Every once in a while, a set of circumstances sets off another set of circumstances, and when it's all over, we set and wonder and hopefully, and if we are lucky, reevaluate a number of our opinions, beliefs, whatnot. That happened to me. A short while ago, we had an electrical storm and while the computer was unplugged, the phone lines into the modem were not. Lightning hit the phone lines and "fried" the modem along with a number of programs that I later discovered. I didn't have the money to have it repaired, and without a modem, I was "dead in the water." I used the computer at the library and wrote to three people that I frequently correspond with, telling them that they would have to contact me via US Mail or through the library computers. Well, without going into details or names, my three friends came to the rescue. Here then is Chapter 12. It is dedicated to the three Samaritans in my life -- you know who you are. God Bless. August 20, 2002.

This Magic Place -- Chapter 12

    Kevin came bursting through the kitchen door, looking left and right, the emotions playing across his face and in an I'm-afraid-to-ask-voice, "Where's Craig?"

    Craig stood up from dealing with Malcolm, "I'm here, Kev."

    Kevin spotted him and in two strides was wrapped in his arms, his arms moving up and down his back, in his hair as if by feel alone he could assure himself as Craig held him, rocking back and forth.

    And in a shaky voice, "I know you told me to stay in the apartment but I couldn't stay any longer, not knowing . . . knowing . . ."

    "It's okay. You're okay, I'm okay."

    And I stood witnessing the interplay between the two of them, the phone still in my hands and suddenly Dac's angry voice came through loud enough that I could hear it without holding it to my ear.

    "David, are you there? What's going on?" 

    "Yes," I managed to get out.

    "What's wrong? Are you coming up?"

    I didn't know what to say, I was shaking all over and blood was running down the side of my face.

    Craig came over and took the phone from me, "Go sit down, David. I'll talk to Dac."

    He held the receiver to his ear, "Dac? There's been some problems here but everything is okay, but David has a cut on the side of his head that needs tending to. So I'm going to hang up and take care of that and he'll call you back in just a few minutes. Everybody is all right, just hang tight for a little bit and he'll explain," and hung up the phone.

    Craig came over with a first-aid kit and cleaned the wound on the side of my head and put a bandage on it. I sat there in the chair for a few moments and the shaking gradually subsided. I got up and called Dac.    

    Dac answered on the first ring, "David? Are you all right?"

    Finally, "No, I'm not, Dac. I don't think we're going to be able to come up tonight."

    "Why? What's the matter?"

    "Well . . ." I didn't know how to tell him. I didn't want to upset him or cause worry but I had to say something.

    "Malcolm was here," I finally said.

    "What!," he said and his voice went up a couple of octaves and his next two sentences came out so fast I could hardly understand him.

    "David, are you all right? What happened, tell me what happened, David."

    Not telling him would be worse than telling him. So, I told him.

    "My God. That bastard. Thank God for Craig. I wouldn't have shot him in the . . . Never mind. Are you okay, David?"

    "Not really. I'm still shaking inside. The side of my head hurts. Dulce's still pretty upset. Craig's on the cellular to the cops and they'll be out here and they'll want pictures and everything and then an ambulance will be here to get Malcolm to the hospital and by that time, it's going to be too late to come up to the hospital, Dac. And I think I tore the stitches loose in my shoulder again and Dr. Manzanares is going to shit when he hears about it and  . . . Shit, my mind is going all over the place. I'm not thinking very straight at the moment."

    "It's okay, David. Listen to me."


    "I love you, David. You know that? I wish I could hold you in my arms."

    "I know," and my voice started falling apart and the rest of me was running a close second. "I love you. I wish you were here."

    "I miss you, too. I love you so much, David. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. You need to eat something and get some rest."

    Craig came over next to me, "David, let me talk to him a minute, would you?" I handed him the phone again.

    "Dac? I got Malcolm tied up and a tourniquet on him. David has a cut on the side of his head and I got that bandaged and taken care of. The cops and an ambulance are on the way. They'll probably want pictures and statements and all that stuff but after they're done, I could get something for you and sneak it into your room."

    "Oh, no, Craig. You don't need to do that. I'll get Owen or one of the guys to go across the street and grab something for me. Don't worry about me. I'm fine. Just take care of Dulce and David. He's really upset."

    "I know he is. If I hadn't have gotten here when I did, Malcolm would have killed him and probably Dulce, too. And he knows that and that's the scariest part of the whole thing -- knowing what almost happened."

    "Just take care of them and try to get them calmed down. Give 'em some of that orange stuff. You know what I mean?"

    "No, what is it?"

    "Oh, it's a liqueur, Grand something or other-- Oh, I remember, it's Grand Marnier. I think it's in the liquor cabinet in the library. It knocks David on his butt every time."

    "Okay, I'll do it. Here's David, he wants to talk to you."

    I had wiped my face off at the sink and got my voice back to some semblance of normalcy, "I know you're hungry, Bud. I wish I was there and I could feed you some soup."

    "I know. I'd love it. But I'll work something out with Owen and the guys when they get here. Go sit down and have some coffee and talk this out while you're waiting for the cops and everything. Then call me first thing in the morning when you get up. You going to be all right, now?"

    "Yeah, once I get myself calmed down. And they get Malcolm out of here. That will help." We said our goodbyes and hung up. I went over to the table and sat down across from Dulce. Craig and Kevin got coffee for everybody and we sat there looking at each other, not saying anything.

    I finally broke the ice. "Pretty scary, huh?"

    Kevin spoke up, "Yeah, it was that."

    "That's for sure," Dulce said, looking over at Malcolm laying on the floor. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at me. "I was so afraid. I knew what was going to happen and I couldn't . . . I kept hoping that Kevin would come to the rescue."

    Kevin reached over and took her hands in his, "I couldn't," Kevin said. "I was tied up just like you were."

    "Then how did you . . ." I started and stopped.

    "I untied him," Craig said. "I found him tied up in the kitchen chair when I walked in the apartment. I took my knife and cut him loose and when I pulled the tape off his mouth, he started hollering at me about Malcolm. So I told him to absolutely stay in the apartment no matter what and I grabbed the rifle and ran all the way to the kitchen."

    The whole thing replayed in my head, "God, if you'd been two seconds later . . ." as I looked at him.

    "David, what's done is done. There's no sense looking back. It's all over. It's no more. Time to look forward. Malcolm is finished. He was the only one that was doing the shooting. And McKelvey and his fat friend won't want to have anything to do with you, and the minister and all the rest of that idiot flock won't dare try anything when they hear what happened out here this evening. They'll be too afraid they might get something shot off if they do."

    "I know what I'd aim for," said Kevin with quiet intensity.

    Craig grinned at Kevin, reaching over and mussing his hair. "Getum, Tiger." He looked at his watch. "I need to release his tourniquet for a bit," and got up from the table, heading for Malcolm.

    Malcolm had regained consciousness and I watched as Craig loosened the tourniquet for a few minutes then tightened it. Malcolm was totally oblivious to his surroundings, humming and smiling, the drool running down his chin onto a growing puddle on his shirt, staring into space. He wasn't even aware of Craig. The expression in his eyes was totally vacant, the look on his face one of peace and contentment, as though he had somehow left this world and was now in some limbo place where fear and strife and hatred did not exist.

    Craig came back to the table.

    "He's completely gone; isn't he?," I asked.

    Craig nodded, looking at me. "Yeah, out in space. He's humming Jesus Loves Me."

    "How sad," I said as I looked at him. "I wonder if there was ever a time in his life when he was just little boy with hopes, ambitions, every day a sunny adventure filled with possibilities. Until somebody came along and started filling him full of hate."

    I started to say something else and shook my head. "What?," Craig asked.

    "I almost wish he'd stayed the way he was. I can't hate him anymore; just pity."

    Craig didn't say anything for a moment, then, "Maybe you should give it to God," he said quietly.

    "Yeah," I said. "Maybe I should," thinking I had a real bag full of hatred that was getting kind of heavy.

    The buzzer sounded for the front gate and I got up and released it.

    "It's the ambulance or the cops," said Dulce. I looked up and could see the eerie reflection of the flashing red lights refracted by the windows on the wall.

    Kevin got up and looked out the window, "Both of them," he said as he came back to the table.

    There was a knock at the door. I went and let Deputy Carlisle and another deputy in along with two ambulance attendants. We all headed for the kitchen. The deputies checked Malcolm over, then sat down at the table with us while the attendants checked Malcolm's vitals and put a temporary compression bandage around his severed stump and got him strapped into a Gurney, ready to head for the hospital.

    Deputy Carlisle stopped the attendants, "He is to be admitted only to the lockup ward in the hospital. There will be a deputy from the Sheriff's Department there to meet you and he is to stand guard at the door until he is relieved. No one is to go in that room other than medical personnel. Tell him I'll phone him in just a few minutes. You got all that?" The attendant was busy scribbling on his clipboard.

