Castle Roland

Dessert Fantasies

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 23

Posted: N/A

Family Planning

The Friday night crowd at the Greyhound bus station was a mixture of servicemen arriving for a long weekend, kids coming home from school, couples of all ages, and several lonely looking souls. The minute Spike saw Henry step off the bus, he ran forward through the crowd. The Jensen brothers' reunion was enthusiastic as they eagerly grabbed the other in a long, tight hug. Each spoke rapidly in an effort to catch up while walking back to the parking lot. Spike felt a definite change in their brotherly relationship: from sibling rivalry to one of equal status and adult familial love.

"Where's your Honda?" Henry asked when they stopped at the new Lexus and Spike unlocked the doors with the remote.

"My old car got totaled and I wasn't even driving." Spike opened the driver's door and nodded for Henry to get in on the passenger side. "Craziest thing. A burglar was making a getaway after being trapped in the condo garage and he barreled outta control into the Honda. The collision completely wiped out my wheels. Bottom line - I got a settlement and bought this. Pretty neat, huh?" He slid into the leather seat, buckled the belt and watched Henry do the same. 'Best to let the rest of the story slide,' Spike thought as he closed his door and started the car.

Spike found it amusing watching his brother's open-mouthed stare as they approached the condo complex. They drove through the gates, after being flagged through by the guard, and continued directly into the garage. The "Oh's" and "Wow's" clearly communicated Henry's approval.

As they pulled into Spike's assigned parking space, he pointed at the now-shiny SUV in the next space and said, "And that's your ride while you're here. Lou said it was okay to use it so you don't get stranded. I'll be working some extra hours during the day next week."

"Pretty cool," Henry said as they got out of the car. He silently grabbed his bag, walked over to the SUV and peered in the side window.

"Yep. This way you can come and go as you please. I'll show you how to work everything when we go out tomorrow." Spike decided not to bug Henry to be careful when he drove. Respect was going to be part of their new adult relationship. 'I'll miss bugging that little peckerhead,' he thought with a smile, as he admired his almost grown up, not-so-little brother.

Because of the lateness of the hour, he decided to take the elevator directly to the 39th floor rather than stop off at the front desk. 'I can introduce him to everyone in the morning,' he decided as they went up. He noticed Henry's puzzled expression as they stepped out of the elevator and stood in the foyer.

"Isn't this kinda small for a whole floor?" Henry asked, holding his bag. "Just two condos?"

"Two? Yeah. We don't need that much space for the foyer." Spike hadn't thought too much about the arrangement. 'It is different than most condos or apartments with the long corridors,' he decided.

"Who lives in the other place?"

"It's...unoccupied right now." Spike had promised not to mention to anyone who the new neighbor would be. He opened the door to 39B, turned on the lights and beckoned for Henry to enter. "We'll drop your stuff in the guestroom and I'll give you the tour."

"Man, is that picture the real thing?" Henry asked as he passed the first painting in the gallery hallway.

"Real thing. A Denver artist who we tracked down." Spike smiled and thought, 'Wait until he sees the other Kirkland paintings.' He took the lead and walked into the guestroom. "This is your room. Lou and I camp out next door," he added while pointing to the double door at the end of the hall.

The tour of the condo started in the large master bedroom - with short stops in the den, living room and dining room - ending up in the kitchen. Spike explained how Lou had been able to buy the place at a good price and they shared in the living expenses. As he popped open two small cans of Sprite, Spike was relieved Henry seemed to be okay with his brother's new living arrangements and didn't press for details. That Lou was his boyfriend and partner had been confidentially revealed to Henry during one of their lengthy phone conversations the previous month. What he hadn't added - actually hadn't thought about - was that the condo was considerably larger than the Jensen family home in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley.

"I plan on telling Mom and Dad about Lou when we go home," Spike said as he sat down at the kitchen table. "Maybe they can come over for a visit after the first of the year."

"My bro in love." Henry snickered while pulling out another chair. "Is this the real thing? I...never thought too much about two guys being together other than..."

"Doing it?" Spike laughed as he watched Henry sit in the chair. "I'm almost 21 and have never felt this way about anyone...ever. Lou rings my chimes; we have fun together and trust each other. Everything else is great, too." He wiggled his eyebrows and added, "All in all, it's the best I've ever felt about being with someone."

"That's great to hear. It's a bummer about his mother getting killed in an auto crash." Henry took a sip and looked at Spike.

