Plan C: Mawg Dilligs

by Driver

Chapter 2

It was the end of February before there was any movement in the case against Lee Erasmus. A judge denied the prosecutor's petition to move the case to adult court and to charge Lee as an adult. I breathed a little easier when I heard that decision, but that breath came with more than a little trepidation on my part.

As the only non-family victim of the violence by Leonard and Lee Erasmus, I had a little to do with keeping his case in juvenile court. I'd learned all I could, and the sum of it was that as a juvenile there were lots of resources available for rehabilitation. In the adult system, they'd pretty much dropped any pretense that they tried to rehabilitate. It was incarceration as punishment, period. If Lee got a long sentence, he'd spend the time until he was eighteen in a juvenile facility, then just be transferred to the penitentiary.

Since my talk with Donovan, and after many, many talks with Aaron, my parents and brothers, with Aaron's family, with Billy and Huck, I had decided to come down on the side of Lee Erasmus, regardless of his feelings about me. If I was wrong, I was, but I didn't decide blindly. I had spies out, people who actually could interact with Lee, and they didn't see him as a threat. None of them were close to him, but they still viewed him as a good kid.

Through our lawyer, I'd made my feelings known to the prosecutor. Without me, he was essentially out of victims when he went in front of that judge.

It was a hot issue locally, too. Without mentioning his name, the paper conducted a poll as to whether Lee should be tried as an adult or not, and the results dismayed me. Only seventeen percent thought not, and there was just a small fraction of them undecided.

"How can this be?" I asked nobody, as I slammed the paper down in exasperation. It was like people wanted an unnamed fourteen-year-old boy tried as an adult just on principle. The purported crimes weren't listed, victims weren't named, it was just this general anger that seemed to percolate from somewhere. Would they have voted the same way if they knew this particular fourteen-year-old boy had witnessed the execution of three of his friends, then been subjected to repeated sexual violence for months on end?

It was scary to me. These same people were the ones who had donated dimes and dollars to get me home, the ones who had stood behind my family.

Now it was the vogue to crucify another boy, and they supposedly didn't know who it was.

I was unnerved, and I was angry about the poll, so I called Chris. Halfway through his friendly hello, I asked, "Did you see the paper? Is this unreal or what?"

"Hold on," he said, then after a long pause while he read, "Wow! This is good news, right? Why do I ..." He shut up for a minute, "Oh, man, you're looking at the poll, aren't you?"

"Mm-hm," I mumbled. "Where are people's heads, Chris? How can it be that one-sided?"

I knew that I sounded stressed out, because I was, and my voice made Chris laugh, which didn't help me a lot. "Evie," he cackled, "it's probably one person with a case of the ass against kids. It's a one-question thing from the Internet. You could go there and turn it the other way right now."

I looked at the type of poll it was, which I'd overlooked in my shock. "Okay," I said softly, "I'm chastised. What would the answer really be, Chris?"

"Why are you so serious on a Sunday?" he asked.

"No Aaron this weekend," I said sadly, "Feel like filling in?"

Chris pondered that, then said, "I don't think I could fill Aaron's shoes, Evan. I'm not that kind of boy, you know."

The way he said that gave me my first amusement of the morning. "How about filling the shoes of my best friend, then, and getting your butt over here .. or I could go there?"

"You come here, man. It's less stressful, and I get to not go out in the cold for once."

That was fair. Chris was way more often the visitor, and not for any reason, it just happened that way. Chris lived in a nice house, and I got along well with his parents. It was just that more happened at my house.

I finished my breakfast, which by then consisted of totally sodden raisin bran, got dressed against the cold, then made the short walk to my best friend's house.

It was cold, too. Two degrees by our outdoor thermometer, and it felt it. We'd had a pretty wicked winter so far. It snowed around Thanksgiving, and it had kept right on snowing. It had been a cold one, too, and it only seemed to get worse. By February, we'd already had ten named storms, and a lot more anonymous ones.

Dad griped because he paid the heating bills. Mom griped because we were always traipsing in snow or mud. We griped because, not being skiers, there wasn't much to do.

Some of that kind of weather was expected in a winter, but that year most people ended up house bound because it was so brutal. The days were getting longer, finally, but not any warmer. The global warming and Al Gore jokes wouldn't quit, but the simple fact was that there wasn't much to do.

There was school, and there was homework, but that wouldn't fill a day. I went to driving classes, the Y when I could get there, where I worked out and took a swim.

Mostly it was hard to get anywhere. I barely saw Aaron because nobody would drive us in a storm, and Saturdays weren't an option because we were both busy with driving school.

I went outside, and the cold immediately stung my face, but it wasn't far to go. I walked quickly up the hill, and turned right, then left into the driveway. The Humphreys had bought my favorite house in the whole neighborhood. Every house had been custom built for the original owners, and there was a lot more variety than in most neighborhoods, but even our house had been a catalog choice. Custom-built really meant that the original owners had picked it out from a book, arranged the interior to their desires, and had the house built. The catalogue wasn't big, and there wasn't much real variety in the homes.

Where Chris lived, the norm had been broken ... shattered. In a neighborhood of Colonials, Cape Cods and split levels, the Humphrey's house really stood out, and in the best of ways. It was a ranch, and of a style that suggested Frank Lloyd Wright. It sat atop a wooded hill, partly hidden by trees and shrubs. I loved it, and I had loved the look of the horizontals and verticals of that place way before Chris moved in.

It was kind of mysterious, for starters, stained such a dark brown that it looked black from the street, and there were walls beyond the front of the house itself that gave it perfect privacy.

Outside and in, it was a perfect blending of wood, stone and glass, and especially on the inside. All the stone work was done with brick-sized pieces of granite, but they weren't finished off, so there was this really coarse and hard-looking texture to it. The ceilings soared, and the beams that held them up were exposed.

From the front, the house seemed closed, with small, high-up windows that peeked over the privacy wall, but most rooms had a floor-to-ceiling glass view of the private back yard. There were little changes of level everywhere, too, but it wasn't really a split-level house like ours was. There were two steps down from the hall into the big living room, a step down in the other direction into the family room. The other main rooms were all on the entry level, but it was a step up to the bedroom wing.

Chris and I didn't do it anymore, but when we were younger and nobody was home, it was a terrific house for indoor biking and boarding.

That morning it was a place for me to thaw out. Chris was waiting at the door, so I didn't even knock, but even after my short walk, my eyes were watery and there was crusted-up drool at the corners of my mouth.

