...And the Other Friends...


Ok, now for all the usual stuff: Don't read this story if you are under 18; it's illegal for you to do so;
or you don't like stories of young gay men that sometimes include sex.
All characters are fictional. Absolutely. I would never even THINK of using my story to even an old score.
Honest to God. ; )
© 2002, 2003 by Keith. No part of this story may be posted ANYWHERE without the express permission of the author.
You may copy it to a file or even print it out, but you may not distribute it for charge.
Not one word may be changed without permission.
This story also appears at WWW.Archerland.Net with the permission of the author, and no where else. Let me know
if you run across it someplace it isn't supposed to be.
I love email, so send any comments to
Oh, and if it looks suspiciously like I'm fishing for email... well
You're right. I have no pride


Chapter 11

Andy eyed his breakfast with satisfaction -- the Rosie's Diner Heart- Stopper Special: three scrambled eggs, large order of hash browns, a thick wedge of ham, double sausage and six strips of bacon. Rosie's daughter Sylvia, a plump woman almost his mother's age, smiled at him as she refilled the mug of black coffee.

Andy smiled back. "Thanks, Syl. Good thing the storm didn't keep you from opening this morning."

Sylvia chuckled. "Well, it helps when your house is only fifty feet away. Thanks for clearing up the rest of my lot. Where's the guys?"

He took a sip, then nodded towards the window. "They're still out doin' some small jobs, driveways and like that. I let `em keep whatever they come up with over my commercial jobs, and they're all set. Plus they'll pick up a few side jobs along the way -- all cash. No one expected eleven inches of snow this late in the year."

Sylvia chuckled. "And I'm sure they'll give their cut to the taxman, too," she said, turning to scrape down her grill.

Andy nodded and eyed the newspapers on the end of the counter. "Sylvia?" he asked. "You wouldn't have a copy of Monday's Guardian laying around, would you? I need to check something."

"I might," she replied. "I usually have a few left over." She disappeared into her back room, returning a few minutes later. "Here you go, Andy -- most of it anyway. I used the front section when I made up my `catch of the day' special."

Andy laughed. "Right -- `catch of the day'. You mean the Mrs. Paul's fish sticks?"

She slapped his arm, pretending to frown. "Hey, not fair! You can't be telling everyone my secret recipes! And it's not fish sticks... it's Gorton's of Gloucester haddock fillets, thank you very much."

Andy flagged through the paper, and it didn't take long to find what he was looking for. He read the name, assumed the Essex Street address was the Mid-City Manor, and shook his head when he saw the charge. He let out a deep sigh. Jesus H. Christ, he thought. I was hopin' the kid was just in a fight. Hell, I could even handle a thief or a drug bust. But this?

He put the paper down, removed his glasses and rubbed his tired, blue eyes. Andy was tired. This was Friday, and he'd been on the run since five the morning before, only catching small cat naps in the cab of his truck when he and Frank's son Gary traded off the plowing through the night. They'd stopped around ten in the morning, but Andy offered to let his crew keep the two big Ford trucks, giving them a list of private customers with long drives that would be happy to pay cash for a quick plow job. Plus there'd be neighbors, offering his guys a few side jobs. Andy let them keep the money. Commercial accounts were profitable and on the books. Private home owners... fast, under-the-table cash. Andy didn't begrudge his guys the extra money, especially coming out of the lean winter months. He'd taken Frank's three year old Camry to get around in and they'd work out the swap later.

The rest of his crew would probably be busy for the next few days, but it was time for him to take a much-needed break.

Sylvia looked over from her grill and caught the expression on Andy's face, assumed he wanted to be alone with his thoughts and busied herself in the diner. The morning was slow, just plowing crews and some truckers, but as people dug out, she knew from long history she'd have a busy afternoon.

She gave Andy another quick glance. Probably that snotty kid of his givin' him crap again, she mused. Nothing like a rich kid who forgets where the money comes from. Drew wasn't a favorite with Sylvia. `Waste of skin' was her gut-level response if his name came up, but just lately he'd been coming in with a tall, lanky kid, and he at least seemed a little more human. Better than those jerks he usually runs with.

Andy toyed with his food, eating slowly. Not working meant his mind was free to wander -- and it wasn't a pleasant wander, thanks to Marc. He went through yesterday's events at home for the umpteenth time, trying to examine it from five different ways, as if it were some impossible game of chess...

Thursday when the storm started, he'd gone home with the idea of resting up for a few hours, before there was enough snow on the ground to justify starting his rounds. He was glad to see Drew home safely, too, and that his son was in a better mood than he'd been in all week. His feet up and relaxed, Andy eased back into the kitchen chair, content to kick back for a little. He didn't pay much attention to Drew's phone call until something white whizzed by his head, hit the wall and shattered to the floor. He blinked dumbly, staring at the pieces of shattered plastic on the floor that had been his telephone. He spun around and saw his son struggling into a coat and trying to jam a foot into a boot at the same time.

Anger flashed, and he jumped up and grabbed the boy by the arm. Drew stumbled, tried pushing his father back, fumbling with the door handle. Andy grabbed his arm and flung the boy into the counter. "What the hell are you doin'?"

Drew's eyes glared at him and he lurched forward uncertainly at his father. "Get out of my way!" he growled, pushing back again. Andy shoved forward and leaned in, grasping the boy's wrists and pinning him back against the counter.

"Listen to me," the man insisted. "Listen to me! I'm not one of the kids you can slap around at school. I'm your father. Now, answer me and tell me what the hell's going on!"

Andy saw a face filled with fury, and eyes with an unfocused rage and pain. He heard a sound to the left and turned. His mother stood in the door, her hands clasped in front, shaking, and her mouth open.

"Ma, this is between us," he explained. "It's not a fight, and I'm not slapping him around because I want to. Just leave us alone for now."

Drew tried to work loose again and Andy tightened his grip. "Calm down! Tell me what's going on!"

He knows, Rita told herself. He knows and it's tearing him up. She reached out tentatively to her son, who flinched at the unexpected distraction.

"Ma! Please, okay? This is between me and my son," he said slowly, reasonably.

Rita looked from face to face -- so much alike. Her hands shook and she nodded, and she stepped back in the doorway. "Just don't fight," she said quietly. "There's no reason for either of you to be angry with the other. Please."

"Ma, I didn't mean to yell. Please -- go sit until I know what's going on."

She shuffled out slowly, her hands trembling. Andy stared at her as she disappeared down the hall, and the shuffle sent a chill up his spine. My God, he thought. When did she ever get that old?

He turned his attention back to his son, dropping his voice but their eyes still locked. "Alright," he said, forcing his voice to stay even. "I'm gonna release your hands. But if you push me or slap at me again, I will slam the living shit out of you. Do you understand me?"

Drew licked his lips and nodded. Andy released his grip and stepped back, trying to look relaxed but ready for any movement. The younger man rubbed his wrists, then stared at the floor, shaking his head. "I'm sorry," he mumbled in strained tones. "I don't know why I did that."

His father nodded. "Just tell me what happened on the phone."

Drew shook his head from side to side, looked up again and took a deep breath. "Marc's... Marc's in trouble, Dad," he said. "I have to get to him."

The name had its magic effect on Andy. That one again, he thought sharply, then recovered, keeping his face muscles from showing the anger the name brought to him. No. Be cool and stay calm. You said you'd try. "Alright. Tell me what happened to Marc."

Drew crossed his arms and slouched back onto the cabinets again, avoiding his father's eyes. "He got arrested last weekend. He needs my help."

That goddamn loser. Now what's he up to? He fought the impulse to grind his teeth. I promised Drew I'd try, and I meant it... but Jesus, what's that kid done? "What was he arrested for?"

Drew's blue eyes swung back to the floor then slowly up again. His lips flattened and his jaw twitched. Drew looked away and nervously began to rub his wrists. "I -- don't know. Martin didn't say."

You're lying, Andy thought to himself.

And you were never good at it -- at least about the big stuff.

Every fidgety move, every shift of the eyes were better than a lie detector. But I'll play along.

"But he's not hurt, right?" the man asked. "He wasn't hospitalized or anything?"

Drew hesitated but nodded.

"So, what do you want to do?"

Drew shuffled, jammed his hands in his pocket before looking back to his father. "I have to get to him, Dad," he pleaded. "It's important. I just... I just gotta see him."

"You can't go," Andy said in as reasonable a voice as he could muster. "Look outside! This storm's already cloggin' up the roads. I saw the fish tails into our street and the half-donut you did into the driveway. That car of yours don't exactly cut it in stuff like this."

"Then let me use your truck," Drew came back, swallowing hard. "Please, Dad. I've gotta find out... I have to make sure at least he's okay!"

Andy shook his head. "Not today... not tonight, anyway. I have to go to work. You know that."

Drew's upper lip curled, his temper flaring. "The money's that important to you?" he snapped. "You can't miss a few bucks for once?"

Andy shook his head. Jesus, don't start. "The money sure as hell gets you everything you want!" Including a loser looking for a free ride, he almost added before catching himself. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. No, no, lighten up... don't get into it. You can handle this. Find out what's really going on. But don't just cave in or he'll know something's up.

