“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”

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(Pittsburgh, December 15th, POV/Brian)

“How much did you tell him?” Faint disapproval laced John’s tone.

It took all of my own will power to maintain a calm expression as I looked at the man sitting on the other side of the wide mahogany desk. You’d never guess that John had just been told that the deepest, most carefully guarded secret of the O’Keefe family was about to blow sky high– his perfect features were as cool and collected as ever as he questioned me on the extent of how much I’d told Danny, his youngest brother. The youngest brother who was currently missing. My lover, who had left our bed without a word sometime in the night, and headed off to God knows where, in search of his long lost soldier brother.

I leaned forward, my hands loose between my knees. To hell with appearances, I didn’t care if my face showed every bit of the despair that was clawing at my gut. Danny was gone and I wasn’t sure he would ever come back. I stared at the floor for a moment, recalling that painful conversation with Danny, seeing first the betrayed look in his eyes as he realized that not only had his beloved Luke kept the fact of his survival from him, but then that John and I had known the truth for two years and not told him. He claimed to be glad that I was telling him, but he had shut himself away from me. I realized now the classic signs of Danny in emotional withdrawal. Then, I was just so glad to have my confession over with that I didn’t look beyond the surface. He hadn’t stormed away but let me hold him until we’d both fallen asleep. At least, I fell asleep. Another thing I realized now was that I had no idea whether he had slept or whether he’d gotten up and left as soon as I’d drifted off. I raised my eyes back to John’s.

“I told him what I had to, John, and it was little enough as it was. I don’t know much, do I? It isn’t like we ever really discussed it, you and I, after that one time. He seemed calm but obviously that was a facade, since he was gone when I woke up.” I ran a hand through my hair, frustrated at the situation, at my helplessness, at the utter impassivity of the man sitting across from me. My voice sharpened. “You do get it, don’t you? Danny is off to God knows where, angry at me, at you, at the world, basically, because we kept the news from him that the brother he worshipped....”

If anything, John’s face grew colder as he finished the sentence for me. “That the brother he worshipped chose to keep the fact of his survival a secret from his family? It was not your decision nor mine, Brian. It was Luke’s. I had client confidentiality to uphold, and you, well, you had a promise to keep. Danny should respect that, especially since he’s the one who kept Angel’s secret about Briana’s true birth date a secret so long, and still wants her paternity kept a secret. But I agree, this is different, and he’s bound to see it as different.”

This time it was John who was running a long fingered hand through thick black hair and for the first time during our little session, I saw the humanity peeping through the lawyer veneer. He looked tired as he leaned back in his chair and noisily blew air out through those perfectly sculpted lips of his.

“Fuck. Sometimes I wish Luke never laid this on me...yet, once he did, it was my problem and I accepted that. When I found out you’d overheard Mario and me talking that day, I was pissed, how fucking like you to be butting in where you didn’t belong and how like Mario in his Mysterious Marilyn shtick to go telling you just enough cryptic crap for you to figure it out. Like I said, I was pissed. But, I was relieved also. I thought, thank God, now at least there’s someone else besides me who knows.” Those perfect features looked up at me and I was struck again with the human inside the perfect shell. I loved Danny, but sometimes it was John that I could relate to most, of all the O’Keefes. Maybe because he was viewed as so perfect, and was disliked by the others often, because of his sarcastic ways, and what were seen as his perfectionist attitudes. I was more like him than the more easy-going of Danny’s siblings, because I knew that John worked hard to be the businessman that he was, and he used his looks for every advantage they gave him because his background didn’t give him a leg up in the cutthroat world of litigation. John and I both ended up the heads of our own firms because there was no silver spoon in our Irish-American background, and no partnership was ever going to come to us easily despite our talent and brains. We had to make ourselves partners. Danny thought he had to overcome being judged for his looks more than his talent in his field, but his brother and I could have told him, he wasn’t alone. The trick was in using your looks to your advantage but never letting it define you. John was never better looking than when he forgot how good looking he was, though, and let himself become slightly rumpled like he was today, I thought, distracted for a moment by the image he presented in his shirtsleeves with his hair messed up.

He stared intently at me, his eyes their deepest shade of moss green. “It used to worry me, you know, what if something happens to me and no one knows about Luke? Who would ever know the truth? What if Luke ever needed us?”

A slim black eyebrow cocked at me. Against my will, I felt it tugging at my heart–in many ways he and Danny were very different but in some they were like twins born eleven years apart. In matters of courage, they were lions, neither knew the word quit. Suckers for underdogs, both of them. Even in physical appearance, they had certain facial expressions and hand gestures that were mirror images of each other. That eyebrow thing was one of them, especially combined with the wry half smile that John was giving me now.

“I bet you’re thinking, so what if Luke needs anyone? Would serve him right for abandoning all of us like this…but the thing is, I don’t think he ever has.”

“What do you mean?” I didn’t bother denying that I was thinking exactly that. To my mind, Luke O’Keefe, made this bed, he deserved to lie back in it, alone, and face whatever came of his choices. Let him think of England and his little Lord Peter, if he wanted, but not his brothers. Not my Danny, who didn’t deserve this. He’d always thought that he came first with that brother, that of all his family, the two of them, the two brothers who never married, the “biggest” and “smallest” O’Keefe boys, had a special bond.

What Danny hadn’t known, and I hadn’t gotten to the point of sharing during my midnight confession, was that Luke was also bi-sexual. Although he’d been married in his twenties and frequently involved with women, the main long-term relationship of his life, as far as John and I could piece together, was with Peter George Linton, the British military man he’d met in his early twenties and carried on a clandestine affair with off and on for some twenty years. All Danny knew was that “George” was Luke’s good friend through the years and devoted to protecting Luke’s younger brother and sister from his predatory cousin, billionaire Edward Simon, who was obsessed with Danny. John believed that Linton may have survived what appeared to be fatal injuries sustained in rescuing Danny when Simon finally made his move two years earlier. Unbeknownst to anyone else but me, John had seen Luke that fateful night, when his brother had dispatched the injured Simon with a broken neck. Linton’s body was supposedly lost in a helicopter crash en route to the hospital; Danny and I were sent back to Pittsburgh to recover from the near fatal adventure and it was then that John was told by the disguised and departing Luke that he had no intentions of ever returning, but would stay a “ghost soldier.” Being an O’Keefe, John had exacted a promise from Luke that he would stay in touch at least once a year, and that he would give John some way of reaching him, in exchange for his silence.

It had turned out that there was one other person back home who had known of Luke’s continued existence, and that person was none other than Liberty Avenue’s resident psychic, Mysterious Marilyn, aka Mario, a boyhood friend of both Luke and John’s. Back in Pittsburgh, John went to question Mario and I overheard the conversation, which led to me questioning John. Which led to both of us keeping the sixty-four thousand dollar secret from Danny.

“I’ve no hard evidence but....” John got up and walked to the large windows that spanned two walls of his corner office. He kept his back to me as he looked out, his hands clasped behind his back. “I think he has us watched.”

“What!” I stood up and walked over to him, grabbing his arm to turn him roughly toward me. He just looked down at me from his slight height advantage and shrugged off my hand.

“Calm down,” he suggested in his soft voice. “I’m not saying he spies on us...not exactly.” He grinned suddenly. “Not that I doubt he could if he wanted to. I get the impression from the vague references he makes in his letters, which I don’t keep, by the way, at his insistence, that he’s involved in some deep undercover espionage work. What he called being a ghost soldier and implied was merely humanitarian work, helping war orphans and such, seems to be much more dangerous and complex.”

I stared at him. “What are you saying? He’s some kind of James Bond? Just great. I hope there’s no chance in hell that Danny could find him then, although God only knows where he’s going to try looking.”

John leaned back against the window ledge. “You still haven’t really told me what you said to him. I can’t begin to figure him out unless you stop demanding information from me and start telling me what happened, Brian. What did you say, what did he say? Once I have the facts, I can start figuring out where we go from here. Start at the beginning. What made you tell him?”

I pressed my forehead against the cold glass and stared unseeing out at the Pittsburgh skyline.
“I had no choice,” I muttered.

I thought back to the night before.

An incredibly vivid dream had scared me badly– only I wasn’t convinced it was a dream. Whatever it was, it convinced me I had to tell Danny what I knew about Luke. I’d been trying to decide how best to do that, when Danny somehow made an intuitive leap, turning in bed to stare at me, his eyes narrowed.

“Oh my God. It’s Luke, isn’t it? Luke is alive, isn’t he?”

I’d just looked at him for a moment, panicked, my tongue feeling like it was stuck to the roof of my mouth as I took in the shocked look of betrayal in his eyes. No sooner were the words out of his mouth, the fucking point of no return reached, than I wanted to deny it, take back the words that opened this damn Pandora’s box, my memory of those twin graves from my dream still fresh enough in my mind to cause a cold sweat to break out on my forehead.

But, somehow, refuting the truth seemed like the worst thing I could do at that point, like continuing to lie would seal that grim fate for Danny and me that I’d lived through already in my mind. I didn’t know the right thing to do, but I sure as hell knew that hiding what I knew from him for even one day more was definitely the wrong thing.

It was just so hard to stick to that conviction with those pain-filled green eyes looking at me like I’d just stabbed him in the back.

“I don’t know all the details, Danny. But...on the night that we had the showdown with Simon,” I swallowed. This was even harder than I’d thought it would be, and I’d been expecting it to be pretty brutal. He was already pale, and his forehead was as clammy with sweat as mine. I reached out to clasp his hands. “Luke was there. John saw him, spoke with him. He helped out somehow, after you and I were down for the count. I don’t know all the details but apparently there was more to the helicopter crash than we thought. Luke made sure that Simon would never bother you again.”

There had been a flash of something primal in Danny’s eyes that surprised me; I knew that I was glad when John slipped and I learned that Luke had broken that bastard’s neck with his bare hands, but I wouldn’t have expected Danny to approve of such rough justice. Maybe I’d underestimated how much Danny had suffered at Simon’s hands and had hated not having closure of that kind himself. But still, I should have anticipated his next question.

“But...what about George? Jesus, Bri, Luke and George were friends, don’t tell me Luke sent George to his death too because of what happened.” Danny looked sick. “I can’t believe that Luke would do that. They were friends, he always told me they could count on each other, almost as much as Luke and Red. I mean, even if they always kept their friendship secret, you could tell. Fuck, if he killed George over me, it would be all my fault...Is that why he’s not coming back to us? Does he blame me?” Danny pulled away, trying to jump out of bed. I grabbed him and pulled him back against me.

As succinctly as I could, I told him how Luke had disappeared into the night, but not until John had secured a promise from him to stay in touch at least once a year. I also told him that Luke gave John some way of reaching him if needed for “real” emergencies. That apparently was the arrangement George had with him, and how he had gotten word to him that fateful night, but Luke almost arrived too late.

