17 Watching & Waiting

Judah and Tom drove back to the hospital and sat in the car silently, until Judah pulled out the box. “What is this?” the rabbi asked.

“I hoped you’d have some idea,” Tom answered. “How do we open it?”

“It’s charmed,” Judah replied. “I’ve already tried most of the tricks I know. It’ll need some research. Do you have a safe place to keep this?”

“I could keep it at my house. It’s well warded,” Tom said.

“Tom, the boys,” Judah cautioned. “You’re all already in danger!”

“This is why I should keep it. They’re already after us. The book won’t significantly change our reality here,” Tom mused.

“That woman seemed rather interested in the book, Tom,” the rabbi cautioned. “Her colleagues no doubt share her goals.”

“Well, I want you off the radar, for the time being,” Tom said. “I’m keeping it, but if you figure out how to open it, get back down here.” The man nodded and shook Tom’s hand before getting out of the car and walking to his own. After Judah drove off, Tom headed for the hospital main entrance.

TOM!” Chief Pryce called. “What the hell happened?”

“I took the rabbi out to inspect the cemetery. One of the bad guys was waiting there,” Tom answered. “She mentioned Mary Dawson,” Tom lied to help the man connect the dots.

GOD DAMN IT!” the man exclaimed. “If those fuckers are tied up in this, these people are serious! This isn’t some flaky cult, is it?”

“The Dawsons are indicative of what these people are about, what they’ve been doing, and what they’re willing to do. They’ve terrorized this town for who knows how long, and now they’re willing to just come right on out into the light of day,” Tom said, his temper rising.

“My boys weren’t real clear on what happened down there, other than to say that she had some kind of weapon and you saved their asses,” Pryce said grimly. “I don’t know if I want to know….” Tom nodded to say, ‘Probably not,’ and Pryce grunted. “Rabbi gone?”

“He headed back to Richmond, but he’ll be in touch,” Tom said.

“You got any more names for me? Known associates of the Dawsons, maybe?” Pryce asked.

Tom shook his head no, and said, “I’d request the files from the Dawson case though. The father was killed in prison: they probably don’t need them. Check his phone records for people he doesn’t have any business with.”

Pryce nodded, as the two of them walked in on Jim. “How is he? Any change?” Tom asked, and Aiden’s partner shook his head.

“No. They checked him out and his vitals are improving. They say he’s almost out of the woods,” Jim said, standing.

“Thank God,” Pryce said. “Well I just wanted to look in on him, and check on Tom here. I don’t want to be in the way. Are his parents still here?”

“No, sir, I sent them to my house to rest and get settled,” Tom said.

“Good man,” Pryce said, putting a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Well, you call the station if you need anything. They’ll put your calls through to me, wherever I am. For now that’s easier than calling direct, since they keep track of me 24/7!”

“Thank you, sir,” Tom said, shaking the man’s hand and walking him to the waiting room.

Then Tom returned to the room, and Jim asked, “Check on you?”

Tom sighed. “I took an expert to the graveyard. We were attacked. You’ll hear all about it!”

JESUS CHRIST!” Jim said. “If I had never have suggested you to the chief!”

“Jim, everyone seems to think it’s their fault. The only people to blame are that group of sickos. You don’t blame David and Peter, do you?” Tom asked.

“Of course not,” Jim replied, “but….”

“Jim, these people are connected to the boys too! It’s all connected, and it’s all coming home to roost,” Tom said. “Thank you for watching over him, Jim. Why don’t you run home to your wife and get some rest?”

“You’ll call if you need anything?” Jim asked.

“I promise,” Tom said and shooed the man out. Then he made a call. “Rachel? It’s Tom.”

“How is he?” she asked with deep concern.

“Stable,” he said with a sigh. “Can I borrow your husband for a couple of hours?”

“I’ll send him as soon as he gets back from his run, Tom,” she said with a smile in her voice. “We’ve got to get that man healed up.”

“Thanks, Rachel!” he said.

“Of course!” Rachael replied.

