Philip and I dealt with a growing list of social obligations after the Christening, and we hosted a Christmas party for my office about a week before Christmas. I was pleased that Andrew and Emily could attend, as they'd been out of the country at the time of the Christening. Andrew and I had kept in contact by telephone every ten days or so, so he was up to speed on what was happening in our lives, as well as what was going on at the office. We told both him and Emily to consider themselves to be honorary grandparents to the boys, and the pleasure on their faces at that announcement was obvious.
We had, by comparison, a fairly quiet Christmas celebration at home for Gran, Philip, and myself. The gang came over Christmas Eve, and we exchanged gifts before we all attended midnight mass at St. Philip's. The next morning, we carried the boys downstairs to see the Christmas tree, and they seemed to be fascinated by all the bright lights, although at less than two months of age, we weren't sure how much they could actually see.
We celebrated New Year's Eve with the gang, and we all drank a little too much Champagne, so much so that we insisted that the four of them use two of the guest rooms, which they did. True to his promise, Philip's nephew Steve kept in regular touch with his uncle Philip, calling him at least once a week. Occasionally, he would ask to speak to Uncle Charles as well, which pleased me very much.
January and February flew by, and we were now well into March, looking forward to spring and warmer weather.
A little after six o'clock one Saturday morning in mid-March, Philip's cell phone rang. We'd just gotten up but were not yet showered and dressed. He looked at the display, said, "It's Steve," and continued, "Hi, Steve, how's my favorite nephew? This is kind of early for you, isn't it?"
His expression changed to one of surprise and then shock, and he said, "I see." Then he listened for a while before he continued, "Do you know how to find the house? Good. Thank God for MapQuest. We'll have the gate open and the lights on out front."
He snapped the phone shut and said, "That wasn't Steve, it was a friend of his. To make a long story short, my sister Marie, her husband, Frank, and their two daughters are out of town, visiting my brother Jack down in Alexandria, which is almost one hundred miles further south in Louisiana than Monroe, where they live. My nephew Steve stayed home and had a friend over. Frank came home unexpectedly by himself last night and caught Steve and his friend in flagrante. The friend says that Frank beat the shit out of Steve. Steve insisted on being brought here, so the friend and an older brother are doing just that. They've been driving all night and will be here in twenty minutes or so." He'd been pulling on clothes while he told me all of this, and I'd automatically followed suit.
We hurried downstairs to turn on lights and open the gate; then I went to the kitchen and started the coffeemaker. Philip and I stood anxiously in the foyer, watching through the cut glass panels on either side of the front door. Finally, we saw headlights turn off the street into the driveway, and we went outside to wait.
The car stopped in front of the house, and two boys got out. The driver appeared to be at least eighteen or so, and I guessed the passenger to be Steve's age, which was a couple of years younger. The younger one came up to us and introduced himself as Jeff Smith and his older brother as Rob. Then he said, "Steve is in the backseat. He finally passed out a couple of hours ago."
"Okay, guys," I said. "Let's get him upstairs and into bed."
The four of us managed to get Steve up the stairs and into our old room. The two boys and I held him while Philip turned the covers back; then we laid him on the bed and stripped him down to his shorts. His torso was a mass of bruises, as was his face, and Philip said, "Son of a bitch. I could kill my brother-in-law for this."
"We'll deal with him later, babe," I said. "Right now we need to take care of Steve. You stay here while I call a doctor."
I left the three of them with Steve and hurried to our little office. Then I found Dr. Butcher's home number and called him. Luckily, he hadn't left home yet to make his morning hospital rounds, so he agreed to come at once.
I went back to the bedroom, where Philip and the two boys were hovering around the bed, and said, "The doctor's on his way. Philip, while we're waiting for him, go get the digital camera. We need to photograph those bruises while they're still fairly fresh."
I went down to wait for Dr. Butcher, who arrived about twenty minutes later, black bag in hand. When he and I entered the room upstairs, Philip was busily taking photos of Steve's injuries and said, "I'm going to have my brother-in-law's ass in jail for a very long time over this."
