WORKING IT OUT--Book 3, Part 14

Matt and Mike arrived home from their classes in mid-afternoon the day after they had come back from Washington.  They were meeting Stan at the condo so that the three of them could drive together over to St. Stephen's School for their meeting with Dr. Bob Fischer, the principal, about bullying.

Stan was sitting in the den when Matt and Mike came in, watching one of the female TV judges dispense "justice."

"Hey, man, 'sup?" Matt asked their friend, joining him on the couch for a minute.

"Stan the man," Mike said, sitting down, too.  "You sexy beast!"

"Y'know, I can't believe I'm sitting here watching this shit," Stan said, nodding at the TV screen.  "There's just something fascinating about seeing this tiny little woman sit there and mock and abuse the people appearing in front of her.  She has it down to a science, but it's just bullying, no matter what the setting.  If you're young or poor and uneducated, in particular, you're dead meat in her 'court.'  Not that the litigants are any prizes sometimes, but my gosh..."

"Think 'entertainment,' Stanley," Matt said.  "Any principles of law take second place to this lady's 'shock and awe' tactics.  Her program was on the TV in the lounge at school the other day, and she told one litigant that a plea of nolo contendere in criminal court is the same as a guilty plea, and treated them the same in  her 'court,' which purports to be a civil court.  That was totally wrong, because a plea of nolo contendere in a criminal court can't be used as an admission of guilt in a civil court.  And that's the least of her legal sins."

"The worst part about it is that young people who watch this program think this is actually the way people in authority get to talk to people," Stan said.  "I hate that."

"Good point," Matt said.

"I'd like to have her get you in front of her on the bench," Mike said to Matt, laughing.  "She'd settle your shit down in one quick hurry.  You wouldn't know your ipso from your facto."

"Shoot!  Even this woman would be totally in awe of my legal prowess," Matt maintained.  "Speaking of legal issues, did you hear about the woman who had a complaint at work?"

Stan and Mike groaned simultaneously.

"I guess not," Matt said.

"A man walks up to a woman with long, blonde hair in his office every
day, stands very close to her, inhales a big breath of air, and tells her that
her hair smells nice.

"After a week of this, she can't stand it anymore and takes her complaint to
a supervisor in the personnel department, thinking about an eventual lawsuit.

"Without identifying the guy, she tells them what her co-worker does and
states that she wants to file a sexual harassment grievance against him.

"The Human Resources supervisor is puzzled by this decision and asks, 'What's
sexually threatening about a co-worker telling you your hair smells nice?'

"The woman replies, 'It's Keith, the midget.'"

Mike and Stan chortled.

"If I didn't love you, I'd kill you," Mike told Matt.

"You'll be punished for these stories in the next life," Stan predicted.

"Given a place of honor, you mean!" Matt insisted.  "All right, enough crap from you two!" Matt added, standing up.  "Let's head out, you lunkheads.  And I'm being kind to you when I call you 'lunkheads.'"

Stan pegged a pillow at Matt as he stood up, hitting him in the face.

"We don't have time now, or I'd teach your young ass a lesson you'd never forget," Matt told his aggressor sternly.

Stan laughed, and putting his arm around Matt's neck, squeezed it in the crook of his arm.  "You're kinda cute when you're pissed off.  Whatcha doin' later?" he asked, reaching down and around and grabbing a big chunk of Matt's ass in his free hand.

"Mike, this boy's getting fresh with me!" Matt complained.

"Well, thank God for that!" Mike said.  "No one man can do it all!"

"See, this is just one more example of sexual harassment, Stan," Matt said.  "You don't have to be a midget to be guilty, y'know.  I'll be seeing you in front the lady judge on TV, buddy.  Real soon.  Maybe she'll make you go up on the bench and grope her ass like you did mine just to demonstrate, and then she'll give you the abuse you so richly deserve.  But of course it won't be anything compared to what Linda will have to say when I tell her you grabbed my ass."

Laughing, Stan turned Matt loose.

"It would be the best grope that judge ever had, from the sour look on her face," Stan said.  "As for Linda, she'll just smile at me sweetly when the subject of groping you comes up, and say, 'Good one, fool!!  Thanks for doin' that!'"

The three of them laughed and walked to the elevator.  Mike swiped his elevator card in the card reader, the door opened, and down to the garage they went.  They got into the Blazer, and drove to St. Stephen's School.  Parking in the lot, they went inside and were surprised to find Father David waiting for them near the front door, talking to the private cop, gun on hip, who had come to pick up Matthew, Michael and Kyle.

"Hello, Sid," Matt said to the security man.  "And the esteemed Father Howard!" Matt said, shaking hands.  "To what do we owe this honor?"

"Father Rohm didn't want to expose any of his staff to you savages without someone to keep order.  He had another meeting, so he sent me.  Like a sheep to the slaughter, so to speak."

"No, really," Mike said.

"Father wants me to get a copy of the new policy on bullying and take it back to him to review before he takes it to the Vestry," David said.  "He wants to make sure there are some teeth in it, to be truthful.  I'm not going to say anything in your meeting."

"You promise?" Matt asked, grinning.

"Puhleeze!  I'm a priest.  Have you ever seen a priest who could keep his mouth shut in a meeting?" David asked them, laughing.  "Actually, I used to be able to, but since I've been hanging around with you guys, I just can't do it anymore."

"That's the truth!" Mike said, smiling and giving David a light punch on the arm.  He turned to the security man.  "Listen, Sid, why don't you wait in the office with the kids.  We'll take them with us when we're finished with our meeting, and you can leave for your house from here.  I'll square it with Chris."

"Sure thing."  Sid nodded, and they all headed for the office.

The kids were sitting quietly in the outer office reading when the five men went in.  A school secretary smiled and nodded to them in greeting as she typed away at a word processor at her desk.  She stopped typing and buzzed her boss.

The boys were excited when they saw their dads and Stan with Father David and Sid.

"Dads!" Matthew said.  "What's everybody doing here?"

"We heard so many good reports about you guys, we just had to come over," Mike said.

"You're kiddin' around, right?" Kyle said, looking as skeptical as a little kid could.

"A little bit," Mike said.  "But we really do get good reports on you guys, and we're proud of you.  We have a meeting with the principal."

"Can we wait and go home with you?" Michael asked

"Yes.  We already asked Sid to wait here in the office with you until we're ready to go," Matt said.  "Will you guys be good out here with Sid while we're in Doctor Fischer's office?"

"Yes," Matthew said.

Matt bent down and kissed the boy on top of his head, smiling.  "You guys read some more, and we'll be finished soon."

The door to Dr. Fischer's office opened as the boys scooched up again on a bench that looked like an old church pew against one wall, their feet not quite touching the floor.  The principal came out of his office smiling, hand extended.

"Thanks so much for coming to meet with me," he said as he shook hands all around.  "Come on in.  Father, welcome.  Hi, boys," he said to the kids, who said hello.  Mike, Stan, Father David and Matt went into the principal's office, shutting the door, and sat down.

"Is Ms. Hodges going to join us?" Mike asked before they started.

"Uh, Ms. Hodges resigned to take advantage of some new opportunities," Dr. Fischer said.

