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


Monday morning was business as usual for the MacKenzie household.  Everyone was up and out of bed by six a.m., gathered sleepily, and in some cases a little grumpily, in the driveway in their running clothes.  Mostly for effect, some of the boys moaned and groaned as they did their stretches in preparation for their morning run while the two border collies Alice and Samantha walked among them excitedly, dragging their leashes behind them.   Limbered up, Ian, Mary and Catherine started off together first at their normally slower pace than the boys, who passed them up as the whole crowd swept down the street.  Kevin waved and grinned at the "oldsters," but thankfully didn't crack wise as he went around them. 

Mark had hold of Alice's leash and Carl, Sam's.  The two dogs loved to run with their humans.

Cam was pleased to see everybody out there, if for no other reason than running that first half mile was always a little painful, and deserved to be shared.  As he got into his rhythm, his thoughts shifted to Berto, and he eyed the boy who was running a little ahead of him.  Tall and slim like Cam, Berto's long legs seemed to gobble up the distance with no problem.

Cam knew that Berto and Ian would be heading into the city later that morning to make arrangements for the visitation and funeral Mass for Berto's parents, and his stomach did a flip-flop as he thought about it.  He remembered how he'd felt when Catherine and Alex split up--in and of itself a small, psychological approximation of death for Cam's sense of family.  But Cam knew that the MacKenzie divorce couldn't begin to compare with the feelings engendered for Berto by his parents' horrible demise.  He wanted to do something for his friend.  But there was no quick fix at the human level for Berto's pain, Cam knew.  None at all.

A moment later, Cam kicked himself mentally as he found himself admiring the Hernandez boy's fine looking ass and good, solid legs as the kid ran.  His gaze moved over to Kevin's ass.  Cam smiled.  Lord, he thought to himself, I'm such a fruit!  And loving every minute of it.

He increased his speed to catch up with Kevin and run alongside him.  Glancing behind the group, Cam saw the adults had fallen behind by almost a block, and he reached over and pinched Kevin's ass.  It was so taut and muscular in the boy's running shorts that Cam's fingers could hardly get a grip.

"Hey!" Kevin said, faking a scandalized look.  "I'm tellin'!"

"I'll deny it," Cam said, grinning.  "You have a credibility problem, so every guy here will believe me, not you."

"Yeah, right, asshole!" Kevin contradicted.  "Everybody knows you're a 'fondler,' and pinching is just an extreme form of that."

"Booyah, white boy!!!" Cam said triumphantly, pleased by what he'd done.

William Carson looked around at them from his vantage point at the front of the pack.  "Shut the fuck up back there or I'm gonna kick your asses when we get home!  I'm trying to concentrate on my running!" he kidded them.

"I know what a challenge it is for you, thinking and moving your body at the same time!" Kevin responded.  "Keep strugglin' with it, though."

William was about to respond, when another runner angled out of a side street and joined them.  It was Father Jim Mason, his light blue basketball jersey now dark, soaked through with sweat.

"Are you stalkin' us?" Cam cracked to the priest, smiling, and before he thought better of it, he popped the man on the ass like he did his soccer teammates at school.  Cam blushed when he realized what he'd done.

"You should be so lucky!" Father Jim said, paying no attention to what had just been done to his butt.

"You're all sweated up, Father!" Kevin observed.

"Yes.  I notice you guys aren't.  Maybe if you kicked it up a notch...?"

"We're just gettin' started," Dan Emrick whined convincingly, and then laughed.

"Uh, huh!" the priest said.

The boys all ran in silence for a moment, and then Cam motioned with his head for the priest to fall back in the pack.  The two of them slowed until there was a little gap between them and the other boys.

"Father," Cam said, "we got some bad news on Saturday you need to know about.  You remember Berto Hernandez, running just ahead of us?  You met him at church yesterday, but we didn't want to get into it then.  We heard that his parents were murdered in their home Friday night in Monterey.  He's pretty much an orphan now except for us.  I guess the police believe that his uncle did it."

The priest lost a step and slowed, staring down at the ground in shock as he ran.  He sighed, and muttered to himself, "'He has brought down my strength before my time; He has shortened the number of my days.'"

"What?" Cam said.

"It's from the Psalms," Mason said by way of explanation.  He looked at Cam.  "I can't tell you how sorry I am.  I read about it in the paper, but I didn't put two and two together.  Is there anything I can do for Berto or for the family?"

"I don't think so, Father," Cam said.  "Ian and Berto are going into the city today, I think, to arrange for visitation followed by a Requiem Mass at the Hernandez's parish church.  I just wanted you to know."

"I appreciate it," the priest said, shaking his head sorrowfully.  He slowly sped up until he was running next to Berto, and looked over at him.

"I'm sorry, Berto," he said without preamble.  "Let me know if there's anything I can do or if you ever want to talk about things."

"Thank you, Father," Berto said, and the group all ran in silence for a few minutes until the priest bid the boys good-bye with a wave of his hand and peeled off from the other runners.  He headed for his apartment to get ready to report to St. Andrew's.  He was offering Mass that morning, and made a mental note to remember the souls of Berto's parents in his prayers.

The boys finished their usual five mile run, and by the time they arrived home, Catherine, Mary and Ian, all of whom usually ran only a couple of miles, were preparing to start a breakfast of fresh fruit, pancakes, eggs and bacon under Rosa's direction. 

Rosa teared up when she saw Berto, whom she had not seen since Friday, and pulled him to the side of the room, hugging him and pulling his face down for a kiss.  The two of them talked quietly with each other in Spanish for several minutes.

