Jack Scribe

Chapter 18, REALTIME

"The good news is that Mr. Bromley and his guests had a marvelous time and thought your room service operations were first rate," Drew said to Nigel Whitehead, the Food and Beverage Director. The Bromley party - Mr. and Mrs. Gallian were not specifically identified - had moved over to the Barcelona on the Monday after the opening and stayed until Wednesday morning. It was now late Wednesday afternoon and Drew was finishing critiquing the food and beverage department. Since the opening, he had conducted short one-on-one meetings each afternoon with the department heads to discuss glitches and critique their operations.

"As you know, we had the Bromley party 'boxed off' for a five-star experience by assigning a butler for their suite only. You mentioned 'good news'. I assume that the other shoe is about to drop?" Nigel replied with a knowing smile.

"Very perceptive. Timing in delivering the room service orders seemed to be a problem for the other guests. The front desk has had a few grumbles about breakfast taking up to an hour or more to arrive this morning. With us deliberately over-staffing and the house running at a planned 30% occupancy, this is a serious concern." Drew paused and momentarily looked at a few reports. "I am aware of some problems you've been experiencing with the point-of-sale computers and that the techs are on it. Would it be right to assume that is where the snag was?" Drew had learned that it was far more effective to assume the role of facilitator than to play 'gotcha' games with his managers.

"Spot on, Drew. The orders in those buggers were somehow being misdirected to printers at the wrong stations. Hot food being directed to the pantry was the main culprit. I was down in the kitchen this morning expediting the whole bloody mess when I first got a call from our manager. The re-programming was completed just after lunch and with luck I won't be up to my elbows in scrambled eggs tomorrow."

"That's great. Nick is pushing to crank up the occupancy to 60% next week and I want to make sure we're ready. By the way, you'll be getting an official letter of thanks from Nick concerning the successful final test feeding last Saturday. He's been receiving tons of nice notes and the word on the street is very positive. We've got a hit on our hands."

"Makes this bloke pleased, indeed." Nigel smiled and shook his head. "I just hope those two signature, celebrity chefs pull their restaurants together. Last I heard, Le Grenouille is test training this weekend and Ben Ford's Place will be up and running next week. Ben is a real pro but Antoine has been a royal pain in the arse. He doesn't want to accept that we're only landlords and he's responsible for the contractors he hired."

"I hear you...but the owners expressly wanted Le Grenouille in the resort and realize that Chef Antoine is a prima donna. However, everyone feels that the five-star French restaurant will give Barcelona additional luster. We've got to roll with the punches." Drew felt compassion for the man seated across from him. However, he agreed with Mr. Bromley - Le Grenouille was a prestige catch and would be very popular with the East Coast guests.

"Ben tells me that his dad and Calista will be coming in next week for the opening of his restaurant. I've taken the liberty of setting up a comp suite for them."

"Excellent. I'll make sure that his party is in one of our VIP suites. Just let me know under what name they want to be registered." Drew would make sure they'd reap some local press coverage from the famous couple's visit - with their approval.

"Chef Ford will be very pleased. I'll get back to you on the details of their arrival."

"Deal. Well, I guess we've discussed everything for the day. Thanks for getting the job done." Drew stood up and walked around to Nigel. He waited for the older Scotsman to stand and then extended his hand. "You really are an important part of the team and I appreciate your 'in the trenches' approach. See you same time tomorrow." He shook Nigel's hand and walked with him out of the office.

Bud Turner greeted Nigel with a "How's it going?" as the two men passed each other.

"Merde," Nigel replied with a wink. "Have a nice day."

Bud laughed and continued towards Drew with a confident gait.

"I trust the slots are humming away? We've got to pay for this joint somehow," Drew said as he extended his hand. 'Turner must have good genes,' he considered. 'He looks more like Michael's older brother than father.'

"We've got them set for a high pay-off and the locals are really taking the bait. Each slot is averaging over $500 a day."

"With 3,000 slot machines, we'll definitely crank out some profit. If that was your idea for marketing the slots, I salute you. Come on in." Drew decided to take the lead and entered first, as he wanted to direct Bud over to a more casual area than the desk.

"Thanks for seeing me. I promise not to take up much time." Bud followed Drew into the office and eased into an overstuffed chair after Drew sat down in a companion chair. They were arranged in a conversation area that also featured a small couch and coffee table.

