Thursday, September 17, 2015

On the Corner of 5th

On the Corner of 5th

The phone call came at slightly past five am.

It’s not that unusual in this line of work, even when you’re supposedly semi retired. Business calls start early because business people get started early, and this is the hour when they first start checking on their messages and emails and whatever happened overnight, and when they’ve got time to get some of the basic work covered before clients are on the line, the Exchange is open and all hell breaks loose for the day. What’s more, if Wade or Darcy are in the process of a crisis or wanting a chat, it’s generally before breakfast time because they’re both night owls and know I am too. So I was prepared for either of them or any one of my contacts when I took my glasses off, laid my book down and picked up the phone.

“Good morning.”

“Luath, it’s Dale Aden.”

The first thought when you hear unexpectedly from family in the early hours is that some kind of disaster has struck, and Dale must have realised I’d be alarmed since he said straight away and formally as Dale does,

“Please don’t worry, I’m sorry to trouble you so early. Luath, A.N.Z. have been pulled into a major financial mess this morning, the British Foreign Office is involved, the American Embassy, I’m going to have to come out to the New York office for a few days and I have to leave this morning. However Flynn is informing me that I either take one of them with me, which is not feasible, or....”

He’d rattled the rest of it off like a machine gun, high speed data, but that bit tripped him up. It was all right, I knew exactly what Flynn meant.

“Or you stay with me while you’re out here.” I finished for him. I’d made the offer a few times and meant it, pretty sure that something like this would happen sooner or later. “Is Flynn happy for you to come alone if you’re staying here?”

After years of experience of inventive truths from varying members of our family, I always check. Dale sounded extremely dry about it.

“More or less. We’re negotiating.”

Yes, I was sure they were. Flynn certainly wasn’t just going to let that boy dive over to New York with an hour’s notice and no kind of back up, but I was surprised at how intent Dale sounded. Whenever we’d spoken about work, it had been with what I felt was such a lack of interest that had made me seriously wonder if he’d burned out, but this clearly had his whole attention and the adrenaline was clearly flowing. Maybe you’ve got to work in this world to really understand it, but if you don’t get something out of it that you need, whatever that is, then there’s nothing to buffer you through the rough stuff this business is going to throw at you, and there’s no reason for you to stay.

“Negotiating what?” I asked him, and I recognised the grunt in the background. No one grunts like Flynn. He can stuff whole speeches into his more expressive ones.

“A plane is on its way out here now,” Dale said crisply, taking no notice at all of the question. “I should reach JFK by eleven am and I have a meeting booked for one pm-”

I’ve been steam-rollered by plenty of brats in my time and he was doing a fine job, but I still interrupted him.

“Then I’ll meet you at the airport at eleven. Pass me over to Flynn.”

“No, there’s no need for you to be bothered with that, I know New York well and I’ll go straight to the office from the airport-”

“You’ll come here, unpack and get settled in first like a real person who’s staying with family rather than checking into a hotel.” I said firmly. “It’s no bother, that’s how it works. How about you hand the phone to Flynn now?”

There was a few seconds silence that was definitely irritated, and then an extremely polite British accent saying in the background,

“He appears to feel that you’re the appropriate authority to discuss this with.”

He does cheek so politely that I find I’ve generally been listening a few seconds before it dawns on me just how smart he’s being. There was a muffled sound I recognised very well as a swat, and Flynn informing him that damn straight he was, and Dale could go fill the kitchen corner. Flynn sounded even shorter than usual, and his phone manner is rough at the best of times.

“Luthe, it’s me.”

“I’ll have him with pleasure, don’t worry.” I said before he needed to say anything else in Dale’s earshot likely to wind him up any higher than he clearly already was. “I’ve got no other plans this week. Call me back once he’s on the plane and we’ll talk about arrangements, but I always said I’d be glad to have him any time he’s working out this way.”

Flynn’s voice dropped slightly, I heard a door shut and recognised it; he’d gone out onto the porch out of Dale’s hearing.

“Luthe, be honest. If you don’t feel up to this, if you’d rather not, then say so. This isn’t the easiest time for you-”

“And Dale needs supervising thoroughly, I know.” I cut in to slow him down, “I appreciate the concern, brat, but it’s fine. I’d love to have him, I’ve got plenty of energy, I was hiking all over the damn ranch not so many weeks ago, I’m not incapable yet. I’ll take good care of him. ”

Flynn didn’t answer for a moment, as though waiting to check I meant it, then I heard him say shortly and with a tone you have to know Flynn to understand,

“Sweet. Thanks.”

“Go peel him off the ceiling and get him packed.” I advised, and wasn’t surprised when the phone clicked off. Flynn doesn’t really do greetings and leave-takings by phone, mostly that’s the point the receiver gets handed to Paul.

This was going to be interesting.

I admit I put the laptop on and had a dig around for any news coming in of any high dealings or problems in the finance world this morning, but there wasn’t a trace. A.N.Z. have a reputation for keeping things discreet and under the media radar, and they were living up to it. It was probably why they wanted Dale, who built his own reputation on being fast, accurate and discreet to the point he didn’t get noticed until he wanted to be. The boy has talent. It’s rare; I think you have to be in the game to know how rare it is. I could never see it in Dale without knowing how much Philip would have appreciated it, after years of watching him search for and follow the careers of the men who had even a touch of it. Not just playing the game, not just in it for what they could get, but the real, serious careers, the men who made a difference. I was looking forward to seeing that talent in action at close hand as well as a thought I’d had at the back of my mind for a long time that someone who really knew what Dale was doing, someone who knew the game too like he did, would be able to get his work confidence up again. He needed that confidence back, it wasn’t something he was going to be able to get on the ranch, and it wasn’t something civilians like Flynn and Paul were ever truly going to be able to understand however much they tried.

I’d got a robe on, got the coffee pot going and was reading through email in the kitchen when the front door clicked and Darcy’s voice called.

“It’s me!”

“Who else walks in here at six am?” I yelled back.

There was the sounds of Darcy kicking his shoes off at the door – it’s a habit we all have who’ve lived at the ranch, it’s ingrained – and he appeared with a lidded cup of coffee so large it was barely manageable with one hand, and a grey mac belted over his flat waist and what looked like very tight jeans.

“Good morning. I was on my way to Morrisse’s and thought I’d stop by,”

He kissed me on his way to the fridge, which he stocks as much as I do. His strange yoghurts and stuffed olives occupy most of the bottom shelf, but all he pulled out this morning was the milk, topping his coffee up through the hole in the lid.

“Did you ever make it to bed?” I asked him. Darcy put the milk back, leaned against the window and smirked at me over the edge of his coffee. His dark hair is nearly shaved at the moment, which gives an exotic and almost Egyptian look to his skull and exaggerates his eyes, not that they need exaggerating. We have female friends who have mentioned being willing to kill in order to have eyelashes like his.

“Yes, for about two hours, but there wasn’t a whole lot of rest involved. That Polish designer is gorgeous. He has virtually no English, I have no idea what he’s saying but it sounds lovely, and with a chest like that, darling who needs words? He’s only in town two more days, I’m hoping after the reception tonight he’s still in a good mood with some energy left.”

“How’s it looking?”

He’d been working on this one for about six weeks, another of his nightmare organisational marathons. He claims to enjoy it and he rarely looks or sounds stressed while he juggles it all, but he looked a bit white and tired to me this morning. I dug waffles out of the freezer, which are the kind of thing he’ll eat if someone puts in front of him and which constitute a better breakfast than coffee, and stuffed them in the microwave. Darcy gave me a reproving look. 

“Have you any idea what Paul would say to you if he knew you ate frozen waffles? It’s fourteen hours to the opening; the hall’s done, the models are arriving this morning and the cars have confirmed they’ll be waiting to collect them, the floor’s being waxed as we speak, the flowers are due for noon, the P.A.s are running around like headless chickens, the stewards are meeting for their instructions at nine, the buffet for 200 should be laid out by five pm, and that’s only the start of what can go wrong, so I’m past worrying.”

“Sit down and eat.”

“You’re still buying that awful museli stuff.”

“Mostly because you eat it.”

“I keep telling you it’s full of sugar, there’s much better stuff in the village if you could only be bothered to shop properly.” Darcy took out the museli packet and the milk from the fridge and sat down at the table, shrugging off his mac. “You’re up at dawn again. Anything interesting wake you or was it a bad night?”

I leaned back against the counter, taking in what he was wearing with disbelief. Each time I think he’s found the weirdest garment in the western hemisphere he takes it to a whole new level. This appeared to be skin tight, transparent lace, which you wouldn’t think could be worn as a t shirt. It drew attention to everything. Every. Thing. Darcy gave me a wicked look over the museli. He finds this endlessly amusing. Roger used to love breakfast with Darcy wearing the most shocking thing he could come up with.

“If you didn’t pay attention he’d stop doing it.” he told me more than once, usually in front of Darcy. “It’s only because you react he gets a kick out of it.”

“How do you not react to that?” I used to demand back, which made him laugh since Rog’s idea of dressing up was to put on a sweater without holes in the elbow. He only wore ties if I physically put him into one before we walked out of the door and made threats about what I’d do to him if he took it off before we got home.

“Danek designed it,” Darcy said breezily, “You definitely wear a designer’s current range if you intend to spend the night, er....”

“Designing.” I agreed. “You look like a tart, you do know that?”

“But a very expensive and extremely sexy Polish tart.” Darcy blew a kiss at me, eating museli. “Which is mostly the point.”

“Shameless.” I told him, shaking my head. “If Philip could see you now, he’d go and get that devil paddle of Flynn’s.”

“He’d laugh, and no he wouldn’t because I’m neutral territory.” Darcy said calmly. “Witness me, I am Switzerland. You were telling me about messages. Anything interesting?”

“Yes. Dale’s on his way over. Some sort of A.N.Z. crisis.”

“Oh my God.” Darcy looked up at me in alarm, choking on coffee. “He’s staying here? Seriously? Who’s coming with him? For how long?”

“As long as it takes, maybe a week. And no one’s coming with him.” I put a plated waffle in his reach and sat down with him to eat mine. “Stop looking like that, he’s a nice kid.”

“Yes, sometimes he even sets the eyebrow to ‘stun’ instead of ‘kill’.” Darcy finished the muesli, cut the waffle in half and dug in, interspersing it with gulps of whatever bizarre coffee flavour was in his vat. “Urgh. Yes I like him, of course I do, he’s very sweet in a lot of ways and he makes Flynn and the others happy which would be grounds enough to like him even if he had four heads, and I know you said he was lovely to you when you were staying up there, but I’ve been around when he’s telling people off and he’s scarier than Flynn. He is seriously scarier than Flynn. The guy’s got ‘Top’ written all over him, you know he has!”

“You’re over sensitive, and he was not being scarier than Flynn when he rang this morning, Flynn was definitely winning.” I told him. Darcy shook his head at me.

“I don’t believe you. Who knows what Dale’s thinking or what he knows about you, I’ve heard from Gerry and Riley some of the things he’s figured out. It spooks the crap out of me.”

“It doesn’t spook Gerry.”  I reminded him, since we’ve had this conversation a few times. “And Bear adores him. I don’t know why if they do, you don’t.”

“Ger is one hell of a lot tougher than I am and Bear calls his homicidal polar bears ‘baby’, so I rest my case.” Darcy went on to the second half of his waffle in a way that said he was starving and made me doubt he’d got around to dinner last night.  “You’re going to be supervising while Dale’s here?”

“That’s the reason he’s coming here and I promise I won’t let him eat you. I’ll meet him at JFK at eleven.”

“This is a bit of a new departure, isn’t it?” Darcy said it lightly but his eyes were on me, large and liquid brown and I know when he’s concerned. He doesn’t hide it as well as he thinks he does. “It’s not like you having Gerry or Wade here, you’ve got it all mapped out with them, it’s a comfortable habit. This is Topping without portfolio, are you ok with that?”

