Aaron and Andreas - Chapter One

I was making my last round, checking everything after the park had closed at 11:30. I was running late as it was well past midnight when I headed to my last checkpoint. Nearing the duck pond -- cussing because there was no way you could get close without stepping in duck shit -- I saw a figure sitting on a park bench at the edge of the pond. No-one was supposed to be in the park after closing, but homeless men often tried to stay in the park overnight as there were many places where they could, at least partially, get out of the weather. In spite of the fact it was late March, the evening was chilly and the slight breeze made it feel colder than it was. I felt chilled even though I had dressed warmly. The figure on the bench was in shirt-sleeves and had to be cold. "Another homeless person," I thought as I walked toward the bench, trying to avoid as much duck shit as possible.

The bench sat in a pool of light from the street lamp over it. When I reached the bench, I could tell the person sitting there was a young man -- late teens I suspected -- from the way he was dressed in the latest teen fashion. He was dressed too well to be homeless -- I mean aside from the fact that he needed a jacket on. "Young fellow, the park is closed. You need to run along home," I said as I touched him on the shoulder. When he didn't respond, I started to shake him, thinking he was asleep. When I did, he fell over. "Just what I need," I thought to myself, "a dead teenager. By the time I get this taken care of and all the paperwork done, it will be long past the time I should be home."

As I walked around to the front of the bench where the young man was now lying, I took down my shoulder mike and, just before calling for the meat wagon to pick up the body, pressed a finger against the young man's neck and felt a weak pulse. I identified myself and said, "Get an ambulance here on the double. There is a kid here who is barely alive... down by the duck pond," I responded when I was asked where I was in the park. I didn't want to move the young man any more than necessary, so I covered him with my jacket. "Damn! It is too cold for this time of year," I muttered as the breeze found its way through my shirt.

It was only a few minutes before the Grady Ambulance came rushing toward the duck pond, cutting across the grass to reduce the distance between us. When it came to a screeching halt beside the bench, the two members of the EMS practically fell out of the vehicle with bags in hand and quickly started working on the young man.

After they had him all stabilized, one of them said, "We'll talk with you later to complete the paperwork. Right now we are in a race to save this kid's life." With those words, he hopped in the back of the ambulance and it sped away, siren blaring.

"So much for hitting the bed early," I thought. I had planned to get to bed early enough to get up at 7:00 and do my Saturday errands Friday morning -- this morning as it now was -- so I'd have Saturday and Sunday free to go hiking with Jerry Coghill, a good friend from my police academy days. I was a city boy, having grown up and lived all my life in Atlanta, but Jerry was, in his words, a north Georgia hillbilly, who loved to hike in the north Georgia mountains. He had been married, but his wife and five-year-old son were killed in an automobile accident the year before he started at the academy. They had been hit head-on by a drunk driver. The drunk was going the wrong way on I-285 at speeds in excess of one hundred miles an hour trying to elude the police. All three were killed instantly. Jerry had chosen to go into police work hoping to get some of the drunks off the road. We got paired up for an exercise during the last weeks of academy and I learned about his family and told him about mine. I had lost a girlfriend, my sister and mother, all the family I had, to crack. I was out to put all the drug dealers in jail.

Although we were in the Academy at the same time, I was a year and a half younger than Jerry, just barely old enough to join the police force.

I suspect it was wise of those who made the assignments to put me in the park, where I might pick up a small-time drug dealer occasionally, but not on the Red Dog Squad -- a sharp drug-busting team. Jerry, likewise, got put on foot patrol where the only way he'd nail a drunk driver would be if he could outrun him! The first weekend we had off after we met, Jerry invited me to go to Blue Ridge to meet his family.

I tried to get out of going without telling Jerry why. See, no African-American goes to north Georgia and especially off the main highways. We have a thing about putting ourselves in situations where we are not wanted. Finally I realized there was no easy way out and told Jerry of my fears. "Not to worry," he had said, "you'll be under constant police protection," and laughed.

Jerry was one of six brothers, being number four. There were two younger and three older, but from oldest to youngest there was only eight years difference in age. Edward, the youngest, had graduated high school the year before and was attending a small college in the next county. Joseph, the second youngest, was a sophomore in the same college. Jerry was twenty-three. John, the twenty-five-year-old, planned to set up practice as a family doctor in a clinic a few miles from the home place when he finished all the requirements. Junior and Wilson, the oldest -- and twins -- had married shortly after high school and had taken on the family business -- apple orchards and a plant nursery -- after a couple years in college.

There were only a couple hundred acres of the place left. A year or so before he died, when Jerry was twenty, Mr. Coghill was offered a great deal of money by a developer for a tract of land. Mr. Coghill was no dunce when it came to business, and decided if his land, undeveloped, was worth what he had been offered, he'd develop it himself. He hit a good time when yuppies in Atlanta were earning money hand-over-fist and looking to "get away from it all" so long as they could take it all with them. They were building vacation places in north Georgia like mad. Since he owned the land and could finance the vacation places being built on it, he made a pile of money. But you'd never suspect Mrs. Coghill and her six sons were all millionaires. They still lived as they had always done -- as good, solid mountain people. They lived well, but no-one would have accused them of being extravagant.