"I've got plenty of time. And since our boys are becoming very good friends, we really should get to know each other. Same goes for Bob." Drew decided at the last minute to omit a joking reference about them potentially becoming 'in-laws'.

"This is part of the reason I'm here although it has nothing directly to do with Cray...or, Michael. By the way, how do you - and, Bob - like being fathers?"

"Luckily, we didn't have to change diapers or go through the 'terrible twos'," Drew replied with a laugh. "Or, agonize over discussing the birds and bees. Seriously, there was a need to provide this remarkable young man with a home for the next couple of years and we jumped at the chance. I honestly never thought I'd be a dad to anyone and this has made my folks very happy. Instant grandchild. Enough about me...what's on your mind?"

"I thought that I should tell you something that I've usually kept buried...especially at work. I must say, Drew, that you being an officer of the company who is 'out' makes this much easier." Bud leaned forward and added, "I wanted you to know that I'm also a gay dad. Michael and I came out to each other very recently."

"The apple not falling far from the tree, so to speak?" Drew studied Bud for a moment. 'Must be about 10 years older than me,' he decided. 'Just at the cusp of that other generation where coming out wasn't very easy.' He leaned forward and added, "You're absolutely among friends in this organization but how you handle it on the floor with your colleagues is your call."

"I already guessed your answer but felt that I had to clear the air. By the way, Cray knows. I asked him not to say anything to you or Bob until we had a chance to talk. I hope you're not ticked that I asked him to keep something from you?"

"Ticked? Absolutely not. Your sexuality was not 'need to know' information in our house. Cray did the right thing not telling us and the same applies with you and me. I was aware of Michael being gay but decided it was none of my business talking about it until you brought it up." Drew stood up and stretched by pulling his arms back. "That's strictly a father-son thing."

"Clears the air in one fell swoop. I think I'll just be truthful if anyone ever asks me and let the chips fall where they may."

"Good philosophy. Bud, why don't we plan on everyone getting together over at our house for a cookout very soon? Bob and I should have a handle on our personal lives in a couple of weeks." He smiled as he watched Bud rise from the chair. "At 16, God knows where this friendship between those two guys is headed. But I want you to know that we feel Cray couldn't do any better in the boyfriend department than Michael."

"And I feel the same way. Cray's a solid young man and I'm supportive of their relationship. However, love's fickle at that age and...who knows?" Bud said with a shrug. "Just so you're aware, I've had a few safe sex discussions with my son."

"Us, too. It's just the responsible thing to do." Drew decided that it wasn't necessary to further discuss their sons' sexual lives, however active. "I gotta get back to work. Why don't we plan on having the cookout in a couple of weeks on Sunday? That should put us a few weeks ahead of the grand opening and we should be able to relax. I can speak for Bob when I say we look forward to getting to know you and Michael much better."

"At least we don't have to help pick out china patterns," Bud said with a laugh. "I'll put the cookout in my calendar and tell Michael. Now, back to the bright lights and glitter of the casino floor." He vigorously shook Drew's hand and left the office.

'China patterns, indeed,' Drew chuckled as he returned to his desk. 'Better concentrate on getting the boys into college first.' He clicked on the email icon and reviewed his 'in' box. Nick had a habit of sending a list of observations about operations 'oops' each late afternoon that acted as a checklist for Drew's 5:00 p.m. walk-through of the hotel.


"You know I'm relieved about you quitting," Cray said as he leaned back into the pulsing water jets of the Jacuzzi. He had left school immediately after the final bell and biked over to Mario's house. Spike had said he wanted to see Cray and suggested they make use of the pool and Jacuzzi before enjoying some of Mr. Ed's cooking for dinner. "And to officially be with a guy like Lou is terrific."

"After dinner last weekend, he sort of proposed. One of the conditions was that I concentrate on school, him and a new legit job...not necessarily in that order. I've got a few obligations that I promised Mario I'd take care of. Mostly harmless, older clients who are regulars." Spike submerged his body further into the water until the flow was churning against his shoulders. "Mmmm, feels good."

"Was Mario pissed or anything?" Cray looked at Mario as a friend and protector, but he knew he was not a man to cross.

