Walter Shiner stood at the kitchen sink and worked at his hands with the bar of pumice soap, scraping away the dark lines of grease that stained his skin. He rinsed them off and scowled.
"Damn things never come clean," he grumbled to himself.
Walter hated dirty hands, something difficult for an auto mechanic to avoid. He watched some of the newer guys at the dealership - "repair technicians," they called themselves - and couldn't understand how they could work in latex gloves. Walter needed the feel of his tools and the feel of an engine. But then, Walter had learned his trade young at Keeg's Texaco back in Mississippi, rather than one of the special high-tech training schools the newer kids came from. He'd gotten home from school on his sixteenth birthday and his daddy met him at the door of their trailer (built in the days before people had heard of mobile homes) and told him to sign a paper that said he was done with school.
"Old man Keeg need a new 'prentice," his father told him, sitting in the ancient leather-look blue recliner patched with duct tape. His father was strapping on his artificial leg and had even shaved… something he usually waited until Sunday morning to do. Walter also noted the conspicuous absence of beer cans. "Workin' for coloreds won't make you many friends 'round here, but at least you'll have a trade. And you won't have to join no military to do it, neither - I know you planned on that but forget it. No matter what that recruiter feller told you, the only thing Mississippi white trash ever get trainin' for is how to point a gun. This way you don't get your leg blowed off by some gook in a delta like me," Carlson Shiner told him. "Or come home in a body bag from some Ayrab place like your brother. Shiners is been dyin' for other peoples' money an' politics since the Confederacy, an' that's long enough."
His father drove him the ten miles out to Keeg's place after they loaded up everything Walter owned into the back of the old GMC pickup truck. Carlson Shiner had managed to keep it running even though it was older than Walter at the time. He didn't speak again until they pulled under the white-and-red overhead of the gas station and rolled to a stop in front of the pumps.
"Keeg's got a room for you here," he said, nodding towards the building. "You can visit me when you can. You'll get minimum wage but room and board. In a couple years you'll know everything he knows about engines - and that's a lot." He leaned closer to his son and lowered his voice. "Then I want you to get the hell out of Jefferson County and never come back."
The teen nodded. "Don't you want some of my wages, Pa?"
Carlson grunted. "I fed the two of us pretty reg'lar off my gov'ment pension and whatever came my way for work," the man said. "I should live real good off nine thousand a year all alone. You take that money and save what you can… and when you got enough, head some place where people live like people, not like pigs in a trough." He allowed himself a small smile. "In between, maybe you can give me some gas every now and then."
Walter nodded, then opened the door, but his father gently grabbed his arm.
"One other thing, boy," he said. "Here's some father's advice. Either keep it in your pants or use a rubber - I don't care what them preacher fools and their idiot followers say about abstinence, all you gotta do is look at half your friends to know how good that works. You're young, and there ain't much else to do around here 'cept screw once the sun goes down, unless you can afford cable." He laughed. "And Keeg'll even buy the damn things for you if they give you any crap 'bout bein' underage at the drug store. He'll offer to buy beer for you too, but lookin' at me should cure you of that."
Walter took the advice. True to his father's predictions, he lost a few friends once they found out Walter was working for Benjamin Keeg. Much of the south gave lip-service to being progressive and segregation wasn't the law anymore, but for some folks, a white man working for a black just wasn't right. Benjamin Keeg wasn't excited by the idea of it either. But Ben figured he owed Carlson Shiner more than the bronze star and the disability pension the army gave him for losing a leg after dragging a wounded Keeg out of a rice paddy. He knew Keeg would take plenty of time to teach Carlson's boy a trade rather than just give him a job.
Just as true was the old man's prediction about a rush of weddings followed by `premature' babies. Most of his friends never finished high school either, having families well before they were eighteen. Walter prayed a lot for deliverance from his sinful drives, but kept a supply of condoms for when the flesh gave way to temptation, which it had a tendency to do. Three years later when his father died of cirrhosis of the liver he was grateful for that bit of advice about liquor. After the funeral Keeg handed him an airline ticket for Manchester, New Hampshire.
"You know all I can teach you," Ben Keeg said in his quiet, slow voice. "I promised your daddy when this day came, you'd leave here no matter what - so you're fired."
The boy's eyebrows shot up.
"Just in a matter of speakin'," Ben added with a grin. "Take this ticket and I'll drive you to Jackson tomorrow. My boy'll help get you settled and give you a place to stay."
So Walter went north and worked, drifting down south from Manchester no further than Massachusetts. He found a good job he liked, got his own place and met Maura. They'd had as many children as Walter felt they could have and still provide well for - Randy. All things considered, Walter figured he'd done better than what he would have had for a life if things had been a little different in Mississippi. Maybe his wife still had to work, but they had a decent house. Walter spent his days hunched under the hoods of cars and his hands encrusted with grease, but his own son would have a chance at something better if he wanted it.
He shook his head, thinking of his son locked away in his room, hardly ever seeing any of his friends anymore, hardly speaking to anyone if he didn't have to. Walter asked himself over and over again what he should do… but had no idea what to say. The boy shied away from him more and more.
Walter checked the clock - almost seven thirty. Maura had a chance for some of the rare overtime where she worked and had snapped it up. He dried his hands and settled in at the kitchen table to read his newspaper, under the gentle breeze of the overhead fan. Maura would have complained about the heat but Walter hardly noticed it. Old habits died hard and Walter had grown up with the power turned off as much as it was on, and even if his wife had been insistent about air conditioners enough so that he went out and bought them, that didn't necessarily mean he ran them when she wasn't around.
He flipped open the paper and immediately shook his head when he saw the amount of money being spent on the Middle East. After forty years of America's War on Poverty, his native Mississippi had risen from the poorest state in the Union to the second poorest by a tenth of a percentage point. He wondered what life in the poorest county of that state would be like if even a fraction of the money being spent on the Arabian Peninsula could be spent at home. Then again, he knew Mississippi didn't have any oil to speak of, except for the congealed sludge that sometimes caught fire on the river, and Halliburton wasn't interested in oil on its second time around. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware of a horn tooting from the street, but it barely registered.
Walter looked up sharply when he heard the slam of a door overhead and the pounding of feet down the stairs. Then Randy raced through the room. Walter's eyes narrowed.
"Where you goin'?" he demanded, not realizing how gruff his voice sounded. Walter seldom realized it, but he often talked to Randy like that. Walter didn't want his son sounding like white trash, and suppressing it took a lot of effort. Things tended to come out a little wrong. He never realized just how little he said to his son as a consequence.
