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


Cam was horny.

He had been watching Kevin's muscular back and the boy's chunky, perfectly shaped ass in those Levi 501 cutoffs all afternoon.  The two guys were gutting a house in the stifling heat of late spring in New Orleans, and the little red Levi's tag on Kevin's back pocket kept drawing Cam's eyes to his partner's butt and then to the V-shape of his torso, clad in a ragged wife beater.  Despite the ferocious heat and humidity in the Ninth Ward, Cam had been in a state of semi-arousal during the last hour of their work day, thanks to Kevin.

With Carl, their usual work partner, in court in Monterey, the two of them were working alone at their appointed task.

At Kevin's invitation, Andy Helder had slept in Cam's and Kevin's room the previous night because Kevin thought the boy might be lonely with Carl gone.  The presence of a third person in their room, along with being especially tired from work the day before, had meant they had not made love as they usually did, sometimes even twice.  And getting out of bed a little late that morning meant they didn't do anything when they showered together, either, except to wash one another's back.

Thus, Cam's problem, or his challenge, depending on how you looked at it.

Their workday was nearly over.  Cam muscled a wheelbarrow fully loaded with moldy lath and plaster out the front door and down a plywood path to the curb.  Dumping the implement of its contents and then leaving the wheelbarrow itself at the street for pickup by their group's tool truck, he strolled back into the house.  Progress in gutting these flooded houses would have been faster if wallboard had been used when they had been constructed, but they had been built too early for that.

When Cam came back inside, Kevin was standing by their cooler, face mask pushed up and head tilted back, letting cold water from a bottle pour down his throat.  Dark stubble framed his face.  He lifted his wife beater at the waist and wiped his face, putting his muscled abs on display.  Cam pushed his own mask up and smiled at Kevin as he took a bottle of water for himself out of the cooler, twisted the cap off and drank deeply.

Lowering the bottle, Cam swiped a hand across the sweat on his own brow, flicking it to the floor, and studied his partner some more.  Stepping closer, he rubbed Kevin's ass with his free hand.

"Keep that up, and somethin's gonna happen," Kevin said solemnly, staring into Cam's eyes.

"Really?  Right here and now?"

"Uh huh."

"Why don't you enlighten me," Cam said, putting his water bottle down on the cooler and using his other hand to cup Kevin's package, squeezing gently.  It felt as if there was an immediate reaction down there.  Then Cam stuck his middle finger between the bottom two buttons of Kevin's fly, poked inside and wiggled it around, and pulled it back out before Kevin could do anything about it.

"You've given me wood," Kevin announced.

"That was the plan."

"Oh, man!  What a provocateur you are!" Kevin said.

"I'm a what!?  That's an awfully big word for a dumb jock like you to be throwing around.  Do you even know what it means?"

"It's French for a 'big piece of Scottish shit,'" Kevin told him.

Cam laughed and shook his head in denial.

"What do you want from me, boy?" Kevin demanded, putting an arm around Cam's sweaty torso and pulling him over to nuzzle his nose and kiss him gently on the lips.

"The usual," Cam said.

Kevin grunted, pouring the rest of his cold bottled water over Cam's head and then stepping away quickly behind some interior wall studs for protection.

Cam made a feint in Kevin's direction, making the boy jump.  "That water felt good!" Cam said.  "Thanks, you provocateur!"

Kevin laughed.  "You can't just use my word without permission," he said, watching Cam closely for signs of aggression.

"Provocateur, provocateur, provocateur," Cam told him.

"Say that again, three times, real fast," Kevin taunted him. 
"You can't.  Anyway, just for the record, I'm not a Scot."

"You'll be a Scot by marriage someday."

"'Marriage?'  Will that involve the 'three rings?'" Kevin asked.

"What 'three rings?'"

"The engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffer-ring," Kevin said, laughing.  "Anyway, there won't be any marriage if you don't clean up your act."

"I'm the one who's suffering, you dick!" Cam said, trying not to laugh.

"Whatcha see is whatcha got," Kevin said.  "How about a truce," Kevin suggested.  "Let's collect our shit and get ready to go.  The bus'll be here soon."

Cam nodded, and they began unplugging the cooling fans and winding up the extension cords and collecting their tools and shutting down the electric generator which hummed away outside the front door because the neighborhood still didn't have power.  Anything left at a house overnight would be missing the next day, so they put all their stuff out on the curb, and then returned to the house to get out of the pitiless sun.  They weren't finished harassing each other.

Kevin grabbed Cam and put him in a headlock under his arm as he first swatted and then pinched Cam's butt.  Cam was complaining about it in words Catherine hadn't taught him.  Kevin finally let his partner go, and they stood there together a little warily, looking into one another's eyes.

"You make me crazy, dude!" Kevin said, reaching over and touching his partner's face.  "But I love ya even when you piss me off."

Cam just smiled innocently and continued to look at Kevin.  Lord, the kid was handsome!  And built.  Cam's feelings of love for Kevin were so strong right then that his chest felt tight.  So did his crotch.

Catherine MacKenzie, Yolanda Vega and another lady from their church group had been working inside the shotgun house next door to the two boys.  Pulling a last piece of lath and plaster off the wall of what had been the kitchen, Catherine had watched through the glass-less windows in the buildings as her boys had tormented each other.  She could only see them from the waist up, which was a good thing.  She herself was exhausted, and wondered, as she often did, where her sons found the energy to work so hard in such terrible environmental conditions, and then play games with each other.  Youth! she thought to herself with a smile.