Anyway, we went at the weekend and had a grand time. I almost lost it at Sunday dinner when one of the boys -- Edward -- asked me something, I don't remember what, and said he was really interested in the Negro's point of view -- except Negro came out pretty close to the "N" word whereupon Mrs. Coghill, who was sitting beside him, hit him upside the head with the spoon she was using to fill small bowls with blackberry cobbler. His face dripping blackberry juice, he said, "Ma, you know I didn't mean nothin'".

"If you don't mean nothing then don't say nothing, and if you intend to sit with your feet under my table, you will keep a civil tongue in your head. Nobody, but nobody, insults a guest in my house. Now go to your room!"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson, I know better and I didn't mean for the word to sound the way it did." From the look on his face, it was clear Edward hadn't meant anything. Nonetheless, he said, "Excuse me," and headed for his room. Mrs. Coghill told him he could come out when we finished our dinner coffee. It was very clear that tiny mountain woman had long ago put the fear of God in her male brood.

"Don't worry about it, Edward," I said as he left the table.

"He better worry about it," Mrs. Coghill said. Her body language and tone of voice made it very clear she was not kidding. She had been far more insulted than I had.

I smiled as I recalled that and a hundred other things that had happened in my almost-monthly visits to north Georgia. In the last few months, when I didn't have a weekend, I'd go up during the week by myself. But this weekend we were both off and had planned to go together to hike, which we hadn't done since last fall, and now it was all messed up.

When I reached Grady, I filled out all their paperwork, as well as my own, as best I could before I learned anything about the young man's condition. It was early morning, almost time I should be getting up rather than not having been in bed, when the doctor came by to talk with me.

"Officer, you can chalk up saving a life for your work last night. The young man has been severely beaten. I suspect he was kicked numerous times while he was on the ground, so there is internal damage. He was bleeding internally and had lost a lot of blood when you found him. We got the bleeding stopped and closed the cuts on his body and a bad one on his face. He really is lucky. In another half-hour, hour, he would have been beyond help. He had a student ID card in his pocket, so we know his name is Andreas Jackson and he is a student at Lakeshore in College Park, but that's it. Thought you'd need to know."

I thanked the doctor, went to the station house and turned in my report, and went home to bed after I called Jerry to tell him I'd not be going hiking. I was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow.

I slept until mid-afternoon and when I got up, I showered, shaved and got dressed. I looked over the Saturday paper and saw nothing of interest. There was no mention of the kid from the park, which was not surprising. After I had made an arrest of a drug dealer the police had been trying to nab for months, I looked all over the paper for an article about it. When I didn't find it, Jerry had said, "Person'd think you were from the mountains. In Blue Ridge, catching someone with a couple leaves of weed would be news. In Atlanta it'd take a couple tons to make an impression."

I was at loose ends since my plans had all been shattered. I called Jerry on the off-chance he had decided not to go home, but I guess he had, so I talked to his machine. After a while, I decided to go downtown, grab lunch and then find something to do. After lunch, I went by the station house -- I don't know why -- and learned that the kid had regained consciousness but no-one had talked to him. "Since you found him, why don't you go talk to him, Johnson? You have nothing better to do, do you?"

Really I didn't, and I was interested in what had happened to the kid. "Sounds like a passable idea to me," I said. "Besides, I'll probably need the comp time one of these days." Even the first weekend I had off in ages was going to end up with me doing police work.

"Yeah, like the next time you have a hot date."

"Yeah, something like that." There was always some reference around the station to my having little or no social life. I had even overheard two guys talking, wondering if I was gay. I pretended I didn't hear them for a lot of reasons, one of which was that was a question I had asked myself. I had dated in high school and even had a steady girlfriend until she did herself in with crack, but after that? Now? The questioning of my sexuality was the one thing I had never shared with Jerry. At one point I thought I might be falling in love with him, but he started dating again and I realized what I had known all along: Jerry was straight as an arrow. I was happy for him and that ended any romantic ideas I had. I was sure it was just that I did love the guy like the brother I never had. Since we spent a lot of time together and I was horny, I thought I had developed some sexual feeling for him, and probably had, but that ended when Susan came into his life.

I went to Grady and asked at the desk about Andreas Jackson, and was told he had been upgraded from critical to serious condition. He was in room 653. "Are you a member of the family?" the desk clerk asked.

"No, I am the officer who found him," I said as I showed her my badge. "I need to talk with him if that is possible."

"You'll have to talk with the nurse on the floor," she told me.

"Thanks," I said, and walked over to the elevators and punched the button for the sixth floor. When I reached the nurses' station, I saw LaTonya Helms, who was in nurses' training, looking at charts. "LaTonya," I said, "I haven't seen you in ages. How's it going?"

"Fine. See you are the one who found Andreas Jackson," she smiled. "Proud to know one of our College Park boys is on the job." LaTonya and I had been in high school together -- not Lakeshore, but College Park High. As a matter of fact, we had been very close friends. She stood by me and gave me a shoulder to cry on when one by one the people in my life chose crack over me. She dated a guy a year ahead of us who had gone in the military as soon as he finished high school. After that she and I used to talk a lot and we did things together, but just as friends. DeWayne, her soldier boy, was not available for the senior prom so she asked me if I'd be her escort. I went all out to give her a prom night to remember and she had said it was the next best thing to having DeWayne.

"How's Andreas doing, LaTonya?" I asked.

"Lot better than expected. I understand the doctor said in another half-hour he would have been beyond help. He's conscious, but probably sleeping. He's under pretty heavy sedation because of the pain. Have any idea who might have done this to him?"

