“I have to go to bed,” I announced to our group, even as I stifled a yawn. I was hanging out with my father, Grand, and Stef, talking about all the shit we’d already gone over at dinner. Without any more data, we were just going in circles. Going over and over stuff with no new information to change things was driving me crazy, and besides, I had school tomorrow. It was 11pm, and time for me to wind down and go to sleep.
“Sleep well. We’ll see you in the morning,” Grand said.
My father stood up as I did, and gave me a big hug. “Thanks for everything.”
“All I did was pick you up from the airport,” I said.
“Right,” he said skeptically. He was probably thinking back to how pissed off I’d been at him when I’d run away from home, and he was probably relieved that I was calmer now. He wasn’t the only one. On that note, I strolled back to my room, even as I pulled out my phone. I frowned when I saw that Zach hadn’t called me back. I didn’t remember exactly how upset I’d been when I left him that message, but I figured I’d been riled up enough that he’d be able to tell it was urgent. He’d probably have some lame excuse for why he didn’t call me back, but it would be a lie. Just another sign that he was moving away from me.
I got to my room and closed the door behind me, happy to have some solitude. I got my clothes ready for school, and then collapsed into my bed, trying to decide whether to watch TV, play video games, or just try to sleep. I was leaning toward video games when my phone rang. I smiled, thinking it was Zach, but that expression changed to surprise when I saw it was Dally. “Hey,” I said, trying to be pleasant.
“Hey there,” he said even more pleasantly, his drawl making those words even more inviting. “It’s not too late for me to call, is it?”
“Dude, it’s only 11 here,” I said.
“It’s one in the morning here, but I can’t sleep.”
“I’m not that boring. You called the wrong guy if you want me to lull you to sleep.” He chuckled at that, and then it faded in an awkward way.
“I’m sorry I was a dick on the phone,” he said.
“It’s not a big deal,” I told him. “Neither one of us was at our best, and it was some seriously shitty news.”
“Yeah, it was. I guess I didn’t really believe it until my grandpa checked it out.” His voice had gotten sad, something I could relate to.
“I’m sorry. Probably wasn’t really my place to call you and tell you anyway. It’s just that, I don’t know…” I couldn’t express myself, my strange need to make a connection with him. I’d used my tightness with Buzz as a rationale, but it was more than that, and I didn’t really know how to explain it since I didn’t understand it myself.
“Thanks for doing that. I get what you’re talking about,” he said. And with that, I knew that he’d called me back not only to apologize, but because he was grabbing for that same link.
“You doing alright?”
He sighed. “I don’t know if you’d call it alright. I’m coping.”
“I went through this after 9-11,” I said, getting sad as I remembered that horrible day. “My stepfather, my stepmother, and my mother were killed that day.”
“Shit,” he said, with real sympathy. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, it totally sucked, and I spent a lot of time working through it. We had these shrinks talk to us about the stages of grief,” I said.
“What the fuck is that?” he asked, in a jocular kind of way.
Since he asked me, I went ahead and told him about it, about the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression and finally, the acceptance. I gave him examples of how I’d handled each of those, and even though I did most of the talking, he responded enough to spur me on. I was torn between talking about how awful those events were, and how they made me so sad again; while at the same time I was totally sucked in by his deep, sexy voice. He had an accent that was like his father’s, only a little more twangy, like it wasn’t as refined. I heard my phone beep, telling me I had another call. “Hang on,” I said.
“I didn’t mean to talk your ear off,” he said. “Been over an hour. I should let you go.” Only I didn’t want him to go.
“Hang on,” I repeated, more of an order. I looked at the caller-ID and saw that it was Zach, and made the decision to ignore it. “It’s no big deal. I just needed to see who it was.”
“Who was it?”
“Someone I used to go out with,” I said.
“You still talk to your exes? I usually end up hating mine,” he said, making me chuckle.
“Yeah, we’re still friends,” I said. I didn’t know if he knew that I was gay, or that my ex was a guy, but I didn’t feel like bringing that up in case it freaked him out. I was enjoying our conversation too much to fuck it up. “Long distance relationships are tough.”
“So I hear,” he grumbled.
“So what do I call you?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“When I called you Dally, you got all pissed off. I’m thinking that ‘Mr. Dalby’ may work,” I said, giving him shit.
He did this laugh, this harrumph snort like thing he did. It was different than the snaugh Zach did; it was more pronounced, almost louder. It was adorable. “Well, different people call me different things.”