"Stop poutin' like you're six years old, Drew," Andy said firmly. "It didn't work then, and it won't work now. I don't need the money -- you know that," he said calmly. "But I've got three guys on my payroll who do, and that truck out there is half the gear we need to do this job. It's not like I'm some corporation that can afford to pay `em out of an emergency fund, or doesn't give a damn about what happens to them. Each one of those guys has a family to support. For even one of them to lose a day and a half's pay is a major hardship. You know what this time of year is like... I do everything I can to keep `em workin' as much as possible. They're not like the summer kids I hire when we're busy, or the day laborers that show up one day and disappear the next."

Drew grudgingly understood what his father was saying. The man was right: Frank, Ted, and Gary could scarcely afford to miss even a dime of their pay checks, and in storm weather, they actually came out well ahead. Plus, all of it was cash on the barrel-head, out of Uncle Sam's prying eyes. "Then drive me over there, Dad," he pleaded. "Please. I'll stay with Marc until tomorrow."

The older man shook his head. "No. He's done fine for himself all week. If he needed you, he'd have called." Andy still had another card to play. He pointed to the living room and his voice lowered even more. "I don't want her alone, Drew. She's gettin' old, and you know yourself if something happens she could never get help. And dammit, she isn't lookin' that good. You saw her, son. When did you ever see your grandmother shuffle like that? Or shake?"

Drew's eyes shifted from his father to the living room and then back. He frowned, staring down at the table, but he nodded. "Yeah," he said finally. "I know. You're right, I know it. She... she's havin' a bad stretch this week. I know we can't exactly leave her alone."

"That's right, we can't." He reached out and gave his son's shoulder a fond squeeze. Make him feel safe about it, he thought. I have to sound like I'm on his side. Just be careful what you say... and don't say.

"I know what you feel about this kid, Drew. It's hard for me, but I told you I'd work on it, and I meant it. But you have to look at priorities here. Whatever happened, he didn't want you involved or didn't think you needed to be. Everything'll be cleaned up on the roads by this time tomorrow. Let it keep one more day, okay? Right now, I need you to take care of things here... we're in the sticks. And I need you to keep a watch on your Nanny. `Kay?"

Drew nodded, and looked up at his father again and tried to smile. He saw the look on the man's face, the confusion of emotions. The boy remembered his own confusion and denial, how hard it was for him to make an admission to himself that the things he sometimes did in secret were more than just curiosity. He thought of how easily his father could have been like Marc's.

"I'll watch out for her, Dad. I know you're right."

That's it. There's your opening, it'll get you the time you need to find out what this is all about. Andy smiled, and hoped his laugh sounded sincere. "God, we're startin' to sound like an old sitcom -- and I'm not exactly Robert Young."

Drew blinked. "Who?"

"You know," the man explained. "From Father Knows Best."

More blinking from a total lack of comprehension.

"Never mind," he sighed, shaking his head. "Like you'd remember a show from the fifties... Just the old fart datin' himself again." He picked up his coat and gloves. "Look, maybe I should get on the road. Now, I want you to sit tight, you got that?" He looked at the pile of broken plastic sitting on the floor. "And, uh, by the way -- you owe me fifty bucks for a new phone." Drew reddened, smiled and nodded.

They pulled on the rest of their winter gear and hooked the plow to Andy's pickup. Before he left, Andy checked the gas cans in the garage for the snow blower, and if they needed it, the generator. It was a given the phones would be gone in the next hour or two -- the phones were always the first to go in a storm in North Andover -- and cell phones were the easy cure. The cable would be the next, and power was a toss up. Massachusetts Electric did what they could, but old trees and poor drivers had a way of keeping their emergency crews busy. Before he drove off, Andy left Drew with final instructions.

"If anything happens to her," he said, as he started up the truck, "you call the ambulance first. Then you call me if the town doesn't plow this street. Promise me you won't try to drive in this stuff, even with her Saturn. I know how the town clears things, and the roads'll be nothing but ruts until this time tomorrow, at least."

Drew nodded and watched his father drive away. Andy glanced at him in his rear-view mirror, still standing in the snow as the truck turned onto the main road. Andy knew the boy was taller and stronger, but right now, he looked small and fragile. You're all I got, he thought, everything I'll ever have. And I won't see you throw it away.

Back in the diner, he stared down into his breakfast plate, but he could still see those pleading eyes, still feel the boy's pain.

Pain or not, he thought, I know what I've gotta do. I'm not gonna let him throw his life away. If he has to be into boys... well, there's other decent kids out there. Drew's too young to know what he's doing.

Andy called Sylvia over and settled his bill after a short argument when she said it was covered. Andy never took payment for clearing her parking lot, and Sylvia always refused to charge for his meals for a week, even though Andy would slam the money down and walk out when she wasn't looking, waving to her in the distance and smiling as he drove away, when she'd yell at him from the doorway. A little gas and a little time in his truck was a negligible price to help an old friend who made a tight living from a small business.

He started up the Camry and worked his way slowly down the ice-rutted street until he saw the sign for his bank. Once inside, he made out the slip he needed and presented his bank card and driver's license. The lone teller in the nearly empty bank checked with the branch manager who knew Andy by sight and waved before initialing the transaction and speaking into the phone. She returned and counted out the five thousand dollars in hundreds in front of Andy.

"Could you put that in an envelope, please?" he asked.

The girl smiled and stuffed the cash into a white envelope with the branch address printed on it. She passed it to Andy, who smiled back and turned to leave, slipping the envelope into his coat pocket. On the way out, he waved to the branch manager, who was still tied up on the phone. Andy worked the Camry back onto the road, sticking to the main streets, which weren't too bad once he cleared the town line. Taking the long way around (because they were the clearest), he made his way to the old downtown area of Lawrence, passing the Ayer Mill and turned left onto Essex Street. A plow had emptied out a hollow close to the curb, and he parked a few doors down from the Mid-City Manor. The sidewalks were freshly blown, and he spotted a familiar figure cutting a path out to the curb through the ice-packed snow bank.

Remember what's at stake here, Andy thought, slamming the car door.

He walked slowly to the figure, fairly certain who it was.

Marc stopped his work and watched the man walking awkwardly towards him, up the icy walk.

As he approached, Andy saw the uncertain eyes register recognition -- sad eyes that didn't flinch. A tentative smile tried to force its way to the lips, and Marc's tall body relaxed and he leaned his weight onto the shovel. The face was nervous, but the fear disappeared. Andy stopped in front of the boy and reached into his pocket and pulled out the envelope as he spoke, forcing it into the kid's hands, fighting to keep his voice level.

"I want you out of my son's life for good," he said in a quiet, reasonable tone. "There's five thousand dollars in there, more than enough to get you anywhere you want and get started. I'll buy you a plane ticket, too. Just tell me where you want to go."

And if I have to double the money, he thought, I will.

A stunned Marc stared at the envelope thrust into his hands. After a stunned silence, he opened the flap and looked inside, then nervously licked his lips. Marc was raised with money, but he'd never held that much cash in his hands at any one time before.

"I think... I think we better talk inside, Mr. McKinnon," Marc said slowly.

Andy grunted, and followed Marc into the Mid-City. The discussion didn't last long.

An hour later Andy was back in the Camry, following the curve of Route 133, satisfied and happy to be on his way home, slowly following the northern contour of Lake Cochichewick. Even though the town crews hadn't gotten around to salting the washboard roadway, he could make pretty good time. Andy was feeling more relief than he'd felt in weeks, when suddenly he scowled. Jesus, did those guys get out to my place with the plows? The town had a way of neglecting smaller streets when they knew someone with a plow lived there.

He looked away briefly, fumbling in his coat for his cell phone. There was a sudden movement through the windshield on his left. He jerked his head up just in time to see a green Land Rover hurtle right in his path. Another idiot who didn't know four wheel drive doesn't mean much on ice.

Andy cursed, knowing he could only cut the wheel one way. Almost in slow-motion, there was a tremendous crunch of metal as the Camry bounced off the cables of the guard rail. His chest slammed into the steering column, but something else struck from the other side of the car and spun it sideways, where the rail ended at the old stone fishing pier. In a blur, a half-frozen lake was suddenly in front of him. The air was filled with the clang of metal on ice.

Andy would have heard the weakened ice break when the car landed on it, except his head struck the side window and he was out. He never felt the cold water begin to swirl around his feet.

* * * * *

Drew rolled the snow blower back into the garage, and grabbed one of the shovels to square off some of the edges of the snow pile. Snow in March, he thought angrily. Eleven inches in a day, and by Monday half of it'll be gone. He gave off squaring up the edges of the walk and leaned forward against the shovel, frowning at the street. One of the town plows had made a single, quick sweep down his road through the whole night, but the road was still basically impassable for a regular car. Just like always. The town never gets better at this.

As expected, phone service went down within a few hours after the start of the storm, followed by both cable and electricity -- likely the result of some idiot hitting a pole, since they both went at once. Drew fired up the generator, since none of the failures were unexpected. He'd noticed Robert Curran never made it home -- not that it mattered to him, except it deprived his grandmother of one of her true pleasures. Whenever the power died, Nanny made a point of turning on every light in the front of the house for Curran's benefit. Drew asked her why once and she'd given an evil, gleeful smile.

"What's the good of having power if you can't gloat about it?"

