Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 19

Posted: N/A

Cray had seen Henry, his first serious buddy with benefits, only twice over the past couple of years; when Henry visited his brother Spike during summer vacations. The teens formed an easy alliance as good pals - minus the sex - and their friendship wasn't awkward. When horny Henry had been raring to romp again during his first return trip to Las Vegas, Cray nixed the idea, however tempting, and remained loyal to his high school boyfriend Michael. Henry shrugged off the refusal with a 'don't-blame-me-for-trying' rationale, and they built a solid long distance relationship. Frequent emails, I.M.s and an occasional phone call kept the guys current with each other's lives. He was very pleased when Spike and Cray became a couple a few months earlier.

Henry arrived on Friday with his carload of 'stuff' for college, and Cray was taken aback a little by his buddy's growth over the past year. Henry was now two inches taller than Cray's even six feet and had formidable 'guns' that showed off well with the tight sleeveless tee he was wearing. "Man," Cray said with admiration, "you really got big. Must be the Wheaties."

"Naw, it's Froot Loops for us gay boys…plus some serious time with the weights. Spike got a good family deal at the 24 Hour Fitness here last year and added my name to it. I can use any club, and their gym in Sherman Oaks wasn't too far from home. Not only did I get a good workout…it was a great place to meet guys… about my age."

"About?" Cray raised an eyebrow.

"I had to lie to some of the old guys."

"And these older guys were…"

"You know, dudes in their late 20s." Henry mugged a faux-guilty look and licked his lips. "But nobody complained when they found out I was still in high school."

"Must have been your charm." Cray smiled and purposely leered at Henry's crotch.

"And my winning personality," Henry replied, cupping his package.

"Hey, you're now eighteen so there's no reason to worry about being jailbait," Cray replied. "Just be careful about being considered fresh meat by the upperclassmen and older guys here in Vegas."

"I think I'll stick to the freshman class for openers." Henry wiggled his butt and added, "No reason to spread myself too thin."

"Or you'll get the nickname - margarine legs."

"Cray, that joke is soooo old."

"And a little lame, I admit. Seriously, between the UNLV recreation center and our 24 Hour Fitness, I'm sure you'll be a popular man." He was very familiar with the Jensen male legacy - Spike and Henry were similarly endowed - and Henry was seriously handsome, too.

"Oh, yeah…isn't this 24 Hour Fitness named after Andre Agassi?"

"Correcto. And play safe. There'll be some serious jaws dropping in that locker room when you get bare assed around that crowd."

"Thanks for the compliment…I think." Henry turned on a devilish grin and added, "Big brother has drummed 'play safe' into me - 'no glove, no love' is my motto now. Of course, when we messed around two years ago without any armor…it was my first…"

"Me, too," Cray said with a nod. "We were pretty clueless…for 16-year olds."

"Friggin' virgins…and I didn't know a dick from a cucumber."

"Ewe, I don't even want to think about that. No wonder you walked around bow-legged."

"Bite me, Gamble…you know what I mean. When we…it was the only time I've done anything bareback. Not that I'm out screwing every night." Henry wiggled his eyebrows and added, "But I do get enough to keep in practice."

"As in 'practice makes perfect'?" Cray laughed and rolled his eyes. "You were doing pretty good when we first…"

"I think I had a good teacher…'professor'." Henry paused for a moment and switched into a more serious mode. "But that was then, and this is now. College and a new town is a big deal and I'll need all the help you can give me. I'd love to find a boyfriend who's my age."

"No problem. We're brothers-in-law now, as well as friends, and I want that to be the case for a long time." Cray decided not to mention that Spike had been the behind-the-scenes coach in his first encounters with Henry those few summers ago. 'Now's not the time for yucks,' he decided.

"I can't think of anything cooler. And speaking of cool, ya gotta give me the rundown on finding your dad."

"Neat, huh?" Cray grinned and gave him the shortened version of the reunion.

With his mouth gaped open and his eyes fixated on Cray's eyes, Henry listened with rapt attention during the five-minute replay of the past week's events. At the conclusion - finishing with the dinner with Jack and Phil - Henry shook his head with an expression of amazement and uttered a long, drawn out, "Wow."

"You'll meet them Sunday," Cray replied, holding back a tear. "In the meantime, let's haul ass and get you moved in."

