic’s current distress and possible methods for persuading him to divulge the source of his worry. Jude was supremely confident that once he knew the problem he would be able to formulate a strategy to deal with it. In his experience, the things which Dominic considered too dreadful to mention were easily tackled once they were out in the open.  His ongoing difficulty was getting Dominic himself to grasp that simple truth.

When he heard the water stop running in the bathroom he took a cup of coffee upstairs for Dominic and, finding the bathroom door locked, he placed the coffee on the bedside table.

“I’ve left a hot drink for you in the bedroom,” he shouted as he hung up his suit and changed into casual dress for the evening.


“What do you want me to do about dinner?”

“I’ll be down directly.”

“Sure you don’t want a rest before you eat?”

“Quite sure.”

There was nothing to take exception to in that exchange but nothing to reassure either. Dominic was giving nothing away. Half an hour later they embarked on the meal in studied silence. Eventually Dominic found himself yearning for alcohol in the hope that it would quiet his churning thoughts and help him relax. “Aren’t we having wine with the meal?” he asked. “I thought you’d have a bottle ready for tonight.”

“I had a special bottle on ice but I think we both need clear heads for what we have to talk about after dinner.” Jude’s reply was delivered in calm and friendly tones but it brought Dominic’s head up in alarm.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t start playing games, Dominic.” Only the steady and meaningful look which accompanied that statement gave any indication that Jude was not going to stand for any prevarication. Dominic naively wondered how Jude so unerringly identified when he was worried or upset.

“I’m not playing games,” he said, trying to suppress the slight whine which he could detect in his own tone. “I’m tired and I’ve got a headache coming on, that’s all. I’m not in the mood to have any sort of conversation tonight.”

“In which case, I’m surprised you asked for wine. You never want to drink alcohol when you’re getting a headache.”

Dominic cursed his own tactical error which had exposed the lie. He decided it was safest to say nothing more and Jude appeared unconcerned by the lack of response when he described his own activities during Dominic’s absence and passed on some of the office gossip. Despite his best efforts, Dominic’s thoughts kept returning the missing man and the question of whether he should communicate his suspicions to the police. Whenever he tried to formulate a coherent plan of action, however, he was distracted by intrusive and distressing thoughts about his own experiences in Wilkins’s garage. It made swallowing difficult and his knuckles turned white as, unconsciously, he tightened his grip on his knife and fork. Jude noted, without comment, these signs of extreme agitation and wondered, for the first time, if there was more going on with Dominic than just a work related problem.

When Jude had finished his meal and Dominic had finished mashing his food and pushing it around the plate, Jude stood up and said, “I’ll clear the table while you sit there and work out what you want to tell me.”

“I don’t want to tell you anything,” Dominic insisted with rising panic which made itself apparent in his truculent tone of voice.

“Okay, I’ll rephrase that. You sit there and work out what you’re going to tell me. It’s patently obvious that you’re seriously distressed. You’ve already told me one lie to try and cover up that fact. You and I have an agreement, young man. You don’t lie to me and you don’t hide things from me. And top of the list of things you’re always required to share are matters which you find worrying or upsetting. Are we agreed on that?”  When Dominic made no reply Jude asked more insistently, “Are we agreed on that?”

Dominic raised wide eyes to meet his partner’s resolute gaze. “Yes, sir,” he managed to concede, “but there isn’t anything…”

Jude turned away before Dominic finished his sentence, effectively bringing the conversation to an end. He couldn’t have signalled more clearly that he was totally unconvinced by Dominic’s protestations, that he was not prepared to enter into any discussion on the matter and that he had total confidence Dominic would comply with the instruction to start talking. Dominic considered his options and concluded that they were limited. He could refuse to disclose the source of his agitation but he knew a refusal would only delay the inevitable, as well as bring unpleasant consequences for his recalcitrance. There were attractions in confiding in Jude, if for no other reason than the fact that Jude would know precisely what to do for the best, but just at that moment Dominic could not bring himself to talk about his fear that the missing man might be a victim of Chris Wilkins. Added to which, there was the painful knowledge that he had been so adamant in his refusal to report Wilkins to the police even though Jude had originally favoured that course of action.