Randy Shiner's hand froze on the knob of the kitchen door and he swung his head and looked at his father. He interpreted the squint as a sign of his father's dislike for him. In truth, Walter just needed glasses but didn't realize it.
"Uh," the boy said, "I'm gonna meet a friend of mine."
Walter's expression asked the usual question.
"I told Kyle I'd meet him tonight," Randy continued, lying with an innocent ease he'd mastered long ago. "Forgot to mention it before."
Walter mulled it over and chose his next words carefully - Maura had made him painfully aware that calling Kyle "that Jew boy" wasn't exactly the right thing to say these days. She'd taught Walter that a lot of the things he'd grown up saying in Jefferson County weren't to be used in polite company. But Walter picked things up quickly enough when his wife's elbow made contact with his ribs. His eyes flickered over Randy. "That's the Jewish kid, right?"
Randy's sigh told him he'd said it wrong. "How many Kyle's do I know, Dad?"
Walter plowed past his gaffe, oblivious to it. "Well, that's okay - he's smart enough to stay out of trouble. Not like them other two retards," he said, using his favorite term for the Brayce brothers. Maura disapproved of that one too, but it was one Walter refused to dress up. There were tree stumps smarter than Paul and Robby.
He glanced up at the clock again. "Okay… just don't stay out late. You're momma's workin' extra, and she ain't seen you since yesterday mornin', so it might be nice if you got home in time to say goodnight. She'll be leavin' early, about the same time as me tomorrow - her store's doin' inventory."
Randy nodded, flashed a fast lie of a happy smile and ran out the door. Relief flooded him as soon as the house was out of sight and he dodged left at the corner. He spotted the parked black car with David Sciuoto behind the wheel and sprinted for the passenger door and piled in, clicked his seat harness, and took a quick look back over his shoulder. "Get us out of here."
David put the car into gear and gave Randy a curious glance. "What's the problem?"
"My dad doesn't like me hangin' around with older guys," Randy said nervously. "Says doin' that's nothin' but trouble. I told him I was meetin' someone else and I don't wanna have to explain you." He looked over his shoulder again but naturally saw nothing. "Are we goin' to Martin's?"
David shook his head. "Uh, Leo's pickin' him up," he said carefully. He saw the color drain from Randy's face. "If his mother or father get home, he doesn't want to have to explain all of us. Besides, that place is way too small for us to get much privacy."
Randy shot him a glance. "But you didn't..."
"No," David interrupted, "I didn't give Leo any details about you. But I did tell him about me and what almost happened to Martin, so… well - Leo isn't dumb, Randy. Likely he's put two and two together. Just relax! He won't ask questions. He offered to help us, and to be honest I think we could use his help. He's pickin' up Martin and we're all gonna meet at Treadwell's Ice Cream, out by Lake Cochichewick."
Randy scowled but finally nodded. "I guess that's okay," he said uncertainly. He looked up at David again and relaxed a little. "Man, I am so happy to see you," Randy began. "I've been gnawin' on my finger nails all day waitin' for Martin to get back to me about you. He, uh... he told you what happened, right?"
"I got enough of it, anyway," David said, nodding. "Both about the pictures and the movie clip." He avoided Randy's grief-stricken face. "And yeah, I downloaded it. Look, I'm sorry you had to wait all day - I can only guess what that felt like. I got an email from Martin this morning, and I was going to call, but my Uncle Lou came by, and, well... I, uh, sorta got side-tracked. When I got home I finally remembered about Martin, so I called."
A truck roared by, flooding their faces with light, but Randy stayed silent. David gave the boy a sidewise glance. "How come that email account Danny used still works? I mean, I would have dumped it right away. Most places usually shut 'em down after a month or so if you don't log in."
"It's from my IP account," Randy answered. "I gave it to him once before we met in person - and don't bother sayin' it. I know that was dumb. Anyway, he knew the account would still be active no matter what. But to make sure I looked, he called the house." The boy shook his head. "I swear, he knew I'd just gotten home. I timed it - I didn't wanna have to deal with my mother right away after I left the Setons' house this morning."
David nodded idly and turned onto the road that would bring them out to the lake in North Andover. "More likely he just guestimated what time she left for work in the morning so he could get through to you," David said quietly. "I don't think he was watchin' you, Randy."
Randy squirmed in the seat, crossed his arms and hunkered down in the seat. "Doesn't keep it from sucking," he muttered. He re-crossed his arms and slouched down again, looking disgusted. "You saw what he uploaded. Would you like it if a bunch of old faggots saw you doin' that shit?"
David's hands whitened on the wheel and he shot Randy a hard look. "Watch your mouth," he warned.
"What - faggot? Hell, that's what they are," Randy said savagely. He kicked the underside of the dashboard. "All of 'em are going to hell anyway. God's damned all the queers," Randy sneered. "It's an abomination. Says so in Leviticus 18."
David's head snapped around and he frowned, studied the boy for a second before pulling the car out of traffic and to the curb. He turned to Randy, eyes hard and voice edged with anger. "Listen, you little jerk," he snarled. "What happened to you sucks, okay? It was wrong no matter how you look at it. But all of us `queers' aren't like Danny and Griff. Got that?"
The boy kept sullen and silent but David went on, still angry. "And try to keep something else in mind: you've been too scared to talk to anyone else, so it's us queers that are gonna try to help you out of this and save your sorry ass. It's us queers and faggots that decided not to just shrug and walk away, saying `so what?' We could have, but we didn't. And Martin could've walked away last night and you'd be sweatin' this out all alone right now."
Randy tried to suppress a gulp and looked away.
"That guy Griff's a pervert - pedophile, boylover, whatever you wanna call it. But `all us queers' aren't like that, so knock off the Sunday School bullshit. And quit usin' words like that." David reached up and flicked down the visor and Randy saw his own reflection in the mirror. "And just so you don't forget, that's what a queer looks like, too!"
Randy reached out angrily and flipped the mirror back up. "I ain't like you guys. I ain't a homo."
David barked a laugh. "Really? Then I guess you got into this mess by accident, huh?"
"Are you sayin' I did this to myself? That I wanted some old guy to use me?"
"No," David said, controlling his anger. "No, you didn't want that and you don't deserve that, Randy. But let's face it - Danny didn't just snatch you off the street. Even from what you say, the first time you two were together he didn't force you to do anything - you did it on your own."
"But that was just 'cause..." he started.
