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 XVIII

Tuesday, July 6, 1993

I looked up at Boo. She looked right back at me, and I have no idea at all what was running through her mind. I felt somehow guilty, like a little kid discovered with hand in cookie jar, crumbs on lips, and chocolate chip stains on his shirt.

There was no way Brad could have got a hickey from a girl in the time we'd been in the office. God! Why can't I "talk" to Brad and find a way out of this?

"You guys weren't just reading and talking in there," Boo said, a wide grin spreading on her face.

I looked for a place to crawl into; someplace where the entire world would never find me once the truth was out.

"You was `rassling in there. I see the carpet burns and welts from your roughhousing."

The sun peeked out from behind the latest cloud, the second hand resumed its sweep on the clock, and I started breathing again.

"We didn't break anything," Brad said. "We were just horsing around a little." There he goes again. He tells the truth and completely throws the Inquisition off the track.

"I'd have heard it if you had," Boo said. "My ears is better than my gray hair would say." She moved to the counter. "At least you're human. Now, where was I? Oh, I have some sewing to do, do you gentlemen want anything to drink?"

"No thanks," said Dave and Brad. I forgot to say the `thanks' part and got a mild rebuke from Brad's left eyebrow.

"Thank you anyway, Boo," I tacked on. The eyebrow stopped accusing.

Boo went into her rooms and pulled the door shut to give us privacy. She's amazingly diplomatic that way. Sorry, was.

"First off, Brad, Tim, I want you to know how sorry I am that this has happened. I will miss your Mom and Dad a lot."

"Uh . . . Thanks, Dave," Brad said. "We know you and Dad were really close."

Dave swiped at an eye with a knuckle. "Let's get through this PR release for now, then we can talk a little about how we're going to operate for the near future," he said.

"Is this all you think we ought to say?" asked Brad. He'd already read the draft letter, and I hadn't got beyond the 'Dear _____;' part. I started reading as fast as I could.

"I don't think we need to say an awful lot," Dave said. "The papers are already full of the case. It wouldn't serve any purpose to go into any details."

The letter read:

"We deeply regret telling you that Michael Bradley Weston and his beloved wife, Elizabeth Hannah Cushmann Weston, died unexpectedly on June 30, 1993. Mike founded our company, and Liz was his main support as he built the business over the past ten years.

"Funeral services are to be held on Thursday, July 8, 1993, at 11:30 am at the First Presbyterian Church, West Sacramento. Cremation will be private, and the ashes will be scattered at the family property in Northern California, held since 1894. The family requests that donations be made to __________in lieu of flowers.

"Bradley ("Brad") and Timothy ("Tim"), Mike and Liz' sons, are now majority shareholders of Sacpro Management. Along with Dave Garibaldi, we want to assure all our customers and suppliers that operations of Sacpro will continue without interruption; we will close at 10:30 am on July 8, 1993 so that our employees can attend the funeral services if they wish.

"Dave Garibaldi will continue as chief operating officer until the next board meeting, at which time he will be named President. Dave will continue as a director of the board. A new Board Chairman will be named shortly.

"Thank you for allowing us to continue to serve your needs.

"David Garibaldi, President pro tem
"Bradley P. Weston
"Timothy B. Weston"

I wished for the fiftieth time that Brad and I could think to each other without Dave hearing. Oh, well . . .

"Do we want to put in the details of the funeral and stuff?" I asked Brad. "We're already inviting the ones we feel are . . . important."

"What would you want to say?" Brad looked at me keenly.

"Just that the funeral will be held on Thursday, and donations instead of flowers." I said as clearly as I could. My voice was shaking for some reason. "I don't want to mention scattering."

"I agree," said Brad. "Dave?"

"Yep. Sounds fine to me." Dave scribbled on his copy of the letter. "You want to consider a local charity, like the one your Mom was active in?"

"I . . . think maybe we ought to stick with the Red Cross," Brad said, looking at me for my agreement. "Dad thought they were the main reason some of his buddies in 'Nam came home."

I nodded slightly so Brad would know I agreed. Dave looked relieved, like that was what he wanted, but was afraid to suggest. Strange, how often we don't tell people what we really want, keep it hidden.

