Castle Roland

Long / Division

by Driver


Long / Division

Posted: N/A

Long / Division

by Driver
Copyright © 2011 - 2014
All Rights Reserved

Phil Gaynor was on the phone cajoling a supplier when Harrigan looked in through the open door.

"Boss, it's urgent."

Gaynor interrupted his supplier saying, "I'm sorry; give me a minute here. Better yet, let me call you back."

He put the phone down and looked at Harrigan, who was clearly upset. "They've taken Robby, boss."

Phil stood quickly and leaned toward his friend, "They? They who, and what do you mean they've taken him? Mitchell is supposed to be looking after him."

"We don't know who yet, but Al Curtis is gone too so we're guessing it's a gay thing."

Phil pushed his hand through his thinning hair and sat back down. "What the hell? It's been fourteen months since Division; what happened to two years?" He grimaced, "Never mind that. Who do you have looking for them?"

"It's Ryan Mitchell's team for now, but we're getting the word out as fast as we can. We've notified the Provisional Police and we're sending a general alert out to all the Transitioners in a hundred mile radius. The Jetsons are getting together right now in corporate communications. Everything should be on the front burner in ten minutes."

Phil was glad to have George Harrigan on his team as Chief of Staff. The man was a model of competency at all times, and always managed to find grace under pressure. "Okay, George. Tell me what you know."

Harrigan sat down and faced Phil. "We're damned if we know much right now. The boys went to their phys-ed class at nine o'clock. It was held indoors due to the rain, and when they were leaving the gym Mitchell heard the instructor telling the kids they all smelled and had to take showers. He waited outside the locker room, but Rob and Al didn't come back out with the others so he went in looking for them. There was one boy in the locker area and the instructor and his assistant were sitting in the office. There was no sign of Rob or Al."

Phil's face showed his confusion as he mumbled, "That doesn't make sense."

"I know. Mitchell questioned the kid in the locker room, who told him he thought Rob and Al left with everyone else. That boy's name is," he looked at a small pad he was carrying, "Larry Hankins. He said you know him."

"I do. He's been out to the house many times; we know the family well."

"Anyhow, he was running late because he dropped a gold chain and spent time looking for it before he got dressed."

"Did he say anything about Robby? Was Rob upset about something?"

Harrigan shook his head. "I don't know what questions Mitchell asked, but Hankins said nothing seemed wrong. They had fun in the gym and he didn't pay attention once they got to the locker room. He checked out the showers and the toilet area for Mitchell and there was no one else around."

"How about the teacher? He didn't see anything either?"

"Not after class. He knew Rob and Al were in class because he had to speak to them about their clowning around. He didn't see them after they left the gym. He did walk Mitchell around to show him the layout of the locker room. There's a second exit for emergencies and that door is alarmed. There are frosted windows along the top of the exterior wall. They're just there to let in daylight and they don't open. The only other doors lead to storage areas and to a mop closet. They're generally locked and he opened them so Mitchell could look inside. There's no place to hide."

"Did they look in lockers?"

"Yes, they looked in Rob's and Al's and found their school clothes and books. He found their phones, some cash, keys and ID cards, the usual pocket stuff. Mitchell said the lockers are half-size and nowhere near big enough for someone to hide in."

Phil stared at George trying to formulate another question. He shook his head quickly, "Joanne. Has anyone contacted Joanne Curtis? Does she know what happened?"

"I called her myself. She does want to talk to you, of course. She's afraid to leave the house over worry that she'll miss a call."

"Okay, help me understand why you think the boys have been taken, as you put it. Is there something I don't know yet? How the hell could someone spirit two boys out of a crowded locker room? How could they do that without being seen?"

"It doesn't seem possible to me, either. By the same token, how could the kids even sneak out without being seen?"

"Why would they do that?" Phil reconsidered his words and snickered, "Sorry, dumb question. Should I suspect my ex of involvement? Do you know where Myra is?

George nodded, "They were still in Seychelles yesterday. Rob's paperwork is here in the company vault – they couldn't get him across a state or territorial line without that, much less out of the country and into another one."

Phil picked a paperclip up from his desk and idly started bending it straight as he thought. His ex wife Myra had left him for Al's father, Alan Curtis, Sr. Their gay sons were their excuse for abandoning hearth and home for a life of travel and whatever excitement that brought to middle-aged creeps. Robby and Al had made their announcement at the ripe old age of eleven and Phil, like everyone else, thought it was probably just a phase. Phase or not, the nation was coming apart at the seams right then and thinking adults were working furiously to avoid civil war. It was too busy a time to wonder about whether two boys were gay or not, and at the time it didn't matter. It seemed important now.

The resulting division had indeed averted widespread military action, but the former United States now made up three separate and self-governing entities. Two states, Texas and Arizona, had been abandoned to Mexico, and some major population movements were underway.

The new territories were loosely based on the industrial north, which now looked like a giant inverted 'U' that went north from Maryland to Maine including a few inland states, across the northern tier, and down the west coast to the Mexican border, including several of the mountain states, Alaska and Hawaii. It was called the Northern Territory. Its Constitution was very much like the U.S. Constitution it was derived from. What used to be amendments were now incorporated into the body of the document. New amendments were allowed by the old process but none had been proposed yet. There was still a right to bear arms although that right was now carefully defined and restricted. Freedom of religion was unchanged as it applied to individuals, but all religious organizations and churches were required to incorporate, to pay taxes, and to adhere strictly to all anti-discrimination provisions of the new Constitution. There were changes to the political system as well, most of them intended to put strict limits on the money spent campaigning.

The Central Territory comprised most of the Corn Belt, and was the least changed of the new areas. Its new Constitution was, with few exceptions, just a re-written copy of the original, again done to incorporate the amendments into the main document. Those people also imposed restrictions on gun ownership that were almost as severe as their friends to the north.

The old south, for the most part, stayed together as the Southern Territory. They tossed the original Constitution and created a new set of doctrines for their Christian theocracy, leaning heavily on the Bible (King James Version) to provide them with legal and moral codes. The central lawmaking body was called the Pastoral Convention and it was tiered to govern at all levels: local, state and territorial. There was a court system to deal with criminal and civil matters. All appeals would be decided by committees of the Pastoral Convention. Surprisingly, this territory limited personal ownership of firearms to single-shot rifles and shotguns. All handguns were banned. Homosexual acts were banned outright, and would be treated as misdemeanors when committed by minors, as felonies between consenting adults, and as capital offenses for the adult involved in any sexual activity with a minor, whether homosexual or heterosexual.

When the formal accords between the territories were signed, a provisional period of two years was agreed upon during which people were free to relocate to another territory for any reason, and those relocations grew gradually in size to the massive effort currently underway. The Provisional Police Force had been formed as a privatized restructuring of existing Federal enforcement agencies and National Guard units.

Phil Gaynor had heard rumors about illegal harassment of gays, and now his son and his son's friend were missing. He was angry yet he still pitied the people who had them.

Robby and Al, their heads covered with cloth, were rudely shoved into a vehicle that started moving as soon as the doors slammed shut. Their hands were free, so they pulled the cloths, which turned out to be pillow cases, off their heads. They were in the back seat of a window van with two men in the front seats. Rob turned around and looked into the faces of two other men behind them. He smiled and gave them a little wave before he elbowed Al and whispered, "Do you know them?"

Al shook his head. Rob whispered, "Okay, let's meet the people." He spoke in his normal voice, "Hi there. I'm Rob, and this is Al if you don't already know that. You are?"

The man in the front passenger seat turned. Rob guessed his age at around twenty-five. His hair was light brown and cut short but shaggy. He smiled pleasantly enough, "We know who you are. My name is Jack, and I'm a Christian."

Rob gave him a bug-eyed look. "Catholic? Hey Al, we're being kidnaped by mackerel snappers!"

Al said, "They don't look Catholic to me. Do you have any identification? Show me a rosary or something."

"What's the difference?" Rob asked. "Oh, oh, I see. Are you taking us to your priest so he can have his filthy way with us? We're only fourteen you know, and a priest must have to be an adult. Don't you know that's a hanging offense now?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "I said I'm a Christian, not a Catholic, and we're not bringing you to any priest."

