Love Transcends

© Jess Mercer

My parents died a few weeks ago in a plane crash that made the papers and the evening news, especially since my dad owned a software company that is pretty successful from the things I heard him say over the dinner table. Software, shmoft ware, I couldn't care less long as the games on my computer work the way I want. Now I can tell you about those, because I get every new one for a trial run before they're put into production and released for sale. Dad often told me I'm the best judge of the market he had, so if I turned thumbs down on a game, it never got to the production stage.

I miss hell out of him and mom, cause they gave me plenty of love, but otherwise I just had a normal childhood, I guess, cause I never knew we were rich. We lived in a fairly large house that's nothing special and there's a swimming pool out back, but that's all. The only good thing to come out of all this is the court made my only relative my guardian. My dad left instructions in his will that Jim was to run the company as my trustee, until I come of age and all that.

Uncle Jim's only twenty-eight and head software engineer with the company, but dad never let me bother him at work, and I guess he wasn't welcome at the house, cause he never came around, even on holidays. The only reason I can figure is he and his room-mate have been lovers since college days. That's cool with me, cause I found out when I was twelve that guys are a turn-on for me like females aren't. I stayed with Jim and Ken for a few days after the funeral while he got all the legal stuff settled, but their flat was small, so I asked them to move into the house with me. Both of them are more like older brothers to me than an uncle and his lover.

I also happen to find the stump of Jim's right leg totally cool. It's gone just above the knee and I can't help the reaction I get looking at it, especially when he puts on jeans and rolls up the leg to just below the end of his stump so it's visible when he's sitting down. Any time he's not at the office Jim uses crutches instead of the leg. It has to be a turn-on for Ken, too, because I see him rub it when they think I'm not around, then they almost always go to bed immediately. I'm kind of jealous that I can't rub it, too, cause Jim's a good-looking dude.

Anyway, I've just turned sixteen and now I'm rich, or so everyone tells me. I wouldn't know, but Jim set up a checking account for me, though he has to countersign any check I write, not that I write any, because he gives me a cash allowance each Friday. One night while I was staying with them at Jim's flat I overhead Jim tell Ken I needed a bodyguard now that I'm rich, also a driver, because I don't have my license. He tells Ken that since he has a black belt in karate and has been complaining he's burned out and wants out of his job, he'd be perfect. So when they moved in with me, Ken took over running the house and doing most of the cooking. He hired a woman who comes in three days a week to do the cleaning and stuff, but that's it. He gives me a karate lesson every day, then spends another hour or so tutoring me in math. I hate math, but he makes it clear when he explains it. Ken's the software engineer who created most of the games I like best, so sometimes when we're playing a game together and I wish it would do something, he'll make changes to mine, then shows Jim.

Together, Ken and I have created several games for the company to produce. Being with him and Jim has made me smile again.

The one friend I've got who stuck by me through all the shit I've had to put up with is a cute auburn haired guy whose left arm ends just below the elbow. I had a crush on him from the day he entered the private high school I attend. It took quite a while before I could get him to speak to me, but when he found out I was gay, too, it was like a dam had burst. We became inseparable and, after I got up guts enough to tell him I had a thing for his stump, he relaxed and let me hold it. He told me he was born that way. No matter, I love it when we're together and he puts it around my shoulders. He's at my house almost constantly, because he loves to swim and he's ape over the games I have on my computer. Ken and Jim are happy I've found a lover and give us the privacy we need.

While we're playing a new game one afternoon after school, Benjy asks, "What are you going to do with all your money?"

I shrug. "How should I know? I mean I don't really understand all that finance stuff. Jim says most of it's in stock in the company, so it's not like I can spend it."

Benjy gets a dreamy look on his face. "If had all that long green, I'd look for kids missing an arm like me, or a leg like Jim, and help them, specially if they're poor or don't have any family. There's a one legged kid I see downtown when I'm with my dad. He sells papers and looks awful poor, so dad buys a paper from him sometimes."

"Great idea, Stud!" I call him Stud cause he hates his name, too. I go by Ace, cause my real name's Algernon Curtis Edwards, Junior. I hate it, and I'll bust the ass of anybody calls me Algie. Don't like to be called Al or Ed either. "Think he'll be there now?"

"More'n likely. Why?"

The more I think about it, the more Stud's idea makes sense to me. "I'll ask Jim tonight. If he says he's cool with it, you can show me and Ken where to find this kid tomorrow after school."

"Hey, I didn't think you'd take me serious. I was just dreaming out loud. You can't just go pull him off the street."