Just then, William and Jeremy, their arms full of brown paper Safeway bags, pounded on the back door. I got up and opened the door for them, and we introduced Dave. I was amused at William's reaction when Brad introduced him as "Uncle William." You could almost see his chest puff out. There was the usual exchange of inconsequential pleasantries, then Boo came out of her suite. As William put the last of the bags on the island, she suggested we go into Dad's office to finish our discussion, to stay out of their way. What she meant was, to keep our discussions private, of course. She nodded at me as we went back down the hall to the office. She didn't miss a trick, that lady.

As we went down the hall to the office, I had this awful thought that maybe we'd left some evidence of our . . . lovemaking in our hurry to get out, but I didn't notice anything unusual, except that Dad's chair was scooted a ways from the desk. We sat on the little two-seater sofas flanking the window, anyway, so that didn't matter. Oh, shit. My boxers were on the floor part way under the lamp table. I forgot to put them on. I kept my legs together as we sat.

"Just to finish up on the letter, would you sign this copy, with initials on the corrections?" Dave asked, passing the sheet across the old wooden chest Mom had found at some estate auction. Her and Dad had stripped and refinished and polished it up, and transformed it into a coffee table, with a piece of glass over it so you could see the faint grain of the walnut. Sorry -- she and Dad.

"To?" Brad asked.

"We won't have time to get a corrected copy back here for signature, then run off and get mailed before seven o'clock." Dave said, holding the corrected letter and a pen out to Brad. "As long as I have all our signatures on this copy, we can paste the signatures onto the final copy and get it out in time. The addresses are already compiled, and the laser printer will do the letters and envelopes, stuff them and have them ready to go to the post office in less than an hour."

Brad signed and scribbled in four places on the scratched-up letter, and passed the pen to me. It was easy to figure where the signature went, but I wasn't sure what it meant to initial a change, so I just put a "T" next to the changes, the same as Brad had made a squiggled "BW." Then Dave signed and initialed it, and he put the letter back in the folder.

"Now," Dave said, "let's talk just a little about your involvement in the business. I think it's important that we have a good understanding between us as to who does what."

Brad took up the gauntlet first.

"I don't think now is quite the time to talk about it," said Brad. "We've got a lot going on right now, and there will be a better time after, say next week, when we can talk this through."

"Oh, absolutely!" said Dave. "It's just that I need to sign the payroll on Friday, there are vendor checks awaiting signature from last night's run, and I need to sign the tax return before next Tuesday."

"Why July?" I asked naively. "I thought taxes were due in April."

"We got a ninety day extension," said Dave, with a little grin. "The IRS changed the depreciation and amortization formulas, so we got extra time."

"What do we have to do for you to sign the checks?" Brad asked, cutting to the chase.

"We need a board resolution," said Dave. "Your Dad and I had joint signature on amounts over $5000-, and he authorized all bank transfers. He or I signed all the other checks. Your Dad's signature is on the payroll checks, and it. . . wouldn't be seemly, somehow, to have his signature on the checks dated next Friday. I mean . . .

"That's okay," Brad said. "We agree." It's neat that he knows me well enough to know what I feel, even when our telephone doesn't work.

Dave visibly relaxed a little, then went on. "I can't sign a few of the checks to vendors on my own, and only your Dad can -- could -- sign the tax return, as president. The board needs to authorize me to sign the tax return, I think, and with another person for the bigger amounts, but I don't know if you're allowed to sign yet, because you're both minors. I'd suggest Thurston and each of you be authorized, and we can hammer out the age thing later. We can draw up the board minutes back at the office tonight or tomorrow morning, but we can essentially decide tonight. We'll do it as an emergency shareholders' meeting, that appoints you as board members, each with two votes. I have one and Thurston has another."

"So if we give the green light, it's a done deal, right? I asked.

"Right," said Garibaldi. "You be the owners. Thurston and I can only mediate if the two of you disagree on a point, and only if we both agree, can a final decision be made. I don't see that happening."

"Me either, " said Brad. "I think you should sign the payroll checks and the tax return," said Brad.

"Same here," I said.

"Right. I'll get Julie to type up a the shareholders' meeting minutes and the board resolution for those three items, and she'll bring them by for signature tomorrow sometime."

Julie was Dad and Dave's secretary. She was one of those gray-haired powerhouses: knew everyone and everything to do with the business. She probably kept birthday dates, anniversaries and so on for Dad so he wouldn't forget, too.

