He sat on a block of granite looking down at the Merrimack River below, chewing the stem of a long sprig of grass. In the old maple overhead was the rotting remnant of a tree house - a separating plywood platform with half walls. The roof that never offered much protection had blown off at some point. In the dramatic language of kids living out war games, David and two friends called it the Outlook Tower. Not that any of them could have said what they were looking out for, but that was never the point. Back then, the Outlook seemed a project worthy of sacrifice. They'd worked doggedly first building and then defending it from would-be invaders that never quite got around to showing up. But it made for something to do in summer. And the tower made for a good place to browse through the magazines Jason Sarbo pilfered from the back of his brother's closet.
David smiled, remembering Stevie Bender's father chewing them out when he found his plywood pilfered; Jason Sarbo's father equally pissed a few days later when he discovered they'd not only lost the chuck key to his drill but the spare battery pack. And months later, all three households would wonder about the hand tools that never quite made it back to tool sheds or cellars. David's own father never did figure why all his circular saw blades were dull and even then short by one.
David shuddered. He'd nearly sliced off two of Jason's fingers cutting up plywood sheets into more-or-less straight cuts that were sort-of measured. One blade shattered when they'd forgotten where the concrete blocks were when they started cutting. Later Stevie swore he heard part of the blade wiz by his ear, but David and Jason said he was full of it. Two years later scraping the side of the house, David found a one-inch chunk of metal embedded in the shingling, and revised that opinion. He hoped it was just imagination that estimated it's home a few inches from where Stevie stood that day.
David heard the whine-and-grind of more saws and glanced over his shoulder. The skeletons of six new houses in the latest style were springing up - pretend-Victorians with high peaks and stylized overhangs to give the illusion of spaciousness, but the rooms were just as small as the out-of-favor ranches, capes and saltboxes in these more `upscale' developments. Two were built and being shown, five more were almost ready to be shelled and more foundations were dug out. Judging by the course of the rough road, David figured they'd get to where he was by the end of summer.
There was hardly a bush or a tree left standing until you got to the bluff itself, just stakes in the ground marking one cramped yard from the next, sunk into a mix of clay and rocky sand that eventually would have a few inches of low-grade loam dumped on it followed by a quick sprinkle of cheap seed tossed on by the landscaper. They'd plant the standard ewes or junipers too close to the foundation like always, and in the yards maybe sink a few fast-growing poplar-hybrids. Unlike the maples and oaks they replaced, they'd never arch out enough to give shade. It wouldn't help that they were prone to insects and disease.
David thought them a sorry replacement for what used to grow here… but the poplars were cheap and grew fast. He hated losing a piece of his childhood. But then, there'd probably been some kid watching his own house being built who thought the same.
Wonder what they did with all the junked cars, David thought idly, still chewing the sprig of grass. And what about all the broken glass and old furniture? Did they truck it away like they're supposed to? Or just the big stuff, and cover the rest a little? Jesus, when was the last time I came here?
He spat out the stalk and grimaced. Not since Griff and Danny.
David stared off at a few sail boats from the Haverhill Boat Club, noticed a small motor boat skimming the surface, cutting the sail craft a wide berth. The same, but not the same. It's got to stay away from the others.
Like me. I pulled away from everyone. I had to.
Jason, Steve - everyone was shocked when he announced he was going to Haverhill High instead of Lawrence Catholic, where they'd all been accepted.
"No more Church bullshit," he'd said bluntly, but still with a careful eye out for Mother Superior. Defiance was one thing but suicide was another. "I've had enough of it. Nuns, priests, brothers… I don't care what they are, I've had enough of all that crap."
Then the slow withdrawal. He'd beg off things or cancel at the last minute, and close friends began to drift. By the end of that last summer after leaving All Saints Parochial, the break was complete. David still ran into them and they made the right friendly sounds - but they'd become strangers. At Haverhill High David was friendly and a lot of people knew and liked him, but none of them could claim to know him well. A few discovered it wasn't a good idea to come up on David from behind. He'd always avoid the most casual physical contact but suddenly grabbing to get his attention was a major mistake. He'd lash out, face flushed - then catch himself. Not many grabbed twice.
David Sciuoto rubbed his tired red eyes. He'd been up for hours after he left his father in the living room, had heard the man's tired, plodding steps up the stairs - steps that paused briefly outside his bedroom door. David had remained motionless until he heard the steps move off down the hall.
Then he continued, searching everything he could think of - phone listings, town directories, tax records - any data base he could find for the surrounding cities and towns for Griff's name, knowing he had every chance of coming up dry. There were too many unlisted phones. He didn't even know where to look; and to make it worse, most towns didn't keep on-line records of registered voters or even listed taxable properties except by address. Even the few that did show names could just as easily be out of date or incomplete.
David tried a trace through land conveyances - all of those were a matter of public record, but it was the same problem; you had to know where to look. Local papers offered some help, but too many of the local dailies had been scooped up by the expanding Guardian-Post over the last few years. The weeklies circulated in some of the smaller towns were solely local PR stories and didn't bother with such things unless the property had a history. The records were somewhere, but it would take a physical search at local libraries through their stacks and the old microfiche systems, but it all came down to the same problem; you had to know where to look. And the only one most likely to know where Griff moved - the Post Office - wouldn't give out any information without an official reason.
A few hours before the early summer's dawn David had given up and collapsed onto his bed, hoping Leo might have some luck with the registration number Randy had given him. He caught a few hours of ragged, restless sleep filled with dreams he knew he didn't want to remember, then lay quietly in his bed and decided he wasn't going into work. He waited until he heard his father leave then dressed and slipped out the door; he didn't want to deal with his mother, either.
He had the bad tire fixed at the first service station he could find that still had a garage attached to it instead of a convenience store. Then David cruised the quiet side roads to clear his head.
Eventually lack of any real rest caught up with him and he'd headed for home again, stopping a little short to get the lay of things. He knew his mother would be going out sooner or later - just not when, and he wanted to avoid the prospect of another argument. He rolled slowly down his street and spotted Mrs. Conti's big, ugly, Buick Rainier parked in back of his mother's stall - a relief. It had occurred to him he wouldn't know if Jennifer Sciuoto was home or not with her Lexus garaged. But at least if she was traveling with a friend who drove something just shy of being a tank…
David drove past his house, giving them enough time to visit before clearing out and cut down one of the rarely used side roads. Then he realized where he was and pulled over; he felt an urge to re-visit a part of his life that wasn't as complicated. He'd wandered into the woods - uncertainly at first, and then suddenly irritated at the sight of new construction. He'd skirted the development and was pleased to see at least part of his old playground had somehow survived.
