Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 9

Posted: N/A

The two men, in a cuddle that was way beyond brotherly – definitely incestuous if they had been of blood relation – stirred as the new day's sun crept into the bedroom. Spike opened one eye to verify that his visitor was not a wonderful apparition. The warmth of Cray's body was something that Spike wanted to savor as the room became brighter. Their legs intertwined; Spike's arm rested across Cray's chest, and his head nestled in Cray's pit. The muskiness of Cray and a few stray underarm hairs awakened Spike's sensory perception – the effect was like erotic tickling – physical and olfactory.

It was pleasant to snuggle with a lingering afterglow of sex – even the slight soreness of his chute didn't distract from the moment – as Spike ran a 'best–of' mental video clip in his mind. What physically happened a few hours earlier was one thing, but who had rung his chimes was another. The combination was over powering.

'Thank God, I had some lube and rubbers in my dopp kit,' he thought as he spotted the almost–empty small bottle of Wet and four torn, crumpled condom packets sitting on the bare bedside table that was also holding his sports watch. Spike squinted and focused on the dial. 'Just after six.' He pressed his knee against Cray's low–slung balls, glanced down, and verified that Cray's morning woodie was sailing at full mast.

He smiled at the series of 'firsts' that were achieved the previous night: for openers, it was the first time either man had seen the other fully aroused. 'Cray has grown up in more ways than one,' Spike considered, 'and he certainly knew what he was doing…in spades.' What would have been considered illegal and on the wild side two years earlier, now seemed very natural.

Advantage. He wondered if this was just a case of two horny guys – albeit close friends – doing what guys do when they're attracted to each other and their guard is down…or something more? And was he concerned about Cray being his brother's age…that he'd first met Cray at the less–than–ripe 16 years of age? 'No, this dude is definitely an adult and knows how to handle himself. I give him an 'A' and a degree with honors.'

Spike was impressed that after the initial, physical aggressiveness with each other, Cray had caringly paced himself to make sure that each enjoyed this most intimate connection between men. 'In fact, I was the one who was taken advantage of,' he decided. 'Thanks again, God, for small favors.' Not only was Spike flattered that Cray was the aggressor, it eliminated any guilt trip about maybe broadening the bounds of their friendship inappropriately. Later, as the second act of their heated passion unfolded, Spike repaid Cray with a deliberate blend of masculine topping and tenderness.

He brought his hand down to Cray's erection, which resembled a fleshy sundial, and brushed the veiny, exposed core. Spike wrapped his fingers around Cray's meaty shaft and just held it. 'And this thing is certainly no small favor." Cray was a 'grower' – another similarity they shared. The temptation to go into 'hand–job' mode was subdued by the realization that he wanted to be close, very close, and enjoy whatever happens. He released Cray's erection and glided his hand up the happy–trailed, muscle–ridged stomach and stopped at Cray's chest. Slowly, Spike picked at Cray's nipple and gently rolled it between his finger and thumb.

"Ummm," Cray sighed with unconscious abandon. He wiggled a little and brought his hand up to meet Spike's probing fingers. His eyelids fluttered for a brief moment before they opened and he glanced at Spike. "Morning, Mr. Jensen. Are we…cool?" There was a mixed expression of worry and satisfaction. He held his gaze and raised an eyebrow. "Cool with everything?"

"Well, I did say I wanted a man in my bed," Spike replied, "and that's what I got." He moved up so he could peck Cray on the cheek and added, "No complaints at all…and cool is hardly the temperature."

"Hard…ly?" Cray asked with a snicker.

"Whoops…Freudian slip." Spike winked and thought admiringly, 'Damn, six in the morning and he's already flirting.'

"Somewhere between 'hard' and 'slip', we should consider a little more practice." Cray turned on a grin and licked Spike's ear. With a whisper, he said, "Just to get it right."

"You're being modest," Spike replied. "As they said when that Aussie diver dude won gold at the Olympics, we 'nailed it'…although getting nailed was more like it."

"But practice makes perfect." Cray's whisper became throatier, "And I had a great coach."

