This Magic Place -- Chapter 11

    I sat there looking at him, holding his hand, wishing he would wake up. His face was pale to the point of being almost white, his breathing labored and erratic. Every once in a while his body would jerk, as though he were in the midst of some awful dream. His mouth would move as though he was trying to say something. I sat there quietly loving him. He didn't wake up.

    "Time's up," the nurse whispered to me. I nodded and got up and started for the door.

    "Is he going to be okay?," I asked the nurse.

    "Well, he's stable and he is improving."

    My thoughts must have shown on my face.

    She nodded, "I know, but you have to remember he's had quite a shock to his system. The shooting, surgery, blood loss. Actually, he's looking pretty good, all things considered."

    I thanked her and left as the door closed behind me. Craig, Kevin, and Jerry were waiting for me in the hallway.

    "How is he?," Craig asked.

    "Well," I said, "he looks terrible but the nurse said he's looking pretty good all things considered. So I guess he's doing okay. She said he was, anyway."

    I got a chorus of 'Oh, Good,' from everybody as we walked down the hallway.

    "How long is he going to be in ICU?," Jerry asked, as we went through the entrance way into the courtyard in front of the hospital.

    "She didn't say," as I turned toward him, "and I forgot to ask. I suppose a couple of days if all goes well, then they'll move him out to a room. Then we can all visit."

    We continued walking toward the parking lot. There were a variety of trees and green lawns and flower beds on either side of the sidewalk with benches here and there for patients and family to sit and visit. Some of the flower beds were still in bloom. There were birdhouses hanging from some of the tree branches and a couple of humming bird feeders also. I looked but didn't see any humming birds.

    Craig nodded toward a couple of guys sitting on one of the benches up ahead, "That's Patrick McKelvey, the blond one. I don't know the other one but I've seen him around town before."

    Both of them seemed to be involved in a rather intense discussion so I had a chance to study both of them. McKelvey was wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a t-shirt with somebody's rendition of the face of Christ, if you can imagine the face of Jesus looking like Charles Manson. Church of the True Path was printed beneath in big, spidery letters. He was about my height, slim, a rectangular shaped face, angry looking mouth, pale blue eyes, big, protruding ears, and the most beautiful curling, bright blond hair that I had ever seen. He must have spent hours working on it, or more likely, a beautician had.

    The other guy was overweight, brown hair, bald on top, yellow buck teeth, black rim glasses and eating a candy bar. Somehow, the word 'slob' crept into my mind.

    Candy man looked in our direction, spotted us, turned and said something to McKelvey who turned and looked straight at me with a look of pure hatred, as he got up and came stomping toward me, his curls dancing and glistening in the sun.

    He came to a red-faced halt in front of me, and in a poor imitation of Dirty Harry or John Wayne with a bad cold, "I'm going to kick your faggoty ass clear out in the parking lot. You cost me my job you fucking faggot!"

    Craig started moving toward our little confrontation and I glanced over at him and shook my head. People were already congregating, waiting for the excitement play out.

    I looked at him for a moment, and suddenly all the fear, pain, anguish, the not knowing, Dac, white faced in ICU fighting for his life, and the utter senseless waste, all of it suddenly congealed into a mass of bloody, murdering hatred for all the narrow minded bigots in this world, the haters of life. I was more than in the mood for Patrick.

    And in my best David Rinehardt rendition, mainly loud mouthed and louder, "Get out of my way." I walked right up to him and he took a step backward in surprise. My voice getting louder with each step towards him. I stuck my finger in his chest, "God, you're a sick little bigot! The reason you lost your job is because you didn't do your job. And besides that, you're stupid. And there's no cure for it." And by this time I was yelling right in his face, "You understand what I'm telling you, or do we need to get down on all fours and I'll explain it with Crayolas and a Big Chief Tablet? I promise to use all one-syllable words."

    There was a collective gasp from the crowd, someone laughed.

    I think it was the remark about the Crayolas or else the Big Chief Tablet that lit his fuse. At any rate, all of a sudden he was practically foaming at the mouth, and he lost his Dirty Harry-John Wayne-with-a-cold voice and what little control he had suddenly went by the wayside along with what few brains he was operating with and started yelling, "I'll kill you!, you faggot, I'll kill you!" And he came at me fists swinging, mouth working.

    I didn't think. Hell, I didn't have time to, I simply reacted. I grabbed his outstretched fist yanked him toward me and brought his arm up and over my head, pivoted and then cartwheeled him, like I was wringing the neck of a chicken and lifted up with both hands as hard as I could and there was a sudden flash and explosive pain in my shoulder as his body went straight up in the air and described an almost perfect circle and then landed with a satisfying meaty splat in the middle of a bed of late blooming petunias. And he lay there, not moving, with pink and blue petunias peaking demurely around his golden curls.

    "Oh, man, awesome," and "yeah, man," came from somewhere in the crowd.

    His buddy was apparently the smarter of the two, which really isn't saying much, and decided it was a good time to leave, his oversized butt wobbling up and down like a couple of pigs in a gunny sack, his big feet trampling the grass as he beat a fast retreat. I could imagine the edited version of what he was going to tell his minister.

    I bent over, holding my shoulder, gritting my teeth, knowing that I'd torn things loose. I reached down with my left hand and found he had a pulse and was still breathing and about that same time one of the Sheriff's deputies came striding upon the scene -- sort of like a blond, overweight Captain America with B.O. about to dispense justice. I stayed upwind.

    "What's going on here, who started this fight, what'd you do to this man?," loudly, glaring at me.

    I told him my name, what had happened, what had been said and what I had done and about that time, some guy from the crowd of bystanders stepped forward, "That's right, deputy, I saw the whole thing."

    The deputy looked back at me, clearly disappointed, hoping that he could arrest me and cart me away amidst applause from the crowd, striking another blow for justice. The moment was totally destroyed as Patrick came to, sat up, glared at me and started mouthing obscenities. I was impressed, some of the things coming out of his mouth I'd never heard before. He was also carefully keeping his distance.

    The deputy looked down at him, thoroughly disgusted, his moment of glory stolen, "Patrick, just shut up." Patrick looked up at him in surprise and shut up.

    The deputy turned and faced me, "Well, I'm going to have to file a report. This man may want to press charges."

    Patrick glared at me, "Count on it, faggot!" as he incongruously picked a petunia out of his curls.

    I turned, facing both of them, "Oh, I hope you do. Because I'll have both of you in court in a New York second explaining to the judge exactly what took place and why you, deputy, didn't arrest him on the spot for assault. After all, you do have a witness. Are you going to get his statement?" I pointed my finger at Patrick. "He is the one that started this; not me." And I turned and walked off, leaving Captain America to dispense further justice and noxious odors.

    "C'mon, guys," I said over my shoulder, "I gotta go to the emergency room again. I tore something loose in that little fracas."

    We turned around and went back into the hospital and headed for ER with Jerry at my side. Craig and Kevin caught up with us and Kevin had this look in his eyes like I was sort of a gay version of superman complete with noble face and a cape blowing in the wind.

    I looked over at him, "Ah, c'mon, Kevin, I grew up with four older brothers. I either learned how to fight or I'd have got the shit kicked out of me."

    "I hope you never get pissed at me," Craig smiled over at me.

    I looked over and put my good arm around him, "Now how could I ever get mad at someone as kind and gentle as you are, Craig? But don't you ever plant any petunias out at the house."

    He chuckled, "I'll call the greenhouse and cancel the order."

    Jerry very carefully put his arm around my shoulder. "Have I ever told you how proud I am of you?"

    "Not recently," I growled, still pissed off thinking about what had just happened, "but now would be a good time to start."

    "Well, I am, David, and I'm sure lucky to have you as my brother," and reached over and kissed me on the cheek.

    I looked at him in surprise and smiled, "I needed that, Jer. Thanks."

    "I know," he said, as we rounded the corner and came into the Emergency Room.

    The nurse looked up as we came up to the desk, smiled and asked if she could help us.

    I explained what had happened. And suddenly her smile changed to irritation and she interrupted, "That was you out there in the middle of that brawl?"

    I started to explain and she shook her head. "Oh, never mind. Just come with me. The rest of you sit over there," pointing to a bank of chairs, then marched me back to one of the treatment rooms. "Dr. Manzanares will be in shortly," and even with crepe-soled shoes managed to stomp out the door.

    I hope he's in a better mood than you are, I thought as I sat there feeling like some high school miscreant waiting for the principal to come in and assign me to detention.

    Dr. Manzanares came in with a grin on his face, Hispanic, short, slim, good looking. "What is this? You messing up all my good work? The nurse said you were in a brawl out in front of the hospital," as he removed the bandage on my shoulder and started examining the wound. "Yep, you messed it up good all right. Stitches are all torn loose. I'm going to have to redo it."

    I had to say something intelligent in my defense. "Well, I didn't start it."

    "Oh, spare me. How many times have I heard that one?," he said. "You didn't have to finish it either; did you? That's why we have security people around here."

    "Yeah, well, he apparently was feeling insecure because he didn't show up until it was all over. Or perhaps he didn't want to get his pretty uniform wrinkled." I wasn't in a very good mood.

    "Hmm," as he looked at me. The nurse stepped in and he looked up, "get me a suture pack and some of that topical anesthetic; would you, Nancy?"

    "Okay," he said as Nancy left the room, "you tore all the external sutures loose; however, there's no bleeding from the drainage tube, so I'm going to assume that everything else is okay. So, I'm going to spray on some topical anesthetic and redo the sutures. And hopefully, you can make it home this time without getting into any Kung Fu confrontations or wrestling matches," as he grinned at me.