"Naw. Concerned more than anything else. You and Mario are among the few in Vegas - along with your dads - who know that Lou is a rich guy. Mario thinks that Lou wants me as some sort of toy and will toss me away down the road."

"What do you think?"

"I think we're both in love. He and I are going to get a place together and I'll probably end up working part-time at Barcelona. I've got an interview with Human Resources next week. There's a position in the accounting and finance department that sounds very tempting. I trust Lou and will go with the flow."

"Don't bullshit your other little brother. You never 'go with the flow'." Cray scooted around the seat until he was sitting next to Spike. He pressed his leg against Spike's and continued, "You have a very nice, bright guy - who happens to have almost as much money as God - eating out of your hand."

"It's a two-way street. I'd lick his palms in a nano-second." Spike smiled and cocked his head as he pressed back.

"And a few other places, no doubt." Cray grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. "It's pretty obvious that you have the hots for the man and not the money. I just hope he realizes what a stud he's getting." He reached down and squeezed Spike's thigh. That they were nude together was not a problem. Cray now only thought of Spike as a big brother.

"Stud, schmud. It's looooooove...on both sides."

"I know him well enough to know that Lou's intentions are what he says they are." Cray decided not to mention his conversation with Lou last weekend concerning Spike. 'Wouldn't be right to do so,' he thought.

"Damn right. I admit that I'm completely under his spell as well. Changing jobs is a big step but Lou's a keeper. You know, it's difficult for two guys to set up house and live in a monogamous relationship. I'm sure we'll both fuck it up at some point but that happens with hetero couples, too." Spike sat up and added, "You're living with two guys who I want to know better. They seem like the real deal - totally committed to each other and you."

"Then you better invite us over to your housewarming for an 'up close' look. When do you move?"

"In a couple of weeks. Until then, I've moved into your old place next to Mr. Ed's apartment. Mario has sharp guy who wants to live in the house and he'll be teamed up with my roommate." Spike stood up, shrugged and sang, "And the beat goes on." He walked over to the steps and turned to Cray. "Buddy, let's cool off in the pool for a bit. It's about five and dinner should be ready in about a half-hour. After dinner, I've got to get cleaned up for my appointment."

"Sounds good - I can handle a few laps before dinner." Cray stood up and blatantly admired Spike's form and equipment as his friend jumped into the pool. 'No wonder Lou finds this guy so irresistible,' he judged with a smile. 'But I know it's also because he's a smart, funny guy.' He got out of the Jacuzzi, joined Spike in the cool water and resisted the urge to horse around. Together, they swam to the shallow end.

"I'm glad we finally got a chance to see each other again." Spike grinned and put his hand on Cray's shoulder. "I figure we're all going to be friends for a long time. By the way, if you wanna use the shower in your old room, go ahead. And check out the package on the bed cuz it's a little gift I got for you."

"Gift? Jeez, I should get over here more often." Cray couldn't imagine what Spike had got him. "You shouldn't have. I mean, I've only been gone a couple of weeks." He reached up and squeezed Spike's hand. 'What the hell would he get me?' Cray wondered.

"And it's still fresh in my memory that you have a limited collection of briefs...mostly white. Well, when they're clean," Spike said with a laugh.

"Gimme a break," Cray replied. He broke away and pushed his palm into the water with force to splash Spike. "As I recall, some of the funky underwear I used to wash was yours."

"I wanted to leave you something to sniff when you did the laundry." Spike laughed harder and returned the splash before jumping behind Cray to dunk him.

Cray couldn't return the laugh because of a big mouth of water he had taken in when he was pulled down. He swam away from Spike and wondered if he'd ever have the courage to admit that Spike's dirty briefs had turned him on. Cautiously, he floated down to the bottom, returned to Spike's standing legs and reached forward. He playfully yanked hard on Spike's dick before swimming away with a blast of energy. He spotted the metal ladder, grabbed the supports and rapidly rose out of the water.

"Gottcha," Spike yelled. He grabbed Cray around the waist and pulled him back into the pool.

Before Cray could react, he felt fingers wrap around his flaccid cock while another hand tugged at his balls. 'Spike got me good,' he thought as his friend released the grip on his privates and swam away to the shallow end. By the time Cray arrived in the shallow area, Spike had used the tile steps to leave the pool.

