On the top floor of Brent's new home and office sat Curtis, his now full-time lover and Brent himself, enjoying the view from their living room off the Gulf Coast. This moment had been a dream of Brent's for the past six months, more than any time over the past four years when the two of them had first met during the Gods Army to Purge Homosexuality (G.A.P.H.) case that Brent and his operations partner, Nicole, had brought down. It was a terrorist group that bombed gay and lesbian bars, killing hundreds.
It took Brent and Nicole less than three months to bring down GAPH, but it took another three years for the final guilty verdicts to be read in court. After the last verdict was read, Nicole chose to become a full-time mother to her son, Alan, and a recluse compared to her partner Brent. During the time she was undercover for the GAPH case, she had grown to appreciate life more, especially when she saw how it could be taken away by such monsters.
Brent, on the other hand, didn't mind the lecture and TV show circuit at first; even the book deal had proven to be worthwhile, but he had grown fond of Curtis. Each time they parted, a little bit of Brent was left behind with him. It was over the Christmas holidays that Brent proposed to Curtis and asked him to become a partner in life and Brent's business. During two days, they discussed as many items that they could think of, and much of the time the talking was done between meals and lovemaking.
They both agreed that it would be a perfect match: physically, emotionally, and business-wise. A private investigator and a police detective, Curtis had wanted to retire once he made tenure a year ago, and like Brent, he knew that it was time for the two of them to move their relationship to the next level. For Curtis, it was perfect timing, and the only question left for them was who would move into whose house. They agreed to keep their homes, Brent's in Houston and Curtis's in the French Quarter of New Orleans. They would rent them out and continue to build equity.
After more conversation and the usual lovemaking, they agreed to buy a house in Galveston, Texas. They chose this small town for a variety of reasons: closeness to Houston's airports, the beaches, low property costs, and most importantly, the acceptance of homosexuals as shown by the estimated 15-20% residency level and variety of gay-owned businesses. It took Brent a couple of weeks to find the perfect place for them and the business.
With the money that Brent had inherited from a former boss and client, he paid cash for the building and with a little extra cash, he was able to get escrow to close within two weeks. He moved in his stuff first and then joined Curtis in New Orleans to help with his part of the move. Now unpacked and things in their places, with duplicate items being given to the local gay church to sale and use as they saw fit, Brent and Curtis now could relax and enjoy the view.
"Whatcha thinking?" asked a deep voice accentuated with a Cajun slang.
Brent looked over to his lover who was sitting in a chair nearby. "The past couple of years and last month when we made this our home. And you?" he answered.
"Nothing much. Just enjoying this view. I would normally have to take a vacation to see a view like this. Ya' know the quarter didn't have this."
Brent laughed at Curtis. "Well enjoy it while you can, babe. That pile over there is getting way too tall these days," he said as he pointed to a pile of legal-size folders on the floor next to the front door. "In fact," Brent continued, "when the staff arrives tomorrow, we're going to have to figure out what's going on."
"You sound worried."
"I am. I've never had this many cases come in at once. Usually, I get one or two, maybe three a week, but over the last two weeks, I've received over a dozen new cases each week."
"Maybe people know that you’re back at work and of the talk show circuit."
"Maybe,” Brent said as he rose from his chair and walked over to the three-foot-high pile. "But I don't think so. These cases are from all over the country. Generally, I get cases from Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and even Louisiana--not from New York, California, and elsewhere."
"Yeah," started Curtis in his calming loving voice, "but you have to remember that you’re a national celebrity, a hero."
"Don't make me laugh, Curtis,” Brent said with a tone of anger in his voice. "You know I'm not a hero. I just got lucky. Hell, you’re a hero for doing what you did for 20 years."
"OK, Brent, let's not go there. We both did what we had to, and we'll do it again. Just this time, we'll do it together."
That statement made Brent smile. He had finally found a man who was good-looking, sexy, intelligent, and understanding. Sure Curtis had his pet peeves, but Brent loved him for those too. Brent had found a friend, a spiritual cohort, a lover, and best of all, they could work together as equals. There was nothing more that he wanted of his lover. Brent was truly happy.
Brent walked back to Curtis, bent down, and gave him a full-hearted loving kiss. Curtis wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into his lap as they continued kissing with greater passion.
