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Mark Arbour

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About Mark Arbour

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  1. Whoops, anachronism alert: the name Jell-O as a sweet fruit flavored wiggly desert was not trademarked until 1897, 100 years after the ers of the Bridgemont stories. Prior to that tie gelatin, as a byproduct of the treatment of meat (especially the hooves of cattle and hogs) was available in a very impure form as a sheet or block, but certainly NOT as our favorite childhood desert. 

  2. Mark, I feel I should apologize for the behavior of some of the governments involved in your stories. I have just finished reading Master and Commander, Ch. 5 and note the poor manner in which Granger is treated by the Portuguese.

    The alliances between countries at this time in the history of Europe can be, at best, categorized as complex. England is allied with Spain against France. That alliance will fade shortly, The Portuguese, while trying to remain neutral in the wars being fought on the continent and the seas are caught 'between a sword point and a wall' ( a rough translation of a Portuguese aphorism expressing the same emotions as the English 'between a rock and a hard place'. They have been fighting the Spanish in order to try to maintain their independence for four centuries (since the union of Castile and Grenada in 1492). Eventually, the alliance between the Brits and the Dons will fall apart, Spain will launch an Armada in an attempt to destroy British dominance of the seas. The English and the Portuguese will decide that an alliance between them is better than defeat at the hands of that Corsican upstart (Bonepart) and the Brits will escort the entire Portuguese monarchy to their colony in Brazil.  Of course, Britain's problems with France are a result of the support given to that upstart colony America... And on and on.

