Linda Kosco sat down gratefully in an easy chair in the living room of her little apartment off the foyer of Matt's and Mike's condo. She and Stan had been studying together in Stan's room in preparation for their next day's classes. Between keeping up in school and her duties maintaining the condo in reasonable shape, as usual it had been a long day. She was tired.
She hit the remote to turn on her TV and the VCR, and ran the VCR tape back so she could watch her favorite soap opera, recorded earlier at 2:00 that afternoon. The tape stopped running, and she hit the "play" button. Slouching down a bit in her chair, she watched the screen as the highlights from the previous day's episode replayed to give viewers some continuity. Just as the current day's scenes began flashing on the screen, an informational bulletin began crawling across the bottom of the TV picture.
"FORMER GOVERNOR OF CONNECTICUT SENTENCED FOR PERJURY, CONSPIRACY AND OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. STORY AT 6 AND 10 P.M."
Stopping the tape, she bounded out of her chair and walked quickly from her apartment to the Matt's and Mike's den, where both of the guys were studying.
"Sorry to bother you," she said to them as she stuck her head in the door, "but you'll probably want to turn on the news at 10 o'clock."
Their heads snapped up from their books.
"'Sup?" Mike asked.
"The TV says Governor Bradford was sentenced early this afternoon in Connecticut, but they didn't give any details. Channel 7."
Matt and Mike looked at each other, and Matt glanced at the wall clock. It was 9:55.
"Thanks, Linda. We'll check it out," Matt said.
" 'K," she said, and headed back to her apartment.
"Should we say something to Mary?" Mike asked his partner.
"I'm not sure," Matt said indecisively, thinking about it for a minute. "Yeah, I guess we should."
"I'll do it," Mike said, getting up from the couch and stretching. "I don't know how she'll take it. Maybe we should all watch it together."
"Good idea. Ask her to sit with us."
"Yep," Mike said as he went into the hall and headed for Mary's room. He and Mary returned a few minutes later, Mary looking stricken.
Matt stood up and embraced her.
"Did Mike tell you?" he asked.
She nodded mutely.
"I thought we should watch this together," Matt said. "It won't be the best news we've ever heard, I'm sure."
"Well, we knew this day would come, Matt," Mary said. "Let's just remember that Bill made his choices. Nobody forced him to do what he did, even if he wasn't in the best of health at the time. The statement you submitted to the court strongly supported mitigation of sentence, so let's see what the judge decided. You don't have anything to feel bad about, sweetheart, so don't you dare feel guilty about this!"
The three of them sat down together on the couch, Mary in the middle. Matt held her hand.
The talking heads came on screen, and one of them led off with the Bradford story.
"Our top story tonight is the sentencing of the former Governor of Connecticut for his role in having the oldest son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Matthew Broman, Sr., falsely charged with smuggling cocaine into the state with the intent to sell. Twenty-five year old Matthew Broman, Jr., was tried earlier in the Summer and was acquitted when Hartford defense attorney Peter Bell demonstrated clearly at Broman's trial that Governor William Bradford had conspired with Colonel Andrew Metzlaar and Lieutenant Anders Wolf of the Connecticut State Police to bring false charges against young Broman. Bradford tried to frame Matthew Broman, Jr., his former son-in-law, in order to gain custody of Broman's two young sons, the former Governor's grandsons, because young Broman is homosexual. Bradford automatically lost his office when he was convicted.
"Superior Court Judge Anson P. McConnell sentenced Bradford to three, one-year terms in state prison and one year in a half-way house, along with five years on probation, with the jail sentences to run concurrently. The judge stated that the lightness of this sentence for such a heinous crime by a public official was the direct result of a victim impact statement submitted to the Court by Matthew Broman, Jr. Broman asked the Court to note the former governor's long and honorable record of service in the Korean conflict and in public office, and suggested that physical health problems may have been responsible in part for the governor's actions.
"'Mr. Broman asked the Court for mercy for this defendant,' the judge stated, 'and the Court relied heavily on his statement in arriving at an appropriate sentence.'
"Co-conspiritors Andrew Metzlaar and Anders Wolf were tried separately and were found guilty of the same charges, but have yet to be sentenced."
Mike muted the TV with the remote, and the three of them sat there in silence for a moment. Mary turned to Matt, tears in her eyes, and kissed his cheek.
"I know he did an awful thing to you, Matt, but I have to admit I'm relieved that the judge didn't send him to prison to die. We were married thirty-five years, you know. You're a compassionate young man, a strong man--anybody who knows you, already knows that. I wish Bill had seen those good qualities instead of condemning you for being gay. Bless you for what you did for him. I'm in your debt."
Matt shook his head wearily. "Please don't say that, Mom. There aren't any debts in our family."
She kissed him again, stood up and said goodnight, and went back to her bedroom.
"Mary's right, Matt," Mike said, sliding over on the couch to sit beside his partner and putting a big hand on his neck. "You are a compassionate man. I couldn't have done what you did, I don't think. You're awesome."
"It wasn't that big a deal," Matt said with a shrug, a little embarrassed.
"No, that's who you are, and that's just one of a thousand reasons why I love you so much," Mike said.
Nothing more was said as they sat on the couch holding hands, watching the rest of the news. When it was over, Mike turned off the TV and took Breakers downstairs for his bedtime visit to the front lawn. Matt went into the boys' room to check on them. They were sleeping soundly, their blond hair glowing in the dim light. He kissed each of them gently, and stood there watching them breathe in and out, seemingly without a care in the world. For some reason Arnie Watkins' term for them, "angel children," popped into his mind, and he smiled. That phrase more or less nailed it, but of course Arnie didn't have to cope with some of the boys' more outrageous shenanigans, either.
When Mike came in, Matt was lying in bed on his back, staring without expression at the ceiling. Mike undressed and climbed in bed with his partner, scooting over to lie close to him. He turned on his side to look into Matt's face.
"Let it go, Matt. You did everything for the Governor that could be done. You don't have anything to feel bad about."