Dr. Butcher directed the two of us to turn Steve over on his side so that he could examine his back, which was also a mass of bruises, and Philip took pictures of Steve's back, as well. After a few minutes spent taking vital signs and listening with his stethoscope, the doctor pulled Steve's shorts down to check the rest of him.
We all stared in shock at Steve's groin. One of his testicles had swollen to the size of a small orange, and the other one was almost as bad. Philip said, "Damn, he's going to pay for this." He began snapping picture after picture while the examination continued. Finally, the doctor seemed satisfied and directed us to slip Steve's shorts the rest of the way off and pull the covers back up over him.
He looked at Jeff and Rob and said, "You two brought him here?"
"Yes, Sir," they said.
"When did this happen?"
"About ten o'clock last night, Louisiana time," Jeff said. "Steve's parents were out of town, and I was staying with him. His dad came back unexpectedly and caught us fooling around. He went into a rage, hitting and kicking Steve, and you don't want to know the awful names he called Steve. I think he would have killed him if I hadn't hit him over the head with a brass bookend hard enough to knock him out for a bit. While he was out cold, I dressed and got Steve's clothes back on him and took him out to my car. I wanted to take him to the hospital, but he wouldn't let me. He just kept saying over and over, 'Take me to Atlanta, I'll be safe with Uncle Philip and Uncle Charles,' so I called my brother Rob, and he printed out the directions on MapQuest. Then I drove Steve to my house, Rob got in the car, and we hauled ass for Atlanta."
"How long has he been out of it?" Dr. Butcher said.
"He was moaning and sort of babbling for a couple of hours. We stopped at a truck stop and got him some Tylenol for the pain, and he finally passed out a couple of hours ago or maybe a little longer. I don't know whether he passed out from the pain or what. We don't fool around with drugs or alcohol or anything like that."
Dr. Butcher said, "He probably has a mild concussion, but I need to examine him when he wakes up. In the meantime, don't give him anything else for pain. I need him to be conscious and relatively alert before I can make a final diagnosis." He paused, then added, "Charles, do you have an ice pack?"
"Yes, we do," I said.
"Good. Get it and fill it with ice and put it on his genitals. It will help the swelling in his testicles go down."
Jeff said, "Doctor, is he going to be all right?"
"I don't see why not. He's young and appears to be healthy. However, I'll withhold final judgment until he comes to and I can talk to him."
I said, "Jeff, Rob, is there anyone that you need to call right now?"
"No, Sir," Rob said. "Our folks are out of town, and we keep in touch by cell phone."
"Good. You both look like you could use some sleep, so let me show you to a couple of guest rooms. Then I'll get going on the ice pack. I'm a lawyer, and I'll want to get a recorded statement from both of you later today when you're awake and rested, okay?"
"Yes, Sir," they chorused. I took them down the hall and got them settled in two of the unused bedrooms, then went back to Steve's room.
Dr. Butcher was just closing his bag when I got there, so I said, "Is he going to be all right, do you think? You weren't just saying that for the boys' benefit, I hope."
"Subject to an examination when he's conscious, I should think so. These things nearly always look worse than they are, although I don't mean to minimize the seriousness of his injuries. You wouldn't believe how much of this sort of thing we see."
I walked back downstairs with him. As he turned to go, he said, "Charles, call me the minute he wakes up, and I'll come back and check him over again. And Charles--get the son of a bitch that did this."
"You can count on that," I said.
After he left, I found an ice pack, went to the kitchen, filled it, and went back upstairs. Gran was just coming out of the nursery when I got to the head of the stairs.
"I've heard a lot of comings and goings this morning," she said. "What's going on?"
"We have guests. Come with me and see."
She followed me back to Steve's room, where Philip was sitting patiently by the bed.
"Why, it's Steve," she said.
"Yes, it is, but that's not all."
I lifted up the blanket and placed the ice pack gently on his testicles. Gran looked at the body on the bed and said, "Merciful God, what happened?"
"His father happened to him," I said.
"His own father did this to him?" She stared at me, incredulous.
"In a word, yes. I'll tell you about it in just a minute. Philip, where's your cell phone?"
"I put it back on the nightstand by our bed. Why?"