  3. Brad at 55

    I suspect that Brad at 55 is even more cynical than he is now.
  4. Chapter 6

    August 1800 The Admiralty, London Granger stared at the box curiously, wondering what Spencer would reveal, and wondering what it would mean for his new mission. “This came to us from Lord Elgin. I was of a mind to send it over to you, but after I had mentioned it to Caroline, I felt it was important to give it to you personally, and explain the circumstances.” “As I currently do not have a ship to command, and we were talking about my future plans, my curiosity is certainly aroused, since it is unlikely that you will have a vessel in there,” Granger joked, to hide that he was dying to know what was in that box. “This will have an impact on your plans for a longer term than that,” Spencer said cryptically, and handed Granger the box. The lettering on it was clearly Arabic, which raised his suspicions and put him on guard. He opened the box and found a letter; Granger recognized the handwriting as belonging to Elgin. He took out the letter, and that revealed the item in the box. It was a chelengk, similar to the one worn by Nelson on his hat, but it was perhaps larger and gaudier. Nelson’s chelengk consisted solely of diamonds, while this one was adorned by mostly diamonds, but also had some rubies integrated as well. Spencer watched him patiently, and Granger detected him hiding a smile, even as he read the letter. June, 1800 Topkapi Palace Constantinople My dear Lord Granger, I am tasked by his Imperial Majesty Sultan Selim III, Sovereign of The Sublime House of Osman, Sultan of Sultans, Khan of the Khans to convey to you this chelengk as a sign of His Imperial Majesty’s friendship and esteem. I would note that the chelengk usually only contains diamonds, but this one also has rubies, which has meaning in the Ottoman world, symbolizing friendship. His Imperial Majesty has also been pleased to award you the Order of the Crescent, making you only the second recipient of this chivalric order, which was largely created to reward Lord Nelson after the victory at the Nile. I received your report on your actions off Oran, and conveyed that information to His Imperial Majesty. His Imperial Majesty was most dismayed to hear of your treatment by his vassals, a course of action which His Most Imperial Majesty has assured me is inconsistent with his wishes and with his good relations with His Britannic Majesty. I can also share with you that His Imperial Majesty was even more disturbed to discover that the two ships of the line present at that encounter were ships of His Imperial Majesty’s fleet, and that indicated collusion within His Imperial Majesty’s Navy with the Oranian attack. As you might imagine, there has been an extensive investigation into the matter, one that has already cost not a few naval officers their heads. Perhaps even more important to Your Lordship should be this news, that His Imperial Majesty has decreed the deposition of Osman Bey, the ruler of Oran. Formally, this makes Osman Bey an enemy of the rest of the Ottoman Empire. It will probably have no immediate practical effect, but it is all but a death sentence on the Bey, and one that will probably be implemented by surreptitious means in the near future. While I am sorry your assignment to take me to Constantinople gave arise to such an opportunity for the Bey to attack you, I am hoping that the news that you have gained the friendship of the Sultan, and that the Bey will probably not be around much longer to cause you problems, will be welcome, as will this lovely chelengk and the Order of the Crescent, which, as you wear them, will remind you of those two facts. Sincerely, Elgin Granger put the letter down and looked at the chelengk, and for all his vaunted stoicism and reserves, he was unable to stop a sneer of disdain from spreading across his face. It was an incredibly gaudy bauble, flashy in a way that even his Collar was not. Not only that, it was designed to draw attention to the wearer, which was something Granger certainly did not want. He did not want to wear ostentatious and tacky ornaments. And perhaps worst of all, it was considerably more ornate that Nelson’s chelengk. If he were to wear this in Nelson’s company, it was quite possible that his publicity-sensitive superior would be offended to have a lesser award. He lifted the chelengk and found the Order of the Crescent below it. It was a lozenge-shaped silver radiant star, embroidered in silver thread on an azure background with a star and crescent in the center, and a red ribbon, to be worn with the crescent to the star's left. It was less hideous than the chelengk, but not by much, and if he wore it, it would, in combination with his star from his Order of the Bath, all but cover his chest. Nelson, wearing his chelengk (in his hat) and his Order of the Crescent. His thoughts were interrupted by Spencer’s laughter. Granger initially gave the First Lord a horrible look, which only made him laugh harder. “I am sorry, Granger, but I can think of no one else who would appreciate such an award less than you.” Granger smiled at that, since at least Spencer understood how tasteless this chelengk was and even more, was aware that Granger was sensible enough not to like it. “With the exception of yourself, sir.” “Perhaps,” Spencer allowed. “You wanted to give this to me in person, so you could see how horrified I was, sir?” Granger challenged. “That is most perceptive of you,” Spencer said, laughing some more. “There is some good news.” “Sir?” “I had occasion to discuss this situation with the Duke of Norfolk, who as you know is the Earl Marshal, and His Grace said that while he had secured His Majesty’s permission for you to receive the orders, he had not approached His Majesty for permission for you to display them,” Spencer said. “So you are suggesting, sir, that I can send the Sultan a glowing letter of thanks for these gifts, then lock them safely away in my safe, and not feel the need to wear them?” Granger asked. “I would think so, unless you are sent to the Mediterranean, in which case I would think that if you have to interact with Ottoman officials, you could pull them out and display them,” Spencer said. “Thank you, sir, for your guidance,” Granger said genuinely. “I think your chelengk is more ostentatious than Nelson’s,” Spencer noted. “That was on my mind, sir, and I certainly wouldn’t want to offend him by appearing to upstage him,” Granger said. “A wise concern,” Spencer agreed. “It would seem, sir, that with His Imperial Majesty’s gifts to me, and his order deposing the Bey of Oran, he has made my continued service in the Mediterranean much more feasible,” Granger said hopefully. “I would have no objection to sending you there in the future, but that is not where you are going this time,” Spencer said, changing the subject. “This time, your destination is the Baltic.” “Cold weather, ice, and shoal waters, I fear, sir,” Granger said, as he pondered the challenges rumored to be paramount in that body of water. “Yes, and the ice will be our greatest concern, since the Baltic may begin freezing as early as October, in the northern regions, but most likely in November. By December, it would be unwise to try and enter the Gulf of Finland,” Spencer said. That was the route to St. Petersburg. Granger was thankful that Caroline told him where he was going, since he’d been able to look at some maps and familiarize himself with the basic geography of the place. “I am a bit confused, sir, since I am going to the Baltic, but I do not have a ship,” Granger said with a smile. “I am hoping you are not planning for me to use balloons.” “I have not yet added balloons to my repertoire, so I must instead find a ship for you. Valiant is ideal for this mission, since she has the scantlings of a battleship and 24-pounders, but she has a shallower draft,” Spencer said. “That is true, sir,” Granger said. “She drafts at least five feet less than a common-class 74, but only a few feet more than a standard frigate.” “It has been suggested that Valiant would be capable of holding her own against a Russian battleship,” Spencer said. Granger wondered who his source was on that statement, since it was a stretch. There were a number of reasons that a Russian ship of the line would be a formidable opponent, not the least of which was that the elevated position of the upper deck guns of a ship of the line would possibly be able to pour a deadly fire onto Valiant’s forecastle and quarterdeck. “Russian ships are poorly constructed and poorly manned.” “I have not encountered those vessels, so I can’t personally speak to that, but I will of course trust Your Lordship’s opinion,” Granger said, and probably didn’t hide his skepticism all that well. “In any event, I am not currently in command of Valiant.” “We sent out a message to recall Valiant some time back, and I have learned that she has been sighted off Portsmouth, heading up Channel,” Spencer said. “I would expect that she’ll make Sheerness within the next two days.” “Then that makes using Valiant feasible, sir,” Granger grinned. He had felt as if part of him had been forcibly removed, having Valiant taken away from him, so it would be almost as if he were healed when he was able to return to her. “Indeed,” Spencer said. “You’ll receive orders to assume command as soon as possible.” “Thank you, sir,” Granger said genuinely. “What will happen to Captain Calvert?” Spencer could have been annoyed with that question, but he knew that Granger and Calvert were good friends, so he humored Granger. “He is to be given the Cleopatre,” Spencer said. Granger wracked his brain to recall details of that vessel. “If I am not mistaken, she is a former French ship designed by Sané,” Granger mused. “She is, and a sister to the Aurore,” Spencer added, referring to the frigate Travers had commanded and died in. “Let us hope Captain Calvert has better luck with Cleopatre, sir,” Granger said somberly. “That will be largely up to him,” Spencer said. “He took Lieutenant Gatling with him when he transferred to Valiant. You can retain him, or we can sent him over to Cleopatre.” Granger stared temptation squarely in the face as he weighed that option, since this was his opportunity to separate Calvert and Gatling, but in the end, he could not do anything so cruel. He and Calvert had largely worked through their issues, and he decided that if Gatling made Calvert happy, he should stay with him. “Lieutenant Gatling is an excellent officer, but I would not want to prevent him from taking advantage of a new opportunity, and I would not want to remove from Captain Calvert an officer whom he knows and has confidence in, sir,” Granger said. “Then I have a few changes to make in Valiant’s wardroom,” Spencer said. “I am prepared to offer you a suitable bribe for your cooperation.” Granger laughed. “Sir, I will try to avoid being too rapacious in demanding informal compensation.” “I am not certain if you have ever had the opportunity to meet Lieutenant Edward Grenfell,” Spencer said. “I have not, sir, but the name sounds familiar,” Granger said. “He is related to the Cornish Grenfells, who made a fortune in tin and copper mining and have parlayed that into a financial and political force,” Spencer said. “Edward’s destiny is purportedly to serve in the Navy.” Granger’s first impression was of wealthy merchants who had made their money and were now working toward gentrifying their family, and sending a younger son off to join the Navy was a popular way of doing it. It was not unusual, and was much the same thing that Llewellyn’s father had done. “I have not encountered any of the Grenfells, sir,” Granger said honestly. Spencer didn’t respond to that, which told Granger that the Grenfells weren’t moving in the same circles that he and Spencer were. “Lieutenant Grenfell was serving aboard the Sceptre last year when she foundered at the Cape of Good Hope,” Spencer said. “Her commander, Captain Edwards, perished in the sinking, as did 350 men of her crew. Lieutenant Grenfell is the only surviving officer.” “Do they know how she foundered, sir?” Granger asked, wondering if it was ineptitude involved. “Her main anchor cable parted, followed by the secondary cable,” Spencer said. “She had evidently taken all visible precautions for the storm that killed her, sending down her topmasts and the like. The court martial exonerated Captain Edwards and his officers.” Granger decided they would likely do that anyway, but kept his thoughts on that to himself. “Sir, you seem a bit apprehensive about Mr. Grenfell, as if there is some reason I would object to his posting to Valiant,” Granger said, trying to figure out what Spencer was worried about. “Prior to Sceptre’s sinking, Captain Edwards had requested that Lieutenant Grenfell be transferred. Grenfell was the chief gunnery officer on board Sceptre, and the two had extensive disagreements, disagreements which Edwards felt bordered on insubordination,” Spencer said. “So you are posting him to Valiant, hoping that perhaps Captain Edwards was being overly sensitive or a bit unreasonable, and that Lieutenant Grenfell is not truly the mutinous sort?” Granger asked with a smile. “That was my intention,” Spencer says. “I think that Mr. Grenfell is a bit more forward-thinking and innovative than Captain Edwards could stomach, while you are much more receptive to new ideas.” “That attitude has most definitely been to my benefit,” Granger responded. “I am thinking of our iron water tanks, which according to Mr. Hornblower give Valiant all but a fulcrum to keep her stable, and I am thinking of the iron braces for her knees, which give her strength beyond her years, sir.” “Exactly,” Spencer agreed. “I also know that you will be sensitive to the political ramifications, in that I can hardly leave Grenfell on the beach without offending his powerful family. They are agitating quite fervently for him to have a chance to prove himself after Sceptre’s loss, and what they would see as Edwards’ slanderous attacks on him.” “I understand, sir,” Granger said, since that same patronage chain is what lifted him to an early posting as a lieutenant, and to his command of Intrepid. “And now, having so gracefully acceded to Your Lordship’s wishes, I was led to believe there was a bribe of sorts involved?” Spencer chuckled. “I am aware that your father is quite fond of Lord Kingsdale, and that you have made him one of your protégés. I am willing to see him confirmed in his rank as lieutenant, providing he passes the examination.” Granger smiled. “I think that will be a most effective bribe, sir. He is an exceptional young man, and both my father and I consider him to be all but part of our family.” “Excellent,” Spencer said, happy to have those issues out of the way. “I would like to give you an opportunity to get settled in to Valiant and to meet with Daventry, and then I would like to review your mission with you. That meeting should be between just the two of us.” “Of course, sir,” Granger said. “You seem concerned about something.” “You will be in a tough position, in that you will be bound to do as Daventry asks,” Spencer said. “The government has all but demanded that you be given this assignment because it is important, and because you and Daventry make such a good team.” “I think they are right, begging your pardon sir,” Granger said, mindful of the confidence that Spencer and the government had placed in him. “At the same time, I want you to know that if he asks you to do something that truly taxes your honor and you refuse, I will try to support you,” Spencer said. “I say this to you so you will know that you have options if you get backed into a corner.” “Sir, I have a good relationship with Lord Daventry, and we are usually able to agree on a course of action, but I appreciate your words, most importantly because of the confidence you place in me,” Granger said sincerely. Spencer was telling him he would go to the mat for Granger, and Granger knew that if he did that because Granger was opposed to Daventry, it would be a spectacular battle, one that he would be unlikely to emerge from unscathed. “You will have to dodge angry Danes, Swedes, and Russians, and if that fails, you may have to fight them,” Spencer said. “I will have to develop a procedure to deal with that, sir,” Granger said, making a mental note to think about such a meeting. He wondered how he would know that a Russian, Swede, or Dane was hostile before their guns began to fire. “I will have our diplomatic brethren give us some guidance,” Spencer promised. “Hopefully that will be useful, sir,” Granger joked, an oblique jab at their diplomatic colleagues. “Hopefully,” Spencer agreed, and then got very serious. “I want to impress upon you that the government considers the success of this mission more important than the safety of Valiant.” “Sir?” Granger asked, for clarity. “If Valiant must be sacrificed, or you must be removed from her, in order to achieve your mission, then that is what you must do,” Spencer said firmly. “Normal naval protocols must bend or break if it means keeping us from all-out war with the northern powers.” “Sir, I am to sacrifice the lives of my officers and men?” Granger asked. “If that is what is required,” Spencer snapped, and then relented. “I am confident that, even if you are overpowered, you have the sense to make sure there is no unnecessary loss of life.” “I understand, sir,” Granger said, even though he wasn’t quite sure that he did. “I will have your orders to resume command of Valiant sent over to you at Portland Place,” Spencer said, ending their meeting. “We will talk again soon.” “Thank you, sir,” Granger said. He left the Admiralty and found Roberts waiting for him. “I chose to wait for you, my lord, since the secretary said you were still with His Lordship,” Roberts said. “That was a wise way to save the fare to hire a cab to Portland Place,” Granger teased. They walked out of the Admiralty to find a considerable crowd waiting for Granger. “The additional cost may have made the journey much easier, my lord,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately, I do not have such an option,” Granger said sadly, an emotion that was genuine. They worked their way to Granger’s carriage with the help of a squad of marines and entered, then the footmen managed to get enough room for the horses to move the vehicle forward, and ultimately away from the crowds. “I hope you will not be offended, my lord, but I have been ordered to sail on the morning tide, and I fear that means our visit must be, of necessity, quite short,” Roberts said apologetically. “I am quite aware of the exigencies of the service, Captain,” Granger said. “How is it with you?” “I am quite well, my lord,” Roberts said. “I was hoping I could take a moment of your time to talk about Mr. Gatling.” He was clearly uncomfortable broaching this topic. “You have my full attention,” Granger said. “My lord, I know that Mr. Gatling had served with you aboard Bacchante, and I have been worried that you will think poorly of me for not taking him with me when I was first given a command,” Roberts said. Roberts was clearly worried that Gatling had slandered him, and his purpose was very clear. Roberts was trying to make sure that Granger was still in his corner, still his friend, and would still be supportive of him. “I have learned not to interfere in romantic relationships between two people, and I have also learned not to judge those people for their purported foibles without hearing of them first hand,” Granger said with a smile. “I must admit, though, to being quite surprised by that turn of events.” “Yes, my lord,” Roberts said. “I am assuming Gatling told you that I ran off with another.” “I think it is less important what he said, than what you say,” Granger said firmly, unwilling to betray any confidences. “Of course, my lord, but just so you know, that wasn’t the reason,” Roberts said. “What was a wonderful relationship between me and Mr. Gatling when we were aboard Belvidera became increasingly confining after we left her. It was as if I had married, and now my life was not my own.” “Mr. Gatling was that overbearing?” Granger asked, surprised. “I would say, rather, that he was very possessive. It was as if I could not engage in lighthearted, slightly flirtatious behavior with another without him becoming enraged,” Roberts said. “I did not realize he was such a jealous person,” Granger mused. “Indeed, my lord, and I was unwilling to be encumbered by that when taking up my first command. I was determined to be successful, and I felt that he would have hindered rather than helped me,” Roberts said. So evidently the kind of devotion that Calvert thrived on was almost a prison for Roberts. “From all accounts, you have been quite successful,” Granger said, as he touched Roberts’ epaulet. “I understand how you feel.” “Thank you, my lord,” Roberts said, with evident relief. “I must return to Rattlesnake, but if you will send me your correspondence, I will be happy to deliver it to your brother.” “I will do so,” Granger said. “In the meantime, I will have my coach take you to the jetty so you can find your way back to your ship.” “Thank you, my lord,” Roberts said. The coach stopped in Portland Place and Granger alit smoothly, and then gave the coachman directions to take Roberts to his boat. Internally, he wondered if he had truly done Calvert any favors by letting him retain Gatling as one of his officers. Cheevers greeted him in his formal way, followed up by Winkler, who was more cloying, but Granger was able to disengage from them easily enough and escape to the library, where he could think without interruption. He mulled over his mission, and then he let his mind drift to Roberts, Gatling, and Calvert, but there was only so much introspection he could do. He spurred himself into action, and drafted a note to his parents, alerting them that he had a reliable messenger to take letters to Bertie, then sat down to draft a lengthy letter to his middle brother. It was late when he was done and he dispatched a messenger to take their letters down to Rattlesnake, and then to India. August 1800 Portland Place, London London was boring in August, with so many people out of town. Cavendish was either in Weymouth or Brighton, visiting the King or the Prince of Wales, so obviously his sovereign and future sovereign were both gone, and that meant that most of the court would be with them. He could go to Brooks or Almack’s and socialize, or he could perhaps visit the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall or Ranelagh. He was saved from that decision when Daventry arrived, ushered into his study by Cheevers. “George, how wonderful to see you!” “It is good to see you as well!” Granger said, and stood up to greet his friend. Daventry looked as terrific as he always did, with his sleek black suit with its gold braiding. “I arrived in London, and met with Spencer yesterday.” “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to talk to you before you met with him, but I have just returned from Brighton.” “And how was His Royal Highness?” “Self-absorbed and petulant, as usual,” Daventry said with a frown. “But I was able to use duty as an excuse to take my leave of him.” “You were less than forthright when dealing with your future sovereign?” Granger teased. “As one must inevitably be with Prinny,” Daventry said. “Did Spencer tell you of my plan to have you shuttle me to St. Petersburg?” Daventry asked in his playful way. “He did, and I really am disappointed that you could not pick a more temperate venue to visit in the winter,” Granger responded, feigning a snit. “That is why I asked for you and your ship,” Daventry said. “I have vivid memories of the warmth generated from your stove.” “Well it appears as if my ship will return in time to be of service, so that will definitely be an added bonus,” Granger said. “Valiant was sighted off Portsmouth a few days back, and should be in Sheerness any day now.” “That is good news, since we will not have much time before we must leave,” Daventry said. “Perhaps you will tell me why you are going to St. Petersburg,” Granger said. “While your diplomatic skills are undoubtedly superb, that is certainly not your primary vocation.” “I think I am quite diplomatic,” Daventry said, pretending to pout, but he recognized that Granger was being quite serious. “There must be a way to find a rapprochement with Russia. They are the key to this League of Armed Neutrality the Northern powers have put together. Sweden and Denmark are following Russia’s lead more out of fear than genuine willingness, and they are largely inconsequential when unraveling this problem.” “Both Sweden and Denmark have substantial fleets,” Granger noted. “But they will not use them unless the Russians do,” Daventry said. “If the Russians stand down, then so will those countries.” “My understanding of Russia is that it is quite autocratic, so when we refer to what Russia wants, we are more specifically referring to what the Tsar wants, if I am not mistaken,” Granger noted. “You are not mistaken, and your perception is quite accurate,” Daventry said. “So I must figure out a way to persuade the Tsar to see reason.” “Is not Tsar Paul all but insane?” Granger asked. “He is eccentric,” Daventry allowed, although Granger suspected that his guess was more accurate. “And you feel you can reason with him, whereas Lord Whitworth could not?” Granger challenged. Before Daventry could respond with some meaningless rambling, Granger stopped him. “I want to know what your plan is.” “You are sometimes most difficult to deal with,” Daventry said, mildly annoyed. “I am confident that I will be able to reason with the Tsar. I am just not sure if Paul will be the Tsar I will reason with.” “You are contemplating a palace coup in St. Petersburg?” Granger asked, thoroughly shocked. “I am considering all of my options, but that is certainly one of them, and if that were to happen, the coup would not be led by me, but by the considerable number of people who are unhappy with Paul,” Daventry said. “I see,” Granger said. Daventry would be there to support such an effort against Paul, and would probably have some tools at his disposal that were more tangible than moral support, such as money. “George, I want you to go on this mission with me, but I do not want you to take this assignment if you have issues with the tasks we will have to accomplish,” Daventry said earnestly. “I did not say I had issues with any of this, but I do want to be aware of what is going on, and I appreciate the fact that I am being allowed some time to contemplate and grapple with what our job may fully entail.” “Well the good news is that, as there is no love lost between the Russians and the Turks, you will not have to wear your new baubles on this trip,” Daventry teased. “Of course you would know about that,” Granger said, unable to hide his annoyance, which made Daventry laugh. “I think of your admiral, and how he would walk on flames for some of these prizes handed out by remote monarchs,” Daventry said, referring to Nelson. “Yet here you are, plotting to sequester such prized badges away so you won’t look like a carnival barker.” “Appearances are important,” Granger said. “Yet those awards are most visible displays of your achievements,” Daventry countered. “Perhaps I shall loan them to you, then you can attempt to make them appear fashionable,” Granger said. “I do not think that is possible, although Lord Nelson evidently does not agree with me,” Daventry said. “When did you plan to leave for the Baltic?” Granger asked. “I have met with Lord Whitworth at length, and we are both most anxious to get started. You will find that Valiant will be reprovisioned with indecent speed, and I would expect that we would be at sea within a fortnight,” Daventry said. Granger drafted a note to Caroline, letting her know what his plans were, then went out carousing with Daventry.
  5. Chapter 49