    "I'll try real hard," I said sarcastically.

    Nancy returned and set up the Mayo stand and opened the suture pack and stomped out.

    "I take it that you and Patrick didn't have a nice visit today?," he grinned at me as he started putting on surgical gloves.

    "Right. I don't know enough one syllable words."

    He laughed, "Well, yes, Patrick never was known for his academic achievement. Multi- syllable words would take a while for him to process."

    He started putting in the sutures, neat and tight. "You realize this is going to be all over town by tonight; don't you? And probably in the local paper."

    I glared at him, "You know something? After everything that's happened yesterday and today, I really don't give a big rat's ass what anybody thinks. For all I care, they can take a flying leap."

    "Hey, that's the spirit," he laughed. "Good positive attitude there. Give somebody the finger on your way home while you're are at it. Seriously though, you'll feel better once you get calmed down and a good meal in you and some rest. Oh, and here's some pain pills in case you need them," shoving them in my pocket.

    "I hope so."

    "Okay, that takes care of that," as he finished hooking me back together again. He cleaned up the site and applied a dressing.

    "Now," in a fake fatherly voice, wagging his finger at me, "I don't want you and Patrick playing together any more. I don't think his blood pressure can handle it. Besides," with a little laugh, "he's wrecking the flower beds and I happen to like petunias."

    I couldn't help but laugh, "I'll try not to -- at least until I learn more one-syllable words."

    "You better not. You tear those sutures loose again and I'll do you up with duct tape, you hear?"

    I nodded, "I hear. Thanks, Doc," and left and started toward the hallway and toward the front door. We had only taken a few steps and I thought of something.

    "Wait a minute, guys, there's something I have to do," as I stepped over to the nurse's desk.

    Nancy, the nurse, looked up, trying not to scowl -- too much -- as she recognized me. I leaned over the desk. "You know, it's really a pleasure to run across someone as sweet and caring and as efficient as you are. Just thought you'd like to know how much I appreciate it," and turned and walked off thinking that ought to really piss her off. I should have given her a big sloppy kiss, I thought nastily.

    "What did you say to her?," Craig asked as I rejoined the group and we headed down the hallway.

    "Why?," I asked.

    "Well," Craig said, looking back, "she's just standing there with her mouth hanging open and big surprised look on her face."

    "Good," I said.

    "You're not going to tell me; are you?," Craig looked at me.

    I looked over at him and smiled.

    I heard a muttered "damn." We got in the Cruiser and managed to make it home without any further confrontations with the foaming members of The True Path Church.

    We pulled up in front of the house and got out. My shoulder was banging away and I decided I would take some of the pain medication that the Dr. Manzanares had given me and then go lay down for a while.

    It must have shown on my face because Dulce wanted to know what the matter was and then jumped to conclusions about Dac, what happened, was he okay. I assured her two or three times before she finally calmed down.

    "I'm going to lay down for a while," as I started for the hallway.

    "Wait a minute, David," Dulce said. "You need to eat something. Sit down. I have some chicken soup for you. And there's enough for everybody, so help yourself."

    I sat down at the table and realized, as I reached for the glass of water, that Dr. Manzanares had put the pain pills in my right-hand pants pocket and I couldn't reach them with my left hand and attempting to use my right hand was out of the question.

    "Craig, would you reach into my pants pocket and get that bottle of pain pills, please."

    "Sure, as he groped around in my pocket and got the bottle of pills and took the cap off and handed them to me."

    Dulce looked at me, "Why are you taking pain pills, David?," as she sat a steaming bowl of soup in front of me. "You weren't in any pain last night when I was up there."

    I swallowed one of the pills and looked at Jerry, "You tell her what happened; would you?"

    So we all sat at the table eating Dulce's chicken soup while Jerry recounted a slightly cleaned up version of what took place with Patrick McKelvey and Captain America.

    Dulce looked over at me and shook her head, "What am I going to do with you, David? Am I going to have to take you in hand everywhere? Beating up poor little Patrick like that. And mussing up his pretty curls."

    Everyone at the table stopped eating and was looking at her with various forms of amazement on their faces and then she smiled and a little chuckle slipped out and we all cracked up.

    "That little rooster's had it coming for years," Dulce said, her voice full of disgust. "He prances around in that police uniform like he owns the town."

    "Not any more," Kevin said. "The Sheriff fired him. You should have seen it, Dulce, he went right up in the air and turned over and lit in the flower bed, kersplat!"

    "Yeah," Craig laughed, "with petunias sticking out of his hair."

    Dulce started laughing, "Petunias?"

    "Yep," Craig grinned, "pink and blue ones."

    "Oh, what I wouldn't give for a picture of that," she said, still laughing.

    I finished the bowl of soup and stood up, "I'm going to go lay down for a while. Thanks for the soup, Dulce, it was good."

    "Oh, you're welcome. The bed's all made up," Dulce said, as I headed toward the hallway. "Oh, David?"


    "Owen and Mario and Anthony came up to the house this morning wanting to know where Dac was. They didn't know anything about the shooting. So I told them what had happened, as much as I knew. They were really upset and wanted to head right for the hospital but I told them they wouldn't be able to see him and that you would be home in a while. They want to talk with you."

    I really didn't feel up to it but I knew they were concerned. "Okay, Dulce, would you get hold of Owen on the cell phone -- the number's on the board next to the phone -- and tell them to come on up. I'll be in the library."

    I started for the library as I heard her talking to Owen.

    Craig got up and started out of the kitchen with me. I looked over at him, "What?"

    "I'll go with you to help answer questions," as he smiled at me.

    "You don't think I can do it?"

    "I think you're getting pretty worn out and if I can help, I will."

    I looked into the blue of his eyes seeing the kindness and gentleness there as he smiled at me. "Thanks, Craig."

    Craig and I sat on the divan waiting for the crew to show up. Dulce brought in a carafe of coffee and mugs and set them down on the coffee table and left. Craig started pouring coffee and I sat there debating whether to give them an edited version of what had happened or to just tell it from the beginning. Owen came walking through the doorway followed by Anthony and Mario. They sat down on the opposite divan looking worried.

    Owen looked at me for a bit, "Dulce said you had been shot and we know you need to rest but it's just that . . . well . . ." and he floundered for words.

    "It's okay, Owen. I know that Dac is your friend as well as your boss and I understand how concerned you are for him. It's all right. I think I'll just tell this from the beginning and maybe Craig can give me a hand in places. I know he has a point of view, also."

    And so I started at the beginning when we were walking in the forest and took it from there right on up to the part where we were in the Cruiser on our way to the hospital and I was getting tired.

    I glanced over at Craig, "You want to tell them about the wild ride?"

    "Sure," he said. And started telling them about that.

    I leaned back into the cushions of the divan. I could see the shock on their faces as they began to visualize the events and the fear and horror that we had lived through.

   ". . . and David hollered at me to go faster because he was afraid Dac was bleeding to death. And I couldn't go any faster, I was already doing 85 and 90 trying to negotiate all those damned hairpins. If somebody had pulled out in front of me, I'da never been able to stop. Besides, I've never driven that Cruiser before and I wasn't all that familiar with it. Anyway, we got him to the Emergency Room and they took him right up to surgery. Then the nurse discovered that David had been shot and then David just folded up and landed on the floor like a sack of potatoes and everybody was running around getting him taken care of and finally admitted to a room.

    "And Kevin and me didn't know what to do, so we just stood around. I went and parked the Cruiser and came back in and the nurse said we could go up to the second floor and stay in the waiting room. She gave me a scrub suit because I had blood all over me from when I was carrying Dac," and I could see the emotions playing across his face as he relived the events of that day.

    I didn't think it would affect me the way that it did. After all, I had related the whole thing to the Sheriff without getting upset; but somehow, in the privacy of this room, with friends, and seeing how it affected them, I suddenly was reliving the whole series of events.

    Indeed, it was affecting all of us. I glanced over and saw the looks of shock and sorrow and above all, the anger. Mario looked over at Anthony and put his arm around him and pulled him close.

    "The worst part," as Craig continued, "was the waiting, the not knowing. I kept thinking what if Dac doesn't make it because I hadn't driven fast enough. That thought was driving me nuts. But all we could do was sit there and wait. We couldn't go and visit David, he was still out like a light and Dac was in surgery. Finally, the nurse came and said we could go in and David was awake but he didn't know any more about his condition than we did. We stayed with him for a while and then the nurse said we had to leave, so we came on home."

    And then he finished up by telling them about the visit by the idiot deputy.

    And then, again, I took up the narrative. Telling them about talking with Dr. Salazar and the hospital food and the family in distress who thought of him as an angel and the old barracuda in Admissions and the run-in with McKelvey. And between Craig and I retelling the story, it brought us up to the present.

    "My God," Anthony said, "how did you manage to get through all that?"

    "Well, we didn't have much choice really. And I wouldn't have gotten through all this if it weren't for Craig and Kevin helping me. I'll never be able to repay that debt."

    "There's no debt to repay," Craig said.

    "When can we go see him?," Owen asked.

    "You can't," I said. "As long as he's in ICU, it's immediate family only. The only way I got in was because the doctor knows we're domestic partners and bent a rule; otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to see him either. As soon as he gets well enough, they'll move him into a room. Then all of us can visit."

    "When will that be; do you know?," Owen asked.

    "I'm hoping it will be tomorrow or the next day. The nurse said he was getting better. And the doctor said he would let me know tonight about his recovery."

    Mario leaned forward on the divan, "Do you know who it was that did the shooting?"