"Why not? It's a great idea."

"But what if he's got a home and folks?"

"I could still find some way to help him. You know, like get him a leg or something."

Because it's started pissing down rain, Ken and I take Stud home in the Jeep Cherokee. On our way back home, Ken glances at me. "What has you in such deep thought?"

"Nothing much, just an idea I want to run past you and Jim at dinner."

Ken laughs. "I hope it's an idea for a new game, because otherwise you have the damnedest imagination for the impractical I've ever seen."

"I was just wondering about spending some of my money."

"Then don't ask me, Jim's the one with the business degree."

"I thought he was a software engineer like you."

Ken shakes his head. "You really don't know anything about Jim, do you? He has a double major, engineering and business. That's why he's running the company for you."

"Oh."

By the time Ken calls me down to dinner, I've done a lot of thinking, for me anyway, and I remember dad saying one time he ought to think of setting up some kind of charitable thing to keep taxes from being so high. I don't know if he ever did it, so I ask Jim.

"Hmmm. I don't remember seeing anything about one, but I know he did make regular contributions to charity. Why?"

I tell him and Ken of Stud's idea, letting them think it's mine.

Jim and Ken look at me in surprise. "Well, damn!" Jim finally says. "We could set up a charitable trust in memory of your parents, and at the same time knock off some of the tax burden. Good thinking, Ace, I'm proud of you. How do you propose we select the beneficiaries?"

"Stud told me about one poor kid sells papers downtown, and maybe social service or whatever would know of some, but I'd rather the kids be homeless or maybe kicked out cause they're gay."

"I thought you wanted to help amputee kids."

"Well some of 'em's got to be gay. I mean you are."

Ken almost chokes on his coffee. "Got you there, lover," he tells Jim.

Jim grins. "Gotta start watching you, kid. You're getting quick on the draw. How do you think we're going to find out anything about these kids you want to help?"

"Ugh," I kick the brain into gear faster than usual. "Maybe we could get a private cop or something."

"Know Al Kramer at the plant?"

I shake my head.

"Guess maybe you don't. He worked for a firm that specializes in investigating industrial espionage. Your dad hired him as head of security last summer just after that Alpha version of the space game was stolen from us."

"Yeah, I remember that. Boy was he pissed."

"And rightly so. If Ken and I hadn't worked our butts off on a superior version, we'd have lost some real money. Anyway, I'm sure Al knows somebody. Ken, bring Ace by the plant after school tomorrow and we'll talk to him."

This is the first time I've been back to the plant since before my dad died. I used to run in and out all the time when I was younger, but now there's a guard in a glass cage at the front door of the building. He stops us. "Identification and state your business, please."

I can tell Ken's pissed, but he hands over his company ID. The guard looks at it and hands it back. "Who are the kids?"

"The one with dark hair happens to be Mr. Edwards, our boss. The other is a friend of his."

"Ha!" The guard snorts. "Let's see some ID."

"Hand me that damned phone," Ken snaps.

I'm surprised when the guard does, and I watch Ken key in the number for Jim's extension. He mumbles something to Jim, then hands the phone to the guard, who comes to attention and says, "Of course, sir." He hangs up and opens the door for us.

"Remind me to get you a company ID fixed while we're here." Ken tells me.

I snicker at seeing Ken so flustered, cause he's usually so laid back, that's why he swats me on the butt when I go through the door ahead of him. He and Stud stay in the lobby to play a new game that's on display, one I don't have at home yet, while I go up to my dad's old office which is Jim's now. He takes me down the hall to the new security office. The head guy is Tom Akers. He's big and a little grim looking, but I like him immediately because he talks as straight to me as if I was Jim's age. When Jim tells him we may need someone to dig up background information on people, he tells us he knows the perfect man. He even works for me already. A few minutes after he's phoned, a skinny little guy I could take easily in a fair fight slips in the door.

After I've told him what I want, Clancey looks at me and says, "Piece of cake. You have one you need investigated now?"

"Yeah. Ken's taking me downtown to find him soon as we're through here."

"Call my extension. I'll be ready to go any time you are."

We spend so much time talking to the company lawyer, I'm afraid the kid will be gone by the time we get downtown. You know how lawyers are, they always got to show off by spouting a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo. I want to cut to the chase and get on with it, so I tell him to work it out on paper and give it to Jim. He looks a little pissed, but once we're outside, Jim grins at me. "Wish I could afford to cut him short like that."

