Disclaimer: Real people slash - I don't know any of the people in this story, everything is made up. Still, we are some that wish that the bombing had really happened.

explicit language, war-like scenes, a mischievous parent, no sex-scenes between men - and the main character is still showing his dark side. Not that that has anything to do with the missing sex-scenes.

Kenovay asked for translations of the Danish dialogue in Tail 18. Maybe some of you are interested as well, so here it is.

Din lille degenererede, respektløse fnatmide af en kvajpandet klaptorsk.

(When Chris is more concerned about the smashed beer bottles than about the meat pies.) The sum is something like "despicable idiot". A word by word translation goes like this:

You little degenerated, respectless itch-mite of a cattle-foreheaded improperly-castrated-cod.

My etymological dictionary isn't totally sure of "klaptorsk" meaning "improperly castrated cod" but it's the only guess it offers and the argument that it poses is convincing. And, hey, I like it!

I to lamhjernede snothvalpe, hvad fanden har I gang i?

(When Mikkel catches Justin and JC listening at Chris' door.) A word by word translation will give a bit more meaning here, I think:

You two lame-brained snot-whelps, what the devil have you going?

Please, yes.

Lots of thanks to Kenovay for her help.



The Tail of the Tiger, Chapter 19

The Hammer of Grace

"Mhm...." I wasn't really listening. Jens Peter was talking along in my ear, something about his computer and what help he had enrolled to solve whatever problem it was. Looking up from Loke, I saw a woman in the driveway, well dressed and with a very efficient walk; she effortlessly kept her balance on high heels for the entire walk to the street. The real estate broker was leaving her meeting with the Crushers on the back porch. "Look, you just take your computer in on Monday-"

"I told you - it's too late! The kids are coming tomorrow and I promised them we could play the game!"

A pug snored softly in the chair beside me. Rudolph, one of Sara's, a gray nosed and rheumatic guy that had recently had a surgery. She had left him in the library with me so that the other pugs wouldn't disturb him. Busta was having a great time with the huge mob of pugs in the back yard. "Take them to the Zoo-"

"That's not the game. Besides we went to the Zoo last time they were here. Mikkel, if you would just tell me what to do-"

I stared at Loke 1.0, neat line after neat line of programming on the screen, almost all of him visible on a single screen, short and elegant. Whether he was a deviously vicious as I thought was still to be tested under fire. Maybe I should name him "Chris 1.0". If he worked I just might. "What was the problem again?"

"I cannot get into the computer. What are you doing? Haven't you been listening at all?"

"Not really. So you cannot get into Windows? Have you got a boot disk-"

"The boot disk doesn't work. It doesn't stop or something."

"Well, you just press delete at the startup an-"

"Birger tried that. It's blocked. I forgot that password too. He said to throw the computer out but I can't - all the spreadsheets are on it. And the game!"

Birger? Who the heck was Birger? Doesn't matter, he isn't one of ours. How in the world did Jens Peter manage to put a password on the setup? "Really? Did you put password on everything?"

"Yes! I told you that!"

"Sorry, I was deep in something else." I took a few breaths and decided that I didn't want to get into the whys of his password binge. "Okay, I'm here now. Don't throw the computer out just yet. Is that Birger fellow still there?"

"No, he left. Can you help me?"

"I don't know. It's going to be a bit tricky..." I checked the time. I had to go get Tom but there was still time. "You know, I'm going to charge you for this. By the hour. Much cheaper if you just waited until Monday, one of the guys could fix it within half an hour."

There was a lot of relief in the sigh that busted my ears. "Just take me through the steps."

"You're going to need a computer with access to the Internet and your email. Do you have one?"

"The old one in the guest room, yes."

An old one - likely with an old modem, too. He would be a long time uploading the pictures then. Plenty of time for me to pick up Tom, and if it wasn't, then Jens Peter could wait until I got back. "Okay. You have a digital camera, right?"

"Yes." He had all sorts of gadgets that he didn't know how to use. I hoped he knew how to use this one.

"An empty floppy disk?"

"You mean the ordinary ones?"



"I'll want you to take the cover of the new computer and take a photograph of the motherboard. You're going to mail it to me and I'll circle the area where you're going to fix something, you might have to short circuit.... Never mind. You'll probably need a small screwdriver. Also, I'll send you a bunch of files that you're going to unpack and put on a floppy to make a new boot disc. I'll take you through everything step by step. You are aware that it's your phone bill?"

"That's okay."

"Good. That's the outlines. I want a promise from you."


"When this is over you're going to erase the files that I send you - both those on your computer and on the boot disc."


The odd thing was that I trusted him to do it as long as I told him how. I wouldn't have trusted myself with a promise like that - but then he was unlikely to realize what kind of bazooka I was handing him. "You are spoiling those kids, you know that?"

"I promised them! And, well, they need some adults whose word can be trusted..."

He hit me right in a soft spot with that one. The length of the bill suddenly grew a lot shorter.

"Okay. You take the cover off the new computer and make your camera ready. Meanwhile, I'll send you what you need for new boot disc. Download the file before you call me and have a floppy disk ready, then I'll take you through taking the photographs and creating the boot disk."

He mumbled to himself, repeating what I had said as if he was taking notes. "I just don't get it. Why should this other boot disk work?"

"It's blessed by the god Linux. It'll work."

He trusted my word on that and we hung up. As I opened the mail program, I found a mail from Tommy, confirming the schedule I had asked Bill and him to keep. Some of the things I had asked them to do still confused them, but they would do them as long as they got the explanations later.

It was essential that Kurt thought that it was me behind their attack, so there had to be some of my crazy patterns in Tommy's and Bill's attack, the kind that usually didn't work anyway. They were going to pose as me during this night's storm of the castle while I smuggled Loke 1.0 in. The Polish guys had already confirmed the schedule both to Kurt and me. I didn't dare involve them in my little sneak attack - the last time I involved them in a like scheme, they had thrown hints at Kurt to see when he would catch on. He, of course, had played right back at both them and me, to see when we would realize that he had caught on.

But - not this time. Kurt didn't know about Tommy and Bill, he might not even know any of their screen names. I was calling in old favors for this one.

This was my grand night of revenge. Joey's house booby-trapped with ghosts, and Loke 1.0 armed and ready to sneak in and hand me John Cleese the Server.

Mikkel Svendsen was on top, oh yes, was he on top.

While I was waiting for Jens Peter's file to upload, I leaned back, petting Rudolph and enjoying the feeling of wicked power cursing through my veins.

"I'm making tea - do you want another pot of coffee?"

The world flipped, for a moment I lost track of what was up and what was down. That was Karen asking quite pleasantly from the doorway. The creases that so far had seemed to be a permanent fixture around her mouth had almost disappeared. One was reminded of the magic of a chrysalis, only this one might have been waiting decades for its wings, waiting for somebody to set it free, and now its dreams were unfolding like wings.

I had to blink; she kept stunning me with her new attitude. "Please. That would be very nice." I had no idea whether she knew how to make a proper cup of coffee, but one had to go with miracles like this. Who knew, even her coffee might be a miracle - and if I was lucky, then there was enough miracle in the air for a dribble to fall on my scheme.