    "Yeah, I got it," he said, looking up. He nodded at his coworker and they wheeled Malcolm out of the kitchen and out of our lives.

    "This is Deputy Carter," Deputy Carlisle said as the both of them sat down. He looked over at me and smiled, "Well, David, looks like you're right in the middle of things again, huh?" He looked around, wrinkling his nose, "ugh, what smells?"

    I smiled weakly, "Gunpowder and Malcolm. Mainly Malcolm."

    "I have the windows open," Dulce said, "trying to air out the place but it looks like I'm going to have to scrub and fumigate this whole kitchen in order to get rid of the smell."

    "I see. Well, okay, let's start at the beginning," as he put a tape recorder on the table. "If I understand correctly, this started with you, Dulce. So just tell me in your own words what all took place, everything you can think of, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you, and then I'll take each of your statements in turn."

    So Dulce told him how she had turned around and he was standing there and how he had forced her into a chair and tied her up and put tape across her mouth and then left and came back about five or ten minutes later and waited for David to return.

    About the same thing had happened to Kevin except he had been in the bathroom and when he came out he practically walked right into Malcolm. Malcolm had done the same with him, forcing him into a chair and tying his hands and taping his mouth and then left and he was still in the chair when Craig walked in and untied him and left, running for the kitchen with a rifle.

    Then it was my turn and I repeated what had happened up to the arrival of the ambulance and sheriff's deputies.

    Craig repeated essentially what he had already told us, that he had went to the apartment to see what Kevin was up to and found him bound and gagged, cut him loose and when Kevin told him what had happened, realized he was going to kill David and grabbed the rifle and ran to the house.

    "I got to the kitchen door just as Malcolm was getting ready to pull the trigger and I don't know why, but it flashed through my mind that if I shot him in the head he would probably spasm and pull the trigger and probably kill David anyway or at least hit him. So I shot him in the hand. He dropped and rifle and yelled and started coming towards me as I came through the door, so I hit him over the head with the rifle butt and dropped him."

    "Good thinking," said Carlisle. "I don't know that I'd have had the presence of mind to think of the hand shot and I've been trained for it."

    He finished up Craig's statement, got up and called the Sheriff's office and talked with the deputy who would be standing guard, while Deputy Carter got busy taking pictures and tagging and identifying the rifle.

    "Well," as Carlisle glanced around, "It looks like we've got all the pictures we need and Malcolm's rifle is in evidence, so that about finishes what we have to do out here." He glanced over at me, "I'd be willing to bet that the rifling is going to match the slugs I've already sent in but I'll get a sample slug off to Albuquerque first thing in the morning."

    "You know," as he looked at each of us, "you're all a bunch of heroes as far as I'm concerned. If it hadn't have been for the quick thinking of all of you in getting Dac to the hospital, he probably wouldn't have made it from everything I heard.  And then tonight, if it hadn't have been for Craig, things could have been tragic."

    Craig got kind of red in the face and got up and walked out of the kitchen shortly to return carrying a bottle.

    "What's that?" I asked.

    "Orange stuff," Craig said with a grin. "Us heroes have to keep up our strength; and besides, Dac recommended it."

    "Oh, Grand Marnier," I said. "I could use some of that."

    "Oh, that's good stuff," Carlisle said as he and his partner smiled.

    "It must be close to the end of your shift," I said. "Why don't you join us?"

    Carlisle looked over at Carter, "You think you can keep your mouth shut about this while we're still on duty?," he said with a grin.

    "Oh, yeah. I won't even tell my wife. I won't even think about it."

    "Good man. Then we'd be happy to join you," Carlisle said, with a big smile.

    Dulce pointed towards the china cabinet, "Get those small snifters out of the cupboard where the glassware is, would you, Craig? On the top shelf."

    Craig got the snifters and set about pouring the liqueur into the small bell shaped glasses. We all sat around the table swirling and warming the liqueur in the glasses. All except Kevin who went at it like it was nothing stronger than a glass of beer. He swirled his around a couple of times and then upended the glass in one gulp. And truly, his reaction was a Kodak moment.

    We watched as his eyes got bigger and bigger and his eyebrows slowly receded into his hairline. His face registered nothing but shock and turned bright red and his breathing stopped.

    He finally very carefully began breathing again and his eyebrows sort of wandered back down. And then in a squeaky voice not quite in control of itself, managed to choke out, "God, it burns all the way down to my . . . What is this?" And we all roared with laughter.

    Craig reached over and hugged him. "It's not iced tea, Kev. You're supposed to warm it in your hands and then sip it very, very slowly."

    Kevin gave him a dirty look, "Thanks for telling me," he croaked out.

    "Glad to help," Craig said, grinning at him.

    The liqueur helped to take the edge off the horror, and while the memory would come back to haunt us, time would eventually lay it to rest.

    Deputy Carlisle looked over at me, seeming to know what to say, "It's all over, David. There won't be any more ugliness, no more shooting, no more fights. They're finished."

    "I hope so," I said, as best I could. My voice was still shaky.

    "Count on it," he said. "Unless I miss my guess, Malcolm will probably spend the rest of his life in an institution. Depending on the DA, McKelvey may end up facing charges for the assault at the hospital. And I have a real strong feeling, judging from what I've heard around town, that the minister is going to be asked to leave."

    "That'd be a blessing," Dulce said.

    Deputy Carlisle looked over at Deputy Carter, "Time to head out?"

    "Yeah, I think so and let these people get some rest."

    Deputies Carlisle and Carter said their goodbyes and left. We continued sitting at the table, not saying much of anything. The pain in my shoulder was getting worse and I guess it was showing.

    Craig looked at me for a moment, "What's wrong?"

    "I think I'm going to have to go back to the ER. I tore something loose again. Dr. Manzanares is going to go straight up and two blocks east when he sees me."

    "C'mon, I'll take you," Craig said. "Kevin, will you sit here with Dulce while I'm gone?"

    "Sure," Kevin said.

    "I'll be okay," Dulce said.

    "I know you will but I think both of you could use the company. Just don't drink up all the booze while we're gone," Craig said with a smile.

    "You mean the iced tea?," Kevin said sarcastically.

    "Yeah, right, Kev," Craig said, smirking, "the iced tea."

    We got in the Cruiser and headed out. Every bump in the road hurt like hell and I finally eased forward until I was sitting on the edge of the seat so the bumps were absorbed by my rear end rather than my shoulder taking direct hits. Craig took it slow and that helped. We pulled into the parking lot and made our way into the ER.

    Nancy looked up as we came in and got this little smile on her face. "I just bet you've pulled some stitches loose again. Right?"

    I just nodded, not feeling up to sparring with Ms. Personality again.

    "Well," as she put her arm around my shoulder and guided me towards the treatment room, "They just brought Malcolm in a few minutes ago. So we heard what all happened. So I can't be mad at you this time. Besides, you gave me such a nice compliment the last time you were here."

    I looked at her wondering if I was dealing with her good twin or I was hallucinating. I sat down on one of the little stools as Nancy glided from the room and waited for the doctor, hoping it wouldn't be Dr. Manzanares.

    So much for wishful thinking.

    "Oh, no, not again," as Dr. Manzanares came into the room. "David, what am I going to do with you? You're using up our supply of suture. You know that?"

    "It wasn't my fault," I managed to get out through clenched teeth.

    "I know that. I did the prelim on Malcolm and talked with the cops afterwards. I was just giving you a hard time," he said, grinning at me.

    "You're a smashing success," I managed to get out.

    He looked at me a bit more carefully. "You're really hurting; aren't you?"

    "Yes, it hurts like hell."

    "Well, let's get a look at it and see what's going on," as he started removing the bandage.

    "Actually," as he cleaned away the blood, "things aren't as torn up as I thought they would be. Most of the stitches are still intact. Two or three have pulled loose, but that's about it." He looked at me, "You say you're having quite a bit of pain?"



    "Well, inside mainly, no particular place, just sort of all over my shoulder."

    "You jumped off the chair and onto the floor; is that right?"


    "Okay, let's get some x-rays of this and find out if you busted something." He put some kind of a temporary bandage on me and got up and left the room. Shortly afterwards, an x-ray tech came in pushing a portable machine and cheerfully had me in just about every conceivable position, most of them painful. I wondered what kind of subculture he swam in after work. He eventually finished and I ungritted my teeth and waited.

    "Well, no bones are broken," as Dr. Manzanares came back into the room. "But I just have a strong suspicion that you've managed a good shoulder sprain when you hit the floor. And there's a lot of soft tissue bruising that wasn't there before. So that's what we're going to go with, shoulder sprain, soft tissue bruising and probably some bone bruising. So, I'll hook you back together again. I think there's enough of you left for that," as he hollered for a suture pac from Nancy.

    She brought it in and gave me a big smile and glided out on her crepe soles. Maybe I wasn't hallucinating after all. I got hooked back together again, along with a couple of stitches on the side of my head where Malcolm hit me with the rifle. He finally finished up along with a shot for pain, telling me to take OTC analgesics for management afterwards.