"I know. I just wish that things could have been different, that's all, for the sake of the boys and for Mary if for no other reason."
"Bro, reality check! You're a wonderful father, a great son, a brilliant student, and a person has to be real scum not to qualify as your friend. You have the biggest and most generous heart in the world. And you're the absolute best partner and lover anybody could ever ask for. You're about as good as they come in this life, I hope you know that. I sure do. But you're not God. Sometimes things don't turn out the way we'd like them to. So let what the Gov did to himself go, and let's be thankful we're together with each other and our family, and that we're all OK."
Matt turned to his brother and put his arms around him. "You're right. I am thankful. I love you, Mike."
They fell asleep holding each other.
The next morning, Matt was his old, cheerful self, and proved it by warning Mike he had a story for him. As usual, he pinned his partner down in bed so he had to listen. Mike was so glad Matt was in good spirits that he didn't even try to escape.
"This is a story about church. You'll like it," Matt said.
"You shouldn't waste it on me," Mike replied.
"Yes, I should. You'll love it.
"An elderly woman was looking for a pet to be a good companion and not
much trouble. The pet store owner suggested a parrot, showed one to her and
guaranteed it would be a wonderful companion. The woman asked if the parrot
would behave if she took it to church with her on Sundays. The owner said it
shouldn't be a problem and that she could put him on her shoulder and he
would stay there.
"So she bought the parrot and spent the next week getting to know him.
Assured that he spoke properly and was well behaved, she put him on her
shoulder and went off to church. Just as everyone quieted down and the
sermon began, the parrot looked around, squawked and said,
"'Shit! It's damned cold in here!' Everyone turned to look at
her, she ran out
of the church in total embarrassment!
"All during the next week she talked to the parrot, explaining the necessity
remain quiet during church. The parrot understood so she put him on her
shoulder and went to church the following Sunday. Once again, just as
everything got quiet and the sermon began, the parrot squawked, looked
around and loudly proclaimed,
"'Shit! It's damned cold in here!!' And again the woman ran from the church.
"The next day she returned to the pet store and explained the embarrassing
situation to the owner. Since she didn't want to get rid of the parrot, the
owner offered the following solution:
"'If the parrot does that again, grab him by the legs and swing him
around 5 or
6 times and return him to your shoulder.'
"'That'll work?' asked the woman.
"'Guaranteed!' exclaimed the owner.
"So, the next Sunday she took the parrot to church and, sure enough,
the sermon started the parrot squawked, 'Shit! It's damned cold in here!!'
"Without any hesitation, the woman grabbed his legs, swung him around
head 5 or 6 times and placed him back on her shoulder.
"The parrot shook his head, ruffled his feathers and shrieked,
"'Pretty fuckin' windy, too!'"
Mike laughed despite himself.
"I'm telling Fr. Rohm your story, dude! Properly attributed to you, of course. I think your humor needs to be shared, don't you agree?"
"No, no. My stories are some of my most precious secrets, and they're for your shell-like ears only. It would be a breach of confidence to spread my humor around."
"You have an answer for everything, doncha?"
"I try my feeble best."
"You're feeble, all right, except for this." Mike took hold of Matt's dick, and it immediately started to plump up.
"Why do you tease me like this when you know there's no time for follow-through."
"You frustrate me your way, and I frustrate you mine. I want you to stay good and horny today, and I may give you a helping hand tonight, 'K? Or I may pimp you out, I'm not sure." Mike grinned lasciviously.
"You'll pay for this!" Matt promised as he climbed out of bed with an erection and headed for the shower.
Matt returned after showering and got dressed under Mike's watchful and appreciative eye from bed.
* * *
Sunday night. Everybody in the condo had gone to church at St. Stephen's that morning. Matt and Mike reminded Father Howard after mass that he was expected at the condo for dinner that night. Mike told him it was a T-shirt and Levis night, and to bring some swimming trunks if he wanted to swim in the pool, and said they'd expect him about 6 p.m. The priest seemed pleased, and said he was looking forward to it.
At 6 p.m. that night the phone rang. Matt answered from the den, where he was watching TV while Mike studied in their bedroom. It was the doorman saying that the Rev. David Howard had arrived, and was on his way up in the elevator. Matt went out into the foyer to wait for their guest.
When Father Howard stepped out of the elevator, Matt hardly recognized him. In place of the usual black suit and clerical collar, the priest was wearing an Amnesty International T-shirt and a pair of old, faded Levis, with beat-up Nikes and sweat socks on his feet. The man was slim, but looked really fit and defined with a good chest, sporting his usual buzz cut. A runner or a swimmer, Matt thought to himself, maybe both. A tall, very handsome guy.
"Hi, Father David," Matt said, high fiving their guest in lieu of the usual handshake. "Glad ya came comfortable."
"Hey, Matt. Thanks for having me over. I followed the dress code pretty well, didn't I?" the priest asked, grinning, looking down at his clothes.
"Yep, ya look great. You fit right in. We try not to dress up too much around here."
"Good. Here's a little something we can have with dinner." Father Howard handed Matt a sack with a bottle of Burgundy wine in it.
"Outstanding," Matt said, taking the bottle out. "We're having roast beef tonight, so this'll be perfect. I hope you're hungry!"
"I came to eat!"
"All right! Come on in and sit, and I'll find Mike." Matt led the young priest into the den, where Matthew, Michael and Kyle were working on their latest lego creation. Some documentary or other was playing on the TV, and Matt snapped it off with the remote as he left to retrieve his partner.
By the time he and Mike came back to the den, David Howard was sitting on the floor talking to the boys as they constructed their latest lego skyscraper. The kids seemed perfectly at ease with their priest, and were chattering away as if they'd known him forever.
"Father!" Mike said to their guest as he came into the room. "Thanks for coming over tonight."
"Thank you, Mike." The priest stood up and shook hands with him. "I've been looking forward to this, especially since I'm not the greatest cook in the world."
"You came to the right place," Mike said. "I'm not much good in the kitchen, either, but Matt is very accomplished. At so many things."
