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


Under a gray sky, Catherine MacKenzie sat alone looking at the Pacific Ocean from the front deck of the Carsons' cabin.  Despite the promise of a warmer day, a cold wind off the water chilled her to the bone, and she couldn't summon enough strength to stand up and go inside.  The telephone call from Kevin to Ian that Casey had been kidnapped at the airport had been like opening a vein in her psyche--in her misery she felt as if her very life force were draining away as she sat there, numb and helpless and afraid.  She couldn't have loved that baby more if he had been born of her own flesh.

A verse of a poem by A. C. Swinburne came unbidden into her mind:

                                     "The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
                                           The rocks are left when he wastes the plain;
                                       The wind that wanders, the weeds windshaken,
                                            These remain."

                                        (Algernon Charles Swinburne, "A Forsaken Garden")

Eventually, as is so often true of the strong even when they are in sorrow, she willed herself to stand, and turning her back on the ocean, she went inside.  She had, after all, duties which needed to be carried out.  She went first to Mary Carson, who sat crying about Casey on a couch in the big living room, and sat down beside her.  Catherine put an arm around the woman and held her.

"Haven't we all suffered enough?" Mary asked, staring down at the floor.

"Yes," Catherine said.  "We've had to be strong.  But we've been cared for, and we'll be cared for now," she added, struggling to believe that herself.

Catherine continued to talk to the woman until Mary gradually regained her composure.  When the latter went into the kitchen to ask Yolanda to make them some tea, Catherine pulled out her cell phone to call Father Jim Mason, who was now back in San Rafael.  As she did so, she realized how much she had come to admire and depend on the young priest despite not knowing him long.

"Father," she said when she reached him.  "Catherine MacKenzie.  I have bad news."

"Tell me," the priest said quietly.

"Casey has been kidnapped.  Kevin and Cam took him into the airport this afternoon so Kevin's father could see him.  And Michael Stoltz took the child when Kevin went to a restroom."

There was a moment's silence.  "We'll get him back, Catherine," Mason said, sounding confident.  "Listen, we have a prayer chain here at St. Andrew's, and with your permission, I'll activate it.  I don't want you to despair."

"We'll all appreciate the prayers, Father."

"I'll take care of it," Mason said.  "Do you want me to come back down to the Carsons'?"

"I couldn't ask you to do that."

"I'll be there in three hours or so," Jim Mason said, and the telephone connection was broken.

Catherine called Alex next and let him know what happened.

"No.  Please.  Don't tell me that," Alex said, overwhelmed as the enormity of the kidnapping hit him.

"It's true, I'm afraid," Catherine said.

"Can I come over and bring John and the boys?  We should all be together at a time like this"


"You'll have to come get us.  I don't think we have a car."

"Yes, you do.  Ian's Navigator should be there.  Ian took my car to go to the airport."

"Oh, that's right," Alex said.  "We'll cram everybody in."

When Alex hung up and told the boys what had happened at the airport, it was macho William who seemed to take it the hardest, and began to weep.  John Kelley, looking stunned at the news about Casey, walked over to William and embraced him.

"It's going to be all right," John whispered into the tall boy's ear.

Everyone was disconsolate, though.  After a few minutes they all went down to the Navigator and piled in to go over to the Carsons'.

*  *  *

Fr. Jim Mason had been stunned when he had talked to Catherine on the telephone about Casey's kidnapping.  He had dropped into his desk chair and sat there unmoving for several minutes.  An image of the little boy's face floated into his consciousness, and he began to weep.  Both the evil that some human beings were capable of and the good that other human beings often performed blew his mind sometimes.  This particular act by Kevin's father wounded the priest deeply because he always worked hard to bring out the best in people, and always taught people to look for it.  He could only imagine how distraught Kevin and Cam were feeling at that moment.

Mason called the first parishioner on the list for the St. Andrew's prayer chain, and that activated their circle of prayer.  He said his own prayer for the child's safety and safe return.  Then he snapped on a small color TV set sitting on his credenza.  The local CBS outlet had cut away from their scheduled programming to focus on what was going on at the airport.  It was chaos there, further unsettling the young priest.  Tears still running down his cheeks, he watched for a few minutes as a local reporter talked about the search for the child and the kidnapper which was currently underway.  A tall CHiPs captain walked by in the background at a fast pace with Ian Carson and Cam and Kevin trailing behind, and the reporter stopped his monologue and tried to get one of them to talk on camera.

"Not now," Tom Ridenour told him, putting up a huge hand out toward the camera and continuing to walk away at a fast pace.  The reporter tried to gloss over the on-camera snub.

Father Mason turned off the TV and pulled a wad of Kleenex out of his desk and dried his face.  Then he stood and walked next door to the office of Ed Blackburn, the rector of St. Andrew's, knocking softly on the open door.  His boss was seated at his desk talking into the telephone.  The older man beckoned to Mason to come in, and he went in and sat down.

Fr. Blackburn hung up the phone and studied his assistant's face, and looked concerned.