She smiled and left. In the glass of one of the paintings on the wall I could see her take a few dancing steps once she thought she was out of my sight.

"Karen." Remembering, I got up and followed her, catching up with her in the kitchen. "Patricia called, I told her you guys were busy with the real estate agent and she asked me to ask you to call her back."

"Patricia? All right." She sounded quite uninterested, filling the electric kettle with water was obviously more important.

"So, did the real estate agent have anything for you?"

"Yes." She was smiling. "We are going looking at a couple of places tomorrow. A farm and a former dog kennel. The farm sounded really nice. It has an old orchard - I really like old orchards."

"That's good."

"How's work coming along?"

"Smoothly so far. It's a good day like that." Apart from Jens Peter's project there only was the umpteenth proof reading of Loke 1.0 and the recheck of my plans, which wasn't going to yield anything but was merely me wallowing in the feeling of power.

In the basement lay a block of wood waiting to be carved. I had planned to spend a couple of hours on that after I had picked up Tom. It would sharpen my focus nicely for tonight's attack. Now it looked like I might be spending the time leading a technical illiterate by the hand through what was for him a pretty complicated process.

"It's a good day for all of us! Isn't that wonderful?"

Stunned by her burst of enthusiasm, I could only nod, and I fled back to check on the upload.

"Mikkel?" Karen followed me. "Rose said we could get you to make the logo and design the card and stationery. And maybe make a what-do-you-call-it homepage."

"She did?"

"Yes. We really like the ad, it's brilliant! Will you do it? We'll pay, of course."

Without a by your leave, Mormor had shown her cronies the fake magazine cutting that I had made for Chris. I had picked the prints up at the mail office only this morning. Kurt had printed the "cutting" on several qualities of paper for me. A flying, caped stick pug of Chris own making illustrated "The Hammer of Grace will lead you!". The original drawing had been traced in cement and was now hidden under a wall. "Discover the secret of how to keep your human happy and subservient FOR FREE," was followed by a few examples of the benefits of such a situation. The color scheme was as trashy as I could make it.

"Okay." I wasn't sure if she saw the humor in the color scheme. Not asking, so not asking. "Who do you want to tell what and why would they be interested?"

"You are going to start now?"

"Sure." I picked up my notebook; it was so much easier tapping into "customers" while they were still on the up. That was when all the ideas were alive and kicking.

My day was staying nicely on the top, though it fell a little when I had to tell Tom about his mother's visit. I had convinced him to take a drink before going home and we were sitting in café near the bus station. Tom had been telling me about going fishing with Maria and the Texas Ranger and he was aglow with it still, even though he hadn't caught anything big. Maria had been happy, and that was enough if not for a dinner then for Tom.

He took it nicely, though. Not surprisingly he identified the robot priest as Mr. Fucking Summer. "Granny - has she done anything about it?"

"She wanted to but her lawyer wasn't available - and then a new project distracted her. She'll probably revert when she sees you. I figured you needed a heads up."

"Okay. Good." He lifted the glass between two fingers and let it swing back and forth for a moment. "Good."


"Yeah. I'm fine. Fucking fine. My mum's a bitch. Father Fucking Summer is bad news, fucking bad news. You know, I might just go ahead and... do whatever Granny's lawyer says. Maybe. At least enough to put some fear into her. Mum, I mean. Father Fucking Summer! Siccing him on me - what the hell is she thinking?"

"Uh huh." Booby ghosts and Loke 1.0. "Sometimes you just have to hit back."

"Yeah." He downed the rest of his drink. "Let's go."

When I pulled the keys out of my pocket they immediately disappeared, torn out of my hand in a powerful blur - jingling, they reappeared in Tom's hand. "I drive," he informed me and held the keys away while keeping me at bay with a hand on my chest.


"Na-na-na. I drive, you just sit. Into the car, coz. The other side. Come on."

"Look, I haven't run a red or yellow light for days-"

"That's very good, coz. I'm impressed, immensely impressed - and no obvious symptoms of withdrawal, yet. Good, very good. Now, get in the car, man."

I did what I was told to, though not quietly.

Tom interrupted my itinerary with "You know, you behind a wheel reminds me of Grandpa with his gun."


"Shit! Will you fucking stop yelling? Man. My ear." Of course his ear ached - he was using a lot of force rubbing it.

"Your ear would be all right if you stopped trying to tear it off. That was a bloody shitty thing to say."

"Well, it's true. Safety-procedure wise, you two are a lot alike."

"I drive well."

"Yeah, yeah - you do. Kinda. Except."

"Except what?"

"Do you see a blue light on the roof?"

"On what roof?"

"The roof of the car, this car, dumbass."

"No. Of course not. I'm inside the thing, I cannot see the top of the roof, you concrete brain."

"Ah. That explains it."

"Explains what?"

"You think that there's a blue light on the roof - that's why you always drive as if this car's a fire engine and the whole fucking town's on fucking fire."

"You drive like an old lady. On a Sunday. And I'm not talking about Mormor."

"An old lady with a driver's license. Driver's license - you ever heard about that?"

"Yes. I've got more of them than you do."

"And this vendor machine you get them from - does it say anywhere on it that the licenses cover emergency vehicles?"

It went on like that so of course - "Oh. Tom, I forgot." When we were about to turn and drive past Jer in the booth.


"Paul called - I promised we'd pick him up on our way home."

"Why didn't you say so?"

"I forgot. My cousin was nagging me."

Tom got the car turned in the right direction, carefully, and with me calling him an old lady among other things. He ignored me and took his time.

When his phone rang he lifted it out of his breast pocket and passed it to me. "Just tell her I'll call her back when we stop."

"This is Tom's biological, environment friendly answering device. Please state your identity in a politically correct manner."

A voice spoke over the hum of traffic. "Dude. Fuel wasting, grease dumping, high flying hamburger stand here. Do you receive?"

Chris! "Chris!" ChrisChrisChris!

"Yeah, I told you so. Are you up from some fun tonight? Some of us plan to hit the clubs after the par-tay - we could meet up."

"I am - but I might be working all night."

"Storming the castle is gonna take all night?"

"It could." Which was unlikely - but I would give everything away if I were around when the booby ghosts went off.

Except now it looked as if Chris wouldn't be home... "Are any of the other guys going?" Please, tell me that Lance is going too, please! He's not alone at home!

"It's just Joey, JC and me so far, Justin's a kid - ow! Stop it, infant."

Blast! How do I get at the timers? "You want me to bring Busta over?" I probably wouldn't have time for that, I realized with a cold feeling in my belly.

"What? No, I already fixed that. Lynn's picking him up in ten minutes or so. Leave off, Justin!" Somebody made smacking lip noises in the phone, Chris swore, so, unless he had grown an extra set of lips, it wasn't him. "See if I'm gonna smuggle you into another club! Jesus."