"Don't start," Matt warned his partner. "I'd better check on things in the kitchen. We should be able to eat in about half an hour."
" 'K. Father, what can I offer you to drink?" Mike asked, going to their little bar.
"Well, how about a vodka martini, rocks?"
"Olive or twist?"
Father Howard sat down on the big leather couch and watched the boys at work on their project.
"Your kids are beautiful, Mike," he said to Mike as he appeared with the martini in a crystal drink glass and handed it to the priest.
"I know it. They're gonna be heartbreakers down the line, no doubt about it. The girls are gonna be swarming around 'em like flies in a few years."
"For sure. How's school?" the priest asked.
"Good. But I feel like I'm on a treadmill with no 'off' switch. Sometimes I wonder if it'll ever end. I'm sure you remember the feeling."
"Grad school is a lotta pressure. Especially medical school, I should think. If I missed a theological nuance or two along the way when I was seminary, nobody dies. In the case of a doctor, that's not true."
"You're right," Mike said. "Next year is my last year in med school. Then I'll be giving some basic patient care, under strict supervision, of course, and I wonder all the time about whether I'll know enough, or not. You hafta be right every time."
The priest shook his head affirmatively. "It's a learning process, just like all the professions. Some of it's 'learn by doing,' not just book learning. Matt told me that you're at the top of your class, Mike. When the time comes, you can be my doctor any time."
"The boy's been blabbing, huh? He probably didn't tell you that he's number one in his class in law school, did he? He's smart and tenacious, and really knows the law. And he's so ethical, sometimes he's a real pain in the ass. 'Ethical' is certainly one of the important qualities you want in a lawyer, though."
"I think you're both very unusual guys. I've been wanting to get to know you better for a long time, but the opportunity just hasn't presented itself 'til now. But I should tell you that my gut feeling about you both--the kind of people you are-- was why I agreed to bless your partnership. I admire you both so much for what you're accomplishing in your lives. The love you have for each other and your extended family is pretty unusual, Mike. And being men of faith gives me the chance to know you in a way that I probably wouldn't have otherwise."
"Father, you're a breath of fresh air, and so are Father Rohm and the other priests. We're really happy to be communicants at St. Stephen's. Matt and I think you made a pretty gutsy decision when you decided you'd marry us. And we aren't so naive that we don't know there are going to be repercussions from that decision, either. You've got balls, to use the vernacular. And we admire you for that."
"Well..." Father Howard said modestly.
"Just take it for what it's worth," Mike said.
The two of them watched the boys silently for a moment as the lego creation down on the floor inexorably grew bigger and taller.
"You look like you might have been a jock in school," Mike said, changing the subject. "What was your sport?"
"I played basketball and ran track at Indiana University. I still try to run a few miles every day, but I don't always get it done. It's a great tension-reliever, though, and obviously good for my health. You?"
"I was a swimmer. Matt was a wrestler. We both run, now--together, when we can fit it into our schedules. We've managed to get Stan Rosinski, who lives here with us, interested in running, too. And we have a little gym set up so we can work out, but we don't do nearly enough of it. You should come and run with us sometime, though. It's more fun than running alone."
"I'd like to do that," Father Howard said. "You give me a date and time, and I'll try to be here."
Stan and Linda walked into the den at that point, and Father Howard and Mike stood up.
"Father Howard, you remember Linda Kosco and Stan Rosinski? They've been to church with us a few times. Actually, they were with us this morning. They live here with Matt and me, and help us with the kids. We couldn't make it without 'em, believe me."
Stan and Linda exchanged cordial greetings with the priest, and then excused themselves to go into the kitchen to help Matt. The two young men sat down on the couch again.
"Father, can I ask you something? It's kinda personal, so just tell me if I'm out of line here."
"Do you find it difficult as a priest to relate as intimately to people as you'd like to? I mean, does your role as a holy man interfere with getting close to people?"
"First of all, I don't think I'm a holy man."
"No, you are," Mike said bluntly. "I may not know how to define it, but I know one when I see him."
"Well, that issue aside, give me an example of what you mean?"
"When you date, does your status as a priest put up any barriers to really getting to know the person you're dating?"
The priest grinned at Mike.
"Are you sure Matt's the lawyer-in-training and you're gonna be the doctor? You ask some tough questions."
"It's just something I've always been curious about," Mike said. "Don't answer if you don't feel comfortable talking about it."
"No, I don't mind," David Howard responded. "I should probably give this more thought, but off the top of my head, I'd have to say I approach my dating relationships, specifically, with a lot of reserve. A clerical collar is sometimes a magnet, unfortunately, for attracting certain personalities. A priest can become kind of a 'God-substitute' for some people, if you know what I mean, and it can be pretty sick. I've dated women who wouldn't care if I were Jack the Ripper--their whole focus is on the fact I'm a priest. The role is pretty powerful, and sometimes intrusive. A lot of times it's difficult to develop an authentic relationship with someone you're dating because the clerical role looms larger than anything else. It's the 'clerical mystique,' if I can call it that, that's important for some people, not the personal qualities of the clergyman. Some people are clerical groupies. Am I making any sense at all?"
Mike smiled. "Yeah. And I can see the problem."
"There's another unfortunate aspect to a clergyman's relationships, now that you've got me talking about it. Sometimes the people who cling to a priest because of what he represents as an ideal, also, deep inside, want render him more human by tempting him into doing something forbidden. They love what he represents, but they want to destroy it at the same time. It's just part of the perversity of human nature, I guess."
"This makes for kind of a lonely life, doesn't it?"
"Yeah. I really don't want to go through life alone, but on the other hand, being alone when you're starting out as a young priest isn't all bad, either. I think a certain amount of solitude during the early days, if you can stand it, allows you time to study and pray and think deeply about things in a way that might be difficult if you're required to be constantly dealing with 'significant others' and their problems. Or maybe that's just me, I don't know."
Mary Bradford strolled into the den, smiling when she saw the young priest. She walked over to him and gave him a hug as the two young men stood up.
"Father Howard, I'm so glad to see you. I was so pleased when Matt mentioned that you were coming for dinner."