Berto's eyes were wet when he rejoined the other boys.  They all went upstairs for quick showers before the meal.  In his and his partner's bathroom, Cam stripped off his sweaty running shorts and jock, relieved himself in the toilet and flushed it.  He put the toilet seat and lid down and sat on it, staring at Kevin's sweet ass.  The latter was still dressed in his shorts as he opened the door of the shower and reached inside to start the water running.

"Kev," Cam said.


"Don't start the shower.  Commere."

Kevin turned around and looked at him.  "We don't have time to fool around."

"I know.  But commere."

Kevin walked over to his seated partner and stood in front of him.  Cam took hold of those sheer nylon shorts that Kevin favored for running sometimes and pulled them down.  The shorts puddled around his ankles, leaving the boy standing there in his jock.  Kevin grinned and started to pull off his jock, but Cam stopped him, putting his face right in the pouch of Kevin's basket and inhaling.  It was pure Kevin he was smelling, and it was pure heaven.

"Spread 'em," Cam told Kevin, who dutifully widened his stance.  Reaching between the boy's legs, Cam ran a middle finger down Kevin's sweaty crack for moisture and probed his hole, then worked his finger inside slowly until he found Kevin's button.  He massaged his partner's prostate gently as Kevin's jock began to bulge in Cam's face from the hardness within it.

"Oh, shit," Kevin groaned softly, spreading his legs wider yet and tilting his head back with his eyes closed.  Then he leaned forward over Cam and kissed the top of his head, little spikes of hair from Cam's buzz cut poking him in the face.

"Damn, I love you, bro!" Kevin panted.  "You're way too good at this!"

Cam smiled, and used his face, his lips, his nose and his teeth over several minutes to arouse Kevin fully, constrained though the boy was by his jockstrap.

"I'm gonna come," Kevin squeaked eventually.

"That's the idea," Cam mumbled through his mouthful of Kevin's goodies.  He could already taste a hint of the boy's sweet pre-cum soaking through the cotton.

A moment later, Kevin opened his mouth in a silent shout and filled the pouch of his jock with shot after shot of his semen.  When he finished, he slumped down over Cam and just stood there, legs wide apart, hanging on to him.

But Cam wasn't finished yet.  As Kevin started to recover his wits, Cam moved the jock carefully down his partner's legs and had him step out of it.  Kevin's dick, still a little hard, was right there in Cam's face, and he engulfed it in his mouth to clean the splooge off of it, running his tongue over the head of it and through the slit of it again and again.  Kevin was too sensitive down there now for that, and pulled back a little.  Picking up the jock from the floor, Cam put the pouch to his face, first smelling it deeply, and then licking and sucking Kevin's load right out of it as Kevin looked on.

"You are so gay!" Kevin said softly, grinning, running his fingers through Cam's hair.

"Y'know, I was thinking the very same thing when we were running this morning," Cam said, looking up.

"I love you totally for it," Kevin said.  "You're better at this shit than you have any right to be."

"You're repeating yourself.  Anyway, you've taught me everything I know."

"Not everything."

"What you haven't taught me isn't worth knowing," Cam said with a big smile, taking one last lick of Kevin's jock before pitching it in the general direction of the clothes hamper.

"That's my favorite jock now," Kevin laughed as he stared at it, lying wadded up on the bathroom floor.  "I'll probably have flashbacks about this sweet deal for the rest of my life."

"As well you should," Cam agreed, grinning.

They got in the shower together, laughing and holding one another, washing one another gently.  Standing at Cam's side, Kevin was washing Cam's dick when he decided to add to the shower menu.  He got his partner hard and stroked him off against the shower wall while probing Cam's pucker with the middle finger of his other hand.  After he'd come, Cam looped a soapy arm around Kevin's neck and hung on him as they watched the thick shots of copious spunk slide slowly down the tiles.  Kevin grinned and then diverted water from the shower head to the wall and washed the semen down the drain.

Finishing up their bathing then, they quickly cleaned their teeth.  Then they dressed and headed downstairs, as happy and relaxed as it was possible for two adolescent boys to be, joining the adults and other boys around the dining room table.

Carl glanced at Cam's and Kevin's faces, saw the glow, and knew in an instant what they'd been doing upstairs.  He smiled and tried to put his envy of their sex life out of his mind.  Thank God somebody was having a good time.  He really needed to get laid, though, he thought to himself.  And laid by a handsome, horny boy, now that he was beginning to get more comfortable with his emerging preference.

Back to reality.

"Ian, would you return thanks?" Catherine asked when everyone was quiet.  They all joined hands.

"Father, in the midst of Berto's and our sorrow, give us grateful hearts for the food we are about to the receive," Ian prayed.  "Help us to know, even in the darkest of days, that we are living, and will always live, the true life of the Resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord."


Cam couldn't help reflecting on how death and life--life to the full as he and Kevin had just enjoyed it, and the death of those we love most--were inevitably conjoined and somehow required to be dealt with in the deep recesses of the human mind and heart.

They all made the sign of the cross after the prayer, and Mark reached over without a word and dapped his father as they all sat down.  Ian looked surprised and pleased.  Mary and Catherine began passing platters of cut-up fruit, bacon and eggs, toast, pancakes, butter and syrup, along with pitchers of orange juice, tea and coffee around the table.  Ian poured himself a cup of coffee, smelled the steam, and took a little sip after blowing across the cup.  Cam poured himself a cup of coffee as well.

