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
I woke up to the late afternoon sun shining through the bedroom bay windows. The first thing I saw was Sam looking at me, worry etched deeply on his face, his eyes red and bloodshot. He was lying next to me on our bed, just staring at me. I had the feeling he had been at this vigil for a while.
He saw my eyes open. "Hey...how you doin', Jack?" he asked, without his characteristic smile. I didn't like it.
"Okay, I guess. I'm here with you, so it can't be all bad," I said, trying to sound cheerful, but it fell flat. He just nodded. He looked broken.
"Sam...how are you doing?" I asked softly.
"I...I don't...I can't..." He sighed. "I thought I was going to lose you," he said in a whisper, his words catching in his throat, but he didn't cry.
"But you didn't. I'm still here...thanks to you and Charles."
"Me? I didn't do anything. I couldn't...ugh, I couldn't move," he said, totally defeated, his eyes now looking away as if he were somehow ashamed of something. I was starting to understand what he was feeling.
"Sam, look at me. Please?" He reluctantly looked up again. His eyes were pleading for help.
"I just stood there, Jack. I stood there while that freak held a gun on you. I couldn't move. I couldn't get to you. I just...stood there...and...I thought...I thought I was gonna watch you die." He broke down then - deep, heart-wrenching sobs. I pulled him into my arms and held him tightly. It was my turn to love on him.
I held him for a long while, until his sobs gradually tapered off. I mentally thrashed around, trying to find words to encourage him. "Sam...if you had tried to intervene, it would have only made him angrier and more volatile. You probably would have gotten us both killed. But I love you for wanting to. And for this."
"For what? My ridiculous crying?" he said, reaching for a Kleenex to blow his nose.
I chuckled. "No...for being broken up about it. I know it sucks, but it'll pass, and we'll get through this. I know you love me, Sam. And I understand how you feel...I do. I would feel the same way if...well, never mind. It doesn't matter anymore. The important thing is...we're here, together. That's a good thing, right?"
He answered by pulling me into a tight hug, his arms enveloping me in his special powers of safety and peace. "I'm never letting you go again, Jack. Never. I can't lose you."
"And you won't, Sam. I don't want you to ever let me go." I rested my head on his chest and just listened to our breathing and our hearts beating together. I don't think either one of us ever wanted to leave our bedroom again.
We spent some time there in the quiet, just being alive. We kissed a little, touched a little, and gradually our smiles came back alive, too. At some point, Sam tickled me behind my knee and I started giggling, trying to get away from him. Then I tickled him on the back of his thigh, and he laughed and tried to scramble away, but I caught him and continued my friendly assault. We continued to squirm all over the bed while we tickled and teased each other, both of us laughing hysterically. It was much more fun than guns and tears.
Predictably our laughter and touching led to more serious play, and before long we were passionately kissing. My hands eventually found his now very hard cock and suddenly I wasn't tickling him anymore. My own dick was rock hard, leaking and aching with need. Sam flipped around and I nearly yelled when he swallowed me without warning, pulling my hips into his face with stunning strength. I did the same to him, doing the thing he loved the most, trying to control his hips and failing. For a long while we focused on slowly taking each other all the way to our mutual and nearly simultaneous release.
Later, as we gently kissed, looking into each other's eyes, I began to comprehend the restorative power of love. Somehow I felt whole and renewed, and Sam was smiling at me again, which was really all I cared about. He wasn't fully my Sam without his smile.
"So...you think we have to go out there and talk to people, or can we just stay in here and maybe in a few days they'll all just leave on their own?" asked Sam, grinning.
"No!" I whined into the pillow. "Don't make me...please! I don't wanna talk about it, Sam. I don't even want to think about it."
"Me either. I'm just glad nobody got hurt," said Sam. I suddenly felt like the most selfish jerk in the world. Here I'd been laughing and making love and carrying on, and it never even occurred to me someone might have been hurt. Crap!
I sat up in bed, the mood broken. "What's the matter, Jack?" asked Sam, as he sat up next to me, his hand on my shoulder.
"I didn't even think to ask, Sam. How stinkin' selfish and self-centered am I?"
"Don't, Jack. Don't start beating yourself up. Nobody...and I mean nobody...would expect you to. You were the one singled out for attack. Everybody on the team is fine. All they were concerned about was you."
"I guess. I still feel like a heel, though. Is Charles okay? He didn't get in any trouble did he?"
"I don't know. I've never left your side, Jack. Not since I carried you in from the driveway." I smiled at him, and kissed him softly, caressing his face in my hand.
"Thank you. I remember now. All I wanted was you. I was so scared you were going to chase Turner and he'd hurt you, or worse. But then you saved me."
"I didn't save you, Jack. Charles did."
"Yes...Charles ran him off. But you did save me, Sam. You saved me from having to face this whole nightmare without you. I couldn't do it, Sam. I just couldn't. And I'll never forget how you took care of me and held me together and made me feel safe again."
"Do you? Feel safe, I mean?" asked Sam.
"With you, being in your arms? Always." He just looked at me with his typical intense, brooding stare. I relaxed and returned his gaze, knowing he needed to do it. After a minute or so, he smiled and nodded, satisfied I was telling him the truth, I guess.
I looked up at the ceiling and groaned softly. "I suppose we'd better go out there. I'm sure there's a ton of people who want to badger us with a thousand questions," I said.
Sam sighed deeply. "Okay...but I'm not letting you out of my sight, Jack. I mean it."
"Fine by me. I'm not doing this alone, that's for sure. Come on, big guy. Let's get it over with." He stood up from the bed and I just looked at him. So strong and masculine and tough on the outside. But I knew he was still shaky on the inside. He'd gotten a real scare - we both had.
We used the bathrooms - I got the "guy" room this time - and I splashed some water on my face. I didn't look any different on the outside than I had earlier in the morning, other than my red rimmed eyes, but inside was a much different story. I managed to find a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt to put on. Sam dressed in similar fashion. We both stayed barefoot. I just didn't care what anybody thought about it, either.
Sam pulled me into another hug as we stood by the bedroom door. "You sure you're ready for this?" he asked.
"No. But it won't get any easier waiting. I'd just as soon get it over with and then we can come back in here and hide and pretend none of this ever happened." He smiled at me, and kissed me again, gently.
"I love you, Jack."
"I love you, too," I replied.
Sam opened the door and we were immediately blocked from exiting the bedroom by a large wooden chair holding Charles Smyth, sitting facing down the hallway, with his rifle across his lap. He stood up slowly, stretching a little to get the kinks out, and turned to face us. He looked us up and down and smiled a little.
"Well, from the looks of you, I guess you'll pull through," he said with a grin. I stepped up to him and threw my arms around him, startling him. He almost dropped his gun. I just squeezed him in a big bear hug and then stepped back. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.
"Stop right there, Jack. You don't need to say anything. I did what needed to be done. I'm just sorry the son of a bitch got away." I sighed, and Sam grabbed me from behind and wrapped me up.
I looked at Charles and said, "Well...I am going to say something. Thank you, Charles. I don't even want to think about what would have happened if you hadn't been there."
"I just wish I had gotten to him sooner." He turned his attention to Sam. "I'm sorry, Sam. I saw the guy in the trees when we were dragging the logs down the hill out back, but I told myself it was impossible and I was imagining things. But when I saw him again, skulking around just inside the tree line when I went back to get the hatchet, I knew. I grabbed my gun and went around the back of the garage to get a jump on him, but I was too late to get to him before he had Jack cornered. I had no idea you were even outside, Jack."
"Yeah...I was getting something for Todd out of his car. Oh crap! His computer. Where is it?"
I heard a soft chuckle behind us. "Don't worry about it, Boss," said Todd, walking up, grinning. "It's toast, but I can still get the data off of it. No worries. You guys okay?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
Sam nodded, and I said, "Yeah, I think so. How's everybody else? Did they all go home?"
"Nope. No one's allowed to leave until someone gets eyes on Arnold Turner. We figure after his failed attempt here at the house, this is probably the safest place for all of us right now."
"Charles said he got away," said Sam.
"Yeah, he did. At least he hasn't been found on the mountain. There are 40 plus guys out there right now checking every square inch of the property. And I think Hector put a man every eight feet around the house itself. You'd think we have the President in here. He's taking it personally that Arnold Turner got in at all."
Sam huffed, his mood quickly shifting from fear to anger and frustration. "How the fuck did Turner get to Jack? Has anybody bothered to figure that out?" snarled Sam. Oh boy, he was definitely pissed. I didn't blame him, and I wasn't about to rein him in, either. I wanted answers, too.
"They're working on it, Sam. Hector and Avery are going over everything with their guys right now. They're in the kitchen, waiting to talk with you both."
"Good, because I have plenty to say to them," said Sam as he started fast walking down the hall.
"Why's he so upset?" Todd asked me.
"Because...he almost lost me. And...I think he feels like he failed, because he froze and didn't move to help me." Todd looked incredulously at Charles, who just shrugged his shoulders.
"Seriously? That's what he said?" asked Todd.
"Yeah...he's pretty upset about it."
"Oh shit! Come on, before he really steps in it," said Todd, as he turned around and trotted down the hall after Sam. Charles and I followed right behind him. I could hear voices in heated argument coming from the kitchen. As I rounded the corner, Sam and Avery had squared off with each other, looking like they were going to throw down right then and there.
"Hey, Pool Boy!" yelled Todd, interrupting Avery and Sam almost coming to blows. It looked like Avery already had a black eye, which couldn't have just happened. Sam looked over at Todd, seething.
"Stay out of this."
"Take a breath, Sam, and listen to me for a minute." Todd walked slowly over to Sam and looked him straight in the eye. "Before you go off half-cocked, you need to know a few things, okay. Will you stand down for a minute? Please?"
Sam looked at Todd, who had modulated his voice to something softer and more respectful, and Sam responded to it. He nodded once, and waited for Todd to continue.
"Look, I know you think you froze, and you weren't there to protect Jack." Sam looked across the room at me, horrified that Todd would voice it out loud. "But Sam...it isn't true. It took three guys to hold you back. The reason you couldn't get to Jack was Hector, Avery, and Danny were holding you on the front porch. You put up a huge fight. You broke three flower pots flailing around. Hell, who do you think gave Avery his shiner over there? You didn't fail anybody, Sam. So you have nothing to prove right now, okay?"
Sam looked into Todd's eyes, realizing quickly that he was telling the truth. Sam nodded once, then sighed heavily. He looked over at Avery with a different expression now. "Sorry, man" he said. "And...I'm sorry for losing it a minute ago. I guess I'm not so clear on things."
"Don't sweat it. I get it. No offense, but you're the least of my concerns right now," said Avery. Hector stepped up.
"Jack. Sam. If anybody's to blame here, it's me. This was my operation, and I dropped the ball. If you want us to pack it in, I'd totally understand. We'll stay until replacements can be established." Sam looked at me, and I just shrugged. I had no idea what was going on. There was an uncomfortable silence as they waited for our answer.
"Uh...before we change teams mid-stream, what can you tell us about what you've figured out so far?" asked Todd. Hector sighed, and motioned for us to join him near the island where a laptop computer was sitting.
"Well, for starters, we're pretty sure Turner was already here in the woods before my team ever arrived. We found the spot where he hunkered down for the night under a rocky ledge about 200 yards up the mountain out back."
"How did he get in? Charles and I walked the fence yesterday. There was no way in but through the gate. Did he have a code?" asked Sam.
"Not that we can see from the access code scans in the gate system. We updated all the codes when we arrived last night. The only codes in the computer from yesterday were the ones your staff used to get in, as well as when they left later. We interviewed everyone and put together a timeline of all their comings and goings and it all coincides with the recorded code scans."
"According to Sully, he didn't terminate Turner until late in the day, probably after 5 o'clock. He couldn't have snuck in behind one of the guys leaving. He wouldn't have gotten here that fast, right?" I asked.
