WORKING IT OUT--Book 3, Part 9

After "Boys Night Out" at Roscoe's, Chris had risen early on Saturday morning at his usual time, feeling great.  He had seen Father David off when the priest left to go home to get ready to go to St. Stephen's for mass and his morning office hours.  David had seemed fine, although he had admitted to Chris that his his stomach was a little queasy from partying the night before.  He had turned down Chris' offer to fix him coffee and breakfast, wanting to offer mass before he ate.

But knowing what was likely coming when the really hard-core revelers were finally able to move about, Chris took the Blazer and drove to a nearby supermarket, where he bought a huge package of Cream of Wheat, a case of individual-sized bottles of V-8, and a large bottle of Tabasco if somebody wanted to spice the V-8 up even more.  He figured that something spicy for the tastebuds and something bland for the stomach might just ease the pain a bit for the party boys when they woke up.  He also bought the largest bottle of Excedrin that he could find, (coated caplets, of course), for those poor souls needing chemical intervention, which was likely to be all of them.  A bag boy at the supermarket carried his purchases out to the Blazer for him.

When he arrived back at the condo, Dom's weekend replacement on the front door carried the things he had bought upstairs for him.  Then Chris made coffee and a big pot of the Cream of Wheat, and put the V-8 in the freezer for a few minutes to cool down quickly, transferring the bottles to a tub of ice when they were cold.  He did it up right and, when it was ready, put the hot Cream of Wheat into a chafing dish so it would stay moist, lighting a gas canister under it to keep it warm.  Taking clean bowls and plates and silverware out of the breakfront in the dining room, he put them in the center of the dining room table with the food and drink so people could grab whatever they wanted.

That morning's word of the day for the males in the Broman household wasn't a word at all.  It was a collective groan.  They didn't all wake up at the same time after their night on the town, but they shared an almost identical desire for oblivion when they did.

Still dressed, Jeff lay in his bed as if he had been poleaxed, with a cool washcloth on his forehead, courtesy of a semi sympathetic Andie.  Every few minutes she would replace the washcloth with a fresh, cool one, but Jeff was pretty sure he was going to die.  He didn't ever remember feeling that bad, even back in his freshman year of college when pounding back the drinks several nights a week had been his favorite pastime.

Matt and Mike lay in their bed with headaches so ferocious that they couldn't even get up at first to empty their bladders.  When the pain of holding it was greater than the pain in their heads, they did get up and relieve themselves, only to collapse in bed again when they were finished.

Stan and Josh were likewise in bad shape.  Stan lay on his stomach in his bed with his head hanging down over the side, a position that for some reason gave him some relief as his sinuses tried to drain.  Josh was curled up on his left side in the fetal position in his bed, groaning softly, praying to an unresponsive God for a merciful death right then and there.

Chris filled several pitchers with cold water and a half dozen glasses with ice, putting them on a tray, and when Martha appeared in the kitchen, co-opted her to carry the tray as the two of them began their rounds with the giant bottle of Excedrin.  Going from room to room, they were welcomed like the angels of mercy they were, standing by as the guys gratefully threw back the pills they were given and greedily drank down several glasses of the ice cold water.  Chris and Martha kept their mirth over the situation pretty well under control.

Chris did point out to Matt and Mike after they had swallowed their dose of Excedrin that it was Saturday, a morning that they typically got up to run.  He told them they should be ready to go in ten minutes because all the other runners would be waiting for them in the foyer.  The expressions on the partners' faces when they heard that were priceless.  Then Chris and Martha made the mistake of laughing openly at the two hung over guys..

Mike faked an angry mien, and pointing at the bedroom door, told them, "Get out!!"  Then he plopped his head down on his pillow and closed his eyes again.

Chris and Martha exited, still laughing, and continued their rounds.

By noon, all the guys were up and moving around the condo gingerly so as not to aggravate the pain behind their eyes.

About 2 o'clock that afternoon, Matt asked Mary to write out a grocery list, and taking Josh with him, headed for the grocery store to give Mary a break from going herself.  When they reached the store, Matt tore the list in two, giving half to Josh, and the two of them each took a cart and filled them up with the needed items.  They checked out together, carried the groceries out to Matt's truck, and headed for home.  They were both somewhat recovered from the night before by that time.

"So, Josh, did you enjoy our little sojourn last night?"

"I did," the young cop admitted.  "It was a nice change of pace.  I just wish I hadn't gotten so drunk."

Matt laughed.  "Yeah, me, too," he said.  "You seemed a little surprised when Jeff danced with Arnie.  And when Stan danced with Mike and I danced with David.  Why is that?"

"Well, I didn't know straight guys did that.  Danced with other guys, I mean."

"Not all straight men do, obviously," Matt said.  "Did it turn you off?"

"No, not really," Josh said.  "I was just surprised, that's all."

"Why did it surprise you?"

"I don't know.  I guess I just always thought there were boundaries to the way people, especially men, relate to each other, that's all.  Boundaries that straight guys, at least, don't cross over."

"I think that is true of a lot of straight men."

"Then why did all you guys dance together?  Was it the booze?" Josh asked.

"Alcohol obviously lowers the inhibitions, but I don't think that's the reason the straight guys in our crew felt comfortable dancing with another man," Matt said.

"Why, then?"

"Well, there were no women there, obviously, so dancing with a female wasn't an option.  But more than that, I don't think Jeff or Stan or David, or for that matter, Chris, even though he couldn't dance because of his leg, feel threatened when they physically hold someone they care about in their arms and dance with that person, even if it is a guy."

"I'm still not sure I get it," Josh said.

"Josh, you have to realize that in the United States, maybe because of our cultural bias toward English social reserve, we tend to define our male and female social behaviors pretty rigidly by gender," Matt said.  "This is despite the fact that modern scientific research says conclusively that qualities of masculinity and femininity really fall into a continuum rather than into two discrete categories of male and female.  But our society, for whatever reason, holds out that 'men are from Mars and women are from Venus,' as one well known book puts it.  Most of our male role models in this country come across, by popular demand, as physically, mentally and emotionally remote from other men, and sometimes even remote from women except for when it comes to having sex.

"Being gay causes you to reflect on this issue more than others might, and part of the result of thinking about it is that you realize it's actually healthy to be able to show non-sexual affection to anybody you care about, man or woman.  That means men in general, irrespective of their sexual orientation, should be able to touch other men in a non-sexual, affectionate way when it seems appropriate.  And that touching can certainly include dancing with them.  I guess the straight guys in our 'family' are pretty much ahead of the curve on this issue, and so they danced last night with other guys they care about, and didn't feel uncomfortable about it.  To use your word, they've redefined the 'boundaries' for themselves."

Josh was silent for a long moment, finally saying, "I'll have to give this some more thought, I guess."

"You remember your Shakespeare?" Matt asked.

"A little."

"I like the part in Act 2 of As You Like It, the scene where he wrote,  'All the world's a stage, And all the men and women in it merely players.  They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts...'  I'm not saying to you that our gender behaviors should be totally fluid or anything approaching that, but in the final analysis, we love whom we love, and as humans we have the capacity to do so irrespective of gender and orientation.  Love despises boundaries the way nature abhors a vacuum.  The important thing is that we do love.  Period.  No matter how imperfectly they realized it or manifested it, most of those men and boys with us there in Roscoe's last night, even those who may have thought they were just there to hook up and get laid, deep down were looking for more than a fleeting physical contact.  They were looking for love to be born.  I hope you can come to accept that and embrace it for yourself down the line, Josh.  If we're doing what we should be doing in this life, then each of us, straight or gay, is struggling to perfect his ability to love and to relate to others in a way that's good for us."

"You always give me a lot to think about.  And I'll work my way through it."