"What's happened?" he asked.

"I just had a call from Catherine MacKenzie.  Kevin Stoltz's baby was kidnapped at San Francisco International an hour or so ago.  And by Kevin's father, no less.  Needless to say, the family's very upset.  I think I should go back down to the Big Sur to be with them.  I guess the airport is in chaos right now because the police have bottled it up.  No cars in or out, and flights are not being allowed to land or depart."

"Have you activated the prayer chain?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, you can go back down to the Big Sur, but don't go down there if you have nothing to offer them but your despair," Fr. Blackburn said.  "I suspect they have enough of that right now.  You need to reassure them that God always--always--eventually brings good out of evil, even when it's not on our time schedule."

"You're right," Jim Mason admitted.  "I want to ask you something else."  He hesitated and looked down at the floor.  "If--I mean, when, they find the baby, I want to baptize him down at the Carsons' place.  I know it's irregular, but..."

"It is irregular.  You're not even in our diocese down there."

"Can't we just consider the baby in extremis, and do it anyway?  I'd record the baptism here in our Register, of course.  I think it would mean a lot to the family, and teach a good lesson about the importance of being grafted into the Christian family."

The older priest looked at his young counterpart in silence for a moment.

"If you think that bending the rules is justified by pastoral necessity, then go ahead," Fr. Blackburn finally said.  "Take enough copies of the Baptismal office so everyone there can participate.  When you're finished, call the office and give Gladys"--their secretary--"the information to make up the baptismal certificate."

"I will.  Thank you, Father.  I appreciate it."

"And call me when they find the baby," Blackburn instructed.

"I'll call right away," Jim Mason said.

Father Jim Mason was alternately prayerful and despondent as he drove down from San Rafael to the Big Sur.  He knew how much Kevin and Cam loved Casey, and could empathize with them in the despair they must be feeling.  He didn't know exactly what he was going to say to the family when he arrived, but asked God to give him the words he needed to say if the child was not found.  He deliberately kept his car radio turned off so he could stay focused on praying for Casey and the family.

The priest drove into the Carsons' driveway right on schedule.  With a sad face, Dan Emrick came out to meet him before he got out of the car and led him toward the house.  Mason walked on to the deck, and was immediately hugged tearfully by Mary, Catherine, and Yolanda.  He could see that some of the boys had been crying.  Father Jim told them that he wanted to offer a prayer that the baby would soon be back in the hands of Kevin and Cam.  He and the adults and the boys all formed a big circle out on the deck, holding hands, as the priest offered a petition for Casey's safe return.

*  *  *

Gridlock.  That's what Captain Tom Ridenour had hoped to achieve at SF International, and that's exactly what happened.  On his orders, the exits from the airport had been blocked just as Ian had left the Big Sur, causing automobile traffic throughout the complex to become immobile.  No one could get in, and no one could get out, and Ridenour had driven his cruiser all the way up the sidewalk to get to the American Airlines terminal after he had arrived at the airport.  He had telephoned the FBI about the kidnapping, and then he prevailed upon the FAA control tower to hold every flight which was not already "wheels up."  The flight controllers started bringing flights which were queued for takeoff on the runways back to the gates a few at a time so they could be searched.  Then and only then would the planes be allowed to take off.  Electronic schedule boards for arriving and departing flights were all flashing "Delayed" for an increasing number of planes.

Ridenour implemented a four point plan in the search for Casey and Michael Stoltz.  First, he wanted every departing plane in the queue for takeoff searched; second, he wanted every car on the airport beltway and the exit ramp leading from the airport to the freeway searched.  Third, he wanted every car in the parking garage searched, at least from the outside, for the baby and for Stoltz.  And fourth, he wanted each terminal meticulously searched for the child and his abductor, including the rest rooms, bars, VIP rooms, and administrative offices.

Kevin still had a picture of his dad taken several years ago in his wallet, and the captain had the airport administrator's office run off a thousand enlarged copies of the photo on a high speed copier for everyone who would be involved in the search.

Ridenour was no fool.  He knew that he had only a limited amount of time, perhaps thirty more minutes, to accomplish all he had to do before the pressure from his superiors and from elected officials would force him to open the airport back up.  And he wanted to get as much of his plan accomplished as he could before the FBI inevitably pulled rank and sent someone in to take command of the search operation. 

Ridenour was textbook smart in using his resources.  He used the national guardsmen to search the parking garage, starting at the top floor.  The national guard unit commander at the airport, a green lieutenant by the name of Schneider, bucked at taking orders from the CHiP's captain at first until Ridenour had a serious talk with him.  After a verbal ass-kicking from Ridenour, the man saw the light and followed the orders he had been given.  Ridenour had the airport security unit and Federal transportation department inspectors search the planes as they were brought back to the gate one by one, and the few CHiP's officers and San Francisco police officers who had made it into the airport complex before gridlock searched the terminals.

