Sunday was the last full day of vacation before the Chicago contingent had to fly back to Chicago. Matt and Mike were both feeling renewed from the time they had spent with their mom and dad and their kids and most of the other people they cared most about in this world.
His batteries thoroughly recharged at this point, Matt had the runners in the house up early for their run. He figured that would leave plenty of time for everyone to shower and get ready for mid-morning mass at church. Chris didn't get a pass because his broken arm and leg were still healing. Oh, no. Matt had rousted him out of his nice, warm bed as well, and made him accompany them on the run, riding the ATV.
They all elected once again to run back and forth between the front gate and the house rather than over the lawns because the snow was still too deep. Once they got going, Matt decided to test Father David a bit by gradually increasing the pace as the miles mounted up, but it seemed to have little effect. David just smiled at him, and comfortably met whatever pace Matt set. So did everyone else, for that matter. Matt felt good that all these members of his extended family who paced him as they swept along were so fit and so willing to put the effort into maintaining their bodies.
Old St. Paul's was only moderately crowded when the family arrived later that morning for church. As they knelt to say their prayers before mass began, both Matt and Mike offered thanks for the wonderful days they had had with their family and friends during their time in Pennsylvania..
There had apparently been a screwup on the schedule for altar servers, because the deacon, already dressed in an alb with his white stole over his left shoulder, came out of the sacristy and walked down the center aisle of the church. Clearly he was reconnoitering for someone he could press into service. Deacon Morris had been a fixture in the parish for years, and had trained Matt to serve at the altar too many years ago to count.
Matt and Mike had just finished their prayers and sat back in their pew when the Mr. Morris walked into the empty pew behind them and put his hand on Matt's shoulder.
"Matt, will you and Mike serve at the altar this morning? Neither of the two people who were scheduled to serve showed up."
"I'm pretty rusty," Matt responded. "It's been awhile, but we'll give it a try, won't we, Mike?"
Mike looked at him as if he were crazy. "We will?" he asked.
"Come on, dude, let's hit it," Matt said to his brother with a grin, giving him a little shot to the ribs with his elbow. "It's like riding a bicycle. You never forget."
Mike sighed and shook his head dolefully, but got up and followed Matt and the deacon back to the sacristy. The rector, already vested in his alb, stole and chasuble, greeted them cordially and thanked them for filling in. After the deacon found red cassocks and white surplices that fit them, Matt and Mike took candlestick lighters, fired them up, and moving out to the high altar together, bowed, and ascended the steps to light the two tall candles on it.
Matthew, Michael and Kyle spotted their dads at the altar lighting the candles right away from where they were sitting. Kyle silently pointed at them as they accomplished their task, looking at his grandfather for confirmation. Justice Broman gave the three boys a smile and nodded "yes" to them.
The candles now glowing softly, Matt and Mike retreated to the sacristy, where the priest, deacon and the two young men offered the initial ritual prayers together before going into the sanctuary to begin the mass.
Their duties as servers flooded back into Matt's and Mike's minds as the mass progressed. They did the job with no discernible errors, even though Mike had never served at the altar in an Episcopal church before, only in his Roman Catholic parish when he was a boy.
Partners in life, partners at the altar, Mike thought to himself about Matt and him as they carried out their duties. Their movements seemed to be naturally and effortlessly synchronized.
"Good job, guys," the priest whispered to them after the offertory, washing his fingers as Matt poured water over them into a silver bowl held by Mike. The priest dried his hands on a small towel he took from off Mike's arm. The servers bowed to the celebrant, and he bowed back, and the mass continued smoothly toward its conclusion. After the priest and deacon had communicated themselves, they gave communion to Matt and Mike, and then went to the altar rail and began to distribute communion to the faithful.
Their duties completed for the moment, Matt and Mike stood in the sanctuary at a right angle to the congregation, facing the freestanding altar. They listened as the two clergymen and two lay officiants proceeded down the altar rail at a good pace, the priest and deacon distributing the consecrated hosts and the laymen handling the chalice. "The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven." "The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation." The words of administration blended with the soft coughs and rustling of the people as they came forward to make their communions and with the sound of the pipe organ as it resumed playing softly in the background.
A men and boys choir was singing that morning, and Matt listened intently. He recalled the last time he had heard a men and boys choir sing in church, at the Cathedral in Hartford when he had been on trial. Now, as then, the young boys' voices soared on the high notes, testifying to an innocence soon to be encroached upon by impending manhood.
Mike went into a reverie of his own as he thought back to the first time he had ever served at the altar. His mother had been very proud of him that day, and had insisted on taking his picture before he removed his vestments. His dad had been out of town on business, as usual. He wondered idly what had happened to that picture.
Although the servers at the altar weren't supposed to watch the communicants as they received communion, out of the corner of his eye Mike saw his family and friends come forward, making the sign of the cross before receiving the sacrament. Matthew, Michael and Kyle mimicked their elders and made the sign of the cross, too, as the priest blessed them, tracing a cross on their foreheads before moving on.
Father David, dressed casually like the rest of the young people, was there at the rail as well. The young priest appeared to be, well, "joyful." That was the only word Mike could think of to describe his demeanor as he received the host on his tongue and then a sip of wine from the chalice. Mike thanked God yet again for the courage that this man, now a good friend, had shown in marrying him and Matt at St. Stephen's back in Chicago.
* * *
The call came in during the middle of Sunday dinner, several hours after church. Justice Broman excused himself and left the table after Branford whispered something in his ear. He took the call in the library, thinking that it might be something important, perhaps having to do with a petition for a stay of execution from the 9th Circuit, which was his particular geographical area of responsibility as a Supreme Court justice.
"Is this Matthew J. Broman, Jr.?" the voice on the line asked.
"No, this is his father, Matthew J. Broman, Sr. He's here, though. Please hang on while I get him. May I say who's calling?"
"This is Arthur Halverson. I'm with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections," the man said.
The jurist went back to the door of the dining room and caught Matt's eye. Matt put down napkin, excused himself and followed his father back to the library after the latter told him he had a telephone call.
"Who is it?" Matt asked his father softly before picking up the receiver.
"It's an 'Arthur Halverson' from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. He asked specifically for you."
Looking mystified, Matt picked up the receiver, his father continuing to stand at his side.
"This is Matthew Broman, Jr."
"Mr. Broman, this is Arthur Halverson of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. I apologize for bothering you on a Sunday, but we wanted to notify you as quickly as possible. Neil Anderson escaped custody yesterday afternoon as a result of an accident as he was being moved from one facility to another. His records show you as the person who was victimized by Anderson. I want you to know that every effort is being made to recapture this man, but at this time we don't know his whereabouts. He apparently has a badge and a firearm which he took from a guard at the accident site. I don't have to tell you how dangerous this person is. We believe he murdered a farm family in the vicinity of where the accident occurred, and took the victims' cash and ID's with him when he left. I want to advise you to take every precaution."
Matt's face went white, and he lost his voice for a moment. Justice Broman looked concerned.
"Th-thank you, Mr. Halverson," Matt said finally. "I appreciate your call. Will you keep me informed how your hunt is progressing?"
"Yes, I will. Can I reach you at this number over the next few days?"
"No, sir. I'll be returning home to Chicago tomorrow. You can reach me there." Matt gave him the number at the condo along with his cell phone number, and took down Halverson's number at the DOC. Thanking the man again, he hung up and collapsed in a chair at the desk.
"That wasn't good news, I take it," Mr. Broman said quietly, searching his son's face.
"No. Neil Anderson, the guy who kidnapped me when I was at UPenn, has escaped custody. He's apparently armed, and they recommend taking every precaution. They think he murdered some people not long after he escaped from custody."
"Oh, no!" Justice Broman groaned, lapsing into silence for a moment. "I'm going to close the front gate. That's not a solution, but it's a start."
