On the Monday morning after Linda's and Stan's wedding, Justice and Mrs. Broman and Jeff and Martha woke up with the sun. They ate a quick breakfast and drank coffee with Matt and Mike in the kitchen. Justice and Mrs. Broman were both heading back to Washington, and Jeff and Martha, to school.
Outwardly, it was a subdued sendoff in the foyer before they left. It was early. But the goodbyes were full of emotional undercurrents--deep satisfaction with the time they'd all had together over the previous few days, along with regret that they were going their own way. David Howard had stayed overnight in Stan's old bedroom, and he joined Matt, Mike, Josh, Chris, Andie and Mary in seeing the travelers off. The usually phlegmatic Andie was upset to see Jeff leave, and Jeff didn't look too happy about going, either. The three little boys were there in their PJ's and bath robes, clinging to their grandparents and Jeff and Martha, not wanting them to go.
They all embraced and kissed one another, people who were bonded. It had become very clear to the priest and the two state troopers at that point that they were an integral and permanent part of this family now.
Before he stepped into the elevator, Justice Broman handed Josh the telephone numbers for his Watergate apartment and his Supreme Court office, and reminded him in no uncertain terms that he was to call him in a month to talk.
The waiting limo pulled away from the condo for the airport. Matt suggested that as long as the runners were up anyway, they get in their run for the day. Leaving the kids with Mary, they changed into their running clothes and hit the beach. Once again, Mike insisted that Chris take it easy instead of running full out, and after they did their stretches, stuck with him as they set a slower pace. Josh had really wanted to jog with Mike and Chris, too, just to hang around with Chris, but went ahead with the runners instead because he knew someone with a firearm should be with Matt.
When they returned, after he showered and while he was thinking about it, Mike put in an early call to the architect who had planned the previous renovations to the condo. To his surprise, the man was in his office already. Mike engaged him then and there to draw up plans for the stairway to connect Jeff's and Andie's new condo with the penthouse. They set a date for later in the week for the man to come over and take a look at what needed to be done so he could determine the specs and render the drawings, and to sign a contract.
The next day after their classes, Matt and Mike met Tony at the precinct, and were soon joined by Chris. Tony drove them all to the gun store. The police captain seemed a little preoccupied about something, but the three of them just figured that their friend had a lot of work-related things on his mind.
The new Barettas were ready and waiting at the store along with the guys' Firearm Owners Identification cards. The store owner showed them how to break down their new weapons for cleaning, and sold them a gun cleaning kit to maintain them properly, along with several boxes of 9 mm ammunition.
Then Tony drove them to the Chicago PD's firing range closest to the condo, and signed them all in. The police sergeant in charge, a man perhaps in his early forties, spent some time explaining good gun "etiquette" to Matt and Mike, along with the rules of the facility. He also showed them how to hold their weapons when firing in order to minimize kickback and promote accuracy.
The sergeant led them down to the range proper, where he fitted the four of them with hearing protection. Then he showed the two newbies how to to affix paper targets depicting the human form to an overhead shuttle to move them to and from the back wall, and provided them with ammunition on Captain Angelo's account. The four of them filled their gun clips and went into their assigned booths. Affixing and running out their targets, they began firing once they heard the "free fire" command given over a loudspeaker system.
Clips emptied, the four of them shuttled their targets back to themselves for examination, and compared results. Predictably, rounds fired by the two police officers were well clustered around where the heart would be on the human form. Matt's and Mike's shots, on the other hand, were all over the target, but at least none of their shots had missed the target completely. Chris and Tony praised them.
Loading their clips again, the four of them ran out new targets and repeated the process. This time Mike and Matt knew more what to expect when their weapons discharged, and thought they might do better.
They did. Matt's rounds were well clustered this time in the area of the shoulder and heart. Astonishingly, Mike's ten shots had totally ripped out the paper in the center of the heart, with only one round hitting more than an inch away from the others. Tony and Chris whistled when they saw Mike's target.
"Holy shit!" Chris said, looking at Tony. "That's phenomenal."
"Outstanding, Mike!" Tony exclaimed. "We don't see much shooting like this, not even from veterans."
"Good going, bro!" Matt said. "I'm proud of ya."
"Matt, don't feel bad about your pattern, man," Chris added. "It was months before I could do as well as you just did. This was only your second series, y'know."
"This had to be a fluke," Mike insisted, looking at his target. "Let's do it again."
They all reloaded, and stepping back into their booths, mounted new targets and ran them out to the wall. On command, they commenced firing.
This time when they ran the targets in, Matt's pattern was tighter around the heart, more like that achieved by Tony and Chris. Mike really didn't have a pattern on his target at all. The center of the heart on his target was just completely ripped out by his ten shots.
"Oh, fuck!" Chris said when he saw Mike's target, raising his eyebrows and looking at Tony again..
"I must have missed hitting the target altogether a couple times," Mike said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"I don't think so, Mike," Tony said admiringly. "When a shot misses the target and hits the periphery of your backboard, you get a red warning light here on your control board. You're not lit up."
"Well..." Mike said.
"Dude! You're a freaking sharpshooter!" Matt said, throwing his arms around Mike and kissing him. "Oh, shit!" he added when it dawned on him what he'd just done in public. "I'm sorry, Tony. I forgot where I was."
"Screw it. Don't worry about it," Tony said.
They fired one more series. The results were the same.
The four of them made sure that their firing stations were clean and the shell casings properly placed in recycling receptacles. Matt and Mike folded up their targets to take back to the condo.
Chris, Mike and Matt went on out to the parking lot while Tony stayed behind at the office counter to sign a chit for the rounds the four of them had expended.
The sergeant glanced at Tony when the details were taken care of.
"Are those two guys with the trooper and you fags, or what?"
Tony stared at him coldly.
"I didn't ask. They're brothers," he said, a little disingenuously. "Why, are you interested in gays, Sergeant?"
"Well, no..." the sergeant said, feeling a little intimidated.
"Oh, I just wondered your reason for asking. You're entitled to your opinions about gays, but if it interferes with the way you serve the public as a sworn officer, your job here at the firing range could be in jeopardy. Do you get my drift?"
"Yes, sir, Captain."
"Uh huh," Tony said, scowling. "Give me a bunch of guest passes," Tony ordered, holding out his hand. "I'm want these guys to come back here for more practice over the next few months."
"Yes, sir," the sergeant said, reaching behind the counter and coming up with the passes in one quick hurry.
"Thank you, Sergeant. Good job on the instructions, by the way. One of the newbies appears to be sharpshooter material after firing only four series."
"Thank you, sir," the sergeant said. "I'll take care of them when they come back."
Tony grunted, turned on his heel, and went out to the parking lot. Chris and Matt were standing there with Mike beside Tony's unmarked police car, admiring Mike's targets again. Tony popped the door locks, and drove them back to the precinct without mentioning his exchange with the sergeant.
When they reached the precinct, Matt and Mike thanked Tony for all his help. Then they got in the Blazer with Chris behind the wheel, and headed back to the condo.
"Did Tony seem a little down to you guys?" Mike asked as they drove away.
"Now that you mention it, yes," Chris said. "He's usually pretty upbeat. In fact, I've never seen him when he wasn't."
"He was quiet," Matt said. "I hope everything's all right."
They drove for a few minutes without anyone saying anything.
"Chris," Matt said, breaking the silence, "you're still paying rent on your apartment, right?"
"When's your lease up?"
"The end of February."
"Why don't you give your place up and move in with us permanently?" Matt asked. "It would make sense from a security standpoint, and there's no point to shelling out money for a place you're not using."
