Castle Roland

Shifting Sands

by Jack Scribe, of Honored Memory


Chapter 20

Posted: N/A

Drew was busily making small talk with the guests when he heard Bob calling his name. There was a retrained urgency in the tone. He turned and saw his partner standing just outside the kitchen, holding up a phone and beckoning in a frantic motion.

He excused himself and walked to the house in long strides.

"Here he is," Bob said into the phone. He handed the receiver to Drew and shook his head. "Nick…with bad news."

"Nick…it's Drew. What's wrong?" He stepped inside, closed the slider and looked at Bob. Nick was in Los Angeles for the weekend - a combination of work and a few rounds of golf.

_"We just got word that Lou's dead. Happened this afternoon."_Nick spoke in measured tones that almost hid a crackle of throat-constricted emotion.

"Shit…I'm…God, Lou's about Bob's age. What happened?" Drew took Bob's hand and squeezed it. Memories of the Russian mob's actions two years earlier were still fresh in his mind. The vicious violence. His gut wretched with a fearful reaction that yet another murder had caused Lou's death.

"No, no…it's Lou, Senior. Sorry for the miscommunication."

"Whoa." Drew digested this clarification and felt his pulse racing. "Either way…it's tragic." He held his hand over the receiver mouthpiece and whispered to Bob, "It's Mr. Gallian…Lou's dad."

"Young Lou and Richard are back in New York sorting out this mess with their aides. The Bromleys - Senior and Junior - and I are heading to the Van Nays Airport in a few minutes. We should get into Teterboro by dawn…before rush hour."

Richard Gallian, Lou's older brother, and Drew had met each other only once - at the hotel's grand opening. He knew Richard was a senior partner in the Gallian law firm and a big deal on the New York social scene, but that was about it.

"Nick, Mario's out at the pool. If you want, let me get him in the house so you can brief us both…to save time." He decided to speak the unspoken - that Mario Cirillo's business relationship with the Gallian clan was still very active.

"I…good…that'll save me a call."

Drew kept the receiver to his ear and said to Bob, "Get Mario in here…but don't alarm anyone. Just tell him Nick's on the line." At this point, he thought it was best to let the party run to its natural conclusion. 'No reason to spoil Cray's day.'

"In the meantime, I want you and Bob to book a flight for tomorrow. Along with Mario. The Gallians will need our support…plus, we can conduct some business while all the funeral arrangements are finalized. I'll be needed to take up some of the slack, at least until the family's organizational chart gets re-shuffled, so I probably won't be around the casino for quite a while."

'Whatever Nick means by family,' Drew thought, watching Mario and Bob returning to the house. Through the open door he exchanged glances with Bob - Drew was now very upfront with his partner about the shadowy part of the Barcelona's owners whenever he discovered a crack in the corporate veneer. Into the phone, he said, "We'll go back to the den and use the speakerphone…okay?"

"Do it."

Mario, with an expression mixing worry with concern, entered the kitchen with Bob.

"Nick needs to talk to all of us…Lou, Senior, is dead." Drew knew, when Mario was involved, to cut the B.S. and get to the bottom line in emergencies.

"Fuck," Mario replied, flaring his nostrils while shaking his head. "What the…"

"We're going to the den and find out what's what from Nick," Drew said as he started walking. There was no reason to add that it was best to keep the news quiet - guests might unexpectedly wander into the house to use the bathrooms.

Once in the den they clustered around the phone after Drew had closed the door.

"Okay, Boss. You're on the speaker with Mario, Bob and myself."

"Mario, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Lou, Senior, was in a bad accident on the Long Island Expressway about an hour ago."

"Accident? As in…some asshole taking him out?" Mario exclaimed, heatedly.

The angry expression on Mario's face - darkening complexion redness, clenched teeth that tensed his jaw muscles, and wolf-like, predator's narrowed eyes - reconfirmed to Drew that he never wanted to be on the bad side of this man.

"No, that's the bitch of it. Some big-ass semi swerved out of control and the flow of traffic was pretty fast. The truck plowed into Lou's SUV and pushed it into another truck traveling in the next lane. With tons of steel impacting, the SUV was like a tin can getting smashed by a sledgehammer. It took the jaws-of-life to pry out the bodies and get some I.D. His driver didn't make it either."

Mario took a deep breath, relaxed his stance and frowned. "Wow. Holy…fucking…horseshit. And you're sure this wasn't a setup?"