“What do people call you, besides ‘asshole’?” I joked.
“How’d you know that was the most popular one?” he said, cracking me up. “My friends call me ‘Double D’,” only he said it more like ‘Dubba D’. “The ranch hands call me ‘sir’, or ‘Mr. Dalby’.”
“See, I knew that was an option,” I joked.
“Teachers call me ‘Dallas’, ’cause that’s my name.”
“Those teachers are smart,” I said sarcastically.
“Some of ’em,” he agreed. “Only two types of people call me Dally. My family and people I fuck.”
“Hmm,” I said, as if I was thinking about it. “Then I’ll call you Dally.”
“I don’t think we’re related,” he said, his voice getting lower, in a husky kind of way.
“I don’t think we are,” I agreed.
“Interesting,” he said, and I could tell he was smiling. I didn’t know if he was into guys, if he really wanted to fuck me, or if he was just playfully flirtatious. Regardless, it was hot. He yawned. “I gotta get to bed.”
“Me too,” I said. “Thanks for calling me.”
“Thanks for talking to me for damn near two hours,” he said.
“Best part of my day,” I replied.
“The best part of your day? Really?” he asked in disbelief.
“Well, it’s 12:55, so my day is only 55 minutes old, and since all I’ve done is talk to you, I’d say that’s not a tough competition.”
“Seems to me you blew off your ex,” he said, digging a bit, which was cute.
“You’re right, I did. Talking to you was way better.”
“I think so too,” he said. It was like we needed to end the call, but neither one of us wanted to. “You mind if I call you again?”
“Dude, call me whenever you want,” I said, making sure he could tell I was sincere. “Is this only a one way deal or can I call you too?”
“I usually don’t let people call me before 9am or after 11pm,” he said.
“I can work with that,” I said.
“Will,” he said, to get my attention. “You can call me anytime.”
“Cool,” I said with a smile, and ended our call. I looked at my phone and saw that Zach didn’t leave a message. That was fine. I went to sleep, and despite the shitty day I’d had, my conversation with Dally left me feeling pretty happy.
August 22, 2003
“I have spoken to Wade,” JP said, as he walked into the kitchen. It was inevitable that I include Wade in my plans. Yesterday, when I’d been freaking out, I’d wanted to keep this thing as tightly under wraps as I could. Now that I’d thought about it, I realized that he had to be included in this. I trusted him completely, and I’d also need his help. There was no one better at figuring out Elizabeth Danfield than her oldest son. I’d asked JP to call him, since those two were very tight, and he could probably do a better job than me of expressing urgency in a phone call that may or may not be monitored.
“And what did he say?” Stef prompted.
“He will be here this evening,” JP said. “Matt is joining him.”
“Awesome,” Will said, even as he finished up his breakfast. “What are your plans for the day?” That was directed at me.
“I’m going up to the City to meet with lawyers,” I told him. “I’ve got a few more calls to make, and then I’m off.”
“I will remain here,” JP said stolidly, just to be funny, as if we didn’t know that.
When we were done chuckling, Will made to stand up, but I stopped him with my words. “Sean wants me to meet with Jake Pike,” I said. Pike was the lawyer Will had hired to help him piss me off this summer.
“He’s hot,” Will said, which was evident, and irrelevant.
“I know, I met him,” I said, showing him I was mildly annoyed that he wasn’t taking me seriously. “What did you think of him?”
That question transformed him into the 25-year-old Jack had said he thought he was. “He did a good job for me, and I felt like I could trust him.”
“Why?” I asked, because I needed more than that.
“He and Sean went out, and they were pretty serious. Jake ruined things, at least according to him, by cheating on Sean. Said Sean was ready for a commitment, and he wasn’t.” The image of the two of them together was enough to tent my pants.
Fortunately, Stef pulled my mind away from that erotic vision. “And why does his infidelity when he was dating Sean make him trustworthy?” he asked Will.
“Because it was part of how we connected,” he replied. “He asked me to go into all the details on why Dad was such an asshole, but I wouldn’t tell him shit until he opened up about his deal with Sean.” I was dreading how awful Will had painted me to this guy, based on what a dick I’d been. Stef looked at him strangely, still not getting why that answered his question. Will sighed, then continued. “He knew Sean was a friend, and he got that until I knew how he’d treated Sean, I couldn’t really trust him.”
