This is a continuation of events that began in Rules of the Road.
Chapter Eleven --
Annie took Brian's free hand as she stepped into the tunnel with him, and Jeff took the other side by the flashlight. The tunnel was as wide as the shelving section - at least seven feet - and the roof was every bit of that height above them. Old light fixtures were attached to the overhead beams about every twenty feet, and a metal conduit snaked along beside them, disappearing both to the fore of them and to the rear. The railroad ties holding the earth at bay looked solid, although roots poked through cracks here and there, and they could see where dirt had sifted down onto the floor. There were no footprints there, indicating that no one had come this way in a long time.
"Couldn't be more than three feet of earth atop this tunnel," JohnyG guessed, pointing his beam upwards. "I wonder how many people have walked over it through the years, never knowing it was there?"
"Used to be lights along here," Annie said, also spying the fixtures.
"They may have even worked when the house had power," Gary added. "I didn't see a switch when we came in, but I wasn't looking for one, either."
"I can see how they brought all those car parts in now," Brad said. "Probably loaded them on a cart or wagon or something and pushed it right down this tunnel."
"Yeah," Jeff said, "but from where?"
"I have an idea," Brian offered, peering towards the limits of the light provided by his flash. "Unless I'm wrong, this is leading away behind the house. That can only take us to the barn, or one of the outbuildings near it."
JohnyG laughed. "Man, what a set up! Steal a car, drive it here, pull it into the barn, take the sucker apart, and then roll the parts over to the cellar. All invisible to anyone looking from outside."
It did seem like something from the movies. That it had all taken place before any of them was born gave the whole thing an even eerier aspect. Hidden history, suddenly revealed.
Brian turned momentarily and stared back the way they had come. The door into the cellar was not visible, lost in the darkness behind them.
Annie was holding his hand tightly, and Brian let his gaze settle on her as he brought his eyes back forward. "This scare you?"
She smiled at him. "No. It's exciting. I really feel like Indiana Jones now."
Brian nodded, squeezed her hand. Jeff bumped against him, and Brian looked over at his boyfriend. "What'dya think?"
Jeff grinned. "I think this is cool as shit."
Brian laughed. He was about to say something funny when the beam of his light picked out a shadow ahead. He stopped, drawing Annie to a halt. Jeff walked another step and then stopped and looked at him. "What?"
Brian was aware that the others had stopped, too.
"You see something, Brian?" Gary asked.
Brian peered ahead, at the limit of the beam. "Looks like an opening to the left."
He started walking again, checking the roof of the tunnel as he did. It occurred to him then that no one really knew where they were. If the place collapsed or something, no one would find them for perhaps a long time. But the tunnel looked massively built, and didn't have the aura of age about it that the house did. The cement floor suggested that the tunnel was probably contemporary with the auto-theft ring, which meant it was only thirty or forty years old, at best.
"It's another door," JohnyG said, as they drew closer to what Brian had seen. "Or a doorway. Looks like it's open."
They finally drew abreast of the opening, and Brian shined his light within. A large piece of equipment of some kind was immediately visible, standing well back from the doorway. Brian released Annie's hand and they all crowded at the doorway to look inside.
It was a good-sized room. The walls were cement here, too. A bit of ductwork with a grill over the end of it stuck through the timbers supporting the roof. In the back of the room stood a large machine, behind which was a panel with several large breakers on it. Two light fixtures hung from the overhead, with the bulbs still visible inside.
"What is it?" Casey asked, shining his own light at the machine.
JohnyG laughed. "Unless I'm mistaken, it's an old sheet-fed printing press. We had one kind of like this - but newer - in the print shop, when I was in school." He shook his head. "If you could get this thing out of here, it would probably be worth a little money."
Brian made a noise of disbelief. "What? It looks like it weighs a ton." He turned and looked at the doorway of the room. "They must have put it together here, because there's no way that thing came in through that door in one piece."
"Oh, I'm sure they did," JohnyG agreed. "Wow." He pushed into the room and went over to the press, and the others followed, lights dancing about the room. Several tables stood near the business end of the press, one holding another device that Brian had to look at a moment before figuring out. "That's a paper cutter, I think."
JohnyG looked at it, and nodded. "Yeah." He turned and pointed his light into the guts of the press. "Aw. No plates. I wonder what they were printing here?"
"Maybe this," Brad said, bending and retrieving a sheet of paper from the cement floor beneath one of the tables. It shed a cloud of dust as he picked it up, and he waved it in the air at arm's length, head turned away, and stifled a sneeze. "Geez, it's dusty down here."
"Bring that over here," JohnyG said, moving to one of the tables. Brad brought the sheet over and laid it on the tabletop, and Casey threw a light on it.
Jeff peered at it, then snorted. "It's blank."
Brad flipped the sheet over, and laid it back on the tabletop. There was a unified gasp, and everybody just stared at the paper.
The sheet held three columns of twenty dollar bills; twenty one portraits of Andrew Jackson stared back at them.
