This story is posted for the exclusive enjoyment of readers of the Nifty Archive. While you are free to make a personal copy, no copy of this manuscript may be published, copied, posted to another web site, or otherwise disseminated without express permission from the author.

The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.

Chapter XV

Tuesday, July 6, 1993

I didn't sleep too well, for some reason. Something woke me in the middle of the night, and I was going to get up and get a glass of water, but Brad was too comfortable and warm, so I snuggled back up to him and went back to sleep.

When I woke again, around five-thirty, I had a splitting headache. I never have headaches, or at least almost never. I got one when I had a real bad case of scarletina as a kid. I remember that as if it was yesterday, it was so bad. I had another when I hit the three-meter board with my head in practice just before the olympic tryouts. Then there was the one after I got stinking drunk with Don and Mark, after. And this one. That's it. Four in my whole life. Not bad, I guess.

This was a pretty good one. About 7.2 on the Richter scale - enough to cause structural damage and severe breakage of loose objects, but not enough to make the whole edifice implode. That one was reserved for later.

I moved a little against Brad, but he may as well have been in rigor mortis. No pity from that quarter. Rather than make two lives miserable, I crawled out of his bed.

I looked back at his nude beauty, but my head hurt too much for deep appreciation, even if he did have a morning hard. I slipped into my Tee and shorts, then went to the bathroom. I didnít really have to pee. Nothing came out except a couple of drops. I drank two glasses of water and thought about the alternatives: aspirin and suicide. There was aspirin in Mom and Dad's medicine chest, but the thought of going into their bedroom made suicide the most attractive option.

I went into the kitchen in quest of a glass of strychnine or maybe hemlock, but there was only a half-bottle of apple juice in the back of the fridge, so I tried overdosing on that. At least it was cold and wet.

When I finished the juice, I was starting to feel a little less suicidal, so I poured a big glass of milk and sat at the kitchen table staring at the bubbles on the glass as they slowly popped.

"Good Morning!" boomed the Giant, and I fell -- literally -- off my chair. I was sort of perched on the edge, you know, and my feet just slipped a little, and there I was sitting on my bum on the floor, the milk all over me and the floor, 'cause I'd dragged it over with me. The chair scooted back and bounced off the kitchen island behind me. I felt really the total twit. I went to scramble to my feet to see if I was about to be eaten alive, but it was only William.

At least he had the good grace not to laugh out loud. But his lip quivered, I saw it, so he was tempted.

"Geez! Sorry Tim! I didn't mean to startle you like that," he said, grabbing my left hand and helping me back on my feet. My right hand still held the magically intact glass, formerly of milk, now of shame. "Where are the paper towels?"

I sort of pointed at the roll mounted under the counter next to the sink. He had the floor and the table pretty well mopped up by the time I put the glass down on the counter by the sink; he was chattering away like a deep-throated magpie all the while:

"Sleep well?" he started, but before I could register that that was a question directed generally at me, he moved on. You have to be quick with William.

"Slept a logroll, we did," he said, "must have been overtired from those damned location hotels Jeremy keeps booking us into, all fluff and no support in the mattresses, TV types all over the bloody place pretending to be important, paying . . . " and so on.

I just passively sat down in the chair, looking at my feet. I forgot to put on my Birks. My toenails needed cutting.

"You all right?" William said softly. He put his hand under my chin and lifted my head a little.

"I have an awful headache," I said pathetically. He must have seen it in my eyes.

"Got just the thing," he said, opening the fridge door. He took out an egg, more milk, and the bottle of white wine, not quite full. "Stay right there."

I wasn't going anywhere.

He took another glass, broke in the egg, beat it into a froth, poured in some sugar, searched in Mom's cupboard until he found nutmeg and vanilla, sugar and salt, beat it some more, poured in a lot of milk, then maybe a quarter of a glass of white wine, handed it to me with a flourish, and announced "Ta Da! The William Charter Cureall Hangover Elixir!" One glass, and you'll be right as rain!"

I couldn't help smiling. "I don't think a glass and a half of red wine is going to give me a hangover."

"Works wonders for dehydration of all ilk," he said grandiously. "Come, come, my good man! Drink the magic potion!"

Somewhat dubiously, I sipped it. It didn't taste all that bad. I downed it in a go.

William launched in again. "You probably just didn't drink enough yesterday to replace all the water and salt you were pouring out, what with all the tears and sweat and all," he started. "Tears are the worst, they don't make you thirsty unless you're an alcoholic, and that just makes you drink more and get even more dehydrated, and . . ." he droned on, pleasantly filling the sound void.