Hector nodded to me in agreement. "Yeah...I don't think so, either. Besides, there isn't any real cover around the gate. I'm pretty sure he would have been seen. The gate closes in 15 seconds behind a car entering or leaving, which isn't much time. Plus, most of these guys left one right after the other, so somebody would have seen something. See here, this is the list of the scans and the times they occurred." I looked at the list on the computer screen. I could almost remember who left when and which scan was likely which car. The last scan was recorded at 5:38pm.
"What's this code...here at 9:14?" I asked, pointing to the screen. Todd had left a little after six last night, and as far as I knew no one else came or went afterwards.
"I don't know," said Hector. "Wait a minute...that's odd. There's no symbol telling us the code was entered into the keypad, like these others. Avery, what does it mean if there's no symbol here in this column?" Avery came over and looked closer at the screen.
"You see these scans at 10:45am and again around 2:30pm? The ones without the symbol? Those are when Jack and Sam left and came back from lunch, right?" asked Avery. I knew he was correct.
"Yes. But we didn't enter a code into the keypad. We just used the remote button in the car for the gate. It's programmed for it," said Sam.
"And see here," said Todd, pointing to the scan code entry at 6:09pm. It also was missing a symbol after the code. "This is when I left and used the remote I have to exit the gate. I know I didn't see anyone enter through the gate then, because I remember I stopped and waited for it to close. I watched the whole process in my rear view mirror. I would have seen someone sneak inside, I'm sure of it."
"So the scans without a symbol must be when a remote was used at the gate. But there's an identical type scan at 9:14, and that's nearly two hours before Hector and his men arrived, and I know Jack and I didn't leave. The Smyths didn't either. Besides Todd, we're the only ones with remotes for gate access." said Sam.
Todd suddenly gasped, a look of horror on his face. "Oh shit! Fuck, fuck, fuck!" shouted Todd as he started pacing around the kitchen frantically. "Holy fuck! How could I be so stupid!" He was looking right at me, his face red. "I'm so, so sorry Jack. Oh shit, man, I'm so sorry." He stopped in front of me, just frozen, staring at me like impending doom was upon him.
"What are you ranting about, Todd?" I asked.
"Turner. He got the second gate remote. Fuck! I can't believe it. He stole it out of the file. Damn it! I knew something wasn't right, but I couldn't figure it out. I moved everything to locked cabinets in the vault after Arnold was rifling through the hard files while we were at the hotel the other day. I didn't know he had taken anything, and I missed it. He must have figured out the location of the house from the asset list and just grabbed the remote. Fuck!"
I put my hand on his shoulder. "Todd, calm down. You can't catch everything. It's alright," I said. Todd looked at me incredulously.
"There's no excuse, Jack. I'm responsible for all the assets in your accounts. That includes property and security. We had two gate remotes in the files. I know, because I pulled the one I've been using when we first came out here the other day. The second one was definitely in the file. I'm almost positive it wasn't there when I moved everything to the vault."
"Okay...you missed it. But you're not the one who took it...Turner did. It's not like you gave it to him. And you certainly had no reason to think he even knew about the gate or a remote, and with everything going on, it's no wonder nobody caught on to his plan. He probably just took advantage of the opportunity when he went through the files and grabbed it."
Todd looked at me like he wasn't buying my explanation. He clearly felt personally responsible, to me and to Sam, as well. He surprised me when he walked over to Sam and looked him right in the eye.
"Sam...I'm sorry. I screwed up. I'm the one who let him in, I guess," he said humbly. Sam just looked at him. I couldn't read his face at first, but then it was Sam's turn to shock us all. He looked at me, smiled, then he grabbed Todd, who stiffened immediately, expecting the worst. Sam just hugged him tightly. We all heard him say quietly, "It's okay, man. Really. Forget it. Everything's cool." Todd relaxed and Sam let him go. They just looked at each other in silence, and finally Todd nodded once and Sam returned the nod. Case closed.
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Okay," I said. "That explains how Turner got in past the guards. So it wasn't anybody's fault. But we're clearly dealing with a very dangerous man. How do we keep everybody safe, and what do we do about him?"
"For now, we keep the place locked down tight. I've got guys stationed every 50 yards on the perimeter, in plain sight of the next guy. No way he gets back in. The sheriff's got his deputies patrolling the roads for five square miles, looking for Arnold's car, but I don't think they'll find it," said Hector.
"Why not?" asked Sam.
"Because...this guy is smarter than your average loose cannon. It's one in a million guys who has balls big enough to run from another man with a shotgun aimed at his head, yet he did it and got away clean. Which tells me he had an escape route through the woods already planned out. He knew exactly where my guys were located and he avoided anybody seeing his escape. They followed his trail all the way down to the fence. Looks like he climbed the only tree with a branch twelve feet up and hanging over the fence. He literally went out on a limb. My best guess...he had a car hidden along the road close by. Clever bastard."
I involuntarily shuddered, remembering the determined, confident look in Turner's dead eyes. I didn't like the idea of him running around loose anymore. Someone was going to get hurt if he wasn't found soon. I suddenly had a horrible thought.
"Sully!", I exclaimed. "Is he okay?"
Todd answered quickly. "Yes, he's safe. Hector's men are with him. He called me about an hour ago and said his house was trashed, but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Man, is he one pissed off old man. I wouldn't want to be Arnold Turner if Sully ever gets a hold of him."
"He can take a number...but I guarantee there won't be much left," said Sam defiantly.
"Okay, okay," said Hector. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We have to find the asshole first. Avery, what's happening on that front?"
"Local law enforcement has put out a BOLO on him and his car. Nothing yet. We're monitoring the scanners. Sully's locked up tight at an undisclosed location. Oh...yeah...Jack, he said to tell you 'they're both safe'. Not sure what he meant, but...anyway, until we get eyes on Turner, we need to assume he's armed and dangerous. And obviously very unstable," said Avery.
"What about Davis?" I asked, looking directly at Todd. Hector answered.
"Todd told us about him right after Turner took off into the woods. I had two guys with him inside of an hour. They've taken him, and his wife, to a hotel in a nearby suburb and we're monitoring his phones and keeping a watch on his house. We're thinking it'll be where Turner tries next."
"And Andrew?" I asked.
"Andrew? Who's Andrew?" inquired Avery, puzzled by the new name.
"Andrew Munroe, Davis' son," replied Sam. He looked at me, deeply concerned, too.
"First I'm hearing of him," said Hector. "Tell me more." Todd spoke up and explained who Andrew was and vaguely why Arnold Turner might consider him a target. He didn't elaborate on the details of the blackmail plot.
Todd looked across the kitchen island at me. "Sorry, Jack. I assumed since he's not local, he wasn't in any immediate danger."
"Do we know where this Munroe kid is?" asked Avery.
"He's not a kid. He's a doctor in El Paso. Runs a medical clinic for indigents and illegal immigrants somewhere near the city. I can get the exact location from Davis," answered Todd.
"And you think Turner's got some beef with this guy?" asked Hector, looking at me.
"Yes, most definitely," I replied. "In fact, I don't know why, but I have the strangest feeling Andrew Munroe is a big part of this whole nightmare. I wouldn't be surprised if Turner didn't head straight for him. He knows where he lives for sure. We need to get to him as soon as possible."
"Alright. Todd, get me his location, and I'll make a call. I can get a few guys to wrap him up until we can sort all this out," said Hector.
"Wait a minute," said Sam. He walked over to me and held my hand. "Jack, we can't just show up unannounced and grab the guy, even if it's for his own good. He doesn't have any idea what's going on up here. We'll freak him out, and he at least deserves an explanation."
"You're right, Sam," I said, realizing the soundness of his logic. "But it doesn't seem much better to just tell him over the phone. I mean...we're strangers calling to tell him his father's been blackmailed for years by a psychopath who may now be hunting him?"
"So go to him personally," said Todd.
"What?" I asked.
"Go to El Paso, and meet with him face to face. Hector can have his guys meet you there and you all go together to Andrew and tell him everything. Explain to him why it's imperative he accept the security, and we can have Davis call him to confirm the story, as well. I agree, it would be a whole lot better doing it face-to-face."
"But if Turner's already headed down there, we're hours behind. We'll never make it in time," said Sam.
"It's a good 10 or so hours to El Paso by car, and that's without stops," said Avery. "I know...I just did it a month ago. My cousin lives down there."
"So if he's driving, at best he's got a six hour head start, and that's assuming he moved immediately in that direction. Given his failure here, I'd like to think he'd take a little time somewhere, hole up, and regroup. We can be on the road in 15 minutes or less. Hopefully we can catch up to him if we don't stop."
"Or...you could take the plane," said Todd, smiling. I almost laughed as Sam's eyes lit up with excitement at the prospect of flying on the jet again.
"Make the call, Todd," I said, with no hesitation. "Tell the guys to get the plane ready for a fast trip to Texas. Hector, tell Todd who's coming with us. Sam, we need to pack a bag. And I'm going downstairs to talk to my team." I think I surprised everyone in the room, including myself, with my sudden clarity and forceful decisions. The truth was, I had a really bad feeling about Turner and Andrew Munroe. We needed to move quickly.
"How long we stayin' in Texas, Jack?" asked Sam.
"Figure on two or three days max. Crap! We have no clean clothes. Maggie was going to wash them."
"All clean and ready to go, Jack," said Charles from the kitchen doorway to the hall. "Maggie finished them a while ago. I just put the baskets in your room. She's napping right now. I wanted her to rest before she starts dinner for everyone."
I nodded to him. "Is she okay?"
"Maggie? Of course. She's made of pretty stern stuff. She doesn't scare easily. I just don't want her to overdo it. We have a lot of mouths to feed all of a sudden," he said, smiling.
"Thanks, Charles. And tell her thanks from me for holding down the fort while we're gone, in case I don't see her before we leave." He nodded to me, and then I grabbed Sam's hand and we headed downstairs.
I could see the armed guards outside through the windows, standing all around the house. There were even two stern-faced sentries downstairs keeping watch over my team. I knew I wasn't in any immediate danger now, and being surrounded by guards was a comfort, but having Sam nearly attached to my side was exactly what I wanted...and needed. I think he needed it, too.
"Hey, guys," I said, entering the main room, now our working office. I tried for confident and upbeat, but I don't think I succeeded.
"Hey, Boss," came a chorus of concerned voices, as each man looked up from his work. Simon said a quick, "I'll call you back" to someone and hung up his cell phone. Will jumped up and came over to us, looking quite worried.
"You okay, Jack? We saw what Turner did. Scared the shit outta me." Sam had moved right up next to me, his hand on my back.
"Yeah, I'm good...now. Sorry about all the chaos, guys."
"Did they find the fucker?" asked Danny, also standing up, looking ready for action.
"Not yet," replied Sam. "They're still looking. The security team tracked him through the woods and found where he got out, but until someone sees him and we know for sure exactly where he is, we need you guys to stay here. Cool?"
"Uh...yeah, I guess," said Mason, speaking for the group. "Some of us had plans for the weekend, but nothing we can't change. I sure as hell don't wanna deal with Turner. The guy's psycho!"
"We have five extra bedrooms - two down here and three upstairs, so help yourself to whatever you need," I said. "Maggie and Charles will put together dinner for everyone. If you need anything, ask them, or whoever Hector leaves in charge."
"Wait...hold up. Whadda ya mean, 'leaves in charge'? I thought Hector was the guy in charge," said Simon.
"He is, but he's coming with us. Sam and I are headed to El Paso in a few minutes. We have something we have to do. It's part of stopping Arnold Turner for good. You'll just have to trust me on that, okay? I'll explain later," I said.
"Uh...okay...I guess," replied Simon. "But they're leaving guards here, right?"
Sam snorted. "Like every five feet! You'll be plenty safe here. You're surrounded by the good guys," said Sam, smiling and trying to make light of a totally ridiculous situation. Everybody sort of nodded to each other, accepting their lot for the moment. Danny was watching Sam very closely, studying him. Then he walked over to stand directly in front of Sam.
"Something wrong, Danny?" Sam asked, curious but not put off. I stopped breathing.
"You're not letting Jack out of your sight, are you?" he stated, glancing at me and then returning his eyes to Sam's.