Stan and Matt looked at each other, saying nothing, but they weren't surprised.  From their brief contact with the woman in their first meeting with the principal, they suspected that the former dean of students was not a supporter of Dr. Fischer's efforts to work on the issue of bullying, and probably didn't share his overall educational philosophy, either.

"I think we owe your family a debt of gratitude," the principal said enthusiastically as he began passing out packets of materials to each of his visitors.  "As sorry as I am about what happened to your boys, the incident gave us a wake-up call we really needed.  One of the ways we're going to stem the tide of bullying is by knowing how to work respectfully with all kinds of families, some traditional and some non-traditional, like yours.  At any rate, I've been stunned, as I really got into the research on bullying, to find out how widespread it is, and how damaging it is to perpetrators and victims alike.  I don't mean it's widespread here at St. Stephen's, but throughout the country.  Throughout the world, probably.  "

"I'm relieved that you take this matter as seriously as we do," Stan said.  "I've had some experience with bullying, so I know how terrible it is for all concerned."  Stan didn't elaborate on the fact that he had once been a very accomplished bully himself.

"Well, I think we're in a better position here to do something about it now.  I've been chairing a committee of teachers and some of the older students to develop a written policy on bullying since we last met, and I think we've come up with a good one.  First of all, it defines what we mean by bullying.  It's a pretty comprehensive definition, and leads off with the frequency and type of negative behaviors in general before such behaviors can really be considered out-and-out bullying.  The danger signals before the real thing, sort of.  Then it gets to the real thing.  We've purchased an entire curriculum to instruct teachers and students about what bullying is, how to defuse it when and if that can be done, and how to report it.  It makes the reporting of incidents of alleged bullying to the Dean of Students or to me mandatory for both teachers and students, and sets up procedures for investigating allegations.  It also sets forth a series of escalating penalties for repeat perpetrators when an investigation supports the allegations, and those penalties include counseling, in-school and out-of-school suspension and even expulsion from school in serious cases.

"What we didn't want to do was to make St. Stephen's a grim and humorless place that intimidates kids from participating in the normal give and take of daily life.  We certainly didn't want to create a culture of snitches who get their jollies from reporting people for the fun of it, or who could use the system as a vehicle for paying back personal grudges.  We realize that no one can be protected from all the exigencies of daily life in a free society, but on the other hand, we certainly want to keep our kids from having their development as human beings affected negatively by other kids with evil intent.

"I guess what I'm saying is, like any good policy, this one demands a high level of good judgment from all those who are going to use it.  I think that with good instruction for everyone here at school about bullying and its effects, we can do an excellent job of tackling this problem.  I hope that when you read the materials I've given you, you'll think so, too.  This is a parochial school, so I have no reluctance about telling you right out that we truly love all our children here and respect them, and that we'll do everything humanly possible to help them become good and moral and educated people."

Mike had been leafing through the materials Dr. Fischer had passed out while the principal had been talking, and looked up from his reading.

"I'm impressed with what I see in front of me and what I hear, Dr. Fischer," he said.  "I'd like the opportunity to read this material more thoroughly, of course, but you're definitely on the right track.  Thank you, and your staff, too, for being willing to grapple with this issue."

"I agree, Bob," Father David said.  "I think Father Rohm is going to be extremely pleased with what you've been doing and the materials you've purchased and produced yourself here."

"This is good stuff," Matt added.  "I'm delighted.  Would it be out of line for me to ask what happened to the guys who bullied our boys?"

"I think you're entitled to some information on that," Fischer said.  "Both boys were initially suspended, pending an investigation.  When the facts backed up the allegations, the parents of one of the boys refused to accept additional days of suspension, and they withdrew their boy from school.  The parents of the other boy supported our decision, and he's back in school and doing very well.  We provided some tutors so he didn't lose any ground academically, and he also received some counseling.  I think he really understands that what he did was wrong, and he's a boy who's changed a lot for the good.  I'm pretty happy about him, and believe me, he's a lot happier kid than he was."

"The family that objected to Bob's decisions eventually left the parish," Father David told Stan, Matt and Mike.  "First they went to Father Rohm and made the mistake of trying to undermine Bob and to bully Father Rohm himself by threatening legal action.  Believe me, you don't take that approach with Curtis Rohm and get very far. They even went to the bishop, who backed up the rector.  I hope those parents and their son understand that big money and high social standing, at least this one time in their lives, didn't win the day.  It makes me proud to be associated with people like Curt and Bob and Bishop Hewitt."

"I agree with you one hundred percent on that," Matt told David, nodding his head.

"Where do we go from here?" Stan asked.

"I would suggest that all of you read over what I gave you thoroughly," Fischer suggested.  "If you have any concerns, any at all, please give me a call and we'll work with you on it.  Father, my understanding is that you're taking a copy of the material I've given you to Father Rohm, and I'll look forward to feedback from him.  When everybody's satisfied we have a good product here, I think Father Rohm will submit it to the parish lawyer for his input.  Then he and I will present to the Vestry for adoption.  That should do it."

The five men stood up.

"It looks like a good job to me, Dr. Fischer," Matt said, offering his hand.  "I appreciate everything you've done here on behalf of Matthew, Michael and Kyle, and all their classmates.  I think we're fortunate to have you here at St. Stephen's, sir.  Thank you."

The other three nodded their heads, shook hands cordially with the principal, and went out into the outer office.  The three boys jumped off the bench as Sid stood up.

"Oh, good," Michael said when he saw them.  "I'm ready to go home."

"All right, buddy," Mike said.  "We're going.  Sid, thanks for staying.  Just walk us out to the car."

"Yes, sir, Mike."

The five men and the three little boys left the office and walked down the now-darkened main hall of the school toward the bright light of the front door, their bodies almost intertwined they were bunched so closely together, casting long shadows behind them.

*  *  *

Josh had a half day off on Thursday to use up some compensatory time.  When he arrived home from work at noon on Thursday, he found Chris in the den with Stan, sitting on the couch, hunched over big sheets of blueprints which were unfolded on the coffee table.

"Josh!" Stan said, looking up jovially.  "Commere, man.  We have a draft of the plans for the first residential unit for runaway gay kids.  See what you think."  The two of them each shoved over a little bit on the couch so he could sit between them and get a good look.

"Here's the first floor," Chris said, pulling out a blueprint from the bottom of the pile.

"I didn't know the project was this far along," Josh said as he bent his head and looked closely at the drawings.  He could make out a reception area and offices, including a security office, a large kitchen, a dining room, two classrooms, a counseling office, a small chapel, a regulation-size gymnasium, a weight room, an indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, and separate boys' and girls' locker rooms.  Chris pulled out a second drawing labeled "Second Floor" and laid it on top of the first drawing, and Josh saw a large living/recreation area, some bedrooms, a nurse's office, a dispensary, and a four bed infirmary.  A watercolor drawing of what the entire building would look like from the outside pictured the building, a baseball diamond, and an adjoining parking lot, surrounded by a tall, decorative, wrought iron fence with brick pylons every few feet..

"An architect for Berman Worldwide Engineering, the company that Mike's birth dad used to run, drew up what you see here," Stan said.  "And we're right on schedule."

The square feet devoted to the second floor looked smaller than the first floor to Josh.

