Don Hanratty
My Belovèd is mine, and I am his.
Song of Songs 2:16


Carl Emrick drove Ian Carson's Navigator toward St. Francis University for his second appointment of the week with Dr. Amanda Smith.  Today he felt as if a big, black cloud were hovering over his head, a big, black, damp cloud, no less.  Although it was cool outside, he turned on the air conditioning and adjusted a louver so that the cold air cascaded over his face.  On the way, deep in reverie, he sat at a stop light turned green until the car behind him finally blared its horn at him.  He rabbited across the intersection and continued down the road, turning into the university and heading toward the Medical building where Dr. Smith's office was.  He was going to be a little late and really didn't care.

He knew exactly what had put him in a blue funk.  It was William Carson's seemingly charmed life.  Using Kevin as an intermediary, William had talked Kevin into picking out a cute girl in his class at San Rafael High, showing her a picture of William, and then asking her to go out in a date with Carson.  Lucy Kline, the young lady in question, had thought William looked mighty fine, and had assented immediately to the date.  So William had gotten all dressed up a few nights ago, and looking really sharp in a cream colored sport coat over a green T with tan Dockers, borrowed his mother's little Mercedes convertible and gone off to dinner and a movie with Lucy.  It had been a good first date, and William was all smiles when he came home.  The boys had all piled into William's and Carl's room to find out how things had gone after William had walked back in the door.

Carl wasn't upset with William.  Not at all.  More power to the kid, with whom he gotten very close since they had become roommates at the MacKenzies'.  But the date had only made Carl more painfully aware of how he himself was struggling with his own life and his own sexuality.  Living in the MacKenzie house with all those good looking boys was so-o-o pleasant.  Too pleasant, Carl had concluded.  He found himself constantly staring at their bodies when they weren't looking, and enjoying the sight way too much.  William's date was a sign that he was moving on with his life despite his family's exile from San Francisco, as were all the boys in one way or another, including Cam and Kevin.  But Carl, by contrast, felt stuck in his anger and confusion about so many things, including having been raped by his father.

So he was feeling really low, worn down by the struggle to appear untroubled and unrelentingly straight and macho in his relationships with his peers at the house.  What his father had done to him back in Seaside had obviously loosed some demons in Carl with which he had never dreamed he would have to contend.  He was feeling so low that thoughts of suicide had increasingly inhabited his waking thoughts, and he had also begun to wake out of sleep at night in a cold sweat thinking about offing himself.

He was in no mood to spill his guts to his shrink, even one as easy to talk to as Amanda Smith.  But he'd made a promise to Ian that he would go for counseling, and he was a person of his word.

Amanda Smith was not only knowledgeable, but sensitive and intuitive about people.  She knew the moment she saw Carl walk in the door that things had not been going well since she'd seen him last, so she didn't waste any time reproving the boy for being late.  She knew that being late was usually a passive-aggressive sign of resistance to therapy, to be dealt with in due time.

"Tell me what's going on," Dr. Smith said to him without preamble.

"I don't know what to say," Carl responded, looking down at the floor.

"Tell me what's bothering you the most right now."

"My roommate William went on a date two nights ago," Carl said.

"I see.  Are you angry about that?"

"Not at him.  He's a good friend.  I guess I'm angry at myself that I can't pick up my life where I left off like he and the other guys in the house have, and have some fun for a change.  Nothing I do is any fun.  I'm just feeling pissed off about everything in general."

"Are you still sleeping all right at night?" Amanda asked.

"No.  I'm waking up all sweaty in the middle of the night sometimes."

"What's on your mind when you wake up?"

The boy stared at her silently.

"Tell me, Carl.  We promised each other that we'd be honest with each other," Amanda prodded him.

"I know," Carl said.  "I feel like a wimp telling you this."

"Believe me, Carl, we all feel like wimps sometimes.  What do you need to tell me?"

"I've been seriously thinking about offing myself.  I've started thinking about it a lot.  I've made a list of all my stuff and who should get what when I'm gone."