What it all came down to was the fact that Dominic was so upset and confused that he’d reverted to his usual strategy when faced with emotions he couldn’t handle. Something inside him seemed to shut down, making communication impossible, while his thought processes became overwhelmed with the stress of conflicting feelings and jumbled ideas. He didn’t spend the time sorting out how he was going to explain his dilemma to Jude. He didn’t even give more thought to how he might tip off the police without getting too embroiled in their investigations. Instead he gave himself over to outright panic and by the time Jude had finished loading the dishwasher he was hyperventilating and gripping the edge of the kitchen table to try and steady himself.

Jude was at his side in a moment. “Calm down; you’re alright. There’s nothing to panic about,” he said quietly as he prized Dominic’s hands off the table. “Breathe slowly; deep breaths. Breathe in time with me.” Jude freed one of his own hands from Dominic’s panic stricken clutches and used it to rub circles on his rigid back. The reassuring words and firm touch gradually calmed the young man and he raised rueful eyes to his partner’s face.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I got a bit worked up, that’s all.”

“Still trying to tell me there’s nothing wrong?”

“No… but I don’t think I can explain… not just yet.”

“Well, we’re not doing anything else until you do explain so you’d better make up your mind to start talking. Come into the sitting room where we can sit more comfortably. Maybe that’ll help.”

Dominic didn’t see how a change of venue would assist matters but he allowed himself to be led into the sitting room then drawn down to sit on the sofa beside Jude. “Now, I want to know what you’re so upset about,” Jude said firmly. “It doesn’t matter what it is. You know I’ll do my very best to help you and I will never think any the less of you, no matter what’s gone wrong.” When Dominic showed no sign of responding Jude went on, “Is it something to do with work? Something which went wrong in Manchester? Or is it something personal? Does it have anything to do with us?”

Dominic just shook his head. It wasn’t clear if he was rejecting all of Jude’s suggestions or whether he was communicating a refusal or an inability to answer. The truth was that he hardly knew what he was doing. He had a sense that he was heading for a showdown with Jude and yet he felt powerless to avoid the confrontation. At the same time he felt a sense of relief that Jude would now take charge and find a way through his blind confusion and panic.  He still possessed sufficient self awareness to appreciate that it was at this point, when he’d finally pushed Jude to the limit of his tolerance, that he began to feel less stressed than he had all evening.

Jude sensed the subtle change in Dominic. He didn’t appear ready to talk but his shoulders had dropped, his breathing had slowed and he seemed to have got over his panic. Jude judged that he could afford to take a firmer line with his obstinate lover; he even suspected that Dominic would welcome a show of authority. If he’d done something wrong it might be easier for him to confess if he were given no choice in the matter. Jude came to a sudden decision.

“I’m not spending the evening playing guessing games with you, my lad. Either you tell me what’s wrong now or you can stand in the corner until you’re ready to speak up.”

Dominic wasn’t often sent to stand in the corner. He regarded it a demeaning punishment and he hated the immobility and sensory deprivation. As a consequence Jude didn’t often subject his partner to corner time and it was a penalty he had hitherto reserved for the few occasions when Dominic had staged an all out tantrum.

“That’s not fair,” Dominic objected at once. “I haven’t shouted or lost my temper. I just don’t feel able to talk. I don’t deserve to be sent to the corner.”

“I’ve asked you to talk to me; I’ve tried my best to persuade you; I’ve waited for you to obey me and you’re continuing to resist. That’s disobedience in my book. Not all tantrums involve shouting and stamping.” Jude’s meaningful look made Dominic blush and he got up without further objection and moved to the one corner of their sitting room kept free of furniture and leant, somewhat resentfully, against the wall. After a moment or two Jude stood up and went to the bookshelf to select some reading matter, pausing on his way back to the sofa to instruct Dominic to stand upright and put his hands down by his sides.

