* * *
Back at his office, Ian talked with Berto Hernandez at length about the boy's situation.
"I'm worried about what your uncle might do to you and your
family," he told the boy. "I suppose I should let you know what
all this is about."
Berto nodded, saying nothing.
"Earlier this year a man named Walter Emrick beat one of
his sons in Seaside very badly. A young friend called me and I became
involved in the
case. Walter Emrick is sitting in the Monterey County jail right
now awaiting trial. My fear is that he put out a contract on the
son he hurt, and from the pictures you showed me, probably on the
younger son as well. I think your uncle has been paid to murder the Emrick boys and me, if not my two sons, and
that's why he had you stake out my condo. The boy who was victimized is the
critical witness. You yourself may have to testify to what your uncle hired
you to do, and the knowledge you have about that puts you in
danger now, too. My responsibility is to
keep you and all these boys alive. Your parents' lives may be in danger as well.
"I want to put you in protective custody," the lawyer told his
visitor. "Not with the police, I don't mean that, because
unfortunately I can't prove any of this. Yet."
"What do you mean, exactly, when you say 'protective custody?'"
"It means that I would hide you out until the upcoming trial
involving the Emrick boys' father is over. I'd also like to get
enough evidence to have your uncle
charged with taking on murders for hire and for conspiracy." Ian paused. "Do you
have any brothers or sisters?"
"What do you think the chances are that your uncle might hurt your father and mother?"
"My uncle hates my mother, I know that, but I'm not sure he'd hurt
her. It's not in our tradition to hurt women," Berto said with a
trace of pride, "but of course my uncle is a very bad person, so
anything's possible. He's not like my father. My father is very gentle, and has never done
anything bad to Uncle Alejandro or anyone else."
Ian looked thoughtfully across the desk at the boy.
"I believe what you've told me, Berto. My first thought when
you walked in here was that you were lying to get information about
where the Emrick boys are. But having heard you out, I think
you're telling me the truth, and I'm
more than willing to take a chance on you. I'll find a place for
you to live out of town, and for your parents, too, if they'll go. I'm concerned about them."
"I don't know if they would go. My dad is custodian for a couple of
buildings in Monterey, and I don't think he'll want to leave his job."
"Well, we'll have to see. Is your school year over?"
"Two weeks from now. But we're not doing anything much the last few weeks."
"You're in high school, I take it?"
"I'm finishing my junior year."
"Are you a good student?"
"Yes, sir. My mother makes me study. She always has."
"How are your grades?"
"I'm an honor student," Berto said.
Ian smiled. "You don't know how much I like to hear that! Congratulations! What's your favorite subject?"
Berto reflected for a moment. "History, I guess."
"That's an important discipline," Ian said. "We all need to
remember what a philosopher named George Santayana said: 'Those who do not learn the lessons of history are
doomed to repeat them.'"
Berto smiled, but said nothing.
"Will you let me talk to your mother on the phone?"
Ian stood up and went around the desk. "Sit behind my desk and get her on the phone for me, please."
"Yes, sir." The boy went around, sat down and dialed the
phone. When someone answered, he began speaking intermittently in
rapid Spanish in which Ian's name was mentioned. Then he handed the phone across the desk to
Ian. "My mother," Berto said.
"Buenas tardes, Señora Hernandez, my name is Ian Carson."
"Si, Señor Carson. Buenas tardes."
"I'm an attorney in the city, Señora. I'm asking you for
permission to take your
son out of town because I believe your brother-in-law, Alejandro
Hernandez, may hurt him." Ian heard the woman gasp, and knew he
had her undivided attention. He went on to tell her the whole
story about the Emricks and what Berto had been hired to do for
Alejandro. He explained his fears that Walter Emrick had hired
Alejandro at least to kill the witness against him, and that perhaps Berto might be murdered
as well because of what he knew about targeting Ian and the Emrick
boys. The woman
listened quietly, saying nothing as Ian talked.
"I know this takes a giant leap of faith on your part, Señora,
but I want you to let me take Berto with me to stay with my wife and
children, and with the Emrick boys, until Mr. Emrick's trial for
hurting his older boy is over. And I'd like you and your husband
along with us as well. I think all three of you are in
danger. All your family's expenses will be covered."
"Gracias, Señor, that is most kind of you, but I have been
dealing with my husband's brother all my life. I'm not afraid of
him, and my husband and I are not going to run from him." Mrs.
Hernandez spat out something in Spanish that didn't sound very
complimentary to Alejandro. She paused. "If I let you take
my Berto, where can I reach him?"
Ian breathed a sigh of relief that at least the boy would be
safe. "I'm going to give you my cell phone number. Call me, and I promise you I will have Berto call you
right away. Obviously, we want our location kept as confidential
as possible." He gave her the number, and she wrote it down.
"Si, I understand," Mrs. Hernandez said. "I'm only letting you do
this because I know Alejandro so well. Are you going to come for
Berto's clothes and things?"