He leaned his elbows onto his knees and propped his chin up with closed fists, looked at his surroundings and blinked. "And what happens if you find Griff?" he murmured aloud. "You don't have a clue, never mind a plan. What's the use of havin' Leo for an ally if you don't know what to do?" He'd told Leo the bare bones about Griff - but carefully left out Danny. Leo knew Martin had been a target and assumed that Randy had to be a victim too. Leo wanted to ask questions, but true to his word didn't push for more than David was willing to give. He'd simply promised to help track Griff and to help any way he could.
David heard sounds from behind and jerked his head up, swung around. He half expected to see a worker from the construction site come to order him away, but instead saw a slight figure pushing through the last of the brush. A thin face with a broad smile and dark, dancing eyes looked up at him. "What're you doing here?" he blurted.
"Come to find my guy," Alan replied lightly and held up a white bag. "Picked up some fresh donuts and coffees - I get the chocolate but you get your pick of the rest. Scoot over on that rock." He dropped down beside David.
David scrounged through the bag. "Cool - you went to Heav'nly instead of Dunkin'." He fished out a honey glaze for himself and chomped down, suddenly aware of how hungry was. "Uh, shouldn't you be at work?" he asked around a mouth full of still-warm donut
Alan shrugged and passed over one of the coffees. "I asked Chris' father for the rest of the day."
David peeled back the sipper flap carefully, juggling his donut with the coffee. "Why?"
Alan broke off a small piece off his chocolate donut and popped it into his mouth. "'Cuz I was worried," he said with a shrug. "And 'cuz you didn't call last night. Then when I called Barrier's at break they said you banged in sick, so I told Rolly I had something real important come up. Plus you've been acting weird lately." Alan scowled. "I called the house but your mother blew me off. Again."
David grunted, swallowed before he spoke. "Sorry. I'll talk to her."
"Don't waste your breath," Alan said lightly. "I always knew she didn't like me much. I figure now that she thinks I turned you gay, she's gotta hate me. I swung by the house but I drove on when I saw another car - and then I see your car parked on the side of the road when I went to turn around. I remember you tellin' me about this spot a couple times so I figured I could at least look." He glanced up into the tree and chuckled. "Yeah, Drew an' I had something like that. 'Cept he knew how to build stuff better."
David ignored the dig and shook his head. "You don't need an excuse to come in, Alan. But if you know about my mother it sounds like you talked to Mouth St. Jacques," he grumbled. "Why do I tell Chris stuff?
"Wasn't sure about my welcome the way things've been," Alan replied uncertainly, and studied David before softening his voice even more. "And why shouldn't Chris say anything? Is calling me a secret now?"
When David didn't reply right away Alan nibbled on his donut, sipped a little coffee before pushing on. "The only reason Chris blabbed was 'cuz he knew I was upset." He wiped some glazed sugar from the corner of his mouth and took another small piece of donut. "Actually, I was pretty pissed off last night. I tried callin' you at the end of your shift but Wynona gave me the speech about personal phone calls in work hours. Wouldn't even take a message! Then I tried calling you on and off, but your cell was shut down - just like it is now. After that I called your house and your Mom gave me the big kiss-off. Your Dad got it the next two times and he was pretty cool like always, he just didn't know where you were. Somewhere in there I called Chris, and the first thing he says is `Hey, ya talk to Dave about his mother yet?' I was pissed right then, so he spilled his guts." He shot David a hurt look.
"Chris still didn't have to bring up the stuff with my mom," David mumbled.
Alan paused, wiped his mouth and looked away from David. "Don't blame him." He shifted around uncomfortably, stole a sidewise glance at his boyfriend then switched his attention back to his coffee. "Chris and I - well, we've been talking about a few things that worry me."
Alan shifted his weight, stared at the ground trying to find some courage before he spoke. "Listen, I know I'm no prize, Dave. I mean, I'm not that smart, I'm not that good lookin'… and we both know you could do a lot better than me. That's not news. And, well… for awhile now, I've had this feeling like…"
Alan floundered for words before looking up at David with a pinched face. "Are we all done and you're just afraid to say it?" he said in a mild, quivering voice. "Please, just tell me and I can go away, okay? It's the not knowing that sucks… but if it isn't, just tell me what's goin' on with you. Stop shutting me out."
David's jaw dropped and the color drained from his face. "Alan - what makes you think-"
He held up a hand and pushed on, voice strained, not wanting to look David in the eye. "Davey, just listen," Alan began, swallowing hard. "Since spring, it's been different. I mean, you're nice to me and everything but - well that's all it's been. You're nice. But it's like you don't want to touch me."
David's face darkened. "That's not true!" he blurted
"It is true," Alan continued, keeping his voice steady and trying to mask the hurt. "Or at least, it's the way I've been seeing things. Okay, your mother's been down on you… but this freeze out started long before that. You don't even wanna get near me any more. And if I reach out, you pull away."
David shook his head. "That's crap and you know it. I mean, you make it sound like we never have sex!"
Alan snorted. "Sure, we have sex - as long as I'm the one makin' all the moves, 'cuz you never start anything anymore. And I got to admit - you always take care of me. But you're like a robot on the assembly line making all the right moves and all… but that's all it is. No passion, no interest most of the time. And once I'm taken care, boom! You jump off as quick as you can; it's `see ya' or `let's get out of here' before I can do the same for you. You have to know that's just as frustrating for me as if we didn't do anything at all! Jesus, I even have to push for a kiss. God forbid I put an arm around you when we watch TV or something. You either push me off or come up with an excuse to leave the room."
"That's not true!"
Alan shook his head ruefully. "Yeah, it is true David. If you stop to think about it, you'll know it's true. And now just to top things off I gotta find out from someone else that you're havin' trouble at home! I should be the first one to know Dave… because it's me she doesn't like, and that's affecting us!"
He was cornered and didn't like it. "Like you've always been on the up and up," David growled. "You think I never figured out what happened with you and Drew?"
"That's not fair," Alan shot back. "Drew and I were old news, and it went down long before I knew you. We were still kids and stuff got out of hand. Finally we settled it. There was no need to bring you in - you'd have made it worse."
David shook his head and tossed down his donut, gave Alan a hard look. "How could I have possibly made it worse?" he demanded. "The son of a bitch outed you at school and made your life miserable!"
Alan shook his head. "And that was long before you knew I was alive. If I said anything you'd have butted in, started a new fight, and made things worse! Besides," he added sarcastically. "I don't think it's a news flash to say sometimes you got a temper and a big mouth. You'd have started a worse fight like I said - just like you're tryin to with me now, so I'll drop it."
David gave him an irritated look but tried to sound patient. "Alan, I'm not trying to fight with you!" he groused. "You're being unreasonable."
The shorter teens eyes bulged. "I'm unreasonable? Dave -"
"Totally unreasonable," Dave muttered, crossing his arms and turning away. "You're the one tryin' to start a fight here."