    "I told the Sheriff who I thought it was," I said, giving an oblique answer to his question. "And the deputy is supposed to be out here around four this afternoon, so maybe he'll be able to find something to go on. And get that slug out of the Cruiser."

    Owen looked at me for a moment, then quietly, "Malcolm?"

    I nodded.

    "It wouldn't surprise me," Mario said. "He's been spreading a lot of shit around town about the two of you."

    "Not surprising," I said. "He was so foaming mad here at the house that day I thought he was going to bite himself. I never saw a person so consumed with hatred as he is."

    Owen looked over at Mario and Anthony, "Well, guys, we better get back to our unexciting work and let David get some rest."

    They stood up and thanked us for the information and started for the doorway.

    "Oh, by the way," I said, "did Dac leave any kind of list as to what was to be done?"

    Anthony spoke up, "Yeah, he has a list of stuff for about the next two weeks. Although after that, I think we'll be almost done. But putting the sod in is going to have to wait until next spring, though."

    "Well, keep me posted as to your progress and I'll let you know as soon as Dac is in a private room and can have visitors," I said.

    They had almost gotten to the hallway when Anthony stopped and turned back, "You know something, David?"

    "What?," I asked.

    "Dac has an angel, too. Three of them," and turned and joined the others.

    I headed out of the library toward the stairs and looked over at Craig walking beside me. "You going to put me to bed?"

    "Yep," as he smiled over at me.

    "I'm not an invalid, Craig." And then I realized how that must have sounded. "Oh, I'm sorry. I appreciate it, I really do. I'm just kind of wiped out at the moment."

    "I know," he said as we headed up the stairs. We made it to our room and I sat down on the edge of the bed trying to catch my breath. I was just going to take off my shoes and lay back but Craig second-guessed me and knelt down and took off my shoes and grabbed both my feet and swung me onto the bed, grabbed the extra pillow and put it behind my shoulder.

    "You got some blankets in the closet?"

    "Yeah, top shelf on the right side," I answered.

    He returned with blanket in hand and proceeded to cover me up. Then sat down on the edge of the bed, looking at me, with a smile on his face.

    "What?," I said, "you gonna tell me a story?," I laughed.

    "Well," still smiling, "not a story, exactly, but something I want to tell you. It's good news, though. I think you'll like it."

    "I could use some good news at the moment," I said. "C'mon, tell me."

    He struggled, trying to find the right words.

    "Just say it, Craig."

    He looked at me, finally, "I'm in love with Kevin, and last night, he told me he felt the same way," he finished, getting a little red in the face.

    "I thought that's what you were going to say," as I smiled up at him.

    "I know, I could see it in your face."

    "Ahhh, Craig, I'm so happy for the both of you. I know you two have had a tough time of it and it's so neat you found each other. Man, that's good news. That's the best thing I've heard all day except when the nurse said he was getting better. Oh, and Dac will be so tickled when he . . ." and I stopped.

    Craig reached out and laid his hand alongside my face. "Stop it, David, he's going to be all right. He's already getting better. So keep thinking and believing that. And I know Dac will be happy when he hears about us and I can hardly wait to tell him or you can."

    "No, you should tell him or better, the two of you should. And yes, he'll be tickled to death about it."

    "We'd like to," Craig said. "Okay, I'm going to go back downstairs. You get some rest. Okay?"

    "Yeah, I will. Thanks, Craig. Oh, and tell Dulce about the deputy coming at four o'clock today; will you?"

    "Yeah," he smiled, closing the door. And I lay there smiling and finally fell asleep.

    I must have slept for a couple hours or so. I looked over at the clock and saw that it was a quarter to four. I sat up on the edge of the bed still feeling wiped out but better. Someone knocked at the door.

    I hollered come in and Jerry stuck his head in, "You decent?"

    "Have I ever been?," smiling at him.

    "Not any more than I have," he smiled at me. "Thought I better come up and see if you need some help getting dressed."

    "Yeah, tying shoes is a bitch and tucking my shirt in."

    "Well, let's get your shoes on, then," as he reached down and guided my foot into one. "Okay," as he finished tying the shoelace, "stand up and I'll tuck your shirt in for you." He unzipped my pants and started tucking my shirt in.

    "Are you tucking or groping?"

    He laughed, "Just checking to see if you'd caught up with me yet."

    "Oh, baloney," I said. "It was bigger than yours before I ever left for college."

    "Well, I might have had a growth spurt. You never can tell."

    "Not unless it's occurred since you last visited. Well?"

    "I keep hoping," he sighed.

    "I can loan you a brick and some string. Be kind of awkward with jeans though," and I started laughing.

    "Gee, thanks," he said, trying not to smile. "C'mon let's go. The deputy should be here by now," as he started for the door.

    "Jer?," I said.

    He turned, facing me, "What?"

    "Don't ever change, Jer, I love you just the way you are; you know?"

    He smiled at me, "I know."

    The Sheriff's deputy was pulling up in front of the house just as we made it into the kitchen. He got out of the patrol car and walked up to the house. He was a good looking guy, with black hair, blue eyes, nice build, and had, as I was to find out later, a personality to match.

    He smiled and introduced himself as Deputy Carlisle and asked if there was a private room where he could take statements. I directed him to the office and he proceeded to take the statements from everybody, then took pictures of the Cruiser and got the embedded slug out of the upholstery and stuck it in an evidence bag, labeled it, then wanted to see the place where the second shot hit the ground next to Dac, so I walked with him out there and showed him. He couldn't find a slug and said it probably ricocheted but could see where the shell had hit. He then said he was going into the forest to where we thought the shot was fired from and see what he could find. He came back to the patrol car about thirty minutes later and got some sort of kit out of the trunk and went back to the forest. A few minutes later he came walking out with something in a bag which he put in the trunk of the patrol car, and came up to the house carrying a manilla envelope.

    Dulce sat mugs of coffee on the table as he sat down at the table opposite me and Jerry.

    He opened the envelope and took out several typed sheets and handed them to me. "This is your statement you gave at the hospital yesterday. You need to read it; and if it's correct, sign it."

    I started reading as he continued, "First off," he said, "I want to apologize for what did not occur and should have when McKelvey was out here yesterday. In case you haven't heard, he's no longer on the force."

    "Oh, well," said Jerry, "did you hear about what happened at the hospital this morning?"

    "No, I've been out of town all day. I came straight out here when I got back and haven't even checked in with dispatch yet. What happened at the hospital?"

    And Jerry proceeded to tell him, in detail, what had taken place.

    When he got to the part about Patrick landing in the flower bed, the deputy started shaking his head back and forth and got this big grin on his face.

    "I'd like to have seen that," he chuckled. He looked over at me, "Are you going to press charges?"

    I looked up from my reading, "I'll probably talk to my attorney about it further on down the line, but right now," I said, "I'm more concerned about Dac and catching whoever it was that did the shooting."

    "Right. Well, I got four shell casings and a couple of slugs -- we got the one Dr. Salazar took out of Dac -- so I'll send those to ballistics in Albuquerque and see what they have to say. And I got a cast of a footprint, so I'm going to send that in to Albuquerque, also and see if they can match the tread up with a brand name and take it from there.

    "How's your partner doing?," as he looked over at me.

    I finished reading the statement and signed it and handed it to him. "I think he looks like hell but the nurse said he was getting better, so I'm going with that. I'm going up tonight and sit with him and see if I can find out from Dr. Salazar how he's actually doing."

    "I hope he gets better," he said. "Hope and pray, right?"

    "Yeah, we're doing plenty of that out here," I said.

    "I'm sure you are. Well, I better be getting back to the station and make sure I still have a job," as he stood up. The rest of the statements will be transcribed within the next couple of days and I'll bring them out for read and sign. I'll get Dac's statement when he's up to it. He smiled at me, "Don't worry, we'll catch the bastard."

    "I hope so. Thanks, Deputy for coming out," I said.

    "Sure. We'll be in touch as soon as we learn anything. Oh, by the way," as he handed me a card, "here's my cell phone number and my number at home. Call me if you have any questions or think of anything else. Okay?"

    "Okay," I said. And with that, he left.

    Jerry stood up and stretched, "I'm going to go back and see if I can finish the computer software," as he started toward the door.

    "Okay," I said and sat there finishing my coffee, my mind wandering.

    "I'm going for a walk, Dulce," as I got up and started for the door.

    "You want one of us to go with you?," she asked.

    "No, I'll be all right."

    I headed out south of the house. Someday, I thought, I would be able to walk the path where yesterday's horror had occurred. But not yet.

    I headed along the path that usually I had taken in the past, looking up at the sky. Clear blue with little scraps of clouds scudding along. The sun was warm on my shoulders with an occasional chilly breeze. Birds were flying here and there, going about their business of getting ready for the change of seasons. Indian Summer was almost over and Fall was in full swing. Indeed, as I walked further along, I could see that the aspen had already lost most of their magical panoply of gold and only a few leaves remained on the poplars.

    I heard the honking of geese and looked up to see their "V" formation heading south. I don't know whether one could call their honking a haunting sound but it always filled me with a feeling of sadness to see and hear them leaving.

    I have always thought of spring and summer as a time of joyous bursting forth of life, the bringing forth and the raising of young. And much has been written about the beauty of spring and summer; and conversely, many writers have went overboard with their nostalgic hyperbole and praise about the wonders of winter. They described it as that wonderful time of year as a time of waiting, regeneration. And of course, the multitude of greeting cards depicting bundled-up, red-cheeked children skating on a frozen pond, jolly snowmen with their bituminous smiles, the bright whiteness of moonlight on a recent snowfall, trees chunky with their mantles of white. A time of sleigh rides, little boys peeing in the snow, hot chocolate, runny noses, greedy merchants and Christmas carolers singing the same tired carols. I never liked them as a kid and still don't. And amidst the triteness, greed, and insincerity, Christmas. The birth of Christ.