I was going to figure out an excuse for a visit later. After Jens Peter had his computer going - there had to be time. And an excuse. Some toy that Busta forgot to pack or something in that line. Dump an overnight bag? In the basement? "Look, I'll call you if we finish the raid early. I really want to go clubbing."

"Sure, man. Ah...?"


"Great. You know what we could do after we've been clubbing?"

Do Chris! Lots of naked Chris! "Do Chris. Lots of naked Chris."

He laughed.

Tom punched my thigh and growled, "Not on my phone, you don't."

"Was that Tom?"

"Yes. You know, you never got that blow- arh!" Tom's fist had come down on the same spot the second time - like a hammer.

"No, don't think I ever got one of those." Chris was grinning. "I gotta run, man. See you, if not tonight, then tomorrow. I really want that blow-arrgh."

"Mmm. Your dick sliding aw! Tom, you fuck!"

Chris disconnected in mid laugh.

"I use that phone for talking with my sister. Don't you fucking dare use it for... for that! Christ! Here, give it to me."

"You killed my leg! It doesn't work anymore."

"I'm not sorry. Give me my phone."

"No. I've got a call to make."

"Not to Chris, you don't."

"Just a work call."

"You're not gonna call long distance on it either, meathead!"

"Keep your eyes on the road. Man, amateur drivers!"

Growling, Tom took a turn and braked softly, coming to a halt outside Paul's home. Paul must have been waiting - the door opened before the car had fully stopped. Of course, with Tom at the wheel stopping was a pretty prolonged process; Paul had had plenty of time for a drink and a pee on the way.

Grinning widely from ear to ear Paul ran to the car and opened the door and jumped in. "Hi guys!"

Tom smiled at him, glowing. "Hi." I received another punch, amazing in its precision when he wasn't even looking at me. "Out. I want Paul in front."

"Aw! I can't move, you killed my leg twice!"

"It's okay." Paul leaned in between the seats a hand on my shoulder and on Tom's. "Your face will get its lick over when we're alone, Tom."

"Paul!" Tom turned red. So did Paul, who also looked proud of himself.

"What do you mean it's okay for him to kill my leg?"

Paul just laughed, throatily. A sound to make Tom swallow rapidly several times in a row.

"Did you guys ever have phone sex on this phone?"

"Mikkel!" Odd how they agreed on that word and tone.

"Sorry, just asking. Why are we parked here?"

Tom started the car. "See why I killed his leg?"

"Why didn't you kill the rest of him?"

"I was driving. Maybe you can strangle him from behind?"

"What? Hey, Paul no! I'm a good boy! I'm not having phone sex on the Maria-phone and I'm not calling long distance!"

"Paul, take my phone - Mikkel will you fucking stop it!"

"It's not long distance. It's an emergency call - and it's local."

"Emergency, what emergency?"

"My great plan of revenge is going to crash..."

"Plan of revenge? Mikkel-"

A quiet voice answered the phone. "Yeah?" It was the usual American paranoid way of answering the phone - very impolite in my Danish book not to state one's name when answering the phone.

I thought I recognized the voice. "AJ? Hi, this is Mikkel." There were voices in the background. "Can you talk for a minute?"

It sounded like he was walking. "Sure.... Hi, Mikkel. What's up?" The background sound changed - the faint hum of voices disappeared and there were fewer echoes to his own voice: he had moved into a smaller room.

"Trouble. Things are not working out the way I want them. Chris and Joey are going clubbing and Lance is going to be home alone-"

AJ hooted. "Man, that's great! I like that."

"But he's alone."

"Yeah? I like it, man. Anyway, let me hear what you were about to say."

"I wondered if you had any way of getting in there and switching the timer off? The guys are on their way to some industry party and I'm stuck at home with work, I'm not sure I can get away for long enough."

"Well, even if I wanted to, I can't. I'm stuck, too. I might be able to get away before midnight though. But I'm pretty sure Lance ain't gonna let me inside. He doesn't like my face."

"Blast. Okay. I'll see if I can fix it myself..."

"You're gonna give everything away. Just let it roll, man."

"But - Lance!"

"It's perfect! He's tough, he can take it. Let it roll, I say."

"You really are on his shit list, aren't you?"

"With Lance it's not a place you ever get away from."

"Oh. Oops?"

AJ laughed. "I gotta run, I'm at work right now."

"Sure. Bye." And when I had disconnected: "Shit, shit, shit. And shit."

"A timer? What've you gone and done this time?" Tom asked.

And Paul: "AJ? Were you talking to AJ? That AJ?"

"I only know one AJ - he's a friend of Chris and his bandmates."

"That AJ - it's gotta be that AJ. And - you talked with him. Like, right now? I could hear him! Tom, AJ was on your phone, Tom, he spoke! Inside your phone. Right now!"

"Who the fuck is AJ?" Tom asked.

"He's from the Backstreet Boys!"

"Who are the Backstreet Boys?" I asked.

"You two morons! Don't you know anything?" Apparently Tom and I had just bared huge holes in our bases of Very Important Knowledge. "And what are you gonna do to Lance?" He poked my shoulder with an accusing finger, fiercely protective of a guy that he had never met.

Despite my promises to Paul, I didn't find the time to go to Joey's place before midnight. The broken promises didn't bother me much - they had been given under extreme duress: Paul had come very close to choking me while my cousin loudly and happily approved of the evil act.

As the clock ticked through the last minutes to midnight, I was busy installing Loke 1.0 on John Cleese. And none too soon - the Polish guys managed to bring down John Cleese not long after that. I wasn't even sure that I had accomplished all I wanted.

I should have fixed the log and mailed it to Kurt and given Tommy a call. I left all of that, heading for Joey's place as fast as I could without running any red lights. On the way I used Tom's phone for the work-calls, telling people I had an emergency and would be back later. Tom would kill me for using his phone for long distance; Tommy lived in LA and Kurt was on the other side of the Atlantic. If I was lucky I could get Paul to back me - the calls were after all made in defense of Lance's sanity. On the second thought, it was more likely that Paul would have my neck for being late.

It was with great relief that I saw Justin's car in the driveway of the lit house. I drove on and found a parking spot, intent on sneaking a peak through the windows just to make sure that Lance wasn't alone.

The street was quiet; there was nobody in sight. I slipped through the bushes at the corner furthest from the driveway, staying out of sensor range so that the garage lamp didn't go on.

The light was on in the kitchen, but I couldn't see anybody. The house appeared quiet as I sneaked along the bushes towards the back, intending a look at the living room. As I cut across the lawn towards the corner of the shed, I heard the screen door creak open. I moved the last steps and hid at the back of the shed, peeking around the corner.

A woman came out and set Busta down, she was talking as she walked out, "... taking Busta out, he's going nuts."

And another and somewhat whiny voice floated after her from the living room, "Mum, don't go." And then Justin appeared in the door.

Shit! And suddenly I thought that my pale feet in sandals were lighting up the grass and the jeans were almost as bad as naked legs would have been; they'd been washed until they were almost white. I quietly buttoned the jacket covering the pale T-shirt. There was no sneaking around in the bushes in this outfit.