"As much as that's tempting, babe, I suggest we put that idea on hold…cuz there's things to do." Spike sat up and looked at his bedmate. "We need time to get organized, rent the truck and finish packing up things before the guys get here."

Cray turned on a faux–pout and puckered his lips in response.

"And I'll buy us breakfast at Denny's before we rent the truck. There's one that's across the street from Hertz." Spike knew they needed to have a serious talk about what had happened before too much time passed. 'A Grand Slam breakfast is fitting,' he thought, 'considering last night.'

"If that's your best offer," Cray replied, "then I accept…as long as I get a rain check."

"It's the store policy, as well as providing customer satisfaction. But there's nothing in the rule book that says we can't shower together…right now." Spike swung his legs around to the floor, stood up and offered Cray his hands for a lift. 'Damn,' he thought as Cray grabbed his hands, 'I don't know where this is going…but I'm in for the ride.' As much as he was eager to further explore Cray sexually, Spike was more interested in knowing the adult Cray – the person, the man. 'And they're not mutually exclusive.'

After they came to their senses – as well as their releases – and earnestly scrubbed each other's bodies, Cray remembered the first time he'd tried this luxurious shower. Two years ago, Spike had loaned this condo and all the accoutrements to him. It had provided a private arena that Cray used to romantically express his love to Michael – Spike and Lou's condo was the only safe place where they could risk making love without being interrupted by a parent.

Magic – there wasn't a better word to describe that earlier experience. The teens had moved through a series of intimate settings – hand–holding on the balcony, a candlelit dinner, disrobing each other in the living room, making love – at first, tentatively and clumsy – in the master bedroom and the roomy shower. For two 16 year–old–neophytes, it was a perfect evening, and built the foundation for the just–ended partnership.

With Michael, Cray had lost his innocence and his heart. And now, although his innocence was long gone, he thought he was again losing his heart, but this time to Spike. 'Have I always had a thing for him?' he wondered, 'Or am I just scrambling for safety after getting screwed over by Michael?'

Casual banter between the close friends continued as they got ready for the busy day. Cray folded his good clothes from the previous evening and dressed in Spike's hand–me–downs – including a clean pair of Spike's colorful AussieBum briefs – that would take abuse of grubby manual work and wouldn't be worse for the wear. On the way out of the condo, Spike pointed out various cartons to be moved. Each had been marked with a Sharpie that listed its contents, new location and fragility. As they made a fast detour through the living room, Cray figured that, in addition to the two bedroom suites, the only furniture dicey to handle would be the large sofa. 'What the hell,' he thought, 'there'll be four of us for muscle.'

Denny's at seven in the morning was a real hoot for the guys – Vegas, off the strip, in all its tawdry glory. A collage of desert humanity populated the restaurant: gamblers just off an all–nighter at the tables, working girls from the lower end of the prostitution pecking order, a few male hustlers who were scraping the bottom of the barrel, senior citizens with their slot coin cups, uniformed casino dealers coming off–shift, and a couple of sleepy cab drivers.

"Makes my guests at the hotel caf?seem pretty tame," Cray said. They slid into a booth after the hostess set down the menus and left. In a weird way, he thought the dining room resembled the infamous bar scene in the original Star Wars movie. "This must be a tough way for the servers to make a buck."

"Actually, I'm told the money here is quite good and the breakfast shift is very much in demand," Spike replied. "Except for the old folks and vacationers, this crowd's very generous cuz most of them make their living scrambling for tips. They appreciate the effort."

"I'd just as soon work at the Barcelona, thank you…without the drama."

"Life without a little drama can be dull."

"Last night had all the drama I need." Cray playfully stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose.

"Ahhh, drama with a happy ending." Spike picked up the menu, smiled in a mischievous manner and added with a laugh, "I always have a Grand Slam when I come here. I figure we'll work off the calories and grams of fat later today."

"Sounds good…over easy." Cray wanted to comment more about 'happy endings' but decided to take a pass for the moment.

"Okay. You're easy and I'm scrambled." Spike reached under the tabletop and squeezed Cray's knee.

"Watch it, buster. I'm only easy for those I like." Cray reached down and held Spike's hand before batting it away.

"Do I qualify?"

