Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 8

Posted: N/A

A whirring, grinding drone awakened Spence. 'Fuck.' He opened one eye and realized the noise was the vacuum sweeper being used in the next room. 'Morning sure came fast…or is it still morning?' It had been a very productive and profitable Monday night. He knew that Kevin - his neat-freak brother - was anxious to clean the new apartment and the noise was a not-so-subtle message to get out of bed and help. A glance at his watch verified what Spence's stomach was telling him - it was just after noontime.

The Trotter brothers had been trained by their mom to pick up after themselves and Spence made sure that Kev continued that practice. That the younger brother willingly handled his share of household duties and usually refrained from being a post-pubescent pest made Spence's job of guardianship much easier. An added factor was that each brother was usually honest with the other - the exception being Spence's fabrication about his evening employment.

That Kev had discovered the world of straight porn sites became a bone of contention when Spence discovered this new development six months earlier in Seattle. The wily, cyber-savvy 14-year-old had broken through the parental control codes and when busted, rebutted with the time-tested answer: 'but all my friends do it.' After a long, very 'earthy' discussion, Spence decided not to push the issue other than to make his brother aware that 'too much is not a good thing' with those addictive sites. 'As long as he gets his grades and doesn't turn off the real world, it's best that I leave it alone,' he decided at the time.

Kevin was a sponge and eager to learn at any given opportunity, be it scholarship or life's experiences of a teen easing into manhood. Spence's responsibility was to make sure his brother's exploration didn't turn into a hapless freefall. Just before they'd moved, he revisited with Kev the dangers of revealing personal information on I.M.s and a complete no-no of 'sexting' revealing pictures. And Spence made sure his brother knew he'd always make time to answer questions, 'no matter how dumb they sound.'

Since Spence had passed the test - or as Mario said, 'Ya aced it in spades' - the previous Saturday by entertaining the movie star, several clients had been booked. This kept him occupied the remainder of the weekend. He reached down and touched his crotch as he thought, 'Thank God for giving me a stimulus package that will take care of the bills and then some, without any help from a government bailout. It certainly came through last night.' Spence sat up in bed, stretched and decided to get up for the day.

After taking care of the bare necessities, Spence slipped on an ancient pair of 501 cut-offs and padded out to the living room area.

"About time, sleepyhead," Kevin said as he sprayed Windex on the glass coffee table. "I set out cereal and juice on the counter."

"Thanks, Bro," Spence replied. "Let me wolf it down and I'll help you. You wanna make a sandwich and sit down?" He looked around and admired what Kevin had accomplished. Most of the furniture was their mom's and still very serviceable for the next few years. 'At least until Kev is out of high school and I have a real job.'

"Cool. It's time for a break and I'm getting hungry." Kevin wiped down the tabletop and added, "We need to figure out how I'm going to get to school and a few other things."

"School starts tomorrow…right?" Spence had registered Kevin for summer school on-line when they were still in Seattle but had forgotten the details. The plan was to take algebra - Kevin's weakest subject - and Spanish during the summer afternoon sessions.

"Naw, doofus, it's next week," Kevin replied with a grin. "Then I gotta be at Green Valley High School by four, and the last class is over at 8:30 starting next Monday."

"So, I'll be your bus service." Spence prepared his cereal, poured some juice and walked over to the dining room table.

"Maybe I can ride my bike?" Kevin asked as he looked into the fridge for sandwich fixings. "It's pretty much daylight until nine or so at night."

"Let's play it by ear for the time being." Spence wanted to observe who was attending summer school before he loosened control. 'I hope he's not exposed to many slacker goof balls. It'd be great if he met some good guys to hang with so summer isn't a complete drag.' "My job usually won't begin until later in the evening."

"Even in the summer?"

"Kev, the whole idea was to find something in the evening so I can attend day classes at UNLV this fall. You'll make friends and we can work out a car-pool arrangement. I could drive you and whoever to class, and someone else can handle the return." Spence was aware that he'd probably be engaged in dinner bookings…along with the later activities from time to time.

"That'd work."