"As much as I'd like to play, I do have to go to work in a little while and don't want to damage the goods." Spike smiled and started toweling himself off. "Come out and dry off. I'll join you while you open your present."

"You're on." Cray was pretty sure what the gift was but decided to be surprised. He walked out of the pool and caught a towel that Spike tossed his way. "Let me get my clothes and I'll join you."

"Meet you in the room." Spike wrapped the towel around his waist and walked away.

Cray watched the way Spike gracefully strolled with just a slight sway of his tight, taut buns. He duplicated wrapping the towel around his body and picked up his clothes stowed on a nearby chair. He layered them on one arm so he could grab his shoes with a free hand. 'So much has happened in two weeks,' he thought as he neared the door to his old room. 'It's almost like a lifetime ago,' he thought as he entered what had been his first home in Vegas.

"I'm just going to toss on a tee and some shorts for dinner." Spike stepped into a pair of cargo shorts and pulled them up. While he grabbed a t-shirt from the open drawer, he added, "Go ahead and open the present."

"Just knowing it's from you is special," Cray said with a grin as he set down his clothes on a chair and the shoes on the floor. "I mean it." He reached over and picked up the soft, pliable package and tore away the chili pepper-decorated gift-wrap. One by one, six individual packages of Ginch Gonch briefs fell to the bed. "Wow, these are great. I feel like one of the big boys, now." He smiled at the title of the briefs pattern style - Great Guns. "I'm going to wash them when I get home so I can wear a pair tomorrow. Thanks, Spike...I really mean it." He felt a warm blush tingle his cheeks as he walked towards Spike.

"And if anyone rags you in the locker room about them, tell 'em to see me." He opened his arms to allow Cray to glide in for a hug. "Say that they're called 'Great Guns' for a reason. Since it's so close, I guess they qualify as a Halloween present."

"As long as I don't have to 'trick or treat' with them as my only costume." Cray leaned up and kissed Spike on the cheek.

"Unless ya want to get arrested. And when you ever see my brother again, he'll probably be wearing the same thing. I got him a half-dozen, also." Spike released the hug and stepped back to put on his tee.

"How is Henry? I spoke with him last month but it's been so busy, ya know." Cray would never forget his first fling with Spike's younger brother in this very room...on that bed...finding out what sex with another guy was all about.

"We talked last night. I told him about your good fortune and he says 'hi'. I guess it's okay to tell you that he has found a boyfriend. Apparently the guy is from another school and they met at the mall. I hope you don't mind that I mentioned you have a hot stud in tow and that we had all met this past weekend."

"Did you tell him about Lou?"

"That was the reason I called. But I gave him just the bullet points and nothing about Lou's family. I invited Henry to come over with his friend for part of the Christmas holidays. Then I'll drive them back to the Valley on Christmas Eve. Lou is expected back in New York for Christmas but will return by New Year's Eve."

"Sounds like you're going to be hosting a few parties." Cray walked towards the bathroom and added, "I'll take a fast shower and meet you in the kitchen. I'm dying for some of Mr. Ed's chow." He winked at Spike, pulled off the towel and did a little 'bump and grind' before he walked into the bathroom. "Great Guns, huh?"


Except for an exchange of 'hi' and 'how ya doing?' when Spike entered the hotel room, there was no further conversation between him and 'Mr. Brown' - an older, overweight man from Detroit. As before, the short, balding man wore only an open terrycloth robe. They hugged briefly. Spike reached down, squeezed the stubby dick and asked, "Ready for a good time?"

Brownie, a nickname Spike had been asked to use, laughed lasciviously. He licked his lips and grunted while he waddled into the bedroom. "Come on in, kid."

The small suite at the Gold Rush Hotel and Casino was adequate but a little dated. 'How they maintain a four-star rating is beyond me,' Spike thought as he followed his client. He dropped his backpack on the carpet and toed off his 'skater' sneakers. Brownie stayed at the older Fremont Street hotel because he liked the location. The fading jewel of a hotel was located conveniently across the street from Binion's very active poker room and its 'no limit, hold 'em' games.