A few minutes later, Brad trudged into the kitchen, looking just as ill for the wear as I. "Milk." He said with full intellectual capacities only slightly diminished.

"Headache?" I asked solicitiously.

"Yeah. You too?"


Brad got a glass of elixir as well. William wouldn't take no for an answer. I had to admit, my headache was down to a 4.0. I would not believe that it was the Elixir. Maybe it was just William.

Boo made an appearance at about six-fifteen, ready for bear. I think she was a little irritated that she wasn't the first out of bed. She shooed us out of the kitchen so's she could get the coffee going.

I beat it to the toilet, my gut deciding that if I didn't have to pee, then by darn, I sure had to poot, and it was going to be RIGHT NOW or I'd dump right there in the kitchen. I made it, but only barely. That's another thing. How come all the TV shows, movies, books, videos never -- or almost never -- refer to the fact that real people have these particular needs in addition to eating, drinking and having sex? Like going to the toilet occasionally. Life's mysteries.

I took a quick shower and was just getting out when Brad came in.

"Phew!" he said. "Hate your new cologne!"

I was going to say something smart, but he grabbed me and gave me a proper kiss. "You left before I could tell you I love you," he said accusingly. "Not fair."

"I felt awful. Figured you could use the sleep." I got another Brad Deep Kiss, Take 43.

"Sorry. Feel better now?"


"We gotta go . . . identify today," he said, just before the toothbrush went in, leaving me free to talk.

"I think I . . . feel better," I said.

"Mmmmpff?" I translated that to mean "How?"

"I think I can . . . handle it now."

He took out the toothbrush. "Loon, I think you can handle just about anything God or the Devil throws at you," he said. "You're the strongest man I know."

Me? The guy who crumbled like a saltine when he told me he loved me? The one that dissolved in tears when the news broke? Crazy brother! I let it go, all the same.

The toothbrush went back in, narrowly beating me out. He rinsed his mouth out as I finished combing my hair.

He turned and grabbed me, and we tickled each other's tonsils. He smelled . . . Brad. Warm, secure, manly. Sometimes, I wished he didn't shower so much, so I could smell him more.

"You sure you want to go?" he asked me. We'd talked a little with Throckmorton about the need for us to identify the bodies. He could do it as proxy, he told us. But Brad and I decided it was our responsibility. I think it was a subconscious recognition of the need for knowing how much we had to remember. Not the closure bull everybody keeps talking about. I wanted one last look at my Mom and Dad. It was going to be a closed-coffin funeral.


"Good. I don't want to go it alone."

"Not for as long as you live," I said without thinking. He looked at me with that "Look of Love" I love so much.

"Out," he said.

"Why? I wanna watch you shower."

"Gotta poot."

"Aw, gee, Brad," I said in a little boy voice. "Can't I watch, please? Huh?"

"You're sick," he said with a laugh, and pushed me at the door. I left, naturally. But it never bothered me to be there when Brad had to take a dump, or for that matter for him to see me take one. We got past that hurdle only a while later on, though. It's not that we were ever into the dirty stuff. It's just that it's a part of life.

The smell of fresh coffee came down the hall at me, beckoning. William was already back in the kitchen, nattering with Boo about LaLa land. William and I took a cup of coffee and went and sat in the still-cool shade on the patio waiting for Jeremy to surface. Boo does not like spectators at breakfast. Brad joined us in a few minutes.

William apologized again for Jeremy sleeping in, saying that he had been under a lot of pressure for the past few months, doing screenplays for a new series for the fall TV season, set in San Francisco. We chatted about little things, at first, until William asked if we felt all right about Jeremy going with us to the morgue.

"He's all the family we've got now," Brad said. "Loo . . . Tim and I are glad he's here for us."

"Jeremy won't say much," William said, looking down into his cup. "But he's ripped up inside that he's lost his sister. He's kept . . . quiet ever since your Dad told him he was . . . not welcome."

"What?" Brad said with a hiss.

"You didn't know?"

"Know what?"

"Jeremy told your mother he was gay when he turned eighteen. Your Mom and Dad had just had their second baby -- you, Tim. Jeremy came up to San Francisco a few weeks after you were born to see you and bring you something or other, and that's when he told her. Your father told him that when he left their house not to come back, he didn't want his son ever to know he had a . . . had a fairy uncle instead of a fairy godmother."

