Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 2

Posted: N/A

Although they had relinquished 'foster parent' status when Cray reached his 18th birthday, Drew and Bob still thought of this handsome young man as their 'son' and an equal part of their family unit. In this context, they discussed their Cray's predicament while they drove to work. Their conclusion was that they'd need to be supportive and lay out an emotional safety net in case Cray stumbled. 'It's not likely that he'll take a dive,' Drew thought as they silently rode the staff-only elevator from the underground executive garage, 'but we need to monitor our boy.'

One of the few positives of Cray's experiences living in his former home in Utah - rife with neglect and abuse during his developing years - was that he had learned to compensate for his troubles by accepting challenges and setting goals for himself. Cray was intent on acceptance in the outside world while compartmentalizing his hurt and embarrassment. Therefore, Drew and Bob's parenting job was more based on love, encouragement, advice and an agreement on standards rather than confrontation and discipline. They also avoided the current 'touchy-feely' theory of raising children. The ''EGAP'' syndrome - everyone gets a prize - encouraged parents to constantly stroke the ego of the child, regardless whether or not the prize was earned in order to build self-esteem. This was not an issue between the two dads and their son - Cray stood high and constantly worked to be an undisputed winner.

As they reached the 3rd floor, Bob confirmed he'd suggest to Bud Turner that they should meet in the employee cafeteria for lunch.

"Say 11:30?" Drew asked. "I need to get back for that afternoon meeting."

Bob nodded and said, "I'll make sure Bud knows that getting together is strictly about maintaining our friendship...regardless of what the boys do with their relationship."

"And that we hope Cray and Michael will be friends some point."

"Consider it handled. See you at the 'trough' for lunch."

"Take care." Drew briefly watched as Bob headed to the Marketing Department before he himself entered the Executive Office reception area.

He did the 'good morning' and 'hi' routine to the secretarial and administrative staff, while strolling through the open area of work cubes. The perimeter private offices were home to the vice presidents in charge of the casino, hotel operations, legal and finance: each executive had window views that looked out over the Strip. Nick Maggiano now divided his time between Gallian Enterprises' Las Vegas and Los Angeles offices, Macao and Singapore - and Drew occupied Nick's former corner office suite. When Nick had business at the Barcelona, as he did that day with the monthly finance meeting, the executive conference room was his base of operations - but Nick always made sure everyone knew that Drew was the boss in the day-to-day, nitty-gritty running of the business.

The door to the conference room was open and Drew could hear Nick's voice. He stopped at the doorway and nodded to Nick who was having a phone conversation. Nick returned the nod by waving his hand in a scooping motion; signaling Drew to come in. 'Wonder why he's in so early?'

"That will all be done today, Lou," Nick said into his iPhone. He mouthed, "Close the door," and pointed for Drew to sit down in the nearest upholstered, swivel armchair. "As a matter of fact, Drew just walked in. Bye."

'What the hell?' Drew wondered as he did as asked. He knew that 'Lou' was Mr. Gallian, Sr. and his name being used to the 'big man' in a conversation concerned him. Drew pulled a legal pad close to him and grabbed a ballpoint pen. "Morning. I didn't know you'd be here so early."

"Hi, Drew," Nick replied as he placed his phone into his open briefcase. "Sorry to mess up your schedule by this early arrival but there are several things you and I need to discuss A.S.A.P."

"No problem," Drew replied. "I'd cleared my calendar to review the spreadsheets one more time this morning. You're aware of most of the decisions I've made to reduce expenses and the numbers have improved."

"So I understand from the Controller's summary. You've done a good job but we need to cut deeper."

"I don't know, Nick. In operations, more reduced hours could affect service."

"What I have in mind won't affect the guests," Nick said flatly. "The company is in survival mode and just breaking even isn't an option anymore."