"None. That's what I'm hoping to find out."

"He's in room 653. If he's asleep, you can wake him if you feel it is necessary."

"Fine. How about coffee after I see him? Haven't talked to you in ages."

"I have a break in half an hour. Come by then."

"Sure thing."

When I got to room 653 I found Andreas asleep. He was hooked up to all sorts of things. His face was still badly swollen and he had butterfly bandages holding several cuts together, a really bad-looking one on his left cheek covered by that clear "artificial skin". But, in spite of that, I could see he was a handsome young man. Even with his blood loss, he still had an amazing complexion. It was smooth as could be where he had not been beat on, and was the color of milk chocolate, a warm, soft, smooth brown, not "bright", but rich brown, beautiful -- skin a woman would die for.

I thought if I could awaken him easily I would, otherwise I'd let him sleep. "Andreas," I said softly. His eyes fluttered open, eyes which were dark, dark brown with flecks of gold -- wide, beautiful eyes surrounded with the longest lashes I think I had ever seen. When I saw he was awake, I said, "I'm Officer Johnson. Want to tell me about this?"

He turned his head away from me and I could see his chest heaving as he tried to hold back the tears. "Andreas, I'm here to help, but I need to know who did this to you."

He turned back to me, tears running down his face, trying to choke back sobs. I took a tissue from the box on his bedside table and blotted away his tears, since I was sure wiping them away would be painful.

"Can I tell you something and you keep it between us?" he asked. "I need to talk to somebody, but I don't want what I have to say spread around."

"Ok, when you finish, I'll let you tell me what you want kept secret and unless it is something that could cause hurt to you or someone else, or causes me to violate my oath as a police officer, it'll stay between us. Is that ok?" Andreas nodded. "I know you are a student at Lakeshore in College Park so I assume you live there. Is that correct?" Andreas nodded again. "Well, that's it. That's all I know. I think someone is trying to get your address from the school authorities, but that's taking time. Can you tell me where you live? Who should be contacted? That sort of thing?"

"You're right, I am a senior at Lakeshore. I lived in College Park, on Rugby, believe it or not." It was kinda hard to believe, because Rugby was THE street in College Park and I would have thought no African-Americans lived on it. "I lived with my mom, stepfather and half-sister."

I noticed, without comment, Andreas was using the past tense.

"I am my mom's school baby: you know, born before she finished high school. Mom told me who my father was and I went to see him three-four years ago when I was in middle school. He is a big lawyer in Macon and didn't want anything to do with me. Even denied I was his. I never saw him again until last year when I started getting write-ups in the paper about my basketball playing. Newspapers seem to think they have found a rarity when they have an athlete who is also an honors student. Anyway, he suddenly became the proud father."

"Much the same thing happened with my step-dad. He has always made it very clear that the only reason I was around was because Mom came as a package, which included me. He grudgingly bought my clothes, paid my school expenses, provided room and board, but that was all. Ever since I can remember, if I wanted money for a movie or ice cream cone, I had to earn it. Anyway, when I turned out to be the star student last year and was selected for the All-State Basketball team, he suddenly decided he was my father. The two men tried to outdo each other and suddenly I had the latest designer clothes to wear, shoes which cost more per pair than what had been spent on a year's shoes before, that sort of thing. For the first time, I had money for dates and use of the car." Andreas smiled, "I had to get a friend to teach me to drive because I was never allowed to touch the car before."

I was wondering where this was headed. I mean the kid hadn't stopped talking, but he sure wasn't answering my questions. I got the feeling he thought that if he could keep talking, he wouldn't have to answer them. I hadn't the foggiest idea what was going on here.

"That's how things were until last Thursday. When I got home from school Mom was acting strange. I'm not sure why I knew it strange, the way she was acting I mean, but I did. When I got upstairs to my room -- I had a room in the attic, unfinished before I became the favorite son. After the second or third article in the paper I came home from an away basketball game, to discover my stepfather had managed to get a bunch of his beer-drinking buddies together and they finished it. It was away from my kid sister and I liked that. Anyway, when I got upstairs, it was clear that someone had been in my room. I went downstairs and asked Mom why she had allowed my half-sister, Octavia, to go in my room -- that was strictly forbidden. I knew she would have had to let her in since I had a lock on my door. I put it on even before the room was finished to keep my half-sister out, as she was constantly messing up my things. Mom and my stepfather both insisted on having keys. Since that was the only way I could keep my half-sister out, I agreed. That's the reason I knew if anyone had been in my room, Mom had to have let them in.

"'Octavia hasn't been in your room,' Mom said. 'I decided to give it a good cleaning.'"

"Now that was strange because Mom hadn't cleaned my room in years. She didn't have to. I may have things piled here and there, but my room was always clean and 'most always orderly. I didn't question what Mom said, but went back upstairs. It was obvious Mom had gone through my things." Andreas became very quiet and, before I could say anything, he said, "I think I need to sleep now". I suspected he had said all he intended to say, at least for now. So when he closed his eyes, I said, "Fine. I am going to the cafeteria with Ms. Helms, one of your nurses. We can talk some more when I get back." I sensed that might or might not happen. Andreas was definitely holding back something.

I found LaTonya at the nurses' station and the two of us went downstairs for coffee. We caught up on what had been happening since we last talked. She asked if I had found someone and I told her no. She told me she and DeWayne were getting married in June. He'd have finished this tour of duty and they would get married before his reenlistment took effect.