Alan fumed and his voice took on a nasty edge. "Wanna know something, Dave?" he cut in coldly. "We're way past either of us tryin' to start a fight! We're doing it!"
Alan flung his coffee against a tree and scrambled to his feet. "Screw this," he snapped and began stalking off. He got as far as the first tree and turned. "And Dave, sweetie?" he added with venom. "Screw you too, okay? What happened between Drew an' me didn't touch anyone else - I left you out but I patched it up with him. Without interference."
"Sure, interference." David shot back. "You're right, all I'd do is interfere with your `old news'. But you wanna know something Alan?" he taunted, voice climbing. "What's buggin' me is old news - so maybe it's none of your Goddam business, either! So what's the friggin' difference?"
Alan's eyes were frigid as his angry voice as he turned back one last time. "The difference?" he snapped. "The difference is that with me and Drew it only affected me and Drew. The `friggin' difference' here is whatever's got you now is killin' us!" He glared at David, who sneered and looked away; something inside Alan snapped and he launched his final harpoon. "Tell you what - how about we forget about any `us' and you keep your miserable secret?"
"Fuck you!" Dave bellowed.
Alan clutched his chest, staggered back dramatically. "Way cool comeback, Dave! I mean, talk about total devastation on my end! But guess what? Fuck you, too!" he yelled and stomped off through the woods.
David came up from behind him and grabbed Alan by the arm, spinning him around. The smaller boy's face was red and he wrenched his arm out of David's grasp then pushed him back, lips drawn tight and eyes blazing defiance. David felt the smoldering anger and resentment stir up inside and without thinking David drew up to give Alan a back-hander.
Alan eyes locked on the raised hand. He went rigid, and David froze when he realized what he'd done and dropped his arm slowly but he knew it was too late as they faced off. When he spoke, Alan's voice was calm but deadly.
"I grew up bein' someone else's punching bag," he said slowly. "And maybe it took me seventeen years to fight back, but don't even think of it. No one's ever layin' into me again. Not my Dad. Not you. No one." He turned and walked off.
"Alan - please - I'm-"
The smaller boy neither slowed nor turned. His arm shot up with a clenched fist and he flipped up his middle finger before disappearing into what was left of the woods.
David felt himself go limp. "Could I have possibly screwed that up more if I tried?" he asked the non-committal woods around him. Alan could get over almost anything in just a few seconds… except a physical threat. The only thing David could have done worse would have been to follow through with a blow.
He almost ran after Alan but halted; there was no point. Not much stirred up Alan's darker side, but when something did…
Give him some time to come down.
In the distance, he could hear the squeal of rubber on pavement. David shook his head again at the woods that were supposed to give him a sense of peace, not serve as a stage for a fight with his boyfriend. He checked his watch; a little after eleven. Just go home before you shoot yourself in the foot again, he told himself. If Mom's still there, she won't start with someone else around. Maybe then I can figure out how I can salvage this.
He pushed his way through the dwindling trees and stood blinking when he stepped out of the shade into the harsh sunlight. He noted the fresh skid marks on the road and shook his head.
I'm gonna lose him if I'm not careful. Once it's all over, I'll have to sit down with him, make him understand…
"Why the hell don't you just tell him?" he mumbled aloud.
David pushed the question back inside again, filled his mind with the mechanics of the next phase of his research and gunned the engine back to life, putting the woods behind him.
Once back to a fortunately-empty house David mounted the stairs slowly, carefully locked his bedroom door and eyed the bed, wondering if he should risk a nap. He sighed and sat down in front of his computer instead, brought up his email, then frowned; another message from Martin.
Emergency got to got to got to got to talk Randy is out of his skin!
David blinked, rubbed his eyes. He paused to write up a message, decided against it and reached for his phone instead. He grunted when he saw the messages logged in - Alan's number showed, plus a few from Martin. David was about to hit the auto-dial when he heard a loud, blaring horn from the driveway.
David's room faced the front and he drew up the blind; started when he saw an old rust-bucket of an International pickup sitting in the driveway. The door swung wide and a meaty leg was followed by a bald head with a thin swath of black hair carefully pasted across the top, as if it could somehow hide the fact of baldness. That was followed by a garish vision of a green, purple and red Hawaiian shirt left half unbuttoned which should have been loose but snuggled to a broad waistline and hung to the hem of the white shorts. David frowned.
Great. What's Uncle Lou want?
David heard a deep, booming voice call his name from the driveway and he sprinted for the stairs. Then a single, long ring began - Lou Sciuoto had the bad habit leaning into the button to announce his presence. David threw open the door, out of breath but with a genuine if confused smile on his face.
A pair of hairy fists gripped David's shoulders and David flinched.
"How's my favorite nephew?" Lou's voice boomed in his nasal North End accent.
David grinned in spite of being tired, escaped the death grip and stepped back so his uncle could come in. He counted six gold chains around the man's thick neck, two heavy-link gold bracelets on his wrist and sported a diamond ring so large that most people assumed it had to be fake… but wasn't.
"Try your only nephew, Uncle Lou. Uh, you got to know Dad's at work. And Mom just left a little-"
Lou Sciuoto snickered. "Yeah - like I'd come all the way over here to see Jenny... And I know Alby's at work - I just talked to him a couple hours ago. And favorite nephew, only nephew, it's the same thing." He ruffled David's hair. "Nope, I'm here to see you."
He studied David with a sharp eye and his voice dropped but still kept its easy edge. "Tried getting you at work, but they said you banged out for the day. By the way, you look like shit. 'S'matter, you out playin' hound dog all night? Got bags under your eyes bigger'n luggage."
"Just a long night, Uncle Lou. Uh, listen, I'm kinda busy so-"
" `Kinda busy so' nuthin', kid," the smiling Lou cut in with a firm tone. He placed a thick-fingered hand on David's shoulder and leaned forward conspiratorially. "You an me are gonna have a long, leisurely lunch and a quiet discussion, Davey. No ifs, no buts. If you gotta call someone to cancel a plan, go do it. And I don't care if you're meeting the Pope or the President - you and me are gonna have a long talk. Okay, kid?"
* * * * *
The ancient International pickup with it's almost-intact exhaust system sat at the main intersection of Andover's Shawsheen Village, waiting for the light. David eyed the neat, antique red brick houses as they segued into a block of staid Federal style business fronts, leaning back into the torn-up green vinyl seat. Guess we're going to Grassfield's, he said to himself, switching his weary eyes back to his uncle. That's okay - at least we won't look too out of place.