Drew was shocked that Nick would use the term, 'survival mode'. Las Vegas was in a severe slump and it had become impossible to hit the original budgeted revenues and profits. But Barcelona was still considered the best casino and resort in the desert. One of their competitors - Palazzo Roma - had filed for bankruptcy and rumors were that a few other resort casinos were in trouble. "Last year, this economic downturn caught us with our pants down..."

"And our dicks in our a big way."

"But it's fortunate we have a company like Gallian behind us," Drew said. "Some of the other casinos don't have such solid financial support." He usually watched the CNBC talking heads on ''Closing Bell ''and agreed with their assessment of a continuing recession through the remainder of the year.

"That's what we need to talk about. You and me." Nick leaned back in his chair, inhaled and let out a sigh. "Lou Gallian has had a bad run of luck in this financial mess our country's experiencing. Yesterday, we sold our Macao and Singapore casino interests to our Chinese partners for some badly needed cash. Because of the sensitivity, however, there won't be any press release."

"Nick, I don't understand. We need cash? I mean, Gallian Enterprises, the bank...and whatever else we're doing." Although nothing more had been said about the earlier mob activities of the Gallian family - supposedly now history - Drew always wondered if the company was actually squeaky clean.

"Things have been pretty precarious since last year...when Wall Street and the banking industry almost collapsed. Here in Vegas, not starting our second hotel tower and casino expansion probably saved our ass." Nick reached over and poured coffee into two cups from a silver Thermos. He looked at Drew as he took a sip.

"That was a good call on your part." Drew thought about the stilled construction cranes on the massive multi-hotel and casino project nearby languishing in the financial turmoil. 'They announced that more Dubai money had come to the rescue...but who really knows the real story?'

"However, what I didn't know, until recently, was that the Gallant National Bank is holding a bunch of defaulted sub-prime mortgages. Nothing serious...but enough to fuck up the balance sheet."

"Whoa...this is news to me," Drew replied with a furrowed frown. "How bad is it?"

" a better term. Lou, Senior and our guy in Washington accepted TARP funds to handle these illiquid loans. The good news is that the crap mortgages will be moved off the bank's books - the bad news is that they'll probably be discounted at thirty to forty cents on the dollar."

"Crap mortgages? Is that what the politicians call 'toxic assets?" Drew asked.

"And what the bankers call 'mark to market...when they adjust the value of a real estate asset."

Drew was vaguely familiar with the concept.

"But of greater importance is the Government trying to get us under its thumb with detailed regulations because of the TARP money. The last thing Lou wants is 'Uncle' breathing down our backs with endless audits."

"I can imagine."

"However, it looks good down the road if we implement what I have in mind."

"Down the road and what you have in mind...meaning...what?" Except for watching the cable business news and reading the Wall Street Journal online, Drew didn't completely understand the details of the continuing financial mess - other than that a combination of investment bankers' greed and government non-regulation had created a securities Frankenstein. 'And those foreclosed-upon homeowners,' he concluded, 'who had no business taking out a mortgage they couldn't handle.'

"The bank is now basically in good shape, but we need cash flow to pay off the ASAP. Treasury thinks the loan gives them the right to sniff around unabated. That is unacceptable...period."

"GM and Chrysler found that out too late," Drew said.

"Exactly. The other problem is that we - the company, Lou and Al - also got burned with credit default swaps and derivatives."

"Yikes...from what I understand, those things are like playing with a stacked deck in a downtown casino." Drew was concerned that the two leaders of the corporate empire - Lou Gallian and Al Bromley - were involved in this mess.

"Lou and Al made a bloody fortune two years ago with that junk, but they weren't able to liquidate everything before the ceiling fell in. The swaps were issued by Lehman Brothers."

"They're broke?" Drew was aware that Forbes ranked both the Gallian and Bromley seniors in the ten billion dollar range.

"No, no, not exactly," Nick replied with a chuckle. "The cupboard being temporarily bare is closer to the truth. My brother-in-law and Big Al need all of our businesses to cut deeply into expenses so we crank out cash flow and pay back the TARP. Fortunately, the bank wasn't involved with Option ARMs - affectionately known as 'Ninja liar loans'."