"There's another thing I think you should know," said Dave, looking around the room as if to see if there were microphones or cameras if he was being taped. "I hate to load you up like this, it's a real bad time and all, but . . . I'm going to have to call in the outside auditor to go through the records of the company."

"Why's that?" Brad said. His eyes flashed. I saw them.

"Well, Susie was our bookkeeper for a long time," Dave said. He was looking at his hands in his lap, not at us. "She knew where all the accounts were, how much was in them, all that stuff. I called the bank today to get the balances so I could transfer the money into the payroll account. There's no money in them."


"The accounts all have less than a thousand in them. Payroll is thirty-eight thou," Dave almost whispered. "The books say we have a half million in cash in the bank. I can only find ten thou or so."

"Susie?" I asked, needlessly.

"She's the only one who had access to the accounts, except your Dad, and he left it all to her."

"Are we bankrupt?" asked Brad. He was pale.

"No, no, nothing like that," Dave spat. "We have a quarter million line of credit with the bank, so we can meet payroll and things. The business is profitable, and it throws off cash. But we're missing more than two years' profits in cash from those accounts, it looks like."



"Can you get the company through the next week without us?" Brad was almost shaking, he was so mad. "We've got to get Mom and Dad taken care of first."

"Of course, Brad," Dave said. He looked as if he might break out in tears. "I'm really sorry to have to lay this on you like this."

"We need to have Throckmorton in on this," I pitched in. Brad gave me a look to say I was on the right track.

 "I agree," said Dave. "I felt I had to talk to you first."

"Okay," said Brad. "You get Julie to draw up all the papers you'll need to run the company for the next week without us. Thurston, Tim and I will have second signature on all checks over $5,000-. We'll sign the papers tomorrow. We'll meet next Wednesday to get the operating plan ready."

Dave looked at Brad with a slightly surprised look on his face. "You know more."

"About what?"

"About running the company, what it takes. More than I thought, I mean."

"Dad kept me up to date," Brad said. I hadn't known that.

Dave shook his head. "I think we're going to do all right."

"I know we will," said Brad, looking directly into my eyes. If he weren't my man, I'd have been afraid of him looking at me like that. Resolute, totally controlled anger. Not at me. At . . . them. "Will you talk this through with Thurston, bring him up to speed?"

"All right," said Dave, getting up form the sofa. "We'll get this letter out to everyone tonight, for delivery tomorrow -- by fax where possible."

"Good," said Brad as we moved towards the door. "What about the papers?"


"We should make sure they get a copy of this, too, so that they can get a statement into the business section that we're not going under because of . . . this. Not the money part, just the . . . changes at the . . . top."

Dave looked at Brad with a slightly quizzical expression. "You think ahead a lot. I like that."

"We're going to get through this," Brad said resolutely.

We walked Dave out to his car, through the family room. I smelled good stuff cooking. As we opened the door to go out, Brad saw that the Bentley was blocking the Dave's car a tad, so he asked William to move it a little to let Dave out. Again, Brad got the keys, I got to stand and watch.

A blast of hot air hit us as we walked out. It was six pm, but the temperature must still have been over a hundred. Brad went right to the Bentley, leaving me and Dave to stand next to Dave's car and watch. Dave was as fascinated by the old Bentley as I was. He's a car guy, too.

Dave had a six year old Porsche 911. (Convertible, of course - this is California!), absolutely cherry: Silver with black leather, titanium and zebra wood inserts, cast alloy wheels. I drooled all over my Polo shirt. 150 mph in the flat, 0-60 in under 5 seconds, standing quarter in about 14. Awesome machine. It only had 39 thousand miles on it.

"Tim?" Brad pulled me out of my fantasy of doing the circuit at Sears Point at top speed. I hadn't even realized he'd moved Jeremy's car already.


"Dave needs to go."

"Oh. Sorry," I said, moving away from the driver's door so Dave could open it.

Dave just gave a little chuckle and got in. He was probably used to teenage guys drooling all over his baby.

"See ya," he said as he fired the air-cooled engine into life, the throaty roar muted by the spoiler, which only lifts at freeway speed. The car rumbled backward down the drive, swung around and evaporated down the street.

"Okay, that's the car I want. When I can drive. Next year." I thought to myself. Sure, right. More than sixty grand on a car? Dad would just laugh at me . . .