Lou gunned the engine and smiled when it roared, startling the drivers of the cars around them. A few seconds later he took a sharp turn to the right and cut into the driveway of one of the most exclusively spots in the area - the Latham Club - a graceful, elegant mansion sitting amidst manicured lawns and shrubbery, built by one of the last of New England's textile robber barons as a private home until fortunes shifted. A succeeding generation of millionaires picked it up from the estate, turning it into a private club subscribed to by some of the most influential and wealthy business people in the region. Cabots, Lodges and on occasion a Saltonstall sat at table with a small group who routinely selected the governors and senators of solidly Republican Massachusetts. Presidencies may not have been decided by the Latham inner circle, but it's approval went a long way to delivering the New England vote - and its old-family money. Through the years the names of members may have changed along with Massachusetts politics, but the influence of the Latham still had a long reach.
David shuddered. He'd been here once for a special dinner with his parents and worn his first dinner jacket. On more ordinary occasions the Latham required at least a suit and tie. It was only within the last ten years members could lunch in `casual wear' and not be refused a table. David shrank into the seat thinking of his rumpled shirt, jeans and low-rise Converse sneakers; shuddered when he thought of Uncle Lou in his Gap shorts and snug K-Mart shirt.
Lou waved off the valet parking attendant and backed the rust-and-primer hulk with mis-matched fenders and doors into the most conspicuous spot he could find - easily viewable from the street. The attendant saw who it was, grinned, and shook his head. A gleeful Lou smirked at David and winked.
David hunched down, trying not to laugh. "Can I ask you something?"
"Don't take this wrong, okay Uncle Lou?" David began tentatively. "You've got nice cars, even your restored Caddy. Why'd we come here in this tank? And what's with the Tony Soprano look? You never dress flashy."
Lou's grin broadened. "Local color," he said mischievously. "All my neighbors and half this town thinks I'm mobbed up - so I show 'em what they expect to see."
Lou snickered and shook his head as they eased out of the truck and began a slow walk across the parking lot. Lou let a casual arm drape across David's shoulders and drew the boy in closer to him. "Davey, when I bought my house here - well, one of the first things I saw was two cops in my driveway with their hands twitchin' by their guns when they walked up to me. I'm dark, even for an Italian… one of the cops actually spoke to me in Spanish and demanded to see my ID. Didn't ask me for it - demanded it. Seems one of my neighbors reported a `dark, swarthy type' in a beat up old car entering the house from the back. That was my old Camry, remember it? Typical Boston car… dings and marks all over it, five years old… they thought it was out of place in their neighborhood. And around here, `dark and swarthy' is a polite way of sayin' some Lawrence spic was pulling a B&E." He grimaced. "Not that they'd ever say that word. My neighbors are very PC."
They arrived at the door, which was snapped open by a white-shirted and black bow-tied Hispanic boy, who smiled when he saw Lou Sciuoto. Lou released David. "'Sup Freddie? Your tía get in from Santo Domingo okay?"
Freddie blushed, did a quick check over his shoulder. The head waiter - a tall, expressionless man of about sixty and known only as Moylan - stood at elegant attention. He eyed Freddie, giving him permission to speak since he had been addressed. Moylan clearly didn't approve of it. Freddie's place was to clean up and remain invisible, never speaking unless spoken to, a rare occurrence. Chatty servers were something found at roadside diners - not in the Latham with its Persian carpets and antique furnishings. And conversationally inclined busboys were something found on the unemployment line.
"She's fine, Mr. Sciuoto," he said politely.
"Glad to hear it - and Freddie, this is my nephew David. You and him have got something in common - you're both goin' to Merrimack College next fall. Shake hands."
David offered his without thinking twice, but Freddie nervously eyed Moylan again before he took it. Lou leaned in a little closer to the boy. "Go ahead - let the stuck-up bastard bitch. He can't say anything and if he does I wanna know about it. And you love it when we do this."
Freddie tried to hide his grin and withdrew. Moylan looked over Lou Sciuoto with a cold, disparaging eye and smiled without much conviction. He turned his attention to David and was clearly not impressed as he took in what he considered a street-look.
"We have some nice quiet tables in the small dining room, Mr. Sciuoto."
Lou grinned, allowed his voice to boom out. "Ah, frig the small dining room - I like that table over there."
The startled head waiter followed rather than guided them the way he was accustomed. That he loathed Louis Sciuoto was no secret at the Latham; that Louis Sciuoto knew it was clear. And the fact that Lou didn't give a damn what Moylan thought was obvious and an ongoing source of amusement to rest of the staff.
Lou found a table far from the occupied tables, but still in full view of the main entrance and plopped himself down without ceremony. Moylan, resigned to fate, sat David politely but sniffed his disapproval before he withdrew. A second waiter approached quietly and greeted Lou by name, laid down the menus and politely added he'd be back when they were ready.
David looked up "No introduction this time?"
Lou grinned. "Nah… that's Wayne and he gets embarrassed when I do that and I got no reason to bust his chops. But Moylan treats Freddie like crap 'cuz he's Dominican, so I always make a point of bein' nice to the kid - and he is a nice kid. His mother's my cleaning lady - I've known him since I moved up from Boston."
David looked at the menu, noticed there were no prices; always a bad sign. Lou saw the expression on his nephews face and blew it off. "What they get for a club sandwich is a crime in itself, but that doesn't matter."
David made a selection and set the list aside. "Okay - so finish the story. Why the big routine?"
Lou leaned back and chortled. "Well, it's like I was sayin'… a lot of people thought I didn't quite fit in. I mean, all my neighbors were polite if I saw them - but they never seemed to have the time to talk. And around town, I was alright for the businesses and stuff - money is money; but anything else? Forget it." He snorted and leaned in. "Andover's got two country clubs, okay? Well, one is kind of ritzy and all with limited membership, so I didn't pay any attention when I never heard on my application. But the other one? Their only membership requirement is cash and I had that in my hand. But after they lost my application the third time I said screw it and started playin' at Trull Brook - it's a public course, but nice. And I like golf but I'm not exactly interested in gettin' in with the country club set anyway so it was no big deal."
Wayne came up and placed two glasses of water on the table, then took their orders and disappeared.
David moved his glass a little to the left. "So what made you think there were any problems?"
"I met an old guy there," Lou continued. "Nice old bird, retired from some law firm - and he's from one of those old Yankee families you hear about. I asked him why he didn't play at one of the fancy clubs in Andover and he laughs, says he used to but the new people in Andover are too stuck up. I told him where I lived and about my neighbors and he started laughing even more."
Lou sipped his water, and his eyes almost danced telling his story. "Get this - the day I moved in, I hired a bunch of guys from the neighborhood - I guess you could say they're `ethnic types'."
David chuckled. "I've seen those guys - more like stereotypes. They all act like they came out of central casting."
"It ain't a rib but you got it," Lou continued. "Loud, kinda flashy… but basically the guys your Dad and I grew up with helping me out. I hired all their kids to do the heavy lifting, and we had a party when it was all done. No big deal, right? Well, my neighbors see these guys, hear the way they talk and they get put off. And the party wasn't exactly a street festival, but it got loud and went kinda late. The cops came by, and I guess they checked out some number plates. Seems a couple of those guys got records."
