BSH was last updated: February 22, 2011 at 23:21:38.
Word Count: 20601

WARNING: This page contains mature subject matter. You have been warned. Continue reading at your own risk.

Bleecker Street High

Cover Art for Bleecker Street High

Prologue: Friday, July 14, 2000

9-1-1, please state the nature of your emergency.

"This is Frank Chalmers, head of security at the Colonial Court Arms condominiums. I need a bus sent to number two Colonial Court, apartment 23-K, as in kilo, for a teenage male with a g.s.w. to the head."

Is the gunman still in the vicinity?

"Negative – it appears to be self-inflicted."

Frankincense wafted delicately in the air of the chapel, bestowing a degree of Old World sacred dignity upon its Spartan 1970s modern décor, as the young men of St. Pius X Roman Catholic High School, in their summer uniforms of tan slacks and white polo shirts, filed out from morning prayers to begin their day. One young man, athletic with dark Welsh-German features, appeared oblivious to his classmates' departure. With his forehead resting against the palms of his hands, he sat hunched over in a back corner of the chapel, the plastered masonry wall feeling cool and comforting against his flank.

"Lost in meditation and not sleep, I pray, Mr. Cahill," intoned Father McAlester, a wizened man well beyond the typical age of retirement, who served as the school's chaplain because it allowed him to perform masses and prayer services the "proper" way: in Latin.

"Meditation, Father." Joshua Cahill looked up at the priest and managed a weak smile. "It's quiet and soothing here. I like it. I can think freely here."

"Are your thoughts troubled, son?"

Joshua looked down for a moment, folding and refolding his hands in his lap. "There have been lots of things going on in my life of late. I don't understand most of it, and some of it comes at me so fast that I feel bowled over by it."

"Have you prayed to God for guidance?"

"Yes. Every day – several times every day, Father, but it hasn't changed anything."

"God does not work on our time scale, my son, but that does not mean that He hasn't heard you. He will answer you, in His time. Remember, His is the still, small voice that speaks to us from within us – from within our souls. As for what troubles you, take what you can bear, then give the remainder up to the Lord and He will be there help you carry it on your journey."

"I know that… I try to remember it, Father, but it's not always easy…"

"Nothing in life is, my son. God loves his children, but He is a strict parent. He makes our lives very hard in order to test our mettle and prepare us for the Final Judgment. However, always know that no matter how hard it may feel to shoulder that burden, He never gives us more than we are capable of bearing."

Joshua slowly nodded. "I want to believe that, but at times it just sounds like a load of sh… ah…"

"Horse feathers?" They both laughed. "That is where faith comes in, Mr. Cahill. It is difficult to believe in that which we cannot see, touch, or experience, but that is the essence of God's Glory. Our struggles in this life will be rewarded when we are taken into his embrace."

Good afternoon; O'Reilly, Reeves, and Cahill, Ms. Cahill's office. This is Jennifer speaking, how may I help you?

"Jennifer, this Frank Chalmers, I'm the head of security at Mrs. Cahill's apartment building. I need to speak with her on an urgent matter."

She's in a meeting right now. May I take a message?

"Actually, I need you to interrupt her meeting. It's very, very urgent. It concerns her son."

Okay. Please hold…

"Mr. Chalmers, this is Barbara Cahill. This really is not a good time. I am in the middle of a very important business meeting with a client who does not appreciate being kept waiting. I have no idea what my son has been up to, but would you please just call up his father and he'll deal with it, or pay for it – or whatever?"

"Mrs. Cahill, I've already called and left a message for your husband—"


"My apologies, Mrs. Cahill; the reason I am calling to inform you that your son has been seriously injured."

"He's… what! What happened? It was that damn motorbike his father bought him, wasn't it? I said no, sixteen is too young to be riding anything with a motor in it, but did he listen? No! Went out and bought it for him just to piss me off—"

"Mrs. Cahill!"


"Your son was not in an accident. He was found unconscious and bleeding a head wound in your apartment by the Wittings' daughter, Elizabeth. She triggered the panic alarm, and after doing first aid to address the bleeding, I called the paramedics. He has been taken to Lutheran Hospital in apparently critical condition."

"My god…"

The warm water rained onto the back of Joshua's head and neck, enveloping him in a cocoon of warm wetness as it caressed its way over his naked body. He tilted his head ever so slightly so that the stream would graze a certain sensitive patch of skin, below his ear and just behind his jaw, which his girlfriend had discovered by accident one night. Touched just right, it relaxed him and made him feel good all over. It was also his Achilles Heel. All she had to do was brush her lips across that part of his neck and he'd get a hard-on. His thoughts started to drift in that direction, his hand idly brushing across his limp penis, when a sudden onslaught of cold water brought him back to reality.

"Enough jerking off ladies, this is a school, not a whorehouse. You're next class starts in five minutes," said Coach Murach, as he turned the communal shower's main hot water valve back on.

Coach Murach was an ex-Marine drill sergeant who ran the school's athletic program with the same precision and boot camp mentality that had served him well on Perris Island during the Vietnam War era. He had no patience for slackers, and was brutal toward any boy who acted like anything less than a manly man in his presence. This also meant that he turned a blind eye to hazing and bullying, viewing them as healthy forms of peer pressure.

Joshua glanced over his shoulder. There were two other boys in the shower with him and – like him – they were generally facing the wall, or at least away from one another. The communal shower of an all-male Roman Catholic high school was decidedly not a place you wanted to be caught looking at someone else, even if it was only out of curiosity as to how you "measured up" against your friends.

He lingered for a moment or two longer under the shower nozzle before heading to his gym locker; a towel wrapped tightly around his waist. Though they were already dressed, a knot of his classmates – most of them teammates of his from baseball or basketball – were milling around by the doors leading out to the football field. Their hushed conversations made him uneasy, but he didn't give them the satisfaction of seeing this. He unconsciously held his breath until he reached the safety of his locker, which was out of view of the other boys. Safety, however, was only a relative term…

"Fuck! Goddamn! FUCK!" He cursed under his breath as he smashed the crazy glued combination lock against the locker. "Very funny, assholes!" he shouted, and received a chorus of catcalls and cackles in return. "FUCK YOU!" he answered, as he flopped down on a bench. There were tears welling in his eyes and an emotional lump swelling in his throat. "Fuck all of you cock sucking faggots…"

The bullying and hazing where only good forms of peer pressure when you were on the giving side of them, but when you go from star to pariah, hero to zero, in the eyes of those peers, then they become just one more aspect of the personal hell you are living in.

The black, armor-plated limousine with darkly tinted windows bobbed and weaved its way through heavy afternoon traffic on Gowanus Expressway, its heavy suspension transmitting every pockmark on the poorly maintained highway to the car's occupants.

"I should have taken the subway," said Barbara Cahill, speaking mainly to herself as she leaned forward and peered through the driver's partition and out the windshield at the traffic ahead of them. "Driving in this city is insane."

"This is still faster than your so-called rapid transit. Would you like something to calm your nerves, Barbara?"

"No… Yes. I'll have a Jack and Coke. And thank you again for the ride, Sayid."

"To say it is my pleasure would be wrong, and yet…" He gave her knee a squeeze and smiled at her. "I am afraid that I only have the Jack Daniels, not the Coke."

"That's fine, I'll take it straight."

"As you wish… Your son, he is your only child?" he asked, handing her the drink.

"No." She took a big gulp of amber liquid, knocking it down her throat as if it were water. "I have another son. Benjamin's older. He lives on Staten Island with his wife and their little girl."

"You are a grandmother? I don't believe it!"

"Yes, and I have yet to forgive them for making me one at such a young age."

The limousine banked sharply as it made the tight turn on the 39th Street exit ramp, causing Barbara to slide against Sayid. He took advantage of this to kiss her. "I am a grandparent too – several times over, in fact. Being one does not make you old, Barbara, just blessed by Allah."

"I don't feel very blessed at the moment." She finished her drink and gestured for a refill. "Ben was a job and half, but he was still a joy compared to this one. He is his father's son. Since the divorce, it's like he's been punishing me for his father leaving – I'm not the one who left us for our son's ex-girlfriend – that fucking cunt…" She knocked back the second drink without coming up for air. "But this one doesn't want to hear ill of his father. Daddy can do no wrong in his eyes and me… I'm Mommy Dearest!"

"Mommy dearest? I am afraid that I do not follow you."

"Obscure movie reference. Don't worry about it."

As the limousine drew up to Lutheran Hospital's emergency entrance, Sayid asked, "Do you wish for me to remain and sit with you?"

She considered this for a moment, imagining the reaction her ex-husband would have. He might have traded her in for a trophy-wife-to-be, but a dashing Arabian billionaire prince easily trumped that. She shook her head. "Thank you for the offer, Sayid, but as much as I need your comfort right now, your presence here might attract too much attention."

"Perhaps you are correct. However, if you need me, I am your servant." Taking her hand in his, he bowed his head and kissed the back of her hand.

His bodyguard, a strapping young man in a dark, lightweight suit and wrap-around, non-reflective shades, opened the door and helped Barbara from the limousine. "Thank you," she said to him, speaking as one would address a kitchen helper bringing you ice water. "I'll be in touch, Sayid, as soon as I know something."

"I will keep you both in my prayers."

"Thank you."

He had the bodyguard keep the door open until Barbara had entered the hospital, and then he gestured for the man to join him in the back of the limousine.

"I want you to remain here, unobtrusively, with Mrs. Cahill. Keep me informed on the condition of her son, you get it for her, or you call me."

"As you vish, Mr. al-Masri, but might not someone be better suited to da task? In das neighborhood, I do not exactly blend into background."

Sayid smiled. "Nor do I, but you don't have to blend in. I just need you to be out from underfoot unless she needs you. Your medical knowledge might also be of benefit to her. I also hope to make her my wife, Oleksander, so see what you can discover about her husband and his mistress."

"As you vish…"

It took the better part of 20 minutes to find a janitor to cut the crazy glued lock off Joshua's locker, and then get dressed and another ten for him to get dressed and make his way to the far side of the campus for his next class. Almost halfway through the period, a now dressed and fully composed Joshua walked into his Latin Grammar class.

"You are late again, Mr. Cahill, but thank you for gracing us with your presence."

"Sorry, Brother Hamilton, but my gym locker was stuck tight when I got out of the shower and I needed to find someone to open it before coming to class. All I had to wear was a towel."

"I see…"

"He means he wishes he saw," whispered a classmate as Joshua sat down next to him. "The old pervert is probably hard as a rock under his robe just imagining you in a towel."

"Don't doubt it," muttered Joshua, darkly.

The Pius Brother was a bald middle-aged man with effeminate mannerisms, a rotund build, and a reputation for being overly familiar with his students. A popular joke was that Brother Hammy, as the boys called him behind his back, embraced the motto Carpe Testes: seize the testicles; and rumor had it that he used his one-on-one Latin tutoring sessions as a cover for making sexual advances on those boys he treated as his favorites – typically blond or ginger haired athletic boys. Though athletic, his dark hair and thinly veiled disgust with way the monk looked at the young men in his charge had done nothing to endear Joshua to his teacher.

"It's a pity, Mr. Cahill," said Brother Hamilton, as he started toward Joshua with a paper in hand, "that Latin doesn't get stuck in your head as often as your locker has gotten stuck this summer. Perhaps some private tutoring is in order?" He placed the test paper face up on Joshua's desk, with a large, red ‘D-' and the words ‘see me' scrawled at the top of it. "The purpose of summer school, gentlemen, is to improve your lackluster grades, not make them worse – a point which many of you should bear in mind, if this first test is any indication of how this term is headed."

Joshua gave his test paper a quick once-over before balling it up and stuffing it in his backpack. It hardly phased him any longer; the D-minus was just another in a long line of slipping grades. His parents didn't care, taking either the ‘it's just a phase' position or turning it into a blame game between them and forgetting all about him. His teachers didn't care, or were so burnt out that they were just beyond caring about what causes a straight-A student to start suddenly to do B, C, and now D level work. If none of them cared, why should he?

Shrugging off the test grade, Joshua pulled out his textbook and pretended to pay attention to the lesson, but his gaze kept drifting to the window, to the parkland separating the Belt Parkway from Shore Road, to the harbor beyond then, and to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal on the far shore of it. They were symbols of freedom and solitude that beckoned to him from the prison gate, but the parole board on the wall inched forward at a maddeningly slow pace.