The house where she and her companions were working was almost gutted, and given the heat of the New Orleans day, she had been looking forward to getting on their air conditioned bus and going back to the hotel for a shower.  The cell phone on Catherine's hip began vibrating insistently as she tore another piece of plaster out of the bathroom just off the kitchen.   

Placing the ruined pieces of plaster and lath on a wheelbarrow in the hall, she pushed up her face mask, wiped her forehead and pulled the phone off her hip when it vibrated again.  She saw the call was from Carl Emrick, and answered as quickly as she could.

"This is an unexpected pleasure," she said, smiling into the phone.

"Hi, Catherine," Carl said.  "Uh, there's a problem out here."

She felt those words in the pit of her stomach.  "What's wrong, Carl?"

"Ian's been shot."

Catherine's stomach really turned over at that juncture, and she stood silent for a long moment, her legs feeling weak.  "How bad is it?" she finally asked when her senses returned.

"He was hit in the shoulder."  Carl swallowed hard.  "Somehow my father got a gun into the courtroom and fired it.  He was aiming for me, and Ian pushed me behind him."

Catherine had more questions, but was too shocked for the moment to ask them.

"The EMT's are here," Carl told her.

"Where are they taking him?"

"I'll call and let you know.  I gotta go.  Will you break the news to Mary and Yolanda and the boys?"

"Yes.  Yolanda is here with me, and Mary's back at the hotel watching Casey." Catherine said.

"OK," Carl acknowledged.  "Sorry to put this on you.  But Ian'll be all right," the boy said, trying to remain positive in the midst of his own fear and anxiety.

"Thank you, sweetheart.  Keep your phone turned on," Catherine instructed him.  "Mary will want to talk to you."

"I will. 
Let Father Jim know what happened, too, will you?" Carl said.


The connection was broken.

Catherine debated whether to tell Yolanda and call Mary immediately, but decided not to.  She wanted everybody who needed to know to be together when she broke the news so she didn't have to say it more than once.

Flipping her phone shut, Catherine re-clipped it to the belt of her jeans, and reminded her two co-workers that they needed to pick up their tools so they could put them on the street before the bus and tool truck came.

"Boys!" she called through the gaping window over to Kevin and Cam, who were standing next door drinking more water.  They looked over at her.  "Are you ready to go?"

"Yes, Mommy," Cam told her, grinning at her, glad the workday was over.  He and Kevin walked over next door, went inside, and stood in front of her.

"You want a hug?" Kevin, glistening with sweat, asked her, holding out his arms out wide for an embrace.

"Later," Catherine said, looking serious.

"What's the matter?" Cam asked.

"I'll tell you when we get back to the hotel," Catherine said.

"Common, Mommy," Cam said.  "You told me once we're not supposed to have any secrets from each other."

"That's right," Kevin said.

"I take back what I said," Catherine said.

The horns on the bus and the tool truck sounded just then, cutting short the discussion.  Kevin and Cam picked up the women's tool boxes, and they all headed outside toward the vehicles.

*  *  *

All hell had broken loose in Judge McDowell's courtroom as gunshots had been exchanged by Walter Emrick and Captain Ridenour.  Time had seemed to come to a stop for Carl as the boy had eased Ian Carson to the floor.  Walter Emrick had also fallen to the floor, dead instantly from a shot in the heart and one to the head from Captain Ridenour's gun.  A bailiff, someone who obviously had had some police training, walked quickly over to Emrick's body and kicked the man's gun away.  He knelt and checked for a pulse, but there was none.  Another bailiff pulled out his cell phone, turned it on, and dialed 911.

Judge McDowell was still sitting at the bench stunned.  Finally coming out of his confused state, he reconvened the court and declared a mistrial on his own motion without waiting for motions from the attorneys.  Then he dismissed the jury.  The latter left quickly out the back door of the courtroom, most of them taking a last look at Ian where he was stretched out on the floor.  Carrying her shorthand machine, the lady court reporter followed closely behind the judge as the two of them left.

Carl took a clean handkerchief out of his pants pocket, folded it over, and pressed it against Ian's chest as he cradled the man's head in his other hand.  Ian opened his eyes as the circle of blood continued to widen over his wound.   His face was gray.

"It's just a scratch," he told Carl.

"Yeah, right," the boy said, holding his foster father gently and trying not to lose it.
  Tom Ridenour joined Carl as they crouched over Ian's inert frame.

"I saw what you did for Carl," Ridenour told the lawyer.  "One more unselfish act like that, and they're gonna throw you out of the bar association."
Ian tried to laugh, stopping abruptly as severe pain wracked his shoulder.

The EMT's arrived quickly, and Carl and Tom Ridenour moved back so they would have room to work.  They quickly removed Ian's tie and suit coat, handing them to Carl, and scissored open Ian's shirt and undershirt.  Blood was oozing from the wound just below the Ian's shoulder, but there was no spurting which would have suggested that a major artery had been hit.  One of the EMTs went over to Walter Emrick's body and checked for vitals, finding none, and the man turned around and went back to Ian.

The EMTs put a compress on Ian's chest just under his right clavicle.  Lowering their gurney to the floor beside their patient, they placed him on the conveyance and raised it to normal height.  Then they hooked up a saline drip and began to roll him out of the courtroom and into the main hall.  Press cameras began to flash as Carl and Ridenour followed along with the gurney, Carl holding Ian's hand and carrying his foster father's suit coat, tie and briefcase.  Crowds of people in the hallway gawked at the procession as Ian was rolled down the corridor and out into the parking lot.  The EMTs moved toward the ambulance.