    Undoubtedly, there is beauty in all of God's creation, winter being no exception. Yet still, I hate winter. To me, it's a time of year when everything appears to be dead, bleakness everywhere. The land is shrouded in cold and ice and the drifts of snow hang around like unwelcome relatives. The trees an obscenity in their nakedness and skeletal limbs. It's a time of waiting, waiting. I feel so old. And I can never seem to get warm. A time of year that I don't understand or appreciate. I thought of the lines from a poem by Robert Frost.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

    I wondered, thinking of Dac, is the gold of our love a gold that cannot stay? A transient splendor? Will there be a time when we grow tired of each other?

    Oh, c'mon, you're getting maudlin, I thought. It's those damned geese. They do it to me every time. Their leaving has always left me with such a feeling of loss.

    And as I wandered along, I knew that I had experienced these feelings in the past but for some reason they were not as poignant then as now and I realized that it was the events of the last two days and the pile up of emotions that had brought about this starkness of feelings. But I couldn't seem to shake the feelings of sadness.

    I turned around and started back and spotted Tiger coming toward me in leaps and bounds, her tail in the air and letting out one meow after another with every leap she took. I squatted down and she climbed into my lap and put her paws up on my chest, looking up at me, meowing and meowing.

    I kept petting her and talking to her, "You miss your boyfriend, don't you?"

    "Meow, meow," and looked up at me as though I could do something about it. Or maybe she was trying to comfort me, or her bowl was empty. Who knows? I squatted there on the ground petting her for a while, then put her down.

    "C'mon, sweet face. Let's see if supper is on the way yet," and headed back to the house with her bouncing along at my side. And somehow, the simple act of giving what little comfort I could to Tiger, seemed to help me.

    "Supper will be ready in about thirty minutes," Dulce said as I came through the doorway with Tiger right behind me and meowing loudly.

    "Oh, be still, you," as Dulce gave her a stern look. "You've got food in your bowl already."

    Tiger seemed to understand what she was saying and let out a little meow and set some sort of speed record getting over to her bowl and hunched down and started stuffing it in. Dulce watched her for a moment, shaking her head and smiling.

    Jerry came walking in. "Hey, you feeling better?"

    "Well, different. Just went for a walk. How are you doing?"

    "Fine," he said. "I just finished loading the software on the computer. So everything's up and running. I did a system check and everything checks out. Really nice piece of equipment. When do you want to sit down and learn how to run it?"

    "Not now," I said. "Not with everything that's happened. Not until I know that Dac's getting better."

    "Well, why don't I go through the operation with the others in the meantime,?" he said.

    "Fine with me, Jer. I know I haven't told you, but I really do appreciate you helping me with this and getting everything up and running."

    "Hey, no problem. Besides, I haven't got anything better to do. At least until they move Dac into a regular hospital room and I can go and visit him."

    "Oh," said Dulce. "I just remembered. Angelo and his roommate stopped by while you were asleep. They said they went to the hospital to see you but you had already checked out and left. So they came on out here and you were asleep and they had to get started back to Albuquerque and couldn't stay. Angelo said they would try to get back up and see you, though."

    "Darn. I'm sorry I missed them. I'll have to invite them up over Thanksgiving or for Christmas."

    "Oh, they'd like that," Dulce said. "They were really impressed with the scenery and the house and everything. I showed them around a little bit."

    "I'm glad you did. Thanks, Dulce."

    "Oh, you're welcome," as she started putting dishes on the table. "And supper is ready. That is, as soon as the rest of my family decides to get off their lazy hind ends and show up."

    "My hind end is not lazy," smiled Craig, as he and Kevin came through the kitchen door.

    Dulce laughed at him. "Well, I was beginning to wonder. Wash your hands and sit down. Supper's ready."

    Hands washed and faces smiling, we said grace and began supper.

    "Are you going to the hospital tonight?," Craig asked.

    "Yeah. I'm going to leave as soon as I finish eating," I answered.

    "Well, let me know when you're ready," he said.

    I looked at him, at first not understanding, then, "Oh, I'll go alone, Craig. The Cruiser's got automatic transmission, so I can drive it with one hand. You don't need to go with me."

    "No, I'll drive," Craig said with a stubborn look on his face.

    "Are you giving me orders?," I said with a half smile, looking at him with what I hoped was a stern look.

    "No, but I'm going with you," still with his stubborn expression.

    "What about Kevin?," I asked, trying to argue out of it. "You going to leave him here all alone?"

    "Kevin's got a project he's working on. Besides, we won't be gone that long."

    And Dulce couldn't contain herself, and in her most pleasant, conversational tone, "Would you like me to help you with your project, Kevin?"

    "Oh, I couldn't do that," Kevin said with a wicked grin. "It's classified. You'll find out. Eventually."

    "Oh, you two and your secrets," she said, with a disgusted look on her face. "Craig's right, though, he should go with you. Or somebody. At least that way, David, you'd have help if you needed it. What if you had a flat tire or had to stop and get gas?"

    Or somebody shot at me again, I thought, which was what everybody was thinking I was pretty sure.

    "All right, all right," I said. "I can see I'm not going to win this argument."

    "And while you're gone," Dulce said. "Kevin can work on his project. And Jerry can show me how to operate the computer."

    "That sounds like a good idea," Jerry said, as Dulce started clearing the table. "She'll have it completely mastered by the time you get back."

    "Mmmph," I said. "Well, let's go, Craig." And we headed out the door.

    We started out, neither of us saying much. I was thinking of Dac and hoping that he would be better and wondered if I would see the doctor tonight.

    "You know, I'm really not trying to push you around, David. It's just that until this guy is caught and things are settled, I just don't want you taking any unnecessary chances."

    "Oh, I know you aren't, Craig," I said. "It's just that I hate being so helpless and at the mercy of someone's good will."

    "David, I help because I care about you and Dac. All of us do. It's certainly not good will -- at least in the sense that you usually think of good will. And besides, I feel like I owe you and Dac for all you've done for me."

    "You don't, Craig, but I do understand what you're saying."

    Craig didn't say anything more and neither did I and we pulled into the hospital parking lot shortly afterwards and managed to make it into the hospital without confronting any members of the Church of the True Fools.

    Craig headed for the waiting room and I rang the ICU buzzer and was admitted by a different nurse.

    "I'm afraid it's still only ten minutes," she smiled at me.

    "I understand. Has the doctor been by this evening?," I whispered as we walked toward Dac's bed.

    "No, but I saw him earlier in the hospital, so he should be here shortly."

    I stopped at the foot of Dac's bed and looked at him as he slept. A sigh of relief went through me because he looked better and there was color in his face and his breathing was steady. I sat down in the bedside chair and looked at the manic blinking of green and orange lights on the monitors and electronic regulators on the IVs.

    I could hear a bubbling and gurgling and finally located the oxygen outlet as it bubbled up through the water in the moisturizer bottle, finally making its circuitous way through the plastic tubing and into the cannula in Dac's nose. He looked lost and almost overlooked amongst the stark white of the bedding and the forest of monitor leads and IV tubing.

    I reached down, taking his hand in mine, and looked up at his face. His eyes were open, looking at me, a weak smile on his face. I wanted to lean over and kiss him but I couldn't get to him. I laid my hand along side his face and he turned his head and kissed the palm of my hand and looked back up at me.

    "I love you," he managed to get out in a scratchy whisper.

    "I love you, too," I said.

    "You saved my life."

    "Well, the three of us maybe. I couldn't have done it without Craig and Kevin."

    "What happened to me? Was I shot?"

    "You were. But Dac, I'm not allowed in here but for a few minutes and I don't have the time to tell you the whole story and you're not well enough yet. As soon as you're moved out of here into a room and feeling better, I'll tell you the whole story. There's quite a bit."

    Dac didn't say anything, just looked at me and finally nodded. I needed to change the subject and get him thinking about something else.

    "Don't know whether the doctor told you or not but you've got a pint of Kevin's blood in you. Did you know that?"

    "No, I didn't. I do?" Judging by the expression on his face, he definitely had some mixed emotions about it.

    "Yep, a full pint of premium."

    "I'll never hear the last of it, if I know Kevin."

    "Probably not," I laughed. "After he donated the blood, he put on this big melodrama and came staggering back into my room, saying how weak he was and tried to talk Craig into taking him home and feeding him chicken soup and reading him a story. Never did find out whether Craig did or not. Probably did, though, as giving as Craig is."

    He looked up at me and smiled, "I always had this fantasy of feeding you chicken soup with a kiss for dessert, among other things, and now I'm the one that's in bed."

    I laughed, "Well maybe once you're up and around, I'll get sick and you can feed me soup. I'll even let you have your way with me."

    "Promise?," he grinned up at me.

    "Promise. I'll get sick just as soon as I can. Maybe we can practice in the meantime."

    Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around.  Dr. Salazar was behind me, smiling and beckoning for me to follow him out in the hallway.

    "I'll be back in a little bit. I need to talk to the doctor," as I got up to leave.

    "Come back."

    "I will. It'll just be a minute or so," and left the room.

    "Well, how are you feeling?," Dr. Salazar asked me.

    "Well, sore but other than that, I feel okay. Not as weak as I was."

    "Good, good. Haven't been beating up any more of our upstanding citizens; have you?," with a big grin on his face.