"He is going back into the military then?"

"Yes, I don't think he would be happy anywhere else. I just hope I like being a military wife. Of course, I can still nurse wherever we show up, as my two-year nursing program will be finished then," she said. "Find out anything from Andreas?" she asked.

I told her I had learned very little. "I think he's hiding something, but I have no idea what," I concluded.

When we finished our coffee, I went back upstairs with her. When I reached Andreas' room, he was turned away from the door. I walked over to his bed and saw he was not asleep, but staring vacantly out the window. Six floors up there was little to see, only the backs of some building. "Andreas, I know your parents are worried about you and wonder what has happened to you. I really need to know how to contact them," I said, hoping a more direct approach might get me further along in finding out about this situation.

"No need to worry about that," he said, turning his head toward me. "They know."

"They know you have been beaten up to the point that you nearly died. They know that?" I couldn't believe what I had heard.

"Yeah, they know. They were there when it happened."

"When what happened?" I wasn't getting anywhere.

"When I was beat up," Andreas answered. "When I got back upstairs, I started putting things back where they belonged. Mom may have straightened up my room, but her idea of straight and mine were not the same." Suddenly Andreas got a strange look on his face, giggled and said, "Yeah, her idea of straight and mine were not the same at all! Anyway, when I had everything back in its place -- you did promise not to tell anyone what I tell you without my permission, didn't you?" I nodded.

"Officer Johnson, I'd like to trust you but I'm not sure I can. Right now I have a real problem with policemen."

"I know telling you 'you can trust me' will accomplish nothing," I said, "because you'd have to trust me to believe that."

Andreas giggled again and said, "I don't know why that's funny since it's true. I think that shot I got just before you came back gave me the sillies." That explained why he was giggling and relaxing. "What the hell, I don't have a hell of a lot to lose," he said.

"You know those large, low boxes on wheels for storing things under the bed? Well, I had one which I was sure Mom hadn't bothered to look at. Why would she? It just held summer clothes and it wasn't time to get them out yet. Nonetheless, I pulled the box from under the bed and immediately realized she had at least had the box out and moved things in it. I carefully took out the summer clothes and looked at the collection of National Geographics I had stored there. Don't you hate to throw away a National Geographic?" I nodded. "I took them out and got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had several stroke magazines in the bottom of the box, under the National Geographics..." Andreas paused.

"So what's the big deal? I mean your mom might have gotten upset, but I'm sure your dad..."

"Step-dad," he corrected me.

"Your step-dad had a collection of Playboy, maybe even Hustler when he was your age. Most guys have stroke magazines when they are your age."

"You don't understand," Andreas said, turning toward the window again. "I didn't have a single copy of Playboy in the stack."

He was silent, still gazing out the window. It took a minute or two for the implications of what he said to sink in. "But you did have a copy of Playgirl," I said slowly.

"Yeah, and Blueboy, Inches, Unzipped. Yeah." Andreas had not turned toward me and was still looking out the window.

"And there are no gay black men, right? At least that's the story."

"Yeah. I sat in my room scared shitless. When Mom called me down to dinner, nothing was said. It was as though she had not discovered my dreadful secret. I was beginning to think I had gotten excited for nothing. When dinner was finished, I cleared the table -- it was my turn -- and as soon as I started the dishwasher, I turned to go upstairs and, as I did, my stepfather hit me across the face with his open hand. 'Get your candy ass in the den, Boy.'"

"When we reached the den, my step-dad shoved me onto the couch and waved the magazines in my face, then started hitting me, first on one side of my head and then on the other side, with the rolled-up magazines. 'Just what the fuck do you mean having this faggot shit in your room? You know damn well there are no gay son-of-a-bitches in the real black community. It's something you have learned from whitey. Now some white bastard has done gone and made a candy-ass nigger out of you. You fuck some other candy-ass boy? You get fucked? You suck cock? Who you be fucking, Boy? Who be fucking you?' All the time he was shouting at me, he kept hitting me with the magazines. I had no answer because, regardless of what I said, he would get even more violent. I had gotten enough beatings from him to know that."

"See, Kumba Richardson, my step-dad, is a member of the Red Dog Squad. You know the Red Dogs?" I nodded. The Red Dog Squad is a crack team responsible for major drug raids and most were part of the SWAT team as well. They were all big bruisers. "Kumba is one pumped-up dude. He has been on steroids so long Mom says that's the reason she has had no more kids. He gets drunk and starts shouting at her for only giving him a daughter. It gets loud after that since Mom tells him he has no real juice because he's on steroids. Sooner or later his temper gets the best of him and he slaps her around. Several times I have pulled him off of her. I wanted to call the police, but Mom said, 'No, he might lose his job'. Well, he should. Anyway, he kept screaming and shouting at me. Finally, he grabbed me by the shoulders and got right in my face, 'Answer me, Boy,' he spit out. You know how I took to being called 'Boy'. 'Speak. Tell me what is going on.'"

"Stop shaking him so he can," Mom said.

When he stopped shaking me, I took a deep breath. "Kumba, no-one made me anything. I mean, yeah, I think I am gay. It's just the way I am. Women don't turn me on and men do. But no-one made me that way. I just am that way and, by the way, I am still a virgin."

"Black men ain't 'just gay'," he said. "You have to be turned into a candy ass by whitey or some Uncle Tom working for whitey."