When they reached it, one of the EMTs looked at Carl.  "Who are you?" the man demanded.

"His son.  I'm going with him," Carl said.

"I want to go to San Francisco General," Ian interjected weakly.

"We're not going all the way into San Francisco, sir," the senior EMT guy said emphatically.

"Then I'm not going with you!" Ian said.  "You roll me over to that helicopter in back of the courthouse."  Nobody moved.  "I mean now!"

"You could die," the senior EMT man said.

"Oh, bullshit!" Ian said
, breaking his rule of never using profanity in front of his children.  "You know better than that.  Let's go!"

"I'll be in touch, Ian," Tom Ridenour said.

"All right," Ian said.  "Thanks, Tom."

The EMTs reached the helicopter, and helped Ian into the machine.  They put him in the back seat, reclining somewhat against the side wall, with the saline bag hanging on a recessed hook above him.  The senior EMT climbed inside and made Ian sign a medical release before jumping back down to the pavement.  At the last minute, after the EMTs had conferred, it was decided that the younger of them would go in the helicopter to San Francisco General with their patient.

Carl climbed aboard into the front seat with the pilot, and the EMT sat in back with Ian to monitor his condition.  The EMT and Carl put on earphones with a mic, and the EMT put headphones on Ian, too.  The pilot fired up the 'copter.  After a warm-up, the pilot got on the radio and let his home office know he was flying to San Francisco with a medical emergency, and they lifted off as the crowds of police and civilians watched them ascend through narrowed eyes as the dust and debris blew around.  Once in flight, the EMT had the pilot get on the radio to the emergency room at San Francisco General.

"Who did you call back in the courtroom?" Ian asked Carl on the intercom as they moved toward the city.

"Catherine.  She's going to let Mary and Yolanda and the boys know what happened."

"All right," Ian said, and shut his eyes again.

"Are you hurting?" Carl asked.

"Not bad," Ian said.  His wound hurt like hell, and Carl knew he was lying.

"Can't you give him something for the pain?" Carl asked the young EMT.

"I can't without a doctor's order," the guy said.  "We'll be at the hospital in a few minutes."

Carl turned in his seat, reached back and took Ian's hand, holding it gently.  "Thank you for saving my life," he told Ian quietly on the intercom.  "Y'know, the day you and your family met me turns out to have been the worst day of your life."

Ian opened his eyes and looked at Carl.  "No, Carl, one of our best days," he contradicted him, and closed his eyes again.

Carl faced forward again so Ian couldn't see him and began to weep silently, the tears again running down his cheeks.  He began to pray silently for his foster father, and thought about how generous Ian and Mary and their two sons had been to him and Dan.  He and his brother had truly become a part of the Carson family, and formed a relationship with them that Carl had never had even with his own family, including when his mother was still alive.  Carl knew well that Ian and Mary's care of him had literally saved his life after he had gone into a depression after his father had raped him.  He owed them everything, and now circumstances, because of him, had put this man's life in danger.

They landed twenty minutes later on the helicopter pad, marked with a huge cross, at San Francisco General Hospital.  The pilot cut the engine, and an emergency room crew rolled a gurney out to the 'copter when the blades began to slow.  Working together with the EMT, they helped Ian out of their bird and down on to the litter.

Ian raised his hand and beckoned to the pilot, who scrambled down out of the helicopter and walked over to him.

"Take the EMT back to Monterey, and then we're finished for the day," he told the man.  "Your office has my billing address."

"Thank you, sir.  Good luck to you," the pilot said.

They were rolling the gurney into the elevator, Carl again at Ian's side, when the blades on the helicopter began to revolve once more.  The bird began to lift just as the elevator doors closed smoothly.  Ian looked up at a young emergency room physician.

"Doctor, please page Doctor Suthon to come down to the emergency room right away," he said.  "Tell him it's for Ian Carson."

"Yes, sir, I will when we get downstairs."

"Thank you," Ian said.

Once in the emergency room, staff rolled Ian into a treatment room after getting some rudimentary personal information from him.  Carl sat down in the waiting room, resting his head against the wall, and said another prayer for Ian.  Short on sleep, he drifted off, to be awakened thirty minutes later by a hand on his shoulder.

"You're Carl Emrick, aren't you?" an older doctor in a long white coat asked him.  "I remember you."

Carl stood up, putting Ian's coat and tie down on the seat he had just vacated.

"Yes, sir," he said.

"I'm Doctor Suthon," the man reminded him, extending his hand.
  "Ian Carson asked me to come out and talk to you."

"Please give me some good news," Carl said.

"Well, I do have good news for you," Suthon said.  "The round that Ian took in his shoulder did no permanent damage.  We've removed the bullet and dressed the wound.  I'm going to admit him for the night, and he can probably be discharged tomorrow."

"Thank God!" Carl said.  "Can I see him?"

"We'll take him upstairs in a few minutes.  You can ask the front desk here in the emergency room for his room number and go on up in about thirty minutes."

"Thank you."

"Will you be in touch with Mary Carson about Ian's condition?" the doctor asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Give her my regards, please, when you talk to her.  Tell her we're taking good care of Ian."

"I will."