    Oh, lord, I thought. "I didn't think you had heard about that."

    "Well, I didn't hear about it, as a matter of fact. I saw it in the paper. All over the front page along with a great huge picture of Patrick, who was airborne, I might add. Haven't you seen it?"

    "No, the paper usually isn't delivered out to the house until the next day with the mail." I shook my head, "More notoriety."

    "Oh, I don't think so. Everybody that's said anything about it to me seemed to be a hundred percent for you and Dac. I read the whole article and you all came across as local heroes."

    "Yeah, well, they probably don't know anything about Dac and me."

    "Oh, yes, they do. The paper stated right at the beginning of the article that the two of you were domestic partners and lived together. Don't worry about it. It'll all work out."

    I just shook my head, "I hope so. How's Dac?"

    "Dac is doing very well. All of his lab work -- blood, chemistry, liver panel -- all that stuff is practically back to normal. His color is much better, he's awake for longer periods of time, knows where he is and what's going on around him and I don't foresee any problems with his recovery. I've taken him off the critical list and unless he has some problems during the night, which I don't anticipate, then I'm going to move him into a room tomorrow afternoon and you'll be able to spend more time with him. Now, how does that sound?"

    "Sounds good. Can I tell him?"

    "No, I'll tell him myself. I want to change his dressings and do some poking and prodding around and probably get him pissed off," he grinned as he walked back into ICU.

    "Okay," as he came out the door. "Go say goodnight -- no hugs, he's still pretty fragile down there -- then go home and get a good night's rest. Don't beat up anybody, either."

    The nurse let me in and I walked over to his bedside and he looked up at me and smiled. "I came to say goodnight. Good news about tomorrow, huh?"

    "Yeah, I can hardly wait. Maybe by then some of these IVs will be through and they can unhook the monitors. And I can get something decent to eat. All they been feeding me is liquids and Jello and I hate that stuff."

    "Well, I wouldn't count on the kitchen coming up with anything decent. I think they practice some advanced form of black arts down there. Maybe Dulce can make some chicken soup for you and bring it with her when she comes up to visit. I'll even feed you. Now, how's that?"

    "And tell me a story?"

    "We'll see," as I put my hand against his face. "Gotta go. Goodnight, Bud, I love you and I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."

    "I love you. David?"


    "Say a prayer for me; will you?"

    "I already have, but I'll say another one. Goodnight, Bud. Keep it warm."

    He smiled, "I will. Bye."

    I walked down the hall and collected Craig and we left the hospital. We got in the Cruiser and Craig pulled out of the lot, navigated the late evening traffic and stop lights, finally pulling onto the county road.

    I was kind of lost in my thoughts and didn't say much. It was a moonlit night, clear, the stars shining and I leaned back, relaxed for about the first time, looking at the stars, enjoying the movement of the car as we climbed into the mountains. The night air was scented with an occasional puff of pine, and as we passed them, odors from new-mown meadows filled the car, the adjacent fields filled with the dark rectangular shapes of hay bales. We passed eight or ten head of horses leaning up against a pasture fence and the sharp, tangy smell of manure quickly filled the car. A horse whinnied as we drove by. A dog barked in the distance. I sat there feeling lonely, wishing Dac was in my arms, the warmth and smell of him, telling me one of his stupid stories.

    Craig looked over at me. "Okay. So how is Dac?"

    "Oh, I'm sorry, Craig. I was sitting here thinking about Dac, I guess. He's fine. I guess that's why I was so relaxed. At least the pressure is off now that I know he's getting better. The doctor said he had definitely turned the corner and was going to recover. And, if he gets through the night with no problems, he's going to be moved to a regular room tomorrow afternoon."

    "Oh, that's good news," he said. "Real good news."

    "Yeah, it is; isn't it? Oh, I just remembered."

    "What?," he asked.

    "I wanted to stop and get a newspaper before we left town."

    "I already got one," he said. "It's in the back seat. You're going to freak when you see it."

    "I already know about it. Dr. Salazar was teasing me about beating up poor Patrick. Said there was a big picture on the front page along with the article about Dac and me and what had happened. Well, I'll look at it when we get home."

    We drove in silence for a while, then, "I'm hungry," Craig said, as he slowed for one of the many hairpin curves.

    "Let's raid the fridge when we get home."

    "Oh, that's got to be one of your better ideas."

    I started grinning. "Speaking of eating," I said. "Did you take poor, weak Kevin home the other night after he had donated that Great Big Huge Pint of blood and feed him chicken soup and read him a story?"

    Craig gave kind of an embarrassed laugh, "Well, yeah, he kind of talked me into it."

    "I'll bet he didn't have to talk very hard; did he, Craig?"

    "Well, no," in a quiet little voice.

    I reached over and patted him on the shoulder. "You two are good for each other. I'm glad you're together."

    "Yeah, me too," he said and looked over at me and smiled.

    We came up over the last rise and pulled up in front of the house. "Looks like everybody is still up, the kitchen lights are on," I said as I got out.

    Craig and I walked into the kitchen just as Dulce straightened up from taking a large baking pan from the oven filled with Burritos. The smell permeated the kitchen almost instantly and I was practically slobbering.

    "Oh, food," Craig said, heading for the table.

    And of course, the next question from everybody was "how's Dac?," as they headed for the table.

    So I sat down at the table with everybody and related what the doctor had told me and what I had observed myself. Ending with the news that Dac was going to be moved to a room tomorrow afternoon and that he was starving to death on liquids, amidst a chorus of 'Oh, good," "great," and "fantastic."

    "What happened to the burritos?," Craig asked.

    "Oh," Dulce said, laughing. "I forgot all about them sitting here listening to the news about Dac," as she got up and started dishing them out.

    "The doctor told me," I said, alternately talking and stuffing my mouth, "that there was a front page photo and article about the little confrontation in front of the hospital. Wanted to know if I had beaten up anybody else recently."

    "I can hardly wait to see the paper," Jerry said.

    "Yeah, me too," Kevin chimed in.

    "I forgot," as Craig pushed away from the table and got up and headed out the door.

    "Where's he going?," asked Dulce.

    "To get the paper," I said. "He got one at the hospital before we left and threw it in the back seat."

    Craig came back in and plopped the paper on the table. I spread it out and everybody got up and came around and stood next to me looking at the front page spread. There was a picture -- in color -- of Patrick with a startled look on his face, turning over in the air with me to one side of him, arms outstretched, shoulder bandage flapping in the wind and a look of pure hatred on my face. The caption beneath the picture read, "Alley-Oop!"

    Everybody started laughing, making ribald remarks about Patrick and how pissed I looked.

    I picked up the paper and read the accompanying article out loud. It was pretty much what Dr. Salazar had said; that Dac and me were domestic partners living together at the old Jensen place, which was currently undergoing extensive remodeling. It gave a detailed account, according to the Sheriff's Department, of the shooting of both Dac and me by an unknown assailant and our struggles in getting him to the hospital fearing that he was bleeding to death and that his cousin had later donated blood. It then stated it was the opinion of medical personnel that our quick thinking and actions had undoubtedly saved his life. The article next to the photo told about the confrontation in front of the hospital and quoted a number of homophobic remarks made by Patrick. It also mentioned in the main article that the motive for the shooting was, according to the Sheriff's Department, thought to be homophobic in nature and while no one had been charged with the assault, the investigation was being vigorously pursued. It ended with the statement that the District Attorney could not be contacted for comment as to whether charges would be filed against Patrick McKelvey.

    I put the paper down. "Well, that's it, everybody. We came out smelling like a bunch of roses."

    Kevin looked around at everybody and got this silly grin on his face, "Gosh, we're heroes."

    Craig shook his head and looked up at the ceiling and groaned.

    Jerry looked over at me, with a grin on his face, and in a falsetto voice, "Can I shake you hand, sir?"

    "Oh, shut up."

    Jerry started laughing. "I can't help it, I've never been around a hero before."

    "Insufferable. You all are," Dulce laughed and started clearing the table.

    "You think we're insufferable," I said. "Just wait till Dac comes home from the hospital. He'll be the worst patient you've ever saw. He'll complain 24/7 about everything he can think of. Knowing him, he'll milk it for everything he can."

   "He better not give me any sass," Dulce said, "or I'll give him an SS enema and straighten him out real quick," as she whisked the left-over burritos from the table.

    Kevin looked at Craig and whispered, "What's an SS enema?"

    "I heard that," Dulce said. "It's a soap suds enema. Triple H. High, hot, and a hell of a lot," grinning at him.

    Kevin got this disgusted look on his face, "Ooooohhh, gross."

    "You had to ask; didn't you?," said Craig as he put his arm around him.

    Kevin looked up at him, "Well, I didn't know what it meant," he said defensively.

    Craig gave him a quick hug, "You could have looked it up in the medical dictionary."


    We gradually went our separate ways. I headed for the office to get some paperwork done, Jerry went upstairs to his room, he said, to make a phone call. I wondered who he was calling that was so private. Craig and Kevin left for Craig's apartment to work on their project and Dulce finished up in the kitchen.

    I worked for about an hour and decided to get a cup of coffee and was surprised to see Dulce still in the kitchen.

    "What are you doing here? I thought you had things closed up and had went home."

    "Well, I decided to make some more chicken soup for you to take up to Dac tomorrow since he's been complaining about the food."

    "Oh, well," I said, "you could have done that in the morning; couldn't you?"

    "Well, no, I couldn't. I have some other plans." She looked over at me with a smug grin on her face, "Jerry has a date tomorrow night."

    "He does? How did you find out?" and my brain finally caught up with my mouth. "Who with?" How the devil does she manage to find out all these things I wondered.

