FOREVER 2 - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.
"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Senator and U.S. Attorney General
"We need more bacon and eggs, Jack," said Will, handing me an empty platter.
"Geez...where are they putting it all?" I asked. Maggie, standing across the kitchen island from me, just laughed.
"Here, give me the empty one. I have another ready to go," she said, as she retrieved a platter full of hot scrambled eggs and another pound of crispy maple bacon. "See if this will hold them till Jack finishes with the pancakes," she said, as she handed the food to Will.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said politely with a nod.
"I told you...I'm Maggie.""Sorry, Maggie," said Will with a grin. He certainly seemed to have recovered from the whole blackmail exposure thing yesterday. I was glad for him - nobody deserved to be under the thumb of Arnold Turner.
I turned back to my task of flipping pancakes on the double griddle Maggie had set up for me on the big stove. So far I had managed to only burn the first two batches. Thankfully she had made a gallon of batter, and with the two dozen eggs and two pounds of bacon already served, I was fairly certain no one was going hungry.
Todd had arrived around 8:30 with Simon. Mason pulled in right behind them in a red Mazda 626. I met them at the door and walked them to the kitchen. We chatted for a few minutes, I introduced them to Maggie, and they quickly went right back to their deep discussion of office buildings and related issues. I tried, but I didn't really understand everything they were talking about. I looked at Maggie and shrugged my shoulders and she smiled at me.
No sooner had they all settled in at the dining table when the front doorbell rang again, and I opened it to Danny and Will. I didn't think they drove together, but it was hard to tell. The driveway looked like a small parking lot. I welcomed them to our home and led them to the others. After getting everyone some juice to drink, I returned to helping Maggie with the cooking. We had a lot of mouths to feed.
Now, as I flipped my pancakes, happy to see none of the latest batch had burned, I had to laugh to myself. Here I was, the CEO of my new multi-million dollar company, the entire staff of which was assembled at my dining table, and I was relegated to making breakfast while they did all the wheeling and dealing. Somehow it made sense.
I stacked the finished pancakes on a platter with the previous batches and returned it to the warming oven just under the stove top, then carefully poured out another batch on the griddle. As I waited for the bubbles to appear on the surface and then pop, which according to Maggie meant they were ready to flip, I thought about the morning so far. Mostly I wondered where Sam had disappeared to.
We had showered together, enjoying one another's touch, but did not take it any further. I think we were both a little apprehensive about what the day might bring. Sam seemed...I don't know...preoccupied, maybe? Like he had something on his mind, but wasn't in a mood to talk about it. I had a lot on my own mind, so I let him be. We dressed in a comfortable silence, he in jeans and t-shirt, me in khakis and a blue button front dress shirt. Business casual. And the only clean thing left in my meager wardrobe. I needed to do some shopping. And some laundry.
I carried the warm pancakes along with a large bottle of real maple syrup to the table and sat down with the guys. By the time the platter of pancakes got back to me there were maybe four or five left. I decided to leave them for Sam, if he ever came back from wherever he had gone. Instead, I scooped some eggs onto my plate, added a couple of pieces of bacon, and some fresh fruit Maggie had cut up for us. I was just finishing my last bite of eggs when Todd looked up at me from his IPad.
"Hey, Jack, where's Sam this morning?"
I swallowed and replied, "I don't know exactly. I think out talking to Charles."
"Uh...who's Charles?" asked Will, taking another bite of bacon.
"Charles is Maggie's husband," I replied. "He takes care of the grounds here and...well, anything Maggie doesn't, I guess." Heads nodded in understanding, most of them still chewing syrup soaked pancakes.
"And who's Sam?" asked Simon.
I sighed, thinking about how to say it. "Sam? Sam is my partner," I said.
"Cool," said Danny. "Is she pretty?" Todd choked on a piece of bacon, and I think I heard muffled laughter coming from the kitchen sink as Maggie washed the dirty griddle.
"You okay there, Todd?" I asked, smiling. I decided I wasn't going to worry about Danny. If he didn't like the fact of Sam and me, it was his issue, not mine. Too many other more important things were at stake now. I turned to him to answer his question.
"I would not call Sam pretty. To me, he's more...handsome and rugged. A real stud, I think, but then I'm in love with the guy, so I might be a tad biased."
Todd was hysterically laughing now, nearly falling off his chair. Will and Mason were smiling, I wasn't sure if it was at Todd's antics or my statement. Simon looked thoughtful, his usual expression, and Danny...well...Danny looked like he had swallowed his tongue.
Getting control of himself, Todd looked over at Danny. "You okay, Daniel?" he asked.
"I don't...why are you laughing...what are you saying, Jack?" asked Danny, looking very confused.
"He said Sam is a dude, not a woman," answered Simon simply, before I could respond.
"But...Jack said Sam was his partner. I don't..." said Danny, still not understanding.
"He's gay, Danny. Jack and Sam are gay. They live here...together. And I can tell you, they are very much partners," said Todd, smiling at me. I nodded to him in thanks.
"Ohhhh," said Danny, the light finally coming on. His expression was no longer one of confusion, but I really couldn't read it. I didn't think Todd's answer needed any further clarification, but I wanted to make sure there would be no misunderstandings later.
I stood up. "Look, guys. Sam and I are partners. Boyfriends, lovers...whatever you want to call us. I love him, he loves me, and he's my family. So...if you want to be a part of Schaeffer Associates, you need to be okay with the fact your boss is gay. If you aren't...I don't know what to tell you. I want you all on the team, but it's your choice. Just know this...I won't tolerate a bad attitude towards anyone on this team, so if you've got a personal problem with gay people, or people who are different than you in any way, get over it or get out." I paused, hoping I didn't sound too harsh. I didn't mean to.
I continued. "I'm headed downstairs to see where we can set everybody up. Finish your breakfast and meet me down there. You all need to tell me what you need so you can do your jobs from here, and we'll figure out how to get it done, okay?" I saw a few nods and turned and walked into the main kitchen area and Maggie winked at me. I smiled and kept going into the hallway and ran smack into Sam standing there.
"Oof! Ow...Sam, you okay?" I said, rubbing my knee where I had collided with his. He was smiling at me, a huge goofy grin on his face. He put a finger to his lips and grabbed my hand, pulling me to him. He kissed me and I didn't care who might see...I just melted into him. Oh man, can he kiss. My cock was instantly hard and hurting in my tight pants.
"Follow me," he whispered. And I did, straight down the hall to our bedroom. Shutting the door behind us, Sam pulled me into another scorching kiss and my hands were all over him. He grabbed my wrists and held them still while his tongue continued exploring my mouth. I could feel the precum leaking in my underwear. It was only a matter of time before I would have to change my pants. Finally, he broke our lip lock, and we stood there panting. He was still holding my wrists loosely.
"Jack...fuck! Oh man...kissing you...it's so hot. How do you do it?" he said between ragged breaths.
"Do what?" I said, looking lovingly into his deep blue eyes.
"You know what," he said, grinning, letting go of my wrists finally.
"You mean make this hard," I said, gently squeezing his cock in his jeans. He just nodded, smiling at me.
"I think you like me, Sam," I said with a cheeky grin.
"Not even a little bit, you jerk," he said. Then he pulled me into a hug up tight against his chest. I could feel his heart beating with my own, his breath on my neck threatening to excite me all over again.
"I heard what you said, you know," said Sam.
"What?" I asked.
"What you said to the guys. About us. I love you, Jack. I love that you stood up for us. That you called us family. We are a family, aren't we."
I leaned back and looked up at his face. "Forever, Sam."
He kissed me again, but this time it was gentle, the love palpable. I could feel my knees weakening as he held me in his arms. I loved him so much it really did hurt, but in a good way.
"Sam...you smell like outside. Where'd you go?" I asked.
"I was with Charles. We were...checking on things."
"Security. Seems there's an eight foot high fence running along the property line from the gate to maybe half way up each side of the mountain. It's in the woods about thirty feet from the road, so you don't see it unless you know where to look. Beyond that, I think the Franklins depended on the natural ruggedness of the terrain to be a deterrent to anyone trying to get on the property or up to the house. You would have to be an experienced woodsman to make it up here from the main road, for sure. Charles said someone would have to be seriously determined to succeed, because there are deep, rocky ravines on each side of the mountain where the fencing ends. Still, we know Arnold knows his way around the woods, right? He followed Andrew Munroe and his friend into the woods without them knowing he was there, just so he could get the picture of the two of them Davis told us about. I'd feel safer knowing there's no way for him to get in here."
"Me, too, but what do we do?"
"I'm not sure, yet. I was thinking about asking Todd if he has any contacts with security people. Maybe they would have some ideas. This is our home, Jack. We have a right to feel safe here. So I say we do whatever it takes to make sure we are. Agreed?" I was impressed he was asking me and hadn't already talked with Todd. I nodded to him.
"Of course. Whatever you think is best, Sam. I told you, I won't fight you on this. I do hope, though, we can do it without having more people in the house. With my team in here every day for who knows how long..." I trailed off, starting to sound whiny. Ugh!
"I get it, Jack. I'll try to talk to Todd quietly, and Charles and I will handle it, okay?" I smiled at him, knowing he just wanted me safe.
"Thank you, Sam. I appreciate it. I'm sure Charles and Maggie will, too."