"Don't drink that, man," William Carson told Cam.  "It'll make ya squirrelly."  He paused.  "Uh, more squirrelly, I mean."

"Shut up," Cam replied reflexively as he added milk and cream to the coffee.

A few minutes ensued with no sounds but that of clinking silverware and chewing jaws.  The boys all had seconds on the food while the adults sat back and sipped their beverages of choice, watching the eating machines seated around the table empty every dish on it.

Mary Carson laughed, breaking the silence.  "It's like a plague of locusts," she said.  "Hungry locusts.  Not that there are any other kind."

No one could deny the obvious, and the boys smiled and just kept on chewing.  When everybody was finished eating, Ian looked around the table.

"Catherine and Mary and I want to talk to you before we all go our own ways this morning," he said.  "First of all, we've decided to bring Yolanda Vega here with us to help Rosa keep house.  Rosa never complains," Ian said, looking up at the maid and smiling, "but there's just too much work here for her even when we all help out.  And when little Kevin comes home, there will be just that much more to do.  Yolanda has been too lonely living in the condo by herself, and she wants to be with us.  Catherine has agreed that we can open the maid's quarters off the kitchen here for Yolanda to stay in.

"We'll bring her here this afternoon, because as you know, Berto and I are going into Monterey today to make funeral arrangements for his parents, and to go by his house to pick up some things he wants.  We'll be passing through the city and will stop at the condo on the way home.  By the way, I'm taking the Navigator so we'll have plenty of room for Berto's and Yolanda's things, so you guys will have to use the rental car if you need a vehicle.  Obviously, we'll be able to tell you more about plans for the visitation and Requiem Mass when we get back late this afternoon.  But things will probably be a little more complicated than we'd like.  First of all, the visitation and funeral are likely going to be under tight security by the Monterey police, the California Highway Patrol, and a private security firm I'm going to engage today.  I think we'll have everything covered, including a diversionary route of travel home both today and after the funeral, which will probably be on Wednesday or Thursday.  But there are no guarantees of safety.

"And that raises the question about who will attend the funeral," Ian continued.  "We're reluctant to put you guys at risk by letting any of you go except for Berto.  But we wanted to talk to you about it before making a final decision."

The boys looked at Berto out of the corners of their eyes, and then at each other.  Ian was surprised when Mark, the youngest boy of all, jumped in first.

"Dad, I know you're all worried about us.  And I know we all need to be cautious.  But we really need to stick with Berto right now."  He paused.  "If anyone ever needs to see anybody at a funeral, it's family.  And I think we'd all agree, we're family for Berto now.  All of us.  How can we not be there for him?"

Moved, Berto looked down at the table, and then put his hands over his face, resting his elbows on the table.

"Mark's right, Ian," Cam said.  "All us guys have agreed that we're going to take care of each other.  This isn't an event that any of us saw coming, and I understand that we have to be sharp about the way things are planned, but we have an obligation to our 'brother' to be with him and support him right now.  We owe him that, even if there are some special challenges involved.  I want to be there.  I need to be there."

"Dad," William weighed in, "you and Mom have always told Mark and me that when the wrong thing goes down, we should do everything we can to make it right.  It's not right to let some bad person or bad circumstances keep us from doing the right thing.  And the right thing is to be there at that visitation and at that church for our brother."

"I feel as if I should be there, Ian," Carl said.  "If my father is behind what Berto's uncle has done, and still wants to do, and I have no doubts about that, then I think Dan and I have an obligation to tough it out with Berto in honor of his parents.  If I don't do this, it'll bother me for the rest of my life, I know that."

"Carl's right," Dan said.  "I feel the same way."

"I'm going, no matter what," Kevin said, throwing a challenge out on the table.  He was a little sorry he did it before the words were out of his mouth.

"Well, let me clear that up for you right now," Ian said as Catherine looked disapprovingly at Kevin.  "What you're going to do, and all the rest of you are going to do, is exactly what we tell you to do.  Am I getting through to you, Kevin?"

"Ian, if I decide to go to Monterey, I'll go if I have to walk to get there," Kevin shot back stubbornly, looking the man right in the eye.

Surprised by the boy's defiance, the other boys looked down at the table as Ian and Kevin locked eyes with one another.

The kid has stones, Ian thought to himself, trying not to smile.

Catherine broke in.

"Kevin, I want to remind you that you and Cam have some new and important responsibilities," she said.  "I'm talking about responsibilities for little Kevin.  That baby will depend on you for everything in his life right now and for a long time.  You're young, but you're not free agents anymore.  You have no business putting yourself or your partner at risk if Ian, Mary and I decide there's too much danger involved in having you go to the funeral."

Kevin looked thoughtful and embarrassed, staring down at his plate now.  He sighed.  "I'm sorry.  You're right, Mom.  I apologize, Ian."

"I know every one of you guys wants to be there for your friend," Ian said.  "But do you understand what I'm saying about the potential danger?" he asked.  "Yes" and "Yes, Sir" echoed around the table.  With the boys under control for the moment, Ian looked at them.  "Catherine and Mary and I will discuss the matter some more, and we'll let you know later what our decision is."

Ian stood up and nodded at the guys, and the family meeting was over, the bone of contention as to whether the boys would actually get to go to Monterey yet unresolved.

Berto sat back in his chair and stood up.  "Thanks, everybody.  Thank you..."  His voice broke.  "Thank you for everything you're trying to do for me."  He began to weep silently, the tears sliding down his cheeks.