I was trapped - Busta was barking and running around trying to get past Lynn who was not letting the pup inside. Busta barked once more and jumped down from the porch. One small move and Busta would hear or see me and give alarm - happy alarm, but it was very much unwanted. There was hardly any wind; with some luck she wouldn't come near enough to notice my smell. For once I was very glad that pugs don't have much of an olfactory sense.

"I say that we should call the police, Lynn." A third woman came out; Lance was trailing after her. "You shouldn't wander off by yourself like this. It's too creepy around here."

"I'm not staying in there for another minute. Good idea, Diane, calling the police. Justin - do you have your phone?"

Diane? Lance's mum. Oops? I do hope that Lance and Justin will be allowed to play with me again.

"Sure." Justin pulled it out of his pocket. "What do I tell them?"

"That the air conditioning is infected with baby ghosts," Lance suggested, deadpan. "Actually, we should probably call the pest control instead."

"Lance!" Diane admonished.

"It's a joke, okay, it's just somebody playing a joke on us, I'm sure!"

"Like who?" Justin asked.

"I don't know - the Fatones have a key, it could be Steve and Janine; Lynn has a key, too."

Everybody looked at Lynn and she shook her head. "I didn't do it."

"Steve - man, can you see Steve do something like that? Not a naked lady anywhere - that can't be Steve, man."

"Not without help, maybe him and Joe could have done it." Lance spoke slowly, "For all I know, Chris might have given his key to Mikkel."

"Is that the guy you told me about? Chris' buddy?" Lynn asked Justin.

"Yeah. Chris tricked him into doing his laundry."

"Ah, you are saying there's somebody who had a reason." Lance's mother nodded to herself. "That sounds like a very good reason to me. Steve would have reasons as well, I'm sure."

"Joe and Janine have a few, too," added Lance thoughtfully.

Justin was looking around the garden, he was standing under the light on the patio so I was sure he couldn't see me. Busta was sniffing around at a safe distance from me.

"I still think it's Chris." Diane frowned at Justin and began looking around a little nervously.

"No," Lance was adamant. "He would've been here, right in the first row, screaming worse than Lynn."

"Hey. I wasn't screaming."

Justin grinned fleetingly. "Right, ma. Just making loud comments, kinda drawn out and in the high registers."

"Mikkel's a Renaissance man, he can do anything." Lance sounded sure of that. I wished it was true.

Justin spoke in a very low voice, I could barely hear him, "You think whoever it was is out there?"

And suddenly they were all very quiet and looking around and of course I suffered a sudden and very strong urge to sneeze. My eyes were watering as I experimented with breathing patterns. Finally I had my nasal pipe system under control. I had also lost sight of Busta; the pup had disappeared in the dark and the shadows.

"Somebody must have started it. He could be inside the house." Lynn shivered. "Somebody could have broken in."

Lance shook his head. "Nothing's stolen, Lynn, and the alarm was on. This is a personal thing."

"Still, let's do what you said, Diane, and call the police-"

"Relax, Lynn. It's just a kid and maybe good old papa Fatone having fun." A kid? I bit back a protest. "Tell you what, we take another look-"

"No! I'm not going down there again. The doors stay locked and that's it. And he can suffocate in that storage room for all I care, if that's where he is. And if it's Good Old Joe - he can miss a few meals, that would only do him good."

"I suppose we could give Phyllis a call tomorrow and see if he's missed," mused Diana.

"Yes. If we're not calling the police, then let's just go to our place. You're not staying in there."

And that was apparently that, except they couldn't find Busta - which wasn't odd, because right then I felt a wet touch on my ankle and heard a small snort. I picked Busta up hurriedly, hoping that their barging and calling would mask the happy snorts that the squirming dog was making.

"Lance, go get the torch." Diane was close; I could see her outline five or six meters away.

Lance obeyed ma's order without hesitation, disappearing into the house. Justin went with him.

Images of sweeping searchlights flickered in my mind; shards of memory blended with the present and made me shiver.

I'm fried.

I sat Busta down and nudged her, trying to make her go away, but she thought it was just another game - she started playing with my hand instead and I had to stop and pick her up, stroking her to calm her before she started barking in excitement.

Stupid dog!

Searchlights- Stop it, Mikkel!

Diane was moving closer, calling Busta who ignored the calls and instead started playing a wrestling game with me - the little bugger had an entirely disproportional impression of her own size. She was snorting playfully, and apparently Diane was close enough to hear it, she was moving in Busta's and my direction while calling softly. She would notice if I moved my legs the slightest.

Inside the house hurried and heavy feet ran towards the screen door.

That's a cover! Recognition of the situation flared in my mind.

The door swung open and Lance and Justin burst through, I was registering the situation by its sounds, being busy taking the chance that had offered itself.

Holding the wrestler in one hand, I stepped quietly behind Diane, whose attention momentarily was on the house, and caught her with my free arm, covering her mouth with my hand, cradling Busta against her belly with the other. "Quiet," I hissed in the ear of the woman who had suddenly gone very stiff and whose mouth had opened. "Please, don't spoil the joke." I let go of her mouth and nudged her belly with my thumb. "Here's Busta, take her."

Diane shivered and fumbled with the dog. Once I was sure she had it, I let go and stepped back behind the shed.

"Ma?" Lance called, turning on the torch. Both he and Justin were pale - once again, the ghosts were busy in the air ducts. Lynn was on the porch, looking inside through the closed screen door.

"Here," Diane coughed. "Here, I'm here. I... I found Busta." And she added in a very low voice not audible on the porch, "I should've kicked you."

Even though she couldn't see me, I nodded agreeably.

"They're at it again," Lynn said when Diane entered the light. "Those things in the air condition - it sounds like they're hurting really bad, if that's any comfort."

"Yeah?" Diane was preoccupied with Busta. "Boys, this dog - it's female. Did you know? Does Chris?"

Lynn snorted. "That's probably the first thing he checked."

Lance was studying the planks.

Justin smiled weakly and nodded. "Chris calls her "he" - it kinda sticks."

"He persuaded everybody it's a he?"

"Not Mikkel. He's a bit of a stickler like that. Or it's to tease Chris or something. He can be a bit weird."

"Ah. I'm... not surprised."

I waited for them to outwait the squeaking critters and disappear into the house to get Diane's and Lance's things. At some point the lights were turned off and shortly after that, a car started.

I gave them another minute before I ran towards the front. The monsters of darkness were seething behind me, and scorching my heels with their black magic. It was tempting to take the way by the sensors and have some light, but the instinct to beware of neighbors was stronger so I didn't. Once again the bushes held out for a passage, gripping my clothes and rasping my skin with their weak but plentiful claws.

By the time I let myself into the car my heart was hammering loudly in my ears. Before I started the engine, I made sure that there were no monsters hiding on the backseat, and that all doors were locked from the inside.

I sat for a moment, resting my shaking hands on the wheel. The car stank of the sweat of fear that was cooling on my skin. It was bliss when I was calm enough to set my mind on planning how to doctor the log for Kurt.