"Why can't you? Hell, he works for us, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, but he'd argue that he's just trying to protect our interests. I can read legal documents, and I'd sure rather do that than listen to him shooting off his mouth." Jim's secretary hands him an ID which he clips to the collar of my jacket. "Keep this safe, Ace, and wear it when you come here. Good luck with the hunt."

Ken and Stud are still playing the game in the lobby and I almost have to fight Stud to get him off the computer, he likes the game so much. I promise to burn him a CD copy soon as Jim brings me one to evaluate. Ken calls Clancey who comes down and we take off. Half an hour later Stud points to the next corner we're coming to. Sure enough, there's a scruffy looking kid I guess to be about twelve propped up on one crutch, with a few newspapers under his other arm.

When Ken pulls into a no parking zone, the kid hobbles over and asks, "Paper, mister?" when Ken lowers the window.

Ken hands him a buck. "Keep the change, kid," he says. The local paper is fifty cents.

"Thanks, mister."

Clancey makes a few notes in a pocket secretary, then opens the door and gets out. "I'll get a cab after I do a little preliminary checking." He turns to me. "You'll have my report late tomorrow, or early the day after, Mr. Edwards."

My mouth drops open. This is the first time I've been called Mr. Edwards by anyone. Of course, Stud snickers and punches me on the arm. "Gee, Mr. Edwards, do I get a finder's fee?"

"Shut up that Mr. Edwards stuff, Stud, or I'll start calling you Benjamin."

"Ugh!"

"And here's your fee." I grab him and give him a kiss.

"Mmmm, good. Gotta find somebody else, so I'll get another."

That fool Ken is laughing so hard he can hardly drive.

We drop Stud, aka Benjy, off at his home.

"What did you think of the kid?" Ken asks. I'm sitting on a stepstool in the kitchen watching him fix dinner.

"Poor kid don't have much of a stump, so I guess it's crutches or nothing. He sure needs a bath and something besides those rags he had on, but he's kinda cute."

"He was polite enough." Ken always notices that. "I'll be interested in what Clancey comes up with."

We've just finished eating dinner when the phone rings. Jim answers, listens for a second, then says, "You want the other one," and hands the cordless to me.

It's Clancey. He tells me some older boys have just beat the shit out of the kid, torn his papers to pieces, and run off with his money. He wants to know if I want to do anything about it. "Damn right, I do. Call an ambulance if he needs it, and ... " I start to tell him to call the cops, but I see Jim shaking his head at me, so I say, "tell the hospital I'll cover his bill. After you find out how he is, call me and let me know. I don't care what time it is."

"Okay, why didn't you want Clancey to call the cops?" I ask Jim after I hang up.

"If he's a runaway or anything like that, the cops will spook him and he'll disappear. He probably didn't have more than a buck or two, if that much. If you want to replace what they took, it'll be pocket change."

"Guess so, but it pisses me off."

Clancey calls me back about ten and says the kid's got a black eye and his ribs are sore from being kicked. The worst is that he twisted his ankle and can't walk, so he's stuck in the hospital for a day or two, cause he won't say anything about a home. I tell him to keep on finding out stuff about the kid and let me have it soonest.

Ken's about to take me to school the next morning, when a messenger rides up on a 'cycle and hands me a large envelope with my name on it. I have first period in the library, so I spend it reading Clancey's report. The kid's name is Danny. He's got no home and has been crashing with some older kids in a deserted building. Clancey doesn't know why they haven't been found out by the cops or social service, but that's the gist of it. I'm to call him if I want more. I do, so I head for the privacy of the toilet, make sure it's empty, and call him on my cell phone, telling him to check for relatives.

After school, Ken takes Stud and me to the hospital to see Danny. He tells us to go in alone, cause an adult might spook him. Also, not let him know we know his name just yet. I know I do my share of pissing and moaning like all kids, but one look at the kid sitting in a little wheelchair and I suddenly feel I'm the luckiest guy on earth. He's so skinny I'll bet I could blow him away with the same amount of breath I'd use to blow up a balloon. His face is a real mess from bruises, he has a split lip, and a shiner a professional boxer would be proud of, but his big brown eyes are unbelievably beautiful, as is his long brown hair. Looks like some nurse really gave him a bath.

He looks at Stud. "I seen you before. Your old man buys a paper from me." Then he looks at me. "You was both in that big car last night. What'cha want?"

"Nothing. A friend told us you got hurt, so we came to see how you're doing."

"Why? I ain't nothing to rich guys like you."

"If I was hurt, I'd want my friend Ace here to come see me," Stud says.

"You ain't my friends," the kid says. "Ain't got but one."