    I asked him if I could go up and see Dac as he was putting the bandage back in place.

    "Visiting hours are over." Then looking up and seeing the expression on my face, "Does he know about what happened tonight?"

    "Yeah, I talked to him right after it happened."

    "Oh, great. Knowing him, he'll be awake most of the night worrying about you. Yeah, go ahead. I'll call the floor nurse and tell her you're coming up."

    "Thanks, Doc, we'll invite you to the wedding," I said, as I carefully started walking out of the room.

    "You damned well better," he grinned. "I want McKelvey in your wedding party, too."

    "Yeah, right, carrying a bouquet of petunias," I retorted.

    He laughed, "Get your butt outta here."

    I walked over and told Craig where I was going and headed upstairs.

    Dac had the TV on but was pretty much gazing off into space. He looked up as I walked into the room and his face lit up with a big ear-to-ear smile as he held his arms out to me.

    I tried to smile and say something but I just couldn't quite get it out. I walked over to the bed and leaned down and wrapped my good arm around him and just held on and tried my best to keep from losing it.

    He kept talking to me and rubbing my back, "It's okay, it's okay. I've got you. You're okay. I love you so much, David. I'll be home in a day or two and things will be okay again."

    And only Dac could hold me and make the world seem right again. The scent and feel of his body was like an antidote to the corrosive horror of the past few hours.

    And finally finding my voice, albeit a shaky one, "I was so afraid. I didn't think I'd ever see you again, ever hold you again," as I looked up into his eyes.

    "I know. But you're here now and things are going to get better. They're better already. Just keep telling yourself that."

    And changing the subject, probably trying to get my mind off of things, "They took that thing out of me," he said.

    I looked at him not knowing what he was talking about.

    "Out of Fred."

    "Oh," and I raised the sheet for a peek. "I sure have missed him. Looks like he's missed me, too."

    "You know how you always affect me."

    "I'll be so glad when you come home. Both of you."

    "That makes two of us -- three of us," as he grinned at me.

    I finally stood up.

    "David, you're wiped out. Go home and go to bed."

    "I know, but I needed to see you more than anything else."

    He smiled. "I know and I needed to see you. But now, go home and get some sleep. And get your ass up here tomorrow. You can help me walk around the room."

    "Only if I get to give that bottom of yours a couple of good squeezes."

    "I'd love to have my bottom squeezed by you. Somebody else would like to be squeezed, too," as he smiled up at me.

    "My hands are itching already. Count on it." I leaned over and kissed him goodnight. Gotta go. Craig's waiting."

    "Night, David, I love you. Get some rest, promise?"

    "I will. 'Night, Bud. I love you," and walked out of the room.

    I collected Craig and we headed home.

    "How are you feeling?," Craig asked as we headed out of town.

    "Oh, a lot better. Dac helped more than anything."

    "What did the doctor say?"

    "Oh, I tore a couple of stitches loose but mainly I sprained my shoulder along with tissue bruising and probably bone bruising."

    "Glad you didn't break anything."

    "Yeah, me too."

    We rode in silence the rest of the way home. The kitchen was lit up as we drove in and Dulce and Kevin were still sitting at the table. The bottle of Grand Marnier was empty and the two of them were practically shit-faced.

    "Hi," Kevin said, loudly, waving his arms more or less in our direction and unsuccessfully trying to focus. "Wanna drink?"

    Craig just stood there, looking at Kevin and shaking his head.

    "C'mon, Kev, let's get you poured into bed," as he helped him to stand.

    "You gonna read me a ssshtory?," as he grinned up at Craig and let out a big, wet belch.

    "Oh, I'll read you a story, all right," Craig muttered as he half walked, half carried Kevin toward the door.

    Craig glanced at me over his shoulder, "Let me get him to bed, David, and I'll be back."

    "Okay," as I walked around to Dulce's side of the table, "C'mon, Dulce, I'll walk you home."

    "Oh, like a romantic novel," and giggled.

    In a pig's eye, I thought. I never walked a drunk girl home -- or a drunk boy for that matter. I managed to get her home -- more staggering than walking -- and put her to bed and covered her up.

    "Oh, thanks you David, you're such a nice mans," as she belched then giggled, looking up in my general direction.

    "You're welcome, Dulce. Good night." I locked the apartment door and headed back to the house.

    Craig came in through the garden door as I entered the kitchen.

    He grinned at me, "Probably the best thing that could happen to them after everything that's happened."

    "Yeah, I agree. Seeing Dac was the best thing for me."

    "I know. Well, let's head upstairs and hit the sack," Craig said.

    I looked over at Craig, "You putting me to bed again?"

    "Yep and I'm sleeping with you tonight," he said.

    He must have seen the expression on my face, "You're probably going to have some nightmares about this and it helps if somebody's with you," he explained.

    "What about Kevin?"

    "Kev's probably going to wake up in the middle of the night, too. But his most urgent need is going to be the bathroom. With the hangover he's working on, his dreams are going to be great big orange ones."


    I sat on the edge of the bed while Craig got my shoes and socks off. I stood up and started unzipping my pants and Craig started on my shirt buttons.

    I sat on the edge of the bed as Craig started undressing.

    "You sleep in your shorts or raw?," he asked.

    "Shorts will be fine."

    "Fine. I'll do the same. Scoot over, will you?"

    I scooted over and lay down on Dac's pillow, his scent still wonderfully present. Craig got in beside me and wiggled around, finally getting comfortable. I think he went to sleep almost immediately. I lay there thinking of Dac wondering when he would be coming home. I thought about squeezing his bottom and smiled. Finally, I said a prayer for all of us and tried to tell God about all my hate and fear. And somewhere in the middle of it, I fell asleep.

    As it turned out, Craig was the one that had the nightmare. I woke up around three or four to his thrashing and groaning, fighting the covers. He finally sat up with a loud groan, panting as though he had run several miles, the sweat pouring off him, still half in the midst of his demons.

    I sat up and put my arm around him, alternately rubbing his hair and the back of his neck. "It's all right. You're okay, Craig. It was just a dream. You're okay."

    His breathing came back to normal and he began to relax. "Pretty bad?," I whispered.

    He nodded his head, "Yeah, pretty bad."

    "Want me to hold you?"

    He didn't answer, just moved up against me and we lay back down and I put my arm around his shoulders.

    He sighed once or twice and went back to sleep and after a time, I did, too.

    I woke up to a morning with sunshine and noisy birds outside. Craig was still asleep nestled in the curve of my shoulder, his arm across my chest.  I gently disentangled myself and moved to the foot of the bed and got up, heading for the bathroom.

    I came back and sat on the foot of the bed. Craig was laying on his back, awake, looking at me. "How are you feeling?"

    "Great. Really good. All the uglies in my head are gone. It's like . . . I don't know. At peace with myself."

    "Good. Things are getting back to normal." Craig moved toward the edge of the bed, "Lord, I gotta take a leak," as he stood up and headed for the bathroom.

    I really wasn't trying to check him out or anything, it was just that he had such a huge tent in his shorts you couldn't help but notice it. And of course I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

    "Wow, now I know why Kevin fell in love with you, Craig."

    He grinned at me over his shoulder, "Aw, shut up," and headed on into the bathroom. "You're not exactly one of the little people, either," he called from the bathroom.

    "You peeked?" I said as he came back into the bedroom.

    "Of course," chuckling. "Lucky Dac."

    "Wonder how our two drunks are doing?"

    "Probably not very well. Kev can't hold his liquor worth a damn. He practically gets wasted on a bottle of beer. I better go see if he's navigating yet."

    We got dressed, Craig went to check on Kevin and I headed for the kitchen. Surely Dulce's not up yet, I thought, hearing noises from the kitchen.

    Dulce was busy making breakfast -- well, not busy, more like a study in ultra slow motion, very carefully and quietly setting everything down.

    "Good morning," I said.

    Dulce turned around, putting her finger to her mouth and glaring at me. "Don't you ever," as she walked over to me, and whispering, "give me any of that orange stuff again or I'll grab the nearest frying pan and give you a headache that'll last a week. You hear?"

    "I promise," my mouth jumping up and down, trying to keep from smiling outright.

    "It's not funny," she hissed.

    "I know it isn't. Hang on, Dulce, I got something that'll help." I walked down the hall to the bathroom across from the library and got some Ibuprofen and headed back to the kitchen.

    "Here, take two of these. It'll help the headache. Then I want you to start hitting the liquids, juices and water and take two more of these in about three hours or so. Okay?"

    "Okay," as she took the pills with some water.

    Tiger came in looked at her and gave a long reproachful meow.

    "Oh, shut up, hair ball," Dulce fiercely whispered at her. "There's food in your bowl."

    Tiger looked like her feelings had just been mashed. However her appetite seemed to have come through without damage and she raced over to her bowl and started stuffing her face.