Chris looked over at him. "That's true enough, I guess," he said. "And if I moved back to my apartment, I wouldn't have anybody to tell me jokes. Besides, if I did move back to my place, I'd be taking the kids with me. And Breakers."
"Matt, we'd be free, free, free!" Mike said, laughing maniacally.
"Easy, bud! You'll strain something," Matt told his partner, laughing himself. "Hmmmm. Speaking of jokes, let me see now..."
"I'm sorry, dude," Chris said, looking at Mike. "I knew I'd fucked up the minute I said the word 'joke,'" Chris said.
"Too late now, I afraid," Mike said. "The beast is out of its cage."
"You yokels listen up!" Matt ordered.
"A guy is walking along the strip in Las Vegas and a knockout hooker
catches his eye. He strikes up a conversation and eventually asks the
hooker, 'How much?'
"The hooker replies, 'It starts at $500 for a hand-job.'
"The guy says, '$500 dollars! For a hand-job! No hand-job is worth that
kind of money!'
"The hooker says, 'Do you see that Denny's on the corner?'
"'Do you see the Denny's about a block further down?'
"'And beyond that, do you see that third Denny's?'
"'Well,' says the hooker, smiling invitingly, 'I own those. And,
them because I give a hand-job that's worth $500.'
"The guy says, 'What the hell? I'll give it a try.'
"They retire to a nearby motel. A short time later, the guy is sitting
bed realizing that he just experienced the hand-job of a lifetime, worth
every bit of $500.
"He is so amazed, he says, 'I suppose a blow-job is $1000?'
"The hooker replies, '$1,500.'
"'$1,500? No blow-job could be worth that.'
"The hooker replies, 'Step over here to the window, big boy.
Do you see that casino just across the street? I own that casino
outright. And I own it because I give a blow-job that's worth
every cent of $1,500.'
"The guy, basking in the afterglow of that terrific hand-job says,
'Sign me up.'
"Ten minutes later, he is sitting on the bed more amazed than
before. He can't believe it, but he feels he truly got his money's worth.
He decides to dip into his retirement saving for one glorious and
"He asks the hooker, 'How much for some pussy?'
"The hooker says, 'Come over here to the window. Do you see how
this whole city of Las Vegas is laid out before us, all those beautiful lights,
gambling palaces, and showplaces?'
"'Damn!' the guy says, in awe, 'You own the whole city?'
"'No,' the hooker replies, 'but I would if I had a pussy.'"
Chris howled and pounded the steering wheel. Mike tried to keep a straight face, but finally broke out laughing himself.
"Where in the hell do you get all these?" Mike demanded.
"Well, not from med students, that's fer sure," Matt said. "Most of them are brain dead when it comes to humor. With the exception of yourself, of course, Mikey."
"Hey, did you guys hear that the Energizer Bunny died yesterday of sexual overstimulation?" Chris asked.
"Say it isn't true!" Matt said.
"Yeah. Somebody put his batteries in backwards and he kept coming and coming and coming..."
Matt and Chris laughed it up again, and finally Mike couldn't help himself and joined in.
Grinning the rest of the way home as they talked, they reached the condo and drove into the underground garage. Stopping on the first floor, they picked up the mail from Dominic, a security guard posted at his side.
"My wife and I sure enjoyed last weekend," the rotund doorman told them. "Everything was great. We haven't had that much fun in a long time."
"If Stan and Linda were here, they'd tell you that having you and your wife there made it that much better, Dominic," Mike told him.
"Where did they go on their honeymoon?" Dominic asked.
"Aspen, Colorado," Matt said, grinning and slapping the man's shoulder. "They're probably skiing as we speak. Or doing something else."
They all laughed. The three guys got into the penthouse elevator and went upstairs. Walking into the den, they found Mary watching the TV local news while the three boys played with their legos.
"There was a big robbery last night where we shop for groceries," Mary said after greeting Chris and Mike and Matt. "They think it might have been the same man who robbed the bank in Evanston. It looks as if Neil Anderson is back at it. They say he got away with over $20,000."
Matt and Mike looked disgusted, and the three of them sat down and watched the lady reporting the story on location outside the grocery. It was definitely bad news.
The news anchor moved on to the next story, and Michael abandoned the legos for the moment and went over to Matt.
"Dad, when can we take the training wheels off our bikes?" he asked.
"Are you sure you're ready for that?" Matt asked him.
"Yes," Matthew said, standing up and also coming over to the couch with Kyle. "We're g-o-o-d!"
Mike smiled at how much Matthew sounded like Matt.
"Well, we'll check your riding out tonight right after supper," Matt told them. "If you're as good as you say you are, we'll take 'em off on Saturday."
That satisfied the kids, and they went back to their legos. Matt and Mike watched a little more of the news, and then went to their room to change clothes and study a little bit before supper. After the meal, the boys couldn't wait to put on a bike riding demonstration in the foyer. All three of them, as Matthew had claimed, were g-o-o-d, and Mike told them that the training wheels would come off the bikes the following weekend. Then it was back to the books for Matt and Mike.
At 10:00, they knocked off from studying. They joined Josh and Chris, who had already bathed and put the kids to bed, in the den for the late newscasts. The story about the robbery at the grocery store had just played again on one of the stations when they had an unexpected, unannounced visitor, still in uniform.
It was Tony. He walked into the den silently, his face a road map of woe. The four guys stood up.
"Tony?" Mike said after taking one look at him. "What the matter?"
"I'm sorry to bother you," the cop responded haltingly. "It's Marie. I just came from the hospital. It's possible she has uterine cancer, they think, and they're keeping her overnight to run some more tests and possibly do a hysterectomy within the next day or so."
The faces of the four young men fell.
"We knew something was wrong this afternoon," Matt finally said. "I'm so sorry. And I apologize for running your ass all over the city this afternoon when you had more important things on your mind."
The older cop didn't respond, just hanging his head and looking at the floor.
Mike went over and put an arm around their friend. "Come on in, Tony. We'll talk in the living room." Chris and Josh stood there wordlessly, still stunned, as Matt and Mike and Tony went into the living room and closed the double doors behind them. Matt and Mike pulled three easy chairs together, turned so they faced one another.
Tony had no sooner sat down than he leaned forward and put his face in his hands, making no sound. But tears began seeping through his fingers and falling to the floor.
Matt and Mike sat in silence, waiting for their friend to regain his composure. Probably five long minutes went by before Tony looked up and sat back in his chair.
"We've been married thirty-three years," he said after wiping his face with his handkerchief. He lapsed into silence again.
"I can't really explain why I came over here," the cop finally continued in a choked voice. "I just found myself turning into your driveway, y'know. It's really strange. I have a lot of friends I could go to, some of them dating back to when I was in grade school and high school and the police academy, and some of them friends that Marie and I have made since we've been married. I've known some of the men since I was a little wop kid in short pants on the street corner." He paused. "But there's not one of them I'd feel comfortable sitting down in front of and crying like this. Why is that?" He looked at Matt and Mike with sad, watery eyes.
"Sometimes intimate friendships are tough for men," Mike said softly. "Deep down, a lot of guys are afraid of being thought of as feminine or even gay if they share their emotions with another man, particularly if there's any sense of competition with the other person at all. Men don't like to come across as vulnerable or weak. In part, I think it's because we live in such a homophobic society."
"Tell me about it!" Tony said, shaking his head and thinking back to his earlier conversation with the sergeant at the firing range and to his own lack of tolerance for gays over a period of many years. Now he understood there were implications about homophobia for straight men, too.
"How long have you known about Marie's condition?" Matt asked.
"She hasn't been feeling herself for quite a few months now. They started running some tests last week, and so far they haven't ruled out cancer the way we had hoped."