"I know I'm probably trying to move you ahead pretty fast when it comes to gender and orientation issues.  I forget sometimes that I had the best role model in the world in my dad when it comes to openly showing people affection.  From the time we were babies down to this day, he's always kissed me and Jeff, not just Martha.  So Jeff and I, and now Mike, are used to it and comfortable with it.  And there was no hesitation on Dad's part in accepting Mike and me as gay, and as partners.  It didn't change the way he related to us and showed us affection.  Not a bit.  Not everybody is as lucky as we were when it comes to the issue of boundaries."

"I know they're not," Josh said slowly.  "Listen, don't think I don't appreciate what you and Mike are doing for me."

"Just remember, Josh, you're very much loved and admired in our house," Matt said.

Josh stared out his side window so Matt would not see that his eyes were moist as they rode the last few blocks back to the condo in silence.

*  *  *

Everybody in the apartment except for Stan and Linda went to the late mass at St. Stephen's on Sunday morning.  Stan and Linda had been putting in regular  appearances at St. Casimir's during the weeks before their wedding, and went to mass there with Linda's family.

Father David quietly told Matt and Mike at the front door of St. Stephen's after mass that the detective firm hired by their dad on behalf of Father Rohm had tracked young Curt Rohm to San Francisco, and that he was alive.  The detectives just didn't know exactly where he was living.  While the rest of the Broman entourage continued on outside to their vehicles, Matt reversed course and went back down the long center aisle of the nave and then to the priests' sacristy to talk with with the rector.

Father Rohm was removing his vestments when Matt knocked and went in.

"Good morning, Father," he said to the priest.  "Your homily was excellent this morning, as usual."  The rector had been preaching a series of homilies during Epiphany season on readings from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, applying the apostle's first century message, written to the very cosmopolitan Corinthians of his day, to modern-day Christians in urban Chicago.  The messages had been powerful.

"Good morning, Matt!" Father Rohm said cordially.  "Thank you for the compliment.  How are you?"

"Good.  Father David tells me there's some good news from the detectives."

"Yes, there is.  Mr. Evans called yesterday morning.  He says that Curt is alive and living somewhere in San Francisco.  He doesn't think it will be long before they find out exactly where he's living."

"I'm very happy for you, Father.  I've been praying for a good ending to this story, and I guess the Lord is saying 'Yes.'"

"Thank you, Matt.  I'll never forget what your father and your whole family has done for my family."

"Promise me you'll let me know if I can do anything else for you."

"I will, and thank you again."

Matt shook the priest's hand and turned to leave, and then turned back around.

"Father, Mike and I would like to get together sometime with you and your staff and the Sisters over at Hospice, just for starters, to talk about a project I have in mind for runaways who end up here in Chicago on the street.  I don't want to duplicate any social services already in place, but I have in mind a facility especially geared to caring for gay kids on the run.  I know your staff and the Sisters are pretty plugged into the human services network here in the city.  Is this something you'd be interested in discussing?"

"Oh, my goodness, yes, Matt.  We don't do nearly enough for gay youngsters, and our staff will be more than happy to meet with you.  David had mentioned to me that you had something like this in mind.  Just let me know when and where the meeting is."

"I will, Father.  I'll be in touch."

Matt went out to his truck, where Mike and Josh were waiting for him.  Matt slid into the driver's seat.  The others had taken the kids and gone on ahead in the Blazer, Chris at the wheel.

"'Sup?" Mike asked his partner.

"I wanted to tell Father Rohm how happy I am about his son.  And I mentioned to him that we'd like to get together with the St. Stephen's staff and with the Sisters to talk about a facility for gay kids who are runaways."

"What did he say?"

"He liked the idea.  He said to let him know when and where the meeting would be, and that he and his people would be there."

"Good deal," Mike said.  "You're such a mover and a shaker, dude."

"I don't know about the 'mover' part, but I did all my shakin' yesterday morning after I woke up from our night out.  Heh.  So did you and Josh."

"Oh, you're a 'mover' all right," Mike said.  "And also a groaner.  I can speak from personal experience on that.  But I won't get into all that in front of Josh."

"See how you are?" Matt asked, looking across Josh at his partner sitting next to the passenger door.  "You were praying in church not 15 minutes ago, and you're already lyin' about me and slandering me."

"It's impossible to slander a lawyer.  Or an almost-lawyer.  And that's no lie."

"Don't make me stop this truck and settle your shit down," Matt said.

"Bring it on!!  I hope failure won't give you a complex or anything," Mike shot back.

"You'd just end up crying like a little girl who didn't get her a lollipop," Matt insisted.

"You couldn't possibly win.  Unless..."

"Unless what, dipstick?" Matt asked.

"Unless you fart, and then we'd all be dead," Mike said.

"You're so full of it!"

"Bush thinks Saddam Hussein has poison gas," Mike told Josh.  "He doesn't have a clue about the stuff Matt brews up.  I've seen Breakers keel over when he was 20 feet from Ground Zero.  He's only alive today because I've always dragged the poor animal away from the scene to recover and given him mouth to muzzle."

"You lyin' sack!" Matt said.

"No, you know I'm right!  Remember when we redecorated the coach house back at school that time?  Josh, I used to feed him franks and beans and send him into a room to pass gas, and the paint would peel and the wallpaper would fall right off the walls."

Josh laughed.

"Oh, you think that's funny?" Matt asked Josh.  "You're not immune from retribution, either, bud!"

"Give a hoot, don't pollute!" Josh said, not intimidated, and it was Mike's turn to laugh.

"Oh, man!" Matt complained.  "Why am I surrounded by wiseasses?  Where did I go wrong?"

"Is that a rhetorical question, or do you really want an answer?" Mike asked.

The partners continued to banter and bicker back and forth all the way home.  There was no clear winner, although Mike may have been ahead by a hair.  Josh enjoyed the hell out of it, and had a big smile on his face as they parked the truck.

Once back at the condo, and after Stan and Linda had returned from St. Casimir's, everyone had a light lunch of soup and a sandwich.  After lunch had settled, Matt goaded all the runners into changing into their running gear and doing their usual five miles on the beach.  Father David had shown up by then in Levi's, a T-shirt and sneakers to spend time with Martha, and Matt lent him a jock and a pair of running shorts so he could run with them.

Chris looked at them enviously as they all congregated in the foyer before they went down to the beach.

"You see your orthopedist this week, right?" Mike asked him as the runners started boarding the elevator.

"Yep.  Wednesday."

"Well, it won't be long before Matt is hounding your ass to run, too," Mike said, laughing as he held the elevator door open.  "You'll look back on these as your days of peace and tranquility.  Enjoy 'em while you can."  The door closed and the elevator dropped quickly to the first floor.

The runners all went down on to the beach, where they did their stretches and took off at a good pace.  By now Josh was able to keep up with everyone very nicely.  Father David had no problem, either.  Breakers was in his usual state of euphoria to be outdoors with the people he loved.  It was an unseasonably warm day for Winter in Chicago, almost 50°, and they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  When they got back and showered and changed, Matt and Mike sat down to study in their bedroom and everyone else sat around in the den and napped and vegged out, watching a little TV, listening to music, and playing board games with the boys.  It was the calm before the wedding week storm.

*  *  *

The following Tuesday, Jeff and Martha went down to Marshall Field's in the Loop, where Linda was in the bridal registry, and picked out some practical and pricey wedding gifts for her and Stan.  After that they met Father David for lunch at a Thai restaurant not far from St. Stephen's, and then the three of them went up to Northwestern to spend some time with Andie.

Mary made a big pot of chili at noon and put it on the stove to simmer, and then drove Linda to her seamstress' shop in Evanston in the mid-afternoon for the last fitting for her wedding gown.  It was a traditional dress replete with imported lace and with an elegant train, and it looked wonderful on the bride-to-be.  Her bridesmaids and flower girls had been fitted the previous Saturday, and their dresses were ready.

"Your dress is beautiful, Linda, and so are you," Mary told her on the way home.  "I'm so thrilled for you, sweetheart.  Nobody deserves happiness more than you do.  Stan is one lucky guy."