Justice Broman left the library and went into a small room off the hall at the front of the house. Inside there was a console with a microphone and the monitor to a remote camera which was focused on the front gates, then standing open. Pushing a button, he watched the monitor as the massive gates swung shut slowly and locked in their closed position. Then he went back to Matt and sat down across from him as Matt began verbally reliving some of the highlights, or rather, "lowlights," of his horrendous experience as a kidnap victim. His father listened silently and patiently.
Within a few minutes Mike, looking concerned, poked his head into the library and, seeing the stricken look on Matt's face, joined them, putting an arm around his partner.
* * *
When dinner was over, Father Howard and Chris Russo left the dining room at the same time. Everyone was heading for the library.
"Chris," the young priest said, "I've been trying to get a few minutes alone with you since I got here. Are you busy right now? I'd like to get to know you a little better, and this may be our last chance to get together before we leave tomorrow."
"You're right, Father. Let's find a spot. I think there's a nice little room down the hall, here."
They headed for the small sitting room at the front of the house, Chris being slowed down as usual by his crutches. Entering the elegant little room, they each took an easy chair and angled it toward the other.
"I can't get over what a beautiful place the Bromans have here," Father David said, looking around the room. "It represents a way of life that seems to be passing away pretty fast. Not so much physically--lots of rich people in this country have big properties--but the quality of life as it's lived here is disappearing, you know, the spirit of the people here..."
"Yes, I know exactly what you mean," Chris responded. "This family and this property fit together well, don't they? I'm sure you know more about how families tend to live today than I do, but I've never met a family like this one before. They amaze me."
"You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat those who are 'inferior' to them, at least as the world would see it. The people who work for the Bromans know their jobs and carry them out perfectly, but everybody under this roof, certainly including the servants, acts as if they're all good and respected friends. At least that's the sense I get. Not everyone has that kind of capacity for friendship."
"I've felt that," Chris said. "I think a lot of it comes down to Justice and Mrs. Broman's basic regard for human beings. The two of them certainly have their rules and their standards, but they just seem to have enough affection for everybody in their lives and in their kids' lives. Pretty unusual."
"Yep. I hear that! Listen, I've been wanting to ask you how you got so banged up?"
"I was on patrol on the Eisenhower Expressway one night, and a guy I pulled over for excessive speed shot me when I approached the car. I'm pretty lucky to sitting here right now, to tell you the truth."
The priest groaned. "He obviously got you in the arm and the leg. Anywhere else?"
"Yes. One in the head, and one in the gut. Those were serious, especially the head wound. The doctors weren't sure I was ever going to regain consciousness, or so I'm told. I've never been all that religious, Father, and I'm not proud of that. But I think that the prayers of the people who care about me, including Matt and Mike, really helped me turn the corner. Some of my buddies in the State Police told me that Matt and Mike and Captain Angelo were at the hospital half the night after I was shot. They said that Matt or Mike, I'm not sure which one, offered a prayer for me in the waiting room that was--well--powerful, I guess you'd say. How do you repay someone for giving you a gift like that?"
"You can't, really," Father David said. "Just remember that their gift to you was given out of their own gift of faith, and let it go at that. Are you healing up all right?"
"Pretty much. But the neurologist told me I'm likely to have some residual weakness is my left hand. I probably won't be able to pass the physical to resume working for the State Police. So I'm thinking about a new career at this point."
"How do you feel about that?"
"I'm disappointed. I've had this dream of being a police officer since my last two years in high school, and of course my college degree is in criminal justice. Mike and Matt moved me into their condo while I recuperated, y'know, because my Aunt Carole had just started to get some relief from chronic arthritis and couldn't really handle an invalid. I got pretty depressed when I found out I was going to have some degree of disability. Eventually, Matt and I had a 'meeting of the minds,' shall we say, and I got a better grip on reality. It hasn't been an easy road for me, but to be honest, I don't know what would have happened to me if it weren't for Mary and Linda and Stan and Matt and Mike and those three great kids. They've kind of restored me, if ya know what I mean. I'm a lucky guy. A very lucky guy."
"Well, God love ya, Chris!" the priest said sincerely. "Just remember everybody feels pretty lucky to have you for a friend, too. Don't think it's all one-sided. Any idea what you may want to do if the door at the State Police closes?"
"Matt and Mike have talked to me about a job with them. Security for the family, and for a project they're thinking about. So I have options, and that kind of cheers me up."
"Options are good," the priest said with a smile.
"Yes, they are. May I ask you something?"
"Can I become an Episcopalian?"
"Well," Father David said slowly, "the short answer is 'Yes,' but just out of curiosity, why would you want to do that? You're a Roman Catholic, aren't you?"
"Why, then? The Roman Catholic and the Anglican traditions share the same theological and world views on so many things. Why would you want to make a change at this point in your life?" the priest asked.
"It isn't that the Catholic Church has pissed me off or anything--er, please excuse the expression, Father. I've tried to be a pretty good Catholic boy, if not very active in recent years. But as I've gotten to know Mike and Matt, and begun to get some perspective on the issue of homosexuality, among other things, I've started to question some of the Roman Church's teachings. Seriously question them. And frankly, I admire what good Christians Mike and Matt are."
"I do, too. You have to understand, though, that the basic Anglican tradition is mostly Western Catholic in its origins. Our history and traditions, and those of Rome, have played off against one another for centuries now in kind of a creative tension. We Anglicans are probably a little more flexible on some stuff. On the issue of gays, I don't want you to think that the Episcopal Church is totally progressive in its thinking, though. Not by any means. Father Rohm's views and my own views on this subject are way out there in front of most of our fellow clergy's. I guess you could say that both of us are 'respectfully restive' when it comes to following tradition. We think that Christianity isn't primarily a religion of 'No's, although there are some few of those. But it's essentially a religion that says 'Yes' to people's legitimate hopes and aspirations, and we need to affirm that again and again. Anyway, we have a long battle ahead of us when it comes to providing a full ministry to gay people, just to cite one area of contention. I'd urge you not to make any sudden changes as far as your spiritual home is concerned. You need to look at what you're doing rationally and understand fully what you're getting into."
"Well, that just makes me respect you all the more for saying that, Father. Thank you. You're a good priest. And I promise I won't do anything without giving it a lot of thought."
"I think that's the right thing to do. And by the way, you are aware, aren't you, that if you convert you'll have to spend no less than 2 hours every day in prayer like all Episcopalians do," Father David said, deadpan.
Chris' face registered something between shock and disbelief, and he stared at David until the priest lost it, breaking into laughter.
"You had me going!" Chris said, himself starting to laugh. "You're too slick! Now I owe ya one!"
"I'm sorry, Chris, I just couldn't resist. I shouldn't do that. Not everybody has a sense of humor like you do. And there's certainly nothing wrong with praying for for 2 hours at a time, in case that appeals to you."
Just then Mike popped his head in the door.
"Sorry to interrupt, guys. But Dad would like to talk to everyone in the library for a minute," he said.
Father David and Chris nodded to each other, still smiling, to mark the end of their conversation. Then the priest pulled Chris up out of his chair on to his good leg and drew him into a hug. "Hang in," the priest said quietly, and handed him his crutches. They followed Mike out into the hall and down to the library, where everybody awaited them.
Justice Broman was standing to one side of the fireplace. After looking at Matt and receiving a barely perceptible nod in return, he cleared his throat and began to speak quietly to everyone.
"The last thing I want to do is to put a damper on what has been a marvelous holiday with all of you. But I need to make you aware that Matt just received a telephone call from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, telling him that a man named Neil Anderson escaped from custody late yesterday afternoon after a DOC bus had an accident. For those of you who don't know it, Neil Anderson kidnapped Matt for ransom when he was in college. Anderson received a sentence of 25 years to life for what he did. I should add that the only reason Matt is here with us today, in my opinion, is that Mike rented a helicopter all on his own to search for the van that was used in the abduction. He found that van from the air, and directed the police to the site. The helicopter picked Matt off the roof of the abandoned factory where he'd been held. This was just after he had been grazed in the leg by a bullet fired by one of the kidnappers as he attempted to escape.