I suddenly remembered where I was supposed to be. "Crap! They're gonna be looking for me downstairs. I gotta go, Sam," I said, breaking free from his arms. Before I could fully escape, he grabbed my hand.
"Hey...slow down, little man. Don't you think you ought to introduce me to the team?" He was grinning, and I grinned back.
"Oh yeah. Come on, I want to show you off," I said, beaming at him. He laughed, and we checked ourselves to make sure we were still presentable. Thankfully there was no wet spot on my crotch. I grabbed his hand and we headed downstairs.
The guys were all hanging out in the main room downstairs. Will and Danny were looking out at the swimming pool longingly. Mason was on his phone. Simon was leaning against the billiard table, thinking about something. He had such an intense look on his face, it was impossible to fathom what was going on inside his brain. Todd was also on his phone, talking quite animatedly to someone.
"If he comes back, tell him to call me directly. Give him my cell number, though he should have it already. What? Yeah, I know. I moved everything last night. No, he can't. I don't care if he is a VP, he doesn't have authorization to access Private Trust client accounts, period. I don't know...tell him it's bank policy. Besides, you couldn't give him access, anyway. Only I could, and I'm not there. Now you're thinkin'. Yeah...thanks, Sally, for the heads up. Keep me posted if he starts harassing anybody else, okay. I'll try. I'll see what I can do, okay. Alright, bye." He hung up and looked up at me.
"Arnold Turner," said Sam. At the sound of his voice, everyone turned to look at the new guy. I watched as each one of them looked Sam over and their first impressions resonated on their faces.
Will smiled. He definitely approved. Hmmmm? I was starting to wonder a little about Will Petersen. Mason nodded to no one in particular. It was kind of like a nod to say, yep, I've marked the new guy, he's in his slot in my mind, moving on. Simon's expression never changed. It hardly ever does, from what I can tell. He looked from Sam to me, held my eyes for a short second, then smiled. I took that as a favorable sign. One to go.
Danny was looking Sam over like he was sizing up the competition. They were equals in physical stature, despite Sam being several years younger. Danny was definitely handsome and he knew it. But so was Sam, although in a different way.
Sam sensed Danny from across the room, and I saw Sam fix his laser concentration on him. Danny met his gaze with a stare of his own. This went on for a nearly a minute, and everyone in the room eventually clued in to what was happening and watched them with me. I was used to this move of Sam's. Danny wasn't, but he didn't seem fazed by it. It wasn't a staring contest, exactly. It was more like there was a silent communication happening - a mutual evaluation transpiring between them, all without words or actions. Finally, Sam nodded once toward Danny, and Danny returned the nod. Everyone exhaled loudly at the same time, and we all chuckled, including Danny.
Then he surprised the crap out of me. Danny walked over to us, reached out his hand, and shook Sam's.
"Nice to meet you, Sam. Jack was tellin' us a little about you. I...uh...well, shit, I'm just gonna say it. You're the first gay guys I've ever known. Known personally, that is." Sam smiled.
"Sam, this is Danny Masters. Danny...Sam Wainwright," I said carefully.
"Good to meet you, too, Danny. Welcome to our home. And I'm honored to be your first, man. I promise to be gentle." I gasped, Sam grinned, and Danny laughed. Leave it to Sam to know exactly what to say to break the ice. I stood there in awe of him, yet again. The other guys laughed, too.
I finished introductions and then asked the team if they had had a chance to figure out what all was needed to get everything set up to work from the house. More discussion broke out, and I stepped over to stand next to Sam. His hand went straight to the small of my back, and I leaned backwards just a little so he knew I was feeling him there. I saw him smile with a sideways glance. His eyes crinkled a little at the corners. He was enjoying this whole scene. I was just proud of him. Proud he was my partner, my lover, my family.
He leaned over towards me to whisper. "Whadda ya think, Jack? Should we sneak out to the hot tub and I'll have my way with you while they figure all this out?" I blushed deeply, remembering our recent time together out by the pool.
"You jerk. I know what you're tryin' to do. You want my dick to get hard just so you can strut around these guys, knowin' you turn me on," I whispered back. He chuckled, then turned to me, pulling me into a hug.
"I just love you, Jack. More than you'll ever know."
"Forever, Jack." I looked up at him, and he leaned down and kissed me. I didn't even flinch.
It wouldn't have mattered. No one noticed us. They were making lists and making calls and doing...whatever it is they do. I just wanted them to have the tools they needed to do it, and I figured they'd get around to telling me, eventually.
Todd disconnected from yet another call and walked over to us. "That was Sully. He asked if you would meet him at Maggiano's downtown at 11:30." I looked at my watch. I knew where the restaurant was, but we needed to hustle to make it.
"What do the guys need, Todd? Have they figured it out yet?" I asked.
"Mostly we need secure, high speed internet access. I can have satellite service installed this afternoon, I think. It's not the best, but it'll do in a pinch. It would take weeks to get fiber optic service and the cable company hasn't made it this far out of the city yet. You okay with that?" he asked.
"Yeah. Whatever they need, Todd, make it happen. Sam and I will meet with Sully and try to convince him to intervene with Arnold Turner."
"Oh yeah. Tell him Arnold was stirring up the Private Trust staff again this morning, trying to get access to Jack's account data. He's breaking every rule. Sally told me he went back to the files and was furious they were empty this morning. She had no idea I moved them, so she was covered, but I don't like the idea he's harassing the staff. It needs to stop. It's like he's losing his grip on reality."
"We're on it," said Sam. "The sooner he's gone, the better we'll all feel. Which reminds me, can I say something to the team?" he asked, looking at me.
"Of course, Sam. Go for it." I had no idea what he wanted to say.
"Hey guys," he said forcefully, getting the team's attention. When he had eye contact with all of them, he said, "I just wanted to say I'm sorry for the inconvenience of you having to come all the way out here to work. I know it's a pain in the ass, and Todd's gonna do all he can to get the internet up to speed and whatever else you need. But I want you all to be safe, and until Arnold Turner is dealt with, I really appreciate you all being willing to make the sacrifice to help Jack get things up and running from here. Thanks, guys."
"You're welcome, Sam," said Mason.
"Yeah, no sweat," said Danny, smiling. I guess he was going to be okay with us. That was a real relief. Will just grinned, happy as could be. Simon's expression didn't change, but he nodded to us both.
Turning back to Todd, I said, "Okay, we're gonna get out of here. Tell Sully we'll be there. If you need anything, just ask Maggie. She'll be around and available, and I think she already has a plan for lunch for you guys, and maybe even dinner, if you want it."
"Cool. Take off, guys, and good luck with Sully. Bring back some good news, please."
"Later," I said.
"Later, Boss," said Todd.
"Later, Boss," said the other guys, in unison, laughing. I smiled, and Sam and I headed upstairs.
Sam needed a shower after his walk in the woods, and I needed...Sam. But there was no time, so we left the house in a hurry, slightly frustrated. After his two-minute shower, Sam had switched to khakis like me, with a blue shirt as well, though no one would mistake us for twins. After all, our shoes didn't match.
Sam drove and I navigated the best I could. I was still getting used to the downtown Denver traffic flow. There were a number of one-way streets to make it even more confusing, but we managed to find a spot on a street near the restaurant and parked. I joined Sam on the curb and as we crossed Tremont Place I shuddered slightly, remembering Turner's attempt to pick me up in his car the day before. We had to find a way to stop him.
Sam gave our names to the hostess and she immediately led us to a table for four against the back wall where Sully was already seated. He actually looked very happy to see us.
"Sam! Jack! Good to see you both. Have a seat," he said, after we had all shaken hands. "How have you both been since we last met?" he asked, genuinely interested it seemed.
"Fine, sir. Thank you for asking," said Sam.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with us," I said.
"I've thought a lot about you both since the Board Meeting. I'm delighted to have a chance to share a meal with you and perhaps get to know you a little better." He was certainly in a good mood. Enjoy it while it lasts, I thought.
Carla, our waitress, came by to take our drink orders and she left with my request for iced tea. Sam was drinking water, and Sully already had coffee.
"So tell me how you two met," said Sully. Sam looked at me, and I deferred to him. I was too nervous to make small talk. I was dreading what we had come to do. I liked Sully, and I was suddenly afraid we were going to majorly disappoint him.
Sam gave him a fairly short version of our life together thus far, up to and including our deciding to live on Phillip's Mountain. Sully listened with apparent fascination. I could see how clients would love this guy. He made you feel like you were the most important person breathing at the moment.
"So, you two are starting your lives together as a family here in Denver. That's wonderful. I'm happy for you both," he said with a smile.
Sam was looking at Sully intently. Something was on his mind, I could tell, but I had no idea what it was. Sully just looked back at him, much as he had done in the board room on Monday. How is it these guys all seem to have this secret communication tool, and I'm left just watching? Whatever. I just waited to see what came of it.
Sully smiled and looked down at his coffee cup. Just then, Carla came to take our food order. I requested the Rigatoni "D" pasta, my favorite, and a caprese salad. Sam ordered a Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper flatbread pizza with a house salad, minus the bleu cheese, for which I was grateful. I did not like the taste of bleu cheese, and I didn't want to taste it on Sam later, if I could help it. Sully ordered a Grilled Chicken Caprese Salad for his meal.
As Carla walked away, Sully looked at Sam. "Can I ask a question without offending you?" Sam nodded. "Has it been...difficult...being out as a gay couple?" Sam looked at me and smiled. I wanted to hide under the table, but Sam reached across for my hand and I grabbed it. My soul settled down immediately with the physical contact.