“Your brother didn’t plan for that helicopter crash just to cover up Edward’s murder. It was also supposed to cover up George’s getaway. Remember, he didn’t expect George to be so injured. He expected to get there in time to deal with Simon and his team of Danes. From what you’ve told me about him and his buddy Red they wouldn’t have had any problem wiping up the floor with a half dozen blond gorillas. But, he didn’t arrive in time and you know that part of the story. As it did end up, I don’t know if George ever was taken onto that copter.” I bit my tongue as soon as the words were out.

Danny froze. He didn’t say anything for a moment, digesting what I’d said, going over it in his mind. Meanwhile I was frantically doing the same, trying to see what possible constructions could be placed on the facts I’d revealed unintentionally. I’d only meant to give him the truth about his brother. I hadn’t thought ahead to the ramifications of what it would mean to Danny if George had survived. Peter George Linton – the man who’d saved us both from his own crazy cousin and employer, but more importantly, the biological father to Danny’s niece and adopted daughter.

Fuck, talk about Pandora’s box.

“Is George...Linton...alive also?” Danny quietly asked, moving back into the bed with me, his voice composed, but down in his deepest register, a sign that he was struggling to stay calm.

“I...don’t know,” I said slowly. And I didn’t. Not for certain. All I had were John’s suspicions and I didn’t want to get Danny’s hopes...or worries...raised without more than suspicions to go on. Luke had never given John any concrete answer to questions about Peter Linton, pointing out that John had no need to know and every reason in the world not to want to know, since Linton had killed a man his last night as George Main. More than one, actually, if Edward Simon’s death were attributed to him, which as far as the police were concerned, it may as well be. But as John noted that night, there was no shortage of people looking to take credit for that death – hell, I would have liked to say the beating I gave him was the proximate cause of his demise. I beat him, Linton knifed him, Luke broke his neck and Luke’s friend Redraven dumped him into the East River. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, Edward Simon wasn’t just dead, he was well and truly, most indubitably, and sincerely... dead.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Bri? You knew...all this time... you knew. And you never said a word.”

He waited for me to say something in my defense but really, what could I offer? That I had more important things to think about? Actually, at the time, I felt that I did. Danny’s health for one, and our growing relationship. But, he wouldn’t see either of those things as coming ahead of his brother’s life; moreover, he would see honesty as being part of keeping our growing relationship healthy. Still, I couldn’t say a word as he looked at me, those green eyes begging me for an explanation. Finally, I guess tired of waiting, he tried to reason it out for himself.

“I can kind of understand John’s actions, not approve of them, but at least I know how he thinks after all these years, you know? It’s all separated in his mind, work and family. I also think that he thinks he has to put being a lawyer ahead of being a person. So, I don’t know, maybe he saw it as Luke entrusting him with the fact of his existence and he reacted to that news as John the lawyer, not John the brother? But no, fuck it, I don’t accept that. A person’s existence isn’t something that should be subject to attorney-client privilege, that’s just bullshit. And when you overheard the conversation that made you confront John after Marilyn told you some double-talk about Luke no longer being Luke, but that he didn’t necessarily die...and John is cryptic but basically confirmed that Luke is alive and living in hiding? How did this not ever get told to me, Brian? I can’t see it slipping your mind! We’re talking about my brother being alive! John may have mixed loyalties but where were your loyalties? To Luke or John? Where did I come in?”

Unspoken but implicit was the question, wasn’t my first loyalty to him? That one was easy...my first loyalty was to him, always. But how do you say, lover, you were so fucked up back then I was scared out of my wits for you? It was weeks before Danny would even leave his townhouse and months before he was completely comfortable making love with the lights on. No sooner had he recovered fully from the trauma of what happened with Simon, if he can even now be said to be fully recovered from that, than he’d been hit by a reckless truckdriver and seriously injured . Not incidentally, that injury occurred because he had just thrown me from the path of the truck, after my former lover had just shoved me to the ground. If it hadn’t been for Danny, I’d have been killed. As it was, Danny’s recovery and rehab took another several months.

Maybe that was the way to explain it. With the truth, painful as it might be for him to hear.

“Danny, there hasn’t been a minute in the past two years...no, make that two years, two months, and what is it, two weeks? Ever since that night in October 2006, you’ve been first in my thoughts, my loyalties, and, incredibly sappy as it sounds, my heart. You. Not your brother, not any of your brothers. And there was a lot going on if you’ll remember. You weren’t at your strongest back then.” He flushed and looked away but I pressed on. “I’m not saying this to make you feel bad, I’m saying it to remind you. I didn’t know much right away, but even before I heard John and Marilyn, I suspected something had happened. Of course I didn’t fucking press John because he was a major help keeping the police off our backs. There were dead bodies to be accounted for and I sure as hell didn’t want to get into the details with anyone. You didn’t have much memory and none of us wanted the details in the papers. We wanted it all to go away, and John and your cousin helped to make that happen. At least, I thought they did. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if there was some outside influence.”

Danny looked back at me and frowned, no doubt thinking back over some of the details, but I knew his memory was foggier than mine was of the weeks following that fatal night. His deepening frown confirmed that for me. I continued. “You were stressed out for months, remember, and didn’t want to talk about anything having to do with New York. Of course that didn’t include this, but I didn’t have any concrete information about this for months, just suspicions. No sooner did I hear anything than all the shit happened with the accident and all I cared about was you getting better. I didn’t give a damn about Luke or George then, Danny, all I cared about was you getting better. Once you were....”

I took a deep breath. “Once you were better, too much time had passed. All it took was you being sad about Luke around the holidays, or someone mentioning Briana looking just like you at a school function and I’d know you were thinking about George...and I’d feel guilty. But I’d think, better to let sleeping dogs lie. Not my place to tell you. And yeah, I was afraid that you’d react exactly the way you’re reacting now, angry that I didn’t tell you sooner, hurt that I somehow placed loyalty to John ahead of loyalty to you when that was not it at all, although I was concerned about upsetting his arrangement with Luke. He assured me that it wasn’t a promise to be taken lightly. So, I’d let the moment pass.”

His face was unreadable as he asked, “Why tell the truth now then? Two years is a long time to wait. What made you bring it up now?”

Why did I speak now? How could I tell him I saw a horrifying vision of the future? What would he say if I told him I saw his sister’s ghost, much less those of his friend Dusty and my Dad too? I sucked in my bottom lip and tried to come up with something that wouldn’t sound like a bad send-up of Dickens. Once again, I waited too long. Danny sighed.

“I’m tired, Bri. I guess maybe this is just one of those better late than never situations. Let’s sleep on it and discuss it more in the morning, okay? Maybe by then I’ll be ready to thank you for your belated honesty and we’ll be able to figure out how we’re going to deal with John. Right now, I’m still pretty pissed off, but I’ll get over it. Then I still have to wrap my mind around how I feel about Luke...I just can’t understand how he could let me mourn his death like this for so many years and not let me know he’s alive. Doesn’t he know how much I’ve longed to see him? How many times I’ve wished for him to be with us again?”

He shook his head sadly. But then he’d looked at me and smiled wanly. “I love you, you know. That is a forever thing. Come hug me.”

His hug was surprisingly tight and he held onto me even longer than usual. I probably should have realized from that fact that things weren’t as okay as he made them sound, but I was just so relieved to have this session over with that I didn’t look beyond the surface of his words. Looking back I was afraid he was hugging me good-bye.

I looked at John. “He must have left the house by five a.m. He left no note or other indication of where he went, but Emmett said he had an email from Danny’s Blackberry asking him to take Briana to Mary Pat’s house after school today. Danny asked him to explain that he got called away on business, he’d be in touch later regarding his return date. So he didn’t even contact Mary Pat directly.”

John’s frown deepened at that. “You mean he didn’t wait to talk to Briana? That is really not like him. And it’s only ten days until Christmas at this point. With all the rehearsal times needed with the choir. There’s the whole tradition of him singing the Christmas anthem...he’s never missed that. Only he knows what it is...well, him and Mary Fran.”

“I don’t think that matters a rat’s ass right now,” I started to say but John cut me off.

“You don’t...and I don’t... not much, at least...but Danny does. At least, Danny normally does. For him to take off and leave Briana without a word of reassurance this close to Christmas, and to leave Fr. Baker and the Church in the lurch...that isn’t my youngest brother. Do we know where he might have headed? I know he didn’t come here, which is the first place I would have expected him to go.”

“You said you get rid of your letters from Luke. Did anyone know that, or rather, know that you got letters from someone that were top secret? If I were him, I would have looked for them. Would anyone here at the office be able to give him information about your contacts from Luke? Mary Fran works here, would she have been able to access them, for example?”

“No, it’s all very secure. They are so encrypted you’d have to be a computer genius to know how to find them. One of our cousins is a techno nerd and does....” John’s voice faded away. “Fuck!” He walked quickly to the laptop on his desk and started tapping rapidly. He was muttering to himself. I sat on the edge of the desk and waited. He leaned back after about three minutes, a somber look on his face.

“Well, Danny tried to get into my system. He wasn’t allowed. I have a message from my cousin inside the firewall that is located inside the security firewall that I’d better avoid my baby brother and that it pays to treat my IT person well at Christmas time since a well paid IT person turns down bribes. Damn, I can’t believe he’d offer a bribe...what the...this is interesting...Keir was offered double what Danny offered by an independent party for access...hmm...says he set up a dummy access and fake info to lure the party. Keir is going to get back to me but says he is sure it isn’t Danny trying to back door it, as he first suspected Danny...fuck, says he knows it isn’t Danny because he left the country at 0700 hours on Liberty’s Charter Service, taking a flight to...Germany...double and triple fuck!”

I fell back into the guest chair. A chartered flight? Who chartered it? I hit speed dial for Cynthia even as John was dialing his cell, no doubt calling his computer whiz cousin.

“Cynthia, get Liberty Air on the phone, the highest level contact you can to pull strings for us. Danny took a chartered flight out today to Germany at seven this morning...no, I don’t know why or for how long, I need to find out that information. Don’t ask questions, or rather, don’t ask them of me, I need you to get answers. Find out where exactly he went, was he with anyone, and....” I continued to rattle off questions as John started hammering out questions on his line.