    She looked over at me, "With Laura. I just called her a minute ago to set up a time when we could get together so I could show her how to make burritos and she was all flustered, said she had a date tomorrow night and was trying to figure out what to wear. I asked her who with and she kind of hemmed and hawed around and finally I said I bet I can guess. So, they're going out to eat and then to the movies after.

    "Anyway, I'm going over to her place tomorrow morning. I'll be back around noon to fix lunch and finish up the soup for you to take to Dac."

    I just shook my head, got my coffee and headed back to the office. Boy, I thought, that woman ought to be working for military intelligence.

    I went to bed a couple of hours later. I lay there thinking of Dac and wondering how he was doing and said another prayer for him and a small prayer of thanks for all of us and lay a while longer and finally went to sleep.

    I woke up the next morning with Tiger on the bed giving me one of her reproachful stares and meowing at me. I knew immediately what the problem was. Her bowl was empty and Dulce hadn't gotten around to putting anything in it.

    "Okay, okay, I'm up," as I headed for the bathroom. I finished in there and was pulling clothes out of the closet to get dressed when Jerry knocked and walked in and helped me get dressed. We headed down for breakfast with Tiger running ahead and then stopping and meowing at us to hurry up.

    We walked in the kitchen and said good morning and I think Tiger was getting all set to let out a loud meow of complaint when Dulce looked over at her, and pointing, "There's food in your bowl." It sort of took the wind out of her sails but she didn't waste any time getting her fanny over there and getting down to business. Besides, it's easier to complain on a full stomach. And safer.

    We said grace and sat down to breakfast, talking about Dac, the weather, everybody's plans for the day and whatnot. Dulce said goodbye and headed out the door on her way to Laura's.

    Everybody else got up and headed their separate directions as they finished. Jerry catching up with me as I headed for the office.

    "You want to go over the computer operation while you have the time, before you leave for the hospital?"

    "Yeah, sounds like a good idea," I said. "I was just going to do some paper work but it can wait."

    We spent about three hours going over all the various functions of the computer alone, not to mention learning the various programs which was going to take longer.

    "You know," I said. "You're a good teacher. We've covered a lot of ground and I really feel like I know it pretty well."

    "Thanks," his face splitting into a big smile. "I enjoy computers and I guess it comes across when I'm trying to explain how something works."

    "It does and you do a very good job of instructing."

    "Thanks. Oh, by the way," he said. "I think I'll go with you to the hospital this afternoon rather than this evening. If that's okay with you."

    "Sure. Why this afternoon rather than this evening?"

    He got slightly red in the face, "Well, I have plans this evening."

    "Oh," and I grinned at him. "Say hello to Laura for me and tell her I'm healing just fine. Swilars is probably the best place to eat in town. I don't know what's playing at the movies."

    "How did you know about that?," he asked.

    "Well, Jer, we may live up in the mountains and ten miles out of town but we still have a very good network of what's going on."

    "And I suppose that means you're not going to tell me?," with sort of a half smile, half pissed look on his face.

    "Were you going to tell me?," I countered.

    "I was going to tell you. Sometime. Besides, it's none of your business."

    "Of course it's my business, I'm your brother and love and care for you."

    "Oh, lord," he said, shaking his head, "you were a devious little shit when you were a kid and you haven't changed a bit."

    "Oh," I said, laughing, "I'm glad my personality traits are still basically intact. Take the pickup when you go, we'll need the Cruiser for the rest of the gang tonight."

    "I will, I will," glaring at me.

    "I think I'll walk out to the orchard and see what Craig and Kevin are up to. You want to come?"

    "No, I think I'll go sulk somewhere," he said with a half grin.

    "That's the ticket," I laughed, as I headed out the door.

    I walked toward the orchard and ran into Owen and crew and stopped to talk with them a bit. They were working -- actually finishing up on the spring. Brand new pump, cement slab and according to Owen, a new and larger sand point. They had even put up a new trellis and cleaned out all the dead stuff and got the living vines trained and tied up on the trellis. They asked about Dac and I told them what I knew and that Dac was being moved into a room today.

    "I'll talk to you guys later," I said and continued toward the orchard. I could hear them making plans for going up to see Dac in the evening and arranging to meet at the hospital.

    Craig and Kevin were sitting under one of the apple trees, with a thermos between them. Both were going over a sheaf of papers Craig had in his hand and apparently the discussion was somewhat intense as they didn't see me approaching until I was practically upon them.

    "Hi, what're you working on?," I said.

    "Oh, well, uh, it's kind of a special project that Kev and I have been working on," as Craig folded the papers and put them in his pocket. "We'll show them to you as soon as we're ready but we're not quite finished yet."

    "Oh, okay. Whenever you're ready," wondering what the devil those two were working on. I looked around and was quite impressed with what had been done. All the trees had been pruned, dead limbs and leaves and the rotting fruit hauled away, the earth around each tree had been cultivated.

    I complimented both of them on the amount of work they had accomplished and how well the place looked and got some happy faces in return.

    "Oh, there's quite a bit more to be done," Craig said, "but we've made a pretty good start."

    "You know, this makes me think of when I was a kid and how neat and clean my Dad used to keep things around the fruit trees. Really looks good."

    We stood around talking for a while and I eventually said goodbye and headed back towards the house. Tiger met me halfway to the house and surprisingly she wasn't meowing every step of the way. Usually she hung around the kitchen hoping for the odd tidbit but with Dulce in town, no tidbits. Apparently, I was plan "B." She came up and started stropping herself against my leg and I reached down and picked her up and started petting and talking to her. I put her down after a few moments and we started walking toward the house.

    I headed for the office and paperwork with Tiger right behind me. I sat down at the desk and grabbed a handful of mail out of the mail basket and started going through it. The next thing I knew, Tiger landed on the desk, looked at me and gave a little apologetic meow and plonked herself down to watch what was going on. Probably hoping there would be some cat food samples in the mail. I separated bills from correspondence and advertisements got a cursory glance and trashed.

    I hadn't worked on the bills and correspondence for more than a five or ten minutes when I heard the kitchen door open and Dulce's voice saying "I'm home." Tiger let out an excited little meow and made a great soaring leap off the desk and hit the floor running. I could hear her meowing all the way down the hall. I chuckled to myself thinking that Dulce was about to get an earful. I kept working.

    The next thing I knew, or heard actually, was Kevin hollering down the hallway, "David, lunch is ready."

    We sat down to lunch. I was halfway paying attention to the conversation at the table and thinking about Dac and wishing it was time to head for the hospital. And suddenly I got this feeling of dread, of something terrible about to happen. Had it already? It was as though the sun had suddenly faded and an ominous, dark cloud of foreboding, had descended and was hovering over all of us like a bank of dirty fog. I glanced around the table at the smiling faces and animated conversation. I seemed to be the only one.

    "Has anybody called the hospital or heard about Dac's condition today?," I asked.

    "No," said Craig. "You said the doctor had told you that he was doing okay." Everybody else said about the same thing.

    "I was in the house the whole time," Jerry said. "The phone didn't ring."

    I got up and walked over to the kitchen phone and dialed the hospital. I got the switchboard and asked for ICU. The nurse came on the line and I identified myself and asked about Dac's condition.

    "Oh, we were just about to call you, Mr. Rinehardt -- oh, hold on a moment." I could hear her talking to someone in the background and suddenly I was gripping the receiver tighter and tighter. My heart started pounding. It must have shown in my face because all conversation at the table had ceased and everyone was looking at me. Waiting.

    "Sorry for the interruption," she said. "Dac is doing fine." I managed to breathe again "The doctor just left orders to move him out onto the floor and we just got the room number so we'll be moving him out of here in about a half hour. That's what we were going to call you about."

    "You say he's doing fine?," I managed to get out.

    "Yes, he's still weak, but very much alert. He slept well last night and ate a good breakfast this morning. The doctor was in a while ago and said he's doing great."

    "What room number?," my voice almost back to normal.

    "Room 226. It's the surgical ward, just down the hall from ICU," she said.

    I thanked her and asked her to tell Dac I'd be up later this afternoon and hung up.

    Dulce looked at me as I came back to the table. "What was that all about?"

    "I don't know, really. Just a bad feeling all of a sudden. Weird, huh?"

    "Well, you've been under a lot of pressure," Jerry said. "And they still haven't found whoever it was that did the shooting. It's understandable that you'd have some ups and downs."

    "Yeah, I guess." But the feeling hadn't gone away.

    "Well, I'm going to change clothes and head for the hospital," I said as I got up from the table.

    "I'll have the soup ready for you when you come down," Dulce said.

    "If you don't mind, I've changed my mind," Jerry said, "I think I'll take the pickup and come up later."

    "Sure," I said. "It's room 226."

    "How come you're coming up later rather than this evening?," Kevin asked.

    "Well, mainly because I have some plans later this evening."

    I could see by the expression on Kevin's face that he was on the verge of asking what those plans were and Jerry caught my glance and smiled at him. "No, Kev, I'm not going to tell you, so don't ask."

    "Darn, nobody tells me anything around here," he groused.

    "Ah, poor Kev," Craig laughed and gave him a hug.

    I headed upstairs and got changed. Craig was waiting in the kitchen when I came back down.

    "I take it that I'm not going alone?," I said.

    "Nope," he grinned at me. "I want to see Dac -- at least for a few minutes then I'll butt out and leave you two alone. Besides, I kinda like being a chauffeur."

    "I knew you had a hidden agenda," I grumbled.