It really bothered him when I went onto antidepressants a few months back. For a while he was worried about everything I did, that it would be too hard or too much, and it had taken a lot of persuasion to calm him down and reassure him that the meds were giving the help I needed. Just pulled down chemistry, nothing worse.

“I’ve handled no shortage of brats in my time, this is a young one and he’s just staying with me while he’s working.” I pointed out, “There’s no way I’m having that boy sitting alone in some hotel room when I’m in the same city, even if Flynn would allow it. Do I look decrepit? It’ll be fine.”

“Put him in the blue room then, not the cream one; the cream one’s got the balcony and it’s too far away.” Darcy advised me. Rog would have advised the same thing. No one is more suspicious of a brat than another brat.  

“He’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.” I reminded him. “Execs in their thirties, handling millions of dollars and half the stock market tend to be fine, you were just through telling me Dale’s sensible to the point it terrifies you.”

“I get it, it’ll be fine.” Darcy bolted the last of his waffle, glanced at his watch and got up. “I need to run. Do you want to text me when the coast’s clear?”

“Stop by for dinner when you can and pretend we brought you up properly.” I told him, handing him the other waffle.  “Take that with you, go on. Good luck with today, keep me posted?”

Darcy pulled his coat on, taking his phone out of his pocket as it bleeped and reading the screen.

“Do you know Ger just texted me the same thing? And ooh look. Another text from Ash saying that it’s way too early to be texting, and Gerry says goodnight. Have a good day with Super Boy.”

“Behave.” I gave him a hug, which he needed more than he’d let me see since he held on to me for a moment, light arms tight around my neck with a whiff of shockingly expensive cologne, then he waved and disappeared out of the front door.

       They deliver the private jet passengers out through private gates. There’s a good reason why they keep the high power execs well away from normal people, and there’s plenty of those private gates at JFK. A few discreet enquiries sent me to the one they were bringing Dale’s jet in on, moving me away from the wall high blue screens listing flights and the space age barriers and escalators to a quiet hallway where after fifteen minutes or so Dale emerged beside a stewardess who was checking through the paperwork he’d handed her.

He looks so different in a suit. A.N.Z. send their people out in the best of the best of the best – so discreet that afterwards you actually have little memory of what they were wearing, but the top of the line in taste. It isn’t flashy, it doesn’t catch your eye, but power dressing? Oh yes. This one was in a soft charcoal grey with a very light blue shirt and a steel grey tie that spoke to me of Paul’s touch. His hair was a little longer too on his collar and over his forehead, and I’m used to seeing him in jeans, riding boots, practical working clothes. He still moved like he does on the ranch in those clothes; quiet but purposeful with just a slightly longer and freer stride than you see in men in the city, and he looked absorbed, half his attention on the blackberry in his hand while he talked to the girl beside him, but he looked every inch like his reputation. When he saw me though, I saw the change: it was restrained, but his eyes lit up with real pleasure. I’ve been met like he has, by uniformed strangers with cards with your name printed on; someone to whisk you off in a car so you can work the whole way there and never really notice the journey. It’s not the same as being met by someone who isn’t a colleague, who isn’t a contact, who belongs to you. That makes a big difference.

He came straight towards me and I took his bag and returned the hug he gave me with a whole wash of protectiveness for the day he’d had so far and what it was like to leave the others out in Wyoming and head over here. This was the first time he’d walked back on to New York turf since the day he moved permanently out to the ranch.  

“Hey son, it’s good to see you. How fried are you?”

He knew what I meant. I got a quick, rueful smile as he held up the blackberry.

“I downloaded most of the files Jeremy Banks had to hand, and read them on the way over. Luath, I can carry that.”

He held on to the bag as I took it, but I persisted, putting a hand on his arm to guide him towards the exit.

“I’ve got it. Come get a cab and tell me what’s going on and how the diplomats got involved? I’ve been scanning the papers this morning and this hasn’t made the news, not even the financial news.”

“If it does, we’re in trouble.” Dale thumbed rapidly over the blackberry keyboard and handed it to me. “Have a look.”

I read the overview as we walked, which was clearly his own notes, feeling my eyebrows rising the further down the list I got, and getting more and more interested. “It’s this complicated?”

“Jerry Banks has the Ambassadors of three countries shouting at him, and the British Foreign Office were on the phone to me this morning.” Dale said matter of factly. “He’s been juggling the extradition threats against the client who hasn’t actually been arrested yet but I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen in the next hour or two.”

“Diplomatic immunity won’t apply?”

“The British FO are hoping it won’t.” Dale stepped ahead of me as we got outside, putting up an authoritative hand to signal the next taxi which swooped over and pulled up at the kerb. He did it automatically; he’d obviously done it plenty of times and cab drivers had no problems recognising his presence, but amused, I still stepped slightly in front of him to break his stride and opened the door for him with a clear message of: how about we keep in both our minds who’s in charge?

He got the hint. I saw the faint chink in his dignity in the way he looked at me, a bit abashed. He hadn’t taken this dynamic off the ranch or away from Flynn and the others before, he had a lot of old habits set in this city and this was going to be quite a culture shock for him. I put a hand on his shoulder, partly to get him in the car and partly for his reassurance, and followed him, saying to the driver,

“800, Fifth Avenue please.”

Flynn had called me back this morning once Dale’s plane left the ranch. They were clearing up from breakfast in the background; the sounds are too familiar to miss and they’d have eaten early so they could eat with Dale. Flynn didn’t sound any less short than he had an hour ago, and I knew why.

“Luthe? He’s on his way. Thanks for stepping in, he was determined none of us were coming too. There’s a couple of polo scouts arriving tomorrow, it’s going to be a hard few days of bringing horses down and riding with them while they’re assessing who they want, and he felt bad enough about leaving that he’d rather have turned down A.N.Z. than take another pair of hands away with him. This is the first project he’s felt strongly enough about that he was sure he had to drop everything and go.”

He was probably determined too to prove to himself he could come back to New York and make it work like he always had, poor kid. There’s that first step after a real crash where you have to try your wings and prove to yourself again that you can do it. It would be hard on Flynn to let him go and let him try, but I’d thought for a while that it needed to happen.

“This is a good thing for him.” I reminded Flynn. “It’s only a few days, a short piece of work. Banks must have made a good case to get him moving so quickly.”

Flynn made a short sound of assent through what sounded like liquid. Most likely juice, it’s usually juice.  

“Dale thinks he’s pretty desperate. Dale’s got the strong Europe connections and Banks needs a good European negotiator and someone who can keep all the threads straight. Dale was making calls at ungodly hours to hotels, he’s got people stashed in several different ones all over New York to keep them apart. There’ll be meetings spread between all the bases, he’s given us several overviews of how this might work out. It sounds like a nightmare on legs.”

I had a fair idea of what those plans would look like; in my experience Dale does precision detail.

“So what do you need while he’s here?” I asked with a fair idea already. “What’s the over and above? Any particular rules I need to know at the moment?”

“The most important one?” Flynn said bluntly. “Keep in his head, all the time, who’s in charge.”

I laughed, and heard Flynn’s voice lighten slightly. “We’re pretty sure you can handle that. He knows what we expect of him. No work brought home at night, that’s final. Nothing scheduled past seven pm without our permission, or yours if you don’t mind giving it.”

The ‘if you don’t mind’ was politeness; he knew I didn’t.

“How tough do you want me to be about giving permission?” I asked him, aware it wasn’t likely to be an easy judgement call to make. The work takes as long as it takes in this game.

“The main check on him will be knowing he has to ask and justify it.” Flynn said dryly. “He doesn’t like asking, he won’t do it unless he needs to, so it’s fine to say yes; the point is that he goes through the process of planning and accounting for his time, and doesn’t zone out and lose hours at a desk without noticing. He’ll police it harder than you will Luthe; what he mostly needs is to know there’s a still a hard structure around him. Bed by ten thirty unless he’s got permission to be home later, and don’t hesitate to send him earlier any time you think he needs it. Electronics stay out of the bedroom. And keep a good watch out for the warning signs he’s winding up. Tapping, anything OCD-like that catches your eye, neatness getting over the top, talking at you rather than to you, they’re generally signs to tighten up on him. The shorter the leash the better he does, it’s better to act fast and hard with Dale.”

“I’ve shared a house with him before.” I reassured him. “And Banks won’t leave him with a whole lot of time to get stressed in.”

“Hopefully he’ll get this finished fast.” Flynn said brusquely which didn’t do much to hide his concern. “We agreed he’ll call us morning and evening, but tell him to pick the phone up any time and talk whatever through with us if there’s an issue.”

What would help most, and I knew it well, was the pure stability of having somewhere to go at the end of the day where people speak the language of the lifestyle we live. Somewhere to go where phone calls to partners don’t have to be private and you don’t have to be careful what you say, where routines and expectations stay the same and you can leave the job at the door, and where there’s normality to bookend the day with, however crazy it’s been. Where you get time and space to be yourself rather than existing only within the job. I’d been concerned for Dale during the weeks he was here in New York in a hotel alone when he was making the decision over whether to go back to the ranch permanently, even if I understood why Flynn and the others were insistent that he had to have total freedom to go back to his old life, to think about it and to choose. It’s not easy when you’re used to leaning on that structure to let it go in one straight rush. It’s not easy to put on the mask 24/7 and to stop being who you are. Like acting straight, it’s hard on the nerves. 

800 is a glass fronted, discreet grey stone apartment block tucked in amongst a whole lot of buildings that front our end of fifth avenue. It’s within short walking distance from the corporate headquarters of most of the global companies working out of New York; that was one of the key reasons we bought it. The other is Central Park directly across the street, which Rog loved. I grew up in a city, so Wyoming was a wonderland to me when I first got there, and it’s always been somewhere I can go back to whenever I need to remember how much I love it. Rog, not exactly a country boy by birth, had a whole different relationship with the ranch. He needed green space near him the same way  he needed books. He’d spent hours in the park, or sitting in the windows looking at the park, it made him feel like he could breathe. I think too, it was the link back to Philip and David that he needed, that made him feel connected to them even all this way away.

Our doorman, Jan, nodded to us as he let us in, and I waved a hand between him and Dale and Sam at the marble desk who stood in front of his rack of pigeon holes stuffed with mail.

“This is Dale Aden, a family friend of mine, he’ll be staying with me a few days. Dale, this is Jan on the door and this is Sam who runs the desk. Sam’s the main man here if you want to know anything about the news. He had a blackberry before I did and he knows how to use it.”

Dale shook their hands with a good morning that I saw visibly charming Sam.

“British? That explains the nice manners. Good morning Mr Aden.”

“The elevators are temperamental,” I explained to Dale as we went into the nearest one, “But this one’s faster than the other one. No one knows why, the repair guys have taken it apart at least twice. We want floor nineteen.”

The cleaner comes by twice weekly and had been early this morning; the marble floor in the apartment entrance hall was gleaming when I unlocked the door and ushered Dale in ahead of me as I peeled off my jacket.

“This is us. Shoes and jackets here, there’s a bathroom through there, this is the living room.”

It opens directly off the hall. The wooden floor’s interspersed with the inevitable white pillars that act as load bearing supports in a building this high, but the best point of the apartment is the wall of glass along the whole length of the living room. The balcony leads off the end near the dining room where there’s a table and chairs for when the weather’s nice enough, but even when the weather’s at its worst, there’s still that wall of glass looking down at a sea of green tree tops stretching away where the park is. You can look down there and forget for a while you’re in a city. 

Dale put his hand on the glass, looking down at the trees, and I slid the balcony door open to let him follow me outside.

“You know this district?”

“I know the A.N.Z. main building is that one there.” Dale leaned on the balcony wall, indicating it without hesitation. “I know this end of the street fairly well, I’ve stayed in hotels here.”

“ANZ’s in walking distance so you should find it easy to get home in time. A rule of mine is stick to the streets after six pm and don’t walk through the park alone; take that one very seriously.” I meant to make it very clear from the off where we both stood; being discreet about it doesn’t help, and I led him back to the kitchen, tapping the counter where my laptop was charging.