The hospital's Emergency Room waiting area was teeming with people; many of whom were the Spanish-speaking poor from the nearby Sunset Park neighborhood who used the ER as their primary source of healthcare. Young children – 2, 3, 4 years old – nearly outnumbered the adults. The crowd spilled out of the seating area and down the long ramp to the street level entrance.

Barbara Cahill ignored them all as she blew past them, flew up the ramp, and charged up to the reception desk. "You there," she said, pinning a nurse to her seat with a frenzied stare, "where is, Joshua Cahill? I was told he was taken here in critical condition."

"And you are?" coolly asked the veteran nurse.

"His mother, Barbara Cahill."

"Let's see…" The nurse – ‘Nurse Ansalong' according to the black plastic badge on her scrubs – took her time in pulling up the medical records on her computer, while Barbara drummed her fingers impatiently on the countertop. "Your son's condition is still being evaluated, Mrs. Cahill. Please have a seat and someone will talk to you."


"I'm not sure."

"I want to see him."

"That's not possible right now."

"He's my son. I want to see him. Now!"

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Cahill, but that is not possible. There's a shift change going on, and family members are not allowed back while that is going on. Hospital policy."

"I don't give a—"

"Barbara…" She glanced over her shoulder to find Charlie Witting standing there, his tattooed face just adding to the circus-like atmosphere of the waiting room. "Come and sit down, and I'll tell you what we know so far. Alice rode with him in the ambulance, and Beth and I followed in the car."

"What happened, Charlie?"

"It's not good," he said, taking her by the elbow. "Let's sit down and talk while Alice and Beth are out getting coffee…"

"No! I'm not sitting or going anywhere until you tell me what happened to my son!"

"All right…"

"…heavy metal thunder…" Joshua was singing to himself, as he exited on the MacKay Place side his school. Freedom, he thought, closing his eyes and staring up at the sun. Another day and another week of school were behind him. He had left his backpack in his locker along with all of his books and homework. A Sony Walkman was all he was carrying home, and that he clipped to his belt once he'd stripped to the waist. Turning to his left, he walked past the riper-than-normal garbage dumpsters, collected his bike from the neighboring rack, and headed for Shore Road.

The sun beat down on his bare back, warming him at first, and then baking him into a sweat. It was only mid-July, but Brooklyn was already starting to broil in the summer heat. August would probably be brutal, but he had no plans to be around for that.

He cruised south on Shore Road at a leisure pace, listening to Rammstein, Green Day, and an eclectic mix of other punk and metal bands on a mixed tape his brother had given him. It was all good, and the music complimented Joshua's dark mood.

After twenty-three winding and twisting blocks of parkland, playgrounds, and baseball diamonds, he arrived at the Colonial Court Arms: a pair of castle-like towers flanking a short private driveway leading to a large parking structure capped by a private gym and community center. The towers looked like giants squaring off to fight each other – ironically appropriate considering that his divorced parents both lived there: he and his mom in the south tower, and his dad in the north one with his mistress – a girl who was only a couple of years older than Joshua.

Cutting-off a car on Shore Road, its horn echoing after him, Joshua raced his 10-speeder through the gauntlet between the warring giants, and up the ramps to the third level of the parking structure, where he chained it to drain pipe between a 1960s Harley and a nearly new Jaguar. The forest green Jaguar his mom had bought herself, in cash, with his dad's secret slush funds the day after she found out he was cheating on her with their older son's ex-girlfriend. A month later, his dad had given Joshua the Harley for his sixteenth birthday after they had admired a similar bike at the New York Auto Show the previous year.

They buy them, but I'm the one who pays for them, he thought, caressing the Harley through its protective cover.

"Hello, Joshua!" He turned off the Walkman and removed the headphones, as Mrs. Witting's white Ford Taurus drew to a stop next to him. "How was school?"

"Same ol', same ol'," he replied, squatting down by the passenger side front door. "I should just quit and become a carnie like you and Mr. Witting."

She laughed. "Being a carnie is a wonderful life, honey, but only if you don't like eating or sleeping under a roof for most of the year. The pay is lousy even you have a good run of summer weather."

"Then why do it?"

"Because it is so rewarding to see all those bright faces watching you in awe at each performance. If it weren't for that, our regular jobs would have driven Charlie and me to drink years…" She caught herself, quickly covering her mouth with her hand. "I'm sorry, honey, I didn't mean to…"

"That's okay, Mrs. Witting, I know." He smiled at her, but she noted that it didn't reach his eyes. "It's probably true."

Joshua's dad was a workaholic architect – the Colonial Court Arms being one of his smaller projects – who, before the divorce, was rarely home for more than a handful of hours, even on the weekends. His mom was an unapologetically alcoholic lawyer for a high-priced firm that spent most of its time keeping who's who of New York City out of the city's jails. She, too, rarely spent much time at home, and when she was, she would sequester herself in her office with her casework, with a cigarette in one hand, and a glass of Jack on the rocks in the other. A long string of nannies raised him and his older brother. Benjamin was the smart one in the family – he figured out how to escape their fucked up parents and actually pulled it off by going to a public technical high school, getting a job with the subway system right out of high school, and then getting married before he was even old enough to drink. Now he lived happily in a crappy little house on the Staten Island side of the harbor with his wife and daughter, keeping both as far from their fucked up parents as he could; thus leaving Joshua to be the poster child for latchkey kids of the modestly-rich-and-not-too-famous. Life sucked big hairy balls!

"I'm doing some baking this evening," she said, gesturing to the groceries in the back seat of the car. "Come to dinner this evening and there will be lots of fresh samples… including your favorite banana bread. Okay, honey?"

Reluctantly, Joshua nodded. He had other plans for that night, but it didn't pay to argue with his girlfriend's mother. "What time?"

"Six – or earlier, if you want to help."

"I'll be there around six," he replied, straightening up.

"Okay, honey. I'll tell Beth." She gave him a cheery wave, and then drove off down the row and up the ramp to the next level.

Joshua watched until her car was out of sight. With a heavy sigh, he leaned against his Harley, hung his head, and studied his shoes. Beth… The mention of her name gave him reason for pause. He cared about her, to be sure, but having grown up together, his relationship with her was more of a slightly incestuous brother / sister affair than a true boyfriend / girlfriend one. I don't want to hurt her, and yet… He took a deep breath and exhaled it sharply as he pushed off from the motorcycle.

The only good thing about living with an alcoholic, Joshua told himself a half-hour later, as he poured his second glass of Jack and Coke, is that there is always easy access to the booze. He knocked the drink back with the practiced ease of a professional drinker, and then fixed himself a third one with decidedly less Coke and much more Jack. After another two in quick succession, he was feeling fucking fantastic. He was ready to take on the world – or at least his step-mom-to-be.

"…too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts…" he sang, badly out of key, in the hallway as put his shirt back on while waiting for the elevator.

Although he had a key, he rang the doorbell of his dad's apartment. He once walked in on them fucking on the dining room table, and that was one time too many – although, having seen Sheryl naked that time, he had to admit that it was no wonder that both his brother and their dad had dated her. Sheryl was sexy, porno star hot! He was thinking of her body when she answered the door.

"Yeah? What do you want?"

She's sexy hot, but only when she has something rammed down her throat to keep her from talking, he thought, his gaze quickly trailing over her body. She was wearing a tight pink nightshirt, black thong panties with a rhinestone ‘S' on the crotch that showed through the pink fabric, and no bra – her nipples were straining against the fabric in a way that made him want to reach out and tweak them.

"Those ain't my eyes, perv…"

Joshua grinned slyly, as he leaned against the doorframe. "Yeah, I noticed." She was nineteen, he was nearly seventeen, and there had been a sexual undertone – him advancing, her rejecting – between them going back to when his brother was dating her. Perhaps it was sibling rivalry, adolescent hormonal lust, or just a primal need to prove himself as man, that fueled the undertone in the past. However, at that moment, it was alcohol and the darkness in his soul that drove him forward. In his mind he was the suave and debonair James Bond, she was Pussy Galore, and he had a gold finger for her.

"Is the old man at home?"


"Good…" He grabbed her breast with one hand; snaking the other arm around her waist, he spun her back inside the apartment, letting the door slam shut behind them. He pushed her against the foyer wall, pinning her there with his body, and captured her mouth in a heated kiss.

She resisted him for a moment, as he expected she would, but then Sheryl did something he hadn't expected. She wrapped her leg around his thigh and ground her crotch against his, and lightly bit his lower lip. "You wanna fuck me," she asked, her voice softer and sultrier than he'd ever heard it.

"Yep… You've had the son and the father… I'm the Holy Ghost." It was corny, but neither seemed to mind.

She shoved him back against the opposite wall, grabbed the hem of his polo shirt, and pulled it up over his head in one smooth motion, but left his arms trapped in the material. As he struggled out of the shirt, she squeezed both of his nipples, twisting them as she kissed him deeply, her tongue invading his mouth. When he whimpered, she bit his lip and said, "I like it rough, but if you're not man enough for that…"

"I'm man enough for anything," he said, hoarsely, as he finally freed his arms. "Anything…," he repeated, as he fiercely squeezed her left nipple.

"Prove it!" she grabbed him by the belt, and led him into the living room. Before floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the Verrazano Bridge, she stripped off her nightshirt, discarded it haphazardly on the baby grand piano, and wrapped her arms around Joshua's neck; their bare torsos pressed together. "Give me religion! Put the Holy Ghost in me!"

His head swam from the combination of arousal and alcohol, as they stood there, kissing, biting, and groping one another. She had to guide his hand between her legs and into her panties, but once there instinct took over – or at least he hoped that it had, for he was already far beyond anything he and his friend Beth had ever done. As he fingered Sheryl, her hand was down his pants, squeezing and stroking his cock. This too was further than anyone had ever gone with him, and it felt awesome beyond description.

"I want you… I want to fuck your hot pussy," he panted, as he pulled down her panties. "Now! Right now!"

"Okay, but not without a rubber," she replied. "Get those off; I'll be right back."

He reluctantly let her go, but not before pulling her into a passionate kiss. He pulled off his pants and lightly tugged on his cock. It was harder and redder than he could ever remember it being. Buckets of precum were oozing from its tip, and it felt like he had the mother of all jizz loads ready to explode from his balls at any second.

"Here, put it on," she said, tossing him a square foil packet. He looked blankly at it, and then looked up at her, questioningly. "What? Too small?"

He blushed. "I've… never…"

"You've never used a rubber?"

"Never needed to…"

"You're a virgin?" Embarrassed, he dropped his gaze as he nodded, the motion making his head spin again. "No shit? A friggin' virgin…" She laughed her obnoxious little laugh, the one that reminded Joshua of fingernails on a blackboard, as she took the packet from his hand and tore it open. She was kneeling down in front of him, his cock in one hand and the condom in the other, when they heard the apartment door open.

"Hey, pussycat, I'm home!"

"Fuck!" Joshua exclaimed.

"I don't think we have the time for that," she replied, seemingly more amused by Joshua's plight than worried about being caught fucking her boyfriend's son.

"Very funny," he growled, as he scrambled to get his clothing. "Fuck! My shirt! It's in the foyer!"

"I'll get it for you."

"I think dad might notice."

"Not with me like this he won't – you're dad doesn't notice anything else when I'm naked," she purred, as she strutted out of the living room. "Welcome home, big boy!"

Frustration. Anger. Rage. He wanted to follow her, to bend her over the dining room table and fuck her right in front of his father. Another five minutes and she would have been his, but instead she was now leading his father into the bedroom for that fucking Joshua had been priming her for. He went to wipe away the tears that were welling in his eyes, and was surprised to find her heady scent still lingering on his fingers. He sniffed them as he jerked himself to completion, shooting his load all over the brass and glass coffee table, then wiped himself clean with her panties.