Rob sat back with a pout on his face. "Rats. I kinda wondered what's under those robes, but never mind. Tell me how you can be a Christian and not a Catholic. Didn't the Catholics invent Christianity and kill all those people that didn't want to be Christians?"

Jack sighed, "I'm a Presbyterian. We've been engaged to bring you both to a non-denominational ex-gay ministry where you can straighten out."

Al said coolly, "I don't want to straighten out. I think I have nice curves and I plan to keep them. What's it to you anyhow? You're no straighter than I am."

"Yeah, what's it to you?" Rob added, mostly to be saying something. "Oh hey, though, my compliments on our abduction. That was pretty cool. Did you think of that yourself or was it in a movie?"

Al added, "Yeah, it sure surprised me. I never got sucked up through a ceiling before. Um, I mean that in the nicest way, not like I poked my dick through a hole in the wall and got … well, you know. It was the whole me, just whup and I was outta there. Very cool."

"Yeah, slick."

The van came to a stop at a traffic light and Rob moved to open his door. There was no handle, just a hole where it belonged. "Hey, this isn't fair. I can't open the door."

"That's the idea. You're not supposed to open the door."

"What the hell? Can I have something to break the window with then? I don't want to go to any ministry. Ministers are just priests with no education, and maybe even more dangerous."

Jack turned a red face to them and raised his voice, "Just sit there and shut up!"

"Shut up? You mean I can't talk? Who do you think you are, Jesus Christ?"

"Fucking Jesus?"

"Christ all fucking mighty?" Rob nudged Al and whispered, "Sing!"

Well Jesus Christ Almighty

A fly went up my nightie

It bit my dick and made me shit

Jesus Christ Almighty

"One more time!"

Well Jesus Christ Almighty

A fly went up my nightie

It bit my dick and made me …

The van swerved as it screeched to a stop. Jack jumped out and ran to the sliding door where Rob was sitting and pulled it open. He balanced himself with one hand against the door frame behind the driver and Rob immediately stomped on it. When Jack grabbed his hand in pain Rob gave him a swift kick in the groin and pushed him away with the flat of his foot against Jack's chest. Jack stumbled and fell on his back. Rob bolted, Al right behind him, and they were both careful to jump on Jack's nards and then step on his face as they darted across the street.

Rob didn't know where they were, but the next corner turned onto a one-way street going the wrong way for the van to follow so they dashed down there and cut into a private yard. They ran through that to the next yard and through the back yard there before turning back the way they'd come. Hidden behind bushes, they watched as the van made a u-turn and then turned down the street that paralleled the one-way they just left.

They were both breathing hard and Rob gasped, "What assholes!"

Al stretched against a tree to catch his breath. "Now what? Do you know where we are?"

"I'm not sure. It looks like an old part of town but it's pretty nice. Maybe we can knock on a door and ask for help."

"You think? Oh please help us, madam. We're running around in our gym shorts because we just got away from Christians who think they can un-gay us."

"Maybe not," Rob admitted, "but we have to do something. We can't say they were Muslims because all the Muslims left already. Let's see if we can find a better place to disappear. Dad probably has the world looking for us already. If we can stay out of sight for a few hours we'll probably see some sign of the good guys."

"What if we see the bad guys first?"

"I guess we can sing some more Jesus songs. That got this bunch mad enough to be stupid."

'"Yeah, that befuddled them. You know any others?"

"Did you just say befuddled? You did. Where the hell'd that come from?"

"Some preacher guy my mom listened to on the radio was always saying that we had to watch out for old Satan or he'd befuddle us into turning our backs to Jesus."

Robby laughed, "Oh, that's a good one. Let's just think of every bad thing we can say about Christians and maybe come up with some new songs. We'll befuddle 'em till they think we're minions of Lucifer himself." He pointed toward the side of the house, "Look there. That's an air conditioner thing in those shrubs. We can hide behind it."

* * * * * * * *

Phil looked up when George Harrigan stood in his doorway and said, "This just in!" like a newscaster.

Phil brightened, "You have something?"

"Yes. The police got a call from a motorist who nearly collided with a van when it stopped dead in front of him. He said two young boys decked a man who opened their door, and they disappeared on foot down the next block. They were dressed in green shorts, tee shirts and trainers, so they're our boys. The caller got the plate number from the van before it left the scene."

"Oh, good. Have you found the van?"

"I thought you might like to do that. It's registered to Martin Hardware, and I know Larry Martin is a friend of yours."

Phil felt weak suddenly. Larry Martin was an old and dear friend who had been very supportive when he learned that Robby Gaynor was gay. Phil found it impossible to believe that Larry would be involved in a thing like this, but he reached for the phone on his desk.

He pulled himself together while he dialed, and when the phone was answered he said pleasantly, "Joyce, Phil Gaynor here. Is the old man available?"

Larry picked up after a few seconds. "Philly! What can I do you out of today? How's that son of yours? Does he still have all the ninth grade boys swooning?"

Phil had to smile. Larry could not be involved, but his van was. "Larry, this isn't a social call. Robby's been kidnaped along with Al Curtis."

"Oh man, are you serious?"

"I'm serious. Listen, I wouldn't be calling you, but they were seen escaping from a van a while ago, and that van belongs to your company."

There was a silence before Larry responded, and he sounded upset. "My van? Do you know which one?"

"Hold on." Phil turned to George and asked, "Do you have that tag number?"

"Sure. I'll write it down." He wrote it on a Post-it sheet and handed it to Phil.

"Larry, it's M-A-R zero-zero-seven."

Larry said, "Let me see who's driving that today. Oh, wait a minute. That van was loaned out last night."

"Who'd you lend it to?"

"I didn't personally, but the shipping manager loaned it to Reverend Roy."

Phil was stunned, "You're sure about that?"

"That's what it says here. Want me to double check?"

"If you would." He looked at George and said "Larry said they loaned the truck to Roy Manners. He's double checking that."

Larry came back on, "Phil, it was Roy who asked to borrow the truck to move something or other. Some fellow my guys didn't know came to get it."

"Is that normal?"

"Pretty much. I can't picture Roy at the wheel of a truck even if you can, but he does borrow one from time to time."

Phil smiled, "I can't bring that image to mind either. Listen Larry, I'd appreciate it if you let me deal with Reverend Roy myself. I'll put George Harrigan on and he can tell you who his contacts are so you can let the right people know when that truck comes back. Thanks for being there, and here's George."

Phil stood and handed the receiver to George. He excused himself to use the bathroom, and when he came back he said, "Let's go see the Jetsons."

Rob and Al had become grumpy, a condition brought on by a combination of hunger, fatigue and discomfort; and it started to drizzle again so they were also getting wet. Al griped, "I'm hungry."

"Me, too."

"I'm stiff from sitting like this."

"I am, too."

"I really need to use the bathroom."

"So do I, and now it's raining and I'm getting cold."



"Are you going to complain all day? Let's just go. Those guys aren't coming back."

Rob thought for a moment before he said, "You're right. Let's get out of here."

They got to their feet and began shaking their legs as they jerked their arms around to get some circulation going. Al looked at Rob and asked, "Which way?"

Rob shrugged, "What's the difference. Go right out here; at least it's a main drag."

They stepped through the shrubs out onto the sidewalk. They were across the street and down about one hundred feet from where they'd escaped the van. They couldn't see anything but private homes from where they stood, so they started down the road in the direction the van had come from, knowing they'd passed through a commercial area some distance back. They hadn't walked a full block when a small car pulled over beside them and the driver tooted the horn. The window slid down and they looked in so see a woman looking back at them.

"Are you boys named Robby and Al?" she asked.

Rob asked, "Who are you?"

"My name is Sally. A message came out to all the transitioners in the area asking us to keep an eye out for you … if you are Rob and Al, that is. Your families are looking for you."

Rob wasn't convinced. "Say we were the boys you're looking for … what would you do with us?"

Sally seemed embarrassed, "Why I … I suppose I can offer you a ride home or … I don't know. If you feel safe here I can find a phone and tell your folks where to find you."

"You don't have a phone?"

"I do have a phone. My son was using it when I left the house and I didn't think I'd miss it. I don't use it often."

Rob looked at Al, who shrugged, rocked his head back and forth and said, "Let's take the ride. The faster I get to a bathroom the happier I'll be." He dropped his voice to a whisper, "These doors all have handles inside."