"Yeah. It was pretty intense. Being with Lou for the funeral wouldn't have been a good idea though, with all the heavy-duty family stuff. But I'm going to New York after Christmas to meet his dad. We'll all probably welcome in the New Year together with a quiet dinner someplace."

"The...what do they call it, 'the big apple'? Dinner with his dad sounds like you guys are serious," Henry replied.

"I see us being a couple for a long time. Like forever."

"Then I'd better get to know my new brother-in-law at some point." Henry grinned and added, "You better buy a coat or you'll freeze your buns off when you visit Prince Charming. I don't think the California surfer look, with jeans and flip-flops, is going to keep you warm back there."

"Yikes, you're right. I hadn't thought about that. Maybe we can run over to Burlington Coat Factory next week. There's one nearby." Spike paused and decided it might be best to change subjects. "By the way, Cray is looking forward to seeing you and introducing his two dads."

"Every time we talk, he mentions Drew and Bob and how great they've been to him. I didn't know things had been so rough for him when we first met."

"Yeah, it was, but Cray landed on his feet really well." Spike was aware Henry knew only the basic details: that Cray had come to Las Vegas because of irresolvable personal problems with his stepdad. "And he's anxious for you to meet his boyfriend, Michael."

"Me, too. Cray emailed me a picture of Michael. He looks yummy." Henry stifled a yawn. "I better get my ass into gear; I'm the only one without someone."

"Buddy, at 16 you have plenty of time. In the meantime," Spike said as he clenched his fist and made the universal J.O. hand sign, "let's hit the sack. I think we're both wiped out."

"Yeah, my left hand needs some exercise." Henry shrugged and smiled.

"Ewww, T.M.I." Spike replied. However, he thought that he could probably use a little 'stress relief'' later in the privacy of his bedroom.

Morning began where the previous evening had left off. The brothers were eager to catch up with each other and chatted like magpies throughout breakfast and, while running around town on Saturday errands. Henry related news about home and school - both relatively routine - while Spike spent most of his time explaining the new job he had at the Barcelona. He promised to give his brother a complete tour the following day. As a planned afterthought, he told Henry a little more about the burglary: that the thief had been chased from his condo by security and then attempted the ill-executed escape in the garage. Nothing more.

Spike and Henry picked up Michael and headed over to Cray's house on Saturday night a little earlier than originally planned. Drew had called and said he needed an extra ten minutes to discuss some business things with Spike. He assured him there were no emergencies and he just wanted to bring him 'up to speed' on a few items since Spike had not been at work the past week.

In the car, there was an initial, but polite, awkwardness between Henry and Michael with the conversation centering on differences between their respective schools and cities. However, once they arrived at Cray's house and formal introductions with everyone were out of the way, it took only a few moments for the threesome to relax. Spike thought he picked up a little detachment from Bob's body language but decided it might be just a case of weariness after the dramatics of the previous weekend.

Drew walked over to Cray and asked, "Why don't you take Henry and Michael out by the pool area? I've got a few job-related things to discuss with Spike. Should take only about 10 minutes. Okay?"

"No problem. We've got plenty of time before the movie," Cray replied. "Come on, guys. The grown-ups are going into serious 'adult-mode'." He winked and motioned for the others to follow.

"My brother was anxious to meet all the new people in Cray's life. He's curious to find out if you and Bob can actually walk on water," Spike said with a laugh as he sat down in an overstuffed chair.

"Sounds like our son has been bragging on about us," Bob replied. "Although probably not as much as we do about him." He eased onto the couch next to Drew and put on a tight smile.

"He's a great kid. Hell, they all are." Drew grinned and leaned forward. "I understand that everything's alright at home and you're planning on returning to work next week."

"Yeah. What happened last weekend is becoming a distant memory. I wish it were the same for Mr. Maggiano, Mr. Gallian or Lou." The more Spike observed the couple, he was sure Bob was troubled by something.

"This is one of the reasons I wanted you to come over a little early. I just got home a few minutes ago from a long meeting at work with Nick. Bob and I haven't had a chance to speak with each other except for me to give him a brief rundown on what I learned."

"Learned? You mean about Mr. Gallian selling his Long Island home?"

"That's one of the reasons I wanted to speak with you. I assume that Lou also told you about Mr. Gallian acquiring the condo next to yours?"

"And that this info should be kept confidential." Spike was a little taken aback that Drew was discussing the move. 'Guess I should consider him to be more of a major player,' he thought as he leaned forward, 'because it's apparent Maggiano trusts Drew in a big way.'