“Blackberries, phones, whatever, go here when you’re at home unless they’re in use and you’ve cleared that use with me first . Another house rule is that blackberries don’t eat with us or sleep with us. If you get an alert you can see if it’s something urgent you need to deal with. Otherwise, I just expect you to follow the same house rules you would at home. I do expect to know you’re here. There doesn’t need to be polite staying out of the way or not being any trouble, you’re very definitely wanted here. You act here just like you do at home and if you’ve got a problem you tell me. Understood?”

You know when you’re with someone who speaks the language. This is what Darcy calls The Laying Down of the Law. From Dale I got eye contact, the most I’d seen so far, and it was slight but I saw his shoulders ease out and he gave me a nod with the same willingness I’d have seen from Riley, or Gerry or Roger in response to a clear, definite explanation of expectations. This was exactly how our family did things, we both knew it. This is where I stand, this is where you stand, so now you can see I’ve got your back.

“Yes sir.”

“Good. That’s my room through here. Your room’s off the other side of the living room, through here.”

I opened the door on the cream room, which is tucked behind the entrance hall and is the quietest room in the house. It’s a good size and simply decorated since I like bedrooms to be places to sleep, so the double bed and the night stands are about all it holds, but the balcony to the side, the only balcony on this side of the building, has sliding doors you can open. I thought he was going to need that after months in Wyoming. It had been a long time since he last slept in the city.

“Closet over here, bathroom through there. Let’s get you unpacked, I’ll make some lunch and then we’ll talk about what you plan to do today.”

It was an easy guess that Paul had helped with his packing. The couple of suits and shirts were immaculately folded but underneath there were comfortable clothes for changing into, and nightwear, and several fiction paperbacks. The signs of someone this morning who’d thought more about comfort than urgently needing to get on a plane. The books went on the nightstand beside the alarm clock. The suits went in the closet, the sweaters and jeans went onto the shelves, the wash kit went into the bathroom with the towels I’d put out this morning, and I dropped a hand on Dale’s shoulder as we finished up.

“You’re all set. Wash up while I make some lunch, and then you can phone home and let them know you got here safely.”

He walked the block to A.N.Z. after lunch, which I insisted on his eating first since not a whole lot of nutrition makes it inside offices, headed for his 1pm meeting with a promise that as soon as there was a plan for the day and he knew the schedule he’d fill me in on it. I worked a bit in the dining room, which doubles as a study, answered several texts from Darcy with pictures of the last stages of panic at the show, and walked down the street to pick up the newspaper. Dale called me on the dot of four as he left his first meeting. The arrest had now taken place, the A.N.Z. legal team were demanding a meeting, he had a further meeting with two of the clients and he needed permission to attend a diplomatic dinner this evening starting at seven, which translated as one of the Embassies desperate to get their hands on someone from A.N.Z. to reassure them. This was what he did well; I knew it from Banks and as he talked, rapidly and comprehensively, I could see it for myself. Diplomacy and negotiation from someone who could hold all the data and see the whole game board, this boy was bright. He expected to be home around midnight and apologised for it; his P.A. had apparently produced eveningwear for him to change into.

I next saw him at five to midnight when he let himself into the apartment, looking slightly surprised that I’d gotten out of bed to come and meet him. He was still immaculate in what I’d call a tuxedo and what he called evening dress. The formal black looked good on him and rather than tired, he looked much like he always looked – not a ripple on the surface, just quietly together. The men he’d been dining with must have had a hell of a time figuring out what he was thinking; Dale would be a demon at poker.

“You didn’t need to wait up, I’m sorry to be this late.”

“It’s going to happen with client dinners, and yeah, I’m going to wait up. How did it go?”

I steered him towards the kitchen and he put down his blackberry without comment, laying it next to the laptop. I poured a glass of milk for each of us and handed his to him. He drank without much expression on his face but as if he was thirsty; he’d probably been holding a glass all evening without actually drinking from it. Clients tend to like to get you well oiled enough to be talkative, hopefully more than you’d meant to be, and if you don’t learn how to hold a full glass, you’re having to fend off refills all night.  

“The client was released, it’s not currently agreed whether that’s due to diplomatic immunity or just the police being warned to step very carefully. The British Foreign Office is calming down, they and the American Ambassador were sympathising with each other when I left. The Italian Ambassador isn’t so sure.” He finished the glass and I passed him the milk carton, watching him quietly re fill it.

“So what happens tomorrow?”

“I’ve got a meeting starting at five-”


“Flynn said that in the exact same tone when I called him. Yes.” He gave me a faintly resigned smile and gulped milk, leaning back against the counter.  “I spent most of today persuading the embassies to share their data with us as they’re refusing to share it with each other. We did talk them around to seeing us as an independent advisor, and the early meeting’s to start analysing what we’ve got from all three parties to get a perspective we can work from. I have another meeting at twelve, by which time I need to have established at least an overview. That meeting will probably decide what happens next.”

“How’s Banks doing?” I asked him.

“It takes a lot to get Jerry annoyed, but the Embassies were managing it.” Dale said frankly. “If I can keep them off his back, and I can crunch some of this information we coaxed out of them today, he can start putting strategy together. It’s a complicated game. The American Ambassador is pretty sure we’ll collude with them against the other parties, the British Ambassador is pretty sure he can talk me into putting British interests first, the Italian Ambassador doesn’t trust anyone at all yet. My Italian got stretched further tonight than it’s been in years.”

Hard work, and he’d been on the go since the phone calls started at  two am last night.

“If you’ve got to be there by five, you need to get some sleep.” I filled his glass once more and put the milk carton away. “Take that with you, get a quick shower and go to bed. I’ll call you at four thirty.”

“You don’t need to get up too.” Dale sounded alarmed and I shook my head, putting a hand on his shoulder to kiss his cheek with a definite sense of paternalism. Early meetings, oh I’ve done them.

“I’m usually awake then, I’m used to the early hours, I’ve played this game too remember? Go and sleep, son. Don’t watch the time, I’ll wake you.”

Things went on very smoothly. A busy exec doesn’t need a whole lot of supervision. Early meetings, late nights, that’s the way the game is played and you can’t opt out of it. Dale kept me posted on where he was and where he expected to be with the same competence he used in his work, and he made it very easy for me to monitor him. He never forgot, I never had to ask for the information, it was always detailed and thorough and he cleared his evening schedule with me with the same meticulous courtesy he kept me posted on what time he expected to be back each night. Of the various men I’d had staying with me under similar rules and conditions over the years, he was the easiest and by far the most dedicated.

For the first four days I saw very little of him except for the early mornings when I made him breakfast- he tried very politely arguing that I really didn’t need to but he didn’t get very far- and the five minutes or so that we had to chat when he came in at night. I would have liked more time to spend with him and for him to decompress. In my experience coming in with your brain still running at work speed and getting straight into bed doesn’t end in peaceful sleep, but when the most he was going to get was four or so hours before he had to get up again, the priority was to not to waste that time. But then a week or two of short nights aren’t going to kill a fit young man, and he was coming home and sleeping with a break from the electronics and messages which I made sure were always left in the kitchen. His room was immaculate, his bed always made to a standard I couldn’t have managed in half an hour of trying with mine; he was always polite, always calm and in an even mood whether it was early morning or late at night; he did whatever you asked of him without hesitation or complaint, and considering he remembered and kept every rule himself without needing the slightest input from me, the about fifteen minutes time in total we had together during the day was a joy. It was a real pleasure to have a brat in the house and to remember what it’s like when it works smoothly; it had been a while.  

I knew he phoned the ranch morning and evening from wherever he was at the time. He was absolutely steadfast about those calls, but I was surprised to find from my own daily calls to them how much Flynn and the others knew about what he was doing and who was involved. They obviously talked a lot about it and involved themselves in it as much as they could. I wondered how much that was a result of the project that had gone wrong at the ranch; they worked hard on not letting his corporate work be a separate thing from their day to day lives.

Dale filled me on the case as it progressed. We ate breakfast together while we discussed strategy, and they were conversations interesting to the point it was difficult not to find myself wanting to say at the point he needed to go, “but what about..?” and “so that means....?”  The boy knew things that seriously stretched my knowledge and made me see things in whole new lights, I could see why Jeremy Banks was prepared to give him as long a leash as he wanted in order to keep him available to ANZ as a freelance. Flynn and I daily compared notes; I got the feeling they were working on staying well ahead of the game with Dale and were wary, but this was normal life running without a hitch. I suspected with this kind of structure in place for him, Dale could run without difficulty for as long as necessary and it was good to see. It was the ease he deserved to have after so long of working so hard to be ready to come back to this kind of work.

“You need to let Jerry Banks know that you’re taking a few hours R&R this weekend.” I said on the fifth day, which was a Saturday. There was a five thirty meeting that morning which had gained him an extra half hour in bed, considering he’d come home again shortly after midnight from another formal client dinner. “How much of Sunday are you going to get to yourself?”

“I’m going to need some hours at my desk, I haven’t had much time at all when I’ve not been handling clients or in meetings and there are things I need to do.” Dale checked and pocketed his blackberry, which he’d left in the kitchen on the counter every night, exactly as I’d asked. “I’ll let you know straight after the meeting what the plan is for today and hopefully I’ll get tomorrow morning in the office and maybe the evening off. I could do with a walk or a swim, I’m not used to this much sitting around.”

“If you can get home for an hour today, we’ll swim in the gym pool downstairs,” I suggested. “I’m home all day. Make the time. It’ll clear your head, you know about reasonable hours.”

“It’s the reasonable clients that are the problem.” Dale admitted. He pulled his jacket on, giving me a quick smile. “You know Flynn made me exercise Hammer before he let me leave on Tuesday morning? Yes, a jet’s on its way out, yes you might be going to New York in an hour, but your horse doesn’t know that. Ride.”

“That sounds like Flynn” Sympathetic, I pulled him over and gave him a hug, a close, tight one. I’d kissed him goodnight and goodbye every day, gestures he returned warmly the same way he did at the ranch, but it’s hard when you’re used to being with your partner, sleeping beside them and having that level of touch day to day. You miss it like hell when it’s not there, I knew it myself from bitter experience, and used to living with four of them at home I was very sure he did.

“Have a good day, let me know if you can get away.”

He did get home about two pm that afternoon, and we had the pool in the basement to ourselves for an hour. Dale swam pretty much like he did everything else; I wasn’t surprised to discover he was an excellent swimmer and he efficiently ploughed up and down the pool like a machine in hard and dedicated laps with immaculate style and very little splashing. He was still going long after I’d stopped and relaxed, and when he finally stopped and got out, coming to join me on the wooden pool loungers, he still looked tired but physically tired this time, and satisfied. He came upstairs to shower and change, we chatted briefly about the news he’d had this morning from Riley about the polo scouts choices, and he headed back out to A.N.Z. looking more refreshed.

He got home at around nine that night; by far the earliest he’d managed yet. We sat for a while on the balcony drinking tea while he called home on a conference call we could all join in with, and we discussed polo horses, the progress of the day’s meeting and his working hours tomorrow, which Flynn limited very definitely to three. I was a little taken aback at how definitely. You don’t exactly limit a fire fighter to three hours and then insist he come home whether the fire’s out or not, it’s not quite that easy, but then Flynn’s never worked in the kind of set up that Dale and I have and it’s not something he knows about firsthand, Paul either, and Jasper’s and Riley’s ideas of it must be wilder still. I thought Dale was extremely good about it. He put forward his case, he negotiated – I recognised the skill – but when Flynn made it clear the decision was made he didn’t argue, there was no drop in mood, he accepted it with a quiet calm that Rog certainly couldn’t have managed over something he felt strongly about, or few other brats of my acquaintance.
“Don’t opt out, this is the appropriate moment to be annoyed with us.” Paul did point out to him, “If you want help with being annoyed or telling us about it, I can do that, hon. I’d much rather you were honest with us than you said what you think is the well behaved and graceful thing to say. I promise we can handle it.”