"Ninja?" Drew smiled as he conjured up images of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles he remembered as a kid from the television series.

"Yeah. It stands for 'No Income, No Job, No Assets'. Borrowers who falsified their financial means to get a loan." Nick shook his head and continued, "I knew about some of the details last fall concerning their positions in mortgage-backed securities, but I was sworn not to mention anyone. And when things started falling apart, I had my hands full in the casino division. Frankly, the time I spent in Asia isolated me from the crisis back home and they weren't very open about their problems. There's only one good thing good thing to come out of this debacle. The Russian got wiped out in some high-flying Canary Wharf hedge fund."

"Good riddance," Drew replied with a nod and remained silent for a moment. Nick never referred to the London-based Russian mobster who had caused so many problems two years earlier - including the death of Nick's life partner - by name. It was always 'The Russian'.

"Down but not out. I'm sure he'll be kissing Putin's ass to come up with financing and weasel back into the picture."

Drew decided to be blunt and redirect the conversation back to the present. "Nick, something tells me you're the bearer of bad news."

"So to speak. Lou has given me the job of closing the casino division offices later today and reorganizing Barcelona. This is severe...but necessary. First, let's talk about you..."

"Am I being laid off?" Drew asked with guarded alarm. He decided not to say what was obvious: Nick was out of a job and would return to the Barcelona.

"Slow down and don't jump to conclusions. That's not what I have in mind." Nick took another sip of coffee and pushed an open folder in front of Drew. "Here's a new Barcelona organizational chart I've been playing with over the last 24 hours. I'm coming back into day-to-day operations, and the question is this: can you take a downward move with a pay decrease? I need your help in pulling this off...but first, you've got to tell me if the slimmed down executive committee and your new responsibilities will work for you."

Drew looked at the chart and the names in the boxes. Several names were missing and he slowly understood what Nick was devising - the two of them would be running the show. "This suite of offices is going to be pretty vacant," he said as he pointed behind him.

"By the end of the day, it'll be you, me...and two secretaries. Everyone else is out." Nick sighed, moistened his lips and added, "And there's no flexibility for downward moves because every department is being trimmed."

"That'll be tough," Drew replied. "We're too new to have any deadwood. As you're aware, I've already done some 'pruning'."

"The next cuts will be brutal...but necessary...and I'm the first one to admit we're losing some great talent."

"Let's talk about my responsibilities and everything else. What do you have in mind?"

"What's left of the revised executive committee will be asked to take a 50% cut...myself included," Nick replied in measured tones. "And we'll both be working twice as hard until we get through this crisis. And all other managers will take a 10% hit."

"Uh huh," was all Drew uttered as he studied the chart. 'That means I'm down to a buck and a half,' he thought. In Vegas-speak, a 'buck and a half' was $150,000. 'I can make that work...but there's not much of a cushion.' He and Bob were locked in to a low 30-year fixed mortgage but they'd put the previous year's opening bonuses into a college fund for Cray. Even with a scholarship, Drew figured that Cray would need an additional five grand a year. "Nick, I understand that we're in deep shit, and as long as I can keep the car...I'll do it." Although he figured that he was in no position to bargain - Nick held all the chips and was dealing - Drew decided to squeeze the rock and signal he was a team player, but not a pushover.

"The car's not a problem. And you've never abused your expense account, so that'll still be part of the deal. The only rub for you will be your office. I'll need to move in there...tomorrow."

"I figured that was coming and I'm pretty flexible. Just where will I camp out?"

"Next door to me...the original layout."

Drew nodded as the impact and ramifications of office shuffling hit him. 'Crap, very few on this floor are going to survive.' He sucked in his cheeks and said, "I guess you and I are going to be the 'team' for a while."

"There's no choice. And although it won't help much, each termination will be accompanied by a two-week severance check." Nick reached over and they shook hands. "Thanks, Drew. Working closely with you again will help ease this difficult transition. After we turn around the company's fortunes, and this recession is behind us, you'll return to the corner office - that's a promise - and we'll build ourselves back to normal staffing. By the way, for legal reasons, you'll be keeping the same title but with different responsibilities. The elimination of all those job positions keeps everything clean."