The client was a man of habit, which included Spike dressing up in 'skater dude' clothes for their monthly rendezvous. Spike thought his costume, that included a trucker cap, sunglasses, tank top, low-riding baggie shorts and high socks, was a little over the top but the 'look' seemed to turn on the old man. And the client was very generous. Spike had already eyed the sealed envelope sitting on the nightstand. In addition to the fee, five additional one hundred dollar bills were always added as a bonus. 'Shit,' he thought, 'I must be in love to be giving up this kind of bread.'

Brownie sat down on the edge of the bed with his robe spread open and watched as Spike mischievously performed his familiar strip tease routine. After taking off the cap and sunglasses, each item of clothing was tossed into a pile next to the backpack. He rubbed his covered crotch as he walked closer to Brownie. For a finale, Spike was expected to get close to Brownie so the client could rip off the white briefs. He had bought a dozen or so pairs of Hanes underwear just for these occasions. 'Guess I'll give the others to one of the charity resale shops.' He smiled into Brownie's eyes as the pudgy fingers grabbed at the elastic of his briefs. Spike had cut the band slightly in two places so the elastic would give way with a reasonable tug.

"Oh, yeah," Brownie said when the torn underwear was pulled away. The portly man brought the briefs to his nose and deeply inhaled the musky aromas before tossing the torn garment aside. In return for the generous gratuity, Spike always wore the underwear for a couple of days before the appointment.

"You like that?" Spike stepped back and slowly stroked himself. He waited for Brownie to get up. This was the part of the fantasy where they went into the bathroom and took a shower together. Brownie, however out of shape, was a tidy person and obviously valued personal hygiene. All areas and orifices of each body would be clean before any close, physical contact began back on the bed.

They adjourned to the bathroom and Brownie turned on the water. The older facility only had a large tub with a shower and a decorative curtain to mask the more utilitarian plastic inside curtain. Spike stood behind him and helped Brownie out of the robe. He looked around and noted with satisfaction that there were plenty of large towels for the drying ritual.

"Uhhh, just right," Brownie said with satisfaction when he tested the water flowing from the showerhead. He pushed back the curtains and stepped in.

"Great, boss." Spike shrugged at the gnarly, grayish hair that grew generously on Brownie's back and spread down to the large, dimpled butt cheeks. 'Gotta start earning the bucks,' he thought as he joined the man. Spike was thankful the tub was over-sized. 'This would be a squeeze, otherwise.' While Brownie stood under the shower water, Spike took a washcloth, wetted it and grabbed the bar of soap. With the cloth in one hand and the soap in the other, he started the washing process. Slowly he worked his way down until he came to the humongous, hairy buns.

"Do it." Brownie leaned forward, opened his legs and spread his cheeks with his hands.

After using the washcloth to cleanse the pucker area, Spike tossed it aside - the first of several washcloths that would be used - and soaped up his index finger. The client wanted his inside to be as dirt-free as possible and since it was Spike who would be venturing up there later, it was a task he didn't mind. He slowly entered and gently moved his finger around.

"Fuuuck," was all Brownie could articulate as the finger went deeper. He shook a little and made a loud gurgling sound.

'What the hell?' Spike thought, 'I haven't even hit his prostate.'

Brownie started screaming and his body convulsed. He pounded the wall with his fists and shouted a stream of obscenities.  

"Brownie, what's wrong?" Spike withdrew and stood immediately. He held Brownie by the shoulders as his rotund body continued to quake.

"9...1...1," he struggled to say as he tensed his body. "Heart." He rose to his toes, let out an agonized cry and collapsed sideways. Before Spike could react, Brownie missed trying to reach for the shower curtain, fell out of the tub and struck his head on the commode before ending on the marble floor with a thud.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Spike said as he turned off the water and quickly got out of the tub. He leaned down and looked at the man's blank stare. Brownie's jaw was slack and he wasn't breathing. "Oh, Brownie." Spike took his fingers and touched Brownie's neck in several places in a desperate attempt to find a pulse. 'This old boy is gone,' he thought as he moved his hand down to Brownie's chest. 'The fall finished him off after having that heart attack.' Spike considered trying to revive the man like he had seen on TV but knew Mr. Brown was history.