"Yeah, that was just `experimenting' or something," David said rolling his eyes. "But after that was different - he set you up and forced you to do things you didn't want to do. No one can hold you responsible for what you did with him and Griff, okay? But don't forget: I know what goes on in the chat rooms too, and I know what the guys talk about in there. You could've left any time. You never had to chat on-line with Danny, you never had to agree to meet Danny… so you're responsible for making yourself available to him. He wouldn't have bothered if you weren't at least into it. Maybe you're not 100% gay - but you were at least curious enough to want to try a few things. Right?"
Randy stared ahead. He opened his mouth to answer, then paused. Finally he let his head fall back on the seat and he let out a long sigh. After a moment, he looked up at David, on the verge of tears. "I know," he said in a small, miserable voice. "That's what this is all about, don't you see? Yeah, I did want to get with Danny. And now I'm bein' punished for all that stuff. God tested me, and I failed that test."
David studied the boy. "You really believe that?"
Randy nodded wordlessly and David shook his head. No wonder I walked away from all that crap. If God's that cruel, why bother?
He reached out and rubbed the boy's shoulder, tried to sound conciliatory. "I'm not gonna debate theology with you - I'm not exactly what you'd call a big believer. You didn't do anything wrong, Randy… sure, you used bad judgment, but that's all. The only ones that are wrong are Griff and Danny. Stop beating yourself up."
"You don't get it," Randy continued. "My Dad - I mean, he barely talks to me as it is. He's from Mississippi, and that's like the buckle of the Bible belt!"
"Has he ever said anything about gays?"
Randy thought it over carefully. His father was a firm believer in the Bible, one of the few things he ever read outside of his newspaper. He never failed to give his opinion on things he decided were right and wrong, but he'd never offered an opinion of this particular subject. His mother might have groused about the whole gay marriage issue, but she'd never said anything specifically about gay people either, and his father never did more than grunt when the subject came up. But Randy had seen and read for himself what other deeply religious people said on the subject. They hammered the message that it was evil and under God's curse in the newspapers, on television… everywhere, even on the internet. Still…
"Not really," Randy finally answered. He made a face. "So what're you telling me? That when I get home, I should do the whole coming out thing?" He shook his head. "No thanks. That stuff might be cool for you, but not for me."
David edged his way back into the early evening traffic, grateful that Randy hadn't asked a rather obvious question. "No," he finally offered. "It's not that cool in my house, either. I never did that whole thing with my folks - not yet, anyway - so I can't give advice on it. And just like you, I never said anything about what happened to me with Griff, and I wasn't a whole lot younger than you are, either. The best advice I can give you is, first, get your own head straight. Then deal with the rest of it, one step at a time." He shot the boy a careful look. "And don't let others tell you any different - it's your decision in the end."
Randy nodded, then wiped his eyes.
"Look, kid," David said. "Randy. Being gay isn't a black and white thing. There's a lotta shades of grey here. And it's different for all of us. You gotta start looking at this thing a little differently. I mean, if all of us are like that, then why haven't I grabbed you? Why hasn't Martin?"
Randy fell silent and mulled it over, and David went on, still trying to suggest possibilities. "Maybe you can talk to that minister of yours… she seems pretty cool."
Randy looked up sharply. "How much does she know?"
David shook his head. "Nothing - not from me, anyway. But she isn't dumb. She already put some ideas together and ran 'em past me if I thought it might help. She's real concerned about you, you know. She knows something major is up in your life - just not exactly what - but she wanted me to let you know she's available to talk to. And if you're nervous about that... well, Martin, Alan and I go this youth group. They kinda break up in the summer, but fall's not that far away. I could help you with transportation now and then. Maybe the idea scares you, but talking with a few guys our age beats the hell out of storing it all inside and hiding away all the time."
They fell silent for a few moments. Randy wasn't thrilled about talking the problems out but he wasn't angry anymore. Finally David brought their original problem up again. "Now, I saw that clip. I wouldn't be too worried - from what I could see there was almost no traffic in that room. The only postings were spam, and Easynews goes back a full three weeks."
Randy nodded, still brooding. He knew perfectly well that just because no one was posting didn't mean no one checked, just in case. He'd pulled a lot of things out of the newsgroups himself. "Maybe. But Danny told me he's got entire disks filled with pictures and videos of me - and I know that's true, that's how I got into all this stuff in the beginning. He says he'll upload 'em to every major porn group. And those newsgroups aren't empty."
David reached over and stroked the boy's head. "It won't get that far," he said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. "And listen, I know it might be hard for you to believe, but... well, there's nothin' sick about what you were doing, okay? Never mind the blackmail crap - that's wrong no matter what. But the rest of it?" He shrugged.
Randy looked David over carefully. "Guess I forgot. Martin said you were a real queer."
David flinched at the sound of the word and spoke with a slight snarl in his voice. "We just talked about that word, Randy. I mean... when I'm with Martin or some of my other gay friends, we might give each other a hard time and call each other that foolin' around, but… well when you say it, you make it sound like an insult. So, knock it off, okay?"
Randy looked down at the floor. David could tell he'd hurt his feelings, but he was determined to draw the line. "Sorry," he mumbled. He looked David over carefully in the short silence that followed. "I didn't mean you looked like one or anything."
David's mouth twitched. "Look like one? You mean the way Martin looks like one?"
Randy winced. "Guess I just get in deeper, don't I? Well, yeah. You gotta admit, Martin really acts the way people say that fa-" He gulped, then caught himself. "- uh, gay guys are supposed to."
"Is that one of the things you're afraid of? Being like him?" David shook his head and let out a sigh. "And I thought you liked Martin."
"I do like Martin." Randy hemmed and hawed. "Well… yeah. But I guess I am afraid of bein' like that." He went silent again.
David signaled for a left and slowed, then decided he had plenty of time and gunned the engine, cutting off a small pick-up who responded with a blaring horn, squealing brakes and an extended finger. David took no notice and kept talking to Randy. "Just stop sayin' stuff about Martin. He's a nice kid. But… well, I'm not blind." He let out a deep breath. "And Martin's the first to admit he might as well have been born with it tattooed to his forehead. But it's not like it's an act - he's just like that, period." He paused. "And Martin likes you, likes you a lot. So try not to hurt his feelings, okay?"
Randy looked up, trying to act casual, but could scarcely contain his interest. "Think so? Martin really likes me?"