Martha peeked outside when the bell rang. When she opened the door, Mitch and Peggy stepped inside and Peggy asked, “Where are Tom and Aiden?”

“You didn’t check your messages,” the woman observed with a sigh. “David, Sebastien!” she called. The boys emerged, looking subdued. “Sebastien, your parents didn’t get your messages!”

“What’s going on?” Mitch asked.

Peter came out and put a hand on Sebastien’s shoulder. “Aiden was shot at a crime scene,” Peter said. “Tom’s at the hospital. Aiden hasn’t woken up yet.”

“Oh God,” Peggy said.

“Mom, it’s terrible,” Sebastien said, hugging her tight. “Did you know Tom’s partner,” he began to ask, but remembered that Martha was the young man’s mother.

“I know, sweetie,” she said, giving Martha a sympathetic look. “This must be so hard.”

“It is,” Martha said. “Right now he’s going on pure adrenaline and anger. When he has a moment to think it’s going to hit him like a ton of bricks.”

Tom sat holding Aiden’s hand, his eyes closed; time seemed to stretch out. It seemed so long since it had happened already! “Oh, Aiden, baby … I need you! I can’t!”

“You can,” came a strong, firm voice from the door, “but God willing you won’t have to.” Moments later Tom felt Alasdair’s strong hands on his shoulders; as the man worked his tight muscles, Tom groaned.

“Thank you,” Tom whispered. Opening his eyes, he saw Alasdair in an outfit entirely out of place on the young gentleman: athletic shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. “You could have changed first,” Tom said with a laugh.

“Not to hear my wife tell it,” Alasdair laughed. “Plus, a man in your psychological condition shouldn’t be deprived of a good look at this body!” Alasdair was joking of course, but the sight of his legs and the way his shorts hugged his ass was good for the soul.

“Just as fine as in college,” Tom teased.

Just?” Alasdair asked. “I look better than I did then!”

Tom rolled his eyes and said, “Up for a little mojo?”

“Always!” Alasdair said, rubbing his hands together.

“You just like to feel Aiden up,” Tom teased the man.

“That is merely a pleasant necessity,” Alasdair winked, laying his hands on Aiden’s shoulders near the throat, and began working his way down the man’s torso with a look of deep concentration. After a moment, he asked, “Care to lend me a bit of power?”

“Sure,” Tom said, stepping up behind the man and wrapping his arms around him, placing both hands flat on Alasdair’s chest.

“Mmm…. There are less exciting ways to do that, Tom,” Alasdair grinned.

“I needed a hug,” Tom whispered seriously, laying his chin on the man’s shoulder.

“When we’re done here you can have a proper one,” Alasdair replied, “if you don’t mind getting stabbed in the leg by my erection, anyway.” Tom chuckled softly as Alasdair went back to work, focusing especially on Aiden’s wounds.

When he finished, Alasdair turned in Tom’s arms, and sure enough Tom felt the man’s hardness against his hip. But as Alasdair held Tom comfortingly, his condition subsided. Tom collapsed in Alasdair’s arms as the familiar comfort overwhelmed him, and he buried his face in the man’s shoulder, sobbing.

Alasdair held him up and ran his hand through Tom’s hair. “He’ll be alright, Tom,” Alasdair whispered. “He’ll be alright!”

“Alasdair,” Tom managed through his sobbing, but couldn’t explain further.

“Tom,” he whispered, “we’ll all always be here for you when you need us!”

“Until I get another one of you killed,” Tom said, his fear rising to the surface. He wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore, wasn’t shy about looking into the abyss if he had to. But he was terrified of having a loved one ripped away from him.

“Tom,” Alasdair said, “you can’t take this on yourself, and you can’t hold yourself responsible for the actions of mad people,” Alasdair said gently.

“I know,” Tom whispered after a long time. “It just makes me feel so vulnerable, so weak! It makes me want to hurt someone,” he confided. “When Judah and I were attacked at the cemetery,” he began.

Alasdair cut him off, “Who and WHAT?” He sat Tom down and had him start at the beginning. When Tom finished, Alasdair said, “Well, count me among the white hats!”