"By the way, I've been invited by my new boss to go over to his house tonight and meet a few of my co-workers. You going to be okay?" Spence sipped his juice and slowly stirred his cereal.

"What else is new?" Kevin replied with a chuckle as he sat down. "I'll organize my room tonight and get that out of the way." He took a bite of his sandwich and continued with a mouthful mumble, "Where's your boss's house?"

"It's here in Henderson…not too far away…and he's hosting an early cookout. If there's any problem, I can be back real fast." Although his brother would be 15 in the fall, Spence was still concerned that Kevin might feel uncomfortable - at least psychologically - being left alone, especially in a new city.

"I'm good…daddy."

"Just don't be too good." Spence reached over and playfully punched Kevin's shoulder. "The last thing I need is to become an uncle too soon." This past spring, he'd given Kevin a safe-sex lecture and decided they should revisit this subject once the newness of the move had mellowed.

"Yeah, yeah…I know," Kevin replied with a roll of his eyes. "Don't be a fool, wrap your tool."

"Or, don't be a loner, cover your boner." Spence laughed and added, "Just so you remember that they call jizz 'baby batter' for a good reason."

"Ewe, gross." Kevin stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose. "And at the dining room table." He snickered and took a large bite of his sandwich.

Spence knew the message had been received and thought it best to switch gears. "I don't have to be there until around six. Whaduya say I help you with the apartment until I need to get cleaned up?"

"That'd be great. All we need to do is finish unpacking the kitchen stuff, assemble the bookcases and hang pictures…and then clean once more."

"All you need, Kev, is an earring and a shaved head and you'd be a junior Mr. Clean."

"Bite me," Kevin replied with an impish grin as he quickly moved out of the reach of Spence.

And so went the afternoon with the Brothers Trotter - teasing, cajoling, and familial bantering while the job got done. By 5:30, Kevin was playing Killzone 2 on his PlayStation and the apartment had taken on a homey appearance - albeit pristine - with art their mom had collected, volumes of books and family photographs. Spence said 'goodbye' and was out the door to go to Mario's home.

Now that he was more familiar with the surrounding area, it took less than ten minutes to arrive. As he approached the drive, a silver Mercedes sedan with dark windows pulled out. Spence saw the S65 AMG tag on the rear and knew that whoever was in the car had paid 'serious money' for his ride. 'Being in Vegas,' he jokingly thought, 'wouldn't it be a hoot if that ride belonged to some mafia dude? Naw, that's only in the movies.'

However, Spence decided not to play games with the closing gate. 'I don't think Mario would appreciate a breach of security by my rushing though.' Spence eased his not-even-a-close-German-cousin Beetle up to the callbox and entered his newly assigned security code.

"Welcome, Mr. Trotter," an electronic voice announced and the gate re-opened.

The parking lot behind the garage, off to the side, was relatively full and he found a space at the end. As he pulled in, he noticed two drop-dead gorgeous young men get out of a small Acura, laughing and talking. They were dressed in shorts, polo shirts and sneakers. One of the guys - a tall blond - appeared to be his age, or somewhat younger, and Spence instantly knew he wanted to know more about the guy. 'Wouldn't mind finding a boyfriend in this town of shifting sands and shifty people,' he thought as he visually drank in the hunks before him. 'And although the other one is sexy as hell, I wanna know more about the tall dude.' Business appointments aside, Spence preferred guys who were of similar height, build and age.

He stood at the edge of the parking lot and did a fast scan of the back area of the house, large adjoining patio, pool and Jacuzzi area. On the opposite side of the property was the modern, sleek glass and smooth stucco structure - in the style of design that Spence would occasionally see in a coffee table architecture book - that was Mario's home. On his first visit, Spence hadn't taken the time to study the layout. 'Casita, my ass,' he judged with a whistle. 'Some serious bucks were spent on this pad.'

Aside from an older man over by the grill area who seemed to be busy and the other two arrivals, the space was quiet. Then Spence noticed Mario come out of the casita, spread his arms wide and say, "Get your buns over here and say 'hi'." The two guys walked up to Mario and they were enthusiastically greeted with friendly hugs and kisses. Spence was about to join the group and find out who the other guests were when he saw Brad approach him from the main house.