JohnyG whistled. "Holy shit. Someone was making money here!"
Brian leaned forward, pointing his own flash at the dirty sheet. It was discolored by grime, but the green ink was still readily discernible in each bill, and the small print still readable. "Series 1950D," he said, squinting. "Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Massachusetts, A."
The bills looked real. Only the fact that there were twenty one of them on an uncut sheet, and that the reverse was blank, stated clearly that no Federal mint had ever issued these particular notes.
"Counterfeiters," Brad whispered, shaking his head in wonder. He looked at Brian, his eyes wide. "What kind of place did you bring us to?"
Brian couldn't help giving a little laugh of astonishment. "Man, I don't know. We didn't know about any of this shit. I'll bet Jed didn't even know this was here. He was growing pot, but he wasn't even good at making money off of that. He gave it all away!"
In fact, Brian was suddenly certain that the longhair and his wife had not been aware of the tunnel. The dirt and dust on the cement floor had been untouched, devoid of footprints of any kind. He immediately pointed out that fact. "No one's been back here for years, I'll bet."
"You're probably right," JohnyG agreed. "Jed didn't seem the type, though you can never tell a book by its cover."
Annie smiled. "He looked more like a roadie for Motley Crue than he did a counterfeiter."
Jeff laughed. "I just know I wouldn't want the dude after me. I saw how he acted when he heard those freaks setting off fireworks in the cemetery the night of the party. I'd be shittin' bricks if I saw him comin' at me with a shotgun."
"Him and his yeti, Al," Brian added, laughing.
JohnyG grinned. "Yeah, no shit. I know Jed wasn't in on this gig down here. He wouldn't have been printing bills with a 1950 date on them." He waved a hand at the press. "This stuff is old news. Guys that did this are probably all dead now, or retired."
Brian looked from the sheet of bills back to the press. "Amazing no one ever got caught here, with all this shit going on."
Brad nodded. "Yeah. You'd think if you were printing bogus money, you wouldn't want to draw possible attention to it by stealing cars, too."
"Maybe they weren't doing both at the same time," Annie suggested. "Maybe they did the money first, and the cars later."
"Anything's possible." JohnyG agreed.
They all considered that in silence a moment. It was a bit of a mystery, definitely. But it was also one with roots thirty or more years in the past. One unlikely to be solved now.
That was if they wanted to even bother. Brian didn't. He was curious, but he also knew that there was no simple way to pursue knowledge on past occupants of the house. Not for a bunch of kids, anyway. And...it could even be dangerous. Never knew what kind of trouble they could get themselves into, just by being too nosy.
But there was still the matter of the bank notes, and that was something of immediate interest.
"What do you think?" Brian asked, turning to JohnyG. "Would it be risky for us to take this sheet out of here? You know - as a kinda keepsake? We could each cut a bill out to keep. Would we get into trouble if someone found us with it?"
JohnyG frowned. "I kind of doubt it, man. I mean, if both sides of the sheet were printed, maybe. But it's not like you could pass that off as real money." He grinned then. "Probably. People don't always turn a bill over and look at the other side."
Brian shook his head. "I don't wanna spend it. I just thought it would be a cool way to remember all this down the road."
JohnyG nodded. He picked up the sheet of bills from the table, walked around to the other side and laid it on the bed of the paper cutter. The machine had a powered, hyadrulic blade that could obviously cut a large pile of sheets at one time; but it also had a hand blade on one side that was perfectly suited for cutting a few sheets at a time.
"Shit," JohnyG said, breaking into a smile. "This thing is all set up to cut these things."
He laid the sheet in the guides and pulled down on the handle. There was a mild grunt of surprise from the device after sitting unused for so long; but the blade came down and sliced a neat row of bills. JohnyG repeated the procedure until all the bills had been cut into strips; then he piled the strips on top of each other and turned them and slid them into the second set of guides. He pulled the handle down again, removed the trimmed notes, pulled the backstop up to the second notch, and cut apart the remaining bills.
The result was twenty one separate notes, a little grimy - and blank on the reverse side - but still an interesting keepsake.
JohnyG came over to them again, carrying the small stack. "There's nine of us here today - that's two bills for each of us, and three left over. Seems to me that, since Brad found the sheet, he gets the extras." He started handing out the bills. "Remind me I have some for Ed and Missy, will ya?"
Brad blinked, but smiled. "Uh, okay." He let his tongue hang out a moment. "I don't know what I'll do with the extras, but that's cool. I definitely want to remember this night."
Brian made a face, thinking of the time. "Speaking of which, we probably should get a move on. Ed and Missy will think the cornfield goblin got us or something."
Casey held up a hand, his eyes going wide. "There's a goblin in the cornfield, too?"
Everybody laughed. Brad wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders and gave him a fond squeeze. "He's kidding, Case."
Casey grinned. "I knew that. I was kidding, too. This night has been so weird this far, I figured a goblin in the corn would be just another thing."