"Thank you, Mary. Look at you!! You're looking wonderful! I think your treatments and the family atmosphere here in the condo with Matt and Mike are doing great things for you."
"I'm feeling marvelous, and this particular course of treatment is almost over. Thank you for your prayers, by the way. I know they've made a big difference, and I'm feeling very optimistic. And my sons here--God love Matt and Mike--have given me a new life. I'm a very fortunate woman."
"We're the fortunate ones, Mary," Mike said sincerely. "May I get you something to drink?"
"Just seltzer and lime, thanks. And then I'm going to pop into the kitchen and see if I can help."
Mike fixed Mary her drink, and she excused herself with a smile. Mike and David Howard sat down again.
"I know I've kind of been grilling you, Father," Mike said. "I hope I haven't intruded too much, but I have one more question if you can stand it."
"Why were you really willing to go out on a limb to bless Matt's and my partnership?"
"That's not a tough question to answer at all," the priest said solemnly. "I had a cousin, my age, who was gay. He suicided shortly after his twenty-first birthday. He and I were friends, and what he did hurt me deeply. I know he killed himself because he didn't have the kind of support from his family and from society and from the Church that he should have had. I started shortly after that to study the issue of blessing gay partnerships. I concluded that the strictures against it don't make a lot of sense. As Matt pointed out in one of our pre-marital counseling sessions, Jesus Himself didn't utter one word about homosexuality. The things He did talk about, like the unacceptability of divorce, for example, many churches shrug off altogether or disguise as 'annulments' or 'statements of dissolution.' So divorced people flock to our altars without a second thought. In other words, we officially support the pronouncements in Scripture we want to follow, and ignore those we don't, including some of the key ones in the Old Testament about a whole range of behaviors. In all fairness, I think it's time that we honored the rainbow God created among men and women on this earth and let His blessings flow for all our people."
Mike sat staring at the floor for a long moment before turning his head to look at the priest.
"David Howard, you're an amazing human being."
The priest was about to protest when Linda stuck her head in the doorway from the living room and called them to dinner. Mike and David gently pulled the boys away from their legos and shepherded them into the dining room, where thanks was offered and everyone had a wonderful, relaxed and lively family meal.
After their meal digested, Matt, Mike, Stan and the boys, along with their guest, changed into their swimming suits and enjoyed horsing around in the swimming pool. The skimpy attire allowed Mike to confirm that the priest was definitely a hottie.
* * *
Tony Angelo called Matt at 5 p.m. a few days later to update him on the Sean Garrity case. The young state cop who was undercover had insinuated himself very well into the tight little group of the younger construction workers at the site across from where Sean Garrity had been beaten up. The cop had reported to the Chicago detectives at area headquarters that the place was a virtual hotbed of homophobia, and that in his opinion, several of the guys he was working with were perfectly capable, without a second thought, of beating the shit out of any homosexual they came across if they thought they could get away with it.
"Matt," Tony said, "this bunch is really pissed off right now about the reward posters on Halsted Street, and they're trying to find out who put up the money. I think they're a little scared, maybe, and hopefully they'll make a mistake and we'll be onto 'em big time. I don't think there's any way in the world they can find out that you were the money man unless somebody at your private investigator's office talks out of turn. But I want you to start being really, really careful. Keep your eyes open all the time. When you're out in public, watch out for anybody who looks the least bit threatening. Do you promise you'll do that for me, or do I have to put a man on you?"
"Yeah, I'll be careful, Tony. Thanks for the 'heads-up.' I appreciate it. And thanks for the update on the case. I'm getting excited. The investigation seems to be gaining some momentum."
"I'm pleased about that, too. How are Mike and the family?"
"Real good. Things are looking great for Mary from her chemo, Tony. Mike thinks she's beaten the odds, thank God. So we're pretty happy campers around here right now."
"I'm really glad to hear that! I heard on the news about her husband going to jail, so she's had more than her share of problems. You give her my best, will ya? Tell her she's in my prayers every day."
"I will, Tony. And thanks for the info. I'll talk to you soon."
" 'K. Listen to what I told ya about being careful, Matt. I mean it."
"Yep. Thanks again."
Just as Matt hung up the phone, Mike came in from school, dropping his books on the table.
"Who was that?" he asked.
"Tony Angelo. He wanted to tell me that the undercover state cop at the construction site on Halsted is finding out some good stuff. This young guy has kind of wormed his way into the confidence of a bunch of the younger workers there who are really tight. Tony thinks the investigation is on the right track. The level of homophobia in this bunch is unusually high, and the cops are just waiting for somebody to make a mistake."
"Good. That's it?"
"Yep." Matt went over and hugged his partner and kissed him. "I missed you a lot today for some strange reason."
"Is that so? Well, we'll hafta see if we can't remedy that later tonight. Do you wanna run now or later?" Mike ran his fingers through Matt's hair.
"Later, I guess. I'm hungry. Whaddaya wanna do for supper?"
"Let's order in," Mike suggested. "I'm on a tight schedule tonight. I have an exam in the morning. Where are the kids?"
"Linda has 'em up in the pool. I was just about to go up."
" 'K. See if pizza is all right with Linda and Stan, and if it is, order a couple of large with the usual toppings, will ya? And ask Mary what she'd like us to fix her if she doesn't want pizza."
"Jawohl, mein Mikey! Consider it done!"
Smiling in spite of himself, Mike shook his head and went to change into comfortable clothes.
An hour later, the family all ate together in the dining room when the pizza came, including Mary, who said she was developing a real taste for it. After dinner, Matt and Mike went to their bedroom to study, and Stan worked with the kids on their coloring books in the den until it was time for their bath. He bathed them, and then Matt and Mike went into their bedroom for their bedtime story and their prayers. Then it was back to books for them.
About 9:30, Matt stood up from his desk and stretched.
"You ready to run, dude?" he asked Mike.
"I think I'm gonna have to pass tonight, Matt. I'm not picking up this stuff as well as I'd like to, and I have to ace this test tomorrow."
