by TA (Terry)
We were standing on a high hill with tents behind us and a lot of trucks, vans, and Humvees scattered around. Down below were more hills and behind them still more hills; all in varying hues of tan, gray, and blue… like a painting in delicate pastels. The hot wind was blowing in gusts, stirring up dust devils that swirled briefly between the vehicles and then disappeared.
General Shetland handed me a pair of binoculars. "You'll want these, Mark." The general then pointed at a television screen mounted in camo-colored steel. "The plane is almost on target. Not that we'll see much until it detonates." The F15E that we knew to be above us couldn't yet be seen.
"Okay, Mark, it's away." The general laid down the earphones, raised his binoculars, and was looking toward a hill several miles away.
I trained my binoculars on it and after a few seconds saw a glint of sunlight off of something metallic, then a plume of dust shot up, followed seconds later by the main explosion, which we felt as much as saw. The distant hilltop seemed to be straining to contain something terrible inside, with the occasional venting of smoke and gas. I thought for a moment what it would be like to be inside that cave knowing that no one was, but also knowing that eventually someone would be.
Do I have second thoughts about what I do for a living? Yep, all the time. I know better than most what this stuff can do, but I guess in the end I'm glad that we've got these munitions instead of the bad guys.
This was the third successful test of the bomb we'd helped build and while additional testing would take place, I had the changes the Air Force wanted in my brief case as I boarded a helicopter that would take me to the airport in Las Vegas. There I'd board a commercial plane for the trip to Los Angeles. In the airport I found a quiet corner and called David.
"Mark, where are you?" I could cry from the joy of hearing his voice.
"At the Vegas airport. Getting on a plane for L.A. in about five minutes."
"Oh shit! I was hoping you were gonna tell me that you were at our airport and wanted me to pick you up. God, I miss you!"
"Geez, hun, I miss you too, more than I could ever tell you. How's Alex? Behaving himself?"
"Yeah, but he misses you something terrible. If you call tonight you can talk to him. Mark, when are ya coming home?"
"Babe, I gotta go to L.A. to the factory that you helped us buy, so I can give'em some changes to a product we make."
"Well, I can guess what the product is… but when will you get back?"
"This is what, Friday? Hopefully, Saturday morning. Depends on the L.A. guys and whether they have problems or not. Babe, I gotta go, they're calling my plane."
"Hurry back to me, Mark, and be careful."
"Oh, hun, you gotta know… the very first second I can. Love you."
"Me, too, you." I closed my cell phone and stared at it for a moment as if David were somehow in it.
"I hate fucking airplanes. I hate fucking airports. I hate every fucking thing about traveling." Chuck waved for the stewardess. "For one thing, half these damn trips are unnecessary and for another thing I just don't want to be away from home. As it is, my kids look at me like I'm just some guy that wandered in off the street."
"I know what ya mean." I was nodding my head in agreement.
"You married too?" Chuck was swirling the remains of his scotch in his glass.
"More or less." I smiled and took a sip of my coke.
Chuck looked at me and laughed. "Yeah, right! I used to be 'more or less' too. Then Jill got pregnant and, well, what can ya do?" He held up his right hand with his palm up like he was balancing something. "Turned out to be the best thing. Never been happier, except for this damn traveling. You oughta try it. I mean, it's none of my business, but it settles ya. Know what I mean? Course you're still a young guy. What's her name?"
I smiled at him. "David."
He smiled back at me. "David?" Then his eyes widened. "Oh, oh shit! I had no right to ask. I shoulda just kept my mouth shut."
"Chuck, it's okay. It's not a big deal, and you'd be surprised at how similar our situations are." Chuck looked like he was trying to decide whether he should drop out of the conversation or try to brave it out. "Same house payments, same car payments, same taxes, same everything."
"Well, not quite everything." Chuck had a crooked little smile on his face.
"No, Chuck, that's true, not everything, but I still think you'd be amazed at how similar our lives are." The seatbelt light came on and you could feel the plane beginning its descent into LAX. Chuck buckled his seat belt. I'd never unbuckled mine.
"You Mark Chauvet?" The guy was tall, very thin, and wearing a suit that just hung on him.