"Dinner in twenty minutes!" Boo hollered out the back door, saving me from spiraling down from that thought.

We retreated into the cool of the house to wash up. I retrieved my boxers from the office, and Brad goosed me good in the bathroom as I put them on. I wished we had time to get it on, but we only had a little tonsil tickling time, and that was almost as good. Well, it was better than nothing.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This is going to sound racist, but I don't mean it to be, really: Nobody on earth makes better Southern Fried Chicken, collard greens, coarse mash potatoes, yellow white corn bread, black eye peas or barbecue than black women who've been trained by their mommas who've been trained by their mommas, at least two generations of which come from the real south: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, the Carolinas, southern Virginia, even Maryland in a pinch. I don't know about the Carolinas and Kentucky, but I guess they'd qualify. Tennessee is a white space on my experience map.

Boo was the best of the best. Her chicken, even though it was only fried for a few minutes in butter, then baked in the oven real slow with honey and salt, and sometimes barbecue sauce for the last five minutes, was unequaled by anything produced by a white colonel with a white hat. I think she boiled the chicken first for two or three minutes. Just enough to get the grease out from in and under the skin. When you bit into it, the skin was always crispy as corn flakes -- yet she never used so much as a flour dredge to coat the chicken, just butter and honey and salt. She did something with the butter I never knew you were supposed to do -- she melted it in the microwave first, then only used the clear yellow oil, leaving behind the white stuff.

Her corn bread was never too crumbly, always just right, you didn't even need butter. Her secret was bacon fat, maybe a tablespoon per batch -- just enough to bind and flavour. The black eye peas are just one millimeter to the right of mushy, a few little fresh cooked crisp bacon bits to add crunch, and her collards are as sweet as French spinach, but with extra nutmeg, lemon zest and a little sour cream. She chops it up in bits and cooks it in water with a little lemon juice and a little bit of sugar, then squeezes it in a sieve to get rid of all the liquid before she adds butter, spices and sour cream. It's wonderful.

You don't want to know what her barbecue tastes like. You'll never order anything barbecue in a restaurant again. Her fried green tomatoes are more addictive than the strongest heroin. Boo does those spectacularly. Sorry. Did. She taught me how to do them, to make sure Brad never got away.

Half an hour later, we were all stuffing our faces, Boo beaming with pride when every plate was full, every platter empty. William opened a bottle of Chardonnay from a small winery in Napa, and I got some just like everyone else. It was delicious, but I preferred milk. Especially with the cornbread. I ate three pieces, along with at least a half a chicken, two helpings of the collards and the peas, and a mound of potatoes that rivaled the mound the guy in "Close Encounters" used to make a model of Devil's Tower, or whatever it's called.

We talked about everything but Mom and Dad, and it actually felt like we were family. Jeremy told jokes, which I never remember, even when I say to myself, "I have to remember that one to tell to . . . I guess it's another one of those genetic things. Brad didn't remember them either. After dinner, we at least helped get all the stuff into the kitchen, but Boo shooed us out right away, telling us that we'd just get in her way.

We watched a little TV, but it was all game shows for the mentally challenged or bad sit-coms, so we ended up "doing our own things." William pounded on his PC, Jeremy read, Boo went to her room to do some sewing, Brad tried his jigsaw, and I . . . I thought and brooded while I read a car 'zine. I kept trying to figure why I saw what I saw. The Jeep on its side at the bottom of the grassy hill, the look in Dad's eyes as he stared into mine, devoured by hate. Mom looking somewhere else, at what? Who? A look of . . . alarm, but mixed with . . . pity? What else was there in the pictures? I couldn't remember the details on the edges. Something on the counter? Anything around the Jeep?

"Hey, big fella!" said Brad softly, almost waking me from my almost doze. "Time for bed."

"Yeah," I yawned and stretched. "What time is it?"

"Nine thirty."

"Mum." I answered, and somehow managed to stand up and follow Brad. I think I said goodnight to Uncle Jeremy and William, but I forgot already by morning.

"I've already made the decoy," Brad said. He meant the pillow dummy we'd used the night before in my bed, in case Boo checked up on us.

We thus went right to Brad's room and locked the door, leaving a trail of shorts, Birks, Polo's and boxers to his bed, daring the Big Game Hunter to track us.