Drew chuckled. Nanny never made any bones about despising Robert Curran, and rarely missed a chance to prove it. He adjusted his geek glasses, preferring them to the feel of silicon freezing on his eyeballs.

An unbidden thought crossed his mind now that he wasn't busy with something else: What do I do about Marc?

He'd fought with it all night. Desire fought with anger, anger with affection. Drew came up with a thousand reasons of how it was all a mistake. And as for the silence... well, Marc had told him he needed time to think, so maybe that's why he'd never called. But what if it isn't a mistake? What if that's why he sent you away last week? What do you do then? God, you can't let Dad find out. He'll never believe it's a mistake. And its has to be a mistake! How could anyone be that desperate that they'd... Drew shuddered, but the thought remained.

And what if it isn't a mistake? What are you gonna do? He stared out at the glistening white landscape that surrounded him, winter clutching in his chest.

Blaring horns snapped him out of it. He saw his father's trucks cutting into his street, the plows lowered, ramming into the drifts full tilt. Not a good move. What the hell are they doing? One charged along and cut into the driveway creating a huge pile, backed up and slammed the new snow bank up onto the lawn, taking a chunk of turf with it while the other truck widened the street. The first truck roared up the drive and Drew scampered to get out of the way when it slid to a stop, a terrified Frank Mahoney behind the wheel. The man rolled down the window and stuck his head out.

"Get your grandmother and get in the truck!" he cried. "Your Dad's at the General. He had an accident."

Drew froze. Frank shouted at him again and hopped out of the cab. "Dammit, kid -- c'mon! start moving!"

"Wha... What happened?"

Frank shook his head. "I'm not sure. My wife Shelley got the call. My car was in an accident and the cops called in the plates and got my name, but your Dad borrowed my car. Scared the hell out of her! But when she got down to the hospital they had no record of me. They must've used his wallet to ID him... though why the hell the cops didn't do the same is beyond me. Well, Shelley heard the name and she figured it out easy enough. She called me on the cell and told me what happened, but they won't give her any details."

Drew shook his head, stunned. "Jesus," he said, still shaking. "Why didn't you call us? Why didn't he call us?"

Frank shook his head. "Hell, I don't know, kid! Maybe he's unconscious. Anyway, Shelly said for us to come up here and get you guys. I figured the way the town does shit, we'd have to dig you out, so I told her not to call the house, otherwise you an' Rita'd be stuck in a snow bank tryin' to get out of this place. And by the looks of this street, I'm right. Get your Gran, kid. Want me to come in with you?"

Drew shook his head and ran for the house. He shouted to his grandmother, who immediately hopped out of her easy chair and grabbed a pair of boots and a coat. Less than fifteen seconds later, the big 4-seater Ford-350 roared out of their driveway, passing by the other two men who continued to clear the street.

Rita demanded information, but Frank swore he didn't know a thing, just that there was some kind of accident, that Andy was unconscious. Drew tried to calm the frantic woman and at the same time fight down the numbing fear in the pit of his stomach. When they cut onto Route 133, he noticed Frank's lips tighten when they got near the old pier.

A tow truck was pulling a Camry out of the icy water. Drew recognized it immediately and shot Frank a sharp look, but the older man's eyes shifted to Rita and he shook his head slightly. Drew fought the impulse to speak. He knew the car well enough. Rita stared ahead listlessly, her body tense while Drew made the vague sounds of comfort. Frank hit the gas and drove as fast as the roads and traffic would allow.

Rita clung to Drew. Over and over he heard her mumble the same phrase, and it scared him. "It's not natural to outlive your children."

* * * * *

"Everything will be fine," the small man with the smooth head said.

Drew fought the impulse to laugh at the man, who called himself `Doctor S' and looked for all the world like Robert Suchet playing a dusky-brown Hercule Poirot. His pointed moustache glistened, his head glowed, and his dark eyes even gleamed. He told them to call him Doctor S, since neither Rita nor Drew could quite wrap their mouths around the man's real name. He assured them that nobody else at Lawrence General could quite get his name right, except for the other Indians on the staff, and he'd given up long ago.

"Your father had a concussion, but it was mild, and we'll have to keep him here for awhile," Dr S. continued in a slightly sing-song voice. "There's three broken ribs, and we thought one might've pierced the lung, but fortunately, it didn't. His lower left arm was fractured, and that is not so fine. Somehow an ankle was badly sprained, too." He smiled at the older woman, trying to be encouraging. "Your son would do well to use seat belts, Mrs. McKinnon. He's been very lucky."

Rita sighed and eased her weight back into Drew, who looked up at the doctor. "Can we see him now?"

The doctor nodded his head. "Oh, yes. You can look in very quick, m'am, although he'll be out for quite awhile." He studied Rita briefly, whose face was ashen. "Ms. McKinnon, perhaps you should be resting." He called over one of the nurses and wrote something out for her. "My assistant will be back in a moment and she will give you some pills. I want you to get home and take two of them and go to bed. I promise you, your son is going to be very well."

Rita shook her head. "I can't leave. What if... what if...?" her voice trailed, dropped to a murmur and then disappeared into the background din of the hospital chatter.

Doctor S shook his head and took her hand. "What if nothing, m'am. Your son is a relatively young man and he will heal easily, although I suspect he will never again need to check the weather to see if rain is coming," he said with a chuckle. "No m'am, the worst is that he might get bronchial because of sitting in the water so long. Fortunate for him it was shallow after last summer's drought. He will be fine, I am certain of it. His injuries are mild, all things considered." Suddenly there was a page from the overhead speakers, and the man excused himself and quickly walked down the hallway.

Rita smiled, took her grandson's hand and squeezed. She pursed her lips together firmly and looked at Drew. "I need to be close by the hospital tonight. I called your Grammy Marion, and I'm going to stay with her and Rose for the time being. I know you'll be all right by yourself. And... and I know you'll want to stay on here for awhile."

Drew nodded. He did want to stay until he saw his father safe in a bed. They arranged for Ted and Frank to drive Rita to his other grandmother's house while Drew waited for news of his father. Gary caught a ride with Shelley Mahoney once they were sure Andy McKinnon would be all right. Drew would keep one of the trucks; Frank, of course, would hang onto the other truck until his car problems were worked out. Toyotas managed to deal with a lot of problems, but an engine immersed in freezing water wasn't one of them.

Drew sat back, happily bored, watching the lack of activity in the emergency area. He kept on waiting for the teams of doctors dressed in scrubs to kick doors open screaming "Stat!" and ordering meds. But what he saw were overweight nurses wandering aimlessly from cube to cube, a few bored children scattered around, and a youngish woman arguing in Spanish with her husband. An older man with his hand wrapped in a bloody towel claimed to have ripped his skin on a nail and needed stitches. The nurse made a face and took her time filling out insurance forms.

The boy sighed. It was late afternoon, too early for the bars to fill up and the Friday night fights to begin; too early for the street predators to come out, and too cold for bored teens to hit the streets looking for trouble. In a few hours, there might be some more car accidents, the result of high alcohol blood levels. After ten, a few knife cuts were a given. The ambulances might come and go, but little would be seen in the way of high drama.

Drew leaned forward, resting his chin on his chest and closed his eyes... and once again his mind drifted away to a place he didn't want it to go. Marc. I still need to talk to Marc. He'd called Marc's number, kept getting the same nasal "the subscriber is unavailable" message. There was no point in calling the hotel itself; he'd only get the manager, and Stick made him nervous. He always looked at Drew like something that had crawled out from under a rock.

I gotta see him, he thought. I know he needs me. This is all some kind of mistake... that's why he's avoiding me. He's ashamed, and he's scared I'll tell him to screw off... And goddamit, I need him. I don't fuckin' care if he did what Martin said.

He felt the shadow cover him as he sat leaning forward in his chair and he looked up to a familiar face. Alan smiled down.

"Nanny said you'd be here for awhile."

Drew nodded absently, then looked up again. "How'd you get here?"

Alan shrugged and sat down. "Walked," he said simply. "Eileen went into work around noon... be awhile before she gets home. You gotta remember, Drew -- Andy's kinda like my Dad, too."

Drew estimated the distance. Five miles, he thought. Three of it through some of the toughest neighborhoods in Lawrence once you got over the Methuen town line... and all of it slow going through slush and ice.

Alan dropped silently into the chair next to Drew. They sat there, heads leaned back against the wall, staring ahead while a waiting-room TV blared in the distance.

Drew reached out and put his hand on top of Alan's on the arm rest. "Hey," he said quietly. "Thanks, man." Alan gave only a small nod in response.

About half an hour later, Doctor S' head appeared at the door. "Mr. McKinnon? You can see your father now. He's sleeping like I said, and you can only stay a moment." He looked at Alan and frowned. "Who is this? I can only let in the family."

Drew spoke before Alan could. "This is my brother, Alan. He just got here."

Doctor S frowned a moment and shook his head. "I misunderstood your grandmother, I suppose," he said skeptically. I thought there was only one child." He eyed Alan suspiciously.

"I was at basketball practice," Alan chirped, standing to his full five feet five inches. "I'm the center."

Drew snorted and looked away, and a leery Doctor S ushered the two into the recovery room.