"Yep, that's me."
"I'm Ralph Tanner." He held out his hand and I shook it. "Your secretary said to look for a big, good looking guy that looked like he should still be wearing a uniform."
"I give her a hundred bucks a month extra to say stuff like that." I smiled.
Ralph laughed and pointed toward the terminal. "I've got a car. He's circling. God, I hate airports."
I smiled. "There seems to be a rash of that."
"Huh?" Ralph looked perplexed.
"Oh, just a guy on the plane. He just said the same thing."
"Well, they just keep getting bigger and more complex, there's never parking, and everyone is driving so fast it's hard to concentrate." We were walking to the baggage pickup. "I'd never come out here by myself, never."
Then Ralph stopped and turned to me. "I'm the plant manager. I mean, I didn't know if you knew what I did or not. God, I hope my driver isn't lost. I'm really more of an engineer, the management thing is new. Well, you probably knew that."
"Yeah, Ralph, I did. How ya handling the management thing? I mean, it's going okay?"
"Oh yeah, it's been fine. Well, Frank sent some people who had a lot of experience and they've really taken the brunt of the load. But no, it's been good. Actually, it's going so smoothly that I probably have more time now than I did before for actual work."
We talked shop until my luggage arrived. We grabbed it and hopped into the van that Ralph had circling, then headed for the plant. The kid driving the van was having trouble pulling out into the traffic which was unbelievably heavy, and I thought a couple of times that he was gonna get us killed if he didn't step on it. Then the black Chevy Suburban that was parked behind us pulled out and blocked all the traffic and we were able to go.
Ralph was actually the general manager of the exotic metals division of the company that we had acquired. The purchase had been divided into a small factory that made the original products that the company sold, another plant that made the altitude device that had originally caught our attention, then the exotic metals group that I was interested in at the moment. We had installed some of the most sophisticated metal working machinery in the world and we now had the capability of turning out anything that the military might need in the way of bomb and missile nose cones, and in larger quantities, also rounds for large guns all the way up to 120mm.
When we got to the plant I was happy to see that the security arrangements had been installed. It made getting in and out damned inconvenient, but it was absolutely necessary. The engineers were waiting in the conference room, where we went over the changes the military wanted and, thankfully, everyone was being as cooperative as possible. After two hours of meetings we broke for lunch, then three more hours of meetings with a dozen phone calls to General Shetland and we were finally done.
I had Ralph's secretary call to see if she could get me on a flight out of LA to Milwaukee, but the best that she could get was standby. I took it and headed to LAX. Ralph's driver, well not really his driver, but a guy that worked in the office took me to the airport.
The lady at the airlines gave me a kind of hopeless look when I asked her about getting on a flight, but when she typed my name into the computer her expression changed.
"Mr. Chauvet, you already have a confirmed booking on this flight." She smiled at me. "Probably someone at your office took care of it." She handed me back my ticket with my baggage claim tickets and boarding pass. "See," she said, "someone has already selected your seat, so it must have come from your office."
"I can't imagine who, but you must be right." I'm never without my cell phone and my secretary would have called to tell me if she had booked the flight. But on the other hand, it could have been Ralph's secretary that had done it after I left the plant and before I got to the airport. In any event, I was too damn tired to care.
I walked out to the gate and plopped down in the most deserted area that I could find and called David. Mrs. Meurer answered.
"Mr. Chauvet! David's not here. He's gone to the store." Mrs. Meurer's French accent while faint is still there. It's more the way she speaks that's noticeable.
"Mrs. Meurer, if you would just tell him that I'll be in tonight, United flight 467, about nine o'clock."
"I will, Mr. Chauvet, I will."
"You have the flight number, Mrs. Meurer? It's flight 467."
"Yes, yes, I have it."
"I have to go, Mrs. Meurer, tell David that I'll see him at the airport."
When I boarded the flight and was looking for my seat, I noticed that the guy in the seat behind me was reading a newspaper and didn't even look up as I was getting into my seat. I was pretty sure I'd seen the guy before, but couldn't quite place him. He was a big guy and had the look of someone who could handle himself, someone who'd been trained. It wasn't until we were an hour into the flight and they were starting to serve dinner when I realized that this same guy had been in the passenger seat of the black Chevy Suburban that had stopped traffic for us that morning.
