The better part of a year had passed since that bloody afternoon at the Blackbird mine. Life had continued for us all; funded by the settlement from Thaddeus, Steve and I had moved to Maui, pursuing our degrees; his in law, mine in medicine.
Dex sat at our computer, typing away furiously as I mussed with the string tie I wore with my tux. I couldn't resist, so I asked Dex again, "Why don't you tell us about your new job with the National Security Agency?'
Pausing, glancing up from his typing, Dex replied, "I can't talk about it, and you know it. I just wish Betty hadn't said anything. Speaking of Betty, maybe I should head on over to their hotel?"
With a laugh, I replied, "Dex, you know it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding! I'll bet you never thought you'd grow up to marry a lesbian, now did you?"
Dex laughed, "I'm just glad she was open to changing her mind and acting on her feelings. I would have never had the guts. So, how do you guys like living in Maui?"
I nodded, glancing out at our view of the blue Pacific;"We love it. I wouldn't have been happy on Oahu, it's too crowded, plus that's where Blackheart had his connections. He's dead, but his Hell's Angels flunkies aren't."
Looking up from the keyboard, Dex's eyes opened wide, "Didn't the FBI tell you? Blackheart survived, barely. He's seriously addled due to brain damage, and they couldn't prosecute once he was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial. He moved back to California, changed his handle, and now he writes some darn good stories which he posts on the internet, though that may be a result of the brain damage."
Shaking my head in disbelief, I replied, "Damn, the FBI should have told us that. I just hope we've seen the last of him."
Dex returned his attention to the computer as I took another look at our view, and then around our roomy one-bedroom apartment, much better than college students could usually afford. The settlement from Thaddeus, even after we'd been forced to pay for the damage to the cell tower, had left us, if not rich, at least comfortable. When the happy news from home had arrived, proclaiming two sets of wedding bells in the offing, our decision had been easy; plane tickets were sent, and later Steve and I would be standing up with Dex and Chad at the little chapel on Maui's east cost south of Hanna, near Lindbergh's final resting place.
Rob and Joe, after some grumbling, had apologized for having pictures of us from the porn site, and for what they had done at the pool party. They chalked up the latter to being drunk, and I could well believe it. We'd offered them tickets, but they hadn't been able to leave their business unattended, but they had sent some rather large wedding presents nonetheless.
Veronica never did find out what happened to the puzzle we burned in Hawaii; no point in tempting fate, after all.
Our case against Piedmont County was still winding its way through the courts, but the County Supervisors' decision to leave the sheriff in office after his indictment had voided their insurance, and the sheriff's actions at the Blackbird mine while still in office made the outcome of our case only a matter of time.
We'd all been careful of what we'd said to others about the events at the Blackbird Mine. Amongst other things, we shortened the distance from which Veronica fired at her attacker, and though I think Sheriff Buchanan suspected, no one ever raised a doubt as to it being a case of self-defense. Veronica, for her part, had recovered quickly, both physically and psychologically, from her ordeal; barely a week had passed when she began threatening to shave my head and dye it purple.
The state police had flown Veronica and Steve, along with most of the others, to Lonesome Valley. I'd driven my Jeep back, with Dex for company, dropping him off at Veronica's to rush into Betty's open arms, before heading for the hospital. Steve did have a concussion, so he and Veronica, by sheer irony, ended up as roommates for the night in the room once occupied by Officer Jacobs.
Jacobs had been unaware of the happenings at the mine, until Sheriff Buchanan, leading a group of heavily-armed state police, had stormed into his own office to find Jacobs trying out his desk. With the testimony of both us and the surviving gunman, along with his inexplicable possession of the fifty grand in cash found in his freezer, Jacobs ended up sharing a cell with Thaddeus in the State Penitentiary. Of Eric, we heard nothing.
Chad came in from the balcony of our apartment, where he'd been admiring the view of the Pacific, looking decidedly uncomfortable in his Tuxedo. "I wish my best man would hurry the hell up," he grumbled, nodding towards the bathroom door where Steve was taking a shower.
That had been another easy decision; I'd be Dex's best man, and Steve would be Chad's, at the combined ceremony. We'd even made a few changes to the standard ceremony, so I'd be walking Betty down the aisle, while Steve accompanied Veronica.
Flipping idly through the TV channels in search of a weather forecast, I was bombarded by the usual Sunday morning array of televangelists. One image froze in my mind, that of a familiar bumpy nose, and I flicked the channel back to that station. I got a glimpse of a familiar face, causing me to shout for Steve. He dashed to my side, dripping, with a towel sagging low around his waist, his eyes following my pointing hand to the TV.
On screen was a televangelist, busy fleecing the flock, extolling people to send in their money and be saved. While the bump on his nose was still the same, his cheeks had a different shape, no doubt at the hand of a skilled plastic surgeon, though that familiar upturn at the corner of his mouth had survived intact. His hair dyed grey at the temples, his hairline shaved back a little, his eyes peering out from behind horn-rimed glasses, he looked much older; his new image complimenting the slow southern drawl with which Eric now spoke. I was stunned, but Steve seemed calm and unsurprised. I looked up to him, puzzled, as he said, "I guess we should have expected this, all things considered. I'm glad he came out okay after saving us all. I've even got a hunch we'll meet up with him again. I wonder if he really has changed?"
Hugging me tight, in spite of, or perhaps because of, still being wet, – the upturn at the corner of his mouth convinced me it was in part the latter – Steve added, "I knew he'd land on his feet, and so did we."
Steve leaned in for a kiss, our lips meeting as my heart told me what I'd really known all along; it really was forever.