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Alone In A World Of Strangers

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Chapter One

Francino sat at a table in the corner of the frog and ferret staring into his pint lost in thought, not really seeing the rich brown swirls as they settled and separated into a stark monochrome of black and white. Franc wished that life could be as simple, black and white with no grey areas but then again with no grey there would be no mystery, nothing to be explored. Would there also be no heartache? No pain when your lover decided that they no longer wanted to be with you? Maybe but then there may not be any passion in a relationship either. Franc thought that maybe the greys were important after all. These thoughts didn’t help him to understand why he had been plunged into this pit of despair though, he had read the reasons Kori gave in the scribbled note that he had left on the coffee table, but it had done little to explain why, why now? Franc wanted to explore the world with Kori but apparently that wasn’t enough! Kori didn’t love him anymore, supposedly there wasn’t anyone else, it wasn’t Franc it was him, an overly used cliché, one of many that Kori used, He needed to find himself, he loved Franc but wasn’t in love with him, they are too young to settle down. Franc deserves someone better. It’s for the best. Better to break it off now before they are too attached to each other. That was the one that Franc really didn’t understand, they had been together for many years! They were deeply in love, or so he thought, how much more attached did he think they would get? Maybe he was wrong about him, maybe he didn’t know Kori as well as he thought, maybe he wasn’t as in love with Franc as he was with Kori? There had been no indication of his leaving, up until this point they had been just as, if not more so, in love as they had been at the beginning of their relationship, the change in Kori was sudden, too sudden in Franc’s opinion and he was convinced that there was more to his change of heart than falling out of love in fact he was positive that Kori still loved him! He had to find him, tell him that whatever it was they could work through it together but where to start? Kori’s family disowned him when he ‘came out’ and told them he was in love with Franc, even in this modern age there are bigots who can’t see past their outdated views to their children’s happiness, it made Franc sad that Kori’s parents couldn’t accept him for who he is. He was glad that his own family had always been supportive of him. They accepted Kori as one of their own when he bought him home for the first time. Sadly now they had passed on but Franc will always be glad that Kori had met them, if only for a few years, and experienced a loving family who can accept a person for who they are and not push them away when they don’t conform to what fits into their short-sighted world.

Franc had already called all of their friends, more than once and they told him again that they hadn’t heard anything and as it had been over two weeks since he had left with no word. They tried to convince him that they probably weren’t going to hear anything either, not after so long, if Kori wanted to talk to anyone then he would have by now. They also told him that he should let it go and move on with his life. Franc disagreed, he disagreed with everything that they said, he knows Kori better than all of them and this sudden departure with only a chicken scratch note of clichés was definitely not the norm for him! But that was all that he had to go on at the moment, it wasn’t enough to even start and that was why Franc was here staring forlornly into his pint, brooding over life, love and the universe, wondering what had gone so wrong that it had caused his love to run out on him. He could have waited until Franc had returned from work and told him to his face that he was leaving him instead of running away like a coward.

‘No, I can’t think like that.’ Franc thought to himself. ‘He obviously has a good reason for leaving the way he did, or at least thinks that he does anyway, I can’t accuse him of cowardice without speaking to him and finding out what his reasons are. I have to find him, I need to find him but how? Where does one start to look for someone who leaves without a clue as to why or where?’ He continued to sit deep in thought, wracking his brain for some small corner of an idea of where to start but he had nothing. After a time and still having no idea of what he was going to do, Franc lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply he blew out the grey/blue smoke and watched it swirl in front of him, wondering if he could find the answers that he sought within, like a fortune teller, ‘probably not’ he thought.

He watched Franc sitting in the corner, alone and deep in thought. The watcher could almost see the miasma of confusion, hurt and melancholy emanating from the young man. He could empathise with him, had felt the emotions that he knew raged through him, had felt them himself more times than he cared to remember, he had loved in his long past youth but the pain had hardened his heart he had made a vow to himself that he would never again let love take hold of his heart and soul, the agony when it was gone was too much and he feared that to lose another would be his undoing.

