"We close up shop early on Christmas Eve here, sailor." His hands empty, but his voice bright, Denny stuck his head out the balcony doors. "Let's skip this for now and do it at the house. I keep the good scotch there. The cleaning crew pinches what I leave here. They think they're pulling a fast one over on me, but I don't mind: It keeps 'em happy. And it's easier than learning their names, saying 'thank you', and all that liberal equality stuff."

He waited a beat. "You coming?"

"Coming where?" Alan turned, straining his neck to look back towards the gloom of Denny's inner office.

"My place. Home. With me. Now that you and Sally are--" Denny made a splitting motion with his fists. "I thought that--"

Seeing the blank expression on Alan's face, Denny changed gears.

"Never mind. Dumb idea." He twirled a finger beside his ear and went for the recovery. "Mad cow. Wait a sec. I'll get the glasses. We'll do the usual. I want to hear about your case: how your stripper managed to smuggle all that glassware out of the nudie bar. Especially the candleholders." Despite the subject matter, it didn't come out sounding funny.

Alan hesitated long enough to process the situation. "No." He stood and smoothed his tie. "I would like very much to go home with you. Let me stop by my hotel and pack a few things. I'll meet you at your house in an hour." The mood had become a good deal more emotion-laden than to his taste, and so he moved to lighten it a bit. "I'll bring fruitcake. That is the traditional hostess gift, I believe. And are you a poinsettia kind of guy?"

Denny brushed away the idea with a dismissive wave. "I have lots of things. Nicer things. What are you? A thirty-eight waist? You'll be fine. Come on. I've been itching to show you my new etchings."

Whether or not Denny had any idea what he meant when he said such things was anybody's guess.

Some men might have asked for clarification. Others might have begged off on the invitation with suddenly remembered out-of-town plans. Others might have spilled their hearts right there and then, letting them tumble carelessly out onto the cold concrete, fourteen stories above the city streets.

Alan stood and said, "Why not?" He followed Denny to his car.

Thus, the Crane, Poole and Schmidt executive balcony spent five days empty and alone for the first time since Alan's arrival.


Global warming or not, so far it was the coldest January on record for eight-six years. City lights played off of a thick layer of ice that covered everything. Although quite beautiful when observed from the safe and toasty confines of luxury office space, it was a different story altogether when Alan opened the sliding doors. A blast of icy air permeated his clothing. He wrapped his arms around himself, but he had already begun to shiver.

"I've got your seat ready," Denny said. His back to Alan, he sat like a fortress against the storm. He waved a hand towards a cigar--where it lay pre-lit in the ashtray--and a lowball glass of scotch on an electric warmer.

Alan glanced around. Ice covered the balcony rail and everything else that stood exposed. His testicles crept higher at the thought of lowering himself onto the frozen seat.

"No thank you." He hugged himself more tightly. "Perhaps we could shift the venue to inside tonight. My bottom is not as impenetrable as is yours."

"I told you I don't like it when you talk that way. I meant it," Denny said blandly.

"Sorry." Alan stood looking not so subtly back indoors. "So, I take it you're a fan of don't ask, don't tell?"

"It's worked for generations of Americans--including my ancestors, finest people who ever lived. Why mess with a good thing?"

"I'll keep that in mind," said Alan. "Still, I'd still like to know your secret."

"My secret?" Denny twisted his neck around.

"The seeming impermeability of your bottom. To the cold," Alan hastened to add.

"Come here." Denny stood up.

Arms clutched around himself, Alan shuffled to the front of the chairs. On the seat of each lay a cushioned insert, one labeled "Denny Crane" in director's chair stencil, the other: "Alan Shore."

"Touch it."

Alan did. It was heavenly warm. Then he saw the power cords that ran to the same outlet as did the drink warmers. He fell into his seat and picked up the waiting scotch. "You think of everything, Denny," he said with a sigh.

"I try. Although it's harder than it used to be."

"I hadn't noticed," Alan said as he lolled his neck around.

Denny acknowledged the comment with a tiny nod. "We can go in if you want."

"No. I'm fine. Although my feet are a little nippy."

"Up here." Denny patted the small space beside his thigh.

Alan raised his eyebrows in confusion.

Denny grunted as if put out at having to do all the work. He twisted his chair around until it was almost facing Alan's and patted the space on the heating pad again. He reached down beside his chair and picked up a large carriage blanket. He shook it out and draped it across both their laps.

Alan kicked off his shoes and, under the blanket, slid his stocking feet up beside Denny's right buttock.


Alan's eyes took on a mischievous gleam. "Actually, they would be warmer if--" He starter to move his feet towards the inside of Denny's thighs.

"Forget it!" Denny slammed his legs together. "There's a right way and a wrong way to get between my legs. You're heading the wrong way and fast."

Alan chuckled and closed his eyes. "My life has been a continual series of trips going what conventional wisdom would consider 'the wrong way.' You should know that I find it curiously satisfying and see no reason to change my habits now." He nestled his toes deeper into the cozy corner of Denny's chair.

"Isn't it a little tiring? Always going against the flow." Denny eyeballed him from the side.