"No, the trucker is in very serious condition and his 'creds' check out. But I'm sure certain lowlifes will be toasting with their best vodka when the news gets out later today…or tonight in Europe. Lou's name is being released to the press in a little while and it'll be a feeding frenzy. Our corporate people are setting up a press conference and will handle everything at that end. Mario, I want you to be on a flight to New York tomorrow morning…along with Drew and Bob. We've all got…things to talk about."

"I understand," Mario replied.

"As soon as we're finished," Drew said, "I'll handle the airline reservations." He appreciated Nick's decision to include Bob in the plans. 'Sort of a mix of spousal and business travel. But there's something _big _not being said about Mario's part in this.'

"Good. Mr. and Mrs. Bromley, Senior, and I will be staying at The Pierre with my nephew. You guys, plus Al, Junior, will stay at the Waldorf Towers in the Gallian corporate suite. Unless you hear from me later, I'll leave an itinerary for you at check-in tomorrow. Bring dark suits and plenty of white shirts for the stay. At this point, a mass will be conducted at St. Pat's…probably Thursday. Any other questions?"

"Is Trish accompanying Al?" Bob asked. Mrs. Al Bromley, Junior, was Bob's sister.

"She'll probably travel there on Tuesday."

Drew looked at the other guys and shrugged with a questioning expression. When no one replied, he said, "I'll appoint the hotel rooms manager to be in charge while we're gone and Cray's all wired on starting school." He paused for a moment. "Nick, I'm sorry for your loss. Mr. Gallian was quite a guy."

"Yes, he was."

A long pause followed and Drew knew it was not the time to pick up the conversation. He looked at the other guys and waited to see if there were any more questions.

"But we'll re-group and move on. Take care…see you in New York." An electronic click and silence indicated the call had been disconnected.

"Talk about eating a shit sandwich," Mario said. "Mr. G will be missed. Everywhere."

Drew wrapped his arm around Mario's shoulder and squeezed hard. "I think we'll all have to pick up the slack." He suspected Nick would be spending much more time in New York. 'And I'll probably have my old job back running the casino.'

"Time to get April and say goodbye to Cray," Mario said, letting out a deep sigh. "Thanks, guys, for including me at this party. It's pretty clear our boy Cray and Jack are hitting it off very well. Except for the past few minutes, I…we…enjoyed ourselves."

"Once all this stuff is behind us, let's plan a small dinner." Bob extended his hand to Mario. "You're always going to be an important part of Cray's life."

Mario shook hands and replied, "Maybe next month…I'd like that." He turned to Drew and added, "Let me know what the flight info is and I'll pick you up."

"That'd be great," Drew said. "Both American and JetBlue have a nine-o'clock to JFK, so we need to be there by eight."

"No sweat, I'll cruise by at 7:30. See ya then." Mario opened the door and left the den.

"What a friggin' mess." Bob held Drew's hand as they walked back to the kitchen. "File it under, 'shit happens', I guess. However, you gotta wonder if Mr. Gallian's death was really accidental?"

"No, Nick wouldn't sugarcoat something like this," Drew replied. He squeezed Bob's hand for emphasis. "Unhappily, it is what it is."

They looked out at the pool patio and watched Mario, hand-in-hand with pink-bikinied April, saying goodbye to Cray. Like the good actor he was, Mario had reverted back to his casual, irreverent-but-not-cocky self. Drew was sure he'd see a lot of role-playing - by everyone - in New York.

The last guests - Jack and Phil - had just left, and Cray was very pleased by the success of the afternoon's party. He was hosing down the pool deck while Spike cleaned the grill, and Drew and Bob were in the house. They had asked Cray and Spike to join them inside as soon as the final tasks were finished. 'We should have this pulled together in another ten minutes,' he thought, while aiming the debris with the pressured-water stream toward a drain.

Getting everyone together had worked on many levels. Cray wasn't surprised Jack blended in so well with such a diverse group, and his pride swelled when he'd introduced his dad to his high school friends. And Phil? The guy was a complete stud, smart without lording it over anyone, and friendly without being syrupy. Cray still couldn't get over the way a chance meeting between Jack and Cray's former counselor turned out. 'If Phil hadn't taken Jack to Mary and Billy Jean's party, who knows if or when I'd have reunited with my dad.'