They staid a few minutes in the recovery room, listening to Andy McKinnon breath.

"I can't believe this happened," Drew said quietly. "Me and Dad... we had a big argument earlier today. I feel like a total asshole."

Before Alan could answer, an annoyed nurse came in to usher them out, advising them they could return anytime after 8AM.

Drew didn't protest. Seeing him was at least an assurance that his father was still alive. The two boys picked their way back down the hallway and through the icy lot behind the emergency entrance, and after a few minutes found the big Ford-350. Drew let the engine rev, and both boys hunkered down against the cold.

"Marc's in trouble," Drew said slowly.

Alan nodded. "I know. I saw it in the paper Monday."

Drew's eyes narrowed and he twisted his head around in Alan's direction. "Jesus," he spat. "Why the fuck didn't you say something?"

Alan stared ahead, the fingers of his left hand tapping his knee. "And what was I supposed to say, Drew? Did you really want me to tell you Marc got arrested for sellin' his ass? How hard would you've punched me in the mouth after that?"

Drew fell silent, then after a long silence, he finally nodded. "Yeah," he said, then tried a weak smile. "Sucks when you're right."

Alan nodded again "Nanny knows, too."

"That figures," Drew said with a wince. "What... you two talk it over?"

Alan shook his head. "I never said nothin' to her. She just... knows."

Is there anything that woman doesn't know, Drew thought wearily. "And so does my Dad," he said. "Or at least he sorta knows. That's what our fight was about."

Drew put the truck into gear winding carefully through the lot and headed for General Street. Alan expected him to take a left to drive him home. His head jerked up and he blinked when they turned right. "So where we goin'?"

"Essex Street. I gotta see Marc. I'll get you home after."

Alan stared at him, incredulously. "So... you're not gonna dump him? You don't care?"

Drew swallowed hard. He stopped at the light, tightened his jaw and looked directly into Alan's eyes. "Don't care? The hell I don't care! You think I like the idea of some guy payin' money to -- to do stuff to him... to use him, like he was some kinda fuck toy?" He shook his head and winced. "I hate that fuckin' thought. And I hate he didn't tell me he was in some kind of trouble. And I hate whatever the fuck it was that wouldn't let him tell me he was in enough trouble to do shit like that... and I really fuckin' hate that he wouldn't tell me about it after, and I gotta find out from some fourteen year-old kid I hardly know because the people closest to me won't tell what's goin' on!"

Drew gestured helplessly. "But dump him?" he continued, oblivious to the traffic around them. "No fuckin' way! I already ran out on one guy who needed me. And I'm not makin' that same mistake twice... cuz this time, I don't think anyone's gonna give me a second chance -- and I got too much to lose. Luck only comes through once."

A horn blared behind them and Drew looked up at the green light, silently cursed, and jammed his foot onto the gas. Another block and he turned right onto the bottom of Essex, then drove the short distance to the Mid-City Manor. He pulled the truck up to the curb, then hopped out onto the sidewalk. He stopped suddenly when he heard the second door slam, then looked up to see Alan bringing up the rear. Drew's face was a big question mark.

Alan shrugged. "Moral support. Once you guys get talkin' -- and just so long as its just talkin' -- I'll do a fade."

Drew nodded, not knowing what else to say or do. The two boys made it into the dingy lobby of the Mid-City. The taller eyed the office as they made their way to the stairwell, but the manager didn't materialize out of thin air like he usually did. Alan hurried along just a little behind Drew, rushing to keep up with the longer strides. They paused at the door, which stood partially open.

Keep cool. Don't lose it. "Marc?" he called.

He eased the door open when he didn't hear a reply. The first thing he noticed was the absence of any of Marc's stuff. The second was Stick's head suddenly popping out of the bathroom. He looked hard and long at Drew, frowning, and then locked onto a nervous Alan.

Drew took a step forward, unafraid. "Where is he?"

Stick shrugged. His total lack of reaction made Drew want to swing at him. "Kid left this afternoon. Packed everything into his car and drove off."

Drew shook his head. He felt the tears burning in the corners of his eyes. "Where?"

The older man walked full into the room. "Dunno," he said in his infuriatingly short way. "No forwarding address." He laid out some cleaning rags on the small dresser. "You're the McKinnon kid, right? Drew? Ask your old man, kid. He handed Marc an envelope stuffed with cash and told him to get out of town, so Marc got. He said if you was to come by, I was to tell you he had to leave and that he won't be back. End of story." The man eyed Alan, who remained silent.

"But he's gotta come back!" Drew demanded. "He's... he has a trial or something coming up, and -- "

"Look," the man broke in with an irritated voice. "I dunno anything about any of that stuff. All I know is he pays for a room and doesn't bring his work here, if you know what I mean. Well, he stopped payin' today and the week runs out on Friday. He took all his stuff and left. Same old shit. They come and go, and that's it. Got me?"

He turned and began wiping down some finger marks on the door frame, his back to Drew. "Now, I gotta get this room ready for the next guy. Unless you're lookin' to rent something here, you should be leavin', cuz you got no reason to hang out in my building."

He kept his back to the boys and busied himself. The only sound was the infuriating chewing and popping of the ever-present Nicorette gum. Drew stood glaring at the man's broad back, until he felt a tug on his sleeve. Alan motioned to the door with his head. Drew followed him silently down the hall and down the stairs.

They were on the street when Drew just stopped cold, in the half shadows of the early evening. He stared ahead, numb. Then his body shook, and his lower lip began to tremble.

Alan took him by the sleeve, at first trying to lead him, and then he tugged. Drew wouldn't move. Finally he grasped Drew's arm and pulled him along. At the truck he released Drew's arm, snapped his fingers and held out his hand.

"Keys, dude. Give `em to me."

Drew passed the keys over without a word, then got into the passenger side of the truck. Alan pulled himself up onto the high truck, slipped once and pulled up again with a grunt. Once in the seat, he had to stretch for the foot pedals and groped around for the seat adjustment. He stalled the truck once, cursed a standard transmission, and tried again. The truck lurched forward.

"We'll go to my place, okay?" he said in a soothing voice. "I know Nan's stayin' in Lawrence... and right now I don't think you should be alone. Is that good?" Alan took the silence as a yes. "Eileen'll be okay with it. David's workin' tonight and tomorrow morning so that won't be any problem."

Drew stared out the window into the cold night, his fists balled in anger. If I had known all this before, he thought, my Dad would've been a lot more hurt than he is now. Seconds later, a wave of guilt passed over him. No. I'm gonna find another way to deal with him. He stared out the window, trying to ignore the grind of gears as the truck ambled down the highway off-ramp towards Alan's neighborhood.

It was a short drive compared to the long walk Alan had taken earlier in the day, and his sister Eileen was already home. She was concerned about Andy, but satisfied he was alright. Drew staying the night was fine with her. She wrote off his awkwardness and silence to concern for his father. She made them a quick microwaved dinner and both boys went back to the bedroom, then she heard the television switch on... and then, surprisingly, Alan's door close.

Must be some heavy conversation if that one's shutting himself in, she mused. She sat down in the living room, hoping against hope to find something decent on television on a Friday night, as she put her feet up on the couch.

Drew looked around the bedroom, taking in everything packed in neatly. "You're livin' pretty good these days," he said, attempting a smile and running his hand over the top of the television set. He remembered the sparseness of Alan's little room back in North Andover.

The boy smiled, pulling a pair of sweats out of a drawer. "Yeah. Eileen set me up pretty good with the money dear ol' dad gives her to keep me out of his way." He shook out the sweat pants. "These are David's, so they should fit you okay. He, uh, keeps a few things here for..." he hesitated. "Well... you know."

This time Drew really did smile. "Yeah, I can guess. And Eileen don't say anything?"

Alan shrugged and kicked off his shoes. "Officially, she doesn't know -- or at least pretends not to. Kinda one of those `don't ask, don't tell' deals." He chuckled. "But she ain't stupid. She's never says anything when she finds us kinda curled up together watchin' TV or anything. And she always calls before she comes home, and gives us a half-hour warning if she's been away for the weekend or something. She knows about me bein' gay, and she sure as hell has to notice that me an' David are always together. We, uh... just don't exactly rub it in her face."

"So no suckin' face when big sister is around?" Drew said with a grin, shedding his shirt and pulling on the warm cotton top. It fit comfortably enough, even though he was a little broader in the chest than David.

Alan grinned, blushed, and tossed a pair of thermal socks at Drew's head. They caught him off the side of the and his glasses went flying. Alan pulled his own shirt off, careful not to show his back to Drew, then turned and changed into a comfortable pair of sweat pants. Drew watched him and paused, running his eyes down the smaller boy's chest. Jesus, what a hairy little bugger. Got to admit he's shaping up pretty nice. Still too damn skinny, though.

They settled in on the double bed and Alan flipped on a rerun of Star Trek, both waiting for the inevitable, tight close-up of Wesley Crusher's backside. "Damn nice," Alan said with approval when it came, and the two boys grinned.

Then silence fell, and Drew drifted off, deep into thought. Alan watched quietly from the corners of his eyes.

"You really love Marc, don't you?" he asked.

Drew stared straight ahead, nodded, and shut his eyes.

"The charges are gone, Drew. There won't be any trial. I kinda called in a favor with my dad."