"There's not as much room on the second floor," Josh pointed out.

"That's right," Stan said.  "This facility will only accommodate a limited number of kids--maybe 10 to 12 kids at max--so we don't need as much space for bedrooms as you might think.  But there's room up there to segregate the bedrooms, and the medical and social areas, on the second floor from the rest of the building."

"It'll be kind of an expensive place to run a place with so few kids, won't it?" Josh asked.

"That's true, Josh," Matt said, walking into the den at the tail end of their conversation.  "That's the plan, though, because large-scale, institutional facilities aren't very remedial by their very nature.  The kids we're going to be serving need lots of individual care and attention, and we're going to make sure they get it.  Do you remember Mike and me telling you about meeting that family in North Carolina a few years ago when we took the kids and went skiing?"

"No," Josh said.  "That must have been before I knew you."

"I remember your telling me about it," Stan said.

"Well," Matt said, "the gay couple from Florida that Mike and I met, Kevin Foley and Rick Mashburn, were parents in a foster family for some gay kids the Florida child welfare officials had had a tough time placing, and they'd also brought a couple of gay neighbor boys along with them on their trip.  They were a wonderful family, and we had a great time with them.  Their boys enjoyed our kids to the max.

"Good foster families headed by people like Kevin and Rick are really the best way to remediate kids," Matt continued.  "There's just no doubt about that.  The problem is that you can't always count on foster parents to be good and kind and loving like the Foley-Mashburns, or to have the resources that some of the kids need.  Some families can sometimes do more harm than good to the kids who are placed with them.  So our plan is to do the next best thing to having a great foster family:  hire damn good people, family oriented people, pay them well, and have them guide and love the kids they're responsible for into a better place, mentally and psychologically speaking, within a small group setting.  When we get things going, I guess we'll find out fast enough whether this can work or whether we screwed the pooch."

Before he had left for California to track down young Curt Rohm, Matt had dropped a note to the mayor of Chicago's office asking for an appointment for himself, Mike and Stan in order to discuss the proposed new facility.  When he, Mike and Father David had returned to Chicago from Washington, he had found a voicemail message waiting for him saying that the mayor would see them on Thursday at 4:30 p.m.  The time was good for Mike and Stan and for him, so when Thursday rolled around they went to the Loop and up to the mayor's 5th floor office in the City Hall/County Building at the appointed time.  All three of them were dressed in suits, shirts and ties, and shined shoes, and looked sharp.  A receptionist ushered them into the mayor's office almost immediately.

"Two of my favorite people!" the mayor said as he stood up behind his desk, extending his hand to Mike and Matt, who shook hands with him.  The man seemed to be in a good mood and genuinely pleased to see them.

"Mayor, I'd like you to meet our good friend Stan Rosinski," Matt said.  "He's a native Chicagoan who's going to be heading up the project we want to talk with you about today."

"Stan, how are you?" the Mayor said, shaking his hand.  "Any friend of these two guys is a friend of mine."

"I'm fine, thank you, sir," Stan said.  "It's an honor to meet you."

"Please sit down," the mayor said, gesturing to three chairs in front of his desk.  "The first thing I want to know is how Justice Broman is doing."

"He's doing amazingly well," Mike said.  "The paramedics gave him some special medication almost immediately after the heart attack, so there was no permanent damage to his heart.  He'll be going home to Pennsylvania for a few weeks sometime over the next few days to recuperate."

"Excellent!" the mayor said.  "I was worried about him when I heard he'd had a heart attack.  And to be honest, I admit I was worried that the Court might shift ideologically if he weren't there to balance things out the way he has.  I sent him a note, by the way.  I hope he got it."

"I'm sure he did, Mayor," Matt said.  "But I'll ask him when we talk with him tonight."

"Good.  Say 'hello' for me."  The man paused and looked at Stan.  "You know how I happened to meet Matt and Mike, don't you?"

"Yes, sir.  I worked with both of them at Hospice during that Summer after they had pulled that family out of the lake.  We gradually got to be friends by the time they left to go back to school."

The mayor seemed to be in a mood to reminisce a little.  "Of all the awards I've given out over the years, I probably enjoyed that occasion with Matt and Mike and their family more than any," the mayor said to Stan, looking at the two guys fondly.  "I've never forgotten what they did."

Matt and Mike looked a little uncomfortable.

"Now, tell me what's on your mind today?" the mayor said.

Matt got right down to it.  "A few years back, I met a 12 or 13 year old kid named Brandon outside Hospice," he began.  "He was hungry, and I bought him a meal at a little restaurant in the neighborhood.  He was a gay boy who had run away from home to get away from sexual abuse by his mother's boyfriend, and was selling his body on the street here to survive.  He never told me his last name or where he was from.  I was going to let him stay with Mike and me that night until we could find him a permanent place to stay, but he climbed out a window in the restaurant restroom and ran off.  I couldn't find him, and the next thing I knew, I was reading in the paper about a murdered boy somebody has molested and left in a dumpster.  Captain Tony Angelo arranged for me to view the body at the morgue, and it was Brandon."  The specter of Brandon's bruised and beaten face hovered in his mind's eye, and Matt abruptly stopped talking because of the lump in his throat.  Stan reached over and gave Matt's shoulder a squeeze in the silence.

"What happened to Brandon hurt me a lot," Matt continued when he was able.  "And I began to think about what we could do to help out gay, runaway kids in Chicago to keep this from happening again, and came up with the idea for a shelter.  We asked to meet with you today to see if this is something you could get behind.  If so, we have some construction blueprints to show you."

"Where would this facility be located?" the mayor asked noncommittally.

"In the same general neighborhood as Hospice," Stan said.  "By the way, Sister Angeline Martin from Hospice is on the board of directors of the new, not-for-profit corporation we set up to do this job."

"Sister Angeline!  Good.  She'll straighten you guys out in one quick hurry if you get off track."  The mayor chuckled.  "She scares the hell outta me," he admitted.

The young men laughed.

"I've been looking at abandoned industrial properties in the Hospice neighborhood, and there are plenty of buildings in the area that aren't occupied and aren't selling, as you know," Stan said.

"Yes, I do," the mayor said.  "We've tried a number of things to jump-start economic activity in that area of the city, but nothing has caught fire."

"We're only talking about a small group home here, nothing too huge," Stan explained.

"OK.  Do you have funding for it?" the mayor asked.

"Yes," Mike said.  "The Broman-Berman foundation has given us a substantial initial grant to buy property, demolish what's on it, and build a building, with the promise of more for operating funds and additional property as they're needed."

"Let's see what you've come up with," the mayor said.

Matt opened a sizable leather case and took out a folder full of blueprints.  He unfolded the sheets and put them on the mayor's desk.  He and Stan and Mike got up and surrounded the man's chair to help the mayor interpret what he would be seeing.

The mayor went over the plans carefully with them, page after page, finishing up with the rendering of the entire building, grounds and fence. Then he sat back in his chair.

The three guys went back to their seats and looked at the mayor expectantly.