    September 7, 2003 The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel New York, NY Will “God, that’s good,” I moaned, as Patrick thrust in and out of me slowly. We were lying on our sides, and I could feel his abs against my back as he exerted himself. His arms were both wrapped around me, with one holding me tight to him, and the other poised to allow him to stroke my cock in time with his slow, measured penetrations. “I’m gonna fucking flood you,” he said. His deep voice would have been enough to totally turn me on, but when he got excited and got into sex, his uptight Eastern accent relaxed and let out the more casual Alabama boy that was underneath his polished façade. “Fuck yeah,” I said, and just gave myself over to his control. It was so awesome, the way he read my body and my reactions perfectly, and he used that skill to bring both of us off at damn near the same time. When we were done with our orgasms, and after we’d finished panting, I rolled over and lay on my back, with him still on his side. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was 7:00am, but amazingly enough, I wasn’t upset about being up so early. Probably because I hadn’t slept all night. This guy was an animal. “I have to head out,” he said, and started to leave. He seemed annoyed, which kind of surprised me. “In a little bit,” I said, and leaned up to give him a kiss. He frowned at me. “So what was this deal? Some big plan to fuck up JJ and get back at El?” “This deal? You mean you spending the night and us having amazing sex damn near all night long?” I asked. My words were pointed, but I smiled to take some of the sting out of them. “Well, that, and the deal at the ball,” he said. It was both cute and irritating that he seemed annoyed that I’d been just using him to get back at Ella and piss off JJ. Like he was as pure as the driven snow. “JJ’s been a little bitch, treating everyone like shit,” I said. “He wasn’t listening to anyone.” “So you rocked his world to get his attention?” “I’ll bet it worked,” I said, confirming his question and making both of us chuckle. “I went out with him once,” he said. That freaked me out, worrying me that I was once again fucking around with a guy JJ was into, but I shut those fears down by rationalizing that I didn’t know anything about that, so I couldn’t be blamed for it. “Did you fuck him?” I joked, sort of. “Thought about it,” he said, giving me a lopsided grin. I waited for him to go on. “He’s cute, he’s smart, and he’s got an amazing gift with colors, but…” his voice trailed off, like he was trying to think of a way to phrase things that wouldn’t offend me. “But what?” I prompted. “He’s like a kid,” he said. “It would almost make me feel like I was a fucking pedophile.” I thought about that, and it made sense. “He matured more slowly than Darius and I.” “Darius is the guy I can’t figure out,” he said. “He’s a wolf,” I said. “I figured you’d get that, and feel like he was a kindred spirit.” I jabbed him playfully with my elbow to show him I was giving him shit. “If he were a wolf, he wouldn’t be pissed at me for being with Ella,” he said firmly. “You’re right,” I said, pretending to agree with him. “You ever been in love?” “What the fuck does that have to do with anything?” he asked, but in a relatively pleasant way. “Just answer the question.” “Once,” he said, and grimaced. “Dated this chick in high school. We broke up when we went to college.” “It still bugs you,” I said. He ignored me. “When you see her with another dude, how do you react?” He gave me a dirty look. “Not real well.” “Then you understand Darius,” I told him succinctly. He blinked at me. “My impression was that he dumped Ella,” Patrick said. “That she was just one of many girls he’d been with.” “That’s bullshit,” I said vehemently. “I can see why you’d think that, though.” “Why?” “Because that’s how Darius is,” I explained. “He doesn’t let people get close to him, and he really keeps his distance from women. But with Ella, he let himself go, let himself fall in love with her.” “Then why did he dump her?” “He didn’t dump her, she dumped him, supposedly to come to New York. He even offered to come here with her so they could be together, but she told him no,” I said. “Now after 9-11, he did dump her, but that was kind of a different deal.” “I didn’t know that,” he said, thinking about things. “Are you guys exclusive?” I asked. That really got me a dirty look. “Obviously not,” he said, and continued his nasty glare. “Good,” I said. “I didn’t plan this out to get you in trouble. I just think you’re really hot.” “I am,” he said, being cocky. It was cute. “I’m mad at Ella for how she treated Darius. My brothers and I have a tight bond, so if someone picks a fight with one of us, they end up fighting all of us. But I really don’t have major problems with her other than that.” “I’m like that with my brother,” he said, “but you don’t seem that way with JJ.” “I love JJ,” I said to him firmly. “I’d fight like hell for him. I have, and I will. But if he’s going to be a total little douche, I’m going to explain that to him. That’s my job. That’s what I’m doing.” “I can see that,” he said. “So will you get a bunch of shit for not coming home last night?” I asked, turning the microscope back onto him. He shrugged. “She’ll get over it, or she won’t.” “You don’t sound too worried about it,” I said, probing. He sighed. “I think our relationship has just about run its course. I know that, but she doesn’t.” “What changed?” “It’s not new anymore, and quite frankly, she’s more of a liability than an asset to me.” I found his mercenary attitude disturbing, but that was offset by his honesty. “So you need new blood all the time?” I teased. “It’s either that, or the other option is to fall hard. I don’t want to get hurt like that again.” I could see the pain he still carried from his big foray into love. “I tell myself that it’s worth the risk,” I said philosophically. “OK, I really do need to go,” he said. I got up with him, and drug him into the shower for an intimate but not erotic cleansing. He put on his clothes from last night, even as he frowned. “Now I have to do the slut walk.” “The walk of shame,” I joked with him. He had to go out in the morning in his outfit from last night, broadcasting that he’d stayed out all night. “Thanks for staying over. You were awesome.” “So were you,” he said, and gave me a nice kiss. “Call me when you’re in town.” “Only if you promise to do the same when you’re in California,” I said. “Deal,” he said, and then he left. I finished getting dressed, packed up my stuff, and called Darius. “You ready?” he asked me crisply as he answered the phone. “I just need food,” I said. No way I could deal with JJ on an empty stomach. “We’ll grab something on the way,” he said. “Meet me in the lobby.” We took our bags down and found the car waiting for us. They loaded our bags in it, and then took us by a patisserie where we got some croissants, then we whisked down to Tribeca. I’d waited until we started eating before I bugged him about last night. “Dude, Bellona is old enough to be your mother.” “Hypocrite,” he snapped at me, and then took a bite of his croissant. “So what was with that? That wasn’t part of the plan,” I said. We were just going to show up, be charming, and show JJ that he wasn’t living in a bubble. “Neither was you hooking up with Patrick,” he said. “How do you know that I hooked up with Patrick?” I asked. “Dude, I saw you go into the bathroom with him,” Darius argued. “You never have to pee?” “Right,” he said, skeptically. “So how was it?” I persisted. He gave me a really nasty look, but that didn’t bother me at all, then he sighed. “It was awesome.” “Really?” I asked, surprised. “You never been with an older guy?” he challenged. “Not that old,” I said. “Yet.” He chuckled, frowned, then got that look of resolve, the one that told me he was about to spill his guts. “I’ve been with lots of women,” he began, telling me something I already knew. “They’ve all been hot and around my age, and it’s been fun, but they mostly hold back and are a little insecure. It’s like they don’t want to be too slutty.” “I can see that,” I said, just to encourage him. “Last night I was with a woman who knew what she liked, knew what she wanted, and she didn’t really give a shit what I or anyone else thought about it. She didn’t treat me like some guy trying to work his way into her pants, she just appreciated me and my skills,” he said with a leer. “So it was like you were the object of worship?” I teased. “I usually am,” he joked back, cracking me up. “That was pretty hot, though, to know how attractive she found me.” “I’ll bet,” I agreed, smiling at him. “So are you going to move out here and fulfill your destiny, and take JJ’s place at her side?” I asked, doing a really bad impression of the Emperor from Star Wars. “No, but if I get a chance to fuck her again, I’m taking it,” he said emphatically. I just raised an eyebrow. “So you were with Patrick?” “I think that my night was kind of like yours,” I told him. “Only we actually had a conversation.” “Whatever,” he said, but he was too curious to leave it there. “He said he didn’t get you,” I told him. I then relayed my morning conversation with Patrick to him, and watched him carefully to see how he’d react. “I don’t think Ella’s all that into him,” Darius said. “I think she’s just using him.” “Sounds kind of like that’s what he’s doing too,” I said. Our conversation ended when we got to the condo. I looked at my watch and noticed that it was only 9:00, which was pretty good, considering I’d had a dick in my ass just 2 hours ago. The place was deserted and totally quiet in a creepy kind of way. We walked down to JJ’s room and rapped on the door. “What?” I heard him say, in a really bitchy way. We smiled at each other. JJ hated to get up early. “We’re here,” Darius said. “We’ve got a meeting in half an hour.” “With who?” JJ asked, from behind his closed door. We ignored him and went into the main room, smirking at each other. He came out ten minutes later, looking pretty together, at least for him. “What the fuck are you doing?” he demanded, as he stood there with his hands on his sides, looking furious. “We’re here to meet with a contractor,” I said calmly. “What for?” he demanded. “We want to make some changes to the rooftop deck,” Darius said. “This is bullshit!” he spat. When JJ was this mad, he was hysterical. It usually took all of my effort not to laugh at him. “You come in and embarrass the shit out of me at the party, now you want to redecorate my house? Fuck you!” “We didn’t embarrass you at the party,” Darius said. “If anything, we made you look good. So don’t be a douche.” “And it’s not your house,” I added. “Well if you’re going to come in and change shit around, I’ll just move out and get my own place,” he said petulantly. “Then I won’t have to deal with you, or anyone else.” “Cool,” Darius said. “That way we won’t have to worry about your bitching when they work on the deck.” “What are you doing up there?” JJ demanded. “What do you care, you’re moving?” I asked. “You people do this to me!” he shouted, now completely losing it. “I get my life together, I’m doing great, and then you come in and fuck it all up. I don’t have to worry about enemies messing with me, I have to worry about my family stabbing me in the back!” “No, you’re a bitchy fucking diva, and you need to fall off your high fucking horse and get a clue,” Darius said, getting in his face. That was hilarious, because as outraged as JJ was, he completely backed up in the face of Darius anger. “You want people to treat you like a fucking queen, when you treat them like shit,” I added. “So if that’s your game, then yeah, you should watch your back.” “Just because I wouldn’t let Maddy run around the kitchen like a demon from hell…” he began. “You think that’s what this is about?” Darius challenged. “You can’t get along with anyone. No one wants to be around you. You’re rude, you’re bitchy, and you’re obnoxious.” “I’m getting along with people just fine,” he objected. “I have friends.” “Really?” I challenged. “Who?” “All the people you embarrassed me in front of last night,” he said in a haughty way. “They’re your friends?” I let him think about that. “If you weren’t a member of our family, and you didn’t have Stef, Grand, and Dad behind you, would those people be your friends?” He stared at us for a second, and then Darius jumped in. “See JJ, this deal with the family, it cuts both ways. You can’t take all the cool things that come with it, then ignore the shit you have to do.” “Whatever,” he said, and pouted. Darius was really pissed at his dismissive comment, but I knew JJ was just thinking about things. “It’s bullshit that you’re not treating Carullo politely,” I said, changing the direction of our conversation. That was a really big deal to me because the guy was my friend, and I genuinely liked and cared about him. “I’m nice to him,” he lied. It was so obvious it was ridiculous. “I’m rude just because I won’t go to gay clubs with him? If you think that’s what I’m supposed to do, you can go fuck yourself.” “He asked you out, he didn’t ask you to go to the gay clubs,” I told him firmly. “That’s what he meant,” JJ said petulantly. “No, it wasn’t,” I said. “When he said ‘out’ that could be just for dinner. God, you are so stupid!” I was so frustrated with his neophytic social skills. “I had to haul my ass to New York just because you can’t figure out when someone is inviting you out to fucking dinner?” Darius asked, getting in JJ’s face again. “I didn’t know that,” JJ said, and looked pretty confused. Before Darius could totally lose it, the door buzzer rang, announcing the arrival of the contractor. “We’re going to meet with this dude, work out some plans, then leave,” Darius said. “You can go back to bed if you want to.” “I want to know what you’re doing,” JJ insisted. “That’s fine, as long as you keep your mouth shut,” Darius said, really pissing JJ off. September 7, 2003 Goodwell Charlottesville, VA Wade “Thank you both for coming,” I said sincerely, as I helped Tiffany out of the big Suburban limo. “You owe me,” she said, but I could tell she wasn’t all that unhappy to be here. “You owe me too,” Matt said, giving me a kiss. “I know how you can make it up to me.” Tiffany rolled her eyes at us. “You two are like dudes in high school,” she said, giving us shit for being frisky. “I still have that much