I was asleep the instant my head found the crook of his arm, my left leg curled over his, my hand between his legs, snuggled up in his balls, his dick under my forearm. I got a proper goodnight kiss, though. That I can remember, because he pulled me into him with his lips on mine, and our teeth clanked together. I don't even know if my dick got hard. It didn't matter. He loved me. I loved him. We were one.

Wednesday, July 7, 1993

I dreamed that I awoke in the middle of the night with a start. I was still in Brad's crook, sniffing his armpit, and my forearm was holding down his night erection. He was snorzling, that raspy deep breathing of his when he sleeps that isn't a snore, really, just a deep breathing with a slight buzzing sound.

I heard a 'snap!' 'snap!' sound, sort of like rubber bands being shot up against a window. It sounded like it came from the bathroom. I got out of bed, looking briefly at Brad's alarm clock, which read 3:20 am. I had to pee, anyway, so I might as well check out the sounds in the bathroom.

Something made me look at the window, and a chill went through my feet right to the center of my stomach.

"Brad!" I whispered/shouted. The man could sleep through a train wreck. I dropped down on my knees on the floor next to the bed, only my head a little above the top of the bed, so's I could check out the window.

There was something moving outside the window, something that wasn't a plant waving in the wind. There was no moon; it was dark as it ever gets in Sacramento, what with the backlight of the sky, made orangey by the streetlights that apparently save energy. I saw a lump of shadow, getting close to the window, and my heart froze. It was an Avenger, one of those shadows that have no ears, no face, just eyes and mouth, except I couldn't see eyes or mouth I felt a little pee come out of my dick.

I grabbed Brad's arm and braced my feet against the bed and pulled with every ounce of energy I could muster and he rolled over the side of the bed on top of me then me over him just as I heard the same snapping sounds as before but this time with the sound of tinkling glass -- not broken, just a shard of glass falling on tile, that high-pitched sound as the shard becomes fifty tiny shards. A series of "thunk" sounds behind me as something hit the plasterboard. I felt a sting or something on the top of my left shoulder.

I didn't wake up. This was real. A blaze of pain went through my left arm.

I shouted out "Help!" as loud as I could, and another terrible burst of the rubber bands began, things buzzing like wasps, flashes of light in the dark mirror of the closet door. I yelled out again, answered by a burst of the wasps, then yelled again, even louder if that was possible. Just as I got the third "help!" out, I heard a herd of wildebeest come down the hall. Brad tried to struggle to his knees, but I held him down, shouting obscenities at him, or whatever, trying to get him to be still, stay out of the way of the wasps coming from the window. My whole left arm was numb. One of the wasps stung me on the top of my head.

I looked back and thought how foolish it may have been to lock the door behind us, wondered if I would have to go open it so the rescuer could get into the room, in plain sight of the window.

There was a sudden shout of a voice behind the door, then I watched in disbelief as the door just shattered into pieces and hundreds of red flashes of light "happened" in the doorway. I was half blinded, deafened by the gigantic roar from in front of me as well as behind and over my head. I watched in the mirror on the closet door as the window turned into a fog of fragments of glass, flying everywhere, bouncing off the walls, the ceiling, even the mirror right before my eyes, before I had time to fully obey the command: "Down! Down!" and close them. I threw myself over Brad's face, my belly button about where his nose was. I don't think I was consciously trying to protect him; I was just trying to get me between him and the glass bits. There was blood on his forehead . . .

I went to look up, but my head was too heavy, and somehow I just went back to sleep, trying to avoid the rest of the dream entirely.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I woke to the sounds of a siren, right over the top of my head, enough to wake the ancestors of the long dead. It was a "whoop!" and a "wheep!" a foghorn and a screaming air raid siren, deafening. I opened my eyes, but they didn't seem to want to focus too good. I almost saw Brad's face, sort of gauzy, like looking through a layer of Vaseline smeared on a window. There was a white patch over his right eye.

"Loon?" his voice came at me. "You're gonna be all right, man. You're gonna be okay." He was crying. I could hear it in his voice.

It wasn't a dream any more. The bed I was laying on jumped about like a porpoise, the sound of tires whistling underneath me confirming I was in an ambulance. Where did it come from? How long was I aslee . . . Ohmigod! Was I hurt? My whole left side felt numb, throbbed like I remember it did once when I got hit by a line drive on my calf that took me down like an elephant bagged by a big game hunter. That bruise hurt for three weeks, kept me off my feet for a week and a half.