"What hospital is she in and who's her doctor?" Mike asked.
"She's at Northwestern. Her doctor is Sigrid Angstrom."
"I know Dr. Angstrom," Mike said. "An OB-Gyne. She's good. Respected. Who's doing the surgery, if it's required?"
"Dr. Booth, I think his name is."
"I've met him, but I can't say I know him," Mike said. "You don't really have an opinion yet. But if they do say cancer, you should get a second opinion before letting anything too radical be done."
"I hadn't really thought about that."
Mike looked at him thoughtfully..
"You don't need to worry about it until you see what the latest test results are in the morning," he said. "But a second opinion never hurts. Good docs never resent them. They welcome them. Nobody wants to make a mistake."
"What do I do now?" Tony asked.
"You wait. No, let me rephrase that. We wait. Do you have anybody for you at home, Tony?" Mike asked.
"No. The kids both live with their families out on the West Coast."
"Do they know?"
"Why don't you call them from here--it's early out there yet--and then stay here tonight?" Mike asked.
"I don't want to put you out," Tony said wearily.
"You won't be," Matt said. "If there's one thing we have, it's room. We even have toothpaste and a fresh toothbrush for ya," he added, smiling.
"I'll go to the hospital with you first thing in the morning and we'll see what's happening," Mike said. "And at some point, if it seems appropriate, I think you and Marie need to talk to Mary Bradford. She's a cancer survivor. Twice."
"All right," Tony said.
"Why don't I fix you a bourbon, and you sit here and call your kids?" Mike suggested. "They need to know something's up. But whatever you do, don't tell them Marie has cancer, because we don't know that yet."
"OK," Tony said, shutting his eyes and leaning his head back against the chair. "Thank you. For listening to me. For being...such damn good friends."
"Well, we are your friends," Mike said as he and Matt stood up.
"Stay right in that chair," Matt suggested. "I'll go make up a room for you, and Mike'll get you that drink and bring you a phone."
Mike and Matt opened the doors to the den.
"Josh, come help me for a minute, will ya?" Matt asked as he walked through the den toward the foyer. "We need to get Stan's old bedroom ready for Tony. He's gonna stay here with us tonight."
"Sure thing," the blond cop said, getting up from the couch and following Matt.
Chris watched Mike go over to the bar and fix a bourbon over ice, water on the side.
"Anything I can do?" he asked Mike.
"No. Not right now," Mike said laconically as he put the two glasses on a TV tray, and on his way past the coffee table, snatched up a portable phone. He carried the TV table and phone into the living room and put the tray down beside Tony's chair.
"I'll be in the den if you need anything, Tony," he said, handing him the phone and walking back toward the den.
"Thanks, Mike," Tony said, and took a big gulp of bourbon.
Mike heard the phone start beeping as the police captain punched in some numbers. Mike closed the doors to the living room and went and sat down on the couch with Chris, who clicked the remote to shut off the TV. They looked at each other in the silence, faintly hearing the sound of Tony's voice from the living room.
"Shit!" Chris said.
They sat there until Matt and Josh came back from the other wing of the condo.
"All set," Matt said.
Mike stood up. "I'm gonna take Breakers downstairs before bed," he said. Hearing his name, the dog came over from where he had been sleeping in front of the fireplace and nuzzled Mike's leg, tail wagging lazily.
"Take your gun," Matt said.
"Oh, yeah. I forgot," Mike admitted, heading for their bedroom and the lock box he and Matt had bought earlier to accommodate their weapons when not in use.
"I'll go with you," Chris told Mike, moving toward his own bedroom to get his weapon.
Mike and Chris met in the foyer, and the elevator whisked them downstairs.
"I hear you and Mike are good shots," Josh said to Matt as they continued sitting in the den.
"Mike's phenomenal. I'm OK."
"You're better than OK, according to Chris."
Matt shrugged. "I just hope we never have to use the damn things for real."
"That's what everybody who carries a weapon hopes for. Well, almost everybody."
The doors between the den and the living room opened, and Tony walked out, phone in hand.
"I'm glad that's done!" he said.
"How did they take it?" Matt asked.
"Not too well. They're upset, of course."
Matt nodded. "They had to be told. Did you eat supper tonight, Tony?"
"No, but that's all right."
"Well, why don't I make you a sandwich to tide you over? We have some good, leftover roast beef. Josh, would you mind fixing another drink for Tony? Then you guys come on back to the kitchen."
"Sure. Another bourbon, Captain?"
"Please. With just a splash of water."
"Yes, sir. Coming up." Josh walked to the bar as Matt left to make the sandwich. He replenished the ice in the glass, fixed the drink and brought it to Tony.
"Captain, I'm sorry about Mrs. Angelo."
"I know, Josh. Thank you."
They walked down the hall to the kitchen, where Matt already had a big roast beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato on sourdough bread on a plate, and was cutting it in two. He added a giant spoonful of potato salad to the plate as well. Sitting down at the kitchen table, Tony ate hungrily, sipping his drink and a glass of ice water Matt gave him, and started feeling a little better.
That night after everyone was in bed and sleeping, including Mike, Matt found himself tossing and turning. He got up, put on his robe and slippers, and padded down the hall to the den. The light from Sheridan Road was enough that he didn't need to turn on a lamp. Going over to the crucifix on the wall, he offered an Our Father and a Hail Mary for Marie and Tony Angelo, and then lit a votive candle. He sat down and watched the little light flicker on the walls and ceiling for a few minutes, thinking about Marie. When he returned to bed beside a softly snoring Mike, he lay down as close to him as he could without waking him, smelling the clean, masculine odor of his body. Before long he had dropped off to sleep and was contentedly snoring himself.
The next morning before Mike and Tony left for Northwestern Hospital to see Marie and get a better handle on her condition, Tony gave Matt some news about Neil Anderson. On the following Monday, he told him, uniforms from Tony's precinct would begin a building-to-building canvass over a 10 square block area to see if they could flush the Weasel out from under his rock. They were going to work north, south and west from the Bromans' Sheridan Road condo. With the latest robbery, the heat on police agencies had intensified just that much more to catch the guy.
As Mike and Tony drove downtown, Mike asked, "Tell me a little about Marie's symptoms.".
"Bleeding, mostly. Sometimes heavy bleeding. But she's never complained much about being in a lot of pain, or anything."
"Vaginal bleeding, I assume?"
"Bleeding can be caused by problems other than cancer, Tony," Mike said. "I not trying to give you false hope. But obviously more tests are needed, or they wouldn't be doing them. We don't have a firm diagnosis yet."
"What else could it be?" Tony asked.
"I shouldn't speculate without any evidence," Mike replied, "but I will. One alternative diagnosis would be fibroid tumors. They can either grow inside the uterus or on the outside of it. If the problem is fibroid tumors, these days a hysterectomy is rarely done if it can be avoided because the uterus supports other organs, and surgeons and radiologists would generally prefer to remove the tumors and then, if it's necessary, rebuild the uterus. It can be considered major surgery, though, and sometimes requires a month or so recovery period." He paused. "I know you and Marie are scared right now. But all I'm saying, Tony, is, let's not jump to any conclusions before all the evidence is in. By the way, it would probably be best if you don't tell Dr. Angstrom I've been flapping my gums about Marie's case. I'm only a third year med student."
"All right. But anyway, thank you for talking with me about it, Mike. I'm scared, I'll admit it. And thanks for letting me stay with you guys last night. I appreciate it a lot."
"You know you're welcome any time, Tony."
When they arrived at Northwestern, they went right up to the nursing station in the general hospital on Marie Angelo's floor. Tony went on down to her room while Mike took a look at her chart. He saw that Dr. Angstrom had ordered a second ultrasound, this time with saline induced into the uterus, a procedure Marie was currently undergoing. Tony came back to the nursing station.