"That's OK. I'll ask Stan."
"It's not his night. He's only running every other day, and if you push him any harder, he may quit."
"All right, then, it's Breakers and me. He's better company than you guys are, anyway."
Mike smiled, and watched Matt as he stripped down and put on his jock, running shorts and Nikes. As Matt walked by Mike to get Breakers, he bent down and gave his partner's crotch a quick squeeze as he sat at his desk, and then kissed him on top of his head.
"Just be ready for later," he instructed. Mike grinned and went back to reading.
Matt walked down the hall to the den, called Breakers, who started dancing around in anticipation, leashed the excited dog, and went into their foyer. The elevator doors slid open with a push of the button, and they were off. He exchanged a few pleasantries with the night doorman on the first floor, and then they were out the main door heading for the side of the building, where steps led down to the beach.
Once on the sandy beach, he did his stretching exercises while Breakers danced around, and then Matt took off running and settled into a mile-eating lope. Looking up at the sky, he saw through a few wispy clouds that a full moon was struggling to be born.
He had only run about thirty feet down the beach when he saw a dark figure come out of the rocks, but thought nothing of it.
Matt closed on the person, who stood unmoving on the sand.
"Take this, you fucking fag!!"
The man stepped up to Matt and stabbed downward at him with some kind of weapon before Matt could react. The object glanced off his sternum, and plunged deep into the right side of his upper chest. As he fell backward, before starting to black out, Matt heard Breakers attack the attacker and chase him down the beach. There was a bloodcurdling scream as Breakers got hold of some part or another of the fleeing man, and then everything went black for Matt.
The dog returned to Matt's prone figure, whining and licking his face. Blood began soaking the young man's T-shirt as his breathing grew shallow.
Mike was concentrating so hard on his studying that he only gradually became aware that there was a dog howling down on the beach somewhere. It took a few minutes before he strode to the sliding glass doors of his and Matt's bedroom, facing the beach to the north, opened them and stepped out on the balcony. He recognized immediately that it was Breakers' distinctive howl he was hearing.
In a panic, he went inside and grabbed a flashlight from the drawer of his bedside table, and took off at a run down the hall to the elevator. He punched the button futilely again and again until the elevator finally arrived and whisked him downstairs.
"Call 911!" he instructed the doorman as he burst out of the elevator. "I think something's happened to my brother down on the beach!"
Mike saw the startled man reach for the telephone as he slammed out of the front door and headed at a dead run for the beach stairs at the side of the building. Taking them two at a time, he hit the sand, almost falling at the bottom, and began running at top speed toward the sound of Breaker's howls. Seventy-five feet to the north he saw, by the light of the moon, a body lying on the sand, with a distraught Breakers circling around and around, still baying.
It was Matt. He was barely breathing at this point.
"Oh God, oh God, oh God," Mike said unconsciously as he ran to his brother and knelt beside him, seeing in the dim moonlight the copious blood soaking into Matt's T-shirt. Pulling the shirt up and turning on the flashlight, he saw a puncture wound from which blood and air were bubbling.
"Oh, Jesus, please Lord, help him," Mike whispered.
Matt's breaths were shallow and infrequent, and his skin looked pale in the flickering light of the moon. Mike put his ear to his partner's chest on the side with the wound and tried to gauge whether there were any breath sounds. He didn't hear any.
"God, please make me right." He reached into his pants pocket and took out his ball-point pen. Disassembling it, he threw away everything except for the plastic tube, and taking a deep breath, shoved the tube a few millimeters into the wound, only as far as what he hoped was the pleural cavity, and angled it off to the side a bit. A moment later, Matt seemed to start breathing a little easier and more frequently.
Meanwhile, sirens had closed in on their building, and red and blue lights were reflecting down on to the beach. He saw a flashlight stabbing the darkness and heard feet running toward him. A paramedic appeared at his elbow.
"Stab wound, upper right quadrant of the chest, resulting in a pneumothorax," Mike told him, not wasting words. "Get a stretcher, and let's get him to an emergency room, pronto. I have a makeshift catheter in."
The paramedic spoke into his shoulder radio.
"Twenty-nine, get a stretcher down here on the beach ASAP. And get a cop down here, too."
Matt's eyes opened slowly and focused on Mike.
"Mike, help me," he whispered. "What happened?"
"You're gonna be OK, Matt, just hang in. We're gonna get you to the hospital. Everything's gonna be all right."
Matt closed his eyes and lost consciousness again just as another paramedic came running up with a stretcher, followed by a policeman.
The paramedics put a cervical collar on Matt, and placed him on the stretcher.
"Come on guys, let's go!" Mike urged as he took Breakers' leash and they began moving quickly toward the stairs. They climbed the stairs in haste, keeping Matt level, and Mike turned Breakers over to the doorman with instructions to ring the condo and keep ringing until somebody answered. He was to tell them that Mike was on the way to the hospital with Matt, and that he would contact them as soon as he could. The man paled, but went back inside and reached for the phone. Mike ran over to the ambulance, the back doors still yawning wide as they got Matt situated inside on a gurney.
"I'm going with you," he told the paramedics. "Take him to Northwestern Hospital."
"We're supposed to go to Grant," one of the paramedics said.
"Northwestern is just as close. Take him there," Mike said firmly.
"Are you a doctor?"
"Med student. Let's go!"
The senior paramedic shrugged as he got on the radio to Northwestern and described Matt's wound and what Mike had done to help him breathe, along with his vitals. Instructions were forthcoming as one of the paramedics got behind the wheel and the other began hooking up an IV. The ambulance began moving out of the condo's circular driveway, siren shrieking and horn blaring.
They were at Northwestern's emergency room within a matter of minutes, and Matt was being rolled inside with Mike right beside him.
"Mike?" the chief resident on duty, Don Mack, asked him as he met the gurney. "What the hell's going on?"
"My brother," Mike said cryptically. "Stab wound resulting in a pneumothorax. I made a catheter out of my pen."
"Jesus!" the young doctor said.
"Don, please call Landry," Mike instructed. "Get his ass out of bed if you have to. Matt's gonna have the best."