Drew turned his head and his eyebrows became questions marks. "How?"

Alan shrugged, then began idly surfing the cable box. His eyes narrowed and his lips tightened.

Drew recognized the look, and remembered enough to know questions would be pointless.

"That ain't important," he said simply. "Or why, even. It's just a fact," he continued, clicking the remote and staring at the images flickering by. "Let's just say I had a card to play, so I played it, and Marc's in the clear. That's all you need to know, okay? And, no -- I don't wanna talk about it," he said, cutting Drew off before he could ask anything else. He stopped clicking when he found a re-run of X-Files. The boy ignored the looks he was getting.

Fuckin' Sphinx, Drew thought to himself. Never could get anything out of him when he decided to clam up like this. He adjusted his glasses and focused on the show, and fought to let his mind rest. Without looking over he reached and took Alan's hand in his, and squeezed it. "Thanks," he said quietly. "For everything, okay?"

Alan's head moved in what could have been a nod as he stared ahead. They settled in and watched the show.

* * * * *

Drew was aware of being cold, and not much else.

Stripped to a tee shit and his boxers, he was curled up in a ball and shivering. "Fuckin' bedhog," he grumbled, and groped around for the covers, his eyes still closed, more asleep than awake. He found a bit of quilt and gave it a tug. He heard a sound that sounded something like snark! but the covers didn't move an inch. Drew yanked harder, and this time they moved. Something scooted back alongside him. Drew yanked the blanket again and felt the comforting warmth of fiber-filled soft cotton envelop him and he smiled. Even better, he sensed something else warm and welcoming just ahead, and scooted in more to steal as much body heat as he could. The body wriggled backwards against him, and Drew smiled when he realized his suddenly stiffening cock was nestling comfortably between the split of a pair of welcoming ass cheeks. Almost involuntarily, he grunted and arched forward. The warm body pushed back against him even more, and the tingling from his groin caused Drew to shiver again, but this time with delight. He smelled warm, clean flesh and slid his arm around the middle of the body, sliding his fingers just under the tee shirt. It felt different -- fuzzy -- but Drew was too close to the edge of sleep to pay any attention to it. He heard another `snark!' followed by a curious, wet, munching sound and the body pushed back against him more.

Had anyone been there to listen, they'd have heard two mutual sighs of contentment.

Drew's cock sent an electric message to his brain that basically translated to `it's been awhile,' and his hand slid under the elastic band of the boxer shorts. Seconds later, his fingers closed around a warm, stiffening expanse of impressive flesh that responded in a friendly way to the enveloping hand as he ground his pelvis forward. Feels a little different briefly played through Drew's mind, but he didn't pay much attention to that, because right behind that came hey, it's been way over a week, and that seemed to carry more power. Drew gave a little tug with his fist, tightened his grip more, and followed up with several long, slow strokes. Something still didn't seem quite right, but that didn't clock in until Drew's thumb swept up to give a little thrill to what should have been the exposed head of Marc's cut cock.

Except what was in his hand didn't exactly feel right and his thumb told him why. It was anything but cut.

"Uh... Drew?" whispered a voice.

Drew's eyes suddenly flew open. The first thing he noticed was the head was lower on the pillow than it should have been. The second thing was the hair was the wrong color. Then it registered that the voice wasn't Marc's. And while what he clutched in his right hand was certainly impressive, it wasn't exactly the king-sized specimen he'd become increasingly familiar with over the past few weeks.

He jumped back and slammed his head against the wall, his face crimson. Drew had completely forgotten he wasn't in his own bed, and who he was in bed with, when Alan turned over and faced him, his face streaked with the impression of the wrinkles of the pillow.

"Old times are one thing," he said with a small grin, "but I, uh... wasn't exactly plannin' on that much of a stroll down memory lane, dude."

Drew rubbed his head, eyes scrunched shut from the pain and his mouth working overtime. "Shit. Oh, man. Alan -- I... uh -- oh Jesus. Shit! I am so sorry, I mean... honest to God, I didn't -- "

Alan snickered. "Don't worry. I think I kinda forgot it wasn't David I was in bed with, too. But he doesn't just use his hand when he wants to wake me up in a friendly way... if you know what I mean."

Drew chuckled conspiratorially. "Yeah. Marc woke me up like that a couple times, too." Then the laughing stopped and the smile began to fade as he felt a sudden stab. Marc.

Alan understood, and the two young men silently got up and pulled their sweats back on. Drew glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost eight... late for him, but early for Alan on a Saturday. They padded down to the kitchen where Eileen was already dressed and she nodded to the coffeemaker, expecting them to help themselves.

"Well, you two are up early. Anyway, I'm going to get the grocery shopping done early," she said to Alan. "Then I'm going over to Peggy's for most of the afternoon. Sorry to cut you off from the car," she said over her toast.

Alan shrugged. "'S okay. David's working the day shift at the book store and then he'll come by later. You goin' out with Frank tonight?"

Eileen got to her feet and began drawing on her coat. "Yeah, but we won't be out late," she replied, letting Alan know unofficially that if he and David had anything in mind they best take care of it early. "Just an early dinner and maybe a movie." She pulled on her left glove and put on a knitted hat before grabbing her keys and purse from the table. "You guys be good. And Alan, if you could run the vacuum cleaner over the living room, I'd appreciate it." She waved at the door and pulled it shut behind her.

Drew looked hopefully over at Alan as he poured milk over a bowl of Rice Kripsies. "I'm pretty sure Nanny'll want to stay at Gram Marion's again. If you want, you an' David could stay over and use the extra room."

Alan grinned. "Hey, you mean that extra bedroom next to yours? Maybe. We haven't been able to get much, uh... quality time together lately, if you know what I mean." He narrowed his eyes and pointed an accusing finger at Drew. "But if I even think you've got your ear to the wall listening to us, I'm gonna cut somethin' real short."

"Christ, it's short enough already," Drew sniggered between mouthfuls. "Seriously... you guys are welcome. I... I could really use the company."

Alan nodded and they dug into their quick breakfast. Alan looked up when they were almost finished. "There's two things, though," he said in a serious voice. "You won't spill the beans to David about what went down between us at school, and you won't ever say anything about me springin' Marc. Okay?"

"How come?"

The Sphinx returned, and Drew knew questions wouldn't be worth the asking. "Just because," Alan said simply. "I never told him about you. As far as he's concerned, you're just someone from school and I want him to just think that. The same thing with Marc. I don't wanna talk about it."

Drew nodded. "I think we better not talk about something else, too." He winked at Alan. "Like this morning?"

Alan's eyes sparkled. "Yeah, that's a good idea. I don't think Dave would be too crazy about you playin' around with one of his favorite toys. He's not exactly big on the idea of sharing." Though it did bring back some pretty good memories, he mused to himself.

* * * * *

Drew looked up at the spreadsheet on-screen and scratched his head. His father's ideas of record-keeping were always vague at best, and he was forever dipping into the wrong accounts for payments. It got worse the last few weeks when his father couldn't leave the house. He'd caught up on all the household bills, even paying them on-line... just paid them out of the wrong accounts. Andy understood the need for separate checking accounts for business as opposed to personal expenditures, but he tended to be forgetful about what account was for what and no amount of harassing him about it seemed to have much effect.

Drew's grandmother had taken over keeping the books for Andy years before, when she'd moved back to North Andover, after selling the comfortable condo she'd bought for herself when Drew was born. It was a familiar role to her. She grumbled on more than one occasion that Andy was as dim with ledgers as his own father had been. She still spoke about how back in the late 1960s -- after their second IRS audit -- she'd forbidden Arthur McKinnon to ever touch a checkbook again. Back in the days of independent lumber yards and contracting suppliers, it had been an easy task for Rita to set up charge accounts. Any questions were taken care of by calling Gert at Robichaud's Hardware, Sam Prior at the lumber yard, and the Pills at the electrical supply house. They refused to hand a receipt to Arthur at Rita's request. They all liked her, and keeping her happy meant they all got paid on time.

Rita kept ledgers and notes, and sorted through receipts and kept right on top of the profit margin. Arthur McKinnon may not have liked his wife controlling his checkbook, but he did like his improved profit picture. He also never had to deal with the IRS again, and that pleased him immensely. Andy McKinnon inherited his father's record's skills and never disputed his mother's abilities after his one -- and fortunately, his only -- conversation with representatives of the US Treasury Department.

But eyes get tired, and as the years went on, Rita had more problems remembering things. And when there was a question, calling the local outlet of a national chain store didn't yield the information and help she'd gotten from the defunct local independents. Drew proved to have the ability to follow things better than either his father or grandfather ever did, and stepped in to take Rita's place, even getting his father to computerize his records. He'd been running the company's finances since he was 15, and had found ways of saving money and capping expenses that impressed even his father.

Rita was sure it was easier with the computers, but although Drew did his best to teach her the fundamentals of Windows, the old woman panicked when "That damn thing" made scary noises and the pop-up told her she'd committed an illegal function. Then the devil toy would freeze on her, and without thinking she'd frantically hit the power button to shut it down, which only made matters worse. She'd lose hours of work, and that was enough to convince Rita she was never going to be among the computer-savvy. The last time she sat at a keyboard she'd almost broken into tears of frustration. She missed the old days: her mechanical adding machine and IBM Selectric typewriter never talked back to her or stuck out its virtual tongue, let alone refer to itself loftily in the third person when it shut itself down.