He dressed quickly. For a moment, he considered cleaning up the mess, but then decided to leave it for Sheryl to clean up – or to explain if his dad found it first, but he took her panties with him. He reclaimed his shirt and was halfway out the door when he remembered what he come to his dad's apartment for in the first place. Moving as quietly as he could, he made his way down the hall, past the bedroom where Sheryl was loudly fucking his dad, and into his dad's office. There, in the lower left-hand draw of the antique mahogany desk Joshua's great-great-grandfather had used when he was mayor of a then-independent City of Brooklyn, he found what he had come for. He tucked the Luger into his pocket and fled back to his own apartment.

A high school fuck-up… a pawn in his parents divorce… a disappointment to his teammates… a fallen star to be picked on and tortured by his classmates… a useless fuck who can't even figure out how to use a condom to get fucked…

The mental list of self-loathing went on ad nauseum as Joshua drunk himself into a stupor on a warm bottle of Jack Daniels. When he'd drained the last drop from the bottle, he slipped the barrel of the Luger into his mouth. The taste of the gun oil made him want to gag at first, but he pulled Sheryl's panties out of his pocket and held them to his nose to mask the scent – or so he told himself. The urge to gag faded as he psyched himself up for what was going to happen next. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, closed his eyes, and then squeezed the trigger, but was met with resistance. He pulled harder, but still nothing.

"The safety," he groaned, as he pulled the gun out of his mouth. He found it, flicked it off, and returned the gun to his mouth.

The gun fired more readily than he had expected. For a moment, he hung in suspended time, a white-hot flash filling his field of vision, and then he was falling, plunging headlong into the blackest of voids. As the world fled from him, a vision of Beth beckoned him remain, but it was too late. Benjamin had found an escape, and now he had found his…

"Beth was about to ring the doorbell when she heard the shot," Charlie was saying, "The door was unlocked and something possessed her to go in instead of run away." He sighed and shook his head. "She found him on his bed. He'd shot himself in the head…"

"Where the fuck did he get a gun?"

"You don't own one?"

"Hell no! I hate the fucking things. I made Steven keep his hunting rifles at his office – I wouldn't even let him keep his dad's Nazi handgun in the house."

"Nazi… You mean a Luger?"

"I don't know what the thing's called," she said, wringing her hands, "but, yeah, that might be what he…" Her voice trailed off as she made the connections in her head. "Did he…?"

"Yes," said Charlie, slowly nodding. "When I talked with Chalmers while waiting for the ambulance, he called the gun a Luger."

The shock of this was just sinking in when Alice and Beth returned with coffee and doughnuts. There was a quick exchange of looks between husband and wife, and then he led their daughter off to a corner of the waiting room while Alice pressed a hot cup of coffee into Barbara's hand and guided her out to the enclosed entrance ramp.

"Drink some of that, honey, it'll stem the shock."

Barbara shook her head. "I can't… I can't…" She suddenly looked up, capturing the other woman's gaze with hers. "You were in the ambulance, Alice… tell me, honestly, how bad is it? Is he dead…?"

"No, he's not dead, honey," she assured her. "I don't know how bad it is, ‘cause I only saw him with bandages and stuff over the wound, but…"

"But what?"

"He… he lost a great deal of blood. My Beth was there right after it happened, and Mr. Chalmers came right away and did first aid, but still there was blood everywhere. When I saw how covered Beth was…" She caught herself, covering her mouth with her hand. She was about to apologize for the ghastly image she'd been painting when Steven Cahill and his girlfriend came through the door.

"You bastard! You goddamn fucking bastard!" Barbara launched the still-full, venti-sized cappuccino at her ex-husband, as she charged down the ramp at him. It narrowly missed hitting his head, but showered him, Sheryl, and several bystanders when it exploded against the sliding glass entrance doors. "This is all your fault! You and that fucking cunt you left us for! My son is going to die because you couldn't keep your fucking pants zipped, you goddamned bastard!"

"You've got some nerve, Barbara, blaming me for any of this. God, I can smell the alcohol on your breath from here!"

"I am sober!"

"You're drunk, like always," said Steven Cahill, getting right in his ex-wife's face. "I may have left you for Sheryl, Barbara, but not before you left me for Jack Daniels."

"FUCK YOU!" she screamed, smashing her clutch purse into his face and bloodying his lip.

"Enough!" shouted one of the three security guards who were responding to the commotion caused by the pair. "One more word from either of you and you'll find yourselves in a jail cell."

"If anyone should be in jail, it should be him," replied Barbara. "It was his Nazi gun that my son shot himself with. Arrest him! I want to press charges! I'm a lawyer, and I demand you arrest him for unlawful possession of a loaded weapon and reckless endangerment of a minor."

"High words coming from a drunken excuse for a mother," said Sheryl, still blotting coffee from her silk sundress. "When Judge Wright hears about this, you are going to lose all rights to Joshua. You'll be lucky if you get supervised visitation rights."

"Shut your cock sucking mouth, you fucking cunt, before I give you lips to match your boob job!"

"What part of enough didn't y'all understand?" said the lead guard, inserting herself between the two women before words could turn to blows again. "I don't want to hear another word from any of y'all, unless it's in answer to my questions. Ya hear me?" She looked from one of the three to the next and then back again. "I said, ‘do y'all hear me?'" Slowly and reluctantly, each nodded in turn. "Good. Now, what are y'all doing in my ER?"

"My son…"

"Our son," interjected Steven.

"Our son is being treated for a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head."

"Unbelievable…" The guard folded her arms over her chest and looked from mother to father and back again. "In the twenty-two years I've been working here, I thought I had seen everything… Your baby boy's near them pearly gates, and yet here you is on each other's throats instead of down on your knees praying he'll pull through. Unbelievable!" Shaking her head, she flicked her hand dismissingly at the other two guards. "I want the three of yous to go sit down in Chairs, and I don't want to hear a foul or unkind word out of any of you – I don't want to even see a nasty look in there, or Lord as my witness, I'll lock your sorry asses up and not think twice about it. You hear me?" The three nodded. "Good; now get out of my sight!"

Alice took Barbara outside for some air, pressing a wad of tissues into her hand as they went, while Charlie took Steven aside to bring him up to speed on what they knew of Joshua's condition. This left Sheryl and Beth alone at the top of the ramp.

"Hi Beth… How are you holding up?"

"Don't," she replied, slowly shaking her head from side to side, "Do not talk to me, ever again."

"Huh? Well hello to you too, bitch. What bee flew up your skanky twat?"

The casualness of Sheryl's tone pushed Beth over the edge. "You did," she said, getting right in the other girl's face, "when you fucked Josh."

She laughed nervously, her eyes darting to Steven and then back to Beth. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I've never—"

"Bullshit! Lose any fancy underwear lately?" All the color drained from Sheryl's face. "They were in his hand when I… found his body."

Sheryl glanced nervously at her boyfriend, then grabbed Beth by the arm and dragged as far as she could away from Steven as they could go within the confines of the space. "Where are they now?"

Beth hesitated for a moment before answering. "They are on his bed, covered in his blood – unless the police have collected them as evidence. They were arriving when Dad and I were leaving for here."

"Fuck!" Sheryl discarded Beth like a used condom as she stalked off to smoke a cigarette.

Beth smiled to herself, her hand closing around the plastic bag in the front pocket of her baggy jeans. Pleased that she'd guessed right, even if she wasn't entirely thrilled by what it meant or might mean to her relationship with Joshua.

Pain; agony beyond belief enveloped his head, piercing it like a butcher's knife or tugging on it like a meat hook, to the tune of distorted voices. He tried to reach it, to touch his head with his hands, but phantom hands grabbed at him. He resisted. An alarm; several alarms; excited voices, and then black silence rushed up to envelop him again, as the agony faded away.

"Mr. and Mrs. Cahill, I'm Dr. McKinley," said a lithe, bald-headed, middle-aged man wearing surgical scrubs.

"Finally!" exclaimed Barbara, jumping to her feet. "It's been hours since someone has told anything."

"My apologies for keeping you in the dark for so long, Mrs. Cahill, but your son's condition presented us with several surgical complications."

"What do you mean by complications? Is he all right? Can I see him?"

"Give him a chance to answer, Barbara."

"He is still in critical condition, and though he is stable for the moment, we are keeping him in recovery under close observation. As I said, there were some complications. We admitted your son with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face, which had resulted in a serious loss of blood, and he was suffering from acute alcohol poisoning."

"Josh was drunk?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Cahill, but your son was beyond drunk. He had a blood alcohol concentration of…" He glanced at the medical chart in his hand. "Of 2.57 – more than three times the legal limit. Because of that, there were complications with the anesthesia," he explained, "We were overly cautious with how much he was given and, as a result, he woke up during surgery…"

Barbara took a measured step closer to the doctor. "I'm a lawyer. I know that preamble very well. What happened when he woke up?" The calm composure of her voice was nearly as chilling for those present as what the doctor said in reply.

"He probably felt pain from what we were doing and began flailing about before we could get him back under, ripping out several lines – tubes – in the process, and some combination of that triggered a serious myocardial infarction. His heart stopped, and we had to open his chest in order to restart it."

"Was there any damage to his heart?"

"I do not believe so."

"What about his head?"

The doctor took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It looks worse than it is. Most of the damage is to soft tissue, but it passed through at such an odd angle that it fractured bone and shredded an important blood vessel." He glanced around the small surgical waiting room, from Beth silently crying with her head on Alice's shoulder, to Charlie's tattooed face, neck, and arms, to Sheryl's still colorless face staring pinch-faced back at him, and back to Steven and Barbara Cahill who were watching him expectantly. "For whatever it is worth, your son is a very lucky young man. Most people do not put a gun in their mouths, pull the trigger, and miss."

From the dreamless blackness he'd plunged into, it was a long and painfully slow climb back to consciousness for Joshua. Ever so slowly, he became aware of his body and its surroundings. The pain in his head had abated to the level of a dull throbbing in time with his heartbeat, but with each machine-assisted breath, his chest also throbbed. If this were Heaven, he didn't want to experience Hell, and this was Hell, then Dante must have sugarcoated the truth. He tried to flex parts of his body only to find himself restrained. His eyelids and mouth were also being held closed. He groaned twice, the first out of frustration, and the second in hopes of attracting attention.

"Joshua," said a man's voice, as a latex gloved hand took hold of his left hand. "If you can hear me, squeeze my hand twice." Joshua did this, though it took more of a conscious effort than it normally did. "Yes, very good, son," the man said. "I'm going to take the tape off of your eyes now, but don't open them until I tell you to, okay?"

Joshua groaned in response. He waited patiently, too groggy to do anything but wait patiently, truth be told, until the tape had been removed and both of his eyes had been flushed with warm water.

"I want you to flutter your eyelids open and closed and allow your eyes to adjust to the light before trying to open your eyes fully," instructed the man.

As Joshua did this, the reality of the situation began to sink in. He was in a hospital, the man hovering over him was a doctor, and… His eyes flew open. FUCK! I am in Hell and my doctor is Richard O'Brien!

No one wanted to leave the hospital over night for fear of what they might awake to – or go home to. Early the next morning, Dr. McKinley found them camped out in the waiting room, much as he had left them the night before.

"I have some good news for you," he announced, addressing no one in particular. "Joshua is awake, responsive, and communicative. His condition is stable. He is not out of the woods," he cautioned, "but he appears better than I would have expected."

"Can we see him?"

"Yes, Mrs. Cahill, you can – but not all at once. He's being moved to the I.C.U. right now. Once he's settled, you can visit him."

"Thank you, doctor."

"I do have one question for you," he said, addressing Joshua's parents. "Has your son ever undergone treatment for a mental illness?"

"No, he hasn't," said Steven. "Do you think he needs to?"

"That is outside of my range of knowledge, Mr. Cahill," replied Dr. McKinley. "I only asked because the first thing your son said to me was to ask if I was going to give him shock therapy."

This perplexed both pair of parents. However, despite having ignored each other all night, Beth and Sheryl immediately glanced at one another and burst out laughing – thus further perplexing the others in the room. "You should tell him you're bringing in Dr. Furter for a consult," suggested Beth, making both of them laugh even harder.

"I fail to see the humor in that," intoned Dr. McKinley, and both girls completely lost it, their infectious laughter spreading to all but the doctor.