"Hey, buddy, good to see ya," Brad said. He walked up, shook hands with Spence and continued. "We won't talk any business tonight but I wanted to tell you how impressed we all were over your dry run with Stone Calder. Aside from being a valued client, positive word-of-mouth among his tight pals in Hollywood will be very valuable."

"I can assure you, boss" Spence replied with a chuckle, "that the evening was anything but dry." The image of the film star beneath him and the guy's heels literally affixed to his ears, writhing in ecstasy during the first crescendo of the previous Saturday evening was still fresh in his mind.

"Touché." Brad shrugged with a 'been there-done that' expression and grinned. "Whatever the case, I can probably give you all the client time you want…even in this shitty economy."

"As long as it doesn't interfere with school or looking after my little brother, I'm fired up at the chance to earn some decent change."

"Except for the demands of your regulars - and believe me, you're going to develop a loyal following - that won't be a problem," Brad replied with a shrug. "In the meantime, why don't we say 'hello' to Mr. Ed and get a drink. Looks like Mario's going to show the other guys his new digs."

"Who are those two? I noticed them when I arrived." Spence watched the two follow Mario into the casita and was mesmerized by the natural sway of the tall blonde's butt and back muscles that rippled under the shirt fabric.

"Spike and Cray. We're all old friends." Brad put his arm around Spence's shoulder and started them walking toward the house. "Mario thought the weather was ideal for cocktails and dinner outside on the larger patio tonight. What are you drinking?"

"Wine's fine." Spence noticed that the older man - Mr. Ed, he assumed - had waved at Brad and was coming their way.

"Mr. Ed, meet our newest associate, Spence Trotter," Brad said in a louder voice. He turned to Spence and added in a quieter voice, "He's the major domo of the house and keeps things in order."

"Really?" Spence hadn't expected to be served by a 'gentlemen's gentleman' at Mario's home. 'Definitely a case of more than meets the eye.' He wondered if his earlier joke about the mafia wasn't such a stretch. 'No…just my imagination going into overdrive.'

"Welcome to the company, Mr. Trotter." Mr. Ed nodded and extended his hand.

"Thanks, Sir," Spence replied as he shook hands. He was impressed with Mr. Ed's bearing and his very sexy English accent. The gentleman reminded him of Mr. Belvedere on reruns of an old TV show that he'd seen on _Nick at Night _a few years ago. "But I'd appreciate you calling me Spence…that's how everyone knows me."

"Then Spence, it is." Mr. Ed nodded with a small bow and added, "I know that Brad will probably have a Heineken's. What may I serve you?"

"White wine?"

"Excellent. We're having grilled lobster this evening and I've chilled a few bottles of a delightful chablis. And I have a supply of Heineken's in the refrigerator under the wet bar." Mr. Ed proceeded to take a bottle of wine out of a large silver bucket and cut the foil cap that covered the lip of the bottle.

Spence silently grinned with a nod. He'd only drunk California wines - including chablis-in-the-box on a few occasions at college parties - but assumed Mr. Ed would be serving the real thing from France. He marveled at the way the older gentlemen expertly used the small knife and corkscrew to ease the cork out of the bottle.

"I think you'll enjoy the crispness of this Drouhin premiere cru. It doesn't overpower like the grand crus." Mr. Ed poured the wine into an oversized glass and handed it by the stem to Spence. "Enjoy."

"Oh, I will. Thanks." Spence swirled the wine, inhaled the fragrance of the Chablis and took a sip. "Mmmm, this is terrific…whatever a friggin' premier cru is." He noticed that Mr. Ed appeared to be pleased at the compliment.

"I'll help myself to a beer while you work on the wine," Brad said. "And I'll open one for Mario. Looks like the boys have completed the tour."

The three men, led by Mario, exited the casita and waved in the general direction of the patio. Spence was able, for the first time, to study the tall blond from the front. Handsome. A natural smile. Madras shorts clinging in all the right places. Solid pecs and flat stomach. 'I definitely wanna get to know this guy,' he thought as the trio got closer.