"I like the plans, and the wrought iron fence is a nice touch.  It really dresses the place up," he said.  "It looks like a sweet deal for the kids who will be lucky enough to live there.  But you're going to have to satisfy a lot of people before it ever gets to the City Council and it lands on my desk for signature.  The first thing you have to do is to find the property you want.  All the parcels of land in that neighborhood are square and flat, so your plans shouldn't have to be modified to any great extent in the review process."  He paused.  "Y'know, there's going to be a tax delinquent property sale coming up pretty soon.  Stan, if I were you, I'd go down to the county treasurer's office in the other half of this building and get a list of those properties.  You might be able to pick up just what you need for a song.  I hope you're not averse to saving a buck or two."

"No, sir!" Stan said emphatically.  "Not at all.  Thanks for the suggestion.  I'll do that."

"Secondly, as soon as you have a good idea where you want to locate the facility," the mayor continued, "you need to be in touch with the alderman for the precinct it's in, and fill him or her in on what you're trying to do, just as you've done for me.  In fact, let me know who it is before you contact the alderman, and I'll call and pave the way for you a little.  It can't hurt."

"We'll appreciate that, Mayor," Mike said.

"This is all background work," the mayor said.  "The project will have to go through the planning and zoning process before the Council and I ever see the proposal.  But I don't think you'll have any problem, even if it ends up that you need a variance.  If you do have a problem, turn Sister Angeline loose on them, and you'll be pleasantly surprised what happens!"

The guys laughed.

"We know," Matt said.

The mayor stood up behind his desk.  "Thank you for coming in.  Matt and Mike, it's been a real pleasure to see you again.  Don't be such strangers!  And Stan, good to meet you.  I know you'll do an excellent job for these guys."

"Thank you, sir," Stan said as the mayor shook hands all around.  "It's been pleasure to meet you."

The mayor walked to the door of the office with them, Matt and Stan leading the way.

"Mike," the mayor said in a low voice as they walked together.

"Yes, sir?"

"Matt is still grieving for that boy that was killed.  It's been awhile.  Make sure he's not stuck in the grief process, will you?"

"Yes, sir," Mike said, trying not to show his surprise that the mayor knew about such an issue.

"I've been through it," the mayor said. "That's how I know."

Mike shook hands with the man again, and the guys left, pleased with their meeting.

The three of them hustled over to the county side of the building, and caught an elevator from the fifth floor down to the Cook County treasurer's office.  They made it just before closing; and were soon in possession of the tax delinquency sale list.  It was quite a sheaf of paper.  Matt stuffed it into his case, and they left for home.

*  *  *

Josh Harkness didn't think Friday night would ever arrive.  He did his job patrolling out on the expressways around Chicago that week, and did it in his usual professional manner, but he was pretty much on automatic pilot.  His date with Chris Russo on Friday night was very much on his mind.  The prospect of spending some social time, one on one, with the man he loved and admired completely, dominated his thinking.

Josh filed the the traffic citations he had issued Friday to the maniacs on the expressways, and there were lots of them, with the clerk at the State Police barracks, and then headed home to the condo.  He arrived about 4 p.m., parked his cruiser in front of the building, and went upstairs.  No one was in the den, so he went to his room, changed out of his uniform, and took a shower.  Then he put on a clean T, Levi's, sweat socks and sneakers, and went back to the den.  Chris was there by then, similarly dressed, sitting on the couch and watching the early news.

"Hey, man," Chris said genially, patting the couch.  "Watch the news with me."

Josh went and sat down beside him, his big feet joining Chris' where they were plopped on the big coffee table.  When a commercial came on, Chris turned and studied his friend.

"Y'know, you need a haircut, dude!" he said.  He reached over and ran a hand through Josh's blond, overly long crew cut, causing Josh to shiver a little.

"I know it," Josh admitted.  "I just haven't taken the time."

"I'll give you one if Matt will lend us his clippers," Chris suggested.  "You don't want Sergeant MacNamara gettin' on your ass for having hair growing down the back of your neck."

"You won't butcher me, will ya?" Josh asked, knowing that he wouldn't turn down a chance to have Chris touch him no matter how the haircut turned out.

"Roll the dice," Chris suggested, laughing.  "Common, I think Matt and Mike are in their room."

Chris turned off the TV with the remote, and they headed back to the corner bedroom.  Chris knocked on the closed door.

"Yep!" Matt said.  "Come on in."

Chris pushed open the door to find Matt stripped to the waist, sitting in gym shorts at his desk studying, and Mike, in shorts and a T, lying on the bed, talking quietly with the kids.

"It's the mod cop squad.  'Sup, guys?" Matt asked, looking up from his book and smiling.

"Josh needs a haircut," Chris said.  "Can we borrow your clippers?"

"Have you done this before?" Matt asked.

"No," Chris said.

"Then we wanna watch," Matt said.  "It's a 'teachable moment.'  If it's a disaster, the kids can learn what not to do.  Heh.  You can use our bathroom."

"Thanks a lot!" Josh said a little hesitantly.  "I think."

"I love an adventure," Mike said, clapping his hands and climbing off the bed with the boys, who were grinning like little Cheshire cats.

Matt got up from his desk and grabbed a little wooden chair sitting next to the wall, taking it into the bathroom.  Chris and Josh went in after him, followed by Mike and the three boys, whom Mike lifted up and plopped down on the long bathroom counter so they'd have an unobstructed view.

"This'll be good," Michael said to his brothers as they watched intently what was going on.

Josh sat down in the chair, shaking his head ruefully.  Chris reached down and pulled his friend's T-shirt out where it was tucked into his Levi's and over Josh's head.  Matt took a towel out of the linen closet and put it over the Josh's neck as Mike pulled the electric clippers out of a drawer and handed them to Chris, along with scissors and a comb.

"Good pecs, man!" Chris said to his buddy, admiring his chest.  "Your workouts have really paid off."

"Thanks," Josh said.

"Time to get down to business," Matt said.  "You're in the driver's seat now, Chris.  Gun it!!" he suggested.

Chris gingerly turned the clippers on, and stared at them as they fired up.

Josh looked apprehensive.  "Is there time for prayer?" he asked, smiling weakly.

"No," little Kyle said decisively, making everybody laugh.

Chris cradled Josh's chin, looked in the mirror, and tentatively began to run the clippers smoothly over his friend's head as blond hair began cascading down on to the towel.  Josh watched his new, shorn image begin to emerge in the mirror, and managed a weak smile.

"Not bad," Matt said as the job progressed.  "Chris is a quick study, Mike.  Watch closely.  You might learn something."

"The boy's good," Mike admitted.  "But he has a better head to work on."

Michael looked at his brothers, and the three kids laughed at Matt.

Matt pointed toward the kids surreptitiously behind his hand, and smiled.  "Precocious little brats," he said.

"We are not!" Matthew said firmly.  "What's 'precocious?'"

"Too smart for your own little good, that's what!" Matt said, ruffling the boy's hair.

Chris continued working until he was satisfied that Josh's hair was even and flat on top, the way his friend liked it.  Then he removed the towel and trimmed the hairline on his neck until it was nice and even.

"Not bad, if I do say so myself," Chris concluded.  "I just saved you twelve bucks, bud," he said to Josh.  "You owe me a beer tonight."

"W-a-a-i-t  a minute," Mike said to Chris.  "You're not done yet."