Needless to say, Chris found that amusing. He grinned, "Hey, the iceman cometh!"

"Asshole," I explained, "of course he doth. I need warmth, man ... soup, blankets!" I grinned at Chris, "Just a little lovin' is okay."

"A little loving is very okay," Chris said blithely. "How 'bout I nuke some leftover turnips to help with your chill?"

I looked at Chris, and both our eyes went wide. "Juicer!" I yelled, and before you knew it we were drinking hot turnip juice.

"Not bad," I said, after I'd stirred in a tiny pat of butter and some salt and pepper.

Chris looked worried. "It is good, and this scares me, Ev. I mean, who needs college? We could bop around the country, from fair to fair, selling this stuff for four bucks a cup. We'd be rich in time to retire at twenty-one."

"What are you saying?" I asked. "You'd need a sea change before people would buy turnip juice!"

Chris shook his head, "That's where you're wrong, Evan. Not at a fair! At a fair, people buy all kinds of shit and shove it in their mouths." He looked at his mug, "Let's try things. Brown sugar would go with turnip juice ... so would molasses."

I looked around the kitchen, and Chris said, "I'll bet ... I'll bet this would work better with rutabagas. They taste the same, but they're more yellow."

"You know what a rutabaga is? You've eaten rutabagas?" I asked. "I didn't know that about you."

Chris looked at me, mirth in his eyes. "I never told you? Damn! Where is my head?"

I waited.

"Rutabagas are like yellow beets, man, only fatter," he announced, while he looked around their fantastic kitchen like he might spy a real rutabaga hanging there somewhere.

"Fat, yellow beets?" I muttered. "I can hardly wait."

Chris, without skipping a beat, said, "I've got it, Evie. We'll use Bruce ... he can get us the news on Erasmus."

That was typical of Chris. I'm sure he had Bruce in mind all along, and he was just waiting for me to say something about fat, yellow beets before he brought it up. I snickered, "Okay, Chris. Put this together in some way that makes sense." I grinned, "Actually, I dare you to!" I had one more thought, "And don't you go looking down on me for asking. You know how I hate being talked down to!"

Chris patted my shoulder and leaned in close. "This one's simple, Ev. Even you should get the concept."

I smiled despite myself. Chris had a sure-thing, no-fail idea. The best way to get me to listen to it was to insult my intelligence, which was fine. That's how I got him to listen to me, too.

"Lee Erasmus is some kind of brain, just like your brother. They know each other already, all they need is some common ground so they'll see each other."

"Yeah," I mumbled, "try to find it."

"Not that hard," Chris said, his finger wagging a 'no'. "I know this much about Lee Erasmus. He's a science and computer freak just like Bruce is. They're in the same grade." He looked at me seriously, "The clubs are all combined now, Evan, at least in ninth grade. We have to find out if Lee joined any, then get Bruce to join one if he did. Otherwise, I don't know."

I stared, "I don't know either, Chris. It sounds tenuous, but it could work. First, you have to tell me why I should get my brother involved. No matter what I've said in the past, I'm really not out to get him killed. I know some people who know Lee, at least a little."

Chris looked at me for a moment, then he laughed some snot out of his nose. He put his hands up, tipped his head back to contain the fluids, and started roaring in laughter.

We'd become too concerned, and this was the natural reaction for Chris. Me, too, but it was his turn to go first. He wasn't laughing because the subject was funny. He was laughing because we both got serious about it, and it made me laugh, too. Serious was fine when it was warranted, and we hadn't decided between us yet if it was, so it was officially on the side of funny, at least for the time being.

I think I mentioned once that Chris and I were idiots, and that some people saw that as charisma, but the truth is that we're idiots. We make serious business out of nonsense, and we make fun of serious things.

Still, I was uncertain about getting Bruce involved. I didn't know the Erasmus kid, and I didn't want to put Bruce in a position he couldn't handle if Lee was unstable. I didn't see how he could be otherwise, either, and at least one prosecutor thought he was culpable in the crimes against me and my family. It was true that Bruce had made strides toward getting along with people, but thinking of him with a special case like Lee Erasmus gave me the fantods.

I looked at Chris, "I don't know if Bruce is a good idea. What if Lee Erasmus really is a loose cannon? And anyhow, the name Smiley ought to set his bells ringing if nothing else does."

Chris looked blankly at me, then turned up his lip into a one-sided smile. "Yeah, you're right. Maybe it's a bad idea altogether. I just thought if we knew something more about the kid we'd ... I don't know." He grimaced, "I know you feel bad for him, Evie, and I do too, but I guess it's not really our business."

I thought about that, then said, "Well, it's a little bit my business. He was there when his father tried to kill me, and he was there shooting up our house the next day. I don't want to know the kid, not to become friends or anything. I just want to know what he's like, and if I should be looking over my shoulder all the time."

"You want to know if he hates you," Chris stated evenly.


Chris stared again, then smiled, "You need to make a personal appearance, Evie. Nobody who knows you could want to cause you harm."

I chuckled, "I'm that sweet of a guy?"

Chris nodded, but didn't say anything else. I was thinking, and finally said, "I could just call Lee up and talk to him. He can't do anything to me over the phone, can he?"

Chris raised his eyebrows, "I don't know, Evan. What if he uses dirty words or something?"

I smiled, "Sticks and stones .."

"You have his number?"

I didn't, but I thought about a camera man who seemed to like me. "No, but I can probably get it. Let's do something else so I can think this over. I don't know what the downside is, but there probably is one."

Chris shrugged, "Okay. What do you want to do?"

I leered, "Heh, wrong question! I think it's been a long time since I jumped your bones."

Chris looked at me, "You're pathetic, you know that? What about Aaron?"

"He wants to jump your bones, too," I said cheerfully, "but he's not here."

Chris looked surprised, then a bit pleased. "Really?"

"Don't go swaggering around, Chris, it's not like you. I have to keep Aaron especially busy when you're around. He has an odd affinity for the truly ugly people on this planet, and that makes you prime meat in his eyes."

The look on his face was priceless. It was pure surprise at first, but Chris worked it into an evil leer quickly enough. "Step into my parlor, says the spider to the fly. I've got a piece of prime beef that you haven't seen in about eight months!"

"Italian sausage?"

Chris snickered, "Heh, I'm not Italian."


"Nope, not Polish, either. I'm Irish, if that helps."

"A spud?" I gasped. "I've heard of that. I hope you remembered to put it in front!"