"Brad? Who . . . ?" Why was it such an effort to talk? My mouth was all flubbery, like I'd been to the dentist and got shots all over the front. Things got dark again, and I went back to sleep, the hell with the racket, which sort of faded away, anyway.

In the morning, I opened my eyes, expecting the feel of Brad under my arm, his morning hard begging for my attentions, and I moved my left arm over to grasp him. Big mistake.

My right side screamed out "ouch!" and I did too. Not scream, just say. Except it came out like "rhummmch," because my mouth was sort of full of Novocain. My eyelids were bright red -- almost pink -- on the inside, so I didn't open them, not just yet. I was under a spotlight, or maybe in the sun.

"Tim?" came his voice. I'd rather he called me 'Loon,' it sounded more special. My right hand got a squeeze, but even my right hand felt a little numb.

I opened my right eye. I was right - spotlights, long tubes of them. Why is it that hospitals all have these blinding lights overhead, where they'll truly irritate anybody who's a patient on his or her back -- which most of us are -- and when somebody looks down at you, it's like the X-Files all over again, the spooky Cigarette man's face black against the surface of the sun above him, behind him?

I've always hated hospitals, ever since Brad went to one when he was eight and half bit off his tongue when he broke his left arm falling out of the tree at the back of the Fishers' house across the street. He tried to climb up to the top yoke of the trunk just like Danny Fisher had the day before; Danny was thirteen, and everybody worshipped him -- or at least everybody who counted. He went away to college in Southern California a few years ago, and I never saw him again. Mom got reports from Janet about how good her son was doing in . . . Medical school, I think, but after . . . never mind. Shit.

So my hand got this little squeeze, but what I really wanted was a kiss to make me feel better inside. My eye focussed on the right, and Brad was there. So was Jeremy, and Boo was behind them. Nobody had tears streaming down their faces, so I figured I was going to live. I opened the other eye, the left one, and said something dumb, like "where am I?" knowing all well and good exactly where I was, but not wanting to look dumb. Naturally, my lips were traitors again, and only a linguist could have understood what I said. Maybe.

"Hi." came out all right. I could say 'Hi!" at least.

"Welcome back," Jeremy said. He was smiling, but only on his face. His eyes looked serious.

I looked at Brad. His eyes were all red. There was a bandage over his right eye.

"Uvya" I tried, but it didn't come out. Damned lips again. "Ilya," I said, and that was at least fairly clear.

"Hey, Loon," he said. His voice quavered. "We're even, now."

"Hunh?" As long as I didn't use my lips, I could grunt intelligibly.

"You saved my life, kiddo."

"Kiddo?" "Kiddo!" That was what my Dad called Mom sometimes! We'd laughed about him using that old-fashioned talk left over from whenever the movies first started talking, before color and stereo and CD's. Now Brad had the disease. It sounded . . . cute. I decided I liked it. Now, anyway.

"You're really a hero," Jeremy said softly. "If you hadn't have pulled Brad out of bed when you did, you'd both be . . . full of holes."

"Wha' happened?" I asked. The "P's" didn't get through, but they understood.

"Somebody shot your bed full of holes through the window, then went after Brad," Jeremy said. "Boo heard you holler, and by the time she got the door open to Brad's room, his bed was a sieve. You're both lucky to be alive."

I tried to tell Brad I loved him on our telephone, but the line was busy.

"Get him, Boo?" I tried to say.

"Now, honey, you just don't worry about things like that now. You got enough on your plate."

"That man is the luckiest on earth, just now," said William's voice from the other side of my bed. "How anybody could have survived that firestorm, I don't begin to understand."

"No matter," said my Brad's voice. "Tim's okay. That's all that counts."

I squeezed his hand back. My head was fuzzy, but it was getting better. I could at least feel Brad's hand in mine.

There was a clock over a door at the foot of my bed. It said four. Four AM or four PM, I had no idea. I looked at the window behind Boo. Dark. Morning, then. I hadn't lost much time.

I looked down at my arm. It was strapped to my chest. There was a bandage from as close as I could see to my neck all the way down to the elbow.

"Went clean through you," Boo said. "Nicked your clavicle, but no permanent damage. It was the one that got you in the head that worried us."