"You know you do." Cray sat straighter as the waitress walked over with a coffee pot and poured coffee.

Spike politely ordered for both and handed the menus to the waitress. After she left, he said, "I suppose we should take the time to figure out what happened between us last night…don't you think?" He took a sip of his coffee and looked at Cray. "For the record, I thought it was pretty great."

"Awesome…for me…actually two steps up from 'great'."

"Okay…awesome works for me, too."

Cray picked up his cup, stared at the black hot coffee and noticed bubbles along the edge. 'Is this a good luck sign?' he wondered as he cautiously drank his first sip. "I gotta admit that I fantasized about doing something like this when we first met. I was…"

"Jailbait?" Spike put in with a wiggle of his eyebrows and a grin.

"That, and you know the rest." Cray's mind momentarily flashed back to his escape and hitchhiked trip to Vegas over two years earlier. "Since things are different now – for both of us – in the boyfriend department, I decided yesterday to take a chance. You don't worry about…you know, doing it with someone just out of kid status?"

"Kid? In a few months you'll be a college man and it's not like I'm an old coot. And trust me, being with someone four years younger is hardly a big deal. Isn't Drew three or four years older than Bob?"

"Good point," Cray replied. "And as a matter of fact, I think they're still pretty hot dudes." He took another sip of coffee and considered what he'd just said. 'I guess it's okay to think that my dads, who are also my best friends, are sexy.'

"So, there you are." Spike looked up and noticed the waitress approaching their booth with their food. "By this time next year, you'll wonder why you sweated such a thing." He picked up his knife and fork and said, "Let's dig in."

The two men silently slathered their pancakes with butter and liberally poured 'maple–flavored' syrup on top. Each cut into their stacks, speared some egg and took their first bite – smiles and a nod indicated satisfaction.

Spike cut his sausage link and sopped up some syrup. "I can already feel my arteries clogging up," he said as he dug into his pancakes and shoveled the ample portion into his mouth. "If I did this very often, I'd have to put EMS on my speed dial."

"Don't worry, I'd personally drive you to Emergency," Cray replied, while he played with his food. He wanted to return to the subject at hand. "Spike, I know I'm over Michael. Whatever doubts I had about us being history vanished with his stunt at the party. Would it be too personal to ask where you stand with Lou?"

"Too personal? Naw…you and me are close friends. And after what happened last night, nothing's really too personal."

Being considered Spike's 'close friend' made Cray happy.

"As far as Lou is concerned, the operative word is 'history'. Part of me will always love him – as opposed to being in love – and we'll sort that out somewhere down the road. Bottom line is that he wanted an open relationship and I didn't. I'm a one–guy person…monogamous to the core." Spike took a few more bites before asking, "What's on your mind?"

"You." Cray took a deep breath and continued. "I mean, you and me…if there's any chance that…we might be…"

"An item? I think that term's still used." Spike reached over the table and took Cray's hand. "I could get into that, but why don't we take this slowly – one step at a time? We're both coming off busted romances and it would be wrong to rush into anything. But I can see us dating – with benefits – and see where it goes."

"I could do that…it makes sense." Cray turned on a broad grin and squeezed Spike's hand. "I was afraid that you'd think what I did, by making the moves on you, was kinda slutty."

"There's a fine line between 'slutty' and being aggressive. What happened last night, with your devious navigating, was wonderful in several ways."

Cray cut into his pancakes and mulled over what he wanted to say. "Just so you don't think I'm being a horn toad. For me, last night was definitely not just getting off."

"I know, babe, I know."

'Babe,' Cray thought, 'sounds beyond cool.'

"In fact, if you've got time, maybe we could inaugurate my new place tonight after everything's moved in."

"That would be better than cool," Cray replied. "Although I have to get back home at some time tonight cuz I have to work tomorrow morning."

"Then we have our goals in place – get moved and break in the bed."

"But isn't it going to be the same bed?" Cray raised his eyebrow and added, "Not that I'm complaining."

"Details, details," Spike said with a laugh. "Let's finish breakfast and get the truck. We've got lots to do today."

"And, tonight."