Then it became a waiting game.  Ian sat back and watched Ridenour work, and was very impressed.  The man knew all the ways to get things done through the people he had to work with, using gentle persuasion to outright coercion to abject begging.  Reports began coming in on the military walkie-talkie which Ridenour now carried as well as on his police shoulder radio as various units accomplished elements of their mission.  "No joy" kept squawking out of the walkie-talkie as the military unit reported their lack of success thus far in the parking garage.

Kevin and Cam, eyes red and emptied of tears by then, were seated with Ian in the airport administrator's office.  They sat numbly looking at Michael Stoltz's photo.

"I was such a dumb fuck to trust him," Kevin said under his breath to Cam.  "How could I have been so stupid?"

Cam reached over and took his partner's hand and held it.

"You couldn't have known," Cam said.  "Even I didn't even think he'd fall that low.  Please don't blame yourself, Kev."  He knew as he said it that Kevin wouldn't buy that.  "We're gonna get Casey back."

The plane which had been first in the queue for takeoff, and therefore last to be searched, was now back at the gate, and with pictures of Michael Stoltz in hand, Transportation Department personnel went on board to eyeball the passengers.

"C-23," Ridenour's shoulder radio squawked.

"C-23," Ridenour confirmed.

"The Federal Transportation inspectors have an adult male suspect in custody," the disembodied voice said.


"American 31."

"Good work!" Ridenour said into his radio as he turned to Ian and the boys.  "Come on, guys, I think they've found your dad, Kevin."  They all took off at a trot toward the passenger loading area.

"Casey?" Kevin asked as they scurried along.

"No."  Ridenour shook his head in the negative as Kevin groaned.

They arrived at American Gate 31 just as several burly inspectors were bringing Michael Stoltz down the ramp, hands cuffed behind his back.  Ian put a hand on Kevin's shoulder just in case Kevin decided to get physical with the man.

"Where's Casey?" Kevin demanded, looking at his father hatefully.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Stoltz responded, not looking Kevin in the eye.

Tom Ridenour stepped forward to Mirandize him.  "Michael Stoltz, you're under arrest for aggravated kidnapping and child abuse.  You have the right to remain silent.  You have the right to an attorney during questioning.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you without charge.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.  Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?" 

"Yes," Michael Stoltz said.

Ridenour stared at the man menacingly.  "Now is the time to tell us where Casey is if you ever expect any mitigation of charges."

"I still don't know what you're talking about," Stoltz said with a smirk.

Ridenour stepped forward and whispered in the man's ear.  "If you don't speak up, I'll see to it that you're held in the general population at the jail.  You won't get bail because you're a flight risk.  Have you heard how prisoners love to make guys suffer who hurt children?  'Love' being the operative word!"

Michael Stoltz blanched and stopped smiling.  He looked down at the floor, but said nothing.

The walkie-talkie burped.  "C-23?"

Ridenour stepped away from the group to answer.  "C-23" he acknowledged.

"Captain, this is G-1.  We have something you need check out on the down ramp of the parking garage across from the American terminal."

"On my way," Ridenour said.  He looked at the Feds and then at Michael Stoltz.  "Handcuff this piece of crap to something immobile," he instructed the inspectors.  "I'll be back."

"Captain...?" Kevin said, looking hopeful.

"I don't know.  Come on."  Ridenour beckoned to Kevin and started to walk away at a quick pace.  Kevin, Cam and Ian all followed him, the boys almost trotting to keep up with the two big men's long strides.

They backtracked down the long departures hallway, through the terminal and then out across the gridlocked beltway and into the parking garage.  Cars were sitting on the down ramp of the garage, stuck right where they'd been when the airport had been closed down.  People were standing beside their cars, thoroughly pissed off at the long delay in getting out of the airport.  They shouted angrily at the CHiP's captain, who stoically ignored them as he passed by.

"G-1, I'm in the garage," Ridenour said into the walkie-talkie.  "What's your 20?"

"Come up the ramp to the second floor," the Guard lieutenant told him.

The lieutenant and a cluster of his guardsmen were huddled around a dark blue Nissan sedan, a rental, on the second floor ramp, trying to peer in the windows.  The driver's seat was empty, but as Ridenour and the two boys approached, they heard the reedy sound of a child crying from inside the vehicle.

"Make a hole," Ridenour told the guardsmen, who scattered to make room for the man to look inside the car.  The back windows were tinted, and the ramp was not well lighted, so little could be seen.  The car doors were locked.  "Get me a towel or something," Ridenour said, taking a rifle from one of the guardsmen and checking to see that the safety was on.

Ridenour looked at Kevin, and the cop's eyes lighted up.  "Give me your jacket," he told the boy.  Kevin was wearing his soccer letter jacket from San Rafael High.

The police officer took the jacket and wrapped it around the stock of the rifle.  Using the rifle butt, Ridenour broke in the right hand passenger window of the Nissan, using only enough force to do the job without spraying safety glass around the car interior.  The crying child's voice was loud now as Ridenour removed the jacket from the weapon, shook it to remove any glass splinters, and handed it back to Kevin.  He gave the rifle back to the guardsman.