"For me, the answer is no, it's not difficult. I've been out to my family and friends for years, and I've really had no negative attitudes or push back. My family has always been very supportive of me, and I almost never think about it." Sully smiled, then turned to me. I took a drink of iced tea and sighed.
"Yes...for me it's been more challenging. I was terrified at first. I've always known I was gay, but I've only recently admitted it...even to myself in a way. Sam has been my rock, and he makes it possible for me to be me. It's why I love him so much," I said, smiling at him.
"May I ask what you were afraid of?"
"Of being rejected. And worse...being attacked and hurt physically. I come from an extremely homophobic family situation. I actually came to believe I was never supposed to do anything good or worthwhile because I'm gay. Like it would be wrong for me to even try. Thankfully, I don't think like that anymore."
"Oh my, Jack. That's awful. I'm so sorry," said Sully, genuinely sad for me.
"It's okay. It's certainly not your fault. And I have Sam now. Plus, like I said, I'm learning to see myself as valuable and I have a worthwhile purpose. I actually like me. And...it helps to know I'm loved as a gay man," I said, beaming at Sam across the table. His blue eyes were smiling at me.
"Thank you for sharing your stories with me. I appreciate it. I've...I've often wondered..." he trailed off, looking into the distance across the room. Sam and I looked at each other. Sully was lost in a moment of personal reflection, so we waited quietly.
Sully suddenly seemed to remember where he was, and that he was not alone. "Oh my, I'm so sorry. I was thinking about someone from my past."
"Who?" asked Sam, taking a sip of his water. At first a look of fear flashed on Sully's face, then he smiled.
"To be honest...me."
"You?" I asked.
"Yes," he said with a sigh.
"Sully?" asked Sam.
"Yes, Sam. To answer your question, yes...I'm gay. At least...I am now." Sam smiled, Sully smiled, and I nearly fainted with surprise. Did not see that one coming at all. How did Sam know? Larry had told us he was married for like a gazillion years. I was so confused.
Unfortunately Carla picked that exact moment to deliver our salads and refill our drinks. After offering us more bread, which we hadn't touched, cracked pepper, which we all declined, and parmesan cheese, which we also all declined, she mercifully departed again. She was sweet, but I was dying to get to the bottom of the bombshell Sully had just dropped on the table.
"Sounds like you have a story all your own, Sully. Care to share it with us?" asked Sam, boldly. Sully laughed.
"I suppose it's only fair, since you shared yours with me. There's not much to tell, really. I've had but one purpose in life since birth - leading First Colorado Banc Corp. Me, my father, and his father before him, it's what we Sullivans do. And I was fine with my lot in life. To be honest, I loved it. Still do. The bank is really the love of my life. Always was. But...I still had to keep up appearances. So...I married a lovely girl named Lucinda Wilson. Lucie was fun. She made me laugh, and I suppose we loved each other in our own way. We did not have children, and we were in agreement about not becoming parents. Lucie's family was...I think 'dysfunctional' is the word we'd use today. I wasn't particularly close to my parents. My mother was depressed a lot, and my father - well, his love was the bank, same as his father's before him. Since I knew I was destined to the same fate, I decided it would be unfair to bring yet another little Sullivan into the same sad cycle. Anyway, Lucie and I lived our life together, and it was fine. Our sex life was...okay, I guess...but I always felt something was missing.
"In my day, nobody ever talked about homosexuality, or any kind of sex, for that matter. It just wasn't proper. So I knew nothing about it. But just now, as you were telling me your stories, I was remembering a particular young man from my high school days. His name's not important - I think he's passed away now. But I remember being so...excited...to be around him. I didn't think of it at the time as a sexual thing. I just loved being with him. We couldn't spend a lot of time together - my grandfather had me working in the bank by then, so my free time was limited. But when we did, those times are some of my best memories. I never realized what it might have been until just now." He reflected for a few seconds on his missed opportunities with the mystery friend, then he sighed deeply and continued.
"As I said, my life was my work, and what little time I had I spent with Lucie, travelling. When she got cancer and passed away ten years ago, I'm sad to say I wasn't devastated the way some people are. We were very matter-of-fact about it. She wanted it that way, I believe. We were neither one overly sentimental about anything, especially each other. I buried her and then buried myself in my work.
"Then one evening, about five years ago, I was at a mixer for a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting or some such thing, and this man a few years younger than I strikes up a conversation. I can usually make small talk and move on with ease, but this guy somehow had me talking and listening for hours. We looked up from our drinks and everyone else was gone. We'd been talking for five hours straight. And I wanted to know more.
"So we met again a few weeks later for dinner. I had absolutely no idea of anything like a sexual attraction happening - for either of us. To be honest, I thought those days were long behind me. But as we talked over dinner, and then again a week later over lunch, I began to feel my soul awaken to something I didn't recognize.
"After one of our luncheon meetings, which were happening now three times a week, we decided to take a walk. We came to a crosswalk and we both reached to press the button for the signal, and our hands touched. There was a spark. I looked at him and he looked at me, and we knew. I could see it in his eyes. That's why I keep looking in your eyes, Sam. I see the same look in your eyes for Jack that I see in Mark's eyes for me."
"So his name is Mark?" I asked.
"Yes. Mark Wallace. He's eight years younger, and a lifetime smarter, than I. And he makes me happy in a way Lucie...simply couldn't. We live together now, though it's not an open thing. We are both private individuals, and we will probably keep it that way. But I will tell you both something I've told no one but Mark - I love him. I love him with all my heart. He's given me more excitement and joy and wonder in the last five years than I've had in my whole life. And I'll cherish every minute I have with him as a precious gift."
I dabbed at my eyes with my napkin. I couldn't help it. It was a beautiful story and I was happy for Sully. Now I really didn't want to spoil his afternoon. Ugh!
Our entrees arrived, and we settled in to eat. Sully told us a couple of stories of exciting trips he and Mark had taken together, one to China and the Great Wall, and another to India, where they stayed in a former rajah's palace and rode elephants together. The happier he was, the more distressed I felt. I tried to finish my lunch, but my stomach was too twisted in knots. Plus the portions were huge, as I remembered from Chicago. Ah, leftovers, how I love thee. Sully and Sam, on the other hand, appeared to have no trouble at all demolishing their respective meals. Only after Sully's coffee cup had been refilled following our polite refusal of dessert did he broach a new topic.
"Now, boys. Why doesn't one of you tell me why you really wanted to meet with me. And why Todd said it was urgent we do so." I felt my stomach lurch. I looked at Sam and nodded, and he proceeded to tell Sully everything. The blackmail of Davis Munroe. The threat to his son, Andrew. The decisions Davis made, and how he was now trying to help us stop the merger and Arnold Turner.
Sully said nothing while Sam spoke, but there was an intense sadness which appeared around his eyes. I could tell this whole sordid affair hurt him personally somehow, and I felt bad for him. I suddenly wished we had kept him out of it, but at the same time, I had no idea how we could stop Turner without his help.
My reverie was broken as Sam said, "Jack, you should tell Sully what happened yesterday and this morning." I sighed, and repeated the events of the previous 24 hours, including Arnold's apparent attempts to repeatedly infiltrate my accounts at the bank. Sully went from sad to extremely angry quickly, but he held his temper in check. I once again marvelled at his incredible strength of character.
More than a few minutes passed in silence as Sam and I watched Sully deliberate with himself after we shared our sad but all-to-true saga. I felt horrible for dumping this mess on him, but he was made of stronger stuff than I gave him credit for, and he was full of surprises.
He put his coffee cup down, and looked first at me, then at Sam. "First, let me say thank you to you both. It's been quite a while since someone thought enough of me to believe I could help out in a particularly thorny situation, and I'm honored. Second, I'm also glad you came to me now, and pushed for this meeting, instead of waiting. Arnold Turner can and will be stopped, and it will happen today. You have my word on it," he said, with a finality that brooked no argument. He wouldn't get one from us.
I had debated back and forth with Sam during our drive to the restaurant whether or not I should tell Sully my plans for the future. In the end, we both agreed I should, since there would be a significant impact to the bank's bottom line. We both felt it was only fair for Sully to have the whole picture.
"Before you act, I want to be completely upfront with you about my plans, Sully," I said. He nodded, waiting for me to continue. "I've decided to leave the bank, at Larry's urging, and start a new company to carry on the business activities of the trust. I hope this won't upset you too much, but I've also asked my team to join me. They've all said yes."
He looked at me, much the way Sam does, just staring into my eyes. Then he turned and looked at Sam sitting across from me. Then he smiled. A great big happy smile.
"Jack, I'm sure this will come as a shock to you, but I couldn't be happier for you. I think you are doing the best thing you possibly could - for yourself, your interests, and your team. Well done, young man."
"Wait...you're right, I am shocked. I thought you'd be upset."
"Well, I suppose I could be, from the point of view of the bottom line of the bank. We'll take a hit to the revenue side, no doubt. Your trust was one of the more lucrative ones we managed, I'm sure. However...what matters most to me is the good of our clients. And from time to time, circumstances and situations dictate that a parting of the ways is the best course of action for a particular client. I'm proud of Larry. He understands the principle of 'the client comes first'. He advised you well. I have always considered him one of our best and brightest assets. As unfortunate as it will be to have you leave, Jack, losing Larry is the much higher price we pay at this time."