The two brothers looked at each other a moment, grinning.
Brian was suddenly aware that JohnyG was looking at him, and met the man's gaze. JohnyG gave a small toss of his head at Brad and Casey, and then nodded pointedly.
JohnyG saw it, too.
Brian nodded, unable to disagree. Brad and Casey were together.
Brian took out his wallet and put his two bills into it, then stuffed the wallet back into his pocket. The others did the same except for Annie, who put hers into the pocket of her jean jacket.
Brian headed back to the entry to the room and pointed his light out into the tunnel. The others joined him, and they moved off as group and resumed their walk to see where the tunnel led.
It only took a couple of minutes to find out. The beam of light from Brian's flash suddenly started reflecting winks of light back at them; and then they could see that the tunnel opened up ahead. In a few moments they were entering a large room, full of things that reflected the light back at them.
"Engines," JohnyG said, his voice sounding excited. "And trannies. Holy shit! I was wondering why we hadn't seen any complete engines or transmissions back in the cellar. Now I know. They kept them here."
'Here' was, Brian was fairly certain, a cellar underneath the big barn. It was too large to be beneath any of the other outbuildings they had seen thus far.
"I can't figure this," Brian said. "This cellar had to have been built with the barn. I just can't imagine digging all of this out after it was built."
"It could be done," JohnyG mused. "But it would have been a hell of an operation."
They walked along the nearest outer wall, and came upon a row of small rooms. The back walls of these were stone and mortar, just like the walls in the cellar of the house. Each room held a little stone shelf that ran along the back wall; each shelf held the remnants of straw and what looked like linen.
"What's this?" Gary asked, running his light over the shelf.
Everyone just kind of shrugged. It could have been anything. "Maybe animals were kept here once," Annie finally suggested. "It is a barn, after all."
They walked down the row, peering into each little room. A few of them had been made over into storage - one held about a zillion wheel covers - hubcaps, stacked nearly to the ceiling. The next held what looked like drive shafts and torque tubes, piled inside haphazardly, as if to just get them out of the way. And still another was full of brake drums of every sort, also piled high to the ceiling.
But most of the small rooms held just the stone shelf, and varying amounts of straw and linen.
"What if --?" Brian paused, something he had read way back in fifth...or sixth grade, rising slowly to the fore of his mind. Yeah - fifth grade. "What if all this was already here? What if the guys that ran the auto theft ring - and the counterfeiting operation - what if they found all this by accident, and just decided to use it?"
JohnyG waved his light at the cement walls. "This doesn't look that old, Brian."
Brian shook his head. "I think the cement is newer. I think they covered stone walls with it. The back walls of this row of rooms is still stone, just like the cellar of the house. And it looked pretty old to me."
Annie cocked her head at him. "It would have had to have been all built way back then, Brian. What would someone want a tunnel and all these cellars for?"
Gary nodded. "That tunnel looked way too new to be as old at this barn."
Brian nodded. "I agree. But what if that isn't the original tunnel? What if you came along and bought this property, and then found the big cellars underneath the house and barn, and a tunnel connecting them? You could easily dig up a tunnel that was only three or four feet down and rebuild it to make it safer." He shined his light around the cellar now, noting again the cement floor and the cement walls. "It wouldn't be that hard to cover an existing floor with cement, and even put cement over stone walls. What do you wanna bet if you tore away some of that facing you'd find a stone wall underneath, like the one in the cellar of the house?"
JohnyG laughed. "Anything is possible. But why would someone way back then build all this secret stuff? Unless they were smugglers or something?" He pointed a finger at Brian. "And that long ago, this place would really have been isolated. You think it's the sticks now, just imagine what it was a hundred and fifty years ago. Little far off the beaten path for a place to store smuggled contraband."
Brian nodded. "I wasn't imagining smuggling stuff. I was imagining smuggling people.This would really be a great place for a stop, from what I've read."
Everyone looked at him, clearly not following his thoughts.
Brian licked his lips. "Ever heard of the underground railroad?"
Annie nodded immediately. "Sure. It was a network of routes and safe houses used by abolitionists before and during the civil war to help escaped slaves get to freedom." She looked around them. "You think this could have been part of that?" She didn't sound as if she believed in the idea much.
JohnyG shook his head. "Yeah. This is New York, Brian, not Virginia, or the Carolinas. Once a slave crossed the Mason-Dixon, he was free anyway."
Brian shook his head. "No. There were whole groups of slave hunters that came north looking for escapees. Settling north of the Virginia-Maryland border was no assurance a slave would stay free. Slaves were often marked with tattoos or brands, and if someone showed up with paperwork claiming them, most jurisdictions would allow them to be taken back south."
Brad looked thoughtful. "I remember this from History class. Escaped slaves didn't stop once they were in the north. They kept going."
Brian nodded. "That's right. The underground railroad didn't just get slaves across the Mason-Dixon. They got them all the way to Canada. And, there was another route that took them west and south to Mexico."