Kevin and Cam and Ian stood on the periphery, watching on tenterhooks as the CHiPs officer pushed the button to unlock all the car doors, and swung the back door open.  A child in his carrier was strapped to the back side of the front passenger seat.  Kevin darted forward and pushed his way through the crowd.

It was a very out of sorts Casey, wearing a wet diaper, secured in his carrier to the backside of the front passenger seat.

*  *  *

Glancing at his watch, Tom Ridenour breathed a sigh of relief.  He would have had only ten more minutes to wrap up the search for Casey, he figured, before the pressure from the city's political leadership would have been so great that he would have had to capitulate and open the airport.  He spoke into his walkie-talkie and had the scattered national guard contingent stand down and resume their posts inside the airport, and then used the shoulder radio to have the CHiPs and San Francisco police open the airport exits.  He also radioed dispatch to have a police tow truck come for the car and take it to the San Francisco police lab for examination, and he canceled the Amber Alert.

"Good work," he told the Guard lieutenant and contingent that had identified the car with Casey inside.  The lieutenant smiled and gave the CHiPs captain a smart salute which the latter returned.

Not having a forensics officer at hand, Ridenour pulled out his cell phone and took a picture of the car, and then of the baby inside the car.  That done, he motioned for Kevin and Cam to get into the Nissan to free the baby carrier and its cargo.

Ian stood back to watch the two boys work to undo the straps holding the carrier securing Casey to the right front seat of the car.  At least the child's would-be abductor had been safety conscious, he thought.

Ian had always known that Kevin and Cam loved their child.  But seeing them wearing tearful expressions of relief and focusing intently on the task at hand to free the baby, the sight of them burned their commitment to Casey into his mind, never to be forgotten.  His admiration and respect for the two of them as parents was total, and that admiration and respect only increased his scorn for the bigots in the U.S. who wanted to deny same-sex couples the right to form households and raise children.  What a waste of love and commitment in a world that was so short of those qualities, he thought to himself.

After pulling the carrier out of the car, Kevin held the carrier in his arms as the two boys peered down on the crying child.

"Thank you," Kevin whispered into the air, looking up to the ceiling, capturing Cam's own thoughts exactly. 

Ian pulled out his phone and telephoned Mary.  She answered on the first ring.

"We have the baby," Ian told her.

"Thank God," Mary said, and Ian could hear her giving Catherine, Alex, John and the boys the good news, and thought for a moment he heard Father Mason's voice in the background. 

Catherine sat down in a chair and wept in relief as the boys high fived one another and began dancing around the Carsons' house.

"Michael Stoltz is in custody," Ian continued telling his wife.  "He had an accomplice, but whoever that was got away."

"Thank you for letting us know, sweetheart," Mary said.  "Come home as soon as you can."

"We will," Ian assured her.  "Talk to you later.  Love you."  He closed his phone and looked over at the boys and Casey.

"I need to change him," Kevin said to Cam, clutching the carrier as if he would never let it go.

"I'll go up to the Camaro and get the diaper bag," Cam said as he hugged Kevin from the side, kissing him on the cheek.  "We can change him in the terminal."

"All right," Kevin said.

Before leaving for his car, Cam walked over to Captain Ridenour.  "Thank you for everything you've done for us, sir," he said to the policeman, offering his hand.  "This is the second time you've helped us, and we owe you bigtime."

"I'm glad everything turned out the way it was supposed to, Cam," Ridenour said, shaking hands.

Kevin thanked the knot of guardsmen, and holding the carrier in one arm, and also went over and shook hands with Tom Ridenour.  "I hope we can find a way to repay you sometime," he said.

"It's the job, Kevin," Ridenour said.  "Take good care of the little guy."

"I promise you we will."

Ian stepped up.  "Fantastic job!  You should be the CHiPs superintendent," he told his friend.

"You're trying to kill me before my time," Ridenour said.

The two men laughed and shook hands.

When Cam returned with the diaper bag, he and Kevin and Ian walked back into the terminal to a "family" bathroom and used a changing table to clean Casey up and put him in a clean diaper.  The baby had stopped crying, and was gravely watching his dad and Cam as they talked to him and did their job.  When they were finished, Ian embraced the two boys.

"You two hung tough through all this, and I'm proud of you," Ian said, giving each of them a kiss on the cheek.

"I don't know about that.  Without you, we'd be in big trouble right now," Kevin acknowledged, kissing him back and hugging him.  "Thank you for everything you've done for us.  We appreciate it."

Cam nodded and hugged the man tight, also kissing him.

Ian smiled and shrugged.  "This is what family members do for each other," he said, then paused.  "It's going to be awhile before we can get out of the airport.  So let's go get a snack here, and then get ourselves home."

Kevin gave him a thumbs up, and they went and found a restaurant, where Ian took the baby out of the carrier and held him and gave him a bottle while the boys ate.  The pressure off, Cam and Kevin were ravenous.  The two boys each ate three burgers and two large orders of fries.  Ian laughed and shook his head, speculating out loud how many miles the two boys were going to have to run on the beach to make up for that meal and stay trim.