"And free of litigation potholes," Drew replied.

Over the next few minutes, they reviewed the new executive committee...or lack of it. Drew would supervise all hotel operations, food and beverage, maintenance and I.T. The casino operations, sales and marketing, security, and finance would fall under Nick's umbrella. Managers would oversee a streamlined sales and marketing department, and any legal problems would now be handled directly by Nick with the Las Vegas law firm. The net effect was that the three men would handle the workload formerly done by six executives. In further cost-saving measures, Nick and Drew would combine duties for the surviving managers.

"The obvious question for me Bob without a job?"

"Don't worry, your partner's safe," Nick replied with a reassuring smile. "However, he'll be required to assume more responsibilities, like you. I'm splitting up sales and marketing - without the V.P. - and I want Bob to handle the marketing end of things."

"Reporting to..."

"Me." Nick smiled and winked, "This way, the job won't be messing with your pillow talk."

"My man will do a great job." But Drew wondered if he and Bob would have much down time together.

"By the way, with young Lou finished at UNLV, he's going back to New York. His dad wants a Gallian in the bank's headquarters to watch over things."

"Hmmm, I assume that Spike will go back east with Lou?" Drew saw Spike occasionally in the cafeteria. In addition to his getting his MBA in finance, Spike also worked part-time in the Finance department. 'But that department is now history,' he thought as he tried to remember when he'd last seen that couple together.

"Don't be so sure about that." Nick pushed the coffee cup aside and leaned back in his chair. "I'm probably talking out of school, so don't quote me...I got the impression from Lou, Sr., that all is not well between young Lou and Spike."

"Spike's playing when Lou's away?" Drew asked. He was aware of Lou's weekend business trips to L.A. and New York on family business.

"Actually, it's the other way around. Spike's tried very hard to make their relationship work but Lou has never adjusted well to being monogamous." Nick shrugged and added, "I'd like to make sure Spike has a position now that he's finished with school...but with Finance chopped and the Controller's office being pared down, there's nothing available."

"I might have something available for Spike in one of the outlets," Drew replied. "Let me handle that one...and I won't say anything about Lou to anyone." He knew that Nick understood 'anyone' didn't apply to Bob. Since the tragic assault by the Russians two years earlier, Drew held nothing back from his partner. "I'd also like you to consider sparing one of the casino managers. Bud Turner is a terrific worker and a loyal friend."

"Turner?" Nick replied while he looked at the list of names. "Yes...runs the slots. And, I now recall, is the father of Cray's boyfriend. Right?"

"Right with the job description. But Cray has just informed us that he and his boyfriend are no more." Drew turned on his 'oh, well' expression. "Bud has done a super job keeping the traffic active on all the machines."

"Then you've just helped me with a decision. You think Bud could double up and supervise the poker room?"

"He has a lot of Hilton experience," Drew replied. "Dealing, poker and roulette are all part of his background. In my estimation, he's a keeper."

"Good. That'll be the direction I'll let's get to the immediate situation." Nick stood and waited for Drew to do the same thing. "It's time to assume the role of bad news bearer. I've never handled terminations of such volume in one day - I'm torn between calling an executive committee meeting in here and doing it all at once, en masse, or with a personalized one-on-one kiss-off. Either way, it's a shitty situation and I only have so much sensitivity to go around."

"First, I suggest that we handle this together because it's the proper chain of command. Second, the afternoon finance meeting is already blocked on everyone's schedule for 2:00 p.m., and I know a few of the guys won't be in the office this morning. It also gives us time to handle the departures properly. You, invalidating computer codes, boxes...stuff like that. Although it sounds crummy, everyone who's terminated needs to get their personal belongings and leave the property immediately." Drew felt uneasy about this approach but there was no other way to protect the business from tampering and theft of files by disgruntled ex-employees.