Annie smiled and touched his arm. "How do you know so much about this?"
Brian laughed. "Book report, Miss Lawson, fifth grade."
She smiled. "I remember Miss Lawson. God, what a bitch."
Brian let his mouth fall open in surprise. "I kind of liked her."
"Yeah, you would. She was nice to the boys. She was evil incarnate to the girls."
Brian couldn't help laughing. "I don't remember that at all. I got an 'A' on the book report."
JohnyG rolled his eyes. "Can we?"
Annie stuck her tongue out at him, but Brian just sighed. "Okay, I was just putting that out there." He waved a hand at the cellar. "Doesn't really matter how all this came to be here, I guess."
But the idea of the place being a possible waystation on the path to freedom for countless human beings intrigued Brian, and would not go away. It placed a different kind of aura on the bones of what was, and perhaps a sad footnote on what had become of a once noble enterprise. "I was just curious," he finished, quietly.
JohnyG waved his flash around. "I'm curious, too. I want to see what kind of motors we got here."
They split up into groups again and walked around the end of the cellar. The transmissions sat, for the most part, on the bare floor; but the engines all rested in crude wooden cradles designed to keep them upright. For the most part, Brian did not recognize the engines he saw. Some were straight sixes - pretty much an uninteresting mystery to a hot car guy; but even the V-eights were not readily identifiable. All had the slightly primitive look of early models.
"Brian - come see this."
Brian looked over to where JohnyG was waving his light, and waved his own in that direction. "Come on, gang."
Annie and Jeff laughed, and Jeff reached out and gave Brian a playful push. Brian responded by snaking an arm out and pulling the other boy closer, and switched off his light in the same instant. He pulled Jeff against him and kissed him in the dark, and Jeff made a noise of surprise - and pleasure.
"Getting pretty daring," he whispered, pushing himself away. But Brian could sense his boyfriend's smile.
"Oops," Brian said, turning the light back on. "Didn't mean to bump you, buddy." But he grinned at getting away with it, seeing Brad and Casey on the other side of the cellar, only now turning to come see what was up.
They walked over to where JohnyG was bent over a ponderous-looking V-8 sitting in a wooden cradle. JohnyG pointed his light at them, then moved the beam to the engine. "Recognize this?"
Brian inspected the engine with his flash, and immediately recognized the wide valve covers and the unique way that the spark plug wires collected under a shield that ran down the centers of them. "That looks like a hemi!"
JohnyG nodded. "Yup. Maybe they stole some cars in the sixties, too." He turned his light, and looked at Brian. "See - it says 'Chrysler' on it."
Brian pointed his light at the stylized writing embossed into the nearest valve cover. "Chrysler FirePower." Brian grinned at JohnyG. "This isn't a 426. It's not even a sixties engine. Leave the Mopar stuff to Mopar guys, huh?"
JohnyG made a face, and offered a small bow. "Your pardon, my lord. What do you think it is?"
Brian pointed his light at the engine and studied it. "Distributor in the rear. Generator bracket on the top right. Definitely not a 426. But Chrysler FirePower is the clincher. Its a fifties engine. Either a 331, a 354, or a 392."
JohnyG pointed his light back at the engine. "Oh. Shit, I've heard of the 392." He looked back at Brian. "This thing would be worth something, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah, I'd say so. How would we get it out of here, though?" Brian frowned. "And, for real, wouldn't it be stealing, anyway? I mean, I know somebody else stole it in the first place, but that doesn't give us the right to take it, too."
JohnyG sighed. "Oh, shit. A flaw in your character, after all. You lack the ability to rationalize, son." He smiled. "Probably for the best, at least for now. We can talk about it later."
Brian shrugged. "Wouldn't match the mounts in the Bee without some work, I can say that much. I'm pretty sure this hemi would need the small block K-frame, and I have the big block frame in the Bee. This engine would not bolt to my 727 tranny. There may be an adapter available, but I don't know. And, unless I built this engine - which is expensive - this thing wouldn't hold a candle to my 383 in the performance department. I've already sunk a bundle into my 383, so why do it all again? This engine is worth something to a collector or someone that wants to build for the track, but it isn't worth anything to me."
JohnyG looked impressed. "Okay - you've convinced me." He looked wistfully at the engine. "Definitely of no use to me. I just think it's sad to leave it sit here."
"You notice this stuff?" Brad suddenly asked, waving his light at the ceiling. They looked up as a group.
An assembly of pulleys hung by a stout chain from a heavy frame of timbers slung between the substantial joists supporting the floor above them.
"Huh? " JohnyG stared up at the thing in surprise. "That looks a hell of a lot like what I would use to pull an engine from a car." He shined his light around the cellar again. "That would mean they actually brought the cars down here. What do you think of that?"
Brian also aimed his light around. The center of the cellar was filled with a good sized cube of apparently solid cement - support for the building above. He started walking around one side, to see what was at the other end of the cellar. The others followed without a word.