Rob looked to confirm that and leaned into the window, "If it's okay with you I guess we'll take you up on the ride."

"Of course. Get in and give me an address."

Rob sat in the front while Al climbed in back. Rob asked, "Do you know where Greenway Industrial Park is?"

"I've seen the exit off the Northeast Expressway. Is that the place?"

"Yes, ma'am. I can show you where to go when we get up that way."

Sally looked around and said, "I'll turn around. I can get on the expressway a few blocks back."

She drove around the block, waited for a light to change, and drove on down the road to the expressway on-ramp. Once on the highway, the boys could see that they hadn't been far from the downtown area, but the view of even the tallest buildings had been blocked when they were at street level. Sally was behind a semi-truck that was going well under the speed limit and at the first chance she pulled into the next lane to pass it, but she immediately had to hit the brake and wait for an opening in yet another lane.

She was in the far left lane when the Greenway exit came up and she wasn't able to get over. "I'll have to take the next exit and turn around."

Al groaned from the back seat. He needed a bathroom right then, not the next day, but he crossed his legs and kept his mouth shut.

Rob, looking at the traffic crawling in the other direction, said, "I hope there's a better way. It's hardly moving in the south lane."

"I see that. We can take another route and ask directions if we have to."

Rob sat back and idly watched the mile markers to the next exit. Sally turned right at the end of the ramp and kept going straight even when Rob was pretty sure they should have taken a right turn somewhere to find the complex his father's building was in.

Instead, after a few miles, Sally turned left into a long drive that passed through a gate. The plaque beside the gate had the name that Rob almost missed, only catching the word 'Christian' in his peripheral vision. He lost his temper and yelled, "Jesus Christ! You're another rotten Christian do-gooder? Don't you people ever mind your own stupid business? Al, did you see what that sign said?"

"I can't see anything. I got piss all the way up over the pupils in my eyes. Lady, if you know what's good for you, you're gonna stop this car and let me out or I ain't gonna be responsible for loading this back seat full of shit, piss and I don't know what else."

Sally's voice was maddeningly calm when she said, "We're almost there. You can wait another few minutes."

"Fuck you, lady. I don't have any minutes left in me, and you asked for it."

When Rob looked back, Al had removed his seat belt and was kneeling on the seat with his shorts around his knees. "Watch out, Rob. It's coming up your way." He aimed, such as he could from that position, and his stream found its way between the seats right to the dashboard, and a little adjustment put it right on the hand Sally was steering with.

She screamed and slammed hard on the brakes. The car came to a stop just when Al's stream did. Rob bolted from his door and ran around the car where Al was out but having trouble with his pants. Rob yelled, "Hold still," and jerked them up. He took a quick look around and cried, "This way!" and ran off into the woods with Al right behind him while Sally screamed oaths in their wake that didn't strike the boys as sounding very Christian.

The woods by the drive were pines. They provided cover from the drizzle, but precious little visual protection from any other direction. They ran until they got into underbrush. That slowed them down while it provided cover. They were both gasping from effort when Rob managed, "Take a break," and sat down hard.

They sat until their breathing steadied. Rob rubbed Al's shoulder and asked, "You okay?"

Al nodded, "I guess. I still have to take the crap of a lifetime."

Rob giggled, "You pissed all over her, man. I owe you two gold stars."

"I warned her."

"I know you did. She had it coming. I wonder how far it was to where she was taking us."

"What's the difference?"

Rob reached in his pocket and pulled a key out, which he held up for Al to see. "She's walking, too." He stood up and threw the key far into the weeds. "Any idea where we are?"

Al stood and shook his head. "That's all you saw on the sign was Christian? I don't know what's out this way."

Rob looked around and saw only trees, brush and weeds. "Well, let's move from here and try not to leave a trail to follow. Maybe we'll see a house or something, or at least figure out where we are."

"Lead the way, master."

Rob grinned, "You're the master today. That lady's going to smell your piss in her car till she gets a new one."

They walked deeper into the underbrush, turning after every few steps to smooth out their footprints and straighten out any branches they bent. After about twenty minutes had passed, Al got into a giggle fit.

Rob smiled, "What?"

Al sputtered, "I was just thinking of that Sally. Man, when she gets where she's going they ain't even gonna let her in."

Rob started to snicker and Al immediately put his hand over Rob's mouth. "Shh." he pointed ahead and to their right. They were almost at the edge of the woods, so they backed up to where they could see and still remain out of sight. They were at the very edge of the brush where the pines took over. They could see the driveway they'd been on, and beyond that part of a stone building was visible amid well maintained lawns and gardens. There was a group of men there, and they all had their eyes on one man. His back was to the boys, but that didn't disguise the fact that he was tall and heavy set, and at the moment he was very angry. His words didn't carry to them, but he was gesturing madly with his arms, causing those with him to wince and frown.

The boys knew who he was, and the dark red Bentley Continental parked haphazardly on the lawn—the one with a golden cross for a hood ornament and the letters 'PLM' in gold leaf on each door—made them doubly aware that they were in the domain of Reverend Royal Manners, or Reverend Roy as he was known by just about everyone in the region.

"Jesus," Rob whispered. "It's Reverend Roy. No wonder everyone we met today was a class-A idiot."

"Idiot this!" a voice behind them said as a net dropped on their heads.

Phil Gaynor was in his office after meeting with his Jetsons team. His company supplied material and equipment to the drilling industry. His customers ranged from water well drillers to mining companies to the oil and gas industries. He had a services division that offered specialists in all those fields, and when it was first formed his top team had been nicknamed the Jetsons for all their high-tech capabilities.

Phil didn't always understand their new technologies, but that day he'd listened carefully and asked a lot of pointed questions until he was satisfied with what he heard. He then met separately with the two team leaders and gave them some marching orders for a couple of their specialists.

He was perusing some paperwork at his desk. He did still have a business to run and he was trying to put his focus back on that until there was something he could act on regarding his son. He knew he should hold off calling Reverend Roy Manners at least until the evening, but he also knew that waiting so long would make him a nervous wreck. Still, he tried his best.

After an hour of waiting, he called George in for an update, and learned that the boys had been seen again. George explained, "We had people canvassing the area where they escaped the van earlier. They found an old gent who saw the boys leaving his neighbor's yard around noon. They must have been hiding all that time because we certainly had a lot of people in the area looking for them. Anyhow, he saw them start walking toward town when someone picked them up. He couldn't describe the car other than to say it was small and gray or silver. He didn't get a look at the driver either, and didn't really think anything about it until our guys came knocking."

"Yeah, well, why would he? I'm going to go crazy if I don't call Roy Manners. I can at least ask him about the van driver. I don't think he can find anything there to deny."

George silently wished Phil wouldn't call, but said, "As long as that's all you talk about I suppose it's all right. Let's just each take a few minutes to think of what might go wrong if you call."

"I don't have to think about it. I'm calling." Phil picked the phone up and put it right down again. He looked in the address book on his computer, picked the phone up again and dialed as he read the numbers off the screen.

"Path of Light Ministries. How may I direct your call?"

"Reverend Manners please; this is Philip Gaynor."

"I'm sorry but Reverend Manners isn't available at the moment."

"Then make him available. Now. I'll hold."

"Excuse me, sir?"

"You heard me. Roy Manners and I go way back, all the way to kindergarten. He'll take my call."

"Please hold, Mr. Gaynor."

Phil sat back and nodded to Harrigan. Within a minute the receptionist said, "I'll connect you now, sir."

The call had come to Roy Manners at the same moment as Robby and Al had been captured, and he'd rushed inside to take the call. He was unaware of the capture and therefore able to honestly deny knowledge of the boys' whereabouts, even though he would have lied happily had the morning gone a bit more smoothly.

"Philip Gaynor!" he said heartily. "I'm so glad you called. It has been far too long since we last spoke. How can I help you?"

"Listen, Roy. My son and young Al Curtis were abducted this morning and you have information that can help us find them."

"I do? I mean, they were abducted? I'm aghast; aghast I tell you. I haven't seen Robby in a dog's age, so surely you can't think that I have any involvement. Tell me what information it is that you believe I possess."