"Not for a second," said Sam confidently.
"Good," said Danny, nodding with respect to Sam. I don't know why, but it made me feel good that Danny had confidence in Sam's ability to protect me, and that he cared enough to want me protected.
I exhaled, relieved. "Alright then," I said. "We need to go. If you all get bored, you could...oh, I don't know...start a business or something." I got a few half-hearted laughs.
"It's going to be okay, guys. You'll see. Sooner or later the authorities will find Turner, and that'll be the end of him, and we can get back to normal. I'll make sure Todd keeps in touch with everyone. If you need anything, call him or me. Later, guys."
"Later, Boss," came their reply. Sam grabbed my hand and we trudged back upstairs. I was tired, physically, mentally and emotionally. We spoke briefly with Todd back in the kitchen. He had just hung up his cell phone after calling Ron Albertson.
"The plane will be ready by the time we get to the airport. Ron's there already. He was going over maintenance logs when I called. He texted Justin as we spoke, and he's on his way in. Hector's rounding up an SUV and pulling guys in for the trip. I called Margie. She'll meet us at the airport with a bag for me, unless you want me to stay here," said Todd.
"No. Come with us...unless Margie feels otherwise. If she wants you here, I'm fine with that," I replied. Todd smiled at me with a goofy grin.
"What?" I asked, trying not to be annoyed. We didn't have time for games right now.
"How do you do it?" he asked.
"Do what?" I said.
"Think about my wife and what she would want while we're in the middle of a freaking crisis?"
"It's a gift," said Sam, answering for me and smiling.
I looked at them like they were crazy. "Whatever. Come on, Sam, we need to pack. Todd...seriously...call Margie. Whatever she wants, okay?" He nodded, pulling out his phone. Sam and I didn't stand around to listen. Back in our bedroom, Sam pulled out a suitcase and started putting clean clothes in it. I pulled together all our toiletries and together we were packed in less than 15 minutes.
We quickly changed into more suitable traveling attire - I even put on underwear - and with our feet now in socks and shoes, we were ready to go. Sam pulled me to him at the bedroom door and held me in a tight hug for a few seconds, before pulling back to look down into my eyes.
"Jack...I love you. I'm sorry if I'm being a pain in the ass, but...for now...please just let me hover and watch over you. I...I need to know you're safe, okay?"
"Sam...it's fine, really. Even if I start to get irritated, please do whatever you need to. Until Turner is locked up tight, I'll take all the protection I can get. I never want to be alone with that evil man again, believe me." Sam nodded and grabbed my hand.
"Let's go," he said. We walked down the hallway, Sam's right hand fluttering near the small of my back like always, our suitcase in his other hand. We didn't stop, just kept walking, right out the front door.
And right into a semi-circle of six very large, armed-to-the-teeth bodyguards, who closed up ranks around us as we moved in sync across the driveway towards three large, black SUVs with tinted windows, motors idling. The sun was down, the sky barely holding onto a fading shade of dark blue. We were deposited into the middle seats of the center vehicle. Todd joined us a minute later, accompanied by two guards, and squeezed himself into the last row of seats behind us, as Hector hopped into the front passenger seat. I didn't recognize the driver, a square jawed, dark haired man who probably needed to shave twice a day. Pure testosterone. He was staring straight ahead, hands on the wheel, ready for action. I didn't introduce myself. He had a job to do, and it wasn't to chit chat with us.
Speaking into a radio, Hector commanded, "Alright, let's roll. Centennial Airport. Stay alert, people." The front truck pulled away, and our driver followed closely behind. I couldn't see it, but I assumed the third SUV was still behind us as well.
The thirty minute ride to the airport passed in silence. At least, no one talked with Sam, Todd or me. Hector spoke constantly with several different members of his team by cell phone and radio, getting status updates and new information. He was personally on high alert, his body tense and his mind extremely focused. After the near miss with Turner, I knew Hector would do everything humanly possible to keep us protected, or die trying.
Reaching Centennial Airport and the hangar area where our plane was housed, our little caravan pulled up within twenty feet of the plane, gleaming white in the bright lights shining down on the tarmac from the hangar roof, the engines already whining in anticipation. Captain Ron was standing at the bottom of the stairs with Margie, who had an overnight bag in her hands and a worried look on her face.
Hector punched the call button on his radio. "Circle up. Let's go." Doors opened on the other two SUVs and very quickly four agents were standing like a shield between our vehicle and the plane. Hector turned backwards and nodded to us. "You can move now. Stay inside the circle. I don't think there's any danger, but I'm not taking chances at this point. We still don't have eyes on Turner, and until we do, we're gonna act like he's around the next corner at all times...got it?" He said it like we might argue with him. No chance.
Sam and I slid out on the plane side, and Todd un-pretzeled himself from the back seat to stand next to us on the tarmac. He saw Margie and started to move toward her and was instantly restrained by a strong hand on his shoulder.
"Hey...that's my wife over there. Let go of me," said Todd with obvious frustration. The agent reluctantly released his hold on Todd after getting a nod from Hector. The security team was clearly not taking chances. Todd shook off his "captor" and walked over to Margie and hugged her. She smiled thinly, putting on a brave front, but I could tell she was worried. Who wouldn't be?
"Hey, Sam," she said, as we walked over to the steps and Sam gave her a quick hug. Then she turned to me. "How you holdin' up, Jack? Todd told me what happened. You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah...I think so. Sam's keepin' a close eye on me, as is Todd. And of course, we have our squadron of keepers surrounding us now. Are you sure you're okay with Todd coming with us? I told him it was your call, and I meant it. If you want him here with you, it's done. Say the word."
"No...well, I do, but...he'll just fret and be anxious and want to be with you guys, and if you think he can help you down there, then he needs to go. You won't let anything happen to him, though, right? Because if you do, Sam won't have much to play with when I'm finished with you...if you get what I'm sayin'." She said it with a smile, but I still flinched, knowing she was serious.
Sam spoke up, resting a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "He'll be fine, Margie. Hector and the guys will be with us the whole time. We should be back by Sunday night." She just nodded to him, her right hand reaching up and across her chest to pat his hand on her shoulder.
"Margie...I'll be fine. I'll call you when we get to wherever we're staying for the night, okay?" said Todd. His wife turned to him.
"Fine. But you listen to me...you get hurt, there's no more sex for you. So keep your head down, your eyes open, and your dick in your pants. You're mine. Got it?" Todd blushed, but his eyes were flashing, full of excitement and love for his wife. Sam was trying not to laugh. Then dropping the bag she'd been holding, Margie reached up with both hands and grabbed Todd's face, pulling him into a searing, passionate kiss that lasted a little while.
Breaking it off and stepping back, she looked at him and said, "Okay, go on with you. I'll see you when you get back." Todd just looked at her, still slightly stunned from the kiss. Margie smiled at him. "I love you, babe. Come home to me in one piece, okay?" she said, gently. He smiled hugely at her, hugged her tightly, then picked up his bag where Margie had dropped it, and turned to climb up into the plane.
Margie stepped over to me and kissed me on the cheek. "Always give 'em a reason to want to come home," she whispered in my ear. I smiled. She was good.
"Be safe, guys," she said, looking now at Sam and me. Then she turned to our pilot. "Ron, have a safe flight. You and Justin have some pretty precious cargo tonight." she said, smiling.
"Yes, ma'am," replied Ron. Sam and I turned to climb the stairs. Just before ducking my head to enter the plane, I turned around to see Hector looking relieved our little love fest out in the open had wrapped up. Man, was he jittery tonight. He gave a few more instructions to his team, and then followed me up the steps.
Inside the cabin, Todd was already ensconced at his seat at the table, ready to work the second we got the all clear. There were three security agents sitting in the back, none of whom had been introduced to us. Maybe Hector felt it would keep things more formal and less personal that way. However he wanted to play it was fine with me. Hector took a seat across the aisle from the table, and Sam and I sat on one of the leather couches and fastened our seat belts.
Justin's voice came over the PA system. "Buckle up everyone. We've been cleared for takeoff, so we'll have a short taxi and get going straight away. Flight time should be a little less than two hours." I could feel the power of the engines as they throttled up, and in less than three minutes we were airborne.
Sam was smiling in the subdued lighting of the cabin. He leaned over and whispered to me. "I fucking love this plane, Jack!" I grinned back at him.
"I know you do, big guy. I'm glad," I said, reaching to hold his hand. I leaned my head on his shoulder and promptly fell asleep. At some point, Sam must have laid down and put his head in my lap, because that's where he was, snoring softly, when Ron gently shook my shoulder to wake us before landing in El Paso. I rubbed my eyes and tried to stretch a little, my movements waking Sam. He sat up quickly.
"We there already?" he asked, pulling his long, muscular arms over his head and leaning back to stretch as well.
"Ron said we're landing in ten." I replied. Sam looked at me and I couldn't read the expression on his face. He leaned into me slowly, and then gently kissed me. I kissed him back, unconcerned Hector and three other very large, burly men might be watching us. After the day we'd had, who cared?
"Stick close to me, Jack...okay?" whispered Sam in my ear. I nodded. That was my only plan so far on this trip. I hoped Todd had figured out where we were going and maybe even a plan for how to approach Andrew Munroe without spooking him completely.
I stood up and used the forward lavatory, while Sam used the aft. When I sat back down and fastened my seatbelt, Hector moved to a seat closer to the sofa where Sam and I were sitting.
"There've been some developments," he said ominously.
"What developments?" asked Sam, sitting down next to me.
"My guys got a tip that a car matching the description of Arnold Turner's was spotted at a Best Western hotel in Raton, New Mexico. I called in a favor and got somebody to run the plates. It's his car."
I sighed in relief. They had him. "That's great. So the police will pick him up and we're done with the whole nightmare."
"Uh...not exactly, Jack," replied Hector.
"What? Why not?"
"For one, he's crossed state lines, which confuses the jurisdictional parameters and some other bullshit I'd just as soon forget. Second, the local ADA isn't sure he can make the attempted murder charge stick. Turner didn't actually threaten you with the gun, he just held it. It's a real grey area. The best he thinks he can prove is reckless endangerment. And he won't go for extradition without something more. Incidentally, this is the same ADA who decided to not level the same reckless endangerment charge at Charles Smyth, who actually fired his gun. Twice."
"You've got to be kidding me! Turner trespasses on our property, threatens Jack with a gun, and Charles is the one who could get in trouble, not Turner? This is so fucked up," Sam said.
Hector sighed and nodded, equally frustrated. "Bottom line, we know where Turner is, but the police can't touch him. Yet. The ADA is trying to build a bigger case with the Sullivan break in. We know where Turner is now. And we know we're ahead of him. He's at least seven hours away from El Paso, and it looks like he's hunkered down for the night. Probably didn't think he'd be spotted. I'll have two men sitting on the car all night, and they'll let us know when he starts moving again."
"Can't your men just go in a grab him and hold him until the authorities get their act together?" asked Sam, beyond frustrated.
"I wish. But we have no legal authority to apprehend people. We can protect, secure, and investigate. We can even assist authorities if asked, but we can't outright arrest people. Now...if Turner were to do something that was an immediate danger to one of our protectees, then we can legally take action to prevent harm coming to a client. Unfortunately, right now it looks like he's just sleeping."
"Shit! We have to play by the rules, while that psycho can do whatever the hell he wants, whenever he wants," said Sam, totally disgusted. My attitude exactly.
"Look...I know it bites. But guys, we WILL get the son of a bitch. He's already done plenty to get himself locked up for a lotta years. We'll keep him under surveillance, and the police and the prosecutors will eventually build an ironclad case against him. In the mean time, we stick to our play book. We keep it tight, and constant. Do what my guys tell you, and you'll be safe. Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll do something stupid and we can grab him ourselves."
Todd had been listening from the work table. "If Turner's not in El Paso, we don't need to crash in on Andrew Munroe tonight, right? So, should we plan to stay in El Paso for the night, and then head down to Fort Hancock in the morning?"
"Fort what?" I asked. "What are you talking about, Todd?"