Chris opened his mouth to say something, then caught what I just said and burst out laughing. He choked, "And the alternative is? Never mind!"

I let him laugh it out, then asked seriously, "So, how about it? You know ... old times sake, whatever."

I looked at the faraway look Chris got in his eyes, and wondered if I'd messed up, but he finally looked right at me and smiled, "I thought that was all over, but I'm game if you are."

* * * * * * * *

When I walked home on that Sunday night, I had things to think about. It was good for me to spend time with Chris and his family, because they weren't afraid to challenge me. It took talking and thinking for me to realize that my interest in Lee Erasmus went beyond simple curiosity. In the back of my mind, I was afraid of him, and self preservation was motivating me to learn what I could about him. The curiosity was there too, of course, but not knowing who or what I was dealing with had this edge of uncertainty poking into my subconscious all the time. I knew what he looked like at ten years old from a single picture, but that was taken a long time before. I was letting him become this bigger-than-life monster in the back of my mind, and without any basis in fact or reason.

It was a frigid night, the temperature below zero, but it was clear and beautiful at the same time. The sky was lit wildly with stars, and my thoughts about Lee had to share time with my appreciation for the heavens. I had to hurry because of the cold, too, but I didn't mind. The cold, like it usually does, brought clarity to my thinking as well as to the sky. To languish in the freezing cold is to invite death, so I walked quickly, swinging my arms and breathing through my nose. Daydreaming is a summer thing, or at least an indoor one the rest of the year. It wasn't that far anyhow, and in five minutes I was at the edge of my own yard.

I stood there for a moment looking at the house I grew up in, and it seemed as warm and inviting as ever, more so in the arctic air. The ground was covered by icy crud - snow, that had been melted and frozen again. It let the light coming from the windows reflect off it, and even that seemed to lend warmth to the scene. I looked again at the welcoming windows, shivered against the cold, then headed inside.

I didn't have my coat off when my mother said, "Call Aaron, Evan. He has the flu or something, and he wants to talk to you."

"He's sick?" I asked, and I cringed. One thing that set the Smiley family apart is that we rarely got sick. Because of that, when one of us did manage to catch something it seemed twice as bad. I don't think I ever had the flu, but I had a cold once, and I was a real whiner about it. I felt so bad about missing out on things, but so sick that I had no choice. I hugged the bed for three straight days, and I was miserable the whole time. I still remembered how everything was snot, even my food tasted like snot, and by the time my nose stopped running it had been rubbed raw by Kleenex.

Justin answered when I called, and I asked, "How's Aaron?"

Justin sounded stuffed up himself, and he said, "He's sick. Hold on, let me see if he's still awake." I could hear him walking to Aaron's room with the cordless phone, then some words.

"Evan!" Aaron said, managing some excitement in his voice even though he felt bad. "How are you?"

"I'm fine," I said.

"I'm sick," Aaron said. "I'm gonna be really sick, I think. I feel like Hell, and it keeps getting worse."

I felt bad. "Go to sleep, then," I said quietly. "Have a kiss first, and know that I love you, Aaron."

He purred, "I know you do. I love you too, E. Give me a few days to get over this, okay?"

I didn't even make a wisecrack. "Try to sleep, Aaron. You call me if you feel up to it. I'll leave you alone."

I could feel his smile, "You are so sweet!" He made a kissing sound and whispered, "Bye."

I hung up feeling kind of desolate. I knew there was nothing I could do, that the bug would have to run its course, and I couldn't do anything about it. My mother was hanging around expectantly, but I just shook my head, not wanting to talk. She said, "Your father bought a cheesecake, Evan ... lemon. Have some of that to cheer up with, then go get some rest yourself."

I smiled. My mother could be really smart sometimes, and this was one of them. I didn't want to talk to anyone especially, but something sweet would be good, and so would a good night's sleep.

I dreamed that night, and I vaguely remembered it when I was in the shower the next morning. I was still thinking about Lee Erasmus, and the dream put me in the presence of him as a big dog that followed me everywhere. Don't ask how I put that together, but it was perfectly clear in the dream, and it bothered me a bit in the shower.

I liked dogs just fine, but we'd never had any pets because of my mother's allergies. I had to settle for other people's dogs, and I really liked dogs. There were still dogs that could scare me, and the one in my dream was a big one who just followed me silently. Even in the dream that made the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

It helped to clarify my thinking, anyhow. To me, Lee was a big, sinister dog. He followed me, and he seemed too close, so I got the heebie-jeebies just thinking about him.

I dried myself off wondering what I could do. Lee Erasmus was a kid a year younger than me. I could probably flatten him in a fight, as long as it was a fair one. I just didn't know. I didn't know nearly enough, and it worried me, and that made him into a big, stalking dog in my mind.

I met Chris on the school steps, and while we walked in I voiced my concern. "Chris, I really have to do something about Erasmus. He's invading my freaking dreams now!"

Chris looked at me for a second, and decided I was serious. His eyes narrowed, and he said, "Take it easy, Evie. We can ask around. Somebody knows that dude better, or somebody's little brother or sister does."

"Bruce knows him," I said. "I don't know, I just don't. If he's dangerous, I'd hate to get anyone in trouble."

Chris said humorously, "Excuse me, Ev, but you're sounding just a little bit paranoid."

That stopped me for a moment, but when I thought about it, I replied, "Maybe I am, Chris, but as far as I know Lee Erasmus tried to kill me, or to help kill me, and I want to stay on the safe side of that if I can." I smiled and patted his shoulder, "I can't take care of my friends if I'm dead, now, can I?"

We didn't have a chance to continue. We got swept along to our home rooms and classes, and the next time I saw Chris was at lunch, where the topic was not me, but a senior who had been shot at over the weekend. I felt detached from the general conversation because I had an idea of what it felt like when somebody tried to do me in. The senior, Al Fornier, hadn't been hurt, but now he also knew what it felt like, and I wondered to myself if he felt any paranoia.

When the day was done, I went home by myself and pushed through my homework. I wanted to see how Aaron was doing, but I didn't want to call and wake him up if he was sleeping. Justin would be at basketball and his parents would be at work, so I waited to see if Aaron might call.

He didn't, so at around four, I called Billy, and Dean answered sounding like death warmed over.


"Dean? It's Evan."

"I'm sick, Evan. We're all sick."

"You too? What's going on over there?"

"Flu, man. It's bad. Hold on, here's Bill."

"Hey," Billy mumbled, and I could hear in his voice that he had the bug, too. "What's up?"