Dominic adjusted his stance to take up the position he knew was required of him and prepared himself for the long haul. The silence, punctuated only by the quiet rasp of paper as Jude turned the pages of his book, coupled with the immobility and lack of distraction finally got Dominic thinking logically. He took the firm decision that he would have to report his suspicions to the police and he began to draw up a mental list of the things he would need to tell them. He acknowledged to himself that Jude would help him with that but somehow he felt the need to get the facts straight in his own mind before he broached the subject with his partner. Finally, when his legs were beginning to ache and he was itching to get his witness statement drafted out in writing he asked diffidently, “Can I talk to you now?”

“Of course,” replied Jude warmly, putting away his book. “Come and sit down.” There was no hint of reproach about the wait, only the open hearted welcome which Dominic had come to expect.

“I’m sorry I’ve ruined our evening. I’d been so looking forward to getting home and talking to you and then I heard something awful on the radio. It upset me dreadfully and I’ve been struggling ever since then to work out what I should do.”

Jude had a job to prevent himself interrupting Dominic’s self accusatory recital. He wanted to utter words of reassurance and comfort but he knew that wasn’t what Dominic needed to hear. The young man had to be allowed to get to the crux of his difficulties in his own way and at his own pace so Jude just moved closer to Dominic and took one of his hands in his own in a wordless gesture of understanding.

“There was an appeal from the police about that missing man,” Dominic continued in a subdued tone. As he uttered the words Jude had an immediate suspicion about what was coming next. “It seems he had an interest in bondage and he was seen at a gay club with an older man who was driving a sports car.  I just know he must have been with Chris Wilkins.” Dominic’s voice grew louder as he became agitated. “It must be him, mustn’t it? Who else could it be?”

Jude wasn’t about to deny Dominic’s suspicions. He glanced at the clock. “The evening news will be on the television in a few minutes,” he pointed out. Let’s see if the story is mentioned. There might be some more details.”

As Jude got up to locate the remote control, Dominic picked up a notepad and a biro from the coffee table and immediately began jotting down bullet points. He wanted to record the outcome of his enforced contemplation while the ideas were still fresh in his mind. He always liked to have facts and figures at his fingertips and he found it calming to have all his material set out in an ordered manner.

The television news left no room for doubt. Some very grainy CCTV footage was shown from outside the club. Two unidentifiable men were seen leaving the premises and driving away together but the detail which clinched the identification in the minds of both viewers was the information that the police had identified the make and model of the car. It was a BMW sports car, a black Z4. Jude wordlessly held out his hand for the pen and paper when a contact number for the incident room appeared on the screen. He wrote the number across a clean page which he pulled out of the notepad and folded in half. Then he turned off the television.

“What are you going to do?” asked Dominic in some trepidation.

“I think we’ve got to contact the police, don’t you?”

“Yes. I’d just about worked myself up to do that and I’ve been making a few notes to help me remember what I have to tell them.”

“That’s a good idea, love, but I don’t think you’re going to have to face an interview straightaway. I do think that we should contact this number as soon as possible though. We might be able to give the police information which could prove vital.”

“Will you do that?” Dominic asked hesitantly.

“Of course; I’m just as much of a witness as you are. I’m just thinking we could aid the investigation by giving the police details of Wilkins’s last known address and the personal information which would be on his file at work.”

“Do you have access to that?”

“No, but I know someone who does.”

“Oh,” said Dominic with dawning comprehension. “You mean, Sarah.”

“She should be able to access the staff database from home and she could give us previous addresses, contact details, next of kin — stuff like that.”

“Shall I give her a ring and ask her to get on to it?”

“That would be a great help.”

Dominic went to retrieve his mobile from his jacket pocket. Suddenly he had a mission and it gave him a renewed sense of purpose. Jude seemed to know exactly what to do but he was including Dominic in all the decisions and trusting him to gather the required information. Dominic no longer had to wrestle with the problem alone; it had become a shared responsibility. The prospect of being the subject of a hostile police interrogation now seemed like a remote possibility and Dominic knew that whatever happened from then on would be on Jude’s terms.