"Wow. I guess we were worried about nothing," said Sam, grinning.
"But you see, Sam, your being worried about my reaction tells me all I need to know about the genuineness of your concerns. If you had no regard for my concerns, then I would have less for yours. Instead, we all care deeply about what's happening, and together we will find a way to right the wrongs that have been perpetrated by others."
"Would it be out of line to ask how you will handle it?" I asked.
He paused for a minute, thinking about my request. Then he said, "Ordinarily I would never discuss internal disciplinary matters with a third party. However, since you are in fact one of the specific injured parties in this case, I believe you have every right to know what I can and will do to stop this madness.
"First, I will call four other members of the Board. We are the subcommittee on executive management. We alone have the power to end Arnold Turner's employment in our bank. Even Davis Munroe would have to get our approval to terminate Arnold, so we'll just bypass him for now. Besides, after his involvement, it's best for me to leave him out of the discussions. I will simply tell the other members of the subcommittee what you, a respected and valued client, told me personally. I will make a few calls to substantiate your claims, a simple due diligence if you will. But I am confident I won't hear anything that differs substantially from your story.
"My only concern, and it's a minor one, is Evan McCarthy. He's the gentlemen who spoke up to you during the meeting on Monday, Jack. Do you remember him?" I nodded.
"I also remember he seemed to agree with me...or rather, you...by the end, though."
"Exactly. I suspect Evan will balk at first at any mention of negative information regarding Arnold Turner. My guess is Turner has some kind of leverage on good ol' Evan as well. Lord knows it wouldn't be hard to find some, but that's neither here nor there. Suffice it to say, I can handle Evan. So I tell you both, with confidence, in light of the many infractions committed against iron clad bank policies, not the least of which are blackmailing employees and violating client security protocols, Arnold Turner will be terminated this evening."
I sat back in my chair with a sigh, wondering if it could really be that easy. One wave of the magician's wand and poof, the evil dragon was gone. I hoped it was true. I had my doubts, but it was a step in the right direction. If nothing else, it got Arnold out of the bank and away from the other employees, which was no small thing. Looking across the table, Sam seemed to be deep in thought. He looked up at me suddenly, and had a deeply worried expression on his face.
"Sully, can I ask you a question?"
"After Arnold Turner is terminated, what happens?"
"Well, he's escorted from the building immediately. We confiscate all of his security access credentials, email accounts are frozen, passwords are all changed, etc."
"Is this a standard protocol?"
"Yes, it's always followed in these situations."
"Would Arnold know what this protocol entails?"
"I suppose so. He's had to terminate a few people over the years. Not many, thankfully. But we have to follow the same procedures even if someone leaves our employ of their own volition, Sam. It's a written policy."
"So it stands to reason Arnold Turner would know termination could be a possibility. It would seem to me, given his ability to leverage people in the bank, almost at will, he would put a contingency plan in place for maintaining access to key information if he felt it necessary, should he be let go. Does Arnold know the specific employee or employees who would be tasked with shutting down his access and changing his passwords."
"I think I see what you're suggesting, Sam, and if you're right, Arnold is a most diabolical man, indeed. Yes, to answer your question, if I know the man who handles security for terminations, I'm sure Arnold does, too. I will take steps this afternoon to alter the procedures a bit to ensure Arnold will not have renewed access to anything."
"Wow, Sam, do you really think Arnold Turner is that smart?" I asked.
"Yes, I do. Maybe smarter. I just hope we can stay one step ahead of him. I would hate to see someone get hurt." I shuddered at the thought. At the moment, I was very glad my team was holed up in my house and not at the bank.
"Maybe you should let him go after everyone else has gone home for the day," I said.
"I intend to, young man," said Sully, totally confident he could handle the situation.
"Is there anything you need us to do?" asked Sam.
"Yes. And I have no right to ask it of you, but I will anyway. I would like for you to keep all of this quiet. I know you had to tell your team, Jack. I understand, and I would have done the same. We need to be sure they remain safe. And do not let them return to the bank until I tell you it's safe to do so. I know it may not be fair, but I'd like to try to get through this dark chapter as quietly as possible. If the press were to find out, a scandal like this could harm an institution like First Colorado in ways it would take a decade to overcome."
"I have no problem with keeping things quiet. Do you, Sam?" I asked.
"Nope. My only concern is keeping you safe, Jack. And the team."
"Sully, what's going to happen with Davis?" I asked.
"Why? What's Davis have to do with anything?" asked Sully, with a twinkle in his eye. "As far as I know, you've told me about Arnold Turner's personal threat to you, his implied threats to several of your team members, his gross overreach of authority towards Todd Martin, and the repeated attempts to access your accounts and related files. I don't need any other grounds terminate Arnold Turner."
Then Sully softened his tone and looked at the table, purposely not looking directly at either of us. "I will say, however, if you boys can help Andrew Munroe in any way, I would personally appreciate it. You see...I've known Andy is gay for many years. He told me when he worked at the bank one summer. I found him crying in a stairwell one afternoon, and it all came out. I listened to him and supported him as best I could. I was still unaware about myself, so I was no help in that regard. But I did tell him I'd stand by him no matter what. His biggest fear, like you, Jack, was his family's possible rejection. I tried to tell him he was wrong. I know Davis Munroe, and I know he loves his boy very, very much. I just wish Davis had come to me when all this started with Arnold. Oh well, water under the bridge."
"We'll do what we can, Sully, I promise," I said.
"Thank you, Jack. And Sam. This has been a pleasure. I'd love to do it again sometime, if you'd like."
"Sure," said Sam. "Let's keep in touch. And thank you, Sully, for trusting us. It means a lot to us." I nodded in agreement.
"Take care of yourselves, boys, and if I can be of any further assistance, just call me. I'll let Todd know when I've handled the situation we discussed here today. Have a great evening." We shook hands, and departed the restaurant.
I held Sam's hand as he drove us home. I debated about doing some shopping, but I knew it wasn't Sam's favorite thing to do, and I also knew he wanted to get back to talk to Charles and Todd about security. I certainly didn't want to interfere with whatever they decided to do. Despite Sully's willingness to take quick action against Arnold, I still had an uneasy feeling about the whole situation. We were missing something, but I didn't have a clue as to what it was.
I was nearly asleep when Sam stopped at the bottom of the driveway and waited for the gate to open. I opened my eyes, smiled at him, and then looked to see if I could spot the fence he'd told me about. He was right. It was there, but unless you were looking for it, it blended in perfectly with the scenery. It was a strange color of brown that camouflaged it against the natural landscaping. I felt a little better knowing we weren't wide open to the street. The gate closed behind us as we headed up the hill to the house.
There were two commercial vans in the "parking lot" in front of the house with the Dish Network logo emblazoned on the sides. In addition, a large, black SUV with dark tinted windows was parked off to one side, facing out and ready to drive straight down the hill. I didn't think it had been here when we left. Thankfully the garage door we needed wasn't blocked. Sam parked the car and we went in through the mud room to the kitchen.
Maggie looked up from a mixing bowl, her hair dotted with flour and who knows what all else. She was smiling, obviously happy in her preferred element. "Welcome back, guys. How was your lunch?" she asked cheerfully.
"Great," said Sam. "Is Charles around somewhere?"
"He's with Todd and a couple of gentlemen trying to install a satellite dish. I think they are on the lower patio somewhere out back." Sam kissed me and headed for the deck door. I sighed, watching his gorgeous ass recede from me. I was hoping for a nap with him. Oh well.
"Cheer up, Jack. You'll get him back. That man is crazy for you," she said, smiling over her cookie dough.
"I know, Maggie. I just...well, it doesn't matter. Lots to do today. Speaking of which, what are you doing? It smells wonderful in here, as usual."
"Chocolate chip cookies. I thought the team might like a snack soon. They've been hard at it all day. I took sandwiches down for lunch and they hardly looked up. They're certainly focused, I'll give 'em that."
"Thank you, Maggie. I'd have never been able to feed them without your help. I really appreciate it."
"My pleasure, Jack. Seriously. I love it. I'm so happy there's life in this house again," she said, grinning. "Oh, before I forget. You and Sam probably have laundry that needs doin'. I put a clothes basket by your bedroom door. Throw your dirties in there and I'll take care of it all tomorrow. If you have any particular instructions, just let me know. Saturday mornings I usually clean, but you boys might want to sleep in, so I can move it to Mondays if you think it can wait till then."
"You don't have to do our laundry, Maggie. I can do it," I said, a little overwhelmed.
"Jack...you need to let me help. I enjoy it, and it's what you pay me for. And besides, you and Sam have much more important things to do. I'll do the cookin', cleanin' and washin', and you take care of business. I'm part of the team, too, you know. How 'bout it?" she said, smiling kindly.
I had to laugh. She was right, she was definitely part of my team. "Okay, okay. I give up. You win. You can cook, clean and wash. And Charles can do...whatever he does. Although I'm fairly sure Sam's gonna wanna be a part of it. He'd rather be outside than inside any day of the week."
"I'm sure Charles can put him to good use. Actually, I'm glad you said something. I've been a little concerned Charles has been doin' too much by himself. Climbin' ladders and trimming trees and what not. I'd rest easier myself if Sam - or somebody - was helping him with the bigger projects."