Drew and Nick were suddenly summoned to Los Angeles for a late Wednesday afternoon meeting with Lou Gallian and Al Bromley, the senior owners behind Gallian Industries and the Barcelona. Drew knew the financial cutbacks were real when his secretary left airline tickets on his desk – discount Southwest was now the mode of air transportation. He vaguely remembered Nick saying in the big meeting that the Barcelona Boeing Business Jet would only be used to ferry rated 'whales' to Vegas and the casino, and that the luxury airplane should be considered off–limits for any company executive travel. 'Guess we're all setting the example for our associates,' he thought when Nick mentioned that Lou Gallian, Senior, was flying commercial from New York, 'but probably in first class.' Drew got into the spirit of economy and packed a couple bottles of Evian water in his shoulder bag for the short trip.

They stood in line at the gate, holding the dog–eared "A" priority boarding group passes, and Drew realized that Nick Maggiano probably hadn't seen the inside of the McCarran passenger terminal in years. 'Certainly not with such a crowd,' he thought while observing the diverse swatch of humanity milling about. 'Looks like the race and sports book at the Trop.' Until recently, Nick always traveled on a company jet and used the Executive Air Terminal as the point of departure. 'Different times call for different measures.'

Flight 132 was fortunately only half–full and the middle seat was a bonus oasis separating the two men. After a continuation of personal and business small talk, they each got to work with their laptops until they touched down at LAX an hour later. While taxiing to Terminal 1, Drew wondered again exactly what to make of this last minute trip. Nick had been vague other than to emphasize that the agenda concerned company security. 'Why are we meeting at Big Al Bromley's estate?' he thought, as the 737 stopped and the engines powered down, 'and why couldn't this have been handled by a video conference call?' It was now shortly before 2:00 p.m. and they were scheduled to return on the 8:55 p.m. flight.

Part of his questioning was answered when he saw two men he recognized from Gallant Security – silent macho Marine Corps–types in dark suits, reflective sunglasses and earpieces – waiting at the gate when they deplaned. Drew knew that usually only passengers were allowed beyond the TSA screening checkpoint unless an airport honcho granted a special request. He reckoned that there was some serious shit going down to warrant terminal protection but decided to keep his concerns to himself as they walked through the busy corridors and to the curb.

Outside, a black Escalade ESP and a less–imposing Chevy Tahoe were waiting in tandem; their drivers were also wearing black suits. Nick and Drew slid into the back seat of the Escalade and one of the 'men in black' got up front. The other escort quickly moved behind to the passenger seat in the Tahoe and the two SUVs merged into the airport vehicular traffic flow.

The early–afternoon traffic was mellow as they traveled north on the 405 – even when they encountered the freeway merge with the 10. Twenty minutes later, the caravan was cutting through Stone Canyon Road, off Sunset Boulevard to Big Al Bromley's wooded estate nestled next to the Bel–Air Country Club. During the drive, any further small talk between Nick and Drew continued to be a non–starter because of Nick's unwavering focus on the latest casino financials. Drew assumed his boss wanted to be prepared in case the owners asked questions about the business. He settled back and admired the views of this fabled neighborhood.

After clearing the security gates, they continued up the hill to the half–timber Tudor–style mansion's large circular drive. On either side of the doorway, life–sized bronze lions sat in repose. The majestic home, with its lush, mature landscaping, harkened back to an earlier era: the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood in the 30's. The only thing missing to complete the 'look' was a pre–war shiny, black Mercedes SSK or a racy Duesenberg Model J. Instead, three contemporary vehicles were parked around the ornate fountain. The sighting of a Lexus RX 400 Hybrid told Drew that Al Bromley, Junior, was attending the meeting, and an identical Escalade meant that Mr. Gallian had arrived. The only mystery car, a little out of place, was a beige Ford Escape…looking like a stepchild.

"Hey, Drew…Nick," a smiling Al, Junior, called out from the open front door.

Drew grinned back as he got out of the SUV and walked over to his good friend, colleague and Bob's brother–in–law. "Good to see ya," he said.