"Because while you stay here with Steve, I'm going to use your phone to call his mother--you do have her in the phone's memory, don't you?"
"Yes, she's the only listing under M."
"I'll handle it. Keep an eye on him and make sure that ice pack stays in place. Dr. Butcher wants us to call him as soon as Steve is conscious."
I took Gran's arm, and we walked back to the study and sat down. I told her as much as we knew of the story, and she said, "Dear God, what kind of man would do that to his own child?"
"A twisted and sick son of a bitch, to put it bluntly. Philip and I will make damn sure that he goes to jail for a very long time for this."
"I certainly hope so. What are you going to do now?"
"First, I'm going to call Marie and fill her in. Then I'll invite her here for the duration. If she has any sense, she'll divorce the bastard. Then I'm going to call the detective who handled our shooting and get him over here to start building a case that can be turned over to the police in Louisiana. After that, I'll see what happens. By the way, when you go downstairs, you might want to tell Mrs. Goodman that there are three teenage boys in the house who will most likely wake up hungry in a few hours. Two of them drove all night to get Steve here, and I know they'll need feeding. Steve will probably be hungry as well."
"I'll take care of it. You go on about doing what you have to do."
She went to the elevator, and I returned to our bedroom and located Philip's cell phone. After carrying it back into the office, I went online, searched for flight schedules from Alexandria to Atlanta, and printed out some information. I also retrieved a minicassette recorder that I used for dictation and slipped it into my pocket.
I picked up Philip's phone and selected the appropriate speed-dial code. The phone at the other end rang for a long time before a sleepy voice answered, "Philip, is that you?" It was Marie.
"No, Marie," I said, "it's Charles. Are you alone?"
"Yes, I am. Frank went back home last night. Why?"
"Marie, there's no easy way to say this, so I'll just say it. Frank walked in on Steve and his friend Jeff fooling around in bed last night and beat the crap out of Steve." I filled her in on the rest of what had happened, including the nature of Steve's injuries. There was a minute of stunned silence at her end, so I continued, "Did you follow all of that?"
"Yes, I believe so. I was thinking for a minute."
"If you can leave the girls with your brother, I can get you on a flight from Alexandria to Atlanta at eleven. The flight takes about three hours, with a change of planes in Memphis. If you agree, I'll make the reservation and call you back with particulars."
"Oh yes, please. Please do that."
"And Marie," I said, "one more thing."
"Philip and I are going to see to it that your husband goes to jail over this. Whether you agree to that or not, this will become a police matter and out of your hands."
"Charles, on that you have my blessing," she said with a great deal of firmness.
"Good. Philip would talk to you, but I left him in Steve's bedroom keeping watch while I set things in motion."
"Okay," she said.
"Do you know the boys that brought Steve to us? Jeff and Rob?"
"Yes. Their parents are friends of ours. They're good kids," she said.
"Rob said that their parents are out of town, but they keep in touch by cell phone, so we'll let them hang around here as long as they want to."
"Thanks. It's an hour earlier here, but I guess I'd better go and wake up my brother and sister-in-law."
"Fine. I'll call you back in a bit with your ticket information," I said, and we hung up.
I rummaged around in the desk, found Detective Howard's card, and dialed the number, and for the second time that morning, I woke someone up. I identified myself and apologized before explaining the reason for the call. He agreed to come by the house around noon, and I thanked him.
I returned to the Internet and made an airline reservation for Marie. Then I called her and gave her the particulars. It was an electronic ticket, so all she would need was a photo ID. I told her that someone would meet her at the airport.
Having gotten all that under way, I went down to the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee and took them up to Steve's room. I handed one to Philip and said, "Has there been any change?"
"He stirs and moans once in a while, but I don't see any indication that he's going to wake up for a while."
I filled him in on what I'd done and said, "Why don't you go and take a shower. I'll keep an eye on him for a while."
"Okay," he said, and he got up and kissed me before taking his coffee cup and heading down the hall.