Ian rubbed the boy's back, and gave him a side hug.  "We know you appreciate it, Berto.  Let's get changed, and get on the road.  Put on your new suit, shirt and tie and shoes, so when you and I negotiate with folks today, they'll know from the gitgo that you're someone to be reckoned with.  Is that all right with you?"

"Yes, sir."

As everyone started going his own way, the telephone rang, and Cam answered it.  It was the hospital, wanting to talk to Kevin.  When Kevin took the call, they told him that little Kevin was ready to go home from the hospital that afternoon, and reminded him that he would need a child seat suitable for an infant in order to transport the baby home.  Cam and Kevin high fived, genuinely happy that little Kevin Cameron would be coming home.

"Don't forget that we have an appointment at the clinic right after school to check for STD's," Cam told Kevin after they'd gone upstairs to get their back packs for school.

"Yep," Kevin said.  "Now that's something I'm not looking forward to."

"Somebody else's hand will be on your dick other than yours or mine for a change," Cam said, grinning.

"If the doc is cute, I might like it," Kevin said.

"I figured that.  That's why I asked for a woman doctor for you when I made the appointment."

Kevin made a threatening move toward him and chased Cam down the back stairs and out to the car.

*  *  *

After he finished dressing in his new suit for the trip to Monterey, Berto needed some help putting on his tie.  Ian went to the room the boy was now sharing with William and Carl, and stood behind him in front of the mirror, arms around him and hands on the tie, and showed him, step by step, how to tie a windsor knot.  Berto's mother and father had both been demonstrative with Berto all his life, and it warmed him to be touched again by an adult who cared about him.

"Looks good," Ian told the boy as they gazed at the finished product.

A few minutes later there were two sharp looking men, one young and one older, pulling out of the MacKenzie driveway in the Navigator, heading for Monterey.  Ian had put Berto behind the wheel to help keep the boy's mind occupied as they drove.

The first thing Ian did was flip open his cell phone and call Assistant DCFS Director Lauren Reed, who had been so helpful resolving the custody of Carl and Dan Emrick.  She asked how the two boys were doing right out of the box, and he reassured her that things were fine.

The Ian brought her up to date on the fact that the whole Carson family, including Carl and Dan, was now living in San Rafael with Dr. Catherine MacKenzie, a professor at St. Francis University, and the reason for that.  He also filled her in on how it was that Berto had come into his custody, and why the boy was also living with Catherine, Mary and him due to the death of his parents and fear of his uncle, Alejandro.

"This whole thing with Berto's parents was horrible!" Lauren commented.   "I read about it in the papers, but I didn't know DCFS would be involved."

"It was a bad deal," Ian said, not wanting to talk about the murders at any greater length in front of Berto.

"Thank God for you and Mary," Lauren added.
"Your family is kind of a magnet for kids in trouble, isn't it, Ian?"

"I guess it is.  Anyway, we'd like to finalize taking custody of Berto as soon as possible.  Our whereabouts has to remain secret, though, because Berto's uncle is pretty much looking for all of us.  He's capable of doing the worst, we know that."

"I'll talk to the manager of our office in Marin County right away in confidence, and get back to you with some dates and times for a home visit to Dr. MacKenzie's.  I want to make the visit myself with the manager, if we can work it out."

"Thank you so much, Lauren.  You've been wonderful to work with.  The only days you should probably steer away from for the visit are Wednesday and Thursday of this week because we'll be having church services in Monterey for Berto's parents on one of them."

"All right, Ian," Lauren said.  "I have your cell phone number.  Do you want to give me Dr. MacKenzie's home phone?"

"Yes."  Ian rattled it off by heart.  "By the way, Tom Ridenour is all clued in on what's happening, and Berto and I are on the way to the Monterey police department right now to meet him about security for the day of the funeral."

The two of them concluded with pleasantries and Lauren Reed's promise to call back about a "suitability" home visit to the MacKenzie house.

Ian snapped his phone shut and put it away, and he and Berto drove in silence for a few minutes until Ian spoke to the boy.

"Catherine told me that you and she had a good talk about your family the other day."

"Yes, we did."  Berto looked at him and then back at the road.  "She's easy to talk to."

"I know she is.  The fact she's been a professor all these years, working with young people, probably has something to do with it."

"Yeah, that's part of it," Berto said.  "But even more than that, I knew the minute I met her that I could trust her.  There are just people like that, y'know.  Not many.  But a few."

"I agree."  Ian paused.  "Tell me a little bit about your life in Monterey."

"Oh, man," Berto said.  "I don't really know where to start."

Ian remained silent.

"Well, as you might guess, my family lived in an all-Hispanic neighborhood, and most of the time we were pretty happy about that.  I was, anyway.  Most of our neighbors owned their own houses, as my parents did, so they tried to take good care of them.  My high school was about half Hispanic, one quarter black, and the remainder white.  We all got along pretty well at school, but there sure wasn't a lot of crossing racial or ethnic lines in dating or hanging out.  Blacks and Hispanics had their own gangs, but not so much the white kids.  Our school building was old and falling down, and all graffitied up."

"Did you play sports?" Ian asked.

"I ran track.  Sports were the one place the kids were all pretty integrated.  Everybody got along."

"Looking back, did your family have enough money to live on and have some nice things?"

"Compared with a lot of people in our neighborhood, we were pretty well off.  My mom and dad were both employed, and making enough money to get by, I guess.   I didn't have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed, and then some.  They helped me buy my car, and I had some pretty nice clothes.  They were good to me."  Berto choked up and stopped talking for a moment before continuing.