"I'm telling you all this because we'll be tightening security here on the estate immediately. I've closed the front gate. I'll be calling in a private security firm to patrol the grounds with dogs tonight, and I'm going to ask for a State Police escort for your cars when you go to the airport tomorrow.
"I do hope all this won't diminish for you what I hope has been a good celebration of the holidays, folks," Mr. Broman concluded. "But I think you're all entitled to know what's going on. Chris, I'd like to get together with you and Matt and Mike sometime tonight to discuss the situation in Chicago."
"Yes, sir," Chris said as Matt and Mike nodded their heads.
"I'll be sitting in with you as well, Matthew," Jane Broman told her husband firmly, looking concerned.
"Of course, dear," the justice said.
The jurist went and sat down as everybody began talking quietly among themselves.
* * *
As soon as he could break away, Matt went up to his and Mike's bedroom and fired up the computer and printer. Taking the memory stick out of the digital camera he had used over the days of their vacation, and slotting it into the computer, he began calling up pictures and printing copies of them he thought the family and their friends might want as mementos of their holiday together.
Before many minutes had passed, Mike had followed his partner upstairs and was standing behind Matt as he edited and printed the snapshots. Bending down, Mike put his arms around Matt from behind and gave him a squeeze, kissing him on top of the head and then beginning to knead his shoulders and neck.
"Ah-h-h-h," Matt gasped appreciatively. "That feels really good! Thanks."
"I love ya, Matt," Mike said, continuing to dig his thumbs and fingers into the knots in Matt's neck. "The news about the Weasel has you all tensed up. Please don't be worried about that asshole. They're gonna catch the scumbag before he gets far. He didn't have any luck with you the first time around, and he won't this time, either."
"I'm not worried about me. I'm worried about you and the kids and everybody else we care about. What if..."
"You're gonna make yourself crazy with the 'what-if's,'" Mike interrupted his partner in mid sentence. "Let the rest of us do the worrying for change, will ya?"
Matt sighed. "I'll try. You know, detachment isn't my strong suit."
"Yeah." Mike leaned down and kissed his partner on the neck. "Why doncha take a break and lie down on the bed with me for a few minutes. I'll give you a good massage if you do."
Matt tilted his head straight back and looked up at Mike. "What are ya gonna massage?"
"Only the body parts approved by the American Masseur's Association. For now."
"Dude, you got yourself a deal!"
"Good." Mike walked over and closed and locked their bedroom door. "Get naked," he told Matt with a grin as he moved back toward the bed after a short detour to the bathroom to grab a large bath towel.
"You're such a horndog!" Matt said. "And don't think I don't love ya for it, either." He sat on the side of the bed and began removing his sneakers and white socks.
"You've taught me all I know about horndoggery," Mike countered modestly. "I was only an amateur at it when I met you."
"Well, I saw the seeds of greatness in you, even back then," Matt said, continuing to strip. "I knew you had what it takes to be a world class horndog, not just a mediocre, everyday, garden variety one. And you've never disappointed me."
"'When the student is ready, the teacher appears,'" Mike said, grinning. "The Buddhists are right about that."
Mike stood next to his partner watching as Matt pulled off his T-shirt and slid his 501's down to his ankles and off, leaving him only in his gleaming white jockey shorts. Lord, how he did love this man's body, starting with the V shape of it as it tapered down from those broad shoulders to his small waist. His eyes caressed Matt's smooth, beautifully defined chest with its square, prominent pecs sporting big nipples in the center of dark, quarter sized aureoles, and then scoped out the sixpack abs that had lost none of their lean, corrugated ripples since college, and then focused on the bubble butt that transitioned into meaty, muscular thighs, strong calves and big feet. And then, of course, there was the fine, blemish free skin that covered the man's entire body. He was a picture.
The jockies softly encased Matt's basket, and Mike reached over and gently cupped his crotch.
"Hey!" Matt said. "I thought..."
"Fuck the Masseur's Association," Mike interrupted. "I lied. All your body parts are fair game."
"You're not gonna give me a massage?"
"No, I am. But my hands and other appendages might wander a bit every now and then in their appointed rounds, that's all. Lose the jockeys." Mike spread the bath towel out on the bed and Matt obediently dropped his shorts to the floor and lay face down. "Your bod is perfect, bro," Mike said. "I can't get enough of it."
"Ditto," Matt said. "Lose the clothes, buddy. I wanna feel some skin on skin while you work your magic."
Mike smiled and did as he was told, stripping to reveal his beautiful, long-muscled, swimmer's body with his long, thick cock at half mast--par for the course whenever he gazed at a naked Matt for more than 10 seconds at a time.
Mike straddled his partner just below the latter's ass and laid his dick along his crack. Bending down, he gently kissed Matt's back several times. Then, reaching over to the bedside table, he removed a bottle of body oil which was being fast depleted by frequent use. Kind man that he was, he warmed some of the fluid in his hands before slathering Matt's neck and shoulders with it. Matt began to sigh and utter soft groans as Mike started using his strong fingers and the heel of his palms to bite deeply into his partner's knotted flesh.
"You're like a god to me," Matt told his partner, causing Mike to break up and stop working.
"Shut up, or I can't do this right," he said, laughing.
" 'K. But I can't help myself."
Mike continued his labor of love, gradually moving down Matt's body. When he was finished with his partner's buttocks, he parted them and gave him a quick lick on his rosebud. He heard Matt catch his breath.
"What?" Mike asked innocently.
"Hmmm. You know what."
"You're imagining things."
"I don't think so," Matt murmured, fast being overcome by languor.
Mike just smiled, slipping off the end of the bed and standing on the floor to work on Matt's legs and feet. He pulled Matt closer to him by his feet.
When Mike had finished Matt's backside, he rolled him over, planting himself on top of his lover's pelvis. Matt was still sporting one very tumescent dick. Mike was hard as well, with a bead of precum gracing his slit.
"I see your prostate is already firing up for action," Matt said, removing the drop from Mike's dick on the index finger of one hand and bringing it to his lips. It tasted sweet, as always.
Mike warmed more body oil and then dropped his hands to his partner's shoulders and began massaging again. "Precum doesn't come from the prostate," he said conversationally as he continued working on Matt's neck and chest and arms.
"You're lyin'," Matt said, grinning.
"No, I'm not. Everybody thinks it does, but it doesn't."
"Enlighten me then, O Great One!"
"It's produced by two little internal glands on either side of the penis at its base. 'Penis'--that's 'dick' to you, dude. Anyway, they're called the Cowper's gland, and they secrete the precum," Mike said.
"What's precum for, then, other than to taste good and lube you up?" Matt asked with a 'gee whiz' look on his face.
"It neutralizes the uric acid in the urethra so that sperm in the seminal fluid don't get killed when a fine looking boy like you ejaculates. Precum is alkaline. That's why it tastes sweet."
"I knew that takin' you off the farm and sending you to the big city to get an 'edumacation' would come back to bite me in the ass," Matt said, reaching up and pulling Mike's head down for a kiss.
"Funny you should mention that. Ass-biting is part of our free, friendly service," Mike responded. "Nip nibbling, too," he added, giving each of Matt's nipples a gentle bite before resuming the massage.
By the time Mike had finished his work, Matt was totally relaxed except for his cock, which lay hard and ready on his abs, pulsing, pointing straight up toward his head. Mike was rock hard, too. So, lying on their sides, they treated themselves to a leisurely, very leisurely, sixty-nine that put a stop to all conversation for a good half hour as they teased one another to a final, juicy, satisfying, mutual orgasm.
Weasel or no Weasel, life is good, Mike thought to himself as he turned himself around and clasped Matt's warm, glowing body to his own. Before they knew what hit them, they had drifted off into contented sleep, both face down on their bed.