    "Breakfast is going to be a little late. Sorry, David."

    "Don't be, Dulce. What happened last night couldn't be helped. Here, you sit down and I'll finish up on breakfast."

    For once, Dulce didn't argue with me and sat down in the nearest chair. Bacon was frying and eggs were out in a bowl ready to be fried along with a bowl of pancake batter. I got busy.

    Craig and Kevin walked in, or rather Craig walked in and Kevin sort of followed. He looked like he had been loaned out for the war -- our side lost.

    Craig looked over at Dulce then came over by the stove to see what I was doing.

    I glanced up. "How's Kevin feeling?"

    "At the moment, I don't think he's even feeling," and in a whisper, "He was so bad off I had to aim it for him so he could take a leak. Then had to dress him. He's feeling pretty miserable. You need some help?"

    "Yeah. Could you make up some juice? Use the frozen concentrate. It's there in the walk-in. Maybe orange and grapefruit or whatever you want. Oh, and give Kevin some of that Ibuprofen. It's there on the table."

    "You bet."

    I continued with breakfast, frying eggs and starting the pancakes.

    I finished up breakfast and got it on the table just as Jerry came walking in the kitchen with a loud, cheerful, good morning everybody.

    Dulce and Kevin both glared at him, not responding.

    "What'd I do?," stopping in his tracks and looking the question at me.

    "It's kind of a long story. Let's eat first and I'll tell you afterwards."

    We said grace and began a subdued breakfast.

    Kevin looked at the eggs and bacon and got kind of green in the face. "I don't think I can eat that," as he started to push his plate away.

    Craig reached over and put his arms around his shoulders. "Here, Kev, drink some of this. It'll help. You'll feel better."

    Kevin sort of collapsed back in the chair and drained the glass in a couple of gulps and managed to finish a piece of bacon and some of the pancakes.

    I looked over at Dulce and Kevin, "You know, I think it'd be a good idea if both of you went and took a nap for a while. You'll feel better when you wake up. I can finish up here."

    "I'll help," Jerry said.

    Dulce and Kevin left for naps, Craig headed for the orchard and Jerry and I started KP.

    "What time did you get in last night," as I started washing plates and handing them to Jerry.

    "Oh, late. Probably one or two in the morning."

    "Did you have a nice time?"

    "Oh, yeah. Real nice," complete with dreamy expression. "Had a nice supper at Swilars and then went to the movies. Lousy movie, though."

    "Oh? What was playing?"

    "Some stupid thing with Bruce Willis. That smirky little shit. Can't stand him. Anyway, afterwards, Laura knew this back road that takes you up to the top of one of the mountains. It has kind of a lookout up there and we got out of the car and sat there all bundled up. You could see the lights of the town and all the stars. It was neat. We sat and talked for hours."

    "Just talked?"

    He gave me a warning look.

    I laughed. "All right, I won't ask any more questions."

    "Good. Now what's with Dulce and Kevin? They look like the main attraction in a funeral."

    "Well, it was pretty exciting last night. Malcolm tried to kill me last night."

    Jerry looked at me, a half smile on his face, a dripping plate in his hand, not sure whether I was kidding or not. "You're kidding, right?"

    I looked at him, "No, I'm not." I then went on and related the whole story to him.

    "Jesus, I can't believe this," he said, shaking his head. "I'm glad you're all right -- everyone's all right. I'm just sorry I wasn't here."

    "No, Jer, you're not. You could have ended up getting shot or worse. If it hadn't have been for Craig, I don't know what would have happened. He slept with me last night."

    He thought about it for a while, and didn't say anything. I could pretty much tell what he was thinking.

    I looked at Jerry, "He was afraid I'd have a bunch of nightmares and thought he could help, which I appreciate. As it turned out, he was the one that had a pretty bad one."

    "I'm glad you were able to help. Sorry I jumped to conclusions. It's just that I'm so damned horny my mind is on sex all the time."

    "Well, having a date with Laura probably didn't help matters much."

    "No shit. The damned thing was hard as a rock the whole evening. I practically had to stand on my head to take a leak after I got home. I'm surprised Laura didn't see it, the way it kept sticking out. Hell, she probably did."

    "Yeah, well, Dac and I had that affect on each other when we first got acquainted. Still do for that matter."

    We finished cleaning the kitchen. Jerry wandered off somewhere and I headed for the office and the phone.

    "Hey, Bud, you miss me?," as Dac picked up the phone.

    "Hey, it's about time you called. How are you feeling? Better?"

    "Yeah, being with you last night helped more than anything else. When we got home last night Dulce and Kevin were still sitting at the table and the bottle of Grand Marnier was completely empty."

    "They finished it off? Oh, that stuff's deadly."

    "Yeah, tell me about it," I said. "They were both shit-faced. Craig and I had to put them to bed."

    "I bet they're miserable this morning."

    "Well, they're in bed right now sleeping some of it off. When I first walked into the kitchen, Dulce bawled me out for giving it to her in the first place and threatened me with a frying pan. She called Tiger a hairball."

    "Oh, poor Tiger. Are you coming up?"

    "You want me to?"

    "You know I do. Get your scrawny butt up here and bring me something to eat. They just served breakfast. I looked at it and almost got sick."

    "Okay. What do you want? I think there's some left over enchiladas. That be okay?"

    "Oh, yeah. With a lotta green and red."

    "You mean my kisses aren't hot enough?"

     "Ah, c'mon, how can I possibly answer that? Either way I go, I'm in trouble."

    I started laughing, "Just teasing you. I'll bring 'em and some hot kisses, too. And this time, I'm driving in by myself. The horribles are all over. See you in a little bit," and hung up the phone.

    I glanced out the window and saw Jerry out in the back yard talking with Owen and crew, so I went out there.

    I said hello to everybody. "Jer, I'm going up to the hospital to see Dac. I'll see you in a little while."

    "You want me to go with you?"

    "Nope. The bad things are all over and done with. No reason I can't drive by myself.

    "You okay?," Owen asked.

    "Yeah, much better now--"

    "Dac told us what happened when we got to the hospital last night," Anthony said, "but I don't think he had all the details. Just that it was over and Malcolm was in a lockup room in the hospital."

    "Yeah, I was pretty shook up when I tried to explain things to him over the phone last night, so probably it was a little sketchy. But like Craig said, what's done is done and it's time to look forward. And already things are better just knowing that Malcolm's not out there lurking around. Dac will be home tomorrow and things will be well on their way back to normal.

   "Go down and talk to Craig in the orchard to get the full story, and in the meantime, I'm heading for the hospital. See all of you later."

    I stopped in the kitchen and got the enchiladas and chiles for Dac and headed for town.

    I was in such a good mood I was almost giddy. They sky was a clear, washed blue. A pile up of fluffy white clouds high up in the northeast. They looked as though someone had torn off great chunks of bright white cotton, and flung them, helter skelter, one on top of the other. Wonder what it would be like to be an angel and be able to sit on one of those. Maybe with another boy angel. Boy, I thought, Jer's not the only one that's horny.

    There's a hairpin curve on the way into town that as you come around, that part of the mountain drops sharply down into a long, narrow meadow surrounded by pine and from there you can see clear down the side of the mountain and part of the town in the distance. It's always been one of my favorite slow-down-and-look places, especially in early morning or evening. Occasionally, a low flying cloud would get snagged and the whole place would be a patchwork of cloud pieces and sunlight. I've often seen deer and their fawns wandering in and out of the cloudy patchwork. I pulled off the side of the road and stopped. No clouds this time but there were a couple of does and a pair of fawns chasing each other around. I watched for some ten or fifteen minutes, glorying in the sight, the air crisp and pine scented drifting in the side vent. Finally something startled them and they vanished from sight in seconds.

    I sighed. I felt so good. I started the car and headed toward town.

    I walked into Dac's room and the Sheriff and Deputy Carlisle were there. "Oh, sorry," I said, turning toward the door, "I'll wait outside."

    "No, David, that's all right," the Sheriff said. "We're just finishing up Dac's statement and I need to talk with both of you. So come on in."

    Deputy Carlisle glanced at me, smiled, said good morning and gathered up the tape recorder and said something about taking it over to have it transcribed and left. I walked on in and sat down and smiled at Dac.

    The sheriff looked over at me, "I understand you had some excitement out at your place last night."

    "Yes, we did. But it's over, all over. And things are getting back to normal."

    "You're right, they are," he said.

    He cleared his throat. "For the last several days we have been looking for Malcolm in a number of places, friends, relatives, local haunts, places he goes hunting and so forth. I obviously should have had my men at your place since that was where he was all along. That's my fault and something I'll have to live with. Fortunately, no one was killed and I'll be forever grateful for that."

    He changed position, trying to get comfortable. "What I'm about to tell you hasn't been released to the news media yet and it won't be until I make a statement later this afternoon. So I would appreciate it if you would treat what I'm about to say as confidential until you hear it on the news or see it in the local paper. Do I have your word on that?"