Alan popped his neck and gave an exaggerated stretch. "I have no complaints." He wiggled his toes against Denny's body. If he had to choose one moment to stay in forever, this one wouldn't be so bad.


The office always emptied fast on the fourteenth, the joke being that lawyers needed to hurry to the drug stores to see if they couldn't pick themselves up a (leftover, half-priced, slightly stale) heart. However, Alan was in trial, so he ended up staying late at his desk.

The phone call came in a little after 6:00 P.M. His client-- Henry Rhodes-- had been shanked in lock-up. He was dead. He'd been remanded ostensibly for kidnapping his own children for the third time, but mostly for having had spent so much on a useless family law attorney that he was now unable to raise $10,000 bail.

For a while, Alan sat in front of the trial notes he would no longer need, reeling and trying to make sense of it all.

Eventually he made his way to Denny's balcony. They had a double-date planned with the daughters of some longtime Crane family friends who summered in Nantucket and wintered Tampa, but were in Boston for a few days of shopping and city ambiance.

"You'd best go on without me," Alan said. "I'm not going to be decent company tonight."

With a heavy whoosh, Denny sat down next to him. He plunked the bottle of Chivas down on the patio table between them, where two glasses waited. "It's not your fault, you know."

"Isn't it? He came to me for help."

"He may have come to you looking for help, but that's his problem. That's not the deal we make. What we offer is legal representation. That's not the same thing as help."

"And a man with no previous criminal or violent history who has been deprived not only of means to earn a wage and by which to pay support, but then deprived of his very liberty for the sole offense of being desperate to see his children--how is he to get help when the same system which has brought you such fame, fortune and wealth fails him utterly?"

"Not our problem. Zealous representation. If we've done that, we've done our best. Contract met."

"How do you live with that?" Alan asked, suddenly in disquieting earnest. "I really want to know."

Denny shook his head. "Someone once asked Michelangelo how he went about making one of his statues, but how do you put something like that into words? The best he could come up with was, 'I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free.'" Denny paused. "Except he probably said it in Latin or Wop or something."

"Maybe that's the secret." Alan mused, a familiar but recently absent dark mood seeped over his demeanor. "Maybe you have to start with a block of marble inside you."

"No. You don't. And you don't have to end with it. You just have to know that there is an angel when everyone else tells you that it's only a block and you must be starting to slip."

Alan stared at Denny for a very long time. "Henry Rhodes didn't deserve to die for wanting to live with his children."

"If we all got what we deserved in this world, where would you and I be?"

That was unpleasant food for thought. Alan stood up. "Really, Denny, you should go on. It's not you; it's me. I don't want to talk tonight. I just want to get drunk and wake up with a hangover miserable enough to render me incapable of all other thought."

Denny picked up the bottle and poured both tumblers inappropriately close to the rim. Taking one for himself, he pushed the patio table forward and propped his heels up on it, ankles crossed. "Can't. I already cancelled. For both of us."

Alan blinked. He resumed his seat, took up his glass, and propped his shoes up next to Denny's. "Understood. But I still don't want to talk."

Denny's face softened. He half-turned in acknowledgement. "Whatever." He looked away again towards the skyline and just sat.

Behind them, strings of pink paper hearts hanging from the ceiling fluttered in the breeze.


"Show me your Easter basket, and I'll show you mine." Alan plunked his cellophane wrapped CP&S corporate gift to the associates down on the table and himself into his usual chair.

Denny stood at the balcony railing, twiddling with something in front of his crotch.

"What have you got there?" Alan asked, his curiosity piqued.

"Denny Crane."

Now that was a suggestion too intriguing to be ignored. Alan stood up and went to look.

In his hand, Denny held a Pez dispenser modeled in his own image. The nose was done particularly well, Alan thought, although the ears had come out a little large.

"Custom made. The mechanism as well," Denny explained. "It doesn't dispense; it fires. Watch." He aimed over the railing and pulled back plastic Denny's head. A pink Pez shot out over Boylston Street and down amongst the unsuspecting pedestrians below. On the sidewalk, a shopper rubbed the back of her head and peered around in confusion before continuing on her way.

Alan chuckled. "Let me try."

"Careful with my head; it's delicate."

"I know how to handle a head. I have done this before."

"Not with this one you haven't; hold it this way."

"Would you move your hand and let me--"

"Don't tell me how to touch my own--"

"I just want to be the one to make you--"

"Watch it! You're going to make me spill my--"

"Boys." Shirley's voice startled them from behind.

They jumped and whirled, both still clutching at the dispenser against Denny's upper thigh.

A Pez shot out of Denny's...head, thwacked against Shirley's chest, bounced up and into her V-neck, and disappeared down between her...schmidts.

Shirley stared from it to them to where their hands still converged almost directly in front of Denny's fly.

"What?" they asked in ingenuous unison.

Shirley just raised a palm, shook her head and walked away.


With one eye to the clock, Alan sucked rhythmically in and out on her clit. He strummed one of the clitoral roots with his thumb until, manicured fingers twisted in his hair, she came squealing and squirting out sticky fluid-- in smaller pulses than the last time--all over his chin and down his neck.