"I shook my head, but Kumba started shaking me again. Mom made him stop and then said, 'Andreas, we just want to help you. Tell Kumba who you have been with. Who made you a faggot? You got to tell us, Son.' Again, I told them no-one had made me any way other than the way I was. I also told them, again, that I had been with no-one. I was a virgin."

"That really made both of them mad. They completely lost control. Kumba grabbed me by my shirtfront and started hitting me. Several times he hit me in the face. Mom was shouting, 'Tell Kumba what he needs to know. Tell him now!' Of course there was nothing to tell. Mom's shouting inflamed Kumba even more. He was slugging me in the gut and when I fell, he started kicking me. I finally passed out. When I came to, I was in the street, lying in the gutter. I was in terrible pain and my face was cut and bleeding. I didn't know what to do. I don't know why, but I caught MARTA* and went downtown. I didn't know how bad I looked, but people on the train kept staring at me and no-one bothered to say or do anything. I had spent time in the park and most times when I was upset about something I went there. It was a peaceful place. I guess that's why I was drawn there. When I got to the park, I went to the duck pond and collapsed on the park bench where you found me. That's it. Now I guess you have everything you need to know. Now you can hate me too; I'm just a candy-ass nigger."

I sat in silence, trying to decide what to say next. "Andreas, I am very sorry you have been beaten and put out of your house. You are a human being and, regardless of what else might be true, you have the same rights as any other human being. You have the right to be free from fear and being put down. I don't hate you. I need to know what I can't tell as I have to write a report."

"You can't tell who beat me up," he said. "If you do, Kumba will lose his job. I can't be responsible for that. He may have thrown me out, but he is the only support my mom has."

He was right, but could I hide what Kumba had done to Andreas? While I was thinking, Andreas reminded me of my promise to keep secret what he had told me. I finally decided that my promise to him outweighed my obligation to report Kumba. I told him I would not report Kumba. What I didn't tell him was that I was going to make sure Kumba knew I had him by the balls and I felt free to squeeze anytime he stepped out of line.

Monday, when I reported to the station house, I asked the desk sergeant if he could find Kumba's address. He did and gave it to me. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I definitely planned to do something.

When I finished my shift Monday night, I went home intending to just fall into bed, but when I got in bed, I was wide awake. I could see Andreas' face before me. He was a handsome young man, even his bruised, cut and swollen face could not hide that. His eyes had captivated me. In spite of telling myself it was something I dared not think about, I found myself strangely aroused by Andreas. I was experiencing feelings I had felt before, but never so intense, and they filled me with both fear and fascination. Clearly something was going on with me and I didn't know what I should do about it. Troubled, I finally fell asleep.

Tuesday I kept thinking about Andreas and what he had told me about his stepfather. I hadn't given it any thought before, but he had said even his mother joined his stepfather in disowning him. He was all alone in the world so far as family was concerned. Well there was his biological father. He was a prominent lawyer in Macon, but that wasn't a big help. Macon was no Atlanta, but it was large enough to have several prominent African-American lawyers. I needed the man's name and I was sure Andreas wasn't about to give it to me.

I finally decided I would go to College Park and have a talk with Mr. and Mrs. Kumba Richardson. I debated walking from the train, but when I looked at the street address I saw their house must have been a mile or so from the College Park station and I knew I would be cutting it close since I was trying to catch Kumba at home before I went to work. I had checked the Red Dog schedule and saw he wasn't on duty, but I was. I'd take a taxi to and from the station and, even at that, I'd be late signing in. I called in and told the desk sergeant I was working on the case of the young man I found in the park and might be late signing in. He was easy with that.

When the taxi pulled up to one of the nice houses on Rugby, I wondered how Richardson could afford the place. Real estate in College Park was not as expensive as real estate uptown, but it was not cheap and Rugby certainly was not cheap. I knocked on the door and a young girl -- eight or nine I guess -- opened the door. "Octavia?" I asked and when she nodded, I said, "I'm Officer Johnson. Is your father at home?" She nodded again. "Would you tell him I'd like to see him?" She nodded a third time and closed the door. I didn't know whether or not she was going to get Kumba. I waited several minutes and was about to ring the bell again when a giant of a man came to the door. "Kumba Richardson?" I asked.

"Yes, what can I do for you, Officer?"

"Officer Johnson, Mr. Richardson. I need to speak with you concerning a matter I got involved in last Thursday night. May I come in?" Kumba stepped aside and showed me in to the living room. He indicated a seat and before I sat down I said, "I think Mrs. Richardson should be involved as well."

"Irene, get in here. Police business." Mrs. Richardson came in, drying her hands. "Officer Johnson, Mrs. Richardson," I said, holding out my hand. She shook hands and also indicated a seat. As soon as we three were seated, Octavia came into the room. "Octavia, I think it would be best if you went to your room and played for a few minutes so I can talk with your mom and dad."

"Do what the man says, Octavia," Mrs. Richardson said.

As soon as the child was gone I turned to the Richardsons and said, "I would like to say I have a warrant for your arrest, the both of you, for aggravated assault or attempted murder and, if it had not been for your son, I would have. He may yet charge you. I wanted a chance to tell you that at his request I am holding my report. I know that's against regulations, but I am sure it is not something you will rush right out and report. Your son came within half an hour of dying last Thursday night. If he had been somewhere else or I had not been late making my rounds, he would be cold meat in the morgue right now. He's not out of the woods yet, but I think he will make it. I wanted you to know that, but even more I want you -- both of you -- to know that I have you by the short hair. I don't think you will ever see Andreas again unless you catch him on TV playing basketball. I just wanted you to know that if you ever, in any way, seek to harm him or do him dirt, you will both be in Fulton County jail in a heartbeat. That's all I have to say and I don't care to hear anything you might have to say except I do want the name and address of his biological father." As I said that I took out my note pad and said, "His biological father's name and address?".