Carl waited for a half hour, and then went to the emergency room desk.

"Dr. Suthon said I could get the room number for Ian Carson from you."

The nurse held up a finger, and then typed into her computer.  Writing on a scratch pad, she tore off a sheet and gave it to Carl.  "He'll be in E605, in the east wing," she said with a smile.  "Go down this hall to the second bank of elevators on your left, and go to the sixth floor.  There'll be arrows directing you to his room."

"Thank you."  Carl took the piece of paper, and started down the hall.  He still had Ian's suit coat and tie, and it dawned on him that he probably didn't need to be carrying them around.  The suit coat had a bullet hole in it, and the tie was stained with blood.  He continued to carry them, though.  Ian could throw them away if he wanted to.  He found the bank of elevators he was looking for, got on a waiting car, and punched "6."  The elevator was fast, and a few seconds later he was following the signs and walking down the hall toward Ian's room.  It was a single VIP room, with nice touches when it came to furniture and pictures on the walls.  He knocked on the open door, and from his bed Ian motioned for Carl to come in.

Ian was now dressed in a hospital gown, in bed, and the contents of an IV was dripping into each arm.  The color had returned to his face.

"Hey, buddy, you all right?" Ian asked the boy, giving him a smile.

"I'm good," Carl said.  He went to his foster father and bent down and kissed him on the forehead, and then pulled up a chair next to the bed and sat down.  "And you're looking better."

"I'm feeling better," Ian said.  "I see you have my suit coat and tie.  Alert Savile Row that there'll be a new order coming."

Carl laughed.

"You can probably throw them away, or give them to Mary when we see her, and she can do it."

"Okay," Carl said, laying Ian's apparel on another chair.  He cleared his throat before speaking.  "I said this before, but you saved my life.  Again.  It was my physical life this time, that's the only difference.  My head comes right to your shoulder when we're standing up, and Dad's shot would have blown my brains out if you hadn't pushed me behind you."

"Well..."  Ian looked at his foster son.  "I'm sorry you had to see what happened today," he told the boy, reaching for his hand.

"Whaddaya mean?" Carl asked.

"Violence begets violence," Ian said.  "I've always believed in the rule of law.  That's why we have courts.  Your dad was very wrong in what he did to you when he assaulted you, and in what he did today.  But he was still your father, and I'm sorry he was killed, and especially that you had to see it.  Captain Ridenour did what he's trained to do, and was justified in doing so, but I wish your dad had lived through the trial, been convicted and had had time to think about his own life and his actions when he went to jail, hopefully for a long time.  This was too easy for him."

Carl continued looking at him, saying nothing.

"Looking ahead, what would you think about having a few follow-up sessions with Dr. Amanda Smith at St. Francis when we all get back to San Rafael?" Ian asked.  "Just to talk about things.  Before you go to L.A. for school."

"I don't think I need to," Carl said.  "Why are you thinking about me right now, anyway?  You have other things to worry about."

"You saw your father killed right in front of you, Carl.  You--and Dan, too--have had to give up so much of your lives in such a short time.  I just want to make sure that you're going to be able to let go of what happened today.  I don't want you waking up in the middle of the night when you're my age, still haunted by replaying in your head what you saw."

"Well, if you think I should see Dr. Smith again, I won't fight you," Carl said.

"It won't hurt to do it," Ian said, trying to encourage him.  "There's time before you move south for school."

"All right."

"We need to get you a hotel room for tonight," Ian said.  "Get a credit card out my wallet.  It's in the bag with my personal effects in it."

"I want to stay here with you."

"They won't let you.  Get my credit card and call the Ritz-Carlton on Union Square.  Make a reservation for two nights.  For a two bedroom suite.  You stay there tonight, and we'll stay there tomorrow night with Mary when she makes it into town.  There's a phone book over there on the table."

"Yes, sir."

*  *  *

Catherine MacKenzie stood in the lobby with Yolanda, and they gathered the MacKenzie-Carson clan together with Father Mason as everybody straggled off their bus.  She'd called Mary Carson, who had been baby-sitting Casey, on the phone before they arrived back at the hotel, so she was in the lobby, too, with the baby.  Kevin took the child and held him.  Casey was in a happy mood, as usual.  A curious Andy Helder stood watching the group at a little distance.

"I have some news from Monterey," Catherine told the group, her eyes focused on Mary Carson.  "Carl called.  Something happened in the courtroom earlier."  She hesitated, searching for the right words, and then just came right out with it.  "Walter Emrick somehow got a gun into the courtroom, and tried to shoot Carl.  Ian interposed himself between them, and was shot in the shoulder.  He's going to be all right.  The EMTs had already arrived at the courthouse when Carl called.  Captain Ridenour shot Mr. Emrick, and he's dead."

Father Mason put an arm around Mary to steady her as she looked stunned and began to tremble, and Yolanda went to her.

"Shit," William Carson said softly, staring down at the floor.  His brother Mark looked numb, and Dan Emrick put a hand on the back of the boy's neck.  Andy Helder was agitated, and put an arm across Dan's shoulders.

"Is Carl all right?" Cam asked Catherine.

"Yes," Catherine said.  "He said he was, anyway."

After Mary and the others regained their composure, Father Mason asked them all to stand in a circle, hand in hand, so they could offer a prayer for Ian.  Still a little numb, they did so.