    "Here's the soup," as Dulce handed me a tote bag. "It's a wide mouth thermos and there's a spoon and napkins and some crackers. I think he'll like it, it's one of his favorites."

    "After eating that hospital's food, he's probably ready to consider canned dog food. He complained the last time I saw him."

    "Well, I'm making Enchiladas for supper, so if they've got him on a regular diet, I'll take some up to him this evening. So ask the nurse."

    "Okay. C'mon, Craig, let's go. What's Kevin going to be doing while we're gone?," as we headed out the door.

    "He's in the apartment working on our project."

    "I'll bet I know what it is," I said. "Your commitment ceremony. Right?"

    "No, we already have that written. This is something else."

    "Am I ever going to find out about it?," as we got in the Cruiser and put on the seat belts.

    "Not today." He looked over at me and grinned. "Eventually, though."

    "Brother," I said under my breath. "You realize you're driving Dulce half crazy trying to find out what the two of you are doing; don't you?"

    "Yeah," and he gave a little chuckle as we headed toward the main gate.

    We drove in silence for a while. I looked out the window noticing the stands of Aspen here and there as we negotiated the hairpins. There were a few still in their splash of gold but for the most part, the leaves were almost gone.

    I turned toward Craig, "You realize Thanksgiving is about three-and-a-half weeks away?"

    "Yeah, Kev and I were talking about it the other night. Are we going to have a celebration together or does everyone have separate plans?"

    "Well, I was kind of hoping that we could have a celebration here. I haven't talked to everybody but I just kind of had the impression that none of us have family or close relatives that we normally celebrate the holidays with. I know Dac doesn't, his parents are both gone. He has cousins here in town, Kevin being one of them. My parents are gone. Jerry and I have always been close and try to get together over Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and my other brothers and sisters live in the same town so they usually celebrate together. I don't think Dulce has any relatives other than a sister and her nephew, Angelo. I remember Dac saying she was all alone. I don't know about Kevin, whether his parents are still living or not."

    "They're not," Craig said. "They passed away after he and Nancy got married. His Mom died of cancer and I think his Dad died a couple of years later. Heart condition I think."

    "I'll have to talk to Dulce and see if she is planning on going anywhere. What I'd like to do is make a bunch of mincemeat and pumpkin pies and have a couple of turkeys and hams plus all the vegetables and breads. I know Dac will be up and around by that time and we could maybe invite some others over and make a big day of it."

    "Oh, that sounds good. The mince and pumpkin pies. My mom used to make mincemeat every year." He laughed. "One year she made mincemeat ahead of time and had this humongous stock pot full of mincemeat and it wouldn't fit in the refrigerator, and we had an attached garage and she put it out there and for one reason or another forgot about it. Dad was working in the garage and had a heater going two or three days straight.

    "So, when Mom finally remembered the mincemeat she went out to check on it and it was fermenting. Man, a whiff of that would practically knock your socks off. She was practically in tears because she was going to have to dump it. Dad finally convinced her to go ahead and make pies out of it. She was so worried that the fermentation would produce alcohol and everybody would get drunk from eating her mince pie. And my Mom was an absolute teetotaler from the word go. Wouldn't allow any kind of alcohol in the house at all. Of course the alcohol bakes out but there is still a certain flavor -- by product of fermentation, I suppose. Anyway, those were absolutely the best mince pies she ever made. All the relatives were telling her how good they were and all the men were going back for seconds and thirds. And Mom didn't know quite what to say."

    I laughed, "Sounds like a good definition of mixed emotions. And my Mom was the same way. I don't even think she had any rubbing alcohol in the house. Dad didn't agree with her but went along with it just to keep peace in the family.

    "Anyway, one time he found some wild grapes down by the creek and he had me and Jerry go down and pick all of them. And then he ran them through a press and got the juice and strained it. Then he snuck into town and bought some sugar -- Mom would have missed that much sugar -- and put it in the juice and mixed it up in one of those five-gallon crocks and had Jerry help him carry it up to the attic -- it was warm in the attic with the heat coming up from the rooms below and the sun on the roof -- then threatened me and Jerry with our lives if we blabbed.

    "It was canning season and Mom was putting up all kinds of vegetables and fruits and she ran out of Mason jars. And what Dad didn't know was that Mom had stored some extra boxes of jars in the attic one season when there wasn't that much to put up. So, she went up to the attic to get the jars and discovered Dad's little wine making project.

    "Jerry and I had finished our end of the chores and were sitting on the back porch peeling potatoes for supper and the next thing we knew Mom came marching out on the porch, red in the face and grabbed us both and marched us up to the attic and told us to take the crock to the kitchen. She was so mad, she was talking in German. And I'll tell you, when my Mom started talking in German, it was time to be some place else. We got it down to the kitchen -- damned near dropped it on the way -- but finally made it. She had us pour it into three or four kettles and then shooed us out of the kitchen and told us to finish the potatoes.

    "Dad and my brothers came up to the house from milking and we all went and got washed up and trooped into the kitchen for supper and the first thing I saw as we sat down was the work table filled with row after row of jelly jars filled with grape jelly. My Dad saw it and not suspecting, said something like, 'Oh, wonderful, you made grape jelly.'

    "My Mom just looked at him for a minute and said, 'Yes, from Wild Grapes. It makes the best kind.'"

    "Dad just sat there for a moment with a kind of funny look on his face, didn't say a word all through supper and then sort of disappeared afterward. I think he went to check things out in the attic.

    "Jerry and I thought we were going to catch hell from Dad for sure but he never did say anything more about it. I think he must have figured it out somehow. But Mom was right, though, Wild Grapes do make the best jelly."

    Craig and I were both laughing as we pulled into town and into the hospital parking lot.

    "I'll bet your Dad thought about that every time he ate some of that jelly."

    "Oh, you know it. Every time he tasted some of it he always said to Mom how good her jelly was and she just smiled and didn't say anything."

    I got the soup while Craig locked up and, still chuckling, we headed up to see Dac.

    Dac's door was closed and I knocked and heard Dac say come in and I pushed it open and walked inside and abruptly stopped with my mouth open. Craig was looking everywhere but where he was going and ran into the back of me and I almost dropped the soup. Three Stooges minus one.

    The room was literally filled with flowers and plants of all kinds. I finally located Dac only because he was surrounded by white bed linens and waved his hand and grinned at me.

    "Really something isn't it?," as I made my way over to him.

    I leaned over and gave him a gentle hug and a kiss. "Where did all this come from?," as I glanced around the room. "Who sent all this?"

    "They've been delivering most of the day. From the flower shop, I guess. The doctor won't let me get out of bed, so I don't know who sent it. A lot of it was already here when they moved me down here."

    Craig walked over beside Dac's bed with a big smile on his face, "Hey, how you doing?"

    Dac looked up at him as Craig leaned down and laid his hand along side his face. "I'm glad you're doing better."

   "You're part of the reason," Dac said. "If it hadn't have been for the three of you, I wouldn't be here. Least that's what the doctor told me. I owe you big time, man."

    "Nah, the boss made me. Threatened me actually. Then after we got you in the car and heading for the hospital, he started yelling at me to go faster. Man, we were practically laying rubber on those hairpins as it was and David in the back seat hollering at me to go faster. I went around a couple of those turns so fast I thought the wheels were going to leave the ground for sure."

    "That sounds like David, complain, complain, complain," as Dac peeked around Craig's shoulder and grinned at me.

    "Oh, you're definitely getting better," I said as I walked over and started looking at all the plants and flowers, looking at the tags.

    "Who are they from, David?," Dac said.

    "This one is from the staff at the newspaper. But I don't know what kind of plant it is."

    Craig came over and looked where I was reading the tag, "That's a jade plant. Boy, what a nice looking one. Really big."

    And it was. It stood about two-and-a-half feet high, very dense, with intense green fleshy leaves. There were several large plants in various ceramic pots. There were two Gardenia plants, one in full bloom, the heady scent almost intoxicating. The other Gardenia plant had a multitude of buds and would be in bloom in about a week I guessed. I wasn't familiar with the names on the tags of either.

    There was another plant with a profusion of blue colored blooms. "What is this?," I asked Craig.

    "That's a lily. It's called a Stargazer. And this one here," as he pointed to a medium-sized terra-cotta pot containing a riot of yellow colored blooms, "is a chrysanthemum." I read the names off and again I didn't recognize them.

    I heard a humming sound and turned to see the head of Dac's bed slowly rising. He grinned at me, "This is fun to play with. Who sent the rest?"

    "Well, I don't know any of the names so far," I said. I started reading off the names on the tags, looking at Dac and he nodded his head. I started going around the room, there were several varieties of daisies, a large bouquet of carnations and a large bunch of yellow long-stemmed tea roses.

    "Who are the roses from?," Dac asked. "If you can pull your snoopy nose out of them long enough to read the tag."

    "I love the scent of roses," as I looked at the tag, recognizing the names. "It's from Jerry and Dulce and Craig and Kevin."

    "They're beautiful. Thanks, Craig and give my thanks to the rest of them; would you?"

    "Oh, you're welcome," Craig said "But they'll be up this evening, so you can thank them yourself."

    I kept reading off names that I didn't recognize and Dac just kept nodding his head. Finally, we finished.

    "Are these people you have done work for," I asked.

    "Some," Dac said with a slightly uncomfortable look on his face.

    I kept looking at him and it finally dawned on me, "These are families you have helped; aren't they?"

    Dac sort of nodded his head, then changed the subject, "What's in the sack?"

    "Oh, I forgot. Dulce made some soup for you."