"That doesn't sound like Dad," I said. "He never made a big deal out of it when gay characters were on TV." But I remembered when he'd once taken us out of a mall where three of these really over-the-top black guys were dissing, fluttering hands and high voices and stuff. He'd been angry that they did that in front of us, especially when they said "mothaf_____" and "cocksucker" again and again, and he'd said something about 'goddarned queers.'

"I assure you, Jeremy was told not to come a-calling." William said gently. "He really loved Liz -- sorry, your Mom -- a lot, and missed her something awful, especially after his Dad died."

"What happened when Jeremy's father died?" Brad asked. "Mom never got an invitation to the funeral."

"Oh, an invitation was sent, all right," said William. "I addressed them all myself, because Jeremy was a little strung out. He was still drinking then, and we hadn't yet made the decision to live together. I sent it to the only address we still had. Your father's office in San Jose."

I had an awful feeling in my stomach. Dad had kept his office down there until he moved the company up here to Sacramento, after I was born.

"Jeremy was heartbroken that your Mom didn't telephone," William said in a soft voice. "But he got through that, and we managed."

"We heard that the last time Mom saw Jeremy, he was drunk,' Brad said.

"Dad said he was a no-good alcoholic," I added, thoughtlessly.

"Well, it's true in a way," said William. "Jeremy was a pretty heavy drinker when he first got famous in the industry. When we met, he was in the AA program, but he left it after we got together. He's only got drunk a few times since then, and it's never been a serious problem."

"I thought alcoholics could never drink again, or they'd . . . " I didn't know quite what the result was, except that I knew once an alcoholic had a drink, all was lost.

"I don't think Jeremy was ever really an alcoholic," William said. "He was just lonely, and the bottle was his only real friend. TV is a pretty vicious business, and I don't think screen writers are very lovable for most of the people in the trade. Especially when they're new, young, attractive, talented, and don't play the game."

"Then you came along," said Brad.

"I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time!" laughed William. "He needed me a little, and I needed him a lot."

"How did you . . . '" I started to ask, but Jeremy came out just then, and we got involved in conversations about all sorts of things, none of which were the slightest bit heavy. The sun came over the top of the trees behind the house, warming the patio quickly.

We had a "civilized" breakfast, at about seven-thirty when Jeremy finished his first mug of coffee. We resumed as before, with Jeremy just taking over, organizing, prioritizing, and so on. He was going to the identification at the morgue, of course. Not to do the identifying, but to be there to back us up. And who was this lawyer? Good? He wanted to meet Throckmorton right away, as soon as he arrived. Things to discuss. William just looked heavenward and winked at us from time to time.

Boo was in stitches at his jokes, even when they were about blacks.

The phone started ringing at about eight-fifteen, and there was no peace for Boo from then on. We heard from a few of Mom and Dad's friends, a few people I'd never heard of who claimed to be relatives (they got short shrift from Jeremy, who had no problem calling people names I couldn't even pronounce then.)

I got another call from Billy, telling me he was real sorry, and to count on him. I asked him if he wanted to keep the paper route, because I wasn't going to be allowed to keep it any more. He was so grateful he almost made a mess in his pants over the phone. I told him he wouldn't have to pay me for it, I would just give it to him, as long as the regional manager was okay with it.

A couple of kids from school called. Just acquaintances, wanted me and Brad to know they cared. My baseball coach, Mr. Tilley, called too. That was good, and it helped, too. Bud called Brad, and asked to talk to me after he and Brad got done.

"You gonna be okay?" he asked.

"I got Brad," I said. "We'll make it."

"Good," he said. Soft. "I love Brad a lot," he said. "He needs you." I got a chill up my spine. What did he mean by that?

"So do I," I said lamely.

"I know," he said. "You need anything -- anything! -- either one of you -- you call me first, got it?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Bud."

"Bye, Tim."

I got funny choked up after that. Bud, sweet Bud, cared. Not just Brad, but maybe me a little bit as well.

Thurston Throckmorton showed up at about a quarter to nine. He was dressed in his attorney disguise, a dark suit, blue shirt, maroon tie and black wingtips. He probably bought them by the dozen, exactly alike.

Brad introduced him to Jeremy and William, and Throckmorton and Jeremy went into the living room to talk for a few minutes before Throckmorton came alone back into the kitchen and sat with Brad and me. Jeremy and William disappeared somewhere, and Boo went into her suite after giving him a mug of coffee.

"Okay, guys," he launched in. "Here's the situation. At nine-thirty, we leave for the morgue. I'll repeat, you do not have to make the identification if you want me to stand in for you."

We both said no.