"I'm not privy to everything that goes on, but whatever affects the resort comes to my desk. And Bob's sister is a Bromley by we're both in a unique 'being in the loop' position."

"Understand. I should share with you that I walked through the place with Gallant Security yesterday. They took pictures and examined the rooms. Kind of odd dcor: Louis 'the whoever' fake French, mirrors, bad art copies with big gold frames. It's like someone wanted to be Donald Trump on the cheap." Spike rolled his eyes and laughed. "Nice kitchen and bathrooms, though."

"You have a good eye. Nick showed me copies of the photos that were emailed to Mr. Gallian. I think you've already answered my next question. Is there anything you want from that condo?"

"Maybe the gilded throne chairs...not. Lou would be pissed if I even brought that up." Spike liked Drew and Bob but didn't have a clue where the conversation was going. "There is a flat screen TV that we could use in the guestroom and a couple of kitchen gadgets."

"Then I suggest that you go into the condo tomorrow and take out what you want because a van and crew will be there on Monday morning to strip 39A of all contents. Mr. Gallian is donating everything to Catholic Charities. The following week, his designer will be in to take measurements and pictures of the empty spaces." Drew sat back and added, "I wanted you to be aware of situations like this that will affect you and Lou directly."

"I appreciate the heads up."

"You - like Bob's sister - are officially part of a very unique and complex family. And I'm a partner with this guy. Since Lou isn't here, you need to be brought up to speed on a few things. Things that I've just recently become aware of - like earlier today." Drew noticed Bob was looking down at the carpet with a slight frown.

"The big difference is that Bob's sister has a marriage certificate and I don't. But I can assure you that Lou and I will travel somewhere and tie the knot. Maybe we'll go to Boston, get married and honeymoon on The Cape next summer." Spike smiled at the idea.

"Let me know if you need a best man," Bob replied, with a sincere tone in his voice.

"Best men. Or maybe we could have a double marriage." Drew patted Bob's shoulder and continued, "Something else just occurred today. Nick was able to buy the two condos just below you. It's his plan to connect the two units and establish that space as his new home. He has no plans on going back to his old property and rebuilding another house."

"Wow, all the bigwigs and little ole me." Spike raised his eyebrow and pondered the news. 'Looks like I'm going to be in the thick of things,' he thought. "I guess we won't have to worry about security."

"That's part of the program. What happened last weekend was a wakeup call. Some very bad characters - Russian gangsters who operate internationally - perpetrated the attacks."

"The Russian Mafia? Yikes." Spike replied with a frown. "Everyone's been pretty tight-lipped about who these characters were."

"And this information needs to be held in confidence to those in this room." Drew looked at Bob and raised his eyebrows.

"I've only read about them but they're portrayed as a rather smarmy, take-no-prisoners, bloodthirsty lot. Are the bad guys still on the loose?" Spike felt uncomfortable as he digested this new information.

"I'm told the people responsible have been dealt with and the bosses got the message. This all started a few months ago when a Russian from London proposed that he buy into our casino business as a silent partner. Mr. Gallian said 'no' and became concerned when this man tossed out some veiled threats. Security was heightened but nowhere to the extent it should have been. These hoods won't bother us again. Nick was very clear about that."

"What a relief." Spike remembered the news about a high-placed member of the Putin government being murdered. 'And wasn't there something about some ex-KGB guy and a Ruskie billionaire being poisoned by radiation in London?' He looked at Drew and added, "I think the whole Russia democracy plan is a sham. And this new KGB - the RFS - is even more dangerous than its predecessors."

"A huge reason why Mr. Gallian had no intentions of getting into bed with that group. You've got Russian secret service, government officials, oil-rich instant millionaires and these greedy, cutthroat mob assholes, all working together."

"You paint a most unflattering picture." Spike wondered how Gallian's security forces were able to stem such a tide of human garbage. 'The security division must have a helluva international presence,' he thought, 'with a lot of firepower.'

"But not one we've got to be worried about. Spike, there are several things that you know about the various businesses controlled by Gallian Industries. Maybe more than I do. But our job - collective 'our' - is to focus on the casino operations. I've been asked to become the C.O.O. of Barcelona. Fancy title...but really just a way for me to learn Nick's job."

"Congratulations. That's quite a promotion." Spike reached over and shook Drew's hand. 'This guy is definitely plugged into what's happening,' he decided, 'but I get the feeling a lot of this info is news to Bob's ears, too.'

"Yeah, congratulations," Bob added as he turned to Drew with a 'what the fuck' look on his face.