The next time they saw Captain Ridenour, he had been waylaid by a TV reporter, and was giving her and the viewers the good news on camera in as few words as possible. He declined to mention the names of suspects and victims at that point.

The drive home, once traffic was flowing again at the airport, was joyful.  Cam drove right behind Ian, who was driving Catherine's car, all the way back to the Big Sur as Kevin sat in the back seat talking to Casey until the baby fell asleep in his carrier.

"Thanks for sticking with me, Cam," Kevin told his partner.  "I was afraid," he admitted.

Cam was a little miffed.  "Where the fuck else would I be?" he asked.  "Everybody in life needs at least one friend to have his back, and I'm always gonna be your guy," he said.

"I know.  I'm just saying..."

"I didn't mean to snap at ya, bro," Cam said quickly.  "I was afraid, too."  He hesitated, grinning.  "I think we need to do your favorite thing, and go to church when we have a chance."

Kevin smiled.  "I wouldn't fight ya on that," he said.  He looked at the back of Cam's head as the latter maneuvered through traffic.  "We have a lot to be thankful for, I know that.  I'm gonna try to do better, I promise."

"Bud, you're just fine in my book," Cam said.  "We'll go down to New Orleans and try to do some good things for people.  That'll be a good way to thank God for giving Casey back to us."

When the two cars pulled into the Carsons' driveway, the whole gang cascaded out of the house jubilantly and surrounded the Camaro.  Cam, Kevin and Ian were surprised to see that Father Mason was back.

The young guys were ecstatic, and when Kevin and Cam had gotten out of the car and taken the baby on to the pool deck, one by one they made a point of going to Kevin and sharing their happiness that Casey was back safe.  Catherine eventually managed to pry Casey, still in his carrier, out of Kevin's arms and held him.

Father Mason pulled a chair up to Kevin and sat down to talk.

"Kevin, I need to ask you something."

Kevin looked at him curiously.

"Would you let me baptize Casey right now while I'm here?  It's a little irregular not to do it in church, but I asked Father Blackburn if it would be all right, given the circumstances.  And he agreed to it."

"Why do you want to baptize him now?" Kevin asked.

"Because life is uncertain."

Kevin looked surprised, and then knew exactly what the priest was driving at.

"I'd like that a lot," Kevin said then without hesitation.  "Thank you for thinking about doing this now instead of waiting."  His face reddened.  "I'm not a good Christian, Father.  I know that.  But I owe God a lot, and I want to do better.  So let's start with this."

"Good."  The priest beamed.  "I brought copies of the Office of Baptism in case you agreed.  I'll register the baptism in the records at St. Andrew's."

"Thank you," Kevin said.

"Do you know whom you want to be godparents?" Mason asked.

"Yes.  Catherine and Mary for godmothers.  And Cam, Alex and Ian for godfathers.  Is that all right?"

"Well...that's one more godfather than usual, but let's go with that."

"Thank you," Kevin said again.

Father Mason stood up and got people's attention.

"Brothers and sisters, we're going to baptize Casey right here and now.  Kevin has asked that Catherine and Mary serve as godmothers, and wants Cam, Alex and Ian to be godfathers.  Is that all right with you all?"

"I'd be honored," Ian said.  The other designees nodded their agreement.

Cam bent down where he was standing next to Kevin and kissed his partner on top of the head.  "Thanks, man."  Kevin looked up at him, smiling.

"Mary, do you have a large mixing bowl we can use for a font, and a pitcher for the water?" Father Mason asked.

Mary said she did, and got up and went into the kitchen while the priest went out to the trunk of his car and got the requisite booklets for the Baptismal office from the Book of Common Prayer, along with his cassock, surplice and stole, an oil stock containing the sacred chrism, and a candle which would be lighted and given to Kevin to keep for the baby to mark the event.  Before going back into the house, he telephoned Father Blackburn and gave him the good news about Casey being found, and said that they were getting ready to baptize the child.  The older priest was pleased with the news.

The boys were all interested in what was going to happen, having never seen a baptism up close before, and when all was ready, gathered around in a tight circle to witness Casey's spiritual new birth.  Mary held the baby.  Kevin tried not to show his excitement about what was about to happen, but Cam looked at his face and knew he was happy about it.

The priest, now vested in cassock, surplice, and purple stole which was white on its back side, began the office.  A breeze which had warmed by now moved over the pool deck, rippling the priest's surplice and caressing those who were going to witness the sacrament.

"Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit," Father Jim began as they all made the sign of the cross.

"And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever.  Amen," the crowd answered, reading from their booklets.

The priest read an Old Testament lesson from Exodus about the journey of the Hebrews across the water of the Red Sea when they escaped from Egypt, and then read the Gospel narrative of Jesus' own baptism by John from St. Mark.  He moved steadily through the Office.

"The Candidate for Holy Baptism will now be presented," Father Mason finally said.