"I'm the lucky one, Mary.  I admire Stan so much.  He tells me sometimes what a rotten person he used to be, but I've never known him to be anything but a kind, gentle, intelligent person who's good to everybody he comes in contact with.  You know how he loves Matthew, Michael and Kyle and the whole family.  And I love him.  I know we're going to have a wonderful life together, and I'm really looking forward to Saturday."

"We all are.  Have you decided where you're going on your honeymoon?"

"Yes.  Matt and Mike offered to let us use their condo in Snowmass where they went on their honeymoon, and we're taking them up on it.  It's supposed to be really beautiful there."

"It is," Mary said.  "I've only been to Colorado once, but the mountains are breathtaking.  You'll enjoy it.  Do you think you'll do any skiing?"

"I hope so.  We'll both have to take lessons, though.  Neither one of us has ever skied before."

"Well, be careful.  A broken bone or two could put a real crimp in your connubial bliss."

Linda and Mary both laughed.  "Why, Mary Bradford!  I can't believe you said that!"

"Well, I'm old, not dead.  I have my memories, you know."

Linda leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"When do you receive your RN certification?" Mary asked.

"It's a done deal.  I passed my exams and completed the practicum.  The paperwork is in, and I'm just waiting for the certificate to come in the mail.  Then I'll start working on a Masters."

"Good.  Are you job hunting?"

"Not right now," Linda said.  "Matt and Mike have something in mind for me at a facility for runaways that Matt wants to build after he graduates and passes the bar.  In the meantime, Mike asked me if I would continue to take care of the kids, and I said I would."

"I think Matt and Mike have something pretty big in mind for Stan when he graduates," Mary said.  "Justice Broman thinks very highly of Stan, I hope you know that, and he's urged them to use his talents.  I don't have all the details, but it sounds as if the family and their foundation want to do some pretty exciting things in Chicago working with young people here."

"I hope so.  Some of our kids are in pretty sad shape.  Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too.  Y'know, I believe in our foreign aid programs totally, but sometimes I think we're doing better by our commitments abroad than we are in our own country."

"I know what you mean.  We have to do a better job of both if we're going to have real peace anywhere in the world," Mary said.

A few minutes later they pulled into the driveway of the condo and parked in the underground garage.  Stopping on the first floor, they picked up the mail for the penthouse from Dominic's Saturday replacement, and went on upstairs to find Chris watching the three boys as they rode their bikes in the foyer as the security guard looked on.

Mary went back to her bedroom, and Linda was standing beside Chris in the foyer as she sorted through the mail.  She came across an odd looking letter for Matt, addressed with letters which had apparently been cut out of a magazine and then pasted to the front of the envelope.  Chris saw it and did a double take.

"Linda, put that letter on the floor gently and get away from it," he told her curtly.  "Boys, park your bikes and go into the den. Now!  And Carl," he said to the security officer on duty, "go with the boys."  Hearing the tone in his voice, the kids jumped to it and the officer followed after them into the den.  Linda placed the envelope on the floor and backed away from it.

"What is it, Chris?" Linda asked.

"Did you feel anything powdery on the surface of the envelope or maybe inside it?"


"Well, I don't like the looks of this envelope.  It may be contaminated or even be a letter bomb.  I hope I'm not just being an alarmist, because I'll feel really stupid if I'm not right, but I'm going to call Captain Angelo and the postal inspectors.  Linda, I'm going to get you a plastic garbage bag.  Then I want you to go to your room, put everything you're wearing into the bag, seal  it up, and then take a long, hot shower.  Wait right here for a minute, and don't let anyone go near the envelope.  I'll be right back."

Chris made his way to the kitchen and retrieved a plastic garbage bag and tie, bringing it to Linda.  She left for her room as Chris went to the phone and dialed Tony Angelo's direct line at his precinct.

"Angelo," the voice at the other end said.

"Captain, this is Chris Russo.  I'm at the Bromans', and Matt just received an envelope in the mail addressed with letter cut-outs from a magazine and no return address.  I'm concerned that it might be contaminated with anthrax or even be a letter bomb.  Linda Kosco is the only person here who's touched it so far, and I sent her to shower and put the clothes she was wearing into a plastic bag and seal it up."

"Good, Chris.  Have you called the postal service or the bomb squad yet?"

"No, sir.  You're my first call."

"I'll make the calls.  I'm going to call an ambulance for Linda as well, just in case she inhaled something.  She needs to go to an emergency room.  Sit tight, and don't let anyone near the envelope.  Tell the doorman and security they should expect a bunch of cops and firemen to be showing up.  I'll be right over."

"Thank you, sir.  I'll be here."

The connection was broken, and Chris called downstairs and told the doorman to expect the police, the bomb squad, and postal inspectors.  Five  minutes later he heard the wail of approaching sirens, and looking out the front foyer window, saw a Chicago precinct squad car pull into the parking lot, followed by a bomb squad truck and, to his surprise, a fire department hazmat unit.  A minute later a fire department paramedic unit also pulled into the driveway.  Two precinct cops began running toward the front door of the condo as the bomb squad and hazmat teams stepped out of their vehicles and began to don their protective clothing.

Just then Mike, home unusually early that day, came out of his bedroom, walked down the hall and into the doorway to the foyer.  He had heard the sirens stop in front of their building.

"What's going on?" he asked Chris.

"Mike, go into the den and stay with the security officer and the kids.  We may have a bomb or a contaminated letter there on the floor," Chris said, pointing at the envelope. "Maybe both."

"You got it!" Mike said, stepping back and moving toward the den.

Chris heard the elevator start climbing from the first floor, and crutched his way over to wait for it to arrive.  The door opened to disgorge the two precinct cops.  Chris took his shield out of the pocket of his sweat pants and flashed it.

"Whaddaya got?" one of the cops asked.

"Suspected letter bomb and/or contaminated letter," Chris said, pointing toward the envelope on the floor.

"OK," the officer said.  "Who touched it?"

"One person up here, although you may want to check with the people at the front desk.  The packet of mail was rubber banded, so I doubt if they touched it directly downstairs.  Anyway, I sent the lady who touched it to shower after sealing the clothes she was wearing in a plastic bag.  Captain Angelo has called for an ambulance.  She needs to go to an emergency room."

"All right," the policeman said.  "Let's wait for the bomb squad and hazmat guys to get up here, and see what they wanna do."

The three cops stood there in silence as the elevator doors closed and it started its journey down to the lobby.

It returned in a minute or two with the hazmat team and the bomb squad, all hooded and wearing their respective protective gear.  One of the bomb squad guys was pulling a two wheeled cart to which a thick cylinder about three feet tall, rounded on the bottom with an opening on the top, was attached.  Chris flashed his badge again and identified the problem for the new arrivals.  The bomb squad and hazmat guys looked at each other.

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" one of the hazmat guys joked to his bomb squad counterparts.

"We'll go first," the bomb squad team leader said.  "Everybody back off."

"OK," the hazmat guy said, "but let's do a couple things first."  He turned and looked at Chris.  "Do you know where the switch is to cut off the air circulation?" he asked.

"Yes.  There are two separate systems for this floor."

"Turn both of them off before we do anything else."

"OK."  Chris crutched his way first to one utility closet and then to the other.  The sound of moving air died with a sigh.

The hazmat leader turned to his counterpart on the bomb squad.  "The threat of explosion takes precedence, but just in case, I'm going to give you my breathing apparatus and suit.  You can put your protective pads back on over it."  They each removed their suit and mask and the bomb squad leader put on the hazmat equipment with the bomb resistant pads over it.

"Just to keep your cylinder from possible contamination, why don't you put the envelope in here before you put it in your bomb cylinder?"  The hazmat leader handed the bomb squad guy a large rubber pouch and a pair of rubberized tongs.

"Good idea," the bomb squad guy said as he took them and advanced on the envelope behind a tall plexiglas shield.  Everyone else moved out of the foyer into the hallway and then into the den where Mike and the boys were sitting.