"She not in her room. She must be having some tests," he said.
"Yes, she is," Mike said. "They're doing another ultrasound. This one will provide a clearer picture of what's going on."
Just then an orderly wheeled Marie by them in a wheelchair, moving her back to her room. Marie asked the orderly to stop, and he did. Tony kissed his wife and she greeted Mike. They followed the procession back to her room, where she stepped out of the chair and got comfortable in bed.
"Mike, how are you, dear?" Marie asked as he bent down to give her a kiss on the cheek when she was situated. "Thank you for coming to see me."
"I'm fine, Marie. It's good to see you. How did you like the festivities last Saturday?"
"Everything was wonderful!" Marie said. "Tony and I had a great time. Linda was a beautiful bride. And Stan was so handsome. I could go for that boy if I didn't have someone already in the picture," she added, looking up at Tony and smiling.
"I think everybody enjoyed the day," Mike said. He paused. "Anyway, Tony told me you were here, and I wanted to stop by. I know you guys are a little worried about your condition right now, but let's not worry until we know what we're worrying about, alright?"
"I know that's good advice, Mike," Marie said. "We're trying to keep our thoughts positive."
"You're both in my prayers, y'know," Mike said. "I'll look in on you later."
"Thank you, Mike. For everything," Tony said. Mike looked surprised when Tony drew him into a hug.
"Hey, he's Italian," Marie said, laughing when she saw Mike's surprised look. "He can't help himself."
"See ya later," Mike said, chuckling to himself as he took off for class.
Two days later Tony came by the condo just before dinner, sporting a big smile. Mary, Matt, Mike, Chris and Josh looked up at him expectantly as he stood there in the den, the three boys down on the floor in front of the fireplace playing a board game..
"We have a diagnosis," he told them. "Fibroid tumors. Just what you told me, Mike. No cancer. She's having surgery in the morning, and she'll be home in a day or two to recuperate. Thank you, God!" he said, looking up. "And thanks to you guys for your prayers."
They all jumped up and surrounded him happily, including the three little boys.
"What's happening, Dad?" Matthew asked, tugging on Mike's pant leg.
"Aunt Marie's been sick, and she's gonna be better soon," Mike told him. "Tony, what time is the surgery scheduled for?"
"Ten a.m.," Tony said. "That's kind of late for surgeons, isn't it? All the operating rooms must have been booked for 6 a.m."
"Tony, when Marie's ready to be discharged, why don't you bring her here to stay for a few days?" Matt asked. "Mary's a nurse, and Linda will be back in a few days, and there's always somebody around here to help out. That way Marie won't be alone all day with you at work. You should plan to stay, too. We can always put a second bed in her room for you if that's necessary for the first few days."
"Bringing her here is a great idea, babe!" Mike told his partner. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"You guys would do that for us?" Tony asked.
"Without a doubt!" Mike said, smiling.
"Well, that's....that's so great of you," Tony said, a little at a loss for words. "I'll sure pass on the offer."
"Anyway, we have to celebrate the good news," Matt said. "Tony, stay for supper, and we'll have some wine. Lots of wine, in fact!"
He did, and they did. It was quite a party. Tony got a real buzz on, and stayed the night again so he wouldn't have to drive.
The sight of Tony's unmarked car parked in front of the condo overnight next to Josh's state police cruiser put Neil Anderson in a frenzy, and he scarcely slept at all that night. Despite the successful grocery store robbery which had replenished his coffers, the continued police presence across the street upset him greatly.
* * *
Stan and Linda flew back into Chicago on Saturday night after a honeymoon week which had passed all too quickly. Matt and Josh went out to O'Hare to pick them up so they wouldn't have to take a cab.
They watched Linda and Stan, hand in hand, come down the long corridor toward the security checkpoint. Linda was positively radiant, and Stan looked content and very happy. It had obviously been a good week for the two of them. The closer they got, the bigger their smiles.
"You guys didn't have to come all the way out here to pick us up," Linda said as she hugged and kissed first Matt and then Josh. Stan followed suit.
"Yes, we did," Matt said. "We wanted to help ease your way back into the cold, cruel world. A little pampering never hurt anybody when the honeymoon is almost over."
"We don't have to ask you whether you had a good time or not," Josh said to them, chuckling as they started walking toward the baggage claim. "You both look, uh, newly married. Very newly married."
"Keen eye, there, dude," Stan said to Josh. He looked at Matt. "Why didn't you tell me married life was so good."
"I did tell you," Matt said. "But you only listen to about half of what I say."
"Thirty-three and a third percent, actually," Stan said. "But who's counting?"
"Don't let him kid you," Linda said. "He's missed you guys giving him a hard time."
"I have not!" Stan insisted. "It was like heaven being away from these yoyos. They're so crude sometimes. Not people of refinement like you and me, Lin."
Josh laughed and Matt snorted derisively. They stood around kibitzing until the baggage began emerging from an opening in the wall and snaking its way through the crowd on a conveyor belt. Stan grabbed his and Linda's bags as they moved toward them, and the four of them headed for the car in short-term parking.
On the way home, Matt extracted the particulars about what the newlyweds had done while they were at Snowmass and in Aspen. He extracted most of the details, that is, not all of them.
Matt filled them in on the scare they'd had over Marie Angelo, and told them that she had successfully undergone surgery for fibroid tumors the previous morning. He also told them that when she was discharged, likely the following Tuesday, that she would probably be coming to stay at the condo for a while until she recovered enough mobility to go home. Linda and Stan were happy that she was going to be all right, and Linda said she'd take good care of Marie when she came to stay.
When the four of them arrived back at the condo, Linda and Stan received a royal welcome from the rest of the family.
* * *
The Sunday chosen for Father David and Matt to leave for San Francisco was upon them. Each of them had packed and brought his suitcase to church so the two of them could leave for the airport from there. Everybody in the condo had attended the last mass at St. Stephen's with Matt that morning, and Matt walked out to their cars with them to say goodbye when it was over. Matthew, Michael and Kyle hadn't been pleased to learn the night before that Matt was leaving town. They fussed some more about it on Sunday morning. Mike wasn't thrilled to be left behind, either, but he knew that reconciling Curtis and Alicia Rohm with their son was well worth the trip.
After Matt said his special goodbyes to Mike and the boys, he went back to the sacristy to get his suitcase and hook up with David. The young priest had changed into Levi's, a sport coat and a shirt and tie. Matt was wearing the same, and they looked like young jocks not all that long out of school.
"Lookin' good!" Matt told him, checking him out. "You're gonna be getting a lot of special attention from the female flight attendants. If ya get extra snacks, will ya share?"
"Don't start up with me, man," David admonished him. "I'll sic an air marshal on you if you screw around."
"Well, jeez! Mass is hardly over, and already you're turning on me. I never expected that from a priest!"
Father Rohm had walked up to them just then, and let out a laugh.
"Maybe I shouldn't have gotten you guys adjoining seats," he said. "This is a peacemaking mission. Please keep that in mind."
"That's what I am, through and through, Father," Matt said. "A peacemaker. I don't know why people don't pick up on that right away. 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.' I can't vouch for Father David on the peacemaker issue, though, judging from what he just said."
"If this is what you put Mike through all the time, no wonder he's kind of quiet," David said. "Browbeaten, maybe. It must be tough for him to get a word in edgewise."
"Y'know, as a good brother to Martha, I'm duty bound to tell her about your bad attitude," Matt said.
"Really? She's the one who warned me that traveling with you would be, uh, challenging!"