I put him away in my mind for a while and thought of seeing David. God! How I wanted to be holding him right now. David has a way of putting my life into perspective. He anchors me and no matter what's happening, when I put my arms around him he makes it all okay. As we were climbing to altitude I was thinking about the first time I saw him, how confused he looked, how clumsy. Then when he was in my arms, how startlingly green his eyes were and how much I loved him. I thought about when he was stabbed, but I quickly had to force that memory from my mind because it tore me apart. Finally I drifted off and the next thing I knew I felt the plane beginning its descent to Milwaukee.
And then he was in my arms. I don't think that either of us gave any thought to the fact that being parked in front of the Arrivals section of the airport we were in a public place. The only thing that mattered was the feel of his arms around my neck and the warmth of his chest through his shirt, the smell of him, the taste of him. He was turned in the driver's seat and my arms were around him, my tongue buried in his mouth, he's making little sounds, then finally we break for air.
"God, fuck me here!"
I laughed. "Whatdya think? I'm easy? I have big plans for you later tonight."
David started the car. "Just what do you have planned?" He buckled his seat belt and then pulled slowly out into traffic. David drives maddeningly slow… breaks were squealing behind us.
"You're gonna have to wait till we get home to find out. But I think you'll like it, least I hope so."
David smiled. "This doesn't involve whips and handcuffs does it?"
My head was laid back against the seat and I was kinda scrunched down. "Nope. Just this." I took David's right hand and pressed it against my crotch. I was totally hard.
David gave my cock a little squeeze and laughed. "My favorite thing."
Alex's blond hair was askew against the pillow and he had the angelic look in sleep that all little kids have. I shook my head in amazement at how important this little guy had become to me. Was he as important to me as David, well probably not, but he was running a very close second. Joe was looking up at me and had one paw extended just far enough to make light contact with Alex, like it was some way of monitoring him. He pushed his snout out toward me and I scratched behind his ears. I reached forward and lightly touched Alex's fingers as they grasped the blanket, maybe for the same reason Joe did it, maybe we both just wanted to touch someone we loved. I bent forward and kissed Alex's forehead and whispered. "Sleep tight, sweetheart," then I moved quietly out of Alex's room.
David wrapped his arms around me. "See. He's okay. We didn't let anything happen to him." He smiled warmly at me. "Bet ya never thought that he'd mean this much to ya."
I squeezed David tighter and looked down at him. "No, in the unqualified love department I pretty much thought you'd be it. Alex kinda snuck up on me."
"Well, he's got dibs on most of your Saturday." Then speaking quietly, "But you're mine tonight."
David and I started unbuttoning each other's shirts. He pulled mine out of my pants and pushed it back off of my shoulders, then bent his head and began to suck gently on my left nipple. He was beginning to lose his tan and when I looked down at him his black hair seemed even blacker against his light complexion. "Oh, David! Geez, babe, that feels good." I ran my right hand through his hair and let it rest at the back of his neck. When the sensations he was causing to my nipple became too intense, I pulled his head up and turned his face up to me. I bent and kissed his eyelids and then lightly brushed his lips, teasing them into opening before entering with my tongue. While I held the kiss, I pushed his shirt off of him and let it fall to the floor. David always smells so clean. He doesn't use any kind of aftershave or cologne, but there's always the faint smell of soap and the clean, slightly electric smell of him.
When David and I first made love, he started to make little sounds, little animal sounds that I'm convinced he isn't aware of, and he was making them now. I was still kissing him, undoing his pants and walking him slowly backwards towards the bed at the same time. Holding the back of his head with my right hand, I was undoing my belt and opening my pants with my left hand. When we reached the bed, I put my arm around David and lowered him backwards onto the bed. He lifted his hips and pushed his pants and underwear down and I pulled them off, then I kicked my shoes off and pushed off my pants and underwear.
David and I were both naked now and hard. David's eyes were closed and his mouth was slightly open. He was beginning to make the David sound.
Later I pulled David on top of me and never stopped kissing him until he finally dropped his head to my chest and I gently rubbed his back.