"I still don't get where this is going, Uncle Lou."
"Then shut up and let me tell the story, okay? Well, word gets back to my sweet neighbors… and the rumors start about a bunch of made guys hangin' around. Then I have a fancy alarm system installed, and the doors on the house are kinda light-weight and ugly so I had them replaced - gorgeous hand-tooled stuff with hand-forged wrought iron. Everybody got nervous, thinking I was beefing things up in case of a mob war! Next thing you know, everyone's sayin' I'm a Mafia don and those guys are my crew. Imagine that? I'm the god-father!" He roared laughing.
David sat back in his seat, stunned. "Are you kidding me?"
Lou shook his head and put a hand over his heart, still grinning. "It's absolute truth, Davey. Straight out of the movies!" He grabbed a roll and bit it in half. "Kind of an insult if you ask me. I might be wide enough to pass for Marlon Brando, but I ain't that old. Or ugly."
David relaxed and sat back. The silent Wayne swept in, positioned salads in front of them and disappeared. Lou picked up a silver pot filled with bleu cheese dressing and emptied half the container onto his plate.
"Anyway, that's the story the old guy's telling me. Then we both get the giggles and talk about maybe if I acted it out, they'd be a little more receptive towards me."
David chewed a piece of Romaine. "You said he's lived here all his life. How come he's throwing in with you?"
Lou's eyes sparkled like a bratty ten year old describing his latest prank and he strained to keep his voice low enough only for David to hear. "He can't stand most of 'em, says the newer people are a bunch of stuck up, pretentious social climbers - most of 'em one generation out of the tenement houses and the mills themselves, carryin' on like they're the new aristocracy. Half these fancy houses around here are so mortgaged they can barely scrape up their taxes; and inside the furniture looks like it was snapped up at Roxbury side-walk sale after an eviction. But they're all hung up about their image - being from an old town with a high-end reputation makes it an important address. So the old man and I make a plan… and he lets it get out that the talk is real. And me?" Lou shrugged. "I play it to the hilt - that's why all the chains and stuff. The old man even sponsored me for membership here - and made it clear to the committee they shouldn't look too deep into my background if they knew what was good for 'em. Suddenly I'm the latest social hit, everyone's either scared as hell of setting me off or wants to be my friend so they can show me around 'cuz I'm the pet mafioso. And the best part? I get away with damn near anything." Lou pressed his nose to one side and spoke in a hoarse, punch-drunk voice. "Yas don't wanna piss of da made guy… udderwise yas is gonna get a visit from the friend of a friend of ours real late one night." He popped a chunk of cucumber into his mouth with a flourish.
David toyed with his salad silently. His eyes flicked around and he shot quick glances at his uncle. "You're not though, right?"
Lou's eyebrows knitted. "Not what?"
David shuffled around, uncomfortable. "You know. What people around here think. Connected."
Lou kept his eyes on his plate, quietly chewed his salad for a moment before he finally cleared his throat and set down his fork. "David, I'm the junk guy from Everett," he said tersely. "Well, reclamation and recycling these days maybe, but that's all I am. I run the business my grandfather worked in when he was off the boat at fourteen, bought into when he was twenty, and owned a hundred percent when he married my grandmother. That's all the Sciuoto's have ever been - until your father. He moved up and moved on." He paused. "And you oughta be ashamed for askin' that question," he added sharply. "That's something I'd expect Jen to say."
David felt the color rise in his cheeks, mumbled an apology. Lou grunted. During the long silence Wayne returned with their lunch, served, and cleaned the salad plates away. He noted the sudden quiet at the table, and the usually affable Louis Sciuoto sitting stone silent.
David toyed with his meal, less hungry than before, wondering if he could risk broaching the next question on his mind. "I - I didn't mean it to sound like that, Uncle Lou. I guess I meant to ask… well, I meant to ask if maybe you knew some people, okay?
Lou Sciuoto folded his hands in front of him, hard eyes again fixed on his nephew. "What kind of people?"
David's face reddened and he looked down again, mumbled something unintelligible.
Lou shook his head. "You surprise me, Davey. You really do." He reached across the table, tilted David's head up with his forefinger. "Do your Dad and I look like a couple of hoods?"
"Is there a reason for that question?"
David fiddled with his food again and looked down. "I… well, I might need a - you know. A favor."
Lou's eyes squinted, and he drummed his fingers slowly, scowling. "Look, I know people - I'll give you that; your dad and I grew up in the North End of Boston and it was understood about some guys - you didn't ask Mickey what his father did for a living. And it was okay to ask Cully when his older brother got out of jail, just not why he got there, okay? And if you bought a stereo or a TV out of Enzio's cellar, you didn't mail in the warranty." He smiled to himself. "I remember when Ma wanted a new washer and dryer - Poppa made a couple of calls, put a few bucks in an envelope and left it in the garage and told Alby and me not to go out if we heard anything. Next morning, there's a pair of top-of-the-line Maytags in the garage."
He held up a thick finger and pointed at David. "But that was just business. Business is all about cash - no strings. But a favor?" He shook his head and his voice dropped, fixed David with unflinching eyes. "Favors get paid different… and sometimes, they get called in over and over again. You don't want to be owing those guys any favors, ever. Your Dad and I saw what owing those guys meant when we were growing up - take my word for it. Never owe."
David looked up. "Weren't you just saying about how there's no such thing as the Mafia?"
"Not like you see on TV or in the movies. But there is a business, and these businessmen who operate different, but it's not just `our thing' like maybe it was in the thirties any more. Look at Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill mob. Were they Mafia? Not those guys. South End Irish. But they worked a lot of things with a lot of different guys - bein' Italian has nothing to do with it." He snorted. "Man, the Bulgers… there's a family. One brother ran the most ruthless mob in New England - the other ran the Mass Statehouse." He snorted. "Guess it's a matter of opinion over who's the bigger thief. But Billy got to retire with a big state pension - Whitey's been on the run for like twenty years. Anyway never mind about that stuff, and never mind about any favors, either. That stuff's out."
"Still," David pushed. "You've got friends, right?"
Lou looked around impatiently "Enough of this `a friend of mine, a friend of ours' stuff - we can come back to it. We got other thimgs to talk about anyway." He wiped his mouth but didn't bother looking up. "What's goin' on at home?"
Again seeing warnings, David's eyes flickered nervously around the mostly-empty dining room. "I, uh, I don't know what you mean."
Lou popped a piece of steak into his mouth and chomped. "Then I'll spell it out. You and your mom have got some kind of beef, and it's drivin' my kid brother nuts. Just to make it worse, the two of you are pretending there's nothing wrong when he's around."
David looked around the dining room furtively. "He asked you to get into this?"