* * * * *


Morning came around sunny and with the promise of a hot day. I had been up before sunup and, confining the hammer and myself to the corner in the basement that was furthest from Tom's room, I had framed the ad for Chris. I had torn it a bit to make it look more like a cutting and Aunt Green had helped too, making a few well-placed muddy footprints, giving the ad a more authentic look. The present was wrapped it in much taped leftover pages from the garden horror catalogue. Chris had taught me that one.

"What is that?" Mormor asked sharply when she saw it on the floor by the back door.

"Chris' ad. I framed it."

"The... things on it. It's from that dreadful catalogue that I wanted to throw out."


"You are not going to put any of those in my garden!"

"Are you crazy? Of course not - Emanuel would cut my balls off. "

Tom, shining brightly, looked up from his cereal. "Actually, we were thinking of giving you a couple of them for a birthday present. But then we found something better."

Paul giggled into his pancakes. Tom caught his gaze. And giggled. And they both turned red and looked away, seemingly in order not to explode food at each other across the table.

They had been like that since they got up.

Mormor wagged an eyebrow at me and quenched a grin. "Where are my pancakes?"

"Coming up, Cinderella."

"I want the paper, too. Tom." She really should be using the royal "we" - she could get away with it.

Tom pushed the paper over. It was unread. He and Paul had been too busy playing eye-and-giggle games to fight over the sports section.

It wasn't until all three of them were laughing that I discovered that I had been singing while making Princess Cinderella's pancakes. It was that kind of morning. "Well, you could join me!" And Paul did, nicely, in a strong voice and after that we needed a sponge and bucket to get Tom off the floor.

"I figured out what I want you to serve on my birthday," Mormor informed me when we all had finished eating.

It was with some dread of royal fickleness that I said, "Yes?"

"Lunch. Proper lunch."

"... You mean, a Christmas lunch?"


"At this latitude and season?"

"Yes! Marinated herring, filet mignon with soft onions and gravy, liver paste with mushrooms, smoked cheese - the works. And medister with boiled red cabbage. And snaps, of course."

I would never get started on that carving. "Okay." The omission of "green salad" was no coincidence. I kept my mouth shut, not telling her that that part of the tradition had changed radically since she was young - now green salad had become part of the tradition. If I didn't bring it up then she couldn't say no. The smoked cheese was a summer thing, really. I didn't bring that up either.

This was attacking the guests with hospitality, definitely not diet friendly. We would be eating leftovers for weeks after. Unless I could get some *Nsyncers to help out. Or the football team; some of them were coming over for another session of video watching the day after the birthday.

"Smoked cheese?" Tom frowned in distaste.

"What's mid-easter?" Paul looked puzzled.

"A fresh sausage," I said to Paul, wondering if one could even buy sausage casings at consumer level in this part of the world. It might not even be possible to find the attachment for the food processor for getting the meat into the casings. And the neighbors wouldn't be happy when I started smoking a homemade kind of junket in the backyard. I'll just have to do it before sunup. Nettles, have I seen nettles at all? If not, then wet hay will have to do. And good quality salted herrings: here and at this time of the year? Very unlikely.

Mormor's assignment made for some research, which I did by phone. Well, part of it was done in the basement - and, yes, the old hand driven meat grinder was still there, and so were the accessories: the mechanical necessities for sausage making were, if not up-to-date, then at least in working order.

I called my sister Lisbeth. None of us mentioned the family conflict, both of us knew that Lisbeth was trapped pretty much in the middle of it all, and I didn't want to pressure her to play for my side. Never mind that I asked her to break all kinds of laws sending foodstuffs across the Atlantic by the fastest service she could find.

The closest we came to talking about family trouble was Lisbeth's reaction when I told her why I needed the herrings. "Is your granny a lot like mum?"

All I could say was - "No. Not really. This is just a friendly little war. And I need sourdough and the rye flour-" I was going to make the proper kind of bread for a proper lunch. Mormor was one of the only two who was likely to eat it - and that was what was important.

"Rye flour, okay, I know what you use. Two kilograms?"

"One and a half is enough."

"Sourdough - no problem, I've got some. Anything else? This is going to be expensive, it's quite a load."

"I know. She can afford it and I told her she could have what she wanted. I'm not going to let her win. I think that's all."

"All right. You owe me a Saturday of baby sitting for this."

Which was more a pleasure than it was anything else and I felt like a cheat agreeing to that deal. It was good to know that she would still let me spend time with her kids; the war was not going to affect that privilege. Yet.

Still, Mormor was going to get low fat food this entire week, at all meals and no mercy. This was going to be Tom's imagined dream of a politically correct nutrition plan á la Johnny.

I would probably end up making enemies out of both Mormor and Tom.

The coolers got stuffed with drinks, sandwiches, fruit and lots of cooling elements. They got placed in the trunk and wrapped in layers of blankets. Then I was ready to leave.

My mind was putting the final touches in the plan for the birthday lunch when Tom and Paul let me off outside Joey's house. Wise from my last visit, I only had my waterproof bag with me when I rang the doorbell; the coolers and the present were left in the garage.

Busta was barking on the other side of the door. "Go get Chris, Busta," I told her. She just barked even more eagerly. It didn't seem like anybody had any intention of opening the door.

Oops. Are they angry with me? I decided to check out the back yard.

As if in answer to my worry, Joey jumped around the corner of the house, almost sending me flying from shock alone when he yelled, "To me, guys! The enemy is here!" I never got the chance to ask what he meant by that or why he was soaking wet - I was hit by the spray from the enormous orange and blue water gun that he wielded.

Other voices came closer, a deep one and a high one - I could make out a couple of words in the babble, "Charge!" and, "The Enemy!"

As I dove for cover around the opposite corner, it occurred to me that the Enemy was: me. Which made them my Enemy. I ran as fast as I could. The hunt was on, three against one.

And especially one fierce, dark, bowlegged guerilla, who incidentally wielded the biggest gun of them all, had a very sure aim and quick feet. He also had on a black T-shirt that clung to his upper body; hard nipples poked against the wet cloth. Very distracting, he was.

Even his war cry did things to me; shrill, loud and nerve grinding as it was, it caused a tickling heat in my balls.

He kept directing the others and trying to insist that they call him Sir Chris, which honor they refused. Luckily for me they weren't prone to listening to his continually changing plans either; maybe because it would have sent them into his line of fire most of the time. His line of fire was the same as my line of sight, so - my luck.

Still, I fought against my disposition to stand salivating at the sight of him: there was no denying that it was my highest duty to fight my Enemy. And who doesn't want to be a hero?

I thought I had them when two of them ran out of ammunition and crowded around the tap by the side of the castle. Once again, Sir Chris with the nipples walked right into the tap-trap and he was paying very much attention to the corner that I had come from when I sneaked up on him last time. This time I was hiding behind the bushes at the opposite side.

"Hurry Lance," Sir Chris, the one with the nipples, said. He was looking around nervously while his companion fumbled with his gun and the tap. The black T-shirt was riding up a bit, baring a nice pale strip of back. "Where the fuck is Joey? Sssh, Lance, shut up...."