* * *
Jeff, Andie, Martha and Father David put on their own jackets and caps after winterizing Matthew, Michael and Kyle, and they all went for a walk in the mid-afternoon while many of their holiday companions were taking a nap. There were perhaps two hours of daylight remaining as the seven of them began walking away from the house toward the front gate. The adults were walking, that is. The boys were were running around in circles and blazing new trails through the snow on the lawn. Occasionally a snowball would fly through the air, but the boys were only targeting one another.
Jeff held Andie's hand, plunging both of their hands into one of the warm, deep pockets of his UPenn athletic jacket. There were no words exchanged at first as the four adults ambled along, just enjoying the fading sunshine and one another's company.
Jeff finally broke the silence.
"Thanks for coming over here to be with us for the holidays, Father. It's meant a lot to all of us. My dad thinks you walk on water, y'know," he said. "So do Matt and Mike."
"As long as the water's ankle deep, I can handle it," the priest said. "Much deeper, and I have to swim like everybody else."
Jeff looked at him and smiled. "Well, you're part of the equation for us now."
"You're part of what makes life work for us. For all of us. You're a good friend."
Father David was moved, and uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
"Well," he said finally, "it's been a real treat to be here with people who care about one another so deeply. I. . .I'm leading a pretty lonely life right now, partly because I'm a priest and I need to be disciplined in my friendships for the sake of the parish. I'm cautious about the friends I make. But it's so-o-o great to take off my collar for a few days and let down my reserve with people who are trustworthy and won't hold it against me if I make a fool of myself by doing or saying something really stupid. I don't get to relax like that very often."
Martha smiled up at him and took his hand.
"I wanted to let you know how Andie and I feel," Jeff said, "because we're going to be living with Matt and Mike after I graduate and Andie and I marry. We want you to be a key part of our lives, if you think that's possible."
"Of course it's possible," David said. "And nothing will make me happier. I need to be around people on more of a personal level, especially people more my own age. I know that. I've missed it."
"You can be sure that we'll always honor your office, Father," Jeff said. "But we'd also like you to know we love you as a human being." Jeff looked down at his sneakers and smiled as they walked along. "I had to learn from Mom and Dad and Andie and Matt and Mike and Martha how to say just what I mean when it comes to loving the people in my life. Instead of remaining the stoic, unemotional jock all my days, that is."
Jeff and Father David high-fived just as snowballs pasted both of them, along with Martha. The three kids saw the results of their handiwork, and giggling, dashed farther into the yard to avoid retribution.
Jeff wasn't going to let that pass. He dropped Andie's hand and zoomed toward the three kids, who scattered, each in a different direction.
"Commere, you little worms!"
"No-o-o," the boys screamed.
The three kids were always up for roughhousing with their Uncle Jeff. He chased them down one at a time, gathering them up as he went, and when he had all three of the boys in his arms, he fell on his back into the deep snow holding them, and began rolling over and over. The big kid and the three little kids were soon covered with snow from head to toe. Matthew, Michael and Kyle were shrieking with joy by the time Jeff thought they'd had enough and let them go. Father David, Andie and Martha stood on the driveway watching the fun, and when Jeff rejoined them, Andie brushed the snow off his face, hair and clothes. They all resumed their walk.
"I can't get enough of those kids," Jeff said, panting a little from the exertion. "I love 'em head to toe."
"I think the feeling just might be mutual," Andie said, grinning at Jeff.
"So, Jeff, do you know what you're gonna do after you graduate?" David asked.
"Yes. I'm working on getting into professional baseball. I have meetings coming up with scouts from the Cubs' and the Pirates' farm teams, so hold a good thought for me. But if you will, keep my plans quiet until I've told Mom and Dad about it tonight, all right?"
"That's excellent!" the priest said. "I won't say anything. Please help the Cubs, Jeff," he added pleadingly. "Their season this last year was so pitiful! Sometimes I think they're even beyond prayer, and that's saying a lot!"
"If you pray for me to make the majors in the Cubs organization, I'll get you free season tickets!" Jeff negotiated, looking slyly at David out of the corner of his eye. "In perpetuity!"
"Done!" David said. "No problemo. I can be bought."
They were about 100 yards from the front gate when they noticed a line of cars, including a county sheriff's car, waiting outside to enter the estate. One man at the gate was talking into the intercom to the house, and a moment later the gates swung open ponderously. Cars drove in bearing the legend and logo of a Philadelphia security firm on their doors, with the sheriff's car bringing up the rear. When the cars were all inside the gates and were moving slowly toward the house, the gates shut and locked themselves again. The four adults waved to the man in the lead car as the three boys stopped playing in the snow and watched the cavalcade curiously. Several of the cars had what appeared to be large German Shepherds in a rear, caged area of the vehicles.
"Dad's been busy, I see," Martha said, shaking her head. "It's sad when it comes down to this, isn't it?" she asked, gesturing at the slowly moving cars.
David put his arm around her. "Better too much than too little when it comes to staying safe, I guess."
Jeff got the kids turned around, and they all started back toward the house.
When they arrived at the front door, Jeff made two snowballs before he went in. Not even removing his coat and moving fast through the front hall, he threaded his way through knots of security people. The guards, after gawking at the huge Christmas tree, were being shepherded into the large sitting room to be given their assignments for the evening patrol. Jeff ran up the stairs to the second floor and went down the hall to Matt's and Mike's room, where he listened intently at the door.
All was silent. The door was locked, but Jeff shoved the leather-punch on his pocket knife into a small hole beside the latching mechanism and popped the lock. Opening the door quietly, he saw his brothers sleeping in the nude on their stomachs on top of the bed, their faces turned toward one another. This was going to be better than he'd thought--his original plan had merely been to throw the snowballs at them.
He moved slowly over toward Matt and Mike on the bed, treading softly. Taking a deep breath, he smooshed the now melting snow simultaneously into their butt cracks, working it in well. Then he took off at a dead run to the predictable sounds of screaming, cursing and threats of revenge. Lots of bad words were in the air, but taking two steps at a time, Jeff just laughed his ass off all the way down the stairs. This little caper is the stuff of which legends are made, he thought to himself. Well, family legends, anyway.
* * *
At the very moment that her two oldest sons were being violated in quite an unusual manner by her youngest son, Jane Broman was in her workshop putting the final touches to Andie's new engagement ring. Jane had been working on it for at least several hours every day since Andie had entrusted the original to her, and the finished product was ready at last. It was a testament to all the love and skill which had gone into making it.
Mrs. Broman didn't know when she had ever been so pleased with something she had designed and created. She put the ring on her own finger and admired it. It was wide. Its most prominent feature, along with the diamond itself, was a platinum band which swooped around the finger three times, fused together at the edge of each emanation in a shallow groove. The original diamond was now in a bezel setting on the middle coil. Smaller diamonds had been also been set in the top of the middle coil to either side of the major stone, as if to keep the large diamond company. The ring, when at rest, seemed to be in perpetual motion, swirling around and around the wearer's finger with the main diamond somehow magically suspended on top.
It's stunning, Mrs. Broman said to herself. And if Andie doesn't like it, I'll kill her with my bare hands.
She needn't have worried. When Jane gave Andie the ring before dinner, the young woman uncharacteristically burst into tears after she had put the finished product on her ring finger and perceived the full impact of what had been wrought for her. Andie clung first to her future mother-in-law, weeping, and then to Jeff, her emotions speaking volumes about her gratitude. So much for this girl's reserved, cool fascade, Jeff realized. The heart rules, and that's not all bad.
Before gathering everyone for supper in the dining room, Mrs. Broman had the staff set up some card tables and chairs and a supper buffet in the large hallway so that the security staff and the lone deputy sheriff could come inside a few at a time to eat and use the bathrooms. Breakers had parked himself at the base of one of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the small sitting room, and was intently monitoring the men with their dogs out on the front lawn.
Jeff was waiting with trepidation for Mike and Matt to show up for the evening meal. When they finally came downstairs, they looked balefully across the library at him at first, and then both of them burst into laughter.
"Commere, Jeff," Mike said from where they had sat down in the library.
"I don't think so."