"What about at school?" I ask.

The kid snorts. "Don' go to school. Ain't been this year."

"How'd you get away with that?"

"Stay hid 'til school's out. Truant officer don' care after that."

"When are they letting you go home?"

He grimaces. "Ain't got none, or I could go now. Wish I was done shut of this place. Some nosy old bitch done come by already, but I pretended I was sleeping. Heard her tell the nurse she'd be back this evenin'. I gotta figure some way to get outta here." He looks at us hopefully. "Help me?"

I look at Stud, then say, "Why not. My other buddy's in the hall. He'll help us."

I slip out and tell Ken what I've got in mind. "If that old gal is from social service, we'll never get to help the kid without a lot of lawyer stuff, and I know damn well the kid's gonna take off soon as he can."

"Heavy stuff, Ace. Like kidnapping, maybe." Then he grins. "Find out if the kid can get downstairs in his chair. If he can get outside by himself and sticks his thumb out, and we just happen to give him a ride, well ... . We'll stop at the office and you can write a check to pay his bill through today. If we try to stiff this place, they'll get the cops out for sure."

Damn, I like Ken. Lawyers always think they're so freaking devious, but Ken's got 'em beat hands down. Jim has already countersigned a couple of my checks in case of an emergency, so that's no problem. I go back in the room and into a huddle with the kid and Stud. The kid catches on fast and grins, then Stud comes up with the perfect cover. Because Danny doesn't know how to get outside, he'll push him down to the coffee shop in his wheelchair and get him some ice cream, then leave him and get in the car with Ken and me. The kid figures he can get the short distance from the coffee shop to the door with no trouble.

The old broad in the office is so happy to be getting paid for what she thought was a charity case, she asks no questions about my check. Ken and I see Stud buying the kid a Nutty Buddy when we pass the coffee shop on the way out. Ken starts the car and pulls as close to the entrance as he can. A rent-a-cop tells him to move on, but Ken tells him we're waiting for a patient, so it's okay. Stud comes out and jumps in the car, telling us the kid is coming.

Luck is with us. About the time the kid gets to the door in his wheelchair, several other patients being released come out as well, so the cop pays no attention. Soon as the kid moves his chair through the door, he spots us and waves. I jump out and lift him from the chair, laying him down on the backseat. Soon as I shut the door, Ken drives off. Once we're on the highway, I help the kid sit up. He looks around when we reach the warehouse district, and says, "You can put me out most any place. Thanks for gettin' me outa there." Then it dawns on him he's still wearing a hospital bathrobe. "Oh, shit. I ain't got my crutch ner any clothes."

"Don't sweat it, guy. You're coming home with me," I tell him. "I'll get you some new ones."

"Why?"

"Cause I like you and you don't have but one leg. Figured a guy like you could use a friend like we told you."

"You're shittin' me."

"No way. I'm Ace, and that's my buddy Stud. The old guy driving is Ken."

"Old my ass!" Ken snaps, and the kid giggles.

"So what's your name?"

The kid looks me over and finally comes out with, "Danny."

"Good. I think you'll like staying with me, cause I sure will like having you."

On the way to drop Stud off at home, Ken stops at a medical shop and buys a pair of adjustable forearm crutches for the kid. When we're home, I carry the kid in and put him in a chair in the den where we spend most of our time. He's busy looking around. "I ain't believin' this," he finally says.

Like I don't know it, Ken tells me Danny's gotta have something to wear, so he measures the kid for size and writes it down, then traces the outline of the kid's foot on a piece of paper so he can get shoes. He takes off for the Wal-Mart which is on the way into town from where we live. I get the kid a Pepsi and find some cartoons on TV for him to watch, then put an ice pack on his ankle like Ken told me. I know what I've done is probably illegal, but watching the kid begin to loosen up and laugh at Road Runner makes me feel warm all over. A kid his age oughtta be having some fun out of life.

Ken is back, and we've gotten Danny bathed and dressed in some of his new clothes by the time Jim comes home. He stops and looks at Danny. "Well, damn, guys."

"This is Danny." I tell him.

"Now that he's here, you'd better tell me all about it."

Soon as Jim has changed out of his suit, I take him in the study and show him Clancey's report. "Don't know, Ace. I know you meant well, but this isn't exactly what I had in mind when we were talking about helping kids. I'd better call our lawyer and see where we stand."

"Not that old fart! Can't you find some young guy who isn't full of it?"

He thinks for a minute, then grins. "Maybe I can. Ken and I were in college with a guy who almost got thrown out of law school because he made so many jokes about stupid laws he pissed the dean off."