"Mike, just in case there's an explosion, take the kids on down to your room and wait down there, OK?" Chris said.

"Yep.  Common, boys."

"What's wrong, Dad?" Michael asked.

"Something bad might have come in the mail for Dad Matt," Mike said, shepherding the boys on down the hall toward his and Matt's room.

The bomb squad man reached the envelope and gently gripped it on a bottom corner with the tongs.  He placed the envelop first in the rubber pouch, and then carefully placed the pouch in the cylinder on wheels.  He closed and secured the top of the cylinder and then pulled his hood off.

"All clear," he shouted toward the den.

Just then the elevator doors opened, and Captain Angelo, in full uniform, and a second man, a gray-haired black man in a business suit with a badge that said "Postal Inspector," emerged with the two paramedics and their gear.

"Where's Linda?" Tony Angelo asked Chris immediately.

"She's back in her apartment, showering."

"Take the paramedics back there, will you, Chris?  She should go to an emergency room in case she inhaled something."

"Yes, sir," Chris said.  "Guys, follow me."  He set off for Linda's apartment on his crutches, trailed by the paramedics.

"Gentlemen, this is Marcus Jefferson from the U.S. Postal Service," Tony said.

Jefferson nodded curtly to the crowd.  "Is the letter in the containment chamber?" he asked, looked at the contraption on wheels.

"Yes, sir," the head bomb squad guy said.  "We need to take it out to the truck and check it out more closely to see if it's a letter bomb.  If it's not a bomb, its all yours.  It needs to be checked for contaminants, of course."

"Let's go," the postal inspector said, and the crowd moved toward the elevator, the doors of which had shut.  By this time, Mike was back without the kids, peering into the foyer.

"Hi, Mike," Tony Angelo said to him.  "Give me your swipe card for the elevator, will ya?"

"Hi, Tony.  Here ya go," Mike said, giving the policeman his card.

Tony opened the doors, and returned the card to Mike just as Linda, Chris and the two paramedics walked out of Linda's apartment.  Linda's hair was damp, and she was wearing hastily donned jeans and a top.

"Mike, the paramedics are going to take Linda to the hospital, just in the off chance she inhaled something," Chris said.

"I'm going with her," Mike said.  "Chris, ask Mary to watch the kids, will you?  They're in Matt's and my room with Carl the security guy watching TV.  And see if you can reach Stan on his cell phone."

"You got it," Chris said.

The paramedics and Linda and Mike took the elevator downstairs and walked to the ambulance.  They were just pulling out into traffic as the bomb squad and hazmat team emerged from the condo after speaking briefly with the front desk personnel as to whether they had touched the suspicious envelope.  They said that the Bromans' mail had been all rubber banded together, and they hadn't touched the individual pieces.

The teams went on out to the bomb squad truck.  Rolling the portable containment chamber gently into the truck, the envelope was gingerly removed from the cylinder with tongs, then removed from its rubber pouch, and placed in a special chamber inside the truck.  The thick doors to the truck were closed, and watching the envelope in a monitor, some buttons were pushed and some knobs twirled, artificial arms moved smoothly to grasp the envelope, and a moment later there was a muffled report from inside the truck.

"It was a letter bomb," the head of the bomb squad told the postal inspector.  "I hope there's something left for you guys to look at," he added.

Neil Anderson was standing at the window of his apartment across the street, looking down at all the activity in front of the condo and cursing a blue streak.  He knew he hadn't heard any explosion from the condo, and he had been listening for one.  Then he had heard the muffled noise from the bomb squad's truck.

"You lucky, motherfucking son of a bitch, Broman!!" he said out loud to himself.  Part of the reason he was upset was that he had paid $500 out of his dwindling resources to an ex-con he had met in a homeless shelter to rig that envelope for him.  It had been guaranteed to blow off a hand, at least.  He tried to imagine what had gone wrong, cussing himself out for not just addressing the envelope with a pen instead of using cut-out letters.  Maybe that was what tipped somebody off.  At any rate, he was right back where he started, with Matt walking around enjoying life in one piece, and he was thoroughly pissed off about that.  The guy had to be under a lucky star or something.

Stan had not had his cell phone turned on when Chris tried to reach him.  When he arrived back at the condo after spending a few hours at Hospice after his classes, he was extremely upset when he heard what had happened, but tried not to show how much.  Chris drove him down to the Northwestern Hospital emergency room so he would not have to drive with his mind in turmoil about Linda.

By the time Stan and Chris arrived, Linda had been thoroughly examined and shot full of antibiotics, just in case she had indeed inhaled any anthrax spores.  The doctors decided to err on the side of caution and keep her overnight so that blood tests could be run periodically all night.  She was moved upstairs to a private room in the general hospital, but not quarantined.  Mike, who had stayed with Linda at the hospital the whole time,  told Stan and Chris that anthrax is not considered contagious person to person..

When she saw Stan come into her room, Linda's eyes filled with tears.

"Are you all right, sweetheart?" Stan asked her, sitting down on the bed and embracing her and kissing her where she lay.

"I'm fine.  But all I could think of the whole time was missing my own damn wedding!"

"That's not going to happen!" Stan said with more certainty than he felt at the moment.

Chris and Mike stayed and visited for a few more minutes, and then left for the condo, leaving Stan with instructions to call when he was ready to come home, and someone would pick him up.

Matt arrived home a little late from school, a few minutes after Chris and Mike had gotten back to the condo and gone upstairs.  At first he was furious when he heard what had happened that afternoon.  But his mood quickly turned morose as he contemplated what might well have happened to Linda, and all because Neil Anderson was after him.  There was no doubt in Matt's mind that Anderson was indeed responsible for the bomb.

Mike followed Matt back to their bedroom so the latter could change out of his school clothes.

"Mike, this thing with Linda just makes me realize how selfish I've been," Matt said sorrowfully, sitting down on the edge of their bed, his head in his hands.  "If it hadn't been for Chris..."

"Whaddaya mean, you've been selfish?"

"Linda was just a hair away from being mutilated today.  And even now she may be infected with something from that damn envelope.  I've put you and the kids and most of the people we love most in the world at risk.  I don't think I have any choice but to move out of here for awhile.  I can lead Neil Anderson away from here, and maybe that will help them catch him."

"I swear to God, Matt, I'll kick your ass if you ever say anything that stupid again!" Mike said, sitting down beside his partner on the bed and putting his arm around him.  "You're not the Lone Ranger, y'know!"

"Mike, these people are our family, and I'll die if anything happens to one of 'em because of me, let alone to one of our kids.  Anderson won't have to worry about killing me if something terrible happens to somebody, because I'll already be dead inside.  It's just not right to stay here and gamble that everybody's gonna be all right.  I'm sick about this."

"Let me remind you of the obvious, buddy!  There's no place any of us are going to be safer than we are right here.  We just have to stay vigilant, that's all."

"That's not enough."

"It's gonna have to be," Mike said.  "You're not going into exile because of that sick fuck Neil Anderson, and that's that.  Capiche?"

"Well, I think I need at least to put the offer on the table and see what the family says.  Anderson seems to know pretty much how to get at us any time he wants to.  I could lead him away from here, you know."

Just then Chris knocked on the open bedroom door.

"Guys, Captain Angelo wants to talk to you."

Mike hugged and kissed Matt, and they stood up.

"You're not going anywhere," Mike said.  "I hope you get that."

"What are you talking about, Mike?" Chris asked.

"Matt wants to move out of here until Neil Anderson is caught.  He thinks that will keep the rest of us safe, but I don't believe it would guarantee anything.  I think it's a terrible idea."

"It's out of the question," Chris said firmly, looking concerned.  "Matt, you promised when you hired me that you'd do what I told you to do when it came to security.  I'm telling you now that you can't move out of here.  I hope you'll abide by my decision."

"Let's see what Tony thinks," Matt said.