"No, as long as you're not going to let me pick you up, it's too risky," Ian
said. "We'll stop tonight on the way home and get him some new
"We will pay you," Mrs. Hernandez said.
"We can talk about that when all this is over," Ian said. "Thank
you, thank you, for letting me take Berto somewhere safe. You
won't be sorry. I'll have him call you tonight, all right?"
"Do you want me to ask the Monterey police to pass by your house regularly on their patrols?"
"Is all right, Señor Carson. My husband and I will be fine."
I hope so, Ian thought to himself. "All right, Señora, Berto will call you tonight."
They hung up.
Berto vacated Ian's chair, and Ian went around the desk and sat down. "What's your address in Monterey?" he asked Berto.
Berto gave it to him, and Ian picked up the phone and called Tom Ridenour.
"Tom, you're really working late tonight," Ian said to the Highway Patrol officer when he got him.
"Yeah. So are you."
"Yes. I need another quick favor," Ian said. "Can you have
the Monterey police check out the Hernandez family's house on their
regular patrols for the next few nights? Mrs. Hernandez has
agreed to let me hide Berto out, but she and her husband won't leave
town. I'm afraid Alejandro Hernandez might harm them."
"Will do. Give me the address."
Ian read off the address, and after a few more pleasantries, they hung
up. Ian dialed Catherine's phone at home, and she answered.
"Catherine, this is Ian."
"I need to ask you another big favor."
"I haven't done any big favors for you, Ian. You've done some really big ones for me, though."
"I don't think so. Listen, I'm still in the city, and I won't
make it home in time for supper tonight," Ian said. "I need to
bring another boy who will be a key witness in the Emrick trial home to
stay until the trial is over. His name is Alberto Hernandez, Berto for short. Will you let me do that?"
"Of course." She laughed. "'In for a penny, in for a
pound.' We can put him in Carl's bed tonight, and work out more
permanent arrangements later."
"You don't know how grateful I am, Catherine. I should see you in
a couple of hours. Will you let Mary know I'm going to be even later than I thought,
"Of course. We'll see you when we see you. I'll save enough
supper for two if I can keep the boys' paws off of it. I think
Rosa made Mexican pot roast for tonight. Is that serendipitous, or
"That's wonderful. Thank you. We'll see you after we
stop and buy some clothes and toiletries for Berto."
Ian hung up and sat back in his big leather desk chair, looking at the boy sitting across the desk from him.
"I know you're going to miss being home, but you're going to like
living with us, Berto. You're going to have six new, instant
brothers, all nice guys."
Berto smiled. "All right," he said.
"You have a car, I assume."
"Do you want to take it, or leave it here in our garage? We can pick it up tomorrow."
"I'd like to take it, but I don't want to get separated from you on the road."
"Why don't you leave it here overnight," Ian suggested, "and you can
either come into town with me tomorrow morning when I come to work, or
one of the boys will bring you in. By then you'll know how to get
"Where do you live now?"
"In San Rafael until after Walter Emrick's trial."
"Will my car be safe here?"
"Yes. There are security cameras."
The two of them stood up, Ian stretching to get the kinks out of his
back, and they left the office and the suite, following a passage
connected to the parking garage. Once there, they climbed into a
blue, midsize Toyota sedan, and buckled up.
"You like this car?" Berto asked.
"Yes. It's not mine, though." Ian said. "It's a rental. I leave my SUV at the house in case the boys need it."
"Are you hungry?" Ian asked.
"Yes," Berto said a little hesitantly.
"They're saving some supper for us at home. If you can hold out, though, why don't we make
a quick stop at a store in San Rafael to get you some necessities
before we go home. Then Mary, my wife, will take you shopping for
some additional things tomorrow afternoon. You'll at least need a new suit
and good shoes for church."
Berto blinked. "Church?"
"Yes. You do go to church, don't you?"
"Not very often."
"You do now," Ian said, smiling. "That's one of the few rules we have."
Berto nodded. "OK."
"Do you have a cell phone?"
"We'll get you another one, and discontinue service on the one you have. I don't want your uncle calling you."
"Me, neither." Berto turned and looked at Ian. "How can you do all this for me? You must be rich."
Ian smiled. "Yes, I guess so."
The two of them talked about Berto's school and about sports during the
ride up to San Rafael. Ian exited at the usual spot, but instead
heading home, turned the opposite way at the head of the ramp and went
to a huge discount clothing store. He let Berto pick out five
pairs of Dockers and sport shirts, some cargo pants and board shorts,
two weeks worth of boxers, T's and sweat socks, two pairs of Nike's,
some running shorts, a huge pair of garish swim trunks, a batch of
handkerchiefs, and some toiletries. The boy tried on the clothes
he needed to, and they were
good to go.
"If we forgot any basics, you and Mary can get them tomorrow," Ian said when they checked out.
"Thanks for doing all this, Mr. Carson," Berto said as they walked to the car.
"You're welcome. And you can call me 'Ian.' All the boys do."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Ian."