Seeing Michael again was another plus. Cray didn't feel a tinge of regret anymore, and burying the hatchet allowed each guy to move on. 'We'll be friends in some way for quite a while,' Cray reflected, 'and it wasn't worth playing the guilt card on him. Maybe I'll even meet Randy at some point.' He laughed and added out loud to himself, "…or maybe not."

'But Mario is just the coolest…the way he schmoozed Jack. And the biggest hoot was hanging with Henry and getting to know him again. We're going to have a blast at school this fall.'

However, it didn't go unnoticed that late-arriving Spence had made some subtle moves on Henry, and Henry encouraged it. At the conclusion of the party, they joined forces and took young Kevin and his group of friends home. Spike told Cray he'd have a little chat with Spence very soon to establish some ground rules if it looked like the two guys were getting serious.

"I think we're looking good," Spike said, walking up to Cray. He quickly tongued Cray's neck and asked, "What do you suppose the guys want to see us about?"

"I dunno…but they've been a little reserved over the last half-hour or so. Drew's definitely in his at-work mode and Bob's been pretty quiet."

"Doing their June and Ward Cleaver routine?" Spike asked with a snicker.

"Exactly. You can be Wally and I'll be the Beav."

"Dry up, Beaver," Spike replied.

Cray recognized the line from a Leave It to Beaver re-run they'd seen recently and remembered the Beav's rejoinder. He cocked his head, opened his eyes like saucers and said, "You know something, Wally? I'd rather do nothin' with you than somethin' with anybody else."

"Look, don't get sloppy on me," Spike replied, in Wally's character, "I might just slug you one."

"Sloppy eh?" Cray grinned and rolled his eyes. "Okay, enough of the dramatics. Help me coil up this thing and we'll find out what's goin' on."

They stowed the hose and straightened a couple of chairs before heading into the house. Bob was drying the last of the serving utensils while Drew wiped down the sink.

"Let's all go into the living room," Drew said, hanging up the towel.

Spike and Cray shared the sofa and Drew eased into the big upholstered chair. Bob propped himself on the arm of the chair and crossed his ankles.

"Nick called a little while ago with some bad news." Drew slid his arm around Bob's waist. "Mr. Gallian, Lou's dad, was in a horrible accident on one of the freeways back in New York - expressways, they're called - and was instantly killed."

Spike gasped and uttered with a grunt, "Oh," but nothing else. He gripped Cray's leg like a vise, swallowed and asked, "How's Lou doing?"

"He and his brother Richard are dealing with it," Bob replied. "Or about as well as can be expected. In addition to the grief that the family is under, you both can appreciate what hoops they'll be jumping through when Mr. Gallian's name is released to the press tonight."

"Which should be within the hour," Drew said. "Nick and the Bromley family are flying in tonight, and Bob and I have been requested to get a flight in the morning. Chances are we won't be back until Friday, but we don't want either of you to feel we're leaving you high and dry."

"I suppose the last thing that's needed is for me to bother Lou right now." Spike shook his head. "Wow…everyone's going to miss Mr. Gallian. I'll send some flowers in Cray's and my name. Would you pass on my condolences and tell him to expect a call in a week or so after things settle down?"

"I'll handle it as soon as I see him." Drew focused on Cray and said, "We'll put some extra cash in the kitchen jar for groceries you might need while we're away. Just make sure that any perishables in the fridge are eaten first."

Cray solemnly nodded. "And please add my sympathies. He's always been super to me."

"Will do," Bob replied. "We also wanted to make sure both of you understood why we thought it best to let the party play out…rather than interrupting the afternoon. At that point, there wasn't anything any of us could do, and it was important that Jack had a chance to get to know the crew."

The two younger men looked at each other and nodded their heads in agreement.

"It's huge that almost everyone who matters to me had a chance to meet Jack." Cray smiled when Spike snuck a quick peck on the cheek. "Much thanks for helping…and everything…to make this day so special."

"It was a major success," Spike said, standing up. "I'd better head back to the condo and see what Henry's up to." He mugged a shrug and added, "I'm not sure if he's still planning on driving back to L.A. tonight, if you get my drift. You want to stay here, Cray, or come back with me?"

"Why don't we catch up with each other tomorrow?" Cray wanted to spend a little quality time with his other dads and maybe find out more about what was happening back East.

"Probably for the best."