stamina,” Matt told her. “Or don’t you remember?” “There’s nothing wrong with my memory,” Tiffany snapped. “What’s on our agenda?” I ignored her briefly, while I helped Riley and Maddy out of the car, then took their hands and started walking them inside. “Well since you got here at dinner time, I figured we’d get you settled in, then we’d eat,” I explained. “Great idea,” Matt said. There was no one else here to greet them, probably since dinner was in fifteen minutes anyway. We got the kids settled into their nursery and hung out for a few minutes, and then we walked up to the dining room, to find it empty. “Where is everyone else?” Tiffany asked. That seemed to presage the arrival of Mary Ellen. “Well hello Matt,” she said, greeting him first. She gave him a big hug where she molded her body against his, trying to embarrass him and annoy me, but neither of those reactions happened. “And you came too!” she said to Tiffany. “How are you doing?” Tiffany asked her cautiously. “I’m doing very well,” Mary Ellen said, with just a hint of sarcasm. “Thank you so much for asking.” “Good evening,” Mother said, as she walked into the room. She was dressed formally, in a sleek blue skirt with a matching jacket, and that just seemed to magnify her frosty mood. She’d largely stuck to herself since we’d gotten here, which was strange. I sensed that she was spending her time strategizing, and I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not. “It’s nice to see you,” Matt said, turning on his charm. It was funny to see it partially have an effect. “It was so nice of you to bring Riley down,” Mother said, as we took our seats. “I will have to go see him as soon as dinner is over.” “I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Tiffany said, trying to sound sincere, then turned to me. “What’s our plan?” “We’re going to spend the week here and just enjoy Goodwell,” I said to her. “We can ride, swim, whatever.” “Well that sounds positively boring,” Mary Ellen fumed. “You are welcome to go into Charlottesville with me.” “I’ll think about it, but thanks,” Tiffany said nervously. I was pretty sure that Mary Ellen’s parties wouldn’t be Tiffany’s thing. “On Saturday, Alex, the Duke, and Nana are coming in to meet with all of us,” I said. “Then on Sunday, we can go back to Boston.” “So we’re just hanging out here, waiting for them to show up?” Tiffany asked in a pretty bitchy way. “It’s called a vacation,” Matt said to Tiffany, giving her shit. “Then why aren’t there any palm trees and hot people in bathing suits?” Tiffany challenged. “Dude, there will be hot people in bathing suits when we’re in the pool,” Matt objected, making us chuckle. “Undoubtedly,” Mary Ellen said, lusting at him. I just rolled my eyes at her. “And what are you going to do?” she asked Mother. “I am going to try to figure out a strategy to save my reputation,” Mother said calmly, with a hint of sadness. “Then this certainly won’t be a vacation for you,” Mary Ellen said, taunting her. “You’ve got some heavy lifting to do.” Mother glared at her, while the rest of us hid our grins. “How are you planning to do that?” Matt asked her. Mother briefly gave Matt a contemptuous look, as if he were an unsophisticated idiot whom she didn’t have the time to enlighten, but she pasted her façade on quickly enough. “My original plan was to check into rehab, but I can hardly do that and still be useful in fighting whatever scheme is headed our way,” she said. “So I am trying to think of an alternative.” “I was thinking about that, and I had an idea,” Matt said to her. I smiled at Matt, and what an awesome guy he was, trying to help my mother with damage control even after all the shit she’d done to us. My mother tried not to look offended that Matt would presume to give her advice. Of course, Mary Ellen picked up on that. “Well I would just love to hear it,” Mary Ellen said. My mother gave her a hateful glance, which just made Mary Ellen that much happier. “I was thinking that when those pictures were taken, that’s when you were drinking pretty heavily,” Matt said to Mother. “That’s a pretty safe bet no matter what pictures we’re talking about,” Mary Ellen said, throwing another barb at Mother. “I am not following your point,” Mother said to Matt acidly. She wasn’t used to strategizing in a group format like this, and was clearly uncomfortable. “I was just thinking that you could point to this as one of the horrible things that can happen when you’re an alcoholic,” Matt said. “And how would that help me?” Mother demanded, but I’d picked up on what Matt was saying, and a look at Mary Ellen told me that she got it too. “I think what Matt is suggesting is that you can set yourself up as a person who had a drinking problem, and who solved that problem. You can look at things in the past and lament them, while trying to use your story to help other people understand the pitfalls of that disease,” I said. “You could be the poster woman for recovered alcoholics,” Mary Ellen said, then laughed. “You could then talk about those pictures and apologize, and express real remorse, while noting that the alcohol poisoned your brain,” I augmented. “You could even write one of those terribly interesting self-help books,” Mary Ellen told her. Matt smiled at her, but talked to Mother. “Actually, I think a book would be a great idea. Talk about your struggles, and how you finally overcame them.” “I’m not sure I see myself writing a book,” Mother said skeptically. I think it was even more unlikely she’d be willing to explain all the circumstances that helped her recover. “Maybe an article or an expose in a magazine?” I asked. “I can see that,” Mary Ellen said, actually in a helpful way. It was fascinating to watch my mother evaluate that idea, even though she said nothing. “Only here’s the deal,” I said to her firmly. “If you go down this road, that means you almost have to set yourself up as a crusader for sobriety. This would become your life’s purpose.” “I’m not sure I could do that,” Mother said. Her voice was distant, because her mind was processing Matt’s idea in a frantic way while she was still maintaining this conversation. “I think that actually might get you off the hook, but only if you get into it,” Mary Ellen said. “If you don’t, then you will be ruined.” We all ate quietly, in what had become a very strange and surreal dinner, while my mother sat there dining and thinking. She finally smiled, as she emerged with a whole new purpose. “Matthew, I think that is a wonderful idea. Thank you so much.” “I’m glad I could help,” Matt said, surprised. “I’m looking forward to watching you try to pull this off,” Mary Ellen said skeptically. “You would sabotage me?” Mother challenged. Her outrage over being stabbed in the back by her family was so hypocritical, we all did a collective eye roll. “I’m not planning to do anything,” Mary Ellen said to her. “I’m just wondering if you can keep your evil self hidden from everyone.” “I think I can, but if I need to let my inner Satan out, I’ll loose him on you,” Mother said to Mary Ellen in a playful way, making everyone laugh but me. “We are sitting here as a family, trying to help you work your way out of this situation. I am prepared to be as supportive as I can, but I want something for my efforts,” I said to Mother firmly. I was aware that I was wielding my power and position as head of the family, much as JP did with his unruly brood. “And what is the price for your support, Wade?” she asked me, the dread evident in her tone. “You have continuously tried to upset my life for the past five years or so,” I stated firmly. She was smart enough not to argue with me about that. “I’m not willing to put up with that going forward. You’re going to have to learn to be a loyal family member, and watch out for our backs as well as your own. And when that inner demon makes his appearance, he needs to be directed away from our family.” “That is why I am skeptical,” Mary Ellen said to her, but in a very serious and icy tone. “I would point out that for me, family includes our extended family in California,” I added. “And that makes me even more skeptical,” Mary Ellen said, and then really zeroed in on Mother. “In the end, you really have no choice but to agree to Wade’s terms.” “Why not?” Mother asked, more to probe Mary Ellen’s rationale than anything. “Because with this strategy, if you take it, any one of us can hurt you by denouncing you,” Mary Ellen said. “And if you piss us all off, collectively we can and will destroy you.” Mother swallowed hard. “It appears that I have much to think about, and much to plan.” “This is a good place to do that,” I said, referring to the isolated peace and tranquility of Goodwell. September 7, 2003 Tribeca, NY JJ My mind was reeling from the conversation I’d just had with my brothers, and from the events of yesterday. I instinctively rebelled against agreeing with them, since that would entail a long, drawn out apology from me, one that would extend to almost all the other members of my family. I sighed internally at how awful that would be. I distracted myself from thinking about that by focusing on the contractor who’d arrived. He was a nice enough guy, probably in his late 30s, named Joe Schmack. I almost rolled my eyes at how he looked like the caricature of his trade, with jeans, work boots, and a measuring tape affixed to his belt. He was one of those guys who probably seemed like they were covered with dust even if they just got out of the shower. We led him up to the rooftop, with Will chattering to him in his flirtatious way that bugged the shit out of me. “We want to do something with this area,” Will said, pointing at the flowerbed that had been transformed into a lawn for Maddy. “I was planning to turn it back into a garden,” I said. “No,” Darius said to me rudely, shutting me down. I seethed inside at that, but decided to listen to their plan. “We were thinking that it would be awesome as a pool,” Will said. He pulled out some plans and handed them to the guy, while I looked over his shoulder. “Who drew these up?” I demanded. “Geoffrey and some of his colleagues,” Will said to me in a dismissive way. “This is pretty shallow,” Joe noted. “Three feet for the most part.” “That’s right,” Will said. “The thought was that it could be used for just hanging out, but the key feature would be these fountains.” “Hanging out?” I asked. “You could get in to cool off, but that’s about it,” Will said to me. “These are tall fountains,” Joe noted. “They think that the pool is big enough to handle it,” Will said. “It would work better with just one,” Joe noted. “No,” Will said, in almost a snippy way. “There have to be two.” “Because of the towers,” Darius noted solemnly, even as he nodded. We all flashed back to that horrible event some two years ago, and it was only with an effort that I was able to pull my mind back to the present. No one argued about the fountains after that. “Let me look at these plans and take some measurements,” Joe said. “I’ll contact you later this week.” “Sounds good,” Will said. “We have to get back to California. You can let yourself out when you’re done.” “Here’s the contact info,” Darius said, handing it to Joe. I was irate that my name wasn’t on there, but I just stood there and said nothing. We all shook Joe’s hand, then went downstairs. “We’re off,” Will said. “Hope you get your shit together.” “Ditto,” Darius said. Then they just walked out the door, leaving me standing there feeling like a complete idiot. It was like I was frozen as I tried to digest all that they said, and I didn’t really bust out of my trance until I heard music. Carullo liked to listen to loud music when he was in the shower. They gave me crap about being rude to him, but even though that annoyed me, I didn’t bitch about it. I used that as a way to convince myself I was actually a nice guy. My feet moved automatically toward his room, even as I focused on what my brothers had told me about him. I thought he’d wanted me to go clubbing with him; I didn’t realize he was just offering to spend time with me. I let myself think about that, even though it made me feel terrible. He must think I’m totally stuck up and a huge snob, which even if it was true, wasn’t something I wanted to direct at him. He’d been trying to get me to go out to dinner or whatever, and I’d just rudely shot him down. I paused at the door and listened to the song that was playing. It was “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon. The lyrics seemed to blast through his door and right into my brain: Somewhere there's speaking It's already coming in Oh and it's rising at the back of your mind You never could get it Unless you were fed it Now you're here and you don't know why But under skinned knees and the skid marks Past the places where you used to learn You howl and listen Listen and wait for the Echoes of angels who won't return He's everything you want He's everything you need He's everything inside of you That you wish you could be He says all the right things At exactly the right time But he means nothing to you And you don't know why You're waiting for someone To put you together You're waiting for someone to push you away There's always another wound to discover There's always something more you wish he'd say He's everything you want He's everything you need He's everything inside of you That you wish you could be He says all the right things At exactly the right time But he means nothing to you And you don't know why But you'll just sit tight And watch it unwind It's only what you're asking for And you'll be just fine With all of your time It's only what you're waiting for Out of the island Into the highway Past the places where you might have turned You never did notice But you still hide away The anger of angels who won't return He's everything you want He's everything you need He's everything inside of you That you wish you could be He says all the right things At exactly the right time But he means nothing to you And you don't know why I am everything you want I am everything you need I am everything inside of you That you wish you could be I say all the right things At exactly the right time But I mean nothing to you and I don't know why And I don't know why Why I don't know why I’d completely rejected this guy who’d been nothing but nice to me, and just like the song said, I didn’t know why.
  6. Black Widow (Story Discussion)