I have to grin. "That's my kind of guy. Give him a call."

"Tomorrow, babe. I'm ready for a drink then something to eat."

When we go back in the den, Danny calls to Jim, "Hey, mister, Ace done got me some crutches like yours. Show me how to use 'em like you do."

"Sure thing, Danny."

Though his ankle still pains him a little, Danny catches on quick. "These is easy. I like 'em," he says when he drops back down into his chair.

He must like Ken's cooking, too, because he puts away a man-size dinner. About nine-thirty, he begins to yawn, so Jim tells me to take him up to bed. Ken picks him up and carries him up the stairs, then starts to make up a bed for him in one of the spare rooms. When Danny asks me if I'm sleeping there, too, I tell him I have my own room. He looks unhappy. "I wanna sleep with you. I'm scared."

"Didn't you sleep alone where you were crashing?"

He shakes his head. "Unh,unh. Mick and me sleep together, cause I don't have no blanket."

I look at Ken, and he looks at me. When I tell Danny he can sleep with me, Ken shakes his head. I know what he's thinking, so I tell him, "No way, Ken. He's a little guy."

"Be sure."

"I will."

It's too early for me to be sleepy, but the minute I slip into bed Danny snuggles up against me, sighs, and is instantly asleep. Lying there with my arms around him is the greatest feeling I've ever had.

I usually sleep-in on Saturday, but I wake up when the kid hugs me. "What?"

"I gotta go. Papers come out early today."

"Go back to sleep. You aren't selling papers no more."

"How come?"

"Cause you're living here now. Ken'll start teaching you while I'm in school. If you need any money, I got plenty."

The kid's eyes get bigger. "You weren't shittin' me 'bout living with you?"

"No way. I want you here." Forgetting, I put my arm around him and squeeze, only to let up when I see him wince. "Sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. Now shut up and let me sleep." Big tears start to roll down his cheeks. "What?"

"You been good to me, but I gotta go."

"Why?"

"Cause if I don't, Mick ain't gonna get nothin' to eat, an' I couldn't get him nothin' yesterday."

I'm awake now. "Who the hell is Mick?"

"I done told you he's the guy I been sleepin' with at night. I share my food with him, cause he can't do nothin' 'cept beg a little if there ain't no cops around. He run away like I done."

"You like him, don't you?"

"Yeah. He's like a brother."

"How old is he?"

"Fourteen."

"Okay, guy. Let's get up and after we eat I'll get Ken to take you to find him."

I'm surprised when it's Jim wants to take us. Ken's going to the supermarket then start cooking. We're about to get in the car when Stud rides up on his bicycle, and joins us.

"Jesus, hope I don't get a flat. Specially here," I hear Jim grumble, as he drives down a trash filled alley behind an old factory of some kind and stops where Danny tells him.

We all start to get out, but Danny stops us. "I gotta go in by myself or Mick ain't gonna come out." He looks at me. "Guess maybe you can come. You're strong an' he might need help."

Danny pushes open an old wood door I have to grab to keep from falling off its hinges, then he reaches for my hand. "Hold on to my belt cause it's dark in here, and don't make no noise, cause it'll piss off the bigger guys."

I try to follow, but the one time my foot hits something that makes a noise, he whispers, "Ssssh," and walks on. I don't know how he does it on crutches, but he doesn't make a sound.

I figure we're near the front of the place in what must be an old office, cause there's a little light coming through some boarded up windows. "Mick? It's me," Danny calls softly.

"Where you been? I'm hungry. You bring anything to eat?"

I get a look and almost fall over. Propped up against a concrete pillar is a skinny blond haired kid. He has a sweet face with the most intense look of longing I've ever seen. Next to him is an old skateboard and a worn out pair of leather gloves. I guess it's how he gets around, cause he has no legs, not even stumps that I can see. His jeans have been hacked off and sewn together in what looks like a straight line from side to side with some heavy string. He's got an old moth-eaten blanket pulled around his bare shoulders.

"What you bring him here for?" He asks Danny, pointing to me.

"Tell you 'bout it later. Get yer stuff and le's go."

"I'm not going anywhere, until you tell me something."

"Don' be stupid. You think I swiped what I got on, and these new crutches? I've eat good, too. This guy likes me enough to bring me to get you. Now get off your ass."

When Mick doesn't move, Danny looks at me. "Looks like you're gonna have to tote his stubborn ass. Pick 'im up, and I'll give 'im his board. That's all we got."