"Welcome to mi casa," Mario said as he moved in for a firm hug with Spence. "Guys, this is our newest associate - Spence Trotter." He put his hand on the small of Spence's back and continued, "And these close friends of ours are Spike Jensen and Cray Gamble."

'Hmmm,' Spence thought, 'so the tall stud's name is Cray.' He smiled and nodded at both…leaving a lingering stare in Cray's direction. 'Let the games begin.'

"Hi," Spike said. He stepped closer and extended his hand for a shake. "For the record, I retired from Mario's operation a couple of years ago…so everything's cool. You're among friends." He firmly gripped Spence's hand and added, "Good luck with the job. Mario and Brad are the best."

"Thanks." Spence released from the shake and turned to Cray. "Are you part of Mario's operation?" he asked as he quickly took Cray's hand.

"No," Cray replied with a chuckle. "I'm just a student who gives it away for free." He blushed as the others laughed at his joke. "Seriously, I just graduated from high school and I'm going to UNLV in the fall."

"Super. I'm starting my junior year there. Maybe we can get together sometime and compare notes." Spence knew that sounded ambiguous - it was just the tone he wanted to set, along with holding Cray's hand a few moments longer than two strangers usually do. He hoped that Spike wasn't the boyfriend but decided not to be too nosy at this point.

"Umm, yeah…sure," Cray replied as he slowly withdrew his hand. He flashed a quick, quizzical expression before turning to Mario. "I hope it's okay me having one beer if I'm not driving?"

"You've graduated from Diet Coke?" Mario asked with a chuckle.

"Only when I'm with the big dogs like you guys or my dads."

"I could give you a ride home." Spence moved toward the wet bar and said, "Let me get a Heineken's for you." He wondered what the 'my dads' comment was all about.

"Not a problem, Spence…I'm driving tonight." Spike patted Cray on the butt and confidently winked at Spence. "Looks like Mr. Ed's serving my favorite wine. Be right back."

The Drouhin Chablis Premiere Cru was a wine that Spike had drunk on several occasions when he lived in the main house. When it came to wine, Mr. Ed was a bona fide Francophile and he always stocked the Chablis and a selection of red Bordeaux in the pantry. While he waited for the wine to be poured, Spike started looking at Spence from a different perspective. 'Mario's new hot stud is putting the moves on Cray,' he thought, 'and I better take on the role of big brother. Even though he seems like a nice guy, Spence needs to be watched.' Spike didn't want Cray - although now an adult and more than capable of making decisions - to have to deal with someone 'in the business' who was coming on too strong.

"À votre santé," Mr. Ed said as he handed the glass to Spike.

"And to your good health, too." Spike replied. This was his standard reply to the toast he'd heard frequently when he lived here. He turned to Spence and watched him uncap the beer bottle. "I understand you just arrived in Vegas last week?"

"With my 14-year old kid brother. I'm his guardian and bread earner for the two of us."

Spike absorbed this new fact and decided not to say anything - at that moment - about Spence hitting on Cray. "And you'll also be attending college? That's a feat I know very well…did the same thing a few years ago."

"What kind of work are you in now?"

"I was in hotel finance…at the Barcelona…until they eliminated my job recently," Spike replied. "But I've been rescued from unemployment, and will be heading up the renovation and operation of a new nightclub there."

"Friends in high places?" Spence asked with a cocked head and raised eyebrow.

"Possibly. And also that I do a good job," Spike said with a chuckle. 'If this stud only knew,' he thought, 'my past with Lou.' He smiled at the memory of Mario's boss - Mighty Joe Strollo - lowering the window of his Mercedes and waving at him when he and Cray had arrived at the house. "I've got a younger brother who'll be in the freshman class at UNLV this fall and is going to need some help from me…so I need to hit the ball out of the park and make this club a success. Henry's going to be my roomie and I promised my folks to take care of him."

"Cray and you don't live together?"

"Nothing like that. He's still at home with the 'rents." Spike thought it was wise not to volunteer any more information and decided to throw a little diverting curve into the mix. "Just so you know, Cray is very special to me…if you get my drift."