    "Yes, of course," we both said.

    "Yesterday afternoon," as he continued, "we went to the minister's house thinking that he might have offered Malcolm some sort of religious asylum and we needed to find out. We went up to the front door and knocked and got no answer. The door was ajar, so I pushed it open and we could see the minister lying on the divan with blood all over his face, and well, we went on in and checked him and he was dead; and according to the medical examiner, had been for a day, possibly two. He couldn't say for sure until after the pathologist gets up here to do the autopsy."

    I sat there listening thinking that's a blessing as far as I was concerned. I glanced at Dac and I could see from the expression on his face that he was having about the same thoughts.

    The Sheriff glanced at both of us, "Yes, I know pretty much what both of you are thinking and I agree. The man did more harm than good in this town. There were a number of families that had gotten together -- even some of the members from his church -- and were going to go over as a delegation and ask him to pack up and leave, as I understand it. I guess the good Lord beat us to it."

    He looked over at me, "How much do you know about the minister and his wife?"

    I shook my head, "Hearsay is about all. I never met him. Or her."

    "Me neither," said Dac.

    "His wife was married previously to a guy that lived in Albuquerque. They couldn't have children and adopted through the Catholic Social Services, twin boys, newborn, as I later found out. As far as I know and from what CSS has told me, things were going fine for them until about a year later when the husband was killed in an industrial explosion at a chemical plant where he worked. It was tough for his wife getting back on her feet but she had a good job and had the kids in a day care and was doing all right. Then she met the minister, and I'll never understand why, but she married him and she and the boys came to live with him.

    "Six months later she was killed in a car wreck up on one of the high mountain roads. The minister was riding with her and another car ran into hers, so he said, which caused the car she was driving to go end over end down the embankment and down the side of the mountain. It exploded and burned. The minister said he was knocked out of the car and landed in some bushes before the car exploded. We were never able to find the other car, or any evidence that there even was another car. The whole thing had a lot of loose ends and was pretty suspicious, but without any evidence or witnesses to back it up, we eventually closed the case.

    "Practically no one saw the kids after that. They weren't enrolled in any kind of day care or preschool. They occasionally showed up in church sitting with one of the church members but other than that, they were never seen.

    "Anyway, after we got the medical examiner on the scene and got the minister's body taken care of, we started looking around the house for the kids. We finally heard a noise coming from one of the rooms in the back. The door was locked and Deputy Carlisle broke the lock and we opened the door.

    "I couldn't believe what I saw. The room was small and closed up and hot. What light there was came in through a small, high window. There was a light in the ceiling which was turned on. The stench was unbelievable, they were both naked, sitting on a putrid looking mattress. There was shit all over both boys, head to foot and even in their hair and all over the floor, smeared on the walls. Christ, there were flies and maggots crawling around in all this and the kids were right in the middle of it. I don't know whether they had been fed or not. There was no evidence of food in the room, no bowls, plates, cups, whatever.

    "I couldn't handle it. I turned around and went out on the front porch. Thought I was going to throw up.  I finally got control of myself and went back in the house and Carlisle and I put handkerchiefs over our faces and went in and grabbed the kids and found the bathroom and started filling the tub with warm water. Carlisle stayed with them while I finally located some bath towels and found a bottle of dish soap in the kitchen. Then we started washing those kids. We filled the tub three times before we got them clean. At first, when we picked them up and started for the bathroom, they were scared and cried a little but after that, they calmed down and actually seemed to be having a good time, splashing and giggling.

    "One boy has a cut on his cheek below his left eye that is recent. The other boy had blood and pus coming from around the foreskin on his penis which we tried to clean as best we could. Once we got them out of the tub and dried off and just sat there holding them, that's when we noticed that both of them were running a fever.

    "They can't talk. They communicate, if that's what you'd call it, in some kind of grunting or groaning and motions with their hands. To look at them, they look bright enough and intelligent. And I think they are. They just can't talk. Just tossed into the back room like some piece of used luggage.

    The Sheriff took out his handkerchief out and wiped his face. "We took them to the hospital and Dr. Manzanares examined them. Spent a good half hour with them.

    The Sheriff looked down at the floor, not saying anything for a moment, then, "I'll tell you something," as he looked up at us, "if that minister had still been alive after I saw those kids, I'd have put a slug in him myself."

    "They're cute kids, dark brown hair and eyes. They are a little over two years old according to CSS. They also told me that they are Italian and that the birth mother and father were both professionals. And they wouldn't give me any more information than that. We don't know what their names are. CSS didn't either. We went through all the records in the minister's house and the only thing we could find was the minister's check to CSS with a reference number on it referring to the adoption records.

    "The problem I have now is that I'm going to have to call the State Rehabilitation Services and have these kids placed. And I know that with the overcrowding that exists, they will probably be split up and go to separate foster homes. And with few exceptions, the foster homes in this state are in business for the money, not because they give a damn about the kids."

    The Sheriff looked over at me, "And David, I know you've got a lot on your plate and some pretty awful things have happened this last week and Dac just now beginning to get back on his feet. But do you think there is any way that you could see your way clear to taking these boys and maybe showing them that there are some human beings in this world that are good and decent and kind and loving?"

    By this time, all of us were practically in tears. I looked over at Dac and watched as he nodded, looking at me. I turned to the Sheriff. "Yes, we'll take them and if things work out, we'll adopt them as our own," I said.

    The Sheriff gave a great sigh of relief, "I can't thank you enough for this. Both of you. I didn't sleep hardly at all last night worrying about this. I've seen some pretty awful things in my duties as a Sheriff but this really tore me apart.

    "Well, I'd better be going. Again, I can't thank the two of you enough for this." He stood up and shook my hand and then Dac's and started out the door. "Think I'll go see the boys before I go," and left.

    We sat there looking at each other, in shock at what we had just heard and agreed to do. My mind was in a jumble thinking about what I -- we would need to get accomplished in a very, very short time.

    "When I get back to the house, I'm going to call the lawyer in Albuquerque and get him up here with all the necessary papers for commitment, adoption and so forth and whatever else we're going to have to get signed."

    "Yeah," Dac said. Deep thinker there.

    Dac looked over at me with a grin on his face, "How about a kiss, Dad?"

    I reached over and gave him my version of a nice Italian kiss.

    "Oooh, slobbery," he said wiping his mouth. "Loved it, though. You bring me anything to eat? I'm starving."

    "Oh, yeah. Some enchiladas. I'll see if I can get one of the nurses to warm them up for you."

    It got postponed, however, as Dr. Salazar walked in. "Good morning. How are we feeling?"

    "Horny as hell. You too?"

    Dr. Salazar laughed. "Well, you're obviously getting better. Quite a bit better if things are kicking up down there. You been up walking around?"

    "Yep, to the bathroom and down the hall two or three times."

    "Any problems?," as he started pulling the bandage loose and inspecting the surgical site.

    "No. A couple of twinges here and there and I have to move kind of slow. Every little thing I do, I'm completely out of breath, though."

    "Yeah, you're going to be until things heal completely down there and you get back in shape. And speaking of getting back into shape, I want you to start doing some sit up exercises in bed here and continue them when you get home and then when you feel up to it, work that into a fast walk and eventually some light jogging."

    "I'm going home?," Dac said and the hope was all over his face

    "I think so. How about tomorrow afternoon?"

    Dac was so excited he was practically bouncing in bed. "Hot damn. I can hardly wait. I just hope the cafeteria doesn't kill me before then."

    Dr. Salazar laughed, "You mean you don't care for our gifted chef's culinary creations?"

    Dac looked at him, "You don't want to hear what I think about him."

    "Probably not." Dr. Salazar turned and looked at me. "And how are you doing? Understand you had some more excitement out at the house last night."

    "Fine," I said. "It's all over, finally. Things are getting back to normal."

    "Good, good. Well, I'll be on my way. Oh, one last thing. Absolutely no wild, rambunctious sex between you two until I say so. Everything slow and easy. You understand?"

    "Yes," Dac said, red in the face.

    "Good," said Dr. Salazar, "I embarrass you?"

    "Yes," Dac muttered.

    "Great. Made my day," as he laughed and left the room.

    Dac looked at me and smiled. "Fred could sure use some slow and easy."

    I gave him an evil grin, "Just wait 'till I get you home."

    "Hope I can wait that long."

    "Hello, how's everybody doing in here?," as Laura walked into the room. "Oh, what beautiful plants. Looks like a botanical garden in here."

    We both said hello and I introduced her to Dac. She sat down and we talked back and forth.

    "I understand you had some excitement at the house last night and I'm sure everybody has been bugging you about it."

    I gave her an edited version of what happened. "But it's over with. Finally. Things are getting back to normal and Dac is coming home tomorrow afternoon."

    "Oh, what good news. I'll bet you'll be sorry to see the last of the cafeteria food; won't you?"