"Heavenly Father," the priest said.  "We lift our voice to thank you for your kindness and care, especially for those who love you.  We thank you for your protection for Ian in sparing his life, and ask you for your healing power as he begins to recover.  We join the pain and suffering of all human beings to that of your Son at his crucifixion, and offer it up to you so that it may be transformed into grace for us by the risen Lord.  Father, we also pray for Carl and Dan in their loss, and continue to ask on behalf of all your children that you give us the vision to know your will and the strength to carry it out.  Heal Ian, heal Carl and Dan, and heal us, we pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord."


Cam and Kevin went to Mary.  They didn't say anything to her, each of them just giving her a hug and kiss and then letting others comfort her with their words.

Mary went to Dan Emrick after the prayer after the crowd thinned, and gave him a hug.  "Are you all right?" she asked in his ear.

"I don't know," Dan said.

"Let's talk later," Father Mason suggested to Dan.  The boy nodded.

When the crowd around Mary and Dan had gone, Mary turned to Father Mason.  "I need to get to San Francisco as soon as I can," she said.

"Come on, lets get on a computer," the priest suggested, taking her hand and leading her away.  "Are you going to take the kids with you?"

"No, I don't think so," Mary said.  "There's nothing they can do, and it will leave you shorthanded for the work here.  They'll be leaving here in a couple of days to go home, anyway."

"Don't worry about leaving us shorthanded," Mason said.  "We're a little ahead of schedule, believe it or not.  But it's up to you."

"They'll stay here," Mary decided.

The two of them ducked into an alcove in the lobby, fired up a computer there, and pointed and clicked their way to a travel site.

Cam and Kevin joined Andy Helder and Dan Emrick, Kevin still carrying Casey in his arms.

"You guys okay?" Cam asked the boys, putting an arm over Dan's shoulders and looking down into his face.

"Yes," Dan said.  "Ian's going to be all right, and Carl's not hurt."

"You guys wanna come up to our room?" Cam asked.

"I'm gonna take a shower in my room and take a little nap right now," Andy said.  "Thanks, though."  Dan just shook his head in the negative.

"We'll catch you guys later, then," Kevin said, secretly glad that he and Cam would have some alone-time in their room if Casey cooperated and took a nap.

Casey was squirming right then, so Kevin put him down on his own two feet, holding his hand.  The five of them caught an elevator together and went upstairs to their respective floors, leaving the rest of the crew to do their thing.

Mary, waiting for the computer travel site to come up with some information on plane schedules, was dialing up Carl Emrick's cell phone to talk to Ian as the priest watched her with concern in his eyes.  Carl's line was busy right then.

*  *  *

"Okay, that's done," Carl said after he made his hotel reservation.  "Listen, don't you think we should call Mary now?"

"I'm dreading it, but you're right.  We'd better get it over with.  May I use your phone?"

Carl had just pulled his phone off his belt to give it to Ian when it began to ring.  He glanced at the screen to see who was calling.

"Mary's calling you," he said, snapping the phone open with a flip of his wrist and handing it to Ian.

"Hello, sweetheart," Ian said.

"You scare the life out of me sometimes," Mary Carson said.

"I'm fine," Ian told her.  "It's just a scratch."

"Why don't I believe that?" Mary said.  "Where are you?"

"At San Francisco General," Ian said.

Carl stood up and walked out of the room into the hall to give Ian some privacy for his conversation just as Ian began to hear Mary weep.

"No matter what I do, I can't keep you out of trouble!" Mary said.  "You're going to be the death of me yet!"

"Don't cry, sweetheart.  And don't be angry with me.   Tom Ridenour shot Walter Emrick, so Carl and Dan should be safe from now on.  And I'm going to be all right."

"What about the person Emrick hired to do his dirty work?" Mary asked.  "Berto's uncle, if that's who he is."

"I think we can assume that when the money stops, and it has, so will Alejandro Hernandez.  We're all going to be in good shape from now on."

"All right," Mary said.  "Listen, I'll either catch a plane tonight, if I can, or the red eye in the morning.  I'll let you know by bedtime.  I'm going to let the boys stay here to finish their work."

"The hospital is supposed to release me tomorrow.  I'm sending Carl to the Ritz-Carlton tonight.  It's a two bedroom suite.  If you get in tonight, you can stay there, too, and we can all stay there tomorrow night.  They may release me in the morning.  Call Carl's phone whenever you get into the airport, and he'll let you know where I am."

"All right," Mary said, feeling a little better after hearing Ian's voice.  "I love you, sweetheart."

"I love you more than I can tell you," Ian said.  "Hurry home.  I miss you."

They broke the connection, and Carl returned in a few minutes.  There was now a San Francisco police officer sitting at the door of Ian's room.

"There's a police officer at the door," Carl said.

"What's that all about?" Ian asked.  "Ask him to come in."

The officer came in and explained that a CHiP administrator had asked the San Francisco chief for protection while Ian was in the hospital.  Ian thanked him, and the man returned to his chair in the corridor.

Ian turned on the TV on the wall, and every station was breaking into regular programming with an account of what had happened in the Monterey courthouse.  One enterprising reporter had camera footage of Ian being wheeled from the helicopter to the elevator at San Francisco General, Carl at his side.

"You're famous!" Carl kidded his foster father.

"Carl," Ian said, changing the subject, "we're going to have to find out about your father's will when we have a chance."

The boy shrugged his shoulders.  "Whatever."

Ian didn't press the matter.