"Thanks. The new job was just offered this morning and it won't be announced until after the first of the year. Nick is still feeling pretty bad about losing Rod. Now that Mr. Gallian is accelerating the growth of the casino division, Nick will be spending more of his time developing the division and will get out of the day-to-day stuff. But let's talk about you, Spike. You're an attractive, bright guy, who's trustworthy and a big blip on Mr. Gallian's radar. And you also just happened to fall for someone who's a major part of this equation."

"I would have fallen for Lou if he was a bagboy at Albertson's. Well, maybe the produce guy," Spike added with a grin.

"Understand. I feel the same way about Bob. Well, that and certain physical features." Drew winked at his lover. "Things will be moving pretty fast over the next couple of years and you're aware of the potential financial growth from your job with the 'bean counters'. You've got a terrific future with us."

"But? I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop." Spike was intrigued and impressed at the way Drew compartmentalized the conversation with bullet points. He was also confused by Bob's attitude, which was a mixture of being pissed and confused.

"No shoe. Just a few suggestions of how to max out this opportunity. You've got another year after this before you graduate from UNLV. What they'd like you to consider are more courses in finance that will prime you for an M.B.A."

"Lou and I did talk about going back to Wharton together for graduate school after I get out of UNLV."

"Mr. Gallian is going to speak with Lou this weekend. The plan he wants you two to consider is this. Lou will concentrate on accelerated courses in the Hotel School and undergraduate finance courses over the next year and a half. Then, you will both go for an M.B.A. at UNLV. You know about the Hotel School's Singapore campus?"

"Haven't a clue. UNLV has a Singapore campus?" Spike maintained his cool but was completely confused. 'What's a Nevada state school doing in the Far East?' he wondered.

"It's all funded by Harrah's. They're big contributors to the school and we'll probably follow suit a little later. Simply speaking, the plan is for you and Lou to become very close with the key administration members of the Hotel School. It can be set up for you to travel to Singapore with some of the professors and be aides when they go over for teaching seminars. With Asia being such an important part of our business plan, you two have a terrific opportunity to make good contacts and build stronger relationships with our Chinese partners. The Macao and Singapore casinos are keys to the division's growth."

"I'm honored to be considered for something like this but a little nervous about getting involved with the Chinese," Spike replied. "All I know about China are egg rolls and Mu Chu pork."

"And don't forget the fortune cookies. All I can tell you is what I've been told. Nick feels that the Chinese partners are honorable businessmen and won't try to screw us. Regardless of the political climate, they have a capitalist mindset going back hundreds of years. It's mutually beneficial to all parties concerned to make this work."

"And the Russians?" Spike asked.

"Don't worry. They don't fit into our equation at all. Except for the characters I mentioned earlier, the majority of the Russian people only know a peasant existence. And Putin's still going to be in power, no matter what his title is. That'll be something for our government to figure out."

"I guess everything you've mentioned are things Lou and I will talk about in depth when I visit him in New York." He bit his lip and pictured their lives over the next couple of years. 'This company plays for keeps. Better buckle my seatbelt,' Spike thought as he recalled the famous line from the vintage Bette Davis movie he'd seen recently on the AMC channel, 'I don't want a bumpy ride.'

"And you'll probably want to discuss it on the phone when you speak with him. I'm giving you a heads up as a friend and also because you're a part of this crazy casino business. Lou is being given the same information by his father. My mission is to make sure you're on the rest of us." Drew smiled and took Bob's hand.

"It's hard to refuse." Spike stood and waited for Drew to join him. He extended his hand and said, "Lou and I have several things to consider. But I'm pretty sure you can count me in." He felt like he was sitting in a supercharged Shelby GT500 that had just been slammed into first gear out of idle.

Bob joined the two men. He placed his hands on Spike's shoulder while Drew shook Spike's hand. "I know this is a lot to digest in such a short time," Bob said. "I feel the same way." He nodded to Drew and added, "We've got lots to talk about."

Spike smiled at Bob with a quizzical expression. 'The dynamics between those two are definitely out of kilter today,' he decided. 'Wonder what that's about?' All this was interrupted by Cray's laughter as he opened the front door and allowed his smiling friends to enter first.

"Is it okay if I drive?" Cray asked Spike. "I want the guys to check out my new wheels."

"Wheels? You gotta new car?" Spike cocked his head and wrinkled his brow.

"My dads gave it to me for Christmas and I'm really stoked. You could leave your car'll be safe."