Chapter 1: Sunday, July 16, 2000

The sound of footsteps entering his cubicle in the I.C.U. roused Joshua from his nap. Without opening his eyes, he asked, "Do you know why hospital patients are prescribed lots of rest?" He spoke guardedly using only the right corner of his mouth. The left side of his face, though largely numb from the medications, was still a throbbing mass of swelling that could send out lightning bolts of pain if he, or a nurse, manipulated it the wrong way. "It's because nobody leaves them alone long enough for them to actually fall asleep."

"I'm sorry. Do you want me to come back later?"

Joshua opened his eyes and looked up at Beth. "No. Stay," he said, patting the edge of his bed. She sat down, took his right hand and encased it between both of hers, and caressed it as they sat in companionable silence for several minutes. He watched her, through nearly closed eyelids, this entire time, as he searched fruitlessly for something casual to say. How do you pull off casual, he wondered, when you just tried to off yourself? "Wanna see Frankenstein's Monster?"

"That is not funny," she said, softly, as she turned her face away from him.

"I meant the movie. It's playing at the Alpine at midnight on Friday."

There were tears in her eyes when she turned back. "That was two days ago, Josh."

"Was it?" He tried to think back but all he found was a black void. "I… don't remember."

"Not any of Friday?"

"None of it; it's either a blur or it's a black void." He reached up and wiped away a tear from her cheek. "Don't, please," he begged, "I've had enough of them from our moms and even my dad."

"I'll try," she said, briskly rubbing the tears out of her eyes, as she forced a smile. "It would be easier if I couldn't remember it either." She gave herself a shake. "I can't close my eyes without seeing you lying there on the bed…" The tears flowed freely now, glazing her cheeks and dripping onto her blouse.

"Hey, be-bop, don't cry," he said, pulling her into an awkward embrace. "I know I look like shit, what with all these tubes and whatnots poking out of me, but don't… Come on, now you are getting me to do it, too. Close your eyes and let's think of something happy…"

"Like what?"

"Umm…" He had to struggle for a moment to think of something that wasn't a dark and brooding memory. Has it really been that long since I was happy? He dismissed the thought and decided to make up a happy moment. "Okay… remember the last time you were over in my room and I was lying on the bed…"

She tore herself from his embrace, her eyes wide with shock, and leapt to her feet. "What, do you think that's fucking funny, asshole, because I sure as fuck don't think so!" She grabbed the water pitcher from his tray table and flung its contents at him. "Go to hell!" she screamed, and then ran from the room sobbing.

A tall blond man, who was dressed in a light gray long-sleeved t-shirt under dark blue scrubs, watched Beth run down the corridor for a moment before he stepped into Joshua's cubicle. "You have an intwusting vey vith da ladies," he remarked, as he approached the right side of the bed.

"Fuck off, dude," Joshua snapped, as he blotted the icy water with whatever dry bedding was handy.

"Cannot," the man replied, "My vork is started already; can't fuck until it over. Here" – he grabbed both of Joshua's hands with one of his – "this is my job, not yours. You sit still and I vill clean up mess."

"You're an orderly?"

"Nurse – Tak, men can be nurses too."


"It means ‘yes.'"

"I thought ‘da' was yes in Russian."

"Tak, da is yes in Russian, but I am not rosiy̆s'ka. I am from Ukraine. Oleksander," he said, smiling brightly as he offered Joshua his hand.

"Joshua," he said, shaking the man's hand – long-fingered, fine-boned, and yet large with a surprisingly firm grip. "So you're Ukrainian, huh?"


"Which part of the country? I know a few people from Odessa and Kherson."

Oleksander grinned mischievously. "Everyone say they is from Odessa and then move here to Little Odessa. Not me" – he thumped his chest – "I'm from best part: Khust."

"Where's that?"

The question seemed to deflate Oleksander's cheer by a few degrees. "Vhere's dat? Dat is in da southwest, near Romania and Hungry…" The mischievous grin returned. "…on da border with Transylvania!"

Joshua stared at him in disbelief for a long moment before a grin started to creep across his face. "Don't make me laugh," he begged, but it was too late. Despite the pain it caused him, Joshua had his first real belly laugh in a long time. "Just what I need," he groaned, "vampire humor from a nurse!"

"Is good joke, no?"


"Tak," Oleksander corrected.


"Good… Now we get you dry." With little effort, he picked up Joshua from the bed and transferred him to the padded recliner next to the window. "First I clean da bed; then I clean you."

He watched intently as Oleksander made quick work of changing the bedding. Despite the jokes, he clearly took his job seriously, right down to very precisely folded corners and tucked under edges.

"There ve go," he said, with a satisfied nod of his head. "Now it is your turn, Joshua." As Oleksander drew the privacy curtain closed, Joshua became very nervous. The few times the nurses had done anything to him since the surgery, he had been so groggy on pain medicines that he hadn't cared what they did or how he looked. This time he was fully awake and very self-conscience of how he looked. His concern must have shown on his face, for Oleksander's expression was strictly professional when he squatted down beside Joshua.

"Here's how ve do this," he said, looking Joshua in the eyes, "first I vash you up as far as possible, then I undo top of gown and vash you as far down as possible, and then you decide vhich of us vashes possible."


Oleksander smiled softly. "Possible is down there," he said gesturing to Joshua's crotch.

"Oh…" The joke slowly dawned on him. "Up as far as possible, down as far as possible, and then possible…" They both chuckled. "Okay, that works for me."

With the various IV lines still in him, however, it proved necessary for the Ukrainian to do all the washing, much to Joshua's discomfort. Granny sex… fat granny porn… really old and fat grannies… FUCK! Not now! His body, however, had a mind of its own. His penis had risen to half-mast even before Oleksander came close to possible, and was fully aroused by the time he did. It was hard to tell if time slowed down or if Oleksander had, but it felt like an hour slogged past while the nurse was bathing and drying his neither regions. If he could find any relief in this situation, it was that the nurse didn't make a single comment or joke about Joshua's reaction to his ministrations. In fact, neither of them said another word until Joshua was back in his bed and Oleksander had tucked him in.

"Do I get a cup of warm milk and a bedtime story too?"

The other man smiled, as he dried off the recliner. "I can get you milk, but I only know Ukrainian stories, and you don't know Ukrainian, do you?"

"No, I don't." Joshua shrugged. "But I have nothing better to do, so try me…"

"Okay…" He deposited the dirty bedding and gown in the hamper, washed and dried his hands, and then sat down in the recliner. "Davnym-davno zhyla litnya para, yaki ne til'ky stari, ale duzhe bidnykh tezh..."

Once upon a time there lived an old couple who were not only old but very poor too…

The ‘bedtime story' turned into an hours-long foreign language lesson. Oleksander alternated between Ukrainian and his own rough English translations of several fairytales, and instructed Joshua on how to pronounce some basic words in Ukrainian. For his part, Joshua corrected any odd turns of phrase in Oleksander's translations. Both young men occasionally collapsed into fits of laughter when either of them really fucked up while saying something in the other's native tongue.

"Now this is a nice sound to walk in on," said Joshua's mom, as she arrived on the tail end of one of the fits of laughter.

Oleksander leapt to his feet, squared his shoulders, and politely bowed his head as he said, "Good evening, Mrs. Cahill."

"A good evening to you, Oleksander," she replied, slightly bowing her head toward him in return. "I see you and my son are getting along nicely."

"Yes, ma'am" – he turned toward Joshua and added, "I will be outside if you require anything."

"Oh---kay…" When the nurse was gone, Joshua turned to his mother and said, "How do you know him when I only just met him a couple of hours ago?"

"I know him because I'm the one who hired him," she said, as she sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Um… This is a hospital, you don't need to hire nurses, mom."

"This is a nice hospital, but their staff is stretched far too thinly – all hospitals are, and that's half the reason for all the malpractice suits. Overcrowded and understaffed hospitals."


"Anyway," she said, smoothing out her skirt, "Oleksander is a registered nurse and home attendant, so he can care for you once you come home."

O! Joy! O! Rapture! I can't wait to get back to hell

"In addition, he comes highly recommended from one of my most important clients. Do you remember Mr. al-Masri – you met him at Yankee Stadium earlier this year? Well he keeps Oleksander on retainer for when his paralyzed son is visiting with him here in the States."

"In other words, he's my new nanny…"

"Don't think of him like that, Josh – and don't make that face, either!" She swatted him on the thigh. "He's there to see to it that you have your dressings changed when they need changing and to give you your medicines when you need them…"

"And to keep me out of the booze and away from the guns so that I don't try to kill myself again, right mom? That's what this is really about, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes it is! I am scared to death that you are going to do it again and not be so lucky…"

"Lucky?! Yeah, mom, I'm real lucky! If you hadn't come home when you had, I might have died – which was kinda the fucking plan! But I'm real lucky that didn't happen ‘cause now I can go join the carnie as a real Two-Face." He reached up and ripped the bandages off his face, tearing out stitches in the process.

The color drained from her face as she leapt to her feet and rushed around to the left side of the bed. "Joshua! Stop it! Stop it!" She struggled with him, but he was stronger. He shoved her backwards into a metal medical supplies cart. "Don't!" she screamed, as he yanked one of the IV needles out of his arm.

"Why? I don't need this shit, ‘cause I'm the luckiest fucking guy in the world!"

"Oleksander! Oh god! Oleksander, get in here!" she screamed, and a second later, he came running into the cubical.

He was on top of Joshua in an instant, pinning him to the bed with his knees and subduing his hands with his own. Joshua continued to struggle even though he was no match for the Ukrainian. "Are you okay, Mrs. Cahill? You are bleeding…"

"I'm fine," she said, leaning against the cart for support. "I think it's his blood."

Oleksander nodded. "On da vall over there, push da red button, please." To Joshua, he said, "You need to relax and stop fighting me, you are not going anywhere."

"Fuck you, Mary Poppins!" He managed to work his leg free and ram his knee into Oleksander's crotch, but this only earned him a lesson in Ukrainian curse words. Joshua continued to struggle right up until another nurse injected him with a powerful sedative.

Chapter 2: Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The difficult climb back toward consciousness was becoming routine, but the desire to do it was flagging. As the hospital room spun back into focus, Joshua groaned angrily. No more… let me die! Let me die! I just want to…

"Ah… Sleeping Beauty a-vakes at last." The Ukrainian's words were like fingernails on a blackboard to Joshua. He cringed and tried to roll away from the voice, but his body couldn't comply. He was startled to discover that he was firmly strapped to the bed. "Here," Oleksander said, cupping a hand behind Joshua's head and raising it slightly while pressing a drinking straw to the boy's dry lips, "slip it slowly."

The cherry flavored drink with thick and sweet, like unset Jell-O. When he'd finished the drink, Oleksander withdrew the straw, and then, while still cradling Joshua's head in his hand, he wiped the boy's face with a warm washcloth, paying careful attention to his sleep-encrusted eyes. As he patted his face dry, Joshua warily glanced up at him and was surprised to find no animosity there, only tenderness – a tenderness that made Joshua feel embarrassed and guilt; a tenderness he didn't feel he deserved. "Sorry…"

"For vhat?"

"You know" – his voice was soft and apologetic – "for what I did this afternoon to you…"

Oleksander smiled as he laid Joshua's head back on the pillow. "Dat vas two days ago, and it is forgotten, as far as I am concerned," he said, using the washcloth to wipe some of the sweat and oils from Joshua's hair. "However, you own your mother an opology. You gave her great scare."

Joshua dropped his gaze. "I scare myself sometimes…"

"Ve all do, but ve can't give into. Ve lose vhen da darkness vithin comes out."

"This from the nurse who makes vampire jokes."

"There is difference – you know this." He straightened out Joshua's bedding, but left the restraints untouched.

"Do I really need to have those on?"

Oleksander's expression turned serious, and Joshua thought he glimpsed sadness there too, although he couldn't fathom why that would be there. "For now, I think so," he said, slowly, "but it is ultimately up to you. As long as you vish to hurt yourself, ve need to stop you."

"But I'm not trying to hurt myself," he said, and grunted in frustration. "Why doesn't anyone get that…?"

"Get vhat?"

"Don't… Don't mock me…"

"I am not mocking you – I vould never mock something as serious as this." He laid his hand atop Joshua's right hand. "Vhat is it ve are not getting?"