"Maggie, I'm sure we can get Charles whatever assistance he needs. Does he want some paid helpers on a regular basis? Someone to do the yardwork maybe? What?"
"No, no...and don't let him hear you say such things, Jack," she whispered conspiratorially. "Charles loves doing the yardwork. It would drive him mad to give it up. No, don't do that, to him or to me...please! But if you would ask Sam if he could...you know...be around and offer to help Charles here and there, I would appreciate it."
"I'm sure Sam would be thrilled to help. I'll talk to him about it tonight, if he hasn't already spoken to Charles himself before then."
"Thank you, Jack."
"You're welcome. Now I better go find the rest of my team and see what they need. Later." I walked down the hall to the stairs and descended into a full on discussion between the whole team. Someone had erected a large whiteboard on legs - where it came from I had no idea - and Simon was writing on it as they talked.
Todd saw me come in and broke away from the group and walked over to me. "Hey, Jack, you're back. How'd lunch go?"
"Good, I think. Sully's gonna have Arnold terminated this evening after everyone else leaves the bank. Thankfully he's leaving Davis out of it altogether."
"So that's it. I thought so. He must have called me right after you left the restaurant and asked me to make sure all of your accounts were locked down tight after 4:30. No problem there. And all the physical files are already moved and locked down as well."
"How's everybody doin' workin' here? Can they get anything done?"
"Sure. We're linking to the internet through cell signals right now, so it's slow, but doable. The Dish guys are out with Charles installing two satellite hook ups - one for business, one for the house. I guess there's no cable service out this far. I'm hoping we have internet service later this afternoon or evening."
"I see you've set up a white board. Where'd it come from?"
"I called Office Depot and gave them a list of what we needed and said there was an extra hundred in it for the driver if they got it out here in a hour. He was here in 30 minutes," said Todd with a grin. I guess money talks.
"We need desks and chairs and phones - things like that, don't we?" I asked.
"Yeah, eventually. But I wanted to talk to you about those details maybe after everybody leaves today. I don't want us to completely take over your house, Jack. This is your and Sam's home. We need to set up some parameters so it still feels like home for you."
"Thanks, Todd. I appreciate it. But honestly, I think Sam and I are just grateful they all were willing to drive all this way to help out. Plus...I don't know, I'd rather have the guys here than back at the bank right now. I have a funny feeling about Arnold Turner. I don't think he's exactly the 'go quietly' type, ya know?"
"Yeah, maybe. Hopefully he'll be reasonable. We'll see."
"Did Sam talk to you about security? He said he was going to."
"He mentioned it as he passed through a few minutes ago, looking for Charles. But I might be a step ahead of him. Walk with me," he said, as he grabbed my elbow and led me down the hallway and into one of the guest bedrooms.
I made a show of looking at Todd's ass as I followed him into the room. "Gee, Todd. Decided to play for the other team so quickly? I'm game, but I should probably ask Sam if he's okay with it first," I said, grinning.
"Stop looking at my ass, Jack! And no, I'm quite satisfied with my team, thank you very much. Besides, you only have eyes for Sam, and you know it. And I pity the fool who tries to mess around with you. Sam won't take prisoners." I laughed, knowing he was probably right.
"What's up, Todd?" I asked.
"Okay, so I've been thinkin'. Arnold's been snoopin' around your accounts, and we know he got his hands on the general investments listing, so he probably knows about this house. Even though we're up on a small mountain here, I'd like to have a security presence watchin' the place. They can be pretty inconspicuous if we ask them to. Whadda ya think?"
"Sam and I had the same conversation this morning. I know he'd say yes. Is that what the black SUV in the driveway is all about?"
"Yeah, there are two security guys from the bank out there, walking around, just keeping an eye out. But I think we need something more, and I can't keep taking resources from the bank, especially if we're all leavin' the bank shortly anyway. Speaking of which, did you tell Sully your plans?"
"Yes, and he shocked me by actually being happy for me. For all of us, actually. Said Larry had advised me well, and he was gonna be the biggest loss of all to the bank."
"He's got that right. I talked to Larry a little while ago. He's goin' crazy in the hospital. He has to pass two more tests and they'll let him go to a rehab place for a week, then home. He keeps talkin' about goin' back to work."
"He can't, Todd! It'll kill him!"
"You and I both know that, Jack, but Larry...the bank has been his life. He needs a new plan, something to do that isn't so intense."
"Can't he work for us? I thought that was the plan?"
"I can ask him. What do you have in mind?"
"Whatever he wants to do. I still want you in charge of the company, but he can generally advise and direct some of the action, maybe be in charge of special projects or something."
"I like it. I'll talk to him tonight. Maybe it will help him settle down and cooperate so he can get out of the hospital quicker. Hey, we better get out of this bedroom before Danny starts suspecting somethin'," he said with a grin.
"Speaking of Danny, he surprised me today. I thought I was gonna have a problem with him, but he and Sam seemed to hit it off, didn't they," I said.
"Yeah. I think he'll be fine. It's just different for him. Honestly, Danny is mostly all about Danny outside of work, so I don't think he'll spend too much time worrying about you and Sam. You might want to keep an eye on young William, however."
"You caught it, too? You think...?"
"Don't know. Never has come up. Might be nothin', might be a momentary idolization thing with you stickin' up for him yesterday. Worst case, you'll have to set him straight...so to speak," said Todd, chuckling.
Maggie met us in the hallway as she came down the stairs with a huge platter of fresh-from-the-oven cookies. My mouth started watering instantly. "Jack...can you take these into the guys? I'll bring down the coffee." I took the platter from her and Todd and I continued to the main room.
The second they smelled the cookies, all conversation ceased. As they all came over and grabbed a handful, just like an old Hollywood comedy movie, Charles and Sam came in from the patio on cue and made a beeline for the cookies. I just grinned at him. His eyes danced as he bit into one, smearing melted chocolate across his lips. I couldn't help it. I put the platter down, walked up to him, and kissed the chocolate away.
"Mmmm. So good," I moaned. Mason laughed next to us, and Sam was grinning ear to ear.
"Looks like Jack's found a fun way to eat his cookies," said Mason.
"Shhh," I whispered playfully. "My secret."
"Uh...Jack...I don't think it's so much a secret," Mason replied, with a swing of his head. I turned and the whole room was watching me in stunned silence.
Danny spoke up. "I'm not sure why, but...that was kinda hot!" I blushed down to my toes and the room broke up in laughter. Sam was laughing loudest of all, and he pulled me to him and hugged me. I smiled up at him and shrugged my shoulders. He just smiled back at me.
"Love you, Sam," I said quietly.
"Love you back, Jack," he replied.
Maggie arrived with the coffee, saving me from any more embarrassment, and I helped her set up the cups, saucers, flavored creams and sugar. As the guys helped themselves, I stepped back and told Sam about Todd's security concerns. He said he'd talk to him more later, after the Dish Network guys were done. He did say he had seen one of Todd's security people walking around the side of the house.
Work continued for another two hours. At one point, I saw Sam and Todd chatting in the hall about security options. I decided to stay out of it. I trusted them both to handle it, and Todd clearly understood my hope to not have my home crawling with people. Charles poked his head in and said hello to me, saying the Dish Network guys did a nice job installing the satellite service. Will went out to his car and returned with a small network router, connected it to the satellite service, and within minutes, everyone's computers, tablets, and phones were wirelessly networked with semi-fast and secure internet service. Simon patted him on the back, genuinely impressed with Will's computer talents.
As the day wound down, my nerves wound up tighter and tighter. I tried not to think about it, but my mind kept going to Sully and the board committee and what was happening with Arnold Turner. I honestly wasn't sure which was worse - Turner running the bank, or Turner running around, pissed off at all of us for losing his job.
One by one, the guys packed up and left, Mason being the last out the door around 6. They all declined to stay for dinner, but committed to return by 9 the next morning. Todd and Sam were still discussing security, so I went to the kitchen and helped Maggie put together a salad for dinner. My mind was all over the place.
"You okay, Jack? You're awfully quiet this evening," she said.
"What?" I asked, looking up from dicing cucumbers.
"You seem quiet and pre-occupied. I just wondered if everything was alright."
"Oh. I guess so. I don't know. We're waiting for news on a situation with the bank. And we have so many decisions to make with starting a new company, and the guys working from here. Sam and Todd are working on security. I still need to talk with Todd about furniture for the staff. Ugh! It's a lot for one day!" I sighed heavily and kept dicing.
"Well, I'm no expert at business, but you seem to be surrounded by capable people. I think in time you'll do just fine, Jack."
"Thanks, Maggie. I hope so." She said nothing else, and I put a smile on my face so she wouldn't feel like she had to cheer me up. Somewhere between slicing cucumbers and shredding carrots I had the epiphany of renting office furniture on a temporary basis. I also wondered if we could rent other things like printers, copiers, file cabinets, etc. It all seemed like a huge undertaking, only to be repeated once we settled on a permanent location for our company. I hoped we could make the move happen sooner rather than later.
Sam and Todd came into the kitchen. Todd had his briefcase in one hand and a computer bag over his shoulder. "Gotta go, Boss. Margie called and reminded me we have dinner plans with her sister and brother-in-law. Sorry to cut it short."
"Todd...stop it. You've worked plenty for one day. I'll see you in the morning. If you hear from Sully, call me though, okay?"
"Sure thing. It'll all be fine, Jack. Get some rest. We have some big decisions to make tomorrow."