    Dac just looked at her and Laura laughed.

    "Sorry, Dac, but I had to tease you a little bit," she said.

    "I understand you and my brother were out carousing last night. Did you have a nice evening?"

    "Well, we weren't exactly carousing but yes, we did have a very nice time. Except for that awful movie."

    "Not to change the subject," I said, "but how are the Minister's kids doing?"

    Laura was immediately on guard. "How do you know about that?"

    "Because the Sheriff was talking with us about it. Dac and I will be taking the kids and we're planning on adopting them."

    Her face lit up, "Oh, how wonderful. What good news. I really hated the thought of their being placed with SRS and then into foster homes. They're beautiful kids but boy, are you ever going to have your hands full with those two."

    "Yeah, we know," I said, "the Sheriff told us the whole story about them. When will they be released from the hospital? And for that matter, who is the attending physician?"

    "I don't know when they'll be released but the attending is Dr. Mendez."

    "Oh, I know him," as Dac spoke up. "I had a bad throat infection and went to him and he gave me some antibiotics for it. He's a good doctor."

    "Yes, he is," Laura said. "Do you know where they're at here in the hospital?"

    "No, we don't," I said.

    "They're in a private room in the Childrens' Ward. That's one floor down, practically below this room. The nurses are in there all the time, working with them and feeding them and giving them juice. It's going to be a real challenge. They're like animals. They've been treated that way. Once you get them home, I'd be more than happy to come out and help with them and you can call me any time for advice."

    "Oh, that's really nice of you. Maybe you could come out some afternoon and give us a hand and then stay for supper. I know Jerry would certainly be happy about it."

    Laura's face lit up, "Oh, I'd be happy to. Call any time. And your brother is a very nice man. We had a good time and I really enjoyed talking with him."

    "Yeah, that's pretty much what Jerry said, except he wouldn't give me any of the details. Typical brother."

    And in a piteous voice, "Hey, I'm being neglected over here and I'm the patient. And I'm also starving."

    "Yes, I know, you want the enchiladas I brought up," I said. "Let me find one of the nurses and ask them to warm them for you."

    "Oh, I'll do it," Laura said, taking the package from me. "You want a carton of milk to go with them?"

    "Oh, that'd be great," Dac said. "You see how he neglects me?"

    Laura laughed, "Oh, I'm sure he does. Dulce told me all about you."

    Dac got this surprised look on his face, "Oh," as Laura left the room, still chuckling.

    I turned around and glared at Dac and got a guilty smile in return. "Just kidding," he said.

    "Wait 'till I get you home."

    Laura came back in the room with Dac's enchiladas and milk. "I'll bet Dulce will really be tickled about those kids coming to live with you."

    "Oh, you better believe it. With us guys out there and two little boys, she'll have her entire family. She'll be in her glory for sure."

    "I bet so," Laura said wistfully. "Well, you two, my break is over and then some, so I had better be getting back to work. I'll talk to you later," as she left the room.

    I looked over at Dac, "I take it that the enchiladas are okay," as I watched Dac finishing off the last of the enchiladas.

    "Delicious. I can't believe how much I missed Dulce's good cooking. I can hardly wait to get home for some good food and some really good, hot sex," as he grinned over at me. "God, I'm horny."

    "You're not the only one, Bud. Fred's going to get one hell of a work out."

    "Oh, I hope so. Wish I was coming home this afternoon. Oh, man," as he looked at me, "I've got a hard on that's unbelievable."

    "Let me see," as I lifted up the covers. "Oh, man, he's absolutely beautiful," and I reached down and wrapped my hand around the soft, hard heat of it.

    "Oh, stop, David. I'm right on the edge."

    "I can hardly wait for you to get home," I whispered, letting go of him.

    "I know. I know," the want in his eyes, gasping for breath.

    Dac looked over at me, "We need to talk about something else, David, or Fred is going to explode all over the place."

    "There's only one place I want -- sorry. I was thinking a little while ago that as soon as I get home, I'm going to call a meeting of everybody, tell them the whole story, then get on the phone with the attorney in Albuquerque and get him up here for a one- or two-day vacation and bring all the necessary documents for commitment and adoption and anything else he needs and get this commitment taken care of and the adoption in the works and anything else I can think of. What do you think?"

    "Great. I think it's a good idea. Sooner the better. Oh, and before I forget about it, if you come up this evening, bring the whole crew so we can get all these plants out of here. What do you want to do with them, by the way?"

    "Well, maybe we could put some of them in the chapel here in the hospital and then take the rest home and give some to Dulce and Craig and put the rest in the library, maybe the gardenias and the jade plant. They'd look really good next to the piano, don't you think?"

    "Yeah, sounds good. However you want to do it. I just want to get home."

    I looked over at Dac with this big grin on my face, "You know what I'd like to do?"

    "Yeah, let's go get a look at our boys. Help me up, will you?"

    "You okay?," as I got him up and standing.

    "Yeah. Just hang on to me for a bit 'till I get my balance. Don't want to black out and keel over."

    "I'll grab onto my favorite handle."

    "Oh, yeah, Fred'd love that. So would I, for that matter."

    I had him hold onto the bedside table while I got one of the hospital's versions of a robe from the closet and helped him into it.

    "You feel okay?"

    "Okay, so long as I take it slow. I've been up a couple of times already this morning and didn't have any problems."

    "Okay, let's head for the elevator. Tell me if you need a rest stop or something," as we slowly made our way toward the elevators.

    There were a couple of orderlies walking ahead of us, their tight little bottoms dancing up and down encased in white duck pants. I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "I see where you're looking."

    "Who, me?," the voice of innocence.

    "Yes, you, Bud. You know, if you get a hard on, everybody in the hospital is going to know about it as well hung as you are."

    "Oh, shut up," and he laughed. "You're going to wake Fred up." I could see the smile on his face and knew he was pleased with the oblique compliment.

    I decided I better change the subject before things actually start happening down there.

    "You know another thing I thought of is that we need to come up with a name for ourselves, something that's uniquely us."

    "What for?," he said.

    "Well, if we adopt those two, we can't name them John or Joe Tartaglia-Rinehardt or vice-versa. That's too much name to saddle anybody with. Yours is a mouthful and so is mine. We need to work out some kind of combination of our name to come up with something else. Then we can have a legal name change and we better get this done before the lawyer comes up so we can get the paperwork done on it."

    "You got any ideas?, and yes, I think it's a good idea."

    "Well, yeah, but I don't like any that I've come up with so far."

    "Like what?"

    "Well," I said, "Dachardt or Dacrein or Tarrein."

    "Oh, those are awful."

    "Well, how about Davidac?"

    "Jesus, David, that sounds like the name of a vacuum cleaner," and Dac had this grin on his face as he looked over at me. "I can just hear the sales pitch, 'Ladies, use the Davidac vacuum and I personally guarantee that it will suck up all the grungies in your carpet. Cat hair bothering you? Why, just rub our powerful vacuum over your cat and you'll never have to worry about bothersome cat hair again -- and neither will your cat. And guys, the Davidac comes with a special tool so you can take care of those very personal needs in the privacy of your home.'"

    I was laughing fit to bust.

    Dac had this embarrassed little grin on his face, "I tried that once when I was a kid. Mom and Dad had went to town for the afternoon and they had this Electrolux."

    "And?," as I looked at him not quite believing what I was hearing.

    "Wouldn't fit. Too big. Hell of a disappointment. I had plans of having one glorious, erotic afternoon."

    I started laughing. "Oh, I love it. Steamy sex with the vacuum cleaner. I wonder if that's the precursor to cybersex. Now I know what to get you for Xmas. And with a special tool, too," still laughing the more I thought about it.

    He glared at me.

    "I know, maybe we could get one with a "Y" joint and we could both use it," laughing all the harder.

    He looked at me, shaking his head, "You know, I tell you all these very personal and intimate and private things about me and all you can do is stand there braying like a jack ass."

    "I can't help it, it's funny." I looked over at him, "Hee-haw!," and started laughing again.

    "See if I tell you anything again," he said. "And I think Davidac sounds like a brand name."

    "Well, you think of one then," I said defensively.

    "I will. Let's stop for a bit while I catch my breath."

    "You need to sit down?," spotting a chair across the hall.

    "No, just let me lean against the wall," he said, breathing hard. "I'll be all right in a couple of minutes."

    Dac leaned against the wall, not saying anything for a few moments, then looked at me with a gleam in his eyes, "I got just the name. You'll love it."

    "Yes, which is?," I said.

    "Reindac. How's that?"

    I made a face, "Sounds like the name of a beer. You know, 'Drink Reindac and get thoroughly smashed.'"

    "You don't like it?," disappointment showing in his voice.

    "Well, yes," I said. "As a matter of face, I do. How'd you get so smart all of a sudden?"

    "Associating with smart asses, I guess," smirking.

    "Angelo Reindac," I mused, ignoring the insult.