"You feel wonderful. I like it when you lay on top of me. I can feel your heartbeat."
"I'm not too heavy?"
"Nope, you feel great." I held his head to me with one hand and continued to rub his back with the other, my nose was buried in his hair.
David laughed and mumbled into my chest. "I sure do." Then after a few minutes, "Oh shit, Thanksgiving!"
"Thanksgiving's in a couple of weeks." David dropped his legs to either side of me, so that he was straddling me and lifted himself up so that he could look at me. "Then Alex's birthday. December 1st he'll be the big four. We gotta do something good."
I brushed David's hair off of his forehead. "Doesn't he seem older?"
"That's because of all the time he's spent with adults."
"How would you feel about inviting Mike and Ted for Thanksgiving. I mean, I don't know what their plans are."
David climbed back on top of me. "That'd be good. But you'd better call'em tomorrow, cause if they don't have plans they'll be making them." He laid his head back down on my chest. "You may be getting the French version of Thanksgiving." He giggled. "How bout pate in the shape of a turkey?" Then a minute later. "You're getting hard again?"
I laughed. "Can't help it – you're wiggling around."
When I awoke the next morning I was staring into blue eyes instead of green ones. I put my hand on Alex's head and rubbed his blond hair. "Hi, bud." Alex was lying on his stomach with his chin in his hands staring at me.
"I been waitin for ya to wake up, Dad. I didn't get to see ya last night. I tried to stay awake but I fell asleep."
"I went into your room last night to make sure you were okay, but you were sleeping."
"Why wouldn't I be okay, Dad?"
I laughed. "Well, not really to see if your were okay. I knew you'd be okay, but well, it's kinda like that rock you found. The one that's on your dresser." Alex nodded. "Remember when you found that rock sometimes you just wanted to look at it even though you knew that it was still gonna be where ya put it, it made you feel good just to look at it."
"You mean it makes you feel good to look at me?"
"Yep, it sure does."
Alex smiled. "It makes me feel good to look at you too, Dad."
"How long you been up, sweetheart?"
"Not long. Mrs. Meurer's here. She's makin breakfast. You're not gonna go to work or nothin are ya, Dad? Todays Saturday, you're off today."
I yawned. "Nope, Alex. I'm stayin home." I ruffled his hair again. "I missed ya. Maybe we can hangout today. Would ya mind that?"
Alex smiled. "No, Dad, that'd be great. I was thinkin' that maybe I could help you with workin' in the yard. Like with the leafs and stuff."
"That'd be good. It's a lotta work for one guy."
"Well, I could help, Dad, cause I'm a big boy now."
"David helping Mrs. Meurer?"
"Yep. She said you needed some good food because the Army don't know how to feed people and she didn't want you getting' sick. That right, Dad? Would you get sick?"
"Well… not exactly, but maybe we'd better say that it is, so we don't hurt anyone's feelings. Do you understand, Alex?"
"You take your shower yet?"
"Nope, I just got up."
"Well, we'd better get goin' if they're in there fixin' a big breakfast."
I bent to set my briefcase next to my desk and when I stood up Frank was standing there.
"You did good, Marky. Ralph thinks you're the greatest thing to ever fucking happen. Says you really understand his problems and Shetland said basically the same thing, only in military speak. We're gonna have a lock on those nose cones." Frank settled his well tailored bulk in the chair facing my desk and put an unlit cigar in his mouth. "So what's your take?"
I smiled. "Ya know, Frank, you're not supposed to smoke."
"I'm not smoking, Marky, I'm compensating."
I sat in the chair next to Frank rather than behind my desk and put my feet up on the desk. "Well, to begin with, Ralph is a brilliant engineer and the other guys totally follow his lead. But in a way, his real talent is wasted." I turned in the chair and draped my leg over the arm. "Frank, this guy shouldn't be bogged down in the mundane shit of running a company day to day. The guy has some fantastic ideas, and frankly I'm not knowledgeable enough to judge them, but I would get some guys out there that can. Just off the top of my head, I'd want the guy running an R&D department."
"Who would you send?"
"Remember that guy that retired from our engineering department, Nelson?"
Frank looked at the ceiling. "I hated losing him."