The young resident nodded, wide eyed. He wasn't really all that used to waking up the chief of thoracic surgery at all hours, but he guessed it came with the territory.
"Put him in Room 2," Mack told the paramedics, and asked a nurse to page Dr. Landry.
Mike went over to the phone at the nurse's station as a cluster of doctors and nurses surrounded Matt on the gurney in the treatment room and transferred him to a table. His first call was to the condo, where Stan answered the phone immediately.
"Stan, Mike. Matt was stabbed down on the beach tonight when he went out for his run. I'm with him at the Northwestern emergency room. I need you to make a couple calls for me. There's a list of speed dial numbers on the table in the den. First, call Father Howard and ask him to come to the hospital. Then call Tony Angelo, and tell him what happened. Let's see, it's 10:30, and he'll be at the precinct by now. If he's in roll call, tell them it's an emergency and get him out. Tell him where we are."
"OK. Mike, is he...?"
"He's alive, Stan, that's all I can tell you. I'll keep you posted. Don't wake Mary up. She needs her rest. Did you get Breakers?"
"Yeah, the doorman brought him up."
"Take good care of him," Mike said. "He probably drove off Matt's attacker, and if I hadn't heard him howling down on the beach and gone down there, Matt would be dead by now."
"I'll take good care of him," Stan said. "And I'll make the calls right away."
"Go down and stay in Matt's and my room so you're near the kids if they wake up and need something, will ya?"
"Yep. And I'm praying, Mike."
"Thanks, man. I'll talk to ya when I know something."
Mike hung up the phone and went and stationed himself outside the treatment room as staff scurried around taking care of Matt. They had cut his clothes off him and removed his running shoes and socks, and had covered him with a sterile sheet. A portable x-ray machine was wheeled in as a technician donned a lead apron and the others retreated behind a partition. After several shots were taken, the group again gathered around Matt.
Father Howard burst through the emergency room doors and made a beeline for Mike. He embraced his friend and didn't let go for a long time.
"Do you know anything more than what Stan told me?" the priest asked as he released Mike.
"No. It's gonna be touch and go. I have the chief of thoracic surgery coming down here, hopefully. So..."
Tears began streaming down Mike's face as the reality of the situation finally hit him. Father Howard pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped Mike's face, and handed the folded cloth to him.
"Tell me this is a bad dream," Mike said.
"Wish I could. How do we find out when I can get in there to anoint him?" the priest asked.
Mike stepped up to the window and beckoned to one of the nurses.
"This is my brother's priest," he said when she opened the swinging door. "Will you find out when he can come in to..." Mike's voice broke.
"Sure will," she said, patting him on the shoulder. "Be right back."
She conferred with the chief resident, and came back to the door.
"Five minutes," she told them, and went back to the gurney.
Mike glanced up as the pneumatic front doors to the emergency room wheezed open. A gray haired man with a goatee strode in and said something to the nurse at the front desk. She pointed back to where Mike and Father Howard were standing, and he walked quickly toward them.
"Mr. Broman," the man said to Mike as he approached them. "I understand your brother has been injured."
"Yes, sir. Dr. Landry, this is Father Howard." The two men nodded to one another.
"Matt was stabbed on the beach tonight when he went out for his run," Mike said. "I went down there from our condo when I heard our dog howling. When I found him, Matt's right upper chest was covered with blood. I ascertained there was a puncture wound in the right upper quadrant of his chest. Breath sounds were shallow and infrequent, so with not too much to go on, I diagnosed a traumatic pneumothorax. All I had was a ball point pen, so I made a catheter out of it, hoped I hit the pleura, and the paramedics came soon thereafter. That's all I know at this point."
The older doctor nodded, and stepped into the treatment room, handing his suit coat to a nurse as he went in. Another nurse gowned him, and he stepped to the table and began to assess Matt's condition. The resident nodded toward Father Howard, and Dr. Landry beckoned to the young priest.
Father Howard went in, and a nurse gowned him. He put on a short, purple stole and opened his prayer book. The doctors and nurses stood silent as the priest anointed Matt's head in the sign of the cross with oil from his oil stock, avoiding Matt's oxygen mask, and then said the prescribed prayer for healing, concluding with the Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a blessing. When the priest was finished, he stepped back from the table and returned to Mike's side.
The tech came back with the x-rays he had taken, and Dr. Landry began slapping them up on the viewer and conferring with the chief resident.
An unmarked car with a blue light flashing on the dashboard pulled up in front of the emergency room doors, and Tony Angelo ran inside. He saw Mike and the priest, and walked toward them quickly.
"Tony..." Mike said.
"Hello, Father," the policeman acknowledged the priest. "Mike, tell me what happened."
Mike ran through his story again.
"Is he gonna make it?" Tony asked.
"It's touch and go right now," Mike said.
"Mike, I asked him to be careful when I talked to him yesterday."
"Whaddaya mean?" Mike asked.
"I told him that that that bunch of assholes--er, sorry, Father--workers up at the Halsted Street construction site were ticked off about the reward posters on Halsted Street, and were trying to find out who put up the money. He didn't take me seriously, I guess," Tony said disconsolately. "I should have put a man on him like I threatened to do."
"Tony, take it from me, Matt listens when he wants to listen, and tunes you out when he doesn't," Mike said. "You warned him, and he blew it off. You did everything that could be expected of you, and then some. I just hope that whoever did this to him gets caught." Mike said nothing more, but anger welled up deep inside him that Matt had been told he was in danger, and not only had not shared that information with his partner, but elected to ignore Tony Angelo's warning that someone might try to hurt him.
Tony put his radio to his lips and gave his call sign.
"C-Forty-one?" a disembodied voice came back.
Tony instructed dispatch to have the beach north of Matt's and Mike's condo cordoned off within 300 yards of the building until the area could be combed for evidence.
Just then the alarms on the monitors attached to Matt all began sounding at once, and the group of doctors and nurses surrounding Matt in the treatment room began to work feverishly. Mike never took his eyes off of them as Don Mack greased up defibrillator paddles and shocked his partner's heart. The alarms continued. Again they shocked him. The alarms stopped shrilling suddenly.