After a while, Philip returned and I went to shave, shower, and dress. When I'd finished, I picked up my phone and called John and Joe, the two nurses who'd taken care of me when I was home, recovering from having been shot in the leg. I asked them if they had plans for the afternoon, and they said no, so I told them what had happened and asked them to come and stay with Steve while I took Philip to the airport to meet his sister. They readily agreed. Then I went down to the kitchen and asked Mrs. Goodman to prepare a breakfast tray for Philip. While she was doing so, I joined Gran in the sunroom.
"Is everything all right?" she said as I sat down at the table.
"It's getting there," I said, and I went on to tell her of the various wheels I had set in motion for the day.
Mrs. Goodman brought me some toast and juice, and told me that she'd taken a tray up to Philip. "Thanks," I said. "I would have done that shortly."
"It was my pleasure. I saw that poor boy in the bed, and Philip showed me some of the bruises. It's hard to believe there are parents out there who would do such a thing to their own children."
"I know, but sadly, it's all too common."
I finished my breakfast, went back upstairs to Steve's room, and said, "Has there been any change?"
"Maybe. It's hard to tell for certain, but I think he might be coming around."
I pulled a chair up beside Philip's chair, put my arm around him, and said, "I have to believe that Steve is going to come out of this just fine."
"I know, that's what I keep telling myself. Thank you, babe, for taking charge of things this morning."
"What else could I have done?"
"I know, but I just want you to know how much I appreciate it."
"I love you, babe. Your problems are my problems and vice versa. That's the way it is, and that's the way that it's always going to be." I leaned over and began to kiss him thoroughly until we were interrupted by a groan from Steve.
We looked at Steve. His eyes opened slowly and focused on us, and he said, "Uncle Philip, Uncle Charles, is it really you guys?"
"It's really us," Philip said. "You're safe with us in Atlanta."
I pulled the recorder from my pocket, turned it on, and said, "Steve, do you remember what happened?"
"I think so. Mom and Dad took the girls down to Alexandria on Thursday for a long weekend visit with Uncle Julien and his family. I didn't want to go, so they let me stay home. My friend Jeff was sleeping over, and we were kind of fooling around in my bedroom. Then Dad burst into the room and started yelling at me and beating on me. I don't remember much else."
"Your friend Jeff hit your dad on the head with a bookend or something and knocked him out long enough to get you out of the house. Evidently you demanded to be brought here to Atlanta, so he got his brother Rob, and they did just that," I said.
I pulled my phone out and called Dr. Butcher. He answered on the second ring, and I said, "Hi, Terry, this is Charles Barnett. Our boy just woke up, and he seems pretty coherent."
"I'm only a few minutes away. See you shortly."
I said, "Steve, the doctor wanted to see you again as soon as you woke up, and he's on his way over here. I talked to your mom earlier and got her a flight to Atlanta from Alexandria. She'll be here later this afternoon."
Steve looked frightened and said, "I don't want to go back home. I don't ever want to go back there again." He started crying as he said it.
"Don't worry, kiddo," Philip said. "It would take an army to get you out of this house right now. You're here for as long as you want to be here, no matter what anyone else says."
"Where are Jeff and Rob?" Steve said.
"Asleep just across the hall," I said.
"Are you in a lot of pain?" Philip said.
"I hurt everywhere. Especially down there," he added, gazing toward his groin.
"That's because the bastard evidently kicked you in the balls. Both of them are swollen pretty badly, and there's an ice pack down there to help with the swelling," I said.
Philip said, "Steve, you lie back and concentrate on getting better. Charles and I will take care of everything. We'll take care of your mom, and we'll see to it that Frank goes to jail. Okay?"
"Okay," he said, and he closed his eyes.
There was a knock on the door, and Goodman said, "Dr. Butcher is here."
Dr. Butcher came into the room and said, "How's the patient?"
"Awake and talking," I said.
"Good. Let's have a look."
He sat down beside the bed and began checking Steve over once again. Steve opened his eyes, and I introduced Dr. Butcher as our doctor, thinking that the fact that Terry was a pediatrician might bother Steve.
Terry was busy doing doctor-type things, looking in Steve's eyes and ears with his whatchamacallits, testing his reflexes, poking and prodding here and there, asking if it hurt when he did this or that. Finally, Terry sat back and said, "I don't think anything is broken, but in a couple of days, when he feels up to it, why don't you bring him in for some X-rays just to be certain?"