Father Rohm laughed again as he walked them out to a waiting taxi, still in his cassock.
"I can tell this is going to be a fun trip. Here are your tickets," he said as they reached the curb, handing them over. He gave David a second envelope. "When you get settled on the plane, I'd like you both to read this note. I wanted to share my feelings with you about what you're doing for me and Alicia, and give you a message to relay to Curt in some way during the course of your conversation with him."
"Father, don't worry about a thing," Matt said. "I have a good feeling about the way all this is going to turn out. Curt is going to be a part of your family again. And so is his partner."
"Thank you, Matt. And you, David." He put his arms around them. "May I offer a prayer and give you a blessing?"
"Please, Father," David said.
"Dear Lord," the older priest bowed his head and prayed, "we humbly ask your protection for these your servants as they begin their journey of kindness and compassion. May their message of love be received in the spirit offered, and their mission of reconciliation inspire forgiveness. May they think your thoughts, speak with your tongue, and hear with your ears. Where there is division, unify us all in love and grace. Heal our wounds, and renew our family ties. Rescue us from pride and hardness of heart. Give us patience always to carry out the tasks, both small and great, you have given us. And may your blessing, Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon us all, now and in the days to come."
Father Rohm hugged each of them in silence. They stowed their bags in the trunk of the cab and climbed into the back seat. The cab moved away. Matt looked out the back window at the older man standing alone at the curb looking after them. Then the cab turned a corner, and he could not longer see him.
Facing a lengthy ride to the airport, Matt looked over at David.
"I have a story for you. It's about plane travel, sort of."
"I'll give you money not to tell it," David said.
Matt grinned. "Do you think I'd sell my joke birthright for a measly ten bucks? Get real!"
"Where's Mike when I need him most?" the priest asked plaintively.
"Sit back and enjoy, man. This is good.
"A guy sitting at an airport bar noticed a beautiful woman sitting next
him," Matt began. "He thought to himself, 'Wow, she's so gorgeous she must
be a flight attendant; but which airline does she work for?'
"Hoping to pick her up, he leaned towards her and said, 'Love to fly
"She gave him a blank, confused stare and he immediately thought to
'Well, she doesn't work for Delta.'
"A few seconds later, another slogan popped into his head. He leaned
her again. 'Something special in the air?'
"She gave him the same confused look. He mentally kicked himself and
scratched American Airlines off the list.
"Next he tried, 'I'd love to fly your friendly skies?'
"This time the woman barked back at him, 'Mister, what the hell do you want?'
"The man smiled, then slumped back in his chair. 'Ahhh, USAir...'"
David laughed in spite of himself.
"Speaking of a beautiful woman, I saw Linda with Stan in church with you this morning. Did they have a good honeymoon?" he asked.
"Yeah, they did. They loved learning how to ski, and they didn't break any bones. They have 'the glow.' You know what I mean," Matt laughed. "They can't keep their eyes off each other."
"I'm glad they're happy," David said. "Their wedding reception was just great, and I haven't had a chance to tell them yet. I think Martha really enjoyed it, too."
"I haven't heard a negative word about the festivities from anyone. I think even Linda's mother was pleased, and that wasn't easy to accomplish."
"Oh, there were a few disagreements beforehand between Linda and Mrs. Kosco about Polish wedding traditions. But Stan got things calmed down, so there were no problems. He's a pretty persuasive guy when he puts his mind to it."
"Weddings can be tough," David said. "Trying to meet everybody's expectations is like walking a tightrope sometimes."
Matt smiled. "I'm glad Mike and I didn't have problems like that. There have been so few gay weddings in this world that we didn't have to worry about people's expectations. They were too surprised that it actually happened."
"That's probably true," David said, laughing.
"You made our hotel reservations, right?" David asked a moment later, changing the subject.
"Where are we staying?"
"I just reserved us a couple of benches in Golden Gate Park."
"No, really," David said.
"The Mark Hopkins."
"Come on, Matt. That's too pricey for me."
"Not on this trip, it isn't. That's our reward to ourselves for helping out a friend. I'm not letting Father Rohm pay the tab for it, of course."
"What's my half gonna be?"
"There is no 'my half.'"
"Man, you're impossible!"
"No, I'm possible. At least that's what I always tell Mike."
They continued to bicker about this and that all the way to the airport. Matt was still a master at it after all those years of practice riding back and forth between home and college with Mike.
The lines at O'Hare were long and the process seemed interminable to get through security and to their gate for departure. But at long last they were boarded and seated in coach just forward of the wings of their Boeing 737.
"I thought they were gonna make us strip down to our skivvies before they'd let us on here," Matt commented.
"Now there's a picture." David sat down next to the window and buckled his seat belt. "At least we're not flying first class," he said.
"Gimme a minute. I'm gonna ask for an upgrade," Matt joked, sitting down beside him and buckling up.
"I'm beginning to have some idea of why Cain killed Abel," David said, grinning. "It wasn't jealousy. He was driven to it."
"Now, now. Chill, dude. We may be brothers-in-law some day."
They watched out the window as the baggage loading was completed and the baggage conveyor and trailers backed off. Cool air flooded over them from the overhead nozzles as the engines were started and took over from the portable power unit. The plane was pushed back from the gate, and taxied out into a line of planes which slowly diminished until finally theirs was in the lead. A female flight attendant ran through safety procedures, and then they were airborne. They were at cruising altitude before long, and the captain welcomed them to the flight on the speaker system.
"Why don't we take a look at the letter Father Rohm gave us," Matt suggested.
"OK," Father David said, pulling it out of his coat pocket. He tore the envelope open, removed the letter and held it so they could both read it.
"Dear David and Matt, (it said)
"Let me begin by repeating what Alicia and I have already told you:
We are so
grateful to both of you for undertaking this trip to meet Curt and his partner. Our
hope, of course, is that you will be able to lay a foundation for us to restore our
family to wholeness.
"It's said sometimes that when a human being loses one of his limbs,
it will feel to him as if it's still in place. I think they call them 'phantom' sensations.
That has been our family's experience in losing our firstborn, so long gone now for
reasons unknown, and yet feeling his residual presence in our midst even after all
these years have passed by.
"I believe that the Lord will guide you in what you say to our son in
carrying out this
mission, a task that we more or less thrust upon you. But I did want you to become
aware, going into your discussions with Curt, of the results of a recent survey which
asked people what they most longed to hear from others in this world, and hear
often. When the survey results were tabulated, what people most wanted to hear
1. "'I love you.'
2. "'I forgive you.' And
3. "'Your supper is ready.'
"Some people think that only the material things in life are important.
We know differently,
as apparently did those who were surveyed. "I love you" and "I forgive you" can come only
from the life of the Spirit. But we are also flesh and blood, and how appropriate it is to see
"Your supper is ready" included in that list.
"Whatever you say to Curt, and however you say it, I only ask that somehow
you will convey
to him our love, assure him of our forgiveness (if indeed he needs to hear it), and tell him that
forever and always in our house, his supper is ready.
"Yours faithfully in Christ,
"Curtis Pennington Rohm"
"Wow!" Matt said. "What a beautiful letter!"
"That's the Curtis Rohm not too many people know," David said. "He seems so solemn and stern to people. But underneath it all he's a very kind and gentle person. I've learned so much from him about being a good priest and pastor."
"Really? Then why are you so mean to me all the time?"
"I'm just trying to help you live up to your potential. And that's a real challenge."
Matt was going to respond, but just then a pretty little flight attendant batted her eyes at the two handsome guys and asked what they'd like to drink. They ordered soft drinks, and the young lady gave them several extra packets of peanuts and pretzels.