"No. But he's human and he needed to talk to someone about what's botherin' him and he called me this morning - just to talk. And if you're wondering, no. He doesn't know I'm here. In fact, he'd probably be pissed off if he knew we were talking. So - maybe I'm butting in, but so what? Alby's all I got left for family, Alby and you."
Lou slathered sour cream onto his baked potato. David swallowed.
"C'mon, kid, nothin' can be that bad."
The boy looked up, startled. "What makes you sure there's something going on between us?"
Lou made a face and snorted. "You and your mum - there's been sparks between you two since your voice changed." He shook his head, stuffed a chunk of potato into his mouth and chewed slowly, his attention on David. "Well, that doesn't surprise me considering what a controlling bi - uh, considering she can be kind of on the opinionated side," he said finally, then leaned his head forward
"Listen, David, do you think your old man never notices when there's trouble in the house? He's a soft-spoken guy with his family and not sure how to handle his son or his wife without setting them both off. Who do you think he turns to for either advice or to just get stuff off his chest? He turns to his older brother, that's who. And that ain't 'cuz he's weak, Davey, don't ever think that. My brother's family - yeah, you and your mum - means everything in the world to him. That little son-of-a-bitch brother of mine can walk into a room with veteran business enemies and settle a score that's been festerin' for twenty years, and have 'em purring in his hand with a signed contract when he's done. He's even worked with the Boston Teamsters Union! But he's so afraid of doin' something that might push either you or her away from him he can't think straight sometimes. You guy's drive him nuts when you fight - and the two of you have been drivin' him really nuts for the last few weeks."
David looked up, incredulous. "We haven't said anything in front of him! Not a word!"
Lou leaned back from the table and laughed loud enough to draw a few indignant looks - until they saw who it was and quickly avoided eye contact. Lou raised his glass to a middle-aged man in a tailored suit sitting with two younger clones and grinned as the man jerked his head to the left. Lou pointed with his chin. "That guy's a point man for the governor. Wanna bet the other two are from DC? His Excellency's gonna run for president, not next time but the time after that. They're probably talkin' about soft money right now."
Then his expression changed and he locked his round, brown eyes on David. "Yeah - that's what your dad's been telling me, and he says you guys are worse than when you yell at each other. He's thinking he should shut down the central air, because there's enough ice between the two of you to bring on a blizzard. And when you actually do talk to each other its like hearin' knives slice the air, and neither one of you wanna tell him what's goin' on. So," Lou wound up, in a tough but conspiratorial voice. "With that in mind, only nephew of mine and son I never had - what the hell is goin' on? I won't tell Alby nuthin'," he added, "Unless you think you need me for a go between."
David played with his salad, tried to avoid his uncle's look. He stole a quick glance. "Mum figured out something about me," he said hesitantly.
Lou chewed more steak and swallowed before stealing a quick look at David. "Is it about you an' that Alan kid?"
David looked up shocked. Lou's face was expressionless, but his eyes didn't shift from his nephew.
"Your dad ain't dumb, kid. He was thinkin' it might be something like that, but he wasn't gonna say anything."
David jaws twitched. "Too ashamed to talk about it with me?" He asked nervously.
Lou shook his head. "No more'n I am. First, he doesn't like it of course, neither do I. You're the last Sciuoto - at least in this country. Grampa had some brothers in Italy but Poppa lost track of 'em long before he died, and I'm - well, I just ain't the marryin' kind. You're it, kid, and if what he thinks is true, then it's gonna stay that way."
"No," he added quickly, shaking his head. "I'd just make a lousy husband and a worse father, and I know it. Spoiling my kid brother's boy is one thing - I used to get you all worked up and bouncin' off the walls, then I could go home. Gettin' up in the middle of the night to help change diapers, or waitin' next to the telephone late at night because he's out after curfew when he's a teen is another. I'm selfish and I like to play around. Fortunately I can afford to play around, so that's how it is."
David's voice had a nervous edge to it. "You said he's not too crazy about it, huh? Me and Alan?"
Lou shrugged, sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Neither of us is, but that's got nothin' to do with it. He won't say anything because he thinks you should. He was afraid to tell me what he thought because - well, lets just say I never thought much about usin' certain words to describe people. Catch me?"
David nodded, his eyes downcast.
"Stop lookin' at the table, Davey. I say things 'cuz - well I should know better, but - it's sorta habit. It's like when your dad an' I tried gettin' Grampa not to use what they only refer to as the `n' word these days," he chuckled. "Now, Poppa coulda cared less if a guy was black-"
"African American," David cut in.
Lou rolled his eyes. "See? It's the same thing. Retraining. Well, Grampa came to this country because he did something that pissed off either the Fascists or the mob when he was still a kid - he never would say which - and he learned the English he learned in the streets when he got here, not in any school and he didn't think nothin' mean by it! It took a few years, but we finally got Gramp to at least say colored, and even that was dicey back then." The big man shrugged and David eyed the buttons straining on the Hawaiian shirt. "Okay, I'm kinda like Poppa I guess. I grew up and - well, certain words got used all the time. So, I gotta learn too, okay? No one's angry with you, Davey. And when I said Alby was disappointed, he wasn't disappointed with you."
Lou paused, took a deep breath. "Your dad really wanted a bunch of kids, you know that? He loved kids, always did. But he couldn't. Not because of your mother, Dave - he couldn't. Hell, you were a fluke if you wanna know. Not to mention a surprise! If you don't know what I mean, dig around for their wedding license and then do some counting," he chuckled.
The man reached across the table and rubbed the top of David's hand, his voice dropping to a more soothing level. "Your dad figures you have to be who you are, just like me. He's disappointed because there won't be any grandkids, not disappointed in you. But he's also disappointed because he thinks you're too afraid to tell him - he's ashamed of himself for not being a good enough father, that you couldn't trust him."
"That's not it!" David broke in. "Yeah, about mom - that's true. That's what it's all about-me, Alan-all that stuff." He looked Lou in the eye. "And sure, I'm nervous about talkin' to dad but not really scared. But… there's more, Uncle Lou. A lot more that mom doesn't know, that no one else knows." He paused, felt a tremble in his body. "Except me."
They heard a slight sound and Lou looked up to see the waiter, poised just a few feet away, and began his approach as soon as he'd seen something going on. Lou nodded once. Wayne handed Lou a message, asked politely if there was anything more and withdrew. Lou read the paper and folded it.
David looked up again, let out his breath. "There's other stuff, Uncle Lou, and I'm afraid it's gonna come out," he said in a glum voice.
Lou slowly began cutting his steak. "Have I ever said or done anything to make you think you had to worry about me?"
David shook his head, staring down at his almost untouched sandwich.
"Look me in the face, Davey," Lou said firmly and David looked him warily in the eye. "Even when you were little, did I ever break a secret of yours, even the silly stuff? Or make a promise and broke it? Have I?"