"What?"  Chris looked at Mike.

"You gotta use the scissors and neaten things up around his ears a little."

"Oh-oh," Matthew said to his brothers quietly.

"Whaddaya mean, 'Oh-oh?'" Chris asked the boy, faking a confrontation.  "You're next, y'know.  I'm just practicing on Josh."

"Oh-oh," the boy said again slyly, and everybody laughed.

Chris picked up the comb and scissors, and started combing and trimming a little awkwardly around Josh's ears.

"You have small ears," Chris told Josh.

"They hear everything they need to," Josh told him.  "I can hear a mouse f--, er, pass gas in a wind storm," changing his words at the last minute to a less offensive version because the kids were there.

Matt and Mike laughed, and the kids looked at each other.

Chris continued to work for a few minutes in silence, and then put down his implements.  He looked at the spectators inquiringly.

"Well?" he asked.

Mike cradled Josh's chin and turned his head this way and that.

"Actually, good job!" he told Chris.  "If Junior over here ever flakes out--" he nodded toward Matt, "you'll have my business!"

"Cool," Josh said, studying the mirror.  "I like it.  Thanks, Chris."

"You guys are going out for supper tonight, right?" Matt asked Chris and Josh.

"Yep," Josh said.

Matt turned to the kids.  "You boys go tell Grandma Bradford that Chris and Josh won't be here for supper, will ya?" Matt said.  The little guys slipped off the bathroom counter without a word and ran off toward the kitchen.  Chris watched them leave.

"Man, they're sure growing up", he said.  "Do you believe they already have a sense of humor this young?  'Course, you gotta have one in this house if you're gonna survive!"

"That's for sure!" Mike said, giving Josh a brush-down with a soft bristled brush.  Matt went to get a broom and dustpan from the kitchen closet as Josh stood up and put his T-shirt back on, tucking it back into his 501's.

"Excellent," Josh murmured as he studied his haircut again in the mirror.

Matt came back and began to sweep up the bathroom floor.

"I know Tony will probably be here, but since we're both gonna be gone, you guys keep your Berettas handy tonight, will ya?" Chris said to Matt and Mike.

Mike gave him a sharp look, and nodded.

"Where are you guys gonna eat?" Matt asked as he swept up the hair from the floor.

"We'll probably go to a little Italian place we both like back in our old neighborhood on the Northwest side," Chris said.

"Sounds good," Matt said.  "You have a good time."

"We won't be late," Chris said.

"Don't worry about it," Mike said.  "You guys both need more time away from here than you take."

"Where the hell would we go?" Chris asked.  "The people we love the most in this world are here," he said seriously.

Matt stopped sweeping and studied his friend.  Putting down the dustpan and leaning his broom against the counter, Matt went to Chris and drew him into a hug, kissing his cheek.  Chris reciprocated, holding him tight.

"I don't think I tell you guys often enough how I feel about this family," Chris said, his face turning a little red.  "But I'm learning."

"Thanks, man," Matt said quietly as they released one another.  "Luv ya."

"Let's book," Chris said to Josh, and after Josh thanked Matt and Mike for the use of the clippers and the bathroom, they took off and went down the hall to get their jackets and caps.  Josh retrieved his pistol from his bedroom lockbox, put on a shoulder holster, and both of them made sure their weapons were tucked securely into their holsters.

Mike looked at Matt as the two guys left the bedroom.  "I hope things work out for them."

"Yep," Matt said.  "Me, too.  Mike, hold the dustpan for me, will ya?"

"Yeah.  But first things first." Mike took the broom away from his partner, took him in his arms, and kissed him soundly on the lips.

"What's that for?" Matt demanded.

"For a while," Mike said.

They were still kissing when a knock sounded on their open bedroom door, and Andie Parker poked her head in.

"Hey, guys," she said, smiling at Matt and Mike.  "I came to see the kids.  Can I stay for supper?"

"You know you never have to ask that question!" Matt said.  "The boys are really gonna be happy to see you!  Get in here!  I have some hugs and kisses for you directly from Jeff!"

Greetings completed, Matt put an arm around her again.

"Andie, the builders are coming tomorrow to start punching through the floor in the den for the stairway down to your condo.  It's gonna be just the way you want it in no time."

"You guys are good to us!" Andie told Matt and Mike.  "I can't thank you enough for everything you're doing."

"Hon, nothing is too good for you," Mike said.  "Take that to the bank!"

*  *  *

Chris and Josh went out to Chris' car, and soon were on their way to a little Italian place they both liked, Manucci's, in their old neighborhood.  It was a little hole-in-the-wall, consisting of a kitchen and about 15 tables, with an attached bar.  Mrs. Manucci did the cooking, her husband tended bar, and their married daughter, Annie Guidry, waited table.  Chris parked his car in the restaurant's pockmarked gravel lot, and they went in, greeting several families they both knew in the dining room on their way to a corner table off by itself.  They took off their jackets and hung their shoulder holsters and weapons under them out of sight on nearby chairs.

"Chris and Josh!  Where have you two been hiding?" Annie demanded when she came to light the candle in its red globe on the table, and to see what they wanted to drink.  She put a couple of menus on the table in front of them.

"Workin', Annie," Josh said.  "That's about it."

"Well, don't be such strangers!  What can I get you to drink?"

"Bring us a pitcher of Bud," Chris said.

"Bud.  Comin' up."

She started a tab and hustled off.

"So, tell me what's going on at the barracks these days," Chris said to Josh after a moment's silence.

"Same ol', same ol'," Josh said.  "The captain and Sarge MacNamara are still skirmishing over how much facial hair is allowed before you're no longer the model of the perfect Illinois state trooper.  Walters got a day off without pay for reporting late for roll call two days in a row.  Stevenson was suspended for a week for not checking the oil in his cruiser and blowing up the motor during a chase.  Benevides quit and is moving his family back to southern California."  Josh smirked.  "What a zoo they've got going out there on the coast!  I wouldn't be a cop out there for anything."

Chris laughed.  Annie brought their beer, and Chris poured them each a glass.

"Let me know when you're ready to order," Annie said as she walked away.

"Will do," Chris told her.  The two guys clinked their glasses and Chris looked at Josh as they each took a swallow of beer.

"I have a couple things to tell you," he said.


"I resigned from the State Police today.  I'm gonna join the reserve, though, so I'll still be a cop.  Sort of."

"Holy shit!" Josh said, surprised.  "I didn't think you'd really pull the plug."

"Well, I figured it was time to shit or get off the pot.  I farted around long enough making the decision, and my medical leave was almost up.  Matt and Mike are serious about this security gig, and even after Neil Anderson is caught, there's going to be plenty for me to do supervising security for the homes they're gonna be building.  Too much for one person to do, maybe.  I hope you're still thinking about my offer to have you join the security staff, man."

"Yeah, I am.  It's just hard to take that badge off.  You know..."

"Yeah.  I do."

"Did you talk to Tony about it before you made your decision?" Josh asked.

"Yes.  He told me that if he were my age and had this opportunity, he'd take it in a New York minute.  He said that he knew for a fact that Matt and Mike will take good financial care of the people who work for them.  Without a doubt.  He told me to grab a job like this where I can show some initiative and make some decisions instead of waiting for years to get a command position like he did.  That made sense to me."