"I told you that you'd get extra snacks," Matt said, opening a package and biting down on a pretzel.
"Well, at least she didn't say, 'Mister, what the hell do you want?' We're not on USAir, obviously."
Matt laughed, and after they finished snacking, they sat back in their seats. David took a nap, and it wasn't long before Matt found his thoughts drifting back to Mike and the good time they had had in their bedroom the previous night. The memory made Matt's dick start to harden, and glancing over at his snoozing traveling companion, he took a magazine out of the seat pocket in front of him and put it in his lap to spare himself any embarrassment.
Matt and Mike had bathed the kids and put them to bed, and then walked Breakers. That was their usual Saturday night routine. When they had finally gone back to their bedroom, Mike had offered to trim Matt's hair in preparation for his trip to San Francisco. Matt's crew cut had been looking a little shaggy for a few days, and his hair was growing down the back of his neck and under the collar of his T-shirt.
"I'll take you up on your offer on one condition," Matt had informed his partner.
"And that would be?"
"You hafta be naked on the job."
"That's against union rules."
"I know you're lyin'."
"How do you know?"
"Your eyes darken up a little bit when you lie to me."
Mike had quickly glanced into the full length mirror on the wall of their bedroom to check out his eye color.
"Hah!" Matt had said with satisfaction. "Caught ya, you devious piece of shit! You can't fool me!"
"Do you want this haircut or not?" Mike had demanded.
"Yep. Get those clothes off, though."
"You're such a raunchy little fuck!" Mike had said. "A cute, horny, walking erection!" He had laughed and stripped down, also pulling Matt's T-shirt off when he was finished with his own clothes. They went into the bathroom together, Mike pulling Matt's computer chair behind him for Matt to sit on.
Even after all the years they had been together, Mike's body was still a total turn-on for Matt. His partner's lithe frame, enhanced by those defined pecs and pronounced lats, delts, biceps, triceps, and calf muscles, along with his straight back and bubble butt, were the stuff of which colossal orgasms were made as far as Matt was concerned. Mike was as toned as the day he'd left UPenn. Although he had stopped swimming, he had persisted in running, and he usually spent several hours at least twice a week with Matt working out in their little gym, usually after they got home from school. The results showed on both of them, and made Matt hot for Mike's body all the damn time.
Matt wasn't alone in his feelings for his partner. Mike thought Matt's body was the perfect eye candy, to be unwrapped, licked thoroughly and eaten as frequently as possible.
Matt had sat down on his chair, and Mike had taken their hair care kit out of a drawer, opening it up and putting it on the countertop. He had put a towel around Matt's neck. Plugging in the clippers and switching them on, he had moved into position in front of Matt. But before he could cut one hair, Matt had pulled Mike to himself and had begun to plant warm, damp kisses all over his partner's abs.
"See, I knew this naked barber routine wasn't gonna work," Mike had protested, grinning as he had started to bone up a little.
"It looks to me as if it's working just fine," Matt had said, leaning over to kiss his partner's penis.
"If you want a haircut, knock this shit off!" Mike had demanded, trying to sound exasperated but loving every minute of it.
"Alright, then, you have a ten minute reprieve," Matt had said, ceasing what he was doing and sitting up straight again in the chair. "That's all, though! Ten minutes! Get on it, dude! We're on a tight schedule here!"
Shaking his head woefully, Mike had "got on it," and brown hair had begun falling to the floor as he ran the clipper front to back, stopping frequently to check his progress in the mirror. He had worked carefully but quickly, managing to stay within the ten minute limit.
When he had finished, Mike had spun Matt around in his chair to look in the mirror.
"You like?" he had asked.
Matt had glanced briefly at his reflection. "Yeah. I like." Then he had reached around and grabbed a good, big chunk of Mike's ass. "But I like this better."
Lowering his face and putting a big hand his partner's neck, Mike had chuckled and kissed the top of Matt's head.
"One track mind," he had told his horny brother.
"Fer sure!" Matt had agreed. "Take a shower with me so I can get rid of the loose hair."
"Persuade me," Mike had suggested.
"I'll wash all your body parts that require special care and handling. I think you'll be pleased."
"Why didn't you say so? Let's go."
Already naked, Mike had watched as Matt pulled off his Levi's, briefs, Nikes and sweat socks. He swatted his ass when Matt leaned into the shower to turn on the water.
"Grade A Prime, dude!" Mike had said, slapping it again.
"And it's all yours," Matt had said, stepping into the spray and pulling Mike with him.
They had begun washing one another, boning up as they went along until they were each fully erect. They had taken turns scrubbing each other's backs with a shower brush, and had finished up with Matt working a soapy middle finger gently all the way into Mike's tight asshole.
"Is that a preview of coming attractions?" Mike had asked, grinning. "No pun intended."
Matt had pumped his finger in and out a few times for good measure.
"Maybe, if you're a really good boy," he'd said.
They had finished up, stepping out of the shower and drying one another off. Then, after quickly brushing their teeth, they'd made a dash for the bed.
"Loving this!" Matt had said as they held each other close, rubbing noses and kissing with lots of tongue. "Loving you, Mike."
The two partners had continued to fondle, lick and kiss one another until they were totally turned on, leaking precum copiously from cocks that just begged to be put to work. After smelling and nuzzling and licking the glowing body lying before him for a long time, Matt eventually had slid down and fellated Mike right down to the root. Mike had shuddered, groaned and began pumping gently into Matt's mouth, sliding his cock over his partner's vigorously exploring tongue.
Several minutes later, Mike had stopped pumping. "Oh, man, hold up," he breathed. "I'm right on the edge."
Matt had complied, freezing his tongue where it had been gently probing Mike's now gaping piss slit. Pulling off of his brother's penis completely, he had pushed Mike's legs up until they they touched his shoulders and begun to rim him, tasting the tart residue of soap from his earlier invasion. And smelling his musk Mike spread his legs wider to give his lover better access. Matt loved the little tuft of hair Mike had right around his hole, and his tongue toyed with it.
"Yeah, Matt! Damn, that feels great! Go deeper!"
Pressing his nose firmly into Mike's trench, Matt had licked and kissed and sucked that tender, flexing orifice until Mike had been moaning with pleasure.
"Put it to me, bro," Mike had instructed as his anticipation had grown almost unbearable. "Right now!"
Holding Mike's legs forward by his ankles with one hand and grabbing some lube out of his bedside table, Matt had squirted some scented grease up his partner's ass and on to his own pulsing dick. Then Matt had guided his prick toward its warm cocoon and probed gently until the head of his penis had popped inside Mike. He had waited until all signs of tension had drained from Mike's face, and moving in and up with short, quick strokes until he had passed the small knot of his prostate, he was soon all the way home. Then he had lain down flat out on Mike's now sweating body, and gently kissed his face and neck. Moving slowly, Matt had begun pumping the head of his cock slowly back and forth across his partner's pleasure kernel, sometimes lingering right on it, as Mike had begun to groan in earnest and his penis had begun dribbling more precum on to his abs. Raising up momentarily, Matt had scooped it up on his middle finger and put it to his lips.
"Sweet," he had breathed into Mike's mouth, his own breath ragged now as he reclined on his brother's body again, still pumping slowly in and out.
"Do me harder," Mike had finally instructed, and gradually picking up the pace and leaving gentleness behind, Matt had really put it to him as huge drops of sweat poured off of him and dropped down on to Mike, where it had mingled with Mike's own sweat and precum.