Having monitored him for some time he was starting feel that there was most definitely something different about this one, he couldn't quite place his finger on what exactly it was but he was unlike the others that he had watched before. The watcher was aware of what it was that caused Franc to suffer in this way, a love lost is hard to bare at first but the pain dulls with time even if it never goes away completely. Although he didn't have all of the details he didn't know if he could be of help or not but he figured that he could listen and relieve some of the burden from Francs heart and the only way he would know if that was what Franc wanted was if he asked and now was a good a time as ever. It all fit with his plans.

Franc finished his smoke and knocked back the rest of his pint and stood up to leave when two more drinks were placed on the table and a good-looking man in his thirties, blond hair, sea green eyes, well-built and tall sat down. Franc looked through his and the other patrons smoke that was gently swirling like an early evening mist across a lake in Scotland and saw that many of the other tables were free, he looked back at the stranger, head cocked to one side and his eyebrow raised, anger and curiosity warring in his mind, an almost welcome relief to that grief that had set up home within him.

“Would you be so quick to jump in my grave?” he asked the stranger.

“That's for you kiddo, do you mind if I join you?” The stranger said indicating one of the drinks he had placed on the table ignoring the question.

“I'm just leaving.”

“Aw come on, give a guy a break, I just want a little company.” The stranger shrugged with a half-smile on his face.

“You’ll have to find someone else to amuse yourself with today, I have a boyfriend and I’m not in the mood for idle chit chat.”

“As good looking as you are, I am neither looking for a lover nor idle chit chat as you say.”

“Then what do you want?” Franc asked, the suspicion plain on his face.

“It's not what I want that's important, it’s what you want that is.”

“Really and why would you be interested in what I want? You don’t know me, we aren’t friends, and I don’t believe that we have ever met before and I just told you that I am not interested in company

“You look like you could do with a friendly ear and I'm a good listener.” The stranger responded, thinking ‘if only you knew!’ “I saw you sitting here deep in thought when I came in, you looked upset so I thought that maybe you would like some company also, someone to share your plight with.”

Despite his reservations Franc sat back down, intrigued as it was a rare occurrence that a good looking man approached him in a bar wanting his company purely for conversation. In his experience they always wanted something else, himself included. Why else do you approach attractive people in bars and clubs?

“It's action that I need but I have no idea of where to start.” Franc sighed and rested his elbows on the table with his chin in his hands. He stared unfocused at the table.

“Talk to me kid, maybe I can help? A problem shared and all that.” He needed him to talk to him, needed him to open up so that he could get to know him better, watching from the shadows only allowed you to gain so much information, facts and such but not the essence of a person, their true character. He now needed to move on to the next stage which is why he had engineered this ‘accidental’ meeting. He knew what was bothering Franc but figured that it was a good topic to get him talking and besides, he didn’t know all the details so it would also be informative.

“I don't know, it's kind of personal and…” Franc hesitated not sure how to complete the sentence without giving in to the tears that threatened to break free from their tenuous grip behind his eyes.

“Still raw?” The stranger asked already knowing the answer.

“Yes. I don’t understand it, we were so happy together at least I thought that we were, I guess I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did.” He sniffed and blinked back a tear, he found himself talking to this man and not understanding why. He felt drawn to him as if they had met before, if they had he didn't know when or where but found that he didn't really care, he needed to talk, he needed someone to care and this person sat in front of him was willing to at least listen if not care. The stranger reached across the table and squeezed Francs hand in a gesture of comfort and reassurance.

“Why would he just leave whilst I was away? Why not wait until I came home and tell me why, maybe we could have worked it out, whatever it was.” He looked imploringly at the stranger through red and watery eyes wanting answers that he knew wouldn’t come, this man didn’t have them, couldn’t have them.

“I don’t know my friend, maybe he didn’t have the courage to face you, maybe he thought it would be too hard, maybe he didn’t want to hurt you anymore than he felt he had too. I’m just surmising, I don’t know him so I cannot make any real guesses as to what his reasons may be. Did he give you any indication of what he was thinking?”

“No. yes. Not really, he left a note but it’s wrong, it’s not like anything Kori would write, I mean it is his hand writing but the words are, well, wrong. I don’t really know how to explain it.”

“Do you have the note? May I read it?”