“Alright, I understand what you’re saying,” I said, visualizing the encounter and how it went down. “You think I can trust him to be part of this team I’m putting together to go after Elizabeth?”
He thought about it for a few seconds, and I appreciated that he was taking my question seriously. He looked up at me, staring boldly into my eyes, and simply said “yes.” His intensity and sincerity was at a very high pitch, and very convincing.
“Then I’ll trust him,” I said, getting a grin from Will.
“Gotta run,” he said, and got up to leave.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be here until later,” I said.
“That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll be here hanging out with Matt and Wade.”
“If you guys want to fill them in on this shit when they get here, I’m fine with that,” I told them. They stared at me, slightly stunned by that. “I just don’t want to have phone conversations about it.”
“Perhaps you will arrive before they do,” JP said diplomatically. “If they arrive first, we will attempt to give them an outline.”
“See you later,” Will said, and gave me a hug, then all but bounded out the door.
“He was in a remarkably good mood,” I said, but it was more of a question.
“He had a conversation with Buzz’s son, whom I believe they call Dally,” Stef said.
“I heard he talked to him yesterday and it didn’t go very well,” I said.
“Dally called him back last night, and that talk was better,” Stef said, obviously proud of himself for having this latest tidbit of gossip. “They talked for almost two hours.”
JP raised an eyebrow. “That must have been quite a conversation.”
“Will said that Dally was reaching out to him, and Will shared the grieving process he went through after 9-11,” Stef explained. “I think he was hoping it would help Dally cope with things.”
“That is good,” JP said proudly, an emotion I totally shared.
“Do we know anything about Buzz’s funeral?” I asked, bringing up that unpleasant topic.
“We do not, but I was led to believe that the best contact person would be Buzz’s father. Dally lives with him,” Stef said.
“Perhaps we should ask Will to find out the details for us,” JP suggested.
“Won’t that make us look rude, like we don’t care?” I asked.
“I think that Will can be our emissary, and I suspect that he will appreciate having an excuse to call his new phone friend,” JP said.
“I suspect he will,” I said. I glanced at the television, and even though the volume was down, I saw my picture there. Why they always picked the shittiest pictures to flash on the news was beyond me. And not only was it a shitty picture, it made me look fat. I’d been exercising like a fiend, trying to drop the 15 extra pounds I’d tacked on when I’d been with Marc. This just emphasized how hard I needed to work on that. “Turn up the volume!” I ordered, much too loudly.
JP complied, even as he gave me a dirty look for being loud. “Yesterday, a plane owned by Bradley Schluter, Chairman of Triton Electronics, crashed mysteriously in New York. Al Qaeda has issued a statement claiming responsibility for the action. Mr. Schluter was not on the plane, but his colleague, Mr. David Dalby, and two pilots lost their lives in the crash.” They panned to a cheesy video showing some man wearing a turban ranting at the camera. The English captions at the bottom presumably represented his words, and he said they targeted my plane because of Triton’s efforts to make better weapons for the evil forces of American Imperialism, and he called me an infidel.
“So it looks like Al Qaeda missed their target,” the other newscaster said, shaking her head.
“The FBI is investigating this as a potential terrorist act,” the first newscaster said. “The NTSB has recovered the black boxes from the crash site, so they will hopefully shed some light on what happened.”
The other newscaster took over and changed topics. “In other news, a rocket explosion in Brazil has killed 21 people. The launch failed due to the premature ignition of the rocket booster…” JP muted the volume after that.
“It seems that I’m an infidel,” I said, and couldn’t help laughing at that. They humored me and laughed along, but they didn’t seem to find it as funny as I did, so I got back on topic. “If Elizabeth set this up, how does having it pegged as an Al Qaeda act fit into her plan?”
“It is an interesting cover,” JP said. “It will also have the unpleasant effect of focusing a great deal of attention on the crash.”
“That’s what I mean. I figured they’d try to play this off as a mechanical error, or pilot error,” I mused. “Now they’ll be looking for evidence of a bomb.”
“Or perhaps Al Qaeda had nothing to do with it, but they just opted to take credit for it to make their reach seem longer,” Stef said.
“Maybe,” I said, even though it was pretty confusing. “I’m off. I’ll see you guys this evening.”
“We will be interested to hear what you discover,” JP said in his stuffy way. I walked out to the garage and got into my Porsche, wondering briefly if it would blow up when I started it. Then I laughed in a slightly maniacal way, feeling like a mob boss who had to look over his shoulder all the time.