"I'm glad you told me," the doctor said.  "That's pretty important information you just gave me.  Let me ask you some more questions.  Are you eating all right?"

"No, I haven't been hungry the last week at least."

"How is your energy level?"

"I haven't even been able to go with the other guys for our usual run the last few days.  I want to, but I can't.  I just stay in bed."

"Are your relationships with the guys the same as they have been?"

"Pretty much.  But I feel so alone, even when everybody's around me."

"After your tutoring sessions are finished for this school year, are you looking forward to a good summer?"

"I can't imagine what a good summer would be like."

They sat looking at one another for a good minute without speaking.  Amanda knew what Carl had told her were ominous signs.

"What thoughts do you find so troubling that you're thinking about suicide?" she asked.

Carl's face colored before he answered.  "I'm more sure all the time that I'm queer.  I don't want to be, but there's nothing I can do about it.  I think I'm gay, and my father must have known it somehow even before I did, and that's why he beat me and raped me."  He raised his head and looked at her, tears in his eyes. "He knew I'm a totally worthless piece of shit, a freak.  I don't think I'm ever going to have a decent life knowing what I know about myself now."

"Let's think about that a little bit, Carl.  Do you think you telegraph what may be your sexuality to other people?"

"I don't know.  I don't think so, but I don't know.  My dad must have seen something about me that made him do what he did to me, though."

"Do you think it's possible that what your father did to you was to meet his own needs, twisted though they may be, and had nothing to do with you or your sexuality at all?"

"It's possible, I guess."

"I'll tell you right out that I don't see any mannerisms in you that speak to what you think might be your sexuality," Dr. Smith said.


"Really!  Do any of the boys at the house know that you think you might be gay?"

"Cam and Kevin.  I told them at their dad's cabin in the Big Sur, after my dad had molested me, that I wasn't sure at that point what my orientation was."

"Would you feel comfortable asking them if either of them thinks you have any behaviors that suggest you're gay?"

"I could do that," Carl said.  He started to think about how he'd phrase that question.

"Let me ask you this again," Amanda Smith said.  "Do you think that your father was meeting his own psychosexual needs or your needs when he beat you and had sex with you?"

Carl pondered that.  "I guess I'd have to say he was meeting his own needs."

"Exactly.  We're going to talk about you and your dad a lot more as we move forward in therapy, but barring some breakthrough that says differently, I want you to see this event with your father as one that benefited him without any thought about you or who you are.  Does that seem reasonable to you?  W
hether you're gay or not gay, and the facts on that matter are still far from being established, nothing your father did to you had anything to do with you or your sexuality.  Any victim would have sufficed for him.  But you were handy and he had power over you and knew you would want to protect your brother.  So why don't we continue on the premise that you were victimized, and not a willing participant on any level."

"To be honest, seeing myself as a victim doesn't make me feel all that great, either."

"I understand that.  But if we're going to deal in facts, don't you think you need to be clear about who's responsible for what actions?  Were you responsible in any way for what your father did to you?"

"No, I guess not," Carl said softly, beginning to weep again.  "But is being angry about that whole deal any better than feeling sad?"

"What do you think?"

"I don't know.  I don't know anything anymore."  Carl paused and rubbed the tears from his eyes.  "How am I ever going to have a life with what he did to me always on my mind?"

"By talking with me.  That's why Mr. Carson wanted you to be my patient.  It takes time to recognize the truth about events in our lives and learn how to deal rationally with our feelings. 
Especially when we've been badly hurt,   You've been badly hurt, and your reactions to what happened to you aren't strange at all.  I'm just concerned that you may overreact to what you're thinking and feeling in the moment by hurting yourself.  I care about you, and I'm not going to let that happen."

"What should I do?" Carl asked.

"I want to hospitalize you to get you on the right meds and get you stabilized.  I promise that it won't be for long."

"I knew counseling wasn't going to work for me," Carl said sorrowfully.

"On the contrary, it is working for you," Amanda Smith assured him.  "It's working very well for you.  Didn't I tell you before that things might seem to get worse before they get better?"

"Please don't lock me up."