Franc handed him a carefully folded piece of paper that had been in his pocket since he had first read it, he knew the words by heart now having read it over and over again trying to make sense of it. After smoothing the paper out on the table in front of him careful not to place it in any spilled liquid the stranger read it.

Thoughtfully he said “It seems pretty black and white.”

“Yes but it isn’t, he doesn’t write like that, over used clichés are not his thing at all and he has much better handwriting than that usually, that’s rushed and he never rushes when he writes not even when he leaves me a note to pick up some milk on my way home.”

“Hold on kid I said it seems black and white but if you know what to look for it is less so. For instance if Kori really had no feelings left for you then he wouldn't have balked when writing that he didn't love you, see here there is more ink at the beginning of the sentence where he paused to gather the strength to force himself to write it and here where the paper is ever so slightly wrinkled? If you weren't looking you wouldn't notice the tear that dropped there before he could catch it. I think that he felt that he had no other choice but to leave, I think that something or someone pushed him into it.”

“How would you know that from such a short note?”

“I find people, well my friend Mateo does mostly, he is a private detective, works at it pretty much full time and I help out occasionally but I do know my stuff.”

“Oh. Um. Okay. But then my question still stands, why did he not wait till I got home? We could have worked it out together, gone to the police, anything rather than this.”

“Maybe he thought that you were in danger, maybe whoever it was threatened you if he told anyone?”

“I guess but who? Everyone loves Kori, well apart from his family that is but they wouldn’t threaten him!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes they told him to leave and never darken their doorstep again when he told them that we were together.”

“I see, have you spoken to them since his disappearance?”
“What would be the point?”

“You never know maybe they have mellowed or the fact that he is potentially missing might make them realise how important he really is to them.”

“It's unlikely, Kori and I have been together for years, at first he tried to get them to see reason, to understand that he was still the same person and that wasn't going to change because of who he loves. Each time they shot him down and shut him out until he couldn't take the rejection anymore and stopped trying.”

“I am so sorry that he has had to endure such hatred and discrimination in his life, especially coming from his own family I can't imagine how devastating that would be.” The stranger squeezed Francs hand in solidarity, shocked that there was still people like that in the world in this day and age. He knew that bigots of all kinds existed of course and he knew that families turned on each other all the time but these were things that he didn't understand, had never understood and truthfully he hoped to never understand or have to experience himself. He had over the year’s encountered discrimination against others and himself but he always tried to be open minded, to accept people for who they were, he did not want anyone to feel pain or shame because of something he had said or done. He knew that it was inevitable that someone somewhere over the years may have been affected by him in a way that as not positive but he believed that he would never intentionally do anything to cause suffering to another.

“Yeah, at least he had me and my parents to show him that not everyone was so horrible. Well thanks for listening, you were right it did help but I think that I should be going now, I need to try and get some sleep and start again tomorrow. Thanks for the drink.” Franc stood up but before he walked away the stranger placed a hand in his arm.

“Look maybe I can help you, if you want? As I said earlier my friend and I are private detectives and we can use our skills and connections and maybe we can track Kori down, together, what do you say?”

“I. That's a very generous offer. I don't know…”

“It will make your search easier and successful. We have never failed to find someone! Ok look, think about it and if you want our help call me okay?”

“Um yeah ok, thanks.” The stranger let his hand drop and Franc turned away and walked out the door. Once outside Franc ran a hand over his face and took a deep breath well that was weird he thought but his offer is worth thinking about I guess, I shall look him up when I get home, make sure he is genuine. With that decided he lit a cigarette and started towards home realising as he walked that he didn't even know the strangers name or the name of his detective agency so how was he going to look him up? It didn't matter he supposed, he could ring around a few agencies and get quotes on how much it would cost to track someone down and then decide on whether it would be worth going down that route.

Arriving home he let himself in, kicked off his boots and headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth, once done he flopped down on to his bed initially laying on his usual side but then rolling over to Kori’s side resting his head on his pillow and breathing in his scent. He missed him, missed him so much that it hurt.

Franc awoke to someone knocking on his door, he dragged himself out of bed pulling on some shorts before heading to the hall and opening the door. Standing on the doorstep was a bunch of flowers with legs, the flowers spoke.