Sure. You're the straight one in our group. "I know so," David continued. "If Martin didn't care, he wouldn't be so determined about helping you. And speakin' of helping you out, I have a little plan I'm gonna need your help with."
Randy settled back, suddenly more relaxed. He listened quietly to David as he outlined his plan, eyes wide and more than a little scared when he heard exactly what the older boy had in mind, but he didn't say no.
* * * * *
Leo took it all in and his eyebrow wrinkled. "Bait?"
David nodded and Martin almost jumped up and down in his seat. Leo DiStefano pushed back from the table and looked at the group in front of him more than a little skeptically. He'd expected a lot of things when David called him after work, but this wasn't one of them.
He studied the faces. Randy was the color of chalk, again sitting tight up against Martin - who, in contrast, was eager and bubbling over with anticipation. David just looked tired and a little gray around the edges. Leo didn't have to guess hard to assume that he'd been up most of the night.
"You guys are absolutely out of your minds," Leo said shaking his head. "I've heard of some idiot things before, but this beats the shit outta all of 'em. You're all nuts."
"C'mon, Leo!" Martin burbled, looking up from his thick shake. "I mean, this is too cool! Like when the hustler kid went undercover in Queer As Folk and got the goods on the killer for Brian!"
Leo snorted. "This ain't TV, kid. In real life, people can get the crap kicked out of 'em when they walk into trouble." He gave Martin a closer eye. "And how would you know about stuff like that? You guys don't even get Showtime."
Martin shrugged. "Alt.binaries.QAF. It's a news group. I got every episode. Cubby posts every week."
"That's stealin' you know," Leo said, and cuffed Martin off the back of the head. "You never heard of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?"
Martin ignored the swat and leaned into his milk shake and slurped. "Pffft the DMCA," he jeered. "It's like all that free software you get - it was just lyin' there on the net, waitin' to be noticed. I just noticed it, that's all." He gave Leo a hard look. "And remind me - how much music have you got on your hard drive? Didn't you tell me you filled a 100 gig drive and you're dropping in a new one?"
"Uh, that's different," Leo replied, not caring to specify how it was different. He shot his dark deep-set eyes back to David again. "And you. First, you were off the walls because they got Martin in the first place. Now you wanna use him for bait an' throw him back? Very risky - and stupid."
David dropped his ice cream cup down on the picnic table, swatted a mosquito that landed on his neck. That was the downside of Treadwell's - the best ice cream in the northeast, but the placid Lake Cochichewick was a breeding ground for mosquitoes the size of sparrows. He hadn't wanted anyone listening in on their conversation, so he'd steered everyone to a picnic table furthest from the stand… and unfortunately away from the bug lights as well. Closer to the main building itself, he could hear the zappers executing dozens of the miniature vultures with each breath he took. Occasionally they heard the long, drawn out slaughter of a fat moth being slow-cooked in the grid.
"I'm not talking about throwing him back, exactly," David explained. Then he eyed Martin. "And kid, no one is asking anybody to get a rubber full of DNA… it's never gonna get that far with what I have in mind." He watched Leo's shuddery reaction to the DNA remark and smiled. "So what's the matter with you? I thought you were open minded."
"Sittin' with a couple of you guys is one thing," Leo said, shaking his head. "But bein' reminded about what you're into is another, okay? I mean, do I talk about how Sandy likes it when I..." He stopped and his eyes flicked to Martin, who eagerly blinked in treacherous innocence… a young teen about to get the ultimate in dirt on an older sibling.
Whoa, Leo thought to himself. Wa-a-a-y too much information. "Uh, never mind," Leo said, bouncing back into reality. "Why do we wanna put the kid in danger? Why not go to the cops now? Or even your father - you said he was a lawyer, right? He knows what to do."
"There's a problem," David said quietly. "What happened to me is five years old - I never told anyone, there's no tests… and yeah, there's ways to tell if I've had a certain kind of sex," he evaded for a red-faced Leo's benefit. Martin's sniggering didn't help. "Um, well... let's just say it's something I still do so… yeah. But now, it's my word against his. Zip."
Leo glared at Martin and pushed the soda at him. "Shut up and suck."
Martin howled and even Randy snickered at that one as Leo's face got even redder before David broke in again.
"And the other part of your question is, if we go to my father, he's an officer of the court. He'd have to give what information he had to the cops, which isn't much maybe, but it could screw things up - for Martin a little, Randy a lot, and maybe a bunch of other kids even more. And that's what sucks about this thing: too many innocent bystanders. What I want is just to get to Danny, find out exactly where he is."
The left end of Leo's brow curved into a question mark. "I guess there had to be a lawyer somewhere with ethics," he said to David with a touch of awe. "But why do you have to get to Danny? Why not just have him arrested? Snatchin' a minor and shuttling him across a state line is gotta be worth somethin', especially for what he had in mind. That's kidnapping, isn't it? That's federal."
"It's only federal if there's a ransom," David answered and yawned. "Sorry, I was up late. And what he had in mind is nothin' you can prove… he didn't do anything because Randy chased him off. Besides, Martin went on his own… and I'd just bet Danny still has the email sayin' he'd go. Besides, Danny's… well, he's not the only one we want," he hedged. "I want Griff, 'cuz I he's the one behind everything. But we got to make sure there's something he can be got for. If Danny gets picked up and doesn't cough up an address right away, Griff's got a head's up and ditches everything, and we won't even be able to hang him on a kiddy porn charge. Besides, it might be at his house, and it might not… and we - or at least I - know there's more people involved. I just don't know who." He stretched and sat up, leaned forward before he spoke. "And to tell you the truth, I don't want to chance Griff cuttin' some deal by turning in someone else in a plea bargain or something. If we grab Danny, we can do what the cops can't - squeeze information out of him." And I can talk to him alone, he thought, and get some of my own questions answered. "But we need to know where they live first."
David dipped a paper napkin into the small cup of water and cleaned the sticky residue of the chocolate ice cream from his mouth and fingers. "Besides, there's a problem with what you were talking about. It's not Martin we need in on this. Randy's the one we gotta toss him."
Leo's eyebrow arched to his hairline. "Randy? You're talkin about usin' him? The kid's already petrified about his parents findin' out what he's into, and you want to use him for this?"
Martin looked up and gave Leo a nasty look. No one was going to dis Randy when he was around. He'd taken on three strangers on a bus to prove that and even if Leo could kill him with one hand, he didn't care. "It wasn't anything he liked, Leo, so don't say it like that." Then he turned to David. "How can you even think of askin' him to do that?"