"One week out of your life, that's all I'm asking of you.  Let me be up front.  I'm doing this for both of us and for your whole family at the MacKenzies'.  I'm not supposed to tell you this, but if anything happened to you, I don't think I could take it.  I'm sure your family couldn't either.  My sense from talking with Catherine MacKenzie is that everybody in that house loves you and esteems you.  I need to protect you right now from something you might do on impulse and not be able to take back.  And I want to protect the people you care about.  So tell me you trust me, and that you'll go along with me on this."

"All right," Carl said dejectedly.  "But now everybody will know I really am a sick freak."

Amanda Smith put down her notepad.  "Carl, I can assure you that you're no sick freak, and nobody's going to think that.  If your arm were broken, we wouldn't fool around here in the office trying to set it without the proper tools so you could go outside right away and start to play ball.  The same thing is true when we have problems with our minds and our emotions."

Carl sighed.  "All right, what do I need to do now?"

"Why don't you give me your car keys, and I'll call over to Marin General and see if they have a Psych bed open?  If they do, I'll call Ian Carson to let him know the plan, and have somebody from the hospital come and pick you up."

Carl shook his head sadly, and then reached into the pocket of his Levi's and handed over the keys to the Navigator.  Dr. Smith took them and went to her phone and buzzed her receptionist.

"Marla, get me Admitting at Marin, if you will," Dr. Smith said.  Her phone buzzed a minute later.  She talked with Admitting, and a bed was lined up in quick order.  Then she had the receptionist call Ian in San Francisco.  He was upset but assented immediately to Amanda Smith's plan, indicating that he would call her back within the hour to discuss the matter more fully.

"How does the hospital pick a person up?" Carl asked when she put the phone down.

"Usually by ambulance."

"Would you call Dr. MacKenzie and ask her if she can take me?  I don't want to go in there like some dork strapped to a gurney."

Amanda Smith's expression softened.  "That's little enough to ask," she said.  She pulled a faculty telephone directory for the university out of a desk drawer, and dialed Catherine's office.

The phone was answered immediately.  "MacKenzie."

"Catherine, this is Amanda Smith.  Do you have a minute to talk?"

"Of course, Amanda."

"Carl Emrick and I are having a session today, and we've agreed that he needs to go into the hospital Psych ward for a few days.  He's wondering if you could spare the time to drive him over to Marin General rather than have an ambulance come and get him."

Catherine glanced at her watch.  "Of course I can.  My next class isn't for two hours."  She paused.  "Do Ian and Mary know?"

"Mr. Carson does."

"Do you mind if I call Mary?  She loves this boy."

"Let me ask Carl."  The doctor looked at the boy.  "Carl, may we let Mary Carson know what's going on?"

He nodded silently.

"Carl says 'yes.'"

"Should I come over to your office now?"

"Yes, please.  We'll be waiting for you."

When Catherine MacKenzie arrived and went into the inner office, Carl and Amanda stood up.  Carl remained in front of his chair when she came in, his head down, tears running silently down his cheeks.  Catherine went to him immediately and put her arms around him.  She said nothing as she held the boy, kissing his cheek and continuing the embrace, her cheek against his.

"Everything's going to be all right, Carl," Catherine finally told the boy softly as Amanda Smith looked on.  "I love you so much.  We all love you so much.  You don't know how much.  And that's not going to change.  We're going to take good care of you, and we'll all do whatever we have to do to help you."

When they stepped back from one another, Carl pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his face.

"I used to be a strong person," Carl told Catherine.  "Not anymore, I guess."

"Sweetheart, you don't know how wrong you are," Catherine responded.  "You're one of the strongest people I know, and you're going to recognize that again for yourself before long."

"I'll be over to see you tonight before I go home," Amanda Smith said to Carl.  "Just to see that you're settled in all right.  Catherine, do you think someone from the house could drop off Carl's personal effects to him?"

"Absolutely," Catherine said.  "Carl, is it all right to tell the boys where you are?"

Carl assented numbly.

"Amanda, if Carl wants to see the boys, will the hospital let them in?"