"You know I have the utmost respect for Captain Angelo," Chris said, by now looking upset.  "We can talk to him, of course, but the decision is already made, bud."

They dropped the discussion for the moment as the three of them walked into the den, Chris still limping along on his crutches, but every now and again cheating and putting weight on the broken leg as he walked.

Tony was sitting on the couch talking with Mary about what had happened that afternoon.  Mary was upset about Linda.

"Hey, guys," he said to Matt and Mike when they came in.  "Your gun carry permits came through, and I forgot to give 'em to you in all the excitement.  Here you go."  He handed them the permits.

"Any problems?" Mike asked him.

Tony smiled.  "Well, one of the assistant superintendents downtown carried on a bit about how we need to keep gun permits in the city to a bare minimum, yadda yadda yadda.  But he quieted right down when I happened to mention that both of you are Chicago Citizens of Valor award winners and personal friends of the Mayor.  I didn't even have to mention your father's name."

"That's good," Matt said.

"Have you decided on your weapon?" Tony asked.

"No," Mike said.  "What do you recommend?"

Tony looked at them appraisingly.  "I'd recommend either a snub nose .38 Police Special revolver, or a 9mm Beretta.  The only problem with a snub nose .38 is that they usually only take 5 rounds.  Sometimes 6.  Beretta has a model they call the Mini-Cougar with a 10 clip that's perfect for concealed carry.  You can look at Glocks as well, but for my personal taste they don't have enough heft to them to overcome the kick.  When can you come down to the precinct?  We'll take a ride out to a gun store in the suburbs that I go to.  You can pick out what you like and apply for your Firearm Owners IDentification cards.  After a few days, they'll turn the guns over to you, and I'll take you to the PD firing range for safety and firing information and shooting practice."

Matt looked at Mike.  "This is scary," he said.

"I'm glad you feel that way," Tony told them.  "It is scary.  That's just one more reason I know you guys are gonna be responsible gun owners."

"You have any time available tomorrow for shopping?" Mike asked Tony.  "Matt, is that good for you?"

"Yes, if it's in the afternoon," Matt said.

"How about 2 o'clock?" Tony asked.  "Meet me at the precinct, OK?"

"Yep," Mike said.

"Tony, Matt has something else he wants to run by you," Chris said at that point.


"Well, given what happened to Linda today, I'm thinking about moving out of the condo until Neil Anderson is caught," Matt said.  "I'm just a magnet that draws trouble to everybody as long as I'm living here."

Tony was silent for a long minute as Mike glowered at his partner.  "What does your security chief say?" Tony asked, looking up at Chris.

"No," Chris said without elaboration.

"A man of few words," Tony said, laughing.  "I agree with you, Chris.  Matt, even if you were to disappear for awhile, that ass...., er, sorry Mary, that jerk could just as well decide to take somebody else here out in order to strike at you, particularly if security is relaxed with you not here.  I see no advantage to it at all.  It's better for all concerned, including you, if you stay right here.  Don't let him take control of your situation by driving you away.  If you leave, he wins."

"All right, then," Matt said, giving in for the moment.

"Tony, can you stay for supper?" Mary asked.  "We're just having chili and a salad."

"That sounds wonderful.  Let me call Marie and see if it's OK," Tony said.  "I don't think we have anything going on tonight."  He pulled out his cell phone and made the call.  Matt watched their friend's expression as he talked with his wife, and you could see the man's love for her written all over his face.  This was obviously one marriage that had worked the way it was supposed to.

"I'll take you up on your offer," Tony said when he broke the connection.  "Marie says 'hi' to everybody."

"Thanks," Mike said.  "You tell her 'hi' from us when you get home.  Common, my little chickadees," he told the three boys, who were back working diligently on their Legos project.  "Let's get our hands washed."

"We're not chickadees," Kyle said with certainty.

"Oh, yes, you are," Mike said.  "You have faces just like chickadees, beaks and everything.  Cute little beaks."  The three kids and Mike moved off toward the bathroom, still debating whether the boys had bird faces, just as Andie, Martha, Jeff, Josh and Father David stepped off the elevator and came into the den.

"Hey, guys.  Just in time for dinner," Matt said.

"Hello, Captain," Josh said, shaking hands, followed by Jeff and David.

"Hi, Tony," David said.  "Good to see you."

"Hello, Father, Josh, Jeff," Tony said.  "Andie and Martha, how are you?"

"Fine, thanks," Martha said.  "What good thing did we do today to have the pleasure of your company tonight?" she asked, smiling.

"We had a little excitement around here this afternoon," Tony said.  "I'm afraid Neil Anderson has been at work.  Linda's been admitted to the hospital overnight just as a precaution, and Stan is with her.  Matt and Mike will tell you about it."

Faces fell in disbelief as the new arrivals looked at one another in shocked silence.

Andie and Martha excused themselves to use the bathroom, and when they came back everybody moved toward the dining room.  Mary put a huge, steaming tureen of chili in the middle of the table along with a large bowl of salad and a platter of garlic bread.  Matt poured chianti for the adults and milk for the kids.  Martha returned thanks as they held hands around the table.

"Father, we gather around this table tonight to bless your name for the food you have provided us, and to ask for your divine protection for us all.  May your angels guard us and guide us this night and always.  Take our fears and in their place give us your calm.  Only our faith in your love can comfort us, Lord.  We ask for your kindness to our sister Linda as well as for your blessing upon Stan and Linda as the day of their marriage approaches.  We thank you for this food, and ask you to bless both it and the hands which prepared it, through Jesus Christ our Lord."


They all sat down except for Mike, who remained standing to begin ladling chili into bowls as they were passed to him, serving the children first.

"So, what exactly happened this afternoon?" Jeff asked Matt, looking concerned.  "Why is Linda in the hospital?"

"Long story short?" Matt said.  "There was a letter bomb for me in the mail today, and Linda was sifting through the mail when Chris spotted the envelope and had her put it on the floor.  Gently.  He called Tony, and hazmat and the bomb squad came.  The bomb squad put the envelope into their truck down in the parking lot and detonated it.  The postal inspectors have the remains of it now, and they're testing it for anthrax spores.  Linda's at Northwestern Hospital in a private room until they determine whether she breathed in anything from the envelope she shouldn't have.  Stan's with her."  He paused and looked at Chris.  "Chris, we all owe you bigtime for being so vigilant."  He paused again.  "And I want to apologize to every one of you for making you targets for Neil Anderson."

Jeff looked at Matt sharply.  "You gotta be kidding.  Just how are you responsible for that?"

"Well, he's after me, and that puts you guys in the line of fire."

"Y'know, Matt," Jeff said, "you might want to apologize for your bad jokes or for your lousy personality or for the fact you're a wimp because you wrestled as your sport in college, but you don't owe us an apology because some sick idiot is trying to off you.  Don't be ridiculous."

"Right on, Jeff!" Mike said.

Matt didn't look convinced.

"When can Linda come home?" Mary asked, sounding worried.  "This isn't going to interfere with the wedding, is it?"

"No," Mike said.  "The only reason they're keeping her tonight is so they can run a series of blood tests.  Even if she breathed some spores into her lungs, they shot her full of antibiotics, so she's in no danger.  They'll release her in the morning."

"I'm the one who should be apologizing to everybody," Chris interjected. "I'm supposed to be on top of things, but I just wasn't prepared for this today, and I'm sorry.  My learning curve hasn't been what it should be, but I promise you I'm taking what happened today as my wake-up call.  I hope I still have your confidence, because as of now I'm eating and sleeping security.  So, Standing Order #1:  I don't want anyone starting up a car down in the garage until I or Josh or someone has checked it for 'problems.'  Captain, how can we get a wand with a mirror to check up under our cars before we use them?"

"I'll have the bomb squad drop one off to you early tomorrow morning," Tony said.  "For the duration.  That's a good precaution, Chris."