"I can't argue with that."

They looked at each other as they drank their beer.

"There's something else," Chris said.


"Mike wants me to go to Zurich next week.  For a month.  For security training."

Josh didn't say anything at first, sipping his beer.  "Well," he said finally, "you knew that was coming.  Justice Broman has wanted you to get over there for a long time."

"Yeah."  Chris signaled Annie to come and take their order.

"What'll you have, guys?" she asked, flipping open her order book.

"I'll have a plain lettuce salad, vinegar and oil, and Lasagna Bolognese," Chris said, closing his menu.

"Tossed salad with ranch dressing, and Clam Fettuccini," Josh said.

Annie took their menus.  "I'll bring your salads right out."

Josh gave her a thumbs-up, and drained his glass of beer.

"I wish I could go with you to Zurich," he said.

"Me, too," Chris said.  "But even if you quit the state police and joined the security staff like I hope you will, it probably wouldn't be a good idea for both of us to be gone at the same time.  Not right now."

Josh nodded.  "You're right."

"I have some other stuff to talk to you about, but let's wait 'til we get our food."  Chris studied his friend's face, and it made him smile.

"What?" Josh asked, smiling back.

"Nothing.  Just admiring your professional haircut."

"Yeah, right!" Josh snorted as Annie gave them their salads and a basket of garlic bread.  The two cops bowed their heads and each said his own grace.

"Those Broman boys have corrupted us with all this prayer," Josh laughed as they dug in.  "To think I'm a happy Catholic who only used to go to church three or four times a year, if that." They were just finishing up their salads when Annie brought the rest of their food.

"You need anything else, guys?"

"Just a glass of red wine," Chris told her.  "Josh?"

"Make mine white," Josh said.

They segued into the main course.  They were hungry and didn't waste any more time talking, but eventually Josh noticed that Chris was continuing to look at him as they ate.

"You're still looking at me," Josh said to his friend.

"I get to do that all I want," Chris growled.  "I'm a cop, or I was, at least.  We're supposed to stay in touch with the people and things around us at all times.  You know, stay sharp and be aware of our environment, and all that."

"Uh huh," Josh said, sopping up some of the sauce from his Fettuccini with a scrap of garlic bread and popping it into his mouth.  "You seem kinda on edge tonight.  'Sup?"

"I told you, man.  I told you I wanted to talk.  Let me finish my Lasagna, though," Chris said a little nervously.

Josh lapsed into silence as he ate, but now he found himself watching his buddy's face right back.  By that time in the evening, Chris' heavy black beard was really starting to show.  Damn, Josh thought to himself, I love this man, right down to the way he chews his food.  Josh hoped his thoughts weren't showing on his own face.

Finally they finished the food on their plates, and turned Annie down on dessert when she came over to clear their table, just ordering some coffee.  Their pitcher of beer was long gone, but Chris had stopped drinking anyway in anticipation of having to drive back to the condo.  Josh ordered another glass of white wine, though. He began to sip it as he waited for Chris to share whatever it was he had on his mind.  Annie brought them their coffee and returned to the kitchen.

Chris shoved back his chair a bit, leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table, staring down at the table top for a long moment before looking up at Josh.

"Thanks for having supper with me tonight," he said tentatively, surveying the room.  Most of the diners had eaten and departed, and no one was sitting near the two of them anymore.

"Yeah," Josh said, taking another swallow of his wine.

"You remember our talk a while back when you told me you thought you might be gay?" Chris asked.  "And that you loved me?"

"Uh huh."

"I've been thinking a lot about that."

Josh didn't respond.

"Uh, can I ask you if you still feel the same way?" Chris asked.

"Maybe I shouldn't answer that question," Josh said, "but I will." He looked Chris in the eye.  "Yes, I still love you.  Too damn much.  I know it's a hopeless proposition, but I can't help it," he admitted.  "It's a given for me.  I've never been in love, romantically anyway, with anyone else in my life.  I'm more certain about that than ever, thanks to Matt and Mike getting me into therapy.  I can accept my feelings now about being gay and still function in my life."

"Um, this is a tough conversation for me to have, Josh," Chris said, staring down at his hands and then using a thumbnail to push back the cuticles of his nails, first on one hand and then the other.

"It shouldn't be," Josh responded.  "We are what we are, and there's very little we don't know about each other at this point in our lives."

Chris nodded.  "Well, I have new information for ya," he said.

"Let's have it," Josh said, feeling butterflies in his stomach despite his determination to stay cool.

"I love you, Josh."

"I know.  That's not exactly new information."

"I mean, I think I love you the way you love me."

Josh was momentarily stunned despite all his hopes in that direction.  He looked at Chris, whose face now matched their red tablecloth in color.

"Say that again..."

"I love you the way you love me," Chris repeated quietly in the prevailing silence of the dining room.

Josh tried to clear his throat to say something, but couldn't get the job done.  The two men sat there staring at each other.  The red glow of Chris' face finally began to fade somewhat.  Josh put his napkin to his mouth, and succeeded in clearing his throat this time as the lump dissipated.

"Chris..."--there was a long pause as Josh tried to find words-- "you don't know how much I've wanted to hear that from you.  For so fucking long!  I've been praying..."  Josh looked down at the table.  "And then the big moment gets here, and I can't even find the right words to talk to you..."

"Don't say anything.  Let me talk," Chris said.  "I've been quiet about what I knew were my true feelings for you for a while now, and I apologize for not talking to you sooner about this.  Of all people, you had the right to know, considering how open you've been with me about your feelings.

"I admit I'm still not totally comfortable right now with the feelings I have for you as a man," Chris continued.  "I definitely think about you in a sexual way, but I don't know whether that means I'm gay or not.  I s'pose it does, but I don't find myself looking much at guys in general or thinking about them sexually.  On the other hand, I'm not looking at women sexually, either.  What I'm trying to say is, I don't know how successful I'm going to be at handling our relationship as it gets more intense.  This is definitely breaking new ground for me.  But I'm overdue in showing you some honesty.  Not telling you how I'm feeling could just end up unnecessarily hurting both of us, I think."

"I know what you mean," Josh said slowly.  "You're exactly where I was when I started this 'trip' as a gay man after you were shot on the Eisenhower Expressway.  I told Mike and Matt not long afterward that I thought I was gay, and that I didn't know what to do with that information or with my feelings for you."

"Really?" Chris said.

"Yeah.  My therapist has been helpful to me in understanding my sexual orientation.  My work with her is about finished, by the way.  Of all the help I've had, though, I think I got the biggest push down the right path for me from Justice Broman."  Josh paused.  "Our 'dad,' for all practical purposes, doncha think?" he said, smiling.  "Anyway, he and I took a walk on the beach together when he and Mrs. Broman were here for Stan's and Linda's wedding, and I gave him an earful of all my self-pity and misery about thinking I was gay and loving you.  It didn't faze him a bit, and he just let me pour it all out.  Then he said something to me I've never forgotten.  I remember his exact words:

"'...all you can do is be the best Josh you can be.  The best gay Josh that God made.  That's all He asks, and no human being has the right to ask anything more or different from you.'