Ian smiled at the residual formality, but said nothing.
They drove back the way they had come and on to the MacKenzie
house. Ian hit the remote when he pulled into the driveway, the
gate opened, and after driving into a spacious garage area, Ian shut
off the engine. Rosa Mendez's car was still there, and Ian
wondered if she had waited to greet the new boy before going home.
"Welcome home, Berto," Ian said, getting out of the car. "Let's get your stuff out of the trunk."
They grabbed up the packages, and Berto took in the back yard and
swimming pool, illuminated by flood lights, as they walked toward the house. Alice and Sam, the
two border collies, looked up from where they were playing on the lawn, and then
went back to wrestling over a rubber bone.
"Nice place," Berto said as he and Ian climbed the stairs to the back deck, loaded down with packages.
"Yes, it is," Ian agreed. "I think you'll enjoy it."
They opened the back door, and everybody except for Carl was waiting
for them when they stepped into the kitchen and put their packages down
on the floor.
There were big smiles all around, and Rosa Mendez stepped
forward. "Buenos noches, Berto!" She began speaking to him
in rapid Spanish as she gave the new boy a hug and kiss to welcome him.
"Berto, this is Rosa Mendez," Ian said. "She runs the
house. This is Catherine MacKenzie, our hostess. This is
Mary, my wife. These are the boys: William, Cam, Kevin,
Dan, and Mark. Carl is away right now, but you'll meet him in a
few days when he comes back." Catherine and Mary gave the new
arrival a hug,
and the boys dapped him as Ian introduced them.
Berto noticed that all the boys looked buff, even Mark and Dan, the youngest guys.
"Hey, man, glad you're here," Kevin said to the boy, dapping him again and then bending down to
pick up packages. "I'll help take these up to your room."
"Thanks," Berto said, excited and a little overwhelmed by all the attention.
William grabbed the remainder of the packages, and he and Kevin disappeared up the back stairs.
Ian pulled out his cell phone and handed it to Berto. "First, call your mother and let her know we arrived safely."
"Yes, sir," Berto said, dialing the phone. He received strict
instructions from his mother during the call to be a good guest.
"You two must be famished," Catherine said to Ian and Berto after the latter ended his conversation.
"Come on into the dining room, and we'll feed you supper right
now." Everybody crowded into the dining room. There were
two place settings left on the table, and Berto and Ian sat down in
front of them as the boys all sat down around the table, soon rejoined
by William and Kevin from upstairs.
Rosa brought in a huge, steaming container of--yes, her famous Mexican
pot roast--and put in on a trivet on the table in front of Ian and
"I glad I make this when I hear you coming to stay here," Rosa said to Berto as she poured milk for him and water for Ian.
"Hey, I thought you made the pot roast mostly for me!" Cam complained to Rosa.
"Me, too," Mark Carson said, "for me!"
"For me," William chimed in.
"You're all idiots!" Kevin said. "Rosa's glad she made it for me."
Rosa laughed and shook her head. "All right, then, the truth. I make it for all of you!"
Ian and Berto helped themselves, and after Ian offered thanks for the
two of them, dug right in. Mary Carson brought them some garlic
toast fresh from the oven.
"This is really good, Rosa," Berto said after a few bites. "Gracias."
"Si, Berto," she said, taking off her apron and preparing to go home.
Rosa left, and after supper the boys gave Berto a tour of the house,
yard, and pool house, hoping to make him feel at home. He was
After watching the evening news on television for a few minutes, the boys all trooped upstairs to go to bed.
Kevin and Cam worked out for a while in the weight room before turning
in, showering together, cleaning their teeth, and then hitting the bed, naked
as jaybirds. Kevin lay on his back and Cam on his side, facing
him. Cam looked down into his lover's face.
"Berto seems nice," Kevin said, looking up at Cam.
"Yeah. I think so. We got ourselves quite a little family now. All the
guys are really good looking, y'know. But none of them holds a
candle to you, buddy!" Cam cupped Kevin's chin and gave his head
a little shake for emphasis, and then stroked his chest.
"Thanks," Kevin said. "Ditto. I'm know lucky to have you,
Cam. You're dope, man, and so cooperative in bed! Not
everybody's so fortunate. And that reminds me of a story Jimmy
Vargas told me at school today."
"Uh huh," Cam said, looking skeptical.
"A man walks into his bedroom with a sheep under his arm and says
to his girlfriend, 'Darling,
this is the pig I have sex with when you have
is lying in bed and replies, 'I think you'll find that's
a sheep, you moron!'
"The man says: 'I think you'll find I wasn't talking to
Cam burst out laughing, and then rolled over on to Kevin, lying full
out on top of him, and started to get hard. Kevin reached up and grabbed Cam's ass cheeks with
"Pig, sheep, it's all the same to me as long as he's versatile like
you," Kevin kidded his partner, and things progressed perfectly from
© 2006 Don Hanratty
Special thanks to Dan for editing and proofing this chapter.