Dale smiled but shrugged, leaning on the table by the phone with his cup between his hands.

“I’m not annoyed and it’s not being ‘good’, it’s right. I don’t need to work all day, I’d like to but it’s not a great idea. It’s kind of the reason I need permission at all.”

“Are you ok?” Riley demanded. I looked at Dale who nodded, slowly but reassuringly.

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s been a long day, and a very noisy one, it’s good to stop.”

“Then head to bed.” Flynn said unequivocally. “And sleep in tomorrow morning. You don’t need to be out of bed before nine.”

He said goodnight to them, said goodnight to me and headed to his room. I was about to wrap up the call when Flynn said shortly,

“Luthe, are you seeing anything lined up or any fidgeting?”

The OCD was one of the red flags of stress for Dale; I knew it, but the calm, collected, just slightly tired young man staying with me was showing no signs of any obsessions.

“No, not a sign of it.” I said reassuringly. “He’s sounding tired because he is tired, but he took an hour out and we swam this afternoon, I’ll make sure he’s back from the office by one o clock tomorrow and that we do something distracting in the afternoon. He’s doing fine.”

“He wouldn’t let you see it if he wasn’t.” Riley said in the background, half muttered. I heard Jasper murmur something to him, then Paul said partly in explanation for Riley,

“New York just feels a very long way from here and this is a new step for all of us. Sometimes there can be a quality to Dale succeeding brilliantly that’s very difficult to pin down but we know it as a warning sign.”

“I know, I know Dale too. But he’s been doing this work for years, these people and these places aren’t new to him.” I reminded him. “And by your criteria, if he’s doing well you’re going to worry? That’s not a great confidence boost for him. I’m not you four, I know don’t know him like you do, but he’s going to be here maybe ten days at the outside? He’s inevitably going to get a bit tired, a bit stressed, there’s no way around it with the kind of work he’s doing, but we’ve set him up to handle it. He’s got the routine, he’s talking to you daily, he’s not working around the clock, and it’s going to end soon. Honestly he is doing ok. If I was worried I’d be the first to say so. He’s doing a very good job of staying within the limits you’ve set him, and he’s managing on them.”

Riley muttered something else I couldn’t hear, a chair scraped as if someone had got up abruptly from the table, and Paul said calmly in the way he always stayed in a debate, he’d stick to his opinion through thick and thin and always had:   

“Yes, and I don’t mean to be negative at all. It just helps me to watch for a difference between doing fine and teeth hurtingly good. If it slips into the teeth hurting place, then that’s a pretty good sign it’s time to sit him down and talk.”

“I’ll watch for it.” I reassured him. Actually I felt a bit defensive of Dale and for Dale. Yes, I knew he’d had some difficulties around work in the past, and I’d seen a lot of the personal stuff he handled first hand and knew how hard he’d worked on it. But I felt too that Flynn and the others needed a bit of a reality check. When they should be cheering success they were stopping to question if it was real, and it seemed unfair to me. How many working, functioning CEOs sit down to discuss their feelings throughout the day? You can’t therapise forever, there comes a point where you have to step back into the real world and see how you cope, and that was exactly what Dale was doing. From what I saw, he was excelling at it.

When we ended the call, I locked the front door, turned the lights out, and opened Dale’s bedroom door quietly to check on him. It was the first time I’d done it; he’d been coming in so late from his evening appointments this was the first time I’d still been awake more than a few minutes after he’d gone to bed. His light was out but the bed was still neatly made up and empty. I looked stupidly at it for a minute, taken aback, then looked out of the open doors onto the balcony. I’d expected him to leave them open. Flynn has a thing about fresh air, he and Jasper can hardly stand to be in a closed room and won’t sleep in one no matter what the weather, and I was pretty sure Dale would feel the same way. I didn’t expect him to be dozing in the chair out on the balcony.

He was in sleep wear, t shirt and shorts and barefoot in the dark, his head bent, eyes closed, and it raised a tidal wave of protectiveness in me. His eyes opened as soon as I stepped out on the balcony and he hastily sat up, giving me a look so apprehensive that I wondered what he thought I was going to do.

“Sorry. It was a bit warm in there, I needed some fresh air. I just meant to sit for a few minutes, I must have dropped off.”

“All right, it happens.” I herded him to his feet and back into his room, leaving the balcony doors open but turning the covers down on the bed for him to climb in. “An apartment block’s a bit stifling when you’re used to the ranch. I’ll turn the air conditioning up if you’re warm, get some sleep.”

He was showered, dressed to the waist and doing push ups on the floor beside the bed when I opened the door at nine am. You’ve got to admire the energy of the young. Crisp, strong, even push ups at a brisk speed, still shirtless, and he stood up at the sight of me, brushing off his hands.


“I wish I started the day with half that much get up and go.” I said dryly. “Come eat breakfast. Did you sleep well?”

“On and off. The street noise takes a bit of getting used to.” Dale shouldered into a shirt and I raised an eyebrow at his choice.

“You’re not meeting a client this morning are you?”

“No.” Dale glanced down at the crisp shirt he was buttoning. “I just like to dress for what I’m going to do. Helps concentration.”

“I think it helps to dress for the day you’re having.” I said, going to the closet and firmly getting out jeans and a t shirt, “And today you’re doing a bit of preparation, not actual work. Change into those and make it look like you’re having a weekend.”

“Yes sir.”

He didn’t like it. Subtle, but I appreciated the effort it was for him to change gear with the impeccable manners that kept his dislike very quietly to himself.

He left the apartment at nine thirty and was back on the dot of one. We swam, or at least I swam; he powered up and down the pool doing his ‘early thirties with still-functioning biceps’ thing.  After which he walked down with me along museum mile and back through the park where we ate ice cream, and I sent him to bed when we got back, telling him to undress and take a nap. He politely asked how long I would like him to nap for, I reassured him only an hour, and he went without complaint. I read out on the balcony until I heard the door bang and Darcy’s voice call through.

“It’s me!”

“I’m in here, shhh.” I laid the book down and a moment later Darcy came through carrying a collection of lidded drinks in a tray, which he put down on the balcony table.

“Why shhh? Should I put the wonder-child’s frappe in the fridge?”

“He’s napping.” I glanced at my watch and got up. “I’ll go wake him in a bit or he won’t sleep tonight, he’d like to see you.”

“He’s .....?” Darcy stopped on his way to the fridge, looking at me over the edge of his cup. “...Oh. Ok.”

I knew that look. I used to see it when Darcy was caught between me and Rog, knowing very well that Rog was doing something he shouldn’t. I raised an eyebrow and looked at Darcy, who winced.

“I do wish you wouldn’t do that. It’s just that, well, Sam on the desk downstairs? He might have said that you were in but Dale was out.”

“That was this morning, he did a few hours at the office.”

“....Actually, I’m pretty sure Sam said he went for a run?” Darcy said apologetically. “I don’t suppose you’ve had a look in his room?”

No. Dale had been so co operative, so straightforward I couldn’t believe it was a possibility.

Darcy followed me to the door of Dale’s room and looked past my shoulder as I looked, staggered, at an immaculately made bed, a spotless room and no sign of Dale.

“Ah. Oh dear.”

“We’re going to have words about this.” I said darkly. “Go take a nap does not mean go for a run.”

“He’s been running a lot?” Darcy asked me. I shut the door, heading back to pick up my frappe.

“He hasn’t had time for any real exercise before today. He’s come swimming a couple of times with me. It’s understandable he’s twitchy, he’s used to a lot more physical work than we are, he’s used to having the freedom of the ranch and it’s a way to burn off stress. He’s been taking on board a lot of it. Freaked out clients, diplomats trying to get information out of him, the whole team’s stressed out.”

“Mmn.” Darcy sipped frappe, sitting on the arm of the seat across from me. He was actually relatively sensibly dressed today; I didn’t know if that was in Dale’s honour, but the hot pink roll neck he had on over jeans was fairly tame by his standards. “Doesn’t he have a bit of a thing about exercising? I think Riley told me something about it once.”

I knew he’d had a habit of running himself to exhaustion when he was having the breakdown, but that was then. He swam hard, certainly but plenty of men were used to fitting a hard hour in to the gym in a work day to make up for the sitting behind a desk and to burn off tension, it’s normal life in the city. For a man used to riding a horse six plus hours a day, plus the heavy work out on the ranch, it was hardly rough stuff.

“Most fit guys working in an office take exercise seriously.” I pointed out. “It’s a buffer against the cardiac stress of the job.”

“Mmn.” Darcy dipped his straw in the cream floating on his frappe and licked it off, looking pensive.

We waited nearly twenty minutes. There was no sound at all when he came in; how Dale had managed to get in and out of the front door so quietly was a mystery to me and probably to do with his living with Jasper, but I was watching and I between the pillars I saw him move silently across the hall towards the door of his room and lifted my voice, not getting up from the table.

“Mr Aden?”

He jumped. Darcy gave me an Oh come on look, still eating cream. I used to see a lot of those too when Roger was in trouble. There was a moment’s silence, then Dale came into the living room, in tennis shoes and running shorts, which hadn’t been in his bag when he arrived and which I thought we could probably thank his P.A. for acquiring for him. His hair was wet with sweat.

“Any kind of permission you want to ask me for?” I invited in a friendly way. “Anything you think you might have forgotten here? Like the definition of ‘go take a nap’?”

Roger freely used to tell me he hated that tone, which can be so effective. Dale gave me a straight look that was faintly apologetic but said he had his mind on other things, and I could imagine what. I used to think while jogging too.

“I couldn’t sleep and got fidgety. A mile through the park helps more than lying down. I should have asked permission first, I apologise. It won’t happen again.”

Darcy said something to his frappe, I didn’t hear what but I was sure it wasn’t helpful.

“You do not,” I said very clearly to Dale, “leave the apartment without me knowing where you’re going and when you’ll be back. That’s basic courtesy. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir.”

“You’re looking at a nine pm bedtime tonight to remind you what I mean when I say rest. Go shower.”

“Yes sir.”

Dale turned quietly on his heel and headed for the shower, and Darcy shook his head at me as if he was appalled.

What? Oh snow. Snow. Blizzards. Walking through a Winter Wonderland.”

“It was a forty minute jog.” I told him. “That’s all.”

“Speaking to you like that?” Darcy demanded. “I don’t believe I just heard that. Can you see Gerry speaking to you that way? Or Wade?”

 “Just because he doesn’t make a fuss, you’ve got a problem?” I teased him.

Darcy gave me a definite nod. “When I hear a family brat talk to you straight out like you’re a client of his when he’s supposed to be in trouble, and you let him and you don’t think you’ve got a problem, then yes, I think that’s pretty problematic?”

He put the cup down, leaning his elbows on his knees to look straight at me. He doesn’t often wear that expression or get this forthright, and he spoke very gently.

“Darling, if Roger dodged out on you like that after you’d told him what he was supposed to be doing, you’d have toasted him. If he’d tried pulling the ‘this was a justified decision’ crap or using that tone of voice to you, you’d have shot him down in flames! Yes, I know he’s not Rog, so how about Gerry then? Wade? Bear? Even Riley? You’d give me more hell for that than you just gave Dale, and you know I don’t even pay attention!”

“You used to spend hours trying to talk me around to being easier on Roger,” I said wryly, “What’s driving you to want me to crack down on Dale?”

“Actually I never tried to talk you out of anything,” Darcy told me. “Roger wouldn’t have appreciated it, and it would have been extremely rude. I might have explained mitigating circumstances. It’s not possible not to get involved in some way; all the time I lived at the ranch I knew that, but I know better than for ‘involved’ to mean getting in between, and I do understand the dynamic. I’ve lived around it most of my adult life. This is not how you are with any other brat we’ve got in the family.”

“What Dale needs this time around is the win.” I got up, irritated, and leaned on the balcony, looking down at the park. “This is not a crisis, this is a competent man managing his job just like I would in his position.”