"Get over here," Matt said. "We're not gonna hurt cha. Not right now, anyway."
"What did you do?" Andie asked Jeff in a whisper. "I know you did something with that snow."
"You don't wanna know, in case you have to testify under oath," Jeff kidded her quietly.
"We're waiting, Jeff," Mike said.
Jeff stood up slowly from the couch where he was sitting with Andie, and reluctantly went over to them.
"Well done, Jeffy!" Matt told him. "But costly for you. Your ass is ours now. You won't know how, and you won't know when or where. Maybe on your next visit to Chicago, maybe on your wedding day. Maybe on your honeymoon. Who knows? But there will be retribution. Count on it!"
"No, no, you don't have to thank us for our forbearance," Mike assured him. "How could we do less for our little brother? You know what they say. 'Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.'"
"But I don't say that," Jeff said for lack of another comeback.
"Thank you for your time, Jeff," Mike said. "You're excused now."
Jeff went back to Andie, smiling but feeling a little cowed for a change.
Branford announced supper just then, and everyone abandoned chair and conversation for the moment, and they all filed into the dining room.
Justice Broman asked Martha to say the blessing.
"Heavenly Father," she said, "You have brought us together in the bonds of love and affection during these holidays to praise your holy name. With one heart and mind we acknowledge you as our creator, our redeemer, our sanctifier. Among all the wonderful gifts we have received at your hand this Christmastide, we acknowledge the gift of very special friendships, and we pray that these friendships may endure forever. Give us hearts full of compassion for those who suffer lack, and give us no peace and no rest until we find the ways to address their needs. And finally, Father, we ask your blessing upon the food which we are about to receive, that it may strengthen us to do your will in all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
"Wow!" Father David muttered to himself as the men seated the women.
The main course was grilled shark steak, and it was delicious.
After the meal was over, Justice and Mrs. Broman, Matt, Mike and Chris laid claim to the small sitting room at the front of the house while everyone else went into the library.
"You didn't waste any time getting security on the grounds, Dad," Matt said after they all had taken a seat. "Thank you for doing that."
"It had to be done, just to be on the safe side," his father said. "But I'm more concerned about the situation you all face in Chicago with this guy Anderson on the loose."
"Before we go any farther, Dad, Matt and I need to put something on the table," Mike said. "Here it is. As far as we're concerned, this discussion is only going to continue if you agree up front that we're going to address security issues for the entire family, including you and Mom, and not just for those of us who are living in Chicago."
Mr. Broman looked surprised, and glanced over at Matt. "Do you go along with this?" he asked.
"That's blackmail," the jurist protested.
"No," Mike said, "that's concern. But you can call it anything you please."
"Now, Mike..." Mr. Broman said.
"No, Dad. We aren't going to argue about this! I know you're insistent about establishing better security for us because you love us. I hope you understand that we're saying what we are for the same reason--we love you. None of us wants all the complications that go hand in hand with being prominent and staying safe. It's a pain in the ass. But the fact is that the entire family is vulnerable, especially you. For that matter, everyone around us is at risk, too. This issue is much bigger than just having Neil Anderson on the loose."
"Mike's right, sweetheart," Mrs. Broman said, putting her hand on her husband's arm.
Chris sat back in his chair taking all this in. He had heretofore never heard a contentious word spoken by any of the Bromans, at least none that wasn't in jest. It was enlightening to know that this family had its disagreements like any family. Based upon what he'd seen of the relationships in this family, though, they might fight hard but it wouldn't damage their feelings for one another in the slightest.
Justice Broman sat back on the couch he was sharing with his wife and studied his sons for a long moment.
"All right. What do you want to do?" he asked.
"First of all,' Matt said, "we did already ask Chris if he would head up security for us in Chicago. He's thinking it over right now, aren't you, Chris?" Chris nodded his head.
"As far as your situation and Mom's are concerned when you're in Washington," Matt continued, "I think you need to have a complete evaluation done by a security firm to find out just what your vulnerablities are, and specifically, to what kinds of threat. Mike and I want to be copied on any reports you receive, and we'll do the same for you with regard to our situation in Chicago."
Justice Broman got a twinkle in his eye and turned to his wife. "This kind of willfulness in the children could only come from the Hagerty side of the family. Every bit of it. I think all your kids got a massive dose, and Mike picked it up by osmosis."
"From my side of the family?" Jane Broman responded, smiling. "I don't think so, your Honor. It's vintage Broman all the way."
"You've just proven my point by disputing me, and I rest my case," the jurist said, leaning over to kiss his wife on the cheek.
"All right," Justice Broman went on, "I'll contract for an evaluation, as you've suggested. Now, on your behalf, I've investigated some of the programs that provide training worldwide for security personnel, and the best one by reputation is in Switzerland. Chris, if you do accept Mike's and Matt's offer, and I'm not trying to rush your decision-making process, I want you on the next plane to Zurich. You probably wouldn't be able to carry out some of the physical training they offer until you're completely healed up, but you surely could start on the classroom stuff."
"Yes, sir," Chris said. Talking with the justice on this subject was a little like trying to stand tall in a hurricane.
"Do you want me to contact Captain Angelo in Chicago?" Justice Broman asked. "I'm sure he'd want to know about Neil Anderson."
"I'll call him in a little while, Dad," Matt said. "I'm sure he can put us on to some young police officers who might want to make a few extra bucks watching over us and the kids while they're off duty."
"What about security for Jeff and Martha until school's out?" Mike asked.
"It's already taken care of," Justice Broman replied. "I called the young lawyer who represented Matt when he was being questioned about Jason Stelling's murder, and engaged him to contract for 24 hour a day security for them."
"There's no keeping up with you, is there?" Matt said to his dad, laughing. "You're something else."
"Dad, did you talk to Jeff and Martha about this first?" Mike asked.
"No, I didn't."
"Don't you think you should? If the security people don't have their cooperation, it isn't going to work," Mike suggested. "Jeff and Martha are adults, or close to it, and they aren't going to accept protection unless you convince them they need it."
Justice Broman was quiet for a moment. "You're right, Mike. I guess I get ahead of myself sometimes on this particular subject because...well, I worry about you all. I'll discuss it with them."
"Good," Mike said.
"Are we basically in agreement, then?" Mr. Broman asked.
"Yep," Mike said, and the others nodded.
"All right, then, I'd like to close this little meeting on a lighter note. I have a joke for you," Justice Broman said.
Mrs. Broman groaned, but Matt looked pleased and Chris and Mike noncommital.
"This is a story about Osama bin Laden, since we're focusing on how to deal with bad guys," Mr. Broman said. "I know you'll enjoy it," he added dryly, looking at doubters Jane, Mike and Chris.
"After getting nailed by a Daisy Cutter, Osama made his way to the Pearly
Gates. He was greeted there by George Washington.
"'How dare you attack the nation I helped conceive!' yells Mr. Washington,
slapping Osama in the face.
"Patrick Henry comes up next and faces him. 'You wanted to end the Americans'
liberty, so they gave you death!' Henry punches Osama in the nose.
"James Madison approaches him next, and says, 'This is why I allowed
government to provide for the common defense!' He delivers a kick to Osama's
"Osama is subjected to similar beatings from John Randolph of Roanoke,
James Monroe, and 67 other people who have the same love for liberty and
"Osama is writhing on the ground, and Thomas Jefferson picks him up
him back toward the gate where he is to be judged.
"As Osama awaits his journey to his final, very hot destination, he
'This is not what I was promised!'
"An angel replies, 'I told you there would be 72 Virginians waiting
What did you think I said?'"
Chris, Matt, and Justice Broman burst into laughter. Mike chuckled and Mrs. Broman just smiled and shook her head.
Signalling that the meeting was over, the Bromans all stood up, and Matt and Mike kissed their mom and dad.
"We really appreciate what you're doing for us, Dad," Matt said. "Thank you."
Mike nodded in agreement, and then helped Chris struggle to his feet from the depths of his easy chair.