"I'll leave orders for that to happen," Dr. Smith said.  She handed Carl's car keys to Catherine.  "Maybe one of the boys could be driven over here to pick up Carl's car."

"I'll take care of it," Catherine said.  "Carl, thank you for asking me to take you to the hospital.  I appreciate it."

Carl looked at her, trying in vain to smile.  "Why are you thanking me?  I'm the one who should be thanking everybody."  He reached out and shook hands with Amanda Smith, and turned back to Catherine.  "All right," he said, taking a big breath, "let's do this."

Catherine and Carl walked out of the building to Catherine's Lincoln.  She popped the locks, and they got in.

Neither of them spoke at first as Catherine maneuvered her way out of the parking lot and they drove toward the hospital in silence.

"Carl, if I could take your pain and carry it for you myself, I would," Catherine eventually said to him.

He looked over at her and nodded, smiling sadly.  "You know, I actually believe you would.  This world is shit as far as I'm concerned, but you're one of the few bright spots in it.  You and everybody in your house.  I'm only sorry I'm so much trouble."

"Trouble is one of the ways people really get to know and love each other."

Nothing more was said as they continued driving to the hospital and got Carl checked in.

Ian Carson called Dr. Smith back from San Francisco about an hour later to talk at greater length about Carl's hospitalization.

"Tell me more about what's going on with Carl," Ian said after the usual cursory pleasantries were completed.

"Carl told me he's been having suicidal ideation," Amanda Smith said.  "He's not sleeping well, his appetite is poor, he feels hopeless and fatigued and alone.  These are classic signs of risk for adolescent suicide.  Trust me that I don't like to hospitalize people without good reason, especially kids, but the risk for Carl is just too great to ignore.  Sometimes, when the risks are lower, you can be justified in rolling the dice and opting for a less restrictive treatment setting.  That's not the case here.  I hope you're comfortable with my decision."

"I am," Ian said.  "What's happened to Carl breaks my heart, that's all.  What's your best guess as to when we can bring him home?"

"I'm thinking a week at this point.  I'm putting him on some meds that have proven effective in many cases of adolescent depression.  I want to see him stabilized before he's discharged.  I want you to know that Carl is a good patient.  He's forthcoming, and he toughs it out in our sessions when he knows he has to tell me something that hurts to talk about.  In my opinion, his prognosis is excellent, Mr. Carson.  That he needs to be hospitalized briefly is not necessarily a bad sign."

"I appreciate the update, Doctor.  Please let us know if there's anything we can do at home to support what you're doing."

"I will.  I'd urge you to be positive about Carl's situation with the other boys.  They can be so helpful to Carl as he heals from the experience he had with his father."

"I'll do that.  The boys kid each other a lot, but they're extremely supportive of one another.  They'll want to do everything they can for Carl."

"Good!" Amanda Smith said.  "Please call me if you have any questions as we move forward."

"Thank you.  I will."
*  *  *

Despite his burning anger at his uncle, Alberto Hernandez had been at loss at first as to how to contact Ian Carson.  After all, he knew for a fact that the man wasn't coming home to his condo.  Berto went home after school and dropped off his books.  He ate some cookies and drank some milk, thinking that at some point that his uncle had mentioned that Carson was a lawyer.  He took the Yellow Pages and looked through the listing of attorneys.  Ian Carson's name jumped off the page at him.  He wrote down the telephone number for Carson's law firm and then called it.

His call was screened, of course, and the lady on the switchboard told him that Mr. Carson was in a meeting.  Mr. Carson wasn't really in a meeting, but she was not just about to put through some youngster who wouldn't tell her why he wanted to speak with the Senior Partner.

Berto slammed the bulky phone book down on the table after writing down the address for Carson's law firm.  He ate a last cookie and gulped the rest of his milk.  Putting his glass into the dish washer, he picked up his car keys and left the house in Monterey to drive to San Francisco.  The traffic was light going into the city at that time of day, and soon he'd parked his car in the garage serving Ian's firm, and taken the elevator upstairs to the top floor.