    I'm so glad you didn't, but just so you know, if the day comes that you decide to do that, I promised Sharon that JJ gets hit by a bus.
  7. Black Widow (Story Discussion)

    This is the only thing in your post that I have to vehemently disagree with you about. JJ has ample grounds to whine and bitch about his family neglecting him, etc., etc., but the deal with Maddy was pretty clear cut. Keep in mind that we're seeing this through JJ's eyes, so we don't know if the kids were really being that obnoxious, but even assuming that they were that bad, he had no grounds to interfere, and he had absolutely no right to grab her. That type of physical action is always out of line for someone who isn't the child's parent. He's her half-brother, and even though he's shown no interest in Maddy (or Riley), that status gives him at most the right to talk to them sternly. I would have expected him to say to them, "hey, calm down!" or probably a more snarky "settle down, this isn't a playground." If that didn't work, he needed to talk to Tiffany. Quite frankly, the only person who has, IMHO, the right to voice true and firm disapproval (besides Tiffany) is JP (or maybe Isidore). It's his kitchen, and he likes having his great-grandchildren (as he would consider them) around. I suspect that if he would have been there, he would have treated them indulgently, taking into account that it was a busy morning, one that would have been a bit chaotic with preparations to leave. If it were dinner in the dining room and not breakfast in the kitchen, he would have expected an entirely different type of behavior.
  8. Black Widow (Story Discussion)

    I think Will's biggest problem with the motel was the external door. Will may be many things, but the Pharma Bro persona is definitely not him.
  9. Black Widow (Story Discussion)

    My comments on Chapter 48: I forgot how much fun you guys are. I think part of the problem here is that, with a serial story, it's sometimes difficult to get all the thoughts out in one chapter. In addition, I've been busy as f**k so I haven't been able to post chapters fast enough to fully explain the rationale behind this. I think it's safe to say that JJ has been acting like a total douche. He had absolutely no business treating Maddy the way he did, he's been a jerk to Will and most of the other family members, and he's been pointedly rude to Carullo. That he set himself in New York, education at all, is just lovely, but it isn't an excuse or even a reason to excuse the way he's acted. If performing well in life's duties was a plausible excuse for asshole behavior, the Will-haters out there would have no leg to stand on. We've seen JJ do this before, where he builds a cocoon around himself and in that cocoon is a world that isn't real. Outside pressure doesn't seem to get through to him. The only thing that does it, it seems, is if he's shocked out of his complacency. That's what JP, Stef, et al. were trying to do.
  10. Chapter 48

    I forgot how much fun you guys are. I think part of the problem here is that, with a serial story, it's sometimes difficult to get all the thoughts out in one chapter. In addition, I've been busy as f**k so I haven't been able to post chapters fast enough to fully explain the rationale behind this. I think it's safe to say that JJ has been acting like a total douche. He had absolutely no business treating Maddy the way he did, he's been a jerk to Will and most of the other family members, and he's been pointedly rude to Carullo. That he set himself in New York, education at all, is just lovely, but it isn't an excuse or even a reason to excuse the way he's acted. If performing well in life's duties was a plausible excuse for asshole behavior, the Will-haters out there would have no leg to stand on. We've seen JJ do this before, where he builds a cocoon around himself and in that cocoon is a world that isn't real. Outside pressure doesn't seem to get through to him. The only thing that does it, it seems, is if he's shocked out of his complacency. That's what JP, Stef, et al. were trying to do.
  11. Chapter 48