"He didn't," Randy cut in. "We talked it over in the car and I offered."
Martin folded his arms across his chest in defiance. "No goddam way."
Randy studied the set of the jaw and the defiance in Martin's eyes. "It's gotta be me, Mart," he began reasonably. "Danny's emailin' me, not you. You said yourself you keep sendin' him stuff and it bounces back, undeliverable."
Leo shook his head. "Why do I get the feeling I'm missing a lot of details? Someone wanna explain to me what's going on here?"
Randy licked his lips nervously and gave Leo the fast run-down of the morning events. He swallowed hard at the end. "So Danny says either I'm back in his game, or else." He fell silent.
Leo tried to prompt him. "Or else what?"
"Or else he uploads everything he has on the kid to the media news groups," David filled in. "There's dozens of groups for kiddy porn, straight and gay. And there's the regular porn groups, too. Danny already uploaded a video clip to some real obscure one, just to show him he meant business." He pointed to Randy. "It showed this kid getting..."
Randy's face reddened and he turned away.
"Uh," David continued, "well, never mind what was happening to him. It wasn't pretty."
Leo smiled. "Then we can nail him lots easier. All of those servers require accounts and they can be traced back. All you have to do is right click-"
"I'm way ahead of you," David said, shaking his head. "The ISPs would never give up their accounts without a damn good reason. Remember all the trouble RIAD had when they busting kids for sharing music files? Besides, I went in and downloaded that clip myself. Danny didn't use one of the big companies. The information was uploaded from seven different service vendors - one from Canada, for Christ's sake. I mean, it has to figure. Griff's a total computer geek, that's what he does it for a living. He has to know all kinds of ways to hack into different systems. And smaller outfits have older setups and they're a lot easier to get into."
They quieted down again. Leo scowled before he spoke. "I still don't like this, though. I mean you're gonna be puttin' this kid in a lot of danger. And what makes you think we can track Danny?"
"I'm already screwed, Leo," Randy said in his quiet voice. "I mean, one way or another, Danny's makin' sure he can get to me. I don't have any choice." He turned and looked into a pair of worshiping eyes. "And Martin? Dude, I'm real thankful for the way you feel, and offerin' to go in my place is awesome - but he won't contact you. He's already got what they call leverage on me, so…" he let his voice trail.
"This still sucks," Martin pouted. Randy rubbed a leg against his and they both exchanged a fast smile which they assumed no one else noticed. Leo pretended to be oblivious to them when he spoke.
"Okay, so we follow them. So what makes you think he won't spot us?" He pointed to Randy. "You guys told me he lives way out in the sticks. He's bound to spot a car tailin' him. Then what?" He shook his head. "There's gotta be a better way."
"There is," David answered. "Did you get a make on that plate number we gave you? My guess is it's a dead end."
"You guess right," Leo said with a scowl. "Mom said she called the woman who does the same job as her in Methuen, just to keep it under the radar - sort of the kind of favors they swap without officially getting New Hampshire and Massachusetts agencies involved. The lady put in an inquiry this morning and it came right up on their system. The plates were from a red Taurus - registered to a guy out in North Adams, which sits right on the New York border. He reported 'em stolen when he went to renew his inspection sticker and they refused to issue one. It had the right VIN, but the plates on his car came from a red Taurus registered in Worcester, and it was pretty much the same deal there too - the Worcester car had switched plates. Mom got the impression there was a whole chain of missin' plates, but that's the info the police clerk from Methuen gave her."
David scowled. "Great. The little creep thinks of everything - how many people actually bother lookin' at their plates one day to the next? He probably only uses the swiped plates when he has to, just in case. I'll take a guess every now and then he goes to some shopping center without much for surveillance and looks for the right kind of car and changes the plates. Probably just attaches them when he's pickin' up someone - just in case. And if a cop runs the plate for some reason, he comes up with the right kind of car but unless the cop has a reason to stop it he has no way of knowin' it's the wrong vehicle."
"Sounds about right." Leo agreed. He drummed his fingers slowly. "Maybe you're right - we do have to feed him some bait to flush him out."
Martin and Randy shifted around when they felt four eyes drilling them. Randy still looked sad and only nodded, but Martin looked up, a little bug-eyed and defensive. "Uh, guys? We're sitting here, okay?"
"You thought it was pretty cool sounding before," David observed.
"Yeah," Martin agreed. "But - the way you guys just said it, Randy's more like chum for sharks."
David shrugged. "Then we're back to my plan - we flush him out and follow him. And as far as Danny spotting us…" He turned to Martin. "Did you look up that stuff I asked you to?"
Martin pulled a sheaf of papers out of his back pocket and passed them to David, who shuffled through the computer print-outs, nodding absently. "Yeah… this is the kind of stuff I was lookin' for." He looked at the price and winced. "This is gonna hurt," he said to no one in particular. "Four hundred twenty for the pair?"
"Plus thirty-two fifty for next day air," Martin added. "And we'll need the software pack too - that's another hundred." He mulled it over. "I might be able to get that in the wares groups."
Leo glanced over the papers and nodded his head. "These aren't a bad idea… But forget lookin' for the software. It's take too long, and this program is likely proprietary." He tapped the print out. "It'll only work with these." He studied the diagrams, nodding. The units were each the size of a cheap cell phone. "I could probably build something myself - a GPS isn't exactly classified information anymore. But I'd have to get all the parts, rig it together - and I don't have the equipment to do it right, plus never mind the time writing a program for this. A couple of bad solder connections and we'd be screwed; on top of that it ain't like computers where you buy a board and the right parts to build on." He shrugged. "It's either these or we do it the old fashioned way - follow in a car. Or even two cars."
David pushed back from the table, tapped the ends of his fingers together. "Forget it," he said with a snort. "I tried that with a friend last year and it's stupid. Besides, it's all back roads like you said and he'd spot us. These things," he said, tapping at the print out, "these things broadcast a signal that's good for a five-mile radius, as long as you keep the sending unit keyed open. With the receiving module hooked to a laptop running the right software pack, it's like following a road map. Plus it claims to be accurate up to ten feet, which is pretty damn good. We can tape the switch down, and the battery is good for fifteen hours after a full charge. Plus it doesn't need an external antenna or have to be tied into a central system like this other personal tracker thing does," he added, pointing to another page. "Or use a cell phone connection to stay on-line with it." He held up the first sheet. "The two handsets are designed so one can monitor the other, and you can reset the channels on the off chance someone else has one in the area." He sighed, eyed Randy. "Unless of course you wanna just chance it."