"We made a deal concerning his grades. If he came through with a decent grade point, Bob and I would find a car for him." Drew walked over to Cray and wrapped his arm around the strapping teen. "He came through."

"Alright," Spike replied. "If Drew and Bob don't mind, I'll leave my car here."

"Just be home by midnight." Drew smiled and added, "Don't be surprised if we're not up when you get back."

The guys all joked for a few minutes until Cray announced they needed to leave to make the movie. Everyone hugged, said their 'goodbyes' and noisily left the apartment.

Drew smiled and shook his head as he closed the front door. He turned to Bob and asked, "How about joining me with a beer? I know we need to discuss what happened in my meeting with Nick this morning. I feel bad that we didn't have time before these guys came over."

"I'll get the beer. I'm still very confused. You said there's some big news about all the crap that's been going on and that was that. I need answers to several questions." Bob pursed his lips and walked out to the kitchen. "I get the feeling that you're holding things back from me and that's not good. Being partners is just what that in everything."

"Babe, it was bad timing and I apologize. The guys came over here before I could speak with you about all the details I had just learned. It's the two of us for the rest of the evening and I'll clear up any questions you have." Drew sat down on the couch and watched his lover. 'I think I screwed up big time by not getting back here in time to tell Bob everything first,' he decided, 'and maybe not being upfront earlier about my suspicions concerning the Gallian family. I hope this is going to be an eat crow and kiss up session once we have our conversation.' He had a feeling, however, that it wasn't going to be that easy.

"Okay, what gives?" Bob handed Drew a can of Heineken and sat down. "You said someone attempted to kill Mr. Bromley? My sister is at their house waiting to go into labor, for Christ's sake." Bob looked at his beer and took a huge swig. "And then, on top of everything else, you come out with this information about Russian mobsters. Crap. And then I have to find out about this in a group conversation? Thanks."

"You've got every right to be pissed and I should have found a way of telling you ASAP." Drew debated whether or not he should draw Bob into any of the unproved seamier aspects that he suspected about the families. 'Stick to the facts,' he thought as he drank from the can,' and figure out how to explain the rest.' He realized that this was a 'watershed' moment in their relationship and he didn't want to screw it up.

"For openers, that's a 'no brainer'." Bob looked into Drew's eyes with a searching expression. "We both need to step back and be open. I'm not asking for you to come home at night and spill out the company secrets - business stuff should left at the office. But the crap that's been going on is threatening to our lives and people we love. What kind of mess are we in? Who are these people we work for? And is my sister in danger being married to my best friend from college?"

Drew studied his lover and partner for a moment and decided to be level in this discussion. "The principals in the company - Mr. Gallian and Mr. Bromley - are giving Lou and Al the rundown as we speak. Those guys have been kept in the dark, also." He wished he had been able to be more open immediately after the attacks had taken place. However, he had promised Nick that nothing other than the 'company line' would be told to Bob until the proper time. 'In this case, my family is more important,' he decided as he prioritized in his mind how to proceed, 'and I need to trust Bob.'

"So how about my sister? Is she safe?"

"Probably more so at the Bromley estate than anywhere else. It's very secure. A sniper tried to take out Al's dad at the country club but Mr. Bromley's security contingent intercepted the attack, nailed the sniper and worked with the L.A. police to keep it quiet. I was told authorities in this country and Russia have rounded up several suspects and put a real dent into the mob's activities. They won't screw around with us again."

"Does she know about any of this?" Bob frowned as he sat back.

"As soon as Al is briefed, he'll tell her." Drew replied. "Just as I'm doing with you. Nick considers us extended family and I guess this will be the way they want it to go when important matters need to be shared. That's why I was told to talk with Spike." Drew scooted closer to Bob and put his arm around his shoulder. "I am sorry there wasn't time for us to talk about this when I got home. Spike arrived earlier than I expected."

"I guess the timing was shitty."

"But time is something we have plenty of, right now." Drew took a deep breath and continued, "Here's the rest of this abstract picture." For the next several moments, he told Bob about the actual way that Mrs. Gallian had died. He also shared his knowledge of the Galliano family's history on the 20th Century New York crime scene and his suspicions of how Mr. Gallian was attempting to make a clean break from any association with the underworld.

"If you think Gallian and Bromley are legit, then how do you explain these attacks and murders by the Russian mob?" Bob asked in a more mellow tone. "And how can we be sure we're safe?"