"You borrowed a truck from Larry Martin, and that truck was involved in the abduction."

"Oh, dear. We did borrow a truck from Larry and I made the call to ask for it, but that's about the sum of my knowledge. Rollie Wister, our supplies manager, asked me if I could rent a truck, and I thought to call Larry first. I … I'm speechless."

Phil thought that's a first. "So this Rollie was driving the truck?"

"Oh, surely not. Rollie has people to do that sort of thing. I'll tell you what; let me sort this out and I'll call you back as soon as I have an answer for you."

"Do that. To save you time and effort, I'll share the information you give me with the police."

"Very good. It's lunch time so I may not be able to get answers as quickly as I'd like, but you should hear back from me within the hour."

"Thank you, Roy. I'll be waiting."

When Phil put the phone back George asked, "Well?"

Phil shook his head, "I don't know. Roy said he only did the asking for that truck, so he has to ask someone else who actually used it. You know, he's been such a liar all his life that it's pretty much impossible to tell whether he's being truthful or not. It's more likely than not that he's lying, so I'm going to ask the Jetsons to get started as soon as they have what they need."

"You can always call them off."

"I know," he sighed. He sat back and a smile formed on his face, "I can just as easily leave them to their own devices."

His wording gave them both a needed chuckle.

Robby and Al were entangled in the net when the two men pulled it tighter, hoisted the ends over their shoulders, and walked toward the building. The boys were too angry and frustrated to say anything, and they had landed back-to-back and head-to-foot so they couldn't even grab a feel, much less console each other.

They heard the man in front say, "Looky what we found in the woods. Where's Reverend Roy?"

Another voice said, "He's in his office. Here, I'll take this end. It's nice to see you again, boys. I'll be reciprocating for this morning when the reverend's done with you."

It would have been against Rob's nature to be impolite. "That you, Jack? Long time, no see. Those testicles better already? I guess you can't keep a good gay guy down."

"Keep it up."

"Me? Oh, it's not up now, believe me. My ass is right up against Al's and he's gonna dump a load any second now. I don't know how kinky you are, but that's a sure turn off for me."

Jack sighed, "Has anyone ever told you that you're a pig?"

"Has anyone ever told you that when a gay guy like you tries to act straight it's an insult to everyone's intelligence?"

"Just shut up. We're going inside now."

Jack struggled a bit with the door, but managed to get his back against it and hand the end of the net to another man inside. The floor was carpeted there, and they put the net down and untangled the boys. When Al was pulled to his feet he said, "Stop right there! I have to get to a bathroom, and I mean right now!"

Jack took Robby by the shoulder and another man grabbed Al. Jack said, in an unconvincingly tough voice, "You can go to the toilet when I say you can go. Now come with us and keep your mouths shut." They pushed the boys forward a few steps and stopped in front of a polished wood double-doorway with gold crosses on each door. The man who was not Jack rapped on the door and then opened both sides wide, revealing an elegant office with a dark red, deep-pile carpet and elaborate furnishings of polished wood and overstuffed seating. The ceiling was high up and vaulted, and the end of the room they were facing had an enormous arched window. There was a wide, wooden desk in front of the window and seated there was Reverend Royal Manners. He had his hands together as if in prayer and a toothy smile on his face.

"Well, well, well. I was beginning to despair of ever seeing the two of you today. I understand the purpose of your visit wasn't made clear and that you resisted as a result. That's understandable, perfectly understandable, and I shall try my best to clear things up."

Al said, "Before you go understanding anything else, understand this. I have to take a dump and nobody will let me."

Reverend Roy smiled indulgently and said, "Soon you will have the rest of the afternoon to yourselves, so please wait just a few more minutes."

Robby looked at Al's face and turned to the reverend, "I don't think you do understand. It's been just a few more minutes for a long time now. This boy has to go, and so do I."

Reverend Roy's expression saddened and he said, "Oh, please," more sarcastically than you might expect from a man of the cloth.

Rob turned to Al just in time to see him drop his shorts to his ankles and sit back. Rob squeezed his eyes closed, and soon had to pull his shirt up over his nose and mouth, while the men in the room started screaming.

"Make him stop!"

"You make him stop. I can't stay here!"

The men in the room all scrambled to the door, and when Rob opened his eyes to peek he found himself alone in the room with Al, but the smell was overpowering. He patted Al's shoulder and, with tears forming in his eyes, said, "I really appreciate this. You're the master of all masters," and ran from the room gagging. The door closed behind him, and he was back in the hallway with a small crowd of disgusted men struggling to get their breathing under control.

After a few minutes Al's voice could be heard yelling, "Hey! Where's the toilet paper? Hey, can anyone hear me?" His voice suddenly became softer but could still be heard, "Oh, never mind. I found something."

Reverend Roy gasped, "What? You men … you … you get him out of there this instant!"

Nobody moved a muscle and Reverend Roy pointed his finger right in Rob's face. "You two are savages; that's what you are."

Rob said tersely, "Get that finger out of my face. You can call us savages if you like, but you're the so-called Christian here, the man in charge, the one who's supposed to minister to his people. Instead, when you saw Al in distress you told him to stay that way. What the hell was he supposed to do? He couldn't have made himself any clearer."

Anger showed in the reverend's red face before he turned his back on Rob. "Get them cleaned up and find them some clothes, and for God's sake send someone in to clean my office. I'll deal with this after lunch." He marched off down the hall.

Jack put his hand on Rob's shoulder and said, "Let's go."

Rob shrugged his hand off and said, "Not without Al. Just keep your hands off of me."

Two of the other men looked at Jack, but he shook his head quickly and banged on the door to the office. "Hurry it up. I'll take you the showers."

After a moment the door opened and Al stepped out cautiously. He was barefoot and had a window curtain wrapped around his waist. Rob's eyebrows shot up, and he looked around Al to see the rest of the curtain spread on the floor covering a very noticeable mound of something. He knew what it was, but it was easier to think of it as just something.

Al looked at Jack and said calmly, "I couldn't figure out how to open the windows. Somebody better do it pretty quick or you'll have a permanent situation in there."

They were led to a locker room and shown where the towels and toiletries were. Before he left, Jack said, "Take all the time you need and then double it. I'll find you some clean clothes, but if you want to escape again you'll have to go as you are."

There were eight shower stalls. Rob made Al go into the first one and, after using the toilet, went to last one at the other end of the room himself. Al was still in the shower when he came out, so Rob dried off before he picked up a toiletry bag and stood in front of a mirror. He combed his hair and brushed his teeth. He wasn't shaving yet, but found himself looking at the razor and shaving cream he'd been given. He backed up so he could see below his waist and tried to envision doing something with his sparse pubic patch. He was hesitant, but finally mumbled, "What the hell," to himself and lathered up.

He was just finishing when Al came out of the shower. Rob saw him in the mirror and asked, "Is the water running clear now?"

"Pretty much. What are you doing over there?"

"Hold on, I'll show you in a sec."

When he had finished and wiped the excess lather off he looked in the mirror to critique his work. DaVinci he wasn't, but nobody would fail to recognize a Christian cross when they saw one, and he turned proudly to show off to Al.

Al grinned from ear to ear before he asked, "Okay, but why?"

Al picked up a toiletry bag for himself and started combing his hair. Rob explained, "You know, these guys say they're ex-gay but I saw the way they looked at us. Now you, no matter what they thought before, you have a new image with them, and I don't think in their lifetimes they'll be able to look at you without seeing a giant turd dropping from your butt hole and landing on a huge heap of Al shit on that fancy rug. I might need a shrink myself to get past that one. It never occurred to me to shit the place up, so I still have a potential problem with them. I hope this emblem of their renewed faith will ward them off kind of the way it does with Dracula."

Al socked Rob's arm. "They were looking at me?"

Rob turned to the mirror and said, "Al, think what you want, but you're a beautiful person in every way; well, except your depraved mind … and your filthy mouth. These ex-gay dudes might have had the religion crammed into them, but there's no way to take the gay out. They've been taught to feel guilty when they think gay, so they'll go around feeling bad all the time …but they're still gay. They know they're gay, and every time they see a guy who looks anything like you they'll feel their gayness in every pore and hair follicle they own."

"Not the usual places? My follicles are the last thing I think of when I look at you."