(Pittsburgh Airport; December 15th; POV/Terrell Jennings)

I watched the man from the comfort of the VIP lounge as he grew increasingly outrageous in his efforts to wrangle a ticket onto any flight he could get to Germany. Now, I happened to have a chartered flight booked to leave in less than an hour to beautiful Munich, which was fortunate, as I was given to understand, from the increasingly intense conversation that I was shamelessly eavesdropping on, because there were, sadly, no seats to be had at all, much less first class accommodations such as the good sir was accustomed to. Not that the good sir was being fussy. I gathered from the conversation, which carried due to the good gentleman’s particularly resonant voice and the ticket manager’s somewhat shrill tones, that the good sir would have taken a ticket for any European city within a half day’s driving distance of Munich. At some point I was fairly confident someone would recall that the VIP customer who’d arranged for four commodious seats for his own use on the chartered plane simply to ensure that he didn’t get bothered by anyone in his own entourage and if they were as good at their jobs as these people were supposed to be, they would even know that the VIP customer for whom the plane was chartered, Terrell Jennings, had a great deal in common with one Danny O’Keefe, VIP customer in urgent need of one of those three spare seats, and thus might be willing to give a seat up to him.

I was hard pressed not to laugh, which would immediately draw Danny’s attention to me. My laugh being as distinctive as his...well, pretty much everything about Danny was distinctive, from his long flowing black hair, to his delectable abs and ass, on down to his lovely muscular legs and perfect toes. Yep, the boy I’d first met had grown into perfection on two legs.

But he was not happy today, I could see, and I decided to step in before he offered to blow the obviously gay and just as obviously smitten, ticket man, or I’d find myself being bumped from the flight, four reserved seats, chartered plane, or not, internationally known opera star or not. I might be a tenor in a class with Caruso, but my ass is not in a class with Michelangelo’s David. I got up and walked over to stand behind Danny.

“Mr. O’Keefe, we are trying our best and checking with the other airlines, but with the holiday so close and the airlines cutting back on flights....” The international guest relations manager lifted his shoulders in a helpless gesture.

“Bill? That is your name, yes? Well, Bill, I really need to meet up with my sister Brenda in Germany.” Danny was speaking in his lowest, most intimate register. I didn’t know about Bill but that tone of voice of his always gave me a hard-on. I cast my mind back over the names of Danny’s sisters, I was pretty sure they were all named Mary something, and Brenda didn’t ring a bell at all. A sister-in-law then, I decided. He tended to consider them sisters, but why would one be in Germany at Christmas. Unlike me, Danny was big on Christmas. He had reason to be; he had a family. Since Bryn was gone, I made a point of being out of the country at Christmas time.

I was surprised that Danny hadn’t sensed me standing so close to him. He was usually very aware of his surroundings. I used to think it might have been a fall-out from his attack that day in Philadelphia, but Bryn said he’d always been alert that way, had been taught self-defense from an early age. Whatever it was, it was in stand-by mode today. The assistant to ticket man Bill, a young lady named Elaine if her name tag spoke truth, glanced at me but I held a finger to my lips. She gave the barest of winks and looked back at her computer screen.

“It’s really important to me, Bill.” Danny repeated in his lowest, sexiest voice and I could tell that it was having an effect. I hoped the poor guy had a loose pair of boxers on. And a private bathroom he could escape to.

I felt it was time to step in...for Bill’s sake if not my own. I leaned down and blew into Danny’s ear as I rested my hands on his shoulders firmly enough to keep him in place and whispered, “This is where you’re supposed to add, ‘I’d do anything for a seat on a flight to Germany, Bill’...but he’d better not give you one of mine, Chief, or you better count on blowing me for it too.”

He spun around, easily breaking my hold on him, the little martial arts whiz.

“Terrell Jennings! What the hell are you doing here?” He reached up to hug me but I just grabbed him off the ground and spun him around in a bear hug.

“Still not too canny in the morning, I see,” I smirked at him as I put him down again but kept my arms around him so I could search his eyes, which were shadowed with trouble. I continued to speak lightly though, since I knew he wouldn’t want to air any problems in front of strangers, if he would talk about them at all. “I’m catching a plane to...let me see, where is it that people who plan ahead of time are going with their duly purchased tickets and people who don’t are trying to steal the tickets of those of us who did? Ah yes, Germany.”

He grinned at me, relieved but cautious too. Damn, I was going to have to work hard to find out what was wrong with him. Danny the man was harder to get talking than Danny the boy had ever been.

“How many tickets did you reserve and how did you know I need one?” The airline people were forgotten as we walked toward the comfortable seating that adjoined the ticket counter.

“Heard you working your wiles. I’d know that golden voice of yours anywhere. Recognized it the second I walked off the elevator with my handler. She told me what the problem was, since apparently their inability to meet the needs of such a handsome devil as yourself...not to mention the needs of a VIP’s VIP has got everyone all in a tizzy. Then I kept eavesdropping as I sipped the lovely Mimosa she got me...you really should try planning ahead, Chief...like we big stars do.” I gave him a lazy smile, trying to get a rise out of him, knowing that I’d get more information out of him if I could stir his temper.

“I can imagine,” was all he said, adding, “but I could never aspire to be as big a star as you, love. How much do you weigh now?

“Ouch, nasty boy! I need this bulk to sing all those strenuous roles!” I patted my stomach, which, thank God, was still flat. I would never be a slim creature like Danny but neither was I a man mountain like Pavarotti had been. Danny knew it was my worry, however, so mentioning my size was his way of telling me to keep my nose out of his business.

As if! I smiled at him cheerily. Danny always claimed that growing up with six older brothers gave him the thickest possible skin, but he had no clue. I grew up in some mean streets, and not much that anyone could say affected me.

I’d met Danny O’Keefe when he was a sixteen year old soccer player who was getting the shit kicked out of him and needed a rescue. His soccer coach was my best friend, and Bryn had drafted me, his own personal hero, to go to the boy’s rescue, since we’d known that something was likely to happen, the attack being part of a set-up by Danny’s own father and his head coach to “teach him a lesson” for coming out about being gay. As it happened, the lesson he’d learned was that you can count on your gay friends a lot more than you can rely on the straights in this world, even your own family. A big exception to that rule for Danny had always been his big brother Luke, a Green Beret, serving overseas. That man walked on water as far as Danny was concerned.

As soon as we got onto the chartered flight, (the opera house I was headed for spared no expense, even in these troubled economic times, Germans loved their music), Danny was easy to coax into a confiding mood. He needed to talk, I could see. He was about ready to explode from stress. His voice might be a patented sex weapon, to my envy, but mine was a great soother. I exerted it now to great effect, and soon had him mellowing out in the seat, leaning back against my chest when the seatbelt light went off. I tucked my arm around him to give him some support but I knew he was like a cat. He’d end up in whatever position suited him best soon enough, to hell with me. I almost regretted giving up my four seats to spread out on, because as much smaller than me as Danny was, I knew he was going to take up three of those seats before we were half-way across the Atlantic. Forget my five inch height advantage and I didn’t want to think about how many more pounds I was...at least a hundred. I looked at his booted feet resting on the seat across from us and forced back a sigh.

“I can’t believe my luck. Munich is exactly where I have to be, Terry. It’s just past seven a.m. and I’m getting out of Pittsburgh. I can’t thank you enough.” He closed his eyes; he looked like he hadn’t slept at all. Maybe I should let him sleep before cross-examining him.


“Danny...is everything all right?” I posed the question gently. Those incredibly green eyes opened and looked up at me.

“I’ll tell you about it in a little bit. Let me just unwind first. It’s...complicated. I can’t tell you how glad I am to meet up with you. For more than just the plane ticket. Amazing how easily your assistant arranged the switch to my name. How much do you pay that man? Think I could hire him away? Though it really went smoothly when you put in your two cents, big guy.” He smiled teasingly.

“See, that’s where charm such as you were exuding before comes in handy. It’s amazing how flexible homeland security can be...and we are leaving the country, after all. Now entering the country might have been more difficult. Also, Liberty Air is easy to get around. If we were flying Lufthansa, you’d have been left behind, mein Freund.”

Danny gave me another faint smile before curving against me to snuggle closer. For all that he was now thirty, and a very masculine man, he’d retained many of his more charming boyhood...call them tricks for want of a better word. I was glad that I knew them and couldn’t be taken in easily. Right now, he was trying to play me, and keep me from asking questions he didn’t want to answer. We’ve been lovers, and I think I’ll always be attracted enough by Danny that if he’s offering, I’m accepting. But on this occasion, I doubted that he was really offering anything. The last couple of times we’d met up, he’d been ecstatically happy about the man in his life, the man Bryn had once told me was known as the slut of Pittsburgh. A discriminating slut, but a slut all the same. Could that be the problem, I wondered. Maybe the bloom was off that particular rose? Time to start probing, I decided.

I ran my fingers through his thick hair, combing it back from his forehead. He’d shifted down into my lap and just seeing how his body was twisted in the seat was enough to make my back ache. I didn’t think I was ever that young and flexible.

“So, you have a sister in Munich? Odd for an O’Keefe to be so far from Pittsburgh at Christmas, isn’t it? I’m surprised to see you traveling this week, and without the rest of your little family? Don’t you have Angel’s little one to play Santa to, not to mention that ad man of yours? And he has a boy too, doesn’t he? Or is this going to be a quick trip? There and back again type of thing?”

Danny tightened his lips briefly before turning his expression into a smile and reaching a hand down to my thigh. “Are you going to talk or are you going to play with my hair the way I like?”

I took a deep breath. Damn, he was hard to resist. The little cock tease. I leaned back in the seat and concentrated on the sensation of his strong hand caressing my upper thigh, mere inches from my cock; my fingers tangled in his hair, so very reminiscent of other, more private moments with this lovely, lovely man.

If I hadn’t happened to glance down and see Danny staring blankly out the window, I might even have allowed him to bring me off right there in our seats. The flight attendants knew to be discreet, after all. And he was so very pretty, lying there, his hair so soft but his face so masculine, his body so hard lying against my legs. But I did look down, and I could see so much pain in his beautiful green eyes. Pain like I’d seen once before in those eyes. This wasn’t Danny, I knew now; this was the Dark Angel in my lap and I was getting the full treatment from him. It didn’t make me angry, it never made me angry even though I knew he was using me. I only ever felt pain for my little Chief, trying so hard to hold the tears back and stand tall when the world was trying once again to push his face into the mud.

I bent my head and kissed him lightly, barely brushing those full lips with mine. I spoke firmly, though quietly. “Not today, Chief...though God and I suspect you know how badly I want you. Now I will stroke your hair but that’s all that’s getting stroked so put those roving hands of yours back in your own lap or you are sitting across from me. Go ahead, now! Or I swear on Bryn’s grave I will tell the pilot to turn this plane around and take you back to Pittsburgh. You can have comfort from me, but not escape through meaningless sex. We’ve never given that to each other and we’re not starting today.”

Those eyes widened. He knew I was serious by my mention of Bryn, gone these nine years and he wasn’t about to mess with me now. We all have our shibboleths and he knew mine just as I knew his. His fingers moved away from my leg with one last lingering caress–his way of showing that it was his choice to stop, he wasn’t afraid to go on, no, not my brave Chief. I smiled lovingly down into his eyes, which had warmed a bit from the lost place they’d been.