One of the things Alan found most miraculous about women was not just that they were polyorgasmic, but how one orgasm seemed to prime them and make them all the more ready for the next and the next. Some men prided themselves on golf scores, others on the number of women they'd tupped. Alan took pride in how many serial orgasms he could wring from one woman in one session--giving an entirely new meaning to seven in one blow.

When she recovered, she reached for his waistband. "It's got to be your turn now. You must be getting hot in there," she said with a wicked grin.

7:55. In stocking feet, Alan hopped to the floor. "Not quite yet. I've got to meet an old friend first."

She boggled at him and pulled the sheet over her bare body. "But...this is my place."

"Yes, certainly. We won't be in the way. I just need to borrow this and this," he stacked their two brandy snifters in one hand and flung his suit jacket over his other arm, "and your patio, and we should be good to go." In rumpled and fairly messy shirt and trousers, Alan padded out to her back porch.

At 8 P.M. on the dot, his cell phone rang to the tune of "I Think We're Alone Now." Alan flipped it open. "Hello, Denny. How's the Shrubbery doing these days?"

"I hate it when you do that. Show some respect."

"I'm waiting for him to do the nation that courtesy."

"How's my town?" Denny asked.

"Dull. Hurry back."

"How's Shirley?"

"Tasty. Hurry back."

"Don't even think about it. I tagged her with exploding dye markers. Go near her, and I'll know it."

Somehow Alan found the idea of Shirley and him in matching purple dye to be inexplicably arousing. His penis pulsed so hard it hurt, and he wondered if it might not have been a better idea to allow himself to orgasm before his chat with Denny.

"Guess where I'm calling from." Denny tossed out the challenge cheerily.

Shell games offered better odds than that, so Alan demurred. "I give. Where?"

"The Truman Balcony."

Alan chuckled and imagined Denny settling his bottom into a chair that should have been Thomas Dewey's and breaking wind with gusto. "Before you leave, you must urinate off of it for me. Go for distance. On to the rose garden if you can. It's long been a fantasy of mine."

But instead of the predictable rejoinder, Alan alerted to a blindside attack.

"Wait a minute! You've been having sex!" Denny accused. "I can tell when you have and when you're...aroused. Your voice gets all...congested."

"Congested?" Alan cleared his throat and tried again. "Congested? Really?"

"Have you been having sex without me? We had a deal."

Now would be a welcome time for some word salad, but none seemed to be on the horizon. "Well, Denny, a man has needs. And you've been gone for three days. It's just one woman. They'll be plenty left for you--for the both of us."

"I have needs, but I've been saving myself for you. For being back with you."

Alan laughed. "On this trip you're awash in a sea of gay-bashing, podium-thumping, high profile Republicans. Just with whom do you think you'd be able to have sex?"

Static crackled from both ends of the connection.

"Never mind; strike that," Alan said.

"Who is it?" Denny asked. "I want to know who she is. Is she better looking than me?"

"Gentlemen don't kiss and tell."

"It's not the kissing I want to hear about. Is it that new girl?"

"They're all new girls to you."

"Don't be such a prude. If I were having sex with you, I'd let you tell her about it."

The worst part, Alan thought as he laughed silently to himself, is that was likely to be true. "I'm not having this discussion. Good night, Denny. Tomorrow night? Same bat time, same bat balconies?"

"If it's bats, I'm there. But it'll have to be later. I'm having drinks with Condi; I might get lucky." As usual, Denny sounded inordinately pleased with himself.

"I thought you were saving yourself for me." Alan caught himself laughing aloud this time. He stifled it and tried to project at least a little fake hurt.

"That was before I knew about your...congestion. Deal's off. In fact, I'm going to see if Harriet can join us. You don't think she likes women, do you?" Denny wondered. "Although, either way, that could work. Condi's an open-minded gal, and I like to watch, too."

Alan interrupted. "Call as late as you like. I'll wait up."


"Yes, Denny?" Denny sounded so needy, that Alan reflexively pushed the receiver closer to his ear, as if it could help by way of some metaphysical connection.

"If you leave a video phone open next to the bed, it's not really kissing and telling--"

"Good night, Denny." Alan said it firmly and stood up. "Hurry back," he added, just before he flipped the phone closed. He unfastened his belt and trousers on the way back to the bedroom, thinking as he did that things weren't nearly as much fun without Denny here.


"I think that women must control the greeting card industry," Alan said, as he molded his backside against the chair. The summer sun had left the facing surface pleasantly warm, and the residual heat seemed to permeate through his body, but this time not in a relaxing way.

Denny, on the other hand, seemed as at ease as ever. As if they had built the balcony around him...which they very well might have. "Women control everything. Why shouldn't they? They have more than half the breasts and virtually all the vaginas."

"Only half the breasts?" Alan wondered.

"Manbreasts," Denny clarified. At Alan's unconvinced stare, he began to peel down his own jacket and suspenders. He unbuttoned his shirt. "Manbreasts," he repeated as he exposed his top. "Most of a mouthful; none of the PMS."