Ian had just put down his phone from talking with Dr. Amanda Smith when his secretary knocked and came into his office.

"Yes, Bev?" he asked.

"Mr. Carson, there's a young boy waiting in the outer office.  He says his name is Alberto Hernandez.  He insists on seeing you, but he won't tell anyone why."

Ian looked at his watch and sighed.  It was time he was on the road home to San Rafael.

"All right," he said reluctantly, "show him in."

A moment later, a Latino boy walked in, solemn and unsmiling.   Ian stood up from behind his desk and walked around to shake hands with his visitor.  The youth was tall, about 5'11", spare, with a handsome face and a beautiful, unblemished, cocoa complexion.  He was dressed in loose fit, tan cargo pants, a neatly pressed sport shirt and sparkling white Nike's.

Berto took Ian's hand and shook it.

"Thanks for seeing me," the boy said.  "I'm Alberto Hernandez."

"How do you do?" Ian answered.  "Ian Carson.  Please sit down," he said, gesturing at a chair.  "May I offer you something to drink?"

The boy's face relaxed for the first time, and he almost smiled as he sank into the chair in front of the desk.

"Uh, maybe some water," Berto said hesitantly.

Ian nodded at his secretary, who walked over to the inside wall and opened a panel to reveal a small refrigerator.  She took a bottle of water from it, removed the cap, and gave it to the boy.  Then she left, closing Ian's door silently behind her.

Berto took a swallow of water, and looked at Ian.

"How may I help you, Mr. Hernandez?" Ian asked.

Berto smiled.  "Please call me Berto, or Al," he said.  He looked down at his shoes, then plunged ahead.  "I have an uncle named Alejandro Hernandez.  He just got out of the Monterey County jail a few weeks ago.  He hired me for $100 an evening to watch your apartment every day from late afternoon until midnight.  He's looking for you and for these boys..."  Berto reached into the side pocket of his cargos and pulled out two pictures, now a little dog eared, along with a tattered newspaper photo, and handed them to Ian.  The news photo was of Ian, and the pictures were of Carl and Dan Emrick.

Ian took the three photos, and although he didn't react outwardly, he felt a stab of fear in his guts.  Not for himself, but for the boys.

"Do you know why he wants to find us?" Ian asked.

"No, I don't," Berto said.  "But my uncle has never done one decent thing in his life that I can remember, and it's time somebody stopped him.  I don't want to see anybody get hurt."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"He's been hitting me and threatening me because I couldn't find you and these boys at your condo building," Berto admitted.  "One way or another, I'm going to stop him from hurting me anymore, my mother and father, or anybody else.  My mother threw him out of our house last night for hurting me, so he's got it in for her now.  I'm going to stop him if I have to kill him myself."

Ian laid the pictures on his desk and studied Berto.  The man was a pretty good judge of character, and he was getting good vibes from this boy.

"Have you reported this to the police?" Ian asked.

"No, I didn't know what to tell them," Berto said.  "I don't know whether it's against the law to have somebody's house watched or not."

"Good point," Ian said.  "But I meant for assaulting you."


"Do you mind if I call someone to check on your uncle's record?"


Ian picked up his phone, first buzzing his secretary.

"Bev, I'm going to be a while.  If you'll call Mrs. Carson and let her know I'm going to be late, you can go on home."

"Thank you, Mr. Carson.  Good night."

"'Night, Bev."  Ian consulted a phone caddy on his desk, and finding a number, punched it into the phone. 
"Captain Ridenour, please," he said when the line answered.

"Who's calling, please?"

"Ian Carson."

"Hold, please."

"Ian, how are you?" the voice of the California Highway Patrol captain asked a moment later.

"Fine, thanks, Tom.  And you?"

"Good.  Given our crime situation, I'm never going to lack for business."

"Me, either," Ian said.

"What can I do for you?" Ridenour asked.

"I have a young man in my office whose uncle was just released from the Monterey County jail a few weeks ago.  His uncle hired the boy to stake out my condo here in the city, and gave him my picture along with pictures of Carl and Dan Emrick.  I'm sure you remember helping out Carl Emrick and arresting his father for abusing the boy not long ago."