"Anybody up for some eight-ball?" Mike inquired.
"You have a pool table?" Chris asked.
"Is Matt a dweeb? Of course we have a pool table," Mike said.
"Hey!!" Matt protested, smiling.
"Let's go," Mike said. "You wanna play, Matt?"
"Maybe a little later. I'm gonna call Tony Angelo and see if he's home."
"OK." Mike said, as they all went into the hall. Mr. and Mrs. Broman went into the library, and Matt went upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. Mike pointed Chris toward the door to the game room at the back of the hall, under the curving staircase.
"You understand, doncha, that if you start sinking too many balls, I may hafta knock you off your crutches to even things up."
"You talk big, dude." Chris said. "I'm gonna whip your ass. With pleasure."
"Hoo hoo, promises!"
"Nothin' I can't back up. Prepare to lose."
Mike opened the door and flipped on the lights of a large room with mahogany paneled walls upon which hung oil paintings of various hunting scenes by English painters. The room contained not only a pool table, but a billiards table as well. Massive, oblong Tiffany lampshades hung over each table, gleaming in the subdued lighting of most of the room. In one corner was a large, round, leather-topped card table, a big, round Tiffany shade hanging over it, with small spotlights in the ceiling shining additional light on the table top where each player would sit. There was a wet bar in one corner. A leather couch and a half dozen leather easy chairs scattered about completed the very masculine decor of the room.
"Wow! Why didn't you tell me you had a game room?" Chris asked. "I could've been whipping your ass all week."
"I just didn't think about it," Mike said. "Matt and I haven't done a very good job of giving people a tour of this place, I guess. You haven't seen it all yet. For starters, there's a music room down the hall where concerts used to be given, and there's a large ballroom. This property was clearly 'party central' for the county in its day."
"That's amazing." Chris pulled a quarter out of his pocket. Playing pool was very much on his mind. "Call it for break," he said as he flipped the coin and caught it before it could land on the green felt, placing it on the back of his hand.
"Heads," Mike said while it was in the air.
"It's tails," Chris said, showing Mike and then shoving the coin back in his pocket. "Rack 'em and take a seat. I'm gonna run the table!"
"I've heard that before," Mike said. "Your brag will just make victory that much sweeter for me."
Mike put the balls in the triangle, wedged his fingers in, and then removed the rack carefully, leaving the balls in a good, tight pack. Chris picked a cue and chalked it. He crutched around to the head of the table, removing the crutches from under his arms and leaning them against the table at the side. Standing on his good leg leg, he snapped off his shot. It was a powerful break, with the 7 ball spinning into a pocket.
"I'm solids, you're stripes," Chris said.
He put four solid balls away before missing a shot, and Mike took over, putting away three stripes before he missed.
Chris ran the rest of the solids, and had first crack at the 8 ball. It vibrated in the pocket he'd selected, and popped back out.
"Shit," Chris said. "That never would have happened if I weren't all crippled up," he said, hiding a smile.
Mike laughed derisively. He had another go at the stripes, and ran them. Taking aim at the 8 ball, Mike slammed it into the pocket he'd called..
Chris racked, and they started their second game, taunting each other as they went along.
* * *
Tony Angelo picked up his phone at home on the second ring.
"Angelo," he said.
"Tony, this is Matt Broman. How are ya?"
"Matt! Good to hear your voice, bud! Thanks for the Christmas phone greetings, by the way. Marie and I appreciated it. Are you home?"
"No, we're flying home tomorrow. How's Marie?"
"She's wonderful! How's Chris doing?"
"Good, Tony. He's downstairs shooting pool with Mike. I'm gonna hafta listen to whoever wins the most games gloat for the rest of the evening."
Tony laughed. "It was really nice of you and Mike to take Chris and his aunt with you for Christmas, Matt. I know he really appreciated it."
"My family loves him and Aunt Carole to death. We all feel lucky to have him for a friend, and we never would have met him if it hadn't been for you. So thanks for that."
"He'll be a good friend to you. He's definitely one of the good guys."
"I know it. Listen, Tony, my dad wanted me to call you. I don't think I ever told you this, but when I was an undergrad at UPenn, I was kidnapped for ransom. I won't go into all the gory details, but they caught the guy and his crew, and he got 25 years to life. Unfortunately, he got away from the Pennsylvania DOC on Saturday when they were transferring him from one prison to another, so he's on the loose. They think he's responsible for the murder of one family already since he escaped. A guy from DOC called me here to warn me he's 'out there' somewhere, and urged me to take precautions. Anderson blames me for being in prison. Dad has this place crawling with security, but he's concerned about what might happen in Chicago before we can get some security lined up. I was wondering if you could take up the slack until I can make arrangements for some help. Maybe we can hire some off duty officers. I certainly don't expect the taxpayers to foot the bill for this for the long haul."
"No problem. I have a little more wiggle room on decisions like this now. I was just promoted to commander, and on December 15th I took over the precinct where I was previously the watch commander. Your precinct. So I'm back working days, now."
"December 15th!! Why am I just hearing about this now, man?"
"Just busy, with the holidays and all. I was gonna call you when you got home."
"Didn't I tell you that you'd make superintendent before you retire? You're right on track."
"That would have to come about damn quick. I'm getting close to time to pull the plug. Anyway, when are you coming in?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, into O'Hare. 2 p.m. Three limos are supposed to meet us at the charter company hangar."
"Give me the name of the limo company and the other details, and I'll be there with two squad cars to meet you. We'll want to search the condo before you settle in. I'll call the Pennsylvania DOC in the meantime and find out how the search is progressing."
"Tony, this is really nice of you. I appreciate it."
"Bud, it's my pleasure, and a legitimate use of resources, by the way. We aren't gonna have any repeats of what happened to you down on the beach. The Mayor would have my ass if anything happened to you or Mike. He takes those awards for valor he gave you guys a few years back pretty seriously. Say, listen, before I forget, please give your dad and mom my best regards."
"I will." Matt gave Tony the name of the limousine company and the name of the airline charter company, and after a few pleasantries, they hung up. Matt was pleased to have security for the immediate future lined up, and knew his dad would be, too.
Matt fired up the computer and finished printing out the holiday pictures he wanted to give everybody for mementos. They were pretty good, he thought, and he decided to have one of each framed for him and Mike when he got home.
When he had finished printing the photos, he went on the internet and starting researching various martial arts regimens in which Kyle, Michael and Matthew might be enrolled. As he worked through the descriptions of the various programs, of all of them he liked the the descriptions of Kung Fu, or Gung Fu, the best. This style of combat had been developed by the Shaolin priests of ancient China, and the reason Matt liked it was the variety of styles that were taught under the Gung Fu umbrella. Some of its styles emphasized physical strength, which the boys would not have in full measure until several years down the line, but others emphasized "ch'i," or life force, and the ability to use an opponent's own movements against himself. As the boys progressed and grew in stature, they could learn new modalities as seemed appropriate. He printed out some of the information for Mike to look at.
By the time he went downstairs again, Chris and Mike were coming out of the game room. Chris had beaten Mike at pool three games to two, and was insisting that Mike had agreed to be his slave for the rest of the day. Mike just laughed at him.
"You wanna ride on my back, Master," Mike asked him.
"Good idea," Chris said.
Mike stooped down and Chris climbed on, piggy back. Matt took his crutches.
The three of them joined everybody in the library. The group had a good laugh at Chris and Mike as Chris slid off Mike's back and on to his good leg.
"What's going on?" Mary Bradford asked the two of them, still chuckling.
"Oh, Chris beat me at pool by one game, and he's makin' me pay the price," Mike said. "With my massive strength, though, it's no problem."
After things settled down, Matt told Mike and Chris that he had been doing some research on the web about various martial arts programs for the kids, and thought that Gung Fu might be the most adaptable for the kids as they grew up. Chris was interested, and asked Matt if he could look at the material later.
