by TA (Terry)
I knocked a couple of times and then opened the door to Frank's office and stuck my head in. Frank was sitting behind his desk with a cigar in his mouth staring at the ceiling. He looked over at me.
"Come on in, Marky." It was Monday morning and three days after our return from Washington. As I walked toward the desk, Frank slid a piece of paper over to me.
I plopped down in the chair in front of his desk and picked up the paper. After reading for a minute, I looked up at Frank over the top of the paper.
"This mean what I think it means?" Frank was smiling.
"That, Marky, is military speak for 'come and get the money'." Frank laid his unlit cigar down in an ashtray. "Fax came in early this morning. I called Shetland to confirm it."
I was blown away! "How Frank? This was supposed to take months. What about the opposition?" Frank got a very smug look on his face.
"Well, Marky, I asked myself that very same question and then this morning I asked Shetland." Frank got up and walked over to a sideboard in his office and poured himself some coffee and, strangely, brought a cup for me.
I leaned forward in my chair and stared at Frank. "Aaaaaaaaaaannd Shetland said?"
Frank settled back down in his chair with his coffee. "Well, to begin with, there were really only three people stopping us, and they were headed by Senator Farington." Frank waved his hand around. "You may remember him talking to David. The guy with the all too perfect hair."
"God, don't tell me David swung him over!"
Frank laughed. "No, Marky, you did this all by yourself. Well, almost."
Whatever the hell had happened, Frank was enjoying this way too much. I sat back in the chair and swung my leg over the arm. "Frank, you're killing me here! What the fuck happened?"
Frank laughed and put one foot up on the edge of his desk. "Emma happened!" Frank was shaking his head. "I told you she was old money, but I didn't tell you how much or how old. Marky, there's a relatively small handful of people with really big, really old money around, at least money that's concentrated enough to make a difference. Emma is one of those people."
"Frank, where the fuck do I come in?"
Frank took his foot off of the desk. He was smiling, but there was a sadness at the back of his eyes. "I should have thought of it while we were there." He was shaking his head slowly. "I think you remind Emma of her son, the boy who died. It's all so long ago, but I seem to remember seeing a picture of him, and I think you do resemble him. Anyway, whatever her motivation, she went over to Farington and made it clear that she, not Monty and not the party, but 'she' wanted this to happen. In the end, I doubt that Farington was as opposed to this as he seemed, and it put him in the position of doing what he would end up doing anyway, and by doing this, he was also doing a favor for Emma.
Frank leaned back in his chair and waved his hand. "You'll still be needing to go back to Washington. Shetland has a bunch of informal meetings set up, lunches, dinners, casual stuff.
"The other thing, Marky, is that Monty likes you and that can be important. Whether they realize it or not, the politicians are only getting about sixty percent of what Monty's capable of delivering, but he lit up with you." I must have gotten a weird look on my face, because Frank said. "No, Marky! I don't mean that! I mean that he likes helping young people and he seemed to see something in you that he liked." Then matter-of-factly, "Monty's ex-military, maybe it was that. In any event, he's a good guy and a really good guy to know."
Frank started to laugh. "Shit! The first time I met Monty he was bailing me outta jail." Frank was staring out the window, looking at the skyline of the city and remembering. "I was just a really, really young Marine officer doing a little drinking in some joint in Washington when I ran into that little fucker, Shetland, in the same bar. Well, at the time he was basically the same thing that I was, only with the Air Force, and pretty soon we're matching each other drink for drink. Anyway, sometime during the evening Shetland and I get into an argument and he calls me a son-of-a-bitch. I told him, 'Jimmy don't call me a son-of-a-bitch,' but he doesn't stop - one thing led to another and I ended up decking the little fucker. I hit him so hard he slid fifteen feet after he hit the floor. Then I'm thinking, shit, maybe I killed him; but the fucker gets up and knocks me on my ass. Well, twenty minutes later, we're sitting in a police station and the cop in charge comes over and tells us that he's got only one cell, so we're either gonna have to learn to get along or kill each other." Frank turns and faces me smiling. So, naturally, we ended up being best friends.
Anyway, Jimmy makes a call to the one guy he knows who's got the money to bail us out and who also won't turn us into the MPs - and up shows Monty. Well, after that we did most of our drinking at Monty's place. He and Emma did a lot of entertaining in those days. They were, still are, rich as Croesus and they both liked a good time. They had the house then that they have now, and on a weekend they'd probably have twenty, thirty military guys over for food and eats, and that's not to even mention the women who tagged along." He swiveled back and forth in his desk chair. "Those were good days… mostly."