The kid's so fragrant I hesitate to lean over and pick him up, but he doesn't look much dirtier than Danny did. How they've kept even this clean is a mystery. He tries to pull away from me, but I get my arms around him and lift.

"Take your hands off me. I'm not going anywhere." He pushes against my shoulders with both hands and I almost drop him.

"Shut up, you asshole," Danny says and starts to hand Mick his skateboard, but I tell him to leave it. I have a larger one he can have. Danny looks around. "That's it. Le's go."

I stumble around in the dark trying to keep up with Danny. At one point I kick something that rolls off noisily. I hear a grunt, then something sails past my head and crashes nearby.

"Shit! Let's get outta here," I hear Danny say. We have to stop for a minute to let our eyes adjust to the bright sunlight when we squeeze through the door, then Stud is out of the car and holding the door so I can set Mick down in the backseat.

"Oh, fuck!" Stud exclaims when he sees Mick has no legs.

"Let's get outta here," Danny says. "I think Ace done woke some of the guys up, an' they're gonna be pissed."

Stud gets in the front with Jim, and Danny and I sit in back on each side of Mick. Danny's arm goes around Mick. "You're gonna like where we're goin', buddy."

The minute we reach the house, Jim tells me to take Mick up for a bath. Mick gives me some more trouble when I try to pull his jeans off. "I can do it. Having no legs doesn't make me helpless," he snarls.

"Yeah? How're you gonna get in the tub?"

He lets me lift him in, and I can see that his stumps are so short they hardly amount to anything. I hand him everything he needs, and show him how to turn on the hand shower. "Wash your hair, too. Gimme a call when you're done, and I'll help you out."

He starts to protest, but Danny says, "Do like Ace tells you. I ain't sleepin' with your stink no more."

Mick gives him a little smile. "You weren't no rose yourself."

While Mick's bathing, Danny and I look over some stuff for him to put on. Mick's so skinny I figure he can get into a pair of the briefs and T-shirt Ken got for Danny. I happen to think I have a pair of jeans that I outgrew and never threw away, so I get them.

Mick calls, so I go in and lift him from the tub, setting him down on a bathmat while he dries off with a towel so big it's hard for him to manage. Then he asks me if he can brush his teeth. I lift him to the counter and give him a new brush. Once he's done, I comb his long hair. He's way cuter than Danny. While I'm carrying him back to the bedroom to dress, his arms tighten around my neck. "I feel a lot better now. Thanks, Ace," he whispers in my ear.

Watching a leg-less kid dress is fascinating, but he does it easily, only complaining about the long legs of my jeans. I happen to be taller than most guys my age. "Don't sweat it for now," I tell him. "Ken'll get you some new ones that fit and fix 'em for you. Let's eat."

It's a good thing Ken has fixed lots of spaghetti, because Mick wolfs it down like he hasn't had anything to eat for a week. Then I remember he probably hasn't had anything for the two days Danny wasn't around. After we've eaten, Jim starts to ask Mick questions. He won't say much, but at least he's smiling.

Danny hitches his chair closer and holds Mick's hand. "See? I told you these was good guys."

"What's going to happen now?" Mick asks Danny.

"We'll get you some clothes this afternoon, then you guys can do whatever you want. Ace can show you how to play games on his computer, and there's TV, or whatever. It's too cold for you to get in the pool, but you can do that when it turns warm. On Monday, Ken will start your schoolwork." Jim says.

"I'm not going to school," Mick declares.

"Oh, yes, you are," Jim fires back.

"Man, if I'm out where people can see me I might get ... ugh." He closes his mouth.

"You won't be going to a regular school just yet. Ken will teach you here at home."

"Oh! That's okay, then. Is he going to teach Danny, also?"

"Yes."

Looks like I promoted myself into a carrier, because the skateboard won't roll worth a damn on the carpet. It breaks my heart to see this cute kid trying to walk by using his arms like crutches and swinging his butt between, so I carry him everywhere. He seems to like it and I like the feeling I get when he puts his arms around my neck and presses his leg-less hips against me. I get a real shock when I set him in front of my computer. He reaches over and turns it on without hesitation, and his fingers begin to fly over the keys. When the menu of games on the CD changer comes up, he yells, Wow! Where'd you get these?"

"From the plant. I test the ones we make." I reach over and click on one. "This one's not in the stores yet. It's Danny's favorite and it takes two to play."