Cray helped pack mule everything to Henry's room. Right away, Henry recognized much of the furnishings and art in the condo that had been recycled from Spike and Lou's former residence. "Looks like my bro did well in the alimony department," he said. "All this musta cost Lou a fortune…I'm sure."

"Actually, Lou was planning on leaving everything behind when he moved back to New York, and donate it to charity," Cray replied with a shrug. "It's good shit, and Spike figured that it'd look great here."

"And everything does…as long as you're okay with it."

"Hey, Lou and I have always been tight, and Spike's giving him some slack. I think we'll all be friends for a long time." Cray thought about the first time he'd met Lou - at the pool next to where Nick Maggiano's house once stood before the bombing. The same pool that was next to his, Drew's and Bob's home - the site for Sunday's party. "Just for the record, I'm going to continue to live at home, at least for a while. But don't be surprised if you find me over here quite often."

"I get it…Spike and you need your nooky."

"You got that right." Cray smiled and continued helping Henry organize his room. "Plus, we wuuvs each other."

"Y'all are doing just fine," Henry replied. "Man, my bro is so lucky to have found you…as more than a friend. It's seriously awesome, Cray. I just hope I find someone who is…you know…as special."

"It'll happen when you least expect it. Trust me."

That evening, the brothers Jensen and Cray picked up Kevin Trotter for pizza and a movie. After a few awkward moments in the car, the 14-year old adapted to the easy way everyone related. When he was dropped off later, Kevin said it was huge to be with two brothers who were tight and looked forward to their Saturday plan, raiding the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip and pigging out at the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood. He mentioned that his big brother Spence would be showing up at the pool party after he got back from his business trip, and was anxious for Henry to meet him.

Although afternoons in August could usually be dicey in the temperature department, the gods were kind for the pool party on Sunday. With a seasonal monsoon stalled over Arizona, and a weather front going crazy with highs and lows on the Coast, the Las Vegas temperature was forecasted to be hovering in the comfortable high-90s by the guest's arrival time. Cray had emphasized everyone should dress minimally and very casually, and suggested anything susceptible to wetness might be better left in their cars. He was sure the party would turn into playful horseplay at some point and didn't want to be responsible for drowned wristwatches and billfolds.

Cray stayed overnight at the condo and, after breakfast around 10:30, brought Henry with him to help get the house and pool ready. Spike had a few details to handle at the hotel before picking up Kevin and crew for the party.

One of the deals that Cray made with Drew and Bob was to take charge of the setup so they could get away for their weekly gym and brunch routine. Henry and he went through the checklist that Cray had worked out with Bob. Beer, soft drinks, ice, plates, napkins and condiments…the list was very complete. Last year, Drew had bought a used restaurant refrigerator/freezer combination and put it in the garage for just such events. In the food department, Jack and Phil were bringing coleslaw and potato salad, and Mary Grace said they'd whip up a fresh fruit salad. To simplify things, Cray decided on burgers only, and had to laugh when Drew suggested foregoing any 'fart-food' like baked beans. The 'pièce de résistance', to use Mr. Ed's words, was a surprise dessert he'd be bringing with Mario.

'Surprise, hell.' Cray knew it'd be that fab English trifle he loved.

Popping the table umbrellas and laying out plenty of towels were the last items on the list, and at 12:45, they were finished. Cray admired the layout and knew everyone would have a great time. 'It's great that Jack will see me as the almost-man-of-the-house,' he thought with pride. 'And for me to see him in action around my friends.' He and Henry were standing shirtless, finishing their bottles of water when Cray had an inspiration. "Let's jump in and get wet. I'd say we earned a little fun and we can 86 the sweat."

"I could cool off…that's for sure. I'll grab my suit."

"Don't be such a pansy," Cray replied with a laugh. "We can skinny-dip…there's no one around right now." He looked around the golf course and didn't see anyone near by. "Unless you're too modest."

"Modest, schmodest. It's not like we've never seen each other nekkid."

"That's an understatement." Cray kicked off his flip-flops, lowered his cargo shorts and briefs in one motion and said, "Lay your clothes over on the lounge chair with our shirts so they don't get wet. Just be on the lookout for golfers - they can pop up at the damnedest times looking for their balls."

"Right on. They won't see mine…unless I spot someone cute." Henry toed off his sneakers and made short order of his clothes.