"I present Kevin Cameron to receive the Sacrament of Baptism," Cam and the other godparents said along with Kevin.

"Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?" the priest asked.

"I will, with God's help," Kevin and the godparents answered.

"Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?"

"I will, with God's help."

"Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?" Mason asked Kevin and the godparents, who now spoke for the child until such time in his life as he could speak for himself.

"I renounce them."

"Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?"

"I renounce them."

"Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?"

"I renounce them."

"Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?"

"I do."

"Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?"

"I do."

"Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?"

"I do."

The vows complete, the priest finally addressed the entire group of people.

"Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this child in his life in Christ?"

"We will."

Cam looked into the faces of the boys standing in a circle around the improvised baptismal font, and they were all intent and captivated by what was happening.

Then the Apostles Creed was said, more vows made, and short prayers for Casey said, following which the priest poured water from the pitcher into the makeshift stainless aluminum font, and blessed the water.

"Name this child," Father Mason instructed as he turned his stole over from the purple to the white side.

"Kevin Cameron," the godparents said.  Mary handed the baby to Father Mason, who took him carefully, looking down into his face.  As usual when he was the officiant at a child baptism, the sight of that innocent face moved the priest.

Bending over, Mason scooped up water in his cupped hand and poured it across the baby's forehead three times as he said, "Kevin Cameron, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Casey's eyes were wide open, but he didn't make a sound.

"Amen," the crowd said.

The priest dipped his thumb into the oil stock, tracing the chrism on Casey's forehead in the sign of the cross.  "Kevin Cameron, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever," he said.


"Let us welcome the newly baptized," Mason said, holding Casey in his arms as Cam lighted a commemorative candle and handed it to Kevin.

"We receive you into the household of God," everyone said together.  "Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood."

"The peace of the Lord be always with you," Mason said to those gathered.

"And also with you."

Kevin was surprised at his own strong emotions as the priest put Casey into his arms, and he looked down into that beautiful face.  "Awesome!" Kevin said about the baptism.

*  *  *

Ian and Mary prevailed on Father Mason to stay the night rather than drive back to San Rafael through heavy traffic.  The priest changed out of his vestments and black suit into swimming trunks and was soon right in the middle of the inevitable horseplay that took place whenever the boys got in the pool.  Carl Emrick couldn't help looking at the man's body as they all cavorted around.  The priest had one heck of a good build, and before the boy pushed the thought away he wondered briefly what it would be like to be sexually intimate with such a hunk.

Ian watched his son William as the boy got out of the pool before the others did, dried himself off, and went over to Kevin who was holding a now-sleeping Casey.

"Can I hold him for a few minutes?" William asked, dropping into a chair next to Kevin.

"I guess," Kevin said a little reluctantly.  He knew he was being overprotective, but given what he had been through that afternoon, he didn't care.

Kevin stood up and put Casey carefully into William's arms, and then sat down again, watching the boy like a hawk.

William didn't say anything at first as he held the baby, rubbing a thumb gently across a little smear of the chrism from the baptism which still glistened on the child's forehead.

"I prayed," William finally confessed, looking a little embarrassed.  "I...I don't do that very often.  I'm so relieved we got him back."

Kevin noted the "we" and smiled.  "Thanks, dude.  I appreciate it."

William cleared his throat.  "I love this kid, and I want to have children of my own some day."  He grinned.  "So I'm practicing by holding Casey."

"You'll be ready when the time comes," Kevin said.  "You'll be a good father."

"I hope so.  I have an idea it may not as easy as it looks," William said.

Ian pulled his chair over closer to William and Kevin.  "You look pretty natural there, William," he told his boy.

"Are you ready to be a grandfather?" William asked his dad.

"Hey, let's not rush things," Ian said, frowning.

"But I'm so ready!" William kidded his father.

"Have mercy!" Ian said.  "Do you want to give me a heart attack?"

"Hang on, Dad, it's gonna be a great ride," William said, laughing.

"Keep it up, and I'm going to tell your mother on you," Ian said, smiling and shaking his head.

"Just kidding," William said.  "Sort of."

One by one the boys got out of the pool, dried off and changed into Levi's and T's, and then went over to hold Casey for a minute.  Kevin had always known that the boys liked the child, but he began to understand right then that their feelings ran much deeper than that.  Kevin wasn't one to wallow in emotion, but the love and concern of his "brothers" gave him a lump in his throat.

Catherine, Mary, Yolanda and Ian began to get things ready for supper.  Mary pulled five giant bags of jumbo shrimp out of the freezer and emptied them into one side of the double sink, and began to spray them with water to start the thawing process.  After that they were soaked in marinade so Ian could grill them on his big grill on the back side of the pool.  Yolanda and Catherine began cutting up vegetables for a huge salad, and then Yolanda began to make tortillas in case the boys wanted to make shrimp tacos.

Father Mason and most of the boys went out to the driveway and moved the cars so they could play basketball.  The priest had a hot hand, and the team he was on steadily pulled away from the other team during the first game, which ended 21-16.