"Tough, but true." Nick put his hand on Drew's shoulder and squeezed once for emphasis. "I need to work the phones and you probably need to organize yourself for the transition."

"Why don't we get together around 1:00 p.m. and review more time." Drew wanted to make sure the new agenda for the afternoon meeting was as airtight as possible.

"Back here at one, then," Nick replied with a hand up signaling agreement.

Drew went to his soon-to-be-former office and made a list of items that needed to be handled.

The 'cast' cafeteria had the usual lunchtime hum and clatter as hundreds of workers took their mid-day break. It was just before noon and already the second wave of staff - dressed in a variety of uniforms and costuming - were shuffling through the food line. Bob, Drew and Bud huddled around a table in the middle of the feeding mayhem - their salads being picked at while they talked. Drew would nod or wave occasionally to one of the staff that he knew well but didn't encourage anyone to approach. Like any organization, there was pecking order etiquette at the Barcelona and everyone knew the rules of positioning.

"I chalk it off to their first serious love running out of steam," Bud said.

"That's the way we see it," Bob replied.

"I had sensed that Michael was emotionally wrestling with something for the past couple of weeks...but figured it was just pressure from finishing school. Stuff like that. I knew the guys weren't into drugs, so I just let it be. I was taken aback when he told me about the split-up last night. He also sprung on me his change of plans regarding college. It'll be a little bit of a challenge to cover the added expenses, but I can do it."

There was a natural silence as the three men took a conversation break and ate more of their lunches.

"We value your friendship but I doubt we'll be getting together with the boys until...well, things get patched up." Bob said. "With Michael off to Reno, you'll be an official empty nester but us parents should still socialize."

"I'd like that." Bud speared at his salad and added, "And if I can find a boyfriend for real, it'll be fun to do things as a couple. No matter how you slice it, a single guy is the odd person out."

"Any prospects?" Drew asked. He was pleased that they had gotten past the friction between their sons - not that he'd had any real concern.

"Between my son and the job, it's been pretty bleak on the boyfriend front. As you said, I'll soon become an 'empty nester' and maybe I can entertain at home without inconvenient interruptions. It's something less than endearing when I'm in the middle of a lip lock and my teenage son walks in." Bud chuckled and took a sip of water.

"The trials of courtship," Bob said while he wiggled his eyebrows.

"Courtship, hell. I'd just settle for getting laid once in a while."

"If nothing else, you could always lock yourself in the bathroom with a ''Playboy ''magazine and a jar of Vaseline," Drew said with a chuckle, "Just like old times."

"Maybe ''Playgirl'', and that's an idea." Bud blotted his lips with his paper napkin and added, "Guys, I gotta get back and work up some 'drop' projections for the slot tournament." He stood up and lifted his tray.

"Let's plan on the three of us getting together for dinner some place in a couple of weeks," Drew said. "Bob and I need to talk about work for a few minutes." He watched as Bud walked away. "I want to brief you on some heavy work-related stuff coming down the this afternoon."

"How heavy?"

"Earthshaking heavy." Drew leaned in and said, "You and I are is Bud, for that matter." Without a pause, he repeated the bullet points of his morning meeting with Nick - leaving out the sidebar drama concerning Lou and Spike. He figured that piece of news could be discussed after the shattering restructuring process had settled.

Bob sat quietly and absorbed what had been said and how he'd be affected. He looked at the wall clock and knew Drew needed to return to the lion's den. "Time's up and I don't envy what you've got to do, but I'll be supportive from my end. I must say it'll be challenging to work directly for Nick."

"He's demanding but fair," Drew replied. "You'll shine, buddy, like you always do." He grabbed his tray and stood up.

"Thanks...but that's not exactly an impartial judgment." Bob half-heartedly smiled and joined Drew. They made their way to the dirty dish area and emptied their trays.

Before they parted, Drew asked, "Can you get a ride home? I know I'll be here pretty late helping Nick sort things out."