“Why do you always call me Chief?” he asked suddenly, his eyes brightening with curiosity, the darkness receding even more. I had to chuckle and those dimples that I loved flashed in response. “I’ve always loved your laugh, Terry. I feel sixteen again, feeling it shake me like it does when I’m resting in your lap. Being called ‘Chief’ and having that earth rattling laugh of yours under my head, you’ve no idea how comforting it is.”

Actually, I did. Bryn used to say the same thing, countless times. I felt the sting of tears at my own eyes and had to cover them with my hand for a second, the pain of missing him was so strong. The next thing I knew, Danny had swung himself around and those surprisingly strong arms were around me, as his deep voice crooned softly in my ear, his hands cradling my head onto his shoulder.

“Shh, it’s okay, I miss him too. Holidays are the worst for missing the ones we love, aren’t they? Go ahead and cry, Ter, it’s only your ‘Chief’ here.”

I did just that, justifying it in my own mind by figuring that it would be easier for Danny to let down his guard if I did first. And besides, it had been so damn long since I’d been with anyone who cared enough about me to hold me while I cried. Fuck me, sure, let me fuck them, even more readily. But let me cry? Big strong man like me? They’d think I was insane.

Danny’s question was forgotten. Just as well, he’d hate it, I thought, smiling through my tears. Danny hated any image of himself as cute, and I resolved not to remind him of the question. Better to save the story of my first picture storybook with the brave little Indian Chief with the cute little bottom for another day. My very first sight of Danny, facing his tormenters made me admire his courage, and the book’s hero had popped into my head, but my next view of him, face down in the mud and cute little butt up in the air, sealed it, as it was exactly like one of the illustrations of the brave little Indian in my picture book.

My tears lasted only a few minutes but it felt like I’d been Atlas, carrying the world on my shoulders and just got to set it down for a spell. Danny handed me a large napkin from the drink tray and I blew my nose loudly, earning a broad grin from him and bringing the attention of the flight attendant.

“Is everything all right, Mr. Jennings? Can I bring you or Mr. O’Keefe anything?” The handsome blond man eyed us both speculatively. Our clothes were rumpled and we were fairly well entwined on the seats.

I tried to look dignified as I answered. “Breakfast in a half hour would be good. I believe my assistant will have my usual menu for you. And a selection of fruits and cheeses and a selection of other high protein dishes to tempt Mr. O’Keefe’s appetite would be nice. With vegetable juices, please. And more diet cokes.”

Danny waited until the man left, disappointed, before laughing, burying his face against my chest. I adopted an offended mien, although I was amused as well.

“What, pray tell, is so funny, young man?”

“A selection of high protein dishes? I think he believes I already partook of a high protein breakfast, and is jealous! There goes my stellar reputation! Did you see his face as he looked at our clothes?”

“Impudent pup,” I opined, in my stuffiest tone, causing Danny to crack up again. The brief awkwardness over, we chatted easily about our careers until breakfast arrived. I was happy to see that Danny did eat a little bit of fruit and some yogurt. I teased him until he ate a bagel as well, telling him he was getting vain in his “old” age. Thirty, bah. I was ten years older, and had known him for almost half his life now. One thing that hadn’t changed was that when he was upset, he had trouble eating. The best thing to do, I’d always found, was to distract him. He’d eat if you just kept sticking things into his hand.

Pushing the tray away finally, but picking up an orange to peel, Danny drew his legs up under him and sat watching me consume the rest of my customary large breakfast.

“Do you always eat that much?” he asked, sounding torn between amazed and appalled.

“I have a lot of me to maintain,” I pointed out as I started on my third steak.

“My brothers Jamie and John eat a lot, but they tend to eat all day, never so much at once. I guess you are like Luke was....” He cut himself off suddenly, rather like I did when I spoke of Bryn. Knowing that Luke was the brother that Danny was closest to, the one who was like a second father to him, and Lord knew he needed a better father, I reached out a comforting hand. I was shocked to have him throw it off with a particularly foul curse.

“Daniel!” I spoke sharply back to him, seeing that he was in danger of slipping back to whatever dark place he’d been in when I’d met up with him. Pushing the breakfast tray aside, I moved across to his seat.

“This has been going on long enough,” I told him, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him lightly. “Tell me what is going on. Why are you going to Munich on your own, without your partner? Who is Brenda O’Keefe? And why the fuck are you acting like the Dark Angel with me?”

He looked at me with wild eyes and for a second I thought he might even hit me. I tightened my grip on him. Danny was a very strong man but my strength was that bull strength that big men have and he’d need some leverage – and a willingness to hurt me – to get away from me in these close confines. I was determined to show him that I wasn’t letting him go without a fight.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. We were in a fucking airplane, after all, flying above the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, he collapsed against me and he cried. My little Chief cried. I almost started crying again when I felt him shaking against my shoulder, trying to hold back his tears at first but he finally let go.

“Let it out, Danny, love. It’s only you and me here. No one else will ever know, I promise. Please, don’t hold them back anymore. I know you do it because your father told you a man doesn’t cry, but I’m telling you they do, all the time, and the Lord knows, and you and I know, it won’t be the first time that I’m right about something and Pat O’Keefe was wrong, now will it?”

That got a hiccupping laugh and then the tears followed. Enough to soak my shirt front. I just rubbed his back and let them come. If I had a lot of tears stored up, I figured this man had them tenfold. I had to wonder, didn’t Brian Kinney ever hold him while he cried? From what I’d heard, he was a tough one, maybe he didn’t believe in crying either? How could he have such a blessing as this boy and not let him be free enough to feel, to let his emotions have full rein? Danny had so much passion, he wouldn’t survive if he had to bottle up all his pain, and no one’s life was pain free, certainly not Danny’s.

Eventually, Danny’s storm blew over and he was quiet. I continued to rub his back, content to wait until he was ready to talk. I knew he would now. We didn’t see each other often over the years but when we did, it was always as though we’d just left each other the day before. We were two of a kind, Bryn used to say. It always came back to Bryn, I thought. He’d brought us together, and in my mind, I think I thought that when he was gone, there was nothing to bring me back to Pittsburgh ever again. I saw Danny in Europe sometimes, but that was it. I had my music and my career. People hurt too much, I’d told myself. Better to keep a distance.

Holding Danny and seeing how much he was hurting, I had to laugh at myself. It wasn’t like you really had a choice when life decided to throw you a curveball. You either swing the bat and feel the exhilaration of the homerun or you got hit in the head. I was never one for ducking and ignoring the pitch.

Danny muttered something against my chest. I bent my head close to his. “What was that, Chief? I couldn’t quite hear you? You wish Luke were alive? I’m sure you do, you and he were always real close.”

The big green eyes were more beautiful than ever as he looked up at me, the long black lashes damp with tears and the light from the cabin’s ceiling reflected in his eyes, making them sparkle. But his tone was biting as he repeated himself.

“I said, Luke is alive, Terry, he never died. They lied to me, not only John, but Brian too. They’ve been keeping this from me for the past two years and Luke, he never tried to contact me, never let me know. Who can I trust? The man I love more than anyone in the world has kept this secret from me about something so important. The brother who meant the world to me hasn’t bothered to contact me for over six years. My mind keeps going around in circles, looking for an excuse for it and I can’t find one, Terry. Brian told me about it like it was, oh, I don’t know, an old boyfriend he forgot to mention. Like I’d give a fuck about that. That’s what is so weird, actually, he started out asking me about you! I forgot that part. So I thought he was going to tell me he had some skeleton in his closet besides that kid he lived with, you know? And more than that, here I’ve been suffering hell thinking my friend George died saving me from Edward. You remember, I wrote to you about that?”

I nodded, stunned speechless by all that he was telling me.

He continued, “George may be alive too. The helicopter crash was a set-up to get rid of Edward, hide evidence or something. George was never on the copter at all! John is privy to all this secret stuff and can’t tell, but Brian finds out by accident and he keeps it quiet and doesn’t tell me, oh, I don’t know, because he thinks I’m a basket case or something, and can’t deal with it, or because I’m, well, I guess I am a basket case because I can’t deal with finding out that all this was known and no one told me until now. Oh my God, Terry, I just took off, and didn’t even say good-bye to Briana, but I have to find Luke. That’s all I could think about. So as soon as I was sure Brian was asleep, I slipped out of the house. I contacted Luke’s ex-wife Brenda and told her all that I found out. I tried getting one of my cousins to hack into John’s computer but all I learned from that was that he deletes all the info he gets from a European source, about every six months, and that it is from the same place all the time, and highly encrypted. Keir promised to tell John he gave me no info. He owes me a favor. Brenda said she knew of a way she thought we could reach Luke. So I’m meeting her in Munich to catch a flight to Afghanistan. She was sure that would be where Luke would be and said she knew of a way to flush him out. Christ, Terry, why would he do this to me?”

After saying all of that non-stop, Danny started to shake, whether from anger or distress, I didn’t know. I pulled him into my arms.

“Hush, it’ll be all right. You’re not a basket case. Anybody would be upset at finding out news like this and we’ll sort it all out. Shh, you’ll be all right, Chief, everything’s going to be all right.”

I rocked him back and forth in my arms as I tried to calm him. I thought he was likely in shock as bit by bit he told me more of the late night conversation he’d had with his lover, Kinney. What kind of person tells a high-strung person like Danny a tale like that late at night? Come to that, why did he keep the news from him, and then spring it on him out of the blue like that? What in the world was he thinking?

“Danny, did Kinney give you any reason why he was telling you now? Maybe Luke is coming home.”

Danny shook his head. “No, I think Brian was feeling guilty, or worried that I would find out, something got him to tell me, but it wasn’t Luke. He didn’t really have any strong reasons for keeping it quiet, nor any definitive reasons for spilling the beans. Something so critical to me, and for all that he looked sorry, he just couldn’t offer any good reasons for how he acted. I think that hurts almost as much as Luke’s actions. I just don’t understand why any of them did what they did...well, no, I do kind of understand John. He’s the only predictable one. He takes attorney-client confidentiality very seriously, but Brian owed me the truth. I just can’t see it any other way. I realize there were problems, that I was upset over what happened.”

Danny paused at this point and it took him a long moment before he could go on. “I was not myself for a couple of months after the...trouble...in New York with Edward. He...he almost raped me...” I must have made a noise because Danny looked up at me and gave a sheepish smile. “Yeah, well, I didn’t quite tell you everything before. It isn’t the kind of thing a man likes to admit to, although I understand better now that it isn’t the type of thing that a woman likes to admit to either. It isn’t any easier for them, but the fact is, I didn’t handle it any better despite all my education and sensitivity. Hell, I’ve done rape counseling. But it’s different when it’s you.”