I didn't need to see the face of the Lance-fellow to know he was rolling his eyes - he did that a lot and just then the water missed the hole, reflecting off the gun it sprayed his face.

I charged, going for the easiest goal: the Lance-fellow and, in particular, his gun, cannon-balling into him before he had a chance to react, blinded as he was by the water. I grabbed the gun - and had taken about two steps when a human bola entangled itself with my legs and tripped me, sending me flying in one direction and the gun in another, water spraying from the unstoppered hole.

Sir Chris won the race for the sparely loaded gun and I found myself at the wrong end of a brightly colored weapon and a wicked, brilliant grin that direly threatened the carrying ability of my knees.

The Joey-fellow came running, the orange and blue gun in his hand. Finally facing up to the situation, I made my escape as quickly as I could - only their low level of ammunition and Sir Chris' loud protestations and the Screech! at Joey for taking a beer in the middle of a war saved me from another thorough soaking. Come to think of it, they both looked a little bruised around the eyes, as if it had been a late night. It was likely that the indignation of Sir Chris, the one with the nipples, was mostly due to him not getting a beer as well.

The backdoor to the mud-room was ajar; wet trails were already leading in and out the house. I had an idea and ran inside and up the stairs, making sure to close the kitchen door behind me so that Busta the Beast wouldn't run loose on the fighting grounds. I made it upstairs almost without a creak; I had that staircase mapped. Hopefully, nobody would notice my tracks. They were right on top of another set, somebody had already been upstairs to reload - the trail led right to the bathroom and the floor around the sink was wet.

I sneaked into the room of one of my enemies, that of Sir Chris, the one with the nipples, and plundered his cache of stinky condoms.

Trying not to gag on the stink of artificial banana, I finished filling and tying the first condom. I closed the water tap before unpacking the next bomb casing. In the quiet I could hear the staircase creaking. I opened the door a crack and listened, sure enough, somebody were coming. I had barely time to get in position behind the door before Lance burst into the bathroom. He was dripping, perhaps some of his devious comrades had tested their weapons on him; one didn't need to spend a lot of time figuring out just who might do a thing like that.

He squealed when I shut the door. I leaned against the door. "Quiet!" I hissed as menacingly as I could. "Listen, here's the deal. Are you listening?"

Lance nodded.

"You are going to help me. If you don't then it's tickle-time for you. Major tickle-time, like in pee-your-pants tickle-time. You on?"

"Yeah." Lance grinned sharkishly, his eyes sparkling. The rakish stripe of mud on his cheek and the artificially blond, wet hair sticking out in all directions fit him perfectly.

Sir Chris, the one with the nipples and the assumed, inappropriate weapons testing, had just handed me a third of their army.

Chris! Want wet Chris with the naughty Nipples! "Great. Help me arm the bombs."

Condoms make for rather large and unwieldy water bombs. We put them in Sir Chris' favorite Spiderman towel to use it as a sling, intending to wait in Joey's room, agreeing that at some point they would come by the back porch - and Joey's window made for the best chance of a good hit.

But luck was with us - we didn't even have to go to Joey's room, there were voices, targets, in the front yard, it sounded like they were right below the bathroom window. We shared a grin. "No counting, I open the window, we pick up the towel and we throw in one move." I showed with my hand. "This angle, wouldn't you say?"

Lance eyed the window and nodded, excited like a kid at Christmas. "Hurry up!"

Up went the window, up went the screen, quietly and quickly, then we lifted the mighty cannon by the corners and propelled off the four bombs.

I was pretty sure that Justin's voice was part of the mumble below.

Everything went smoothly: the water condom bombs cleared the window frame beautifully, continuing in a wobbly crowd upward, turning and spreading out a little along a nicely arched path-

"Joey! Chris. You are soaked," a woman's voice said.

Lance whimpered, "Shit!"

Up in the air, the bombs slowed to a stop, paused, and started on their inevitable path downward, slowly at first, then faster.

"Now, watch your hide, Mr. Fatone Junior! And you, too, Mr. Kirkpatrick-"

Wondering what Joey had just said to Diane, I held my breath, hoping that nobody would think to look upward and get a chance of seeking cover. Time was stretching, and I kept expecting the alarm to go off, regretting we had sent the bombs so far upwards-

"Look out," Justin yelled.

- while the bombs sunk out of our sight, clearing the edge of the roof without a hitch. A long wait, while Justin let out a stream of very odd sounds in slow motion, then-

Splotch-splotch! The bombs hit the ground at almost the same time and, by the sound of it, at least two of them hit the paved path. Diane screamed. So did a man, whose voice I did not recognize, but he certainly sounded angry, "What the hell.... Who did this? Lance is that you?"

"Shit!" hissed Lance.

"Who's that?" I whispered.

There was no way Lance's eyes could get any rounder. "Lou, we got Fucking Lou!" A grin slowly took over his features. "I think he's mad. Yes! We got Lou!" He punched a hole in the air with a triumphant, femininely clenched fist while jumping up and down doing a little dance on the spot.

A distinct noise cut through the loud mix of anger, confusion and laughter in the front of the house - the donkey bray of JC in a gut-wrenching fit of laughter.

Diane spoke up between two of JC's gales. "James Lance Bass! You come down here immediately."

Lance froze; the grin around his mouth died but sparkled on undiminished in his eyes. "My mum," he muttered. "I better go." A saner man would have run the other way. "Why did she have to come back early?"

Of course I went with him. There was no way I would missing this. I picked up Busta and unashamedly kept behind Lance when he opened the door.

The wet splotch was quite visible on the pave stones and it was visible on the formerly dusty soil in the flowerbed and on the porch - on the door too.

It was visible on the dripping Justin and JC who were standing on the lawn and holding on to each other, bent forward and laughing though they quenched it to hear what was going on when they saw us.

The splotch was visible on the large man whose dripping and blubbery face did remind me slightly of the bombs, except at the moment it was a lot more creased and in a hostile expression. Which probably had to do with the fact that he was wet - and was getting up from a sitting position.

And the splotch was indeed visible on the well-dressed and well-drenched woman standing on the path quite close to the apparent center of impact. Especially her hairdo looked like it had taken a serious beating: while the front was plastered to her skull, the back of it was still somewhat raised and standing out. From what I had seen the evening before, that was how the hair was supposed to look all over her head. The pale rag of rubber caught on her shoulder may have looked a bit like Lou's face; still, it didn't quite look like it belonged there.

Joey was sitting down on the wet lawn, cradling his gun and laughing. Chris, eyes glowing and sparkling, was standing next to him, water bazooka casually resting on his shoulder. The nipples were still poking at the cloth. He and Joey had only been on the outskirts of the blast, though it was hard to tell from just looking at them since they were already not only grimy but also soaking wet.

If that was the spot they had been standing in when the bombs fell then they had certainly been perfectly placed to call warning. So had Justin and JC.