Sarah Powell had missed the evening news broadcasts but as soon as she heard Dominic’s report she was in immediate agreement about the need to pass on their suspicions to the police. Technically she wasn’t permitted to access personnel records without authorisation but she’d done it once before and she had no hesitation about doing it again. She promised to ring Dominic back in five minutes or so and she suggested that he go and switch on his computer as she proposed to email Wilkins’s details. When the phone rang, Dominic was already printing out a page which listed Wilkins’s previous addresses, employers, next of kin, mobile phone number, car registration and national insurance number. Sarah brushed off Dominic’s thanks. She had just one question for him, “Have you talked to Jude about this?”

“Yes; he’s going to ring the police in a minute.”

“Fine. It was just that I could imagine you stewing over this and not telling Jude what was wrong.”

Dominic was so taken aback by her perspicacity that he was speechless for a moment too long. “Are you sure you’ve told Jude?” she asked sharply, suddenly suspicious that Dominic was lying to her.

“Oh, yes. He got the truth out of me eventually, but only after I’d spent the evening in a stew, just as you suspected.” As he admitted his failings to Sarah he realised there would come a time of reckoning with Jude, once the immediate need to contact the police had been taken care of. To his surprise, he found that the prospect wasn’t filling him with gloom. He laughed and said, “I don’t know why I try to hide things from Jude… or from you. It seems I’m an open book to the two of you!”

“You’re not good at hiding your emotions, Dominic, and that’s a delightful trait. Maybe you should work at trusting the people who love you to understand those emotions.”


“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“That ouch came from hearing a painful home truth, Sarah. Jude says you’re good at getting home truths into my thick skull. I’ll tell him what you said.” This time it was Sarah’s turn to laugh as Dominic ended the call.

Jude took Wilkins’s details from Dominic and went up to the bedroom to call the incident room, closing the door behind him. Much as he wanted to include Dominic in all decisions about contacting the police, he hoped that he could spare his partner the need to recount details of the false imprisonment and assault to which he had been subjected. If that were to prove impossible, Jude wanted privacy in order to discuss the nature of the interview to be conducted with Dominic.

Despite the lateness of the hour, his insistence that he could offer a possible identification of the car and its driver meant that he was finally put through to a senior officer. He did his best to have his own details logged as the primary witness and he emphasised his managerial role at Semdar which had employed the man he was identifying. Nonetheless, he was unsurprised to be told that officers would want to take a formal statement from him in the morning and would also want to interview the man who had been kidnapped and abused by Wilkins.

Jude was forthright in explaining that it was fear of the response he would receive from the police and criminal justice system which had prevented Dominic McAvinchey, who was now his partner, from reporting the incident in the first place. The young man had been traumatised by his experience and still suffered flashbacks and occasional nightmares. He had indicated his willingness to offer every assistance to the police but he needed to be interviewed by an experienced officer and Jude himself wished to be present. There was no difficulty about meeting those requests and arrangements were made for Jude and Dominic to attend a local police station in the morning where an officer trained in dealing with rape and sexual assault would be present, along with one of the team investigating the case of the missing man.

When Jude put the phone down he felt drained but he came downstairs quickly knowing that Dominic would be in need of reassurance. “How did it go?” the young man asked as soon as Jude walked in the door.

“They thanked me for reporting our suspicions. The officer said it could be the breakthrough they’ve been waiting for. We’ve saved them a great deal of time by providing so much detail about Wilkins. They should be able to check him out quickly and either eliminate him from enquiries or pursue him as a suspect.”

“So is that it?”

“They want us both to go down to the police station in the morning to make a formal statement,” Jude said in a matter of fact manner. Dominic flinched. “There’s nothing to worry about. You won’t be getting the third degree,” he added with a smile. “They’re sending an officer who’s used to dealing with things like sexual assault and I’ve made it clear that I want to be present during your interview.

“And they’ve agreed to that?”

“You’re not a suspect. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re volunteering to provide information and you’re entitled to have a friend present. It’ll be fine. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“They won’t make me press charges?”

“Of course not. You decided not to report the offence at the time. That was your choice and the matter is now closed.”