"I certainly had more than I would have had in Mexico, but I didn't have anywhere near what your kids, and the Emricks, and Cam and Kevin have," Berto continued.  "I'm really getting to like the guys, but they're totally clueless about how good they have it and how well they live and what they have compared to most of the families here in this country, or anywhere else in the world.  I'm not blaming them, I'm just saying..."

"I know exactly what you're saying," Ian said.  "We don't talk about that in this country, though, unfortunately.  We don't talk about whether families have enough money to feed and educate and house and clothe their children.  We're supposed to be oblivious to these things because we're told by our leadership that our capitalist economic system never makes any mistakes, and everybody gets exactly what he deserves in this life as long as he's 'responsible' in fulfilling his duties.  We don't talk about economic inequities because our political discussions in this country have been completely subverted from the concept of the common good to focusing on things like the 'horrors' of same-sex marriage and lying about the reasons we're sending youngsters with brown skins and black skins and poorly educated white boys and girls abroad to get their asses blown off!  It's unconscionable!"

Ian's face had turned red and he was speaking a little loudly, and Berto looked over at him, not knowing what to think because he had never seen the man angry before.  Ian looked back and then chuckled.

"No, he said, "I'm not going ballistic on you."  He gazed out the car window over the sparkling water as they moved quickly across the Golden Gate Bridge.  "Do you know that the real median income for Americans declined by 3% from 2000 to 2004?  Do you know that households earning between $25,000 to $99,000 dollars--in other words, income for middle class American families--shrank 1.5% during those years?  Real average weekly earnings fell four tenths of a percent in 2005.  The savings rate is in the toilet, lower than it's been in 73 years, and average credit card debt is higher than it's ever been, more than $9,000 per household.  And the average cost of a college education is over $12,000 at a public university, and nearly $30,000 at a private one.  Americans work more hours per person per year than in any country in the world.  The economic pressure on poor and middle class families today is terrible, and cause people not to think clearly about what's really going on.  The statistics I cited may not sound like much, but they're catastrophic for some families."

Berto snuck a look at the man.  "How do you know all this?"

"I study it.  I had the privilege of attending Stanford University for my undergraduate degree in economics and graduate degree in law.  Stanford is about as close to the Ivy League as we get out here in California."  Ian paused and looked over at the boy.  "And after you've healed a little bit from what's happened to your family, Berto, I want to send you there, and I'll pay for it.  I can get you in because I have power and money and I know how to use it, and because I think you have the smarts and a good heart.  When you're finished and emerge from that institution, maybe as a lawyer, as Catherine told me you may want to be, I want your mind to be horrified and your heart broken about what's happening to our country.  Then you'll have something to offer this world.  You won't be a child of the elite who has paid others to write his papers and do his studying for him and take his tests in college so he can skate through life.  That's the kind of leadership that will be running our country in your generation, in league with religious bigots.  Many of these people are clueless and immoral.  I mean really immoral.  As terrible a person as your uncle may be and Walter Emrick may be, they hardly hold a candle to the monumental economic immorality I'm talking about in our leadership today."  He snorted.  "Among their other sins, these are the kind of people who cynically persecute good kids like Cam MacKenzie and Kevin Stoltz because they love each other and sleep in the same damned bed!"

Berto looked at him, stunned by his vehemence.

"I not sure I understand everything you've said.  But why would you put someone like me who's practically a stranger though school?"

"I'm recruiting you, that's why.  I'm recruiting you so you'll be equipped to grasp some of the dwindling chances we have to save this country from itself, and bring us back to a society that we can be proud to live in.  That's why."

*  *  *

Alejandro Hernandez laughed as he read Monterey's morning paper. What a rag! he thought to himself.  There was a death notice in there already for his brother and his bitch of a sister-in-law, and he knew that arrangements for the visitation and funeral Mass would probably be appearing the next day.  People were so predictable, and he was just the person who could take advantage of that.  He knew without a doubt that Berto would choose Vargas's Funeral Home to prepare the bodies and hold the visitation, and that Our Lady of Guadalupe would host the funeral Mass.  It was a neighborhood thing.

Obviously, the funeral home and the church were two points at which he would be able to take out Berto, and also the two Emrick boys if they were somehow stupid enough to show up for the "festivities."  Alejandro knew he had to fulfill his contract with Walter Emrick or the man would expect his money back.  Not that he'd give it back.

Houses lined the street across from both Vargas's and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and if his memory was correct, many of them had attic windows on the third floor through which he could squeeze off a few well-placed shots with a rifle he had purchased from a friend a few days ago.

Alejandro discarded the newspaper and hailed a cab in front of the flea bag hotel where he'd been staying under an assumed name, heading out to scout the territory.  If the owners of the houses he picked for his dirty work didn't want to cooperate for the money he would offer, they wouldn't live to tell about it.  Life was so simple.

*  *  *

Just as he'd said he would be, Captain Tom Ridenour was in the chief's office at the Monterey Police Department when Ian and Berto arrived at 10 a.m.  Chief Jim Henderson, a Viet Nam veteran and veteran police office on the brink of retirement from the Monterey P.D., made everybody welcome after introductions were made.  Ian was impressed with the chief's acuity and demeanor.  As Henderson and Tom Ridenour shook hands with Berto, they expressed their condolences on the loss of his parents.  Coffee was served, except that Berto had bottled water.