    "Give it here. Jeeze, I've been laying here starving. I was about ready to start eating the flowers while you were busy sniffing roses. You wouldn't believe what that kitchen calls food. I even ate some, I was so hungry. I almost got sick."

    I moved his bedside tray into position and everything out of the bag. "This I'm going to enjoy."

    Dac looked at me, "Why?"

    "Because I've always wanted to feed you and now's my chance."

    "I'll be in the waiting room," Craig said. "This sounds like private time," as he went out the door.

    I scooted up next to the bed and got things ready.

    Dac looked up at me, "You want to do this; don't you?"

    "Yes, I do. I love feeding someone I love. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you're alive and getting well. It was pretty scary."

    "Here," I said. "You handle the crackers and I'll handle the soup. Now, open up." He did and I started feeding him. All the while gazing into each other's eyes and the moment was magical. We were two together in a world of our own.

    "That's all the soup," I said, as he finished off the last cracker. I took the napkin and wiped his mouth then leaned over and kissed him.

    He grinned up at me, "Oh, dessert, too. How about seconds?"

    "Oh, definitely," as I complied.

    "You taste like a chicken," as I smiled at him.

    "Yeah, cluck, cluck," smiling in return. Then his expression changed. "David, tell me what happened. I've only heard bits and pieces, just enough to get me confused."

    "Okay, this is going to take a while. You remember when we started walking toward the forest?"

    "Yeah, you were behind me and said something about having to retie your shoelaces. Then the next thing I remember is pain and everything went black. Everything's a blank after that."

    "You turned towards me and said 'David, help me, help me,' and collapsed in my arms." I then went on to relate the whole story to him.

    "If it hadn't have been for Craig and Kevin, I would never have made it to the car. Well, I would have but it would have taken a lot longer. Craig ran with you in his arms the rest of the way and got you in the car and I got in the back seat with you. And Craig drove like hell all the way into town and Kevin was on the cell phone to the Sheriff's Department. There was so much blood. I kept yelling at him to go faster. I thought you were going to bleed to death before we could get you to the emergency room."

    I eventually finished the story up to the present. We were both exhausted. Dac from listening and understanding my fears and visualizing his own if the situation had been reversed. And me from the reliving of it.

    "Who was it?"

    "I don't know," I said. "But he's got a head full of snakes, whoever it is."

    "Who did you tell the Sheriff you thought it was?," Dac asked.

    "I thought it was Malcolm. Still do."

    "Yeah, me too," he said. "I guess I've always known there was something wrong with him. I couldn't really put my finger on it exactly but there was something not right about him."

    I didn't realize that I had been staring at him until, "What?," he said.

    "Oh, sorry. It's just that I miss you so much. The bed seems so big and empty. I lay there at night looking at your pillow, wishing you were there in my arms."

    "I know, I know. I want to go home. I hate this place. It's almost impossible to get to sleep. And then when I do finally doze off, some nurse comes in and shines a light in my face to see if I'm asleep, then wants to know if I need a sleeping pill. I'm so used to going to sleep in your arms and listening to you snore."

    "I don't snore," I retorted.

    He grinned at me, "Oh, okay. Oh, by the way," and his voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper, "they got this thing stuck in me."

    "What thing? What're you talking about?"

    "In Fred. Look," as he lifted the covers.

    I looked at Fred and started laughing.

    "It's not funny!," as he glared at me.

    "I know. I wasn't laughing at you, and I'd never laugh at Fred. It was just the way you described it. It's a Foley catheter, Dac. It has a little balloon on the end of it that's inflated after it's inserted into your urinary bladder so it won't come out. That way you don't have to keep calling a nurse to come and give you a urinal to take a leak. This keeps you drained all the time. It goes into a bag on the side of the bed. They'll take it out when you get up and start moving around."

    "When's that going to be?" Like I had all the answers.

    "How should I know? Ask the doctor. Complain at him."

    "Believe me, I will. I sure as hell don't want that thing stuck up me. Jeeze, I can't believe it, taking a piss in bed."

    "Well you'd better hope you're up and around before they bring the bedpan in," I grinned at him.

    "Oh, shit. I didn't think about that."


    We talked about less earthy things for a while and it was suddenly time to leave.

    "I gotta be going but I'll come back up tonight and bring the whole gang with me. And Owen and Anthony and Mario are planning on coming up so you better get some rest for the onslaught. I'll stop by the desk and find out what kind of diet you're on and if I can, Dulce will bring you some enchiladas when we come up tonight."

    "Oh, screw the diet, bring me some anyway. I can't live on this stuff they serve around here. You want me to die up here?," complete with sad, pleading blue eyes. Who could resist?

    "See you later, Bud." I leaned over and gave him a kiss and headed for the door.



    "Don't forget."

    "Forget what?"

    "That I love you."

    I stopped and went back over to the bed and leaned down, holding his face in my hands, "I've never forgotten it; never will, Bud," and kissed him again.

    I made it out the door, found out from the nurse that he was on a regular diet, then down the hall and collected Craig and we left the hospital.

    We drove home not saying much, each lost in our own thoughts. It was almost dark as we pulled up in front of the house. "Guess I better go and find out what Kev's up to," as Craig got out of the car. "Talk to you later, David," as he headed off towards their apartment.

    I said okay and headed for the doorway. I walked into the kitchen and the first thing I saw was Dulce sitting on a chair in front of the sink with a strip of duct tape across her mouth. I thought, stupidly, why does she have tape across her mouth. I still couldn't believe what I was seeing. Then I noticed her arms pulled behind her, tied to the chair.

    "Dulce!," as I rushed to her, reaching down to pull the duct tape from her face, "What happened? Who did this?"

    I suddenly felt cold steel pressing against my neck as Dulce's eyes flared at the sight behind me.

    I stood up and turned around, knowing what I would see.

    Malcolm stood there, rifle in hand, laughing, giggling, his head bobbing up and down as insane kaleidoscopic images jumbled and short-circuited through what mind he had left. He was filthy, stains ran down the leg of his pants and as he stood there close to me, I noticed the smell of feces. Drool was running from his mouth; and as I looked into his haunted eyes, it was like looking into a maelstrom of hatred, horror, terror. He must be totally mad.

    "Sit down, faggot. You're going to hell and burn forever and I'm going to send you there," as his bobbing head giggled and slobbered, as he chambered a round in the rifle.

    I stood there, in shock, taking in the sight and smell of him. My mind a complete jumble of fragmented thoughts grappling, trying to understand, looking around desperately for something to throw at him. Something, anything.

    SIT DOWN! he yelled, suddenly stepping closer and swinging the rifle.

    I tried to dodge away but wasn't fast enough and the muzzle caught me in the side of the head. I staggered and fell into the nearest chair, my hand holding the side of my face.

    "That's better," he giggled. "As soon as I finish you, I'm going to the hospital and send your cute little faggot boyfriend to join you." And slowly his eyes focused on me as the muzzle of the rifle slowly came up, pointing straight at me.

    I had to do something. Anything. I suddenly dodged out of the chair, hitting the floor and rolling to my left, waiting for the explosion and the paroxysm of pain that would be the ending of my life, and my love.

    There was an explosion, the sound of shattering glass, a scream, a clatter of something hitting the floor. I didn't feel anything and slowly I looked up and saw Malcolm's rifle laying on the floor in front of me, the grisly remains of his hand still holding the rifle stock, finger extended into the trigger guard and blood and pieces of bone on the floor.

    I lay there, not moving, my mind a total blank, as though it had suddenly got fed up with the whole scene and went to lunch. The next thing I knew hands were reaching down for me, lifting me, supporting me, warm caring hands, gentle protecting hands.

   "David, are you all right?," Craig asked, looking into my face.

    I looked up into the gentle blue eyes of my Marlboro Man and tried to nod my head and the enormity of the whole thing hit me and I lost it. His arms wrapped around me and held me, rocking me back and forth in his arms while I tried to get myself under control.

    There was a thumping noise and we both looked around. Dulce was bouncing up and down with her chair, tears streaming down her face.

    I could only imagine what it had been like for her, watching all this play out, not knowing the outcome and fearing the worst. I stepped away from Craig and went over to her and kneeled down and gently removed the duct tape while Craig with a knife started cutting the rope that bound her hands in back.

    She was crying and trying to talk at the same time, "Oh , David, I was afraid he was going to kill you and then me. I was so afraid. I didn't even know he was here until I turned around from the sink and there he was." I helped her to stand and she wrapped her arms around me still crying.

    "If Craig hadn't have shown up when he did . . ."

    Which made me think, "Where is Malcolm?," and caught sight of him laying on the floor.

    Craig followed my glance. "I hit him over the head after I came through the door. He's out of it. I guess I better get a tourniquet on that stump."

    Dulce looked over at him and swung back into gear, "He's bleeding all over my clean floor."

    Tiger walked into the kitchen, meowing as usual.

    "Fat lot of help you were." She looked up at me and meowed.

    I looked over at Craig, "How can I ever repay you, Craig?"

    "Pass it on to someone else, I guess," he said. The phone rang, I picked it up thinking about what Craig had said.


    "Hey, are you going to let me starve to death up here?" Dac said. "When are you coming up? I'm hungry and I'm lonely and I miss you. David? David?"

That's it, everybody. Sorry it's taken so long but have had some problems here at home that took up quite a bit of time. Yes, I know, it's too long but there just wasn't a logical place to break. Besides, if you get bored with it, you don't have to read the whole thing. Was going to end with a cliff hanger but figured I'd never hear the last of it so figured I'd better finish the last scene. Anxious to hear from all of you. DacAndDavid@Hotmail.Com. 6-13-2002.