All I could do was nod. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out that was true. And being in control had always been a big thing for Danny, so losing it, even “almost” no doubt was a major trauma. I held him closer. “You did say almost, right, Chief?”

“Yeah, but there was some memory loss, so the fear and humiliation aspect was almost as bad. I was told he didn’t, but....” He stopped again to steady his breathing. “Anyway, my upset after that was part of why Brian says he didn’t tell me about Luke, a large part.”

I frowned. The attack in October took away Danny’s sense of control over his life, and by deciding he didn’t need to know this information, his lover and brother were taking control over his life in another way. Or that was how it seemed to me. But I kept my opinion to myself. Danny looked at me and I could tell he was getting angry as he thought about the situation. In a way, being angry was better for him than feeling distressed over the events from his past, I thought.

“I can’t decide who I’m more upset by, Brian or Luke. Brian did mean well, after all, even if he has a hell of a nerve making decisions for me, treating me like I’m the village basket case. But Luke! What the hell is his problem? What did I ever do to be dumped as his brother? He promised me, damn it. He promised to be there for me. I didn’t want him to sign up for that last tour, he’d more than done his duty and he was an engineer for fuck’s sake. He didn’t even like the damn war. But he went back, because he felt he was needed. Almost twenty years of his life at war and he felt he owed more, Terry. I tried to understand. But when they said he died over there, I was angry at him, for wasting his life. Now it seems he didn’t die, he is choosing to stay away from us, from me. Why would he do that? I mean, for a while, when he was reported missing, I was sure he had amnesia or something and would be found. Red went back three times to look for him. Matt and Mark even went looking, did I ever tell you? I went twice, both times Red went with me, of course, but we couldn’t find any clues. A six foot nine inch man stands out, you know? And all this time, he’s been in hiding! And Red fucking knew it?”

I scratched my beard. A couple of reasons were coming to my mind. Anything from post traumatic stress disorder to a different life in another country to, and Bryn would say that I was really over-working the imagination here, a possible deep under-cover existence. I’d been told that Luke O’Keefe was a Special Forces officer, specializing in Arab languages and military espionage. He “died” at a very inconvenient, or convenient, time, depending on your point of view. He was reported missing, presumed dead in early 2002 as I recalled, not all that long after 911. Could his death have been faked in order to further US interests in Arab military counter-intelligence efforts?

Bryn always did have the right idea– my imagination was way too active, I decided.

“There’s no way of figuring it out now, Danny. And nothing is going to make sense on too little sleep. Why don’t you try to catch up on some of the rest you missed out on last night and we’ll worry about the next step when we get to Munich. We’ll get word to your family where you are, you’ll call your little girl and sing her a lullaby and we’ll take things as they come. Sound like a plan, Chief? Luke’s been fine these past two years, no sense ruining your Christmas over him, is the way I look at it.” I kept my tone as soothing as I could, without making it seem like I was taking any of it too lightly– a tough balancing act but I seemed to nail it.

The crying had done a good bit toward relieving the pent up stress that had been keeping Danny awake and wired. While he was still unhappy, he looked less overwhelmed. He nodded at me wearily, accepting my suggestion. I opened my arms to him and he cuddled against me to sleep.

You really messed up big on this one, Brian Kinney, I thought as I brushed the long wavy hair back from Danny’s sleeping face. Maybe after picking up the pieces of this precious man that the Stud of Liberty had so carelessly scattered, I would keep them this time. I was more tired of being alone than I’d ever thought I would be.



(Pittsburgh; December 16th; POV/Brian)

“So, that’s the plan. You’re going to meet up with Lane in Paris and from there he will help you catch up with Danny in Germany.”

It was Tuesday morning and I was back in John’s office looking for some type of solution. There had been no word from Danny in the past twenty-four hours, despite word that his flight had touched down yesterday. He and Jennings had seemed to disappear. Jennings’ staff were being irritatingly closed mouthed so far. Apparently it wasn’t unusual for the man to sleep for the first twenty-four hours after he arrived in a country so no one was willing to disturb him to ask after Danny. Lane had been our best hope of getting through the prima donna tenor’s red tape but even he had been stone walled. I was prepared to hate Jennings on sight.

“Why am I going to Lane first? Why not directly to Germany?” I frowned at John as he came into the conference room he’d planted me in, while we both working on finding Danny and securing me some type of transportation to him. Nine days before Christmas was not the best time to travel, even with connections with an airline. I suspected that John might also have been contacting his next older brother through the bat phone or whatever the fuck he used to reach him, but the way I was feeling about Luke at the moment, the man could go back to being dead.

“You might know an airline president but Lane has a friend with a jet who happens to be flying to Paris this afternoon. Don’t complain. He’s taking you on board for free, no questions asked. And all Lane had to be told was that Danny needed you to be with him in Germany, and he was chartering a small plane to fly you there from Paris. Plus, Danny might be hiding out with this Jennings guy while trying to hunt down old contacts of Luke’s, and you’ll need Lane’s show biz contacts to get through to Jennings. He’s a big time star, apparently, not that I follow opera. But the Germans give him more respect than Americans would someone like, oh, Springsteen.”

Great. John didn’t say it but it was apparent that the plane Lane was chartering would include him when all was said and done. Still, I was lucky and knew it. Hopefully, I’d be with Danny again in another twelve hours, and have him back home in time to start conducting rehearsals for Christmas Eve. I stood up. Assuming he was willing to ever speak to me again.

Minor detail, I told myself.

“Great. I’ll have Cynthia meet me at the airport with a change of clothes for both of us, just in case he didn’t think to pack, he often doesn’t when he dashes off in a fog.” I didn’t say it but Danny could get really out of it when upset. It worried me but it wasn’t something I liked to expose to anyone else, even his family. Sometimes especially to his family. It was one trait I shared with Lane, I’d found, the only other man who’d lived with Danny for a sustained period. Well, other than Emmett. But I wasn’t sure if even Emmett knew quite how withdrawn into himself Danny could get when he was upset. He was almost like another person. At those times, when he was really upset, he took refuge in his Dark Angel persona, adopting his modeling image’s wild mystique as a protective coloring to protect his own psyche when he was at his most fragile.

I wondered if this Jennings guy knew Danny well. And if he could be trusted to take care of him when he was really upset. Of course, if he was such a fucking big star, he would just buy him a new wardrobe, Danny wouldn’t need me to bring him a change of clothes. Danny was a sucker for new clothes.

“Do you think you can bring him home?” John asked, breaking into my morbid thoughts. For once the worry showed clearly on his face as we walked together through his firm’s reception area. Two people were there, a good looking blonde woman and a hot looking black man whose suit did nothing to hide his muscular body. I wondered in passing what type of cases John was handling these days that brought in this type of client, before turning back to answer him.

“Danny has a tradition to uphold, John. He’ll be here to sing for Christmas Eve, I promise. I find it’s more important to me than I would have thought. Later.”

With that we clasped hands briefly...no hugs in front of people for us...and I walked off briskly. I was a bit surprised when the man from John’s reception area followed me into the men’s room in the hallway. I hadn’t gotten a gay vibe from him at all when I checked him out...purely as a reflex action...while John and I finished our conversation nearby. But now, standing side-by-side at the urinals, I was getting that old, come-hither smile.

“Brian Kinney, isn’t it?” The smile that accompanied the question grew even warmer as the man turned toward me, his pants artfully undone, his nicely shaped cock rising up, already at half-mast. He casually reached his arm back and locked the door to the hallway.

I might have been tempted by a display like that, even now, sex being a great stress reducer. Anonymous sex was no big deal as far as Danny and I were concerned. But, I was always annoyed by men who seemed to think they knew who I was simply by knowing my reputation. That slight turn-off might have been overcome, as I noted, he was a hot looking guy; he had a nice ass and I needed some quick release.

But the bulge I saw resting in his armpit when he pushed his suit jacket back was a deal breaker. Guns were not hot, as far as I was concerned, never were, never would be. So much for my gaydar, where the fuck was Rage’s superhero spider-sense when I needed it, I wondered. This fucker was not in here to seduce me, I surmised. Well, he just lost the advantage of surprise.

It hurt a lot more to get kicked in the privates when they’re hanging out in public, I noted as I stepped over his unconscious body. Danny would be pleased to know that his self-defense lessons had been put to such good use. At least, he would be if he ever spoke to me again. Remembering what he’d taught me about making sure you take away a man’s gun after you knock him down, I took away the holstered magnum, sticking it in my coat’s inside pocket. I then dragged the man into one of the stalls and propped him up onto a toilet, using his belt to secure his hands and his tie to fasten his feet to the toilet paper holder. I used my own tie to gag him. Satisfied, I locked him in the stall and slipped out over the top, feeling very James Bond.

And scared shitless. I was about to leave when I decide it might be a good idea to take a look in the hallway first. I saw John coming toward me, with the blonde walking very close to him. Too close. I let the door to the men’s room close and tried to think. John hadn’t mentioned having any client meetings planned for outside the office today. In fact, he hadn’t mentioned having any client meetings after me at all. He was supposed to be meeting his oldest son and his wife later. John and Micky were applying to adopt a little girl from Russia and the three of them were going to meet with someone about that today.

The blonde did not look like a Sister who ran an orphanage. She also was walking far too close to John for it to be explained by mere friendliness. She was either overly friendly, or, like my friend in the bathroom stall, was trying to give the appearance of such friendliness to mask a more sinister intent and her hand near John’s arm wasn’t being possessive, it was holding a gun to his side.

I felt like I’d entered the fucking Twilight Zone. Hearing the two of them stop on the other side of the door, I slipped into one of the stalls and stepped up onto the toilet seat, pulling the gun from my pocket and hoping like hell that I wouldn’t have to use it. Danny had shown me how to release the safety and fire a gun, taking me out to a shooting range a few times, but all I knew was enough to know I was no kind of shot. Not like him or John, who’d been firing guns since they were little fuckers. Just another little O’Keefe tradition, like martial arts and knives. The whole gang of them were barely civilized, I’d told him.

Where the fuck was he, my warrior, when the bad guys showed up? Off looking for the biggest, baddest warrior of all, naturally. And it was all my fault. I really had unleashed Pandora’s box, and it was all the fault of those three ghosts. I didn’t know about Dusty, but somewhere, my Dad and Angel were laughing their dead asses off. I tried to block out the vision of those graves and told myself that I was doing this to change that damned future, that it wasn’t going to turn out that way. Already I’d changed part of it, because Danny hadn’t learned about Luke from Tannis, he learned of it from me. Didn’t that count for something?

Maybe it only sped up the bad events, a quiet voice inside me said, but another, stronger voice answered, saying, “You hang in there Sonny Boy, you’re doing fine.”