Drew was good with figures in a way they didn't teach in high school algebra, and sorted through the nightmares with ease. She happily handed him her old ledgers and notes, only looking at a printout Drew would pass her, formatted in an over-sized font for her aging eyes. He got good at tracing expenses and shifting money around so the right accounts were used. His father quickly saw another good deal and just gave him all the passwords. The CPAs who prepared Andy's quarterly returns sighed with relief when they saw the reports. They'd been through two generations of McKinnons, and were relieved to know that the third finally had the know-how to balance a checkbook.

Drew pushed back from the computer desk, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He still had to track down a few phantom expenses, but the worst of it was over. He sighed as he eyed one payout in particular. Andy had withdrawn five thousand dollars from his business account. Drew didn't need to trace it down, any more than he needed to verify the date of the transaction; he simply transferred the money from his father's personal saving account.

"Are you hungry or anything, kid?" said a voice from his doorway.

Drew spun around in the swivel chair and smiled up at his grandmother. "I'm okay, Nan. Hey, listen -- when Dad gets home, try and find out what he did with the receipts for the counters on the Thomson job, okay? I know I gave `em to him."

"You could ask him yourself."

"Yeah, that'll happen," Drew grunted, and turned away frowning. Rita shook her head. Since the accident, there'd been three solid weeks of cold silence between her son and her grandson, and things didn't look to get any better. She was the middle man; and when she balked, her refrigerator suddenly was covered with post-it notes.

Drew had kept silent about what he knew for the five days Andy was in the hospital. He'd pick Rita up each day and taken her and his other grandmother to the hospital, and the three of them would visit. A few times Alan went with him, and that gave her relief, too. It pleased her immensely when Alan showed up at the hospital that first day, and pleased her more when she learned he'd been staying with Drew. Together they'd convinced her to stay on with Marion for a few days more. She and Marion were friends long before they became in-laws, back when they both worked as clerks at Bay State Gas.

What did bother her was how Drew sat furthest from the bed, and only seemed to respond to questions from his father if he spoke at all. She'd written it off to fear... Drew lost one parent young and could have easily found himself an orphan. But Rita didn't press.

Finally Andy was discharged. He hobbled around on the sprained ankle, and his arm was in a lightweight cast, but the broken ribs were healing, and as long as he took it easy, he could move around the house with some assistance, provided he didn't try to climb any stairs. He'd been adamant about having his first meal at home at the kitchen table, tired of sitting up in a bed. At dinner that first night, Drew came in and sat casually, eyeing his father the way one might look at a casual acquaintance -- the kind you didn't like, but had to be acknowledged.

"C'mon, kid. What's with you?" Andy said, all smiles. "You've hardly said anything since I got hurt. Aren't you glad to see your old Dad home again?"

Drew looked down at his plate and toyed with his food. "I don't have anything to say. Not to you, at least." He'd looked up then, and his steady gaze on Andy was devoid of any emotion. "I know what you did," he said simply.

Andy's smile faded but he didn't look away. Rita looked back between the two of them. Drew reached for a piece of bread and began buttering it.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Drew never looked up, bit into his whole wheat. "Aren't you gonna tell her, Dad? I'd figure you'd be only too happy to announce it." Drew's lifeless eyes swung up to his grandmother and spoke in a matter-of-fact voice. "The day he got hurt, Nan. He paid Marc five thousand bucks to get out of town. Out of town and away from me."

The homecoming meal continued in silence until Drew pushed back from the table and started clearing his place.

"Where the hell are you goin'?" Andy snapped.

Drew shrugged. "I'm done eating. I'm just going to my room. You an' me don't have anything to talk about."

"I'll decide that. This is still my house, and you'll do what you're told!"

Drew nodded slowly. "Yeah, it's your house. Just like it's your car that I drive, and the clothes I'm wearin' were paid for with your money. And as far as the law's concerned, I'm pretty much your property, too -- for now. My birthday's in two weeks. On April 4th, I'll be eighteen, and then my life belongs to me. If you want me to go, that's fine. My plans right now are to stick it out until graduation, but that can change if you want it to. I might stick it out until the fall when I go away to college... that's up to you and I don't really care."

He stood up again and started to leave, pausing at the door. "And before you start using college as a bargaining chip don't forget something -- I've seen all your financial records, including Grampy's will. I know my college money is in a trust you can't screw with. Just like I know when I'm twenty-one I get ownership of twenty acres of open land in Boxford. It might not have been worth a whole lot when Gramps died, but there's been a lot of nice, expensive houses built out that way the last ten years, and land's almost as high a price there as it is in Andover. That'll set me up real nice after school, too, if I can make a deal with a developer -- and I know I can. So I really don't much give a shit what you think, or what you want me to do."

Andrew started to interrupt, but one glance from his son stopped him. "Between now and graduation," the boy continued, "I'll do what I'm supposed to around here. I'll help out with your business, and help out around the house. If you order me to, I'll even sit down at this table with you. I'll answer any question you have... unless I just plain consider it none of your business." He sighed, then looked at the man sadly. "I really don't want to fight with you, Dad. But that doesn't mean I have to be around you any more than I have to."

Drew lingered at the doorway with his hands in his pockets. He stayed just long enough to make sure there were no more questions, then nodded politely and left the room.

Andy and Rita sat alone in the kitchen, listening to the steady, deliberate steps on the staircase. She heard footsteps in the upper hall, waited for the slamming door but only heard it ease shut. More footsteps overhead, but none of the old childish pounding and banging. Music played at a comfortable level.

Andy slammed his fork down and turned to his mother. "Ma, what was I supposed to do? Let him throw his goddamn life away? Do you have any idea what kind of trouble that Marc got into?"

Rita nodded and shook her head wearily. "Yes, Andy, I knew all about it," she sighed. "And what you were supposed to do was the same thing I was doing... nothing. I was waiting for them to work out their own problems, waiting for Drew to decide for himself, or ask for my advice. He's not a baby anymore, Andy, and you can't control his life." She shook her head patiently, but her words were anything but as she trained her eyes on her son. "Honest to God, are you really that dumb? Haven't you ever managed to figure anything out? You just did what your father would have done -- no, did -- and you're getting the same damned results! You just lost your son, Andy McKinnon. Whatever chance you ever had of a good relationship with him, you just blew. He'll never trust you again."

She looked around the room and waved her arms. "See all this, Andy? Well, it's yours now. All of it, just for you to be alone in. That kid's headed out that door soon, and after that you'll see him Christmas and Thanksgiving, and maybe on Father's Day. And me? I've had enough of being a referee... I've been doing it since I was twenty and married your father." Rita pushed her plate away and rose unsteadily to her feet, then left the room.

Andy moped around the house until he could walk properly again and began going out to the job sites just to have something to do. Frank kept him from doing anything he shouldn't, to the point of ordering him off the job -- twice. And told Andy if he didn't like it, he could fire him. Andy liked that even less, but dealt with it.

As the weeks dragged on, Drew went to school and came home in the afternoon. Alan dropped by a few times with his friend David. She watched David closely. She remembered what the pretty ones were like when she was young, and usually when they took up with someone as plain as Alan it wasn't for a good reason. She had no doubts about the relationship between the two boys. Not that they did anything or acted strangely, but she saw the way Alan stole glances at David when he didn't think anyone could see. She warmed to David and decided he was alright when she saw him doing the same things. And painfully, in the back of her mind, she remembered it was the same way Marc had looked at Drew. None of Drew's old friends ever called or came by anymore, and Drew never left the house unless he had to. It wasn't a childish sulking; she knew how to deal with that. The only thing she saw in him was a deep, profound sadness.

What's it like, she wondered. How much can it hurt to know your father paid someone you loved to go away? And how much worse can it be to know he took the money?

She knew the answer, saw it in her grandson's face every day. It hurts like hell.

True to his word, Drew hadn't spoken to his father unless it was in response to a direct question or it involved work. He was never rude to the man, a fact that irritated Andy to no end since it didn't give him an excuse to blow off his own built-up frustration.

"I have to go out for awhile," she called to Drew, who grunted again. "Hey, it's your birthday tomorrow," she prodded him, trying to sound cheerful. "My little guy's gonna be eighteen," she said ruffling his coarse, spikey black hair, "and you still haven't said what you want. I know you -- there's got to be something."

"Dad ordered me a DVD burner for my computer," Drew answered tonelessly, clicking on the keyboard. "And he ordered me a bulk pack of blank DVDs from some outfit on the net." He looked up at his grandmother. "He used the company plastic again. I traced it back to Best Buy with the transaction number, thinkin' it was something I could back-charge to a job. I suppose he can hide it in the records as a business expense somehow, if we ever get audited again. That's fine, I guess. No worse than claiming the cars are company vehicles."

"Nothing special this year?" Yeah, she thought. I know what you really want for your birthday. He's a little over six feet tall and has big brown eyes.

Drew shrugged. "He'll think of something... he'll do what he always does. He'll try to buy me off. Whatever."