Five minutes later, Dr. Landry emerged from the treatment room and approached Mike. "Let's talk," he said.
"Right here's fine," Mike said. "This is Captain Angelo, and you met Father Howard. They're friends."
The doctor nodded.
"We're having trouble keeping your brother stable right now. He has arrested once, and may again. He lost some blood, obviously, and the pneumothorax isn't totally resolved. The next twenty-four hours are crucial. I need to repair that puncture wound as soon as he can stand the surgery. We'll be moving him up to ICU in a few minutes. The good news is that he's in great physical condition, and that's going to stand him in good stead. By the way, your diagnosis and treatment on the scene were excellent, Mr. Broman. Good trick, using that ball point pen. You saved your brother's life, at least for the moment. Good job."
"Thanks," Mike said.
"You need a change of clothes...Mike, isn't it?" Dr. Landry asked, looking him up and down.
"Yes, sir, it's Mike," Mike said, looking down at himself. He was shocked to see that his T-shirt and Levis were soaked with Matt's blood. "I'm a mess," he said.
Landry beckoned to a nurse at the front desk.
"Get Mike some greens and let him change into them," he instructed. He looked at Mike quizzically. "You have classes later today, I take it?"
"Yes, sir. I have an important exam today."
"Who's your professor?"
"You should stay here. I'll talk to Girardi."
"Yes, sir. Thank you."
The nurse came back with a set of greens and pointed Mike toward the staff locker room.
"Be right back," he told Tony and David Howard.
When he returned, Dr. Landry was back in the treatment room with Matt. Mike borrowed David Howard's cell phone, and called his father in Washington, D.C. Justice Broman picked up on the fourth ring.
"Dad? This is Mike. I'm sorry to wake you up like this."
The jurist was immediately alert.
"What is it, Mike?"
"Matt was stabbed while he was running on the beach tonight. I'm here at the Northwestern emergency room, and they're getting ready to do surgery on him to repair a puncture wound in his chest. It's touch and go, Dad. Maybe you and Mom better come. Is she there?"
"No, she's home."
"Do you want me to call her?"
"No, I'll do it. We'll be on the first available flight, Mike. Different flights, I mean. Stay with Matt. Say your prayers. I'll see you in a few hours!" The phone clicked in Mike's ear as his dad hung up.
Mike handed the phone back to Father Howard with a nod of thanks, and collapsed into a folding chair in the corridor with his face in his hands. The priest and the policeman pulled up chairs and sat down beside him.
* * *
Matthew and Jane Broman arrived at about the same time on separate flights into O'Hare Field, and Mike had asked Stan to meet both planes. The elder Bromans were terribly distraught, and Stan took them right to the hospital.
Dr. Landry operated on Matt in the late morning following his being admitted to Northwestern, and repaired the puncture wound, leaving a catheter in his chest as continuing treatment for the pneumothorax. Mike and his mom and dad were present when he came out of surgery and was placed back in the ICU. His vital signs remained poor, and Dr. Landry tried to prepare the family for the worst.
The only good news was that members of the Chicago Police Department forensics team had found a significant amount of blood in the sand further up the beach from where Matt had been struck down, presumably from Breakers' biting the assailant as he fled the scene. The team had collected more than enough bloody sand to obtain a DNA sample. When and if a suspect was identified, the technicians could easily confirm whether or not he was the guilty party.
The police had also gotten another break. When detectives had called all the hospital emergency rooms in the metropolitan area about any dog-bite victims that may have presented, Lutheran General in Park Ridge reported that they had provided treatment for such a victim, and gave the Chicago Police the patient's name and address. The Cook County sheriff's department was trying to locate the individual, and bring him in for questioning even as Matt fought to live.
Mike continued struggling with his own demons about the whole incident. He was devastated that his lover and partner had been attacked and injured so badly. He had nightmares about it during the few hours in which he got any sleep. At the same time, he was furious with Matt over his silence about the potential danger to his person, and the cocky nonchalance that had put him in harm's way.
Mike wanted desperately to talk to someone about his conflicted feelings, but it obviously wasn't the right time. Maybe when Matt was out of the woods, he told himself. That his brother could die was unthinkable.
The family began taking turns sitting at Matt's bedside. Jane Broman was with him when he finally awakened from his surgery, unable to speak because he had a ventilator tube down his throat. She caressed his face and held his hand and called the charge nurse to report that Matt had regained consciousness. The nurse came in and checked all the IV's and tubes. When Matt drifted into sleep before long, Mrs. Broman went out to the waiting room and gave her husband and son the news.
The next two days crept by without much change in Matt's condition. Mike got his mother and father settled in at the condo, tried to reassure Mary and Linda and Stan that Matt was going to be all right, spent at least a few minutes each day with the kids, attended classes when he could, and gravitated frequently to the hospital chapel, praying for his partner. He talked with Jeff and Martha every day without fail, and tried not to convey any hint of the terror he was feeling by then. Father Rohm came and sat with Matt for a time, and Father Howard showed up twice a day for at least a few minutes. Sister Angeline and Sister Catherine brought the comfort of their presence several times, and Arnie Watkins visited once, very upset. If the total volume of prayer and good wishes were to be a deciding factor in whether Matt lived or died, he would live, without question.
Mike called the Northwestern law school and explained to the dean what had happened to Matt just in case the man had missed the numerous news stories. The dean was very understanding, and assured him that Matt was in such good shape in his courses that there should be little concern about his making up anything he was missing.
At the end of the second day, Dr. Landry decided to remove the ventilator tube to see if Matt would breathe on his own. He explained to them that the longer a patient was on a ventilator, the more difficult it was to wean him from it. The gamble paid off. Matt did begin breathing on his own, and it was then he seemed to turn the corner toward recovery. His vital signs improved and he began to eat a few mouthfuls of jello and talk in a raspy voice. Mike and the family were joyful. A few days later, Matt was moved to the general post-surgical floor, and with the doctor's permission, Mike had Stan and :Linda bring the boys up for a very brief visit, much to Matt's delight.