We promised to do that, and Terry continued, "What he needs more than anything right now is bed rest. He can get up and use the bathroom when he needs to, but other than that, I want him to remain horizontal for at least two or three days until we see how he begins to heal. You also want to keep the ice pack on his groin. His testicles will begin to shrink back to their normal size over the next few days, and the ice will help that process. I'll write a prescription for a mild painkiller, but use it sparingly, okay?"
"Sure," I said. "Instead of writing it, can you telephone the Buckhead Pharmacy? They'll deliver it."
"Certainly," he said.
"Can he have some Tylenol or Aleve now?" I asked.
"By all means," he said.
"Terry, we're setting the wheels in motion to have his father arrested for this, so I'll need a full write-up from you in a few days as part of that process."
"That won't be a problem, Charles. Any man who would do this to his own son or, for that matter, anyone's son, needs to be behind bars for a long time."
Once again there was a knock on the door, and Goodman announced Detective Howard.
I introduced him to Dr. Butcher and to Steve, saying, "This is Detective Howard of the Atlanta Police Department. He's a friend of ours who's going to make sure that we dot all of the Is and cross all of the Ts when we send the paperwork to Louisiana to have Frank arrested for this."
Detective Howard spoke to Dr. Butcher for a few minutes, and they exchanged business cards. Then Detective Howard focused on Steve and said, "Feel like answering a few questions?"
Steve said he didn't mind, and Detective Howard went through the process of asking him the particulars of what had happened to him. When he'd finished, he asked me, "Where's the other boy?"
"Down the hall in a guest room, sleeping," I said. "We can probably get him up in a bit, and I'm sure he'll answer any questions you have."
"Fine. Let's go down the hall and talk about this."
He and I left the room and went down to the study. As soon as we were there, I said, "I want Steve's father in jail ASAP. Will that be a problem?"
"No. I'll write up a complete report, fax it to Louisiana, and follow it up with a phone call. If they don't drag their feet, the guy could be in jail before dinner."
"Good. The boy's mother will be here this afternoon. She's flying in from Alexandria. Will you need her signature on any paperwork?"
"I doubt it. When abuse of a minor child is concerned, the process takes on a life of its own, as long as the accused doesn't have connections."
"I don't know the answer to that question, but I can certainly find out. Philip and I want his brother-in-law behind bars, and we'll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Do you want to interview the other boy now?"
"That wouldn't be a bad idea," he said.
"Good. Make yourself comfortable while I go wake him."
I went down the hall to Jeff's door and knocked softly before I entered the room. Jeff was sound asleep, so I shook him gently by the shoulder and said, "Jeff, it's time to wake up."
I waited for a minute or two while he pulled himself together, and he said, "What's happening?"
"Steve is awake, for one thing, and there's a detective here who would like to take a statement from you that will help us get Steve's father behind bars, where he belongs."
"Good. Give me a minute to splash some water on my face."
"The bathroom is across the hall, and I'll be just down the hall near the stairs," I said, and I left him to pull himself together.
A few minutes later, he emerged from the bathroom, and we walked down to the study. I introduced him to Detective Howard, and he gave a complete statement of what had happened. I'd already given the detective copies of the photographs of Steve's injuries, and he left to set things in motion.
"Jeff, would you like to see Steve?" I said.
"You bet," he said, and he followed me down the hall.
When we entered Steve's room, Philip was holding a glass of water and handing him a Tylenol capsule. Steve swallowed the pill, drank some water, and sank back on the pillow.
"Hi, Jeff," he said. "Thanks for everything you did last night. You probably saved my life."
"Not a problem, buddy. You'd have done the same for me."
"Jeff," I said.
"Are your parents going to give you a hard time about all this? I mean, when they find out what happened to Steve, they'll surely find out what you two were doing before he was beaten up."
"No, Sir. My folks know I'm gay. They aren't exactly thrilled about it, but they've pretty much learned to deal with it."
"Good. That's one less thing for Steve to worry about."
Philip said, "Steve wants to stay here with us permanently, and I'm pretty sure my sister will allow it. Will that be a big problem for you, Jeff?"