"And check out CNN in a little while," Drew said. "I'm sure they'll have all the latest about Mr. Gallian."

By Tuesday, the 24/7 news cycle had moved on to other breaking stories. Louis Gallian, Senior's death was almost history. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal had both run page one obituaries to mark the passing of the man who crossed the lines of business, politics and society. His closed-casket remains were properly in repose at the Frank E. Campbell Chapel and there was a steady stream of mourners at the fabled funeral home. On Manhattan's tony East Side, soup wasn't the first thing one thought of when Campbell's was mentioned.

For Drew, it was difficult to have one-on-ones with Nick Maggiano in New York because his boss was busy handling a minutia of details for Gallian Enterprises. However, he had a gut instinct that the small 'e' enterprises - the ones that weren't audited by Deloitte & Touche - would now take a bigger chuck of Nick's time. Drew decided that the best game plan was to mind his 'P's and 'Q's and focus on his slice of the pie in Vegas.

At the ripe age of 30, Drew had been promoted to President of the Barcelona and he immediately tapped the rooms division manager to become V.P. of Hotel Operations. An unexpected result of the management juggling was that Bob now directly reported to Drew; he promised Bob that he wouldn't become a hard-ass…except at home in bed.

To which Bob had replied, "What else is new?"

A collateral duty of Drew and Bob's visit to New York took form in becoming part of a support group for Lou, Junior. However disciplined Lou was in business and civic affairs - and popular in his social circle - he told the guys he needed friends, without an agenda, to be trusted listeners and advisors over the next few days. Because of Lou's hectic schedule, impromptu meetings evolved around a random cup of coffee or a cocktail at his Pierre apartment, or his office. Drew was flattered that they were part of a very intimate relationship, but concluded the important ingredient of this arrangement was Lou's being comfortable in sharing most aspects of his personal life without being judged.

The side benefit of the extended stay was an opportunity for the two guys to play tourist in small snippets and to cruise through the mega number of nearby stores when their presence wasn't required. Bob observed that their shopping choices made Las Vegas seem like 'chump change.' With the immediate family being at close quarters, Drew and Bob were able to also spend quality time with the junior Al, and his wife Trish - Bob's sister.

It was that chance meeting in the lobby of Nero's Forum, five years earlier, that had brought Bob into Drew's life. Flash forward to the present and the two married couples - although the guys marriage was only in spirit because that union was still not an option in Nevada - were getting to hang together for the first time in quite a while.

With Lou and Richard Gallian busy hosting a private wake for the invited rich and powerful at Campbell's, the two couples decided to have a quiet Wednesday evening dinner at Al's favorite power dining spot in New York - the 21 Club on 52nd Street. But not in the famous bar: it was usually too noisy and the tables literally touched each other. Al made reservations for the more sedate dining room upstairs.

It was obvious Al had dropped a few names because of the effusive welcome the couples received when they arrived. Drew was impressed by the way they were flawlessly passed - from front door greeter, to Maitre d', to table captain, to sommelier and to the waiter - all of them taking a cue from restaurant service 101: use the guest's name frequently. 'Hell,' he thought, 'they probably wrote the book.'

Once the cocktails arrived, Al toasted everyone and said, "Although '21' has a terrific kitchen, why don't I order for us? There's some nifty classics not on the menu that this place has served for eons and it might be fun to go back in time." He looked around the room and added, "Uncle Lou used to treat us this way when I visited as a kid."

"I'm game," Drew said. "Back home, we can eat French frou-frou or cutting edge American any time."

"Why not?" Bob turned to his sister and asked, "You ready to get on this time machine?"

"As long as it's not H. G. Wells'." Trish raised an eyebrow and asked, "What have you got in mind, dear?"

"Lump crabmeat platters and shrimp cocktails to share, their awesome chopped Sunset salad, steak Diane prepared at the table and pommes soufflĂ©es…fried potatoes that puff up like miniature footballs."

"Oh, it tastes good already." Drew grinned and patted Al's shoulder. "This goes back to the 1950's when a menu like that was called 'continental cuisine.' How about the wine?"

"Already taken care of. Someone from Uncle Lou's office called the manager today and authorized us to drink anything from his private reserve stored down in the cellar." Al shrugged with a thoughtful smile. "It's a shame…but he won't miss it. And this will be our little unofficial goodbye to him."