"Gotta be calm." He took a towel and dried himself off while considering his next move. Spike wrapped the towel around his waist, left the bathroom and picked up the backpack. He reached in and retrieved his cell.  'Hope Mario is available,' he thought as he punched in his boss's personal number.  Spike felt quivers of emotion pass through his body as he anxiously waited for Mario to pick up.

~~~ "Speak." Mario was short and to the point. This was a number only people close to Mario had. You used this number when there was trouble.

"Bad situation. Client had a heart attack while we were showering and he fell out of the tub. On the way down, he hit his head on the crapper. He's dead...and I've checked all the signs."

~~~ "Hmmm, Brown." Mario replied after a pause. "Okay, here's what you do. Leave him the way he is. It's not the most dignified way to go but when the maid finds him, it needs to appear like he was alone. Keep the water running and leave on the lights. I assume you've used a towel to dry yourself?"

"Yeah. It's wrapped around me."

~~~ "Hang it up neatly like he used it earlier and get dressed. It's important that nothing of yours be left behind."

"There's the usual envelope with the money for services. What shall I do with it?"

~~~ "Might as well take it. That much cash will raise questions. Oh, check around for his cell phone and a PDA. I don't want anything in there that can track back to us so take them with you. It's very important that you use a washcloth or something when you touch anything. I don't think prints will be a concern but ya never know. The only other problem is the security cameras in the halls and elevators. They could identify you."