Brent had gotten up early this morning. Usually, he would sleep until 7 or 8 in the morning, as his body always required a full eight hours of sleep each night. But the thrill and excitement of his staff arriving with the office equipment, files, and furniture to begin operations in their new building kept Brent from getting a good night’s rest. He finally gave up trying to sleep, so he got up to begin his day. He would let Curtis sleep while he did his morning routine of meditation, showering, dressing, and then a small breakfast consisting of the flavor of the week cereal with some kind of fruit mixed in.
Once he had completed his routine, he walked back into the bedroom to where Curtis slept. He stood over him briefly, smiled at his sexy man, then bent over, and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.
"Good morning, sexy," said a groggy voice.
"Good morning, stud," responded Brent. "I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready. Don't rush; the crew will not be here for a couple of hours."
"Love you, Curtis."
"Love you too, stud." Curtis repositioned himself under the sheets as Brent left the room to go downstairs to the new office.
Brent's new office had once been a souvenir shop on the seawall before him purchasing it. He knew he had paid more than it was worth, but Brent was fascinated with the building which stood three stories tall. The first two stories were used for the souvenir shop, which was now just an empty shell. The two of them had the inside painted with soft earth tones: sand, light blue, and medium brown with accents of yellows and oranges. Both Curtis and Brent agreed the soft colors would help keep the staff grounded and more relaxed as they worked. Doing investigations was not always full of excitement. It usually consisted of drudging up the bad stuff from peoples’ past--something that almost everyone had hidden away, praying and wishing no one would ever find out about it.
On the back left wall was a staircase made of wood and accentuated with bamboo that led to the smaller second story which overlooked the main floor below. This is where the conference room and the two offices of Brent and Curtis were. Brent stood on the balcony looking down at the space, picturing how the office would look.
Curtis was the strongest member of this team when it came to spirituality, which Brent was grateful for. He wanted to regenerate his beliefs in God and with Curtis's help, that had happened. Together, each one shared their beliefs and thoughts on religion, eastern philosophy, and spirituality, and together they agreed on one thing; every one of these beliefs and philosophies pointed to one thing: LOVE and how you should love was the key. And these two did their best to treat everyone the same way, as they wanted to be treated.
Both of them also agreed that they could not force their beliefs on anyone. But they knew with all their heart that living by example was the best way to educate their friends, co-workers, and loved ones, even if it raised an eyebrow now and then.
One of those such eyebrow-raising moments would soon be at hand when the staff saw the new floor plan done in Feng Shui, an eastern philosophy designed to create a good, positive energy flow within a space, whether at an office or home. To Brent's surprise, the staff was more than pleased with the concept.
The movers arrived sharply at 8 a.m. to begin unloading the Houston office furniture and fixtures. The new furniture Brent and Curtis had ordered arrived just after 8:30 a.m., and as planned, the current staff and Curtis had arrived at 9 a.m. All were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, ready for the dirty work they had expected for this first day at the new office. By noon the office was ready to go, minus the small miscellaneous stuff that always seemed to linger after a move.
The only thing missing at this point was the new staff member, Lawrence, who was a computer whiz that Brent had hired to bring the office further into the 21st century. Brent did not expect him to be on time, for in his experience, he had yet to meet a computer geek whoever was on time for anything. They all seemed to march to their beat. Lawrence was no exception, as he arrived at 10 minutes past noon.
With the addition of Curtis as a full-time member of the team, and Lawrence joining them, Brent wanted to take a couple of hours out of the crazy day. He took the group to lunch at Joe's Crab Shack on the Fisherman's Pier. Its décor and tone were of a relaxed atmosphere and with it being the off-season, he knew it wouldn't be really busy, which allowed the group to relax and enjoy a long lunch. Brent's plan worked perfectly. The friendly conversation came from every person at the table.
Brent's staff had already met Curtis and had grown fond of him over the past couple of years, and they were relieved that Brent finally made the move to have Curtis become his partner.
The group’s overall response to Lawrence appeared to be favorable as well. This helped Brent relax more as he knew the move and adding new staff members created its stress. Even though things seemed to be going well this day, he had a feeling deep down in his gut, a nagging feeling, that something was wrong. The three-foot pile of new client folders didn't sit well with him.
Back at the office, Lawrence was shown his new work area which was set underneath the second-floor balcony. This area was set up for the computer servers that Lawrence would be responsible for. With a nice size work area and a view of the gulf, in addition to making good money, and most importantly, working with other gays and lesbians, this made his job change perfect and exciting for him.