The fat guy, incredibly, still had a folder trapped between his arm and side. Somewhat compulsively and very much in vain, he tried to dry his wet glasses in his wet shirt all the while scowling at Lance. Diane obviously had first dibs on Lance though and he appeared to accept that.

"James Lance Bass." There was a whip in that velvet drawl. "And you, mister." A flick of her glance included me in the whipping. Incidentally, the small movement of her head caused the ruin of a condom to slip down from her shoulder.



Diane caught the rubber before it fell and glanced briefly at it. "I believe this is yours?" she held it out to Lance. The ring with the knot dangled from slim manicured fingers; it was quite obvious what it was. There was a faint smell of artificial banana in the air.

"Uhm." Lance swallowed audibly. "Ma." He probably didn't like discussing condoms with his mum. "Actually, it's Chris'."

JC went into a renewed fit of laughter; Justin sputtered, unable to withstand the inner pressure. Joey had turned the water works on, jewels ran from eyes that were mere slits, pushed up by his cheeks and widely grinning mouth. Chris beamed proudly at Lance and lifted his fist in victory on Lance's behalf.

Diane turned her head and with an elegant lift of her eyebrow she shut them all up. Well, apart from a few weird noises that hinted at defective valves. All of them were still beaming, though.

And perhaps the beams were what made Lance take heart. He straightened. "I'm terribly sorry. It was an accident. We thought it was only Chris and Joey down here. I'm sorry. Ma, Lou - really, really sorry." Lance shifted, his hand brushed my thigh, instinctively I looked down and saw him crossing his fingers on his back as he settled his hand out of their sight. "If we'd known you and Lou were here we wouldn't have done it. Sorry."

"And I'm sorry," I chimed in. "Look, what ever has come to harm, please tell me, I'll do what I can to replace the items."

"And you are?"

"Mikkel. Mikkel Svendsen, madam."

"Ah." She pinned me with a glance. "You. I've heard about you. And - Lou, since this other miscreant is my boy, the bill is on me. Everything. You hear?"

"I hear, Diane," came somewhat wryly as the fellow glared a couple of daggers at me.

"Madam...." I suddenly knew why the others had shut up at a lift of an eyebrow: it promised that anything I said would come out utterly lamely. There was nothing new in that so I continued, "Allow me to pay half, please. This accident is at least as much my fault as Lance's."

"We'll see. Right now I want dry clothes. Lou?"

"I.... I'll just come back later."

"Some of us are leaving. You said it was just a small thing? Can't you endure?"

"Yes, it is. Just a routine thing, really. I don't need all of you, I'll come back."

"Can't we just get it over with - we wanna go to the beach." Chris spoke up in a level voice. "Besides, it's not like you're the only one who's soaked. Be a sport, Lou."

Did Chris know what he was doing, inviting Lou inside a house with a voodoo doll of Lou hidden in the basement?

Lou's smile struggled against stiffness in the doughy cheeks. "I guess we can be quick, right, boys?"

I didn't like the sound of "routine". I had used that one for a cover up too many times. Together with "quick" it didn't sound fine at all. I trusted that Chris knew, soaked or not.

Chris bit his lip, perhaps just then remembering the doll, and nodded.

Diane marched in, followed by Lou and the guys. Chris gave my shoulder a slap as he went by and JC - JC flung an arm around my shoulder and gave me a quick hug and the snort in my ear probably was another smothered gale. "Love you," he whispered.

Leaving my soaked T-shirt and sandals in the mud room by the kitchen, I found the equipment for a floor wash and started in the bathroom on the first floor and worked my way down the stairs. Diane had finished with the hair dryer in Lance's room by the time I was a third down the stairs.

Lance's door opened and then there was her soft drawl from the top of the staircase. "Mikkel Svendsen, I've been looking forward to meeting you. Face to face, I mean." She wore a different set of clothes - and a hair that was fluffy all over.



"I'm sorry." I was at a disadvantage with my hands wet and no obvious place to dry them. "You better watch out, the lower steps are slippery."

She nodded and waved for me to continue cleaning. Then she sat down on the top step. "Those critters in the air conditioning - you do know what I'm talking about?"

I was glad to keep busy. "Yes."

"Say, are they a recurring thing?"

"Yes." I dared raise my head and look at her.

Diane's eyes were smiling the way Lance would sometimes smile. "Joey, JC and Chris still don't know about the infestation. As Lynn said, and we all agreed, somebody must have gone through a lot of trouble breeding the monsters; it would be such a pity if the last three guys didn't experience them first hand."

"Thank you!"

"Well, I guess I should say thank you for the experience. When precisely does the show go on? At midnight?"

I nodded.

"Then I better make sure that there is no parental supervision readily available, right?"

"Yes. That would be preferable."

She chuckled. "It'll be our pleasure. Lynn and I will be looking forward to a detailed report."

I went back to cleaning.

Diane watched me for a moment. "So, you were out there in the yard, spying on us all evening?"

"No, no. I had just arrived when you came out. I had a message earlier and had reason to think that Lance was alone at home. I had really planned to stay away but figured I better check up on him."

"Ah. You have a partner in crime?"

"How do you like the weather today? Quite sunny, isn't it."

"And wet. Oddly wet for such a clear sky."

The image of her, drenched and angrily dangling the shredded condom at Lance, came to mind and I fought to keep my face in check.

"Hey. Not funny, brat."

But it was and I couldn't hold back the grin. She grinned right back, belying her own words, and suddenly we were both laughing.

"How do you like America?" she asked when I was near the bottom of the staircase.

"You mean, what has my experience been so far?"

She blinked. "Yeah."

Her surprise hinted that this was one of those ordinary questions that Americans may ask - like asking what church people belong to. When you don't know the formulas for the answer they are very confusing questions, those.

"I have seen so little of America. To me it's all about the people I meet - and I've met some people that I've come to care about a lot and a few that I don't care much for." The Texas Ranger and Karen... "Though that tends to change when I get to know them. So the bottom line is that America has made me a nice and warm welcome. The rest - is pretty much background, something to be curious about because it's got my new friends and family in it and I want to understand them. In that way it's pretty much just there, not especially exciting or good or bad. The thought of a state that kills it's own citizens makes me sick, though. I think it's a very shameful thing to do."

"Yeah?" She arched an eyebrow. "You think I should feel ashamed?"

"Certainly not of how your fellow country men have received me. As to the death penalty - that depends pretty much on who you vote for, doesn't it?"

"I... guess it does." Diane got up and moved down to a lower dry step and sat, watching me start cleaning the mud and grass off the floor in the hallway.

I opened the door and threw the mat out on the paved path; the mat needed a thorough beating before it could be let back in.

"I've been asked some funny questions, though."


I told her about the first time I was asked about the church. She laughed, and wouldn't budge in her opinion that it was a perfectly sensible question - it was having a state church that did not make sense.

We got into a talk about meeting strangers in strange countries; she had had her own experience of European countries. "Germans stuff you with food and drinks all the time. Like, they don't even give you time to breathe," she said.

The behavior of the Germans made perfect sense to me and we got into another nice argument.