The guys jumped in and began a strenuous fifteen minutes of swimming, splashing and horseplay, which included a few good-natured and harmless crotch yanks. Cray now visually confirmed what he had suspected, after seeing Henry in tighty-whities earlier at the condo. 'My friend has really grown everywhere,' Cray decided. 'Henry's dick-of-death and his surfer good looks are going to make him a very popular freshman with the boys. Girls, eat your hearts out.'

They were hanging by the pool ledge, treading water, when Cray asked, "If you don't mind a personal question, how long have you been shaving down there?" Many of his straight high school friends maintained a pube-free look, but the gay guys in Vegas were more into just trimming. It was one of the first things he'd noticed when he checked out all the guys…Spike included…at Mario's house two summers ago.

"Naw…no biggie. It's something I started doing my junior year when I was hangin' with a senior on the swim team. They all shaved…did it to each other, hard-ons and all, my friend told me. So, one night when I was at his house and his 'rents were gone, we had our own shaving party. I must admit it was pretty hot."

"Reminds me of a buddy who was a swimmer at school," Cray replied, tilting back his head with a snicker. "He used to say that a smooth sack makes for a couple of happy nuts."

"Hardy, har har. Other guys at school did it cuz they said the gals preferred a clean look if they were giving someone head." Henry splashed a little water at Cray and added, "Something I didn't have to worry about."

"What, getting a blow job?"

"No, silly. Having a girl do it."

"Checkmate." Cray knew they'd be close personal friends for a long time, because he planned on being Spike's man forever…whatever 'forever' meant in a gay man's life. They laughed, raced each other to the end of the pool and climbed out. It was shortly after one - so the guys toweled off, dressed and waited for the first guests to arrive.

Weekend 'babysitting' duties had turned out to be a definite bonding experience with Kevin Trotter. It was apparent to Cray that, because of Spence's openness about his sexuality, Kev didn't think twice about two gay men being together as partners. That attitude created a level playing field, and opened the door for incessant questions from this curious horny, hetero post-pubescent lad. Patiently, with humor and editing, Cray and Spike discussed their partnership and the genetic challenges of two men - hunters - in a relationship.

And on a separate level, it was apparent that Kevin thought the Jensens' sibling love and care for each other was 'pretty neat.' He said that Spence was his anchor, dad and brother…all rolled into one super guy. Cray also noticed Kevin was aptly listening for pointers in potential future relationships. As he put it, "with the dating thing." Other topics had included the coming school year, girls, music, girls, games, girls, movies, and girls.

With Cray and Henry busy setting up for the party, chauffeuring responsibilities were left to Spike. Kevin had invited his two new friends from summer school, Tammy and Edward, and Tammy's female BFF - Best Friend Forever - to even out the boy/girl ratio. It was also obvious from earlier conversations that Kevin really wanted to know Tammy better, and Spike was happy to help play the role of enabler.

By earlier agreement, each of the teens wore swimsuits under their clothes. Cray decided it would be easier that way. Later, bedrooms and baths in the house would be designated separately for boys and girls to free up the pool bathhouse for the adults. Spike, on the other hand, was comfy in his boardshorts - he had several changes of clothes in Cray's bedroom for later in the afternoon.

Edward, geeky in a cute sort of way, rode shotgun so Kevin could share the two girls in the back seat. And Spike figured his small Lexus would be great for sandwich seating, especially for a kid in teenage perpetual heat. 'With Kev as the meat,' Spike thought, 'so to speak.' The few times he checked the trio with his rearview mirror, Kevin appeared to be enjoying the squeeze, and Edward had turned around to be in on the teens' conversation. Spike's role was clearly that of being the chauffeur.

There were a few cars in front of the house. Spike recognized a silver Mercedes and Bud Turner's F-150 among them, as he pulled into the wide driveway around 6:15. He parked behind Cray's car, got out and casually waved towards Mario Cirillo's S500 AMG that was idling - although Spike couldn't see behind the tinted windows, he still knew most of Mario's security guys and decided to be polite. 'Those guys I always want on my side.'

At Spike's suggestion, the teens ran ahead and went into the house. This gave him a chance to say 'hi' to whoever the driver was. As he approached the sleek sedan, the dark window lowered.

"Hey, how they hangin'?" Spike said to Jimmy, the beefcake driver.

"About the same. You're looking quite domestic…with the kids and all."

"Like a soccer mom…but just for the day. The blond guy is Spence's little brother. Cray and I are looking after him while Spence takes care of things back East."