"Right. It will not be pretty. Not like on TV. You will see things that you'll want to not remember. But you will. Your parents were killed in a way that was painless, but not pretty. You have to be ready for that."

I already knew. They said on TV that they had been shot. Throckmorton had said it was painless. If it was painless, it was in the head. Oh, shit.

"Then, we go to police headquarters. They want to take a full statement. Exactly what you did, who you saw, where you went, what you ate, all that. I will be there for that. After, I will drop you here, then go to the court to file the papers your parents left concerning your future. I am appointed interim conservator and temporary guardian. Your uncle has just confirmed that he would be available as candidate for guardian, but only at your request, only if Brad is not accepted as an adult and your guardian, Tim, and only upon confirmation by the Court."

Jeremy? My guardian? I wasn't too sure about that. It was all too new, too fast.

"The funeral arrangements are in hand. The autopsies have been completed, and the . . . your parents will be taken to the funeral home this afternoon. The transcription service has started telephoning and distributing invitations to the names and addresses you wished to be invited to the Church. Special invitations will go to those who are asked to be at the Chapel."

"The services will be held at two, there will be a short ride to the crematorium Chapel, and your parents will be cremated at four."

I was numb. I expected to cry, but I was just numb at all the detail, all the arrangement.

"Uncle Jeremy is going with us to the morgue," I said out of the blue.

"Yes," said Throckmorton. "I agree." He said it with a certain amount of respect, but he didn't look at me when he said it.

Brad and I went to our rooms to put on "street" clothes. He looked Perfect, as usual. I got a goose as we went down the hall.

Jeremy looked at us as we came into the family room, his eyes going back and forth between us. I suddenly realized why. I have no idea how it happened, but we had both put on bone cargoes and white polo shirts, brown loafers and belt. I wondered if we were still "linked" but just couldn't hear it. We probably looked like twins, with me the runt of the litter.

We left the house at nine-thirty in two cars. Brad got shotgun in the Bentley, I got the same slot in the Jag. Becky came with us, too. She would stay with Throckmorton when he went to court, and Brad and I would come back with Jeremy.

"What will William do?" I asked as we headed towards the cars.

"Probably write," said Jeremy. "That man writes more articles for magazines and journals than any three people do." There was pride in that critique, laced all through.

"What about?" I asked. I wasn't really thinking about it, just making conversation.

"He teaches Law," said Jeremy. "Primarily Business law, bankruptcy, stuff like that."

"What's his name?" asked Throckmorton idly, as we reached the Jaguar.

"William Charter," said Jeremy.

"UCLA?" said Throckmorton. "William Joseph Charter?"

Jeremy nodded.

"Interesting chap," said Throckmorton. "I don't agree with all his premises, but he does good work." He opened the door for Becky to get into the back.

I was impressed. So was Brad -- he looked at me and I could tell. For Throckmorton to know William's work, he must be really good. Throckmorton was sharp. Then Brad and Jeremy went forward to the Bentley, and I slid into the Jag. It oozed power, readiness for the road. The finish was superb, Purrfect.

We backed away from the Bentley -- I noticed that the top had got put up last night. The Jag smelled like a Jag. Leather, and wool, and wood, and just the right mix of metal and oil. I'd never been in one before, and I was really impressed. Silent as a church inside.

As soon as we started to roll forward, I forgot the car, the road, everything. I could think only of what lay ahead for us in the morgue. I wished Brad were with us. I mean in the Jag, not in the Bentley. God, that sounds pretentious . . .

We got there too soon. It was like 'click' and we were beamed to the entrance of the parking lot, this football-sized expanse of asphalt, with a few sparse trees, under each of which huddled a few cars. Like desert animals seeking shade at the oasis. We followed the example, finding a pair of spaces under a tree a good distance from the door.

As we got out, the heat from the asphalt rose as if from a high-powered radiant heater, making me forget instantly the cozy comfort of the air-conditioned Jag. By the time we got to the door, my forehead was already beaded with sweat. Sorry -- perspiration.

I didn't know what I expected the morgue to look like. Maybe like a sort of City Hall, with columns and a big, imposing entrance. In reality, it was just a glass and aluminium annex of the main Hospital. It could have been a school building.

We went into the front hall, and it was cold compared to the outside, both in temperature and in atmosphere. Death wasn't apparent in the air, but you could feel the heaviness, the silence, the lack of life. The receptionist looked like a candidate for the Addams family, gaunt and grey, with dull brown hair, a smile that looked forced, as if drawn on by the same cartoonist.