You mean...?" Bob slid his finger across his neck.

"Exactly. Not the most fun thing to look forward to."

"Don't worry about it. You do what you have to do and we'll regroup tonight."

"I'm going to need some 'regrouping' tonight...real bad" Drew took Bob's hand and held it longer than he normally would in public.

"You can be the 'regroup-er' and I'll be the 'regroup-ee'.

The day had been calming for Cray. With his good friend, Tim, they had a strenuous workout at the 24 Hour Fitness Sport, went to the 4:00 p.m. showing of ''X-Men Origins: Wolverine'' at the Sunset casino cinema, and ended up at Metro Pizza on Decatur Boulevard. By the time half of the Memphis pizza had been consumed - BBQ chicken - they'd thoroughly dissected the film.

Tim sipped his Diet Coke, looked at Cray and asked, "You wanna talk about it?"


"I'll ease off if you want, but it seems that there's more to Michael's not being here and...if you need a listening post, I'm here." Tim turned his hands palms up and waited for Cray to say something.

"I don't fake it very well, do I? Is it that obvious?"

"The reporter in me picked up that everything wasn't happy in Cray-world. Sooo..."

"I know I can trust you." Cray moved closer and said in a low tone, "He dropped me for someone else. No friggin' mystery - I was dumped. The other guy is from Bishop Gorman and they're both going up to Reno for school." He was stung again by the replay of yesterday's 'big event' but relieved that he could share it with a close pal. "And you're right...talking things out with a friend is probably the best thing. I'm just not ready for everyone to know what's what with this other dude."

"You and Michael are both buds...and nobody really needs to know about the gory details," Tim replied. "Split-ups happen all the time. You pointed out that Brenda and I will be going our separate ways. And crap, half our classmates don't have their original parents living with each other. Why should it be any different with two guys?"

"Good point." During the movie, Cray had considered the same thing. "Michael was there at a strange period in my life and maybe I was too clingy." Cray had never revealed to Michael the true nature of his sudden appearance in Las Vegas almost two years earlier.

"Is 'clingy' what you call it when know?" Tim asked with a snicker.

"Tim," Cray blurted out, before he joined in the laughter. "You know exactly what happens with two guys...or are you forgetting that you told me you've seen gay porn."

"The porn was only for research," Tim said with a wink, "and I'm just pulling your chain."

"Research, my choice ass. You're hopelessly straight and should stick with ''Barbara's Bush'', rather than renting ''Saving Ryan's Privates ''from Netflix."

"Eeew, T.M.I. I'll take your word for it." Tim grinned, picked up another slice of pizza and added, "Dig in, we're still growing boys."

"Buddy, my appetite has suddenly improved. Thanks." Cray grabbed a loose slice and took a big bite. 'Tim's right,' he thought, 'shit happens and I just gotta get over it.'

"By the time fall comes and you're starting classes at UNLV, there'll be lots of new people, guys included, to meet. Freshman year is a great time to explore...if you get my drift."

"I hear ya. But studying will come first and I don't know if it'll be easy to find someone else." Cray sipped his drink and nibbled on the crust.

"Dude, were you tuned out to the looks you were getting at the gym? I don't think that you, Mr. Gamble, will be hurting for companionship when you're ready."

"You picked up on guys checking me out?" Cray was a little surprised that his friend had noticed the cruising that went on. Before, he hadn't thought about it too much. 'But it is cool to be cruised,' he decided, 'by some of the members close to my age. Maybe there is life after Michael.'

"Just pointing out the obvious."

"Hmmm, maybe I'll go to the gym more often this summer," Cray replied with a broad smile.

"Slut. But, maybe I'll tag along with you...I saw several female flavors that might just be fun to taste."

"Yikes, you ''are'' hopelessly hetero." Cray smiled and felt lucky that he had such a cool friend.

It was just under the deadline, but Spike had submitted his MBA thesis on time. The only thing between now and his degree was another week of classes listening to dissertations - he was confident he'd have no trouble with his presentation. Less certain was his personal life.