"That's a cool idea," Drew replied.

More than cool. The close friends and family were able to share memories and enjoy a terrific, unique dinner. The French wines from Mr. Gallian's stash - 2002 Le Montrachet white Burgundy and 1998 Petrus red Bordeaux - added a special significance to the evening.

While they were waiting for dessert, Drew decided it was an ideal time to make a pit stop.

Al suggested going up one more flight of stairs and use the private party room men's facilities. "It's nearer," he said, "and you can check out more of the club. There's plenty of time cuz the baked Alaska will take a little more time, I was told."

"Baked Alaska? Now that is a trip down memory lane." Drew grinned as he stood and left the table.

After 'watering the lilies,' Drew took Al's advice and explored the floor. The largest room was set up but empty. 'But it's the end of August,' he thought, 'and banquet business is probably not too robust…especially in this economy.' He noticed waiters quietly scurrying at the end of the corridor and decided to be a little nosy - a combination of professional curiosity and voyeurism. The door of the private Orchid Room opened and a sommelier walked out with a couple of empty wine bottles. Drew paused in a corner of the hallway and saw the dinner of 10 men in progress. 'Maybe it's a bachelor party?'

Suddenly, he recognized the man at the head of the table. Nick Maggiano. At his side, in a dark blue suit, was the unmistakable Mario Cirillo. An extra place setting separated him and Joe Strollo. The gray-haired man, with his back to the door, was Big Al - Al Bromley, Senior. 'What the fu…' Drew thought as his eyes met Nick's.

Nick subtly nodded and shook his head with a 'don't-even-think-about-coming-in' look as the door closed.

Drew quickly withdrew from the area. On the way back to the dining room below, he re-ran the scene in his head and verified that neither Lou, Junior, nor Richard were part of the group. 'This is something to talk to Bob about later tonight.' It was very obvious Nick's new job description had been re-written.

The baked Alaska was one of those groaning board moments - along with a glass of chilled 1990 Chateau Yquem the foursome cleaned the dessert platter 'like a Hoover.' The final part of their adventure was taking the obligatory tour of the fabled wine cellar. During the 20's and early 30's prohibition era, the wine cellar was a secret room in the basement and entered only by those knowing how to open the cement block wall. Drew was amazed to watch the cellar master take a long, slender wire and slip it into a pockmark of the painted wall. He could faintly hear a metal lock disengage and a section of the heavy wall slowly rolled open with a dull rumble.

They listened to the well-practiced spiel and roamed through the various shelves of vintage wines and admired the elegant private dining room in the back. Drew insisted on tipping the cellar master and they returned to the lobby. This time, Al and Bob decided to use the lobby men's room and Trish took the opportunity to powder her nose. Drew was admiring part of the club's Remington art collection when he heard his name being called. He turned and saw Nick.

"Little bit of a surprise seeing you upstairs," Nick said.

"Al, Trish, Bob and I were having dinner and I decided to explore a little."

"You didn't see anything…if you get my drift." Nick raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you understand."

"I do…and my selective memory is working just fine. No worries…as long as I'm not involved."

"No worries…back atchu. You're our man at the Barcelona and that's all."

Just then, Al, Junior, exited the men's room. "Nick…small world."

"I was saying the same thing to Drew. I'm upstairs with your dad and a bunch of lawyers going over the estate papers. I came down to buy some boxes of cigars as gifts and ran into this guy." Nick put his hand on Drew's arm and squeezed it for emphasis.

Drew knew Nick's physical gestures very well. This extra hard grip on his arm was a signal - 'do you understand what we've discussed?' Drew smiled with a silent nod.

"Send the cigars up to the Orchid Room," Nick said to the cigar counter attendant, "in about a half-hour." He turned to Al, Junior, and continued, "I've got to get back…if you'll excuse me. I'll see you guys at St. Pat's tomorrow, if not before."

"Later." Al, Junior, watched Nick disappear up the stairway. "It's funny about Manhattan. The same tight groups of people in this town frequent the same places."

"Yeah. Like those characters in that old musical, Company. A line in that song that Elaine Stritch sang says it all. 'Clutching a copy of Life just to keep in touch'."

"And Life isn't even published anymore," Drew replied. "Gives 'in touch' a whole new meaning."