"Yes, I do.  Sad case."

"I'm wondering if you could take a quick look at the uncle's record for me.  His name is..." Ian looked at Berto.

"Alejandro Hernandez.  He lives in Monterey."

"Alejandro Hernandez of Monterey," Ian said into the phone.

"Hold on.  Let me take a gander."  Ian heard the sound of computer keys clicking.

Tom Ridenour whistled.  "Oh, man!  This guy has a record as long as your arm.  He was released from jail in Monterey recently because a key witness against him turned up murdered."

"Was he in jail at the same time as Walter Emrick?"

"Hold on..."  The phone was silent except for clicking computer keys.

"Yep," Ridenour said.  "They were there together, and in the same unit."

"I was afraid of that," Ian said.  "I think it's a good bet that Walter Emrick may have hired Hernandez to take Carl out.  The whole case against Emrick hinges on Carl."

"Yep," Captain Ridenour said.  "You want us to do anything else at this point?"

"Yes," Ian said, staring across the desk at Berto.  "Run a check of juvenile records on Alberto Hernandez from Monterey."

Berto looked at the Ian inscrutably as the lawyer again listened to the clicking of computer keys through the phone.

"No record, sealed or otherwise, on anyone by that name in Monterey.  One in LA, but that Alberto Hernandez is 21 by now."

"Thanks, Tom."

"I'm only a phone call away if you need anything else."

"I appreciate that," Ian said.  "Let me talk with Hernandez's nephew some more, and I'll get back to you if I need to."

"All right, Ian.  Stay in touch.  Close touch."  Ian could hear real concern in Ridenour's voice.

"Will do."

*  *  *

William Carson was particularly insistent about seeing Carl the first night he was in the hospital.  After supper, Cam and Kevin drove him in the Camaro to the doctor's office at the university.  William picked up the Navigator, and following verbal directions from Cam, went on to Marin General with strict instructions to tell Carl how much he was missed at home already.  He had Carl's toilet kit with him, along with his Gameboy and some race car magazines that Carl liked.

Carl was in a locked ward.  They let William go down to his room after they checked the boy's shaving kit and magazines for contraband at the psych ward desk.  Carl was sitting in his chair in hospital-issue bath robe and pajamas, watching TV when William went in.

"Dude!" William said.

"Hey, man!" Carl said, standing up.

To Carl's surprise, macho William put the stuff he'd brought down on the bed, and walked up to Carl and threw his arms around him, kissing him on top of his head before letting him go.

"I didn't know you cared," Carl told his friend, trying to grin and be cool.

"I hope you know better," William said seriously, not cracking a smile.  "If not, you're going to find out.  I brought your stuff."


"Are you all right?" William asked as they sat down in chairs facing each other.

"I guess not.  Being here kinda speaks for itself, doesn't it?"

"I don't like it when circumstances fuck with my family," William said firmly.  "You're family, and I'm not liking this at all."

Carl sighed.  "Yeah, I know.  I don't like it, either.  But Dr. Smith says it's only for a week, probably.  So I'll be back home lookin' at your ugly face before long."

"I have strict instructions from the guys to tell you 'Hey!' and let you know how much you're missed.  I don't know why everybody loves an asshole like you so much, but you've fooled 'em, and they do.  You made my mother cry because you're in here, dawg!"

"I...I'm sorry."

William dismissed what had been said with a wave of the hand.  "Are you gonna tell me why you're here?"

Carl looked at the floor.  "I may as well.  It won't be a secret for long.  I've been thinking about offing myself."

William sat back in his chair with an incredulous look on his face.  "But why, man?  You've got the world by the ass!  You're hot, you're athletic, you're smart, you even dress nice, and people like ya.  We're your family, and we're a good family, if I do say so myself.  What the fuck?"

"You don't know everything that went on before your mom and dad took Dan and me in."


"I can't talk about it..."

"What, am I gonna hafta beat it outta ya?"

Carl's face reddened in embarrassment, and he looked down at the floor in silence.