ALASDAIR! THAT ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN!” Tom shouted, taking the man aback. “I’m sorry,” Tom added more gently. “BUT I’ll say it again: YOU HAVE A BABY ON THE WAY!”

“I feel so useless!” Alasdair complained.

“I’m not letting your little one grow up without a dad,” Tom said. “I can’t do that!” Alasdair looked grim as he shook his head, but Tom added, “Besides, we need a first-class healer for just such circumstances as this!”

“I suppose so,” Alasdair said.

Tom insisted, “Go home, Alasdair! Tell Rachel I appreciate her loaning you to me!”

“You’re okay?” Alasdair asked.

“Go,” Tom said with a sad smile.

Tom’s smile brightened considerably when a young voice called, “TOM! Dr. Franklin!”

“Sebastien,” Tom asked, “what are you doing here?”

“Sorry, Tom,” Peggy said, appearing in the door. “He insisted, and Mitch and I wanted to come and see what we can do!”

“Well, you’ll all excuse me, but I have school in the morning,” Alasdair said with a wink at Sebastien.

“Bye, Dr. Franklin!” Sebastien said, before plopping himself unceremoniously on Tom’s lap.

“You’re a little big for that,” Peggy said, shaking her head with a smile.

“Tom doesn’t mind, mom,” Sebastien said, hugging the man.

“How are you doing, buddy?” Tom asked.

“We were fine,” the boy said. “Are you okay?”

Tom smiled and said, “I’m pretty scared, but you and my boys give me something to help take my mind off of it.” Then he looked at Peggy and said, “Where’s Mitch?”

“He’s in the lobby talking to your cop buddies,” she smiled. “So what can we do?”

“I’ve got help coming out the ears, Peggy,” Tom said. “I’ll call you if I think of anything.”

“Can I come visit?” Sebastien asked.

“Sebastien!” Peggy said, “I’m sure Tom doesn’t need a distraction!”

“Actually, Peggy,” Tom said, “a distraction might be just the thing! If you want, Sebastien, get David to bring you over after school some day and bring a chess set.”

“Are you sure, Tom?” Peggy asked, concerned.

“Yeah,” Tom said. “If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that these guys are good for my soul!”

Sebastien kissed him on the cheek and stood up. “See you tomorrow!”

“Tom, call if you need anything,” Peggy said as she put a hand on Sebastien’s shoulder and moved to leave.

“Thanks, and tell Mitch the same,” Tom said. When they were gone, Tom turned the light down. Then he uncovered Aiden, who lay there in a pair of boxers, still beautiful to Tom despite the bandages. As gently as possible, Tom scooted him closer to the edge, before covering him up again. Then, he crawled onto the bed next to the man. It wasn’t comfortable, but he was close to Aiden. That’s what mattered.

It was after 9pm when Micky arrived to check on his son. He’d left Doreen sleeping, dead to the world. He knocked softly on the door but got no answer so he pushed it open and peeked inside. Seeing Tom curled up by Aiden’s side gave him pause: he’d known and accepted that his son was gay, but Aiden had never so much as brought a man home.

But the touching scene, Tom’s tenderness and the gravity of his son’s condition, affected him deeply. He stepped into the room quietly and picked up a pad from the nightstand and scratched out a note: “In the waiting room. Micky.”

Tom woke with a sore neck at about 2 a.m. and got up to go to the bathroom. He was surprised no one had tried to make him leave, actually, but when he found the note from Aiden’s father, he suspected he knew why they hadn’t. He walked out to the waiting area and found the man reading a novel. Mickey looked up at him over the rims of his glasses.

“Thank you,” Tom said.

The man nodded, as if he knew what Tom meant and said, “Have a seat, Tom….”

Tom sat down across from him. “Aiden was always different,” Micky said. “My wife knew why, and accepted it, a long time before I did – before Aiden could tell us himself.”

“I’m not sure I,” Tom began, but Micky raised his hand and shook his head.