Mrs. Richardson looked at her husband. He nodded and she gave me the information. I wrote it down and said, "I'll show myself out and please, for your sakes, remember what I said".

I went from College Park directly to the station house, signed in and went on duty.

I had deliberately stayed away from Grady after I got off my shift. I needed to get some perspective on the effect Andreas was having on me before I went back. When I got up Wednesday, I placed a call to the office of Jason Stanley Story, attorney-at-law in Macon. He had a good secretary who was well-trained in keeping callers from contacting the man himself. I had just identified myself as Aaron Johnson, so she very nicely told me the big man was too busy to talk with me but she would take a message. "Miss, I am Officer Johnson of the Atlanta police department and I need to speak to Mr. Story directly concerning his son."

That got me through to the big man at once.

I started explaining the situation to him when he cut me short. "I have talked to Irene," he said, "so I know all about the situation. You need to know that Andreas is not my son. I have helped him out a bit because Irene and I had been good friends, but he is not mine. Given the fact that he's a faggot, I can't have him dragging my name through the mud. I don't approve of what Kumba did, but neither do I approve of candy-ass faggots. I have sent a check to Grady and will send more if it is needed to pay his hospital bill, but that's it. I don't want to hear from him or the Richardsons or you again. I hope I make myself clear."

"You do and I hope you rot in hell for what you have done to your son." Story slammed the receiver down, giving me a pain in the ear to match the pain he had given me in the ass.

I looked at my watch and realized I had time to go by Grady before I had to sign in. I had mixed feelings about going, but went.

When I reached Andreas' room, he was awake and looking much better, although his bruises were now multi-hued. "Hi," I said. "I'm Officer Johnson."

Andreas gave me a crooked half-smile and said, "Yeah, I remember that much. I guess I owe you for saving my life, although I'm not sure. I'm not sure I have a life worth saving."

"Stop the shit, Andreas," I said. "You have plenty to live for."

"What? Honestly, what?"

"For starters, you told me yourself you are one of a rare breed -- a true scholar-athlete. You are a good-looking, handsome dude. What else? That's a heap more than a lot of guys have going for them."

"Yeah, well I guess I'd trade handsome for a roof over my head, good-looking for a bed..."

"Not going there," I laughed. Andreas gave me a real smile and actually blushed.

"Yeah, well I guess I can trade being an athlete for a table to put my feet under and scholar for clothes on my back. Look, Officer, I have been kicked out of my house. I guess you don't know Kumba Richardson. He wasn't playing when he beat the shit out of me."

"I hate to admit it but, yes, that was pretty obvious from the moment I first saw you."

"I'll bet he or my mom have already talked to my biological father and he has disowned me -- again."

"I hate to admit that ass well, but you're right."

"So what have I got to live for?"

"Everything. I mean it, everything. I need to check out some things. Who do you trust at school? I'll get the school on your team."

"Ms. Allen, the senior counselor, has always kinda looked out for me."

"Does she know you are gay?"

"No, no-one except you and my parents know."

"Ok if I tell Ms. Allen? It would help if she knew, since you've got to get everything squared away. Or is there a gay teacher you rather I talk with?"

"Mr. Stenson is gay and everyone knows it, but right now I don't think he'd be much help after the Smith affair."

Lakeshore was a science-magnet school and Bob Smith, a chemistry teacher, had recently been jailed for sexual shenanigans with six of his students. I'm sure every gay teacher in the county was on edge as a result. "Ok, but Ms. Allen is all right?"

"Yeah, but kinda check it out as you talk to her. You can ask her for my work if you would. The doctor says I am definitely here for several more days and I don't want to get too far behind."

"I'll get by and see her tomorrow," I said." I had smiled inwardly when Andreas said Ms. Allen was someone he trusted. Mine and Andreas' first lucky break. She hadn't been a counselor when I knew her at College Park High School where I graduated. She had been a business teacher working on her counselor's certification. We had gotten to know each other very well. It was not the counselor's shoulder I cried on as drugs took a toll on my life; it was Ms. Allen's. She had a nephew who had lived with her at one time, who was into crack, and she understood what I was going through. My girlfriend and he actually died together, both overdose victims.

Thursday night I shuddered as I walked by the duck pond thinking how close Andreas had come to dying. I had tried to imagine how a parent, even a step-parent, could hate their child enough to beat him to within an inch of his life and I couldn't.

I finished my shift and when I checked out, found a note in my box telling me I had an appointment with my commander, Friday morning at eight. More comp time, but time I needed to get to Lakeshore to see Ms. Allen. The note gave no hint of what the meeting was about, but it must be pretty important for the commander to come in Friday morning at eight. He was generally on a strictly nine to five schedule. I guess that messed up my getting to Lakeshore and seeing Andreas.

I got to sleep quickly and, before I was ready for it, the alarm went off. Since I wasn't officially on duty, I dressed in jeans and a knit shirt and showed up at the station downtown promptly at 7:45. Even at that the commander was waiting for me.