They bumped knuckles and hugged for a moment. For Nick, Al shook hands and kissed him on the cheek in a familial manner. Al's mother was a Gallian, and Nick's sister had been Lou Gallian's wife…until the tragic murder two years earlier back east. Nick's partner had been killed at the same time when their Las Vegas house had been bombed.

"Everyone's in the library," Al said. He put out his hand palm up, and swept it toward the entrance in a welcoming gesture.

This was Drew's first visit to the Bromley estate. However, he and Bob had stayed with Al, Junior, and Trish – Bob's sister – in their spacious Wilshire Boulevard condo on several occasions. 'So this is where Al grew up. Not shabby.'

The door was closed from the outside as soon as the party of three passed the threshold. 'The storm troopers aren't coming in,' he concluded with a slight smirk as he quickly scanned the crystal–chandeliered large foyer. The two–story space was complete with a sweeping staircase, marble flooring and a round table with a tall floral centerpiece arranged in a gigantic Oriental bowl. Drew doubted the flowers were fake. 'Probably changed frequently by the staff, even in the present economy.' They passed another security man and walked into the library. It was obvious that certain basics in this rarified world didn't change – the recent financial reversals had probably moved Mr. Bromley and Mr. Gallian down from obscenely wealthy to just rich enough to make the cut on Fortune's 400.

The door closed when everyone was inside.

Lou and Big Al – the seniors – stood to greet the new arrivals to the paneled room. The wall on the left side, with ladder–accessed shelving stretching to the ceiling, was dedicated to displaying a prized collection of leather–bound, first edition books. To the right was a large fireplace. Standing by the mantle was a stranger listening intently to a cell phone. The man was of medium height – late thirty–ish with preppy short brown hair, a square jaw line and green eyes that were constantly 'on patrol' – who wore a black shirt, jacket, and slacks. 'L.A. basic black. Nothing flashy but tailored,' Drew judged as he walked over to Lou and Big Al. 'The dude probably shops at Fred Segal on Melrose.'

Nick and Drew exchanged pleasantries with the bosses and sat down at the long, antique mahogany table. There were no notepads, only bottles of water. Big Al joined them and Lou beckoned the stranger to step next to him.

"Thanks for coming on such short notice," Lou said. "I just got in a couple of hours ago."

Big Al reached under the table and simultaneously metal shields slowly rolled down to cover the two large windows. Drew noticed the mystery man raise his eyebrow slightly – just a slight waver to a confident bearing – as he turned off his cell phone.

There was silence until the windows were completely covered.

"First, introductions are in order." Lou turned and motioned the unknown man to step forward. "This is Oleg Petrov…a senior partner at AOI International in their L.A. office." He then pointed out Nick and Drew to Oleg, and introduced them along with their job titles.

Drew knew that AOI International was a major player in high stakes security operations around the world, but that was about it.

"Mr. Gallian," Oleg said with a friendly nod as he set an Apple MacBook on the table. He then walked over to Nick, put his hand on Nick's shoulder and they shook hands. As he reached over to Drew, he continued, "Just for the record…Al, Bob Harrington and I are SAE brothers, albeit ten years apart, at the UCLA Chapter."

"Then, Brother Petrov, that makes us fraternity brothers, too." Drew offered the 'mystic grip' SAE handshake and Oleg smiled as they completed the ancient ritual.

"Phi Alpha," Petrov replied with a knowing wink. "I was aware of that. Perhaps we can all get together socially after this project is concluded."

'This guy does his homework,' Drew thought as he sat down and watched Oleg return to the head of the table.

"I'll get right to the point," Lou said in a serious tone. "About two months ago, our tech department at the bank picked up someone trying to hack into the computer network. Our concern was that parties unknown had been able to get through our first firewall and could probably, within time, gain access to the deposit data. Our corporate IT director immediately got involved with our own security resources and determined that outside expertise was needed. They recommended that AOI International be brought in to track down the source…which we did. Last week, AOI came up with some startling conclusions. Oleg, the floor is yours."

It was known in government and business circles that Gallant Security International primarily focused on military contracts and private executive security. Drew remembered reading that AOI had the high–tech muscle to ferret out adversaries through advanced cyber surveillance.