"You know it's been long enough that he just might be interested in getting back in part time. I can't picture him being happy tending a garden. Hire him as a consultant. Send'em out there to talk to Ralph. They'd get along."
Frank tilted his head left then right. "Worth a phone call!"
"As far as Shetland goes," I shrugged, "he's a reality and he ain't goin' anyplace, Washington loves him… he's listened to. By the way, he's crazy about you, Frank."
Frank laughed. "Shetland and I go back a long, long way." Frank glanced up at the ceiling. "Back into the scotch hazed mists of time." He shook his head slowly. "We drank way too fucking much." Frank looked at me. "He may want you to go with him to England in a few weeks. Talk to the Brits."
"Frank, while I think of it, an odd thing happened." I told Frank about the guy in the Suburban and on the plane.
Frank sat forward in his chair. "The first time you saw him in the car. It sounds like he was trying to help you. Could that be true?"
"Totally. If he wanted to hurt us he could have just done nothing. That kid sure would have gotten us killed."
Frank was staring quietly at the carpet. "Well, if he was a real bad guy you would never have seen him and he certainly would have never have done the thing with the Suburban. It would only attract attention to him." Frank slowly looked up from the carpet and turned his head to me. "What I'm about to tell you is something that I have no proof of whatever. It's only a suspicion and, frankly, under certain circumstances I wouldn't say anything at all."
This was starting to make me really nervous. "Frank, will you fucking tell me!"
Frank got out of the chair and began to pace slowly back and forth, his hands behind his back. "Remember your accident? I mean when they first took you to the hospital."
"Well, a little, but no, not really. I mean, I remember seeing David and Dr. Kramer, but I was kinda going in and out."
"Well, what you missed was David's first reaction to your accident. You didn't really get to talk to him until he calmed down."
"Frank," I was lost, "what does that have to do with anything? I know he was upset, but when I got to talk to him and he knew that I was okay he relaxed."
"Marky, I was there. You didn't see me cause I left when things got under control, but I was there early on." Frank stopped pacing and stared at me. "I know that you know that you guys are everything to each other. That's a given and maybe you would have reacted the same if it'd been David instead of you. Hmmmm. Well, I guess you did, didn't you?" He had me there.
Frank started to pace again. "David said that he was never going to let that happen again. He said it in a way that I've never heard him speak before." He flipped his left hand back and forth. "I didn't pay much attention to that remark at the time, but in hindsight it may have been important." Frank held up his cigar for emphasis. "David is a remarkably thorough guy. I know that you never saw his work for us with this last acquisition, but even now when I think back over how he did it, I keep finding things that are remarkable and that I didn't see before. David leaves no loose ends. When he said that he could do that deal, it wasn't speculation - a guess. He knew that he could do the deal… not maybe… he knew. The thing is you see him as your boyfriend, your lover, you don't see him the way he is in business."
Frank laughed. "Just as an example. Ya know when his guy made the offer?" I shook my head no. "Just as WorldCom was announcing that they were about to crap out. Picture it… a bunch of nervous European insurance guys who are already dumping American assets think that we're coming in to make an offer, but we haven't yet. But as soon as WorldCom announces, he makes his offer." Frank laughed. "They couldn't say yes fast enough. I wonder how the little fucker knew about WorldCom. Attention to details, Marky, and thorough… very fucking thorough."
Frank again stopped pacing, but this time he sat down facing me. "He may have hired that Los Angeles company he uses for checking people out, he may have hired them to protect you when you're away. They do that sort of thing. Handle all kinds of celebrities. That would explain the incident with the Suburban. I mean if the guy was there to protect you that's what he'd do, right? I can find out easily enough, but I'm not sure that we want to do that."
"Now the question, Marky, is how do we handle this? If these guys had security clearances I wouldn't even mention it. But I can't have a bunch of civilian yahoos following you around. Nearly everything we do is classified." Frank got up and leaned against my desk. "But of course there's another element to this." Then speaking quietly. "How do you feel about this, Marky?"