"Don't be a dufus. Of course the usual ways, but they've been trained to focus on other things. Anyhow, it's your follicles that give you the tingly-all-over feeling you get when you see my bod."

Al started combing his hair and asked, "Is it easier for Catholics? I heard they can do anything they want and just confess it away."

"That's what I heard, too. It's probably what people mean when they say honesty is the best policy. You can screw your brains out, go tell your priest and maybe he'll make you say some Hail Marys or whatever, then bingo! You're Heaven-bound. Until the next time."

Al looked like he was thinking, and he was. "You know, maybe that's what happened with all the choir boys and everything. Maybe those priests just got jealous hearing all the confessions."

Jack came in with an armload of clothes and set them down. "Get dressed. It's time for lunch."

The clothes they were given were old and ill-fitting, but they were on the large side so not uncomfortable – just jeans, tee-shirts and sweatshirts, plus socks and flip-flops for their feet. Rob held up the socks when he saw them and said, "Who wears socks with flip-flops?" and stuck them in the front pockets of his pants just so nobody would say anything.

Jack led them into a dining room where they were the only diners. He indicated the two places that were set at a table and told them to sit. He came back in a moment with two bowls and set one in front of each boy. When they lifted the lids they were heartened by steaming-hot soup that gave of a wonderful aroma. They dipped their spoons into that, and while they were enjoying the soup Jack came back with a tray that held four sandwiches, a large bowl of potato chips and four small cartons of two-percent milk.

After Jack left Rob said, "The food's pretty good. I wonder what the next surprise is."

Al had a mouthful of sandwich and didn't reply. He was looking out a window behind Rob, and when Rob turned he saw a good number of guys engaged in various activities on athletic fields. The rain had stopped, but things still looked pretty wet. He turned back and said, "If they're all inmates, there are a lot more than I expected."

"I was thinking the same thing. Maybe they're planning some mass conversion."

"I guess it beats mass murder, but I could be wrong."

Nobody rushed them to finish their meal, and they'd been done for several minutes when Jack came back with chocolate cake. "Dessert. Do you want coffee?"

Rob asked, "Can I have another milk instead?"

"I don't see why not. How about you, Al?"

"Milk, please." When Jack walked away again he asked, "How are we going to get out of here? When are we going to get out of here."

Rob frowned, "I think we should try to get kicked out; that way they won't come looking for us again. Just be as obnoxious as you know how and make things a difficult as possible. Let's be good for a while and use the time to scope this place out and see who's who."

"What if they don't kick us out?"

Rob looked at his friend with disdain, "Be serious. How hard can it be to get kicked out of church? You already took a dump on a five-thousand dollar rug. All we have to do is question everything, and turn whatever they say around on them. We'll make them crazy from our end, and you just know my dad will give the good reverend nonstop grief. He'll crack and we'll go home, and probably move to New York soon instead of staying around here any longer."

Jack came back after several minutes and said, "If you're finished, you're free to join the others outside. Introduce yourselves around, starting with Ted. He's the eldest and he'll be your guide until you get acclimated. He's the only one in a red shirt. You can go out that door," he finished by pointing to a door beside the window they'd been looking through.

Al said, "I have to use the bathroom."

Jack rolled his eyes, "Of course you do." He pointed, "Right over there."

Rob followed Al and had to wait as it was just a single toilet and a sink. He heard the toilet flush and Al emerged smiling. Rob asked, "Did you aim for the bowl?"


Rob sniffed the air before he went in.

When he came out, the boys walked to the door to outside, but lingered at the window to look at the people there, who were all male and appeared to range in age from young teens or even pre-teens to about twenty.

Al wondered aloud, "You think they're all gay?"

Rob shrugged, "I don't know. I bet somebody thinks they're all gay."

"There are some guys from school out there. Is Jerry Thornton gay?"

Rob looked closer, "Huh. Look at that. I always had him figured as straight. Winnie's there too, and Mac … they've been out, oh, and our old friend Albert."

Al's nose was up against the glass. "I wonder what the process is … I mean, who picked these guys out of the crowd? Why not everybody, and why us?"

"I don't know," Rob whispered almost to himself. "I wish I did."

Al was clearly nervous. Rob faced him and pulled him into a hug, "You okay?"

"Kind of afraid," Al said as he snuggled into Rob's embrace. "I don't want to be straight and I don't want to feel bad about loving you."

"Don't worry," Rob whispered. "Whatever they try won't work on us; we already have each other. The other guys here, they probably never had anybody. Maybe they were afraid to or just couldn't find anyone, but we're already together and know love. There's nothing they can do to change that. Nothing."

Al smiled and kissed Rob gently, "You ready to go out?"

Rob sighed, "I guess so. Let's see what's going on."

Al held the door open and then followed after Rob. As people noticed them they stopped whatever they were doing and stared at the newcomers, while Rob said, "That must be Ted." He indicated a tall boy in a red shirt and they approached him.

Ted watched them expectantly and held his hand out to shake when they reached him. "I'm Ted Salka. Which of you is Rob and which is Al?"

After the introductions Rob asked bluntly, "So what's the story here? Is this place for real or is it a bad dream?"

Ted looked around and said very softly, "Both. We'll talk later, okay?" He said in his normal voice, "Find something you like and join in. Look around the side down there too; there are batting cages and horseshoe pits and a driving range. We have free time until four." He gestured around the area, said, "Have fun," and walked off.

Al looked at Rob, "Batting cages?"

Rob shook his head, "Nah, let's join in something. Maybe we'll learn a thing or two."

They started wandering around garnering stares in their wake, which was preferable to open gawking. When they came near the basketball court one of the guys, Albert Hauser, called, "You guys wanna play?"

They went to school with Albert, and even though he was good looking as well as openly gay they usually avoided him. Albert was kind of flamboyant, and he was a trouble maker for the other gays in school. He liked to approach a perfectly straight guy and inform him that this or that gay guy had a crush on him and was going to ask him out. He would often tell several guys that the same gay person was interested. His little game hadn't led to any violence that Rob and Al knew about, but on any given day there would be one or more straight guys in school who were ready to jump out of their skins at the slightest bump in the hallway or unfamiliar voice behind them.

Rob looked at Al, who shrugged, and they joined the others without a word to Albert. Everyone exchanged first names and, with enough people for two teams now, they started a new game. It became clear soon enough to Al and Rob that the other guys hadn't been there long and didn't all know one another. When Al figured that out he looked at Rob, whose expression told him to wait until later to talk about it.

The guys weren't playing badly, but the game seemed more mechanical than fun. Basketball wasn't Rob's best sport by any stretch, but the next time he had the ball he fouled two guys while running in for a shot. He sent Al sprawling on the ground and clipped another kid hard enough to turn him around facing the opposite direction. That kid and Al both started yelling foul. Rob missed his shot, grabbed the ball back, and headed for the foul line saying, "You know, this is just a fun game so watch the rough stuff, okay?"

An argument followed and Rob didn't press his luck. The game did take on a new competitive spirit, however, and when a team won with the agreed upon eleven points the players, despite being tired and hot, were all exuberant and talking to one another. It seemed that everyone except Rob and Al had towels and bottled water. Rob handed Al a sock and used the other one to mop the sweat off his face, and they mooched sips of water from others.

It had been overcast all day, with intermittent light showers. The sky had darkened even more, and a light mist was rising and had begun to obscure features of the landscape. Rob looked at the worsening weather with concern. He didn't have any feel for their actual location, and he wasn't satisfied that he and Al were there for any ex-gay activity either. That was only what they'd been told, although it was made more believable by the fact that they were in a large group of gay guys in their own age bracket. He knew a handful of them, and knew other boys there that he'd never had any reason to even suspect might be gay. There was something else nagging him, but whatever it was refused to coalesce into an actual thought.

A boy they'd played basketball with named Jordan, approached and asked, "Do you guys play horseshoes?"

Al barked out a laugh, "I do. Rob doesn't. Well, Rob does but he's dangerous and those things hurt."

That was a fact Rob couldn't argue. "I'll watch."

They all started walking and Rob asked, "How long have you been here, Jordan?"

"Since yesterday."

"Do you know why? I mean, did someone send you or did you just get tossed in a van and brought here?"