The cellar on the other side of the foundation block looked much the same, with engines in rough cradles and transmissions sitting on the floor along the walls. The only thing that was different was the ramp.
Also made of cement, it started about thirty feet from the far wall and ran at a fairly good angle up to the top of the cube of foundation support. Where it went after that was pure mystery, as only more darkness was visible at the top.
"Man," Brad said, as Casey pointed his flash up the ramp. "I'd hate to try to get my car up that thing."
"It could be done," Jeff mused. "But it would be interesting."
"They were probably more concerned with bringing them down," Brian supposed. "Why don't we walk up and see where it goes?"
The incline was every bit of forty-five degrees. They struggled up it, laughing and pulling at each other, until they stood on another square of cement at the top. They found themselves in a good-sized room, big enough to easily hold a car, and walled all about by rough-hewn boards set vertically, like paneling. At the far end was a garage door.
"Fuckin' look at that," Gary said, laughing. "All the comforts of home."
They walked over to the roll-up door. It had a handle at the bottom, just like any garage door at any house in the country. A latch and locking-bar mechanism secured it.
JohnyG bent and threw the latch, grabbed the handle, and grunted. The door shuddered, made an unpleasant sound, and rose about six inches before sticking.
"Little help," JohnyG wheezed, looking over his shoulder.
Brian and Jeff and Gary stepped up, wrapped their fingers around the bottom edge of the door, and heaved. The door resisted a second, squealed horribly, and then began to roll upwards. Suddenly, it shot upwards, leaving their hands and rolling back over their heads on runners, and drew to a stop as a tensioner wound tight. The door recoiled back a foot or so from the stops, rocked back and forth a moment, then ceased moving.
Brian aimed his light through the door, and laughed out loud. They were in the barn.
"Check this out," he said, walking out into the interior. He had noticed on his previous visit to the barn with Jeff that the center of it seemed to be taken up with an enclosed wooden structure that seemed at first glance to either be a storeroom or a support structure for the loft and roof above. But on reflection, and comparing this barn to other Dutch barns he had seen, the structure really wasn't necessary to hold up the upper works.
"Step out a minute, guys," Brian said.
The others came out, those with flashlights shining them about the barn. When everyone was clear, Brian gave a tug on the rope hanging from the bottom of the door, and it started to close. It came back down a lot easier than it had gone up, suggesting that whatever corrosion or blockage might have been in the door's track had been cleared by rolling it upwards. Brian caught the door as it came down and stopped it at waist height so that he could examine the exterior of it.
"Look at that," Jeff breathed, grinning.
The outside of the door was covered in a clever camouflage of wide but very thin wooden laths, which butted together at the door's hinged sections as they straightened out in closing. Brian could imagine that, once closed, the door would look just like the wooden walls of the center structure.
"No handle on the outside," Brian observed. But then he noticed a series of wooden blocks along the lower edge of the door that could be grasped and used to draw the door up just as easily as could a handle. He shook his head. "These were some cool dudes, if a little twisted. Kind of a shame to see this kind of talent wasted in stealing stuff."
Jeff came over and leaned against Brian. "This has been wild...as...shit."
Brian grinned. "It ain't over yet." He looked at his watch. "Hell, it's still ten minutes until nine. We still have plenty of time to hang out and party."
Jeff turned his head and gazed at Brian a moment, and Brian was certain that Jeff was thinking about kissing him. He sighed, and smiled.
And then his eyes went past Jeff, and he saw Brad and Casey watching them. Brian took his arm and gave Jeff a gentle push away. "You're scaring people," he said to Jeff.
Jeff looked then and saw they were being observed. He looked back at Brian, but seemed far from embarrassed. "I don't think those two will be upset at all," he whispered.
Brian gave a startled laugh. Even Jeff had noticed how the two brothers were acting.
"I say we head back to the house for a beer," JohnyG said, watching the byplay. His eyes locked briefly with Brian's, and even in the poor light Brian caught the subtle message they contained.
Brian drew the garage door down slowly, marveling at how the laths lined up to generate the appearance of wooden planks. With the door all the way down, they were presented with a wall of rough-hewn lumber, upon which even a few leather straps and other items hung on hooks. The camouflage was good enough to fool anyone who wasn't specifically looking for a doorway.
They exited through the barn's big double doors, and stepped into the night. Above and to the east, a quarter-moon peered down at them with soft white eyes, painting the land and the mountain in the distance with a half-hearted light that still managed to be cheery. The sky overhead seemed almost black despite the moon, and stars crowded every corner of the night except in a small circle within the moon's aura.
The air was still now, and the silence deep, save for the subtle, cyclic comfort of crickets celebrating the night. Annie came close, and Brian dropped an arm around her shoulders, and had to resist drawing Jeff nearer and doing the same. For just a small instant he wished they had not invited Brad and Casey along - and then he got annoyed with himself at the thought. The brothers needed company - needed something - or they would not have showed up at the shopping center that evening.