“So it’s going to be alright,” Dominic said, mainly to convince himself.

“It’s going to be alright,” said Jude with finality. “How about I open that bottle of wine now? I don’t know about you but I you could do with a drink. How’s the headache?”

“There was no headache. That was a lie.”

“Do I need to deal with that?” asked Jude, picking up on the self reproach in Dominic’s tone.

“No,” responded Dominic honestly, “it was only a little lie. But you probably need to deal with the fact that I’ve been lying to you from the minute I walked in the door tonight. I was upset and frightened; I didn’t know what to do for the best; I didn’t tell you how I was feeling and I refused to answer your questions. I know I’ve broken my promise to tell you when I’m worried or upset. I really and truly intended never to make that mistake again. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Something bad happens and all my good intentions count for nothing. I get so wrapped up in my own worries that I shut you out. I’m so sorry. Oh, and I made a fuss about standing in the corner too.”

“At least you made your feelings known about standing in the corner!” observed Jude without rancour. “I won’t take exception to an honest reaction and I know you hate the corner.”

“I was being deliberately obstructive,” objected Dominic, suddenly determined not to have his offences minimised. “And… and,” this wasn’t an easy admission to make, “…standing in the corner did settle me down. It got me thinking straight for the first time this evening.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you hold out on me! Now, what are we going to do persuade you that talking about your worries is always a better option than silently working yourself up into a panic?”

Dominic rightly concluded that Jude was asking a rhetorical question. Even so, he knew the answer and got to his feet, anxious not to delay the inevitable. Jude would have preferred to spend some time discussing Dominic’s tendency to retreat into himself when faced with a crisis. He would have liked to help Dominic explore alternative strategies for dealing with his worries but he was sensitive to his partner’s needs. The young man had gone through the mill during the evening and he was unconsciously searching for a means to put his unpleasant experiences behind him. Jude feared that Dominic would be troubled by flashbacks and nightmares for some time to come. If a short, sharp spanking would serve to concentrate his mind on other issues, Jude was more than ready to oblige.

“Come here,” he instructed. Dominic knew what was required of him and he moved close enough to his seated partner to allow Jude to reach up and unfasten his jeans. Jude guided Dominic to his right hand side and then pulled both jeans and underpants down to his knees in one swift and efficient movement. Effectively hobbled, Dominic adjusted his position with tiny steps until he could lay himself squarely across Jude’s lap and place his hands on the ground. Even so, Jude lifted him a little further forward to bring his trembling backside higher before taking a firm hold on his far hip with one hand and using his other hand to administer a resounding smack. Dominic’s body jerked slightly but he remained still and silent, even when the anticipated second blow failed to materialise.

“It all comes down to a failure of trust,” Jude remarked conversationally. He had no idea whether Dominic was capable of absorbing the salient points of a lecture whilst upended over his knee but he didn’t see how it could do any harm to punctuate this spanking with a few well chosen words. He waited to give Dominic time to absorb the gist of his message and then delivered a second powerful slap on a hitherto untouched portion of the pale backside. “I’ve always respected your decisions, never forced you to do anything you didn’t want to do, yet you still won’t turn to me when you have a problem.” Jude reinforced that accusation with a flurry of forceful smacks which relieved his own feelings and made a powerful impression on Dominic who squirmed slightly while resolutely refusing to twist his hips out of the firing line.

“I’ve always been able to help you, always been able to deal with your worries but you still don’t trust me to understand how you’re feeling. What do I need to do to get you to ask for my help?” Jude shifted his attention to Dominic’s thighs, noting how his buttocks had turned a fiery red with faint finger marks just visible around the periphery of the reddened area.

Jude hadn’t expected any reply to his question but a muffled and rather breathless comment came unprompted from somewhere close to the ground. “Sarah said I needed to work on trusting you to understand my emotions.”

“So even an outsider can see what’s wrong. Do you think you can act on her advice?”

“I do trust you, Jude. I’ve trusted you right from the start. It’s just that I’ve always found it hard to confide in others. I will try to do better in future.”