Tom Ridenour explained to Chief Henderson his and Ian's belief that Walter Emrick had hired Berto's uncle Alejandro to kill Emrick's own children, Carl being the abuse victim and sole witness against him in the child abuse case.  He added that Ian and the entire Carson family were now more likely targets than before because they'd taken in Berto, whom Alejandro had hired to discover the Emrick boys' whereabouts.  Henderson already knew that Alejandro was the chief suspect in the murder of Berto's parents.  The visitation and funeral for Berto's parents, Ridenour said, would be perfect occasions for Alejandro to take out any members of the extended Carson family who showed up.

Once informed of the tentative sites for the upcoming visitation and funeral, Henderson pulled down large wall maps of the city that one could write on with magic markers, and began to circle the sites and discuss some of the challenges for security they posed.  After thoroughly familiarizing themselves with the maps, including streets of ingress and egress, Ridenour suggested that they take a ride and reconnoiter the area in question firsthand.  Ridenour rode with the chief and one of his lieutenants, and Ian and Berto went in the Navigator so they could stay behind afterwards to make final arrangements with the funeral home people and with the pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe church for the visitation and funeral.

The three police officers identified the third story of the houses across the street from the church and the funeral home immediately as a potential havens for a sniper.  The chief committed one contingent of his SWAT team for the two sites, who would be given special instructions to watch the higher windows of the neighborhood houses.  Fortunately, both the church and the funeral home had areas at the rear of their properties which were totally protected from view on the street.  It was getting back to those protected sites that posed a danger.

Berto pretty much went numb as Ian and the three police officers finished formulating their security plans, which would include distribution of Alejandro's mug shot to all the police officers and private security who would be hired by Ian to be on duty.  The private security would work under the direction of the onsite police commanders.

When they were satisfied with preliminary security arrangements, the police officers went back to the chief's office, and Ian and Berto first visited the pastor at Our Lady of Guadeloupe, followed up by a visit to the funeral director at Vargas Funeral Home.  Still numb, Berto let Ian make most of the decisions, only speaking up when he was asked a question.  The priest, Father Saucedo, was very kind and gentle with the boy.

Ian was pleased about the arrangements for the visitation and Mass at the church.  The visitation would be from 9 to 11 a.m. on Wednesday, followed by the Requiem Mass at the church at 11:30 a.m.

Ian then got on the telephone to a very professional security agency that his law firm had used numerous times, and engaged them for twenty officers for Wednesday starting at 8 a.m.  Their field commander was instructed to get in touch with the SWAT team commander at the Monterey Police Department for deployment and specific orders.

Ian knew that the hard part was yet to come--when Berto went back to his house for the first time since the murders.  When they got into the Navigator at the funeral home, Berto behind the wheel again, Ian spoke up.

"Berto, are you sure you're up to stopping by your house today?"

"I don't know.  I have to do it sometime, so..."

"All right," Ian said, feeling terrible for the boy.  "But we can leave anytime you want to."


Berto fired up the car engine, and they drove a few blocks over to the Hernandez's house.  Berto had been accurate in his description.  It was a nice neighborhood, full of tidy little houses all painted up and in good repair.  There was no litter on the streets, and the tiny, fenced lawns were all trimmed.

They looked at the front door of Berto's house, and were stunned to see at least a hundred bouquets of flowers fastened there and across the front porch.

"The neighbors," Berto explained, starting to tear up.

After they alighted from the truck, a girl about Berto's age came down off her porch next door and over to Berto, speaking to him in Spanish.  They talked briefly and hugged silently as Ian hung back, and the girl went back home.  Ian and Berto climbed the steps to the house and saw remnants of crime scene tape clinging to the front door.  Berto inserted his key in the lock, and they went inside.

Except where the crime scene investigators had moved a few things and the blood on the carpet, the house was immaculate inside.  Ian sat down in an easy chair and closed his eyes for a moment while Berto went to his parents' bedroom and pulled two suitcases out of their closet.  Taking them to his own room, he began to put some of his favorite clothes into the suitcases along with an ipod that he'd worked all one summer to buy, and a few books.

Berto came out of his bedroom carrying the two suitcases and sat down in a chair across from Ian.  The boy's eyes scanned the room, knowing that he might not see it again for awhile, if ever.  He looked at his mother's inexpensive little art treasures scattered around the room, and began to sob as they sat there.

Ian struggled to keep tight control of his emotions so he wouldn't break into tears himself as he sat in the chair and looked around the living room.  So many memories here, he thought to himself, thinking about Berto's mother and father and their life together.  Finally, he asked Berto, "Do you want to take the desktop computer with us?"  He nodded at a computer on a desk against the wall.

"Yes, if there's room in the truck.  I have some programs and files on it."

"We'll make room.  But we'll be back here when your uncle is in custody," Ian tried to assure him.

"Mrs. Vega will need room for her things in the truck," Berto reminded Ian.

"There will be."

The two of them unhooked and unplugged the computer components and carried them out to the Navigator.  Then Berto retrieved his suitcases and locked the front door again.

"Have you ever eaten on the Wharf?" Ian asked Berto when they got in the truck, Ian at the wheel this time.

"One time when I was a kid," Berto said.  "It's pretty pricey down there.  Lots of tourists."

"Yeah," Ian agreed.  "We have some time before we have to pick up Yolanda.  Let's go up there and grab some lunch.  My treat."