"Yes!! Matt...you...are...so...good...at...this..." By then, Mike had been taking in huge lungfuls of air and expelling them, gasping with intense pleasure as his prostate was massaged by the big head of Matt's dick. Matt had raised up on his arms, locking his back as he pumped, watching his partner's contorted face. He had pistoned away until Mike had grunted and the latter's penis had begun shooting cum up and on to Mike's own face and neck. Watching his partner's release, Matt had thrust harder and faster, until a few moments later he had followed his brother's massive orgasm with one of his own, his seed spurting out over and over to coat Mike's colon.
Matt had collapsed on to his brother's body, into the slick dampness of sweat and cum, and for all practical purposes, had passed out. Mike had gone into a coma as well. Matt had awakened about an hour later to find that his penis had fallen away from Mike, and he had rolled gently off his partner's body. Reaching down to the foot of the bed where Breakers had been sleeping by then, Matt had pulled their top sheet and light blanket over the two of them. That was the last he had known until morning.
Slowly coming back to reality, the now familiar hiss of jet engines reminded Matt where he was as he awakened from his pleasant reverie. The pretty flight attendant came down the aisle to collect the garbage from their earlier snack. He was glad he'd had the foresight to put a magazine in his lap, because his crotch felt full and damp. At least the dark blue fabric of his new 501's wouldn't show the dampness, he thought to himself.
Father David was still asleep, and Matt reached over and picked up the priest's garbage along with his own and threw it into a bag the flight attendant held open. David woke up not long thereafter and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. They chatted sporadically, peering out of the window and looking for landmarks as they drew ever closer to the California coast.
The flight continued to be smooth, and arrived over San Francisco on time, only to enter a stack of planes flying in circles over the Pacific waiting their turn to land. They were only fifteen minutes late when they parked at their gate at San Francisco International, though. David went to baggage claim to retrieve his and Matt's bags while Matt strolled over to a car rental counter to complete the process for a car he had reserved. David walked up with the bags just as Matt was finishing up his paperwork, and they went out to the curb to wait for a shuttle to the car rental parking lot. Matt pulled out his cell phone and called Mike at the condo while they were waiting. Stan answered the phone.
"Stanley! It's Matt."
"'Sup, man? Ya made it, huh?"
"Yeah. It was smooth. Except for having to sit beside Father David. He's such a wimp! He made me hold his hand and pray the Rosary with him all the way out here that we wouldn't crash."
Stan laughed into the phone as David slapped the back of Matt's head.
"Ow," Matt told Stan. "He hit me! A sheep of his own flock, and he hit me! Is this what they mean by 'tough love?'"
"Shutup!" David said.
Stan laughed again. "I see things are normal."
"Yeah," Matt said. "Listen, is Mike around?"
"No, he and Chris took the kids and went over to Aunt Carole's house to take her grocery shopping."
" 'K. Shopping with the kids. That'll be an adventure. I'll try him on his cell phone."
"Say 'hi' to everybody."
"Yep," Stan said. "I will. Oh, before I forget, Dr. Fischer from St. Stephen's School called."
"Yeah? On a Sunday? Did he say what he wanted?"
"He wants to meet with you and Mike and me. I think he may have a policy on bullying he wants to run by us. That's my guess, anyway. He didn't really spell it out."
"Did you tell him I'm out of town?" Matt asked.
"Yes. He wants you to call him when you get back."
"OK, bud. Thanks. I miss your ugly face," Matt said.
"It must be love. Get off the phone now."
Laughing, they broke the connection and Matt punched in the numbers for Mike's cell phone.
"Mikey. It's Matt."
"Get your ass home! Right now! I don't like this shit, you traveling with another guy, even if he is straight. And a priest."
"Now, now. David's given me his word he won't lay a hand on me, even though we may have to share a bed. One small bed. A cot, maybe."
The priest looked at Matt, laughing in spite of himself and shaking his head.
"I just wanted to let you know we made it in one piece," Matt continued. "We're waiting for a shuttle right now so we can pick up our car."
" 'K, dude. You guys will be at the Mark Hopkins, right?"
"Miss ya already. Good luck with young Curt."
"Thanks. Love ya, Mike. Call me tomorrow when you get a break between classes."
"Alright. Love you, too. Talk to ya..." Matt heard the kid's voices in the background. "Wait, Matt. The boys want to say hi."
The kids took their turns on the phone, full of sunshine and of enthusiasm for their bikes, now without training wheels, and for Gung Fu and for life in general, and then Mike was back on.
"Love ya, man. Talk to you tomorrow."
"Bye, babe." Matt flipped the phone shut and looked at David. "Sometimes I wonder if it's healthy to love somebody as much as I love Mike," he told him.
"It wouldn't be for some, maybe," David said. "But it's perfectly healthy for you two. You're not feeding off each other, because you're each bringing so much to the relationship. It's a real partnership. Everybody should be so lucky."
"Thanks," Matt said. "I appreciate that. Oh, and by the way, Stan said Dr. Fischer called and wants to see Mike and Stan and me. He may have a policy on bullying to run by us."
"Excellent!" David said. "I was hoping the whole thing hadn't just fallen into limbo. It's too important to forget about."
"I'll call him when we get back to Chicago."
The shuttle came and eventually deposited them at the car rental parking lot. Their car was a white Toyota Camry, and soon they had their luggage loaded into the trunk and were making their way out of the airport. Relying on memories of earlier family visits to San Francisco, Matt took the expressway into the city and they were soon pulling up to the Mark Hopkins All the flags across the front of the massive building were unfurled and snapping briskly in a strong breeze off the Bay.
"Number 1 Nob Hill," Matt commented on the address of the hotel as they drove up the circular driveway.
"You're a knob!" David said.
"That's cold. Especially coming from a priest."
Matt had them hold the car at the front door while he and David checked into a nice, two-bedroom suite on an upper floor with a great view of the city and the Bay. David shook his head when he saw how nice the suite was, but decided not to bust Matt's chops about the accommodations any further.
"Whaddaya say let's go find out where we need to go in the Castro tomorrow?" Matt suggested after they had emptied their suitcases and hung up their clothes.
"Good idea," David said.
They used the bathrooms in their suite, and then headed back downstairs. Once in the car, they consulted a map for the fastest way to the Castro section of the city, and took off. Finding and following Market Street, they reached the general area before long, and miraculously found a place to park near 18th and Castro.
For a Sunday night, Castro Street, in particular the bars, was busy. Thirsty, Matt and David went into one of the crowded bars and ordered a beer. There were no empty seats open at the bar itself or any of the tables, so they leaned against a wall sipping their beer in the mass confusion and drawing plenty of looks from the guys who packed the place. In general, it was a little older crowd than they had experienced at Roscoe's back in Chicago on the few occasions they had been there. Some of the younger guys came up and hit on them, and some of them were cute. Matt and David were polite, but clearly uninterested.
They finished their beer, and hit the street again. Noting the address of the bar, they knew they weren't far from the address of the floral shop supposedly owned by young Curt, so they began walking in that direction. They came upon the store two blocks down on the the other side of the street. A neon sign in flowing script trumpeted "Pennington's" above a spread of plate glass windows full of flower arrangements. The shop was impressive, incorporating the width of three store fronts into what appeared to be a considerable establishment.
"Looks prosperous," David commented.
"Yes, it does," Matt agreed, looking up. "Looks like the façade has been redone, and not too long ago."
Crossing the street, they browsed the windows more closely. The artistry involved in the flower arrangements was obvious, although the flowers used as displays were fake, not real.
"Nice work," David commented.
"Yep." Matt noted the store hours neatly lettered on the front door. "They open at 9:30 in the morning. Why don't we plan to be here then to meet Curt."
"Let's wait 'til 10:00 or so," David suggested. "If young Curt is anything like his dad, he needs his coffee in the morning before he's human. Besides, if he's the owner, he may have somebody else open the place up."