Joshua remained silent for several moments, as a war raged in his head over whether to answer, and if so then how much to say and whether he could even trust the man in the first place. "I'm not trying to hurt myself," he said, picking his words carefully, "I'm already hurting and all I want to do is end the hurt – end the pain. What you are doing" – he nodded to the restraints – "isn't helping me, just hurting me more. Every day it feels worse."

"You've told doctor dis?"

"Doctors can't do shit! They tie you to your bed and give you pills and crap, but that doesn't change anything. Life still sucks balls – and there ain't no pills for that!"

"Zo it is better to shoot yourself than continue to fight, tak?"

"Yeah… usually it is – unless your drunk-ass mother comes home early and spoils things for you."

Oleksander abruptly pulled his hand away from Joshua. Shaking his head in disapproval, he said, "I do not think you know vhat real pain is, and until you do, shooting self is coward's vay out." His words stung Joshua worse than a slap in the face. "If life sucks, change your life! You are da only one stopping yourself. Not everyone is as lucky."

"Lucky?! You call this lucky? And what the fuck do you know about my life? Don't you dare tell me MY pain isn't real – what do you know about pain, anyway? I bet wiping rich people's asses for three times as much as what these other nurses are making is a really painful life!"

The Ukrainian drew himself up to his full height, squared his shoulders, and composed his face into a mask of professional indifference. "I think I shall go have supper now," he announced, and started toward the door. When he reached it, he paused and half-turned to look at Joshua. "Two things," he said, speaking softly, "da first is dat I know more about pain than you can ever imagine. Da second, is dat your mother is not da one who saved your life. The young lady from da other day – Ms. Witting, tak? She is da one who found you. Think on dat vhile I am gone." He turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Chapter 3: Friday, July 21, 2000

Reality is a skanky cunted bitch, Joshua thought, as he stared into the bathroom mirror while gingerly running his hand over the bandages on his face.

"Dzerkalo, dzerkalo, on da vall, yakoyu ye sorriest ass of all?"

"That wasn't funny the first time, Oleksander, nor is it the hundredth."

"Nothing in da reflection has changed either, but as long as you keep looking, I vill keep joking."

Joshua turned toward the bathroom door, leaned his hip against the sink counter, and regarded the nurse for a long moment in silence. The blond Ukrainian was tall and broad-shouldered, with a wide face and heavy brow, and although he wasn't heavily muscled, he was surprisingly strong, as Joshua had discovered over the past week. He also had an exceptionally high tolerance for the abuse Joshua hurled at him whenever his mood turned sour – which was very frequent. It seemed impossible to offend the man – at least for longer than a moment or two – for he had a knack of turning Joshua's rage back on itself, turning it into guilt by responding to the rage with tenderness and a note of disappointment with Joshua's behavior.

"Vhat? You vant to yell at me again?"

"No… I just want to go back to bed."

Oleksander grinned. "Zo, you vant to avoid talking to your psychiatrist again."

"I wanna…" Joshua grunted in frustration, striking the counter with his fist. "I don't know what I want. I want to get out of here, but I sure as hell don't want to go home – and I can't go to my brother's place… FUCK! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!"

"Do you vant to shoot yourself?"

Joshua gave this serious consideration for moment before answering. "No, I don't want to kill myself."

"Then ve have made progress."

He rolled his eyes. "A lot of good it does me." He cocked his head to the side, and looked Oleksander in the eye. "It still hurts. It's still a struggle to wakeup in the morning. I still wish I wasn't here…"

"It has only been a veek. It'll get better, bit by bit, as each day passes."

"You always sound so certain, Oleksander, but how can you know that?" He pushed off from the sink, and stood his ground before the much taller Ukrainian. "You said you knew pain more than I could imagine. You don't show it; you look like you've had an easy life…"

"Easy?" He threw his head back and laughed bitterly. "Nemaye! It's been many things, but easy has never been one of them."

"All right, then tell me," he insisted, "tell me what pain you have known."

Oleksander grew serious, and again Joshua thought he saw sadness or sorrow in the man's expression. He also looked trapped. Joshua had called him out and it was now time to put up or shut up. Ah ha! Called your bluff, didn't I?

"My family vas poor – very poor. Ve farmed and had a garden, but da soil vas no good. Food was scarce, and there vere some months vhen our parents vould go days vithout food so da five of us – my brother, three sisters, and I – could eat at least a little something. I vas da eldest so it fell to me to help my family as soon as I was old enough. After the fall of da Soviets there vere opportunities for hard currency, if you vere brave enough… or desperate enough…"

He pulled off his scrubs top and the white long-sleeved t-shirt he wore under it, and then slowly turned in a circle to show Joshua his bare torso. "The Turks didn't like smugglers. The Chechens didn't like spies," he said, by way of explanation. "In Chechnya, ve vere ambushed, beaten, and tortured for veeks. Dat was… nearly five years ago, but I still have nightmares."

"Wasn't Chechnya a Russian war? Why were Ukrainian soldiers there?"

"I never said I was a soldier for Ukraine…"

"I just…" Joshua stepped forward and ran his hand, uninvited, across the cross-hatching of scars and burn marks that covered the Ukrainian's back. They were far worse than the ‘scratches' on his own face and chest. He followed them with his eyes to the waistband of the man's pants, and wondered how much further they went.

"Always vith da touching," Oleksander said softly, as he turned to face Joshua. Their gazes locked, as he raised his hand to cup the uninjured side of Joshua's face. Hesitant at first, he eventually leaned into the caress. Oleksander's pale blue eyes, ringed with thick golden-blond lashes, peered deeply into Joshua's brown eyes, probing them, searching out some intangible thing. "It is hard to speak of pain, tak?"

Joshua nodded, and whispered, "Tak…," as his hands slid up Oleksander's scarred flanks. His body trembled as Oleksander hooked his arm around Joshua's waist and drew their bodies together. The Ukrainian was more than a head taller than he was; he had to tilt his head back to maintain eye contact. When he did, Oleksander lowered his head and lightly brushed his lips against Joshua's in a tender, yet sexually charged kiss that caused his breath to catch in his chest. Time froze as they trembled in each other's embrace.

Suddenly and swiftly, Oleksander pulled away from Joshua and hurriedly dressed. There were visible cracks in the man's armor, when he returned his attention to Joshua. "Come, or ve vill be late for your proctologist" – he flinched and rapidly corrected his mistake – "your psychiatrist."


"Nemaye. Ve go now."

"Good morning, Joshua!" said his psychiatrist, as Oleksander guided Joshua's wheelchair into the brightly lit office occupied by the brightly spirited shrink.

"‘Morning," he muttered in reply, his mind distracted.

Oleksander had been rigidly professional and hadn't uttered a single word to him on the trip through the seemingly miles of corridors between his room and the psychiatrist's office. This in itself was unusual, as the Ukrainian was inclined to play ‘bumper cars' with the wheelchair and crack bad jokes during such excursions in order to distract Joshua from wherever they were headed or returning from. What had happened in the bathroom scared Joshua, but this change in the Ukrainian terrified him even more.

"And how are you feeling today, Joshua?"

He caught Oleksander's attention as the man bent over to set the hand brake on one of the wheels. "Confused," he answered, staring into Oleksander's eyes.

"I be outside if anything needed," he said, straightening up.

"Thank you, nurse." Returning his attention to Joshua, Dr. Fine asked, "Confused about what, precisely?"

Dr. Hobson Fine was a flaming fag of the first order. Everything about him screamed ‘homosexual,' from his pale pink dress shirt to the way he crossed his leg at knee, as if he were a woman wearing skirt – which he probably did on the weekends. He was anal retentive, too, as every single item in his office had a precise place in which it sat and it was also in its proper alignment to every other item in the office – it was O.C.D. to the Nth degree! His voice reminded Joshua of the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live.

Taken as a whole, Dr. Fine made Joshua extremely uncomfortable – even more so than a private tutoring session with Brother Hamilton… or being kissed by a guy who is an archetype for what a wholly heterosexual man should look and act like. He then dismissed the last part of his assessment.


"Um… Nothing… Everything, I guess…"

"You guess? That sounds as if you are still reluctant to evaluate yourself…"

Evaluate this, moron!

"…Perhaps you could tell me one specific thing that confuses you, and we could discuss that for starters."

"Okay… How does Little Orphan Annie see without any eyeballs? I mean, sure, she's a cartoon, but even cartoons have to live certain conventions – like Roger Rabbit and the ‘shave and a haircut' routine."

Dr. Fine folded his hands in his lap, and clicked his tongue. "I thought that we had an understanding from the last time that we met that we would take these visits seriously, Joshua."

"No, you made the suggestion; I just agreed to think about it."

"Be that as it may, Joshua, our time together is very important, and we must treat it as such. You cannot continue to avoid facing that which is troubling you," he said, uncrossing his legs and then crossing them the opposite way. "You need to confront your feelings and address them through a safe and healthy outlet, and that is what I am here for."

No! You are not a safe or healthy anything for me, dick face! "Avoiding them? How can I avoid something I can't even escape with a gun in my mouth?" he snapped, "It's always there. It never goes away, not even for an instant."

"And how does that make you feel?"

"Like… like I'm alone… All alone in the middle of a crowded room… and nobody sees me there."

"This is good, Joshua. This is good. Feelings of abandonment are very common for people in your position."

"My position…?"

"Children of divorce," said Dr. Fine, "often feel abandoned by one or both parents during the process because the family's center of focus shifts from the children to the parents as they reinvent their lives. Younger children will often blame themselves for mommy and daddy fighting, and older ones… well… they cry out for attention."

What the fuck are you talking about?

Joshua's confusion grew as the psychiatrist rambled on about the effects of divorce on children; its ability to negatively influence all of the other relationships the child has, and how Joshua's suicide attempt was intentionally non-lethal because he didn't want to die, he just wanted to get his parents love.

Even when they aren't in the room, it's still all about them! It's fucking insane! You're fucking insane, dick face, but you go right on thinking what you want to – everyone else does – and I'll just play along. Serious, my lily-white ass!

Joshua played the character Dr. Fine had cast him as, and by the time Oleksander came to collect him, the psychiatrist was naïvely convinced that Joshua was well on his way toward a full recovery from the troubles plaguing him.

"You seem happier than vhen I left you," Oleksander observed, as the wound their way back to Joshua's room.

"Not happier, just… amused."

"By vhat?"

"I can't really explain it. It's like when you are doing a jigsaw puzzle, some people will look at the pieces and fit them together to make the image, while others will start with the box lid and make the pieces fit into the image. Most people are of the latter persuasion, and that amuses me."

Lunch and company were waiting for Joshua, when he arrived back at his room, and neither seemed palatable.

"Hi, Beth; thanks for coming."

"Mom said you needed to speak to me, so speak."

Oleksander cleared his throat, and said to Joshua, "I'll be outside… vith dry bedding in case you needs it."

The joke made Joshua grimace. He grabbed the man's arm and said, "Wait! This is my girlfriend" – he stumbled over the word as he said it. Joshua wasn't sure if that was because he was unsure of his status with Beth, trying to subtly emphasize that status to Oleksander in reaction to what passed between them earlier in the bathroom, or some combination of the two. "Beth Witting; Beth this is Oleksander… uh…" He glanced up at the Ukrainian, realizing for the first time that he didn't know the man's last name.

"Domashenko. Oleksander Domashenko."

"Do I know you?"

"Ve met briefly last veekend. I vas at da nurses' station vhen you vere looking for Joshua's room in da I.C.U., and then you ran past me on your vay out."

"Oh…" She sheepishly looked down at her hand.

"I vill be outside if I am needed." He made a show of collecting the water pitcher on his way out of the room. They all laughed at this, but the laughter faded as soon as the door closed.

"Please sit down, Beth."

"I'd rather stand."

"Okay…" He kicked the footplates up and out the way, and stood up from the wheelchair.

"Shouldn't you be—"

"I'd rather stand…"

"Fine! I'll sit down."

"Sit or stand – or sprout wings and fly – I don't care what you do."

"Is there anything that you do care about?"



"You!" he said, grabbing her by the upper arms. "I care about you."

She stared at him for a moment, incredulous. "Bullshit!" she said, as she pulled away from him. "You don't care about anything or anyone but yourself! If you ever cared for me in the least bit, you never would have done it!"