Ten days later, an ambulance delivered a very pale and weak Matt back to the condo. The attendants wheeled him upstairs and put him in a rented hospital bed in his and Mike's room, propped up on pillows, beaming. Dr. Landry had recommended a nurse from the registry to care for Matt during the day when Mike resumed his class schedule. The old crone clearly rubbed Matt the wrong way by insisting that the doctor's instructions be followed to a T. She made him walk up and down the hall many times a day whether he felt like it or not, and was generally tyrannical. Mike was delighted to see that she kept his boy on a short leash. Of course, a week later she was history, and Matt began pretty much to call the shots on his own activities, at least when nobody was watching.
Mike took his mom and dad to the airport after it was clear that Matt was making a rapid recovery. The past days of worry about Matt had clearly taken their toll on the couple. For right now, anyway, they fully looked their age for the first time in Mike's memory.
He wished in a way he had had a chance to talk to his mom or dad, or both, concerning his feelings about what had happened to Matt and the contributing factors to it on Matt's part, but as his parents walked wearily away to their departure gates, he figured that perhaps it was for the best. His decision that there was no need to make them worry prematurely about problems in his and Matt's relationship, especially when they were so happy that Matt had survived the vicious attack on the beach, had been a good one. Mike's spirits remained fairly high as he saw them off, knowing that they would probably all be back together for Thanksgiving, God willing.
Mike realized anew that, time and time again, Matthew and Jane Broman had come to the rescue of their children, himself included. They saw that as part of their obligation as parents, but it bothered him that he couldn't think of some way to thank them, to repay them for the love they gave with no thought for themselves. He pledged to himself to find some way to do something nice for them, sooner rather than later. They were simply the best of the best.
Mike took the time to go down to the law school later that week and pick up Matt's assignments, and brought all his law books into the bedroom so he could start playing catch-up by reading in bed. Matt was eating better all the time, and Mike knew he was well on the road to recovery when he began complaining incessantly about the restricted activities necessitated by the healing process. It was a banner day when the rental people carted the hospital bed away, and the two partners could start sleeping in the same bed together again with their hero, Breakers, at their feet.
Nothing was too good for Breakers these days, and he was getting outrageously spoiled. Mike had bought him a new, soft doggie bed for the den when he wanted to be in that room, and had ordered several cases of gourmet dog food from his vet. At the least sign from the dog that he needed to go out, one of his human slaves made it happen--pronto. And of course he continued to be Mike's and Stan's constant companion on their runs on the beach.
That first night he and his partner slept in the same bed, Matt still had to lie on his back because other sleeping positions were still too painful. He turned his head and looked searchingly at Mike as the latter slid under the covers next to him.
"Are you mad at me for some reason?"
The question caught Mike off guard.
"Why would you ask me that?" he asked, turning on his side toward his brother.
"I know you, and something's wrong. Did I do something to piss you off?"
Mike sighed. "I didn't want to talk to you about this until you were feeling better."
"I am better. Tell me what's wrong."
Mike was silent for a minute, thinking.
"I want to make a point without making you feel bad, 'K," he said. "You've been through enough. I don't wanna bring you down, but..."
"Damn it, Mike!" Matt said reproachfully.
"All right!" The floodgates opened. "Yes, I am angry with you. I'm angry because you knew from Tony Angelo that some gay-bashing asshole might be after you, and you not only kept the information from me, you went out and put yourself at risk on the beach. I thought we had an understanding about this shit when we had words over the detective work you wanted to do on Halsted Street. But I guess not. I nearly lost you this time, and you nearly lost the kids and everybody else you care about in this world because you're so fucking pigheaded. I'm sorry, but that isn't the kind of quality of life in this partnership I wanna settle for. Not every decision you make has to prove to people that you're invincible, y'know!"
Mike warmed to his subject. "No, you asked me, and I'm gonna tell you. I know full well that one of the worst mistakes a partner can make, whether it's in a gay relationship or a straight one, is to assume that you have the moral right somehow to try to change the other person to suit yourself. It's so chickenshit! New expectations that come late to a relationship are the kiss of death more often than not, and they almost invariably lead to resentments that kill mutual love and respect.
"Your attitude toward meeting challenges has always been 'take no prisoners,' and I admire that in many ways. I really do. Deep down, it's the way I like to do things, too. It was one of the things that we respected about each other when we first lived together. But we have to be smarter all the time about the way we meet our challenges, and change our ways when circumstances change. And our circumstances fundamentally changed when we took on responsibilities for the extended family that gives both of us so much of our focus and satisfaction.
"So, here I am, lying here beside the human being I love most in this world, asking you to change the basic way you've always approached your problems, and hating myself for doing it. I'm asking because...I don't think our relationship can weather too many more crises like we've just been through, particularly when I know that at least some of these crises can be avoided by honest communication between us and some discretion on your part. I hate saying what I'm saying to you because I hate any form of emotional blackmail, but damn it, Matt, if we don't get in better tune with each other on this, I don't think we're gonna make it through life together."
Silence. Matt lay staring at the ceiling.
"I'm sorry I wasn't totally open with you, Mike," he finally said quietly. "What you've said hurts me. A lot. But we have too much invested in each other, and I have too much respect for you, just to react emotionally without thinking seriously about this whole thing. So let me do that, if it's OK, before we make a decision about our future together."
Matt turned his face away from his partner and closed his eyes.
Feeling great misgivings about having come on so strong when Matt was
still sick and weak, Mike reached over and kissed him on the cheek, turned
out the light, and tried to sleep.
I've received some wonderful emails about Part 10 and about WIO in general, and I appreciate them all. The relationship between Matt and Mike has reached a serious juncture, and right now I'm in limbo with all you readers because I don't know how things are going to turn out. No flames about that, please! This story reflects real life, where sometimes bad things happen to good people, and there's no use jumping the gun about what's going to happen next. Hang in! firstname.lastname@example.org