"That you two are boyfriends?" Spence asked with a frown.

"That we should all be just friends…period…and nothing more." Spike put his hand on Spence's arm and added, "If everything's cleared up, let's rejoin the guys."

"Sure…yeah, of course." Spence shrugged and let out a sigh.

While they walked back to the lounge area of the patio, Spike quickly replayed the conversation and wondered exactly what he really meant by Cray being 'special'. 'And why am I being so protective? The guy is capable of handling himself and seems to be over his ex-boyfriend's departure.' Spike concluded his actions were probably because the joke about him rejoining Mario's company had backfired so badly. The memory of Cray's worry and anger was still very fresh.

Cocktail hour and dinner was a relaxed event. Grilled lobster, white corn-on-the-cob in the husk, and a delicious redskin potato salad. Everyone, except Cray, enjoyed more wine and beer in moderate quantities. Spence's attitude toward Cray had taken a safe 180° turn: it was now that of a new friend only. For a while, Cray was the center of attention as he related his brief residence in the small apartment behind Mario's garage and highlights of the fostering by Bob and Drew.

Spike noticed Spence wanted to add something to the conversation when Drew's name came up, but Mario casually kiboshed the notion with a nearly 'imperceptible' shake of his head.

Although he'd been his usual charming and sexy self, Mario seemed to be a little tense. When Brad volunteered to give Spence a tour of the main house, and Cray offered to help Mr. Ed straighten up the patio, it was an ideal time for Spike to have a few quality moments with his former boss.

"Color me stupid, but I couldn't help but pick up that you're not quite your old self this evening." Spike studied his old boss as they finished their drinks.

"My charm and camouflage didn't work?"

"We've known each other too long," Spike replied.

Each man trusted the other without exception.

Mario had switched to wine during dinner and he swirled the pale golden liquid around his glass while he contemplated the image. "Remember that shit we went through a couple of years ago?"

"Jeez, like every day when I get in my car." The bombing of Nick's old house and the murderous assaults in Lou's condo building were still very vivid and real. "What are you saying?"

"That those Russian bastards may be regrouping for another run at our businesses…and the Barcelona."

"I guess then that Mighty Joe Strollo's presence wasn't just a friendly drop-by earlier today?" Spike knew very well that Strollo, to avoid visibility, seldom came over to Mario's house - especially since Mario was Joe's number two man in the organization. It was also interesting that the Barcelona was mentioned - the Gallian and Bromley families were supposedly out of the businesses that were 'off the books'.

"He was in the neighborhood and my privacy wall around the house is pretty effective in keeping nosy people away."

"Not to mention your den in the casita," Spike replied. He was aware that Mario's den was lined with a special metal sheathing that eliminated any chance of electronic eavesdropping. Very little 'business' was now discussed by telephone or email.

"That, too." Mario took a sip of wine and continued, "Fortunately, the Ruskies in London aren't so careful. We contracted a security firm - other than our own - to handle some special surveillance. Kiril Datchev lost a bundle of dough in the Russian markets and risky hedge funds…but apparently still has a few moves left in him to target us again. At least, that's what AOI people in London tell us."

"AOI?" Spike was vaguely familiar with the company.

"They're the best security outfit in the world, and very politically plugged in…everywhere."

"I'm just surprised that someone from the outside would be hired," Spike said.

"For keeping track of Datchev and his associates, AOI is fine with the arrangement. As far as they're concerned, the targets are the Gallian and Bromley families and their public businesses. AOI has a real hard-on for the Russian mafia." Mario paused for a moment and added, "By the way, keep this to yourself."

"Of course," Spike replied with a nod.

"We're pretty tame when you consider that those fuckers have their fingers in white slave trafficking, kiddie porn, counterfeiting and Internet scams. And that's just for openers. By the way, when are you moving out of Lou's condo?"

"Apparently just in time. Cray's going to help me move tomorrow and I'll be turning in my key to Mr. Gallian's assistant. Tomorrow night I'll be in much-humbler surroundings."

"But much safer," Mario replied with a nod.

"Does Nick know about this?"