Rita shook her head as she walked away. Drew was right -- Andy was doing what he always did. He was trying to make up for something he'd done with gifts. She knew the title of the Sebring had already been transferred to Drew, and only required a stamp at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Drew heard the back door close and flicked back over to the screen for the bank, clicked the link for latest transaction. He was relieved to see there was only one new transaction, but it was a deposit back to the general business account and he figured to fix any potential problems. He moved the mouse and clicked `Detail,' and his mouth dropped open with surprise.

* * * * *

Rita stepped out onto the walk in her light-weight jacket. She noted that green things were starting to nudge their heads up through the soil. Not unexpectedly, the snowstorm of three weeks before had been replaced the next day with temperatures that went into the fifties and, combined with brisk, warm winds, the snow melted away within a few days. Fast fogs hugged the Merrimack River valley during the rapid melt, and soon the snow was gone and mud weather arrived. This was the first week of April, and it looked to be a full-fledged spring, and that gave Rita a better feeling along with a sense of determination that grew as she drove. She checked the old wrinkled newspaper clipping again, and made the turn that would lead her to the address printed there.

Rita parked in the loading zone of a long-defunct appliance store around the corner from the Mid-City Manor, a building she'd passed many times but never entered. Nothing had changed much, the hotel was just older and a little seedier. She hadn't had a reason to come to Essex Street in over twenty five years, when the merchants began to move out and head north over the New Hampshire border to escape the burden of the Massachusetts sales tax. She'd never had a reason to enter the Mid-City Manor. It was a dump at the bad end of Essex Street even when she was young. The elderly woman stumbled under the weight of the glass door, then pulled it back a second time and stepped as boldly into the lobby as she could. She spotted a scruffy man close to her own age who'd needed a shave badly two days before and who stared back at her through thick glasses, his mouth hanging open. Rita could smell cheap vodka oozing from the man's pores.

"I'm looking for the manager," she said tartly. "Someone called Stick. Is that you?"

The mouth twitched and the head shook. "I'm just Justin," he mumbled uncertainly, and Rita caught his breath even five feet away "You want -- "

"You want me, Mrs. McKinnon," a voice said quietly from the steps.

Rita jerked her head. The voice... and something about the face...

"Lenny?" She shook her head incredulously. "He called you Stick... and it never occurred to me. Leonard Stickman..." her voice trailed off, and she caught herself. "I didn't know you were back. I had no idea you had anything to do with this place."

Stick's only reaction was a crinkling at the corner of his eyes, and a slight twitch on the right side of his mouth. Neither signified pleasure. His eyes flicked in Justy's direction. "You got a reason to be here?"

Justy stared dumbly. He enjoyed eavesdropping. "This is the lobby, ain't it? It's one of the common areas. I got a right."

Stick's hard gray eyes swept over Justy as he descended the last of the stairs, making it clear what he thought about the old man's rights. Justy decided to slink away back down the hallway while he could when Stick redirected his attention to Rita. "Come into my apartment, Mrs. McKinnon. I don't really want an audience for this."

Rita stepped uncertainly through the door, looked nervously around the comfortable room. Stick nodded over to the sofa and she sat automatically. She dug nervously into her purse for her cigarettes. Stick grimaced, crossed the room and opened the bottom drawer of his desk. His fingers unconsciously brushed against the back of the picture frame. He ignored it, then slid the silver Zippo lighter out of the way and pulled out the only ash tray in the apartment. "I don't expect some things ever change," Stick said as he passed it to her.

She tried to laugh, knew how hollow it sounded. "As I recall, you weren't a whole lot better than me about it."

"Maybe," Stick answered off handedly as he eased down into a chair. "But watching Brian die of lung cancer for two years sorta took the thrill out of smoking for me." He popped a new stick of Nicorette gum into his mouth, and slowly began to work it. "Now, if we're done playin' out the remembrance of things past, Mrs. McKinnon, why don't you just tell me what you want?"

"Thank you," she said, taking a deep drag. "And... maybe we can be a little more friendly, Len. I'm not here to fight. Why don't you call me Rita? And Stick... I never heard Brian call you that. I never connected the name when Drew said it."

Leonard Stickman shrugged as he settled into his chair, trying to look at ease. "I'll call you Mrs. McKinnon, thanks. We're not friends," he said simply. "Stick was something I got called at school -- long story, not too interesting, and there's no reason you should've picked up on it." He gestured to their surroundings, meaning the whole building. "My father and my uncle bought this place right after World War II," he said quietly. "After my mother died, all my dad did was drink, so finally my uncle bought him out. They way Uncle Peter told it, I was part of my dad's fifty-percent. I was raised here."

Rita took a inhaled her Marlboro, coughed, and unnecessarily flicked at her ashes. "I knew you came from Lawrence. I just didn't know who your people were."

Stick snorted. "Yeah, well, Arthur knew. Your husband didn't like the reputation this place had. Neither did my uncle, but he couldn't get peanuts for the place, so he just hung on and made a living out of it as best he could for us. But as far as your husband was concerned, that just meant I was white trash on top of bein' trouble. Not that it mattered," he added sharply, fixing his cold eyes on her. "He hated me just because of Brian."

Rita shuffled around, avoided his face. "I knew you were a nice kid, and that you went to Lawrence Catholic with Brian. I... sort of figured out the rest on my own. I never gave you boys a hard time," she added defensively.

He gave her an icy stare. "You for damn sure didn't help any."

Rita looked up angrily. "Pull the fangs out of me, Lenny. I had nothing to do with what happened. I had no idea all those years ago what Arthur was up to. I had a good idea what was going on between you and my oldest son, but I never said anything. Brian didn't want to talk about it and I didn't know what to say. You two were still in your teens and... and I figured it would run its course. Brian was going to college in the fall, and whatever way he decided to go, he could make his own decision."

"There was no decision for him to make," he said quietly. "Brian was what he was -- just like me."

The old woman shook her head. "No one thought of it that way back then. Nice people called it a `personal lifestyle'... a choice. And God knows, back then it wasn't anything anyone talked about. I always thought it was just Brian being Brian. He always liked being the outsider. He challenged Arthur at everything and... well, I thought it was just another way for him to -- to..."

"Nice you were so open-minded, Mrs. McKinnon." Stick chewed his gum with an irritating click. "Too bad it didn't keep you from chuckin' him out of the house."

Rita's hands shook as she ground out her cigarette. "It wasn't like that," she began. "Art said..."

"`Art said.'" Stick tossed back in a disgusted, sarcastic voice. He leaned back more in the chair trying to affect nonchalance, even as his body went rigid. "Give me a break, lady -- I was there, remember? It was two days after Memorial Day weekend, right after Brian and I graduated from Lawrence Catholic. We were takin' a full week off before we started our summer jobs. He and I decided to pack up for a few days and head for Hampton or Salisbury, and he went back for some clothes... well, we got clothes for him, alright. Everything Brian owned was dumped out of the bedroom window, and good ol' Arthur was on the porch, waiting, along with that other sorry-ass kid of yours. Art said he wouldn't have a worthless faggot in his house, especially one who ran with trash."

He glared at the old woman, then continued. "That was me, Mrs. McKinnon. White trash. He knew I lived here with my uncle, and even if we owned the place, we were still trash as far as he was concerned. Well, I didn't care what he thought about me. But he kept on pushin' Brian and slappin' him in the face... remember that nice black eye Art had? I did that. He'd have had a lot worse, too, if Brian hadn't stopped me. And I would have saved a few other people some trouble if I'd strangled your other son, too. That little shit stood there the whole time, watching. And when Brian tried to say good bye to him, he spit at him. His own brother."

His fingers dug into the arms of the chair, and even from across the room Rita could see the tips white from the pressure. "But that wasn't the best I remember, Mrs. McKinnon," he continued in a low voice. "Not by a long shot. The best part was after we gathered up all Brian's stuff and put it in my car. Your husband and your son Andy had gone back in the house and locked the door by that time. Brian stood in the middle of the driveway, calling out -- for you. All he wanted to do was say good bye to his mother, to see her one last time." Stick's gray eyes bored into her. "And you wouldn't even come to the door."

She glared at him. "I wasn't there."

Stickman shook his head in exasperation. "Come on, lady! Brian called you at noon and said we'd be heading for Hampton that night. I was there when he called! Your car was in the driveway!"

"And twenty minutes after Brian called, my sister came by," Rita rasped. "My brother Kevin came up from Texas on business and he was at my mother's! I left a note and said I wouldn't be back until late!" Her eyes filmed over, her voice caught. "And when I got home, I found out my oldest boy was gone... and I never saw him again. Arthur said... Art said he gave Brian an ultimatum. He claimed once he thought it over, Brian would come back."

Stick snorted, took the gum out of his mouth and flipped it into the trash. The on an impulse he got up and grabbed Rita's open package of cigarettes and her Bic lighter, then flicked it and took a long drag. "Ultimatum? Some ultimatum," he said, releasing a cloud of blue smoke. "`Get the hell out' isn't exactly what most people think of as an ultimatum. I don't even know how he found out. We were always careful, because Brian knew how much his father hated fags."