Josh wiped his eyes with his napkin before continuing.

"I don't think I could possibly give you any better advice than that, Chris, when it comes to dealing with who and what you are.  I know you're in a transition right now when it comes to your perception of yourself.  It's not an easy trip.  But it's a good and necessary one, believe me.  I speak from experience."

Chris groaned.  "Justice Broman gave you good advice.  I know that.  But hearing it and living with the information are two different things."

"Yeah," Josh said.  "I know it's going to take some time to adjust to the 'new you' when you've always viewed yourself in a certain way, and now it turns out you're someone different and moving in a new direction.  I can help you, though, if you'll let me."


"You've admitted that you love me as more than just a friend.  You haven't changed your mind on that in the last couple minutes, have you?" Josh asked, laughing.

"No, you dufus."

"Well, just let me love you, then.  I'm not talking about making love to you physically until you're ready for that.  But I honestly think you really need some time before you'll be able to accept your feelings about yourself and before you can fully accept our feelings for each other, doncha think?  Gradually accepting my love for you more openly might help move the process along, though."

"But I accept my feelings for you and yours for me."

"Maybe.  I know you want to.  But you're not there yet, not fully." Josh paused.  "I think there are some concrete things you can do to help yourself move through this process, though."


"Well, one thing you can do is to engage in some of what my therapist calls 'judicious self-outing.'"

"What the fuck is that?" Chris asked.

"Come out to the people we love in the condo, the people who love us and won't condemn us.  Or if you don't want to say you're out and out gay at this point, tell them you love me.  As a partner, not a friend.  And let them draw their own conclusions for the time being."

"What about you? You're only out to Matt and Mike and Justice Broman, right?"

"You rat!" Josh said, laughing.  "Turning my own progress, or lack of it, back on me like that!"

"Well, am I right?"

"Yeah."  Josh reflected for a moment, and then his face brightened.  "All right, I'll tell you what.  The next time we're all together for supper, let's just come out to everybody together.  As a couple.  Right then and there."

"We can think about doing that.  But don't you wonder if we can really make it as a couple?" Chris asked, concealing a smile.

"Well, I'll tell you one thing, buddy.  If you think we're gonna come out to the world and then have you let me stand around with my thumb up my ass while you consider whether someone else might be a better partner for ya, you can forget that shit!  I swear to God..."

"Easy, dude, I'm just kiddin' ya," Chris said, laughing.  "You're 'the one,' and I love you.  I know that.  I avoided my real feelings long enough that I can recognize the real thing."

"That's better!" Josh said, searching his friend's face and then looking down at the table seriously.  "You've made me a happy man tonight, Chris.  I just wanna  know one thing.  Do you think you can truly be happy about this?"

Chris hesitated.  "To be honest, yes and no.  Yes, being able to move into the relationship I want to have with you makes me happy.  Very happy.  But no, I'm not ecstatic about being gay now that I'm seriously confronting it.  I admit that.  But if Matt and Mike can be as happy as they are as gay men in the midst of all the challenges they've had, then I think we have a damn good shot at making things work for us.  I'm gonna do my best to be 'the best gay Chris that God made,' as Justice Broman would say.  You have my word on that.  And the process of getting to know you physically is going to make me very happy, by the way!"


"Roger that!"

"All right, then, let's jet," Chris said, and he snatched the bill off the table before Josh could get it.  Glancing at it, he laid down a couple of twenties and a five, which included money for a generous tip.  "You're a cheap date," he told Josh.  "I like that about you."

"At least let me leave the tip," Josh suggested.

"Nope.  It's on me."

"'Night, Annie," Josh told their waitress as she came to pick up the bill.

"'Night, guys.  Thank you.  Don't stay away so long next time," Annie told them.

"We'll be back so often you'll be sick of us," Josh told her.

"Never.  It'll be like old times," Annie said.

On the way out, the guys stuck their heads into kitchen and thanked Mrs. Manucci, and into the bar and said hello to Mr. Manucci.  Then they made their way to the car.  Climbing in, Chris stuck the key in the ignition, and after swiveling his head to survey the parking lot out of the car windows, turned to Josh.  Putting his hand behind his friend's head, he gently pulled Josh's face close and kissed him lightly on the lips.  When they moved apart, Josh expelled the breath in his lungs in one big gasp.

"You don't know how long I've been waiting and hoping for that, Chris," Josh said with conviction when he started breathing again.

"That was just the first of many, bud!" Chris said as he started up the car, backed up, and pulled out of the lot and on to the street.  "Just the first of many."

They arrived home by 9:30 p.m., and Chris parked in one of the penthouse slots under the building.  They saw Andie's car down there, too, and knew she was upstairs and maybe staying overnight as she sometimes did.

"Andie's here," Josh commented as they parked beside her vehicle.  "She must have come over to see the kids."

"Yeah," Chris said.  "I love that girl.  She's great!  Jeff picked himself a winner."

"Fer sure," Josh said.

They walked to the elevator.  Chris swiped his card, and the penthouse elevator came down for them.  They were whisked upstairs.  They stepped out into a dimly lighted foyer, and the den was dark.

"Everybody's gone to bed, I guess," Josh said.

"Yep. Uh, listen Josh, in spite of what we said earlier about taking our time, how would you feel about staying with me in my room tonight?" Chris asked a little nervously.

"I'd feel pretty good about it," Josh said.

"Well, go get your toothbrush, then, and your jock and running clothes for tomorrow.  I'm gonna tell Matt and Mike where you are if they need to find you.  In case there's a security problem.  OK?"


They kissed, and Josh went into his wing of the condo as Chris strode off toward Matt's and Mike's room.  Chris poked his head into the kids' room on his way down the hall, and the three of them were sound asleep.  Kyle had kicked off his blanket again, and Chris went in and covered the little guy up, bending down to kiss the boy's head before leaving.  Chris smiled as he remembered, back during his convalescence after being shot, when he and the three boys used to talk about Spongebob Squarepants every day when they came home from school.  Those little kids didn't have a clue how much they had done to raise his spirits back then when he really needed it.

There was a ribbon of light under Matt's and Mike's door when he reached the corner bedroom, and Chris knocked softly.

"Common in," Mike's voice said, and Chris opened the door.  The partners were sitting at their desks in their gym shorts, bare to the waist, and studying as usual.

"Hey, Chris," Matt said.  "How was supper?"

"Good," Chris said, smiling.  "Great, actually.  Sorry to bother you, but I needed to let you know that Josh won't be in his bedroom tonight if you need to find him  for security reasons."

"Really?" Mike said, grinning.  "And in case we should need him, where might he be found?"

Chris blushed and grinned.  "Well, uh, he'll be in my room."

"And you'll be in Josh's room, right?" Matt said, teasing him a little.

"No, we'll be in my room.  Together."

Matt and Mike stood up from their desks and went over and high-fived their friend.

"Thanks for telling us.  I'm glad for you guys, Chris," Mike said.  And that was all that was said.  But Mike's and Matt's big smiles spoke volumes about their feelings of happiness for him and Josh.

"'Night, buddy," Matt said, grinning.  "By the way, we're running at 5:30 in the morning.  Be ready, and be sure to get plenty of sleep tonight.  Don't show up draggin' ass!"  Chris just smiled and walked back to his employers' bedroom door and left, shutting it behind him.