Swallowing hard, I gripped the gun firmly, and waited. Standing on the toilet.

John practically stumbled in, very unlike his usually graceful self. I wondered if he knew I was in here and was trying to give me a warning. I could see somewhat, peeking through the crack where the door met the frame. Seeing how John’s eyes immediately scanned the stalls, I was pretty sure he must have seen the door close when I’d ducked back in because he shook his head slightly, which I took as a signal to stay hidden.

“I told you, I don’t need to ‘go potty,’ Ms. Lake,” he drawled in his most bored sounding tone. “I’m not quite sure why you shoved me in here.”

“And I told you to be quiet, Mr. O’Keefe. I’m looking for my partner. He must have already secured your friend’s cooperation and moved on ahead. Mr. Kinney’s reputation must be exaggerated.” She laughed snidely. The bitch. John just continued to look bored, I wondered how he did it. He had to be shitting bricks. Who the fuck were these people? Almost on cue, he raised an eyebrow and asked the woman some questions. Good old John.

“I trust you will explain to me why a representative of the United States government is taking me at gunpoint to an interrogation? I haven’t had my rights read and as far as I’m aware, I’ve not been charged with anything.”

Our government? I felt nauseous. This was not good. I thought about my erstwhile fuckbuddy in the next stall. Maybe John had better get a move on before the guy started to stir and gave his partner a warning. Once John and the blonde left, I would be able to call for help...though who I would call was a bit of a mystery, but someone surely would be able to do something....

“All in due time, Mr. O’Keefe. And I’m sure as a loyal citizen you will want to do everything you can to assist us. We are with a special branch of the armed forces and work independent of most regular army command lines. This gives us a certain measure of autonomy, you understand. We’re very interested in certain information we believe you might have, regarding the possible whereabouts of Colonel Luke O’Keefe. We just want to talk to you about that. That is all, nothing to be concerned about.”

“My brother is dead, Ms. Lake.” John’s voice was ice cold.

“Well then, our conversation will be a long one, I’m afraid, Mr. O’Keefe. Starting with, where is your youngest brother?” She jabbed the gun into John’s ribcage as she posed her question, taking him by surprise. He flinched but didn’t cry out.

“My brother is having a romantic get-away with his partner before Christmas, Ms. Lake, and I expect him back for Christmas Eve services.” John said this last part while looking at me in the mirror. Our eyes locked and it was clear. He wanted me to continue on to the airport. Get Danny home. Whoever these people were who wanted Luke, they were nasty and Danny would be better off not looking for Luke if people like this were on his tail.

I closed my eyes as my only way to signify understanding then moved away from the crack. The two of them left. I waited a minute before following, taking the stairs and leaving by the service exit next to the parking garage. I left my car there, and hailed a cab a block over to take me to the airport. Maybe I was being paranoid, but as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

I couldn’t believe I was actually glad Danny had taken off on his own for God knew where, but I was. It wasn’t safe here in Pittsburgh obviously, and whatever fuck-all Luke O’Keefe had been up to for the past several years, it looked like it was finally coming home for the holidays.




(Pittsburgh; December 16th POV/Hunter)

Julie and I forced Johnny to walk three abreast with us as we went down the street, telling him that he could stop being a stuck-up New Yorker for one week out of the year, and this week, the week before Christmas was it. Of course, with Julie in her funky tasseled hat that was at least five feet long and had all the colors of the rainbow in it, plus her long granny skirt, and then me with my tattered old jeans and beat up old coat and gloves with the tips missing, and scarf that looked like the second cousin to Julie’s hat, well, it was no wonder Mr. GQ didn’t want to be seen with us, much less holding hands. Johnny looked like he’d just stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. Wearing Dolce and Gabbana’s version of Garanimals, as Brian would say. Hey, if someone paid me a fortune to color coordinate everything and put their initials on it, I would too.

“Hey, isn’t that Uncle John?” Julie asked, in the middle of one of Johnny’s and my insult fests.

“Can’t be,” I said, quickly. “The big guy is meeting little John here for lunch, right?” I elbowed Julie to get her to shut her trap. She knew as well as I did that Johnny was too quick to dump on his dad, who was a pretty decent guy as far as I could tell. If he wanted a lousy parent, I’d be happy to let him meet my biological ones, only he’d have to go visit the State Penn for my Dad, and as for Mom, well, she’s too scary for anyone to have to meet. I’d looked in the direction she’d pointed and it was John all right, and with a blonde who made Charlize Theron look like chopped liver. She was hanging all over him too. Not good. I searched for a topic change. Where was a good Sarah Palin joke when you needed one?

“Damn him.” Too late. Johnny had seen, judged, ordered the execution.

“Now wait, you don’t know, she might be a client,” I started to suggest. His disgusted look made me stop.

“I do know, Hunter, and she probably is a client. It’s practically a tradition. A client or a secretary. Now that Aunt Mary Fran works for him, I’m guessing client over secretary. Even he has some decorum. But not much. Damn it, we’re supposed to be meeting Mom in an hour to discuss their adopting a little girl. What a crock. Like he has any business parenting another child. He can’t even honor the commitments he’s already made. That dick!”

“Johnny, wait. I’m sure it’s not what you think it is,” I called to him as he pulled away. Julie looked at me sadly.

“Don’t tell me you are believing John’s cheating too! With just that to go on?” I looked at her, disappointed. John and the blonde woman were standing by a sharp looking car.

“He has a reputation in the family, Hunter.” She shrugged. “I know he’s been really good to you and he has been different lately, but you don’t know him like we do. When Johnny was growing up, the times his Dad disappointed him by not showing up, or showing up with some woman...it was terrible. He just seems to always need women. My Dad and Mom worry that Brian is the same way and that’s why they get along so well. Well, not that Brian needs women, you know what I mean.”

I knew I was getting red in the face. It pissed me off when people acted like Brian was still that same person he was back when he was the Stud of Liberty, when he didn’t give a shit who he fucked. People changed when they were in love. I knew they did, and Julie knew it too. If he weren’t so stuck on himself these days, Johnny would see that his dad had changed a lot too. Whatever John O’Keefe may have been like before, he was a one woman man now, and that woman was Johnny’s mom. Julie gave me an apologetic look.

“Look, I know Johnny can be a jerk but he’s got his reasons. His dad has a bad track record around the holidays, though you’re right, he’s been really good the past couple of years and Johnny should let go of the past. I’m going to go after him and try to calm him down. You’re probably right and his Dad will be there on time for the meeting with his Mom. I sure hope so.”

We hugged and she ran after Johnny. I stayed and watched John and the woman for a while longer. There was something strange about the way they were standing. Something awkward. It finally struck me. John was left handed, like Danny, but the way she was pressing against him was forcing him to use his right hand, like in putting the key in to unlock the car. And that was because she had her right hand pressed against him at all times under his jacket, which was strange. Now maybe she was just aggressively groping him, or maybe there was something she was hiding. On a hunch, I took out my phone and clicked a picture of them. Next I clicked a picture of the car’s tags and sent them all to Brandon. Then I ran across the street

Sometimes I just kind of act on instinct. Like the time with that killer cop. I knew I could get the goods on him for Brian. Sure it was risky, but something told me I could pull it off. This was like then. I just knew there was something very wrong about that blonde with John and I had to keep her from getting away with him. I ran all the way up to John sitting at this Jag window and rapped on it sharply just as he was putting the key in the ignition. Blondie had just gotten in at the passenger side. I wondered whose Jag it was, since John drove a Mercedes the last time I saw him driving a car. Nice Jag though. Must be the blonde’s, though she didn’t look like the type who’d let the man drive.

The two kind of looked at each other and John seemed to be saying something to the woman to calm her down or reassure her because she had one mean look on her face, nice looking as she was. John turned then and used the power window thing to lower the Jag’s window.

“Mr. Bruckner. I’m pretty busy at the moment, so if you don’t mind....” He tried to give me a brush-off, his voice very clipped. But as far as I was concerned, calling me Mr. Bruckner was his way of confirming that something was in fact wrong. I practically smirked my satisfaction at the blonde.

“Not at all, Mr. O’Keefe, I just wanted to remind you of your noon appointment with my foundling agency, we’re so looking forward to placing another one of our foundlings,” I stated in my most enthusiastic, bureaucratic wonk voice. “The James Hunter Foundation is fortunate to have upstanding citizens such as yourself and Mrs. O’Keefe interested in its work, improving the lives of countless young people....”

“Perhaps your friend would like to continue this conversation in the car, Mr. O’Keefe?” The cool tone interrupted my spiel just as I was hitting my stride.

John said no as fast as I said sure. The nose of the gun spoke loudest, however, and I decided to listen to it and opened the back door quietly and quickly, sliding in, “Without any funny business.” She really said that. I thought only bad guys in B movies said phrases like that. I glanced in the rear view mirror to see what John’s reaction to her was but he didn’t seem to find it as moronic as I did.

Of course, he was that much closer to the gun. He caught my eye and added his own warning. “This isn’t a joke, Hunter, please just do what she says without any heroics. There’s just been some kind of misunderstanding and we’ll get it all straightened out as soon as possible.” To her, he said quietly, “He’s just a teenager, do you really have to drag him into this?”

“Just drive, unless you want to go pick up your son and wife and we’ll add them to our little excursion also?”

John paled and I wasn’t feeling too good either. She somehow knew where John was supposed to be and why. So I didn’t feel it was necessary to point out that I was twenty, not nineteen. I didn’t think she would give a rat’s ass if I were three. If she wanted to blow me away, she’d do it no matter how old, or young, I was. Who the hell was this bitch and what was she doing with John? And me. That was the last conscious thought I had for awhile, however, because the bitch swung around with the damn gun and cold-cocked me.

I woke up in some kind of cell. It had a cot – I was on that – a table and a chair, on which John was sitting, none too comfortably since he was tied to it – and a toilet and sink were in the corner. Cozy as all get out. My head was fucking killing me but I tried to stay quiet in order to figure out what was going on without anyone knowing I was among the living. The blonde was standing by a door, along with a tough looking black guy, while this older looking, heavy-set dude was questioning John, who had his patented bored look in place. His face was a bit bruised looking and he was just in his shirt and pants, no suit jacket, belt or tie. So much for formality. I wondered if my belt was gone too. With the way my jeans were, they’d fall off without it. Not that I didn’t have bigger worries, but my mind tended to drift into trivialities at times like this. Not that I ever had a time quite like this before. I peered through my lashes as the questioning went on.

“The request is very simple, John. You call your brother Luke for us and tell him that his little brother is missing. He is, you know. Left the country yesterday morning in the company of a Terrell Jennings. A known subversive. Homosexual. Suspected communist. But since arriving yesterday, no one has seen either one of them. Rather suspicious, don’t you think? Did you know Mr. Jennings once took your brother to a hotel room when he was underage? ”

“If Terry Jennings took Danny to a hotel room when he, Terry, was underage, then Danny must have been all of, what? Six?”