I said, "I don't want to bother you if you're sick. I was just calling to say hi."


I laughed, "Go back to bed, Bill. I don't think I can do anything for you, so stay warm and get over it, okay?"

"I can talk, still. It's a bad bug, Evan. Three people in town died already."

That shut me up while I thought of it. "Old people?" I asked.

"No, well one, maybe. Two were little kids, like kindygartners."

I exhaled slowly, "Listen, Billy. Don't take chances. I'm gonna look on the net and see if there's anything special you should do, but get in bed and take it easy for now. I'll send an email if I find anything."

We said our goodbyes, and I felt bad for all of them. Being sick is bad enough, but if everyone is sick, there's nobody to take care of anyone else.

I guess that somewhere inside I knew that people died from the flu, but I had never given it any consideration. When I did a google on 'flu deaths' I was stunned to learn that influenza was right up there with automobile accidents as a cause of death in this country, right around forty-seven thousand people a year. True to what was happening in Riverton, most of those deaths were among the very young and the elderly.

I shuddered thinking about it, but all I could do was mail the link to Billy and hope that everyone took care of themselves.

I was getting myself into a state, so I dug in my closet for my ice skates, then bundled up and headed to the pond where we all skated, hoping the ice was in okay condition. I brought my hockey stick, and that was a good move because kids there had a game up.

Hockey isn't a good sport for me because I'm not a strong skater, but it was fun anyhow, and I was among the last to leave. I hadn't scored a point, nor even defended very well, but I burned off some energy, and some anxiety along with it. I walked home with a couple of younger kids from the neighborhood, and the warmth of home felt really good when I got back inside.

It was almost time for dinner, so I put my things away and ate with the family, filling them in on the flu situation in Riverton. My dad said quite a few people stayed home where he worked, and I talked about what I'd learned on the Internet. It was a depressing subject and we didn't keep at it long enough to damage my feel-good mood from playing hockey.

I went to my room afterwards, and got on the computer again. I checked my email, then logged into AIM, and Chris was on. I started typing a message to him, and the phone rang.

It was Justin, who now had the flu himself, but not too bad yet. He just had a hello for me from Aaron, who had lost his voice, so I told him to tell Aaron I loved him, and that he shouldn't worry about me. I was beginning to feel like a nurse, too, because I told Justin to go to bed and take care of himself before we hung up.

Then I sat there. I was looking at the computer screen but not really seeing it, because there was something else I should do, and it suddenly became apparent.

I was tired of feeling uneasy, and that feeling came from knowing so little about Lee Erasmus and his intentions for me. I went downstairs and took the direct route and asked my father. "Dad, do you have a number for Herb Sutton?"

He looked up kind of surprised, "I do somewhere. Should I ask why you want it?"

I shrugged, "He's an uncle to that Erasmus kid, and I want to ask him about Lee."

"Trouble?" Dad asked as he started to stand up.

"I don't know, Dad. That's why I want to ask. You know the cops and the D.A. think he was in deep with his father, and I just want to know. I need to know. I've been on edge for months, and for no reason except ignorance. If the cops, even Donovan, won't say anything, then I have to find out on my own."

My father stared at me in surprise, then smiled for a second while he nodded. "Right! Let me look, I know I have it somewhere."

He went into his office and I stood there looking after him. He was back in less than a minute, and handed me a business card. "There you go, Evan. Want me to call him?"

I looked at the card and shook my head, "No, let me try. I'll let you know if I don't get anywhere."

There was a phone right there, so I dialed and waited three rings for an answer.


"Oh, hi. Herb?"


"This is Evan Smiley. I don't know if you remember me."

His voice was full of surprise. "Oh. Oh! Um, this is a surprise, can you hold on for just a second? Better yet, what number are you at? Let me call you right back."

It was apparent that my timing was awkward, so I gave him the number, looked at Dad, then hung up and sat down. "He'll call back," I told my father, and the phone rang about a minute later.

"Evan, it's Herb. Sorry about that, but ... um, what can I do for you?"

"I'm not sure," I said lamely. "I wanted to ask you some things about Lee, but only if it's not a problem."

There was a pause, "What kind of things?"

"Let me start again. I just want to know if I'm safe. Nobody says where Lee fit into everything, and I don't know if there's a gun to my head or what."

I could hear him breathing, and it was the longest time before he said something. "It's complicated, Evan. I think that Lee, on some level, blames you for some things. I know he knows it's not true, but it's still there for him." He paused, "Listen, Evan, nobody has had a worse life than Lee. He's really trying, but he's seen too much, and had too much happen to him. They're not things you'd wish on your worst enemy, and he's just a boy. His life for the last several years has been one horror story after another."

I said, not unsympathetically, "I'm a boy, too. I can't make up for any of that, and I understand that it happened. I worked against the prosecutor going after him as an adult. I'm not against Lee, Herb, I just want to know where I stand."

After another long pause, Herb asked, "Why now, Evan? Has something changed?"

"No," I said, "That's not it. I want something to change, which is for me to not feel so naked anymore. I think it's a simple question, but I can't get an answer anywhere else. Here it is: Is Lee Erasmus a threat to me or not?"

There was yet another long pause, then he came back with a touch of humor in his voice, "I'd say not, Evan. You don't even know Lee, do you?"

"Uh-uh," I said.

He snickered, "Lee knows you, Evan. You hit him pretty hard today playing hockey."

"!" I was dumbstruck. "What?"

"Evan, he was on your team. You fell and knocked him over."

I smiled, because unfortunately that didn't help with an identification. I'd fallen and crashed into most, if not all, of my team at one point or another. Still, "Really?" God, if he played on my team and didn't try to kill me, then he'd either missed a golden opportunity or he didn't want me to die to begin with.

Herb said, "Listen, Evan. I know it's not supposed to work like this, but we're all adults. Let me think of a way you two can meet and talk, and someplace where you'll both feel safe. I know you need to feel better, and I think that meeting you will be just the ticket for Lee, too." He laughed, "You two have very little in common, but you're a lot alike just the same. What say?"

I held the phone down for a moment, and looked at the mouthpiece, then I took it back up and said, "I say okay, I guess. He's really okay?"

Herb's voice sounded somewhat defeated, "Lee's not all there yet, Evan, I didn't say that. We're hoping to make him better. He's doing well, and you can help if you will."

I looked at my father, who could only hear my side, and almost whispered, "I can try, Herb. I can try. You'll set something up?"