"Chris," Mike said patiently, "this wasn't your fault.  In fact, you did exactly what you should have done, and probably saved Linda's life.  And Matt's.  So cool the guilt trip, will ya?"

"Mike's right, Chris," Tony said.  "Now that we know a little more about what Anderson is capable of, we're all going to be more on our toes."

"Chris, when is your doctor appointment tomorrow?" Mike asked.


"I'll take you, Chris," David said.  "I'll pick you up at nine-thirty."

"Thanks, Father," Chris said.  "I can't wait to get rid of these crutches!"

"I'll bet!" the priest said.

"Jeff, when is your appointment at the Cubs office?"

"Ten o'clock, too," Jeff said.

They were just finishing their dessert of ice cream and cookies when the telephone rang.  Matt went to the kitchen and answered it.  It was Stan.

"How's Linda?" Matt asked when he heard his voice.

"She's fine.  She just finished eating supper, so I'm ready to head out.  I can take a cab, though."

"Bullshit.  You hang tight, and we'll pick you up in a few at the emergency room door."  Matt hung up and went back into the dining room, where everyone, now sated, was standing and pushing back their chairs.

"That was Stan," Matt said. "He's ready to come home.  I'll go get him."

"Why don't I drive you, and drop you back off on my way home?" Tony offered.

"That would be great, Tony."

Mike corralled Tony for a few words in private before Tony and Matt left.

"Tony, Matt made a comment earlier this evening that kind of stuck in my mind.  He said, 'Anderson seems to know pretty much how to get at us any time he wants to.'  He just might be right about that.  Has the Department done any checking on leases or sub-leases that were recently signed right here in our neighborhood?  The guy could be practically sitting in our laps, y'know, and we wouldn't be any the wiser."

Tony looked at him thoughtfully.  "Mike, that's an interesting idea.  I'll tell you what I'll do.  I'll talk to the detective division tomorrow and see if they've run any checks like that.  If not, I'll see if they will.  If there aren't any other options, I'll talk to them downtown and pull some of my uniforms to do a canvass.  How's that?"

"Thanks.  You don't know how much I appreciate this," Mike said.

"That's all right.  We are gonna catch this guy, Mike."

Tony retrieved his hat as Matt put on his jacket and cap, and they went down to Tony's car in the front parking lot.  Neither of them said anything at first as Tony pulled into traffic on Sheridan Road and headed south for Lake Shore Drive to go downtown.

Tony finally glanced over at Matt, who seemed to be in his own little world.

"Is he wearing you down?"


"Is Anderson wearing you down?"

"Yes, I guess so," Matt admitted reluctantly.  "I'm not scared of him for myself.  But how will I ever forgive myself if something happens to the people I care about?"

"I understand.  But you have good people looking out for you, Matt.  Whether you like it or not, you're all in this together, and your people aren't going to let you push them away.  I know it's a tough situation, but you're a tough guy.  You're the same guy who jumped into Lake Michigan in the dark with your partner a few years ago to save some people you didn't even know.  I'm not making light of your situation, but life means risk, and to some extent, we all have to embrace that.  You're going to get through this, and it's gonna have a good outcome.  And just so you'll know, I'm gonna implement some new ideas to track Anderson down, starting bright and early tomorrow morning."

"Well, thanks for being our friend, Tony.  That's all I can say."

Matt got Tony to talk a little bit about his own family, especially his grandkids, on the rest of the way downtown, and it took Matt's mind off Neil Anderson.  When they arrived at the emergency entrance at Northwestern, Stan was waiting for them in the vestibule.  Matt stepped out of the car and gave his friend a hug.

"I'm sorry this happened, man," he told Stan.

"I know," Stan said.  "She's doin' fine, though."

Tony pulled more to the side of the driveway, put on the flashers, and stepped out of his unmarked police car.

"Stan," he asked, "can we go up and say 'hello' to Linda for a minute?"

"Of course.  She'd love to see you if you have the time," Stan said.

Tony glanced at his car.  "Ya wanna bet I won't get a ticket?" he laughed.

"I pity the beat cop that gives a captain a ticket!  But if by some remote chance they don't recognize an unmarked cop car when they see one, I'll pay the ticket," Matt said, chuckling.

The three of them went upstairs.  Linda was surprised to see Stan again when he walked in, and especially when she saw he was followed by Matt and Tony.  Her two latest visitors each went over to her and gave her a big hug and a kiss.

"Hon," Matt said to Linda, "I'm really sorry about this."

"If you're blaming yourself, Matt, you stop that shit right now!  I'm gonna be fine.  Don't think you're gonna get out of our wedding this easy!"

Stan laughed.  "Feisty, isn't she?  I told you she was all right."

"Do you need anything, Lin?" Tony asked.

"Thanks for asking, Tony, but no," Linda said.  "I'm busting out of here first thing in the morning."

The four of them visited for a few minutes, deliberately talking about the upcoming wedding on Saturday so they wouldn't have to think about Neil Anderson and what he had done.  Then Tony drove Matt and Stan back to the condo, and dropped them off.

Mike was back in his and Matt's bedroom studying, Jeff and Andie had gone to bed, as had Mary, but Chris and Josh were still up watching TV in the den after they had bathed the boys and put them to bed.

"Hey, guys," Chris said.

"Chris, get your ass up off that couch!" Stan demanded as he walked over.

Chris stood, and Stan took him in his arms, holding him tight for a long time and kissing his cheek before he let him go.

"Saying 'thanks' just doesn't seem to cut it, bud," Stan told him.  "You saved Linda or Matt from being hurt real bad or even killed today.  I won't forget it."

"You're my family," was all Chris said, kissing him back before sitting down again.

"Just remember what I told you," Stan said to him.

"How's Linda doing?" Josh asked.

"She's fine," Stan said.  "So far her blood work is good.  Knock on wood."  He tapped his forehead with his knuckles.

The two cops grinned.

"Stan, would you mind walking Breakers tonight?" Matt asked.  "Josh, go with him, would you?  I guess I don't need to tell you to go armed."

"You got it," Stan responded.  "Let's do it, dude," he told Josh, who stood up to go to his bedroom for his weapon.

"Thanks, guys."  Matt turned and headed for his bedroom, detouring to look in on the boys.  All three were sleeping, breathing quietly in their beds, blond hair shining in the subdued light.  Matt said a quick, silent prayer for their safety, and went over to each of them, bending down to kiss them softly before moving on to his bedroom.

Mike was sitting at his desk in his boxers, studying.  He looked up when Matt came in, and shut off his study lamp.

"How's Linda?" he asked.

"She's doing well.  Tony and I went up to see her before we brought Stan back."

"Good."  Mike got up and followed Matt over to their bed, where they sat down side by side.  Mike put his arm around his partner.  "Tell me a joke," he said to Matt.

"What's wrong with this picture?" Matt asked.

"I know.  But they say that only the good die young, and if you tell me a joke, I'll know you're gonna live for a long time."  Mike kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, I'm not really in the mood, but I hardly ever get any encouragement like this...hmmm, let's see...all right.

"A guy met a girl in a bar and asked, 'May I buy you a drink?'

"'Okay. But it won't do you any good.'

"A little later, he asks, 'May I buy you another drink?'

"'Okay. But it won't do you any good.'

"Later, he invites her up to his apartment and she replies,
'Okay. But it won't do you any good.'

"They get to his apartment and he says, 'You are the most beautiful
thing I've ever seen. I want you for my wife.'

"She says, 'Oh, that's different.  Send her in.'"

Mike had to laugh.  "Y'know, you're so cute when you tell a joke.  Your expressions are funnier than the stories."

"Thanks, I think."

"Let's go to bed early," Mike suggested.  "I just want you next to me.  I want to hold you."

Matt agreed.  They stripped, and after they cleaned their teeth, were under the covers with their arms around one another.  Mike loved to hold the beautiful body of that beautiful man.  For a long time after Matt had drifted off to sleep, Mike's eyes lingered in the dim light from his alarm clock on the face of the person he loved more than his own life.