"Ugh! Okay, good night," I said, as I watched him walk to his car. I noticed the black SUV was still there. Interesting. I returned to the kitchen, where Sam was watching Maggie grill salmon filets on the stove in a cast iron skillet. He was practically drooling on her shoulder. They did smell awesome. It looked like she had coated the fish in a bunch of spices.
I put salad in bowls for each of us, and pulled steaming rice from a pan, where it had been resting, onto our plates. As upset as my stomach was from my turbulent thoughts, I was also really hungry. I hoped I could eat.
Maggie pulled the fish off the stove, Sam retrieved a couple of water bottles from the fridge, and I carried our full dinner plates to the table. "There are a few cookies left in the tin by the stove, and you know where the ice cream is. Good night, boys," said Maggie. We waved to her and shouted our thanks.
"Oh man, Jack. This fish is so amazing. Almost as good as yours," he said, grinning at me. I smiled back at him. He's good for my ego. And the fish really was amazing. Spicy but not overpowering.
After dinner, we washed up our dishes and put them in the dishwasher, then headed to the living room to watch some TV. I needed to get my mind off of work and Arnold Turner, and nothing is more mindless than a TV sitcom. Two hours later, I was yawning and Sam was asleep in my lap. I absentmindedly stroked his hair and looked down at him in wonder.
He was beautiful, his profile strong and purely masculine. My eyes wandered down his body, causing me to get slightly aroused. I'd be poking Sam in the eye with my hard dick if I didn't stop ogling him. At least it was better than fretting over the bank and Sully and...
My cell phone rang loudly in my pocket. Crap! I had to move Sam's head to answer it, and he woke up grumbling from a deep sleep.
"Sorry, Sam," I whispered, as he sat up. The call was from Todd. "Hey, Todd. It's Jack."
"Jack, I just heard from Sully."
"How'd it go?"
"Uh...it did not go well. He's gone, but it took four security guards and the threat of arrest before he would leave. Sully said he blamed everyone under the sun for the false accusations being raised against him. Said he never blackmailed anyone. He never told me he was in charge of the division. He never went through any files, physical or electronic. Total lies, of course. Sully stood his ground and told him the decision was final."
"So he's gone then," I said, with a sigh.
"Well...from the bank, yes. From Denver, no. He made a few comments on his way out, too. Said Davis better watch his back. He picked the wrong man to fuck with. He said Larry was gonna wish he'd died of his heart attack."
"Oh my god, Todd. That's awful!" Sam was fully awake now, listening.
"And Jack...I hate to say it...but he threatened you, too. Sully told me to be sure and tell you. I let him know we have a security plan in the works. I guess we better expedite it. Is Sam there? Can I talk to him?"
"Yeah, he's right here," I said, handing my phone to Sam. I stood up and started pacing, my nerves on edge. I didn't realize it, but Sam told me later I was literally wringing my hands as he watched me pace back and forth across the room. I tuned back in for a second to hear Sam wrapping up the call with Todd.
"Got it. Yeah, I'll meet them at the door. Right. Nope, sounds like a solid plan. Let's do it. Yes, I'll let Charles know what's going on right away. Thanks, Todd. See you in the morning."
Sam ended the call and flopped down on the couch. "Well, fuck!" he said, disgusted. I sat down next to him, touching as much of him as I could. I needed the contact. Thankfully he knew it, and put his arm around me and pulled me tightly to him.
"It's gonna be okay, Jack. I promise. We'll be safe here. Todd hired a top notch security firm. Their head guy is on his way over. Todd gave him the code for the gate."
"What code? I thought it only worked by a remote."
"Todd says there's a keypad on the wall of the gate. Makes sense. Most of the places I worked at in Hawaii had a setup like that. I think there were even different codes for different people, so they knew who came in and when."
"Oh, okay. But we should ask the security guys to change the codes tonight, just in case. We can call Todd with the new ones in the morning."
"Great idea, Jack. Come on, let's figure out how to make coffee. I think we're gonna need some tonight." I sighed, and let him lead me by the hand to the kitchen. I threw caution to the wind and ate five cookies while he brewed coffee. I felt sick. I wasn't sure if it was fear - or an overdose of sugar. What difference did it make, really.
Sam called Charles and let him know some security people were coming over. He also told him a little bit about Arnold Turner and why it was all happening. Sam thanked him for something, and then joined me in watching the coffee machine do its thing.
As soon as the coffee was brewed, Sam poured it into a carafe Maggie had sitting by the sink. He started a second pot as I sat at the kitchen island drinking water and trying not to think scary thoughts. While the coffee brewed, Sam stood behind me and hugged me, which made me feel safe. He knew me, and he loved me, and I was reminded of the first time he had done it, right after I told him I was gay on the beach. It still felt every bit as good - and every bit as necessary for my sanity. I reluctantly let him go when the coffee machine beeped.
Coffee made, we went back to the living room, and Sam let me lean backwards into him so he could keeping hugging me. I was finally starting to relax again when the doorbell rang, and I jumped straight up off the couch.
"Crap! That scared me."
"Take it easy, Jack. It's only the security guys." He hugged me quickly, then headed for the door to let them in.
Six large men, all dressed in black, and all wearing serious expressions were gathered in the foyer. A very tall, very muscular Hispanic man was their obvious leader. His name was Hector Martinez, and he was all business. He quickly introduced the other agents. Sam told them who we were, told them about Charles and Maggie living across the driveway, and then four of the men excused themselves and went back outside to take up sentry posts around the property. Hector and the other man, Avery, followed us into the kitchen, where I offered and poured coffee into mugs for them.
"We have plenty for the other guys," I said, trying to be helpful.
"Thank you, Jack. They have some outside already, but I'll let them know there's more here if they need it," said Avery. He and I listened as Hector and Sam went over the grounds, the access points, and Sam's concerns about the gate and the fence. Hector pulled a radio off his belt and instructed one of the guys to go back down to the gate and clear all the codes.
"No one gets in without visual confirmation. No more coded entries," he told whoever was on the other end. With the gate covered, the rest of the assignments were made, and Hector nodded to Avery, who smiled and went back out the front door.
"Is this your first time having security personnel on the premises?" he asked. We both nodded. "It can feel weird at first. We understand that. In time you'll learn to not see us - we sort of fade into the background. The best thing you can do tonight is trust us to do our jobs and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll get eyes on Turner and keep him under surveillance."
"Why not tonight?" asked Sam.
"No one's seen him since he left the bank," answered Hector. "We have guys near his house, the entrance to his neighborhood, and on every corner near the bank. We'll find him."
Sam nodded. "Thanks for coming out, Hector. Help yourselves to anything you guys need here in the kitchen. Maggie will be over in the morning to make breakfast. Try not to scare her half to death, please," he said with a grin. Then he turned to me.
"Come on, Jack. Let's go to bed and try to sleep." I looked at him like he was crazy, and he just smiled at me. I thanked Hector for coming out, too, and followed Sam down the hall.
Sam closed the bedroom door behind us and pulled me into a tight hug. I leaned on him - physically, mentally, and emotionally - grateful beyond words I was in his arms. He kept whispering to me that it was all going to be okay.
Sam decided we should take a shower together to give us something to do. I didn't think I could sleep, so it sounded good to me, too. I just stood there and watched Sam as he stripped out of his clothes. He was so beautiful. Every movement fascinated me. Once he was naked, he looked over at me.
"Jack...you have to take your clothes off before we can shower," he said gently. I nodded silently, still not moving. He closed the gap between us, reached for my hands with his, and looked deep into my eyes, his own full of love and concern for me. I didn't know what to say, and I was shocked when tears started running down my face. He began to kiss away the tears on my cheeks and then my eyes, and still the tears kept coming.
I found my voice in a whisper. "I'm so...so sorry, Sam. I...don't know what's wrong with me. I'm trying so hard to hold it together..." I couldn't even lift my arms to hold him. Everything felt so heavy.
"Shhh. It's okay," he whispered back. "Just let me love you, there's no one here but us, okay. You're safe, Jack." He continued to kiss my face and my neck, avoiding my lips. As he touched me and kissed me softly all over, my tears eventually dissipated and I stopped trembling. I finally raised my arms and hugged him with every ounce of strength I had while he continued to gently kiss my neck.
"I need you, Sam. I need this. I need you to make it all better and to make me feel safe. I'm so sorry. I'm not as strong as you. I'm scared and I don't know what's going on. Please just hold me, Sam. Just hold me," I said in a rush of emotions.
He tightened his hold around me, and never stopped kissing me, whispering softly, "I'm here, Jack. I've got you." I don't know how long it took, but he somehow loved me out of that dark place of my soul and back into the light of his love.
When my breathing and emotions had returned to my version of normal, Sam released me from his arms only long enough to help me undress. He made it a slow and sensual process, his fingertips lightly touching my skin all over, each connection exciting new nerve centers. By the time I was totally naked with him, we were both obviously physically aroused and very turned on.
Sam leaned his forehead on mine, looked into my eyes, and said in a husky whisper, "I need you, Jack." I smiled, knowing his need was totally different than mine had been earlier, but this need was equally as important. And I knew I could meet it for him. I took his right hand in mine and turned to lead him to the shower.