"You make it sound like it was about you – it was NOT about you!"

"No fucking kidding! It she was worth it!"

"Whoa! What the fuck…? What she? What in God's name are you talking about?"

"Sheryl, that's who – I know all about it. I know you fucked that skanky whore."

"Excuse me?! I fucked who?" He cocked his head at her in disbelief. "Unless the stuff we've done together counts, the last I checked, I was still a virgin. I did not fuck my dad's girlfriend – nor do I ever want to."

"Oh yeah?" She pulled a Ziploc plastic bag out of her purse and threw it at him. "Then explain that!"

He opened the bag just long enough for the scent of fermented blood to hit him. "Christ on a stick!" He pinched the bag shut and tossed it in the direction of the garbage can. "What the fuck is that?"

"Her panties, Josh," she replied, glaring daggers at him. "I found them in your hand, soaked in your blood – rhinestone ‘S' and all – when I found your body. I should have let you die."

"I wish you would have," he shot back. "But that – I have no idea where that came from, Beth; you have got to believe me. I might be a royal fuck up, but there has never been another girl for me but you. I love you." His eyes welling with tears, he reached for her, but she batted his hand away.

"Hell of a way to show it…"

"Please, Beth… I have never… NEVER… lied to you, and I'm not going to start now. Please…" He reached out again. She hesitated, weighing his voracity against the evidence. Though uncertain, she stepped into his embrace. "I love you, Beth," he sobbed against her shoulder, as he closed his arms around her. She said nothing in response; however, her lips found his for a long string of kisses.

When the cart came around to collect the lunch trays, Oleksander ducked into the room and then beat an instantaneous retreat. With the color rising in his cheeks, "Ve are not done vith it yet," he told the person from food services. He then took up an at-guard stance in front of the door.

A few minutes later, beet red and avoiding all eye contact with Oleksander, Beth exited Joshua's private room, and moved swiftly down the corridor in the direction of the elevators. He watched her go, smiling privately to himself, before knocking on the door and entering the room.

"My apologies for intruding before – they vanted the lunch tray."

"It's okay," said Joshua, also avoiding eye contact with Oleksander, as he wrapped the bedding around himself, "it was probably for the best that you came in when you did… if you get my drift?"

Oleksander laughed. "Tak! I follow you." He winked at Joshua, and then crossed to the corner of the room where he kept his backpack. From one of its many zippered compartments, he pulled out something and tossed it to Joshua.

"What's…" His jaw went slack as he stared at the little foil packet in his hand. A condom. With the suddenness of a bolt of lightning, memories from the previous Friday came flooding back into his conscious mind. The locker… his conversation with the chaplain… the test score… Mrs. Witting in the garage… the alcohol… the taste of the Luger in his mouth… and what he did with Sheryl. The room lurched, his world upended itself, and the contents of his stomach raced up his throat like a bat out of Hell.

"This could be problem," Oleksander agreed, once Joshua had told him the whole story.

"And the kicker is that I don't think I actually did anything with Sheryl; I think my dad interrupted us before I could… you know… do the deed."

Shaking his head, "Ah, but dat does not matter," he said, as he bent down to pickup the bag with Sheryl's panties in it, "Vomen do not care so much about vhat you do, sex is sex, but vho you did it vith – dat they care about!" Oleksander placed the panties, bag and all, into the bio-hazardous wastes bin. "Come, let us clean you up," he said, gesturing toward the bathroom.

"But if I didn't actually do anything with Sheryl…"

"Listen to Olek on this," he said, draping an arm over Joshua's shoulders. "Da thing vith vomen is that you can fuck a… a hundred vhores and do them each a dozen vays to Sunday, and she vill not give a shit about them; however… if just give one of her friends a friendly peck on da lips you vill never hear the end of it!"

As he stepped into the bathroom, Joshua laughed at this bit of advice, taking it to be a joke. However, when it registered with him that Oleksander wasn't laughing, he faltered, stopped laughing, and turned to face the man. "Sorry, I thought you were making a joke. Is that how things went for you? Not the whores, but the kissing the friend?"

"It vas… something like dat," he answered, skirting the question, as he helped Joshua out of the vomit-soiled hospital gown.

"So what was it like? I mean, I told you everything, so fair is fair."

"Nothing in life is fair," Oleksander countered, "and you don't want to know da answer, you just vant something that vill make you feel good. Dis story make no one feel good."

Joshua watched him for a minute in silence before slowly raising his hand to the man's face. Cupping Oleksander's cheek in his hand, he guided the man's head until, for the second time that day, they were gazing deeply into one another's eyes.

"Who were they?"

"She vas my girlfriend in Grozny; he vas her brother… and I did more than kiss him."

"Oh…" Joshua dropped his gaze. A sudden chill passed through him, as he became acutely aware of his nakedness.

Oleksander turned his head slightly and kissed the heel of Joshua's hand, and then dipped his head so that the spot he'd kissed came to rest against his forehead. "They are dead. Killed in the raid on Grozny in ninety-six."

"I'm sorry for your loss…"

He turned his face toward Joshua's. "You remind me a great deal of him… of Sergey…" He encircled Joshua's waist with his arm and drew their bodies together. "Vill you promise me something? Promise me you vill not kill yourself," he begged.

"Tak," he whispered, "Yes, I promise…"

Again, Oleksander brushed his lips against Joshua's in a tender kiss, but this time it didn't stop with that.

Ooooo fuck! He sighed deeply in response to the intensity of the kiss. After the initial surprise wore off, Joshua found himself getting lost in the kissing in the exact same way he would lose himself while making out with Beth – only this kissing was very much different. There was no air of caution, no constant coming up for air before things could get too hot and heavy. Some unfathomable thing within each of that, which Joshua couldn't name let alone understand, was driving them headlong into reckless abandon. His hands found their way under Oleksander's shirt, and the next moment it was gone and their bare chests were touching, separated by only a thin layer of sweat. Their hands explored each other's bodies. The raised scar tissue was a three-dimensional roadmap to Joshua's hands, as he followed their path across his back, into his pants, and down his buttocks. He backtracked and tugged at the waistband, and only now did Oleksander's desire falter.

"Understand, ve vere tortured," he breathed, "brutally, wiciously tortured."

Joshua kissed the side of the man's neck. "We both of scars…"

"It's more den dat…" He took Joshua's hand in his and guided it into his pants and to between his legs, and pressed it against what remained of his genitalia. Joshua jerked his hand away, and staggered backwards a step, confused and a bit frightened by what he had just felt, and leaving Oleksander embarrassed and ashamed. "If you vant to stop, I understand… I should never've…" Joshua grabbed him by the arm, stopping him mid-sentence.

"I'm not a fag… a homo… uh… gay," he said, the words ringing hollow to him under the present circumstances. He glanced down at Oleksander's crotch. "Show me. I want to see…" – and when Oleksander just shook his head and turned his face away in embarrassment, Joshua took firm purchase on the waistband and pulled them down himself. "Oh fuck…," he gasped. Brutal and vicious didn't begin to describe what had been done to Oleksander's genitals. He tried to cover himself, but Joshua stopped him. "Nemaye… Come over here," he whispered, pulling the man into his embrace.

They held onto each other, both crying, until they could cry no longer, and still they clung to one another in an intimacy built upon their shared pain.

Chapter 4: Thursday, July 27, 2000

Dzerkalo, dzerkalo, on da vall, Joshua teased himself, as he studied his reflection in the bathroom mirror. The bandages were off, so for the first time he could see, and not just feel, the extent of the ‘damage' to his face. As he turned his head this way and that, looking at the scars from as many angles as he could, he was divided on whether they were actually less severe than he had imagined, or if they were simply superficial when compared to Oleksander's scars.

"Touching yourself again?"

"Nah," Joshua said, turning to face the Ukrainian, "I'm just admiring my ugly puss."

"You're pussy? You have a pussy?"

"No!" Joshua laughed. "Puss, not pussy; it's slang for face."

"Oh… never heard it before."

"My dad uses it all the time, so it's a really old expression from, like, the eighties."

"Ah, I see," said Oleksander, as he folded down and smoothed the collar on Joshua's polo shirt. Taking the teen's chin in his hand, he turned Joshua's face to the side and examined the scars. "Ve are healing nicely… wery nicely." He smiled at Joshua. "Your pussy's not ugly at all."

"Puss!" Joshua exclaimed, playfully swatting Oleksander, "It's my puss, not my pussy, you dick!" They roughhoused it like two little kids back into the main part of the hospital room, only growing up when they became aware of Steven Cahill's presence in the open doorway.

"Nice to see you in such high spirits," he said.

"It's great to be getting out of here," replied Joshua. He crossed to his father and gave him a hug.

"I've got all your paperwork – ready to go?"

"Yeah, but I thought mom was coming to pick me up."

His father made a face. "Something came up at work – she flew to Paris this morning."

"How nice of her to tell me," Joshua snapped.

"Hey, it'll be okay, kiddo. You've still got me and Sheryl." Steven gave his son's shoulder a squeeze. "We'll camp out on the terrace, order in pizza, pop some popcorn, and watch your favorite movies."

"Huh? I'm staying with you?"

"Well, yeah, of course, Josh. I'm not going to let you come home to an empty apartment while your mother is off gallivanting… while she's off working in France. You're just getting out of the hospital; you need someone there to look after you."

Baby-sit me, you mean. "That's what Oleksander is for," he protested, "So even if mom's not there, I'm not alone, dad – and I really just want to go home and spend a quiet night in my own bed."

Steven glanced down for a moment, biting his lip. "About that… your mother hasn't gotten around to replacing your bed or cleaning up your room. Sheryl stopped by there yesterday to drop some things for you and… was very upset by what she found."

"Fine, then I'll sleep in the guestroom, or in the tank with the guppies – I really don't care, I just want to get the fuck out of here and go home – to MY home!"

"My home is your home," Steven fired back, "Your mother's apartment isn't fit for an animal to live in, let alone my son! And it'll be over my dead body before I let you live there with her again!"

"I'm not a pawn to be fought over, so how about we do it my dead body, dad!"

"Enough!" shouted Oleksander, inserting himself between the father and son. "Ve are getting novhere shouting like this." He turned to Steven and said, "Please, go to nurses' station and ask them bring vheelchair." To Joshua, he said, "Ve get out of here, go home, and then ve figure out vhere you vill sleep. One step at time, tak? Tak?"


"Good…" To Steven he added, "You go, and ve be ready vhen you get back."

"Okay…" He sighed. "Okay, I'll be right back."

When his dad was gone, Joshua said in a hushed tone, "I can't stay with them, Oleksander, I just can't. Not after what happened… I just can't."

"I know this," he said, laying his hands on Joshua's shoulders. "Ve vill find a solution, but you need to stay calm. Ve get novhere vith shouting. No more talk of death, either. You promised me…"

"Sorry… I didn't mean… I'm sorry. I'll try not to do it again, but how the fuck am I going to deal with Sheryl – and Beth! She already thinks there's something going on between me and Sheryl; so Beth's not going to be happy with me sleeping under the same roof as her."

The Ukrainian grinned. "Do not worry. I've much too experience vith this, so your pal Olek has some ideas," he said, winking and tousling Joshua's hair.

"What are you planning?"

"Best you not know… I need to make phone call."

Instead of crossing to the phone on the nightstand beside Joshua's bed, as Joshua had expected, Oleksander went to backpack and withdrew a sleek, Hershey's chocolate bar-shaped, black cellular phone from one of the compartments. He stared at it in awe. He knew a number of people with pagers, but no one, not even his parents, owned a cellular phone. Oleksander winked at him, as he took the phone into the bathroom to make his call.

The trip from Lutheran Hospital to the Colonial Court Arms went past in a blur for Joshua. He only stirred twice from his spot in the corner of the backseat of his father's Lincoln Town Car. Once was to check for any activity in the Bay Ridge railroad car float yard, and the other, a few blocks later, to point out St. Pius X High School to Oleksander.

Despite his relief to be out of the hospital, a sense of dread began to fill Joshua as the car navigated the last curves on Shore Road before reaching Colonial Court, the towers looming large and ominous over their neighboring low-rise apartment buildings. He glanced over his shoulder and out the rear window and watched the gates on the private driveway close behind the car, inspiring the opening chords of Hotel California to play in his mind.