“Yes, but one major fact you might be missing here? He’s not you.”

That was a slightly unnecessary fact to point out.

“I meant know what this is like.” I said shortly. “I’ve done the job he’s doing, it’s never going to be stress free. It’s long hours, it’s hard, this is the job, and everyone’s going to have to realise that for a week or two at a time it won’t kill him. If he wants to do the work then this is what it’s going to entail.”

“Have you asked Dale what he thinks?” Darcy said mildly. “Because I think the big difference between him and you in your youth is that he is a class A, certified brat, and very happy to be so.”

I gave him an exasperated look.

“He insisted he was not coming out here with an armed escort of one of the others. To me, that pretty much said it all.”

“Oh you know I love you,” Darcy said regretfully, “I really do. But for sheer pigheadness Luath, you can take the cake.”

That word was like a hammer between the eyes.

Philip used to use it. Gently but quite without reservation; I could hear him say it now.

“Luath, my dear boy, the word for this is pigheadedness. For a good reason.”

He’d encouraged me to look up the definition once; I’d never forgotten it. Obstinate. Dense. Inflexible. Unyielding. Roger used to say it too when he knew I’d gotten my head stuck in a yoke and he thought it was the wrong one. He’d said it once to me about Flynn. If you were less pigheaded about who you thought that boy was, and looked at the wider picture, he wouldn’t make you as mad as he does.

Darcy was still watching me, and he would know it as well as I did. He and Roger had been impossibly close.

“Don’t you think you are?” he said lightly to me. “Just a bit? Considering you get annoyed if I imply there’s any kind of failing or need on Dale’s part? Why is that a threatening thought? I mean from what I know about Dale, he’s spectacularly ok whatever happens. Down mines, up mountains, he’s got it covered in every conceivable way. You’re never going to need to go rescue him because he’s lost his wallet or hoped he had enough gas in the tank to get home, or because punctuality is something that happens to other people. He’s the kind of guy that rescues other people. I get seriously dazzled by him too. But from what I hear from Ri and Gerry, the dazzle is pretty much all he’ll let most people see.”

Yes, I’d seen Dale make a bolt for it in the middle of breakfast. I’d seen him go through a very rough patch indeed with tremendous courage, and I’d seen Paul or Flynn pull him aside when he got on the quiet side, I knew that could be very needed within his relationships with them, but that was his marriage. This was different, and but yes I did seriously think too that Paul and the others could be a bit over the top sometimes in how tight they were on him day to day. A man who can do what I’d read and heard about Dale Aden doing for years and was now seeing first hand is more competent than most people, including me.

“You’re arguing with yourself, I can see you doing it.” Darcy pointed out.  

 “He needs to find out he can get back in the game if he chooses to.” I said a bit less definitely. “He does not need on his first time away from the others to feel like he’s getting it wrong. A bit of jogging isn’t a crisis. He can go home in a week to the routine he’s comfortable with and be fine, and he’ll know and so will Flynn and the others that he can stretch his wings a bit from time to time without it being a disaster.”

“I don’t think you’d have that same priority for Gerry.” Darcy said apologetically. “You’d put all kinds of other stuff first, it wouldn’t be his career you were worried about. You think my career is somewhere to the left of Nightmare In Bohemia.”

It was hardly the same thing. A man with the career Dale had was a very different kind of responsibility to look after.

Don’t rant about it, Philip used to say to me when we saw differently over a decision he made for one of the many threads of business I ran for him on a daily basis. Go away, calm down, think it over. If you still don’t agree then come back and tell me, but give it some open thought first.

“Want my advice?” Darcy said when I didn’t answer, uncrossing his feet and getting up. “Get yourself off that adorable if obstinate big black butt of yours, go in there and kick his arse.”

The bad English accent wasn’t convincing.

“Hard.” Darcy added. “Dale isn’t stupid, he knows far better than I do how this works, and I know that was pushing it.”

“I will have a word.” I conceded. “And yes, I know it probably looks like I see the career more than the man, but I know the value of the career.”

And the value of the man with the career.  

“I wonder what Dale values.” Darcy dropped a kiss on my cheek, the same butterfly kiss he always does. “I’ll take myself off. You could probably do worse than call Flynn you know?”

He was being tactful. He’d often tactfully removed himself when he knew Rog and I needed to discuss something; I don’t think we’d ever had to even hint we needed privacy. He usually hung around on a Sunday afternoon too; it wasn’t unusual for us to see a film or eat out together, or just do what he referred to as crashing in front of the tv while he shared with me the never ending texts and messages that flew between him and Bear and Gerry and Wade who he had provided with and taught to use an iphone, and the others.

I thought long and hard when he was gone. I admit, I nearly did pick up the phone. What I probably should have done was what I’d do with Gerry or Bear: hand Dale the phone, stand right beside him and request he called home as Flynn had suggested if a problem arose. That tends to get a brat’s attention extremely fast.

Except this wasn’t a problem. I was perfectly capable of disciplining what was after all a minor infraction and Dale’s first infraction of any kind, I didn’t need to make this a source of shame for him. I’d said my piece, I’d made the consequence clear. That was enough. We could move on.

I ensured a very quiet rest of the day. Dale called the ranch, and although I didn’t mention the jogging incident, he volunteered the information straight away and was outstandingly honest in his explanation. I was no little impressed by how much. Flynn made it good and clear he wasn’t happy with Dale’s actions. I heard Riley’s not quite stifled response when Dale explained about the 9pm bedtime, and it sounded similar to Darcy’s.

Dale was subdued when he came off the phone- with the rocket he’d had from Flynn quite understandably  – but we watched a film in front of the tv for the early part of the evening which he seemed interested in, he ate dinner quietly when I asked him to, and I sent him with his book to have a bath around 8pm. When I went in at 8.45 to tell him to remind him to head to bed, he was not only already dry and in nightwear, he was scrubbing out the tub. Considering Gerry and Darcy would both deny all knowledge of bathroom cleaning fluid, and Roger used to look mildly surprised at the point the dishwasher wouldn’t take so much as another teaspoon and he’d run out of mugs, Dale was the perfect house guest. I saw him to bed, where there was a remarkable lack of growling, complaints, sulking, crestfallenness or any other expression that it wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do anyway......... and I came back into the living room with the growing and overwhelming certainty that I was a fool.

For ten minutes I stood there, looking out through the glass at the park below. Ten minutes. Then I very quietly, very softly opened his door again. He didn’t hear. Mostly because he wasn’t in bed. He was sitting in one of the chairs out on the balcony, looking out over the city.

I closed the door just as softly, took the phone to my room and shut the door, and did what I should have done hours ago. I called the ranch.

Paul answered, sounding cheerful, which made this all the harder. I sat down on the edge of my bed and ran a hand over my head, taking a deep breath.

“Paul? It’s me again. I’m not doing great at this, I could use some advice.”

“Are you all right?” Paul said rather anxiously and I pulled myself together before I scared him.

“Yes, yes we’re both fine. He’s in bed, or at least he’s in his room, nothing awful is happening.”

“It took me a year to get a grip on the signs he’s starting to spin.” There was the familiar scrape of a kitchen chair being pulled out. “Bearing in mind that for  months he was spinning all the time and it just looked normal. He takes subtlety to a whole new level. And the good flips? The really good ones? They come out of nowhere. It’s only been a few months since I could see any warning signs for those at all and I have to be paying attention.”

“He’s been the perfect guest.” I admitted. “He is no trouble whatsoever, but it just dawned on me now, he’s probably spent most of his nights out on the balcony instead of in bed, and I hadn’t noticed. I caught him cleaning the bathroom when I went to tell him it was bedtime. I didn’t even have to tell him to go to bed, he was ready and I think he’d probably have gone on his own. When did I turn into such a lousy Top, Paul?”

“Can’t he excel at making you feel redundant?” Paul said ruefully. “I’ve actually stopped letting him clean much around the house. Or iron, or do much of the cooking unless it’s something we’re doing together. I used to make him stop when I could see him getting obsessive about it. Lately I’ve been making him stop just to make it clear to him he doesn’t have to make sure he’s being no trouble and pulling his weight. We love him, not what he does. Mad isn’t it? The battles we had with Roger and Riley over getting chores done, and with Dale I keep hearing myself saying it is OK to let other people do things for you.”

“But what do you do about it?” I asked him. “I know I need to head out onto that balcony and raise hell with him. I’d do it with anyone else and not think twice, why is it he’s got past me?”

“What did you do with him after the phone call this evening?”

“Kept him quiet.” I said darkly, shifting to get comfortable while I thought about it. “We watched a movie, he took a bath, he went to bed.”

I could hear the wryness in Paul’s voice. “....Mmn. Want to think about what Philip would make of that?”

“We’re in New York, it’s normal for people to have tvs.” I protested. “This is the same as I’d do with any of the others.”

“If you were chilling out with them maybe?” Paul said mildly. “Probably not if they were stressed. He isn’t any different to any of the others, hon, don’t pay too much attention to the James Bond mask.”

“So what would you have done this evening?”

Paul sighed. “It’s easier here, we do this routine anyway and it’s so normal we don’t think about it. But watching tv means letting him sit in his own head. Going to take a bath is more time in his own head unless you stay with him and harass, and when he’s got a head full of stuff like this you have to harass pretty hard to be anything more than static on his radar. What’ll work better is something he has to do with you. A game, cook something, paint a wall, go for a walk, something that involves connecting. If he can’t handle that in a communicative way, Flynn often makes him sit. On the floor right beside whatever Flynn’s doing, doing nothing at all except talk if and when he’s ready to. That tends to have the Ground Control to Major Tom effect.”

“We have been talking, a lot, that’s not been a problem.” I protested, feeling slightly defensive. This was obvious, obvious stuff once it was pointed out; I’d lived in that house, my own household was based on it, and I clearly needed my brain kicked back into gear. It was so automatic that I’d stopped thinking in enough detail why we did what we did. And it all just seemed so – excessive – when applied to Dale here. “We walked this afternoon and he went all through the current state of play, the problems with it, how he’s going to handle it, I’ve made sure we’ve talked through every day what he’s doing. Why do I get the feel you’re about to suck on your teeth?”

“I’m not,” Paul said regretfully, “I’m really not... just what we’d mean by that isn’t to do with work or technical issues. We’d expect him to talk about the hard stuff. He’ll know what you mean if you say that to him, you’ve heard us do it; it’s what he’s feeling, what he’s worried about, how he’s handling it. We’ve been doing it by phone as much as we can, we practice it a lot at home, it’s just hard to do thoroughly when we can’t see his body language or pick up the clues, and a lot of the time the most useful talking gets done when it’s the right moment. You can’t really schedule it.”

I knew this stuff. This was the most basic, bread and butter stuff, I shouldn’t need anyone to tell it to me, and Darcy was right. I was struggling to imagine saying this kind of thing to Dale. I was letting a brat, in this household, inform me eye to eye that he’d decided that a run would clear his head better than my plan for him.

I’d actually swallowed that.

“I thought,” I said to Paul, who I’ve known for years and this wasn’t the first confession I’d ever made to him, “If I could help him come out here and be normal.... if I could help him make of a success of this, he’d be fine. It’s the one thing I thought I could really do for him.”

“I know. He definitely will make a success of the job, I guarantee he will.” Paul paused for a moment, and I could hear him looking for the way to say it tactfully. “It’s the way he’ll do it and how he’ll feel while he does it that bothers me. The career’s pretty much something he’ll do if he’s happy and he wants to; that’s the way I look at it. He knows far more about it than I do, I kind of follow his lead, but we’ve made it pretty clear he doesn’t need to do the corporate jobs at all. It all comes back to the whole not having to earn his keep thing. We don’t care if he works or not, or what he works on, or if he wants to breed horses or grow carrots, it’s just not important. He is.”

“Where as I’ve been breathing expectations at him since he arrived.” I said bleakly, as it clicked for me. “Oh God, I’ve made a complete mess of this.”