"I will, Evan. Can I talk to one of your parents?"

I smiled, "What? You don't trust me?"

He laughed, "Oh, I do. I just want to make sure they do."

I held the phone out to my father, "Herb wants to talk to you. I'm going to bed."

Dad took the phone, and I left. I went up to bed thinking that I'd been stupid to worry over everything. All it took was a simple phone call to make something different happen. I didn't know what that would be, only that things were underway.

I went to bed wondering about which kid on that frozen pond was Lee Erasmus. There had been nine or ten kids I didn't know by name, and he was one of them, but I had paid no attention at all to faces, just to hockey threats, and I couldn't recollect any big dogs at all.

I hoped I was doing the right thing.

* * * * * * * *

Dad was waiting for me when I went into the kitchen the next morning, and he let me get juice, a coffee and a bagel before he said anything. My mother and Alton were both there, but not really paying attention.

"I talked to Herb for quite a while last night, Evan. He's going to talk to his nephew this morning about you, and I want to tell you a few things before we go overboard."

I put a little jelly on my bagel and gave him my attention, sipping coffee while I listened.

"Herb thinks Lee is basically a good kid, but he worries about him even so. His life has unraveled around him, now he's lost his father, and he doesn't know if the bad things are even over. I can give you a quick chronology, and maybe just that will ease your fears. Okay?"

I took a bite of the bagel and nodded.

Dad started, shaking his head slowly, "It's a sad story, the story of that family being pretty much torn limb from limb. Herb says they were happy and very, very normal until Lee was kidnaped. The boys Lee was out with were all murdered, and the natural assumption was that he was dead, too, but somewhere else." I saw pain in Dad's eyes when he went on, "I think parents have a natural, built-in disbelief that their children can be dead, Evan. Leonard Erasmus never gave up hope that he'd find Lee again, and he kept a high profile until he was found. Herb thinks it started happening back then, and Leonard started becoming unraveled because they couldn't learn a thing. Then Lee was found, and that was a happy miracle until they learned what had been going on all that time. Then, when Lee got back to his family he had a real emotional attachment to the guy who had him, even after all the things the man did to him."

I could see it coming, and I wanted my father to slow down so I could hear it slowly. "You know," I said, "Harlan told me that could happen, that people can get attached even to people who torture them."

Dad nodded, then looked up at my mother when she refreshed his coffee, stroking his shoulder in the process. My parents weren't all cuddly with each other, but just then a look of love and understanding passed between them that a blind man would have sensed. I sure didn't miss it, and I smiled quickly at Alton when I noticed that he'd seen it, too.

Dad looked at the clock, then at his watch, then at me. "I have to get going soon." He inhaled deeply, "Herb thinks Leonard really started losing it after Lee came home. There was a lot to do at first, what with medical and mental exams, but Lee seemed ready to put things behind him, and pretty resilient, really. It was Leonard who couldn't come to terms, both with what Lee had gone through, and that Lee could actually have feelings for the man who did all that."

"It is hard to believe," I said.

Dad nodded, "Sure is. Anyhow, you're aware of what happened next. Leonard killed that man in cold blood, and right in front of a whole contingent of state police. The murder was televised live, so there was no question at all that he did it. Still, with all that had gone on, his act gained a lot of sympathy with the public. He never tried to deny what he did, and he didn't have to explain why to anybody. He killed a bad man ... a very bad man, and he had good reason to.

"When it came to trial they let him plead to some relatively minor charges, and he was sent to jail knowing that he was almost a public hero." He sighed, "Herb thinks he should have been sent to a mental institution instead. Leonard had too much time to think in prison, and in a place where he couldn't think rationally. That's where he twisted what happened to his son into a rage against homosexuals. He may have been witness to some homosexual activity in prison, nobody knows, but when he came out he confided in Lee that he wanted to go after gays, no matter where they were."

"This is where I come in?" I asked.

Dad nodded. "Yup. The family was staying with Herb and his wife until they could get back into their own house, which had been rented out. They all followed your disappearance with extra interest because of their own experience. Then Herb went home from here that night that you talked to the press, and told them that you'd taken off from home because you were gay, and that set the ball rolling."

I had to look at my father, because he'd just said 'because you were gay' with no more inflection than if he'd said I had big feet. Progress!

"Why didn't he warn me?" I asked.

"Who, Herb? He didn't know to, Evan. Leonard just gave a little, understanding laugh, and never said another word about it. I think the complicated thing here is that by then, Lee was very attached to Leonard again, and Herb thinks his attachments tend toward the unhealthy side. That's why I started out calling this a chronology. Look at what has happened to Lee Erasmus since he was ten years old. He went out camping with his friends, and saw them murdered in cold blood. He was kidnaped, then sexually abused for months on end, until he finally got away. When he came home, his father didn't understand him anymore, then went and murdered a man he knew too well. His father went to prison, while Lee and his mother lived with relatives. Then Leonard got out, they were back together, but Leonard had a secret hatred, and he looked to Lee to abet him."

I swear, my heart was in my throat. Dad went on, "Lee saw his father's rage during the attack on you, and came with him the next day to shoot at our house. He fired the shotgun that day, and then he had to witness the total degradation of his father's mind when you just disappeared. It all culminated on Thanksgiving weekend, and his father ultimately killed himself after threatening the whole family for almost two days."

"Jesus," I whispered. I knew most of that already, and could probably have surmised what I didn't really know. Lee's life was a horror story of the worst kind. "What now?" I asked.

Dad stood, "Come on, I'll drop you at school. I really have to get going."

I said, "Be right back," and hurried out for my book bag. I was back in a few seconds, kissed my mother goodbye, then we went out to the garage and the cold Chrysler.

Dad started talking again as soon as he'd backed out of the garage and turned around. "How are you dealing with this, son? You don't tell us what you're thinking sometimes."

I smiled sadly, "That's because I don't know what to think. I only want to know where I stand, because I feel like I'm on edge all the time. If that kid isn't actively after me, that's all I need to know. I've been trying to find out something here, something there, but I don't have any real answers. That's all I want, Dad."

He watched the road, and nodded his head, "That's fair enough. We can talk again after Herb talks to Lee. He really doesn't think the problem is with Lee, and neither of us know what should happen next. You sure don't want to carry worry with you all the time, so let's put our heads together tonight and try to get this settled."

I smiled, somewhat astonished, "Thanks, Dad!" I settled against the door and looked at him, "This is great, you know ... working together on something like this."