"Strollo is probably meeting with him right now in the Mercedes. And then Nick will let Drew know what the deal is…in general terms."

The conversation was interrupted by the sound of laughter from Brad, Spence and Cray as they walked out of the house.

"As I said, let's drop the subject and keep it to yourself…okay?"

"I'll sleep better in my little condo and hope for the best." Spike could imagine that the Mondrian Tower would become a fortress very soon and was relieved he wouldn't be in the sights of intruders. He stood as the guys returned to the patio and asked, "So now you know where I lived for a couple of years. This place is pretty sweet, isn't it?"

"Awesome," Spence replied. "If I didn't have my brother to take care of, I'd apply for residence."

"Being a good brother and father figure is more important," Mario said as he rose from his chair. He yawned a little and added, "If you guys want to stay a little longer, go right ahead. I've got some work to do before hitting the sack."

"Actually, I need to get some rest for the big move and Cray's helping me." Spike looked at his watch and noticed it was approaching 10:00. He put his hand on Cray's shoulder and asked, "Whaduya say, big guy, you ready to go?"

"Probably best." Cray turned to Mario, walked in close for a hug and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks, Mario, for a super evening."

"My pleasure." Mario returned the kiss on Cray's lips and stepped back. "Let's get together very soon."

"And, Spence, maybe you and your brother can come over to my house sometime? We've got a great pool."

"Um, yeah, sometime would be good. Maybe later this summer."

Everyone went through a series of friendly embraces and Mr. Ed came out of the kitchen to give everyone a final goodbye. Spike followed Spence's Beetle down the driveway of the compound and they waited for the gate to open. He turned to Cray and noticed his friend happily keeping time to the soft rock music by drumming his fingers on his legs.

"I've got an idea if you're up for it," Cray said in a matter of fact manner. "Why don't I come home with you and we can get an early start?"

"I'm up for it…if you are." Spike was doubly anxious to be out of Lou's condo after the news he'd learned from Mario. "I've got a truck reserved and we could pick it up first thing in the morning."

"That would work," Cray replied enthusiastically. "Tim and Benny are planning on being available to help out around 10:00 a.m. for some extra muscle power. I just need to call them so they know to drive over to the condo, rather than having me pick them up. I probably should call Bob and let him know where I'll be."

"Let him know that I'm treating everyone to pizza at my new place tomorrow night around six. If Bob and Drew could join us, it'd be super."

"One sec." Cray thumbed his cell phone and said, "I'll call Bob."

The one-sided conversation that Spike overheard indicated that probably while Drew wouldn't be available to join the group for pizza, Bob would try to break free. Spike interrupted and suggested that Cray pass on a rain check invitation to Drew for a housewarming later in the summer. Cray smiled with a thumbs-up sign and nodded affirmatively as he ended the phone call.

"Bob said they're looking forward to the housewarming and I'm to find out what you need for the new place."

"Except for a man in my bed," Spike replied with a snicker as he turned west on Tropicana, "I'm in pretty good shape. Lou gave me permission to take whatever I needed - and I have. Within reason, that is."

"Speaking of your 'ex', you over Lou?"

"Signed, sealed and delivered." Spike let out a loud sigh and continued, "I was very pissed at first…and hurt. But I finally figured out that sexy, handsome Louis Gallian, Junior, was a complete slut…and wasn't goin' to change. So, that's that. How about you and Michael?" He suddenly realized that he thought of Lou as the past. 'Just history.'

"After Michael made a complete ass of himself last weekend, it wasn't hard to put our split-up into the win column. Whether we'll be friends again is up for grabs, however…at least for a while. But with your pep talk the other evening, plus Bob and Drew's handholding, I'm ready for whatever."

Cray reached over and patted Spike's leg and Spike held Cray's hand for a moment of reassurance.

They silently drove for the remainder of the trip to the Mondrian Tower. There was a different man at the entrance, who Spike vaguely remembered from two years earlier. This guard had more of a military bearing than the usual guy and was wearing a firearm. 'Strollo must have beefed up the security already,' he thought as he drove into the garage. He parked and they went up to the 39th floor.