I spent most of the drive on the phone, talking to Jorgens to find out mostly about the memorials for Polanski and Grissom, and also about my plane. There wasn’t really anything new yet, and there wouldn’t be until they went through the black boxes. And it was much too soon to worry about getting a replacement aircraft. He raised that as an issue, and I’d dismissively told him I’d charter planes for the time being. I finally got off the phone with him, and my mind wandered back to our conversations at dinner last night. That prompted me to call JJ.
“Hello,” he answered, sounding not a little annoyed.
“Hey,” I said, a bit somberly. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped. “Tell everyone I’m fine.”
“You’re mad because people are concerned about you?” I challenged. He said nothing. “Were you and Buzz very close?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“I mean did you have a chance to get to know him? If you did, that would probably make this whole thing that much tougher for you,” I said in a soothing way.
“I talked to him, I liked him, we worked out together once,” he said. “It’s sad no matter what. I’m just glad you weren’t on that plane.” I got the distinct feeling he was trying to shift away from talking about Buzz, which made sense after Will’s revelation.
“I’m glad I wasn’t on the plane too,” I agreed. “I have some things I need to explain to you next time we can talk in person.”
“You mean about how you’re an infidel now?” he joked, making me chuckle.
“That’s part of it. When do you think you’ll be in California?”
He sighed. “It will be a while.”
“You can’t make a quick trip?”
“I’m starting school soon, I just got back, and I’m trying to settle in,” he said, being bitchy again. “And I spent most of the time since I’ve been back with Alex.”
I instinctively knew he was testing me with that, trying to see if I’d freak out about him spending time with Alex. “Is he still there?” My voice was calm.
“No, he left yesterday,” he said sadly, then changed his tone. There was a distinctive whininess to it. “Can’t you just have someone bring me up to speed next time they visit?”
“I can do that,” I said. “Take care of yourself.”
“I will,” he said, and then ended our call. He really had no desire to get involved in this deal, and that was fine with me. I was happy to let him focus on his own life and wellbeing, and not get embroiled in this nightmare.
I called Darius and had a very quick conversation with him. He promised me he’d come up and see me in the next week or so. Darius was organized and usually had good insights, so I was welcoming his input, but it wasn’t something he had to drop everything for.
Sean thought it was a good idea that we meet away from his office, so I’d suggested my condo. Stef said they hadn’t done anything to them yet, as Geoffrey was finalizing plans and then we’d have to submit blueprints to the condo association and the city for approval. Since it was here, there was no reason not to use it. The last time I’d gotten laid was when I’d fucked Buzz, and that was pretty depressing, so I was hoping that maybe Sean would be up for hooking up. I could replace the bad fuck vibes, I thought, and that reminded me of Robbie. I chuckled at that memory, and then thought of what a fun lover Sean was. I forced my mind away from that, even as my pants started to tent a bit.
I parked in the garage and went up to the penthouse floor. While I waited for Sean, I took some time to wander through the condo Will had bought, taking a closer look, and wondering how Geoffrey and Stef would refurbish it. I went back over to my condo and smiled at how much nicer it was, and how much I enjoyed the views of the City. I looked down at my watch, saw that it was 10:30, and that seemed to prompt the knock on my door.
I opened the door to find Sean standing there, looking terrific, happy, and strangely enough, a little uncomfortable. “You are right on time,” I said, gesturing for him to come in.
“I love this place,” he said, as he gazed beyond me through the floor to ceiling windows, and at Alcatraz, which was visible in the distance. I gave him a nice hug and he returned it, but there was definitely something bothering him. “I’m so glad you weren’t on that flight.”
“So am I,” I said somberly.
“I need to talk to you about something,” he said, and his nervousness intensified. I just stared at him, waiting for him to go on. “I’ve been seeing someone.”
No wonder he was nervous. He probably thought I was going to try to get in his pants, which I was, or at least I had been. At the same time, it’s not like I was desperate. I wasn’t going to rape the guy. “Does he make you happy?” I asked pleasantly, to try to ease the mood. It didn’t work.
“He does,” Sean said, and then swallowed hard. “I’ve been dating Marc.”
“Carmine?” I asked, pretty shocked by that. He nodded to answer my question. I hadn’t really thought of them together, but now that it was in front of me, I could see how it would work.