"You're such a jock," Carl Emrick kidded Mason.  And that's no lie, Carl thought as he perved on the man.  It was a toss-up as to whether Mason or John Kelley had a better body.  To Carl, they were both beautiful even though a little old for him.

"Aw shucks," the priest said to Carl, hanging his head in false modesty.  "Did you say 'jock' or 'jerk?'"

Mason switched teams, and his new team triumphed 21-14 despite the best efforts of William and Berto, the tallest of the boys.  The priest had a killer outside shot that was difficult to guard against.

They all threw in the towel after the second game, and went back to the pool deck to watch the evening news.  The TV channel they were watching led with the story of Casey's abduction at the airport, the subsequent search, and happy resolution.  Captain Tom Ridenour gave an interview in which he provided a broad outline of what had occurred that afternoon, but offered few specifics.  The pretty young reporter woman tried hard, but she didn't get the details out of Ridenour she was hoping for.

After the news, Alex MacKenzie, John Kelley and Ian all worked the big grill as they started cooking the huge shrimp.  Each of them tried a few of the shrimp raw, and they were delicious.  Soon the smell of the shrimp permeated the pool deck as the sun began setting and the breeze off the ocean died down.  The boys kept straggling up to the grill and snatching raw shrimp as the men tried to shoo them away.

When supper was finally ready, they held hands in a circle around the table as Father Mason returned thanks.  The wait had been worth it.  The now blackened shrimp were delicious.  The boys ate some au naturel, and then started cramming them into tortillas with salad to make tacos, as Yolanda had thought they might.  The adults drank Mexican beer while the boys drank Coke.  When everyone was finished there wasn't a shrimp left on the premises.  The boys sat around the pool groaning, except for Cam, who used his time to give Casey a bottle.

After the diners recovered a little bit, Father Mason asked if he could talk to them about going to New Orleans.  Seeing nods all around, he started talking about the trip and what they might expect to see down there.

"I'll be talking more about the trip to the entire youth group, but I'd like to give you all a little preview of coming attractions.

"First of all, I want you to know that working in the homes which are salvageable at all is going to be hard on you physically.  I know that you young guys think you're in good physical shape, and you are.  But the physical demands of six or seven hour days gutting houses while wearing safety masks and helmets is going to wear you down and tire you out completely.

"And the wear and tear on you won't only be physical, but you're going to pay a mental and emotional price, too.  You're going to see destruction like you can't imagine, and meet people who have lost everything that ever meant anything to them in their lives, including, sometimes, the people who meant the most to them.   Many people drowned in the very houses we'll be working on, living for days in their attics until their food and water gave out, and they perished.  Some few were able to break a hole in their roofs, and were eventually picked up by helicopters or boats manned by Coast Guard personnel or firemen or policemen.  Katrina was the largest natural disaster ever visited upon any region in the United States, and New Orleans got the worst of it when the levees gave way.  The water did far more damage than the wind, it turns out.  There was an early failure by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local governments to respond fully to people's needs in the days and weeks that followed hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but
no one was prepared for what happened, or probably could have been prepared.

"New Orleaneans are still scattered around the United States even now because they have no domiciles to return to.  Of those who have returned, thousands are still living in FEMA trailers which are not safe for people to stay in should another hurricane come ashore.  The workforce is depleted, and that won't change until people have a place to live.  That's where the importance of the work we'll do down there comes into play.

"Money to rebuild the city has been slow in coming, but money alone didn't and won't ever do the whole job.  Volunteers from churches and other organizations, people like yourselves, probably made more impact on redeeming a terrible situation, especially in the days immediately following the destruction, than government did.  That continues to be true.

"You'll want to remain strong in the face of all you'll see and experience, but sometimes you won't be able to.  When you hit the wall of despair, and you will hit the wall of despair, we're pretty much going to have to take care of each other.  I want to emphasize that.  The adults will take care of you, but you guys are going to have to watch out for one another and take care of one another, too.  We have to have one another's back.  As a result of going to New Orleans, I guarantee to those of you listening to me now that your bond with one another and with the other members of the St. Andrew's youth group will strengthen beyond what you could possibly imagine.  We're going to have to rely on each other.  Every couple of days we're going to have 'freak out' sessions to share what we're feeling, and sometimes those won't be pretty.  One of the ways to keep from breaking down is to focus on the individuals and the families we're going to be helping.

"In order for this trip to be successful in meeting our objectives, I'm going to ask you to be good partners with the adults who are overseeing our work.  Do what you're asked to do, and don't complain about it.  There will be opportunities for exploring the city and having some fun, but like any big city, New Orleans can be a dangerous place.  So I ask you, when we're not working, not to wander around the city without supervision--don't take off alone to see the sights.  Make sure an adult has at least some rough idea of where you are at all times.

"Will you agree to do that for me?"

"Yes" and "Yes, sir," floated back to the priest.

"Any questions or comments?"

Kevin raised his hand.  "Father, I'm just thinking out loud, but Cam and I may not be able to go and leave Casey home.  He has to be our first priority, especially after what happened earlier today."