Each time he drove into the basement garage at the condo complex, he briefly thought about the explosive events of that night two years earlier. He could still make out the repair work on the garage wall that was needed when his old Honda was destroyed by that fleeing mobster's vehicle. Spike parked his small Lexus in his assigned space, next to Lou's SUV, and walked over to the elevator.

The elevator stopped at the 39th floor - it could only be reached by inserting a special key into the console - and Spike stepped out into the foyer. Spike knew that Mr. Gallian wasn't home because of the absence of security in front of 39A. 'Maybe he's back in New York with Lou?' he thought as he inserted his key in the lock of 39B and opened the door. He walked inside, punched in the security code and turned on the console table lamp.

He was now used to coming home to an empty apartment. His lover spent most weekends traveling on company business...he'd been told. And the previous evening, Lou had said he'd be in New York "for a while". No, "I'm going to miss you," or "why don't you fly out and visit," comments. Just a matter of fact. When they finally got into bed for an evening tumble, Spike felt more like a human ''Fleshlight'' than being half of a loving relationship. 'It's almost like I'm just around to service him,' he thought as he arrived in the bedroom, 'like the old days.' The old days being when he was one of Mario Cirillo's expensive escorts. He shook his head as he undressed and remembered his very lucrative part-time job while attending UNLV as an undergraduate.

"I gotta call Mario and set up a dinner date," he said to himself as he undressed, "and find out how he's doing." They occasionally got together at a restaurant and brought each other 'up to speed' on their lives. Although Mario seldom talked about his 'business', Spike figured out that his old boss was sharing more responsibilities with Big Joe Strollo. He opened the closet to get his favorite robe and noticed Lou's side was sparse of clothing. Very sparse. More like...almost empty. "What the fuck is Lou up to?" he asked out loud as he put on his robe and scanned the closet closer. Shoes, shirts, pants and suits - gone.

Spike frowned and padded out to the kitchen, turning on art lighting along the way, having decided to prepare some warm milk. It was only 9:00 p.m. but he was going to call it an early night. He poured the milk into a cup and set the microwave for 20 seconds. He spotted an envelope on the kitchen table about the time the microwave 'dinged'. It was addressed to him in Lou's handwriting. 'Well, isn't this a little odd,' he thought as he opened the envelope and studied the contents - the message was neatly printed from a computer.

Dear Spike,

Found out this morning that I'll be in New York for an indefinite time. Some difficult situations at the bank need my attention. This is a good time for us to reconsider our relationship. I don't plan on being back in Las Vegas in the near future and I think it's best for us to move on.

You've been great and I'm the first to admit that I haven't held up my end of our living together. It's best this way - and I'd like you to leave the condo. The end of June will give you more than a month to find another place. You love the Vance Kirkland painting in the hallway...please take it. Same deal with the one in the living room. Hell, grab anything you want...I won't be calling this place home.

Give Dad's secretary a list of what you're taking. He's re-doing the condo and has plenty of antique stuff to move in from storage.

Sorry kiddo, I'm being a shit...but that's not unusual for me.


"Well...fuck you, too," Spike said as he re-read the note. 'My lover didn't even have the balls to sign it,' he considered as he got the cup of warm milk. But he discovered that he didn't feel particularly torn apart by Lou's chicken way of terminating their partnership. 'Ex, is what I am...we are.' He walked back through the condo and imagined Lou back in New York screwing his brains out with some hired boy. As he passed the den, the landline telephone rang. 'Can't be Lou,' he thought as he reached for the phone receiver, 'cuz he's outta here.'

"DREW REICHARDT" appeared on the caller I.D. screen and Spike welcomed being able to speak with a friend. 'But I gotta make sure I don't vent on Drew,' he decided as he hit the 'talk' button. "Hey, Drew... to what do I owe the honor of your call?" he answered with casual bravado.

"Evening...I tried your cell earlier, but didn't get any response, so I thought I'd try your home. Sorry about the lateness."