“If you hide things from me again, if you tell me lies or refuse to answer my questions you’ll find yourself right back where you are now. Remember what this feels like and focus on what you need to do to avoid ending up over my knee. I’m going to give you the strongest possible incentive to share your worries and tell me the truth in future.” With that, Jude directed all his energies to the delivery of a fast and efficient spanking which went over all the sorest areas of Dominic’s buttocks and thighs. The pain had him rolling from side to side on Jude’s lap and his breath was coming in ragged gasps by the time his tormentor called a halt. At that point Dominic’s body slumped in exhausted defeat and Jude rubbed his back and murmured words of reassurance until Dominic was ready to be hauled to his feet and helped to dress. The sting had brought tears to his eyes and he hastily scrubbed the back of his hand across his cheeks, not wanting to appear to be crying. He did, however, prove willing to accept the comfort of Jude’s strong arms and he leant into his partner’s embrace whispering, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I do trust you and I promise I’ll try not to shut you out in future.”

“I know you will, love,” replied Jude with total confidence. “Now, what about that drink I suggested? I think we could both do with some alcohol before bed. Go and see what I put in the fridge.”

Dominic was glad of the opportunity to walk off some of the after effects of the spanking. When he got into the kitchen he bounced on his toes and jiggled his bottom until the burn seemed to diminish. Then he opened the fridge door and found that Jude had indeed placed a bottle of champagne on ice. He lifted the bucket onto the worktop and searched for their best crystal champagne flutes. When he carried the bottle and the glasses into the living room Jude turned to him and smiled. “It’s never too late to celebrate your return home. Let me open the bottle.”

Dominic handed over the Bollinger and held one of the glasses in readiness, admiring Jude’s deft handling of the cork which he twisted from the neck of the bottle with an audible pop but no spillage. “This is a first,” Dominic observed, “champagne to celebrate a sore bottom. What shall we drink to?”

“Let’s drink to us,” Jude suggested. They clinked glasses and called out in unison, “To Dominic and Jude!”

“Can I propose another toast?” asked Dominic after a minute or two.

“Of course.”

“To honesty and openness!”

“To honesty and openness… and health and happiness for the future!” Jude added.  When they’d finished their first glass of champagne Jude went out to the kitchen and returned carrying two bowls, each filled with crème brulee surrounded by fresh fruit. “I’m afraid it’s shop bought crème brulee,” he explained, “but I thought this would be a luxury dessert to go with the champagne. You didn’t eat much dinner.  Do you think you could face some of this?”

Dominic put down his glass and eagerly took the proffered bowl and spoon. Crème brulee was one of his favourites, as Jude very well knew, and with a weight lifted from his shoulders he found he was hungry. Jude didn’t seem to mind that Dominic stood up to eat his pudding and Dominic didn’t seem to notice that his glass was topped up with champagne twice as often as Jude’s. When the bottle was empty, Jude helped Dominic up to bed. They had the police interviews in the morning and Dominic had had a long working day followed by a very distressing evening. Jude hoped that exhaustion, coupled with substantial alcohol intake, would guarantee a peaceful night.

Dominic woke early but he was well rested. His heart sank as he remembered the morning’s appointment but he resolved to do his duty even as he reminded himself that he must tell Jude if he started to panic. The two men took their time getting ready and having breakfast but they still managed to arrive fifteen minutes early at the police station where they were clearly expected as there was no waiting around. They were escorted straight to an interview room where a senior officer identified himself, introduced a female colleague and got Jude and Dominic to confirm their identity and place of residence. Jude was then presented with a typed draft of the statement he had made over the telephone the night before. He took his time reading it, corrected a few minor mistakes and then signed each page as directed. The officer went on to seek clarification on a few points and then impressed upon him the importance of not discussing his suspicions with anyone else, least of all with representatives of the media. It appeared that the police were taking his tip off very seriously but the investigating officer neatly avoided answering Jude’s direct questions about the progress of his search for the missing man. His manner was businesslike but unsympathetic and when he turned his attentions to Dominic, the young man visibly flinched.