They had been watching TV for about an hour when there was a knock at the door.  The policeman poked his head inside, and told them that there was a priest in the hall who wanted to come in.  Ian motioned for the officer to let him in.  To their surprise, it was Father Blackburn from St. Andrew's in San Rafael, bearing gifts:  oil for healing and Holy Communion.  Ian turned off the TV.

"Father Mason called me, Mr. Carson, and told me what had happened to you and Carl," the priest said.  "Hello, Carl."

"Hello, Father," Ian and Carl said in unison.

The priest made a place for his home communion set on Ian's bedside table and put it down.

"Father, thank you for coming into town," Ian said.  "But I'm fine.  We're fine."

"I'm relieved to hear that," Blackburn said.  "But we try to take care of our people," he added, handing Ian and Carl each a little book with the applicable rites in it.

"Peace be to this place, and to all who dwell in it," the priest continued after putting on a purple stole and taking an oil stock out of his pocket.  He stepped up to Ian's bed and dipped his thumb into the stock, moistening it with oil.

"I anoint you with oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," he said as he traced the sign of the cross on Ian's forehead, "asking the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that all your pain and suffering of body, soul and spirit being put to flight, the blessing of health may be restored to you."

"Amen,"  Ian and Carl said.

Then to Carl's surprise, the priest anointed him as well.

They followed up with the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary.

Blackburn then moved into the house Communion rite, finally communicating them both with already consecrated bread from the church, and then closing with a blessing.

"I can't thank you enough, Father," Ian told the priest as the man folded up his communion stole and put it in his pocket.  "This was a real lift for me.  And for Carl."

"It's a privilege," Father Blackburn said.  He turned to the boy.  "Are you doing all right, Carl?"

"I think so," Carl said.

"Please call Father Jim or me if we can be of any help," Blackburn told Carl.  "You, too, Ian.  We're available to you both."

Ian nodded.

"Thank you, Father," Carl said.  "I'm going to talk with Dr. Smith at St. Francis after we get home."

"That's a good idea, I think," Blackburn said.

"Can you stay for a minute?" Ian asked the priest.  "Have a seat."

"Just for a minute," Father Blackburn said, sitting down.  "When will you be released from the hospital?" he asked Ian.

"Tomorrow.  In the morning, I hope," Ian said.  "Mary is joining us tonight or tomorrow morning from New Orleans."

"Good.  Speaking of New Orleans, how was your experience there?" Blackburn asked.

"It was great," Ian said.  "The priests and people at St. Thomas' church are fantastic, and treated us so well!  The work gutting houses was pretty challenging in that heat and humidity, but very worthwhile.  It was a wonderful experience, all things considered, and everybody who went bonded in a way we never would have unless we'd taken the trip together.  You and Father Jim deserve a lot of credit for putting everything together."

They talked for a few more minutes, and then Father Blackburn took his leave after blessing Ian and Carl again.

*  *  *

Cam and Kevin walked Casey down the long hall from the elevator to their bedroom, Casey between them clinging tightly to their hands.  Casey's physical and mental skills were growing apace, and the two boys were enjoying watching the child's newfound maturity and confidence.  At the same time, Cam and Kevin were well aware that each new skill would make the baby's care and supervision more demanding.  That came with the territory, Cam thought to himself as he scooped the child up at the door of their room and carried him inside.

"I'll watch him if you want to shower first," Cam offered as he put Casey on the spare bed and sat down beside him.

"Thanks, man," Kevin said, bending down to kiss Cam on top of his prickly, crewcutted head.

Cam hungrily watched his partner strip off his dirty, sweaty clothes, admiring the boy's body as Kevin became naked.  Kevin grinned at him, knowing exactly what Cam was thinking.

"Horndog," Kevin told him, wiggling his butt at his partner as he went into the bathroom and turned on the shower.

Cam smirked.

"Did that walk tire you out?" Cam asked the child, leaning over to look at his face.

"Goom!" Casey said.

"That's what I thought," Cam told him.  "Same to you, buddy!"

"Moo," Casey said, and seemed to be settling down for a nap.  If they were lucky, Mary Carson had kept him awake for a good part of the afternoon so he'd be sleepy.  Cam pulled some kleenex from a box between the beds, and wiped some spittle from around the child's mouth, then lofted the wad in a perfect arc into a wastebasket beside their chest of drawers.  Cam raised his arms and mimicked the sound of an appreciative sports crowd.

"What a jock you are!" Cam told himself with a smile.  He lay down and curled his body around the baby on the bed, gratefully shutting his eyes for a few moments while the shower in the bathroom continued to run.  He dozed off.  The next thing he knew, Kevin was standing over him with a towel around his waist, his skin still shiny damp.  Cam grabbed hold of the towel, gave it a jerk, and it fell at Kevin's feet.

"Hey!" Kevin said, grinning appreciatively about that.  He was never shy about his body.

Saying nothing, Cam reached up and grasped Kevin's penis gently, rubbing his thumb over the head of it, all the time staring into his partner's eyes.  Kevin continued to smile as his dick responded almost immediately by plumping up.

By that time Casey had shut his eyes and was breathing softly and evenly where he lay on the bed.

Cam sat up, reached around and cupped Kevin's ass, pulling him closer to the bed while running his middle finger into the crack of Kevin's buttocks.  Looking up from where he sat, Cam kissed his abs and admired his boy's tight, muscular chest.  In fact, every muscle in Kevin's body looked as if it had been singled out in the gym and lovingly worked to perfection, all without giving the boy an overly developed, gym-rat look. 