By the end of the day, Walsh & Boudreaux Investigations was fully up and operational. Each staff member was situated in their new work area and getting familiar with the new office space. By 5:30 p.m., everyone had left to go home except for Brent who sat at his desk to review the current workload. Realizing the emotional and physical toll his body had taken on this day, he decided to head upstairs to join his love for a relaxing evening.
Curtis had left the office an hour earlier to arrange a special dinner for Brent. He wanted to help Brent relax because he knew the full range of emotions that Brent had been feeling over the past month. He loved Brent deeply, and as his partner in life, he wanted to be there for him as Brent wanted to be there for Curtis. A special dinner with relaxing instrumental music playing in the background was just a little thing, in the overall scheme. But it said a lot to Brent and it would not go unnoticed or unappreciated by Brent.
"Brent," said the electronic voice of Michael, the office manager, over the phone’s intercom system. "Nicole is on line three for you."
"Thanks, Michael," Brent responded as he reached for the black handset on his phone. "Hey, girl. Where are you?"
"We just arrived on the island."
"Great. You made a good time. Can't wait to see you."
"Same here, boy. Tell me how to get to you from here."
"Simple. Continue on Broadway down to 13th St., turn right, and go the seawall. Turn right and then turn into the first driveway; you can't miss it."
"OK. I'll see you shortly."
"See you then. Bye," he said as he hung up the phone.
Brent stood up and went into the last office down the hall where Curtis's office was. "Curtis, Nicole is just a few minutes away."
"Great, can't wait to see her,” responded Curtis as he stood up to join Brent so they could go downstairs to meet her.
Nicole pulled into the parking lot in her Ford minivan and stopped in front of Brent and Curtis, who appeared to be happy to see her and Alan. Before she could get out of the car, Brent was at her door opening it for her.
"I see the male chauvinist still exists," she said to Brent with a smile.
"And I see we turned in the Miata for something more sensible,” Brent said as he hugged Nicole hard.
"Yeah, now that I'm a soccer mom, I need the extra space."
"It's a bitch getting older,” Brent replied with a laugh. "Hey boy, you behaving yourself?" he said to Alan in the passenger’s seat.
"Yeah," responded Alan with a lack of enthusiasm.
"God, you've grown."
"Tell me about it. He keeps growing an inch every month,” said Nicole. "I can't keep him in clothes long enough for them to wear out."
The four of them walked into the new office to show Nicole the new surroundings. After a quick 30-minute tour and greetings from some of the older staff members and introductions to the newer ones, the foursome headed back to the van to grab their luggage and head upstairs to the guest house which was identical to Curtis and Brent's space next door.
"Well, this is your place for the weekend," said Curtis as he led the three of them into the living room.
"Wow...this is nice," said Nicole.
"Cool...they've got X-box, Mom," hollered Alan as he sat down in front of the 51" plasma TV on the wall while turning on all the equipment to begin playing a game.
"Hold on there, boy. You can play that later after we get settled in."
"You heard me."
Alan stood up and grabbed his bag while he followed Brent into his temporary room. "Hey kid, you've got all weekend to have fun, and I only have two games, so don't wear them out. Besides, don't you want to enjoy the beach anyway?"
"Oh sure, Brent, but to play a game on a plasma TV as large as that has got to be cool."
"You've got me there, Alan. I'm not much into computer games these days." Silence fell over the room as Alan unpacked his overnight bag. Brent decided to walk back into the living room to join Curtis and Nicole.
"Curtis, let's get back downstairs and send the staff home early."
"Sure. We'll see you at 7 for dinner, Nicole?"
"That'll work. Gives Alan some time to wear out the game, and it gives me some time to enjoy this fabulous view of the Gulf,” she finished saying as she walked out to the patio and leaned on the railing facing the Gulf.
"We'll see you then," said Brent as the two of them left her alone.
After a cozy dinner at Mario's Seawall Italian restaurant, the foursome was back at Brent's and Curtis's place sitting out on the patio, enjoying a cool night with clear skies on the island, which was due to the last cold front of the season. Brent and Curtis were both looking forward to the warmer weather; Nicole too was looking forward to it but not with as much vigor as the other two. For Alan it meant vacation time, so he had a different reason for enjoying the warmer weather.