He looked over at the two boys as they walked along, talking together in low whispers, their upper arms bumping together, their heads leaning close. Brian sighed, understanding then that he liked Brad and Casey, and understood that they were a part of the crowd now - the crowd of people that made up Brian's life. He had invited them in - had wanted them there - and it was too late to go back on that now. Somehow, if the two boys really were together in the fashion that Brian and Jeff understood, and in the fashion that JohnyG and Gary understood, then they must be made aware that they were safe in this company, and that they could be themselves. Brian could just not see them all walking on eggshells should the brothers become regulars in their group - which did seem to be where Brad and Casey wanted to be heading.
The brothers needed to know who they were hanging with, and they needed to know their secret was safe. They needed to be made welcome.
They crossed to the back porch and thumped up the creaky, slightly sagging steps into the kitchen, and then down the hallway towards the firelight spilling from the front room.
Ed appeared in the doorway then, peering at them. "That you, Brian?"
"Yeah. Slow the brakes, man. The horde is home."
Ed grinned. "Didn't find shit, did you?"
That generated a group laugh as Ed moved aside and they all filed into the room. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," Brian returned, heading for the cooler. He popped the lid and started handing out beers. JohnyG and Gary had their own small cooler with their own brand of beer, and they helped themselves to that.
Everyone took a seat, the by now natural little groups finding their own. JohnyG and Gary pulled two bucket seats side by side and sat, and so did Brad and Casey, while Brian and Jeff and Annie took a bench seat, with Brian in his by now accepted spot in the middle of the other two.
Taking turns, they told Missy and Ed of their recent adventure. At first the two listened and looked at each other, grinning, as if they were being kidded; but as the story went on, and the seriousness of the other's descriptions became apparent, both Ed and Missy leaned forward intently, surprise and wonder appearing on their faces, too.
Brian reached the part where they found the room with the printing press, and handed the story over to Brad, who told of finding the sheet of twenty dollar bills on the floor of the room.
"Get the fuck out of town," Ed said, leaning back. "You guys are messin' with us, aren't you?"
In answer, Annie pulled her two banknotes from her jacket pocket and handed one across to Ed, who stared at the face of it before turning it over to view the blank back side. Ed showed it to Missy, who touched it in wonder.
"That's right," JohnyG said, digging into his own pocket. "We brought each of you a couple for your own." He grinned, handing the notes over. "To remember the night."
Ed took them, and handed the first bill back to Annie. "Holy shit."
They continued with the story, and Ed once again got anxious when they got to the part about finding the hemi engine. "Oh, man! We should get that thing, Brian! A fuckin' hemi! No shit!"
Brian shook his head. "How? And where would we put it? My house? And tell my dad what?"
Ed considered that. "My old man has that sixty-six Coronet in the garage. It would be cool to put it in that car."
Brian had forgotten about that. Ed's father had, well, stuff. Ed's dad was the kind of guy who parked his car in the driveway because the garage was full of vehicles that didn't run. One was an old stepside Ford pick up truck, a primer gray in color; the other was a 1966 Dodge Coronet. The Bee was basically a Coronet also, although the '66 and the '68 looked only superficially related.
The car that Ed's dad had also contained a 383, although it wasn't the hopped up Magnum version that had originally been in the Super Bee, and the engine in Ed's dad's car didn't run. What was wrong with it, Ed did not exactly know. Why his dad even held onto the two old vehicles was also a mystery. Shit, Ed's dad was a mystery.
Brian sighed, and explained the problems with putting the older hemi into a newer car. "Even if you could afford it - and you can't - you don't even know if your dad would let you do it," he finished.
Ed nodded. "Yeah. I got excited, I guess."
Everyone laughed. Missy circled an arm around Ed and pulled him close. "Eyes bigger than your wallet, honey."
Ed grinned, leaned forward and gave her a little kiss. "I got you - that's all that matters."
JohnyG sighed, put an arm around Gary, and pulled him closer. "Yeah."
You could have heard a pin drop. Brian's eyes went to Brad and Casey, who simply were gaping at JohnyG and Gary. Even Gary looked stunned, and Brian almost laughed at the sight of it all.
JohnyG looked over at Brad. "You didn't know?"
Brad's tongue bounced in his open mouth once before he was able to speak. "Know what?"
JohnyG leaned over and kissed Gary's cheek, then grinned at the look on Brad's and Casey's faces. "That Gary was my boyfriend."
Casey looked at Brad, the beginnings of a surprised smile on his face. Brad gaped a moment longer at the sight of JohnyG and Gary so intimately close, and then looked at his brother. They stared into each other's eyes a moment, and then Casey laughed.
But Brad looked over at Brian. "You guys knew this?"
Brian and Annie and Jeff all nodded as one. "Sure," Brian said. "You have a problem with it?"
Brad looked at Casey again. Casey looked like he was all for the idea, and Brad couldn't help smiling at his brother.