"Good morning, Johnson. Hope you got a good night's sleep in spite of getting called out early."

"To tell the truth, sir, I could have done well with a couple hours more, but duty calls, I guess."

"I hope what I have to tell you will make it worthwhile. I have an offer to make. Ralph Hicks is a twenty-year veteran who has just lost his partner to retirement. Ralph is a super cop and all around nice guy. He asked if he could select his new partner and the chief, who is a personal friend of his, said he didn't see why not. He has asked for you. I'm not sure why, but I do know he has looked at your file, going through it with a finetooth comb. He said he has known you for a couple years, which I didn't know."

"Neither did I," I said, puzzled.

"Well, regardless of how he made the decision, he asked for you to be temporarily assigned as his partner. That way either one of you can get out of the arrangement just by saying you want out. Ralph is a detective, but of course you won't be given that rank... well, technically you will have detective rank, but at your present pay scale plus a small increase. You'll also be working days, starting Monday morning. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend."

"I guess I have nothing to say about this new arrangement."

"Frankly, you don't until you have had a week or two with Detective Hicks. But, I can tell you, I would have given an arm and leg to have been picked when I was a rookie like you."

"Don't get me wrong," I laughed, "I'm happy with the assignment. I just wanted to make sure I knew where I stood. Well, since I've the weekend, I'm off to see one of my high school teachers."

"I'm sure she will be pleased. My wife's a teacher and she gets all carried away when a student comes back to see her. Few do. Good luck, Johnson. I think you'll thank your lucky stars for your new assignment."

I left and drove to Lakeshore, signed in at the desk and asked to see Ms. Allen. The secretary rang the counseling center and told the secretary there was a Mr. Johnson wanted to see Ms. Allen.

Ms. Allen came to the front office and as soon as she saw me broke into a big smile, walked over to me and gave me a big hug. "I'm glad to see you, Aaron. I was thinking about you last week. Come on to my office."

When we reached her office she wanted to know how I was doing and was delighted about my new assignment. I also told her I had seen LaTonya at Grady and had coffee with her. We talked a bit about where I was living, the fact that I wasn't dating anyone, that sort of stuff.

"Well, this is great, Aaron, "but I sense you didn't just drop by for a social call. What's up, Mr. Policeman?"

"I'm here to talk about a student, one who thinks an awful lot of you," I said. "Andreas Jackson."

"I have tried to get in touch with his mom since I noticed he has been absent a week without calling or anything. That's very unlike him. The one time I got his house, his mom refused to talk to me, having his half-sister tell me he didn't live there any more. Do you know what's going on?"

"Yeah, I do. His step-dad beat him so bad he almost died." I then told Ms. Allen all I knew about the situation except I didn't tell her why he had been beaten.

"His step-dad beat him because he found out he was gay?" she asked.

I really didn't know how to answer that. I mean, Andreas had said it was ok, but I wasn't sure. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"You don't know he's gay? He is. He, of course, doesn't 'act gay', whatever that means, and he has never said so, but I'd place money on that."

"Not with me, you won't. Yeah, you're right. He's gay and when his step-dad and mom found out, his dad beat him to near death, with his mom egging him on."

"What's he going to do?" she asked. "He obviously can't go back home and that's all the family he has so far as I know."

"It is. Well there's his biological father. I called him and he disowned him as well. What can he do?"

"He could live with you," she said. "Seems a nice arrangement to me. He only has a couple months left in school. He has an internship this summer at the Center for Disease Control, which will more than pay his keep. Next fall he has a full academic scholarship at Emory or Georgia State -- his choice. He's talked about going into premed and, if he does, Emory would be the better choice. He has a basketball scholarship at Georgia Tech where he could go as well. He's really good and basketball may take him far. But if not, his academics will. He'd cost you practically nothing and I think you'd enjoy his company. He really is a great kid. Of course, you'd have to shoot straight with him."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you are going to have to be honest with him. For one thing, he will know you are lying if you are -- he has an uncanny knack that way -- and, for another, he needs to know he ccan be honest with you and the only way that is going to happen is if you are honest with him. That's all I mean." I didn't think so, but then I had no way of knowing what she meant if she meant more than she said.

"I don't know. I mean with his parents knowing he is gay, they may come up with some weird idea about why I asked him to live with me."

"If they do, have their asses thrown in jail," she laughed. "Isn't that how you'd say it?"

"Yeah. Well, I'll give your suggestion some thought. I have some time since Andreas won't be released for several days. Which reminds me, he asked that I get his assignments."

"I have them right here. I got them ready to give to his mom when I thought she'd be coming by when I contacted her. I guess his books and things are still at his place."

"Sure. Something else I hadn't thought about. I need to call and make arrangements to get his things."

"Don't think you need to show up there."

"I won't. Kelly Moore and his two big bruisers at Buckhead Movers owe me big time. I don't think even steroid Richardson will take those three on."

"Aaron, Andreas is too good a kid to lose. Take care of him, ok?"


"And keep in touch."

"Will do. Thanks."

"Thanks to you as well."

Before I left the school, I called the Richardsons and told them to have ALL of Andreas' things ready by three o'clock. "I'm sending movers around to pick up his things. Make sure you have everything that belongs to him ready to go. And don't give the movers any trouble and don't hold back anything that is Andreas'. You wanted him out, he's getting out. I'll remind you that you don't want to piss me off."