*  *  *

Father David was at the condo by 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning to pick Chris up for his doctor's appointment.  Martha was up and having a cup of coffee in the den by the time he arrived, so David talked her into coming with them.  Before leaving, Chris buttoned his pistol into his jacket, and away they went to the University of Chicago hospital to see Chris' orthopedist.

David and Martha sat in the doctor's reception area and talked while Chris was being seen.  The whir of an electric saw filtered out of the small treatment room with Chris in it, and 30 minutes later Chris rejoined his two friends, now walking without crutches and a little slowly, but all smiles.

"Lookin' good, man!" David told him as he and Martha stood up.

"How does it feel?" Martha asked.

"Great!  Thank you, God!" Chris said joyfully, pumping his fists and looking upward.  "My leg looks a mite puny, though.  So does my arm."

"That's normal," the priest said.  "Don't worry, Matt'll have you working out on those devil machines in their little gym until you pass out.  But you'll be pumped!"

Chris laughed happily.  "You're so right," he said, putting his arms around his two friends as they walked to the elevator.  The normally reserved Chris was talking a mile a minute as they went down to their car and headed back toward the condo.

On the way back, David looked at Chris, who was sitting in the back seat, through his rear view mirror.

"Chris, how are Matt and Mike holding up after what happened to Linda?" the priest asked.

"I'm not sure, to be honest.  Mike seems pretty calm about everything, but you can tell Matt is really on edge.  You know how he is--I'm sure he feels he'd be responsible for anything Neil Anderson does to any of the rest of us."

"That doesn't surprise me," David mused, and the conversation shifted to something else.

When they pulled into the front parking lot, David pulled out a little note pad.

"Will one of you give Matt a note for me?" he asked.

"Sure will," Martha said.

The priest took out his pen and quickly jotted down a few words:


"I once read somewhere, and I can't remember the author, a statement
like this:  'We human beings have a choice.  We can either live in
God's house of love and serenity, or in the world's house of pain and

"I think you know which house we need to be living in right now during
this time of trial."

He signed it, "With affection, David."

He tore the page out of his notebook, folded it over, and handed it to Martha.

"Feel free to read it if you want to," David said.  "It kind of speaks to all of us right now, I think."

Martha opened it and read it, then handed it to Chris in the back seat.  She put her hand on the tall priest's neck, pulled his head over to her and kissed him, saying nothing.

"Father," Chris said as he opened the back door of the car after reading the note, "thank you--for the ride to the doctor's office, and for your good counsel.  I appreciate both of them."

"You're coming back for supper tonight, aren't you?" Martha asked David.

"I can't tonight," he said.  "I have an appointment with a young couple right around supper time."

"Come by later, then, OK?" Martha said, stepping out of the car.

"All right.  Thanks.  I'll see you about 9 o'clock, probably," Father David said.

"Good," Martha said.  "Just eat something to tide you over.  We'll keep some food warm for you."

"That would be great.  Thank you."

As usual, Dominic greeted Martha and Chris when they walked in the front door of the building.

"Hello, Martha.  And Chris!  You look like a new man without those crutches!" he said jovially, coming out from behind his enclosure as the security guard on duty with him continued to watch the building monitors.

"Hi, Dom," Martha said.

"I feel like a new man, Dom," Chris told him enthusiastically.  "This is outstanding.  I'd almost forgotten how great it is to walk around without worrying where you're gonna put down the end of each crutch, so you don't fall on your butt!"

"I'm happy for you," the rotund doorman said.  "Say, Chris, the electricians are installing the new cameras in the garage with monitors here at my station, and also the cameras, monitors and shut-off switches for the penthouse elevator.  The crew came while you were gone."

"Good deal!  Did they say when they're gonna be finished."

"They thought by tonight.  They brought a lot of guys.  But you may want to talk to them."

"I will.  Did the mail come yet?"

"No, not yet.  You want I should give you a ring when it gets here?"

"That would be great," Chris said.  "I'm checking it personally after what happened yesterday.  Is our elevator available to use?"

"Yeah.  Check to see if there's a guy on top of the car doing some wiring, though, before you take it up."  Dom went back to his station and opened the elevator door for them with his remote switch.

Martha and Chris went into the elevator, which had an open step ladder inside.  Chris shouted up into the open top panel of the car, "Anybody up there?"

A face appeared.  "Yeah," a dark haired young workman with a handsome face said.  "Give me 2 minutes, and I can come down."

"Take your time," Chris said, climbing the ladder part way to look up at what they guy was working on.  There were coils of different colored electrical wire everywhere on top of the cab.

"I'm glad you know what you're doing," Chris kidded the guy.  "If I were doing it, this elevator would probably shoot right through the roof the next time somebody took it up."

The young man laughed, and after tightening down a nut on a newly installed wire, came over to the open panel.  Chris backed down the ladder, and the electrician followed him, giving Martha a quick once-over when he was down the ladder and on his feet.

"Hi," he told her, smiling.

"Hello," Martha said.

"Are you guys gonna finish with everything today?" Chris asked the man.

"I think so, but you better talk to our foreman, Sam.  He's probably down in the garage right now."

"Okay, I'll find him in a few," Chris said as he swiped his card in the appointed slot.  The door of the elevator closed, and the three of them began ascending.

"You folks sure have some heavy duty security around here.  You won't be able to..."  The guy was going to say 'fart,' but he changed it at the last second because Martha was there.  "You won't be able to...breathe here in this building without somebody knowin' about it."

"I think you're right, and that's just the way we want it," Chris said as the elevator reached the penthouse floor and the door opened.

Chris and Martha got off.

"I'm gonna turn the power for the elevator off when I get back down to the first floor," the young electrician said.  "If you need the elevator, call the front desk, and I'll turn it back on, OK?"

" 'K," Chris said.  "But I'll just take the fire stairs down to find your foreman.  'Sam,' you said the foreman's name is?"

"Yeah, 'Sam.'  Later," the kid said, smiling at Martha again as the elevator door closed.

"I think he liked you," Chris kidded Martha as they walked toward the den.

"Don't start," she said with a grin.

Mary was in the den with the kids, and Chris and Martha greeted her.  Mary stood up and gave Chris a hug.

"You're walking!  I can tell you're glad of that!" she said.

"You know it!" Chris told her, giving her a kiss.

"Did they let Linda come home yet?" Martha asked.

"Yes," Mary said.  "Stan brought her home about a half-hour ago.  She's all right.  There was no sign she aspirated any anthrax spores."

Martha and Chris grinned and high-fived.

"Thank goodness!" Martha said.

The three boys abandoned their Legos and surrounded Chris and Martha.

"Will you take us up to swim?" Michael asked them, looking like a small carbon copy of Matt when he made puppy dog eyes.

"I have to go downstairs for a few minutes," Chris said, looking at Martha.

"I will," Martha said.  "Go get your suits on."

The boys were happy and scampered out of the den and down the hall toward their room.

Martha followed them and continued on back to Matt's and Mike's room, where she left the note from Father David on Matt's desk.  She hoped what it said might help Matt calm down a bit, because he seemed really hyper.

Before going to her bedroom to change into her swim suit, Martha went to the door of Linda's apartment and knocked softly.  Stan opened the door.

"I hear Linda's OK," she said.

"Yes, thank God," Stan said.  "She's taking a nap right now.  They kept waking her up all night to take blood."

"I'm glad she's all right, hon," Martha said to him.  "Listen, I'm gonna take the kids up to swim if you want to join us."

"Good idea," Stan said.  "I'll change in a couple of minutes and come up."

All five of them eventually made it up to the pool, and the three boys gave Martha and Stan a good workout with the beachballs.

When they came down from the pool, Jeff was home, sitting in the den.  He looked happy.

"How did it go with the Cubs, Jeff?" Martha asked him.

"Good, I think," he said.  "There's no doubt that I'm gonna have to pay my dues by playing on a farm club team, though."