"My mother sent me. I was hoping I could go north but she's staying and wants me to stay. I guess we have to live the straight and narrow to stay here, but I'm damned if I know what these yokels are supposed to do for us. I hear they do some kind of brainwashing, but the new laws are all the aversion therapy I need."

Al chuckled, "I like your attitude. Was everyone here except us sent by their parents?"

Jordan stopped walking, "You mean you weren't? Everybody I talked to had the same story as me, even a couple of kids who swear they're not gay."

Rob started walking again, slower than before. "I saw some kids I know that I never thought were gay. What the hell? That doesn't make any sense. Did they tell you why or anything?"

"One of them said his mother's boyfriend hates him. He started telling her the kid was gay and then said he was leaving if she didn't do something about it. Another kid didn't have a clue. His grandfather brought him here with a lie about what they were doing, and just left him."

"Jesus," Rob mumbled. "That sounds like fucked up families, which at least explains something. My mother's long gone and I get along great with my dad."

Al said in a sarcastic voice, "My Daddy left with Rob's Mommy and they're doing the dirty somewhere on the other side of the world. My mother wouldn't do this. She never worried that I'm gay and we're moving up North anyhow. We got kidnaped right out of school."

"Kidnaped, really? Who did it?"

"That guy Jack and a couple of other guys … shit, it happened really fast. We were just going in the locker room from the gym and the door to the equipment room opened right in our faces. These hands grabbed us and pulled us in and the door shut. They put pillowcases over our heads and yanked us up through the ceiling somehow and carried us to their truck. It was hard to tell what was going on – we were just bouncing around when they were carrying us."

Jordan had stopped walking and was staring at Al. "Holy shit! Did they say anything?"

Rob replied, "That guy Jack said who he was and that they were bringing us here. Well, he didn't say where here was, but he said what it was and what we were in for. We didn't care for that so we escaped and probably should have kept going, but no. We waited a long time and then started to walk and we got kidnaped again."

"Cut it out!"

"It's no lie. This time it was a lady and she said she'd take us to my father's office, but she brought us here so we had to escape again. The problem was, we didn't know our way around so we got kidnaped a third time."

Al piped in, "We're getting pretty god at the kidnaping part of this, at least from a victim's perspective."

That got a good smile from Rob and Jordan asked excitedly, "So what happened then? This all happened today?"

Rob patted Jordan's shoulder and said, "Um, we're trying to make friends right now. We can leave the rest until later."

"It's bad?"

"Let's just say that it's something decent folks probably don't want to hear about."

Al said, "That begs the question about your qualifications to judge what decent folks do or do not want to hear about."

Rob grinned at Jordan, "Al loves me, and his special way with words sometimes leaves me speechless and tingly all over."

"Sure. The day I see you speechless you'll be hanging from a big, tall tree with a sack over your head. Anyhow, you said it's your follicles that make you all tingly."

"No, I said that about your follicles, not mine."

"My follicles make you tingle? I thought it was the words I use."

Jordan interrupted, "I can tell you what makes me all tingly. Have you looked at the guys here? What kind of aversion am I supposed to develop, anyhow? Do they want me to grow up hating beauty? Just look around; it's all perfection. There's not a bent nose or a pot belly or a zit anywhere in sight."

Rob stopped, "Wait. That's it! Something has been bothering me and you just nailed it. It's like we stepped out of the regular world right into an A and F catalog. I don't know what's going on, but you're right. There's no way … no way that these guys are giving anyone an aversion to other guys. It'll be just the opposite, won't it?" He looked closely at Jordan before asking, "How many guys here do you know from before yesterday?"

"I know three of them from school. I've seen a couple of the others around but I can't say I know them."

"Is there anybody that seems to know more than the rest of us? I'm wondering about spies, not that I mean real spies but I can't think of a better word." He turned to Al, "What would you call it, thesaurus boy?"

"If I could read your mind I might do better, but do you mean like a plant, an insider, maybe a mole?"

Rob smiled, "A mole … yes, that's the kind of word I wanted. What do you think, Jordan, do any of these guys seem suspicious to you?"

Jordan shrugged, "Not really. I wasn't looking for anything like that, but I will now if you tell me what to watch out for."

"I'm not really sure. I guess … I don't know … see if someone seems to know more than the rest of us, or maybe someone gives signals to Jack and his guys, anything like that"

Al pointed at a kid standing off from everyone and said, "How about someone who talks to his hand? I swear that guy was just talking to his hand."

Rob asked Jordan, "You know him?"

Jordan shook his head. "I've seen him but we haven't met."

"Is he always alone?"

"I didn't notice."

Rob took a step back and said, "Listen, you guys go play horseshoes. I want to keep an eye on Benedict and see what he does."

Al looked puzzled. "Benedict? Oh, oh … I get it. Okay, we'll catch you after."

Rob watched them walk away talking to each other and mumbled, "Yeah, after."

Reverend Roy's day wasn't proceeding as smoothly as he had planned, but too much effort had been expended and it was far too late to change course. He had spent almost an hour on the phone with Phil Gaynor spewing a string of lies that he hoped would keep the man tied up for hours trying to unravel them. Now he had just broken bad news to a very unhappy customer.

"Calm down, sir. Please calm down. I'm trying to explain things to your satisfaction."

"My satisfaction? I'll be satisfied when you deliver what you promised me. I'm not being unreasonable; I've given you an unholy amount of money based on your word and now you want me to be satisfied with a substitution. Well, I won't have it. You deliver or you return that money immediately."

Roy covered the mouthpiece and asked the man across the desk, "Am I on the secure line?" The man nodded and Roy asked, "Are you positive?" The man nodded again.

Roy put the receiver back to his ear and said, "I'm sorry Mr. Sumner. As I've told you, there was a death in the family yesterday, and the boy left for Macon with his parents in the middle of the night without a word to us. Believe me, I'm not out to screw you or anyone else. This was one eventuality we never anticipated and we have gone to great lengths … nay, extreme lengths to obtain a substitute that I just know will please you more than the original. Alan Curtis may be the loveliest fourteen-year-old boy in the state, and you can trust me when I say he's all boy. He's outside playing horseshoes as we speak, and he's putting ringer on top of ringer."

"His name is Alan? I like that. Can you describe him?"

Roy frowned his distaste while he sugar-coated his voice. "Oh, you'll love Alan. He has blond hair, blue eyes, a nice tan and a trim, athletic build. His face is still boyish so he's more cute than handsome at this point in time … a real innocent … an honest to gosh head-turner. He's very smart with a near-genius IQ and has a … let's call it a zany sense of humor. He's a very mischievous fellow, though not a trouble-maker in any way."

"He sounds interesting but I'm still not convinced."

Roy rolled his eyes, "Well, why don't we do this? You come out tonight as planned, have a look at Alan, spend some time with him even, and if you're not happy I'll return your investment and you can be on your way."

There was a long pause before Mr. Sumner said, "Alright, I can meet you halfway like that. I really had my heart set on the young cowboy but you make a convincing case for Alan. I'll be there."

"Wonderful. That's wonderful, and I'll be ready with your money even though I know in my heart that you won't be asking for its return. And you'll see: Alan is the crème de la crème."

Roy was sweating when he finally hung up the phone. He smiled across his desk at his assistant and said, "He's coming. I'll leave it up to you to ensure that he enjoys the night, if you know what I mean. Doctor Rein is in the building now. Send Jack in to see him. Ask Suzy where the doctor is set up and have her call him to say Jack is on the way, and to explain everything to him." He sat back, "Oh, and tell Jack, there will be a nice something extra in his pay for–let's call it his pain and suffering."

Phil Gaynor was raging while George Harrigan waited for him to work it off.

"Did I tell you that Manners is a liar? I told you that, right? He's unable to tell the truth. It's against his very nature to be honest in any way, means, shape or form. All his life … all his damn, worthless life he's lied, and his lying has earned him millions. Those people in his church are soft in the head; you know what I'm saying? They want so much to believe in something … anything … that they'll starve their own kids while they pay him to spew his bullshit. I've seen worms crawl over insects, and those insects have more real religion in their teeny little feelers than Royal Manners has in the whole world he's built around himself." He slammed his desk with the palm of his hand, "Dammit, I'm too mad! Do something to calm me down."