"I was told that the Russian crime families are the FBI's number one problem right now. Same situation for Scotland Yard and the Gendarmerie Nationale in France. They're ruthless fucks who only respect force. Gallian Industries, the casino, the bank...what have you...are very tempting targets for a takeover. However, Gallant Security now has the situation under control. Obviously, the attacks were not expected. It's almost like the same situation with those crazed Muslim extremists and 9/11. But Nick said our defenses are solidly in place to assure nothing like this happens in the future. He also said Mr. Gallian had divested all of the old pieces of the Galliano businesses. We're part of a very promising international corporation."

He felt relieved when Bob snuggled down a little and rested his head on Drew's chest. 'Note to self: always talk to Bob first and keep nothing back.' He stroked Bob's head and asked, "Please forgive me?"

"Yeah, I do. This has been scary and all I could think of was my sister when you mentioned the attempt on Mr. Bromley's life. I was in my big brother mode." He took Drew's free hand and squeezed it. "I must say she married into one strange family."

"Hon, it's all history. Remember, President Kennedy's dad was a bootlegger. I wouldn't be surprised if I found out old Joe Kennedy did business with the Galliano family back when." Drew paused and stroked Bob's hair. "But Gallian Industries and all its subsidiaries are legit. However, if I ever find out otherwise, I'll give you a 'heads-up' immediately and see if we want to look for new jobs."

"Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't try some other kind of work right now. The casino business is crazy."

"You could get a job with Gallant National Bank, if ya want. But there's not a lot of advancement locally and banking is so quiet. On the other hand, working with Gallant Security would make our 'crazy' seem normal." Drew turned his head and kissed Bob's forehead. "Give casino marketing a fair shot. Our company is growing and you're on the fast track. Everyone thinks you've got a terrific career ahead of you. And you know who 'everyone' is. In Vegas, the big players are mostly New York Stock Exchange-traded companies. And you've got Wynn and the Venetian guys very active in Macao. The casino industry is all very corporate on an international scale. Mr. Gallian and Nick are intent on our company being one of the big players."

"I suppose you're right." Bob sat up and turned to Drew. "Give me the rundown about this C.O.O. promotion. Congratulations again, by the way. For real, this time." He leaned forward and firmly kissed Drew on the lips. "I'm not so much in shock anymore but I do want you to promise me one thing."

"Anything." Drew silently and lovingly looked at his partner of almost three years as he solemnly pledged to himself to do 'just that'.

"Double promise that if you ever hear anything about the Gallian or Bromley families being into illegal activities, you'll tell me about it A.S.A.P. That's serious shit and something I want nothing to do with."

"Cross my mean too much to me. And I promise not to ambush you like this ever again." Drew put his hand behind Bob's head and gently pulled it forward until their lips met again. This time each was reluctant to let go. 'Man, I was so stupid not to find time to give him the rundown, first,' he thought as he smiled after they finished the tongue-twirling kiss. "So you really forgive me?"

"Of course. Just know I'll rip your balls off if it happens again," Bob said with a smile. "Water under the bridge and all that stuff. With Cray out tonight, I feel like taking our clothes off and going at it right here." Bob said with a laugh. "But first, tell me about the job."

"Just so you keep your word about later." Drew kicked off his shoes and moved his body around so he could rest his head in Bob's lap. He looked up at Bob and smiled. "Nick's decided it's time to start planning his life without Rod and focus on the growth of the business. First will be the changeover at work. He'll train me in certain aspects of the casino operations and we'll hire someone to run the hotel ops. At the same time, he's going to remodel the condo and build an office in that space. This way - as he put it - he won't be breathing down my neck at Barcelona when I start flying solo in the job. He figures that everything, including the remodeling, will be finished by April."

"He's going to work out of a condo?" Bob rested a hand on Drew's stomach and added, "That seems rather limiting."

"You forget that the combined space of his new place, taking over the whole floor, will be over 6,000 square feet. In the meantime, Gallian Industries has bought land near Hughes Center. The plan is to build a mid-rise office complex with state-of-the-art security features that will house all of their Vegas companies. My guess is that it's a year away even with a fast track. Eventually, Lou and Al, Junior, will work out of there. Probably Spike, too."


"Yep...but realistic. The other thing I found out today is a new partnership the casino division will be involved with. Apparently we've made a deal with a Dubai corporation for expansion in Europe and the Middle East. Supposed to be similar to the one we did with the Chinese."

"So, are you going to learn the Cantonese or Mandarin dialects? God knows what the language is in Dubai. Arabic, I suppose." Bob said.