A rented Lincoln Town Car - ferrying Al, Junior, Trish, Drew and Bob - pulled away from '21' and motored west on 52nd Street on a short trip back to the Waldorf Towers. Had they delayed their departure by a few minutes, they would have noticed a vintage black Mercedes S600 arrive and seen very close friend, dressed in a charcoal chalk-stripped suit, ease out of the back seat and enter the restaurant.

After a quick handshake and nod to the manager, the young man proceeded to the elevator and went up to the Orchid Room. Conversation stopped as he stepped into the private dining room and placed his hands on Al Bromley, Senior's, shoulder. While they exchanged greetings, the other men around the table rose. Mario stepped to his left to the vacant place setting and joined Joe Strollo - Nick moved quietly to behind Mario's former chair.

As he walked to the head of the table everyone applauded. He reached the empty place at the head of the table and Nick leaned in to kiss the new arrival on each cheek.

"Everyone's ready," Nick said as he cupped the younger man's hand with both of his.

It was one of the best evenings Bob had enjoyed in a while, not counting all the evenings with Drew as his steady rock - his other-half. They lay sprawled in the king-size bed back at The Waldorf Towers and recounted the highlights of the dinner at '21.'

"There's one other thing we need to discuss," Drew said with a sigh. "I saw something tonight up in one of the private dining rooms that I wasn't supposed to see from the hallway."

Bob had been told about Drew running into Nick in the lobby and imagined that their boss was involved. "And…"

"I want to be up front with you. Like we agreed a couple of years ago when all that shit was going down." Drew turned so he could look at Bob and propped himself up on his elbow. "Nick was in a meeting…and I recognized some of the guests. Mario was there…along with Joe Strollo and Big Al Bromley. And the point is there's no doubt in my mind that Nick was in charge of things."

"How about Lou and Richard?"

"The Gallians were missing," Drew replied. "My guess is that the old man's other business activities weren't passed on to them. Running a big bank and a top law firm will keep them busy enough."

"And out of the line of fire."

"So to speak," Drew added with a shrug. "Anyway, Nick noticed me standing in the hallway and signaled for me to get lost."

"Did anyone else see you?"

"Nada. I vanished pronto and came back to our table."

Bob digested this news and reluctantly agreed with Drew's conclusions. "What does this all mean? You know how I feel about being so close to…you know…the dark side."

Drew smiled at Bob's reference to 'the dark side.' It was their buzzword when referring to 'alleged' activities outside the law.

"When Nick came down to buy cigars, he told me to forget what I'd seen and I agreed. But I also let him know I didn't want anything to do with any of it. He agreed…end of story." Drew started rubbing Bob's stomach in slow circles.

"And that's it?"

"In a way, I'm relieved that it's all out in the open - if only for that brief moment."

"The old 'wink-wink' deal?" Bob was amazed that he actually wasn't feeling repulsed by this turn of events.

"Yep, that's about it. So, unless you feel otherwise, I suggest we go about our business. The Barcelona is completely legit…and that won't change."

"As long as Nick keeps his word…um, let's back up for a minute," Bob said, placing his hand on Drew's roving palm. 'The last thing I need is a woodie right now,' he thought as he shifted and moved to mirror Drew's position. "You think Al - my brother-in-law - is involved in this development?" He was thinking about his sister's welfare…and his niece.

"Here's the deal. Nick completely changed subjects and fibbed when Al, Junior, appeared…so that tells me that the powers-that-be are keeping him out of it."

Bob nodded and contemplated what Drew was laying out.

"But as far as his cousins are concerned, there might be more at play. It's a no-brainer that the Gallian brothers were groomed to take over the law firm and the bank. Maybe the plan is for them to maintain pristine images like their dad did. New York is the power point with this family."

"With Lou and Richard fronting for whatever else is going on?" Bob was getting a clearer picture by Drew's interpretation of the family undercurrents.

"And being pillars of society while Nick does the heavy lifting. Fucked up, huh?" Drew replied.

"Meanwhile, the Bromleys run the corporation from L.A."

"And we're in Vegas doing our thing. Maybe I'm selling my soul to the devil, but I've worked awfully hard to get this promotion. I want to give it a try unless you think we should bail."

"In this economy?" Bob made a face and wiggled his nose. "Crap, unemployment bennies wouldn't even begin to pay our mortgage."

"And I don't think they serve gazpacho on the homeless soup lines."

"Just promise me that if things ever get crazy, you'll run up a red flag immediately."