"I like your accent," Sheryl said, coyly smiling up at Oleksander. "It's Russian, isn't it?"

He returned the smile, making a point of directing his gaze straight down her ample cleavage. "No. I am from Ukraine. Khust, Ukraine."

"Were you a nurse there?"

"No. I studied medicine in Grozny, Chechnya."

"So you were a doctor?"

"No, not exactly," he said, turning his body toward her as he unabashedly flirting with Sheryl. "I was there on other business, and taking some classes at University seemed good vay to pass time."

"I can't imagine anyone going to college for the fun of it. High school was horrible enough, and that took me five years. I'd be really old – like thirty or something – by the time I'd graduate community college."

"I'm sure if you vanted it, you could do it. You strike me as da sort of voman vho has no trouble taking or getting vhat she vants. Dominant vomen are very rare in Ukraine – vhich is vhy I love American vomen. They take charge. You don't fuck an American voman, she fucks you… vhenever and vherever she pleases. Like here, in stuck elevator." Sheryl drew closer to his body, her scent filling his nostrils. "You like Olek, tak? Vhat vould you like to do to Olek?"

"This," she purred, and pounced on the bait he'd laid for her. She grabbed him by the back of the neck, pulling him into a heated kiss, as she pressed her body against his. Unbridled, for a few minutes they went at it, Oleksander playing the submissive male to Sheryl's dominatrix mindset. When she reached for his crotch, he stopped her. He dropped to his knees before her, reached up under her dress, and slid down her panties. They were, he noted, except for their color, they were identical to the ones Joshua had described and the bloodied pair he had seen in the hospital.

As he stood back up, he slipped a hand beneath her dress. She spread her legs to allow him access, and he fingered her as he started suckling her neck.

"Careful, baby," she purred, "don't leave any marks."

"It's too late for dat," he murmured against her neck, "There is already a big dark one."

"What?!" Sheryl suddenly pulled away from Oleksander, and began feeling her shoulder and trying to look at it, first unaided and then with the elevator's ineffectual security mirror. "Where is it? I don't see anything."

He glared coldly at her, devoid of any trace of the passion he'd exhibited a moment earlier. "It's not there on your neck, it is in your soul and black as coal."


"I know about you and Joshua, and I have the evidence of it. Mrs. Cahill pays me to take care of her son… and to learn vhat I can about you and her husband."


"Not quite yet, I think, tak?" He grinned wryly. "Joshua… he love Ms. Witting and does not vish anything get in vay of dat… especially you. Zo… you are going to forget vhat happened and stay out of their vay, or else I tell Mrs. Cahill vhat I know vith a little added twist. She tell husband, and he kicks you to kurb like cheap whore you are."

"How dare you!"

"You vould be shocked at da things I have dared to do. This…" He made a sour face. "This is insignificant in comparison. For fun of it, might even tell how you came on to me."

"Steven would never believe that; it would be my word against yours!"

"No need for words" – he pointed to the back corner of the elevator – "when you have security camera. Sex, Lies, and Wideotape." He grinned at her. She smacked him hard across the face, but this only made his grin wider. He gave a thumb's up to the video camera, and the elevator lurched back to life and began descending toward the lobby.

"You set me up!"

"How wery observant of you."

When they reached the lobby, she exploded out of the elevator, leaving Oleksander and her discarded panties in her wake. He scooped them up and took a whiff of her scent. "Another time un place and you vould be wery much fun to play vith, moya lyubov – but I think I vould need to shove these in your mouth to keep from vanting to rip your woice out of your throat," he said to himself. "She must lose a lot of these…" He took another whiff and then stuffed her panties in his back pocket before following after her back to Steven Cahill's apartment.

"Your room, it is not too terrible," Oleksander informed Joshua. "The vorst has already been cleaned up. You need a new mattress and bedding, and maybe replace carpet and it be back to vay it vas."

"It'll never be the way it was."

"Then do something different. You are a man now – make it a man's room. Get rid of captains' beds and toy trains, and make nice place for self."

"Whoa! Those are not toys," he said, jumping to his feet. "I have been scratch-building those N-scale models of the Brooklyn Eastern District line for couple of years now. The trains stay!"

"You build all dat yourself?"


"In dat case, I apologize." He glanced in the direction of where Steven and Sheryl were conversing with one another. "I vas lead to believe it vas silly child's toy."

"Yeah, well there's a surprise." Joshua rolled his eye as he flopped back down on the loveseat. "Nobody's ever shared my interest in railroads, so the time I spend on them is viewed as wasted time – and money."

"You enjoy it?"

"Yeah, of course. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't."

"Then dat is all dat should matter."

"Tell them that…"

Once they had safely secured the model railroad the wall in its new position in the room, Joshua and Oleksander collapsed onto the floor. Fresh paint and raw oak mixed with the gasses from the new wall-to-wall carpeting under them to give the room that ‘new car' like smell, even if it was potentially poisoning them.

"Vell, ve did it."

"And in less than two days, just as you said. I am impressed."

"To tell truth, so am I."

"What, you didn't think we could stick to your own timeline?"

"No timeline," he said, rolling on his side and supporting his head with his hand. "Two days vas just a random number."

"Wait… are you telling me we just redid my room based on a number you pulled out your ass?"

"Not exactly my ass, but, tak…"

"So… we could have taken a little longer without killing ourselves?"

"Exercise good for you."

"Says the guy who never goes to the gym, yet has a porn star body!"

Oleksander laughed. "You've seen body – I'm no porn star."

Joshua grew serious. "You're not a nurse either. Nurses don't get tortured in foreign countries and end up here with two thousand dollar cellular phones." He rolled on his side and looked the Ukrainian in the eye. "Can I ask you some personal questions?"

Oleksander hesitated for a moment before answering. "You can ask me about anything you vish, but I might not be able to answer all of them."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I… am not a nurse."

"So what are you?"

"Dat I cannot answer."

"Why not?"

"Because I cannot."

"Why can't you? Why is it such a secret?"

He smiled tenderly as he gazed into Joshua's eyes. "You are like dog with bone," he whispered, brushing his hand across the injured side of the teen's face, "you refuse to let go until you are satiated."

Joshua covered Oleksander's hand with his. "Are you trying to distract me?"

"Is it vorking?"


"Oh vell…"

"What are you?"

"I… I am someone vho does not ask questions about things vhich are best he know nothing about. Trust me, it is for da best."

"Okay… can you tell me what you did to get the scars?"

"I got caught."

"Doing what – or can't you tell me that?"

"I can tell. The first beating vas vhen I vas fourteen year old; I vas a mule for smugglers between Turkey and CCCP. One snowy night, Turks catch me vith two kilo of drugs. They beat and torture me, try to make me give up black market contacts. I no tell ‘cause I knew nothing – I vas just mule. They no believe. A few year go past and it happen again. Dat time I know more, but they get nothing from me."

"How did you hold out? It had to have been painful."

"It vas, but…" He paused for a long moment. "There is two vays to deal vith pain. You either let it hurt you and crumble under it, or you learn to take it, you learn to like it. You learn to enjoy the pain. You become a masochist, or a sadomasochist, but either vay you learn to find pleasure in da pain."

"And that's what you did?"

"Tak… It frustrated and outraged the Muslim Turks that I perversely enjoyed their beatings. The Chechens even less thrilled."

"Is that why they…"

"Tak. There vere other reasons too, but that played a part."

"You weren't a smuggler then, nor a soldier, so what were you?"

"I did not say I vas not a soldier, just that I vas not a Ukraine soldier. I vas… a recruit, I guess. By then I vas just looking out for me. Someone offered me hard currency to do job, I did job – no questions."

"Like a solider of fortune?"

"That makes it sound pretty. There vas nothing pretty about it," he said, rolling onto his back. "I lived in Grozny then. Tiny little flat. I met Dagmara and Sergey there." He smiled to himself at the memory. "She lived across airshaft from me. Ve vould sit at vindow and share meals. She vas studying to be doktor and I took some classes to get to know her. Then ve started sharing meals in my flat. Her roommate was Muslim; strictly no men allowed in their flat."

"Then where did her brother live?"

"He lived vith their parents in da country. Because of her roommate, she if he could stay vith me vhile he wisited Grozny. My flat vas too small for one person, let alone two, but… It vas middle of night and she vas… you know… making little Olek happy. I vould have said yes to anything at that moment."

"So this was before you were tortured."

"Tak. I vas… still a man then."

"You still are one." Joshua shifted closer and laid his head on Oleksander's chest. "Tell me about him… Tell me about Sergey."

"He vas an annoying pain in the ass – quite like you!"

"Hey!" Joshua started to lift his head, but Oleksander pushed it back down.

"Shut up and listen. Sergey vas full of himself," he continued, "He vas eighteen, had never been anyvhere of consequence, and never held a real job, but because he could play crappy metal punk music, he thought his shit didn't stink."

"Sounds like love at first sight."

"It vas not! I vas already in love vith his sister, and he vas in love vith himself… and vodka… and anything vith a cock. She did not tell me this; if she had, I vould not have let him stay vith me. Once he arrived it vas… wery awkward. He vould get drunk and throw himself at me. I vould reject him. He vould scream and I vould shout back. He vould threaten me and I vould kick him out to go sleep it off God only knows vhere." Oleksander sighed heavily. "This vent on once too often. One night I kick him out and instead of sleeping it off, he vent and found trouble. A few hours later back he comes, badly beaten, bloodied, and sobbing. By now I'm drunk too and feeling sorry for him. I get him cleaned up and ve crawl in bed to sleep it off. It hot summer night, zo no clothes – big mistake!"

"What happened? Did Dagmara found you naked in each others arms?"

"If only… if only…" He sighed heavily again, as he idly ran his hand through Joshua's hair. "Ve vere lying in bed somewhat like this and Sergey kept sobbing. I don't know vhy. The pain of the beating, or an inner pain, or… or both. I never came to understand him – I never vanted to. He vas sobbing and I tried to comfort him. I vas drunk and really thinking clear, so I comfort him da vay I vould a voman. I caress him, I hug him, and ve start kissing. It's wery different kissing man…"

"And very much the same as a woman…"

"Indeed… indeed. Zo, ve kiss… and vith no clothes and much vodka… things moved very fast… especially clock. She walk in on us. She have our breakfast in her hand, and I have her brother's cock in my mouth. Vomen do not forgive dat too readily.

"What did she do?"

"Vhat any voman vould do: she yell, she throw things, she storm out. For several veeks I chaser her, I try talking to her, I even vrite her letter, but she does not vant to listen to truth. Her brother try too, but… nichoho… nothing. He find other place to stay, but ve drink much together, and ve are really drunk…"

"Things happened…"

"Tak… things happened. Grozny came under siege. They bombed da city; they bombed my building. Sergey and I had been out drinking… Ve dug through rubble for hours vith little more than bare hands. We found Dagmara and roommate under blankets in big tub. Dead. It was vinter, ve had to leave them there. Sergey and I, ve joined up with Chechen soldiers. He did it to fight, I did it to kill. I vas drunk and I vas angry, both got vorse each day, until I no longer cared vho I vas shooting at. If they vere vearing a uniform they vere a target. In mid-January, Sergey vas killed by sniper vhile taking a piss. Some days later, the Russians captured me. They beat me, and they vere impressed vhen I couldn't be broken. Instead, they bought and turned me. I became a Chechen soldier and Russian spy – I got to kill vhomever I vanted vith relative impunity… until the Chechens found out. They wiciously beat and tortured me until they found a vay to break me, and once they did, they did not stop until I vas nothing."

A minute passed, then another, and when it seemed that nothing more was to be forthcoming from Oleksander, Joshua raised his head to look at him. Tears silently streamed from tightly shut eyes; leaving broad streaks across his cheeks and dark stains on his light green shirt. Joshua reached up his hand and tenderly wiped away some of the dampness from the man's face. Oleksander opened his eyes, glanced at Joshua's face, and then tried to turn his face away, but Joshua turned it back.


"No more questions…"


Chapter ?: Thursday, August 3, 2000

For the better or for the worse, routine was returning to Joshua's life. At the center of it were daily visits to his psychiatrist, an elderly and very sociable man who ran his practice, with his wife's help, out of an office in their home. He often spent his evenings with Beth and her family, and divided the remainder of his day between sleeping and long hours in the apartment complex's private gym. He would have avoided his parents, but they were rarely around now.