“Sweetheart, you haven’t,” Paul said gently. “We knew this was going to be hard for you too. You could easily argue this is our fault for sending him to go do something high anxiety. Not just work, but staying with someone he loves and admires and doesn’t want to screw up in front of, who he knows is having a hard time himself, but we were going to have to cross this bridge at some point.”

If he’s melting down and letting you see it, then he’s feeling pretty safe. Paul had said that to me a few months ago. The obvious flip side was that if he wasn’t letting anything be seen at all until it started to leak out around the edges in sleeping out on the balcony and slipping out to run, then he wasn’t feeling too safe here at all.

“You tried to explain this to me from the start and I wasn’t listening.” I said heavily. “I’m sorry. Darcy pointed it out to me, Rog would have done; you know how I get. Paul, is Flynn there? I need to explain this to him.”

Paul sounded apologetic. “Hon, I’m sorry but he isn’t right now.”

“Ok.” That gave me time to think more about what I needed to say to him anyway. “Ok Paul, never mind. Thanks for the advice, I’ll let you get to bed.”

I should have stormed out onto that balcony and raised Cain. I should have made it clear who was going to decide how things went, and made very sure it didn’t involve his polite rationalising of anything at all, and left him convinced he didn’t want to do anything but be right where I told him to be and not daring to do otherwise if he valued his butt.

I had to admit I didn’t have the nerve left. 

I went to bed, but didn’t sleep. Failing to handle Flynn’s brat? Inexcusable. Not just Flynn’s either, but Paul’s, Jasper’s, Riley’s. I was unpleasantly aware that pride had a lot to do with how bad it felt. I had years of experience on them, I was a senior member of the family. An experienced Top for pete’s sake. When had I got too old, or too depressed to do this, or even notice I couldn’t do it?

In the end I got up to make myself a mug of tea, and with the brat on the balcony strongly on my mind, decided I’d make a quick check on him and see if he was still out there.

He wasn’t.

The little bugger wasn’t there at all.

The night doorman nodded at me as I emerged from the lift, looking a bit surprised.

“Good morning sir – bit early for you?”

“Have you seen Dale Aden go out this morning?” I demanded. The man nodded towards the park.

“Yes, about an hour ago.”

“Which way did he go, did you see?”

“Out towards the park, sir. Said he was going for a run to clear his head.”

Oh I had whole other ways of doing that.

The park is not the safest place to go in darkness. I’d impressed on Roger and on Darcy too, that they never went there after six pm. I’d known too many muggings, too many incidents in the papers to ever risk it with them.

Searching the park in the dark? When you’re aware at the back of your mind there are now serious possibilities that you have a mugged or lost or knifed brat somewhere out alone in the park – which is huge by the way – it’s not easy to plan a coherent search. Livid and increasingly frantic with worry, I crossed the road, looking over the open grassed stretches. It was past one am, which meant the gates would now be locked. That stopped access to any of the main routes, unless Dale had now gotten himself locked in. On the other hand, from what I knew of Dale, being locked in probably wouldn’t slow him down much.

When I got a hold of him....

I walked for a way down the street, looking. No few people sleeping on benches. A few groups of kids who really shouldn’t be there, gathered together drinking or talking. I’d been pacing around fairly impotently for about ten minutes while I figured out that I had no idea whatever of where he’d gone or how he was, and all I could do was wait for him to come back or call the police if he didn’t – when I saw him. Jogging towards me down one of the long, dark avenues. There was thankfully no one on that particular path which was shaded on either side by trees arching overhead. I walked down to meet him, and had the satisfaction of seeing him look up as he noticed someone else on the path, and then the falter in his stride over the tarmac and the expression on his face as he realised it was me.

 That expression said it all. He knew exactly what my being here meant, and any confusion about our roles wasn’t in his head, it was all in mine.

I stopped where I was with my hands on my hips, watching him slow down to a very hesitant walk towards me, and right now I didn’t care how together he wanted to look or what he wanted to say for himself. I put up a finger to beckon him closer, and once he was in reach, I took his arm and relying on our being alone in a very dark avenue, walked him to the nearest bench where I took a seat and turned him straight over my knee, planted a hand on his back and tugged his shorts down, and gave him the soundest outdoor spanking I remembered delivering since Roger forgot his wallet, didn’t want to let me know it by calling at midnight, and tried walking home alone from Greenwich Village.

It sounded like a volley of rapid-fire gunshots in the dark. He didn’t react at all for about the first thirty seconds or so; absolutely nothing. And then I got one or two gulps and he crossed his ankles which is a familiar give away although he kept extremely still considering the effort I was putting in, and then a minute after that he started to yelp very quietly and to squirm. When I was totally sure his eyes were watering and I’d got all of his attention, I pulled his shorts up, put him on his feet and took a still firmer grasp on his arm, walking him back towards the road. I didn’t at this point think we were going to have any problems; any muggers who’d seen were probably now spreading the word that law and order in the park was getting really harsh and to stay well away from this area.

“This is dangerous.” I informed him as we walked, “I made it crystal clear you had no business being out here after six pm,  both Flynn and I talked earlier today to you about disappearing to go running without a word to anyone, and you hadn’t mentioned to me at all that you actually weren’t allowed to run anyway without permission, so I’m going to make this easy for you. Set foot out of the building without my permission for any reason whatever, and I’m going to turn you back over my knee and tan your butt hard enough that you’ll be standing through your next meeting. Don’t even think I’m joking.”

A cop, crossing the road at the same time we did, obviously heard me and gave us a slightly apprehensive look but kept his distance. We were probably going to have to hope that no diplomats or clients saw the star turn of A.N.Z. being marched home. Dale was walking swiftly to keep pace with me and I hustled him up the steps of 800 and towards the elevator, nodding at the doorman who looked equally apprehensive.

“Sir, is everything-”

“We’re fine thanks Karl.” I said as the doors opened. “Furthermore,” I went on to Dale as the doors closed, “I made it clear to you if you had a problem you needed to let me know. I should have added not go running or sleeping out on the balcony.”

Dale was flushed, his eyes were large on mine and he was definitely fidgeting in a way that said his backside was bothering him quite a lot. It was the first time I’d seen him look sincerely bothered about anything at all since he arrived. I steered him ahead of me, still growling but in a much lower tone as we reached the door,

“I am not happy with you young man, you can consider yourself thoroughly grounded and we will talk a whole lot more about this in the morning.”

I shut the door behind us, resumed a grasp on his arm and took him with me to the kitchen  where I opened a drawer and removed a large wooden spoon from it. Dale’s eyes at this point were more or less circular as I took him back through the living room to his bedroom and planked the spoon down hard on his nightstand.

“I’ll leave that there in case we need it, because if you take another step out of this bed before I call you in the morning, it’s going to get put to good use. Get under the shower.”

He fled.

How do you keep an extremely self sufficient and determined young man where you want him at night?

You make damn sure he does not want to risk ticking you off.


He got his ears burned good over breakfast. I went up one side of him and down the other while we ate, and it was a definitely chastened-looking executive that I walked down the block to the A.N.Z. corporate headquarters, having made it very clear that this morning I didn’t trust him to go anywhere alone.

“When you know,” I informed him quietly at the door to avoid the ears of the uniformed doorman who’d jumped to open the door at the sight of Dale, “What time you’ll be finished let me know. I will meet you right here, right on this spot. Do not be anywhere else.”

He looked horrified, but there were no polite protestations that I didn’t need to; I don’t think he dared.

I stopped for coffee and several donuts on my way back. There are some things that only sugar and caffeine really help with. I intended to spend this morning getting my head straight, and this evening getting his head straight, and if he asked for time for meetings or client dinners tonight, he wasn’t going to like the answer. He had a private appointment, with me, and it wasn’t one he could cancel. I stepped out of the elevator, fumbling for my keys with what hand I could spare from the bag of donuts and the coffee, and stopped dead at the sight of the tall, jeaned man with sandy hair and a grim expression, in a jacket and riding boots, leaning with his arms folded against my door.

I didn’t drop the coffee. It was close. Flynn took it from me, took the keys and let us into the apartment, and I shut the door behind us and accepted a very rough hug before he strode ahead of me into the kitchen.

“Where is he?”

“At work.”

This was the first time I’d ever been the subject of a family intervention, and it wasn’t a good feeling. I followed Flynn, shaken at suddenly discovering him in my hallway, and swallowing rather carefully. “When did you – did Paul tell you about the conversation I had with him last night?”

“Yes, when I rang him from JFK two hours ago.” Flynn dumped the coffee on the work top and gave me a look that said he wasn’t any happier than I was. “I left after you and Dale called yesterday afternoon, and if I hadn’t, Riley would have. Did he give you any more trouble this morning?”

“Trouble......?” I got down two mugs from the cupboard, split the coffee between them and opened the bag of donuts. “I went in to check on him around one this morning when I couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t there. The doorman downstairs explained to me that he’d popped out for a run.”

Flynn, halfway through a mouthful of coffee, lowered the mug and looked at me. It’s not in my nature generally to drop brats in trouble with anyone else, I can usually be tactful, but right now tact and Mr Aden weren’t combining well for me.

“So I spent the next half hour searching Central Park, in the dark. Do you know the crime rate for the park at night? I explained when he arrived that no one sets foot in the park after six pm. Apparently he heard an addendum: ‘unless it’s the middle of the night and you’re going for a jog’.”

“Did you handle it?” Flynn said very shortly.

“Yes.” I took a donut and pushed the bag towards him. “I turned him over my knee on a park bench and tanned the hide off him. How he had the energy to run I don’t know. He spent most of yesterday charging around, he was doing push ups when I went in to wake him.”

“Push ups.” Flynn repeated. “And he walked with you. And went for an afternoon run.”

And we swam. And then the midnight run. I don’t know how the hell you keep up with him, I didn’t have that much energy at twenty, never mind thirty.”

“Stress.” Flynn said darkly. He finished the donut he was less eating than eviscerating, wiped sugar off his mouth and finished his coffee. “That’s self medicating and he knows it. Which I’m guessing he didn’t mention to you, since he certainly didn’t mention it to us. Where’s the A.N.Z. building?”

“He hasn’t texted me his schedule for the day yet,” I said apologetically, “I’m not sure what he’ll be doing-”

“In about ten minutes, he’ll be talking to me.” Flynn prophesied grimly, heading for the door.

I walked with him, which at Flynn’s pace ate ground and took no notice at all of the tourist attractions. The doorman at A.N.Z. obviously recognised me since he opened the door, and the receptionist also recognised me and smiled, turning the visitor’s book towards me.

“Mr McDaniel, good morning. Do you have a meeting?”

“I need a quick word with Dale Aden,” I said before Flynn said anything less tactful, glad that he dug his hands in his pockets and glowered but let me do the talking. “Where is he this morning?”

“I believe he’s in the meeting Mr Banks is chairing...” the receptionist put a hand over her computer mouse, skimming through several screens. “Yes. I don’t believe it’s known how long the meeting will go on for, sir, but Mr Aden’s Personal Assistant would know. Would you like me to ask her, or leave a message with her, or would you like to speak with her yourselves?”

Five minutes later we were shown into a large, classically furnished outer office and introduced to a brisk woman in a neat, grey suit by the name of Caroline, who responded to Flynn’s curt request to see Dale urgently by looking at him with surprise.

“It’s my voice you recognise,” Flynn told her, offering a hand to shake. “Flynn O’Sullivan. I’ve answered the phone once or twice when you’ve called Dale at night.”

That seemed to decide her. Whether she thought this was urgent family business or that Flynn was some unusual kind of P.A., or whether she just liked Flynn, she took us to a meeting hall behind glass further down the large, open plan floor, and Flynn nodded to her and walked down the hallway, standing with his hands still dug in his pockets. Dale was sitting on the far side of the table, pen in hand and working rapidly on something on paper in front of him as the eight men around the table talked. I recognised Jeremy Banks at the head of the table, currently the one speaking although we could only see his lips move and the hand gestures. Flynn stayed where he was, about level with Dale, standing squarely back from the clear glass but looking straight through it.