Finally, both brothers looked over at Brian.
"I don't," Brad said. Casey simply shook his head. "Me, either."
"Good," Brian said, putting an arm around Jeff and drawing him closer. Jeff seemed ready for that, though, and leaned over and kissed Brian on the lips as Brian turned his face towards him.
They let the kiss go ten seconds or so, and then both of them looked at Brad and Casey. Again, the two brothers looked stunned. Casey just couldn't stop grinning, though, and Brad looked like he just wanted to laugh and be done with it.
He didn't though. Instead, he pointed at Annie. "I thought she was your girlfriend."
Brian leaned the other way, pulling Jeff with him, and wrapped his other arm around Annie and drew her close. She turned her face to him just in time to receive a nice kiss.
They parted, and looked back at the two brothers.
Casey let his head fall back against the seat, closed his eyes, and started laughing. Brad looked incredulous, but was smiling, too. "You got a girlfriend and a boyfriend?"
Brian smiled. "Lucky, huh?"
Brad closed his eyes and joined his brother laughing, They leaned against each other, and their heads came together, and they laughed and laughed, until everyone in the room was grinning at them.
Finally, Brad caught his breath. "This isn't a joke, is it? Come on, you guys. Don't fuck with us."
"We're all serious, man," Brian said. "What you see is what you get."
Brad looked over at Ed. "You got a boyfriend we don't know about?"
Ed shook his head. "Nope. Do you?"
Brad instantly sobered. Casey stopped laughing, and the two brothers looked at each other.
"It's okay, guys," JohnyG said quietly. "You're among friends."
Brad gasped. "You know?"
Casey also looked stunned.
Brian nodded. "Yeah. It's okay, though. Like the man said, you're among friends. You know?"
Brad looked at Casey, as if for guidance. Again, for just a moment, it seemed as if the world was upside down, and Casey was the older, wiser brother, and Brad the smaller, more scared.
Casey looked at Brian, and then at JohnyG; and then he grinned. He turned to Brad, dragged him close, and kissed him. Full on the lips, all the stops pulled out, and in very un-brotherly fashion.
And Brad sat there and accepted it.
JohnyG gave a small clap of his hands, and Brian joined in.
Casey let his brother go. Brad's face was beet red, but he was smiling.
"That wasn't so hard, was it?" JohnyG asked.
Brad sighed. "Oh, man. I can't believe you know." He frowned then, looking at Brian. "How did you know?"
Brian grinned. "Aw, man. You two, the way you guys look at each other, and all? You two are cute as shit together. All of us could see how much you guys love each other."
Brad shook his head. "Yeah...but, how did you guys know we were, like --"
"Having sex?" Ed supplied, bluntly, when Brad looked like he was stuck.
Missy smacked Ed's arm. "Way to go, Mr. Sensitivity."
But Ed looked defensive, and let his eyes go back to Brad's. "Was I wrong?"
"No," Casey said, immediately. He snuggled closer to his brother, and Brad automatically put an arm around Casey and squeezed him.
Brian shrugged. "We are a little curious, if you wanna share."
Brad looked like his head had seized up and was momentarily not working. Casey looked up at him a moment, then snuggled closer. "We're adopted."
That seemed to break Brad's indecision. He nodded. "Yeah. We aren't related, really. Our parents adopted both of us."
Brian was stunned; but in an instant saw that that fact explained so many things, not the least of which was why the brothers did not look at all alike.
Brad sighed. "It happened after the accident. We went to live with grandma." He looked down at Casey then, and smiled. "We had...dreams. Of the accident. We couldn't sleep at night." His gaze came back up, circled the room, stopping at each little grouping of people. "One night Case came and got in bed with me. We held onto each other, and that was the first night we were able to sleep. So we started sleeping in the same bed every night."
Casey nodded. "And it just happened."
Comfort. It was about comfort. At least, it had been at the start. But Brian could readily understand how a comforting embrace and a warm body near could lead to more, especially if the two people in question already shared a close bond.
"Are you guys gay?" he asked quietly.
"I am," Casey said immediately. "I always knew I was."
Brad shrugged. "I like girls. I think I'm like you, Brian."
Brian was about to say he way gay; but he changed his mind. It was really only important that he knew that. And Jeff. He nodded, squeezing both Jeff and Annie. "You could do worse, buddy."
Brad grinned then, pointing at the three of them. "You wanna tell me how that happened?"
It was a long story, but they had time. Brian told the brothers how he and Annie had long shared a connection, one that Brian had not let grow because he knew he was gay. And then he told them how he had met Jeff, and how that relationship had grown. Brad and Casey settled together, Casey leaned into Brad's embrace, while Brad laid his chin atop the other boy's head. Every now and then, when Brian got to an especially emotional moment, Brad would smile, and nuzzle Casey's hair, and kiss him.