So, I got hit? "Head?"

'S'awright," Brad joked lamely. "Hardest part of his body."

"Except when we're making love," I thought at him, but of course, he couldn't hear me. I'm a horny bastard, aren't I? Couldn't get enough of it with him.

A doctor came in, along with a nurse, and shooed all my friends out. More importantly, he tried to throw out my man. Brad would have none of it.

"I'm his brother and his guardian," he lied without so much as a hint of his lie getting into his voice. "I stay."

The doctor looked at him, then gave in rather than argue. "Okay. Just stay over there. He nodded at a chair in the corner.

"Well, sir!" says the Doc, a not unattractive guy in his thirties, blonde, a slightly pinched face behind wire rim glasses. "I'm Dr. Ben, and you're in ER until we decide whether or not you need to stay and suffer through the food in this place."

"Hi," I managed to eke out. My lips were getting a little more cooperative, I could tell. The nurse read the machine gizmo hooked up to my arm that inflated and contracted every couple of minutes.

"Head hurt?" he asked, his eyes boring into mine.

I thought about it a minute. Other than a slight fuzziness, I felt nothing out of the ordinary. I shook my head, lightly, still felt nothing. "Nope," I said. I dropped the "p."

"Good lad," he said. He had a slightly odd accent. Not Irish or Scottish, but close. "Your shoulder took a clean but hard hit. You had the angels on your side with the head." He pushed a button that made the bed sort of fold up a little, my head rising and the backs of my knees as well,


"Another eighth of an inch, and you'd be brain dead," he said. "The bullet hit the back and burrowed through under the scalp across the top of your skull. Made a furrow in the bone at one point, but didn't penetrate." He stopped the bed - now more a chaise lounge. I could at least avoid the damned spotlight tubes overhead.

He pulled out some x-ray sheets from this big folder under his arm. "The x-ray confirms that there are no fractures of the bones, and no lead lodged anywhere. A 'crease,' we call the head injury. Same with your shoulder. The bullet hit the bone, but only just. Enough to dig out a little crease, but nothing more serious."

"Can I go home?"

"Most likely," he smiled. "We'll make you eat a decent breakfast, then I'll be back around seven. If you feel up to it, you can get out of here before the lunch truck passes through."

"Good," I said. "I hate hospitals!"

"Me, too," said Dr. Ben. "But they're better than cemeteries." He gave me a conspiratorial wink, then asked a couple of questions about feeling in my left arm, whether I had any headache (I didn't -- Like I said, I've only had four that I know of, and they are all memorable.) or nausea.

My left fingers felt his touch fine; my eyes evidently worked right when he shone the light into them, and my neck moved okay. But I felt serious twinges in my shoulder when I moved my head.

"Right," he said. "Unless you start feeling worse instead of better, I think we can count on you getting out of here after breakfast."

"Really! Great!" I said. Brad echoed me.

"But I'm not all that sure about your going home," he added.

I got this really rotten feeling. "Why?"

Instead of answering, he opened the door and spoke to a uniformed police officer standing right in front of the door.

"I'm planning on releasing Mr. Weston later this morning," he said. "Any idea whether or not he'll be allowed to go home?"

"Not a clue, Doc," said the cop. I couldn't see his face, but the voice sounded vaguely familiar. "That's up to Detective Gutierrez."

"Well, you'd best get ahold of him, then," said Ben. "If he needs a police escort when he leaves, I want to know about it." He turned briefly back to me, gave me another wink, and turned to leave. "See you after breakfast," he threw over his shoulder. I wasn't sure if it was at me or at the cop.

Just then the cop turned. It was nobody I'd ever seen before. He was maybe twenty-two or three, black hair, slim with a deep five o'clock shadow. One of those peachy complexions, translucent skin and a pale pink all over, save a little redder at the cheeks. Sparkly eyes, but I couldn't tell the colour from this distance. I figured I'd mistaken the familiarity of the voice. He looked briefly at me, and I nodded, then he turned his back to me, facing out, looking for anybody sent to . . . I didn't want to go down that trail.

"I think we ought to stay somewhere else," I said to Brad.


"Don't know. I just don't like the idea of going back."

"It's the last place they'd look again," he said. "Especially if the cops laid a cover."


"You know -- 'The sons of the slain couple have been moved to an undisclosed location to protect them from further attacks."