The floor by the living room door was almost dry and I was about to mop up the dirty soapsuds by the front door, when the living room door opened. It was JC. He sent us a smile.

"Watch out," I told him. "Slippery here, very."

He nodded and walked carefully on his stockinged feet. I wondered if I should have mentioned the wetness too. From the room behind him there was some talk about schedules and dates.

JC reached me and slipped an arm around me. "Hi." As if he needed a hug, not a big one or anything frightfully urgent, just a hug and preferably now. I put my arm around him. He sighed and looked the proceedings of floor wash over. "You're washing the floor."

"He is," smiled Diane. "I would hire him in a minute."

JC and I turned our attention to her for a moment, and that was why Lou was well on his way before I could warn him. Little voices spoke warnings in my head telling me not to say anything but my mouth wasn't listening and it said, "Careful!" and a bit sudden at that.

Which served to make Lou brake - which was dangerous, and he slipped. If he hadn't grabbed the bars on the banister he would have fallen. His shoulder was almost jerked out of its socket, but he sort of stayed on his feet. The papers in the loosely closed folder and his glasses went flying. The glasses disappeared into the bucket with a plop.

He righted himself and speared me with a glare almost in Mormor's league.

"Are you okay?" I asked, thinking of his shoulder jerked by the fall of that heavy body and the muscles that looked to be soft ones, and of the voodoo doll in the basement, the workings of which we perhaps had been seeing right in front of our eyes all this time.

"Yes!" he said through clenched teeth. His eyes flickered between JC and me, narrowing.

JC stiffened and tightened his grip around me.

"Let me get your-," Chris walked briskly forwards, leaving perfect sneaker prints on the damp floor - and slipped in the first puddle. "Fuck!"

JC unthinkingly reached out to help him and was dragged down as well when Chris grabbed his arm.

I fished out the glasses. Diane had a handkerchief ready and cleaned them while I collected the now wet and dirty papers.

Lou sensibly stayed where he was. "I'm terribly sorry," I said when I passed the papers and folder to him. "Are you sure that you are all right?"

"Yes. I'm fine." He took the papers and walked very carefully out the open door, glasses slightly skew on his nose.

Justin and Joey made it without mishaps past the staggering, laughing pile of Chris and JC to wave good bye to Lou from the door.

When Chris, finally up and balanced, turned towards the living room I grabbed him by the back of his collar. He stopped, and when I twisted my hand, he cooperatively turned his front toward the front door. "That's the way, just follow your nose. All of you, out."

"I'm wet," Chris complained. "I want to go upstairs and change!" Of course it made perfectly sense that he had been heading for the living room - it was Chris. Chris! His neck warm against my skin, the soft hairs tickled.

"Now, now. I do not want more footprints in the hallway and I do not want your footprints on the stairs either. Capice?"

"What are you gonna do to me?"

I know! I know it! Lick and suckle, and make hng-hng-hng! "Hang you somewhere to dry. For hours and with only a white wall with a clock to look at."

Stupid Mikkel!

"That's mean, man."

"Well, why don't you just take off your shoes? Did you experiment with superglue again?"

He elbowed me and I let him go. He was careful to leave only a single print on the stairs before he ran upstairs on bare feet, the other four followed him, the footwear and a single pair of socks thrown in a pile on the porch outside the door.

They were back down quickly, and the house and grounds got cleaned and cleared in a flurry. Afterwards, we conglomerated on the back porch for drinks.

Chris and Justin were the last ones to come. Chris' voice proceeded them around the corner of the house. "I don't care if your mum would crack up, man - next time it's my mum on a surprise visit, and I'm not gonna have her find my condoms decorating the front lawn, especially not split ones. Man, she would tear my head off."

Lance, red faced, did not look at his mother.

Joey's soft eyes could only mean that a visit like that was unlikely to happen and that he wished he could make it.

Chris, Chris came brandishing his present like a trophy. "You forgot to give me my present!" His easy indignation convinced me that Diane was right - he did not know of the other treason I had committed, only this one.

Suddenly I was nervous. Perhaps giving somebody a present composed of his own ideas was just too weird. A present and a work assignment were after all two entirely different things. "I'm not sure you'll like, I mean-"

"Ha! I knew it was for me. Man, you're so bad at presents, so bad." He sat down on the edge of the porch. The corner of the wrapping was already torn a bit; I was sure it hadn't been like that when I left the poster in the garage. "Watch me, I'm good at presents - I'll even find them and pick them up myself, like a bloodhound, man. Now shut up before you destroy the gift-effect."

I snapped my mouth shut and Chris began tearing at the paper with his quick blunt fingers and sharp teeth. Busta took over the tearing as the paper rags dropped to the ground. The others walked over to stand in a ring behind Chris, watching and barring me from my view of Chris and the body language I so wanted to see and yet not. My guts were working themselves into a knot.

"Busta!" Chris exclaimed and Busta barked. "It's Busta, look it's you. With your cape and everything. Look, Busta!" He sounded quite delighted, maybe things were okay, except it didn't sound like Busta was all that interested in looking. Likely the paper was way more interesting.

"Where did you find that?" Justin asked me with a grin. "I never heard of that firm."

"He made it, you oaf," Lance said, he was smiling too.

"Mikkel made another firm? Oh." Justin grinned sheepishly when everybody laughed.

Chris got up and put the ad in a chair so that he could watch it at a distance; he ruthlessly elbowed people out of the way. "Get away from my line of sight!" And mindful of their ribs they did.

Joey came over to where I was standing. "It's good - why were you freaking?" He spoke in a low voice.

Still, Chris heard him. "'Cause it's my ideas in there, like, in bits and pieces. Like, he took them, took the f-, eh, visions right out of my head, and made them all come together and now he thinks that I'll think he's a cheat giving me a present of something that he's stolen from me."

Joey scratched his head. "But - that's stupid. I mean, that's like what art is."

"Exactly. Swat him for me, will you?" Chris patted JC's arm when JC snaked his arms around him from behind.

Joey swatted me. Twice. Justin came over and swatted me too and then he gave me a one-armed squeeze - maybe a sliver of the hug that he figured that Chris would be giving me if Diane had not been there. Swatted and hugged by proxy. And apparently JC was in on it too, wrapping himself around Chris from the back.

"Where you gonna hang it?" JC wanted to know.

"My present in my room." He sent me a sparkling smile before picking up the frame. "Somebody get a hammer and nail from the basement?"

"Sure," Justin slipped his arm off me, and paused minutely. "I... I'll get it," came out like he regretted offering, but nobody noticed, most were crowding after Chris. "Shit," Justin muttered and then he scowled at me.

The tools were kept in the basement. "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No, no. Fuck, I'm not scared. It was you?"

"Me what?" Who me? I don't know what you're talking about, no sir. Not at all. Don't know, all innocent...

He studied me for a moment. "Nothing, man." He turned and walked inside.

I let go of a sigh. Diane let her conspirator's grin loose once Justin had passed her on his way inside. Lance had gotten the shark from his mother's side.


End of Chapter

© Morgenfryd 2003