“I have a delivery for Francino Martinelli.”

“Um yeah that’s me.”

“Great! Would you mind? I need you to sign here.” A clipboard appeared around the edge of the flowers. Franc took the clipboard and retrieved the pen dangling from it, located his name and signed in the marked box, he handed it back to the driver and took the flowers from him, thanking him he closed the door and headed into the living room confused as to who would send him flowers, Kori maybe? He hoped so, he needed to know that he was alright. Locating the card he placed the flowers on to the coffee table and opened the small envelope. Disappointment hit him in the chest like a sledge hammer, he didn't recognise the hand writing. He took a deep breath and read the note.

Well this is unexpected he thought, how did he know where I live or my name for that matter? Confused Franc took the flowers into the kitchen in order to put them in water, as he was searching for a vase he recalled that this Whitfield character had told him that he was a detective of sorts, he thought to himself that this must be how he had tracked him down so quickly although he would have thought that a person even an exceptional detective would need at least some information to start with. He figured it didn’t matter, it wasn’t like he was any kind of expert in the matter, anyway and he had other things to worry about like where he was going to start looking for Kori.

“I sent him flowers Matt, flowers! What kind of idiot am I?” Whitfield questioned his long-time friend Mateo.

“What else were you going to do? I mean, yeah it’s a little unusual, especially for you and especially this early in the process but I guess you had a good reason for it?”

“Not really, I panicked, everything went wrong. Not the meeting as such, the conversation was fine but I forgot to introduce myself and…oh my Gods, he’s going to think that I’m some crazy stalker!” Whitfield was pacing back and forth in his friends living room Mateo had not seen his friend so agitated in many years and they had known each other for the majority of their lives, so long that they were now more like brothers than friends.

“You are a crazy stalker Whit.” Matt said poking fun at his friend.

“Ha ha, you’re so funny you should have been two people!” Whit responded

“Look Whit sit down and stop worrying, it’s not that bad, really. Wait a few days and see if he calls, if he doesn’t arrange another accidental meeting somewhere, apologise and see how the land lies.”

“Yeah I guess I could do that but what if I have fucked it up? All the time spent researching and observing him could now be wasted because I was impulsive, not thinking, scared I would…”

“Scared you would what?”

“Nothing forget I said anything, is Kitty not in today?”

“No she went out shopping and don’t change the subject!”

“Okay I was scared that we would lose him after we have put in so much effort to see if he is suitable.”

“I see, that makes sense, I’m sure it will all be fine. He will call he needs the help doesn’t he?” Matt knew that what Whit had said was not what he had almost revealed but he let it lie knowing that if he pushed he wouldn’t get any information at all.

“Well yeah I think so, he told me that he hasn’t got the faintest idea of where to start looking, I just hope that he doesn’t go to another investigator because of me.”

“He won’t and if he does just change the plans a little, he’ll come round.”

“I wish that I could be so certain.”

Franc found that his mind kept returning to the stranger, not quite as much of a stranger now that he knew his name he supposed but still strange none the less, He had spent the day visiting Kori’s favorite places in town hoping that he might bump into him but knowing deep in his soul that it was a useless errand. It was for this reason that he surmised his mind kept returning to Whitfield and his offer, he could call him he supposed, what would it hurt to at least ask how much he charged for his services. Franc had no other idea's left, his parents were dead, his friends no help insisting he should just let him go and move on and Kori's parents, he wasn't even going to go there! Pulling his phone out of his pocket he thought about what he was going to say. Hi this is Franc, how much do you charge? 'No too blunt, he thought for a while longer and had a minor epiphany. Deciding that a text would be better he typed out his message 'Hi Whitfield, thank you for the lovely flowers, I was wondering if we could meet Sometime when you're not busy to discuss your offer of help If you don't mind? Regards Franc' he hit send before he could change his mind.

Butterflies fluttered around his stomach as he waited to see If Whit would respond, he knew it was stupid to feel so nervous, it's not like he was waiting for his crush to respond to a request for a date or the results of a life changing test, it was just a meeting to discuss a job. Franc paced around his living room, he was full of nervous energy after spending a fruitless morning wondering around town, having absolutely no Idea of what he was doing, he hoped that Whit would be able to help him, he needed to know what had happened to Kori.