Lou folded his hands on the edge of the table. "Then tell me what this other stuff is. Is it that Alan kid? Is he tryin' something on you, like a scam? Or is someone tryin' to blackmail you for something because they know about Alan?"
David shook his head, smiled weakly. "Alan would never do anything to hurt me-hell, right now I'm the one hurting him because - well, things aren't goin' too good there, and he thinks it's something he did wrong."
"Then explain, okay?" Lou said gently. "Close your eyes if it's easier for you, kid. If someone comes near us I'll stop you. Tell me what's so terrible you're afraid to tell your own."
It took a long time of silent eating by Lou and David not doing much more than stare at the table. No one knows this stuff, not all of it. I don't even want to remember it, but…
David closed his eyes. The words came slowly, halting, and he left things out and had to back trail. There was a sudden coldness in the pit of his stomach, and as he spoke it spread, and he began to shake, shake hard enough so he had to grip the table in front of him. His voice quavered in parts and broke, and perhaps it was just the physical exhaustion that did it combined with the fight with Alan. At some point he felt tears on his cheeks… and it occurred to him they were the first tears he'd let loose in five years, but he kept on.
How he'd got away, but abandoned a friend, and then pretended it wasn't real. Then fear and memory resurrected when he saw Danny again in the spring - and then the realization of the danger his silence put Martin in, worsened by the knowledge of the pain he'd caused other kids - like Randal - to suffer because of his silence.
In the end his voice broke, sputtered and died. David waited, feeling the tears continue to flow but he couldn't move except to shake. His hands still gripped the table for balance, knuckles as white as his face. Finally David felt a rough, sweaty hand close on his and opened his red eyes at the usually smiling face with its comically bulging eyes and bald head. The eyes were flinty and hard and the mouth wasn't smiling, but the grip was firm and reassuring. But the voice was almost an incredulous whisper.
"You stupid little shit. You've been carrying that inside for five years? Why didn't you just say something?"
David could feel himself gasping for breath, and his body shuddered almost convulsively now as he tried to focus on his uncle's shocked face, struggling for air and speech. When he could force it out David's voice was hoarse and ragged, catching on every word.
He choked, felt his stomach churn. Face white, David clutched his stomach and doubled over. "I'm gonna be sick," he blubbered, his voice sliding up the scale.
Lou Sciuoto lumbered to his feet gracelessly and stumbled helping David stand, holding onto the doubled-over boy then almost dragging him through the dining room.
Lou caught a snippet from the political group, a younger voice that said something like `boy toy' and caught a smug laugh. Lou locked his eyes on the Governor's man as they passed and watched the color drain from his face, as eyes suddenly shifted to one of the younger Washington clones. Lou made a quick study of the faces - just general features, nothing more. It was all he'd need. It wouldn't take more than a phone call to find out which party men got sent north today.
It was easier to lunge out of the restaurant into the lot instead of the rest rooms, and David staggered to the carefully planned garden and retched until there was nothing left in his stomach, then kept on retching. Tears still ran. People walked by, paused long enough to register shock then politely declined to notice. A grateful busboy stood at the door of the club, pleased he wouldn't have to do more than hose down a part of the garden.
Lou saw the him and shouted. "Freddie! Tell Moylan to tab my lunch! I gotta take my nephew home."
The Dominican boy nodded and ran back into the elegant white building.
Lou helped David get into the beat-up pick up he'd parked so conspicuously in front of the club, then trotted to the other side and pulled himself up with a grunt into the driver's seat.
David sat passively, said nothing. He felt his uncle rub his shoulder a few times, mumbling "Good boy, good boy," over and over. Lou jammed the accelerator as the light switched to red at the intersection and ran against the traffic that blared its horns as he cut across and turned onto Rte. 133 from Main Street. He gunned the engine and shifted noisily, cutting sharp corners and blew off another light completely once he was relatively sure there wasn't any traffic. He ran the old truck flat out until he turned into his driveway and punched it again up the steep grade before slamming on the breaks just short of his closed garage door.
"Just sit," Lou said quietly once they were in the house, picking up the phone. David slumped onto the white leather couch and listened to Lou call his father's office, sweet talk his way through the secretaries and explained to David's father that he needed his nephew for two, maybe three days.
Lou kept his voice light even if his expression wasn't. "Yeah, yeah, Alby, whatever. I'm your older brother, remember? So just tell your charming wife it's okay, will you?" He paused, and this time he did pop a small smile. "Hey, watch your mouth, kid… No, I did not call her a name! Besides, `charming' has way too many letters and there's no `u' or `t' in it." He listened some more and the smile faded and his voice dropped low. "It's like when we were kids, okay, guy?" he said gently. "You trusted me with things then because I'd keep 'em to myself. This is the same thing, so just trust me now. David's okay, and everything's gonna be fine."
Lou listened for a few minutes more, making sounds when he was supposed to. Suddenly he looked at David, put a hand over the mouth piece. "You good to talk?" David nodded. "Just tell him you're okay, got that? And tell him when you get home, you want to have a long talk with him, but that's it. Tell him you got to work something out on your own first, he'll understand that."
David picked up the phone gingerly, hands unsteady but his voice holding firm, echoing his uncle's instructions before he said goodbye and hung up. He studied his uncle in the long silence that followed
Lou poured a tall shot of Johnny Walker into a water glass, downed it. Then he packed the glass with ice and poured again before he spoke to David in an harsh voice. "Answer me a few questions. Don't even think of lying, got that?"
"Who else knows about all this stuff? Anyone?"
David squirmed before he answered. "Three guys I know… well, not the whole thing. They know some of it."
Lou considered the answer. "And these guys are-what? Friends?"
"Yeah… well, sort of. Two of them… Martin and Randy, well, they were sort of targets for-what happened to me."
Lou cocked an eyebrow. "What are these guys, your age?"
"Uh… not quite. Leo's my age, but Martin's fourteen. Randy's… older," he added defensively.
Lou wobbled his head to prompt. "Give me details! How much older?"
Lou rolled his eyes. "This is just great. Two kids and a couple of babies - yeah, that'll work." He shook his head. "And just what were you guys plannin', anyway?"
"The two little guys are out of it," David muttered. "But, well, Leo and I… Leo and I were gonna track down Griff, or try to."
"Uh-huh." Lou rocked on his heels, eyes still on David and running over the information that trickled out of his nephew. "And once you found the guy, then what?"
A long silence followed until Lou finally broke it. "All that talk about me having certain connections… Was all that because of what you just told me?"
David nodded, stared at the floor. Lou listened patiently to another long silence.
"Look at me like a man, dammit!" the man hissed savagely. David's head jerked up. Black, angry eyes cut into him. Lou's voice lowered but David could still feel as much hear the anger. "I'll ask you again - all that talk about the mob stuff today. Were you asking if I could set up a hit?"