Mr. Throckmorton spoke to her softly, and then we had to sign into a book, and show our ID to the woman. She hardly gave a glance to each one, just nodded and wrote out little self-adhesive nametags, only our last name. Jeremy was the last to sign in. His nametag said Weston as well. His name being Waters, I figured they'd made a mistake, then realized the name was not that of the visitor, but of the . . . deceased.

Throckmorton didn't get a tag. I guess they knew him. Becky didn't get a tag either, but she was staying in the lobby.

A man came out of a door on the left of the lobby, wearing a white jacket and black-rimmed glasses, white shoes, white pants. He looked a little gray, even though he had a tan and blond hair. I wondered stupidly if they had special gray lamps in the fluorescents that made everyone here look like they belonged. Brad looked the same as always, handsome, healthy.

"Hello. Thurston," said the new arrival. He had a pinched nose with a little hump on it that made me think of Liam somebody, the movie star.

"Jeff." Said Thurston, shaking hands quickly, then turning to us. "Doctor Jeff Barton, may I introduce you to my friends and clients, Bradley and Timothy Weston," he guided the man to us for a quick handshake. "Brad and Tim are the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Weston."

Barton's hands were warm. I expected them to be clammy.

"This is Jeremy Waters, Mrs. Weston's brother," Throckmorton said smoothly, turning Barton to Jeremy.

"Who will be making the identification?" asked Barton of Throckmorton.

"We will," said Brad without hesitation, indicating me with a nod.

"Are you coming as well, Mr. . . ?"

"Waters," said Jeremy, with no trace of irritation.

"Very good," said Barton. "Please come with me."

We went through a set of doors into a short hallway, then right into a smallish conference room, with a large draped window. Barton talked, something about the weekend, I don't know, just a drone of a voice as we went.

I had expected to go into a room with rows of refrigerated drawers that slid out of the wall, like you see in old movies. I wasn't ready yet, we hadn't had time to adapt, it was too soon . . .

"First, I must tell you that this is being recorded," said Barton. "I will open the curtain in a minute. The deceased will be on the other side of the partition, one at a time. As soon as you are sure that one is or is not the person represented, state so as clearly as possible, and I will close the curtain."

He moved to the side of the window, next to a button.

"I need to tell you a little about what to expect," he said. "There has been serious trauma to each person, and there are parts of the face which are not . . . visible."

I began to wish I had not come. My legs were shaking, as if I had the ague, and I wanted to pee. I grabbed Brad's arm to steady myself.

"Are you ready?" he asked in a gentle voice.

My head wouldn't move. Brad nodded for us.

The lights in the room dimmed, and the curtain opened. There was nothing there, just blackness. No --  movement, something grey.

Lights on the other side of the window gradually got brighter, and . . . it was Mom. Her slim figure was under a sheet, and her head on a pillow, swathed in a bandage, no . . . her face was only partly visible, and there was . . .

"It's Mom," said Brad.

I squeaked "mom" or something close, and grabbed Brad's arm harder.

The top of her forehead was . . . dented under the bandage. Her beautiful face was white, gray, her eyes squeezed shut, to keep out the light. Her crow's feet seemed to have disappeared, her nose looked shiny, but grey. The lights suddenly went out, and the window went black, but not before I saw. There was nothing on top over her right eye. The sheet could not hide that there was no . . . skull there. I moaned, and my legs felt like rubber.

"All right?" asked Jeremy of us. He moved between us and the glass. Barton spoke softly into a panel on the wall. I couldn't hear what he said. Throckmorton was next to Jeremy.

I think I nodded, feeling numb. Brad moved his head. I could feel it.

Then the window sprang out again from behind Throckmorton, and Jeremy moved to one side, and the light began to brighten on the other side of the glass, and my eyes went there, even though I told them not to, I didn't want to see him, not Dad . . .

It was worse. There was a cloth hiding part of the bottom of his face. I could see his nose, the little squiggle and dent left from when he broke it as a kid playing street hockey, his forehead, his hair, his ear.

"Dad!" I cried out, surprised to hear my own voice. Brad said something. The light went out. But the image stayed in my mind, fodder for nightmares for years to come. His jaw was almost gone on the left side. The cloth couldn't hide the nothing where his lips had been, the ones that nibbled at my fingers as I drank from the bottle he held for me. No more cheek where I'd rubbed my own against his stubble one Saturday morning while we were sitting in his chair reading a book before I could make out what the letters spelled. Nothing now, where once I'd seen mom's lipstick smear on the day of their twentieth anniversary, and thought it was gross that my Mom and Dad kissed, and probably still did it together. I was fourteen then, and didn't know a darned thing.