"Fort Hancock. It's a tiny community along I-10 about an hour south of El Paso. It's where Andrew runs his medical clinic. According to Davis, he also has a house nearby. It's right on the border with Mexico."
"Does Andrew know we're coming?" asked Sam.
"Not yet. Davis said he would call Andrew tonight and give him a heads up we were coming, but he doesn't want to be the one to give him the details. Jack...he asked if you would do it. He said he trusted you to do it right - his words. To tell you the truth, guys, I think Davis is kind of ashamed at the way he's handled everything. He doesn't think Andrew will take it very well, hearing the whole saga from him, since he's the one who sort of let it all happen in the first place."
"Well, I agree with Todd, if we can avoid ruining his evening, I suppose it would be best to talk with Andrew in the morning. Todd, can you arrange transportation from the airport for all of us?" I said.
"Already taken care of, Jack," answered Hector. "There'll be a team and vehicles waiting for us when we land. From here on out, until you decide you don't need us around, my team will handle all your transportation and security. We do need to know where you want to stay tonight."
"I'm on it," said Todd, pulling out his IPad. Two minutes later the wheels touched down gently in the dry, desert air of west Texas, and the plane rolled out down the runway. As we taxied to the general aviation ramp, Todd managed to book hotel rooms for our entourage. The plane finally came to a stop and the engine whine diminished substantially, almost like a sigh of relief.
Hector asked us to remain on the plane until he had a chance to coordinate with his new security team on the ground. He and the three agents who travelled with us deplaned, while Todd texted Margie our latest whereabouts, and Sam and I stood and stretched and waited.
"Everything okay at home, Todd?" I asked.
"Yeah. She's fine. I told her Turner's not even down here, so not to worry."
"Where are we staying tonight?" asked Sam.
"I've got us in the Staybridge Suites about a mile away. Not exactly the Four Seasons, guys, but it's the best I could find on short notice."
"Todd...I don't think Sam and I really care if it's a five star hotel or not. As long as it's clean and no bugs, it'll be fine." Todd nodded, then finished putting his electronic toys in his briefcase. Ron and Justin came out of the cockpit and I walked up to speak to them.
"Hey guys, nice ride. Thanks," I said.
"No sweat, Jack," said Justin, smiling. "Didn't think we'd see you again so soon. How's Sam?"
"Fine. He's back with Todd."
"No he's not," said Sam, right behind me. I should have known he would be close by. My shadow, my lover, my forever. He wrapped his arms around me from behind and I leaned back into him, comfortable in front of Ron and Justin.
"You guys get all settled in at the house?" asked Ron. We filled them both in about our decision to stay in Denver. Justin again suggested we all get together soon for a cookout or something, and we agreed to try to set a date soon. It did sound like fun.
Hector came back up the stairs and said they were ready for us. Todd, Sam and I descended to the tarmac and were immediately cocooned in a moving shell of black-clothed behemoth men, their faces hard enough to cut metal. Where did Hector get these guys? They all looked ex-military. As long as they kept us safe, I decided I wasn't asking too many questions.
We only had two vehicles this time, and our ride to the hotel was short. Todd went in, with Hector and another agent escorting him, to check us all in. The rest of us went in and were standing off to the side of the lobby, looking conspicuously like a couple of Hollywood movie stars and their entourage. Well, Sam did. Me, I probably looked like his accountant or something.
Todd came over and distributed plastic room keys. Hector outlined where everyone was staying. He had "convinced" the manager to keep the rooms all together on an upper floor which was largely not occupied. Sam and I were in a one bedroom suite. Todd and Hector were in a two bedroom suite next door. The other agents were across the hall and on the other side of Sam and me. With two to a room, I guess the agents were sharing a bed? Whatever.
It was late, but I was hungry. Which meant Sam had to be, too. "Todd, could we get some pizzas and drinks delivered here to the hotel? None of us had dinner."
"Great idea. I'm starving," he said, smiling. He went around the group asking what people liked, and in typical Todd fashion had pizza, soda, and water on its way before we even found our rooms. I noted he didn't order any beer or other alcohol.
"I'll call you guys when the pizza gets here," said Todd, keying into his room, Hector right behind him.
"Hold up, Todd," he said sternly. Todd stopped with one foot in the room, the other still in the hallway. "Let my guys go in first and clear the room."
"Really?" whispered Sam in my ear.
"I heard that, Sam," said Hector. "And yes...really. You want a repeat of this morning? 'Cause I sure as hell don't." Sam shook his head, sufficiently chastised. I felt bad for him, but while it may have seemed over the top, I was secretly relieved Hector was taking his responsibilities so seriously.
Todd stepped back, and the three of us waited in the hall with one agent on each side of us while the others swept all the rooms. Pronouncing them all clear, Sam keyed into our room and closed the door behind us. The room was clean, comfortable, and more than we needed for one night. Sam set the thermostat to something a little cooler and I sat on the edge of the bed. He came over and sat next to me, his hand on my thigh. I leaned over and rested my head on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Sam."
"For dragging you into all this drama. I mean, is this all for real? Security agents? Psycho maniacs with guns? Six weeks ago I was doing my little bookkeeping job, minding my own business. You were happily cleaning pools in the sunshine, not a care in the world. And then bam...we meet and it's great...love at first sight...but now...now it feels like all hell's broken loose on us." I sighed wearily.
"What are you saying, Jack? That we shouldn't be together because other people are whacked?" asked Sam carefully.
"No!" I exclaimed, grabbing his hand in mine. "No...I need you, Sam. And I love you. No...we belong together. I just...I hate it that I've brought all this chaos down around us. I don't get it. My life was never like this. Nothing ever happened. Ever. Now..."
"Jack...this isn't your fault," said Sam. "Sure, it sucks to be in constant turmoil, but things will settle down eventually. They have to. Turner will get picked up tomorrow, we'll talk with Andrew Munroe in the morning, see if we can help the guy, and then we'll go home. You'll keep working on your business with your world class team, and you and I will be together forever."
"You still want me...forever? Like this?"
"Like what? Sexy and vulnerable, with those beautiful eyes and your kisses that make me want to rip my clothes off every time our lips touch? Do I want you, Jack? I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you...no matter what craziness is happening all around us. Because in here," he said, tapping his chest. "In here, there's nothing and no one, but you and me."
"You think I'm sexy?" I said, grinning.
"Not even a little bit, you jerk," Sam replied, smiling big, then he pushed me back on the bed and climbed on top of me, kissing me hard. His need was overwhelming, and my own came rising up like a flood to meet it. Sam started kissing my neck and I was moaning and pulling at his shirt, trying to get to nipples. He suddenly pushed up and straddled my waist, his hard cock obvious in his jeans, my own pressing up into his ass. He grinned as he slowly pulled off his t-shirt, at the same time sliding back and forth a little on my dick, until I thought I might cum. He was so hot!
His shirt off, I strained upwards and my mouth found a nipple, my tongue swirling and licking, my teeth nibbling gently. Sam was the one moaning now, gasping and gyrating on top of me. He pushed my t-shirt up, his fingers finding my nipples, squeezing and pulling and causing my dick to practically hemorrhage pre-cum. At one point he squeezed my left nipple harder than usual and I yelled out. Sam stifled my yelling by bending back down and kissing me, my now constant moans of ecstasy smothered by his tongue as his fingers continued their assault on my nipples, driving me crazy with lust.
Suddenly there was a commotion at the door and one of the security guys was through the front room and two steps into the bedroom before realizing I was not being molested by Arnold Turner. He stopped, frozen in horror at intruding on us. Sam was still on top of me, straddling my waist, his shirt off, his nipples hard and erect. I don't know if the agent could see from where he was standing, but there was no doubt my own hard cock was on display under the giant wet spot on my jeans, right under Sam's magnificent ass.
"Uh...uh...oh god. My bad. Um...sorry guys...I thought...shit." He stopped talking, his face flaming red. Sam smiled at me, kissed me quickly, and turned around and slid off of me, so he could face the agent.
"Hey man, it's okay," said Sam. "What's your name?"
"Benjamin. Ben," he answered, putting his gun back in his shoulder rig.
"Nice to meet you, Ben. I'm Sam, this is Jack, but you know that already, don't you." Ben just weakly smiled, his face still flushed.
"Well...Ben...as you can see, Jack and I are partners, and we've had a stressful day...and...well...you know."
"I'm so sorry, guys. I thought one of you...I mean I heard...oh, shit, Ben, shut up already," he said to himself, now starting to smile a little. Sam laughed out loud, and I smiled, too, no longer really embarrassed. Well, except for the wet spot at my crotch, which now felt a little uncomfortable.
Ben was big. All of Hector's men were big. Massive arms and chest, dark hair cut high and tight in a military style. He had a hint of a beard growing, probably just a heavy end-of-the-day shadow. His eyes were intelligent and brilliant green, like mine. Since no one was in any real danger, Ben stood there in the doorway to the bedroom, not knowing what to do.
"Ben...relax. Jack and I are fine. You were just doing your job. I guess we were getting a little carried away."
"I would have never intruded if I'd known. Shit, guys. I didn't think. Hector told us you were a couple. I just didn't figure on...well...I mean...if you were a guy and a girl..."
"If you had heard...what you heard...you would have assumed we were having sex and left us alone?" I asked, smiling.
"Well...yeah. I mean, it goes with the territory of protecting people. You have to let them live their lives, and sex is a part of it, right?"
"Usually," said Sam, grabbing my hand. "It is for us." Instead of being embarrassed, I felt proud to be with Sam. It was like we were standing up for ourselves and our right to be a sexual couple together. It felt really good, especially in light of everything else we had to deal with.
"As I said, my bad," said Ben. "I get the picture now. I just didn't connect the dots in my head. I'll be honest with you, you guys are the first gay couple I've been assigned to. I'll get my shit together. I'm just glad you're okay."
"Well...surprisingly enough, despite your barging in on what could have been an extremely awkward situation...more than it already is...I'm glad you're on the team. Have you noticed no one else thought to check on us? So thank you, Ben, for doing your job," I said, meaning it.
"Uh...you're welcome?" he said, unsure how to respond. Sam laughed.
"Come on. Let's go sit in the front room and wait for our pizza," said Sam.
"I'll be in in a minute," I said. I needed to change my jeans and underwear. No way I was sitting around all night looking like I'd peed my pants. I changed quickly into a pair of shorts and joined them in the living room area.
"You were on the plane with us, right?" asked Sam. Ben nodded. "So you're part of Hector's crew in Denver?"
"Yeah. I've been with him for about five years. He recruited me when I got out of the Marines after my full tour." Sam had given Ben one of the bottles of water the hotel had put in the room. He had the other one, which he offered to me. I took a sip and handed it back to him.
"So you're how old?" asked Sam.
"So what's it like, working security?" asked Sam. "You must like it if you've stayed with it for so long."
"I do like it. I'm mostly assigned as a personal bodyguard. That was my job in the service as well. I travelled with a two-star general to some seriously bad ass neighborhoods around the world. My job was like the secret service and the President, I guess. Secure the protectee at all costs."
"So you go where your protectee goes, no matter what? How do you have a personal life?" I asked.
Ben laughed. "It's not easy. Mostly you don't, not really. Which for me is no big deal. I'm not exactly the kind of guy a girl would want to settle down with. I'm too aggressive and insensitive and...I don't know. I'm married to the job. It's what I am. It's all I want to be. It works for me."
Sam looked at me, and then back over to Ben. He had a curious expression on his face. He looked at me again, doing his usual staring routine. He quickly nodded to himself and said, "I want Ben to be assigned to you when all this mess with Turner is over."
"Sam...will that really be necessary? I mean, the only danger is Arnold Turner, and he's all but finished. I don't need a permanent bodyguard."
"Maybe not. But for now, just humor me and go along with it. As much as I may want to, I probably can't be with you all the time, Jack, and it would mean a lot to me if you had someone nearby looking out for you. Please just think about it." He was being gentle with me, but the look in his eyes was not asking. He was telling me. I looked into those beautiful deep blue eyes, saw the love and concern alive in them, and simply nodded my head in agreement. Of course I would do it. Because I loved him.