Their initial post-suicide parental love fest had started evaporating before he had left the hospital, and as the first week of August drew to a close, it was totally gone. He told himself that he didn't care, even though he did. The greater absence, however, was the loss of Oleksander's nearly constant presence in his life. Often, he would find himself wanting to share some tidbit or other with the man, or he would glance in a mirror and then expect to hear the Ukrainian teasing him for doing so. It scared him that in such a short time he had grown so attached to Oleksander, and that he felt a deeper bond to him than to any of his blood relatives.

It was a busy routine, filled with much busy work to keep him occupied, but it was a lonely existence. Nothing truly filled the hollowness growing within him, and its presence was an ever-present invitation to revisit the path that had previous led to the business end of a Luger.

Joshua skid his bike to a stop at the foot of Dr. Gallagher's driveway. In a neighborhood filled with quirky and distinctive homes, the psychiatrist owned the most unique of them all. Set on a large, wooded corner lot, and resembling something plucked straight out of Tolkien's Middle Earth, there was an air of the surreal as you approached the ‘Gingerbread House' as its Bay Ridge neighbors called it. To Joshua, it was the Hobbit's home in the Shire, and although he was hardly a match for Bilbo Baggins, Dr. Gallagher fit right in there by bearing an uncanny resemblance to author J.R.R.Tolkien.

He froze with his hand on the gate latch, at the foot of the driveway, at the sight of a stranger in the Shire. At drive's crest, beside the garage, stood a Sindarin Elf, tall and lithe with curly blond hair, tossing a basketball into a hoop mounted at regulation height high on the garage's sidewall. He watched in silence for several minutes, admiring the elf's skill at sinking baskets from where the free throw and three-point lines would be. A badly missed shot resulted in the elf noticing Joshua. He disappeared from view only to return a moment later with the doctor's wife in tow. Defrosted, Joshua opened the gate and walked his bike up the driveway to meet her.

"Good afternoon, Joshua. I've been trying to reach you," she said, as he approached her.

"Why, is something wrong?"

"No, hon, just a one-time change with appointments," she replied. "There was an emergency with another patient that has pushed back all of the afternoon appointments by several hours. I've been able to reschedule everyone except for you and Shawn." She gestured over her shoulder, and his gaze followed to the elf – a scruffy bearded and acne-plagued teen who was little older than himself.

"Well, no phone on my bike – been out riding most of the day."

"None down in the subway either," added Shawn.

"No, I suppose not," agreed Dotty. "Joshua, do you want to cancel for today, or come back later this evening?"

"I can wait."

"It could be a few hours. Surely you have something better to do?"

"Not really…"

"And don't call him Shirley," laughed Shawn.

She gave him a quizzical look. "I didn't call him ‘Shirley.'"

"Surely you did."

Grinning, "No, she didn't – and don't call her Shirley," said Joshua.

"Okay, I don't get the joke," said Dotty, raising a hand to silence the boys, "but since the both of you do, I'll leave you two to your jokes and go back inside. Let me know if you need anything." Their laughs followed her back into the office.

"That's one of my favorite movies," said Shawn, idly dribbling the basketball. "I could watch it over and over."

"Me too! I just saw it the other night on Channel 11."

"Same here – say, do you play hoops?" Shawn asked, giving the basketball a hard bounce.

"Yeah, I sure do." He seized the ball, did some fancy dribbling, and hooked it up over his shoulder… "He shoots and he…!"

"Misses the hoop by two feet."

Joshua groaned, and sheepishly grinned at Shawn. "And that, in a nutshell, is how I ended last season."

"That blows," said Shawn with a sympathetic chuckle, as he went to retrieve the ball. "Is that how you got banged up, playing JV hoops?"

Suddenly self-conscious, Joshua shook his head. "No, that was a totally different fucked-up moment in my life." He managed a weak smile. "Don't ask – too long a story. Do you play on the JV at your school? I was watching you, and you're damn good, but your left-handed shots need work."

"Used to play it back home, since I was like six years old, but not since I moved here," Shawn said, returning to Joshua's side. He dropped the ball and pinned it with his foot. "My left shoulder is the reason for that. It's all fucked up, but that's a long ass story too."

"So where did you move here from?"

"I was born in Indianapolis, but I grew up in Hook Pine, Indiana – it's a little speck on the road about seventy miles southwest of Indy."

"Can't say I've ever heard of it. What's there?"

"Not a fucking lot. Some mini-farms, a Salvation Army camp, and a couple of roadside businesses; if you sneeze, you can easily missing seeing the town. Most folks work in the neighboring towns, like Bedford or Bloomington."

"Now Bloomington, Indiana, I have heard of. I was there for a couple of days back in ninety-six."


"Juggling." Shawn gave him a puzzled look, spurring Joshua to explain, "My girlfriend's parents run a carnival sideshow down at Coney Island. Back in the summer of ninety-six then ended up touring the US for fourteen weeks with a European circus troupe, and they invited me along on the condition that I worked for my keep."

"So you juggled balls?"

"They were snow-globes, actually, but that was only because Beth's mom wouldn't allow her husband to teach a twelve-year-old how to swallow swords."

"Hey! I was there! At the end of your act, you dropped them into a metal bucket, and we all thought you broke them but when you flung the contents of the bucket at us, it was filled with silver glitter."

"That was me…"

"Small world… How did you do that, anyway? We heard the glass breaking and everything."

"Magicians never tell their secrets, but…" He made a show of making sure nobody was around, and then gestured for Shawn to lean in closely. "I'll tell you this much… The globes weren't made of glass, and the sound of breaking glass did not come from the bucket."

"So how did you do it then?"

Joshua shook his head and made a show of zipping his lips.

"Fine! Then let's play!" he picked up the ball, and bounced it hard and high in Joshua's direction. "Your ball!"

That night, at dinner with the Wittings, Joshua recounted his meeting with Shawn, and told how their paths had crossed at Bloomington.

"You didn't tell him the secret, did you?" asked Charlie.

"No, sir! Magicians' secrets stay a secret for ever and a day."

"Good boy!"

"Still, I was amazed that he remembered me or the trick. I mean, I remember most of the towns we stopped at, and most – if not all – of the acts we and the circus troupe did, but the individual days just blur together. I wish I could remember if I saw him there or not."

"I wish I could forget it," muttered Alice, as she cleared the table.

"Why is that, dear? I thought you loved that road show."

"I did enjoy it," she replied, "I just wish I could forget Bloomington."


She gave him an odd look, glanced at the three teens seated at the dining table, and then nodded toward the kitchen. Charlie gave the kids an exaggerated shrug as he followed his wife into the kitchen.

"What do you think that's about?" asked Beth.

"I bet that's where dad fooled around with a female extortionist until she broke it off." Beth and Joshua groaned.

"If you're going to tell a bad joke, Tommy, at least get it right," said Beth, swatting her younger brother. "It's a contortionist, not an extortionist."

"Whatever… You tell it your way and I'll tell it mine, Sis."

"Say… Beth, there was a town where we ended up canceling the last day of the run, wasn't there?" asked Joshua, "Could that have been Bloomington?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, but it could have been."

"Why don't you check mom's scrapbooks," suggested Tommy. "She keeps everything in them, from what we did to when we crapped."



"You know what," she said, smacking him on the back of the head as she got up from the table. "I'll go get it," she said to Joshua. "It's on one of the shelves in the den." She kissed the top of head, as she passed his chair, on her way out of the room.

"Do you need something, honey," asked Alice, guiltily slapping shut a scrapbook, as her daughter entered the den.

"Yeah, I was just…" She paused, her gaze frozen on the scrapbook for moment. "Umm… I was wondering if we could… have some money? We want to go up to eighty-sixth and fourth for some ice cream."

"Sure, honey," said Alice. "Give her some money, Charlie."

"Why me?"

"Because I don't have… my… purse…"

He got the message. "Here, sweetie, take twenty – but I want the change back."

She took the money and tucked in pocket. "Yes, daddy…"

"Don't ‘yes, daddy' me, Beth," he mock scolded, "The change includes the bills as well as the coins." She snapped her fingers, as she skipped out of the den.

"She's a good liar," he said, turning to his wife. "You think they remember what happened?"

"No, but I've got a hunch they suspect something did – especially now." She stood up and clutched the scrapbook to her chest. "I've got make this album disappear."

"Why? That's only going to make them more curious."

"Because I said so, Charlie," she snapped. "I'd rather they be curious than read what's in here."

"But if he's meet this kid…"

"It was just a freak occurrence – the doctor was running late. They won't run into each other again."

"And if they do…" He pulled her into his embrace. "You can't build a plastic dome around them, Alice. You cannot protect them from the world outside. It has its own ways of getting in, as we all discovered a couple of weeks ago."

"I know, Charlie, I know… But I am a mother – it's my duty to shield them."

"It's my duty, too, and we have done an excellent job of that up until now, but maybe it's time to—"

"No! There is no right time for this!" She pulled away from him and ran from the room still clutching the scrapbook.

"So you didn't see anything? Not even the town?" Joshua asked, as the three waited for the elevator.

"No, not a thing; mom shut it the moment she saw me, and she and dad had the guiltiest looks you can imagine."

"Then I was right about something happening."

"Looks that way; we just don't know what."

"I vote for extortionist," said Tommy.

"Shut up!" Beth smacked him on the back of the head as they entered the elevator.

Chapter ?: Friday, August 18, 2000


Hi, Josh, it's me, Shawn. Happy birthday, man!

"Thanks. What's up?"

About tonight… Look, I'm sorry, I know I said I would come, but I've been arguing with my grandparents all week about it, and they think it's too late at night for me to be traveling the trains all the way from Coney Island out to Queens.

"They can come too. I'd love to meet them."

Tried that – no go.

"You could travel with us and stay at my place."

I thought of that, too. I'm sorry, they are usually better than this. I think it might be because they don't know you and your family. My granddad wants to take us to a game at Shea next weekend, if you are up for that.

"That sounds cool, but I'll need to get back to you on it."

I understand. Anyway, have a great birthday, and I'll see you next week.

"Cool! Later…"

"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Joshua; happy birthday to you!"

There were certain benefits to having a girlfriend whose parents were carnies, and one of those was that the jugglers and sword swallowers at your birthday parties weren't just the entertainment; they were also your friends and guests.

"Come on and make a wish, Joshua, and then blow out the candles before we set the whole tent on fire!"

What to wish for? He glanced around at all the bright faces reflecting the candlelight and wished that Oleksander were among them, but that he dismissed as not being a real wish. His parents were at each other's throats again, glaring daggers at each other all night, but to waste a wish on them becoming civil was foolish. I could wish I were dead, he joked, but then swiftly banished that idea out of respect for his promise to Oleksander. Oleksander… I wish I were more like him, he prayed, hard as steel on the outside, able to withstand all but the worst of the worst, and yet be a tender hearted person to the core.

He took a deep breath and blew out seventeen of the silver candles. The eighteenth – the one to grow on – was a trick candle that remained lit for the rest of the party.

"Mr. Cahill, I have a delivery for you," called the building's concierge, as they passed through the lobby.

Joshua exchanged a puzzled look with the Wittings before crossing to the large marble counter. "For me or my mother?"

"I believe so – at least the gentleman said it was for you," she said, placing a large, gaily-colored ‘happy birthday' shopping bag on the counter.

"The gentleman…?"

"Yes. He didn't leave his name, but he was very handsome and spoke with a thick accent – Russian, I think."

"Ukrainian," Joshua said absently, as he plucked a note card from the bag. It read:

Dear Joshua,


Please forgive your old pal for not attending your party this evening. I am touched by the invitation. It has been long time since I was invited anywhere for just being me. You have made me happy, though I fear I have made you sad by not attending. Please do not be sad.

Here is something to help you build your dreams.


Your pal,


The shopping bag contained several plastic shopping bags from local hobby shops, and each was filled with scratch-building tools or supplies, most of which had been on the wish list he'd mentioned to Oleksander while they had been redoing his bedroom. He remembered, he thought, as he wiped away the tears that were welling in his eyes.