"'S okay," Randy added quickly. "I'll wear the wire."
"No wire," David answered, pulling out his phone and punching in the 800 ordering number. "It's no bigger than a cell phone. We give you something Danny won't question - a gym bag with a change of clothes. We put the handset inside. That way if he frisks you, you're clean." The operator picked up and David gave the ordering information while the others toyed with their ice cream. After he gave his bank card number David scribbled down a confirmation number, thanked the operator, and snapped the line closed.
"Ouch - five fatties, and here I am out of a job." He looked up at the startled faces, smiled. "I called Barrier's again before I picked up Randy and said I'd need more time off. Mr. Prendergast said come in today or I could have the rest of my life off, so I went with that." He shrugged. "Oh, well. Just a part-time thing… I'll survive."
"I could help out with the GPS," Leo offered.
David shook his head. "I can swing it - besides, you're gonna have student loans hangin' over your head until you retire. You need the cash more than I do." David checked his watch, then rubbed his tired, red eyes. "Randy, you remember what I said to do when you get home?"
The boy nodded.
David released a heavy breath. "Then we're all set, and I am totally beat." He eyed Leo. "Walk with me to my car, okay? There's something I need to talk to you about." The two of them walked off.
Randy gave Martin another shy look with a smile to match as the two older boys walked off - and the boy was all eyes and smiles. "Look," Randy said, "what you tried to do… it's real cool, Mart. I mean, you've - you've been real good to me. And not just this - I mean, that thing on the bus yesterday with those guys. And gettin' me in touch with David an' all. I owe you."
Martin blushed but his smile widened. "I mean, you coulda kept your mouth shut and just let it happen." He sniggered. "You gotta know Danny and I were gonna do it. And I got to admit I was up for that." Then his smile turned into a frown. "But that Griff guy... that's another thing."
Randy looked around furtively to make sure no one else could hear what they were saying, then continued. "Look… if I said anything about queers - I mean, gay people - to you, I'm sorry, okay?" he began slowly. "I'm… well, I don't know what I might've said without thinkin' what was coming out of my mouth. Y' know?" He shifted around uncomfortably and looked into Martin's eyes. He liked Martin, but he was so… He shook his head and looked away again.
"It doesn't matter," Martin piped in eagerly. "You might've said a few things but... well, you did the right thing when you spoke up for me, okay?"
Randy snorted. "Like on the bus? They started callin' you a fag and I didn't do anything but tell 'em to shut up."
Martin waved it off. "Believe me, they're nuthin' compared to what I get at school," he continued. "I meant when you shouted at Danny to get away from me." He scowled. "You wouldn't be in trouble now if you didn't. I really don't like you goin' off with Danny again."
They fell silent again. Randy searched for the right words and had trouble finding them. Finally he turned his head away and just blurted it out. "I wanted to do it with Danny."
Martin nodded, put a hand on the other boy's shoulder. "I know that," he said. "David knows that, too… that's how Danny does it." He snorted. "Dude, if you're nervous about admitting you're gay to me, there's no reason to be."
"I ain't gay!" Randy snapped and pulled away. Martin looked stung, and Randy felt it stab at him. "I don't know what I am," he said slowly. "I mean… yeah, I think about guys sometimes, but... well, I feel guilty when I do. I think about girls too sometimes." He shook his head. Just not as much, he added to himself.
Martin studied the boy's profile. He knew Randy had serious hang-ups about his sexuality - he'd be blind if he hadn't seen that. Partly Martin had trouble understanding what Randy's problems with it really were, but then he had to remind himself that to a lot of people it wasn't always a black and white thing the way it had been with him. Martin always knew he was more interested in boys than girls, since he was five or six. And when he hit adolescence, he wasn't exactly shocked that in his fantasies, he was always with another boy; maybe not anyone in particular when he leaned back and closed his eyes, but... In all honesty, he couldn't remember even nursing even a glimmer of interest in a girl. As a friend, maybe, but for sex? No way. He wondered if Randy was possibly bisexual… or even just a kid that was a little curious and decided to try something once and had it blow up on him.
"I don't care," Martin said simply. "You don't have to be one just to be my friend, you know." He snickered. "And even if you were… well, that doesn't mean we have to be more than just friends." He gestured to David. "See him? David would never touch me, even if I offered."
Randy eyed David and let out a small laugh. "He's a nice lookin' guy," he offered, forgetting to be cagy in his word choice.
"David's hotter than hell," Martin stated flatly. "And you should see his boyfriend."
"Another looker?"
Martin laughed. "Alan would laugh in your face if you said that in front of him. He's short an' scrawny an he looks like a ball of hair without his shirt. And according to Alan, if you saw them together, you'd wonder what the hell David sees in him." the boy sniggered. "But Alan's really nice, and that's what David's interested in. They took the time to get to know each other." He paused. "I'd like to get to know you better, Randy. That's all. I'd like to be a friend, no matter what you decide, okay? And even if you decide you're like me and Dave, that doesn't mean we have to do anything physical." He paused, frowned. "Am I walkin' into a minefield here?"
Randy thought it over carefully. "No." He turned his head back to a pensive Martin and studied him for a moment before he smiled. "Yesterday… well, after last night talkin' with you guys, I felt good for a change. I haven't felt good about myself in almost a year. You guys already know more about me than anyone else, so I guess that means we already are friends, if I can still feel good around you after all that. But I can't promise anything else yet. Can you deal with that?"
Martin grinned and nodded.
Randy looked up at Martin and smiled again, nudged his shoulder. "Look, I think talkin' with you on line is gonna be cool, but is it okay if we see each other too? David talked about some meeting thing you guys go to in the fall… but we don't have to wait for that." He smoothed out non-existent wrinkles in his shorts, looking away shyly. "I'm pretty sure there's a bus to Salem from Lawrence a few times a day. I mean, it's complicated, 'cuz of my paper route and all, but on Saturdays it's a morning paper, and then I'm clear after about 8AM. Whaddya think? And, you can come down, too. Hang out with me for the day and maybe help me with my route."
Martin's mouth hung open slightly and his eyes were wide. He felt Randy's knee pressing against his leg again, snapped his head up. His voice cracked. "Uh, you'd like me to come down? I mean… well, your friends might see us and…"
"You're kinda cool," Randy finished. "And if my friends wanna say something again, I'll turn you loose on 'em again." He sniggered. "That way you can finish the job you started on Kyle's nose. As for the Pinhead Brothers, no one listens to them anyway."