Kevin finally pulled Cam up off the bed and into his arms, pressing into him.  They stood there holding each other, Cam rubbing his nose in Kevin's damp crew cut and inhaling the lingering smell of shampoo which didn't quite mask the scent of Kevin's hair.  It was a peaceful and loving moment for them.

"Take a shower," Kevin finally breathed into his partner's ear, reaching around and popping him on the butt.  Cam reluctantly let go of the embrace, stepped back and quickly stripping off, walked toward the bathroom.  Kevin gave the globes of the boy's tight ass and the long muscles of his back and legs his undivided attention.

Cam disappeared, and Kevin turned his head back to look down at the baby, and shook his head at how much he cared for this child and for his partner.   Stretching out naked on the bed beside Casey he shut his eyes for moment and dozed as Cam had done.  He was startled awake fifteen minutes later when a drop of water hit his face, and there was Cam, now standing over him and toweling off his lanky body.  Kevin studied his partner's crotch and looked up at the boy's abs and pecs.  Cam was more willowy than he was, but the boy was fucking beautiful, he thought to himself.  Just fucking beautiful!

"It looks like Casey's crashed for the moment," Kevin pointed out.  He stood up, and after reconnoitering, piled pillows and folded blankets around the baby on the spare bed so he couldn't roll on to the floor.  "How about a nap?" Kevin asked Cam.

"'Nap?'  Is that today's euphemism for sex?"  Cam dropped his towel to the floor and reached over and rolled Kevin's nipples between his finger tips, pinching them gently.

"Maybe," Kevin responded, moving to the other bed and pulling the bedspread down.  His dick was starting to stand to attention as he flopped on to the bed on his back and held open his arms for Cam.  Kevin's eyes were happy and sex hungry.

Cam didn't keep him waiting, and lay down full out on Kevin after taking lubricant from a drawer in the bedside table and putting it within reach.  Poised on Kevin's body, Cam lowered his face and kissed his partner gently on the mouth at first, then more vigorously, their tongues probing, foreshadowing the union they would soon enjoy.

"You're my life, bud," Kevin told Cam softly, reaching up to caress his face.  It wasn't Kevin's usual thing to throw around endearments, even at intimate moments, and Cam got a lump in his throat and briefly teared up as he stared down into his partner's deep brown, almost black, eyes.  Raising up, he brushed back Kevin's hair from his forehead, kissed the side of his neck, and then reached down repeatedly to graze Kevin's pecs and abs with his fingertips, knowing the boy was really turned on.  Cam rolled onto his side, and moved his hand down to hold Kevin's cock, which was now fully erect and pulsing with every beat of his heart.  A drop of precum greased Cam's thumb as he massaged Kevin's crown and slit, and then he slowly stroked the length of Kevin's penis a few times in his fist.

"Oh yeah," Kevin breathed, reaching around to hold the cheeks of Cam's ass.  "Do me," Kevin told his lover softly as he bent his own legs and pulled them toward his head.  Before reaching for the lube, Cam moved his own head between his boy's legs.  He gently kissed and licked the insides of Kevin's thighs, and then used his tongue to lave the underside of Kevin's dick where it lay up hard on his abs, gently sucking the head of it, then licking the boy's big balls, and finally his pucker.  Kevin groaned with pleasure, and another drop of precum appeared at the end of his cock.

Removing the cap on the lube, Cam put the nipple inside Kevin's hole, and squeezed the tube gently.  Using first one and then two fingers, Cam probed and opened Kevin up.

"Oh yeah," Kevin said again as Cam lubed around his partner's anus and then his own penis.  Placing the tube back on to the bedside table, Cam grasped his dick, now hard as steel, and pressed the head of it on to Kevin's hole, and very carefully, very gradually moved inside the boy's warm, dark place.  Once inside, Cam stopped advancing, and they both relaxed for a moment as Kevin gradually accommodated the welcome invader.  Cam leaned down to kiss his partner, and then moved inside the boy right to the hilt.

Kevin lowered his legs to lock them around Cam's back, looking happy to be where he was and doing what they were doing.  Cam began to pump slowly, watching Kevin's face for any sign of discomfort as the boy used his legs to pull Cam into him as fully as possible with each stroke and then relax them for a partial withdrawal.  Cam let the weight of his torso rest completely on Kevin as he slid up and down on his partner's body, providing the friction to stimulate Kevin's leaking cock lying between them as he pumped his hips.  They both began to perspire copiously, making the mechanics of their union even more pleasing as their sweat ran down their bodies and on to the bed sheets.  Cam put his nose to the skin of Kevin's neck just under his jaw line and then to the fine black hairs of his chest now wet with sweat, and was further stimulated by the boy's wholesome male smell.

They weren't in any hurry, and Cam speeded up and then slowed down repeatedly, saving himself, making it last.  After many minutes, though, Kevin was so turned on that he began to try to bring Cam to climax.  He put his hand in Cam's crack and inserted a middle finger into his hole to the first knuckle as the boy continued to pump him.  Both of them were groaning when the end came, shooting together again and again until they were emptied.  Cam collapsed on top of Kevin in the "little death," but his dick remained hard and planted inside his partner.  Neither of them moved for a long time.