David looked at him with a pinched-in face. "Yeah."
He hardly saw the hand move, but he felt it - a jarring slap across the face so hard his teeth throbbed. David didn't even remember falling backward onto the long sofa or even notice the trail of warm blood running down his chin. When his vision cleared he saw Lou coming up again and David jumped up, split between lashing out in defense or ducking from another blow. Lou reached out and shoved the glass into David's hand.
"If the jaw was broke you'd be unconscious. Hold the ice against it, 'cuz it'll bruise up. Just be happy you only got a split lip. Take a sip if you think that'll help."
David watched his uncle carefully for any more unexpected moves and rubbed his aching jaw, holding the cold glass to his mouth.
"And Davey, just so you know? That was for bein' stupid, plain and simple. Why won't you just go to the cops?"
David wiped at his mouth, scowled when he saw the blood. "It was five years ago, Uncle Lou."
"And the statute of limitations is five years after you turn eighteen if it happened when you were a minor. At least in this state."
The boy scowled. Jesus, this hurts. "But there's no evidence, Uncle Lou. Nothing I can get my hands on anyway… but I know the guy has pictures and stuff; it's what he uses to buy silence. He threatens to pass 'em around."
The big man snorted and shook his head. "That's crazy then - the photos would be like a confession. All you had to do was speak up."
David looked up from the couch and studied the man in front of him. "You just don't get it," he said softly. "Remember what it was like at thirteen and scared of something you did you thought was wrong? Let's kick it up a notch - what you've been doing is something everyone tells you isn't just wrong but sick, and you're supposed to hate the people who do that stuff. But it gets even worse when you add in that it's something you like doing… not with Griff maybe but - " He gestured helplessly looking for the right way to put it, gave up. "Sure, telling my parents and goin' to the cops sounds reasonable… now. But then? Forget it." He shook his head. "And now it's too late. There's no evidence to back up my story."
"What about the other kids?"
David shrugged. "Nothing happened to Martin when you come down to it. And Randy?" He shuddered. "He's terrified his parents might find out. He'd prob'ly slit his wrists right now if he knew I talked about him."
"Why?" David shook his head, Lou grunted. "I guess his family might not be all that understanding, is that it? Yeah, I get it… that's what makes these guys. The victims are as scared of everyone else as they are of the things using 'em… so the scum just keep on screwin' up one life after another."
Lou picked up the phone and turned away. "I'm gonna make some calls in the next room," he said over his shoulder. "In the meantime, I want you to remember just how much that smack hurt… Ever consider what would happen if it blew up in your face? But that wouldn't be nothin' compared to how your father would feel if he thought you were mixed up in something that dumb - and in the process screwed up this Leo kid's life, too. And for a good lookin guy like you, a split lip would be the least of your problems after the first night in jail."
David pictured a few scenes out of any number of TV shows and movies and shuddered. Youth and good looks weren't exactly good fortune in prison. "You made your point. Who are you calling?" he asked nervously.
"A friend of a friend… who can talk to a friend," Lou tossed back sarcastically. He turned into the hall and made for the small room he used for an in-home office.
Certain phone numbers Lou preferred to have written down and tucked away instead of programmed into his auto-dialer. He reached into the back of an old oak file cabinet that had sat in the original offices of Sciuoto Salvage since the late thirties and pulled out an old Rolodex, flicked through it until he came to a yellowed card with nothing more than a list of numbers written on it and counted down to the seventh entry.
Lou considered whether or not it was a smart idea to use his home phone for this, then decided it didn't matter. It wasn't as if he were under investigation or anything and he wasn't likely to dial it again. Lou punched in the numbers, placed the Rolodex back in its old home and dropped into his rolling chair, waiting for an answering machine to pick up.
He put his feel up on the desk and leaned back, glanced in the direction of the living room. You don't really wanna know what I'm doing, kid. Not right now. Maybe not ever.
* * * * *
Danny Doucette double checked his Power Post upload then typed `welcome to the star machine' into the email header, double-checked the address and hit `send'. He leaned back and smiled, satisfied with his day's work. He'd sent half a dozen mails to the same address since morning - once he'd confirmed the account was still active. He was careful of the timing - Danny could pretty much figure out for himself what time the Shiners left their house for work and even called from a public phone a few miles away just in case. The last might have been overkill, but computerized switchboards made it too easy for number tracking, even though Danny was certain that wouldn't actually be much of a problem. Randy wasn't likely to talk. Besides, what were the odds?
Danny scowled. Prob'ly the same as gettin' spotted by one of my old crew, he thought grimly.
It pissed him off thinking how his plans got balled up. He'd been hinting to Griff that he had something special lined up for the weekend, and then had it all go bust. Worse, Danny realized he'd let all his other potentials slip away once he'd decided on Martin. But Martin was by the wayside now… thanks to Randy. The sunglasses hadn't been that great a disguise and the voice was familiar enough, even when it cracked. So if Martin were gone, Randy would just have to fill in for awhile.
The night before he'd dug out the disks of videos he'd copied with Randy, then spent a few hours editing it down to a clip, converting it to a nice little AVI file. The resolution wasn't that great and the Apple users would have a tough time, but who cared? Then he'd had his really brilliant idea - take out some stills and make them up like movie posters. All it took was a quick session with some basic photo editing software. "Cumming Attractions" sounded like a terrific joke.
The next morning Danny mailed out the first of the stills with no message - just pictures of a naked Randy Shiner attached. Except the last mail. In addition to the photos, Danny sent the name of a news group who's discreet members specialized in pictures and movies of underage boys. He'd given a title to download… `Rut Boy Randy' in all his xxx glory, shown full face while a headless Danny rode him to a highly visible orgasm. The clip was just a warning. Danny was threatening to upload all the disks if Randy didn't agree to meet him Saturday morning. He even warned he'd post Randy's full name and address on the net.
Randy understood enough about the news groups to locate, download and combine the clip he'd uploaded in 500kb sections so they wouldn't bounce off the server. Only groups designated `binaries' were supposed to have video files, but Danny suspected the regular boy groups could be monitored. The particular alt.fan.pictures group Danny selected was hardly ever used and it wasn't likely anyone who actually knew Randy would see it … but the kid would be so freaked out he wouldn't think of that. Still, someone would find it. Most likely the clip would be making the rounds in the boy groups for years. Randy was cute.
He chuckled to himself. "Baby, I'm gonna make you a star!"
Danny brought up the newest `movie poster' - Randy on all fours, an edited image of himself behind, hand grasping the boy's hair and jerking the head up for the camera. The expression on Randy's face could been seen as pleasure… but that didn't really matter. Even this short version of `Rut Boy Randy' was going to be a major hit.
"I gave you the way out and you blew it," he said to the image on the screen. "This'll teach you to screw with my life."