"I see," said Alan. He extended two fingers and dragged the tips down Denny's chest where they happened to accidentally brush one nipple. It hardened to a thick peak and jutted out like a clitoris, begging to be sucked. "Subtle, yet oddly stirring and effective." Alan cocked his head toward it.

"Hey!" Denny yanked his dress shirt closed.

"Never fear; I'll still respect you in the morning." Alan leaned back again with his cigar. "Or buy you breakfast at the very least."

"What was this about women and greeting cards?" Denny wondered as he redid the open buttons and shrugged his suspenders up.

Alan swirled the Chivas around in his glass. "Traditionally, Halloween is billed as the scariest holiday, but one can be certain that any man--at least any man who has exercised his man parts along with corresponding woman parts--must recognize that Father's Day is the most frightening of them all."

"Ah." Denny took a drink. "Homecoming weekend for the prodigal sperm. What's out there with your shorts as a return address?"

"I have no way of knowing."

"Don't give me that. No one gets scared unless they know something that they wish they didn't. I've told you my secret; what's yours?" Denny fixed him with a pointed stare.

Alan's gaze meandered off into the distance. "Shore men make abysmal fathers, both in the standard nurturing sense fatherhood--something I have realized since I was quite young--but also in the purely clinical sense of the redistribution of half of one's DNA. The empirical truth of the Darwinian model of inheritance as far as intangible characteristics is something I have come to fully appreciate only with the insights that are achieved through time and maturity. In recent years, I have begun to see in myself not only many of the least desirable traits of my father and his father before him, but also the lack of many of the basic connections to humanity that I was once so appalled to discover absent in the both of them.

"And so, I find myself wondering not so much whom I might have spawned, but in what condition they've grown and developed. How much of who we are is determined by Watson & Crick instead of by Dr. Spock? And if there are more after me with those Shore...impairments, which seem to become more profound in each subsequent generation, how are they co-existing with them?

"And so, given the advent of readily available genetic testing and databases, this weekend paternity fest has filled me with dread. I generally spend it huddled down in isolation for fear that any knock on the door could be some unfortunate waving a paternity test in one hand and a gun in the other asking how I could do such a thing to them?

"How can I be a paternal figure to some poor soul who's even more lost and misguided than I? I spend the entire weekend in hiding, afraid that the phone will ring, and I will have to face someone looking to me as a father figure with answers to the ineffable."

"And I spend the whole weekend afraid that it won't." Denny stared down into his glass.

Alan searched Denny's face, but there weren't many clues. "You could call Donny."

"It's not my prerogative."

For once, Alan allowed his opinion to penetrate into his tone. "With an attitude like that, I can certainly understand why he sees no reason to visit."

Denny's face was unreadable. "Do you think they know about our sleepovers?"

The question caught Alan off-guard. With Denny "they" could be anyone from Paul and Shirley to little green men from Mars, and Alan wasn't in a guessing mood. "Who?" he asked, not feeling terribly patient.

"Your illegitimate kids. Everyone else seems to. Damned if I know how." Denny played oblivious again.

"I have no idea. Why?"

"You could come over. They won't find you there. Not if you don't want," Denny added as if by way of afterthought.

Alan considered. "We could call Donny. Arrange a cozy dinner for three."

Denny looked like he was going to protest.

"I don't mean for you. I like him. I think he's...fetching." Alan bit down an inner smile wondering if Denny would see through the ploy.

Probably--he usually did--but it should be a fun game all the same.

Denny bolted forward in his chair. "What do you mean 'fetching'? Just what are your intentions toward my not-son?"

Alan raised his palms, all innocence. "None, I assure you! I merely meant to broker a reunion between you two, and was commenting on the uncanny similarity of good looks given your not-relationship. 'Like father, like not-son' is what I always say."

"That's not what you meant!" Denny jabbed a finger into Alan's sternum. "I know you! When you say 'fetching' in that way, it means you want to--"

"Just one dinner," Alan begged, enjoying himself for real now. "I'll be a perfect gentleman. I'll bring flowers. You can chaperone the entire time."

"Forget it," said Denny, tossing down his cigar. "I don't want you around my not-son."

"You are really getting cranky in your maturity," Alan observed as he drained his glass to follow Denny out. "It's...fetching."

Denny glared at him. "You wait until you're a not-father. You'll find out how it is."

They paused at the doorway for a last look at the fading sunset over the balcony.

"Do you ever wish you had a biological descendant, Denny?" Alan asked, the bantering tone entirely gone now. Someone to carry on your legacy...after?"

The sinking sun twinkled and sparkled in hues of red and orange over the Charles and the steel and glass of Back Bay. Denny switched off the overhead fluorescent. "What the hell good would that do?"


It was unusually late before Denny strolled out for their balcony ritual that night. Not that Alan didn't have more than enough work to keep him occupied for several hours, but it surprised him that Denny would. In fact, although twilight lingered until after nine now, it was dark, and almost all but the cleaning crew were gone by the time Denny lumbered out to join him.

Denny passed Alan a squat tumbler of scotch with a festive sparkler dancing and crackling away in it.

"Happy Birthday," Denny said, before he eased back in his chair.