"Not likely. I wore that costume he likes."

~~~ "Yes, I remember. Okay...get out of there...but do a walk-through before you leave. It must appear as if he was by himself. I'll see you in a little while."

"Got it." Spike went back to the bathroom and looked at the immobile, late Mr. Brown. He shook his head and hung up the towel. 'Little kinky...but a decent man.' He looked around and was satisfied everything appeared normal. He caught himself almost reaching to turn off the lights. 'The lights would still be on when Brownie had his attack.'

He returned to the bedroom, retrieved his shredded briefs and shoved them in the backpack. After re-dressing, he looked through Brownie's personal briefcase on the desk. It was open and he could see the cell phone sitting on top of some papers. 'Gustav A. Brownstein,' he read on a piece of correspondence. 'Probably legal stuff,' he decided, because of the lengthy number of names on the letterhead. In a corner of the case were an older Palm Pilot and a small black notebook. 'The PDA must be what he uses for his calendar and addresses.' Spike briefly paged through the notebook and found it only contained continuous columns of dates, abstract letters and numbers. He grabbed everything and walked over to the nightstand. 'This is money well-earned.' He picked up the envelope with the cash, walked back to the backpack and placed everything in the cavity.

"So long, Brownie," Spike said. He put on the cap and grabbed the backpack. At the door, he looked through the security peephole and ascertained that it was quiet. '9:30 on a Wednesday night. Probably not that busy.' He slid on the sunglasses, pulled down his cap bill a little further and opened the door with his hand covered by the end of his tee shirt. By the time he heard the door secure, Spike was halfway to the elevator. 'What a helluva way to go,' he thought as he nervously waited for the elevator. He was relieved when the elevator cab arrived at the floor landing...empty.

The casino and hotel public spaces were fairly active and he drew no attention. In Vegas, it wasn't all that unusual to see people wearing sunglasses at night. And his skater boy get-up gave an appearance of just another goofball teenager cruising through. Spike was especially relieved that he parked in a lot that was not associated with the hotel. He opened the door of his trusty Honda, slid in and took off the sunglasses. Next came the trucker cap and the tank top. He took a deep breath and felt his whole body begin to tremble. "Ohhh," he moaned as the first tears appeared. "If there is a heaven, Mr. Brown...I hope you made it," Spike said with a halting, raspy mumble.

Over the next few minutes, Spike had a good cry and that seemed to calm him. He didn't remember Brownie ever wearing a wedding ring but wondered what sort of family he had left behind. He was sure Mr. Brownstein probably would leave his heirs well off...whoever they were. Spike wiped his eyes one more time, put on a fresh tee that was sitting on the passenger seat and stuffed the 'costume' components into the backpack. The Civic's four cylinders cranked up when he turned the ignition and he slowly drove to the cashier at the exit. Gone was the skater look; all that the cashier saw was another college kid going home for the night.

'Best to avoid the Strip,' he decided as he angled over to Eastern. The trip home was fairly uneventful and Spike did not speed one mph beyond the posted limits. He turned into the driveway and drove into the mostly vacant parking area. He grabbed the backpack and got out of his car. 'Gotta get out of these low-hanging shorts before I see anyone. What a goofy look.'

Once in his room, he tossed everything on the floor and got out of the black baggie Dickies, shoes and tube socks. In their place, he replaced them with cargo shorts and flip-flops. Spike retrieved Brownie's property out of the backpack and went over to the main house. 'Mario must be in his room,' he thought, when all seemed quiet. He set down the items on the counter and was about ready to open the refrigerator when he heard someone behind him.

"How'd it go?" Mario asked, quietly. He held his arms open and nodded.

"Shitty, thanks." Spike walked up to Mario, wrapped his arms around the waiting body and leaned his head on his boss's chest. "I've never seen anyone die before." He stepped back and added, "But I had a good cry before I drove home." It dawned on him that this was going to be home only for another week or so.

"Mr. Brown was a good customer and friend. He was also connected." Mario shrugged and added, "That's one reason I wanted the cell and PDA. That's the stuff on the counter?"

"Yeah. Plus a black notebook and the money." Spike decided he wouldn't admit he had discovered Brownie's real name. 'I'll have to Google him tomorrow,' he decided.

Mario reached over and flipped through the black book. "Whew," he said with his eyes widened, "this is a fuckin' gold mine."

"Whaduya mean?"

"Losing the cell and PDA could have been a problem. But discovery of the notebook could have created disaster had it fallen into the wrong hands. One of my guys will take the stuff back East tomorrow and hand-deliver everything. The money's all it a little 'thank you' gift.  And I wouldn't be surprised if Detroit passes on an additional bonus for you."

"Mario, that's not necessary." Spike could only imagine what all the alpha and numerical codes in the black book meant.

"You don't say 'no' to these guys. Think of it as a retirement 401k."

"When you put it that way, I appreciate it. And I'm happy to have helped in whatever way to keep things cool. Once Lou and I get set up in the condo, perhaps you can come over for dinner?"

"Maybe...we'll see. As they say in the Corps, you've married way above our 'pay grade'. If Lou is okay with it, I'll be over. But please appreciate that I'm baggage the Gallians would rather not associate with too closely."

"Let us get settled and then I'll talk with Lou. We can just refer to you as my friend and former landlord." Spike cringed a little when he used the word, 'former'. "You already know Drew and Bob. I don't see them turning their back on you."

"You got a point. Let's have a beer and really wind down. Or would you like something stronger?"

"You read my mind. I was going for a beer when you came in." Spike always admired the way his boss was able to smooth the waters.

"Two beers coming up." Mario opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles of Dos Equis. "Open these dudes and let's go into the den."

"A pleasure." Spike got the opener from the drawer and popped off the two caps. He handed one bottle to Mario and they walked out of the kitchen and over to the paneled den.

"This is probably a little too early to discuss this, but how do you feel about the rest of the week and your appointments?" Mario sat down at one end of the couch and curled up so he could face Spike. "Brad is fully recovered and could take over for you...if ya want. There's only one client - Sebastian from San Diego - who will be pissed off but I can eat crow if I have to. You're booked with him this Saturday and I know he really looks forward to your visits."

"Sebastian's a tough customer...but I kinda like him." Spike sat down at the other corner and crossed his legs. "Um, how about I take care of Sebastian and Brad can handle the rest? He's probably chomping at the bit to get back into the groove." Not only was Sebastian a hot guy in his early 40's, but he had a satisfying 'dick of death' and tipped very well. The San Diego developer was one of the few for whom Spike was on the receiving end...with pleasure. "It'll be my farewell performance," Spike added with a wink.

"I think that will work out fine. Then you can get on with your new life." Mario hoisted his bottle and invited Spike to do the same. "Buddy, it's been quite a ride and you've never let me down."

"Same here." Spike smiled and clinked his bottle on Mario's. "I may be retiring but I hope we're friends for a long time." He winked and took a sip. 'This has been quite a night.'

"I don't forget friends. You ever need my help...count on it."



special acknowledgement to Drew for encouraging me to tell a better story through his edits and suggestions. And a big thanks to Brad for his patient proofreading and editing. Finally, a shout-out to Trab for the final tweaks to get the story 'just right.'

I enjoy receiving email comments. Give me a 'shout out' at My other stories can be found in Nifty's Prolific Authors listings and at