"Trouble in the kingdom, M' lord?" Spike responded. "Sorry for being so flip, but I've had a hard day at school and haven't checked my cell for messages. Just got home, as a matter of fact."

"I assume you know about Lou's departure to New York and I wanted to fill you in on Barcelona business that you probably don't know about."

"Aside from Lou clearing out the closet, I'm pretty much in the dark." This sounded serious but Spike decided to play coy.

''"The Gallian companies are in deep doo-doo with this financial mess the country's in and Lou has been called back to New York to work at the bank's headquarters office as his dad's representative." ''Drew took a deep breath and continued, ''"We've had a major cutback on jobs at Barcelona and basically the Finance department has been closed down. Ergo, Spike, you don't have a job."''

"Man, 'deep doo-doo' is pretty mild if I have to hit the bread lines." Spike made a mental note to check his bank accounts and Merrill Lynch portfolio summary and see what his finances actually were. "Seriously, fill me in...I'm really in the dark on this."

''"Basically, the company is in a crisis and Nick's back in the driver's seat at Barcelona. We've eliminated half the executive's that for openers?" ''

"Hopefully it's not time to jump off the hotel tower?"

''"To toss out one of my fav clich?, 'close but no cigar'. I've moved back down to the number two slot. Actually, we're doing decent business and I have an idea about how you might fit operations. That is, if you want to work." ''

"Drew, in all seriousness, I don't have the luxury of turning down work. I'm not only a man with a newly minted MBA and no job, but it now appears that I no longer have a lover." Spike decided to toss out this turd of a comment as an opener to discuss his new single status. "I got the kiss-off in the form of a note. And not even on Crane watermarked paper."


"Lou has officially broken off our partnership. I guess the 'financial mess', as you put it, is the reason I didn't get a little settlement check. He just split and invited me to get my ass out of his condo."

''"Wow, that is the shits," ''Drew replied''. "We gotta talk in person...this isn't a topic for a phone conversation. Is there anything Bob or I can do?"''

"No, not really...but thanks for asking. All has not been well in our relationship, so this doesn't come as a complete surprise. However, it does stab a little at my ego and self-esteem."

''"Well, we need to get together. Cray has just broken up so I've become an expert in consoling broken hearts."''

"Cray and Michael. Wow, I'm surprised that the 'dynamic duo' is no more. For the record, Lou's departure didn't break my heart...just the bankbook." Spike hoped this sounded as humorous as he intended. "What I mean is that I'll be moving out and won't be sharing expenses."

''"You got a place to stay? We've got a spare bedroom you could use."''

"I appreciate that but there's no problem. I bought a condo this past winter near UNLV. My brother, Henry, will be going to school there this fall and I picked up the place at a steal." Spike decided not to add that Lou had bought it for him. 'Probably a guilt gift,' he thought. "So, I'll move there and room with Henry when he arrives in the fall. It's pretty modest compared to where I live now...but maybe it's time to get back to reality. There are two bedrooms, so we won't be tripping over each other."

''"That was good planning."''

"Or lucky timing."

''"Probably a combination...I know that Cray will enjoy seeing Henry again and being classmates. Listen; there might be an interesting job at Barcelona, in the Food & Beverage department that would be good for you. We should talk about that." ''

"Any ideas you have concerning 'moi' and a legitimate revenue stream are greatly appreciated." He had no desire to return to his former profession with Mario and the boys. 'That is definitely history.'

''"Things are crazy for me at the office. How about coming over to our place tomorrow evening for a drink? We can bounce around a few things then, and I'll give you a full rundown." ''

"I'm very bounceable," Spike replied with a chuckle. "How does seven sound?"

''"Like a date. See ya then."''

The milk was now tepid but Spike decided to drink a chaser to good old ''Ambien''. He definitely needed a sleep aid on this odd evening. Among other things, that Drew had referred to home as 'our place' was not lost on him. Spike no longer had an 'our place' in his life.

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