"Who's to know there was any attack?"

"You kidding?" Brad laughed at me lightly. "Aside from the fact that Boo's assault gun made it sound as if World War Three had just started, and there were sirens from every direction as the cops looked for the gunman, the ambulance made enough racket to wake the whole neighborhood, even though they used the sirens only when they got to the main drag. Radios crackling like loudspeakers being tested, engines roaring all over the place like tanks, the helicopter falooping falooping all over the place . . . everybody in the neighborhood knows, and you can bet the reporters picked up on most everything listening to the police band. You think it won't get out?"




"I love you, Loon. More than ever. I just wanted you to hear that directly from the source."

"I love you Brad." I said, for some reason fighting back tears. What the hell is it with being gay, anyway? I get all choked up when I'm happy, I cry at old soppy movies, I bawl whenever the sidekick of the hero of a movie dies in his arms, but not at other times when it's normal for a guy to cry, like when the Forty-Niners lose Steve, or the Sharks get shattered, or the Dodgers lose the Series.

"I'm not kidding about you saving my life," Brad said. "I mean aside from saving my life from loneliness and fear, you pulled me down just before I woulda got killed."

"You don't know that," I said. "It could have been my fault that you got hit."

"Loon, my mattress looks like it's been hit with a bomb, just from the bullets the guy fired," he said looking through me. "When you pulled me over the side, I only saw the carpet."

"See who it was?" I asked, but already knew the answer.

"Too dark," he said. "I was too asleep to think."

"You get the idea somebody doesn't like us?"

"Sorta." He smiled wanly.

"What happened to the protection we were supposed to have?" I asked.

"Didn't work, obviously."




"I just don't know, Loon. It doesn't make sense somebody would . . . go to all that trouble."

"Is the company that . . . valuable?"

"I guess," he said morosely. "Either that, or Dad had an awful enemy."

"We'd have known, if there was one, wouldn't we?"

"I'm not sure if we would," Brad said. "But I'm sure Dave would have known."

'You think Dave . . . ?" I didn't want to say it.

"No way!" he said. "Him and Dad been friends since before he married Mom."

"Jealousy? Old flame?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Dave and Emily have the same pedigree as Mom and Dad. They started dating in High school, got married while he was in college, she worked while he finished school, then she went to college while he worked."

"Oh." I hadn't known that about Dave and Emily. "How old is Dave?"

"Same age as Dad, I guess," said Brad. "They were in 'Nam together. Or at least at the same time. I think that's where they met."

"Think maybe something from there? Maybe an old grudge?"

"I think it would have showed," said Brad, now sitting next to me, his hands holding my right hand. "You know, Dad never liked to talk much about 'Nam, always changed the subject when it came up, or walked away."

It was true, he had. It was a long-standing unwritten rule that we could talk about anything we wanted with Dad, but never about those two years he spent in Vietnam. I've always felt kind of bad that I never knew of that part of his life. Dave told me a little about why, later on, but it didn't help me much.

"Who, then?"

"I don't know, Loon. I have no idea even of where to look." He leaned towards me, his eyes full of his love for me, and I turned my head to him for our first kiss of the day.

We had only seconds, just enough for a short peck, my lips still fuzzy from whatever painkiller I'd gotten, but aware enough to kiss back a little. God, Brad smelled good, especially without his morning shower! His breath was as sweet as always, that slightly vanilla flavor there as always. Not really vanilla, but close. I figure if these so-called wine experts can talks about an old red having fruit, cherries, or whatever, I can talk about how my man had vanilla flavour.

I have no idea how we managed it, but we had just separated by a couple of feet, and were whispering something sweet but innocuous, when the door got pushed open a little abruptly, and in marched Gutierrez and Tremane, their faces stern, granite-like, anger in their eyes.

"I'm glad to see you guys made it," said Gutierrez.

"Yeah, thanks to Boo," said Brad. "I'm glad we didn't have to count on the police."

"Watch your mouth, asshole!" said Tremane.

I was astounded at the vehemence of the retort, the anger and hate in his voice. Brad rebounded visibly, as if he'd been slapped.

"We lost two good men tonight," said Gutierrez. "Gunned down like dogs, while they were trying to protect you. You get to live. I get to tell the new widows a sniper got them."

"Oh, shit," Brad and I said at exactly the same time, like stereo.