It took maybe thirty seconds for Dale to feel the eyes on him. From the other end of the hall I saw him glance up, saw his eyes catch Flynn’s and do a slight but definite double take that ended in a fixed stare that went on for some seconds. Then he leaned forward to murmur something to Banks, got up and came out into the hallway, softly closing the door behind him.

I don’t know what I expected. Shock? Anger, or alarm? Roger, suddenly faced with me without warning, particularly knowing I was not happy with him, would have come apart completely. Gerry would have erupted with fury in sheer self defence. Bear would have frozen to the spot. There was nothing on Dale’s face at all. It was probably just as well, as there were no shortage of people behind the desks and around the open plan floor, but he took Flynn’s arm and walked him efficiently towards his office as if we were clients. It was discreet, no one took any particular notice of us as Dale guided Flynn into Caroline’s office and through into the large inner office, which was pristinely tidy, with several armchairs in front of the desk. He even held the door, waving me through with habitual courtesy although he didn’t so much as glance towards me while he was doing it and he hadn’t let go of Flynn’s arm. He shut the door softly behind me, and the second it was closed he flung himself past me at Flynn so hard that Flynn was thrown a step backwards. He caught Dale in both arms and picked him up off his feet to hug him, and for a moment they hung on to each other in absolute silence. I was shocked by the force of it. Dale’s arms were clenched around his neck and his face was buried in Flynn’s shoulder, and I couldn’t see Flynn’s face either. I quietly edged past them and went to look out of the window at the city below.

I heard Flynn kiss him when they finally broke apart, and I glanced around to see him hold Dale’s chin, their faces very close, giving him a look that I truly wouldn’t have wanted to stand under.

“I’ll ask you the same question I asked you on the phone last night, and the reduction in distance better reduce the bullshit. Are you all right?”

We pretty much tag teamed on Dale for the next ten minutes in that office, with one of us cutting in to carry on whenever the other needed to pause for breath. I’ve rarely heard Flynn do a better job. We had a pretty castigated exec who was showing it by the time we were done. He and Flynn hadn’t let go of each other the entire time we were talking.

There was still no clear picture of his schedule for the day apparently; things looked as if they were finally starting to come together. He needed to return to his meeting. I wasn’t prepared for him to be able to pull it together so quickly, but the mask snapped back into place with alarming effectiveness like he’d thrown a switch. He just turned it off. I hadn’t fully appreciated until that moment how wholly he could do it until he opened his office door to speak to Caroline about other appointments for the day without a flicker in his face or tone to suggest that a moment ago I’d seen him on the brink of tears. Flynn declined to go back to the apartment with me, and I got the impression he didn’t like the switching off any better than I did, but the man needed to be able to work right now. I left Flynn in the corridor on the other side of the glass, seated in a chair with his shoulders against the wall, his arms folded and his eyes still on Dale as Dale went back in to the meeting to carry on with whatever was going on in there.

Under Flynn’s gaze I was pretty sure he’d keep things as brief as possible, for a number of reasons.

They got back to the apartment around six that evening, and as soon as they arrived Flynn sent Dale to shower and change.

“I was going to move you to the other room,” I informed Dale, “But if Flynn’s in there with you, he can worry about whether you sleep in the bed or on the balcony tonight, that’s up to the two of you.”

“Balcony?” Flynn demanded of Dale.

I don’t think Dale answered, but I heard the swat he got on his way to the shower, and it was a good one. Once Dale was out of sight, Flynn turned to me, leaning on the counter and giving me a penetrating look that gave me a very brief and very fleeting sympathy for Dale.

“I rang Paul.” I admitted to him. “I realised by the time Dale went to bed last night I was making a mess of this. This is more my fault than his, he’s done as well as he can by himself, I haven’t been on the ball.”

Flynn went on leaning on the kitchen counter for a while longer, still looking at me, then pulled out a seat and sat down.

“Tell me about it.”

“It’s the same stuff you pointed out back in Wyoming two months ago and I didn’t really listen to.” I said heavily. “I don’t see straight with Dale. I see someone Philip would have gone out of his way for, because you protect that kind of talent. I see a young guy who’s exceptional and who was allowed to reach the point of breakdown because no one stepped in and did what was right. Men in this game will always want things out of Dale, they won’t care how much he’s got left. I heard the rumours at the time, I could have made the effort to make contact with him. I let Philip down when I didn’t, because if I’d met Dale face to face I would have known what Philip would have known; that this was a brat in crisis. I feel bad about it. When I didn’t act I left Dale in an awful situation, I can’t stand now to think about it because I know him and I know what it would have been like, and I wouldn’t leave any brat alone in that, never mind one of ours. He deserved better and I knew better, and my reasons for holding back weren’t good ones.”

“So this is guilt?” Flynn said succinctly. I winced and thought about it, taking the seat beside him.

“.... this is guilt.  I want to focus on the career and not the brat, because I don’t like thinking too much about how I feel about him going through what I let him go through. And I’m ashamed to admit just like Banks and the others, I want from Dale too. I’ve learned from listening to him talk me through the case the last few days and it’s addictive. He really is brilliant. I’m proud of him, I find myself seeing him like I’d see an exec officer of mine, a protégé. What he really needed from me when he came out here was someone who didn’t know or give a damn about any of what he did all day and just saw him. That’s exactly what you do with your clients, I saw you do it with Mason. You don’t care about the power or the skill or what they do or don’t do in their day job, you don’t want to know. You focus on them.”

“Is it really going to make the amends to Philip you’re looking for if you can get Dale successfully back to A.N.Z.?” Flynn said quietly. That was acute and it hurt a bit to hear. I shook my head,

“No, not back to A.N.Z. I’d just like him to be able to do this if he wants to – it’s trying to make myself feel better because I feel terrible that I let him get that broke.”

“If you talk to Dale, he didn’t.” Flynn leaned on the counter, looking straight at me. “He’s got all the resilience you need to work in this field, that’s how he got to the top. He’s not short of strength. If he wanted to, if it gave him what he wanted, he’d be out in some city somewhere working seven days a week out of a hotel and not living out on the ranch with us. The reason he doesn’t is because it doesn’t make him happy. It’s nothing to do with who didn’t help him out when things were getting bad.”

That helped to hear. Flynn waited a moment more and we listened to the shower running in the distance before he said more quietly,

 “Dale needed to tell you or me that he wasn’t handling the stress well. That was his job, and he didn’t do it. So let him own that.”

“I think he tried.” I admitted. “He said something about your making him exercise Hammer before he left and it went right past me. Understated, but I think he probably was trying to remind me tactfully that at home there are stronger priorities than work.”

“If you didn’t get it then he needed to try again and harder, he’s got responsibility here too.” Flynn said bluntly. “Whereas you? You keep coming back to Philip. I think this is about him, not Dale. If you want to make amends to Philip then I think you need to figure out why and what for. That would be the first step to knowing how.”

He didn’t say anything else, just got up but he hooked an arm around my neck and kissed my cheek, a hard kiss, like the hard, rough hug which is classic Flynn, and I gripped his arm, feeling my eyes stinging.

The shower had stopped in the distance, and Flynn went into Dale’s room and closed the door quietly behind him. I had a feeling Dale was about to regret being wet. The spoon was still in there.

Dale’s first meeting was at six am the following morning; positively late after the end of last week’s early starts, and I tapped on their door at half past five. They were still in bed, and only Flynn was awake. Dale was face down beside him, his head on Flynn’s bare chest, and Flynn glanced up at me with an expression that said to be quiet with a ferocity that didn’t fit with how still he was laying not to disturb him. I’d seen Flynn around Jasper and Paul for years, the fierce loyalty and tenderness he was capable of for them, and if Flynn loved you he made it pretty damn clear. You felt it. He treated Riley like something invaluably precious; whatever he was doing a part of his attention was always on Riley. And with Dale, it was something different again and just as unique, tied up in that instinctive, fierce warning and Dale boneless, deeply asleep against him. I realised then that it was a shock to me to see Dale do that here, to just let go of all of the contained, reserved competence in the way I saw him do on the ranch. Here, in the city context, I still didn’t really view him as Dale, a person and one of us instead of the whiz kid exec I’d known the name of for years.

“It’s half five.” I said softly. “I’ll put breakfast on the table, it’s about a ten minute walk to his meeting.”

They were both at the table within ten minutes. Dale in an immaculate ice grey suit and Flynn in jeans, sweater and riding boots. He was terse this morning, very specific with exactly what he wanted Dale to do in the same way he had last night in the very brief evening he allowed before he sent Dale to bed, and I could see the difference in Dale. It was subtle, but there was a real person there; one with looser shoulders, visibly more relaxed, who gave me a rather subdued but very genuine smile of hello that had real emotion in it, instead of the professionally polite poker face I’d been talking to for the last few days. I hadn’t realised until that moment how much of a mask had been there.

“Leave the dishes and any other chores you like,” Flynn said when he and Dale got up to leave. “Dale and I’ll do them when we get back. I’m going with Dale, he’s got a meeting this morning and we’ll figure out what needs doing next from there.”

That was going to make for an interesting day for ANZ.  

I got a text from Dale around ten that morning to say they expected to be occupied all day and a formal event was planned for this evening. I began to get the feeling things were wrapping up and going well when I received a phoned invitation from ANZ to attend the ball being held at the American Embassy tonight. Nothing had reached the papers or the media, but having been a regular guest of ANZs for years at their big events, I recognised a corporate buttering up session when I saw it. They’d be inviting the senior people of most of the big corporates in the area.

 The massive grey marble embassy entrance hall and the reception rooms were full of people when I arrived. Mostly men in tuxedos but there were a few women dotted around in full length gowns. This was a typical ANZ do; conservative, formal, extremely good taste, the image they work hard on, from the chamber orchestra playing under the curving staircase to the waiters with trays of champagne in crystal flutes. Dale, immaculate in a tux which made it hard to peel your eyes off him, was talking quietly to a small group of men on the far side of the marbled hall who were gathered around him. Jeremy Banks was circulating at the other side, and I could see a couple of his other key men carefully inserted into groups to keep the conversations going. I couldn’t initially find Flynn until I realised he was standing with Dale, also in a tux- Dale’s PA had obviously been busy- with one hand thrust into his pocket and the other holding a glass of champagne. It had been years since I last saw him dressed up like this, probably not since his graduation. He looked a little too rugged for the suit now; there was a definite edge to how he scrubbed up compared to the flawless polish of Dale.

A hand lightly touched my back, and I jumped at the sight of Darcy. Darcy, actually dressed properly in a formal black suit, crisply white shirt and black tie. It was odd to see him in something so decorous, but the effect was remarkable. It made him look tall and elegant, and the grace of his shaped, close cropped head was enhanced by the suit rather than looking at all out of synch with it. He smiled at my expression with some satisfaction, sipping champagne from the flute he was delicately holding. Sometimes I think it’s the ability to shock me that he enjoys the most.

“I had an invitation texted to me from Dale this afternoon, he thought you might like an escort. Do you know I haven’t been around people this stiff since my last visit to a mausoleum?”

He put out a hand to adjust my tie and nodded at Flynn stood behind Dale.

“I see the cavalry’s arrived?”

“When did you and Dale start texting each other?” I demanded. Darcy gave me an enigmatic smile.

“I swiped his number off your phone yesterday. Wouldn’t Rog have hated this?”

Yes, he would, although he’d always come with me to these kind of things when I coaxed, mostly because he knew I wanted the company and he was nothing if not kind and knew however boring the affair, we’d still have fun together. Roger softened me, he was good at it. He was slow to judge and slow to worry, his attention was very much on whatever was happening right now, and he had a generosity I loved, a real gift for accepting people uncritically in the moment. Sometimes it dawned on me that I was losing the perspective on life that Rog had taught me because he was no longer here to remind me in the way someone does when they’re there every day, and it was a lonely feeling. Bit by bit, it slips away.