Turning to Ben, I asked, "You okay with this crazy idea of my partner's? You want to be my permanent bodyguard?"
Ben smiled. "Well...that's up to Hector, I guess. It's his show. But if you guys want me, sure, I'm in. As long as you're cool with me knowing your business."
"You mean like what you almost walked in on?" asked Sam seriously.
Ben nodded. "That...and any other aspects of your personal life. Having close security can be difficult for people to deal with sometimes. We try to limit our intrusion, but sometimes it's necessary. And believe me...when we feel it's necessary, you don't get a say. We bust up into your life and answer questions later. Our job in those moments is to make sure there is a 'later'."
We were saved from any more serious conversation about security by Todd knocking on our door, letting us know the pizza was here. The three of us paraded next door to join Hector, Todd and the rest of the agents. We all sat wherever we could - I sat on the floor and leaned against Sam's legs while he sat on the end of the couch - and ate too much pizza. Sensing we were all sliding into sleepiness, Hector turned the conversation to the next morning and making plans.
Apparently Andrew Sullivan operated a medical clinic near the center of town in Fort Hancock, about one hour south of El Paso. He had Saturday clinic hours from 9 am - 2 pm. The plan was to try to get to him before he started work, and the decision was made to arrive at his house around 7:30 and Sam and I would speak to him then. Which meant we all needed to be on the road by 6:30 at the latest. I was exhausted just thinking about it.
I helped Todd collect all the empty pizza boxes and soda cans, and Sam, Todd and I carried them to a closet in the hallway where the front desk clerk had directed us. It held a trash bin big enough to hold it all. Ben was never more than six steps away from me. Sam was no more than two.
We said goodnight to Todd and walked next door to our room, Ben in lock step with us. I noticed he did not eat a lot of pizza like everybody else, which surprised me, seeing as he was a big guy, so I assumed he would have a big appetite. "You don't like pizza much?" I asked him, as he held out his hand for the key to our room, which Sam promptly surrendered.
"No, I love pizza. But it makes me sleepy. I just don't want to eat too much while on duty." He went into our room, did his security sweep, and returned the key to Sam at the door.
"All clear, guys. Have a good night."
I was confused. "You're on duty? I thought we were all just hanging out for now. Turner's a long way away from here."
"Hector says we stay on guard until he's apprehended. Which means we do staggered watches tonight. Two of us will be awake and watching at all times. And listening," he said with a cheeky grin.
"I guess we'd better be a little quieter tonight then...eh, Jack?" said Sam, smiling at me. I just blushed.
"It's cool, guys, I promise. Just be yourselves. We'll keep you safe. See you in the morning." He nodded to us and Sam closed the door and we were finally alone again. I didn't know what Sam had planned - I just wanted to sleep. I was exhausted.
I used the bathroom first, and was naked and in bed under the sheets when Sam came out of the bathroom and walked past the foot of the bed, also totally naked. He was so beautiful in the shadowy low light coming from the bathroom. As tired as I was, I was instantly hard and wanting his hands on me again. My mind flashed to Ben - or whoever was on duty - standing just outside the room door, but even that didn't deter my lust for Sam. He sensed me watching him as he folded his clothes and went back to turn out the bathroom light.
As my eyes adjusted to the near total darkness now enveloping the room, I felt more than saw Sam as he approached the bed and slid under the sheets with me. The warmth of his body was comforting, his arms my shield against the world, as they pulled me into his chest tightly. I kissed him, softly at first, then I felt his tongue venture forth against my lips, and I opened my mouth to receive it. His breath was minty fresh. It's the little things.
We made love quietly and quickly, and I fell asleep with Sam's arms around me, totally content, and we slept soundly until the alarm woke us at 6 am. I was lying on my back in the middle of the bed, with Sam's head on my chest. He was groggy of course, grumbling about the alarm, which I had managed to stretch far enough to turn off. Sam was still mumbling, eyes not quite open, as we showered together. He was definitely not a morning person. He'd be okay once I got some coffee into him, though.
We put on shorts and t-shirts - it was going to be a hot day - and re-packed our few belongings. I texted Todd and told him we were ready to go, and he said everyone was in the lobby eating the free continental breakfast and drinking burnt coffee. There was a knock at our bedroom door and Sam went to answer it. Ben was standing in the doorway with a big smile on his face.
"Morning, guys. Ready to go?" Ben was definitely a morning person. Sam grumbled under his breath, something about "must have coffee", and I followed him out, carrying our bag. Ben just chuckled to himself and led the way to the elevators.
One thing about having Todd travel with us was I never had to think about things like paying the bill or buying the food or any sort of regular-life kinds of things. He just took care of it for us. On the one hand, he seemed to really enjoy doing it, and he was damned good at it. But on the other hand, it seemed a little beneath his pay grade, whatever that was. Crap! I really had no idea what my guys were being paid. Ugh! More to learn, more to do.
Down in the lobby, I ate a blueberry muffin, still slightly frozen in the center, and drank some orange juice out of a machine. It tasted good to me. Sam made a face when he first tasted the coffee Todd placed in front of him, but he drank it. By the time the first cup was in him, his eyes were open and he was smiling again. He drank another cup of coffee, ate three muffins and a banana, and took an apple for the road. He was content and smiling again. Which had me smiling, too.
The only person who ate more than Sam was Hector. He looked worried, and every time I tried to make small talk he would disengage and find something else to do, like check his text messages or voicemail. It was as if he were avoiding me for some reason. What did I do?
Just as Todd and I were cleaning up the mess we had made, Hector's phone rang and he sprang up and walked away so he could hear the caller better. The lobby had become quite noisy with early morning guests arriving for breakfast. As I dumped a pile of trash into the receptacle at the end of the breakfast counter, I saw Hector's countenance completely fall. His eyes clouded over with worry when he caught me watching him. I saw him nod his head and say something else to the caller, then he hung up and walked over to Todd and me.
"That...was not good news. Let's get everybody together outside at the vehicles and I'll bring everyone up to speed." He turned, put his sunglasses on, and walked out the main entrance. Todd looked at me, and I just shrugged. Sam and Ben stepped over to us - they had been talking about something amongst themselves while Todd and I cleaned up - and Sam saw the concern on our faces.
"What's up, Bean Counter?" he asked Todd.
"Don't know. Hector said he just got some not so good news. We're supposed to meet by the SUVs outside." Ben instantly ramped up his security mode, herding us together, his eyes shifting all over the room, looking for what, I had no idea. We were met at the door by two other agents, and the six of us made our way across the parking lot to the vehicles, now running, the air conditioning cooling off the insides, hopefully. It was hot!
Hector had the three of us - Todd, Sam, and me - surrounded by himself and five other agents. We were corralled between the two SUVs, and the agents were looking out from our little circle, not at Hector. Their intensity and focus was palpable. Things had suddenly gotten very serious.
Hector looked at us and said, "I got a call from my crew in Raton. This morning a guy came out of the room we thought was Arnold Turner's, and tried to drive away in Turner's car. My guys...well, let's just say they intervened...and determined the driver's name is Harvey Wilson. He says he worked with Turner, and he was coerced by Turner into driving his car to Raton. He was supposed to just spend the night in the motel - which he did - and then drive the car back to Denver and leave it in a parking garage. Turner even gave him his credit card to pay for the trip."
"Geez! Is there anybody working at the bank NOT being blackmailed by Turner? Harvey is low level AP clerk in accounting, I think." said Todd.
"What does all this mean?" I asked, having a pretty good idea already, but I wanted to hear Hector say it.
"It means...that Arnold Turner was not in Raton, New Mexico last night nor this morning," answered Hector, evenly.
"Yeah, we get that. So where is he?" asked Sam, with a real edge to his voice.
"We don't know. He's still in the wind."
"In the wind. In the FUCKING wind? You said you had him. You said he was wrapped up tight. You said the authorities were going to swoop in this morning and grab him. What the fuck?" Sam seethed.
I was thinking a lot of things all at once, and it was all a jumble inside my head. But it wasn't the time to sort through it all. We needed to move.
"Let's roll," I said, pushing past the security agent next to me and opening the back door of the nearest SUV. I stood there looking at Sam, saying not a word, and he stared back at me. It took him less than five seconds to nod once to me. He turned to Todd.
"Todd. Let's go," said Sam. "We need to escalate our timeline. The rest of you, move your asses. We've got a psycho to catch." I saw the agents look to Hector for direction, and he just nodded to them. At least he wasn't trying to fight us. We still needed him, though for how much longer was very much up in the air.
Todd gave our driver the address. The GPS system indicated it was just under 50 miles to Ft. Hancock. "Hector," I said, "you've got 40 minutes to get us there. Not a minute more. Make it happen." Sam grabbed my hand and squeezed it and nodded to me in approval. It was up to us to save Andrew now.
We made it to Exit 72 off of I-10 in 34 minutes. I have no idea how fast we were going. I didn't care. We rolled past a Shell gas station near the interstate and continued down Knox Street. We crossed a single grade set of railroad tracks, went another couple of blocks, and turned right onto Rio Grande street. Andrew Munroe was fortunate to live on a paved street. Most of the streets bisecting the main drag through town were just...hard packed dirt.
We pulled up in a cloud of dust at the very end of the street. The only thing beyond was the open desert, peppered here and there with sage brush and not much else. To our left, Andrew's home was situated behind a four foot high chain linked fence, with an opening in front just wide enough for a car to enter the compound. I couldn't see a garage - or a car, for that matter. Nor was there any grass. Just dust and dirt.
We weren't exactly inconspicuous. Two black SUVs with dark tinted windows stuck out like a sore thumb and screamed government authorities. I saw a window shade in a neighbor's house rise and a brown face peek out at us, then quickly drop back into place. If we were to knock on their door, I was guessing there would be nobody home.
"Hector, have your men do whatever you think they should, but Sam, Todd and I are going in to see Andrew in five minutes. Preferably sooner. Move...please." Being angry wouldn't get us anywhere, and the bottom line was, Sam and I could be ticked off at Hector, but we still needed him and his agents to protect us. They were the only ones with guns.
Ben was the agent who opened our door three minutes later, after four of the agents had kicked up a veritable dust storm running into the yard and checking things out. I could hear dogs barking in the distance. The scrawniest orange cat I'd ever seen sauntered past us across the street, moving in a constant, slow motion gait in the heat, oblivious to the commotion. Or maybe government raids were commonplace down here and the cat was just used to it.
"Stay close to me, guys. I think we're okay." Ben had his hand on his gun, ready for whatever might pop up behind the the nearest piece of sagebrush. To tell the truth, I was getting more than a little frustrated with all the over-the-top secret service, close protection crap.
"No offense, Ben. But enough is enough." I stepped around him and took off towards the front door at a fast clip, with Sam right beside me. Ben was only a step behind, and if I wasn't mistaken, he had a grin on his face. Good. I didn't want him mad at me.
I stepped up onto the simple concrete porch - a stoop really - and knocked on the reddish brown front door of the single story, dirty white stucco home. It looked to be maybe 1500 square feet, perfectly square, with a couple of double windows on the front wall equidistant from the front door and the corners of the house. The yard was not full of junk, which was a small blessing, and made it stand out against the landscaping efforts of the neighbors. Though to be fair, there wasn't much you could do with dust for a lawn.
The door cracked open, and I heard an exasperated sigh and the person on the other side struggled with it. Then it was suddenly yanked fully open by a tall, handsome man of about 35. He was definitely Davis Munroe's son. The resemblance was undeniable. His dark, black hair was damp, most likely from a shower, and a little on the long side. It fell down into his eyes in front, and rested on the back of the collar of his button down, blue dress shirt. He was wearing off white chino pants and brown loafer shoes. No socks. His brown eyes were full of intelligence - and questions.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Yes. We're sorry to be barging in on you so early in the morning, but we've come from Denver to speak with you about an urgent matter. May we come in?"
"Are you from the bank? My father called last night and said someone would be coming by."