“Tom, I’m not a great guy, but my wife is a good lady, so I got some great kids. But I screwed up bad with Aiden, and I don’t think he ever trusted me with his personal stuff. You’re the first boyfriend I ever met. I don’t know if he ever introduced men to Doreen; she wouldn’t tell me cause she wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings.” Micky took his glasses off and slipped them in his pocket. “This isn’t easy for me, Tom. In my generation … well we were ignorant. When Aiden gets better, I’m gonna try to make it up to him.”

Tom sat there for a while before he said, “You know, Aiden loves you both. He’s always spoken well of you. But I think he’d really appreciate it if you reached out to him.”

Micky changed the subject. “Did your friend call my friend?”

“He’s been busy,” Tom said with a smile. “I suspect he’ll make that call in the morning.”

“I called my friend this afternoon and told him to be expecting a call. He’ll give a good rate; I brought him up to speed,” Micky said. “You should get some sleep….”

“I already got seven hours,” Tom said.

“You’re stressed, you’ve not gotten much sleep, plus you nearly got your fool ass killed. You need to rest. Get back in there and lay down,” Micky said in a tone that made Tom laugh.

“Alright,” Tom said. “What about you?”

“I’m an old guy; I don’t need as much sleep,” Micky replied. “I’ll catch a nap out here.”

When Tom woke again, he reached up and gently stroked Aiden’s cheek and kissed him softly before rolling off the bed. He fixed his hair a little in the mirror before going back to the waiting room. Doreen was working a crossword when he found her. “Where’s Micky?”

“I sent him back to your place a couple of hours ago for a nap. Stubborn old fool,” she laughed. “I take it you two had a conversation last night?”

“Yeah,” Tom said. “I guess finding me curled up with Aiden was a bit of an eye-opener.”

“That’s for sure,” she said. “You two are adorable together,” she added with a wink. “I just wish it was under better circumstances!”

“Things happened so fast with us,” Tom said apologetically. “I wish we’d had the luxury of a normal, uncomfortable meet the parents and all!” She laughed, and he asked, “Are you okay here for a while? I need to take care of some things back at the house.”

“Sure,” she said. “Martha saw David off to school this morning, but Peter is home.”

“Martha stayed the night?” he asked. “I didn’t mean for her to do that!”

“You couldn’t have gotten rid of her – she’s taking care of her grandchildren,” Doreen said, winking. Tom laughed and nodded.

“Your other children, how are they taking the news?” Tom asked.

“His sister is beside herself – she worries about her brothers – and the boys are stoic, but I can tell they’re all afraid.”

“Well, if any of them can visit, there is plenty of room. If we run out of rooms, David can share with Peter, or me, or he can take the couch,” Tom said.

“David wouldn’t mind sharing with you?” she asked.

“When we have some time I’ll explain, but David has bad nightmares and he sometimes comes in to bed with Aiden and me,” Tom explained.

“Aiden’s told me a little about him on the phone; I’m just surprised he’s comfortable with you guys after what happened to him,” she said.

“He’s a very special boy,” Tom said with a smile.

“He loves you, anyone can see that,” she said.

“Aiden too,” Tom said. “He’s being strong, but underneath….”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” she said, giving him the eye.

Tom laughed and shook his head. “Call me if there is any change?”

“Of course, dear,” she said, picking up the paper again.

Tom walked out to his car and drove home. He walked into the house and found Peter at the table eating cereal, wearing a t-shirt and thin running shorts. “It’s amazing how different you look,” Tom said, making Peter smile, “than when I found you!”

The boy hopped up and hugged him. “How is he?”

“Same,” Tom whispered. “Better, I guess. I just want to hear his voice telling me it’ll be okay.” Peter squeezed Tom tight with his good arm. “Martha go home?”

“Yeah, she left shortly after David, but she’s threatened to come back if you’re spending the evening at the hospital. I tried to tell her that, with Doreen and Micky, we’ll be fine, but she insisted!”

“It makes her feel better, Peter,” Tom laughed.

“To be honest, the more the merrier. Makes me feel better too!” Peter answered.

“Good,” Tom said. “I’m going to go shower and then I’m going upstairs to do some work. You guys need anything?”