Alan talked his way out of the social moment so he could play the X-box games. Nicole gave him a hard time but was glad to have some time alone with Brent and Curtis.
Curtis excused himself to get fresh drinks for the three of them when Nicole cornered Brent.
"What's going on Brent?"
"What do you mean?"
"You’re happy with Curtis. That's clear and your staff seems to be competent and eager to work. God knows you have enough cases down there, but something else is bothering you."
"Well, you’re right about Curtis. I should have made him my partner a long time ago. And yes, business is good, too damn good actually."
"How so, what?" asked Curtis as he returned with their drinks.
"I was just getting ready to tell Nicole of my fears about the cases we have." "Ah," Curtis said sitting down in a chair between Brent and Nicole.
"Over the past year, my office has seen an increase in business. I had chalked it up to the press that I've gotten. But in the past month, the caseload has tripled that of a normal year.
"Nicole, we're seeing an average of 12 cases a week coming in. That has me bothered."
"Yeah, but can't that be due to your PR as well?"
"That's what I tell him," responded Curtis with a smile.
"I gave that some serious thought, but it doesn't completely explain these cases."
"I used to work mostly for McDougale, bless his soul, and I would get the usual background checks and stakeouts for the cheating husband, but these cases cover five specific subjects."
"I'm not following," said Nicole as she shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She heard Brent's concern in his voice, but she also felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up--a sign that something was not normal.
"We have gotten a request from gay and lesbian couples saying that they are having problems with existing adoptions, men asking for help to find out how and why they appear on police John's lists in the papers or listed on a list of names of police records for raids on parks, especially when they swear they were never in the park.
"Arrests for crimes that they claim they never committed. Even cases for both men and women where their medical files are showing that they have HIV or AIDS.
"Finally, identity theft. Granted this one is nothing special in today's computer age, but when you add them all up, it just doesn't feel right.”
"Well, hate crimes have increased since Bush took office. Can't this be the same?" asked Nicole.
"Not really," responded Brent. "These cases all have one thing in common. They all claim innocence to the charges."
"Nothing new from my point of view," said Curtis, allowing his cop past to come out.
"But this many? I have over 200 cases down there, all claiming innocent and some kind of foul play."
"OK, let's say something is a mess here. Any theories?" asked Nicole, with ever-growing curiosity and concern.
"So, it just could be a coincidence then?"
"Yes," said Brent as he studied Nicole’s face and took a deep breath. "But, my gut doesn't think so."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"That's the hard part. For now, I have Lawrence creating a program where we can interlock the cases and track them. Until that is done, I'm left to my experience and some guessing."
"How long will it take Lawrence?"
"He said a couple of weeks, maybe less."
"In the meantime," Curtis popped in, "let’s continue as normal and see what happens."
"That sounds good to me," replied Nicole. "No sense you getting worked up over nothing. You know how tense you get."
"Boy, I know that one," laughed Curtis as he reached over to kiss Brent on the cheek. "Ha, ha," replied Brent, giving Curtis a half-smile. "Maybe you’re right."
"You know I'm right, Brent. Now, what's on our agenda this weekend? Anything special planned?"
"Nah. I thought I'd let you and Alan direct us. Curtis hasn't seen the sights either, so y'all tell me what you want to do."
"Great. Then at breakfast, we'll plan our day."
"Sounds great to me," responded Curtis.
"In the meantime, I better go in and pull Alan off that game." Nicole stood up to leave the boys alone. “I'll see you for breakfast then. Say, around 9?"
"Perfect," said Brent. "Hey Nicole," he continued as she walked away. "Thanks."
Nicole stopped at the patio door and looked over her shoulder to Brent, "Think nothing of it," she said softly in her motherly voice.
The rest of that April weekend was full of sightseeing, the beach, and eating out at various restaurants around town. They all had fun doing the activities. Curtis and Alan were able to get to know each other better. This made both Nicole and Brent happy for their reasons. Even though Brent has his moments of fun and craziness, Curtis was more the playful type, and Brent was grateful for this when it came to Alan. He wanted to make sure Alan enjoyed his childhood as much as possible.
At 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nicole and Alan were sitting in the minivan ready to head home.
"If you find out anything about these cases, call me, will you?"
"In the meantime, stay relaxed."
Nicole reached over and kissed Brent on the check. "Try harder."