"So I heard." Jimmy's reply was matter-of-fact, not judgmental.

"Listen, I'm opening the new club at Barcelona next month," Spike replied, taking a card out of his wallet. "Why don't you email me a list of guys you're working with, so I can put y'all on the opening party VIP list? It'll be fun. And besides, I'm goin' to need business funneled my way."

"That's great, buddy. As long as the boss is okay with it." Jimmy grinned and took the card.

"No sweat," Spike said as he backed away. "I'll mention it to him right now." He flipped a thumbs-up and walked to the house.

Inside, he could see the beginnings of a crowd around the pool patio beyond the windows. In the kitchen, he noticed Mr. Ed puttering around with some food. Spike walked up to the distinguished older man, shared a warm embrace and promised to talk later.

He slid open the door and went over to a table that had been set up as a bar. Cray was handing cans of beer to two women who he assumed were Mary Grace - Cray's former high school advisor - and her partner, Billy Jean. Spike noticed, by the pool, his buff brother holding court with the teens.

Cray proudly made introductions and seemed comfortable with the new first name status between Mary, Billy Jean and his self. Spike shook hands, added that he was Cray's partner and accepted a beer. After everyone had let the initial small talk run its course, Spike excused himself and strolled over to the table where Mario, Mr. Ed and the Turners were sitting, along with a beautiful woman who could have graced a fashion magazine cover with no stretch of the imagination.

'Mario must be batting for the other team this week,' Spike thought as he approached his old boss, 'but that won't last long.' He also noticed that Michael Turner was drinking a Diet Coke.

After a series of 'hi's' and handshaking, Mario introduced the willowy brunette, who was wearing an LA Dodgers baseball cap, an honest-to-God pink bikini and cork platform shoes. Because Mario had a thing about not dating 'staff', Spike assumed April was visiting from Los Angeles. 'She looks vaguely familiar. But more in a People sort of way.' In passing, he wondered how female breasts got nicknamed 'hooters'? 'It would be simpler if that restaurant chain just named their places, Tits, and none of the wink-wink snickers.'

"Mario, can I borrow you for a moment? I don't know if you're aware that the guy over with the younger troops is my brother."

"Oh, hell yes." Mario stood up, turned to April and blew her a kiss as he walked away with Spike. "Henry, right? I haven't seen him in a couple of years."

"He's all grown up…well, almost."

When they were out of range from the table, Mario asked with a smile, "I don't suppose he'd like a part-time job?"

"Hands off," Spike said with a laugh. "He's starting school with Cray and I want him to focus on settling in and making grades."

"If he ever…"

"You'll be the first to know." Spike wasn't keen for his brother to follow in his footsteps and knew Mario wouldn't push the issue. "Bro," he called out, "you remember my friend and former landlord, Mario?" He'd never shared with Henry the real reason for his association with Mario, nor the living arrangements other than lucking out by finding exotic student housing. Henry had bought the premise. 'Or if Henry knows, he's never rubbed my nose in the lie.'

"Certainly." Henry held his hand up, during the pause in the conversation with the teens, and shook Mario's hand. "I had a great time at your house when I visited a couple of years ago.

"And this is our new friend, Kevin Trotter." Spike raised his eyebrow slightly, winked and added, "His brother, Spence, is out of town on business, so he's hangin' with us."

"Nice to meet you, Kevin. You're in good hands with Spike and Cray." Mario returned Spike's wink with a nod and said, "We're all part of a big, wacky family. Now, who are these others?"

Dutifully, Kevin introduced his friends and added that his brother would be joining the party later. From the bar came a few whoops and hollers. Spike recognized two of Cray's high school buddies and their girlfriends, and watched Michael trot over to greet them.

"Damn, that was a nice touch to invite Michael," Spike muttered to himself as he walked away after patting Mario on the shoulder. Not only did he like Michael - as well as Michael's dad - Spike was very grateful Michael had inadvertently opened the opportunity for the wonderful relationship that had quickly blossomed between Cray and himself. 'His timing in dumping Cray couldn't have worked better,' Spike mused as he got closer to Cray.

He was almost within touching distance when the real star of the afternoon appeared at the kitchen doorway. Jack Gamble stepped out with Phil Perez at his side. And immediately behind them stood Drew and Bob. Spike knew the joint arrival hadn't been planned, but Cray didn't miss the timing. He immediately sidled up to his dad. Father and son reflected for a moment in each other's broad grins and hugged each other. Next, with Phil now in the mix, came a group hug. Spike whipped out his iPhone and started taking pictures. The lighting was just right and he knew Cray would love the results.