“We’re running low on groceries,” Peter said.

Tom took out his wallet and handed him five $20 bills. He said, “Order in what you need, and I’ll ask Martha to pick up some essentials, milk, bread and stuff.”

“Thanks,” Peter said, hugging him again.

Tom sat at his desk an hour later, and picked up the phone. “Roy Collins,” a gruff man answered.

“Mr. Collins, I’m calling on a reference by Micky O’Connel,” Tom said. “My name is….”

“I’ve been expecting your call,” he said. “I generally charge $1,000 per day plus expenses. But it’s Micky’s son, and he’s a cop, so $400 per day plus expenses.”

“You’re hired. When can you be here?” Tom asked.

“This evening,” Roy said. “It’s your money.”

“Get on the first plane here. I don’t care if the only seat is in first class,” Tom said. “This is my only priority right now.”

“Understood. You got some names for me? I’ll work while I wait,” the man responded, all business.

“Roger Marx, Dick Fletcher, Bill Stevens, Hal Fuller, Kim Richards, and Helen Demopoulos,” Tom said, reading his list. “Helen Demopoulos is in the hospital right now.”

“How did that happen?” Roy asked.

“She and I had a disagreement,” Tom said.

“Alright,” Roy said, “I’ll assemble some basic information.”

“Mr. Collins, I’d also be interested in anyone they all have business with,” Tom said.

“You don’t think one of them is the boss?” Roy asked.

“Not even close,” Tom replied. Then he gave the man his address and phone number and told him he’d be at the hospital all evening.

Then Tom got on his computer and found that Avram had emailed him travel itineraries for the group that would soon descend upon his little town. Avram, with his big beard and black attire would stand out like a sore thumb, but not like Elise and Shirit, who were accompanying him from France. Shirit, Avram’s sister, was as unlike her brother as Avram was unlike Alasdair. Shirit had a ballerina’s body, and the face of an angel, but she wore her hair spiked, usually with some dash of random color. She wore a stud in her left eyebrow that even Tom had to admit added something to, rather than distracted from, her beauty. Most offensive to Avram was the bracelet tattooed on her right arm. Shirit dressed like an attractive Tomboy, jeans and t-shirts and tennis shoes, while her French-born lover, Elise, dressed like the Bohemian she was. Elise sold her art on Paris’s busy streets, occasionally reading Tarot in a nearby alley, fulfilling her gypsy affectation, if one of her friends was nearby to watch her wares. Avram could accept that his sister was a lesbian; his own bisexuality was the worst kept secret in the mystical Jewish community. The sticking point for him was that Elise was a committed pagan. But she was a powerful witch, and he dared not leave her behind with Tom in danger.

Traveling separately were “the twins,” Misha and Alexa, who were flying in from Warsaw, where the beautiful Russians were working as “consultants,” and Dietrich Mandelbaum, who was already in-route from Berlin. A young Asian Tom had always known simply as Cho was driving down from New York and would pick Dietrich up in D.C. on his way. They would be the first to arrive after Collins.

“Thank you, Avram,” Tom whispered to himself, forwarding the information to Alasdair. He knew the two men would not be able to get along, but they’d coordinate for his sake.

When he was ready to head back to the hospital, Tom called and asked Micky and Doreen what they’d like for lunch, and he stopped for food on the way. When he arrived, he found the couple in Aiden’s room, chatting with his friend, Father Tim Welch.

“Tim, if I had known you would be here, I would have brought you something!” Tom said, putting the food down on a table and offering the man his hand. “Thanks for coming!”

“Aiden’s parents have been bringing me up to speed,” Tim smiled. “Encouraging news!”

“Thank God,” Tom replied.

“So, you know Tom?” Micky asked. “I didn’t realize….”

“You were out when I explained to your wife that Tom and Aiden helped me out recently,” Father Welch said pleasantly.

“So you … know about them?” the older man asked, trying to figure out how to say it without sounding offensive.