I love coming home from work. I usually manage to get there about five o'clock when Mrs. Meurer has just finished fixing dinner, sometimes she's still there and sometimes she's already left, but either way, the house smells of her cooking.
Alex follows me into our bedroom and questions me nonstop while I change into comfortable clothing. It's really amazing how many questions a four year old boy can come up with, there's no detail of my existence that Alex doesn't want to explore completely. And of course, it's not just me. I know that he questions David in the same way. The difference being that David has no way of escaping his onslaught since he works at home. Sometimes David actually has a bit of a glazed look in his eyes from the nonstop questioning.
Alex is wearing brown corduroy pants that have been turned up at the cuff, because they're a little bit too long for him, and a green tee shirt that's not tucked in, but hangs over his pants. He's also wearing black and white gym shoes, the design that used to be popular a long time ago and that's now coming back into style. He's got his hands shoved into his pockets and he's looking up at me. I've just stepped into my jeans and I pull them up, zip them and button them. Then I pull on an old, but clean sweatshirt.
I sit down on the edge of our bed and pull Alex to me. My arms are wrapped around him and I kiss him on the forehead. He leans against my leg like it's an architectural element. His crystal clear blue eyes are watching me closely. I ruffle his hair.
"Whatcha do today, bud?"
"Nothin Dad." He rolled back and forth against my leg. "Dad, remember how I didn't wanna go to daycare, but when I went, it turned out okay, cause now I like it."
Hmmmm, what was I being set up for? "I sure do, Alex. You thought it was gonna be terrible, but it turned out great."
He laid his head on my leg and looked up at me sideways. "Well Dad, if I have to go to preschool, do you think that I'll like that too? Cause I don't feel too good about changing schools." I assured him that I was sure he'd like preschool just as much as he did daycare. Alex laid his back against my leg and propped his feet on my other leg. "Are you sure, Dad?"
"Yep, Alex, I'm totally sure. If there was ever a little boy who was ready for preschool, it's you." I propped myself up on the headboard of the bed and pulled Alex up onto my lap. "You know, kiddo, everybody has times in their life when they don't think that they're ready to move on, but they really are. I've felt that way lots of times, but it always works out and it will for you too."
Alex put his elbows on my chest and rested his chin in his hands. "Like in the Army, Dad? Did you feel that way, then?"
"Lots of times, Alex, lots of times."
Alex looked gleeful. "Tell me about those times, Dad. What did you do? Did you have to fight and stuff?"
I groaned. "No, sweetheart. No Army stories now. That's all you ever wanna hear about."
David appeared in the doorway with Joe at his side. "What are you two guys up to?"
A little bit of black chest hair was visible above the top button of David's shirt, and as he walked to the bed his shirt tightened for a moment over his nipples. He sat down on the bed next to us and put his arm up on my knees, just behind Alex's head. He ruffled Alex's hair. Yep, poor kid, everyone does it. Joe followed David, jumped up on the bed, circled around to the other side of me, and sniffed at Alex just below his left ear. Alex pushed Joe's head gently away and Joe used the opportunity to lick thoroughly between Alex's fingers.
David touched Alex on his shoulder. "Alex, I need you to go wash up for dinner. Nice clean hands and face, okay, buddy?"
Alex clenched his knees to my waist and kinda jumped up and down like he was riding a horse. I just grunted. "Okay, Dad. We gonna eat right away?" He swung off of me, jumped on the bed a few times, and then jumped down.
As Alex was walking out of the room with Joe in tow, David called to him. "Fifteen minutes!"
When Alex left the room, I pulled David down next to me and then leaned over on top of him and shoved my tongue in his mouth. He wrapped his arms around my neck. I reached down and squeezed the hardon that I was hoping would be there. I stared into David's eyes. "You're one hot man!"
I made a quick decision and pulled a protesting David off of the bed and into the bathroom. I closed and locked the door. David looked exasperated. "Mark! What?"
I was trying to open his belt and David was fighting to keep it closed. "Mark, we don't have time." He was mumbling into my mouth, because it was covering his.
"Yeah, babe, we do!"
Okay, it was just a quickie, but mutually rewarding for both of us. Afterwards, I pulled up my shorts and jeans, then I reached down and pulled up David's underwear, gently lifting his cock and balls back into them. He just watched me in the mirror... kinda in a daze... before he finally finished dressing himself.
"Feeling horny, were you?"
I kissed him behind the ear and then grinned at him in the mirror. "Okay, you can feed me now."
David shook his head slowly and mumbled. "Just an oversexed little boy."