Annie also took a turn, giving her viewpoint on the story, and then Jeff talked awhile, giving his. Brad and Casey listened in fascination, their world so obviously opening up for them that it made Brian feel wonderful inside to be a part of it. He was also surprised by some of the things that both Annie and Jeff said, and took moments to squeeze them fondly and kiss them both.
Then JohnyG and Gary told their tale, of meeting in high school, and becoming friends, and then becoming more; and how it had lasted, and how it had grown.
"I never thought we would meet...others," Brad finally told them, shaking his head in wonder. He looked at Casey and smiled. "I thought we were going to just be alone with it, forever."
"You don't have to be," Jeff said. "You've got friends now."
Brad nodded. "Yeah. Thanks." He seemed to think a moment, and then frowned. "Must be something we were doing, that you could tell though, huh?"
JohnyG laughed. "You guys love each other, man. You can't hide it, especially from people that know what it looks like; so don't even worry about it. Don't put a liplock on Casey in public, and you'll be okay."
Casey grinned at the idea, looking up at his brother. "But you could do it now, and it would be okay."
Brad looked embarrassed again, but leaned down and kissed Casey.
Everyone in the room, seemed to take it as a signal, and kissed someone. In Brian's case, it was two someone's.
The room was made warm by the fire, and comfortable, and the conversation had relaxed everyone - and apparently made them horny, as well. Brian was surprised to feel Annie probing into his crotch, and then Jeff, and then it was just the cornfield all over again.
Despite being occupied with his two favorite people, Brian managed to notice that JohnyG and Gary had mostly undressed each other, and that Ed and Missy were pretty much there as well.
And that Brad and Casey were not being shy at all now, and that they most definitely were in love.
It wasn't quite an orgy, despite Ed's later recounting of the night in that vein. The groups didn't mix, and though they did do a little watching of each other, it was friendly and not particularly intrusive.
Brian could not help but to notice that JohnyG and Gary had quite a bit to offer each other, and that Brad and Casey seemed very experienced in sharing what each had to offer, too. And that - just in general, mind you - that the other guys were all pleasant to look at in a state of undress.
Even Ed - which surprised him, because he and Ed had been friends for so long now that he never thought of him as anything but. But Brian had also never seen Ed naked before, and now he thought that he didn't mind seeing it at all.
But for the most part, he had eyes only for Jeff, and for Annie, and that was how the hour played out.
It was immensely enjoyable. Brian didn't know for sure, but he suspected that a fire on a nice moonlit night in this place was going to become a regular part of his sex life - well, for him, and for the others. The haunted house was not haunted - not for real - but it was a place where things could happen that normally could not be made to happen elsewhere. It was a place where they were free to act on what they felt for each other, and where a friendly closeness could be allowed out for the evening.
Eventually, there was a winding down, a relaxing. Brian sprawled across the length of the bench seat, both Jeff and Annie wrapped around him, unable to imagine how he had gotten to this point, unable to imagine how two people could care about him so much. Or that he could love them as he did.
For some reason he remembered Carrie - Jed's wife - and what she had said to them the night of the party, about the moon, and for them to be careful on the road, because the dreams were afoot in the night.
"Don't get distracted and have a wreck."
It was this place, maybe, that had something to do with that. Carrie and Jed had lived here for three years, and now he suspected it had changed them. He could scarcely imagine living here in a trailer, let alone in this house, far off from others, in the shadow of a mountain whose peak glowed each evening with delayed sunset. How many generations had lived here, what amazing things had occurred here on these grounds? That there was history here, he was sure of. And that there was much about this place that was human, and that carried the hopes and dreams of being human.
Almost two hundred years, this house - some form of it - had stood here. How many dreams had it absorbed, in that much time?
And, how many could it give back?
Brian raised his head, looked over at Brad. He and Casey were comfortably entwined across their bucket seats, their tanned skins glowing in the firelight. Casey opened his eyes at the sound of his brother's voice, and smiled over at Brian.
"Can we come back up here with you guys again?" Brad's voice sounded almost sleepy.
Brian nodded. "Sure. You two are always welcome wherever we are."
There was so much in that one word that Brian had to look at the other boy to make sure he was okay. But Brad had closed his eyes again, his lips pressed gently against Casey's forehead, delivering small kisses there as he slowly rubbed the other boy's shoulder.
"What time you got, Brian?" JohnyG asked then.
Brian dragged his one arm out from under Annie, who sighed and raised herself to let him have it. "Ten-thirty. Why? You have to be somewhere?'
"No. I just wondered if we wanted to do anything else tonight? I'd still like to go by that place where you guys race, and where the other school - Kennedy - races, and see if I can catch a run."
"Yeah, we can do that. About ten more minutes, though? I'm really comfortable here."
He heard Jeff laugh softly, and squeezed him.
"Yeah," JohnyG returned, "that sounds cool. I'm pretty good myself, just now."
"Amen," Ed said.
Brian didn't hear anything from the two brothers, and lifted his head to look over at them again.
But he needn't have worried. They might not be saying anything - but then they didn't need to, either.