Danny grabs one joystick, Mick the other, and the game begins. I take advantage of their distraction to call Clancey and tell him to find out all he can about Mick as well. He tells me he'll give it his best shot, but with nothing more than a name to go on, it'll be tough. I ask him if a picture will help, and promise to get shots of both Danny and Mick with my digital camera and e-mail them to his office at the plant, so he can start work again on Monday.

I guess it's because they feel safe, but Danny and Mick drop their tough guy attitudes and start to act like kids their age should. They even let Stud and me join in the fun they're having. I manage to get good pics of both of them and e-mail them to Clancey. Ken makes up the big bed in the room next to mine, because Danny insists they'll sleep together like they've been doing. After I've helped Mick get in bed, he hugs me. "Thanks for taking care of Danny, Ace, I love him. You're a good guy."

When Ken picks us up at school on Monday, Danny and Mick are with him. They seem happy to see me and Stud. "Man, that guy," Mick points to Ken, "is one tough teacher."

"Bullshit. If you stick around, Ace is gonna have to hire a tutor for you guys.

Except for math, you are beyond what I can teach you." Ken retorts.

"Can I get in on that, 'stead of going to the academy?" Stud asks.

"Me, too. Hell, I'm not paying a teacher for you guys 'less I can stay home, too."

"Don't start betting on something isn't likely to happen, " Ken tells us. "We've got to see how things work out first. You know what I mean, Ace."

Yeah, I do, and I hate the thought. Lawyers and all that crap. Geez, Stud's idea doesn't seem all that great, now. When we get home, the kids and Stud go up to play games again. I would have joined them, but Ken hands me another big envelope from Clancey and tells me to go in the study to read it.

I have to say Clancey is worth whatever we pay him, because I can't believe what he's dug up in just one day with nothing but a couple of names and pictures to work from. He doesn't have anything new on Danny yet, but the report on Mick is thick, and there's a stack of photocopied newspaper articles. I run to the kitchen for a Pepsi and settle back to read.

Damn! Looks like my attempt to help some poor kid is gonna land me and Jim in some real shit. Turns out Mick's name is big time news - Mikeal Aleksander Thorwald. His old man owns a like huge brewery in Denmark, and is rich as Midas. The reason he's in this country is that he's some kind of diplomat. I find out that Mick lost his legs last year in a commuter train wreck that made the news, too. Mick's dad has had a string of private detectives looking all over for him, because he was kidnapped. They caught the kidnappers, but what has them chasing their tales is they can't figure how a kid with no legs got away and can't be found. Now I know why Mick is so reluctant to come out of hiding.

This is such heavy stuff I go into overload. I put it aside for Jim to see and go back upstairs where the guys are still playing Deep-space Dragon. Mick's really excited and I begin to hear a faint accent I hadn't noticed before. I look at him wearing borrowed clothes and wonder how a kid so rich could take living like he and Danny were doing. But they're cute kids who have shared what little they had with each other. It might have been for survival at first, but now I can tell they love each other. Makes me ashamed I've had it so good and hadn't thought of sharing with anybody else before now.

After Danny and Mick have gone to bed, Jim, Ken, and I sit down in the study.

Jim reads Clancey's report and groans. "This is a bitch. Hell, we may start an international incident. You think Ted's up to something like this, Ken?"

"He should be. He made the law review in spite of all his teachers threatening to give him the axe. I think his minor was international law."

"Then I'd better see if I can find his ass and get him over here fast." Jim flips through his old address book and picks up the phone. He finally resorts to a legal directory on his computer, then makes a call. After some profane comments, he gets serious and tells Ted he wants him here tomorrow morning, then hangs up.

"How's Ted doing?" Ken asks.

"Hasn't changed a bit. He's practicing in some small town now. The big firm that snapped him up after he graduated tossed him out."

"Why?"

Jim grins. "Seems he told the senior partner he was full of shit. Turns out he was and lost the case, so he axed Ted for being right."

Ken grins. "Yep, hasn't changed a bit. It'll be good to see him."

"Right." Jim looks at me. "You'll be staying home from school tomorrow, Ace. We're gonna need you."

Ken has the kids upstairs at their lessons when Ted arrives. He grabs Jim in a bear-hug and they start calling each other names Jim would wash my mouth out with soap for using. I decide I like Ted, cause he's wearing ragged jeans, a beat-up jacket, and he drove up in an old Bronko, but once we're in the study, he drops down in the chair behind the desk and becomes all business.

After he's read Clancey's report on Mick, he looks at me. "How long has Mikeal been here?"

"Just since Saturday." I tell him how I found Danny, and how concerned Danny was about Mick until we got him here.