Jeremy was in front of us before the curtain closed, and put his hands on my shoulders. He turned me away from the glass, into Brad, and I put my arm around him and we moved away from the specter, fled slowly towards the door, which Throckmorton opened for us, saying nothing.

I felt . . . anger, hate, rage, all the little four-letter words that are so ineffective in describing what we really feel inside. I wanted to hurt the man who did this to them, hurt him so bad that the Eternity of Hell would be a relief from the pain of what I wanted for him. I felt . .

"Stop it, Loon! Just stop it!"

"Brad?" He was back on line?

"I want to be alone with Tim for a minute," Brad said.

"Of course," said someone. A door opened into another room off the hall. There was no window into another room, just one looking into the parking lot. There was a round table, and three chairs around it, and we sat in two of them, side by side.

"Can you let go of my arm for a minute?" said Brad. He pulled at my fingers. "My hand is getting numb."

"Can you hear me?"

"Loon, you can't let yourself feel like that," he said. He was speaking aloud.

"Why the fuck NOT?"

He said nothing.

"Why the fuck NOT?" He couldn't "hear" me again, I guess.

"Because it's ugly, and dirty, and it hurts to feel the anger and hate."

"Not you, Brad. Him."

"I know. But if you let it rule you, the hate will absorb you, turn you into somebody else."

"Why, Brad? What did they ever do? Brad, they loved us! They never hurt no . . . anyone!"

"A sick mind," he soothed, and wrapped me up in his arms. I wanted his mind to wrap me up, too, but it wasn't there. "Don't worry, Loon. They'll find them. But don't hate. Love. It hurts, but love, Loon."

"I love you, Brad." I said aloud.

"I know, Loon. I love you."

I didn't cry. I think my tear well was dry. But I had that hollow pain in my chest you get . . .



"Let's get outta here."


We went down the hall to the Lobby, walking steadily, purposefully. The time for tears was past. Almost.

Jeremy was at the door, waiting for us. Throckmorton and Becky were seated at the front of the Lobby, talking quietly.

"Hanging in there?" Jeremy asked us.

"Yeah," Brad said.

"Let's blow this place," said Jeremy. "It's cold as a morgue in here."

I couldn't keep a giggle suppressed, it sort of burbled out of me, unbidden. Brad looked like he swallowed a hot pepper. We walked briskly to the door and out into the real world.

You're coming with me," said Jeremy. He turned to Throckmorton. "We'll follow you," he said, as we walked across the black veldt. The lawyer looked at Jeremy, then Brad and me, but said nothing, just nodded.

We got into the Bentley, hot as an oven, and Jeremy started it up. Somehow, I got shotgun. I was not disappointed to be unable to hear the engine, just the air conditioner whoosh. I remembered the old ad about only being able to hear the clock. The car cooled down a lot faster than I expected. It must have been over a hundred degrees, and not yet noon.

"I'm proud of you both," said Jeremy. "You did good."

I didnít dare say anything. I figured at best my voice would break, at worst I would say things I didn't want God to hear me even think, much less Brad or Jeremy hear.

"I swear to you this," Jeremy said. "I swear to you I will never rest until whoever did this is put someplace where they can never hurt anyone else again."

I looked over at him. There was a look on his face of pure and simple hate, of anger beyond expression. There was a tearstreak on his cheek, and his lower lip was trembling.

I believed him.

By the time we got over to the police headquarters, only ten or twelve blocks, the air conditioner had quieted down, its challenge met, and you could hear the tick of the clock. We parked underground, next to Throckmorton's car, and took the stairs up to the lobby. Jeremy was quiet. He used his handkerchief to wipe his eyes, and blew his nose.

A police officer behind the reception counter directed us to a conference room on the second floor. He looked at us as if we might have been slugs crawling out of a drain hole in the floor. Lord knows how we'd have been treated if we were suspected "perps."

Detective Gutierrez met us at the elevator. I think he was surprised to see Jeremy there, but as soon as the introductions were made, there seemed to be no problem. The five of us trooped into the conference room. There was a pitcher of water and paper cups, and we all had some while Gutierrez explained to us what we were going to do.

"This is a formal discussion," he started out. "I will ask you a lot of the same questions that I asked on Sunday, but you will each be alone with just me, Officer Munoz, and a tape recorder."

"And, of course, myself," said Throckmorton.

"Of course. How could I forget?" said Gutierrez. He smiled, but there was no smile in his voice or eyes.