As the steamy water cascaded over our heads, I kissed him with all the passion and heat and desire I had ever felt. This man loved me, and he proved it every day. He loved me the way I needed to be loved. He set aside himself at a moment's notice and made his life all about me. How could I not give him anything he wanted.
We made love slowly, taking our time. Sam kissed me until my lips felt numb, our ardor never diminishing, only growing stronger. We took turns riding the waves of physical ecstasy to the peak and back down again. By the time the hot water began to cool off, it felt good, our bodies overheated and saturated with love.
My dark feelings from before were banished. Sam was smiling, practically giggling as I tickled him a little while I dried his legs. I couldn't resist and purposely lingered on his now semi-soft dick as I moved upwards with the towel. He looked down at me with such a beautiful expression of love and gratitude, I nearly started to cry again. He made me so happy.
Once dry, we quickly finished our bathroom routines and turned out the lights, then climbed into bed. Our bed. Our safe haven. Our place. Sam was on his back, and I nestled up to his side, my head laying against the side of his chest. He sighed contentedly, and I matched his with my own. He chuckled. I don't know if it was the excess sugar from the cookies or the normal male exhaustion after sex, but I surprisingly fell asleep almost immediately.
We had a lazy start to the next day. Sam is always slow to wake up, and I was taking my own sweet time as well. I think the snooze alarm went off half a dozen times before I turned it off completely and grudgingly sat up. Sam grabbed me from behind and pulled me back down and rolled on top of me, smiling. He woke up very happy to see me.
"Where do you think you're going, little man?" he asked playfully.
"Same place you are in about 30 seconds," I said, laughing up at him. He grinned and then pulled me up, hugging me tight.
"I get the guy room," he said, as he rolled off the bed, his cock rigid, his muscles rippling. He stretched and went to do his business. I sighed and stood up and used the "girl" room, as we now referred to it. It was the larger of the two bathrooms, but it definitely needed to be redone in a much more masculine style.
Sam joined me in the shower and we messed around a little, laughing and teasing each other playfully, but somehow still managed to wash our hair and bodies as well. I felt relaxed and at ease, unlike the tension-filled state I had been in the day before.
The guys arrived on schedule for Day Two, and Maggie had French Toast, eggs and sausage on the table for them, along with sliced strawberries and halved grapefruits. I think I was the only one who ate any of the grapefruit. It was delicious.
Apparently one of Hector's security agents was staked out at the gate, and one by one as my team members arrived they had to show identification to be allowed entrance. It was an irritation on the one hand, but I was glad the possible threat was being taken seriously.
Todd was the last to arrive. He had stopped by the hospital to chat with Larry. He came flying into the kitchen, clearly flustered, and walked right past me standing at the kitchen island drinking my juice without even a hello. He dropped his briefcase on the floor next to the table with a thud, and collapsed into a chair at the table.
"Good morning to you, too, sunshine," said Sam. "Up late or up early?"
Todd focused finally and replied, "Morning, Sam. Guys. And it was both, but that's normal," he said, running his hands through his hair in frustration.
"What's wrong, Todd?" I asked.
He looked at me like he didn't want to tell me. "Oh man! I just got off the phone with Hector. It's not good. Sully's house was broken into last night. Everything is trashed. Windows are broken, appliances are scratched up. Papers and books everywhere. He said it looks like someone went in and deliberately vandalized it. But that's not the worst part. Sully's missing!"
I dropped my juice glass on the granite counter and it shattered, sending glass and orange juice flying everywhere. Sam was up and out of his seat and had his arms around me in three seconds flat, which was a good thing because I was feeling like I was the next thing to hit the floor. He moved me to a chair and stayed with me until I calmed down again. Will and Mason picked up the bigger pieces of glass while Maggie was wiping up the spilled juice. She pulled out a broom and dust pan from somewhere and made quick work of the remaining mess.
"Sorry, Maggie. It just slipped out of my hand," I said sheepishly, totally embarrassed by my freak out.
"It's not a big deal, Jack. It's not like I let you drink out of the good glasses," she said with a smile, and the guys all laughed. I smiled back at her and mouthed a "thank you".
"Todd, what else can you tell us?" asked Sam, as everybody settled back in their chairs. Sam sat next to me and kept holding my hand.
"That's all I know for now. Hector's got his men checking all of Sully's known hangouts, but he's seventy years old. Where all is he gonna go?" I looked at Sam and he nodded to me. I nodded back and started to get up.
"You okay, Jack?" Sam asked.
"Yes. Thanks, Sam. I'm fine now, I promise. I'll be right back." He nodded again and I stepped back from the table and went through the kitchen to the hallway. I entered the study and closed the door, pulling out my cell phone. Using the internet browser, I located a phone number for Mark Wallace with what looked like a downtown Denver address and dialed. I was taking a big risk, but I needed to know if Sully was safe or not.
A man answered on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Good morning. Mr. Wallace?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"My name is Jack Schaeffer. I'm...a friend...of Andrew Sullivan. I'm calling because I am hoping he is safe with you." I heard him cover the receiver with his hand and a muffled conversation ensued at the other end. In a few seconds, Sully came on the line.
"Jack? Is that you? Why on earth are you calling me here? How did you find me?" He seemed irritated at my intrusion.
"I'm very sorry for taking liberties, Sully, I really am. But...the police and our security team are looking for you. Are you okay? Are you hurt in any way?"
"Why on earth would I be hurt? What's going on, Jack?"
"So you don't know yet? About your house?"
"What about my house?"
"Well, I hate being the one to tell you this, but apparently someone broke into it last night. There's quite a bit of damage, and when they didn't find you there, I think the authorities were assuming the worst."
"Oh my God! It's Turner, isn't it?" He didn't sound scared. He sounded seriously pissed off. Sully was one tough man.
"Probably. We don't know for sure, but it seems likely. I'm just glad you're safe. I didn't tell anyone...about Mark, I mean. I'm making this call privately."
"Thank you, my boy. I appreciate that. Well, I guess I better get myself ready and head over to my house, or what's left of it."
"Would you like me to send some of our security team to meet you there? I'd like to help in anyway I can. I feel...responsible." I didn't want to force my will on the guy, but I desperately wanted him to be safe. Arnold clearly wanted to hurt him.
"Jack...listen to me," said Sully kindly. "You are not...I repeat...not responsible for anything Arnold Turner chooses to do. If it was his doing, then I will have video evidence of his criminal acts to give to the authorities."
"I'm just happy you weren't hurt. I couldn't bear it. I'm relieved you were with Mark and not alone last night."
I heard him chuckle. "Mark convinced me to move in with him six months ago. When he figures out he probably saved me from grievous harm or worse, he'll be unbearable." I heard laughter in the background. "I keep my house because it's been in my family for over a hundred years, and I just can't part with it. But my life is with Mark now, and any things which are truly important to me, I have with me right here. So Arnold Turner only succeeded in digging a deeper pit for himself once he's caught. It'll take a lot more than a few broken things to scare me, Jack."
"All the same, I'd like to send a couple of security agents to follow you home and stay with you until Arnold is captured. If not for yourself, do it for Mark. I'm sure he would feel better knowing you had some protection around you."
He sighed in resignation. "I suppose that would be best, Jack. Mark's nodding his head, so I guess the decision's made. You have the address?" I told him what I had, and he confirmed it. "I'll be ready in about an hour. Tell your men to come to the door. I want them to meet Mark, as well. If Arnold manages to find out about him, I want him safe. And Jack? Don't worry about keeping my secrets, okay. I'm too old to care anymore what people think of me and who I choose to love, or where I choose to live. Perhaps Arnold Turner did me a huge favor in the end."
"How so, Sully?" I asked.
"Because I'm not going to hide anymore. No man should have to hide who he is or who he loves. You taught me that, Jack, when you shared your story with me. It's time I was free to be me." I could feel myself smiling. I felt really good inside as I heard the joy in Sully's voice.
"Well, be careful, Sully. You may be old enough to be my grandfather, but I'd like you to be around for a while as my friend."
"Count on it, Jack. And you and Sam must have dinner with Mark and me soon. I want him to meet the two young men who opened my eyes to new possibilities."
"I'm sure we'd love to Sully. And listen, if you need anything, anything at all, please call me. I want to help in any way I can, okay?"
"Thank you, Jack. We'll talk soon." We hung up, and I sat down on the leather couch and enjoyed the solitude of the moment. Despite the menace of Arnold Turner lurking in the back of my thoughts, I was relieved Sully was unharmed and more than that, he was forging ahead, emboldened to be free in who he was. Change was thrust upon him, but he chose to embrace it, and I had to believe he and Mark would appreciate their new found freedom.
Sam poked his head into the study. "There you are. Did you find him?" he asked.
"Yeah. He's safe. He was with Mark."
"Oh man, that's awesome! Did you tell him about Arnold and his house?"
"Yeah. Boy is he pissed. Says he'll have all kinds of video evidence to nail Turner. He also said no more secrets. He's not going to hide anymore. He agreed to have me send some agents to protect Mark and him. Can you help me?"
"Yeah, come on. Hector and Avery are in the kitchen talking with Todd. Let's give them the good news and we can figure out our next moves for the day." He hugged me, and then held my hand as we walked back to the kitchen.
Everyone was thrilled to learn Sully was safe and sound. I didn't make any big announcement about Sully's relationship with Mark. I figured it was up to him how and when to make it known. Hector said he could easily divert two agents from Sully's house to the address I gave him. He assured me they would coordinate a plan to provide around-the-clock protection for Sully and whoever else he wanted included.