Jude moved his chair closer to Dominic’s in the hope that his physical proximity would provide some support and Dominic managed a grateful glance towards his partner. He had been asked to describe in his own words the circumstances which had led to his abduction by Chris Wilkins but he couldn’t think where to begin. He looked down anxiously at the notebook he was clutching but his prepared bullet points didn’t seem to help. In his own mind he had never thought of himself as having been abducted. He knew that he had gone willingly to Wilkins’s house and he still found it difficult to forgive himself for cooperating with a man who had put him in restraints and hurt him. He swallowed convulsively, aware that his mouth had gone dry, and he looked at his questioner with undisguised alarm.

The female officer, who until that moment had sat quietly beside her colleague, leant forward and asked Dominic if she could call him by his given name. In response to Dominic’s affirmative response, she told him that her name was Rachel and she was specially trained to talk to people who'd had bad experiences like his. Dominic seemed to relax slightly and it was clear that the senior officer was content to allow Rachel to take over the questioning.

Jude had to admire her technique. She took Dominic through the sequence of events, one small step at a time. Her questions were open ended and her comments were never judgemental. Jude was prepared to intervene if Dominic got seriously upset but whenever there seemed any possibility of that, Rachel reverted to less distressing aspects of Dominic’s account and he was calmed by focusing on facts rather than emotions.

Eventually Rachel began to ask questions about what Wilkins had done to Dominic. He became very pale, and his agitation was apparent in the compulsive wringing of his hands, but he spoke calmly and coherently. Judging from the fixity of his gaze, Jude suspected that he was mentally back in that upstairs room in Chris Wilkins’s garage, bound, gagged, and beaten. When Dominic spoke of the humiliation of wetting himself and described Wilkins’s sadistic punishment, the senior officer, who had been making notes throughout, lifted his head to watch Dominic’s reactions and Rachel softened her tone to one of infinite kindness.

Dominic himself seemed unaware of their concern; he even seemed to forget that his partner was present. He continued to describe in graphic detail what had happened to him and how terrified and helpless he'd felt. His notebook lay unconsulted on the desk. Jude, who thought he’d heard the full details over a series of sessions with his partner, found himself choked with emotion as he listened to Dominic’s objective and factual account of what he had undergone. By the time Rachel was thanking Dominic for his assistance, praising him for his bravery and assuring him that she understood his wish to take no further action on his own account, Jude had tears of compassion spilling from the corners of his eyes. When Dominic turned to him for guidance on what to do next, it was the sight of his partner’s distress which drew him back into the present moment and he reached out to pull Jude into the comfort of his embrace. Both men were normally careful to reserve affectionate gestures for moments of privacy but, in the company of two police officers who'd just heard Dominic’s evidence, they had nothing to hide. Dominic wiped away Jude’s tears with his thumb and Jude hugged Dominic tightly to try and make up for the time when he was frightened, in pain and alone.

After that experience neither of them felt ready to go into work. Jude telephoned the office when they got home and explained that they were both taking a day off for personal reasons. Dominic rang Sarah and told her about the interview at the police station, assuring her that their suspicions were being taken seriously. He informed her that they were all being asked to keep quiet so as not to compromise the police search for James Evans. Sarah could tell by the catch in his voice that Dominic’s thoughts were very much with the young man who might well be being held captive with no rescuer on the way.

When they’d both finished their calls, Jude made a pot of coffee and they curled up together on the sofa. When Jude asked Dominic how he was feeling he got a prompt, polite and honest answer. Dominic was clearly keen to demonstrate that he’d turned over a new leaf and was making every effort not to conceal his feelings from his partner. Jude was rather touched to learn that Dominic was worrying about the missing man and, rather than offering empty reassurance, he sent Dominic to fetch his laptop so they could search for news stories about the suspected kidnapping.  They found that the police had just released a statement to say that they were following up promising new leads supplied by members of the public. When it was clear that no further details were to be found, Jude persuaded Dominic to go and play his violin, knowing that music was guaranteed to transport him to more pleasant realms.