I held David tightly from behind and started kissing his neck and then proceeded to give him a hickey while he squirmed and twisted to get away. "Maaaark! Noooo! Come on, baby! Okay, okay! I'lllllll feed you!"
I let David twist out of my grip, but held onto his left hand and he pulled me towards the kitchen where Alex was already scooping out Joe's dog food into his dish. David hunkered down next to him. "That's plenty, Alex. We don't want Joe to get fat, it's not healthy for him." Both Alex and Joe turned to David with guilty looks, as if they had been conspiring.
I reached down and scooped Alex up and lowered him down onto his chair while David was serving salads. A fantastic casoulet that Mrs. Meurer had made sat in the middle of the table.
I glanced over at David. "We got that contract. Frank got the fax this morning." Then it occurred to me, "You probably already knew that, didn't you?"
David waved his hand. "That's great and no, I didn't know. Been on the phone all day with Europe, trying to put together some financing for a small Swiss company." He rubbed his eyes. "You wouldn't believe how fu…," he glanced at Alex, "how darn complicated things can get."
David seemed to shrug off his problems and set forward. "So, this means you won't have to do all that traveling?"
I was ladling out a helping of casoulet for Alex, breaking through the breadcrumb crust to expose the beans, sausage, duck, and lamb. It smelled heavenly. "Well, still some, but not as much. At least, I don't think so. Frank said there would just be some casual meetings. Course one thing can lead to another."
"It would be great if you got to spend more time at home." He pointed his fork at Alex, who was inhaling the casoulet. "He could use the time with you too."
Alex looked up and me and grinned mischievously. "We could plaaay, Dad!"
David smiled at me from behind a forkful of casoulet. "We could play more too."
When it became apparent that at least someone from the company was going to be in Washington most of the time, Frank leased the suite that David and I had occupied. It was well located and prestigious enough to feel okay about entertaining.
When I walked up to the main desk, the man behind the counter handed me an envelope. "This came for you by messenger, Mr. Chauvet." The envelope was ivory colored and addressed by hand in ink to Mr. Mark Chauvet. I slit it open with my pocket knife and removed a note on heavy paper the same color as the envelope. It was a note from Emma inviting me to come for coffee that afternoon. She said that she would send a car and that if I was unable to make it I should call.
I took the elevator up to my floor and walking down the hallway I reread the note. I wasn't sure why Mrs. Block had taken a liking to me. I knew of course that Frank could be right and it was just a case of me reminding her of her son. I also knew that a situation like that held the possibility of being incredibly awkward.
Frank had made it sound like the death of the Block's boy had caused Emma to totally retreat from society for years, and that could mean a lot of unfinished emotional stuff. I've had to tell a half dozen women that their husbands or boyfriends or fiancés had been killed. It was never good - usually horrible. The most difficult part for me was when the women wanted me to tell them of my personal experiences and feelings.
Talking about the feelings that you experienced while holding your friends when they're dying just isn't something you want to remember, much less share with people. David is the only person on earth that I would feel relaxed enough with to talk to about that stuff. While David knows this stuff happened, he has always walked carefully around the subject. I've had nightmares where I've woken up crying and David was holding me, but he never pushed to hear every detail. He'd usually just say, "Battle stuff?"
I'd say, "Yes." And David would say, "Wanna talk about it?" And when I shook my head no, he'd leave it at that. I can't say that I was afraid of the subject, just not thrilled with it. But we owed Emma big time, so if she needed this or anything else… well, it was the least we, or rather I, could do.
Emma and I sat on a sofa facing the tall second floor windows that looked out over the back yard. She sat near me and would from time to time touch my arm with her fingertips as a means of punctuation; a large emerald cut diamond ring was catching the late afternoon sun and splashing it around the room.
"Mark, there's no shortage of people who'll tell you that Emma Block is not playing with a full deck… never got over her son's death. They'll say, 'You know how she just retreated from society in general, poor Monty'." Her gray hair was carefully styled to set off her face, and gold earings flashed as she moved her head.
Her eyes were blue, and while probably not as clear as they had been when she was young, they were eyes that told the truth.
"When my Jeff was killed, I did do some of those things, but Mark, I'm not a quitter; and the people who really know me will confirm that. "But," she sighed, "when Jeff died… they sent me a big report… a general drove it over. General Schmeck… he was very kind and even read it to me." She reached next to her and picked up a stack of papers. "It's very detailed and I don't doubt that some of it's true. There are interviews with the men who were with him… at least those that made it back." She stared out the window. "I can't tell you how many times I've read it." She waved her hand as if to wave away the report. "It was a long time ago."