Brad went first. Gutierrez ushered him and Throckmorton through a door into another room, and Jeremy, Becky and I settled back to wait. I read a two-year-old Motor Trend from a stack of magazines on a table in the corner, Becky read a paperback, and Jeremy read a newspaper. Not the Bee. The Chronicle, I think.

I tried to "listen," but Brad wasn't broadcasting.

After maybe an hour, Brad came out, looking a little tired, but not bloody, and I went in. Munoz was there, too. He didn't seem as threatening, somehow. He shook my hand when we were reintroduced, and it was firm, not overly, just right. He looked at my body just once, up and down, like he was searching for weapons. There was no way I was going to let him think he could intimidate me. I looked his body up and down the same way, just to let him know I knew his secret, had no fear of him. He had bulges in all the right places. His eyes registered . . . something, I couldn't tell what.

Gutierrez wasn't kidding about the questions being the same. What time did we leave the house, what route did we take, who saw us arrive, all that stuff. He wasn't kidding about asking what we ate, and where. That took maybe a half hour. Then the new questions came. Had there been any unusual telephone calls lately, seen anybody hanging around the house, any strangers make any approaches to me, asking directions. What did I know about Dad's business, who worked there, did I like them all, on and on and on. I answered everything as truthfully as I knew how, but I didn't see how anything I could know might have any bearing.

Finally, Gutierrez seemed out of questions. He asked me if I had any questions, or had anything to add that might be useful in catching the killer. I couldn't help holding back. How could I have known they'd been in the kitchen on the floor, duct tape over their mouths? How could I say I'd seen the Jeep on its side at the bottom of a grassy hill, or that Dad knew whomever it was?

Then came the ballbuster.

"Would you describe your relationship with your brother as close?"

I thought for a second then opted for the truth. "He's my brother. I love him."

"Is there anything you wouldn't do for your brother?"

"What do you mean?"

"Would you lie to protect him?"

"That depends upon the lie," I said. "If nobody got hurt by it . . .yes"

"Would you lie under oath?"

"Never," I said. "I'd refuse to answer a question that I thought was out of line, but I wouldn't lie."

"Did Brad at any time from the time you left Sacramento absent himself from you for more than an hour?"

"No," I said. "The longest was for a half hour or so when he went to pick up the laundry at Chan's."

"What about at night?"

"We slept in the same bedroom," I said.

"Could he have left the cabin while you were asleep?"

"No," I said. "I'm a light sleeper. If he wakes up to go to the toilet, I hear it and wake up."

"Okay, son." Gutierrez said. "That's it for now. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us."

I got up and left the little room, back to where Brad waited for me. Munoz opened the door for me, and I could feel him looking at me as I went past him. He gave me the creeps, but I sent a look his way that said I was in control, I was angry, I was not a child.

Jeremy was telling stories to Brad and Becky, and they laughed just as I came through the door.

"Right!" said Jeremy. "Now the Inquisition is over, let's fly to lunch!"

I was ravenous, thirsty, and gnawing on my stomach lining in a second. We all trooped down to the garage, and in the elevator, Throckmorton told us we'd done fine. Nothing that seemed to point towards a suspect, but nothing that would hinder the search.

Becky and Throckmorton left us in the Lobby, as they were going just down the street to the Courthouse, and we went on down the stairs to the garage. Brad gave me shotgun, since I'd only had the little hop over from the hospital. He'd suddenly got considerate that way -- a lot more than he used to be, as I remember..

People stare at you when you ride in a Bentley. Ogle is another way of putting it. I reveled in the spotlight, but of course didn't let on a whit. I can't remember what Jeremy talked about, but it took him all the way back to the house to say it. I'm sure it was interesting, but I couldn't concentrate. Brad gave the directions, interrupting the patter of Jeremy's voice.

Boo had lunch ready for us when we got back, and Jeremy called William out of the Den, where he'd apparently retired to work on this really gnarl portable computer. I think it was a Compaq - only two inches or so thick. Jeremy had to call him twice.

When the five of us were finally assembled, Brad said Grace, and we tucked into a mountain of sour cream and crumbled smokehouse salmon sandwiches, on sourdough rolls with lots of lettuce. Boo put in some capers, a little parseley and lemon, and that was it. They were really good. We had a choice between ice tea and milk, and of course Brad and me turned down the tea. It doesn't go as well with salmon.

"By the way, Brad," said Boo as everybody's mouth was full at the same time, giving her a chance to say something. "Where did you take your car?"

"Mmmpff?" said Boy Wonder, his mouth so crammed full of food, even he knew better than open his mouth to let the crumbs fly. He swallowed the half sandwich he'd just bitten off before it was even broke in two.