    September 6, 2003 The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel New York, NY JJ Normally when I went to an event, it was centered on a runway, with hors d’oeuvres to feed people and a bar to lubricate them. This gala was different because it wasn’t a show, it was a fund-raiser for some charity, and that meant it was a sit down dinner with various presentations and pleas for cash. These were different in other respects, in that people were able to get up and walk around at various times, usually between courses, and because once the main dinner was over, it was possible to escape from the gala and congregate outside the main room. The promoters of the show had convinced the fashion industry to support it, and they’d sold tables for the event to raise some serious money. It was no surprise that Mode had bought a couple of tables, and it was no surprise that I was invited to sit at Bellona’s table. I’d arrived before Bellona, so I wandered into the dining room to find our table, see what the set up was, and to get my bearings. Appropriately enough, our table was at the center of the room, but not too close to the podium. That was important, because it wasn’t good to be so involved in the event that it interrupted conversation at the table, and most people were nervous about being near a microphone during unguarded moments. I found one of Bellona’s assistants in there, hurriedly working on putting out name cards. I stayed out of her way until she was done, then went to see who was sitting with us. I found myself sitting on Bellona’s right, in between her and Carmelita Ferracci, the head of Mode’s Milan bureau. I looked to see who was on the other side of Bellona and was surprised to see that the card simply said ‘reserved,’ as did the one next to it. That was very odd. On the other side of the second reserved card sat Patrick Christian, and next to him sat Ella. Of course. Jarvis came in to inspect things, so I engaged him in pleasant conversation, with an eye to finding out what the fuck was going on. We had a good rapport, and he seemed to understand that he could chat with me candidly and that I wouldn’t tell Bellona what he said. I thought about my brothers with annoyance, and how they used to give me shit for being a tattletale. If I were still doing that, Jarvis and I wouldn’t be friends. “Who’s sitting here?” I asked, pointing to the reserved signs. “I don’t know, and when I asked, I was told to mind my own fucking business, although perhaps the wording was a bit different,” he said, making me chuckle. It was a rare occasion for the word ‘fuck’ to come from Bellona’s lips. She’d learned to be just as emphatic without using extreme profanity. “Well then this should be interesting,” I told him. “I am sure that it will be,” he said. “The general consensus at the shop is that Paris Hilton will be joining us.” When he talked about ‘the shop’ I knew he was referring to Mode. “She’s pretty trashy for Bellona,” I noted ruefully. I was pretty annoyed that someone like that would be sitting with us, but then again, she was one of the Hiltons, so that gave her an entrée. “That is an understatement,” Jarvis agreed in his haughty tone, outsnobbing me. “Patrick managed to score a seat at Bellona’s table,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “She was impressed with his preview, so inviting him here is her way of letting everyone know that,” Jarvis observed. “That is a distinct honor,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure he deserved it. “I thought he did a good job, but I didn’t realize it was that terrific.” “You want to argue with Bellona about that?” Jarvis challenged. “No,” I said succinctly, making him chuckle. “It was a relatively late addition, so I’m sure Patrick is as surprised as the rest of us,” he said. “I thought she had these tables organized last month?” He shrugged. “Maybe there were some cancellations.” “Maybe,” I agreed. I headed out to the reception area and got a glass of wine, then proceeded to mingle with the people here who represented the height of this industry. I had a nice time, doing my usual routine at these things, where I stuck close to Bellona until she seemed to want me to leave her alone, and then I wandered around and chatted with other people. It was fun, because everyone was talking about the latest show or the latest trend, and they were not a little catty about it. I thrived on the gossip, and found the bitchiness of their comments to be hilariously entertaining. As the time for dinner grew near, the crowd grew larger, and then as it drew closer still, people clustered either in front of the entrance to the ballroom or near the bar. This was a highbrow affair, so there were no tacky announcements demanding that people move into the dining room. If Gathan were in charge, someone would probably bang a gong and yell “soup’s on!” I thought to myself as I rolled my eyes at his family and how provincial they were. Instead, the staff merely opened the doors to welcome us, and everyone waited to go in until the big players like Bellona entered. I took that as my cue to go stand next to her while she finished up a conversation with one of the execs from Dior. She took her time, a clear power gesture, but not so long as to be rude. “Let us go,” she announced, and we dutifully followed her into the ballroom. As we headed to our table, I was stunned to see my brothers standing there, both of them looking really good. Their presence here, unannounced, totally freaked me out, but I still took a few seconds to study their appearance. Darius was wearing a black Armani suit that worked perfectly for him. It emphasized his slim but fit body, and the color brought out his dark hair and blended perfectly with his skin tone, making him look very sexy and exotic. Will was also dressed in black, wearing a Patrick Christian suit that made him seem like he was at least 25. The dark color looked good with his dark brown hair, but the best effect was that it made his bright green eyes really stand out. I pushed my observations aside and let myself ponder the most burning question: What the fuck were they doing here? “Isn’t this a lovely surprise, Jeremy?” Bellona asked, with a slightly mischievous expression. “Your brothers flew here to spend the evening with us.” “It certainly is,” I lied. “Welcome, gentlemen,” she said to Will and Darius. “You two are some of the most handsome men I have ever seen who weren’t on the runway.” “That’s very nice of you to say,” Will said, grinning, even as he shook her hand. “Allow me,” Darius said to her, as he held out her chair for her. “You are such a gentleman,” she said to him in a slightly flirtatious way. “Not all the time,” he said, winking at her, and freaking me out. Darius was here in New York, hitting on Bellona? What was going on? “I think I will remain standing until my guests arrive.” “I can work with that,” he said, pouring on the charm. “Hey there,” he said to me, and gave me a man hug. I got a similar greeting from Will. I glared at them, but got a look in return that was just as unpleasant. “So what are you guys doing here?” I finally asked. “I came out to escort Bellona to this event,” Darius said. “I was under the impression you were my guest, not my escort,” Bellona said in a slightly coquettish way that seemed strange coming from the dragon lady. “That is disappointing,” Darius said, pretending to be sad. “I said that was my impression, not that I wasn’t flattered to have you as my date,” she said, and slipped her hand through Darius’ arm. “Good,” he said, and put his other hand on hers, as if to attach her firmly to him. I stood there, freaking out inside, wondering what would happen next, when Patrick and Ella came up. The tension rose quite a bit, and I saw Bellona putting on her crocodile grin as she greeted both of them. What had originally been seen as a sign of honor for Patrick was now looking like a massive slap in the face to him, and even more to Ella. “It’s nice to see you, Darius,” Ella said pleasantly, trying to make the best of the situation. “Ella,” Darius acknowledged curtly. His single word greeting was cold enough to raise eyebrows around the table. He shook hands with Patrick in an obviously stunted greeting, one that everyone around was sure to notice. Both Patrick and Ella looked horrified, to the degree that they’d let those emotions show through, and Bellona seemed quite pleased with the drama. It wasn’t surprising that our family cheerleader defused the situation. “Hey Ella,” Will said in a neutral tone, even as he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Based on the greeting from Darius, Will’s greeting was effusive. Ella was so freaked out; she excused herself, presumably to go to the ladies’ room. “Patrick Christian,” he said, introducing himself to Will. “Will Schluter,” he replied, tossing out his brightest smile as he shook Patrick’s hand. “I get to sit next to you at dinner?” “Looks that way,” Patrick responded pleasantly, probably glad to have someone here who was being nice to him. “My lucky night.” “That could very well be,” Will said, blatantly hitting on Patrick. I was infuriated with both of them for walking into my world and acting like complete sluts, but I just kept my mouth shut and watched them. “You’re wearing my clothes,” Patrick told Will. “You want them back?” Will asked, flirting shamelessly. “No, they look great on you,” Patrick said, in a slightly sultry tone. “I’d be happy to take them off for you,” Will said suggestively, but fortunately I think only Patrick and I heard him. “We’ll have to work on that later on,” Patrick said. “I would like to talk to you privately,” I hissed into Will’s ear. “I’m sure we’ll have time later,” Will said obliquely, then refocused on Patrick. I turned to zero in on Darius instead, but he was totally focused on Bellona. This whole situation was ridiculous. He’d made her the center of attention, just like he did for one of the girls he was trying to fuck, and even more annoying was the fact that she seemed to be thriving on his attention. That was unusual, because even though she was constantly surrounded by handsome men, she seemed to almost be asexual. Maybe she just assumed all the guys around her were gay, I thought ruefully. I mean, this was the fashion industry. In any event, whatever it was, she was completely warming up to Darius. I spaced out a bit, so flummoxed was I by these events. Ella came back to the table and pulled Patrick aside in what was obviously a pretty intense conversation, but that didn’t slow Will down. He just moved on and started chatting with Zac Posen. I wondered if he’d drag him to the bathroom and fuck him there, he was being so brazen. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep an eye on him and simultaneously listen to Darius flirt with Bellona. I decided to stick next to Bellona, since she was the source of power in this group. Patrick saw Will chatting with Zac and seemed to get a little jealous, which just made this whole thing even weirder. I was listening to Darius and Bellona while I watched Patrick and Ella. Their conversation seemed to flare up in intensity, then it ended. Ella turned on her heel and walked out, trying to do it in a graceful way, while Patrick watched her go. When she was almost to the door, Patrick wandered over to where Will was and the three of them chatted for a bit, until Zac Posen evidently decided to move on to talk with a different group, leaving Patrick and Will alone. I was intently watching this scene even as I listened to Darius prattle on with his bullshit pickup lines, as if he were trying desperately to get Bellona into bed. Patrick said something to Will, prompting him to immediately walk over to us. “Patrick just told me that Ella had to leave. She wasn’t feeling very well.” “That’s too bad,” Darius said deadpan, his tone making it clear that he didn’t care if she was at death’s door. “It certainly is,” Bellona agreed, just as insincerely. She led us over to Patrick and proceeded to console him. It was amazing that, now that Ella was gone, Darius was relatively pleasant to Patrick, and that largely dissipated the tension with our group. We all took our seats, but with Patrick having no one next to him, and Will having only Darius on his other side, that left the two of them free to talk to each other. I decided that with the way he was acting, Will would probably end up pulling a train later on tonight. “I have a present for you,” Darius told Bellona. “You certainly didn’t have to get me a present,” she said insincerely, as if she didn’t expect people to fawn all over her all the time. “Actually, I’m just the messenger, it’s from Stefan,” he said. He pulled out a small jewelry box and handed it to her. “Well, since he is not here and you gave it to me, I will just assume that it is from you,” she responded. “But please thank him for me.” “You haven’t even seen what it is,” Darius said. I sat there, just staring at them, when Bellona noticed my intense look. “Jeremy, do be a dear and tell Carmelita about our plans for the Milan show,” she said, all but telling me to fuck off. “I would be happy to, but first I want to see this present Stef sent you,” I said, which was my way of being my own person, more or less. She obliged me by opening the box and smiled broadly at the beautiful fleur de lys broach it contained. It must have cost a shitload of money, because it was encrusted with diamonds and sapphires. “It is exquisite!” she said. “I’m so glad you like it,” Darius said. “I’d help you put it on, but I’d probably do it wrong, and your jacket is too beautiful to mess up.” “I’ll need a mirror,” she said and made to stand up. Darius stood up promptly and pulled her chair out like a gentleman, then gave her his arm and escorted her from the dining room. Were they going somewhere to fuck, in the middle of this dinner? I felt like I’d fallen through some wormhole and ended up in a parallel universe where everyone was fucking crazy. I felt the need to escape, so I unobtrusively got up and headed to the restroom. On my way, I saw Darius and Bellona standing off to the side in front of a mirror. He was putting the sapphire and diamond broach on her, and it looked to me like he was gently running his finger across her left breast as he did. He saw me and winked at me, and that just made the whole thing that much creepier. I looked away and hurried into the bathroom, locking myself in one of the stalls, feeling as if I’d barely made it to a sanctuary. What the fuck was going on with these people? I sat there for about ten minutes thinking about the situation, getting nowhere with my ruminations. My mind was just going in circles, and I was just wasting time, so I’d decided to go back to the table and see what else my brothers were doing to embarrass all of us. Just as I was about to get up and go back, the door to the stall next to me opened up, and I heard two voices. I rolled my eyes at how, in an industry like this with such a large gay component, there was bound to be a bathroom fuck or two thrown into the mix. I was about to leave when I heard Patrick Christian speaking. “We don’t have much time,” he muttered. “I can work with that,” Will said in a seductive way. I heard a zipper. “Nice,” Will said. After that, I heard the distinctive slurping sound of someone, presumably Will, sucking Patrick’s dick. That was confirmed when Patrick moaned almost too loudly. “That is so fucking good,” he cooed to Will. “I love the way you taste,” Will murmured, then must have gone back to work, based on Patrick’s moans. “I’m close,” Patrick said urgently. I looked at my watch and shook my head. Will had been blowing him for less than three minutes. His moans got more pronounced, then there was a loud, sexy grunt which announced to me and anyone who was in the next stall that he was blowing his wad. “Thanks,” Patrick said, after a few seconds. “That was a lot of fun,” Will said. I heard a different noise, one that sounded like they were kissing. “You go back first.” “OK,” Patrick said. The stall door opened, I heard Patrick walk out, then the door closed. I sat in my own stall, absolutely furious at Will, trying not to be too annoyed that I’d had absolutely no luck getting Patrick to fuck around with me when we’d gone out. As soon as I heard Will’s stall door open, I all but stormed out of my sanctuary. I expected Will to be surprised, but he looked at me kind of contemptuously. “What the fuck are you doing?” I demanded. “Enjoying the party,” he said. He turned his back on me and went to wash his hands. “What are you doing here?” I demanded. “Seems that you think you can come walking into our world and fuck things up, and treat people like shit,” he said, smiling. “I’m just returning the favor.” “I didn’t do anything wrong!” I insisted. He chuckled at me. “Then I think you’re going to have a pretty shitty night.” “Why don’t you go out there, get Darius, and just get the fuck out of here!” I said much too loudly. I was lucky that we were alone in this restroom. “Nope,” he said calmly. “You don’t live in a bubble, where you can treat people like shit and get away with it.” “This is bullshit!” I told him. “I’m going to call Stef.” “Still tattling?” Will taunted me, just about setting me free. “Who do you think picked out our clothes?” My mouth dropped in shock. I figured this was just Will and Darius fucking with my life, which was so typical of them, especially since I was doing so well. But Stef was involved in this thing, this attempt to ruin my life? I guess I should have figured that out from the broach that Darius brought. I thought about that, and it made sense, and in fact, Stef was the only person who could have done that. That’s the only way Will and Darius would have been able to score tickets to this deal, or tickets at Bellona’s table. He must have talked to Bellona about this. My eyes narrowed as I realized that the broach she was given was probably payment for fucking with me. But how could Stef do that to me? How could he betray me like that? I heard the door which surprised me, since I’d been spacing out so much that Will had been able to just walk out on me. I took a few minutes to wash my hands and to make sure my hair was still perfect, and then I went back out to our table. There really wasn’t anything else I could do right now but make it through this evening with as much dignity as I could muster. I got back to the table to find Will sitting in my seat chatting with Carmelita in Italian. He saw me and promptly got up, excusing himself in a polite way that would have won Grandmaman’s approval. “I did not realize that your brothers were so charming,” Bellona said to me, acting almost giddy. “They’re like modern day Casanovas,” I said, trying to make it sound funny, but I wasn’t sure if I’d pulled that off. “Casanova was legendary for being one of the best lovers of all time,” Will said to me. “Thanks.” Of course he’d know that, since he was always reading about history just to suck up to Grand. “I can’t evaluate that,” Bellona said. “Yet,” Darius said softly, so only Bellona and I could hear. I spent my time talking to Carmelita, trying to keep her amused, but after Will had wowed her with his Italian, she seemed to find me to be a bit of a letdown. That was so typical of my brothers. They come into my world and totally outshine me, steal the spotlight, and then leave me cast aside like trash, like garbage no one would want. It got to the point where the whole event was unbearable. “I’m not feeling very well,” I said to Bellona. She acted annoyed that I’d interrupted her time with Darius. “I am sorry to hear that.” “I hope you feel better,” Darius said to me, and winked at me, more of a taunt than a friendly gesture. “We’ll stop by and see you tomorrow morning.” “I’m not sure if I’ll be there,” I said, being bitchy, and then I regretted it, since Bellona gave me an amused look. “That’s fine,” he said. “Then we’ll come back next weekend and hope you’re around.” I stood up and strode out of the ballroom in as dignified a way as I could, even as I was fuming inside. I sat in the limo, and was so mad I stomped my feet on the floor. I didn’t even answer the driver when he tried to call me to bitch about it. I dialed Stef and got his answering machine, which ratcheted up my rage just that much more. I sighed, and then called Escorial. One of the less-than-bright staff members answered, so it took me three tries to get them to understand who I was, and to put Stef on the phone. “Hello JJ,” I heard the voice say, only it wasn’t Stef, it was Grand. I so did not want to talk to him. “Hi,” I said somewhat meekly. “Is Stef there? I need to talk to him.” “He is not,” Grand said. “I talked to him before he left, and he told me that if you called, I should instruct you to talk to me.” “He knew I was going to call,” I fumed, and that fueled my anger even more. “He sent Will and Darius here to embarrass me in front of my friends, and to fuck them too, then he doesn’t have the guts to even talk to me?” “I find your outrage over their breach of manners to be incredibly hypocritical,” Grand said icily. “You think that’s OK, for them to do that?” I demanded. “Did they tell you why they were there?” he asked. I rolled my eyes at that. “They’re still mad at me for trying to stop Maddy from running around the house like a demon from hell. That’s what this is about, and it’s crap, since it’s unreasonable for me to sit there and put up with kids screaming and yelling in the kitchen.” “I would point out that it was my kitchen you felt you had the right to police, and I would further point out that it is not your place to discipline Maddy,” he said. “Well then I’ll just stay away,” I snapped. “The most disturbing thing is that you have not heard a thing the rest of us have been saying to you,” Grand said. “What are you talking about?” I demanded. “You are universally prickly and mean to everyone in the family with the exception of Stefan, and then you rely on him to cover for you, and to explain your inexplicable behavior,” he said. “And worse than that, you are being rude to Mr. Carullo, who is our guest.” “I am not!” I insisted, and annoyed myself by sounding like a two-year-old. “I am going to let you ruminate on things,” Grand said, in his same cold and unrelenting tone. “I have done that, and that’s why I’m so pissed off!” I almost shouted. “You are aiming your lens in the wrong direction,” he said. “I suggest you turn it inward.” And then he ended the call. He was that mad at me that he hung up on me? I slumped back into the seat and pouted, fighting against hearing his words, and fighting even harder against actually acting on them. September 6, 2003 The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel New York, NY Will We watched JJ walk out of the room, which was so dramatic for him, and so ridiculous since this thing was winding down anyway. Bellona smiled at Darius and me. “I think you accomplished your mission.” “We won’t really know about that until tomorrow,” Darius said. “Besides, that’s not my mission.” “It is not?” she asked, raising her eyebrows at him in surprise. I was kind of surprised about that too, since I thought we’d pretty much accomplished what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to come out here and show JJ that he wasn’t going to get away with being a total douche, and that all the power and money he took for granted was something he couldn’t use for evil, more or less. “I think we established that this is a date,” Darius said to her, making his voice deeper, and much sexier. “You are adorable, but there is no need for you to continue the charade,” she said dismissively. “It’s not a charade to me,” Darius said. “I’m on a date with a beautiful woman. I’m not leaving without at least a good night kiss.” It was hard to listen without being obvious, but I was trying my best to remain inconspicuous. “You can’t mean that,” she said, and truly sounded surprised. I knew that I was. “There’s only one reason you shouldn’t come upstairs and spend the night with me,” he said. I was stunned. He was serious about this? “There are a number of reasons why that can’t and won’t happen,” she said firmly. “I can only think of one,” he said. “Alright, what’s this one reason?” she asked, smiling at him in a patronizing way. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “You guess it, and I’ll leave. You don’t, and you come upstairs with me. You have three tries.” “I’ll try to guess, and then we’ll see about going upstairs,” she insisted. “Because I’m old enough to be your mother.” “Nope,” he said. “I think you’re amazingly hot. I don’t give a shit how old you are.” His somewhat crass phrasing made him seem really masculine and attractive, or at least that’s what I thought. “I don’t believe that,” she said. I didn’t either. “I’m not a liar,” Darius said in an offended way that backed her up. “I can prove it to you, but you have to guess wrong two more times.” “Because relationships are complicated,” she said. “I’m flying back to California tomorrow, and I don’t get to New York all that often. I’m not talking about a long-distance deal, I’m talking about a night of fun, one that we’ll remember and smile about when we do.” “And the final reason is that you’d wear me out, and I’d be exhausted tomorrow,” she said. He didn’t say anything, so she smiled, knowing she’d figured him out. “As I have two meetings tomorrow morning, I’d have a hard time functioning.” “I should have known you’d be smart enough to guess the reason,” he said, sounding sad and dejected. “Damn.” Before she could respond, Paris Hilton came strolling up. I stood up to greet her, even though he remained seated. “S’up Darius?” she asked, even as she looked him up and down. “Paris,” he said to her casually. “And how are you Will?” she asked, acting like she wanted to fuck my brains out. “Doing great,” I said, giving her a hug. I noticed that she had some white powder on her nose, so when she pulled away from me I wiped it off in a relatively flirtatious way. She winked at me to thank me, then turned her attention back to Darius. “I didn’t know you were going to be here,” she said. “You should hang out after this. We’re going to a party.” “Thanks, I’m happy here,” Darius said, and squeezed Bellona’s hand in an obvious way. “You don’t know what you’re missing,” she said, in a slutty way, which was pretty much the only way she ever talked. She gave Bellona a contemptuous look, which was pretty bold. “Yeah, I do,” Darius said. She gave him a dirty look and sort of meandered away. “You passed up what was probably a really fun party,” Bellona said. Her voice sounded almost gleeful, probably because Darius had picked her over Paris Hilton. “I’ve already been to Paris,” he said. “I’ll probably regret this…” she said, and stood up, leaving the rest of the sentence unfinished. She held out her hand, Darius stood up, smiling, and the two of them left the ballroom. I watched them go, even as I blinked in surprise. That was not how I’d expected this to end. “Sorry, I had to talk to some people,” Patrick Christian said as he sat down at the table next to me. He was really handsome and really sexy, and best of all, he had a really deep voice. I loved that. “It was fine,” I said, smiling at him. “Well, this thing is ending, so time to bail,” he commented. “Let’s go,” I said. “Where?” “Upstairs,” I said, raising my eyebrow suggestively. “Dude,” he said in a dissenting kind of way. “I didn’t do a good job in the bathroom?” I asked him, sounding a lot like Darius had when he’d been hitting on Bellona. “You did a really good job,” he said, and gave me a cute smile. “I didn’t earn a second round?” I asked, and then pretended to pout. “You want to blow me again?” he asked quietly. I leaned up and whispered in his ear. “No, I want you to fuck me.” He backed away from me, smiled, and we both hurried to the elevator.
  12. Chapter 5