    "Is that what we're going to name one of them?"

    "Oh, I don't know. I just happened to think of it, I guess."

    "Not a bad first name," he said. "What about the other one?"

    "I don't know. Haven't thought about it. Any ideas?"

    "Huh-uh. Okay, I'm ready," as he stood away from the wall and we made our way to the elevator. The door opened and we got on and rode down to the first floor. We walked back approximately where Dac's room was a floor above and stopped at the nurses' station. I explained to the nurse who we were and essentially the whole story about the twins.

    "Oh, that's good news," she said. "Everybody has been quite concerned about their being split up and put in foster homes. I'm Martha Dolocek, by the way. I'm the supervisor here."

    She smiled at both of us, "They're lucky little boys, they'll have two dads to look after them."

    "Yeah, and a mom, too," Dac said.

    "That's right," she said. "Dulce will just be in heaven with two little boys to manage."

    I laughed, "If you mean boss around, she does plenty of that already."

    "Boy, that's a fact," Dac said.

    "Oh, that's not what I heard," Martha said, laughing.

    "And what did you hear?" I was curious as to what Dulce really thought.

    "That with all you guys out there wanting this and wanting that, it's just no end of grief for her. Although Laura did say that Dulce had a big smile on her face when she said that."

    "I can imagine what she said about me," Dac said.

    "Well, yes, she had a number of things to say about you but I better not repeat it, though," she was looking at Dac and laughing, obviously recalling some choice tidbits of gossip.

    "Figures. She's always on my case," Dac said, putting on his long-suffering expression.

    She laughed, not buying any of it. "Well," she said. "You want to go down and take a look at the twins?," as we started moving down the hall. "You won't be able to go into the room, they're in isolation but there's an observation window. They're really cute kids, very alert and they appear to be very intelligent."

    "Isolation?," I said.

    "Well, actually semi-isolation until all the lab results come back. Dr. Mendez wants them kept away from the other kids just in case they're contagious and with the filth they were living in, it wouldn't be surprising. They're pretty active and you're going to have a real handful with those two."

    "Yeah, we know or at least I think we do," as we walked down the hall.

    "The Sheriff said the kids don't talk," Dac said.

    "That's right," she nodded. "The speech problem will take some amount of time but with the help of a good speech therapist and what they pick up being around you and Dac, it will develop faster than you think.

    "The two main problems," as she continued, "is the emotional scarring, if there is any and the establishing of their trust for the two of you. Bonding, in other words. Right now, they are friends with everyone but there doesn't seem to be any bonding.

    "I think the first step has to be the trust and affection they develop for the two of you and everything else will eventually fall into place.

    "And here we are," as we approached a room with the door closed and a fairly large window to the side of it.

    "Now, when you look through the window, put the biggest smiles on your face you can manage, you don't want to scare them. You might even wave. One of the nurses is in with them now, so that will help.

    "Good luck," she smiled and started back down the hall.

    We approached the window, not knowing what to expect, with self-conscious grins on our faces and feeling foolish. They were both sitting up on the bed sucking on bottles of what I assumed to be juice of some kind. One was facing the nurse sitting by the bedside and the other one was sitting behind and to the left of his twin looking at the window.

    The nurse said something and pointed to the observation window and gently turned the twin closer to her until he was facing us at the window. The instant he saw us the bottle came out of his mouth and got this big goofy grin on his face. He started jabbering something to his brother and he turned, saw us and again, the big goofy grin. They both started crawling on the bed toward us.

    The nurse got up and sat on the edge of the bed and gently restrained them, all the while talking to them. She put the juice bottle in one twin's hand and did the same for the other.

    One twin stuck the bottle in his mouth and began sucking, still watching us. The other twin eventually did the same.

    The twins sat there staring at us and we stood there staring at them. Martha had said they were cute kids and she was wrong. These kids were beautiful, and even in later years, as they grew into maturity and allowing for a whole truck load of prejudice on my part, that still would be my description.

    Both kids had a mop of glistening, thick brown hair, so dark it almost appeared black. Long and curling in places, and overdue for a haircut.

    Their overall features were small and fine without being disproportionately so. Their faces, while still retaining some of the roundness of infancy was already beginning to show signs of the facial angularity they would have in adolescence and adulthood. Straight noses with eyes wide apart and mouths stained red with berry juice with a nipple in each.

    With a jolt I suddenly realized I was staring into twin pairs of dark blue eyes. It was like looking at Dac times two. I fell in love on the spot and I wasn't self-conscious anymore. Suddenly I had a smile on my face so big that my ears were in danger.   

    Dac and I eventually started back to his room, not saying much, stopping once for him to rest. I helped him back into bed and snuck Fred a kiss. I got a big smile in return.

    "Would you quit that. You're going to get me all excited."

    "You already are, Bud, in case you didn't notice."

    He changed the subject. "I've never seen such beautiful kids. How could anyone not love those two?," as Dac looked at me.

    "I know. We only spent five or ten minutes down there and I --"

    "Yeah, it happened to me, too. I just hope we can reach those two."

    "I think we will," I said, not having the vaguest idea in the world of how to go about it. "But I want to go to the library and get some books on child care."

    We sat there lost in our thoughts which were suddenly interrupted by a variety of noises and voices in the hall.

    "Oh, aaarrrg," Dac said, making a disgusted face. "Meals from Hell. I'm getting sick already."

    Dac looked over at me with the sweetest of smiles, the picture of innocence, "Would you mind running across the street and getting me a cheeseburger and fries? Plleeeaaassse?"

    "Oh, I suppose," starting for the door. "I never can say no to you," I grumbled.

    Dac let out this dirty little laugh, "Yeah, I know," then got this startled and very surprised look on his face when I turned around and marched back to my chair, "BUT I REALLY APPRECIATE IT," he said quickly along with big toothy smile.

    He got his cheeseburger.

    And later, "I got to be heading home," I said, helping myself to some french fries.

    "Yeah, I wish you would," eyeing the kidnaped french fries as they disappeared in my mouth. "You're going to be taking bites out of my cheeseburger next."

    "You offering?," I smiled at him, starting for the door.


    "What?," I said turning around.

    "A kiss would be nice," complete with winning smile.

    "I guess you're worth it," as I leaned over and took his face in my hands.

    "Mmmph, like kissing a hamburger and a greasy one at that. See you this evening, Bud." I swiped another couple of french fries, got yelled at and headed out the door.

    I drove home thinking about all that happened and trying to get things worked out in my head as to what needed to be done first.

    I must have timed it just right as everybody was just sitting down to lunch as I walked in.

    "How's Dac?," Dulce asked as I sat down.

    "Obnoxious," I retorted. "He's definitely getting well. Laura stopped in to say hello," I said glancing over at Jerry.

    "What'd she have to say?," he asked.

    "Which means did she have anything to say about you and yes, she did. Said you were a very nice guy and that she had a good time and you were interesting to talk with. Are you really interesting?," as I grinned at him.

    Jerry got this superior, I'm the older brother look on his face, "Undoubtedly she's a very discerning woman. And yes, I am very interesting, not to mention stunning good looks."

    Everybody started laughing and Jerry got slightly red in the face.

    "Seriously, though," I said, as everybody quieted down, "she said she had quite a nice time and enjoyed your company very much."

    "Good," Jerry said as his face came back to normal.

    "And if everybody is through eating, let's get the table cleared off. I need to talk with all of you about something else that's come up."

    We got the table cleared off and everybody sat back down. I lit a cigarette and took a sip of coffee, thinking about what I wanted to say.

    "Dac and I are going to be fathers," I said. Boy, did that ever stop conversation. I went on to explain what had happened at the hospital, what the Sheriff had to say, talking with Laura and the nurse in charge of the Childrens' Ward.

    "It's pretty overwhelming; isn't it?," I said, seeing the play of emotions on everybody's face.

    "Yeah," said Craig. "It is that. But oh, it'll really be neat having a couple of kids growing up out here and a wonderful experience for them. All of us, actually. And you and Dac are going to adopt them?"

    "Yes. I'm calling the lawyer this afternoon to get things in the works as soon as possible."

    "They were living in that filth?," Dulce asked, aghast. "Two-year olds?"

    "Yes." And I explained. "I know, I can't even begin to understand the mind set of someone that would allow that kind of neglect."

    "They won't be neglected out here," Dulce said.

    "Yes," and I went on to relate Dac's and my experience with them in the Childrens' Ward, bringing the story and everyone up to present.

    I continued, "The nurse said the two main problems were emotional scarring, if there is any and bonding and everything else would fall in line after that. So I'm going to need to go to the library and do some research. I'm in hopes that Dac and I can accomplish this bonding thing with the kids before we bring them home. There's too many distractions here."

    "Oh, before I forget. Dac is wanting all of us to come up and visit this evening and load up all the plants and bring them home. Actually, two or three of us could do it but I think he just wants the attention."