Jeff thought about it for a moment and said, "If he stays here, I'll certainly miss him, we've been best friends for years, but we're not exactly boyfriends. We just sort of take care of each other, if you know what I mean."
"In other words, the two of you are what we would refer to as 'fuck buddies' rather than boyfriends," Philip said.
Both Jeff and Steve laughed at that, and Steve said, "That pretty much sums it up."
"I hope you took our advice and have been playing safe," Philip said.
"We haven't done anything that requires a condom, Uncle Philip," Steve said. "We both want to save that for someone special."
"Good for you," Philip said.
Someone's stomach grumbled loudly, and we all smiled, so I said, "I don't know who that was, but somebody in this room is hungry. Jeff, why don't you go wake your brother up, and by the time the two of you have had a shower, I'll have lunch brought up here so you can keep Steve company for a while."
"You'll have to show me which room he's in," Jeff said. "All I remember from earlier this morning is a lot of doors."
"Not a problem," I said. "Follow me."
I led him down the hallway, tapped on Rob's door, and opened it. I turned back to Jeff and said, "You know where the bathroom is." Then I went downstairs to the kitchen and asked Mrs. Goodman to send lunch for the three boys upstairs when it was ready.
I went to the sunroom and found Gran having an early and solitary lunch. She looked up at me and said, "How is he?"
"Awake and hurting. Also, he's adamant that he doesn't want to go back home ever. Philip and I have assured him that he doesn't have to, and we're hoping that Marie won't make an issue of it. The boy feels safe here with us."
"Good for the both of you. In his present state he certainly needs to feel safe."
"I just asked Mrs. Goodman to take lunch up to Steve's room for all three boys. John and Joe are coming over later to stay with him while Philip and I go to the airport to pick up Marie."
She looked at me with an expression that I couldn't quite figure out, so I said, "What are you thinking?"
"I just had a memory flashback, so to speak. You are so much like your grandfather. In any crisis, large or small, he took charge and made things happen."
"I guess it's an inherited tendency," I said, and I excused myself to go back upstairs, where I found Jeff and Rob sitting beside Steve's bed.
"Guys," I said, "lunch will be brought up here shortly, and none too soon, because someone's stomach was rumbling earlier. Steve, is there anything you need before Philip and I go downstairs to eat?"
"Yes, Uncle Charles, there is," he said. "I need to pee."
"Hold on for just a minute," Philip said, and he went into the bathroom. He returned a minute later with a urinal. "I bought this last year when Charles was laid up in this room with his leg in a cast," he said.
"I can get up if you guys will help me."
"Maybe next time. Right now you need to rest, and this will be a lot easier for you." He lifted one corner of the covers and inserted Steve's penis into the device. "Now, let's hear water running."
Nothing happened for a bit, so I said, "It's not as easy as you think it is to pee lying down. I had a hard time using one of those things when I was in the hospital." Finally, we heard the unmistakable sounds of water flowing.
Philip looked at me and said, "Babe, go get me a hand towel."
I did as instructed and brought a small towel back to the bed. Philip used it to dry Steve's penis and handed me the urinal and the ice pack. "We need more ice," he said.
I went to the intercom and asked Mrs. Goodman to send some crushed ice up with lunch so that we could refill the ice pack. Before Philip and I could go downstairs to have our own lunch, Goodman pushed a rolling cart containing lunch, Cokes, and ice into the room. Philip filled the ice pack and put it back in place on Steve's groin, and we told the three boys to help themselves to the food.
I said, "Jeff, one of you can help Steve prop up on some more pillows, but don't let him get out of bed just yet, okay?"
"No problem," Jeff said.
We went downstairs, ate lunch quickly, then checked up on things in the nursery. Grace, our resident nanny, was feeding Mark when we got there, so we filled her in on all the comings and goings that she must have been wondering about since early morning. We took over after Grace had finished feeding the boys and rocked them to sleep.
We placed them carefully in their cribs and stood for a while just watching them. When we were back in the study, Philip said, "If anyone ever hurt one of those two kids, I think I could commit murder without a qualm."
"I know, babe. I feel the same way."