Martin sat, gazing into Randy's eyes. His mind flashed back to the winter before, at the Christian Formation Center in Andover - and his sort-of boyfriend Ryan telling him that he couldn't risk being seen in public with someone as obvious as Martin. Now here was another kid telling him he didn't care, someone who was paranoid about being outed himself. Martin swallowed hard. "We can try it out. But don't be afraid of tellin' me if you catch any heat okay? I had a few friends who got told by their parents they should stay away from me, 'cuz I'm such a flamer."
"Don't say it like that," Randy said in a husky voice.
Martin shrugged. "Hey, it's the truth." He eyed Randy. "I'm pretty surprised you wanna see me as it is. I mean… well, you're cute. If you wanted to try, I figure you could find someone a little better lookin' and more normal to hang with."
Randy punched him in the shoulder, remembering David's warning in the car. "Stop with the `normal' and `flamer' crap. I told you - you're cool. To me, anyway." They sat and kept silent. Randy stole a long look at Martin, then his eyes darted around to make sure no one else could hear. "And besides... I think you're cute, too."
Leo and David were leaning against David's car when Leo elbowed him lightly and pointed with his chin to the couple at the table. "Hey - I think our Marty's got himself a fellah."
David smiled. "I wondered about that. That's part of the reason I pulled you aside - to give 'em some time alone for a change. And remember, it's Mart. He says Marty's too wussy-sounding."
The other boy chuckled. "Well, at least he can do something with his name. Let's face it - not much you can do with mine. And I'd always look like a Leo, ya know? Kinda ugly and kinda dumb." He folded his arms, still watching Martin and Randy.
"You're full of surprises," David observed. "You shudder when we mentioned sex, but you like it that Martin might have a boyfriend?"
Leo shrugged. "Why not? I had my first girlfriends at that age, maybe younger… yeah, it was younger. What can it hurt?" He studied David. "It must be kinda tough for you guys." David didn't speak but his expression answered the question, so Leo went on. "I mean, when you were his age… must have been kinda tough, seein' all the people you knew parin' off and all… and there you were, alone. I mean, maybe you had a girlfriend or something, but-"
David reflected on the situation with his mother and shuddered. Yeah, he thought, like I'm out and proud even now. I won't even talk to my dad about it. Well, that'll be changing pretty soon. "It sucks," David answered, shoving his hands in his pocket. "I wasn't exactly the `out and proud' type, that's for sure. I didn't want the hassle. I had a couple of girlfriends, but that wasn't really fair, playing it safe and straight at their expense, so I stopped. And then there was the other stuff… it just plain sucked bein' alone. I only started dealin' with everything about a year ago."
Leo nodded sympathetically. "If people weren't such jerks," he said, "then there wouldn't be kids like Martin and Randy - just waitin' for some anonymous asshole to say something to make them feel better, and then suck 'em in," he said grimly.
"And Martin's not the only kid dumb enough to meet someone over the net," David added. "I met Alan that way, to tell you the truth. But I was older by then, and we took our time before we met…" He shrugged again. "Well, it doesn't matter. I have a boyfriend. Although that needs some working on. I gotta do some massive damage control on that situation… Meanwhile, we gotta talk some business." He cocked an eyebrow at Leo. "The picture has changed."
"What happened?"
Dave made a face, explained about the early part of the day. "…and when I left, my Uncle Lou said there was something in the works."
Leo grunted and then locked his eyes on David. "I told you I was in, but there's only so far I'll go," he said flatly. "I went farther than I should have the last time…" His voice trailed then he snapped his attention back to David. "What's your uncle gonna do?"
"I don't know." David held his hands up. "Uncle Lou wouldn't tell me what he was gonna do. He did tell me to stay out of it but… well, I can't do that. I have to get to Danny first. And don't bother to ask why - all I'll say is that I'm not gonna hurt him."
Leo mulled it over. "All this secret stuff… Lookit," he told David quietly. "I know what you said, but I'm gonna warn you right now: if I ever pick up the paper and see an article about this guy being found dead or even mysteriously missing… I'll go straight to the cops, you understand me? Granted, what that guy does is wrong - no arguments. But it's no reason for someone to die," he said calmly. "And it don't give you the right to pull the trigger. Leave that to the cops."
There was an uncomfortable silence, made worse when David considered the original point of his discussion with Uncle Lou. They both leaned back and watched Martin and Randal, still sitting closer than either probably realized with their heads leaned together. I just hope Randy isn't too freaked about this. Hate to have him say the wrong stuff to Martin and get him all worked up.
"I promise you - that's not even a possibility," David told Leo finally. "I don't know how to put it, but there's a new development… but all you have to do is help me locate Danny and Griff. The rest will be dealt with." He snapped his head around to Leo. "Oh - and no mention of anything new with either Randy or Martin."
"Involvement, huh?" Leo's eyes narrowed and he studied David's face. "But still something I shouldn't be asking about?"
David didn't hesitate looking Leo in the eye. "I don't know. And to tell you the truth, I'm not exactly certain what'll happen when I see Danny. I just know something will be done." He studied the darkening evening sky and checked his watch. "It's getting late and I'm beat. We better break those two up, okay? You can take Martin back. I can run Randy home and catch some sleep."
Leo's whistle made David jump and was loud enough to make everyone at Treadwell's jerk around. Leo looked at the two boys and shouted "YO!" and pointed to the cars before he turned back to David. "Always worked for my old man," he chuckled.
* * * * *
David let Randy out of the car at the end of the boy's street, then kept an eye on him until the boy disappeared into a driveway before he drove off. It was after nine and David was exhausted, the combined totals of little sleep and a lot of stress taking their toll on him. The only thing he wanted to do now was drive home and collapse. With a little luck, both his parents would be home - which meant his mother would keep her distance when he walked in. One thing David was sure of, he didn't want to put himself in a situation where he'd have to talk with either his mother or father.
On the highway, he passed the Methuen exit and winced. He had to straighten things out with Alan, too… Why don't you just tell him what's going on? It's only fair… he thinks you're trying to get out of the relationship. Can't say I blame him either the way I've been acting.
"Tomorrow," he told himself aloud. "Just be waiting for him when he gets out of work, and the two of you can go someplace."