“You’re about to deal with some pretty big issues, and I just wanted you to know about that before we started working on them together,” he said. And now I could understand his nervousness. He seemed to think that by dating Marc, he was being disloyal to me.
“Sean,” I said firmly, to make sure I had his attention. “I trust you, I have confidence in you, and I need your help.”
And with those words, the negative vibe completely vanished. “Thanks. I just wanted to be upfront with you.”
“And for the record, I have nothing against Marc. I like him, and I’d like to be friends with him, but I’m not sure if he can do that,” I said.
Sean nodded. “He’s so used to hating his exes that it’s a big shift for him not to, but I think he’s figured things out.”
“Well he’s in good company if he decides I should rot in hell. I am an infidel, after all,” I joked. He laughed at that, even as I led him into the dining room. Even though I’d lived here for six months, and even though he had the same types of views of the City from his office, they were so breathtaking we had to take a second to appreciate them. “Something to drink?”
“Coffee or soda, whatever,” he said. I got us both a couple of Cokes and then we got down to business. I told him all about my trip to Hawaii, while he took frantic notes. He paused to ask me questions, but I dominated the conversation, which made sense at this point, since I was the person with all the new information.
“So it seems I’m in a fight for my life,” I said somberly, as I concluded my story.
“So it seems,” he said in the same tone, then briefly reviewed his notes. “I can help you work out these issues with the lawsuit, and how you transfer the money to pay for it. A lot of this other stuff is going to require a less conventional firm.”
“You mean someone who isn’t worried about getting his hands dirty, unlike you,” I teased.
“That’s right,” he said. “That’s why I mentioned Jake Pike.”
“What’s his deal?” I asked. “Will loves him, but all he did for him was some simple trust work and commercial transactions.”
“Will called me and asked me for a referral, and I sent him to Jake even though the work he did for Will wasn’t his specialty,” he said.
“Because I knew that I could trust him to do a good job for Will, and I also knew that he’d rein Will in, or at least try, if he got out of hand,” Sean said. “I didn’t want him to totally fuck up your life.”
I smiled at him, to let him know how much I appreciated him having my back. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, but it didn’t really matter. Will impressed Jake. Jake said he had a plan, knew what he wanted to do…it was like he was on a mission.”
I frowned. “He probably gets that from me.”
“Probably,” Sean agreed. “Jake doesn’t work with people he doesn’t like. When I called him and asked him about you, he jumped at it. I think you guys impressed him.” Or maybe he just knew we were rich enough to pay our bills, I thought cynically.
“I met him not too long ago,” I said. “Only that time, he was dating Marc.”
“That would not have worked,” he said, chuckling.
“Jake’s a bit too hard core for Marc.” That was pretty mysterious, but I left it alone.
“You seem to really like this guy. I heard you dated him,” I said.
“Yeah, he told me Will squeezed that out of him,” Sean said, and seemed annoyed. “We were at different places. It’s one of those relationships where we are so much better as friends.” That wasn’t good enough, and we both knew it.
“So what happened?”
“Jake was in the Army,” Sean said. That surprised me. “He wasn’t just in the regular army, he was a Green Beret.”
“That’s a pretty big deal,” I said, to spur him on.
“It is. He got drummed out of the service when he was busted messing around with another dude. He’d just gotten out, and was working for a big firm here in the City. For the first time in his life, he was free to be himself.”
“And he got slutty,” I said, visualizing it perfectly.
“And he got slutty,” Sean agreed. “I should have known, should have seen it coming, and should have known he was damaged goods, but I was in the process of getting divorced, and I wasn’t at my best either.”
“Sounds like you got over it, or him,” I said, but it was really a question.
He shrugged. “If I’d have met him now, things would have been different.” He held up his hand to stop me from asking the obvious question. “Too much has happened between us, and we’ve both started to enjoy being friends too much to go back there. Neither one of us wants to.”
My stomach growled, making both of us laugh. “I’m hungry.”
“So I figured,” he said.
“Let’s do lunch,” I suggested.
“I can’t,” he said. “Besides, you have an appointment with Jake at 2:00 this afternoon, right here.”
“I do?” I asked him. “You were that confident I’d work with him?”
“I was,” he said. “And you have a lunch date.”
“I do?” I asked again. He looked at his watch and the doorbell rang, like he could perfectly choreograph my life.
“That’s probably your lunch date,” he said. He got up and went to the door, opened it, and ushered Marc back into the space that was once his home.