My elbows were on my knees and I was staring at the floor. "I don't know, Frank. I gotta think about it… I just don't know." I looked up at Frank. "How can I be mad at him for being afraid for me, for loving me?" I stood up and shoved my hands in my pockets. "I want to talk to David before we do anything. For one thing, this may have nothing to do with David or, for that matter, anyone. It could all have been a coincidence."
"Well, Marky, whatever you do, leave the company out of it. David's company is on permanent retainer to us and I don't wanna screw up that relationship." Frank walked over to me. "Look, Mark, David loves you, nothing is gonna change that. You love him, nothing is gonna change that either. The rest of this shit is just," Frank waved his cigar, "fucking cleanup." He started walking towards his office. "Marky, I could go to the security company in LA and find out what's going on, but I don't want to do that. For one thing, it would go right to David and he'd feel we were going behind his back, which, come to think of it, would be ironic. The best way to solve this is for you to solve it." Frank turned back to me with a worried look on his face. "You do know how to be fucking diplomatic, don't ya?"
I smiled at Frank. "Yeah, Frank, a fucking jarhead taught me!"
Frank turned back toward his office waving his unlit cigar in disgust. "Fucking kids. Buy'em books and send'em to school and this is the way they turn out."
It was a cold day outside, but the late afternoon sun was streaming into the living room creating a warm dreamy feeling in the room. Alex was taking a nap and I was lying on the sofa thinking about Helmut and what kind of hell it must have been knowing that you were going to die and knowing that you were going to have to leave your son with strangers. The thought of ever having to leave Alex in that situation was enough to drive me crazy, but then it occurred to me that Helmut had actually been leaving his son with David. Which is probably as close as you could ever come to handing over your son to your guardian angel. I was included because David loved me and to Helmut that was enough. I guess that it would have been for me too.
"Babe, you want coffee?" David was sticking his head around the corner.
"Com'ere, hun." I held out my hand to him and he walked over and took it. I pulled him gently down onto the sofa and he lay with his head on my upper right arm my left hand resting on his stomach.
I was lying with my head half resting on David's left shoulder, facing him.
"I wanna ask you a question, but kiss me first."
David turned his head to me and smiled. "Is the kiss related to the question or just for fun?"
"Fun… and love… and I guess, need."
"Boy, you sure are raising the bar for this kiss. You'll give me performance anxiety." David brought his lips to mine and then with his right hand behind my head pulled me tighter to him.
After the kiss, I just laid my face next to his, my lips still touching his jaw line. I started to say something, but it didn't quite come out. David turned and looked at me.
"Mark, are you okay?"
I pulled him tighter to me and buried my face in his neck. "Yeah." I mumbled into his neck. "Love you."
David turned his head to look at me. The intensity of those emerald green eyes up close is almost startling. "What?" He said softly.
"How did Helmut do it? How is a man able to a make a decision like that?"
"Ohhh, that's where you're at. Well, you would have had to know him." David was running his fingers lightly over my face. "He was remarkable in a lot of ways. Alex will be too."
David sat up and leaned back against the arm of the sofa and then pulled my head into his lap. "Helmut had the best instincts of anyone I've ever known. It's one of the things that made him so great in business. When he went into business as a consultant he was able to just home in on problems, with people and systems."
David was continuing to stroke my face and that combined with the warmth of the room was making me sleepy. I dreaded what was coming and at that moment I wasn't sure that I had the strength for it. I shoved my right arm under David's lower back and wrapped my left arm around his waist. My head was still in his lap.
"You know, a weird thing happened on this last trip to LA." I could feel David's body suddenly stiffen. Then he was pushing on my arm trying to get up, but I held onto him, finally he stopped struggling and his body seemed to slump.
"I was so afraid… am so afraid."
"I know… and it's okay."
"Why aren't you mad?"
"Because you love me."
David sighed. "I'll tell them to stop following you."
"You have to, David. Almost everything I do is classified."
"I know. I'll take care of it."
I pulled David down from a sitting position to lying next to me with his head on my upper arm and my left arm over his chest. "Can we take a nap now?"
David started stroking my arm. "You sleep, Mark."
Now I know David, and I know that he'll do exactly what he said he would. I also know that as Frank said, David is thorough, very thorough, and he wasn't exactly letting go of the subject, just changing course a bit.