"Yes, in a manner of speaking, we are. We won't take much of your time. I know you're extremely busy. But we really do need to speak with you." Andrew looked past me for the first time and saw the security agents lined up at intervals in front of his house, facing outward. I don't know if it was the armed guards, his father's call the night before, or just his accepting and trusting nature, but he stepped back and held the door open to us. Sam and I, followed by Todd, went inside, and Andrew closed the door behind us. Ben apparently didn't think we were in any danger inside Andrew's house, so he stayed outside on the front stoop.
"Let's go into the kitchen. I'm putting together our lunches. We have to be at the clinic in less than an hour," said Andrew, as he turned and walked through a living room populated with mission style furniture. By "mission style", I mean furniture that would have been given to a mission or similar charity and probably made available for free. Worn, with a few minor rips and tears here and there, but it was all clean. A daunting task given the environment.
"I can offer you water bottles or cold coffee. We don't have much else. We do the shopping up in the city on Sundays."
"Water would be fine, thanks," I said.
"So what's with the men in black outside?" Andrew asked, putting the finishing touches on a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches. "Seriously...what's this all about? My father said I should talk to you...so somebody talk."
I swallowed and decided to make it short and sweet. "My name is Jack Schaeffer, this is my partner, Sam Wainwright, and next to him is my right hand, Todd Martin."
"Todd Martin? I know that name. Dad's mentioned you, I think. You work with Larry Weiss?" Todd nodded.
"How's he doin'?" I was surprised Andrew had any idea of the happenings in Denver. But then it would make sense Davis would tell him about Larry and his heart attack. Just not anything about Arnold Turner. No...that was my job, apparently.
Todd answered. "He's recovering well. Should be moved to a rehab facility this weekend. Then he'll be home in about two weeks, maybe sooner."
"Good. Dr. Magnuson's an excellent cardiologist. He'll take good care of him," said Andrew as he put the sandwiches, two fat dill pickles, and two small bags of barbeque potato chips into a large paper bag. Lunch for two?
"I hope so," said Todd.
"So...Jack. What brings you all down to our lovely little village in the desert that you couldn't just call me on the phone?" He sounded genuinely curious and slightly irritated at our intrusion. I didn't blame him.
"Are you familiar with a man named Arnold Turner?" His face clouded over instantly as he turned away from us to look out his patio door into his fenced in dirt patch of a back yard.
After a few seconds he answered. "Unfortunately, yes, I know an Arnold Turner. Well...I did. Back in college."
"Were you aware he has been working at your father's bank for a number of years?" He turned back to look at me, startled.
"What? You're kidding. Why? Why would he...oh shit. Oh no...he didn't...oh my god! What did he do?" Andrew had gone from calm and confident to nervous and shaky in two seconds. I thought only I did that. I decided to just get the story out quickly and we would deal with his reaction afterwards.
"He basically blackmailed your father into hiring him to be a VP. And he's been leveraging other employees to do his bidding and help him get ahead as well. I'm a client at the bank, and Todd and Larry asked me to get involved to try and stop a particularly damaging plan Turner wanted to implement. When your father changed his mind and strangely started to support Turner's plan, Larry smelled a rat. Todd did some digging, and we figured out it was probably Turner's influence somehow. And then Sam and I spoke with your father, and he...well, that's when he confirmed Turner had been blackmailing him."
"About me, right?" said Andrew, in a whisper. I nodded. Everyone else just stood still. "So...he knows. About...me. Arnie told him." I nodded again, hating to be the one to shatter his world like this.
Just then another man walked into the kitchen, buttoning the cuffs on his plain white dress shirt. He had on blue khaki dress pants and black loafers. Essentially the same "uniform" as Andrew. His short, orange-red hair, dark red full beard, and slightly freckled face were a distinct contrast, however, to Andrew's dark features.
"Hello?" said the new guy, pulling up short, not sure what to make of his unexpected guests. "I thought I heard voices." Then he looked at Andrew's face and moved quickly to him and started to hug him, I think, but stopped himself, instead putting his hands into his pants pockets. "Andy...what's wrong? What's happened? Is it your father?"
Andrew sighed deeply. "Sort of. Mike, these people are from the bank in Denver. This is Jack...Sam...and Todd. Guys, this is Dr. Michael Branson. He runs the clinic down here with me. We live together to save on expenses." Michael shook our hands politely. Something in the way Andrew introduced him didn't ring true, but I wasn't sure. I didn't know these guys at all.
Turning back to Michael, Andrew said, "They came down here because...well, because my big secret is out of the bag, and a guy from my past is causing trouble up there. Trouble for my father," he said, pointedly.
"Your father?" said Michael, a little too loudly. He softened his voice, realizing his over reaction. "So...he knows?" Andrew nodded.
"And...what about them?" asked Michael, indicating the three of us standing in his kitchen.
"I assume so," said Andrew, looking at me for confirmation. Sam was the one who nodded. Michael looked over to him, and they did the staring into each other's eyes thing, and Michael started looking from Sam to me and back to Sam. Sam just nodded, and Michael finally nodded back. But then he got a hard look on his face.
"So...you guys came all the way down here to make trouble for us?" Even Andrew was startled by the sudden turn in the conversation.
"Whoa...whoa," said Sam, holding up his hands. "No way. We're here to help you guys, not cause trouble. Why don't you let Jack tell you everything."
"Alright, tell us. Everything," said Michael, arms crossed, clearly in protection mode where Andrew was concerned. He even moved a little to be standing between us and Andrew, a move Sam had made many times to shield me. It was now obvious to all of us that Michael and Andrew shared a lot more than clinic duties.
I started by explaining how Arnold Turner had blackmailed Davis and how Davis had sought to protect his son's secret, believing it was the loving and best thing he could do in the situation. "Andrew...your father told us he loves you very, very much, and he would do anything to protect you. He knows you're gay, he's known for years now, but he probably won't speak of it unless you do. He said he wants you to be free to have an open and loving relationship with whomever you choose to love, but he would also understand, given the nature of your work, if you chose to keep your secret for the greater good of helping more people. He doesn't want to jeapordize your work in any way. He's very proud of the man you've become, Andrew." Michael kept inching closer and closer to Andrew's side. I knew he just wanted to wrap him up and hold him, like Sam would do for me.
I then proceeded to tell them everything we knew about Arnold Turner and what he had done, including his threats and armed action against me the day before, and the fact that we did not know where he was at the moment.
"We have to assume at this point that he's armed and dangerous," said Todd gravely.
Andrew turned to Michael and grabbed his hands in his own, startling Michael at first, but he didn't let go. "Mike...no more secrets, okay? No more. I've been a fool. My parents have clearly known for a long time. And...I'm tired of hiding. Michael...I love you. You know that. I don't care anymore what people think about it. Maybe if...if...if I'd been brave enough to tell my father a long time ago, none of this would have happened."
"But Andy, you didn't do anything wrong," pleaded Michael. "This guy Turner...he's the bad guy, not you."
"I know...I do. I understand that. But I could have told the truth. I could have been honest with my parents at least, and then my father wouldn't have had to cover for me and risk his company and his career to protect me."
"I still can't believe all he did for you," said Michael. "You have an amazing father, Andy." Andrew nodded, biting his bottom lip, tears threatening to fall. Michael hugged him then, not hiding their relationship anymore.
Turning to me, Andrew asked, "Is my father in trouble with the bank?"
"I don't think so," I replied. "I've discussed the matter with Andrew Sullivan - I think you know him - and he's doing everything he can to keep your father's role in this a secret. Fortunately for your father, Arnold Turner's own actions were enough to get him fired from the bank."
"Sully's involved, too?" exclaimed Andrew, with a slight smile. "How is the ol' coot? I haven't talked to him in a while. He was always kind to me. He helped me out a few times when there was no one else to talk to. Mike, I'd love for you to meet him. He's a great man. You'd love him." I caught Sam smiling, knowing he was thinking the same thing I was - Andrew Sullivan had his own secret to share with Andrew Munroe.
"Guys...I'm sorry to interrupt," said Todd. "But there is the matter of a psychopath on the loose. We need to discuss how we are going to keep these two safe until he's caught."
"Oh my god...that's why the house is surrounded with G-Men! They're watching for Turner and guarding you guys, aren't they," said Andrew.
"Yes," said Sam. "We came down here to tell you what was happening, but also to try and keep you safe. Both of you. We don't really know for sure, but it seems likely Turner would head in this direction after everything fell apart for him in Denver. Especially after he arranged a ruse to confuse anyone who may be following him as to his actual whereabouts."
"But why come here? We have no direct ties to the bank. What would Turner want with us?" asked Michael.
"Not us...me," said Andrew, with a deep sigh, as he sat down at the kitchen table.
"Why, Andy?" asked Michael, gently, rubbing Andrew's shoulders.
"Because...I rejected him."
"Rejected...what, you were in a relationship with this guy?"
"No, Mike. We were freshmen at Harvard. I was very much in the closet and yet somehow, Arnie Turner figured me out. He had this way of knowing things about people. I never realized he would use what he knew to manipulate or control other people. I thought he only did it to me. Anyway, he asked me out around Christmas time, and I was too scared at first. I knew I was gay, but I had zero experience and I wasn't really interested in Arnie. But he kept insisting it would be our secret, and it was only one dinner. So after several days of his persistence, I agreed to the one dinner. It was nice, and he paid, which was good, because I couldn't afford a restaurant like that. Of course, we ended up at his dorm afterwards, his room mate conveniently gone home for the weekend. He said he just needed to pick something up, and then we were going to walk to the Union to meet some other classmates.
"When we got to his room, he tried to kiss me. I fumbled it badly, and I think it embarrassed him, because he got angry then, and told me to get out. He really scared me - he got this wild look in his eyes - so I left in a hurry. The next day we had a class together, and he acted like it had never happened. I tried to keep my distance, but he kept pursuing me, off and on. Finally, near the end of the first year, I told him I was interested in somebody else, which was a lie, and it just wasn't going to happen between us. He flew into a rage again, and broke a chair against the wall in the Union. I just picked up my books and ran. He never bothered me again, but any time we would pass by each other, he would look at me with those dark eyes. It creeped me out. Thankfully he went into business and I was studying science, so we had no more classes together. I very seldom saw him after that first year."
"Your father said he first met Turner at an Alumni event with you and some other friends," said Sam.
"Yeah," said Andrew sadly. "I'll never forget it. Turner saw my father and despite our...history...came over to ask me to introduce him. I didn't want to do it - my father was a busy man and was working the room for new clients, like pretty much everyone else there. I told Arnie I didn't think it was a good idea, my father was busy. He'd say okay, but he'd leave and then come back twenty minutes later. Maybe the third time I told him no, he looked at me with those creepy eyes and said fine, he'd go introduce himself as his son's lover. I hated him for that, but he didn't care. He got what he wanted. I introduced them, and my only consolation was I could tell my father would never remember Arnie. If you didn't have a million dollars to invest, my father would mentally move on. But at least Arnie walked away happy and left us alone afterwards. I don't think I ever really talked to Arnie again after that night, now that I think about it."
"Okay, so the guy was into you a million years ago, but you both moved on. Why would he bother with you now?" asked Michael.
Andrew sighed. "I don't know, maybe I'm totally wrong about him. But...it just seems like something he would do. I agree with these guys. If Arnie has a screw loose, and it sure sounds like he does, then he would probably see me as unfinished business. Heck, maybe he even blames my rejection of him eighteen years ago for all his woes today. People have gone crazy for a lot less."
"Great, that's all we need. We've got fifty plus people waiting for us at the clinic, and a maniac looking to settle a score with you. What a lovely day this is turning out to be," said Michael with a sigh, collapsing in the chair next to Andrew.
"Do you think it's a good idea to go to the clinic today? I mean, we don't know where Turner is. We should get you guys out of town and under wraps somewhere," said Todd.
"No offense, but there's no way I'm leaving," said Andrew.
"Me either," said Michael. "The people of this community rely on us. We're the only doctors for fifty miles, and most of the people we treat wouldn't set foot in a city hospital under any circumstances. Besides, they couldn't afford the bill, anyway. We treat them and ask no questions, so they'll come to us."