" 'K," Matt agreed. "Now that we know where to come, whaddaya say we go back to the hotel and hit the fitness center for an hour or so? I'd rather run outside, but not up and down these freaking hills. The treadmill will have to do."
"You inspire me, y'know," David said.
"That's cool," Matt said, "'cause when we're done running, I'm gonna put you on the weights so we can build up that puny basketball player physique of yours."
"Dream on," David said. "My physique is just fine. You aren't gonna grow to a decent height, and I'm not gonna get muscle bound like you."
"That's low, if you don't mind my saying so," Matt said, grinning.
They walked to the car and drove back to the Mark Hopkins, bickering all the way. They went upstairs and changed into jocks, shorts and tank tops, and taking a couple of towels, went down to the Hotel fitness center. Late afternoon was a good time to be there. The place was empty, and they quickly selected side-by-side treadmills. After doing their stretches and setting the controls for 5 miles at a good pace, they climbed aboard, and their machines gradually accelerated to the speed they had set.
After the first mile and a half, Matt's endorphins kicked in and he really found his groove. He looked over at David, who was obviously enjoying himself as his long legs ate up distance.
It wasn't the first time Matt had looked his companion over during a run. The priest was tall and thin, but he had a good body, and Matt could definitely see why Martha was attracted to him physically as well as mentally and emotionally. He was sexy as hell. Under completely different circumstances for both of them, Matt wouldn't kick him out of bed, he knew that. The guy would make a damn good brother-in-law if it came down to it, and Matt fervently hoped it would.
Matt turned his attention back to the TV mounted above his machine, where the 49ers were polishing off the Bears in the fourth quarter of their game right there in San Francisco. Those fucking Bears, Matt thought to himself, mentally shaking his head in dismay.
He didn't see David finger the keyboard on his treadmill to gradually increase his pace, but he heard David's huge feet begin to slap down faster, and looked over at him.
"You're trying to beat me to the five mile mark, aren't you, you...you worm," Matt had huffed, trying to think of a reasonably inoffensive word he could pin on the clergyman.
"Me? No way!" David responded with a grin.
"Right!" Matt reached down and adjusted the pace of his machine upward until once again they were running at the same pace. "You're so devious...you'd have been right at home...with the Borgias...a few centuries ago...you know that?" Matt squeezed out his words, his breath at a premium.
"Would not," David said.
Matt shut up and concentrated on his running. The priest's long legs gave him an advantage in the running department. But it was nothing Matt couldn't handle.
With David's plan to finish first now blown, they finished together, did their stretches, toweled off, and cooled down by walking around the fitness center looking at the machines. The Mark Hopkins had some pretty nice stuff. Then they caught an elevator upstairs and showered, meeting back in their sitting room when they were dressed.
"Where do ya want to eat tonight?" Matt asked.
"Anywhere that will take us in Levi's and T-shirts," David said.
"We can either go down to the coffee shop, or stay here and order from room service." Matt picked up the room service menu from the coffee table.
"Let me look at the prices," David said.
"No," Matt said. "This is on me. Just tell me what you want."
"Let me look at the menu."
"I'll read it to you," Matt said, and he rattled it off. "What sounds good to you?"
"What's the cheapest thing?"
"Shutup. Just tell me what you want before I have to hurt ya."
"You know what happens when you hit a priest?" David asked him.
"The angels sing in four part harmony? How should I know?"
"The hand you used to hit a priest sticks out of the grave when you die. It sticks out no matter what anybody tries to do about it." David looked at him without cracking a smile.
"Is the hand giving you the finger while it sticks out? 'Cause that's what my hand is about to do."
That cracked David up, and he laughed so hard that Matt started laughing with him.
"You have an answer for everything, doncha?" David said when he caught his breath.
"I try. Now, what do you want off this freaking menu?"
"Oh, all right! Pork chops, I guess," David said.
"Potatoes or rice?"
Matt ran through the rest of the choices, and then picked up the phone and placed their orders.
"It'll be a half-hour, they said. How about a beer while we wait?"
"Sounds good," David said.
"You don't get any more choices," Matt said, getting up and going over to the bar in the corner. "You're drinking Heineken and liking it." He pulled two green bottles out of a refrigerator, popped the caps, and gave David one.
"How do you think we ought to approach Curt tomorrow?" David asked when Matt sat down again.
"Well, I don't see any point in being cagey about why we're here. When we ask if we can talk to him, you know he's gonna ask why. I think we should just tell it the way it is: we're friends of his father and mother, his parents love him, and they want to heal any breach that exists."
"That sounds pretty straightforward for an almost lawyer," David said.
"I know it. If I want devious, I go to a basketball playing priest."
They continued to talk about their strategy for approaching Curt until their dinner came, but really didn't come up with anything better than Matt had already suggested.
After they ate, they decided to go see Matrix 2: Reloaded, and the Concierge gave them the name of a move theater. They caught a cab in front of the hotel instead of driving their rental car, and soon were sitting back in their stadium seats drinking Cokes and eating popcorn. The action in the movie was even more spectacular than it had been in its predecessor. It was almost more than anyone could assimilate in one viewing, and they agreed when it was over that they were going to have to see it again sometime to get the full impact.
They caught a cab outside the theater and went back to the Mark Hopkins. They had gained two hours flying west that day, so although the clock said it was fairly early Pacific time, their personal clocks said it was later, and they decided to hit the sack. Matt showered, climbed into bed, and said his prayers, remembering to include Marie Angelo, along with young Curt and their mission to talk with him the next day, among his petitions. Then he conked out to thoughts of Mike, their boys and the rest of the family back in Chicago.
Matt slept a little later than he usually did at home. He showered and put on Levi's and a golf shirt. When he went into the sitting room, he found David there, just finishing his morning office. When the priest was done, they went down to breakfast in the coffee shop. By then it was 9 a.m., and they watched a little Good Morning America on TV. Switching to the Weather Channel, they saw that it was going to be a sunny but cool day in San Francisco. Donning jackets and caps, they went downstairs and retrieved their car.
The drive to the Castro took longer than they thought it would because of weekday traffic, and they weren't standing in front of the floral shop until 10:45.
"Lord, bless our work," David said before they went in.
"Amen." Matt said.
"Help you?" one young lady asked them as they approached a sales counter just inside the door.
"We're looking for Mr. Pennington," David said.
"He's in his office. Just follow this aisle to the back and turn left. You can't miss it."
"Thank you," Matt said.
They followed directions, marveling as they walked at the impressive stock of fresh flowers in coolers along the wall and in a section of the store where a clutch of people were doing flower arranging. This was obviously a big operation.
Turning left at the back of the store as they'd been told, they saw an office door, slightly ajar, lettered "Curtis Pennington." They knocked.
"Come in," a male voice said.
David and Matt pushed open the door and saw a young man sitting behind a desk, doing paperwork. Tall and thin, he was wearing glasses, and in his facial features he looked like a young Father Rohm. They approached the desk.
"Mr. Pennington, my name is David Howard and this is Matthew Broman. We're from Chicago, and we're friends of your father and mother."
The young man looked up at them, blanched, and taking a deep breath, rose slowly to his feet.
I want to thank the readers of WIO for all the supportive emails over the years. That support has made writing this story a true pleasure. After two more chapters, WIO will come to a permanent close. Despite a few flames I've received along the way about the characters and deficiencies in my writing, I'm going to miss deeply the challenge and the satisfaction of writing WIO. The next chapter may be a little delayed because I am in the midst of moving across the country to New Orleans, thus fulfilling a long-time dream.
My thanks again to Chicagoeric for proofreading. Don H. firstname.lastname@example.org.