Cam nodded his head in agreement.

"I understand what you're saying," Father Mason said.  "I can't make that decision for you guys, and I'm certainly not going to tell you that you're wrong to be concerned.  But let's work on solving that problem.  I'll do some research and make some calls to New Orleans to find out what the challenges to the health of an infant may be down there, and perhaps we can take Casey with us."

"I know I said I couldn't go because of the mold down there," Mary said.  "But I'll talk to my allergist and see if I can't get some preventative treatment, maybe some pills, so I can go," Mary Carson said.  "I think it's important that all of us go together."

"I go, too," Yolanda Vega said from the back of the crowd.  "I help."

"Thank you both," Mason said.  "With the help of everybody, this will be a great trip!  I guarantee you'll never forget it!"

*  *  *

Kevin and Cam decided they would stay at the Carsons' that night with Casey.  Alex, John, and the rest of the boys, the latter grinning because they suspected what was up with Cam and Kevin, all piled into Ian's Navigator and went back to the MacKenzie cabin.  They'd all made arrangements to run on the beach in the morning, starting from the Carsons' at 7 a.m. so Father Mason could run and still get a reasonably early start back to San Rafael.

Staying with Casey was part of the reason they stayed at the Carsons', but the guys had been right:  Cam and Kevin wanted some private time together.  They moved the baby's crib into a bedroom with a double bed, and after they showered together, got ready for bed after Kevin fed Casey and put him down.  Kevin stood at the crib for a moment feeling thankful that the little boy was right where he was supposed to be.

Their toiletries were back at Alex's, and Cam found only one new toothbrush in the bathroom which was attached to their room.  After he brushed, he offered it to Kevin.

"How do I know you don't have hoof and mouth disease?" Kevin asked his partner as he put toothpaste on the brush.

"Buddy, anything evil in my body, I got from you!" Cam assured him as he walked out of the bathroom, and went over to Casey's crib.  He stood there studying the little boy's face, feeling his own heartbeat in his chest because he loved the child so much.  Kevin joined him beside the crib when he came out of the bathroom, and stood there silently.  Cam glanced over at his partner.

"Did you like the baptism?" he asked.

Kevin looked at him silently for a moment.

"Yeah," he said, and then hesitated.  "Y'know, even if somebody isn't big on religion, what we said and did by the pool didn't leave much doubt about what our spiritual obligations are to Casey, and, well, you know, to God and the Church.  It was pretty powerful stuff, and it kinda shook me up, to tell you the truth.  Anyway, I'm feeling pretty thankful right now that we got Casey back."  He grinned.  "So ask me next week if I liked it, and maybe I'll say different.  What about you?"

"It was good," Cam said.  "It reminded me that raising a kid is more than just giving him a bottle and changing his diaper.  I dug it."

Kevin put an arm around Cam's neck and squeezed.  "I dig you.  You're such a cute little shit, I can't help myself.  Let's go to bed."

Smiling in anticipation, the two boys stripped off their boxers, pulled back the sheet and blanket, and climbed into bed.  Kevin stared at Cam's bare body as the boy lay in the bed, his dick beginning to plump up.

"You're so fucking beautiful, I can hardly stand it, man."  Kevin reached over and licked Cam's nearest nipple, kissing it and grazing it with his teeth, and then moving up to his face and hovering there.  He gently kissed his nose and then his eyes, and then smelled his hair.

"Even after all this time, I get butterflies in my stomach when I know we're going to have sex," Cam said, and then he moved on top of Kevin's body, looking down into those brown eyes.

Cam lowered his head, returning the favor and kissing Kevin's nipples and then moving up to kiss his nose, his eyes, and then his mouth, gently at first, and then with increasing urgency until their tongues were dueling.  He put his tongue in Kevin's left ear and smooshed it around, and the boy hardened up fast.

"Uhhh," Kevin said, breathing out gently.

Scooting down, Cam took Kevin's dick into his mouth, not stroking it, just holding it there.  He tasted a drop of sweet pre-cum almost immediately.  Pulling off, he raised Kevin's legs and began licking his balls and then his hole as Kevin groaned and squirmed around on the bed.  Within minutes Cam had lubricated Kevin with spit, and had worked his way inside his partner.  Bending Kevin's legs back, Cam lay there unmoving on top of the boy until he knew Kevin was ready.

Looking down into Kevin's face as he began to thrust, Cam saw that handsome face as a confirmation of a beautiful world and a beautiful relationship he hoped would never end.

© 2007 Don Hanratty

I was out of town for two weeks, so this chapter is a little late.  I may be a slow writer, but I try to be reliably late, so my apologies.

The Saints lost their Playoff game to the Bears, sad to say.  After watching the Playoffs with family in Indiana, I had to switch allegiance to the Bears while sitting in the midst of a hotbed of Colts fans.  Oh, the abuse I took!  Go, Bears!

Thanks, as always, to
Dan, Craig K and Mike G for their help in making this chapter readable.