He chuckled, "It is kind of interesting, isn't it? It's different than working on having a clean car, that's for sure."

Amen, I thought.

I knew when I got dropped off that I was way early for school, and I couldn't even get inside. It was still freezing cold out, too, so I kept warm and wore off some of my good mood by pacing back and forth until the custodian opened the doors. I hurried inside, feeling the warmth, and went straight to my locker. My chill dissipated quickly enough, and after hanging my coat and leaving my book bag, I took just what I'd need for home room and first period and went to the library. The computers weren't running yet, so I went to the racks and poked around the psychology section, hoping to find something relevant to what might go through Lee Erasmus' mind.

Not knowing him, or anything about psychology for that matter, I didn't know what to look for, and going by book spines was pointless to begin with. Still, the library was a nice place, and I pulled a book out that seemed to be generically about human psychology and perused that for a while. I won't say that it was uninteresting, because it may have been, but it wasn't attention grabbing, and that's what I really needed.

I leafed through it until I sensed other people in the halls, then I went back toward my locker, and the building filled quickly. I greeted some people, but nobody I was interested in talking to, and sat in my home room waiting for the day to start.

Then Andy Jessup came in, and he'd been playing hockey the day before, so I asked him, "Which guy was Lee Erasmus yesterday?"

He thought, then grinned, "I don't know, but probably the same guy that's Lee Erasmus today. Who's Lee Erasmus?"

I chuckled, "I don't know, that's why I'm asking. He was supposedly on our team."

Understanding entered his expression, "Oh, that Lee! I didn't know his name. I don't know him, he came with John. He's a pretty good skater."

That narrowed it down. "Okay. What's he look like? What was he wearing?"

Andy rolled his eyes, "I don't know what he looks like, Evan. I only saw him the once, and he was dressed out for hockey. He had a nose and eyes, and he had an Islander jersey on."

I could see that I was headed nowhere. Everyone had noses and eyes, and a good third of the guys played in Islander shirts. I had to hope to run into John Berman, because if Lee came with him to the rink, he might be a bit more helpful. John was an odd person, though, and if Lee was hanging around with him he'd probably be a little odd himself. To John, everything looked like a conspiracy, and he was always the target of it. There were many times when he accused everyone of ganging up on him personally if he was having a bad day in a game. Worse, he was convinced that all his teachers had it in for him, and that he got treated differently than the rest of us. He exaggerated the smallest things, and every time he got called out by a teacher for talking or something, by the end of the day it became a major event, absolute proof of the vast conspiracy.

We all tolerated him. He was a pretty good athlete, a very fast runner, and we were just used to him. If he talked behind your back, it was because he talked behind everyone's back, because we were all 'them' to him. It was nothing personal. We were all out to get him.

While the other kids shuffled in, I thought about that. I guess if there's anyone on earth who should have a complex, it would be Lee Erasmus. He'd sure taken some big hits in life. Not knowing him, I still found it encouraging that he was out playing hockey with other kids. With all the trauma in his life, it had to take nerve to dress out for hockey, then freeze his buns off to play with a bunch of kids he didn't know. You never really knew with athletes, though. Some played for the competition, some for love of the sport, maybe some because they had to, and a few were just deranged. That's just my view, but nobody ... nobody ... played hockey because they liked the uniforms.

I never saw John that day, and there was work to be done for the play after class, so when I went home, I didn't know any more about Lee than I'd started with. Everyone had eaten by the time I came in, so I fixed a plate and took it up to my room, where I cracked my English book while I ate. My homework dimmed my mood. I couldn't figure out why, as a sophomore in high school, I suddenly had to learn to parse sentences. In general, I loved to study and to learn, but it really helped my enthusiasm when there was a point to it.

I'd been told repeatedly that, for my age, I had a really advanced vocabulary, and that I was well spoken, a good writer, and yada yada yada. It was an indignity to me to have to learn terms for all the different parts of that, then try to make a sentence look like a math equation. What? Were the language teachers jealous that the math guys had graphics? Parse this! Fill in the blanks: See <...> Evan <...> puke <...>.

I sighed. I'd survive. Maybe I could grow up to be a scientist, and try to prove the existence of a reason for totally pointless activity. People get the Nobel prize for less, right?

I was on algebra II by the time Dad tapped on the door.

"Come in?" I offered.

The door opened and he poked his head in, "Busy? I can come back."

"It's fine, Dad." I smiled, "When's the last time you conjugated a verb?"

His eyes bugged, then he smiled when he saw I was kidding. "Probably when I was around your age. I always hated it."

I grinned, because there was something in that father/son jazz after all. "Any news?" I asked. "I asked around today, but nobody knows much."

Dad had a fairly blank expression on his face, "Not news, really." He suddenly smiled, "You look nervous! I don't know what to say. Herb says there's no problem, and his opinion is honest. He thinks that Lee just wants something like a life. He couldn't get him to talk about you, though, not one way or the other. Keep your guard up, Evan, at least for now." He seemed ready to stand, then asked, "Do you know a kid named John Berman?"

I nodded, "Yeah, I know John. Andy told me that he knows Lee."

Dad said, "The Bermans live across the street from Herb. He called John a strange kid. Lee gets along with him, though. Herb doesn't know if that's good news or bad."

I smiled, "I don't either. John's not a bad guy, but he has this complex. I found out that he knew Lee, and was wondering why they were together. John thinks the world is there to give him a problem, and I mean he thinks the world is against him specifically."

Dad snickered, "A little paranoid, is he? That's okay, we all are sometimes." He looked at me, "I want to know where you want to go with this, Evan. I mean, do you want to meet Lee, or just know what he's like? Anything's possible, so it's up to you."

I thought, and couldn't come up with an answer that sounded right. I think that what I really wanted was a video of Lee saying ... swearing ... that he didn't want a piece of me. That way I could see what he looked like, what he sounded like, and how threatened I felt. I didn't want to meet him, not really. I only wanted to know that I didn't have to know anything else about him, that he'd leave me be forever and beyond.

I hung my head, "I don't know, Dad. I don't want to have to worry anymore, that's all." I peeked up at him, "I mean, talk about paranoia, that's me all over." I felt lost, "Help me, Dad. I don't know what to do here! Those people tried to murder me!"

Dad hugged me so fast that I didn't see it coming, and he had me in a vice grip. "Evan ... Oh God, Evan." He gasped in air, "Let's think, okay? You are so right." He eased off, then backed up a little to look at me, and his own eyes seemed tormented. "Son ... listen. Heh, listen in a minute, okay, when I think of something to say."