    August 1800 Ryde Granger stepped out of his boat and onto the dock, but significant activity drew his attention back to Renown. He saw her working to raise her anchor, and set the main topsail, while her boats were all recalled. Evidently Sawyer wanted to move her away from Granger’s home, and closer to the victualing yard. Granger shook his head sadly at the man who commanded her, but thought that the man or men who put him in command were just as pathetic. He resolved to put Renown behind him, and focus on the new task ahead, whatever that may be. He began to stroll up to the house when he saw William and Charlotte running down to greet him, with Caroline striding behind with more dignity. “Father, you’re home!” William cried, and all but lunged into Granger’s arms. He hugged his son, then his daughter, and reveled in the joy of seeing them. He thought about those parents who advocated keeping a cool distance between them and their children. Those people would never know the joy of embracing your own child, of loving your offspring and of having them return that love. “It is good to see both of you,” Granger said happily, then looked up to see Caroline smiling at him. “And it is especially good to see you.” It was the perfect thing to say. After all the things they’d dealt with during the last few years, all their problems, he let her know that she was still vitally important to him, and that he loved her. “When people ask me to describe the feeling of joy, I tell them that emotion is most vivid when you return from the sea,” she said to him lovingly. He hugged her tightly, and probably for too long, considering there were probably lots of eyes on them, but he cared not a fig. When he finally broke off the embrace, the four of them began walking back to the house. “If you look out at that fountain, you will see it is spouting through a newly arrived Roman god,” Caroline said. “He is quite handsome, even without water spouting from him,” Granger observed, getting a chuckle from Caroline. “He comes to you courtesy of Lord Elgin,” she informed him. “I think you will like him better than the other gift he has sent you.” “You make me fear he has sent his wife home,” Granger said with dread, which was partially faked. “And what is this other gift?” “I’ll leave that as surprise for you when you get to London,” she said mysteriously. His children demanded his attention before he could fully quiz her about that. “Father, you were on that ship, a ship of the line!” William said, pointing at Renown. “I commanded her briefly, for about a month or so,” Granger said. “I no longer have that obligation.” “Will you take us aboard her?” he asked hopefully. “Not that ship,” Granger said. “Perhaps a different one. We shall see.” There was no way he would subject his children to the insanity of Sawyer, and the dreariness of the other officers aboard Renown. They went into the house and Granger headed for the nursery to see Alexander and Elizabeth, and spent about an hour with them, just enjoying their company. After that, he left all four of his children there so he and Caroline could talk. That did not get a very pleasant response from his offspring, but Granger decided that governesses were there to deal with those foul moods, and opted to enjoy some time with his wife. As he and Caroline walked down the stairs, he noticed Jenkins waiting for him. “Welcome home my lord,” Jenkins said, and seemed genuinely glad he was there. “We are pleased to serve dinner if you are ready.” “We would be delighted,” Granger said, smiling at Jenkins, even as he led them into the dining room. “It is good to see you.” “Thank you, my lord, it is good to see you as well,” Jenkins said a bit nervously. He wasn’t as refined as Cheevers, and let his emotions out a bit more, but Granger thought that was actually rather pleasant for this home, which was in the more casual world of the Isle of Wight. “Admiral Berkeley sailed back with me aboard Renown, and I invited him to stay with us until tomorrow when he must head to London,” Granger told Jenkins and Caroline. Jenkins just nodded, then left him, while he and Caroline sat at the dining room table to eat and talk. “It will be nice to see him again,” Caroline said. “And you are going to London with him?” “That was the course of action I outlined to the admiral, unless you have other plans for me?” Granger asked. “My plans for you are for after dinner,” she said, and winked at him, making Granger chuckle. “Indeed it does sound as if it will be good to be home,” he said, and leaned in to give her a quick kiss. “I have to say that this house is quite convenient if one is serving in the Channel Fleet.” “So it would seem,” she agreed. “Have you heard from Cavendish lately?” He hoped Caroline would sense his overall concern for the young man, and know that he wasn’t trying to bring up their past issues. She seemed to understand his intentions, and nodded her head sadly because she understood Cavendish’s predicament. “He came to see me after he sent you that letter, as he was in London only briefly. He truly seemed despondent and trapped. He is usually so upbeat and seems to enjoy the jungle that is London politics, but he is feeling the effects of being unpopular.” “I did not know what to say, or how to reach out to him,” Granger said, showing her how helpless he felt. “I wrote him, but I didn’t have a trusted courier, so those letters were probably much too vague.” “I advised him to talk to your father about this situation,” Caroline said. “And did he?” Caroline responded playfully, trying to lighten the mood a bit, as this talk of Cavendish’s pending marriage had made things a bit too somber. “You do not think he was smart enough to heed my advice?” Granger raised an eyebrow at that, and then smiled. “So what did my father say to him?” making them both chuckle. “He told Freddy to talk to His Majesty,” she said. “He also suggested that, if His Majesty didn’t seem receptive, that the Prince of Wales would be another candidate.” Granger let her words concern him, since the only reason the King would not be receptive or helpful would be because his illness had returned. “His Majesty is not well?” Granger asked, remembering his upsetting meeting with his monarch just a few months ago. “He is well, but has spells from time to time,” Caroline said. “At least that is what I have heard. I suspect the spells may happen a bit more frequently than that.” “That is unfortunate,” Granger said sadly. “The Act of Union received its assent on July 2, and Pitt had promised that Catholic Emancipation would come with it. The King has sworn to oppose such a measure. I think that is weighing on the mind of His Majesty quite a bit,” she said. “That was clearly what had him agitated when I met with him,” Granger agreed. “Did Freddy talk to the King?” “I do not know,” she said. “The last I heard, he was heading to Weymouth to try. If he isn’t there, presumably he’ll be in Brighton with His Royal Highness.” “I guess it was ill advised to build a house here, when either one of those towns would seem to be a better location for a summer home,” Granger said. “I disagree,” Caroline said. “I think this was the optimal location. We are close to both of those places, yet we are here where it is much more peaceful and remote. There are enough people who summer here to provide for interesting conversation, and I find it wonderful to be able to watch the ships come and go. It helps me visualize you on your vessel, whichever one you happen to be aboard at the time.” He smiled. “I have been through a few lately. I served as captain of the Renown for a little over a month.” “So you told William,” she said. “It was not pleasant?” “It was not,” he said. He told her all about Sawyer, and the fleet maneuver that had caused such hubbub in the first place. And he told her about the dreary but competent officers on the ship, and how rude Sawyer had been when he’d assumed command a few hours ago. “I am full of anxiety for the officers and crew, and for what they must deal with in such an insane captain.” “That is because you care about the people who serve you,” she said affectionately, since she found it to be one of Granger’s more endearing traits. “You are not without options here.” “I’m not?” Granger asked, even as he began to think about it. “It seems to me that the only thing you can do is try to protect the officers from some sort of witch hunt by Sawyer,” she said. “I think that is possible. I would raise the issue with Lord Spencer when you see him.” “I will do that,” Granger said, smiling. “And do you know why I have been recalled from the Channel Fleet?” “I do,” she said, but got a bit nervous, perhaps because they’d had issues in the past when she’d interfered with his career, or more specifically, with officers who were assigned to him. “You are sending me to China?” he teased. “I am not sending you anywhere, but if I were to ship you off, it would not be to China,” she said. “And why not?” “Because I do not like the style of their furniture and décor, and I do not want you adding Chinese statues to our fountains,” she said, making him laugh. “I think you underestimate the attractiveness of a large Buddha with water bubbling out of his head,” Granger joked back. “I am not sending you anywhere,” she said. “This is Daventry’s doing.” “I am most interested to hear what he has in store for me,” Granger said, and was a bit annoyed that Daventry was acting as if Granger was at his beck and call. “There was an unfortunate incident in the channel last month,” she told him. “A Danish frigate, the Freya, was escorting a convoy and the Navy intercepted them and attempted to inspect the ships.” “The blockade is ineffective if neutral powers are able to take any cargos they want into French ports,” Granger said dogmatically. And that was the issue, for which there seemed little room to compromise. Britain refused to allow neutral merchants to import stores that were contraband, and insisted on inspecting ships before they were allowed to pass. Neutral nations, especially the Northern Powers of Sweden, Denmark, and Russia, saw this as a violation of their sovereignty. “Here’s the news sheet announcing it,” she said, and handed Granger the paper. On the 25th of July, at 6h. p.m., the Danish 18-pounder 40-gun frigate Freya, Captain Krabbe, in charge of a convoy, was fallen in with, in the North Sea, by the 28-gun frigate Nemesis, Captain Thomas Baker, having a squadron in company. Captain Krabbe refusing to allow any of the ships under his convoy to be searched, and having fired upon a boat sent away with that intention, the Nemesis and Arrow sloop opened fire upon the Danish frigate, and after a short action, in which the Nemesis and Arrow had each two men killed, the Freya hauled down her colours, having suffered a similar loss. The Freya and her convoy were escorted by Nemesis and Arrow to the Downs. Blood had been shed, which was a horrible escalation. “Are we at war with Denmark?” “Not yet, at least not as far as I know,” Caroline said. “Suffice it to say that this has not been an easy time for Lord Grenville.” “I should think not,” Granger said, thinking of the challenge this would throw at the Foreign Secretary. “There is to be a diplomatic attempt to resolve this crisis, which means we must send envoys to Copenhagen and St. Petersburg,” she said, then explained further. “Denmark is incensed about the Freya affair, while the entire Northern Alliance is the brainchild of Tsar Paul.” “It would seem to be a good idea to try and resolve this without more blood being shed,” Granger noted. “And it would also be a good idea to keep the substantial fleets of those countries from joining the French cause.” “I suspect that is a key objective,” Caroline said. “The government is planning to dispatch Lord Whitworth to Copenhagen.” “He is the biggest sage on the Northern Powers, or so I have heard,” Granger said. “He was quite influential in Russia until Paul became enamored of the French and demanded his recall,” she said. “So he will only be going as far as Denmark.” “Then who will be going to Russia?” Granger asked. “Lord Daventry,” she said. “But he will only go if you take him.” “That is a lot to digest,” Granger said, pondering what that would mean. Daventry was not a diplomat, but a member of the secret service. Why would they send a spy to do a diplomat’s job? And why did Daventry insist that he take him there? He posed the latter question to Caroline. “Daventry explained to me that there is bound to be much uncertainty, and it is most likely to be a hazardous mission, in that Russia, Sweden, and Denmark are all considered hostile countries at this point,” she told him. “He wants you to take him because you are smart, and you are good at thinking of ways out of difficult situations.” “Laudable compliments, even if they are undeserved,” Granger said modestly. Caroline found his self-deprecation to be tedious at times, and this was one of them, so she pressed the discussion on. “So that is why you were recalled from the Channel Fleet,” she summarized. “Daventry wants you to take him to Russia, so the government will task you to do just that.” “I do not have a ship to take him in,” Granger said. “I discovered that the Admiralty sent out a recall for Valiant shortly after you resolved the issues regarding the Guild with Mr. Pitt,” Caroline informed him. “I believe we resolved the issues,” Granger said firmly, giving her credit. “In any event, it is hoped that Valiant will arrive home soon, and then you can resume your command of her,” Caroline said with a bit of sadness, since that would take him away from England. “If not, I suspect they will find you an alternative vessel.” “If I am going north, I’d best make sure that whichever ship they give me has a stove in it,” he said, thinking of how miserably cold it would be in the Baltic in winter. Caroline ignored that comment, because she didn’t want to think about him freezing in some Swedish gulf. “When you are tasked to take this mission on, I would suggest that would be an ideal time to ascertain that Renown’s officers will be kept safe from Captain Sawyer,” she said. “Spencer is going to think that any time he sends me on assignment, he must barter with me,” Granger grumbled, even though he would do exactly as Caroline dictated. “I would advise you to seek out Daventry as soon as you can, so he can give you more details,” she said. “I have been