Welch tried to keep a straight face and asked, “That they’re sodomites?” Seeing Micky’s face go through an emotional rollercoaster, Tim laughed and said, “Sorry but you know we’re not all medieval, Mr. O’Connel! I am well aware of the very special relationship these two share, and I’ve spoken to your son about it. Between you and me, it is difficult for me to understand how God could not sanctify a love so sincere!”

“You about got punched, father!” the man answered with a laugh.

“I know,” Welch said, his eyes sparkling, “but that was exactly what you expected me to say, wasn’t it? We shouldn’t judge a man by his collar,” he added with a wink.

“I like you, father,” Micky said. “I’m glad to know there’s a man around to remind my son that the Church ain’t all bad!”

Tim chatted with Aiden’s parents, fielding occasionally awkward and roundabout questions from Micky that revealed to both Tim and Tom that the man really was preparing to enter a new relationship with his son.

Eventually, Father Welch had to go, and Tom walked him out of the hospital. “Thanks for coming, Tim. You really made an impression on Micky.”

“He’s a good guy,” Welch replied. “Old school, but he’s trying, and that says a lot!”

“I know it will mean a lot to Aiden that he’s going to try harder,” Tom said. “My friends will start arriving tonight, Tim. When we’re all here, I’d like you to meet everybody.”

“Sure, you want to come by the rectory, or have me to your place?” Tim asked.

“My place is best,” Tom smiled. “You don’t want your reputation to suffer. Plus, my house is warded.”

The priest nodded, and then asked, “Speaking of…. Do you think you could do that for me, when you have a chance?”

“Sure,” Tom said. “I’ll help you do it. It’s more powerful if you do it yourself, and you should learn, if you want to go any deeper into this mess.”

“I’m with you,” Tim said, shaking Tom’s hand. “Call me!”

Later in the day, Martha and Walt stopped by. Tom and Doreen updated them. Then Walt left Martha with Doreen and dragged Tom out to the lobby. “I went to each of your classes today and told them you wouldn’t be able to be in class. You should be proud, Tom. They were really worried about you.”

“They’re good kids,” Tom said. “Did you explain?”

“It isn’t my place, Tom,” Walt said. “You’ve got some decisions to make. We’d all understand if you want to take the semester; we can get adjuncts to cover your classes.”

“No,” Tom said. “I’m teaching material I know, Walt. I need to get out of the hospital some. I’ll stay here, then go to my classes, and come back here. I’ve gotta keep myself occupied, or I feel myself sinking. Like before….”

“Alright, then,” Walt said, nodding. “I understand. You’ll be ready by Wednesday?”

“I’m all prepared, Walt, really. It will help me to get out of here and get my mind on something else,” Tom said.

“Speaking of which,” Walt said with a smile, cocking his head at the door.

Tom turned to find two boys racing toward him. “Hi, guys,” Tom said, laughing a little as he returned their hugs.

“Martha’s staying at the house again, tonight, Tom,” Walt said, to which Tom nodded. “We’ll go home for a bit and relax. Just call if there’s anything,” he added.

Tom and Sebastien sat up the chess set in the corner of Aiden’s room, while David read his literature text for class. Tom and Sebastien traded good natured taunts over two games, and were setting up for a third when Micky returned with a man. Tom had never seen him before, but knew instantly who he was.

“We’ll have to play some other day, buddy. I need to talk to Roy for a while,” Tom said.

AWWW!” Sebastien complained good naturedly. “Tomorrow?”

“If you want,” Tom laughed. They quickly packed up the game, and Tom gave each boy a hug and a quick peck on the forehead before sending them away.

“Mr. Collins?” Tom said, holding out his hand. The man shook it and nodded.

“Dr. Corman,” Roy said. “Nice to meet you sir. I’m not much for pleasantries, if you don’t mind?” Tom nodded and Roy pulled out a file. “Interesting bunch you got on your hands professor. Individually, you’d never look twice, but the overlap leads to some strange connections!”

“Let’s go over what you’ve found,” Tom said, motioning for the man to sit.

“I’m gonna leave you fellows to it, then,” Micky said, excusing himself. Tom knew the man didn’t want to have to lie in court if it came to that.