Ouch, that blow sent the chair sliding a few feet. John rode it as best he could but it had to have hurt. Old fucker didn’t like having his grammar corrected. I made a mental note of that, even as I wondered who Terrell Jennings was. The only one I’d ever heard of was the opera singer. Who, come to think of it, was gay. Ben made me listen to his CD one time. Great voice. Big fucker, too, as I recalled. Made Ben look little. Danny left the country with him? This day was getting weirder all the time.

“Stop stalling, O’Keefe, we know you know how to contact the Colonel.”

“The ‘Colonel’ as you call him, is dead. He is buried at....” Another blow. Fuck. I wondered how long this had been going on.

“You are presenting a risk to homeland security by not providing us with information vital to national security, O’Keefe. For the last time, where is your brother! We know you know where he is. Your youngest brother contacted Brenda O’Keefe at five o’clock yesterday and informed her that he had information that her ex-husband was alive. Further information was given to the effect that he could only be contacted in cases of emergency. If that is correct, I suggest you contact him at once because you are going to find yourself in dire emergency very soon.”

John just stared at him calmly.

“Get the boy,” the woman suggested. “Perhaps that will encourage him to contact his brother. These O’Keefes like to protect those weaker than them. Let’s see how tough he is when his young friend is the one being hit. Curt, you do it. Perhaps the boy won’t be as much to handle as the ad man was.”

The older man laughed as the good-looking man by the door stepped forward, his face sullen. He was limping a bit. I wondered if this was the right time to try some of Danny’s martial arts that he worked so hard to teach me?

“Don’t let them fool you, Curt,” John drawled lazily, before the guy got all the way over to me. “Not only was the kid as she calls him trained by the same person who trained that ad man, but he’s HIV positive...how many open cuts did you get from your little battle with Kinney? Don’t want him bleeding on you now, do you?”

I almost laughed. Both of the men took about five steps away from me. You’d have thought I had the plague...well, in a sense I did, the plague of the twenty-first century. Only, John knew damn well that it wasn’t that contagious. Smart man to use the ignorance of these folks to my advantage, though.

Blondie looked at the men with scorn. Danny had a real point, blondes are bad luck.

“You idiots. You can’t catch HIV like that, not from punching him a few times. Unless you plan on fucking the kid, Curt. I’m beginning to see how Kinney managed to leave you tied up in your own clothes, dick out and bare-assed on the toilet and gagged with his tie.”

No way, I thought gleefully. John and I might be in pretty desperate straits at the moment but if Brian could do that to one of these guys, John and I should be able to get ourselves out of this jam, no problem. But, why was Danny in Europe? He had his Christmas song to sing in about a week for fuck’s sake, and beyond that, why were these people looking for Luke O’Keefe? The man was dead.

The blonde was standing over me with her gun pointing down at me.

“Time to stop playing possum, little boy. We need your buddy John to start cooperating and you’re going to convince him to do it. Starting now.” She yanked me up by my hair, the gun held to my temple.

“Uh…John? You know anything about this Colonel they’re harping on about? Yeow, lady, enough with the hair. Who the hell are you folks, anyway?”

“These fine folks are with the United States Government, Hunter. It may be a lame duck administration but it’s still the one in power for now and it’s desperate to hold onto every last shred of power for as long as it can.....hhhph.”

That blow knocked John out. I felt frightened as I was left alone with just the three crazy types. But they ignored me while they discussed their next step, the blonde berating the older man for hitting John too hard.

“Now look what you’ve done. We’ll have to wait until he comes to again before we can proceed, Frank.”

The man threw water at John but he stayed slumped in his chair. The guy tossed the empty cup on the floor.

“Curt, go get smelling salts or something.” The man named Frank turned to the woman. “You know he’s just like his brother, Nance. He’s not going to give in. They’re like machines. You could kill that kid and he’d just look at you with those icy green eyes of his. If we had the young brother, it would be different. That damn Brenda has the ace this time. Though if we could get word to Luke that we have this one, that might do it.”

“Hunter...Funny coincidence. Do you think that’s the kid’s real name? Or is he fucking with us?” the blonde, Nance, asked. I wondered what she meant.

“Who, him? Probably. Who knows. But why fuck with us over that. Hunter from Special Forces and Williams, from MI5 in England, have been working under the radar for years in that joint Task Force of theirs. They think no one knows about it. I swear O’Keefe’s in charge of it but I can’t prove anything and once the new administration’s in, I’ll lose any chance. So, it’s now or never.”

“If Brenda’s gotten to him first this one will wish he called his brother in and let us talk to him. Her crowd will make this look like a walk in the park.”

The man Frank shuddered. He really did.

“I hate Luke O’Keefe and his whole gang of sycophants, but I can tell you one thing, I wouldn’t wish Brenda O’Keefe and her boyfriend on anyone...and certainly not on Danny O’Keefe. Where the hell is Curt with those smelling salts...we need to get some information out of this asshole brother of O’Keefe’s and do it now.”

What in the fuck was going on, I wondered.

The woman called Nance looked at me, crouching next to John and smiled nastily.

“I just had an idea, Frank. Stop the beating, it won’t work with this type, even without his training. He’s handled it so far without a peep. Like you’ve already said, he’s like his brother. They won’t crack. We don’t know who the kid is to him but we know he isn’t his brother. But, we’ve got that new sodium thiopental injectable that the pharmacologist report says is producing much more reliable results. Why not try it on O’Keefe?”

“Is it safe?” Frank asked.

“Do we care? The main down side with a subject like this is that they deliberately mix in false statements, knowing they’ve been given something, but with him out, he won’t know to do that. It’ll be perfect.”

“You can’t do that! Give a U.S. citizen an experimental drug!” I protested. “You can’t give someone a truth drug period! What are you, Nazis?”

This time I got the blow to the head and not being tied down, I rode it really well, all the way to the wall.

“You can get a drug that will shut you up permanently and well make you seem like a nice little overdose if you don’t shut up, you disgusting little pervert. Be a mercy killing in your case.” I felt a cold chill as I looked at the woman’s eyes. She was one cold bitch. I had to stay alive, to keep an eye on them, and protect John, as best I could. Even if it was only to be a witness to what they did. I went into my invisible person mode.

As soon as Curt was back with the smelling salts he was sent for the drug. John was given it by a woman in a white jacket who exclaimed happily over his large veins. So convenient of him to make it easy for them to drug him. Advantage of a healthy lifestyle...big veins. How ironic.

The things I was learning. There really were truth serums and our government used them, not just bad governments, like Russia. This one worked quickly but had a short lifespan. The whole thing reminded me of the movie “True Lies” and Arnold Schwarzenegger telling Jamie Lee Curtis about his life as a spy.

There was John, tied to this chair, with a light shining on him and this hot looking babe asking him questions. First the usual, like his name, where did he go to college.

“Did you ever cheat on a test?”

She must be trying to see if he would tell the truth, I figured, and expected him to say yes, because after all, everyone cheats sometimes. But John said no. But then, she asked, in an annoyed voice, “Did you ever cheat on your wife?”

A pause. “Which one?”

“Your first wife.”

Another pause, then, “Yes.”

“Did you ever cheat on your second wife?”

“No.” That was a surprise. John’s second wife was a bitch. But then he added sadly, “But I wish I had.”

The two men snickered and the blonde glared at them. She was getting impatient.

“Do you know where your youngest brother Danny is?”

John got a really sad expression on his face when she asked that. “Objection to the form of the question, counselor,” he answered gently, his eyes closing.

She frowned. The man Frank started forward. “Just ask him where Luke is and be done with it.”

John opened his eyes. “Don’t know where Luke is.”

“Then how do you reach him if you need him?”

“Don’t... know.... Thyme....” John stopped. He seemed worried.

I narrowed my eyes and thought about what he said. Don’t, no time? Why wasn’t there time?

Blondie wanted to go back to her point. “John, do you know where your youngest brother Danny went? Why did you object to my question?”

That seemed to relax John again, put him back on surer ground. He smiled at her beatifically.


“Because why?” she persisted.

“Because Danny isn’t my youngest brother,” John confided to her in a low whisper. “But that’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.”

I almost fell off the cot.


(December 15th -?; Munich, Germany; POV/ Danny)

Landing in Germany, I felt a million times better. Terry and I had talked, after I’d had the chance to sleep for a bit, and whether it was the sleep, the talk, or yeah, the long delayed crying, but something gave me my perspective back. I felt much more ready to face whatever I needed to confront.

I turned to Terry as we got off the plane and had to laugh at the way his entourage bustled to cope with his dozens of suitcases. I had my one carry-on bag slung over my shoulder. I’d sent Brenda an email from the plane so she would be at the airport when I arrived.

“I can’t thank you enough, Terry. I want to see you again soon. Don’t let it be another couple of years this time, please?” I bit my lip, wondering if it would seem like I was hitting on him again if I kissed him good-bye. I was embarrassed still about how I’d acted on the plane. Thank God he hadn’t taken me up on it. I was mad at Brian, but I didn’t really want to cross any lines like that. Fooling with Terry would have broken one of our unwritten rules and it would have been using Terry. It would have been so totally wrong on all counts. My expression must have looked pathetic or something because I was swept up into one of Terry’s bear hugs a second later.

“You’re not getting away that easily, Chief. I think I need to check out this sister-in-law of yours, make sure she is an acceptable sort for you to mix with. Where is she? Why isn’t she meeting you by the gate here?” He rested his big arm on my shoulder and started walking me down the tunnel leading toward the main greeting area. Since I’d already told him Brenda was over six feet tall, he had no trouble locating her. Unless an Olympic women’s basketball team is passing through or something, you can usually spot Brenda right away in any crowd.

“Little Danny! Let me look at you!” Her bellow could be heard across the crowded airport. I sighed, but good-naturedly. At least she said it in English, so that lessened the embarrassment. Terry squeezed my shoulder in a comforting gesture. He knew how I felt about comments like that. Kind of like how he felt about insensitive comments about his size, except, as I generally pointed out when we were comparing notes on pet peeves, it was considered good to be big.

A second later, I was being picked up and spun around yet again, this time by Luke’s Amazon of a widow. Or, I guess, ex-wife. What was she, exactly? They did finalize the divorce, I thought. But Brenda was still treated as though she was part of the family, as much as she’d ever been. Luke was an odd sort of husband even when he was married.

“You look great, Brenda,” I told her. And she did. I always thought she was a hard looking younger woman, but at forty-three, she looked stylish and sleek in a slim cut pants suit, narrow heels and long leather coat. Her camera bag hung on her shoulder, proclaiming her profession.