There was the quiet click of a phone camera beside me aimed at Flynn and Dale in suits, the soft whoosh of a text leaving, and Darcy linked his arm through mine, squeezing gently as he put his phone back in his pocket.

“That should let Gerry know Flynn’s here.”


“Well I let him know on Sunday that I thought Dale was blizzarding his way around Manhattan like a mobile ice storm. He was riveted by that. They all are. Even Niall’s been texting about that, although apparently James’ money was on you.”

On cue, Darcy’s phone buzzed quietly and he took it out of his pocket, glanced at it, smiled and put it back.

“Yes, Gerry’s going frantic with curiosity.”

“Aren’t you going to answer?” I asked him, amused, and laughed at the calmly naughty look he gave me.


The garden behind the embassy had been opened up as it was a warm night, and people drifted on the patio and on the rose bedded paths with their glasses. It took a while to get Dale alone. He didn’t seek anyone out but people materialised around him, and while he didn’t say a lot, I watched him steer conversations and people with the same skill I’d seen him use at home when he wanted to and it reminded me a good deal of Philip.

I stood with the group he was with for some time, until someone else joining the group took over the conversation, and I took Dale’s elbow, easing him away and towards the garden. He followed me, a still mostly full glass in hand, and I sat down on a low wall well away from everyone else, looking at something that no one else but Flynn was going to see here tonight. An extremely beautiful, well known businessman in a tuxedo, looking distinctly conscious that I might turn him over my knee.

“I am very sorry about Sunday night.” he said with real sincerity before I could say anything. “There isn’t an excuse. I don’t always handle tension well, but that was a particularly bad way of handling it. I didn’t intend for you to know or be worried.”

“You didn’t intend me to know?” I sipped champagne, giving him an interested look that I was satisfied to see made him flush. I hadn’t completely lost my touch. “So that would make it fine so long as I didn’t notice, would it?”

“No, of course it-” Dale trailed off in confusion, “I just – no sir.”

“I accept your apology.” I told him. “Thank you. As far as I’m concerned, I made my point to you last night, and that’s the end of it except a promise that it’ll be nothing to what I’ll do if I ever catch you in that park at night again. Now I owe you an apology and I think you’d better sit down.”

I patted the wall next to me, and after a moment Dale took a seat and gave me a very cautious look.

“You know my problem?” I asked him. “Flynn might well have told you. I’ve always been pig headed. That’s straight from Philip and Roger’s mouth to your ear by the way, they coined the phrase. I grab a handle on a situation and I see it the way I see it, and I stick to it. It’s not a bad habit for a manager, you make your decision and you go with it, strong leadership, integrity and all that, but there are downsides if you let it go too far, and I do. Like deciding I can let you leave the core of what you and Flynn do that keeps you on track back in Wyoming ‘cause you won’t need it here.”

I gave him a pointed look and he nodded slowly, looking rather shamefaced.

“That was my fault too. I could have said I was getting wound up. I could have said it at any time to Flynn or the others and got their help with it. I should have done.”

“But I was making it clear I wanted you to succeed and you were doing your best to do what I expected, and I’m pretty sure you didn’t want to say anything that might imply a criticism of me.” I agreed. “I feel very bad about you, son.”

I said it honestly and he looked straight at me, apprehensive as though this certainly meant he’d let me down.

“I feel very bad that you went down, alone in New York, without anyone who picked up on the signs and stepped in to help you.” I said slowly and sincerely. It wasn’t easy, but it needed to be said, and he listened, his grey eyes not judging, just with full, quiet attention in the same kind of way Philip used to listen. That helped, a lot more than he knew. “I was raised by Philip that if you play the game – if you’re good enough to really know what that means – then you have a duty to look out for the real talent. The good men. You do what you can and you protect the real talent, because those are the men that make a difference, who aren’t just all about the money. You have that instinct too, I know you’ve done deals and led decisions that go with a good man instead of the best financial risk, I admired it long before I knew who you were. So I should have stepped in when things went wrong for you. I’m very sorry that I didn’t and I apologise to you very sincerely, Dale. I should have helped you and I wish I had.”

“Thank you. But it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference.” Dale said just as quietly. He sipped from his glass and tucked one leg up on the wall under him, the same way I’d seen him sit if we were out somewhere on the ranch, naturally curling up on the grass or on a boulder, as if he was wearing jeans and not a high end, alarmingly high quality suit. “I needed to break. There wasn’t anything else that was going to shake me up enough to have accepted going to the ranch. It happened for a reason and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“You don’t much like being out here, do you?” I asked him, understanding now why he was so much more reserved than I ever saw when he was on the ranch. I should have done far, far more of this since the first hour he got here. Filled every moment of our time with it. Forgotten the job, forgotten the details, just talked and connected with him on the things we had in common from sharing in the same household and family. Been that family to him. That was what he needed and he must have been desperate for it. I’d put the distance between us. I’d taken all the emotion out of it when that was what gave him the balance and let him be himself.

“I can do it.” Dale said levelly. “In a way it helps to be sure there’s no buzz left in it. I’m doing this because Jerry Banks needs it and that’s all. The commissioned consultancy work I can pick up and do from home – there’s fun in that. That’s the buzz, that’s the part I enjoy, and it’s more or less a hobby.”

“Not quite. Paul writes, Flynn still publishes papers,” I protested. “They hardly call that hobbies.”

Dale shrugged.

“If I knew I’d never take on another piece of work again I wouldn’t particularly mind. The day to day work on the ranch is more interesting to me, it’s the priority.”

“Being with the people there.” I said gently, knowing there was real work in that for him. “Yes. I understand that.”

“Flynn and Paul are very open minded about it.” Dale said frankly. “Their advice is take it as it comes, I might find I’m more interested again in a few years or I may find I stop wanting to take on any free lance work or consultative work at all. Jas doesn’t say much but he agrees with me that there’s other priorities and you don’t do things that don’t make you happy. Riley’s view is simpler. He hates it.”

“Hates it?” I asked, startled.

“The threat of it.”  Dale gave me a half smile. “Not to the point he’d say please don’t take this piece of work on, but he knows exactly what there is in it to go wrong, and it’s like – running in the park at night. You can choose to do it and you might get through unscathed, if you’re open minded about the risks.”

“I’m not.” I said emphatically, and Dale nodded.

“Neither is he.”

“The next time you come out here,” I told him, “It’s going to be very different. We’ll both do this better. You don’t just have to shut up and handle whatever happens, you need to tell me if I’m not getting it right. Or tell Flynn, or Darcy, or Gerry, or someone, and let them tell me. They’d gladly step in for you and tell me if I’m being an idiot.”

He nodded, with the same faint smile, and I looked at his pocket at the faint humming sound.

“You too? Darcy’s is going off constantly. I’m not surprised Flynn locks these things away at home.”

Dale took the blackberry from his pocket, keyed something, and then snorted, and it was a laugh. A real, proper laugh. Corporate mails and messages aren’t usually funny, but Dale turned the screen for me to see the YouTube video playing.

“I suspect Darcy circulated my number to Gerry, Bear, Wade and Niall last night. I’ve been inundated with personal messages, strange videos, pictures and odd comments all day in amongst the work messages.”

“If you need that choked off just let me know,” I said darkly, “You’ve got enough to deal with.”

Dale shook his head, getting up. “It actually makes the work ones a lot more tolerable. I’m probably going to have to practice not laughing in meetings.”

It was a long evening. Canapés and polite conversation only take you so far when it’s a Corporate or a diplomatic do. A large number of people resorted to dancing to the orchestra’s music, and I found Darcy, who had apparently been amusing himself by talking to several people’s wives who were equally bored and were glad of anyone able to talk about anything other than business and finance, sitting by the large, white marble hearth watching Flynn and Dale who were visible at intervals among the other couples.

“I think Flynn’s keeping him dancing to give him a break from being cornered by people going look it’s Dale Aden.”

I leaned against the hearth stone. It was working; a dancing couple among other dancing couples tend to be left in peace. It also, from what I could see, let Flynn do most of the work keeping them upright. His arms were around Dale’s back, there were excuses in dancing for Dale to have his head against Flynn’s shoulder in a perfectly proper way, slighter than Flynn and a good half head smaller, and I was starting to suspect he was far more tired than he was showing.

“If you’re wondering about how many hours’ sleep he’s actually had since he reached New York,” Darcy said beside me, following my gaze, “I’ll wonder if it occurred to you to have a word with the night doorman? It certainly did to Flynn.”

How many times did he go out jogging at night?” I demanded, horrified. Darcy gave me a sweet smile that said I’d  attracted the attention of several people in our vicinity.

“I only know because I have a nasty, suspicious mind. I don’t want to disabuse you of your innocence.”

He laughed when I swatted him, twisting around out of reach.

“Darling, I’m neutral, you’ll have to see him afterwards. What were you two talking about out in the rose garden? I didn’t like to interrupt.”

“I owed him an apology.” I took a slow breath to control the swell of emotion that came with the words and watching Flynn and Dale dancing together in amongst the other couples I found myself saying it softly out loud to him. “Flynn asked me what I felt I needed to make amends to Philip for, and I’ve felt bad for a long time that I didn’t do anything to step in and prevent that breakdown.”

“I’m not at all sure he would have let you.” Darcy said rather dryly.

“He doesn’t think he would either. I think it’s less that than what Flynn said: what about Dale makes me feel I let Philip down so badly. And it’s obvious when I think about it. I already lost one brat he entrusted me with.”

“Oh Luthe.” Darcy’s eyes were very soft, I could only bear looking towards them for a second, but he stepped closer, standing against my shoulder and his hand ran down my arm, rubbing discreetly. “Luthe you didn’t lose Rog. Philip would never see it like that. You know he wouldn’t.”  

I found the hand running down my arm and held it, tightly in the folds of my jacket and he gripped back.

“You know what he would say?” he said after a moment, lightly. “Don’t be so pigheaded.  Philip hardly have expected you to be able to single handedly be able to catch and redirect two airplanes no matter how big you are. I know, that's silly, but it is silly. If you’d ever thought anything like that might happen, you wouldn't have only made sure Roger was safe, but every single person that was in either of those buildings, any person on those airplanes. No one knew. No one even imagined it was a possibility. If they had, you wouldn't have been the only one trying to save someone. Anyone.”

I’d been to survivor groups, shared emails with people I’d met and spoken to who knew the nightmare too, and all of them had in some way said those words. We’d said some of them to each other – sometimes, a little. Maybe not much because it had been too hard and we’d been too focused on other things like getting through at all, and he’d been wonderful in the days and weeks afterwards when he’d been shattered himself. The fridge had been filled, he’d been there in the evenings, with all the tact and the delicacy he was so very good at. Darcy gripped my hand tighter, his voice quieter and fiercer.

“Luath, look at me. You kept Roger safe, and happy, in everything that you did, and everything that you could do and no one can ever say that you could have done a thing more. I loved Roger. I knew him every day and I know. You made him happy. No one could ever have made him happier than you did. Believe me, Philip knows that too.”

When I didn’t answer him, he held my hand tighter, standing so he blocked both our gripped hands and my face from the room and I turned to face the wall while I swallowed, hard, and stared at the paintwork. When I had some control of my face, Darcy’s hand slid up and took my arm and I followed where he steered me, out through the open doors into the garden.

He found a quiet corner in an alcove in the darkest part, a summerhouse type area where vines ran in amongst the roses that rambled up the trellis and over the roof. I sat down on the stone bench and he sat down beside me, his hands lightly on my shoulders for a long time. When I finally sat up he handed me the glass of champagne stood on the bench beside him, and I admit I knocked it back, pretty much in one draught. We could still hear the orchestra from in here, out of sight of any of the other guests, in the deep shade under the roses. Darcy got up and went to the archway, leaning there to listen. Then he held out a hand to me.

We’d danced together many, many times over the years. It was familiar, easy, a comfortable habit and there was a deep comfort in his embrace.

~ The End  ~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015


Robyn said...


Nancy Cozier said...

I know. Poor Luath. .