"I have come to terms with Jeff's death, Mark; at least, I thought I had a long time ago. The best shrinks that money can buy have massaged my delicate sensibilities… but when I saw you at Monty's party." She turned to look at me and spoke almost in a whisper. "You have his eyes. They were the most remarkable eyes." Then she smiled at me. "Don't worry, Mark, I'm not gonna lose it."
She stood up and walked back and forth in the room, twisting her diamond ring with her right hand. "The one thing that's… well, haunted is probably too strong a word, but I suppose we can use it. The one thing that's haunted me… as a mother, was the thought of my son's final moments." She waved her hand. "The military doctors have all told me that he wouldn't have felt anything," she sighed, "but I'm not an idiot. I know that they can't know!" She stared at me, perhaps a bit embarrassed. "I know that you can't know either, Mark." She dropped her hands and shook them. Then raised a hand to her forehead and laughed. "It's all so stupid! I have no idea what I really want to know from you, Mark. It's just your eyes."
I got up slowly and walked over to Emma, gently took her by the hand and led her back to the sofa. I continued to hold her hand as I spoke. "Battle is a lot of different things, Emma… all mostly bad. Some guys die instantly, a bullet hits 'em and they're dead before they realize that it's even a possibility; some guys die horribly… torn apart, the blood draining unstoppably." I looked into Emma's eyes. "I'm not gonna try and sanitize this for you, Emma. I don't think you want that, but if you do, stop me."
"No, Mark. I want to know the truth."
"Your son may have been in pain, maybe a lot of it, but it seems that usually the worse the wound the less the pain. The body is pretty good at giving us only what we can handle." I gently massaged the tops of her fingers with my thumb. "Emma, I'm gonna tell you what I'd want to be told if Jeff had been my son." She nodded almost imperceptibly. "When men are in combat, their relationship with one another changes, no matter what their feelings for each other were before, it brings them together. Nothing like terror to bring people together; anyway, their emotions can get magnified."
"Emma, the thing to hang onto is that when Jeff died, whether he was in pain or not, he was surrounded by guys who cared about him deeply, guys who loved him. And Emma, there are worse ways to die. Lingering in a nursing home with relatives who've grown tired of visiting is one that comes to mind, and that's the fate of millions of people. In contrast, dying quickly in the arms of guys that regard you as their brother doesn't sound so bad."
I leaned back against the sofa. "It always seems strange to me to think that no matter how much we exercise, no matter how good we eat, no matter how much money we've accumulated, no one gets out of this alive."
Lake Michigan was black below us as the plane passed over it and then banked gently to the right as we continued north to Milwaukee. The lady next to me had tried starting a conversation with me several times, but I just couldn't get into it. I was tired of sharing myself, of giving little bits away… stupid, I know.
I leaned my head against the window and thought of Emma, of the confusion on her face and then the dawning sense of peace. Later, Monty had come home and after a few awkward moments between them, we actually had a very pleasant dinner together. Their son Jeff wasn't mentioned again. The Blocks had worn me out emotionally. I wondered what it would be like to live their lives, to have Generals deliver the government's condolences, to have Presidents take your phone calls.
Now I was on my way home. As the plane slowly lost altitude, houses and farms began to come into view. Shopping malls where full at this time of day, husbands and working mothers stopping on their way home to shop or pick up forgotten items from the stores. David would have already left for the airport, he's a fanatic about being early, and when you never drive over thirty it takes awhile to get anywhere.
God, how I missed him! This trip, in most ways, had been easy; but in other ways, the hardest of all. Strange, how with all the people there are in the world, there was only one who could make everything okay, who could touch me and make me forget all of the rest. I could see him at soon as I got off the ramp standing against the far wall, dressed in his ever present khaki Dockers, a sport shirt, mostly blue, tucked into them and a tan leather jacket. I know that he combs his hair, I've seen him do it, but it never lasts, and now again, it's wandering in all directions. He's oblivious to it. He turns to me while I'm still thirty feet away and begins to smile and take his hands out of his pockets. Can I really see the green of those eyes from this far away? I would swear that I can. Ten more feet…
"Where's Alex?" I practically have to yell against the sound of a hundred people deplaning.
"Mrs. Meurer's got him."
I didn't plan on doing it. I never really thought about it at all. My hands just reached out and took David's face in them. I pushed him gently back against the wall, pressed my lips to his, and kissed him slowly and deeply. He made a throaty little sound.
"Don't ever leave me, David." I can hear the desperation in my own voice. "No matter what… just don't ever leave me." I kiss the side of his neck. "I know that I can be a jerk, but I couldn't live without you."