I then called Kelly at Buckhead Movers. I had pulled Kelly's ass out of a crack a few months ago when he got caught in a bad drug deal without even knowing what was going on. He owed me big time and knew it. "Kelly? Aaron Johnson. Need some help." I explained what was up without going into why Andreas had been kicked out and Kelly didn't ask. I gave him the Richardsons' address and asked him to take a truck and a couple of his all-brawn-and-no-brain helpers with him. "You need muscle who won't question anything you say in case this Richardson guy decides to cause trouble. If he does, get out of there and call me.

I went by Grady to see Andreas. "How are you doing, kid?" I asked Andreas when I met him walking in the hall.

"Pretty good considering I was about dead this time last week. Now I'm up walking around and really to roll, except I don't have a place to roll to. Depending on finding a place to live, I can get out sometime next week."

"That's why I am here," I said. "Ms. Allen had a suggestion which I'd like for you to think about. She suggested you move in with me. I mean my place is no palace. It's nice, but small. Only one bedroom."

"You'd let me live with you?" he asked as if he hadn't heard correctly.

"Yeah, if you want to."

"Even though I'm gay?"

"Yeah," I answered.

"The doctor told me I could get out Monday morning if things kept going well. And I can stay with you?"

"Yeah. I'll get your things and have them for you."

"How? Kumba is not going to let you have anything. He claims it's all his. He even said that before... before he knew."

"You let me worry about that, ok?"

"Yeah, well, ok," Andreas gave me a huge smile. There was going to be a real problem here, I could tell. Just what had I let myself in for?

I left Grady and when I got home, took a real look around my apartment. It was fine for a single guy, but what was I going to do with Andreas? I had a king-size bed that just about filled the bedroom. The living room couch made a bed, but I had slept on it a couple times and, I can tell you, it was far from comfortable. I laughed to myself when I thought that if Andreas was a woman I'd probably have no problem sharing my bed with her. She'd be perfectly safe, but a good-looking stud like Andreas? No way. Sharing a room with him would be hard -- in more ways than one. Suddenly I said, "Damn! That Allen knows me better than I do." She definitely sensed I was attracted to Andreas. I came as close to admitting I was gay as I had ever done, but I couldn't think the word.

"He'll be asleep when I come in from work and that would help," I thought. "Whoa, not with my new assignment. Big problem. It just would not do." I finally decided the only way out was to get rid of the king-size and get two double beds. They might take up a little more space than the king-size, but that would work. I'd look on the bulletin board at the station house. Maybe there'd be something there. I really didn't have money to run out and purchase two new beds.

As I was standing in the middle of the bedroom thinking about my dilemma, the phone rang. "Aaron, Kelly. We have the kid's things. Thought that hunk would give us trouble, but he left and the wife made sure we had everything. She kept saying she wanted all the evil stuff gone."

"Thanks, Kelly. I think she wanted to make sure you thought the kid was some terrible jerk. He's not, he's just a kid whose step-dad decided to beat the shit out of him." Kelly was satisfied with that and I started to hang up the phone and as an afterthought, asked, "By the way, Kelly, happen to know someone who would like to trade two double beds for a king-size one?"

"Matter of fact, think I might. Had a gal moving in her boyfriend and both were complaining they had double beds. Of course they were planning on sleeping together, but a double bed was too small. Guess they don't cuddle in bed. Dumb, dumb, dumb."

"I have a king-size I'll trade. If they are willing, you can pick up the king-size when you bring the kid's things, and bring the doubles back. I'll leave the key with the woman in number one if I'm not here." The woman in number one was a retired school teacher I kinda looked out for. She had broken a hip shortly after I moved in to number three, so I did her shopping and took care of things she couldn't do until she recovered. I made a friend for life.

Getting Andreas' things and maybe two beds was a big accomplishment. Pleased with myself, I decided to go back to Grady. Andreas was up, walking down the hall again when I arrived. "Hey, great to see you're still vertical," I said. "How you feeling?"

"I have felt better, but I'm ok. I'd just like to get out of here."

"Release still scheduled for Monday?"

"Yeah, provided I can give them an address. Something about having to have a place where they can send the bill, I guess," he laughed. The kid did have a sense of humor and that was definitely a plus in my book.

"I'll take care of that when I leave," I said. "Buckhead Movers are bringing your things as we speak," I told him.

"I hope they were prepared for trouble," he responded, and got a frightened look on his face.

"No problem. I told Kelly, who is in charge, to take a couple no-brain, all-brawn types with him and give me a call if there was a problem. There wasn't -- I guess because I reminded Kumba that I still had a report ready to turn in. His balls are in my hand and I squeezed a little," I laughed.

"According to Mom, you hardly have a handful. These are my balls," Andreas laughed, making a sphere of both hands. These are my balls on drugs," he laughed as he made a small circle with thumb and forefinger.

We talked a while longer before I decided I had to tell him the sleeping arrangements. "Maybe I can afford a larger apartment later, Andreas, but for now we'll have to share a bedroom. I don't think we'll be sharing a bed." I told him about the trade I hoped Kelly was pulling off. "Well, I've got to get to the apartment and see how things are coming. I'll see you in the morning about ten or so."

Andreas reached out and gave me a bear hug and said, "Thanks for everything. Even for saving my life." I knew he meant exactly that. I remembered to give him a card with my home phone and cell phone number and left.

*MARTA==Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (I think). It is Atlanta's rapid rail part of the public transit.