"Getting those kids away from a group of older guys who are probably drug addicts was damn good work, Ace. All you and Jim have done is give the boys a decent place to stay and befriend them. Gonna be no problem with this. But you've got to let me inform his father of his whereabouts, and see where it goes from there. You got a dollar on ya, Ace?"

"Yeah."

"Give it to me."

I search my pockets and find a buck. When I hand it to Ted, he grins. "I'm now on an official retainer as your personal lawyer. I'll be around to handle any shit that flows down the line, so don't sweat it. I come cheaper than those shysters your dad hired."

"You should come cheaper, you glorified ambulance chaser," Jim says. "Hell, the way you're dressed, don't look like you've caught many recently."

"Hey, gotta keep my image as a cheap country lawyer. That's why folks figure they can afford me."

"Make damn sure you remember that when you bill us. If you don't, I'm going to send you a bill for room and board. I remember how much you can eat."

When we're all at the table for lunch, Jim introduces Ted as a friend from college, and nothing more. I notice Mick looks a little uncomfortable when Ted gives him a once over, but he starts laughing with the rest of us at some of the stories Ted tells about Jim and Ken in their college years.

After lunch Ken takes the kids back up for more lessons, and Ted, Jim, and I go back into the study. Ted makes a couple of phone calls. At first they must have tried to give him a lot of shit, because he finally blows and tells whoever it is to go fuck himself, he wants to talk to Mr. Thorwald. The last man he talks to lets out a shout we can hear clearly across the desk. Ted pulls the phone away and rubs his ear, then continues the conversation, giving our address. When he hangs up, he's grinning. "No worries there, guys. Mick's dad is wild with joy. He's chartering a plane and flying down immediately. Guess you better trot out some fancy groceries for dinner tonight, Jim."

"Just him coming?"

"Yeah."

"I'll call the caterer the company uses. You can ask Benjy over if you want, Ace. He's been involved in this, too."

"Cool. I hope Mick's gonna be happy to see his dad."

"Me, too. Let's surprise him."

The kids are in the den watching TV when this awesome limo pulls up in front of the house and a chauffeur gets out and opens the rear door. I see a big blond man get out, dismiss the chauffeur, and start on a run for our front door. When Jim opens it, all the man can stammer is: "My son, my son."

I lead him back to the den where everybody is. Mick's mouth drops open, and he holds out his arms. When his dad pulls him up in a hug that seems to last forever; they're both crying. Finally he sets Mick back down on the sofa and asks some questions in Danish. Mick is still crying so hard he can hardly answer. After another question, that gets answered, Mick's dad hugs Danny, then grabs my hand and nearly busts it. "So kind, so kind," he keeps saying. He's so emotional I guess all his English has deserted him. He picks Mick up and sits down in Jim's recliner with Mick on his lap, kissing him over and over.

The caterer announces dinner, and Mick holds out his hands to me. I pick him up and carry him to table like usual, his dad watching with a big smile.

Dinner is too good to talk over, so it's not until Mick's dad, Jim, Ken, and Ted have coffee and cognac the talk starts again. Mick's dad tells Mick he will fly back with him to Washington tomorrow. He looks awfully upset when Mick suddenly gets teary eyed again and grabs Danny's hand, telling his dad it was Danny who worked and brought him food for over three months, even after being beat up and robbed a lot of times by the older guys. He swears he won't leave his best friend in the whole world. His dad asks Ted about Danny's status and looks disappointed when he hears what Ted has to say. He says he would gladly take Danny along with Mick, but there's no legal way he can do it, being a foreigner.

Mick starts crying again.

I can't take all this emotion. "Look, sir, I know you must be a busy man and won't have that much time with Mick, so why can't he stay here with Danny and us. I'll get a tutor and he can teach all of us here. You can come see Mick any time you want. There's plenty of room."

Mick's dad looks at Jim. "The young man speaks truly. You would find that satisfactory?"

"Please, Jim," Mick says. "I can with Danny stay."

Jim looks at Ken who shrugs. "I don't see why not. The boys have protected each other, and shared what little they had. That's real love. I'd hate for them to be parted now they have a chance, but I don't want to see Mick give up anything by staying here."

"I am much busy, so better home he will have here with good friends and love."

He glances at Ken. "Is body guard also, so Mikeal be safe. I best tutor will hire for all boys." He smiles at Jim. "Sons not always in order room keep. Will hire extra day servant also."

"Not necessary, sir."

"But I want this to do." He leans over and hugs Mick. "You like?"

The hug, kiss, and big smile he gets is Mick's answer.


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