"Thank you," Oleg said while opening the MacBook. "I want you to listen to a short portion of a conversation we obtained yesterday." He tapped a few keys and waited for the connection.

Suddenly, a very clear animated male voice was talking in Russian – Drew assumed. There were a few pauses that suggested they were hearing one side of a conversation. Interspersed were familiar names – Gallian, Gallant National, and Barcelona. This caused Nick and Drew to sit up a little straighter. 'Holy fuck,' Drew thought, 'is this going to be a replay of a couple years ago?' He was also curious exactly how AOI had obtained the information – the sound was almost recording studio quality.

Oleg pushed a mute button and said, "I've given Mr. Gallian a complete translation on a DVD…but let me step back a moment." He pushed the MacBook aside and sat down. "Our organization, both here in the States and overseas, spent a considerable amount of time following a nefarious trail of I.P. 'pinging' over the past month – reversing the hack from the bank to find the source. Through a combination of skill and luck – maybe luck being the key – we traced the originating location to a warehouse on the outskirts of Moscow. However, the boss of this hacking is domiciled in London and is well known to both Gallant and AOI." Oleg typed in a command and turned the laptop around. "Gentlemen, here's a recent picture of our old friend, Kiril Datchev."

Under his breath, but loud enough to be heard, Nick said, "Dirty cocksucker."

"You flatter him too much, Mr. Maggiano," Oleg replied with a faint smile.

Drew caught the joke and knew that Mr. Petrov was also part of another fraternity.

"I assume there'll be a complete report for us to review?" Nick asked. His jaw was clenched and his nostrils were flaring.

"No, Sir." Oleg paused for a moment and looked at the group with a fast sweep of his eyes. "On assignments of this nature, operating in and around the world of Putin, AOI will discuss details only verbally…and only in a controlled environment such as this. Trust me, it's for everyone's protection to avoid documentation. Russia has become a land of criminals, for criminals and by criminals…while the government works to restore the Soviet Union. We have to maintain a very low profile in order to be effective."

"I discussed this with AOI's managing director in D.C.," Lou replied, "and we're fine with this arrangement."

The unsaid explanation of this presentation, Drew knew, was that information had been obtained through devices and in a manner that wasn't considered legal. 'Or through a government source.'

"What we discovered was a plan by Datchev's mob to divert deposit transfers from the Barcelona to Gallant National Bank and simultaneously drain funds from the bank's major depositors. Had this happened, the funds would have been very difficult to retrieve."

"Had…are we talking past tense?" Nick asked.

"Preemptive. Our tech team has been working with Gallant's IT Director and we've come up with an upgraded security system that is unbreakable…at least for the foreseeable future. And very early today, as a warning to Datchev, an electromagnetic pulse wiped out the Moscow telecommunications system they were using. Probably fried whatever they hadn't backed up at another location."

"Is this pulse traceable?" Drew asked. He was quite fascinated about devices he assumed were only under the purview of the military and secret services.

"Negative. In fact we used mobile equipment and bounced the pulse off one of the Russian satellites. The truck was long gone before they had a chance to regroup." Oleg closed the laptop and leaned on the table. "I can tell you that certain Russians, including Datchev, are pissed. The call I was taking as you arrived was from an associate in London. The Yard is investigating a murder that occurred four hours ago…the victim is a Russian national who was prominent in the computer tech community over there. And there's reason to believe that a Brighton Beach car bombing back in New York, driven by a known Mafiya bad boy, may be related."

There was no further explanation about the murders.

"I've asked Oleg to have his people monitor the movements of these characters – overseas and here – until further notice," Lou said, "and to continually update Gallant Security about their locations. Additionally, key Russian mafia people in New York and L.A. are being watched."

"We should add," Big Al said, commenting for the first time, "that all of your residences are being protected…very discretely."

"Good point. There will be no replay of what we went through a couple of years ago." Lou nodded to Big Al and then gestured for Oleg to continue.

The nuanced exchange between the two 'seniors' quietly communicated their equal status.