And when do you talk with dear old Dad? You've got to settle with him. He thought of Randy, too afraid to talk to either of his parents, convinced his own father didn't even like him. David wasn't exactly sure why he didn't want to come out to his own father - he knew the man too well to think he might deep end on him. He won't be like Marc's father, he told himself. It's not like I have to worry about him throwing me out of the house. Dad's never been like that. Jesus, why does mom have to be such a pain in the ass?
David took his exit to Haverhill and rolled to a stop at the light. He was all set to cut the wheel to the right and head for his own neighborhood then on an impulse charged straight ahead. He wound his way through town to Chris St. Jacques' street… but blew past Chris' house and pulled up in front of one of the anonymous Capes in the post-WWII development. The house was a soft gray now… This was Griff's old house.
Different color now, he mused. The shrubs were fuller and the red maple hybrid - with just a touch of green leaves showing in spots - had grown and begun to offer the house shade. Aside from a bicycle leaning against the side of the house, not much else had changed. David killed the air conditioner and rolled the window open, studying and remembering. remembering… what it was like to discover someone like the Danny he remembered; small, always smiling… and the first boy he ever felt an attraction for without feeling guilty, because he knew it was welcomed. David tried not to think of the ugliness, tried to recall what it was like when the two of them goofed around at the keyboard when they were alone before giving up and started on the computer games. David shied from remembering the other games.
He heard the sharp rap of knuckles against the rear quarter of his car and jerked his eyes away from the house.
"Hey, stranger."
A startled David swung his head up and around. A cleaned-up Alan Curran was leaning down to the car window and trying to smile. A startled David blinked rapidly, felt color rise to his face as he tucked away memories. "What are you doing here?" he blurted.
Alan shuffled a little uncomfortably at the cool reception and his smile weakened, but his voice was steady. "Talkin' to Chris," he began uncertainly. "He said you'd got canned. I tried your cell but that's switched off - again." He grimaced. "I didn't bother callin' your house. Your mother's made it pretty clear there's no point to that." He stepped back as David popped the door and slid out of his car.
David scowled. Telegram, telephone, television, tell a fag; same damn thing. Chris is a broadcast unit all by himself. Big mouth.
"I guess you didn't see the Wrangler parked in Chris' drive," Alan offered, forcing a smile again. "I was sittin' on the back steps, waitin' for him. I saw you drive by and I yelled - then I saw you pull over so I walked down."
"I'll have to talk to my mother," David replied, fighting back a yawn.
Alan's shrewd eyes studied his boyfriend. His own face was poker perfect, the defensive habit learned by the fifteen years spent with an abusive father - as long as he didn't show anything, he was safe… most of the time. David would have known what to do had he looked - Alan was searching for some sign of approval. And had he looked, David would have seen the slight twitching at the corners of Alan's eyes, which gave everything away. Alan was scared.
David rubbed his own eyes instead, then jerked his head right and left carefully before snatching a quick peek to remind himself Alan was still there. He slouched back against the car more, slid his hands into pockets and hooked his thumbs, then crossed the left leg over the right.
Alan knew the stance. He doesn't want to talk to me.
"I'm sorry, Toto," David started wearily. "I'm sorry about this morning. I'm tired, there's something nagging at me, and…" He shrugged.
"Yeah," Alan interrupted. "Guess I kind of went overboard."
They leaned against the car, side by side, staring ahead… listening to the silence, not sure where to go next.
"We need to talk," Alan said quietly.
"Where do you want to go?"
The shorter boy looked around. It wasn't late but the street was empty… just a quiet neighborhood in mid-week populated by people who worked ordinary jobs and withdrew early into their air-conditioned living or bedrooms on a hot summer's night. From somewhere in the distance they could hear some splashing from a pool and the light sound of a woman's laughter. Alan pulled himself up onto the hood of David's car and let his arms fall down between his legs. "There's no reason to go anywhere special," he said in a low voice. "I… I don't think either one of us wants to fight again. Even if you want to call it quits, Dave - I mean, I understand if that's what you want. I told you that before."
David shook his head and put a hand onto Alan's leg and looked into his boyfriend's eyes. "I keep on telling you, that's not it." He squeezed. "Honest… that wasn't even a thought. Not ever. And, yeah, my mom's part of this, but... that's not the whole thing. Not by a long shot."
Alan said nothing, but some of the tension went out of his body. David turned and stepped between Alan's legs and reached around the small waist, then ran the fingers of his other hand lightly through Alan's hair. He leaned in and brushed his lips across Alan's. "This morning you said there was something that was killing us," David began slowly. "Something I didn't want to think about." He paused. "Hell, it's something I don't even want to think about, to tell you the truth."
Alan reached out with his right hand and stroked David's side with his fingertips. "This is kinda public for a make-out session," Alan said with a grin, but not making any move to pull away. "Not that I care much." David leaned in and gave him a longer kiss and pulled Alan closer until he slid off the hood of the car before David broke it off.
"Forget I pushed about it then," Alan began, shaking his head. "You don't have to - "
David put a finger on Alan's mouth and pulled him closer into a hug, swaying there bodies slightly to the left and right. "Yeah, I do have to… there's no point in trying to keep anything from you, Alan. If I do, things are just gonna get worse. I see that now. But you have to know: it's nothing you caused, nothing that you did wrong. I'm not tired of you - anything but."
They heard a giggle and the sound of a window sliding down nearby but neither of them bothered to look around. Alan gripped David tightly and breathed a sigh of relief. They stood in the shadowy street embracing for a few minutes more before David gently took a step back, then the two of them leaned back against the side of the car. Alan slung an arm around David's waist, then pushed back a little but without separating their crotches. "Listen Davey, if you're gonna poke me through your pants like that, you better be willing to follow through. And just so there's no misunderstandings? It's my legs in the air this time!"
David grinned. Jesus, Alan's right… it has been awhile for me and I am very much in the mood. "Okay, but it'll have to be in the pool house-the 'rents are home tonight. Unless you wanna risk my mother barging into my room."
Alan shuddered, then gave David another quick kiss before he relaxed and leaned into him again.
David turned his head and looked across the street again and the smile faded. He gestured into the darkness. "What do you see across the street?"
Alan laughed. "A house. A Cape with two top dormers - just like a third of the other houses around here. Looks pretty ordinary. Why?"
"That's where my old piano teacher used to live," David began in a low, serious voice. "And I'm going to tell you about everything that happened there… and how it's all coming back at me. And then I'm gonna ask you to just understand, not ask any questions for awhile, and help me out. And I don't want you to talk to anyone about this."
He eyed a house further down the street. Chris St. Jacques was a good friend… but there were limits.