"Which one?" Stan asked.

"They may option me to the Iowa Cubs in DesMoines.  It's their triple A franchise.  Oh, to be a star pitcher!  Then I could go right to 'the show.'"

"Still, triple A, not bad, dude!" Stan said.  "Congratulations!  Boys, Uncle Jeff is maybe gonna play baseball not too far from Chicago."

"Can we watch?" Matthew asked.

"Absolutely!" Jeff said.  "In fact, I may just take you to live with me in Iowa all Summer, guys.  That way, after the games, we can all sit outside on our porch and listen to the corn grow."

"I don't think so," Michael said.

"Why not?" Jeff asked, grinning.

"That doesn't sound like much fun," Kyle said.

"It's fun if I say it is, you little worms!" Jeff said.

That was all it took, and the three boys were all over their uncle, wet swim suits and all, as Stan and Martha looked on.  Jeff pretended to let the kids wrestle him down flat on the big leather couch.  Once the boys had triumphed, Martha sent them back to their bedroom to change into dry clothes.

*  *  *

Mike and Matt had met Tony Angelo at his precinct at 2 p.m. that afternoon, and Tony drove them to a suburb contiguous to Chicago to a gun shop.  The Bromans knew next to nothing about firearms, so after Tony filled the store owner on what their particular requirements were, the two of them walked Matt and Mike through  the decision-making process.  After handling scores of pistols and listening to the pro's and con's to each one, they each bought a Beretta snub nose with a ten-clip that Tony had mentioned to them the previous day.  They also purchased unobtrusive, "easy-draw" shoulder holsters for their weapons.

After Matt and Mike had filled out the application form and had their pictures taken for their Illinois Firearm Owners IDentification (FOID) cards, the store owner told them they could pick up their new weapons and the cards the following week.  Then Tony took them back to the precinct.

"When you guys get home, tell Chris that the cops he wanted to hire during their off hours starting Thursday are all lined up," Tony said.  "Since you're gonna have crowds of people coming and going from your place, what with the wedding and all, he's doing the right thing to put some extra guys on.  Y'know, I think you're gonna to be really pleased with the security work Chris does for you over time."

"I think so, too, Tony," Mike said.  "Now that his casts are off, he's really going to be into it.  I'm just thankful he agreed to work for us instead of going back to the state police."

"Well, he cares about you guys, Mike," Tony said.  "You can't buy that, y'know."

"Fer sure," Matt said.  "We're grateful for that, Tony, just like we're grateful for your friendship.  You've done so much for us.  I don't know how we'll ever repay you."

"There's no repay," Tony said.  He chuckled.  "Who would have thought we'd still be tight all these years after a chance meeting on Lake Shore Drive?"

"I know it," Matt said.  "But we still appreciate everything you've done for us, believe me."

They parted company cordially, and Matt and Mike caught a cab back home.

Matt found the note from Father David on his desk when he and Mike went back to their room to change clothes.  He showed it to Mike, and then sat down on the edge of their bed to really digest what the note said.  David's quote was right on, and it did make him feel better.

The next morning, Matt and Mike left for school, Mike taking public transportation and Matt his truck after Chris thoroughly checked it for any anomalies.  Not long after that a crew of workmen showed up to lay the wood dance floor over the living room carpeting for the wedding reception Saturday night.  Chris and Stan supervised that job, and later that morning Mary worked with the caterer from the Loop restaurant which was providing the food for the rehearsal dinner on Friday night.

Justice and Mrs. Broman were due at the airport at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, and the whole family was looking forward to seeing them, especially Matt.  Somehow the scare Neil Anderson had given all of them made him miss his parents more than usual, even though it had only been a few weeks since he had seen them.  Matt and Mike had decided to pick them up themselves at O'Hare Field rather than send a limo, so they were waiting at the security check point when they spotted them walking down the long corridor from the gate.

Mike was struck with how well and happy his parents looked as they walked briskly toward Matt and him.  He was grateful for that.  He reflected on the fact that his mom and dad were both doing what they loved in life.  Despite the challenges, their work appeared to be keeping them young and vital.  At her age, Mrs. Broman could still turn some heads.

The four of them greeted one another joyfully with hugs and kisses.

"You look marvelous," Mike told his mother as they embraced.  "So does Dad.  What's your secret?"

"A wonderful husband and a great family, that would be my guess," Jane Broman said.  "Visiting Chicago frequently doesn't hurt, either!"

Justice Broman smiled fondly at his wife when he heard that.  "Speaking of family," he said, "how are those three little guys?"

"They're growing like little weeds," Matt said.  "And too darn smart for their own good.  We can't get away with anything without getting called on it."

"It sounds as if you're getting back a little of your own there, pal," Mrs. Broman said, laughing.

"That's what I keep telling him, but he won't hear it," Mike said.  "How are things on the Court, Dad?"

The jurist chuckled.  "To quote a former Yale law school professor, 'The Supreme Court is like nine scorpions trapped in a bottle.'  That has the ring of truth to it, don't you think?"

Laughing and talking all the way, they went down to the lower level of the terminal to pick up the luggage.  Mike went to get the Blazer out of short-term parking, loaded the bags, and soon they were on their way to the condo.  Matt filled them in on the letter bomb scare as they drove.

"Tony Angelo is going to take a new tack in tracking down Neil Anderson," Mike added.  "His precinct and the area detective division are going to start canvassing the neighborhood for new leases near our condo after I mentioned to him that Matt thought the guy seemed to know a lot about our living arrangements and schedules.  Hell, he could be living right across the street from us for all we know."

They arrived back at the condo, taking the penthouse elevator upstairs from the garage.  Matt pointed out the new camera in the elevator car, mugging at it for the benefit of whoever might be watching the monitors at the front desk and in the den.

Everybody in the condo, including Breakers, was waiting in the foyer for Mr. and Mrs. Broman when the elevator arrived.  The three little boys claimed first rights to their grandparents.  After the kids had been soundly kissed and squeezed, Jane and Matthew Broman both began working their way through the condo family, greeting and kissing and hugging everybody, including Chris, who just glowed at the signs of affection from two people he had come to care for deeply.

Matt introduced his mom and dad to Josh.  Justice and Mrs. Broman embraced him and kissed him just as they did everyone else who lived with Matt and Mike.  The young police officer blushed happily at the attention, remembering well what Matt had told him earlier in the week about the way his parents always showed their affection for family.  Josh resolved then and there to let his own growing love for this strange and wonderful extended family speak for itself more clearly from that moment on.

As everyone talked and milled about, Jeff put an arm around Stan's neck and pulled him close.

"There's been a slight change in plans you should all be aware of," Jeff said to the crowd.  "Stan and I are the ones getting hitched tomorrow.  We're leaving Linda and Andie to their own destiny."  He peered down at Stan and planted a big, sloppy kiss on his cheek.  "I love this little face!"

Everybody roared as Stan turned red.  But he came right back.

"Don't ever dance with anybody but me, Big Boy," he told Jeff, reaching around to pinch his muscular ass.  "And promise me you'll always keep your hair spiked up just the way I like it!"

Justice Broman looked over at his wife after he finally regained his composure.  "I knew this would be 'Clown Central' around here this weekend!  And I love every minute of it!"

© 2003 Don Hanratty

Thanks to all the readers who emailed me about WIO.  It keeps me motivated.

Some of the things that I had promised for this chapter didn't happen, but they will.

Coming up:  Stan's and Linda's wedding comes off without a hitch, and Matt thinks he catches a glimpse of Neil Anderson watching the condo.  Matt and Mike get their new Berettas and begin practicing at the police range.  They also have an initial meeting with the Sisters and the staff of St. Stephen's about their plans to serve gay runaways in Chicago.  Matt and David Howard go to San Francisco to talk to Father Rohm's son.

Thanks to ChicagoEric for reviewing and proofreading this chapter.  Don H.