Over the next several minutes, after retrieving a couple of beers, Cray escorted the new arrivals to the various groupings spotted around the pool area and introduced everyone to 'my dad, Jack, and his partner Phil.' In the meantime, Drew and Bob got their own beers and worked the crowd. Spike looked over at the shimmering blueness of the pool and decided it was time to get wet. He stepped out of his flip-flops, peeled off his tee and tossed it aside.

After checking in at terminal T5, Spence treated himself to a Jamba Juice smoothie and a berry bran muffin as 'wandering-around' food before departure. He'd remembered JetBlue's skimpy choices of snacks - not too realistic for five hours in the air.

The return flight was without any drama or headwinds, and Spence arrived at McCarran a little before 4 p.m. His carry-on baggage now included a present for Kevin and a Movado sports watch that Lou must have slipped in sometime after he'd packed. The first Spence had known about the watch - a Tom Brady special edition - was when he saw it on the TSA's X-ray screen. Lou had included a personalized note:

Thanks for making me a happy person.
See ya soon.Lou

Spence planned on doing just that - making Lou a happy person, whenever and wherever. 'A $2500 watch and my commission of about the same amount ain't bad for a weekend. God bless the free enterprise system.' It was a sweet gesture and he would dash off a thank you card in a few days. Business benefits aside, he thought Lou would become a good friend for a long time. 'At least until I retire in a couple of years.'

He was able to get to his VW Bug and out of the airport parking garage with a minimum of hassle. Spence figured there was plenty of time to stop by the apartment, change into more casual clothes, and still get over to Cray's house in less than an hour. At home, he brushed his teeth and changed into black Reebok golf shorts, another ribbed white tee and deck shoes. He liked the shorts because they were made from quick-drying material - around a pool, Kevin could be mischievous - and to be doubly safe, he wore Speedos under the shorts.

He followed the directions and found Cray's address within ten minutes. There were plenty of cars and he hoped his sometimes shy, not-so-little brother was having a manageable time with all the strangers who must be at the party. Kev usually liked to analyze new territory and people ad nauseam until he was comfortable. However, when they'd spoken the previous day, Kevin proclaimed that he 'really, really' liked the two guys and Spike's younger brother. 'And it didn't take him too long to make friends at summer school, either.' Things were looking up for both Trotters.

He stood at the door and rang the bell. 'If no one answers, I'll walk in,' he decided. Spence felt a little awkward entering the home of someone he didn't know very well. He rang one more time and heard from behind the door, "Be right there."

The door latch disengaged and the door swung open. Spence was ready to offer his usual generic, "Hi, I'm Spence," greeting when he recognized the face. 'What the…it's that dude…from the hotel john a few months back.' He straightened up and said, "It's Drew, right?"

"Guilty," Drew replied with a puzzled expression. "And I remember you. Spence?"

"Um…do I have the wrong address? I'm looking for Cray and Spike. They're looking after my little brother."

"Kevin's your brother? Ha, small world. Yeah, he's here…come on in and I'll explain everything before you meet the masses."

Spence frowned with a what-the-fuck expression and followed Drew into the living room. He took a mental note of the upscale but masculine surroundings and sat down in the nearest chair when Drew sank into the sofa. His back was to the window but he could hear several voices.

"First, my full name is Drew Reichardt and I run the Barcelona. After we met that morning in the loo, I decided you were the real deal and needed some assistance."

"I recall the entire conversation like it was yesterday. Pay It Forward…that Kevin Spacey movie about doing favors for other people…et cetera. You literally, and maybe figuratively, saved my butt."

"That, I can believe," Drew replied. "F.Y.I., here's the deal. Mario and I are good personal friends…and I understand you've become a valuable part of Mario's organization, by the way." Drew opened his arms, palms up and shrugged. "Happy ending, house lights come up, and everyone applauds."

"I'm…almost speechless." Spence was starting to fit the pieces in the puzzle. "And Cray…"

"He was Bob's and my foster son for the past two years. I say 'was' because Cray's now eighteen and legally doesn't need our help. But this is his home as long as he wants it."

"Bob?" Spence asked. 'Jeez, this deal has more plots and characters than The Hot and the Horny.' He and Kev had jokingly renamed The Young and the Restless soap the previous summer because of all the steamy scenes.