Alan stared at the concoction. "So it is," he said. His echt birthday, not the one on his current documents and employee records. It had been so many years since he'd thought about it, he'd almost forgotten. That bit of bad business in Ohio had made it awkward for him to use his real data--much less return to that state--so he'd taken to fudging the numbers a bit. "How'd you know?" He stared at Denny, nonplussed in awe.

Denny shrugged. "Denny Crane." He reached into his pocket and drew out a silver-wrapped box. He offered it on his palm.

Alan glanced over. "What's that?"

"For you."

Alan took it. Fabric ribbon undid with a single pull, and heavyweight wrapping paper unfolded like a magic trick. In the box was a gold watch with diamonds marking the hours. At first blush, Alan might have estimated the value around $15,000, but seeing the Ulysse Nardin name, he realized it must retail at a minimum of five times that.

It wasn't money Denny intended to give; it was just the only way he was confident he would be understood these days. Alan had picked that up long ago, but was touched just the same.

"Denny, I don't know what to say," said Alan, rendered near speechless for the second time in as many minutes.

"Don't bother," Denny grunted. "God made two things--presents and sex--so that men would never have to talk about anything that really matters."

"I would laugh if I weren't all but convinced of the truth of that," said Alan as he contemplated it all. Then his timbre changed to flirtatious. "But seeing as I have no present with which to reciprocate, perhaps instead--"

"Ugh!" Denny groaned and his face crumpled. "There you go, lowering true love to the level of that sex stuff again! Why can't you just let me say that I'm happy that you're here? Very happy." Denny raised his glass in a small toast.

"I'm glad too," said Alan. He slid the watch onto his wrist. It was heavy, very heavy, and should constantly remind him of the gift--and not just the physical one. At least he hoped that he would think of it often and spontaneously.

"Aren't you going to make a wish?" Denny gestured to the sparkler where it had burned almost down to the liquid in the glass.

"Don't need to."

Together they watched as the last of the sparkles finally sputtered and died.


Denny's voice broke Alan out of his reverie.

" Ohio. Try not to let it happen here."

"It won't," Alan said, realizing that he meant it only as he said the words. "Of all the places I have ever cared to live, this is one of the few in which I have ever cared to stay."

"It's a nice town," Denny agreed. "And the Red Sox are on a roll."

Alan waited a beat. "It is a nice town indeed."


Cicadas chirruped. Owls hooted. A light breeze ruffled the water into gentle lapping motions at the houseboat's pontoons. Under a crescent moon, Alan sat on the spacious bow deck with his fishing rod between his legs marveling at how beautiful life could be.

Denny sat, eyes closed, chin on his chest, either lost in thought or already asleep. It was nigh impossible to tell the difference under the best of circumstances, much less in the sparse moonlight.

Not that it mattered. There wasn't anything that needed saying between them.

Something tugged at Alan's line, but he ignored it. Sticking his fingers into the toothsome mouth of a flopping fish to toss it into an ice-chest full of its dead relatives had only slightly less appeal than then putting his hand into the chilly bucket of live bait to reload his line and do it all again. He went back to gazing at the shadows and the graceful waving motions of the trees that lined the lakeshore.

Eventually his rod grew still again.

When Denny had explained crappie fishing, Alan hadn't seen the point--which was the norm with all of Denny's initial explanations, of course. What not everyone realized was that Denny preferred it that way. It kept people interested--kept them looking to him for more.

But as the evening wore on and the crappie started biting in droves, it made even less sense than it had in theory. A barely palatable eating fish that was mostly fins, bone and scale seemed like far too much work for far too little reward. But now, with the evening fisherman gone and them having the lake to themselves: the crickets, the night air, the moon, the stars--practically the whole universe--it all made perfect sense.

Alan closed his eyes and considered forgoing the snug little bunk and just drifting off right here instead. He made a mental note for the morning to tell Denny that he'd been correct about the trip, but decided it didn't matter. Denny would already know that.

But when they came out on deck to fish tomorrow, Alan decided that he would use the sinker but skip the bait...and quite possibly skip the hook as well. Crappie fishing could be a wondrous thing if done right.

Beside his left ear, Denny made a noise somewhere midway between a snore, a chuckle and a grunt and rolled over a little in his chair.


"I'm thinking of becoming a Mormon," said Denny.

"Mormon?" Alan leaned forward in his chair, curiosity piqued. Behind his head bobbed the largest GOP elephant helium balloon that he had ever seen. Denny had brought it back for him as a souvenir of the convention, but at easily over 15'x20', it was anyone's guess how he had fit it on the Gulfstream.

Perhaps he had it tied to the roof.

"They can have as many wives as they want. As long as they can support them. Which I can. Financially and sexually."

Alan chuckled. "Not necessarily in that order."

Denny shrugged his hands. "Denny Crane. It's good to be me."

"No doubt."

"Do you ever think about getting married again?" Denny continued, with a sly glance in Alan's direction.

"Until very recently, no." Alan's expression was a carefully constructed mask.

"I do. All the time. I wasn't meant to be alone."

"You're not." Alan let the words fall casually.