He coughed, looked at the cigarette with disdain, then reluctantly took another drag. "My uncle knew, but he'd never tell anyone. He just told me it'd probably be a good idea for us to use one of the empty rooms in the hotel when Brian started stayin' over. And that's the closest we ever came to talking about it. No one we went to school with knew anything, either... or if they did, they knew better than to say anything."

Rita looked down to the floor again. "Andy saw you," she said in a tired, miserable voice. "He saw the two of you kissing in the car one night. He told me, and I told him never to say anything." She sighed, then looked at him, years of regret in her eyes. "I don't why he told his father, but he did."

Stick snorted. "Well. And isn't that one more reason for me to love the McKinnon family."

She shook her head. "Andy was fifteen, Lenny," she explained. "Brian was Art's favorite, Andy knew it... and he was dying for his father's approval. He never knew what would happen."

"Stop making excuses, okay, Mrs. McKinnon?" the man snapped. "Your husband was a bastard, and you're second son wasn't much better, and still isn't as far as I'm concerned. And as for you..." He shrugged. "I'll take you at your word, but none of it matters anyway. Brian's dead almost fifteen years, so it's too late for him."

He ground out the cigarette, eyed the pack again but sidled away. "If it means anything to you, Brian and I did okay... no thanks to his family," he added bitterly, "and that does include you. We stayed in Lawrence with my uncle for a few days after that, but we both wanted to get away from here. My uncle knew some people and he got us some work. We done well. We had eighteen years together. It wasn't all perfect, we fought and made up over and over, just like anyone else... but we were solid together. We never spent more than a few days apart at a time until... until he was just too sick for me to take care of him anymore and he went into the hospital." He sat silently, then took another long drag. The smoke hung around his face for a moment, then he stubbed the butt out and sat back.

Rita's hand trembled as she fumbled for another cigarette, then decided against it and brushed away the pack. "I left Arthur after that, you know," she said quietly. "I yanked Andy out of school with a week left in the term -- I didn't care. I packed up my little Pinto and we drove to York Beach, Maine. I took cash, a credit card, and a checkbook... I didn't care if Arthur knew where I was or not. He came looking a few times and I threatened him with the police. We were there all summer long. I thought about divorce. It was the early seventies, Len. Divorce was no big deal, but I guess everything the nuns and priests taught me when I was a little girl stuck in me. I told him what to expect from me from that day on... and when I came back, Arthur and I had separate rooms. I was more like his business partner than a wife after that. Not a day went by that I ever let him forget what he did, or pretend we were anything more than strangers sharing the same house. And that was only about what I thought happened."

The silence settled between them, like a contest to see who would blink first. Both shuffled uncomfortably, wishing the meeting to be over, each knowing there was more to settle and not knowing how to do it until Stick finally spoke up.

"I'm just guessing here, Mrs. McKinnon," he said with less of an edge in his voice. "This is about your grandson and Marc, right?"

The old woman nodded.

Stick sighed. "I have to admit, I almost lost it when I heard his last name. I never paid much attention to Andy when he was a kid, but it wasn't till I heard Drew's last name it all came back and I saw the resemblance. If I'd had any sense I'd have steered Marc far away from him. Well, you don't have to worry about Marc. He's gone and he won't be back... I'll see to it. I took care of him. Your other son already made sure of it."

"I didn't come back to make sure Marc was gone." She said firmly. "I came to find out where he was."

He cocked his head. "Why?"

Rita leaned forward, smiling. "So they could do the same thing I wanted you and Brian to do all those years ago... work things out, make their own decisions, and live their own lives. Paying Marc off wasn't my idea. That was my other son, as you called him. And you saw Drew -- you know he didn't have any part in this! I don't much like what Marc... well, I don't like that so-called business he was in."

"Makes two of us," Stickman muttered. "I told him if I ever heard he did anything like that again I'd slap him silly." He leaned forward and looked directly into the old woman's eyes. "Marc didn't do it because he wanted to, Mrs. McKinnon. He was scared and desperate and he didn't know how to ask for help. If he went to Drew, he was afraid of what his father might think if he found out... and he thought it was all going to be just one last time and he could put it behind him. Even then he was going to break off with your grandson because -- well, because he was ashamed of what he thought he had to do, and ashamed of himself for being poor, broke, and desperate."

"Then why did he take Andy's money?" she said suspiciously. "You said you were taking care of him."

"He didn't," Stick said simply. "Andy came here and shoved the money in the kid's hands, out in the street. Marc asked him to come in here and the three of us talked... or Andy talked. He said he wouldn't have his boy tied up with someone like Marc. He stopped just short of calling him a whore in front of me, but the two us knew what he was sayin' between the lines. He said Marc could take the money, and all he had to do was get lost. Well, Marc agreed to leave... he and I talked about that before. He was ashamed to see Drew because of his arrest, and your son coming here was the last straw. I had a place in mind for him where he could get away and just do what he wanted to do... and that was to finish high school where no one knew him and he could just live his life. And that's where he is now. He left less than two hours later -- snowstorm or not, he wanted out. And he didn't take Andy's money. He sat there and counted it, put it back in the envelope and told your son where he could shove it. Claimed he wasn't for sale any more, and swore he'd never cause the McKinnon's trouble again. And that was it."

Rita stared at him, open-mouthed. "But you told Drew..."

"I told Drew what Marc thought he needed to hear. Marc told me and Andy that if Drew ever came lookin' for him, just tell him he'd been bought off, just like any whore could be bought. And your son thought it was a great idea," he added with venom. "I didn't like it, but I went along with it because Marc wanted it that way. He didn't want Drew following him, hoping for somethin' that was never gonna happen."

Rita shook her head and sighed. The stupidity of youth, compounded by foolish misunderstanding and stubbornness, all wrapped up in pride. And aided by adults who were supposed to know better, but whose narrow vision wouldn't let them see what any fool could.

"Where is he?" she asked.

Stick crossed his arms and leaned back again. "Safe."

She narrowed her eyes and smiled, leaning forward. "You listen to me, Lenny," she said calmly. "I'm going to find out, no matter what it takes. And you're gonna tell me."

* * * * *

A smiling Rita pulled into her driveway just as the sun slid down out of the twilight April sky. She noted the Ford 350 in the driveway with an air of satisfaction. She'd intended to make short work of Andy, and then deal with her grandson. A suspicion that her plans might have to change came to her as she stepped into the driveway and heard the voices from the house.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," she said out loud. "What are those two screamin' about now?"

Like father, like son, she thought. Shout first and think later.

She stepped into her kitchen through the side door, then stepped on some broken bits of plastic on the floor and took note of the fact that she would need yet another phone. The damages didn't look too bad, though. She passed through the living room and headed for what had once been the master bedroom of the original Saltbox Cape her husband built and added to over the years. Drew was shouting at his red-faced father and pointing at the computer screen.

"Stop it, both of you," she barked.

The two heads snapped back and looked at her. She looked at her son. "I just found out what a complete bastard you are," she told him calmly, and then shifted to Drew. "And I have some news you need to hear."

"Do you know what this lyin' bastard did?" Drew bellowed.

Rita nodded. "Yes. That lying, stupid bastard told you he gave Marc a lot of money to go away -- but he didn't."

Drew stared. His eyebrows knitted and his voice dropped. "How the hell do you know, Nan? I only just found out when I was checking the accounts! He deposited the money back into the bank yesterday -- five thousand in cash." He shot a venomous glance at his father. "Like I wouldn't notice?"

She nodded, then stared icily at Andy. "That figures. First day he could leave the house on his own. Lotta money for someone to suddenly have, isn't it?" She turned back to Drew. "Honey, go wait in my room down the hall. I have to tell my son something, and then you and I need to talk."

Drew began to sputter, but Rita held up a hand. "Baby, just do what I ask, okay? You'll get your turn in a minute, and trust me -- it'll be worth waiting for," she said gently.

Drew gave his father an ugly, angry look, then stormed out of the room. Andy stood for a moment and turned to face Rita, opened his mouth to speak.

She slapped him as hard as she could, then slapped him again. He stepped back, stunned, a trickle of blood running down the corner of his mouth.

"You listen to me," she said angrily. "I did that to your father a long time ago when he drove out your brother, and things were never the same between us again. But you knew that. We all pretended things were okay -- but they weren't."

The middle-aged man stood there, still rubbing his face in shock.

Rita folded her hands and stared at him. "Well, no more pretending, Andy," she said. "I'm sending Drew off to fix his life, and if you try anything to screw it up, you'll probably never see him again. And later on this week, I'm flying down to Florida with Marion, to pick out my new home." She held her hands out and looked around the room. "I hope you like your big, empty house, Andrew. You're gonna have a lot of quiet time in it alone to think over all the misery you've caused your family, just like your father did."

She turned and walked to the doorway, then paused a moment. "Oh, and Andy dear, you might want to hire an accountant, now that Drew's leaving. I have a feeling you're going to need all the help you can get."

With that, she left the room, easing the door closed gently behind her.

To be continued...

© 2002, 2003 by Keith (formerly Keith Mystery), all rights reserved.

Thanks are always in order for the people who help me along the way; Jayne, for pushing and understanding; Nick Archer, for a nice site to park this; and Marc W, who's always there pushing, nagging, kicking, screaming, offering unsolicited advice... and being the best damn editor and friend you can have.

Email to Keith_Hackwriter@Lycos.com.