The remainder of the meeting dealt with detailing heightened security procedures that would be followed by key executives of the various Gallian companies – effective measures that wouldn't create concern on the part of the many employees. Drew sensed that any attempted offensive actions taken by the Datchev crowd would be handled swiftly – and with finality. After each decision had been reached and agreed to by Lou and Big Al, Oleg would type notes into his laptop.

At the conclusion of the meeting, everyone left the library and followed Big Al to the pool area for cocktails. The older men gathered in one area and talked in a manner that implied they wanted not to be disturbed. Drew could imagine what his bosses were discussing as he joined Al, Junior, and Oleg at a table by the pool. Business aside, he wanted to know more about Brother Petrov – SAE and otherwise.

"I feel I'm at a disadvantage," Drew said as he took a sip of his wine. 'You seem to know me but I'm drawing a blank. Bob's never mentioned your name and I don't think we've ever met." He decided to let Oleg know – as if it was any secret – that they were indeed a couple.

"First, I don't mean to be 'cloak and dagger' – I do my homework whenever I make a presentation to people I don't know. As far as Brother Harrington is concerned, it's probably a case of 'outta sight, outta mind'. Bob and I haven't seen each other since he graduated…what, four years ago? But I'm pretty active in the chapter alumni association here in L.A., along with Al, and we're always running into each other. In fact, we co–chaired a fundraiser for a charity that the chapter supports not long ago."

"Oh, yeah, I remember Al hitting me up for a donation," Drew replied. He turned to Al and asked, "Wasn't it a cocktail party at your condo to raise money for the Motion Picture Relief Fund for retired movie people?" He wondered exactly how far into the Gallian background Oleg had dug. 'He must be aware of our history.'

"Good memory. It was a huge success, although the condo was kinda overflowing…but everyone enjoyed the views." Al patted Oleg's shoulder. "This guy helped the attendance by getting some of our famous neighbors at The Remington – who we didn't know that well – to join the party. Brad Williams and Doug DiMarco, plus a few of their friends, were a big hit."

"Brad asked several of his actor and actress friends to come over for more window dressing," Oleg said. "James Franco, Ann Hathaway, Neil Patrick Harris, Brad and Angelina…plus a few more."

"That is bringing in the big guns." Drew's curiosity was further whetted by Oleg's broad base of friends. He knew Al and Trish lived in the same condo tower on Wilshire as Brad and Doug, but Al had said they had only met them a couple of times. "Oleg, I wouldn't think you'd be the 'Hollywood type'," Drew said with a laugh.

"Nothing quite so complicated." Oleg shrugged with a grin as he leaned back in his chair. "My other–half, Giorgio, is a law partner with Brad, and I've done some work for their firm. And the guys were happy to lend a hand for an event to benefit the actors' home."

'Bingo,' Drew thought, 'we're now kinda even on knowing more about each other.'

"We asked for a minimum $1,000 donation from alumni wishing to attend and rub shoulders with the stars…and raised seventy–five grand." Al took a sip of his drink and added, "Maybe when you and Bob come over this way again, I can host a small dinner and invite Oleg, Giorgio, Brad and Doug."

"That would be cool," Drew said. "Some weekend, we can drive over and play. Bob and I could also visit his folks before we return to Vegas."

Everyone finished their drinks and Drew walked out to the front of the house with Al to bid Oleg a 'good–bye'. The mystery of who drove the Ford Escape was solved when Oleg slid into the driver's seat. When Oleg drove down the drive, Drew decided he'd made a new friend, and wanted to know him better.

"Neat guy," Drew said as he and Al returned to the house. The plan was to have an early dinner before Nick and he returned to Las Vegas.

"Very much so. And because he graduated ten or twelve years earlier, I only knew him as an active alum and never paid too much attention to what he did for a living. He went on to law school, got a degree and had briefly been with the FBI in D.C. before returning to California for another job."

"That's a very interesting CV," Drew replied.

"To say the least. In addition to everything else, he's fluent in Russian, French and Spanish. It's a good idea for all of us to keep closer contact. Al chuckled and shook his head. "Oleg's more than just being plugged in…everywhere."

"Bro, I get a feeling that he and his organization will help get us through this shit…big time." Drew wished they had known Oleg a couple years ago.

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