ordered to report to London, so if he is not there, I fear I will be a bit in the dark,” Granger admitted. “I think that Spencer will be able to inform you effectively, even if you don’t talk to Daventry first, and I would guess, based on how he talks about you and how he treats me when you are gone, that he is quite fond of you, and would try to watch out for your best interests,” she said. That implied that Spencer had taken Granger under his wing to a much greater degree than Granger had suspected. Caroline all but read his mind. “You must remember that Spencer must not appear to be too partisan on your behalf.” “That makes sense,” Granger said. “I have a lot of respect for Lord Spencer, but I have certainly had my disagreements with him.” “Whatever spats you may have had, they certainly aren’t enough to sour how he evidently feels about you,” she said. “I am honored to be so esteemed in his mind,” Granger said, a little flummoxed by that, and a bit uncomfortable as he grappled with that in his mind. “I think it is well-deserved,” Caroline said. Desperate to change the subject, Granger raised a new topic. “What will happen to Calvert when I resume command of the Valiant?” “He is to be given command of another frigate. I believe that was part of the deal when they gave Calvert Valiant,” she said. Caroline did not really like Francis Calvert, and even though she tried to hide it, it was very visible to Granger. “That is a good thing, since Calvert is a very good captain,” Granger said. “I would suspect he had a good teacher, and role model,” she said. By mentioning Calvert, Granger had annoyed Caroline, so she had hoped to return that irritation slightly by flattering him so, but in this case, Granger wasn’t afflicted with his normal modesty. “When I was welcomed into the Lords, Lord Hood told me that what is most important is the people you leave behind you, meaning that there is nothing so rewarding as seeing one of your subordinates become very successful.” “That must be quite a feeling,” Caroline said supportively. “Lord Barnfield shuttled me to and from the Inshore Squadron on his new command, the Courser,” Granger said, thinking of another. “He is such a delightful young man,” she said, since she spent much time with Barnfield at social events. “Which reminds me to tell you of Lord Brookstone.” He’d taken Brookstone aboard Belvidera as a midshipman shortly after he’d taken command of her. “And what has become of him?” Granger asked. “He is commanding a sloop now,” Caroline told him. “Some of our nautical staff members have told me that the ship, who’s name I forget, is a sister ship of Intrepid.” Brookstone was a good officer, and a very bright man. “It is tantalizing to think of what an exceptional young captain like Brookstone can do in such a ship.” “Indeed,” she agreed. “And I should share news with you that you probably have not heard,” Granger said. “Lennox was posted.” Lennox had been one of the first midshipmen Granger had been lucky enough to appoint, back when he’d been in command of Intrepid. “Lennox is a captain? How did that happen?” she asked. “Lord St. Vincent asked one of his admirals to post him as flag captain, and used it to repay an old debt,” Granger said. “That was quite a debt to repay,” Caroline noted. She’d become quite well versed on naval politics, and knew that any admiral guarded those key staff appointments jealously, and usually had one of his own subordinates he wanted or needed to reward. “I must travel to London with Admiral Berkeley tomorrow, and I will see how things go from there.” “Do you want me to come with you?” she asked. Granger was worried that with either answer, he may be wrong, so he hedged. “I will leave that to you,” he said. “I think I will stay here, at least for now,” she said. “I will keep you informed, and you can certainly return to London if need be,” he replied. “You appear to be finished with your dinner,” she noted. He smiled at her. “I am wondering if you would like to join me for a bath?” “An excellent idea,” she said, and then, in the wonderful fresh water of his baths, Granger was truly reunited with his wife. August 1800 The Admiralty, London Granger walked into the familiar building, thinking of his former officers like Calvert and Barnfield who were so successful, but he was not filled with pride, rather, he was filled with apprehension for Harmon and Hornblower. He signed in on the register, and then scanned the waiting room, using his peripheral vision, until he landed on a familiar face. Rodney Roberts smiled broadly even as he stood up, only with his massive physique, it almost looked as if a Greek statue had suddenly arisen. He had been Granger’s first lieutenant on Belvidera, holding that position until he’d transferred to the Captain to fight with Nelson at the Battle of St. Vincent. Granger walked over and held out his hands warmly. He noticed the single epaulet on Roberts’ shoulder, showing that he was no longer merely a commander. “What a pleasure to see you, Captain, and even greater pleasure to see that your epaulet has leapt from one shoulder to the other.” “Not nearly as good as seeing you, my lord,” Roberts said, gripping Granger’s hands back firmly. “I’ve just been posted this week.” “To what ship?” Granger asked, even as he led Roberts off to less crowded portion of the room. “I’ve been given the Rattlesnake, a ship I have heard you have some familiarity with, my lord,” Roberts said. “She is a fine ship, and a worthy one for someone of your talents,” Granger said. “Is she here?” “Yes, my lord, she’s at Sheerness,” Roberts said. “I am here to receive my final orders, and then we’re to sail shortly.” “Do you mind if I ask where you’re bound?” “I am bound for the East Indies,” Roberts said. “Whom did you vex to get that position?” Granger teased, since the East Indies was not the ideal posting for most officers. “I think it was part of the arrangement, with me getting Rattlesnake, my lord,” he said. “I am wondering if I could impose upon you for a few things,” Granger said. “I am at your service, my lord,” Roberts said. “If you are free this evening, I would love to host you for dinner, and then perhaps I can give you some insights based on my own experiences in India,” Granger offered. “I would be most obliged, my lord,” Roberts said enthusiastically. “The other thing is that I would appreciate it if you would carry correspondence from my parents and me to my brother, Albert,” Granger said. “Nothing could be easier, my lord,” Roberts said. “It is rare that I have an opportunity to utilize a courier whom I can trust, so that is quite a luxury,” Granger said. “My lord, His Lordship will see you now,” the secretary said, interrupting them. “Quite so,” Granger said, then turned to Roberts. “I will see you when my meetings are over. If we are finished at different times, I will see you at my house.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Roberts said formally, since the secretary was watching them curiously. Granger turned and followed the secretary back to Spencer’s office, where he found the First Lord standing to greet him, a very polite and respectful thing to do. “Granger, how good to see you,” Spencer said in a friendly way. “It is good to see you too, sir,” Granger said, and despite his concerns and issues, began to let his guard down around this man who had evidently worked behind the scenes for him quite extensively. “I was so saddened to be recalled from the Fleet.” Spencer laughed. “I suspect that blockade duty must weigh on your psyche after your more usual assignments.” “It is a bit more dreary, sir, but it’s also interesting to watch the challenge His Lordship faces, trying to handle some 30 to 40 captains, and all the conflict that entails,” Granger said. “I shouldn’t wonder,” Spencer said, and gestured for Granger to have a seat while he poured them some claret. “I am to meet with Admiral Berkeley tomorrow, and I am not looking forward to hearing what will undoubtedly be rants against St. Vincent.” “I think you may be surprised, sir,” Granger said. Spencer looked at him quizzically. “I do not sense that Admiral Berkeley is angry and full of venom. While he was not happy about the way he was embarrassed in front of the fleet, I found him to be charming and interesting on our voyage home.” “Let us hope that behavior continues during our meeting,” Spencer said. “St. Vincent certainly did not pillory the admiral in his reports, like I would have expected.” Spencer was, in his way, asking Granger for his opinion of the man, a subtle request that Granger understood. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I think that Admiral Berkeley was an unlucky choice for the Inshore Squadron command. It requires a bit more boldness and aggression, in my opinion,” Granger said. “I am thinking back to the Mutiny at Spithead…” “What a wonderful memory for you to evoke,” Spencer interrupted grumpily. “I remember that Lord Howe was talking about Admiral Colpoys and some of his qualities, those that were predominantly focused on organizational and administrative responsibilities, sir,” Granger said. “I think that Admiral Berkeley may be that type of admiral, only with a bit more dash.” “It would not be hard to have more dash than Colpoys,” Spencer allowed, making them both chuckle. “I read your report on Renown. You seem impressed with the officers.” “I found them competent and effective, sir,” Granger said. “As I told Lord St. Vincent, excluding Hornblower and possibly Harmon, the officers are not exceptional, but they are good.” “It will be good for Sawyer to have a good team to back him up,” Spencer said hastily, as if to gloss over that issue. “Sir, from what I have heard, Captain Sawyer does nothing but abuse and undermine his officers,” Granger said firmly. “That is hearsay, then, is it not?” Spencer asked acidly, trying to shut Granger down. He didn’t realize how strongly this issue weighed on Granger’s mind. “Sir, I am very concerned that by leaving Captain Sawyer in command of Renown, you are hazarding that ship, which is sound and solid, and destroying the futures of the officers who serve under him,” Granger said. “He is all but insane.” Spencer was furious at being chided by a captain, even this captain, and was about to lash out at Granger, but Granger was one of his favorite officers, and Spencer decided that reasoning with him may work better. “I am reminded of your issues with your doctor and Sir Tobias Maidstone.” “Sir?” Granger asked, confused, since he had indeed been expecting to have all but a hurricane launched at him. “Sir Tobias was portraying Doctor Jackson as a cold-blooded murderer, and wanted him put to death; while you and your friends were all but advocating for his sainthood,” Spencer said. “You are advocating that I remove Sawyer from command because you tell me he is insane, and while I trust and respect your opinion, it would be unfair to Sawyer for me to take action solely based on that.” Granger worked that through in his brain. “You are telling me that, despite the cavalcade of evidence from people like me and Lord St. Vincent, you need something more tangible?” “Yes,” Spencer said, in an annoyed way. “Sir Tobias was, at the time, a reputable advocate against Jackson. It is possible that Captain Sawyer also has such advocates.” “I see,” Granger lied. “No, you do not,” Spencer said, finally irritated enough to lose his cool. “If I remove Sawyer because of what you and St. Vincent say, I will be lambasted by Sawyer’s friends, who will point out that I have just heard rumors, and would point out that based on the letters I get from captains in the Channel Fleet, those people would have me believe St. Vincent is no better than Sawyer!” “You must be fair, and you must be relatively unbiased,” Granger concluded. “Yes,” Spencer said, but this time he was happy, because Granger got it. “Look Granger, I understand that you are worried about Renown, so in this situation, I will share my reasoning with you.” “I would appreciate your candor, sir,” Granger said honestly. “I agree with both you and St. Vincent that Sawyer is an idiot, and if Renown had paid off, I would not find him another ship,” Spencer said. “But it is going to be very difficult for me to accomplish removing him from command here in London. I could do it, but the cost is too high.” Granger nodded, even as he thought about the world Spencer must live in, one where favors were exchanged in a very deliberate manner that was, at the same time, subtle and fluid. He would have to balance the cost of major or controversial decisions, and in this case, getting rid of Sawyer was too expensive. It briefly bothered Granger that Spencer would not worry about the minions who were involved in paying the price for that, namely the Renown’s wardroom, but then he reminded himself that Spencer was supposed to be looking at things from a broad perspective. “I think I understand, sir.” “What I can and did do,” Spencer said, “is send Captain Sawyer to a place where such a removal is possible. When he arrives in Jamaica, Lord Seymour will be able to make that decision without any such qualms.” “And then, if Lord Seymour removes Captain Sawyer and sends him home, he can be retired without a problem,” Granger mused. “Exactly,” Spencer said. “To assuage your conscience, I will do my best to keep Renown’s officers from being black-balled for this.” Granger smiled broadly then, since he had unbended along with Spencer, and this was the pledge he’d been seeking. “Thank you, sir.” “Sawyer was adamant that his officers remain aboard,” Spencer said with a frown. “But Harmon managed to get himself transferred in spite of that.” “I would think he was the only one of them with connections such that he could break free, sir,” Granger said, but in a joking kind of way. “The others will survive, I am sure, and I will try to keep a protective eye on Lieutenant Hornblower, to keep you and Captain Pellew happy.” “We would both appreciate that, sir,” Granger said. “And now, let us talk about what is to happen to you,” Spencer said, even as he pulled out a very ornate box.
  13. Northern Exposure: General Discussion

    I'll bet that happens to you with everything you read. :-)
  14. Northern Exposure: General Discussion

    Yes. You should.
  15. Chapter 47

    Or maybe Zach has found someone else to fuel his before-game testosterone infusion.

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