"As far as Cantonese or Mandarin, I'm about in the same boat as Spike. And I only want to know about the Middle Eastern desert from travelogues on the Discovery Channel." Drew put his hand on Bob's and squeezed it. "I'm very happy having you in my life, raising our son and carrying my fair load over at the Barcelona. Period."

"I feel the same way." Bob let out a big sigh and smiled. "I want to do a good job in the marketing department and be promoted on merit."

"Let the empire building be left to others. Who knows, maybe someday Spike will be our boss." Drew laughed and moved Bob's hand closer to his crotch.

"Hmmm, is it possible my pal is horny?" Bob moved his hand lower. "This lump seems to be getting bigger." He ran his hand across Drew's obvious arousal and smiled.

"Although we both hit our sexual peak a few years ago, I think we still have some mileage left in our old carcasses. But before we get too comfortable, I've got some really neat news to share." Drew wanted to get everything out before they pursued make-up sex.

"Something I'm going to like?" Bob slowly explored the lengthened bulge of Drew's crotch with his thumb and index finger. He dwelled at the tip and concentrated his exploration with a circular motion of his thumb.

"Absolutely. And as much as I like what you're doing, creaming in my jeans is really counter-productive." Drew smiled and took Bob's hand away from his erection. "Give me five to explain what else has happened and then we can continue the fun stuff."

"Wow, this must be important cuz you've never complained about creaming in your jeans before. I'm all ears."

Drew raised himself from Bob's lap and sat up. "We are one step closer to getting a house." He stood up and re-arranged himself. "But ya got to give me a dollar first."

"You're serious? You are, aren't you," Bob said as he got up and reached for his wallet.

"Very. One buck in genuine U.S. currency first." Drew held out his hand and waited until Bob took out a dollar bill and gave it to him. "You are now, Sir, half owner of our new home. Well, at least the land."


"Nick sold us his property over at Wild Horse for two bucks. Seriously." Drew smiled when he saw Bob's mouth flap open. "Nick doesn't want to I said earlier. The place brings back too many memories - painful and otherwise. He's the sole heir to Rod's estate so there's no legal roadblocks."

"He's giving us that land? I haven't been over there since the explosion. Criminy, this is wild."

" in Wild Horse. But he's not giving it to us." Drew smiled and winked. "We purchased it from Nick and with the dollar bill you are now half-owner...if ya wanna be."

"Holy crap, that's amazing." Bob stared back with his mouth open.

"I was taken back when he first proposed it, but Nick was insistent that we have it. Would that be okay with you? I told him that you were equal in the decision making process."

"It's hard to turn down. I guess we'd build a new place from scratch? Can we afford to pull this off?"

"There isn't anything to salvage so we'll select an architect and create something that works for all of us. The pool and patio, however, are in good shape and can be incorporated into the master plan. Nick said that we should plan on budgeting around $125 per finished square foot. So if we can keep our tastes in check and settle on a home of about 2,500 square feet - we're talking $320,000 for the home. He also said we could get a loan from Gallant National Bank." Drew was comfortable with the numbers as long as they maintained a budget. "That price is pretty much what we discussed a couple of months ago." He didn't want to add that the new job would bump his salary up.

"Nick is doing this? The land gift is not part of something Mr. Gallian has up his sleeves?"

"Purely Nick. We go back a long way...since I was working the front desk at Nero's, years ago. I think he looks at this as a win-win situation. He doesn't want to deal with the property and we need a new home."

"How long would this take? Jeez, I'm really blown away." Bob shook his head, smiled and added, "But in a good way. I...I think it sounds great. What about taxes? The old house must have been assessed pretty high."

"Nick said that we'd go in for a variance since the original structure has been destroyed and we'd probably have an assessed value very similar to the tract home properties around the area after we build. And the taxes for next year have already been paid."

"I'm going to trust you that we can swing this without going off the deep end." Bob grabbed Drew's hand and shook it. "As long as you think our jobs are secure, let's do it."

"Buddy, that's what I hoped you'd say. Why not drive over there tomorrow and look at the property? Once we find an architect and have the plans approved, we should be able to build without any delays. The people in the residential construction industry are looking for work and will probably give us some decent bids." Drew held Bob's hand while he pulled them closer. "If all goes well, we should be able to celebrate Christmas next year in the new place."

"One thing is a must. Let's design it so the master bedroom is at the opposite end of the house from the other bedrooms. That way we can make all the noise we want."