They did.  Once in San Francisco, Ian put the truck in a park and lock lot, with the computer in the third row of seats covered up with some of Berto's clothes.  They walked through the raw wind to the Ferry Building, and went to the Slanted Door.  They didn't have reservations, but the maitre de recognized Ian immediately, and seated him and Berto right away at a table with a breathtaking view of the Bay.  Ian slipped the man a generous tip.  At Ian's urging, when it was time to order, Berto had crab on glass noodles as the main course, as did his host.  It was mouth wateringly good.

The service was great.  The restaurant staff turned over the tables in the place without making anyone feel that they were being hurried through their meal.  When he and Berto were finished, Ian paid the bill, once again leaving a generous tip, this time for the wait staff.  They walked back to the Navigator and left for Ian's condo.

Berto smiled as they sat in the driveway and waited for the gate to the garage to open.

"You don't know how many hours I sat across the street and waited for you to come home," he told Ian.

Ian smiled, saying nothing, and after parking, they took the elevator up to the penthouse.

Yolanda Vega greeted the two of them at the condo door when they arrived upstairs.  She hugged Ian and met Berto, greeting him in Spanish and giving him a hug.

"I miss the family so much, Mister Ian," Yolanda said.  "It too lonely here now."

Ian smiled.  "Enjoy the last few moments of peace while you've have it, Yolanda," he said.  "Seven boys and a baby are going to provide plenty of noise and confusion where we're going."

"I ready for it," Yolanda said, smiling.  "You know that."

They went into the living room, furnished with low profile, modern furniture with some antiques interspersed, along with beautiful, original oils on the walls, to get Yolanda's two suitcases and a garment bag.  Berto looked out the huge windows, and was stunned by the view of the city from that vantage point.

Ian went back to Mark's and William's rooms, picking up a few items they had asked him to get for them, putting them into a book bag he found in Mark's closet to carry them.

When they were ready to go, Ian and Berto carried Yolanda's clothes down to the garage.  Ian let Berto drive again, Yolanda sharing the second row seats with some of her luggage.  As a precaution, Ian had Berto exit the garage through a little used door out on to a side street just in case they had been followed.

Soon they were flying across the Golden Gate Bridge on the way back to San Rafael.  Berto was still a little numb after visiting his house, but despite his pain over losing his parents, he was grateful to Ian Carson and his family and Catherine MacKenzie for taking him in.  And grateful to all the boys for their kindness and for just being there for him in dark days.  He realized he cared a lot about every one of them.

*  *  *

Cam wasted no time whipping the Camaro out of the school parking lot after their last class with Kevin riding shotgun.  He headed first toward a mall, where they went to a baby store and bought a child seat suitable for transporting an infant.  It had the FTC seal of approval, and recommendations from lots of other children's organizations.

Then, with some lingering reluctance, they drove to the clinic to get tested for STD's.  Kevin took Cam's hand before they got out of the car.

"I'm glad we're doing this, but we're all right, y'know," he told him confidently.

Cam looked into his partner's handsome face, and his chest tightened up with the love he felt for this boy.  He raised Kevin's hand and kissed it.

"I know.  Let's hit it."

They went inside and signed in, the young girl behind the reception desk obviously smitten with the boys' good looks.  She tried to engage them in unnecessary, casual conversation before the boys sat down, and then checked them out thoroughly from across the waiting room.  The guys filled out some paper work.  Ten minutes later they were placed in separate examination rooms, given gowns and told to strip and hang up their clothes in a little closet.  Cam hoped that Kevin wouldn't really get a woman doctor to examine him, because he'd never hear the end of it if he did.

A nurse came in first and swabbed the inside of Cam's cheek with some kind of sophisticated Q-tip that could be withdrawn inside its own cover.  "This is the oral test for HIV," she explained as she capped it.  "We'll know in 10 minutes whether it's positive or negative.  If it's negative, the test for HIV is complete.  If it's positive, we'll have to draw some blood for additional tests."  She left the room, taking the sample with her.  She returned with a middle aged, male doctor in a few minutes, who snapped on a pair of rubber gloves.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Alexander," the man said to Cam.  "You're negative for HIV," the doctor told him.  "And that's good news," he added.  "Are you are sexually active?"

"Yes," Cam said.

"All right.  Now we want to examine you for other STD's.  We'll look at your skin for pubic or anal warts and for sores.  Lie down on the table on your back, if you will, and raise your gown."  Cam complied, and
the nurse left the room.  The doctor put on a reflector headset, adjusted the angle of reflection, and began examining Cam's penis and crotch area.  When he was done, he had him turn over on the table.  Telling Cam to spread his cheeks, he checked his anus.

"You're good," the doctor said.

Cam turned over on his back on the table and began breathing again.

"Now, one last test," the doctor said, smiling faintly.  "It's a little uncomfortable, but not really painful.  The dreaded 'plastic stick.'"


The doctor walked over to the counter and opened a drawer.  He removed a slim package, and tore off the cellophane cover.  He turned back to Cam carrying a little plastic stick tapering down to a small, smooth, round point.

"I'm afraid to ask," Cam said.

"Yeah, I have to insert this in your urethra.  Not far up, but it has to stay in there for a minute."

"Oh, man."

"Yeah.  You ready?"

"Yes," Cam said, taking a breath.

The doctor grasped the boy's penis, and pulling back on the head to spread the piss slit open, and gently inserted the plastic stick a short way up it.  Cam gasped.

"Are you all right?" the doctor asked quietly.  Cam nodded.  Leaving the stick where it was for thirty more seconds, the doctor then slowly withdrew the test stick.  Cam audibly exhaled in relief as the doctor took the stick over to the counter.  He sealed it in a special tube, and peeling a label off Cam's paper work, placed it on the tube for identification.