“You do too! Still as beautiful as ever. Who is your friend?” She smiled up at Terry. Not by much, though. In heels, Brenda was almost as tall as he was. Together, they made an impressive picture.

“Brenda, this is an old friend of mine, Terrell Jennings, I’m sure you’ve heard of him, the....”

“The opera singer, of course. How lovely to meet you, Mr. Jennings. I’m a big fan of yours. And this is Jareed Ahmad, a good friend of mine who has agreed to help us in our quest, Danny. I told him some of what you learned. Jareed, my brother-in-law, Danny O’Keefe, Terrell Jennings, Jareed, oh, can we all be on first names?”

Of course we agreed and with Terrell letting his assistant know that he’d meet them at their hotel, we agreed to adjourn to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Terrell hadn’t eaten for a couple hours and needed more food. At least, that was how the discussion went. Brenda seemed surprisingly timid for her about Terrell joining us, but Jareed was encouraging and I was happy to see more of Terry before we split up. I wasn’t crazy about her inviting another person along without consulting me first, but I had rather sprung Terry on her, so we were even. Except Terry wasn’t going to be joining us in looking for Luke, so there was a difference. My friend was just along for lunch, not a search for a long-lost family member.

Thus, I couldn’t resist teasing her, and there may have been an edge to my voice as I said, “I thought you were a big fan, Bren, it’s not like you to be so backward about inviting yet another handsome man to escort you. Is this the new, mature Brenda O’Keefe I’m seeing?”

She feigned insult. “Bad boy! Don’t you use that ‘m’ word around me! I refuse to grow up! I just am such a fan that I don’t want to take up too much of Mr. Jennings’ time.”

Terry looked amused. “I thought we were all on a first name basis,” he reminded her.

“So we were,” she agreed, seeming distracted.

“I think it is charming that we can all dine together before we get down to business,” Jareed pronounced. Following that lead, teasing ensued for the next hour, and there was no mention of Luke.

After the check was paid, preceded by a seemingly good-natured dispute between Jareed, Terry and me over who would pay. It was no big deal to me, but after Terry prevailed, there was an odd look in Jareed’s eyes as he smiled and bowed to Terry. He said something to Brenda in another language...certainly not German, it sounded like Arabic...and she shook her head at him. He spoke again, sharply, although his smile stayed in place. He seemed to be laying down the law about something. Whatever it was, Brenda didn’t seem too happy about it.

Brenda turned to me. “Danny, it’s time we got going.” She looked nervous all of a sudden. All signs of friendliness were gone from her face.

“Pick up your bag and proceed ahead of Brenda without turning to the left or right,” Jareed said quietly, a small pistol pointed directly at Terry. “No heroics, Danny, or your large friend who insists on paying the check will be paying with his life for your foolishness. Nod your head and smile if you understand.”

I nodded. I smiled tightly. This could not be happening. I glanced at Brenda without moving my head. Was she part of this or just as shocked as I was? I couldn’t tell from her expression, which was blank. Terry looked frozen.

“Now, you, large glutton, you laugh and take Brenda’s hand and kiss it, show the nosy lady at the next table how happy we all are. Such good friends.” Terry glanced at me and I begged him with my eyes to cooperate. He shrugged and picked up Brenda’s limp hand and kissed it, smiling faintly.

Jareed grinned widely and for a second I thought maybe this was just a prank. A really bad, in poor taste kind of joke. That would be in keeping with the Brenda I remembered. But then he jabbed Terry in the side with the gun. And he leaned close to me and whispered, “I am going to shoot your friend, Danny O’Keefe, if you do not do exactly what I tell you to do. So, let’s see how smart you are, shall we? We are going to leave this place and go to find your brother, just as you asked Brenda to do, but perhaps not quite as you envisioned...no, not at all as you envisioned I am willing to guess.”

The man laughed. Just the way we’d been laughing at lunch. My eyes met Terry’s, and thank God, his were so calm and steady. I risked looking at Brenda again. She too was looking at me reassuringly. I was confused.

“Just do as he says, Danny, and it will all be okay,” she assured me. I smiled back at her as I stood up to follow her out. Sure it would be, I thought. But not because of her. I’d just remembered something. A stupid thing but I wished I’d remembered it sooner. Brenda didn’t like opera...her favorite music was country, Luke had told me that once. They’d had very little in common and musical taste wasn’t among them. Like George, Luke had loved opera– Joey and Jamie used to tease him about it. And, Brenda never used to know Arabic...she complained when Luke and Red spoke it around her. She’d changed a lot since she was an O’Keefe wife, I surmised. Guess this Jareed guy had something to do with it.

Once outside, despite the warning, I looked for any opportunity I could see to get Terry and myself away from Brenda and her gun happy friend.

“You know, Danny, on second thought, Christmas in Pittsburgh is looking better all the time,” Terry said in a conversational tone as we were led down a dark alley. They were the first words anyone had spoken in several minutes.

“It has its charms,” I agreed. I hated that Terry had been caught up in this mess of my making but if there was no choice about it, I had to admit it was comforting to have his solid presence and calm good humor with me in a situation like this. His fingers brushed against mine as we walked along the narrow alley and I risked a sidelong glance. He was smiling slightly, which cheered me immeasurably. Sure we had a crazy Arab holding a gun on us, taking us to some undisclosed location, no doubt to hold us as hostages, and my presumed dead, but not really, brother’s psycho ex-wife was maybe in cahoots with the bad guys. But hey, that was no reason to get upset. I wondered if I were losing it as I shared Terry’s smile.

“I’m glad you’re finding this amusing, Danny. I’d hate for you to be frightened, we were such good friends when you were little. After all, I could have been a stepmother to you,” Brenda grabbed my arm and pushed me into a dark Mercedes. She indicated that Terry was to get into the front seat. She had her own little Glock, well, not so little. I guess since we were in a deserted alley there was no need to use a small handgun anymore. I wondered why she was risking Terry in the front seat, close to the driver. That question was answered fairly quickly.

“If you try anything, Terry, Danny will be hit in the head with my gun. I don’t know if you are aware or not, but he’s had brain surgery in recent years so a blow to the head would not be a good thing.”

Terry turned to look at me questioningly. I shrugged.

“I wouldn’t say a blow to the head from a Glock would be a good thing for anyone, actually, brain surgery or not,” I pointed out. Jareed chuckled. Nothing like a cheery terrorist, I thought, wondering again at the surreal quality of this whole experience and thinking that maybe the whole thing was simply a bad dream and any minute I’d wake up next to Brian, safe and snug at the townhouse.

That was an appealing thought. It would mean that the whole conversation about Luke never would have happened. I never would have left the house in the pre-dawn chill, never would have met up with Terry, a boyhood hero, at the airport, and certainly never would be riding in a car through the streets of Munich with one of my brother’s wives, former or otherwise, holding a gun on me. Of course, it would also mean that Luke would still be dead. A knot formed in my stomach as I wondered which way I’d want it to be. This nightmare I was currently in, or the nightmare where Luke was dead and never coming back again?

There was no choice but to figure out which fucking mess I was in, as either way it sucked. I turned to Brenda and said in a conversational tone, “You know, Red always said you were a crazy bitch.”

Jareed laughed but Brenda got an ugly look on her face. “You always were a mouthy brat who didn’t know when to stay quiet, and that hasn’t changed, I see. We’ll see how mouthy you are after Jareed and his friends are done taking a few turns with you, sweetie. They think Luke will come to your rescue right away, but you and I know better, don’t we? He’ll come when it suits him, won’t he? And that might not be soon enough for his ‘pup’.”

If this were the nightmare, it was a damn realistic one, I thought, clenching my fists to control my temper. I didn’t give her the satisfaction of showing any reaction but it bothered me that she was obviously working with Jareed and to hear her use the pet name that Luke’s men had given me as a child. To them he was Cuchulain, the Hound, named for the legendary hero of Ireland, because he always showed up when his men needed him. And because he was Irish, Red would prosaically point out. When the men of Luke’s command met me, they nicknamed me the Pup. Red said it was because I nipped at his heels like a puppy, but Eli had said it was because they thought I seemed like his son in the way I looked like Luke and copied him. I just know we both were pleased by the nickname, and for the longest while I only answered to Cuch.

To hear it on her lips now, in such an evil tone of voice, besmirched a memory that had been special for twenty years. I struggled to control my breathing, as getting angry would only put Terry and me at risk. Instead, I focused on those memories of better days, days of following Luke around the military base when I was a kid and he’d arranged for me to visit him. How incredible those times were. Riding in a jeep with him, eating at the canteen, sleeping in the barracks with him and Red. Going to the firing range and learning how to shoot. Even getting to go through the obstacle course with Luke by my side, such an incredible experience, his strong body helping me overcome any obstacle with ease. Red and Eli laughing whenever we messed up and cheering when we succeeded.

Suddenly, I didn’t care what reason Luke might have had for not telling me he was alive, all that mattered was that I might have another chance to see my brother in this world again. The brother who had done so much to make my life special. Whatever was keeping him away from me could be overcome, fixed, I knew it could.

Once this little problem with these two people with the guns was cleared up, that was. If ever there was a time when I needed Luke’s Cuchulainn quality, this would be one of them. Thank God Brian wasn’t caught up in this mess at least, I thought, as I wondered how I was going to get out of this.

But Brenda wasn’t done spreading her poison. As we drove along quiet roads, she must have grown tired of the silence.

“Aren’t you going to ask me, Danny? Ask me how I could have been your stepmother?”

I looked over at her, my expression bored.

“I assume you mean that because Luke was like a father to me, you would have been like a mother. So was Matt’s wife Julie, and she was much more of a mom to me than....”

Her laughter cut me off. Terry turned to stare and even Jareed was looking at her in the rearview mirror.

“No, Danny. That isn’t what I meant at all. You never did find out, in all these years, did you? No one ever told you, even after your parents died? Happened all the time, you know. In Catholic families. Children out of wedlock raised as siblings. Usually in the girl’s family but there were special circumstances in your family. But for no one to tell you after all this time.”

“Tell me what? Stop being so mysterious if you think you know something.” I was getting damn tired of secrets.

She just laughed. But it was the man Jareed who answered.

“The reason that we wish to have your company for a few days, Danny O'Keefe is because of the information that we have from Brenda. It seems that your precious brother is not your brother at all. But is in fact your father, and that you were passed off as your parents' child when your mother suffered a death soon after the birth of her last child, a tragic blow for the frail lady so soon after losing her twelfth child. But Brenda did a little digging and discovered that that Luke O'Keefe had gotten a girl in school pregnant, these things happen, and it seems the girl's family was all too happy to let your father take the child as his own. You are that child."

I felt cold. Not the child of Rose and Patrick O’Keefe? How many lies were there? I didn’t hear anything else that was said.

Tbc in Part II of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas"

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