"Come on, boss …"

"I'm beyond pissed! I know he's got Rob, I just know it, and telling anybody around here will get me nowhere, that's where: squat! That's what I'll get. Reverend Roy? Why you must be out of your mind, Phil. Reverend Manners is the Godliest person in this state. He was surely sent here as an angel by the good Lord himself. Right? Well, let me say this. If the good Lord sent that weasel our way, the good Lord must have just choked on a bone and puked up a Heavenly shower that sucked Reverend Roy right out of his digestive tract before the job was properly completed. Where are my Jetsons? Have you heard from them? Holy shit!"

George had been idly opening and closing drawers and he pulled a bottle of bourbon out of one. "Come on, Phil. Have a drink and relax for a few." He looked at the bottle and added, "I'm impressed. Woodford Double-Oaked. Let's see if this lives up to its reputation."

Phil eyed the bottle and sagged a little, "Okay, why not?" He took two small glasses out of a cabinet and sat down while George poured. "Whoa! Take it easy. I want to calm down, not pass out."

They sat savoring their drinks. Phil asked, "Do you know how many cylinders a Bentley Continental has?"

"No. How many?"

"I was asking you. Do you remember those little missiles the Jetsons showed us?"

"The ones they developed for fracking in unstable sediment … I remember. They spin like self-propelled drills. What does that have to do … oh, no! You wouldn't."

"Why wouldn't I? I figure one per cylinder, and if there's any oomph left after they go through the motor they can ventilate the hood and continue on to Mars for all I care. Nobody knows the things exist so they'll never even guess what happened."

"That's evil. What to you reckon that car cost?"

"I was told that it was over a quarter million after all the custom work."

"So that's the price for Robby?"

"Hell no. I don't plan on letting any harm come to my boy. It will simply be the price Reverend Roy pays for even contemplating whatever it is he's contemplating. I wish the weather was better so we could get a helicopter up and find out just where the reverend is."

"I could send a car around to look for him. He's probably at one of his own places if he has something up his sleeve. Let's see, there's his house, the church, the office building, the parish … what else? Oh, that school he's building out by Gilroy. What have I missed?"

"That's a good idea. Don't forget the book stores; there are at least three of those. He has other cars, too, and I don't know what they all are. They have similar plates that say rev dot roy and a number."

George called someone to set that search in motion while Phil sat back with his drink, a smile forming on his face. When George was off the phone he said, "Have them call as soon as they find old Roy. I haven't seen him in a long time and I'm more than overdue for a visit. It'll be like a little surprise party, complete with a gift."

"Ah, yes. Roy probably wouldn't even recognize you without alms of some sort."

Jack was ushered in to the temporary office of Dr. Lysurgus Rein and was surprised by the man's advanced age. Dr. Rein looked to be well into his seventies, or perhaps even eighty. The doctor was tall and somewhat stooped, with snow white hair, a red face, and sparkling blue eyes. When Jack introduced himself, Rein said, "Ah yes, you're the young man who will be administering our dosage. I understand you have some questions, so please sit down and ask them."

The doctor sat on a sofa and Jack chose a chair facing him. "I think I understand the concept of this drug, but I'd like to know more about what it does and what reactions I should expect to see in the … patients. I'm also interested in the risks of using it … any long-term effects, as well as short-term hazards to both the patients and my own team."

Dr. Rein smiled and sat back, "Alright, fine. Let me give you a brief history first, and then we can move into the clinical arena. I'm certain that my words will raise more questions in your mind, so feel free to interrupt."

Jack also sat back, "Thanks. Whenever you're ready."

"We have to go back seventeen years to get to the origins of this formulation. By the way, we have yet to decide on an official name for it but have been using the term Uwill for some time now. Back at the turn of the century I was on a team at a medical research facility and we were running long term patient evaluations of a new drug that was being developed to thwart anxiety in people prone to panic attacks. That product had an unfortunately high incidence of side effects, but side effects aren't always bad things. One thing that emerged early in the tests was that certain patients not only became less anxious, they also became compliant—much like well trained puppy dogs. By compliant, I mean they would happily do whatever was asked of them. Well, whatever is a poor choice of words. As in hypnosis, people wouldn't do things that went against their own nature; for instance you couldn't ask an honest person to steal something or a moral person to take someone's life. You could ask them to do something like … let's use cleaning a toilet as an example. You could ask someone to scrub out a toilet and he'd take to it like it was his own idea. Unlike the person under hypnosis, he would remember cleaning the toilet and his satisfaction with the job he did, and he would remember himself having the idea to clean it.

"Some of us saw merit in the development of a drug that would assert just that influence on behavior and never mind panic attacks. We found some backing and financial support and set out to isolate the chemistry that caused just that subset of reactions. What followed were some years of sweat and frustration when, as so often is the case, the answer came to one of our young staffers in a daydream during a camping trip."

Jack smiled at that. His father, an engineer, often told him that a lot of his best ideas came to him as he stared into a campfire. He asked, "So this is a mind control drug?"

Rein shook his head, "Not in a strict sense, no. In its current state Uwill reduces inhibition and, in layman's terms, slows rational consideration and the argumentative side of thought. Simply put, the drug reduces doubt, which allows normally distasteful things to sound perfectly ordinary, even like they might be fun."

Jack said thoughtfully, "So you might be able to get a gay person to live a straight life without putting the fear of God in him?"

"I'll give you a qualified yes there. Our desire is to have those gay people enjoy a straight life, although that is only one of many, many possible applications for the drug. We have been testing for several years, and have found that there is no need, at least in the medium term, for follow up applications. Once a given change occurs, which is an almost immediate reaction, that change seems to be permanent, although we can instigate a reversal easily enough."

Jack said, "Okay, I guess. How safe is it? What are the side effects?"

"We've found it to be very safe with no actual health effects. Some patients mention itchy skin in the first hours after application and a smaller number experience sore throats. We haven't seen any long term ill effects: none, zero."

"How do you get the patient to react the way you want?"

"It's really simple, Jack. Once the drug has been administered one simply suggests the desired behavior, perhaps backing the suggestion up by saying something like it's always important to try new things, or you don't learn if you don't try new things. Plain old conversation is very effective."

Jack smiled, "Wow. So if I want these kids to live a straight lifestyle and, as you say, enjoy it, what would I tell them?"

The doctor said, "Let's save that for another time and work on tonight, shall we?"

Jack wasn't sure he'd heard correctly. "Pardon me?"

Dr. Rein stared at Jack. "What have you been told?"

Jack was fuming when he left the doctor. He felt used and complicit in a crime he had no knowledge of, and he'd been lied to by absolutely everyone else involved. He had quit smoking a year before but found himself craving a cigarette in the worst way. He needed to think and he had to calm down before he'd be able to focus on what had to be done. He stepped outside and walked toward the recreation area to find his informant, not because he wanted to talk to him but because the kid smoked.

He saw his boy on a slight rise, standing by himself as he feigned disinterest in the happenings around him. Then he saw the Gaynor kid nearby, and he was also trying to seem uninterested while he kept stealing glances at the other boy. That frustrated Jack at first, but then he reconsidered when he remembered Rob's resourcefulness and quick thinking. He needed allies and he certainly wasn't going to find any among the men inside the building.

He approached Andy Sumner and said, "Give me a cigarette, man."

"You smoke? Since when?"

"Since now; just give me one, and I need a light."

After he had inhaled and coughed some smoke back out, Jack said, "See that kid over there … the one by the hedge?"

"I see him."

"His name is Gaynor … Rob Gaynor. I need to talk to you and him together and I don't want anyone else to know we're talking. Go chat him up and think of a way you can both meet me out where they're building the pool. Make like you're showing him around. Tell him that I got him into trouble and I plan to get him out of trouble, but I need his help. Nobody else, understand? We'll need the others later but not now."

Andy said, "Okay, I understand."

Jack bopped his shoulder and said, "Go!" He managed to finish the cigarette with less trauma than he started it with and began to wend his way through the various games until he was out of sight, and he turned onto the gravel road that led to the site of the future swimming pool. He felt angry, betrayed and sapped of strength, and knew he had to overcome those feelings before he could fight back.