"I reserved the freight elevator for all day." Spike opened the condo door, turned on the hall lights and let Cray walk in first.

"Wow, this place does look different. Kinda barren."

The hallway was stripped of the artwork and several boxes were stacked along the wall.

"As I told ya, Lou gave me carte blanche on whatever I wanted. We can walk through the place in the morning. I tagged everything that is to go with yellow post-its." They walked down the hallway to the bedrooms and Spike stopped in front of the doors. "The guestroom bed is still made up…and there's still the basic toiletries in the bathroom…including a new toothbrush." Spike stepped closer to Cray and kissed him tenderly, as one brother would another.

The kiss was returned and Cray let out a sigh. He stepped back and his eyes darted back and forth to each bedroom door - like a contestant on a game show. "That's all I need…I guess."

"And don't worry about grubby clothes to wear in the morning." Spike put his hands on Cray's arms. "I've got extra shorts and a tee that'll fit." He squeezed Cray's biceps for emphasis.

"And maybe some underwear?"

"Oh, yeah," Spike replied with a sly grin, "I'd forgotten you were always drawn to my briefs…although usually after I'd worn them."

"Fuck you, Jensen." Cray blushed, joined the laugh and added, "I was at an age when 'inquiring minds wanted to know'. But I've gained wisdom over the past couple of years."

"And you've done it very well."

"Well…I'll see ya in the morning."

"Crack of dawn…or something like that," Spike said softly.

They kissed once more and separated. Spike went to his room and closed the door. The master bedroom furniture was ready to be moved and he had packed everything from the chest of drawers. The bedside lamps were sitting in the corner with their cords wrapped around the bases. The flat-screen TV had been removed from the wall and was packed in a mirror carton. In another large flat carton were two pieces of art he enjoyed.

Spike got undressed, entered his soon-to-be-former master bathroom and went through the nightly routine of brushing his teeth and taking one final whiz. Although no one would appreciate it, he'd taken the time to make sure the bathroom - as well as the rest of the condo - was clean. He smiled when he focused on the large shower and the frisky escapades Lou and he had enjoyed in friendlier times. "All in all," he said to himself as he washed his hands, "we had many good times and the 'divorce' settlement was more than fair."

Back in the bedroom, he paused and looked around. This was the final evening and the room looked as disheveled as he felt emotionally. Loneliness - but not because of Lou's absence. Just a loneliness and emptiness of a man fending life on his own. He turned off the overhead reading lights, pulled back the top sheet and lay down. The clock radio had been packed but Spike was a light sleeper: when the first light of morning crept into the room, he'd be awakened.

The bedroom door hardware clicked.

'What the fuck?' he thought as the door slowly opened. Briefly, Spike replayed Mario's conversation about the Russians and wondered if he should jump to the ground. 'Naw, that's not the deal.' A faint light from a hallway nightlight softly illuminated the silhouette of a statuesque nude man. A man he knew well.



"Hey, buddy. Is everything all right?" Spike sat up and watched Cray standing motionless at the door.

"Ah, jeez…maybe this wasn't such a hot idea. I…"

"Ya wanna talk?"

"Spike, I was just…ah, what the hell. Is it okay if I come in and sleep with you?" Cray took a step forward and stopped.

A thousand things were flooding Spike's mind when he patted the mattress and said, "It's a big bed and I could definitely use the company." He watched Cray walk in and a spark ignited a surge of energy through his body. "How you doing?"

"Everything's cool…as long as I don't blow this." Cray sat down on the edge of the bed and continued, "You said all you needed was a man in your bed. Do I qualify?"

After swallowing hard and quickly considering the answer, Spike said, "More than qualify. You sure about this?" He suddenly realized why he'd been so protective earlier in the evening.

"I've never been surer," Cray said with a raspy tone. He moved closer to Spike and they gently kissed. "I knew tonight that I wanted to do this…and much more. In fact, I've known this deep inside for a long, long time."

Cray straddled Spike and their bodies touched each other in the most intimate and vulnerable places. There was the unmistakable stirring of two males being aroused.

"Me too, Babe…me too."

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