Franc jumped when his phone vibrated on the coffee table, he knew that he was nervous but hadn't realised just how on edge he really was. He grabbed the phone and flicked through to his Text messages, opening the most recent he read: Franc I'm so glad you text! I will be glad to help. Do you know the coffee # 1 on the high street? I can meet you there in an hour if its convenient? Whit. franc quickly tapped out a reply confirming that he knew the coffee shop and an hour would be fine, pressing send he stuffed his phone in to his pocket grabbed his Jacket and helmet and headed on to the garage where he kept his classic Triumph Bonneville along with Kori's beloved Indian Chief Dark Horse motorcycle and the ford pickup that they shared. The sight of Kori's bike constricted his heart, he wondered why he hadn't taken it with him. To conspicuous maybe, there aren't too many in England he Supposed, Sighing and giving himself a little shake, he mounted his bike and headed in to town to meet his mysterious Stranger.

Franc arrived early, parked up and wandered to the coffee shop. He opened the door to enter and a tall blonde woman pushed past him, she sniffed, stopped and looked back at him with a puzzled expression on her face, she shook her head Turned and walked away towards the town centre. Franc was early but he scanned the other cafe customers anyway whilst he waited in line to place his order. He took his drink to the back of the shop and found a seat on the sofas that most cafes provide for their customers. He flicked through a paper that someone had left behind, not really interested but wanting something to do while he waited. He looked up when a shadow fell across him

"Hi Franc, I’m so glad that you called, well text anyway, Have you been waiting long? Can I get you anything? ''Whit said excitedly almost in a single breath

"Um yeah you said that you might be able to help me? No, I’m good thanks I have only just got here myself.

"Good, good let me just get myself a coffee, I’ll be right back." Whit hurried off to the serving counter, Franc watched him, he hadn't taken the time to look at him properly when they first met having been somewhat preoccupied, so he took the time now. His hair was neat and well cared for, somewhere in between short and long, not quite the right length to be described as either, his jeans and plain T-shirt fit as though they had been made to measure and he finished the look with a pair of heavy boots that he left unlaced. Whit turned, coffee in hand and caught Francs eye, Franc quickly looked away, a slight blush touching his cheeks, embarrassment at getting caught staring. He had to admit to himself that Whit was a good looking man and in another life time he may have considered pursuing him but not now, his heart belonged to another.

Whit returned with his coffee and a plate of petite fours.

"I thought you might like something to nibble" he said placing the plate on the table in front of them and taking a seat on the sofa opposite Franc. "How are you? This probably seems a bit weird to you, yes? Us meeting just at a time when you could do with the help of someone that does what I do. I just want you to know that I’m not some weirdo stalker or anything, it's just fortuitous." he continued

"Um yeah okay so where do we start?" Franc replied whilst thinking to himself 'what a weird thing to say'

"Let’s start with you, us. Let’s got to know each other a bit first and then we, can discuss Kori, did you say his name is?" Whit responded all the while hoping that Franc hadn't noticed what he had said about stalking.

"Yes his name is Kori. Don't you need to know about him rather than me though?" he questioned Confusion Spiking in his mind briefly as he tried to work out what Whit's angle was.

"Yes of course I will need to get to know him through you but I find That getting to know a missing persons partner Can give me a greater insight in to the missing person, You know him better than anyone and you have been together for many years so some of his traits will now be yours and vice versa, You yourself probably haven't even noticed but as an investigator who has been in the business a long time I will be able to pick up on them from talking to you."

"Oh okay I hadn't realised that there was such a science to investigating people. “So what would you like to know?"

Whit asked franc a few questions Just to confirm a few things that he already knew, Franc returned with questions of his own which were answered as honestly as they could be, now was not the time to reveal too much, Whit didn't want to scare him off and loose him, strangely the thought that he might bothered him, usually he would just let a person go or deal with them if they knew too much, This one was different he didn't know why but he was, he bought out a side of him that had been buried for a very long time.

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