    "Oh, I'm sure we can," Dulce said as she surveyed the nodding heads around the table. "I'll make up something to take to him so he doesn't think he's starving and try and manipulate one of you to get him some of that lethal junk food."

    "Are we going to be brothers, or what?," Kevin looked at me.

    "I was thinking probably uncles, since Jerry will be their brother."

    "Hey, how about that?," Jerry said, "I just picked up a couple more brothers."

    "But all our names are different," Kevin said.

    "Oh, we can sort that out later when they're old enough to understand," Dulce said with a big smile. "I'm going to be their favorite aunt, though. The one that makes all their favorite dishes and cookies and pies."

    "Their tipsy aunt?," as I grinned at her, and everybody started laughing.

    "Just kidding," I said, as she gave me a menacing look and pointed her finger at me.

    "Well," as I got up, still chuckling, "I'm going to get on the phone with the attorney and make arrangements for him to come up here and get all the paperwork done then I'm off to the library and research."

    I petted Tiger as I dialed the number for the attorney. She had followed me into the office and plonked her ample bottom down on my desk watching everything I did.

    We spoke for a good half hour while I filled him in on everything that had happened to Dac, me, and finally the twins and what we wanted to do. He finally agreed to drive up Friday evening after court and do some research in the meantime on adoption and SRS involvement. I hung up, told Dulce where I was going and headed for the library.

    The library was a small, brick building with bay windows and a brightly painted red and blue entrance, located on a side street back in behind the grocery store. For a small town, it was a pretty good library, mostly fiction, however with little in the way of reference. I did manage to locate a couple of books on parenting, one of which was by a Dr. Terry Brazelton which I decided to check out, if for no other reason than I thought he had an honest face looking out at me from the dust cover.

    I filled out a form and got a short lecture on library rules from a very ancient librarian, my library card, and the checked out book. It was late in the afternoon by the time I left the library. I headed for the hospital to see what His Orneryness was up to.

    The room was empty but I could hear water running in the bathroom. I pushed the door open and was greeted by Dac's bare butt. In fact, all of him was bare as he stood there shaving and humming to himself. I come on into the room, put my hand on his warm bottom and peeked around in front.

    "How's my big happy friend?," as I gave his bottom several dozen warm rubs.

    "Happy to see you," he smiled at me. "As you can see. As always. Oooh, that feels nice."

    "I know," I said. "And I better stop, though, or we're going to get in trouble and sure as hell someone will come walking in right in the middle of the choice parts."

    "Hmm, I know someone who'd like to come walking in right in the middle of everything."

    "Oh, who?"

    "That orderly that took the catheter out of me the other day. Man, he was looking at Fred like he was the last ham sandwich in hungry town."

    I started laughing as I tried to visualize Fred wearing a slice of Swiss cheese and some lettuce. "I never thought Fred looked like a ham sandwich. A customized summer sausage maybe."

    "You know what I mean," as he glanced at me. "It was embarrassing. Fred was embarrassed."

    "Oh, poor Fred," I said grinning at him. "Did you ask him for a backrub?"

    "Are you kidding? I know where his hand would have been. And finger."

    "A connoisseur, no doubt."

    "Well, I don't know about that," he said. "But I only allow a very certain person back there."

    "Lucky me," I said, as I looked up and caught his smile in the mirror.

    "Lucky us."

    I sighed. "Will tomorrow ever come?," and I know what I was thinking must have been written in capital letters all over my face.

    "Not fast enough. I just want to go home. I can't believe how much I've missed everybody. Even Tiger."

    "She's missed you, too. She follows me around and meows at me like I'm supposed to somehow magically produce you. She even sits on my desk and watches while I'm going through the mail. She probably won't let you out of her sight once you do get home. And I know how she feels, too."

    "When are the rest of the gang coming up?," he asked.

    "After supper I would imagine."

    "It's almost that time now," he said. "Which reminds me," as he grinned at me.

    "No," seeing the look on his face, "I'm not going across the street to get you another greaseburger. Besides, Dulce is bringing you something to eat when they come up. So you'll just have to wait."

    "But I had my mouth all adjusted for a cheeseburger and fries. Please, David. I'll eat whatever Dulce brings up, too." Winning smile was back in full force.

    I smiled and shook my head. "Fraid you'll just have to readjust your mouth, Bud. Dulce would have my hide and other parts of my anatomy for sure if I got you more of that junk stuff."

    "But it's going to be another hour or so before they get up here, I'll starve. Do you want that on your conscience?"

    "So, I'll go to confession. God will forgive me. Besides there might be something edible on your supper tray. I think I hear the supper cart in the hallway now."

    "Oh, wonderful. Great," as he sat there with SULK practically written across his forehead.

    We sat talking while waiting on the supper cart -- or at least I did. Dac mumbled half replies and grouchy remarks to my conversational sallies. I was beginning to lose my temper.

    The supper cart finally arrived. From the smell of it, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a witch doctor yelling and screaming various oaths and shaking rattles and bones at the trays as they were delivered. Dac took one look at it and pushed it away and continued sulking. I looked over it and managed to find some Jello and bread and something that looked like custard.

    I pushed the tray over to the bedside and spooned up some Jello. "Here, open up, and don't give me any of your lip," I said as I pushed the spoon into his surprised mouth. I alternated between Jello, bread and custard. About half way through all this, Dac started smiling at me and I finally stopped when he told me he didn't want any more.

    He took a drink of water, looked at me for a bit and started grinning. "Sorry, David."

    "You're not going to get away with this at home. You know that, don't you?"

    "I know, I know. I hate this place. I just want to go home. I miss our bed."

    "I know you do. I miss you not being in it."

    "You do? You miss me?"

    "You're fishing, Bud."

    "I know, but I need reassurance right now. I'm really fragile. Vulnerable, too."

    "Yes, dainty thing," as I looked heavenward, thinking what a colossal ham. "Yes, I've missed you."  

    He gave me a big smile, "It's nice to know I've been missed," and sarcastically, "I won't comment on the 'dainty'."

    We sat there talking and trading insults with each other until the crew finally arrived.

    "Hi, everybody," as Dac sat up in bed, "Dulce, did you bring me something to eat?," complete with a toothy, Great Expectations smile.

    Dulce looked at him, "Something to eat? Why, Dac? They feed you three times a day here."

    Dac had kind of a stricken look on his face as he looked at her, not knowing whether to believe her or not and alternately glaring at me.

    "Everybody was pretty hungry. There wasn't much left over from supper," Craig said, managing to keep a straight face.

    Dac looked around the room. Nobody said anything.

    "Oh," he said and it had to be the littlest 'oh' I have ever heard.

    "Well, wait a minute," Dulce said. "Let me check my purse, maybe I overlooked something," as she started digging around in her voluminous purse. "Well, I'll be," she looked up at him with a smile.

    "What? What!?," trying not to get excited.

    "I forgot all about these," as she placed a large package on his bedside table. "Some burritos I stuck in here," she kept digging, "and some red and green chilies." By this time, most of her arm had disappeared. Was there no bottom to her purse I wondered. "Oh, and I think this is for you, also," placing another package on his table.

    "What's this?," as he began opening it.

    "Oh, some empanadas with apricot filling," as she smiled at him.

    "Oh, I love empanadas. Oh, thanks, Dulce. I knew I could count on you, unlike others who were unconcerned that I was starving," giving me the benefit of another dirty look.

    "He wasn't supposed to," Dulce said, catching the look. "You want cheeseburgers and fries, I'll fix them at home. Least that way, I'll know what's in them." 

    "Anything you want to fix is fine by me," mouth stuffed with burrito.

    "I think we had him about half way believing us there for a minute," Craig said, as everybody stood around grinning at him.

    "More than half way. Boy, you should be ashamed of yourselves taking advantage of an injured person like that."

    "Yeah, especially when he's so fragile and vulnerable," I laughed.

    We sat around laughing and joking while Dac finished supper and then started moving plants out to the cars, leaving some in the room to be donated to the chapel tomorrow. We finished in about twenty or thirty minutes and trooped back to Dac's room. Craig brought up the rear with a huge thermos of coffee and a bunch of disposable coffee cups.

    "Thought we could enjoy a cup of coffee before we head home." He looked over at Dac with this little grin on his face. "I know you're really fragile and everything. You want me to help you drink this?"

    Dac just gave him a look and held out his hand.

    "Oh, well, perhaps you're feeling stronger," Craig smirked as he handed him his coffee.

    We sat around visiting for a while and then everybody said their goodbyes and started leaving. I stayed behind.

    I went over and held his face in my hands and kissed him goodnight. "Tomorrow's the day, my man."

    He looked up at me, "Am I your man?"

    "You're my man and don't you forget it. Well, time to go. I love you," as I kissed him again. "Goodnight," and headed out the door.

That's it, everyone. Sorry it's been so long in coming. Many reasons why. Let me hear from you as your feedback is the most important to me. Harlequin, 8-20-02.