Denny let him see gratitude for just long enough to make it clear he'd heard more than the surface words. Then he moseyed back to whatever mad pasture he'd been grazing in moments before and picked up his rhythm again. "The more wives, the closer they are to becoming God. Mitt told me all about it."

"You've had plenty of wives," said Alan. "Always without Mitt's help so far."

"Ah! But not all at once." Denny waved a finger in air. "That's the beauty of it."

"What would you do with multiple wives? Besides the obvious, that is."

"I'd...stack 'em up." Denny nodded in self-satisfaction as he made an escalating gesture with one hand.

"Well, that sounds very...aerodynamic, but other than that, what's the benefit?'

"You remember Dagwood Bumstead and the Dagwood sandwiches: too big to get your mouth around, but delicious just the same? I'd patent the Cranewich: same idea. Too big to get your--"

"Got it." But Alan failed to laugh. "You know, the Church of Latter Day Saints is one of the most unabashedly racist and sexist religions to exist in western culture. For the majority of its existence, it held that all persons of dark skin were cursed and therefore barred from ever knowing God. To this day, women cannot only not become priests or prophets but cannot hold any church leadership role whatsoever. Most importantly to any believer, I would think, it's unclear--except perhaps to the twelve white men who hold the purse-strings and make the rules--as to whether women can be exalted: that is, whether they can become gods themselves. It's a given to anyone who reads the scripture that dark-skinned persons cannot."

Denny shrugged. "So what? I'm rich, male and white. That makes me a shoe in for godhood."

"And you're not allowed to drink or smoke."

For just a moment, that appeared to give Denny pause. Then he had a thought. "I could once I became God. That's got to be the best part of Godhood: no one tells you what you can't do."

"What would you do if you became God?" Alan wondered, all manner of physically improbable sexual thoughts swimming inside his brain.

Denny inhaled. "I'd delegate authority, then take vacation: I'd go fishing."

Alan chuckled, "You do that now, except you aren't dead and don't have all those pesky little prayers to answer."

With a little half-smile Denny turned to Alan. Was that a wink? "Then, my friend, like they say, this must be the best of all possible worlds."


The requisite costume party raged on in the background. Two Denny Cranes stepped outside to smoke. They both sported identical custom-tailored suits with all the trimmings. Their carefully salted and peppered hair was nearly exactly matched as well. They both carried Davidoff platinum barrel cigar tubes. When one moved, the other followed step, and it was clearly making Denny One insane with desire.

"Is that a sock in there, or If so, I have to say so myself: I'm quite a man," Denny's eyes had been glued to Denny's crotch from the first moment that they were alone.

Denny chuckled. "Does it matter? Can't you just accept that I'm pleased to be here with you?"

Denny placed a hand on Denny Two's thigh and slid it towards his...Cranehood. "Just do it once for me," he pleaded. "I want to hear me say it, see it drop from my own lips."

Denny Two tilted a shoulder in. His face flattened into a wide smirk and he allowed his eyes to smile in a way that Alan's never could. He leaned a little closer still, and whispered it low and deep. "Denny Crane."

"Ooh!" Denny shuddered. Reflexively both hands flew Craneward, but he was okay for now. He picked up his cigar again, a blissful glow about his face. "You give good me."

Denny Two chuckled. "I learned from the best."

Denny one studied him in open admiration. "You really look...magnificent." His voice thickened to throaty. "You don't know how long I've dreamed about something like this."

Being no fool, Alan chose his moment. "So, sleepover tonight?"

Denny One jumped. "I'll call for the car."

To the strains of Clarice's "I Touch Myself" karaoke rendition, they trotted back through the party and out.


"Shirley, we have an emergency." Trust Paul to take a Christmas party from "Jingle Bell Rock" to DEFCON 3 in under two seconds.

Shirley excused herself to the young lawyer the firm was courting and stepped aside with Paul. "What is it?"

A member of the R&B band on break strolled by and slipped Santa hats onto their heads with a cheery "Merry Christmas."

Paul snatched his off almost before it hit hair and passed back the offending article of joy. He returned his attention to Shirley with a frown. "Gone missing from the party are: the chocolate fondue fountain, a magnum of Dom Pérignon 1973, a ball of mistletoe, two cocktail waitresses and most worrisome of all--"

"Denny and Alan." Shirley finished with the obvious. "Have you checked the balcony?"

"Of course." Paul managed to sound offended, although he had come to her for help. "Five degrees and still dropping, and they're outside smoking and drinking, but nothing worse."

A petite cocktail waitress in a cute little elf-come-Playboy-bunny costume strolled by offering them bubbling champagne flutes from a tray. Paul waved her off as well.

A thought occurred as Shirley ran through the sightlines of the balcony in her mind. "These waitresses: they're not...little women, are they? Little such that they could be..." With surprising decorum under the circumstances, Shirley let her hands paint a picture worth about 1000 rather graphic words in front of her pelvis.

"No. No," Paul repeated it, more definitively this time. "The ladies were full size, and five degrees? Surely even those two wouldn't...couldn't.... No. They were doing nothing untoward. I'm certain."