"Y'know, I want to show the boys one move right now that might come in handy sometime," Chris said. "You'll have to hold me up while I do it, though, or I'll fall on my butt."
" 'K. Guys, commere," Mike called to the boys.
They left their toys and came over.
"I wanna show you a move that will get you started in martial arts," Chris told them.
"Good," Michael said seriously, "we want to learn this stuff."
Chris stood up on his good leg, lightly supported by Matt, and leaned his crutches against the wall.
"Commere, Michael," Chris said, "and stand with your back to me."
Michael complied. By now everybody in the library was watching.
"Now, pretend someone has grabbed you from behind, and picks you up like this." Chris demonstrated, hoisting Michael up under the boy's arms, with Michael's back pressed into Chris' chest, legs and feet dangling.
"Now, don't do this to me hard or you'll hurt me, ok?" Chris said. "If you're ever in this position, don't try to squirm out of your opponent's arms. That way, he'll think he's really got you. Then, kick back with one foot into the guy's crotch. Try it on me, but take it easy."
Michael moved slowly, and his ankle and heel of his foot came up directly under Chris' balls.
"That's good, buddy," Chris said. "If you were really in danger, you'd kick hard, of course. I guarantee he'd drop you." He put Michael down, and carried out the same maneuver with Kyle and Matthew. The boys were happy to be learning something new.
"We're gonna get you enrolled in Gung Fu classes when we get home," Matt told them, and the boys were pleased.
"Will we be able to beat everybody up?" Matthew asked.
"No, but you'll learn how to defend yourselves," Matt said. "You never beat anyone up unless you or someone else is in real danger of being hurt. They'll teach you that in class." The boys absorbed that information, looking at each other. Eventually they drifted back to their toys by the tree.
"Thanks, Chris," Mike told him. "That's a good move for kids their size."
"Would anyone like a glass of wine or a drink before dinner?" Justice Broman asked the crowd. "You won't have to know the martial arts to get it away from me."
The group chuckled, and those who wanted something let their wishes be known. The jurist got busy at the little bar in the corner of the room as people continued to talk.
Not many minutes later, Branford came to the door of the library and announced that supper was being served in the dining room.
As they stood around the table, Justice Broman asked Stan to say grace. It was a first for him during that vacation, but after a moment's hesitation, he delivered a perfectly acceptable prayer, offering thanks for the wonderful holiday everyone had spent together as well as for the food. Mike gave him a thumbs up before they all sat down, and the man grinned by ear to ear.
"Pretty quick on your feet, there, Stanley," Matt said, smiling at his friend.
"In this group, you have to be!" Stan said.
After a great meal, the younger guests, as well as the three kids, went to the game room now that they knew it was there and what it had to offer. As they went, they noticed that a few of the security force had come in from the cold with their animals and were eating at card tables in the hall. Matt shooed the boys away from the dogs. Breakers was in the kitchen right then fraternizing with the staff and eating his own meal, fortunately.
Once in the game room, Mike and Andie took on Chris and Jeff at pool, and Matt, Stan, Father David, Martha and Linda played poker. Linda was a sleeper at this game, and cleaned everybody's clock. She had almost all the chips sitting in front of her within a few hours, explaining that she had learned how to play the game from a couple of card-shark brothers.
There was a dart board on one wall, and Mike had moved it lower so the three boys could play and be able to retrieve their darts. They loved the game, and Matt knew he'd be buying a dart board when they got back to Chicago.
Everybody was played out by 10:30 that evening, and after saying goodnight to the contingent in the library, they all went upstairs. Matt and Mike gave the boys their bath, and then put them in their PJ's. After they heard their prayers and dimmed the lights, the partners went back downstairs for a few minutes with their mom and dad. The library was empty by then except for Justice and Mrs. Broman, sitting together on a couch, talking. After all their years of marriage, they were holding hands.
"We were hoping you two were still up," Mike said, moving them apart and sitting down between them. He took his mother's hand. Matt pulled over a chair and sat in front of them.
"We were just talking about your extended family, boys," Justice Broman said. "You've surrounded yourselves with some wonderful people."
"We agree, Dad," Matt said. "Mike and I just want to thank you both for a great holiday. Taking all of us in was incredibly generous of you. I know I haven't had as much fun at Christmas since I was a kid."
"Truthfully, we haven't either," Mrs. Broman said. "Celebrating with family makes Christmas more fun, and these people are all family to us now."
"The boys have enjoyed the time they've had with you," Mike added. "They miss you a lot when we're back in Chicago, and so do Matt and I."
"Well, we'll be in Chicago for Stan's and Linda's wedding, so it won't be too long before we're together again," Justice Broman said. "I'm already looking forward to it."
"We are, too," Matt agreed. "Dad, I wanted you to know that Tony Angelo will be meeting us at the airport with a couple of squad cars, and short-term we'll have police protection. I suggested to him that we may want to hire some off-duty officers, and he thought that was a good idea. As soon as Chris heals up and we know whether he's going to accept our job offer or not, we can put together a more permanent staff."
"I know you think I'm paranoid..." Justice Broman started to say, shaking his head, when Mike cut him off.
"No, we don't, Dad. You're right, and we're following through. I hope we can count on you to do the same on your end."
"You have my word on it, son."
"That's good enough for me."
They talked for a few more minutes, and then Matt and Mike kissed their parents, told them they loved them, and went to bed.
* * *
After breakfast the next morning; a buffet as usual, the Chicago crew began to pack for the trip home. Jack and Judy Hagerty were going to stay a few more days with the Bromans, and Jeff and Martha wouldn't be leaving to return to school until the next day.
Three limousines showed up about 8:45 a.m., along with two Pennsylvania state police cars. Matt and Mike wanted to be at the airport no later than 10 a.m. for departure at 11:00, putting them into Chicago at roughly 2 p.m., just as Matt had told Tony Angelo.
When they all went out to load up the cars, Chris crutched his way over to the Pennsylvania officers, wearing his Illinois State Police cap, and introduced himself. They talked for a while, and Chris asked them how the hunt for Neil Anderson was going.
When Chris came back, he quietly told Matt that it looked as if Anderson was heading for Chicago, leaving a trail of victims behind him in his wake. Police at every toll plaza and oasis between Pennsylvania and Illinois were peering into the passenger compartment of every car and truck, and were flashing Anderson's picture around. So far, no leads. Matt just shook his head.
Thinking ahead, Matt handed Chris his cell phone and had him call his buddy Josh Harkness in Chicago right on the spot, inviting him to come to dinner at the condo that evening if he was free. Matt thought it was time he and Mike continued their discussion with the young state trooper about his sexual orientation. Chris did reach Josh, who said he'd look forward to dinner. Josh told Chris he'd missed him over the holidays.
Mike, especially, hated these goodbyes. Invariably, it tore him up inside to say goodbye to his mom and dad, even knowing that they would all be together again before long. What these two people had done for him when his birth family had been killed was never far from Mike's mind, and he loved them beyond reason. So, when the moment came to actually get in the car, as usual Mike cried as he kissed his parents and held them. He wasn't alone. Matt tried to keep a stiff upper lip when he said goodbye to his mom and dad and Jeff and Martha and his aunt and uncle, and was only partially successful.
Jeff and Andie and Father David and Martha walked down the driveway a bit, as couples, for a private moment, and Andie didn't look very cheerful about her impending separation from Jeff when she came back to say goodbye to her hosts. David and Martha shared a romantic kiss, perhaps their first, Mrs. Broman noticed.
Mr. and Mrs. Broman kissed and hugged everyone. Carole expressed her gratitude to the Bromans, and shared a special goodbye with the Hagertys. Mary Bradford said her thank-you's, telling the Bromans how much she appreciated having the holidays with them. When the Bromans pulled Linda and Andie and Stan and Chris and Father David into their arms as if they were their own children and hugged them and kissed them, even the young men looked a little sorrowful to be leaving. And when Justice Broman whispered encouragement about his physical condition and his excellent prospects for employment into Chris' ear as the jurist kissed his cheek and held him, the tough young cop wept openly.