If it had been anything else he would have tried to find his strength in prayer, but now the mere thought of that drained him even further. It was his church and his pastor who had planned this whole ugly mess he was in. When he reached the pool site he walked around the chain-link fence that protected it, and when he got to the other side he leaned into the fence and clenched his fingers through some links.

He heard Rob and Andy talking before they came into view. They saw him there and came around to stand beside him in similar poses.

"What's going on?" Rob asked.

Jack felt tears welling in his eyes and said, "Evil. It's evil and we have to stop it." He looked at Rob and said, "I had no idea. I hope you can believe me. I thought you'd go through the program just like I did, or drop out like most other guys. That's all it was supposed to be, but they lied. They lied to me, Rob, and all you kids are in danger now. Tonight is the night."

Rob looked over at Andy, who shrugged his shoulders helplessly. Rob turned to Jack and said quietly, "How about one step at a time? Who lied to you?"

"Reverend Roy and his men … those guys with me this morning … they all knew. I was the one in the dark, the one with blinders on. I don't …"

"Don't go off on me," Rob cried. "What is it that you didn't know before and you know now?"

Jack started breathing heavily and gasped, "There are men coming. Tonight they're … tonight …"

Rob caught Jack's arm as he slumped and Andy helped get him to the ground asking, "What's the matter? Is he okay?"

Rob lifted one of Jack's eyelids and said, "He fainted, I think. Hold on."

Rob pulled his shirt off and put it on the ground, "Stretch him out here for a minute. Oh hell, I hope he just fainted."

Jack stirred as soon as they had him on his back, and he came to quickly. "What?"

Rob said, "You were saying something about men coming here tonight."

"I … oh yeah. Let me think. They're coming … they're not to … not for ex-gay. They um, let me think. They bought you, that's it. They bought you and they're coming to use you. Oh, damn; help me sit up. Can I have another cigarette?"

After a sip from Andy's water bottle and another half cigarette Jack had things back together in his mind. "Sorry. Here's how it's supposed to go down. Reverend Roy has been taking money from a lot of big shots around the state. He's been selling you guys for a night of sex, and there's a doctor here with a drug that's supposed to make you want it and like it. It's my job to give you the drug, but I can't do that. I never knew until just a little while ago and now we have to think of a way out of this." He looked at Rob and said, "You seem pretty smart; that's why I wanted you to help. Andy here was only supposed to keep an eye on the boys and let me know if they were planning trouble."

Andy asked worriedly, "I wasn't part of this, right? I mean, I'm not gay or anything. I'm only here to earn some money."

Rob shook his head, "Sorry kid, but all you guys are on the menu. I know some of the others aren't gay either, and I get the impression they were asked for specifically. It's kind of a test of the drug, but the doctor thinks it should even work on straight guys."

Rob's mind was working, "Tell me about this drug. What is it? Pills, shots, what?"

"No, it's a spray, like a can of deodorant. It only takes a tiny amount to affect you. I'm supposed to get everyone in the rec room to watch a video and then spray the stuff around and lock you all in there. Then the video plays and puts this idea in your heads and you guys go running off to have whoopee sex with creepy old men." Jack sneered, "That's the way the story goes at any rate."

Rob was silent while he thought and then he asked, "Is there a way they can see in that room? Do you know if this place is all wired up with cameras?"

"Don't know. I doubt it, though. Reverend Roy is so all cock sure of himself that he never thinks anything would dare go wrong."

Rob thought some more and asked, "When do you get that stuff?"

Phil placed the phone back on its cradle and turned to George. "Manners is out at the academy and he's been there most of the day. Feel like taking a ride?"

George smiled, "Whenever you are. Do the Jetsons know?"

"The Jetsons are there. They don't see much going on, and there's a big group of boys out there for some function so they're being careful." He looked at his desk and picked up the bottle of bourbon.

They stood and pulled their coats on, and Phil picked up his gift for Reverend Roy: a nice, black-anodized aluminum briefcase. The contents lent it a nice heft and Phil liked the way it felt in his hand.

They decided to stop for a bite on the way so the trip out to the school took just over an hour. It was raining again and they weren't in any particular hurry, so Phil drove carefully. He missed the turn into the school grounds the first time they passed and had to turn around. When they were coming the other way they saw two cars turn into the school, and another turned in behind them. They drove up to the administration building and Phil backed into a slot between a dumpster and a panel truck. With the rain coming down, they were safely out of sight. They would have gone right inside, but elected to wait since so many others were arriving.

George chuckled, "You don't suppose it's actually his birthday, do you?"

"I'm prepared if it is. Wait a minute, isn't that Senator Thomas over there?"

"I believe you're right. There must be big doings tonight."

During the next twenty minutes a large number of other men arrived and went in individually. Phil and George recognized several of them and would have been very surprised to learn just how close to the mark some of the rude comments they made during their wait really were.

When there had been no new arrivals for five minutes they got out of the car and walked to the main entrance. Once inside they wondered where all those people had gone, for the lobby was quite empty and completely silent. George and Phil looked at each other and Phil said, "Well, we might as well have a look around."

At that moment a door opened and Reverend Roy Manners stepped out in an elegant suit, a look of great anticipation on his face. That look disappeared in an instant when he realized Phil Gaynor was there. Recovering quickly, he strode over with his hand out and his smile restored. He took Phil's hand and said, "Phil. What a pleasure. Hello, George. I would love to stop and talk, but if you could just make yourselves comfortable for five minutes I have a room full of people I have to speak to. Would I be too rude if I asked you to wait a few minutes? This won't take long."

Phil said, "Fine," and they watched Roy Manners walk down the hall and reach for a door handle, but that door burst open before he touched it and Robby Gaynor dashed out. Rob looked at Roy and slammed the door behind him. "Don't go in there yet; they're not ready."

Roy stepped back sputtering and Phil called out, "Rob? What's going on?"

Rob spun around in surprise and came up with a smile as he ran to his father. "Dad! I'm glad to see you, but I wish I knew you were coming. Don't move; there's one more thing I have to do." He turned back to Roy Manners and said, "They should be ready for you now, so go on in." He opened the door wide and gently prodded the Reverend's back until he was inside.

He slammed the door after him, and a couple of other boys appeared with a short length of pipe which the taller of the two slid between the door handles. He looked at Phil and George and asked Rob, "Who's this?"

Rob had his hand deep in his pants pocket and pulled out an aerosol can that he dropped into a convenient potted plant. "That thing was poking me. Jack, Andy, this is my father and his associate, George."

They all shook hands and Rob asked, "What's in the brief case?"

Phil looked at the thing in his hand and held it out to Rob. "You may as well have it. We won't need it after all." His nose twitched, "Kind of heavy on the deodorant, aren't you?"

Rob snickered and took the briefcase. The weight dragged his hand down to his knees. "What's in here, a bomb?"

Phil shook his head, "Oh, no no no. It's just some … window weights, a little wire, circuit boards … yeah, sort of like a bomb, but no boom."

"Cool. I have to get rides for my friends, and I think maybe you should call the police." He tapped Andy on the shoulder and said, "Go get Al, will you? I want him to do the explaining here." He turned back to his father and grinned, "There's evil in this world, and it's in that room over there."

Jack stood beside Rob and put his hand on his shoulder. "There's good, too, and there's badass. If there's such a thing as a good badass, this is him right here."

Rob smiled and shrugged. "I hope Reverend Roy is having fun with his harem."

Jack started to smile.

Then he turned his astonished face to Rob. "What?"

Rob lifted his eyebrows, the picture of innocence, "I just wanted to be sure they're smiling for the firing squad."

Jack slumped against the wall and glanced at Phil and George before he turned back to Rob. A laugh that seemed to start in his toes rose up through him, and when it escaped it rattled his bones. Rob got caught up in it. When Andy led Jack out it took the two of them no time at all to realize that they'd won, and Jack pulled Robby into a hug and joined the hilarity.

Phil and George looked on in shocked bemusement, and when Phil started to snicker George pointed at the reception desk and said, "Um, I'll be over here calling the police and … should I call the media as well? Maybe I'll call them first … that's what I'll do, and I'll call the Chairman of the Pastoral Convention."

Phil grinned, "He's inside if you've forgotten."

George nodded and turned toward the desk.

Phil interrupted his laugh to suggest, "Call his wife instead."

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