"Nowhere," he said. "It's in the garage. Mr. Throckmorton said I should keep it out of sight."

"Not this morning," she said, a frown suddenly on her forehead. "When I took the trash out to the bin this morning . . . "

Brad was out of the kitchen before she could finish, and I was right after him, running full bore at the garage.

Brad threw the door open and just stopped. I almost smashed into him, but bounced off the door jamb instead. His face told me what I couldn't see yet. The 'Maro was gone.

"Oh, shit!" he said. "Oh shiiitttt! It's stolen! Somebody stole my car! I'll kill . . . "

Then I guess he thought better of what was about to come out, and just stopped. I looked in, and his space was empty. There was no car at all. The garage door was down. No car. I had put it in myself, been extra careful to position the wheels just right, centered over the drip pan.

Jeremy came up to us as we turned. "Gone?" he asked.

"Gone," said Brad listlessly.

"Cops." Said Jeremy. "Now!" There was an urgency to his voice beyond a stolen car.

Brad just looked at him, a little vacantly,

"People don't go into private garages to steal cars," said Jeremy. "Too risky. This is too much a coincidence. Call. Now!" It was a direct order, not to be disobeyed.

We loped back to the house, and Brad grabbed for the 'phone book to get the non-emergency copshop number.

Jeremy just picked up the 'phone and dialled "O," waited for the operator a second, then said "Local Police, urgent non-emergency please. Stolen vehicle."

Brad stopped fumbling and turned to Jeremy.

"Stolen Vehicle Report, please," Jeremy said, then put his hand over the mouthpiece. "I researched the police department to write a series last year. It helps to know what to expect."

"Good afternoon, Officer Baker. My name is Jeremy Waters. W-A-T-E-R-S. My nephew, Bradley Weston, W-E-S-T-O-N, has had his car stolen from within the family garage. His parents were murdered Thursday night. I will put him on the phone in a moment to give you a description, but first I want you to notify Detective Gutierrez, in Homicide." Jeremy looked at Brad, then patted him on the arm. He mouthed "it's okay" at him while he waited.

"No, I don't know the number Officer Baker. I pay huge dollars in taxes in the hopes that my police department might be just a tad more on the ball than that. No. Thank you."

I cringed, but laughed on the inside. William stared Heavenward. I think he does that a lot around Jeremy.

"Okay, Brad. This is officer Jones. She'll take the information from you and put it right into the computer."

Brad took the phone from Jeremy, getting his wallet out of his shorts at the same time. I opened it for him and took out his drivers'  license, the registration, and the insurance card.

Brad started reading the information to the operator, and Boo had just started to clear off the table when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it!" said William, turning towards the hall, just as someone knocked on the back door. It was a cop. I couldn't believe they got there so fast! I opened the door, and my heart went through my throat.

The cop wasn't alone. There were three others behind him. Two of them had nasty-looking black machine-gun looking rifles, held in a way that said they meant business. The cop in front had his hand on his pistol -- but at least it was still in the holster. All I saw was the pistol, the rifles, the badge. It read number 714.

"You Bradley P. Weston?" the cop said. It was an official-sounding voice.

"Timothy Barton," I said. "His brother." I gestured at Brad, who put down the phone, seeing the guns.

"Well, officer," said Jeremy. "That's about the fastest response to a stolen vehicle report I've ever seen. Congratulations."

"Who are you?" said the officer gruffly.

"Brad's uncle," he said. "Jeremy Waters."

"Good. Mr. Waters, I suggest you sit over in that chair and speak only when spoken to. You Bradley Weston?" the cop turned to Brad. The cops behind him didn't move. Jeremy, lord love him, did not move either. I didn't dare. My pee reflex threatened to overcome the power of my sphincter.

"Yes, sir."

"You own a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, license 498 CHR?"


"It was found abandoned this morning in Chico. Do you know anything about how it got there?"

"No, sir."

Just then, Wiliam rounded the corner from the hall, just in front of two very big and very serious-looking cops. The serious part came from the very large guns they toted, in addition to the pistols in their holsters, and faces their mothers probably loved, but only in broad daylight.

'What in hell is going on?' I thought to myself.

"Mr. Weston, I am required by law to read you the following . . . " Tremane pulled a card out of his pocket and read him his rights.

Miranda, I think they call them. I couldn't fathom what was going on. Why the hell was . . . officer Tremane, his nameplate said . . . reading Brad his rights? I thought they only read rights when they arrested somebody for a crime . . .