"You got it…with no questions asked. By the way, whaduya think about me recruiting Jack Gamble to fill the rooms division manager position? I'll need to do a little background check on him, but my gut reaction is that he'd make a terrific candidate."

"Talk about wheeling and dealing," Bob said with a chuckle. "When did you come up with this gem of an idea? I like your thinking, babe."

"Actually, I was doing 'what-ifs' last week…just as an exercise. At the time, my thinking was we couldn't re-staff until business improves, but it might be cool to get Jack on our team down the road…meaning in a year or so."

"And now, you need to fill the slot A.S.A.P. I know Cray would be a very happy camper…being able to see his dad more often."

"I'll work on it first thing when we return."

"But there's something else you can work on right now." Bob cupped his balls and grinned. "Is it okay to suck up to the boss and maybe work on getting a promotion?"

"As the old saying goes, what you're suggesting is a 'no-brainer'."

"How old is 'old'?" Bob chuckled as he lay back and started stroking himself. 'No problem 'bout a getting a woodie now,' he thought, taking Drew's hand.

"Oh, I think I heard something about 'suck' and 'work on' last night. Bob, have I said, 'I love you' recently?"

"Yeah, last night, just before you yelled, 'I'm cumming,' in my ear."

"You, sir, have been watching too many old movies." Drew laughed. "But I get idea."


Fall was a busy time in the lives of Drew and Bob, as well as for the other people in their immediate group.

Along with several thousand others, Cray and Henry Jensen began the annual mind-molding journey of college freshmen at UNLV. Spence took just enough credits to keep his advisors happy and his part-time job viable. He told Spike, during one of their infrequent get-togethers for coffee, that he'd probably stretch graduation into a three-year stint. "I can make enough bucks for Kev's college fund, stash away a pile for myself and retire from escort work when I get my diploma," he'd said.

Spike was relieved when Spence decided to 'cool it' with Henry as a boyfriend, at least for the time being. Spence's frequent business trips, studies and an odd work schedule left very little time to work on a relationship. And Spike was too busy running the hottest new club on the Strip - PDT…Please Don't Tell - to worry about his younger brother. That Henry and Cray had become very tight helped ease Spike's guilt of not being around that much. Going to work late in the afternoon and not returning until very early the following morning made Spike's presence a scarce commodity during the usual normal hours.

However, that didn't deter Cray. He arranged his schedule to take the heaviest class load in the mornings, followed by a long lunch break back at the condo. It became a great way for Spike and Cray to physically catch up with each other before a more structured meal period. Later, after a fresh shower, Cray would go back to campus and Spike happily went off to work. On weekends, he would work his morning café shift and return to the welcoming arms of his partner. And keeping his room at home allowed both men to have their own space when Spike's job or Cray's schoolwork collided for attention.

And what about Michael Turner's school year at UN Reno? Love took an unexpected turn during a study break at the crowded Joe Crowley Student Union one October afternoon. A hunky twenty-something blond, who said he was a first year medical school student, asked to share the table. After a series of innocuous questions, each man warmed up to each other…and that was that. In a matter of weeks, a serious friendship developed and Randy from Las Vegas was history.

On the Barcelona work front, Drew made an offer to Jack Gamble that he 'couldn't refuse' and set up a short training program for the new rooms division manager. As a courtesy, Drew called Jack's boss and was upfront about his plans to hire Jack. Although a little miffed, the G.M. of the Reflection Bay Resort admitted it was a great advancement for Jack and wished everyone well. And because Jack needed to be at the Barcelona on weekends to oversee the large checkout and check-in turnover of rooms, he was able to share coffee breaks with his son. As a restaurant widow, due to Spike working on Saturday nights, Cray often had dinner with Jack and Phil Perez. The one subject that never came up, however, was Edith and Gene. Father and son decided visiting Provo and dredging up the past would be counter-productive.

Or, as Cray had put it, "Let 'em burn in hell."

In related developments, it came as somewhat of a surprise to Drew when he was told by Nick that Lou Gallian, Junior, would become chairman of the board of the Barcelona, in addition to being 'kicked upstairs' as chairman of the Gallant National Bank. In the midst of the New York banking turmoil, Lou had the opportunity to hire a disgruntled superstar executive from CitiGroup. With Gallant's operations moving solidly in safe waters, the job of C.O.O. was considered quite a plum, and the banker didn't think twice about jumping ship when he was offered the position. This move gave Lou the opportunity to focus on the family's private accounts in Zurich, the Caymans, Luxembourg, and Shanghai, and to assume control of monitoring the casino cash flow.