I managed a choked little laugh.

Dad sighed. "Let's do this, Evan. We can arrange for you and Lee to talk, and someone else can be there. That could be Herb or me, or anyone else for that matter. Do you think that will help you? I mean, you can get to see for yourself how he acts, hear what he has to say. I don't know what you'll learn from that, you'll have to use your own judgment after that."

I thought about it, and even though I didn't want to face Lee Erasmus, it sounded like a smart thing to do. At least we'd know each other a little, and I'd know who I was watching out for. "I'm willing," I said. "It can't hurt."

Dad patted my shoulder, "Good, we'll set something up." His hand stopped patting and began stroking my shoulder gently, "I'm glad you're taking this approach, son. I'm really happy that you asked me to help you. I don't get that very much now that you boys are grown."

I looked at him and could read that thought in his eyes as he stared at me. I smiled, "You mean it's nice to feel needed? I'm starting to know what that's like, and it is nice." I leaned back against him and said, "I like this, too. You're a neat dad to have."

We sat there like that for a moment, then Dad made to move, saying, "Finish your homework and I'll call Herb. What time restrictions do you have?"

I told him, and we decided that it would probably be best if I just met Lee somewhere to eat dinner. They'd work out the details. Dad knew what I'd eat and what I wouldn't..

When he left I turned back to my algebra book, but instead of going on with it right away, it struck me how close I felt to my father since I came home. I guess he was my hero when I was little, but he always had this dark angry side to him. I hadn't seen that since I came back. Instead, I was seeing the human side of the man, or at least paying attention to him for once. I was thinking that maybe I'd misjudged some things. I didn't like to be wrong about things, but this time I kind of hoped that I just hadn't really had my eyes open.

* * * * * * * *

Dad dropped us off at Pancho O'Brien's the next night at six. By us I mean me, Chris and Bruce. They were my reinforcements, and Lee was bringing someone with him, too. O'Brien's was a quasi-Mexican place, but you could get other things, thus the mixed name. It was popular with the bar crowd, and noisy on weekends, but during the week there would be just enough noise that we could talk privately without hollering, and without being overheard.

There was a room in the back with pool tables, too, so I could get alone with Lee for awhile. It was a good place for us to meet.

We asked for a table for six, maybe five, then waited by the hostess stand until Herb showed up to drop off Lee and John.

John seemed more nervous than Lee, but John was usually more nervous than anyone.

I looked at Lee Erasmus, and I kept on looking. He was as tall as me; leaner, but still athletic looking. His hair was just shy of being red, but it was more brown, and he had it in a short spike. He had the complexion of a redhead. He had a shiny little lineup of pimples across his forehead near his hairline ... not nice, but not awful. What I didn't expect were bright, happy, gray-green eyes, and a toothy smile that invited interaction. He had dimples, too, and straight from the major leagues. I remembered him then from the hockey game, because when I was squishing him between me and the ice, that same happy look was there, even though it turned to a grimace when I actually landed on him.

"Lee..." I held out my hand to shake, "I'm Evan."

He smiled to beat the band, "I know. Hi." He indicated John, "This is John. Does everyone know him?"

Bruce didn't, so they got introduced, and I introduced Chris to Lee, then we asked for our table.

I had expected awkward all around, and only John and Bruce were awkward.

Chris kind of stayed out of it, and it was Lee and me talking. We did good, and for no special reason. Herb had been right, because we were a lot alike even though we didn't have much in common.

Lee Erasmus had a captivating personality and, knowing his past, I found him to be an amazing guy. He was very smart, and that was clear from the outset. He also had a sense of fun and irreverence, and the term 'wild child' seemed like it might apply once you got to know him. He was talkative, and that didn't give me a lot of time to digest what he said, or to put it together with what I knew.

I was surprised to find out that he'd been back in our school for over a month. When he got suspended he went to a different school, but once the charges against him were booted out of adult court, they ended the suspension.

He talked until our food came, and it took a chimichanga the size of a pizza to quiet him down. I kind of envied him that chimichanga, too, because it looked wonderful. Using all my imagination, I'd ordered chicken fajitas. They were overly spicy and the meat was dried out, so not too great. They weren't awful either, but what Lee had was oozing yummy looking stuff all over the place. John had the same thing I did, and he didn't like his much, either.

After awhile, the talk picked back up, and everyone got in on it. Lee remembered Bruce and they talked. John relaxed and joked with me and Chris, and it was a pretty nice time.

When the food was done, I stayed with Lee while the other guys went to play pool. I watched them walking away and wondered how much John knew about why he was here. I wondered how much he knew, period, like did he know that I was gay?

Lee interrupted my thoughts by saying, "I'll be right back. I need the bathroom."

I nodded, and watched him walk away. Even his walk seemed cheerful, and it made me wonder all the more about him. I expected him to be messed up, and I'd been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if he was. It didn't appear to me that he was at all, and that wasn't what I expected. He didn't seem fake at all, either; just a regular, happy kid. I thought briefly that he might be a wonder of modern science, drugged up enough to erase his past or something, but that wasn't very likely either.

When he came back, he plopped in his chair and left it back from the table, eying me with interest. "So," he said without that smile, "Uncle says you're concerned about me."

I thought before answering, then said, "That's a good way to put it. Wouldn't you be concerned if somebody tried to kill you?"

His eyes narrowed, "I've ... I've been there. I don't want to hurt you, Evan. That was my father, not me."

I decided to lay it out. "I don't get you, man. You've had more bad things happen to you than any twenty people, and you come in here like nothing ever went wrong. You're not what I expected."

His eyes never wavered, "There's nothing to get," he said levelly. "People get over things. Look at you. My father tried to kill you, and you got over it. That can't be the only bad thing that ever happened, either. Your life didn't end just because it could have."

I stared for a long moment, then felt my expression soften. "You're right," I said. "I'm alive, and those things do bother me, but not all that much. There's always tomorrow and the next day to think about."

Lee smiled almost imperceptibly and I went on, "Still ... you saw things ... had things done." I felt tears in my eyes, "I don't know how you deal with that," I croaked, "Then your father ..."

Lee swallowed hard and looked down at his hands. "He called them piglets, Evan. He shot them and cut their throats, and he kept calling them piglets, as if they deserved it. I ..." he looked up at me, "I don't know if you ever saw the life go from somebody, but it's awful. We were kids! Nine, ten and twelve, and that guy wanted to see us die, to watch us!"