"Bob Harrington is my partner; like Spike and Cray, he works at the hotel, too." Drew leaned forward and added, "Just for the record, Mario's outside, and no one except for Bob, Cray, Spike…oh, and the famous Mr. Ed…are aware of Mario's business."

"Mario's here?" Spence felt a little nervous with this information.

"In the flesh. Kevin mentioned that his brother was on a business trip to New York, and now I know that it's you who wanted some adult supervision for the kid. Ergo, Cray and Spike's involvement. Impressive young man, by the way…you should be proud." Drew paused for a moment. "Anyway, I was told that the brother would be returning this afternoon and joining us for the party. Right?"

Spence silently nodded and digested what was being said.

"Roll the drums," Drew said with a smile, "It turns out that the brother is you."

"I should sell this storyline to HBO and pick up some pocket change."

"Write on…with a 'W' cuz the plot thickens. Would it surprise you to know that I'm also good friends with Lou Gallian…both junior and senior…and aware of the reason you traveled back East?"

"Nothing surprises me anymore." Spence figured out that Drew was one sharp dude and also, apparently, very plugged in.

"What you probably haven't been told by Lou is that his family owns the Barcelona…his uncle, Nick Maggiano is my boss…and just for good measure, Bob's sister is married to Lou's cousin." Drew let out a laugh and asked, "Confused?"

"Excuse the English…but, 'holy fuck'." Spence joined in the laughter and shook his head.

"That's okay…you can say 'fuck' on HBO."

"So…what do I do?" Spence knew this whole situation was completely above his pay grade.

"Just go out, grab a beer and have a good time. As far as anyone's concerned, you're the older brother. Period. Kevin has managed to charm everyone, and I imagine you'll do the same. Postscript, Spence, I'm very serious about your relationship with Mario being unspoken. It's our version of what happens in Vegas…"

"Stays in Vegas. I understand." Spence nodded again and thought, 'Boy, do I ever.'

"You were probably told this afternoon's party was to officially introduce Cray's real dad Jack…to people special in Cray's life."

"Not too many of the details, but yeah…it was mentioned."

Drew stood up, signaling the meeting was over. "Come over to the hotel sometime next week…call my office and set up a time…and we can have lunch. I'll have Bob join us and we'll give you a rundown of Cray's courageous journey."

"I'd like that," Spence replied. "Who'd have thought my desperate hustle at your urinal would lead to all this. Thanks, again, Drew."

"Think nothing of it. By the way and off the record, at a different time in my life…if I wasn't a 'married' man…I might have taken you up on your services."

"Services aside, and not to be sucking up…if you'll excuse the unintended pun, I hope we can become friends." Spence mentally filed away all the names that had been dribbled about in the past few minutes and decided he wanted to know this guy better. "In my off-time, I just want to be Spence, the college junior."

"With or without boyfriends?"

"A normal social life…even with my bratty younger brother…is my goal."

"Then I'm going to encourage Cray to plan a little party for the Trotter and Jensen boys real soon," Drew replied, with a smile. "Spike's younger brother, Henry, who you'll meet this afternoon, will be living with Spike this fall for the school year. Cray tells me that Henry's quite a guy."

"Sounds like I've got plenty of people to see out there. Trust me when I say 'I'll never let you down'."

"You haven't so far."

The men shook hands and went out to the patio.

'This is the ultimate show and tell,' Cray thought as he proudly watched Jack interact with his friends. The first group to meet his dad had been his high school buddies, and Cray was aware that Jack sought their approval. He was not disappointed. Phil played the role of supporting cast very well and generally stayed in the background. However, even a casual observer could tell that the two men's relationship was beyond being friendly - not just 'let's crack out the beer and watch the game' buddies.

At one point, straight but mischievous Tim had pulled Cray aside and offered a raunchy observation. "Watch out or the gay boys will be playing a twisted homo version of MILF with Jack the target."

Also in the group were the Turners. Since Jack had been told about the relationship between Michael and Cray - and the abrupt ending - there was no need to rehash any details. Michael confirmed he was leaving for UN-Reno in a few days and Jack suggested that Bud should come over for a 'few pops' and dinner with Phil and him very soon. To Cray, it seemed the invitation was more than just polite BS.