Nick had virtually moved to New York on a fulltime basis and quickly assumed residence in the Gallian's Pierre apartment at his nephew's suggestion. Not only were the accommodations about as grand as anything in New York, but security was already in place. The biggest plus was that Lou enjoyed being around his Uncle Nick and wasn't bashful about seeking counsel when they were both in town.

It was never stated in direct terms, but Lou's appointment as Chairman of Barcelona - or self-appointment if analysts wanted to split hairs - meant frequent visits to Las Vegas. He now stayed in his dad's condo at the Mondrain Towers - 39A. Lou's original condo - 39B - was set up as a luxury suite for a small circle of friends and associates of the family. And the trips to Vegas meant furthering a friendship between Lou and Spence - physically gratifying for Lou and very lucrative for Spence. And this time, Lou understood the rules and limitations of the game. Friendship aside, business was business for Spence.

Drew and Lou fell into an easy professional relationship. Lou's interest in the Barcelona was primarily financial, and he was non-threatening to Drew's operational turf. A mutual respect developed: Drew was a master hotelier who was running the resort and casino at a reasonable profit in challenging economic times, and Lou legally maneuvered money with genius strokes on a secure computer keyboard. Personally, Drew and Bob became quite fond of him and his Las Vegas companion. At least once a month, Lou and Spence would join the guys for dinner - either at Lou's condo, their house or at a restaurant. And with a steady cast of characters, the security detail was very pleased.

Mario continued living in the luxurious and secure casita at the rear of his sprawling home compound, but with increased responsibilities. Part of the family reorganization - 'family' in the broadest sense - involved Joe Strollo being transferred to Miami, and questions arose as to who was now the man pertaining to local Vegas matters. Mario was that man. However, his visible rise in the pecking order meant opening the door to becoming a prominent target on the FBI's radar screen. Therefore, very private Mario chose Vinny Ditello to be the official and visible go-to guy - the same man whose son had taken Cray's bicycle over two years earlier. It became a win-win situation: Mario was the real boss while keeping a low profile, Vinny loved being thought of as 'numba uno,' and the cash flow did just that - flowed.

Christmas was a time for reflection. Drew and Bob were dressed in their best suits drinking a 'nog' before leaving for Lou Gallian's party at the Mondrain Towers 39A condo. Las Vegas seemed to be the ideal location for everyone that year. The Bromley families, senior and junior, were staying in the 39B suite and Nick was in town, ensconced in his 40th floor residence with the Richard Gallian family. The party had been set for Sunday night so Spike could be present with Cray and brother Henry. The other set of brothers - Spence and Kevin Trotter - would also be in attendance, as well as Jack Gamble and Phil Perez.

Drew wanted to verbally speculate that the party was a little revealing about Lou's possible real status in the family's pecking order. On one hand, he was the banker and numbers cruncher for the casino; on the other, the youngest Gallian had called the place and date for the party - and the members of the family came to him. 'But I better not run up the red flag,' he thought. 'For the present, just let sleeping dogs lie.'

"Crazy year, huh?" Bob asked, after licking off his eggnog moustache.

"Year? How about the five years since we met? Crazy, but good."

"And no regrets. I think every once in a while what my life would have been like if I hadn't joined Trish and Al on that trip to Vegas to celebrate their engagement. I wouldn't have met you, and today I'd probably be some junior marketing gofer in Al's L.A. office."

"Bullshit, my friend. We were meant to meet and, being the crafty guy I am, we'd have crossed paths eventually." Drew wiggled his eyebrows and continued, "You're a hot stud and we're best friends."

"Plus the sex isn't too shabby and we constantly amuse each other," Bob said with a snicker.

"Don't forget we did a pretty good job launching one helluva young man into adulthood."

"Yeah…plus we've been able to hold our heads above water in this economy." Bob shrugged and added, "I guess we're stuck with each other."

Drew scooted closer to Bob. "I love you…and plan on being stuck for a long time."

"Ditto, babe."


A big THANK YOU to my editing team friends - Drew, Brad and Rock - for their assistance. And to you, dear reader…I appreciate your support.

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