"You treat them for free?" I asked.
"Most of them. Some can pay us something, a few bucks, maybe. We use it for some supplies and treats for the little kids. You know, like a sucker or piece of candy if they're quiet while we stitch them up after a fall or something," said Andrew.
"How do you make a living doing this kind of medicine?" I asked, curious.
"We're primarily funded by the Salus Society. It's a Christian medical missions group with a focus on providing primary health care services to indigent, and in many cases illegal, populations."
"So...if you guys don't show up today, the people in line at the clinic get no help," said Sam.
"Exactly. We have to go. They need us," said Michael, standing up again. Andrew joined him.
"Look, guys," said Andrew. "I really appreciate you coming all this way down here to give us the heads up about Arnie. But Mike and I need to go to the clinic. Any minute now, Mariana's gonna call wondering where we are. And you don't want to upset the woman who keeps order in the waiting room, believe me."
Sam looked at the doctors with great intensity. "Can I ask you both a serious question?" They nodded. "If something bad happens to you, who takes care of the people here?" They looked at him in silence, contemplating what he had suggested. "I know it's a pain in the ass," continued Sam. "But we'll find a way for you to do your jobs, okay? Please, think about your patients - the people who you say need you. You need to be safe and unharmed - so you can do your work. Give us a few minutes to put together a plan."
Andrew and Michael looked at each other. "He's got a point, Mike. I couldn't stand it if you got hurt, and you know it takes both of us to make the clinic work. These people have no one else. I think we have to do what we can as long as it still lets us work. What do you think?"
Michael looked unsure. "I guess so. But we need to figure it out quickly. And can they at least change clothes? Those guys show up at the clinic dressed in black and you know we won't see a patient for a month. The whole town will think we've been raided by INS."
"Where's the clinic from here?" asked Todd.
"On Knox, two blocks further into town. So about four blocks total. We usually just walk over. It's a white building with a small parking lot on the side. The line out the front door will be your first clue you've found the right place."
"Got it," said Todd, and he turned to leave, probably to let Hector know the latest.
With their provisional acceptance of security, Andrew and Michael excused themselves to finish getting ready for their work day. Sam was standing by the patio door, looking out at nothing but dirt. I walked over to him and put my arms around him. He spun around in my arms to face me, looking very grave.
"What's the matter, Sam?" I asked.
"I don't know, Jack. But I've got a really bad feeling about all this. I think you and Andrew are right. Arnold Turner will be here at some point. No good can come of it. I'll feel a lot better when he's been neutralized."
"I hear you, big guy. I hope everyone keeps their eyes and ears open. You think our security team is up to the task?"
"They have to be, Jack. They're all we've got, and now were trusting them to protect the doctors, too. Just stick close to Ben and me, okay? I think we'll have to hang out at the clinic today. Our security team isn't big enough to cover two locations at one time."
"Fine by me. I want to check out their operation anyway. Their commitment to their calling is impressive. I want to help them if we can."
"Well, if they hold to their decision of no more secrets, my guess is they'll learn in a hurry whether the community will still support them and keep coming to their clinic. The harder sell will be their support network. We can always give them money, I guess. Right?"
"Of course. And we will. But man, I hope the Salus Society doesn't wig out just because these guys are gay. I mean, they've apparently done great work down here. Why would anyone want to prevent that?"
"Let's hope they don't."
Andrew and Michael came back into the kitchen, holding hands and looking a little more composed. Andrew looked at Sam and me in each other's arms and smiled.
"We're ready to go," said Michael.
"Let's do it. The guys should be ready for us outside," said Sam. The four of us moved to the front door, where Ben was waiting. I never heard him come in. He was now dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the muscles in his arms and chest threatening to burst the seams. With no jacket, he had no way to hide his gun, which was now stuffed into the waistband of his jeans, pointed down at his man bits. Looked dangerous to me.
"Wait right here for a minute, please," said Ben, holding up his hand. He spoke into his radio, letting someone outside know we were ready, and in about 10 seconds he nodded to our little group and opened the door. Hector had one of the SUVs pulled right up to the porch, with the back door open. Guess they couldn't exactly ruin the lawn.
Michael sighed loudly, clearly irritated by all the fuss, but grabbed Andrew's hand and led them into the vehicle, followed by Todd, then Sam and I. Ben climbed in the front seat, and we were rolling. The other SUV led the way, all of the agents now looking much more casual. Where they had changed clothes, I had no clue. They still stuck out like a sore thumb, given their size. And their guns.
The ride to the clinic took two minutes tops. And Michael was correct. There was a long line leading out the front door and into the parking lot, which was curiously nearly devoid of cars, given the number of people seeking medical care. Ft. Hancock was not very big. It looked like the entire town was visiting the clinic.
The agents jumped out of the first vehicle and Hector had them organized into a loose circle around us as we moved from the parking lot into the clinic. Andrew and Michael greeted many of the people in line by name, trying to reassure everyone. I saw a lot of nervous glances, especially when they saw the guns, but I only saw three people slink out of line and disappear around the side of the clinic. I hoped they weren't seriously ill.
Inside, there was organized chaos, presided over by Mariana Jimenez, a large Hispanic woman with an even larger heart and a huge smile in a pink nurse's uniform. She was like a protective mother to all the patients. She seemed to know everyone on a first name basis, their particular ailments, and most importantly, how to triage their needs. It was clear immediately the clinic did not operate on an appointment basis. You saw the doctor based on the priority of your complaint.
The clinic itself was clean, simple and efficient, designed to move the maximum number of people through with a minimum of fuss. Since most weren't paying, let alone revealing their true identities, there were no clipboards with insurance forms to fill out, and no lengthy health histories to complete. If you were sick or injured, all you had to do was wait your turn. And surprisingly, no one seemed to mind waiting too much. Andrew was wise in understanding the power of Mariana to keep order and reassure their patients. Plus she spoke fluent Spanish, a necessity with many of the patients.
The central waiting room took up almost the entire front half of the building. Floored in basic white commercial tile, there were maybe 30 metal folding chairs scattered against the walls, all occupied, with another 20 or so patients standing. The rest of the patients were still outside in the hot sun, waiting their turn.
Two small bathrooms, one for each gender, anchored the far end of the waiting area. There were no tables, no outdated magazines, and no soft, instrumental music playing over the PA system. There was no PA system. There was only Mariana, and when she spoke, people listened. She was the gatekeeper, and everybody knew it.
"Well, there you are," she said, looking up from listening to a patient discuss her sore foot as the doctors arrived. "I thought I was gonna have to send the cavalry down to your place to get you out of bed, but I see you've brought your own. Wanna tell me what's goin' on? On second thought, forget it. Doesn't matter. Mrs. Rivera cut herself makin' breakfast this morning and needs stitches - four should do it. She's in One. Jaime Perez is in Two...chest pain, bad color. Go!" she said, and Andrew and Michael exchanged a knowing look and went in opposite directions toward the exam rooms. A long day of doctoring had begun.
Sam, Todd and I found space to stand in one corner of the room so we could observe but stay out of the way. Ben was stationed just outside the door, watching each person who managed to squeeze into the waiting room as a prior patient departed. Todd whispered to me that Hector had the other agents stationed all around the building, but they agreed to not come inside unless absolutely necessary.
With each new arrival, Mariana would discuss their particular ailment with them, mentally prioritize their need to see the doctor, and tell them to find a seat or stand out of the way. One lady, dressed a little better than the majority of the room, stepped inside the door, and before Mariana could even say hello, she held out her hand to Mariana. Mariana graciously welcomed her, and asked her what she needed, pulling her hand back and realizing the woman had given her a twenty dollar bill. She looked at it with a frown.
"Mrs. Alvarez, you may as well keep this. I've told you every time you come in here, the doctor will see you when it's your turn, and not before. You'll have to wait like everyone else. Bribing me won't make it any faster, and besides, your grandbabies need food. Here, take this and sit down over there. I'll get you in as soon as possible."
The woman swiped the money back from Mariana's hand and grumbled to herself as she shuffled over to an empty seat. The other patients looked at her like she had committed a cardinal sin or something. Apparently you did not mess with Mariana, and it was now obvious to one and all she could not be bought. I smiled, knowing the doctors had a real gem of a triage nurse.
The exam rooms were immediately off the waiting room, one on each end of the building. In between, behind a low wall and counter, was a recessed area with more counters and what looked like a makeshift laboratory. There wasn't much equipment, and only a single, older looking computer, but everything was clean and neat. Apparently there was also a medicine dispensary back there, as each doctor periodically came out of an exam room, looked through a locked glass cabinet, and extracted a pill bottle or container of something. I saw several patients depart with medicine in hand. Interesting. Doctor and Pharmacist, all in one.
There was a second nurse as well, her name tag declaring her to be Janelle. She was thin, maybe forty years old, somber in countenance, and she moved quickly between the two exam rooms, assisting with anything the doctors could pass off to her, and occasionally stopped to do something in the lab area. I wondered what they did when someone needed a blood test or x-rays or something similar. Maybe there was a room I couldn't see from where we were standing.
As the morning wore on, the sun rose higher in the sky outside, and the heat inside the waiting room rose with it. It didn't help there were 50 plus people in various states of physical distress, all occupying a single space. Mariana turned on two oscillating fans in the far corners, and that helped move the warm air at least. But people were still fanning themselves with whatever paper or object they brought in with them, trying to stay cool.
Mrs. Rivera, the one who had cut her finger, did indeed receive four stitches, as predicted. One for each of her grandchildren, she proudly told another woman, as she made her way to the door. She pressed past a much older unkempt gentlemen just coming in, who moved slowly to a chair and sat down. Mariana spoke with him quietly, about what I couldn't hear, and he seemed to indicate his particular ailment was centered in his abdomen. He kept lifting up his shirt, and I could see he was dirty underneath it, even from across the room. Mariana got him settled and moved on to the next person walking in.
And so it went for the next two hours. Sam was almost asleep, having slid down the wall so he was now sitting with his knees up and his head resting on his arms across his knees. Todd was periodically texting people and looking up things on his smartphone. I had no idea what he was working on, but I trusted him. He got things done.
After each patient was finished, Mariana would call the next one up and direct them to the now empty exam room, all from the list she managed in her head. The whole operation moved like a well oiled machine. In less than three hours, the doctors had seen over 30 patients, some of them requiring stitches, splints, and other treatments. Each doctor took a turn eating a fast lunch, and then returning to work.
Around noon, I was getting hungry. I poked Sam who looked up at me and yawned, then slowly stood up and stretched. Todd was leaning up against the wall in the corner with his eyes closed. He opened them when he sensed Sam stirring.
"I'm gonna use the bathroom. Anybody hungry besides me?" I asked, knowing Sam would be ravenous by now. He answered by smiling at me. Todd rolled his eyes, and grabbed his phone.
"I'll text Hector and see what his plan is." I nodded and headed across the waiting room for the men's bathroom on the other side of the building, careful to not step on the little kids playing at their parents' feet on the tile floor. It was amazing how a single little toy car could hold the attention of a three year old boy.
I had to wait about a minute for the bathroom. Thankfully I wasn't waiting for the ladies room. That line was six deep. A little boy came out and smiled at me, and I stepped inside and did my business. I washed my hands and opened the door into the older gentlemen who had the stomach issues. He looked down at his feet as I stepped past him, holding the door for him. As I turned I felt an arm go around my neck and pull me hard backwards.
"Don't yell. Don't scream. Do as I say and maybe...maybe I'll let you live." It was Turner. He was disguised as the old man. He reeked, his breath hot on my neck. And he was a lot stronger than his old man costume would lead you to believe. Sam saw what was happening from far across the room and started moving fast towards me, pushing kids and people out of the way, causing a loud commotion. Turner pressed something very hard into my spine - I assumed it was a gun - and whispered, "Make him stop."
"Sam, stop!" I yelled. "Too many people!" He stopped, frozen in his rage, and I could tell he was thinking fast how he could get to me without anybody getting hurt. All I cared about was him. My own anger was white hot. I'd had my fill of the scumbag holding me.