Cam finally detached himself and rolled on to his side.  He looked into Kevin's face, the latter's eyes closed by then, and scooped up a dollop of his boy's semen on a finger from the puddle on Kevin's abs.  He tasted it.  Sweet!!  It was sweet in every way that word could be used.  It was unmistakably Kevin's essence, and Cam loved it.

Leaning in, Cam kissed Kevin softly on the mouth, and in its way the act was as intense and intimate as their raw, vigorous sexual union had been a few minutes before.  There was both tenderness and quiet passion in it.  It was the kiss of lovers.

Cam used Kevin's chest as a pillow, and for the moment, at least, they slept the sleep of the just and the satisfied.

*  *  *

Between Mary Carson and Father Jim, they managed to get Mary's plane reservation for later that week to California rescheduled to the last flight leaving New Orleans that night.  William and Mark and Dan all felt as if they should go back, too, but Mary persuaded them that there was nothing they could do for Ian at that point, and that they were still needed for a few days in the Ninth Ward to finish up their project.  Mark was especially insistent that he go back to see his dad, but eventually gave in.

Although the boys had reluctantly acquiesced to Mary's wishes, they did insist on riding out to the airport with Father Jim to see their mother off.  Father Jim had talked the night manager at the hotel into taking them out to Louis Armstrong Airport in the hotel van.  The airport was deserted as Mary checked in and boarded the plane after kissing the boys and getting a hug from Father Jim.  She was especially worried about Dan Emrick because of his father's death under such terrible circumstances.

"I'll take good care of the guys," the priest had promised her.  "Assure Ian of our prayers, and pass on my blessing."

"Thank you for everything, Father."  Mary walked away carrying one bag and her computer, looking drained by the terrible news from California.  She was one strong woman, though.  The priest and the boys stood watching her until she could be seen no longer, and then headed back outside to the van.  Dan Emrick fell asleep against William on the way back into town, and Father Jim noticed that "macho boy" cradled Dan as if he were his own child.  Mason marveled anew at what a wonderful extended family these people had formed.  The world, including many in the Christian Church, could learn something about kindness and love from them.

Mary thought about Ian all the way to San Francisco.  Their life had been so perfect, at least until recently, and their sons truly were good boys.  She knew so many people, friends of Ian's and hers, whose marriages were sad caricatures of what a marriage should be, and whose children were deeply troubled and in trouble.  Considering what might well have happened to Ian in Monterey, she thanked God that he had sustained only a minor wound.  All things considered, she had no complaints and many satisfactions in her life.  She certainly didn't blame her foster children for the drastic turn her family's existence had taken recently, and vowed to make doubly certain that they were loved and cared for, and that that aspect of Ian's and her relationship with them would never wane or change.

She arrived at San Francisco International at 2 a.m., and immediately called Carl's cell phone.  He answered right away.

"Carl, it's Mary.  I'm here.  Are you at the Ritz?"

"Yes," Carl said.  "Are you catching a cab?

"Yes.  I should be in town in about thirty minutes.  There isn't a lot of traffic at this time of night."

"Okay," Carl said.  "I'm in Suite 708."

"All right, sweetheart.  I'll see you soon."

Carl looked at his cell phone after he snapped it shut.  He hadn't had a chance to call Andy Helder.  No, he knew deep down that wasn't true.  He had been too upset to call him, and he needed to.  Despite the ungodly hour, he brought up his directory and selected Andy's number.

Andy's phone rang three times in New Orleans before he answered it.  The boy sounded out of it.


"Andy?  I'm sorry I haven't called you before now," Carl said.  "I know it's late..."

Andy woke up fast.  "That's all right," he said.

"You heard what happened?"

"Yes.  I'm sorry, Carl.  I wish there was something I could do."

"Yeah."  Carl paused.  "I wish I was with you right now."

"Me, too," Andy said.  "We'll only be here in New Orleans a few more days," he reminded Carl.  "Are you coming back here before we leave here?"

"No.  I don't think so."

"How is Mr. Carson?"

"He's doing fine," Carl said.  "He's going to get out of the hospital tomorrow."

"Are you going back home to San Rafael then?"

"I'm not sure."

"I miss you," Andy said shyly.

Carl smiled.  "Same here."

"Uh, are you okay about your dad?"

"I don't know," Carl said, not wanting to get into it right then.  "We'll talk when you get home."

"All right."

"I love ya, man," Carl said.  He didn't feel tentative about that at all.

And that made Andy feel good.  "Same here.  I can't wait to see you."

"Good," Carl said, smiling.  "I'll talk to you tomorrow."


They broke the connection.

Mary was as good as her word about getting into town fast, and Carl heard a knock on the door of their suite about thirty minutes later.  He threw on a robe and let her in.  She put down her bag and her computer on a chair, and enveloped Carl in a long hug, and kissed him on the cheek.

"I'm sorry about your dad," she told him.

To Mary's and to Carl's own surprise, he began to weep in her arms.  For some reason, he hadn't been able to do that in front of Ian.  The strain of the day and the finality of his father's death had finally gotten to him.

"I know you're grieving for him, in spite of what he did to you, Carl," Mary said softly.  "But we'll all work through it together with you and Dan."

©2007 Don Hanratty

Thanks for your patience in waiting for this chapter.  In the near future, there will be one more chapter which will largely center on the move to L.A. by Cam, Kevin, Casey and Carl for school.  The story will then pick up after a hiatus as the boys face the challenges of college life.

My thanks, as always, to Dan, Craig K. and Mike G. for their help with proofing and editing.