"Well then, Paul," Shirley patted his arm. "I suggest you put a guard on Denny's office door and wait them out. You can't hide two tipsy chocolate-covered elves forever. Not even in plain sight around this place." With a nod of her head, Shirley set her Santa hat at a jaunty angle and went back to the firm's potential recruit.

Out on the balcony Shirley Schmidt Ho and Patty sat--backs to the office--wrapped in Denny and Alan's winter coats, each with a Santa hat covering their heads. A giant cigar was taped to Schmidt-Ho's face while Patty's hand--where it just barely protruded from the sleeve of Alan's coat to rest on an arm of the chair--was glued around a glass of scotch.

Meanwhile, a trail of champagne-sodden elf clothing (as well as a pair of Denny's pants) led over to the supply closet, where a pool of thick milk chocolate seeped out from underneath the door and slowly spread across the carpet.


This year the double-date had been planned with a set of erstwhile Siamese twins who had seemed pleasantly willing to show off their scars before the evening's end. Earlier in the day, it had become known that Denny's date's separation from her supposedly soon-to-be-ex-husband was nowhere near as complete as the separation from her sister had been.

Her prenup, however, remained solidly intact.

That had necessitated some hasty rearranging, but plan B was now in effect. Two new ladies awaited them at Bonfire, just a block down the street. But since the balcony waits for no woman--nor any two women--still Denny and Alan lingered over their smoldering chubbies and each other's company.

"What's her name again?" Denny asked.


"Rita." Denny repeated it with an exaggerated roll of the R. "I like that. It scratches your throat as you call out her name. Sex with her will clear your tonsils as well as your testicles."

"Efficient," Alan agreed. "Add a little mouthwash, and your oral hygiene is done for the night."

Denny chuckled. "Perfect for the roll over and go to sleep situation. Which is not going to be me tonight." He checked his watch against the half-life of Viagra and set his cigar down. "Speaking of, I've got seven and a half hours left. Ready to go?"

Alan put his cigar down on the other side of the ashtray built for two. "Ready. I'm starving. I missed lunch today, and had to make due with some candies purloined out of a paralegal's drawers."

"Almost as tasty as candy drawn out of a paralegal's purr-loins," Denny observed as he made to slide open the balcony doors.

They didn't budge.

He shoved again.

Still nothing.

"Frozen?" Alan asked. It wasn't that cold. "I'll give you a hand." He exhaled a puff of steam onto the catch, kicked the frame, put his fingers below Denny's, and together they gave a mighty tug.

Still nothing.

"I'll call environmental." Alan reached for his cell. It was in his overcoat... draped over the chair inside Denny's office.

"Would you have your phone, Denny?" Alan asked politely.

"Of course." Denny gestured to his briefcase. Where it stood beside Alan's coat.

"Oh dear." They turned to each other, the possibility of tonsil and testicle cleansing slipping further and further away.

"I have something to tell you," said Denny. "Since we're in a survival situation together. If anything happens--"

"I have permission to eat you?"

"No, not that. But I think you should know: I've taken a blue pill. I may not be held accountable." Denny gestured to his crotch. "Sometimes that thing has a mind of its own. And--" Denny lowered his voice. "I had oysters for lunch."

"I see. In that case, there is something that you should know as well. About those candies I ate earlier: it's true what they say about the green ones. And you do look magnificent tonight." With intentionally erotic pressure, Alan stroked the back of his hand down Denny's lapel.

A low growl rumbled up in Denny's throat. "This is life and death here, like a shipwreck," he rationalized out loud. You could almost see the gears turning in his head.

"Absolutely. It's every man for himself." Alan murmured. His hand ventured lower. "Or perhaps not," he added as a gust of wind blew. "Imminent risk for hypothermia. We must hunker down, share body heat, devise a plan to keep warm. Perhaps some form of...calisthenics?" he suggested. His fingers slid lower the still ambiguous but general direction of Denny's fly.

The sliding doors banged open, and they both spun.

Luis from Housekeeping stood beside a vacuum as tinny music leaked from the old CD player in his uniform shirt pocket. "So sorry! I didn't see you out there," he said. He waited for them to cross over into the office, then re-locked the glass doors behind them and continued pulling paper Valentine's decorations down.

They collected their belongings and hurried out toward the Park Plaza.

"Denny, would you really have--?" Alan wondered as they beat a brisk clip against the chill.

"Doesn't matter." Denny cut him off with a firm gesture. "There are times that it doesn't count. Desperate situations like prison, Boy Scout camp, the army, gym locker rooms, shipwrecks--"

"Locker rooms?" Alan laughed. "You're going to have to tell me that story."

"Another night. Will take a fresh bottle of scotch for that one." Denny made a face.

"Tomorrow night? Sleepover?" Alan asked hopefully. "I wouldn't want to have to drive afterward."

Denny considered for a moment. "All right. You bring the M&Ms."

As they walked, the unmistakable notes of "If You Can't Be with the One You Love" faded out behind them from Denny's office.


The return of the birds, the bees and the flowers after winter put a spring into the step of most of the population of Boston and into the penises of almost of half of it. Carl Sack had flown in from New York, ostensibly for the chance opening of a Thursday night box at Madama Butterfly, but in reality for the chance of an opening at Shirley'

"Aren't you going to invite him up?" Paul asked as Shirley packed up to leave a little early. "If you're serious about having him join us here, it seems like a good opportunity for introductions."