I saw Todd, wide-eyed, dialing furiously on his phone, trying to talk to Hector above the cacophony of voices which erupted after my outburst. Parents began grabbing kids left and right and pressing for the exit. I could see Ben struggling to get past them and into the room. He finally managed to push his way through the crowd, gun drawn.
"Don't come any closer," Turner yelled. "I've got a gun, and nothing would make me happier right now than to waste this piece of shit faggot. Now back off." Ben stopped moving towards us, but didn't step backwards. His gun was still in his hand.
"Lose the gun," said Turner.
"No," was all Ben said. But he didn't move.
Just then the door to Exam Room Two, the one closest to the bathrooms, opened and a mother carrying her infant daughter came out. She took one look at me and the crazy man holding me, and wrapped her daughter up tighter and hurried past speaking loudly in Spanish. I have no idea what she said, but I hoped she was praying for us all.
Turner wrenched my neck backwards and virtually dragged me backwards into the Exam Room, where Andrew had his back to the door, writing on a chart. Turner slammed the door shut, and Andrew jumped, turning around quickly. He gasped when he saw me, being held at gunpoint by his old nemesis.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Arnie?" asked Andrew. I think he was truly pissed that Arnold Turner would invade the sanctity of his clinic. He certainly didn't seemed scared. The really strange thing was...I wasn't scared either. I was pissed, too.
Turner shoved me hard in Andrew's direction and I stumbled, landing on my knees at his feet, but I scrambled back up as quickly as I had fallen. I turned to face a filthy, crazed freak with a gun that looked just slightly smaller than a bazooka, aimed at us.
"You alright, Jack?" whispered Andrew.
"Yeah...I'm good," I said, rubbing my sore neck, disgusted by the filth that came back on my hand.
"Good? Good?!!" screamed Turner. "There's no good in fags like you two. Only evil. And today's a good day to rid the world of evil."
"Well...Arnie...be sure you save enough bullets to kill yourself, because we're not the only fags in this room, are we?" said Andrew. His challenge shocked Turner, because his eyes shifted in a strange way, like he was momentarily looking at himself and then he came back to stare at us with his dead, black eyes.
"Shut up, Andy. You don't know shit. You always thought you were better than everyone else. Rich daddy. Trust fund education. The easy life...while the rest of us had to work and fight to get ahead." He laughed to himself. "But I showed you, didn't I. You didn't want to introduce me to dear old daddy. Well...I told him exactly what you are, Andy. I made him see what a disgusting loser fag you really are. And you know what he did to reward me? He made me a VP, and he was grooming me for his job. Until this asshole came along and screwed it all up," he snarled towards me, waving his gun around wildly now.
There was a loud commotion outside the room and then someone started banging on the exam room door. Turner had apparently locked it somehow behind him. "Stay the fuck out, you hear me!" he yelled. "Someone tries to come in, they die." I heard a scraping sound slide down the door and what sounded like muffled crying. Then the noise on the other side of the door disappeared.
"Aww, isn't that sweet. Your sick, sad little boyfriend is crying for you, Andy. Serves him right. He took you from me, now I'm taking you from him. He's not a real man, anyway. I could have given you everything. We could have had a great life. Instead you live in a slum, in the dirt and dust with these wetbacks and low lifes, pretending to be a doctor cuz you couldn't cut it in the real world. Always hiding...right, Andy? Isn't that right?" he screamed. Andrew said nothing.
"Yeah...you were always hiding. You don't want the real world to know what a sick disgusting faggot you are. You thought you could hide forever. But here I am!" He broke out in a maniacal, haunting laughter, like a possessed animal of some kind. Clearly he was losing all touch with reality.
I secretly looked around the room, trying to find something we could use to overpower him before his huge gun went off and we ran out of options. But there was nothing. It was just your average medical exam room. Two folding chairs, a small desk with almost nothing on it, and the main exam table. If I could get one of the metal stirrups out of its slot, I could maybe knock the gun out of his hand, but I didn't like my chances.
On the wall behind us was only a small window, high up. I wasn't sure, but I thought I could hear movement outside. On the side wall between us and Turner hung one of those lighted x-ray reader things and a small wood-framed picture of some desert scenery. No glass. Again, nothing to use as a weapon. Any help we were going to get was going to have to come from outside the room.
"Hey...asshole!" yelled Andrew suddenly. I stiffened a little as Turner stopped laughing and his eyes narrowed, throwing off intense hatred.
"What did you call me?" he said, his breathing now heavier and more labored, his face getting redder by the second.
"You heard me...asshole. You think you're hot shit because you have a gun? You come down here to impress me, Arnie? Because I gotta tell you, you didn't impress me back in college, and you don't impress me now. Look at you. The way I hear it, you've lost everything. And you know what, it serves you right. You never did know when to quit. It always had to be your way, your timeline. Now you've screwed it all up, and there's nowhere for you to go. Nobody wants you now, Arnie. Nobody." Andrew's words were harsh and cold. What was he thinking? The madder Turner got, the sooner he'd start shooting. Why provoke the crazy man with the gun?
Turner looked at Andrew, his eyes not totally focused any more. "That's right, Arnie," continued Andrew slowly. "Nobody wants you. You've painted yourself into a real corner this time, haven't you? You're all alone...there's no one to save you this time. You can't blame anybody else for what you've done. And no matter what you do, you aren't leaving this room a free man. There's a dozen armed guards outside. There's no place for you to go. A step too far, Arnie. This time...you went a step too far."
Turner growled back at Andrew. "Shut up, faggot. You're the one with no options. You think the keystone cops outside are gonna stop me. You've got to be kidding. I walked in here right under their noses. And you...are my ticket out of here, right after I get rid of the trash," he said, turning to look at me, waving his huge gun in my direction. I ignored it and focused on his dead eyes. I couldn't do anything about the gun. But Andrew was in his head, screwing with him, and I wanted in there, too. If I was going to die, at least I'd go standing up for myself.
"Trash? Did you just call me trash? I'm not the one that's smelling up the room, Arnie. The stench is coming off of you," I taunted.
"Don't call me Arnie, faggot."
"Then don't call me faggot...faggot!" I screamed. I took a step towards him, shocking him and myself. I decided I had one shot to make it out of the room alive.
"I'm sick of you, Turner," I said, taking another small step towards him. "You've been a pain in my ass since I first heard your name." He raised the gun up and held it steady.
"You wanna kill me, fine. Do it. But no way you get out of here alive. You've lied, cheated, blackmailed, and held a gun on me twice now. And it's all gotten you nowhere. You're done, Turner. Done." I took another small step towards him, my right hand drifting behind my back, my left as limp and non-threatening as I could make it. I wanted him focused on my face and my voice, not my hands.
"You're such a fool. Davis Munroe wasn't grooming you to take his job. He despises you. He only gave you the VP job to protect his son. And in the end, it was me...Jack Schaeffer...a nobody...who convinced the Board to go against your selfish plan. I won. You lost." One more tiny step. Almost there.
"We know about your little trick with the car and the hotel. Big deal. Child's play. Your game's run its course. No one's interested anymore. And when word gets out you were fired from the bank, none of the people you've blackmailed will be afraid of you anymore." My right hand found its goal.
"And you know why...Arnie? Because you just don't matter anymore." His eyes squeezed into dark slits and his face scrunched into a vile sneer as he raised the gun towards my head. As it came up, I swung the metal stirrup in my right hand as hard as I could, twisting to give it all the power possible, hoping against hope it would breach the divide between us.
I heard the gun go off just as the stirrup connected to his left temple. As I fell to the floor I could smell the gunpowder and the disinfectant embedded in the tile. My head was sideways on the cool tile, and I was looking into Arnold Turner's eyes, his head lying at an odd angle on the floor, blood flowing out of his left ear. I watched as I saw the last remaining bit of light fade from his eyes.
Then all I saw were shoes and feet and I felt someone roll me onto my back. I closed my eyes to the blinding fluorescent ceiling light. There may have been shouting, but it was all muted and distorted, and all I really wanted to do was sleep. So I did.
I woke up on my side, lying on a hard table. I looked, but Arnold Turner wasn't dead on the floor. He was supposed to be dead on the floor. I needed him to be dead on the floor. I tried to push to get up, to get away, and that's when I heard his voice.
"Easy, Jack. Don't move. He's almost done," said Sam from above me. He leaned down and kissed my cheek gently. I reached up for him and I felt him grab my hand. I pulled and he got the idea, coming around so I could see his face. He crouched down so we were eye to eye. He'd been crying. I touched his cheek with my outstretched hand and he held it against his face as his tears flowed silently.
"Forever, Sam." He nodded, unable to speak. There was nothing else to say.
It was late Saturday, and we were sitting in Andrew and Michael's living room. I was stiff and a little sore, the stitches in my side starting to itch. I moved to scratch and Andrew caught me.
"Stop that, Jack. You'll irritate the wound or dislodge the stitches. Here, let me look at it," he said, as he got up from his chair and sat next to me on the couch, while I leaned over into Sam's lap. I purposely put my hand on his thigh, my fingers teasing his crotch a little. I needed to do something to brighten his spirits. He did smile a little. It was a start.
Andrew lifted my t-shirt - a clean one, as my previous one was trashed - and pulled the waistband of my shorts and underwear down a little, then peeled back the bandage. I still hadn't looked at it myself. "It looks good. Mike did a great job with this. But it's gonna take a while to heal."
"It hurts," I whined.
"Don't be a big baby, Jack," said Sam, smiling a little more. "It's a scratch. You'll live."
"Well...will you kiss it and make it all better," I said, looking up at him, sounding like a little boy. Todd, sitting next to us, rolled his eyes.
"Really? I have to listen to this crap?" he said. I giggled. More eye rolling.
Sam reached down and very carefully pulled my underwear and shorts back up to my waist, then slowly pulled my t-shirt over the bandage. He had not allowed me out of his sight since we left the clinic early in the evening. He held my hand the whole time I was answering questions from countless authorities. They tried to make him leave, but I refused to cooperate if I couldn't have him with me. They relented.
Arnold Turner was dead. I killed him. According to Andrew, who actually tried to save him after making sure I was not seriously injured, the metal stirrup hit him in just the right spot in his temple area to shatter his skull and cause it to implode into his brain. He was essentially dead before he hit the floor. My twisting as I swung the stirrup was the difference between a scratch, as Sam called it, and a life threatening injury.
When the gun had gone off, Ben immediately broke through the door, with Sam right behind him. Andrew was the one who had rolled me onto my back to check me out, but Sam apparently had shoved him aside, screaming, seeing blood and thinking I was dead. Michael told me Sam never left my side. He was the one who carried me to the other examination room so Michael could repair my wound, the whole time holding me still so Michael could work.
Thankfully the head investigator deemed my actions self defense, especially after Andrew independently corroborated my story. I was free to leave, as long as I made myself available, if needed, at a later date. When we left the clinic, the county coroner was putting Turner's body, now in a large, black plastic bag, into his van. For some reason it reminded me of Turner's comment about taking out the trash.
To be continued...
Arnold Turner is dead, and hopefully things will settle down now for Jack and Sam. Andrew and Michael have been publicly outed. How will it affect the clinic and their work? Will Jack and Sam get a new security team - one that actually keeps them safe? Will Ben be Jack's personal protection agent? Will Sam be jealous? Will Todd ever get to concentrate on building the business with Jack? Much more to come...
Huge thanks to my editors - Mark, Harry, Darryl and Josh - who drop everything and jump on this story as soon as I send it to them. At this stage of the game, I couldn't imagine moving forward without their invaluable assistance. Thanks, guys, for always being willing to turn the story around so quickly. We all really appreciate it.
If you are new to Forever - meaning you've never written me to let me know you're enjoying the ride - feel free to email me at email@example.com with your comments, suggestions, and ideas. Writing is a collaboration, and I am privileged to have readers from all over the world reading my story. Thank you all so much. You're the reason I keep writing. And I have much more story to tell. Stay tuned.