"I didn't mean that," William said.  "I'm sorry.  Forget I said anything."

Carl looked up slowly.  "No, I'll tell you.  But please don't say anything to anybody else, all right?"

"I won't," William promised.

Looking at the floor again, Carl came clean.  "My father made me strip and then beat me with a whip and raped me awhile back.  I knew if I didn't do what he said, he'd go after Dan."  He paused.  "But I can't seem to stop remembering over and over what he did to me, and it's bringing me down."

"Holy fucking shit," William said softly.  "I thought from the newspapers that maybe he just hit you or something."

"I wish."

The two boys sat quietly for a long moment, William looking at Carl, and Carl looking at William.  William was visibly upset, and once again surprised Carl when tears began running down his face.

"I'm sorry, Carl," William said finally, taking out his handkerchief and rubbing away his tears.  "Jesus, why didn't you tell me?"

"Would you have told me if our positions were reversed?"

"I don't know," William admitted.  "But I'm your roomie, man. 
Sometimes it helps to talk."

"I guess," Carl said.

"Who else knows?"

"Your mom and dad, obviously, Catherine, Dr. Smith, and Cam and Kevin."

"Kevin and Cam!  Why did you tell them and not me?"

"They dressed my welts in the Big Sur the day after it happened, when I was in a lot of pain.  My ass was bleeding.  And they contacted your dad for help.  They had to know, or I'd have been up shit creek."

"Yeah.  I understand."  William studied his friend's face.  "I wish...I wish I could help ya some way."

"I know ya do.  But there's no quick fix for this, I guess.  Your dad and Dr. Smith say that I'm going to be all right in time.  So I'm trying to do what they say.  I don't know what else to tell ya."

"All right, man," William said.  "Listen, they told me at the front desk they didn't want me to stay for too long, so they're probably gonna throw me outta here in a minute.  But thanks for tellin' me what's goin' on.  I won't repeat anything you told me."  He stopped and looked at Carl.  "Getcher ass home as soon as you can."  He smiled.  "'Course, there's an upside to this."

"What's that?"

"Without you around, I can jack off in bed in the morning instead of waiting 'til I get in the shower," William told him, laughing.

Carl chuckled.  "You dick, that's one news flash I couldda done without.  Too much information!"

William laughed, and the two of them stood up.  Once again, William wrapped Carl up in those long arms of his, and kissed the shorter boy on top of the head.  They'd definitely gone beyond the normal slip, slide, dap and shoulder bump in this relationship, Carl thought to himself.

With a last wave, William left Carl standing in his room, homesick for his family.

Good as her word, Dr. Smith stopped by to see him about 8 p.m. before going home to her own family.  They talked for a few minutes, and once the doctor was assured that Carl was not too distraught about being hospitalized, she left, stopping at the front desk on her way out to write orders for Carl's meds and prescribe his routine.

Carl wandered around the halls between the shows he wanted to see on television.  He was housed in the youth unit of the hospital psych department, which served not only mental health patients but also young substance abusers who were being detoxed.  He was approached by several of the latter looking for booze, crack or blow.  When he told them he didn't have any drugs, they looked through him as if he weren't there and walked away, zombies intent on their quest.

The boy turned off the TV and prepared to go to bed early later that night, feeling even more fatigued than usual.  A nurse came by with a mild sedative and some other pills prescribed by Dr. Smith, and he took the pills with water.  Once in bed, he surprised himself by saying an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and praying for every member of his family back at the MacKenzie house before closing his eyes for the night.  He slept soundly, not awakening until breakfast was served the next morning in the little cafeteria down the hall.  Things looked a little brighter in the light of day.

*  *  *

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?"

"Yes, sir."

"What year?"

"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 to come 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 things."

"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."

"Yes, 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, and why?"

"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 what?"

"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 home."

"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."

"Sounds good."

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 of 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 Berto.

"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 starting to.

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
a headache.'

"His girlfriend 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 you.'"

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 both hands.

"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 there.

© 2006 Don Hanratty

Special thanks to Dan for editing and proofing this chapter.