They ventured over to the pool and Kevin immediately warmed up to a real father figure. Cray was impressed that his dad picked up on Kevin's need for adult attention and Jack didn't disappoint the young teen. They cajoled, joked and shared observations about Las Vegas, and at no point did Jack speak down to Kevin. The exchanges left Cray wondering how it would have been to have had Jack around during his anxious early-teen moments. At a point when the conversation was trailing to a natural conclusion, the other kids had jumped into the pool and Kevin politely excused himself to do likewise. Over by the grill, Cray noticed Spike and Henry were helping Mr. Ed get the food ready.

For Cray, going through the 'meet and greet' process was leading up to the main event. Mario and his girlfriend were sitting at their table alone as he approached his early mentor with Jack. Mario stood, and after introductions, suggested to April that 'he needed a little time alone with the Gambles.' April smiled, adjusted her pink bikini and puckered her glossed lips before strolling away in a hot model's runway motion.

Mario was oozing his own model image - long, black hair slickly combed back, the ivory-colored tee that molded to his upper body with short sleeves that showed off his 'devil dog' tattoo, and matching shorts that naturally captured the package beneath the material without being overtly suggestive.

When Cray had related his first moments of arriving in Las Vegas, he mentioned Mario in glowing, sketchy terms - after a chance meeting - helping Cray find a job at the hotel construction site and offering a temporary place to stay and eat in return for doing chores around the house. Cray figured the real story would make for a juicy telling at some point in the future…another year or so, at least.

Mario smiled and motioned them to sit down. "Jack, don't be shocked that I'm aware of the details of what happened in Provo…both to you and Cray. It was a crappy deal and I've looked forward to meeting you."

"And I'm aware of how you helped my son," Jack replied with a solemn expression. "To say 'thanks' is hardly enough, but I'm very grateful." He extended his hand and the two men shook.

"Forgetaboutit," Mario said in his practiced Donny Brasco imitation. He laughed to indicate he was joking and added, "Besides, all of us need to do a little Boy Scout deed once in a while."

Cray was amused that Mario liked to pull his own chain on occasion. 'If Jack only knew he was sitting next to the Vegas version of Tony Soprano.' He caught Phil's eye and motioned for him to come over to the table.

"You saved Cray," Jack replied, "and whatever I can ever do to re-pay you, please let me know."

"Jack, you being back is good enough for me. Several of these people at the party I've become friendly with because of Cray coming into my life." Mario patted Cray on the back and smiled. "Tell you what, after Cray gets a handle on his college schedule, how about us all getting together for dinner?"

"That would be super," Jack said. He noticed Phil come up to the table and continued, "Let me introduce my partner, Phil Perez. He's indirectly the reason that we're all here today."

Phil shook hands with Mario and sat down. Over the next several minutes, they rehashed stories relating to Cray and the eventful party a week earlier when Jack had been recognized as resembling Cray, a former student of Mary Grace.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Bob said in a loud voice, "whenever you're ready, the surfer chefs are ready to burn a burger for you." He watched Spike and Henry, looking very cute in boardshorts and aprons, as they expertly tended the grill. Mr. Ed had finished setting up the rest of the food and was standing by the plates to offer assistance. Even though he was dressed in a loose Tommy Bahama shirt and walking shorts, the older Brit still projected an aura of competence and authority.

Bob hadn't known quite what to make of Drew's comment about Spence, once the guy had gone off to see his brother. Drew had said in a low voice, "You're not going to believe this guy's side story…starting with the real reason for the business trip. You'll love it."

The younger teen crew, along with the hot model-type, who Bob hadn't met but knew was Mario's date, and Cray's friends were in the pool. They got the message and slowly moved toward the stairway. He watched Drew command one of the umbrella tables by tilting the six chairs forward - it was Bob and Drew's intent to spend some quality time with the Gambles, Phil and Spike.

A few hours later, the somewhat sweaty crew seemed to have their appetites satisfied. Bob was proud that Cray, halfway through the dining, made it a point to visit the other tables. Several of the younger guests availed themselves of a second self-service burger while Bob took it upon himself to clear the food table to make way for Mr. Ed's famous trifle dessert. Bob had returned to the kitchen to fill the iced tea pitcher when their landline phone rang.

"Hi, this is Bob."

"It's Nick," Nick Maggiano said with urgency. "I tried Drew's cell but got no answer."

"Our phones are in the bedroom. We're hosting a pool party and…"

"I need to talk to him. There's bad news…Lou Gallian's dead."

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