"It will be a few days before we have the results of this last test.  Do you want us to send you a written notice of all our findings, or do you want to call here for the results?"

"I'd like to call," Cam said.  "But can I get them in writing, too?"

"All right."  The doctor removed another sticker from Cam's packet, and placed it on a card with the clinic's address and telephone number.  "Here's your ID number.  Just call and ask for clinic results, and give your ID, and they'll tell you.  If it's positive for anything, you'll be given an appointment to come back for treatment, and you should do that.  Otherwise, any sexual partners you may have will be put at risk.  Do you understand?"


"Have you always used protection when you have sex?"

"Yes, sir.  All the time."

"Multiple partners?"

"No, sir."

"That's good.  Stay careful.  Please stay careful."  The doctor smiled.  "You can get dressed and leave anytime you're ready.  Thank you for coming in."

"Thank you, Doctor."

Cam put his clothes on, and went back to the waiting room.  Kevin wasn't there yet.  The receptionist made eyes at him, but he avoided eye contact and picked up a magazine to read.  Kevin came out in a couple of minutes, and they walked out of the office.

"Shit, man," Kevin said after they left the building.  "Why didn't you tell me they were going to shove a log up my dick?"

"It wasn't a log, exactly!" Cam corrected his partner, laughing.  "Quit complaining.  I didn't know what they were gonna do, or I'd have practiced on you at home."

Kevin snorted derisively.  "It didn't matter," he said, grinning.  "My dick is so big, that stick hardly touched me inside."

"Yeah, right!" Cam said, and they both broke down laughing.  "Were the lady doctor's hands soft on your privates?" Cam asked.

"There was no lady doctor, you lyin' piece o' shit!"

Cam smiled.

They drove over to the hospital, and contrary to Cam's usual practice, parked close to the hospital door where his car doors just could possibly be dented by other car doors.  They went directly to the maternity ward, taking the child carrier up with them.  Little Kevin was ready to go as soon as the nurse put a sweater on the child and a little cap on his head.  The little guy didn't make a sound, but followed every movement around him with those big, alert brown eyes of his.  Cam and Kevin buckled him into his carrier, and after Kevin signed some papers, away they went to the car.

Kevin climbed into the back seat while Cam worked from the front passenger side, buckling the travel seat to the back of the passenger seat facing backward.  Little Kevin was still silent and observant.  Cam bent down and kissed the baby's head before he got out and closed the passenger door.  Starting the car, he drove toward home.

"I love this baby," Cam told his partner.  "I haven't seen anything this cute since the first time I met you.  That was a long time ago."

"Uh huh," Kevin said.

Kevin talked to the infant most of the way home in his soprano child voice, and had the rapt attention of his son.

"I'm happy!" Kevin said to his partner as they finally drove in the driveway.  "Happy, happy, happy!"

The boys had no sooner carried the child in the MacKenzie back door than they were swarmed by everybody in the house.  Ian and Berto were back, and there was a lady in a maid's uniform standing in the background, smiling, but everybody else surrounded them and peered at the child, talking excitedly.  Little Kevin was scared, and started to cry.

"Why don't you take him upstairs and give him his bottle?" Catherine suggested.  "But first, I want you to meet Yolanda Vega, an important member of Ian and Mary's family.  She's going to help us out, especially now that the baby is here."

Cam went over to Yolanda, and instead of shaking hands with her, enveloped the woman in his arms, kissing her cheek.  Yolanda beamed, and then Kevin, holding the carrier on one arm, came over and hugged and kissed her as well.

"Mom, we met Yolanda when we stopped at the Carsons' on the way home from the Big Sur," Kevin said as Cam nodded.  "It's really good to see you again, Yolanda!"

"I know Cam and Kevin," Yolanda said, smiling.

"I forgot," Catherine said.

Cam carried little Kevin up the back stairs, followed by Mark Carson and Dan Emrick.  As they took the baby out of his carrier and put him in his crib for a moment, Cam and Kevin noticed a few changes to the room since morning.  For one thing, Catherine had bought them a little floor model refrigerator which was humming away.  When Kevin opened its door, there were a dozen bottles of baby formula sitting inside.  There was also a new table with a hot plate on it and a pan to heat water when it was time to warm the bottles.

"Thanks, Mommy," Kevin said to himself.  He picked the baby up, and putting him in the center of his and Cam's bed, lay down beside him and started to croon to him.  The baby jerked his arms and legs and seemed to smile.  Gas pains, maybe, Kevin thought to himself, remembering from the baby class.

"Little Kevin is spastic, Cam, just like you," Kevin told his partner.

"Shut up, man," Cam said.  "Don't even joke about that."

Dan and Mark sat down on the bed and looked at the baby admiringly.

"Y'know, this 'Little Kevin' shit is going to get old real fast," Mark suggested.  "Why don't you call him 'KC' for 'Kevin Cameron?"

"'Casey,'" Kevin mouthed.  "I like that, Mark!  You're a genius.  Well, sort of.  Cam, whaddaya think?"

"I like it!" Cam said from the depths of his closet.  "Let's do it."  He emerged from the closet carrying hangers with his kilt, dress shirt and sash on them.

The dreaded prom with Teri McKee as his date that coming Friday night was closing in fast, and it was time recheck his clothes.

© 2006 Don Hanratty.

My thanks to Dan for his expert editing and proofing.