Todd moved everyone down to the lower level and they all started to work. I helped Maggie clean up from breakfast and Sam went to find Charles to see if he needed help with anything. Once the kitchen was ship shape, Maggie said she was going to start on laundry. I had forgotten all about it in the excitement of recent events, so I ran down to our bedroom and threw nearly everything we owned into a large pile on the bed. It turned out to be three baskets full, which I hauled over to the laundry room. I apologized for there being so much, and Maggie rolled her eyes at me like I was being silly. It seemed like a lot to me.
With nothing else pressing, I went downstairs and hovered near my team, listening and surprising myself occasionally when I thought I understood some of what they were discussing. About an hour after I came down, the topic shifted to where we were going to move our business offices and how long it would take to get them up and running. Mason raised the excellent point of them all needing to give official notice to the bank, as well.
"Simon, why don't you find three possible properties which meet the criteria we all discussed yesterday. Be ready to present them early next week, and we'll kick it around together. Jack has the final say," said Todd, looking over at me. I nodded in agreement with his plan. I wasn't likely to disagree with any group consensus.
Todd continued. "As far as notice to the bank goes, as your direct supervisor, I consider myself officially notified. However, we need time to legally establish Schaeffer Associates and its related entities, and put together an asset transfer and management plan. So for now, let's keep our planned exit on the down low.
"Mason...you and Danny start putting together an exit strategy from the bank for all financial investments. Danny, pay close attention to any excess transfer charges, tax implications and administrative fees. Will, you work on creating a comprehensive list of all physical assets. We'll have to retitle them, and I'll need to find an outside attorney to assist. I don't think we can use in-house counsel this time."
"I can ask Clyde Watson to do it," I said. Everyone looked at me for clarification. "He did most of the legal work setting up the trust in the first place. I'll call him and see if he would like Schaeffer Associates as a new client. I'd like to give him the opportunity, if no one has any objection."
"Do it, Jack. You and I can meet with him as soon as he's available and set up a retainer for his services. We'll likely have a shit load of legal work in the next few weeks. Will, you're gonna be working with me on all of it. We have to incorporate a business and set up an accounting system to track it all. Okay...everyone know what they're working on?" Heads nodded enthusiastically. "Well...stop standin' around then. Get to it."
As they broke into groups, Todd motioned me over to his side. "Great idea about Clyde. I'd completely forgotten about him. Larry always handled the legal issues. I'm thinking of asking him to help with those once he's paroled from the hospital."
"Sounds like a good plan. He and Clyde are friends. They'll make a good team."
"Speaking of a good team, we've got one right here, I think. I have a feeling these guys are gonna knock our socks off next week. I haven't seen them this excited for quite a while. And you...you're turning into quite the leader. Danny told me this morning he was impressed with the way you asserted yourself at the breakfast table yesterday, yet you're also holding back and letting them do their jobs without interference. Great balance. Well done, man."
"Thanks. I'm figuring it out as we go. Anything I can do to help you today?"
"Well...since you asked," he said with a grin.
"What?" I replied, grinning back at him.
"Can you get my computer bag out of my car? I left it when I came in this morning." I laughed.
"I think I can handle that." He fished his keys out of his pocket and I turned to go upstairs, stopping and asking, "Anyone want some coffee down here?" Five heads nodded.
"Thanks, Boss," said Todd.
As I turned to leave, the others all said in unison, "Thanks, Boss!" I chuckled quietly as I ascended the stairs. I liked my team.
In the kitchen, Maggie was already assembling a tray with two carafes of coffee, some biscotti-type biscuit things, and cold water bottles. I told her I'd carry it down as soon as I returned.
It was a gray and overcast day, and I felt a little cool with the breeze blowing outside in just my short sleeve shirt. Not exactly business appropriate, but hey...it's my house, I can wear what I want. Well, I can wear what I have, and this was it.
I pressed the button to unlock Todd's car, opened the back door, and grabbed his computer bag off the seat. I turned around and was staring into the face of Arnold Turner.
I heard more than felt the computer bag fall to the driveway. My mind was struggling to comprehend what my eyes were seeing right in front of me. Turner was definitely real. I could smell his rancid breath and horrible body odor. He looked like he had spent a considerable time in the woods. His clothes were wet and covered in dirt and debris from the forest. And in his right hand, hanging loosely at his side, was a gun.
He smiled at me, but it came off as more of a demented sneer. His eyes were black as coal, bloodshot and shifting all around. He had the same paranoid look my brother Terry got when he was strung out on drugs. I didn't concentrate too much on his eyes. I kept looking at the gun.
"Good morning, Mr. Schaeffer. Nice weather we're having, eh Mr. Schaeffer?" He was spitting his words deliberately, spraying my face. I wondered why I hadn't already thrown up on him. "Have you heard the latest news, Mr. Schaeffer? Someone's been spreading lies about me. I wonder who that might be? Was it you, Mr. Schaeffer? I think it is you. I think you've been telling all kinds of nasty little lies about me to people who should know better than to listen to the likes of a mealy mouthed little faggot like you."
I felt my eyes flare at his "faggot" comment. It brought back too many awful memories of my brother's insults, but I said nothing. Arnold, however, had plenty to say. "That's right, faggot. I know all about you. All about your sick, twisted ways. I know how you lied and tricked Larry Weiss into signing over the trust. What a joke! Nobody in their right mind would leave millions of dollars to a sick faggot like you."
I didn't really follow everything he was saying. None of it made much sense, and he was talking more to himself than me anyway. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the gun at his side. Thankfully it wasn't moving; it was just hanging there, swinging ever so slightly back and forth. Back and forth. It looked very big in his hand. Like it would be heavy and hard to lift. Maybe it wasn't real. Maybe it was a prop meant to scare me. It was working.
I looked up and made a slight gasp before I could stop myself. I could see Charles standing at the corner of the long garage with a rifle firmly planted against his shoulder and aimed right at Arnold Turner's head. Arnold turned his head just enough to see what I was looking at.
"That's right, you son of a bitch," said Charles, menacingly. "I've got you square in my sights. Ain't no way you get out of this alive if you harm one hair on Jack's head. Now...take two steps back, and slowly put that lady piece you're holding down on the ground."
Arnold did not comply, laughing instead. "You think you're fast enough, old man? I'm bettin' you couldn't shoot straight enough to hit the side of the house, let alone not hit Jack, too. You won't shoot."
Charles' gun made an insanely loud boom and smoke puffed out of the end as he rocked backwards slightly but stayed firmly planted where he stood. There was now a long groove in the asphalt in the driveway maybe a foot behind where Arnold was standing. Mason's car alarm started going off, but was quickly silenced. From where, I didn't know.
"The next one goes right in your temple," said Charles, calmly. At least I think that's what he said. It was hard to hear now. "I killed more men in Vietnam before breakfast than I care to remember, you worthless piece of shit. Put...the...gun...down. NOW!"
I watched Arnold Turner mentally process his options. He could shoot me, but then he was dead, too. Charles would not miss. He could surrender, but then he loses, and in his twisted mind, I guess that would make me the winner? Arnold was trapped, and he knew it. Suddenly he smiled at me, like he knew he had somehow won anyway. He slowly bent his knees, and I held my breath, not knowing what to expect. I couldn't stop looking at his eyes now. They were dead eyes, and yet, there was still fight left in them. He wasn't finished. He wasn't about to surrender. I heard the gun clatter on the driveway as he dropped it. Then he ran.
Before I had even finished exhaling, before my knees hit the pavement, before I threw up my breakfast all over my last clean pair of pants, Arnold Turner had crossed the driveway and plunged into the woods. I heard shouting from the house behind me. I heard shouting from Charles to stop or he would shoot. I heard his gun go off again, and then only the sounds of my own retching and sobs. The only saving grace was my bladder held. It's the little things.
"SAM! Stop...let him go!" I heard someone shout Sam's name. No. No way. Not Sam. I tried to stand up and got mostly on to me feet. I had to stop Sam. He'd get hurt. Arnold would kill him.
"Sam," I whispered, trying to focus through my tears. I was actually shouting, but it sounded like a whisper to my deafened ears. "Where's Sam? Somebody! Where's Sam?!! SAM!"
Suddenly he was there in front of me, tears running down his face. He grabbed me and hugged me so tight I couldn't breathe, but I didn't care. If my last breath was in Sam's arms, so be it. At least he was with me. I collapsed totally and still he held me up, oblivious to my mess now all over him as well.
I don't know how long he held me there in the driveway. I don't remember being taken back into the house. I do remember, at some point, Sam taking my clothes off and he was in the shower with me, and we cried some more together as he washed us clean. He climbed naked into bed with me and held me until my tears finally stopped and I slept.
To be continued....
Arnold Turner has turned violent, not a good development. Will Jack recover? Will he and Sam ever feel safe in their home again? Where is Turner? Will he get away, and if he does, what will he do next? Stay tuned...
Many thanks to Mark, Harry, Josh and Darryl, the editing team, for slogging through this chapter and sharing their insights and perspectives with me. I feel as though this story becomes more and more of a collaboration of brilliant minds with each new chapter. Thank you, guys.
As always, without you, the faithful readers of this story, what would be the point? I love writing, and I love hearing from readers, so please send me an email and share your thoughts on Forever. firstname.lastname@example.org