"Thank you, Lord," Mike said, looking upward as he pulled Matt into an embrace.  They held each other for a long time, enjoying the feeling of skin on skin and exchanging gentle kisses, getting half hard before they forced themselves to go back to their books.  Mike knew that when he and Matt finally did go to bed, it wouldn't be to sleep, at least not initially.  Unless, of course, Matt wasn't in the mood.  Then again, Matt was never not in the mood.

Chris walked back down to the hall to his room.  Going in, he left the bedroom door ajar for Josh.  He removed his shoulder holster and put his pistol in the lock box, but didn't lock it up so Josh could add his gun.  Then he sat down on his bed, stripping off his sneakers and sweat socks, followed by his T-shirt and Levi's.  He tossed his clothes on a chair and went into his bathroom in his boxers.  Chris heard the bedroom door open and close, and Josh joined him in the bathroom, still fully dressed, just as Chris started brushing his teeth.

Standing beside him, Josh reached down and rubbed Chris' ass, and Chris jumped a bit.

"Was that good for you?" Josh grinned at his buddy's image in the bathroom mirror as Chris brushed.  "It was good for me.  I've been waiting a long time to do that.  Nice, tight, cop ass--ya gotta love it!"

Chris grinned wryly as he continued brushing.  Josh put toothpaste on his own brush, and started brushing his teeth vigorously.  Spitting out his suds, Chris rinsed with a mouthful of water.

"You're kinda bold, doncha think?!" he asked Josh sternly.

"Damn skippy!" Josh said through the foam in his mouth, momentarily removing his toothbrush before going back to scrubbing his teeth.  And then he reached down and rubbed his friend's ass again.

Chris washed his toothbrush off and put it into a slot in his cup holder.  Standing there at the counter, he watched the mirror image of the man he loved, as Josh continued brushing and brushing those strong white teeth of his.

When Josh finished up, they walked back into the bedroom, where Chris took Josh's pistol and put it into the lockbox.  Then he proceeded to strip Josh of his clothes, slowly, methodically, one garment at a time until the man was naked and obviously starting to get aroused.  Chris stripped off his own boxers, and turned down the bed.  They climbed in, pulled up the covers, and Chris reached over and turned off his bedside lamp.  They lay there facing one another in the darkness, not moving for a time, until Chris reached out and pulled his friend into his arms, putting his nose to the skin of Josh's smooth chest and just enjoying the hell out the guy's healthy male smell.

Sex--gentle, rudimentary and a little tentative at first, but very satisfying for the two young men--followed in its own good time.  Chris began to acquaint himself with his friend's body, touching, caressing, holding, squeezing and teasing, until Josh scooted down under the covers and put his face in Chris' crotch.  He engulfed Chris' penis right to the root, pulling part way off only occasionally for a breath of air.  Groaning in ecstasy as he started building toward the most pleasurable sexual explosion he had ever experienced, Chris really began to apprehend what he had been missing up to that point in his life.

The two men's love and appreciation for one another went on growing that night on this new physical plane.  They continued to nap and then awaken all night long to pleasure one another again and again, in innovative ways, until almost dawn.  The wonder of their relationship, now forever changed, captured them completely as the two of them reveled in what they knew of a certainty was the right path for them.  Covered in sweat and semen, redolent, they fell asleep for good in one each others arms just before dawn.  Ten minutes later, Chris' alarm sounded.

Josh groaned as he reached across his lover and turned the alarm off.  He kissed Chris' face tenderly and held his body close to his own.

Longtime discipline won out over their natural inclination to stay right where they were in the warm bed.  They showered together, still in the afterglow of their newly consummated bond.  They dried one another off, and throwing on their jocks, running clothes and sweats, with their shoulder holsters and weapons in place under their jackets, walked out to the foyer.  Breakers was dancing around Matt, Mike, Stan, Linda and Andie as he waited eagerly to hit the beach.  A sleepy security man looked vacantly at the cluster of young jocks.

"'Morning," some of the group rasped out to Chris and Josh as the two of them walked into the hallway.

The two latest arrivals looked beat to shit from their night of passion, and Matt and Mike started to laugh to themselves silently, turning their faces away so no one would pick up on their amusement.  They all entered the elevator together, and soon were down on the beach doing their stretches before launching into their usual five mile run.  It was cold with a little early morning fog, and everybody filled his lungs with the frigid air as they prepared to begin their normal, mile-eating pace.  Once underway, their endorphins kicked in at close to the two-mile mark, and everyone was smiling by then, even Chris and Josh.  The beach was clear of people, and Mike took Breakers off his leash and let him run free.

Matt grinned as he caught Chris watching Josh's ass just ahead of him in the sweats the man wore over his sheer running shorts, no doubt remembering precisely how good Josh's muscular glutes had felt in his grasp the previous night.

"You ass hound!" Matt said to Chris quietly as they all swept down the beach.

"That's right!  Shutup!" Chris replied, grinning back and in a very good mood.

When the group completed their run and arrived back at the condo, they all did their cool down and went upstairs to get cleaned up for the day.  Chris and Josh showered together.  Chris knew for a certainty right then and there that he had given his heart to Josh along with his body, and told him so.  That made for a very happy young state cop in that shower.

*  *  *

The contractor on the job to connect Jeff's new condo on the floor below with the penthouse arrived later that morning with his workmen.  Using the architectural plans with which he had been supplied, he began marking the area in the penthouse den where a hole would be cut for the new stairway leading downstairs.

Chris, still looking tired from his exertions with Josh the night before, had a talk with the foreman and explained the need to maintain tight security during the renovation process.  He furnished the contractor with security ID's for all his men, which they would have to wear to gain admittance to the condo.  The foreman said he understood.  Jackhammers unfurled, the project to cut through reinforced concrete began after oriental rugs were rolled up and the furniture covered.  The noise was deafening, and Chris got earplugs from the foreman for all the condo residents who would be around during the day and wanted to use them.

With the arrival of the workmen, Neil Anderson watched the accelerated activity in the condo building across Sheridan Road from the rooftop where he had been holed up.  At this point he had a scraggly beard, and his body and clothes stank to high heaven.  He went down the back stairs of his building to the alley, and walked west a block.  He jumped a turnstile and caught the Howard Street elevated train for downtown.  The commuters in his el car shrank away from him, but the Weasel paid no attention.  He left the train just south of the Loop and made his way to a homeless shelter, where he cajoled the staff there into letting him shower, get a shave and a haircut, and let him wash his clothes.  They also let him pick out some work clothes to take with him.  He was clearly a man with a plan--to complete his chosen task and then end his own tribulation in this world once and for all.

© 2003 Don Hanratty

Sorry, gentle readers, I wasn't able to finish up the story properly in this chapter.  So there will be one more before I hang up my writer's jock.  I have been severely castigated lately for revealing too much about upcoming events in these postscripts, so I have no revelations about what will happen next to share with you this time around.  As Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes say many times to his sidekick, Dr. Watson, "There's mischief afoot!"

My sincere thanks to ChicagoEric and Scott (Reddog) for their usual great job proofing.

Don H.  dhanr1@