I shivered, and Lee did, then his voice lowered, "He didn't kill me, Evan, not then anyhow. No, he took me home to play with. I watched my friends die - their eyes go from alive to dead, then that fuck took me home with him. He said it was my home now, that my parents didn't want me anymore, but I was lucky. At least my folks wanted him to love me instead of kill me." Lee's eyes found mine again, "Do you get what I'm saying? I was supposed to believe that everyone else paid him to kill their kids, but my parents weren't like that. No, not at all like that."

"Lee," I said. "You don't have to."

He stared at me, "I can do this, Evan. I've done it a million times, and you should hear it." He flicked a sad little smile at me, "It won't take long, I promise."

I breathed deeply and nodded.

"I was ten. He did what he did with me, and he filled my head day in and day out with the lie, the big lie. He was fulfilling our parents' wishes, he said, by ... by killing my friends and by abusing me. He called it loving me, and I thought it hurt, and he got royally pissed off when I bled and .." Lee looked up, "You get the idea, right?" I nodded.

He shook his head quickly as if to clear it, then continued, "I bought it after awhile. After all, it was all I heard. At first, I thought someone would come for me, but nobody did. I got fed, I got clothes, I got toys to play with, and I got this constant line of shit that I was loved. I was ten years old ... I turned eleven with him. Every day I heard how he loved me and nobody else did, and you know what?" He peered at me, "I believed him. It was my only truth, Evan."

"Man," I said. "This is hard to even hear about."

"I'll finish," Lee said. "I'm trying to show that I had an altered reality. I had a past that was different. I remembered my parents, but I couldn't go there anymore. All I had was ..." He slapped the table, but not hard, "Then .. then suddenly I was back home. Rescued." He smiled, "My dad was already crazy, Evan, I could tell. I didn't know what to think, because it all felt unreal ... like disjointed. It was real though. My friends were really dead, and they died just the way I remembered."

"Lee," I said, "Please stop."

He shook his head no, "Almost done. It was a rush then. Police, doctors, my parents and relatives, all wanting to talk to me." His smile and dimples suddenly came back, "I talked, and I talked, and I talked, and finally Mom pulled me back, and for a few weeks things were quiet." The smile disappeared, "Dad was all freaked out about ... about ... about the sex." His eyes fixed on mine, "You have to understand this one thing, Evan. I was raped. I was raped every single, solitary time that man screwed with me. I did not want it, I did not ask for it, and I did NOT enjoy one second of it."

I protested, "I didn't think .."

He talked over me, "I did have these feelings, though. I didn't want to, but I did anyhow, and Dad went farther over the edge when he figured that out. Evan, I didn't want to like that man, and I didn't like what he did, but for six months he was," and he slowed down purposefully, "all ... I ... had."

He was staring at me, and me at him, and our eyes were fixed in place. I finally nodded slightly, and he went on. "Then Dad killed him ... shot him! Evan, you'd have to know my father to understand how out of character that was. The man put ant bait around so they wouldn't go where they'd get stepped on. He helped old ladies, all the boy scout crap. Then he murdered a man, and right in public!"

"I know that part," I said. "Then he went to jail?"

Lee nodded, "That's where he went." His eyebrows went up, "Dad didn't do well in prison. He wasn't that kind of person. We went to see him all the time, and he had a hard time being there." He sniffed, "I know everyone says he got off easy, but it wasn't easy for him," he looked up, "and this is where you come in."


"Yeah. I don't know what happened to my dad in prison, but when he came home he talked to me about gays all the time, and how he despised them. I personally think he had problems in jail, but he never said that." Lee shrugged, "Bad joke, I know, but like fucked son, like fucked father. Just guessing."

I said, "You know ..."

"Don't, Evan! Let me finish. We were living here last summer because our house is rented out. We heard all about you and your mysterious disappearance, and my folks wondered if you were taken like I was, so they paid attention when you were in the news. Then, when you came home and Uncle Herb went to the interview, he told us about you when he came home that night."

I said, "That must have gone over well."

Lee looked at me, "It did. I think I'm the only one Dad ever told about how he felt about gays. He listened to Herb and acted like it was just a good end to your story, and like he was happy you were home." He held up his hand to shush me when I moved, "So now you know. We knew what you looked like ... hell, we felt like we knew you, because we saw your face all over the place for months. When you came out that door at school, he was on you as soon as he recognized you, and there was nothing that I could have done to stop him. You're lucky he didn't have a real weapon, and didn't really know how to hurt someone."

I looked at Lee's face, and I could see the torment there. "That wasn't my father, Evan. My father died in jail, or maybe even before I came back." His voice dropped, "My father, my real father, wouldn't have done that in a million years." He brushed at his eye, "My grandpa says he loved me too much, that he changed a lot when he thought I was gone forever. He changed more when he learned what I went through, and it was too much for him." He looked at me levelly and said, "I'm not like that, Evan. I want to be like my dad used to be. There was a weakness there that nobody knew, but I know now, and I hope I can avoid it."

I smiled at Lee, admiring him. "You're okay?"

He shrugged, "I'll be okay. Are you?"

I said, "I'm a lot better now."

He smiled back, "I had to tell John that you're gay. He swore he'd never tell anyone, but you should probably talk to him."

"It doesn't bother you?" I asked.

He stared for a moment, then shook his head, "Not really. I thought about it when Dad was going off, but I didn't see what happened to me as a gay thing. It was homosexual rape, but if it was your ass instead of mine, you'd be just as raped as I was. That man fucked me because he could, and that's the only reason. I had to have a bunch of surgeries to get all back together, that's how rough he was." He smiled, "You're the only guy I know who's gay, I think. You wouldn't do something like that, would you?"

My eyes bugged out, "No. NO! What happened to you ... that man was sick ... demented ... deranged!"

Lee grinned, "Yeah, says you. You probably want me to believe you haven't even killed anyone yet."

I chuckled, "No, not yet. I was going to think about it one of these days, but maybe I won't after all."

He giggled, "John said you're funny."

"Just weird," I said. "Do you shoot pool?"

He started to stand, "A little. Just you and me, or is there a game we all can play?"

"We can play teams, my brother against the rest of us."

"He's that good?" Lee asked.

"No, he's not good. I just want to see if John's still paranoid when he's on the big team."

Lee snorted, and followed right behind me toward the back room. He was close enough that I could hear his breathing, and when I looked around he was still Lee.

Not a big, bad dog after all. Not at all.

Continued ...

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