"And give our almost-adult son some space." He kissed Bob lightly on the lips. "Speaking of bedrooms, let's go back to our room and get comfortable. I'm ready to resume things."

"That thing you you think you can do it again?" Bob whispered.

"Thing?" Drew couldn't figure out what Bob was talking about for a minute. "You mean the trick I do with my dick?"

"Yeah. I say magic words and it comes to life." Bob swatted Drew on the butt and walked to the hallway and stopped by their bedroom.

"Oh, those words." Drew laughed and joined Bob. "I didn't think 'let's fuck' were that magic."

"But they do the trick."

They walked into the bedroom together and started peeling off clothes. By the time they reached the bed, each was down to his underwear. Drew looked at the masculine form of his lover and took a deep breath as he pulled back the covers. He thanked God and all the lucky stars for the day Bob had come into his life. As they had done many times, each slipped out of his briefs and got into bed.

It was too late for Spike to call Lou when he and Henry returned from the movie and dinner. However, the next morning Spike had a lengthy long distance discussion with his lover about Drew's news. Lou verified the details and assured him the family business was on a completely legitimate trajectory.

As promised, Spike took Henry on a detailed walking tour of the Barcelona on Sunday and asked Mario to join them for brunch. As far as Henry was concerned, Mario was Spike's previous landlord and a neat guy to see again. For Spike, he needed advice and insight concerning his future. While the older men enjoyed another cup of coffee, Henry excused himself so he could meet up with Cray.

"So that's about it," Spike said when he had finished telling Mario everything that had been said the previous day. "When I spoke with Lou this morning, he said it was in our best interests to follow the education path that was laid out and the casino division had a very positive future. It's all this business about the Russian Mafia that has me spooked."

"You and me, both...for a while. I can tell you that Gallant Security was all over this problem like bees on honey."

"If you don't mind me asking, how did you get involved with this whole mess last weekend? You appearing from nowhere at the condo with poor Jack was surprising." Spike wanted to directly ask Mario about Mr. Gallian's activities in the underworld but wasn't sure if it was 'kosher' to do so.

"That was an unusual situation. Let's just say I am contracted on occasion to help out Gallant off the books. They are aware of my Special Ops training in the Corps and I have certain contacts in this town." Mario paused and took a sip of coffee. "When that shit went down last weekend, they came to me for assistance. You and I have history and you're a big part of young Lou's life. They were in a 'code red' at the time, and trying to save lives."

"And kick a little ass in the process?"

"You got the picture," Mario replied with a raised eyebrow.

"So Gallant Security International is a legit operation?"

"Completely - they're headquartered in New York with offices around this country and all the major cities in the world. The assault on the Gallian and Bromley family members by these Russian scumbags forced Gallant to use 'assets' who don't show up on their website. I really don't want to get into anything more specific."

"What I'm driving at, Mario, is this: can I trust Lou and his family? I don't want to be involved with something that's going to suck me into another 'bang-bang, you're dead' disrespect intended. Lou told me that Mr. Gallian has phased out of, um, non-corporate businesses." Spike decided this was as specific as he should be.

"I hear ya," Mario replied with a chuckle. "My world in Vegas centers around Mighty Joe Strollo and our operations. I will confirm Joe told me there are new arrangements and New York is no longer in the picture. Nothing more - that's out of my pay grade. From what I can piece together, Mr. Gallian is running a legit corporate empire."

"Maybe everything jives with what I've been told." Spike felt a little relieved. "I love Lou and the business opportunities look fantastic." He knew this would be as far Mario would go in discussing the big picture.

"Not to mention you'll get some pretty fancy education along the way." Mario drained the remainder of the coffee in one last sip and continued, "My advice is to go into this with your eyes open. President Reagan had a great saying: 'Trust, but verify.' You're going to be playing with the really big boys. And while you're at it, salt away some 'dinero' for a rainy day just in case."

"In case?"

"Things don't work out. That happens to over half of the married couples in this country. And gay relationships are even more precarious."

"Lou and I have had several discussions concerning how to keep our partnership together for the long run," Spike replied with a shrug. "We're going to beat the odds."

"You guys probably will. Lou is a super guy, even if he does suffer from a small case of 'silver spoon-itis'. We're all going to remain friends and I'm big on taking care of my friends." Mario reached across the table and took Spike's hand. "If you ever have something you need to discuss, I'm only a phone call away."

"I appreciate that." Spike took Mario's warm hand and firmly gripped it. 'Friends,' he thought, 'for life'.

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