There's a vague look of mild panic on his face. "Mark, what? What happened?"
I turned him sideways and crushed him to me. "Nothin, babe." My hand is behind David's back and I've already begun moving him towards the baggage pickup. I just look at him as he's staring at me. "I just like ya is all."
David's walking forward, but still staring at me. "Oh no you don't! You're not getting away with that! What the fuck happened?"
I keep my arm around his shoulders and keep him moving forward. "You know, David, you're really becoming a very suspicious person… probably from hanging around Frank too much."
He turned to face forward and continued walking. "It was Emma, wasn't it?" He glanced up at me, "Right?" I just nodded 'yes'.
It was still almost light out, winter was beginning to fade, there was hope again. The airport was in the full flush of its evening's activities with planes full of executives landing hot and heavy, their passengers needing to get back to their homes. Every hand held a cell phone or a briefcase, sometimes both, and everyone was moving.
My right arm was still around David's shoulder. I moved it to the side of his neck and massaged the nape of his neck with my thumb. His hair is so soft.
"Your Swiss thing go okay?" I wanted to bend my head over and smell his hair, but I didn't.
"Yeah, finally, Jamie flew over to Zurich and you know how he can be. I suppose that I'll have to go over there at least once this year. I haven't actually seen those guys for a while. Well, except for the Internet conferencing."
"You couldn't have them come here?" Glancing at David sideways I noticed his eyelashes, they're so black and this time of the year his skin is so light, then he turned, saw me looking and started to open his mouth, but didn't.
A few steps later, he said. "Yeah, I suppose that I could, but it would be better if I went to them."
"How's our little monster?"
"He's been really good today." David looked at me and smiled. "His playmate's coming home."
I leaned more of my weight onto his shoulder and tilted my head towards his. "Your playmate is coming home too."
Alex is in his bed with Joe curled into a ball at the foot of it. He's wearing his blue flannel pajamas with a small red bear stitched onto them where a breast pocket might have been. David is lying on the bed next to him with his head propped on his right hand and I'm kneeling on the floor with my elbows on the bed on Alex's right side. Alex has a firm grip on both of us.
Alex looks from David to me. "Did you look in the closet?
We both nod 'yes'.
"Under the bed?"
We both nod 'yes'.
Alex lifts his head and calls Joe. Joe lifts his head and then somewhat reluctantly gets up and walks to the head of the bed and lies down next to Alex's head.
"I'm scared. I heard a bear." He looks at us both in turn. "I'm sure it was a bear." Joe licks the side of Alex's forehead.
"Sweetheart, we're right down the hall and Joe is gonna be right here."
David reaches out and touches Alex's hair. "It's gonna be okay, Alex. There aren't any bears around here. The bears are all far, far away, and we're leaving the light on in your bathroom." Alex looks unconvinced.
"Alex, Joe has never let anything hurt you, has he?"
Alex replies slowly, while stifling a yawn. "No. But what if he's asleep and doesn't see the bear?"
I reach forward and give Alex a hug. "You go to sleep, buddy. Every thing's gonna be okay and we're right down the hall if you get scared."
David leans forward and kisses Alex on his head. "It'll be okay, Alex, sleep tight."
Out in the hallway I start to turn into our bedroom, but David grabs my right hand and pulls me into the family room. "No way he's not gonna be up at least once. Joey at daycare told him the neighborhood is lousy with bears... I could strangle him."
I lay down on the sofa and pulled David down next to me. His back is to my chest and I shove my left knee between his legs. The television is on low on the other side of the room. I reach up to the top of the sofa and pull an afghan down over us.
It's warm lying next to David under the afghan and he feels wonderful in my arms. I put my mouth next to his ear. "Grrrrrrrr, maybe there is a bear in the neighborhood."
David giggles. "You're a top, not a bear. Well, maybe a bit of a bear - a little wild anyway." He pushes his butt back against my crotch. I kiss him just behind his ear and then nuzzle the back of his head and pull my right arm around his shoulder and chest.
Later, two sweating, exhausted people are lying on the sofa under an afghan. I pull his underwear and pants up while David buttons his shirt. I step over David, and taking his hand pull him up off of the sofa. We walk, or maybe stagger, towards the bedroom.
Opening Alex's bedroom door a crack, a wedge of light from the hallway falls on his bed. Joe looks up and almost seems to smile as his tail beats on the pillow. Alex is asleep, but has Joe's collar in his hand. We close the door slowly and walk hand in hand to our bedroom.