Before getting into the car, Andie held up her new engagement ring to Jane Broman, and told her that next to Jeff himself, her ring was the most beautiful gift she had ever received in her life. Mrs. Broman was touched.
Michael, Matthew and Kyle were excited to be going home. For one thing, they wanted to see the two-wheel bikes their grandparents had bought them for Christmas, and they were also looking forward to beginning their martial arts training. Despite that, it was hard for Matt and Mike to pry the boys out of Matthew and Jane Broman's arms when the car engines started up and it was really time to go.
The limousines moved slowly down the long driveway, sandwiched between the squad cars before and behind with their Mars lights flashing. The gates opened slowly to let them out, and then closed and locked themselves behind them. A wonderful vacation was almost over.
The trip home was uneventful. The plane Matt and Mike had chartered was ready and waiting for them at the airport. One of the state police officers searched the plane before anyone boarded, and soon the luggage and passengers were aboard. They taxied out on the runway to await their turn to take off, and soon were airborne. Matt held Mike's hand as they sat side by side, and soon they had both drifted off into a little nap.
There were no planes stacked up over O'Hare when they arrived, so they were on the ground almost immediately a few minutes before 2 p.m. Tony Angelo was as good as his word, and was waiting for them in his unmarked car accompanied by two squad cars. One of the squads had a police dog in the back. The limousines pulled up to the hangar right after the plane landed, and the cars were searched by the Chicago police officers before anyone disembarked from the plane. The travelers transferred their luggage to the cars as Tony greeted everybody and introduced Matt, Mike and Chris to the two officers with him.
Carole lived closest to the airport, so she was dropped off first. As a courtesy, a police officer searched her house before they let her go inside. She thanked Matt and Mike profusely for a wonderful trip, and said she would talk with them and with Chris the next day.
Next, they dropped off Father David at his little apartment near St. Stephen's.
"Why don't you stow your luggage and come back to the condo for dinner, David?" Mike asked. "A friend of Chris' and ours is coming up, and we'll probably order in."
"Let me take a raincheck," the priest said. "I have a couple of things I have to do."
"Yep," Mike said. "You know you're welcome any time."
"Thanks. And thanks for a marvelous time. It was the best Christmas and the best vacation I've had in a long, long time," Father David said. "And let me know when you're scheduled to talk to Bob Fischer at the school, will you?"
"OK, Father," Mike said. "Talk to ya."
The limos pulled away and headed for the condo. When the six vehicles arrived, Dominic the doorman watched in amazement as they filled the visitor's parking lot. Tony Angelo went back to each car and instructed everybody to stay there until he and the two officers and their police dog had searched the apartment thoroughly.
Dominic recognized Captain Angelo when the policemen and their dog came in the front door.
"Good evening, Captain," he said. "Is everything all right?"
"I think so, Dom," Tony said, "but we need to search Matt's and Mike's condo before they go upstairs. They'll explain to you what's going on later."
"Yes, sir," Dom said, and from his station opened the door to the penthouse elevator.
The police officers and their dog boarded, and were whisked upstairs. They took the dog off his leash, and let him scout the apartment. The animal explored every room in the place, including the closets and the roof, in no time, finding nothing untoward. The three policemen returned to the foyer with the dog, and Tony walked out to the parking lot to let everyone out of the cars. The drivers unloaded the baggage as Dom pulled a luggage cart out the front door and loaded everything on it.
"Matt and Mike and Chris, I'm going to leave Davis and Hansen with you. Davis, you stay with Dominic at his station in the front hall. Hansen, you go upstairs with the family. In a couple hours, just to stay alert, switch duties. When the limos leave, park the squad cars where they're easily seen. As far as food goes, Matt and Mike will feed you, won't you, guys?" Tony asked with a grin.
"We'll be glad to," Matt said.
"You'll be relieved shortly after 11 o'clock by two guys on the third shift, all right?" Tony told the policemen. "I don't need to tell you to remain vigilant. The guy we're hoping doesn't show up here looking for Matt is an escaped con, he's armed, and very likely a murderer. Don't let your guard down."
"Yes, sir," they said.
Tony shook hands with Matt, Mike and Chris again, said goodbye to everyone, and left to return to his precinct.
"Dom, we're expecting Josh Harkness for supper tonight," Matt said before going upstairs. "I don't know whether he'll be in his state trooper uniform or in civvies, but send him up when he get here, ok?"
"Right away, Matt," Dom said.
"When the pizza guy comes, Dom, you and Officer Davis help yourselves to pizza and soft drinks before you send him upstairs, OK."
"Will do," Dom said. "Thanks, Matt."
Everybody squeezed on the elevator along with the cart. When the elevator doors reached the penthouse and opened on the foyer, the three boys saw what they were looking for: three large boxes, each with a two-wheel bike pictured on the box. They ran over to them immediately, squealing.
"Oh, boy!" Kyle said. "Dad, when can we ride the bikes?"
Matt and Mike looked at each other.
"We'll have to put them together tomorrow," Mike said, "but you can't ride 'em anyway until we buy you helmets, guys, so cool your jets."
"Awwww," the kids said, disappointed.
"I know," Matt said. "But you'll be learning how to ride 'em by tomorrow night, so be patient. Now, grab your bags off the cart, and take them back to your bedroom. Dad and I will put your stuff away later."
Mike and Matt carried their own luggage back to their bedroom, opened their bags, and started to separate the clean clothes, which they put away, from the dirty ones, which they threw in the laundry hamper.
"Mike, I'm going to call St. Stephen's School before the office closes for the day," Matt said as he worked. "When is a good time for you to go over there and see Dr. Fischer?"
Mike groaned. "There is no good time, but I know we have to do this. How about tomorrow afternoon at 4 o'clock."
"That's good for me. Let me check with Stan." Matt picked up the phone and dialed Stan's bedroom at the other end of the condo.
"You rang?" Stan answered.
"Yep," Matt said. "Any possibility you can make a meeting with Dr. Fischer at the school tomorrow at 4:00?"
"Uh huh. I can be there."
"Goodly," Matt said and hung up.
He found the number for the school on his desk, and made the call. The secretary put him through to the principal. The man was cordial, and after he found out the subject of the meeting, confirmed that 4 p.m. the next day would work out well. Matt explained that he and Mike would be accompanied by their associate, Stan Rosinski, who had actually witnessed the problem to be discussed, and Fischer said that was fine.
"We're set, dude," Matt told Mike after he hung up.
"Good," Mike said, finishing with his clothes and sitting down on the bed.
"Watching you work has made me horny," Matt said, finishing up with his own clothes. "Let's have sex."
"Well, yeah. A stiff prick can't tell time."
"I have a headache, dear," Mike said.
"A headache?" Matt pushed Mike back on the bed. "I have a story on that very topic that seems timely."
"A story? Does your cruelty know no bounds?"
"Don't be melodramatic," Matt said. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"A husband came out of the bathroom naked and was climbing into
bed when his wife announced, as usual, 'I have a headache.'
"'Perfect,' her husband said. 'I was just in the bathroom powdering
my penis with aspirin. You can take it orally, or as a suppository,
it's up to you.'"
Mike couldn't keep himself from laughing, and rolled over on top of his lover, giving him a long and passionate kiss with lots of tongue.
Upcoming: Matt's and Mike's talk with Josh, and a spirited discussion at St. Stephen's School about bullying. Neil Anderson is identified just over the border from Illinois in Indiana, but eludes the police there. There's a problem as Stan and Linda continue their Pre-Cana counseling in preparation for their marriage.
My thanks to Art for the final joke in Part 6, and to Scott and ChicagoEric for proofing this chapter. I appreciate the help. I also want to thank Nifty and David the Nifty Archivist--Nifty for being available to writers, and David for his patience. Thanks as well to the Gay Writers Guild and their site for gay literature.
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all the WIO readers the best holidays ever and an excellent 2003. DH firstname.lastname@example.org .