Shirley shook her head. "Denny and Carl mix like oil and an acetylene blowtorch. Rhode Island and Connecticut are barely a sufficient buffer zone as it is. If and when that plan ever comes to fruition, I think a low profile entrance would be in order."

Paul sounded unconvinced. "Well, you've known Denny best...."

Shirley fixed him with an eloquent glare.

"I didn't mean that way!" Paul hastened in protest.

"Good night, Paul," she said, snapping her attaché closed. "I may be a little late coming in tomorrow. I'm seeing Carl off at the airport."

"Don't hurry," said Paul. "The place won't burn down without you."

Shirley locked her office door behind her and headed down to street level.

In the limo, Carl kissed her on the lips. "It's good to see you. We've got time for dinner first, if you like. The Julien at the Langham? Is that still one of your favorites?"

"As long as it's room service."

"I like a girl who knows what she wants," Carl said. He leaned forward and bribed the driver $200 if he could get them there in under ten minutes.

"I have four tickets," Carl mused. "It seems a shame to waste the other two. Are you sure you don't want to invite Denny and his--"

"Alan." Shirley filled in the blank. "While it's very cavalier of you, Carl, to make the first gesture to mend bridges, and I do appreciate the thought, there are a number of prohibitive factors in this particular case. First off, Denny's only at ease with expensive gifts if he's the one giving them. Second, if it were the Great Deluge and the only dry point of land were in the box seat with you and me, Denny would get water wings and float until Ararat appeared. And third, as I understand it, he has plans for the evening. He and Alan were going to have a campfire and weenie roast. I think they've come down with spring fever again."

"One sleeping bag or two?" Carl smirked.

"Some questions it's better not to ask. As you well know with Denny, and that goes at least double for Alan."

"Still, that's funny," Carl said, reaching for his phone. "I've been waiting a while and didn't see Denny leave; we can probably still catch them. I hate to waste good seats. Especially Madama Butterfly and knowing how fond Denny is of courtesans."

"Let them be," Shirley said. "They need their special time just like I need ours." She leaned in and kissed him slowly and sensually as the limo rolled on down the street.

Had she instead chosen to look out the rear window, she would have seen the plume of dark smoke billowing up from the fourteenth floor of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, where out on the balcony Denny and Alan were enjoying the pleasant spring evening. The little table had been pushed to the side, and in its place a cheery bonfire of store-bought split and seasoned wood (as well as a few old case notes) blazed, crackled and popped. Seated along side it in their usual chairs, Alan tongued a gooey white marshmallow moustache while Denny stuffed an over-plumped weenie onto his stick and prepared to stick it back into the flames.

As the smoke rose ever thicker into the air over Back Bay, Paul yelled and pounded ineffectually with his fists behind the heavily barricaded outer office door.


To have your current bedmate leave you in favor of a modeling contract with a top-flight agency out of Rio was not something most men would have considered a total failure, but Denny had never judged himself by the standards of the average man.

Of course, that he would have gotten over. By their very nature, women come and go as ephemeral as snowflakes, each lingering all too short a while but far too plentiful and lovely while they last for it to be considered sad. At least until, inevitably, the seasons change, and finally they fall no more.

But while still pouting, Denny had acted out in court, leaving Shirley little choice but to publicly remove him from a case. Even that he could have lived with--hell it was hardly the first time, hell it wasn't even the first time this month--but this time it hadn't been because someone less experienced didn't understand his eccentric ploys; this time it was because someone less experienced was right and he was wrong.

Some slips Denny could accept because he had to. Others he could not. Not and remain the man he'd always been.

Denny considered pouring another scotch, but his forehead had already begun to feel tight and Alan wasn't even here yet. Nothing better to do, he sat there and waited, glass empty, watching the afternoon light grow dim and his Dominican Robusto burn away.

Eventually he heard familiar footfalls change from carpet to concrete. He didn't turn. Alan would already have received the news. One of the perks of being Denny Crane was that you didn't have to wonder if people were talking about you; you knew that they were.

Alan refilled Denny's glass and took his seat.

"I don't want to talk about it," Denny warned.

"Got it."

For a while they sat in silence.

"I hear that Kelli has gone to Rio," Alan said at last.

"Was that her name? I'd forgotten." Denny sipped and chose his we-all-know-I'm-lying expression. "But, I do remember her--" Denny cupped two hands into a large circle in the air as he appeared to fumble for the word.


"No, not that. Her--" Denny reemphasized his hands.

"Got it." Alan took a swig.

"Chiclet?" Denny reached into his pocket for a pack.

"Thank you." Alan popped several and crunched and chewed.

"Brazil is reported to be lovely this time of year," Alan said at last. "And of course, Kelli is purported to be lovely perennially."

"Mmm. Especially her--" Denny again cupped hands in the air.

"Perhaps you should visit," Alan ventured. "See her and help her settle in. You've earned some of the finer things in life. The firm won't fall apart without you for a bit."

The last sentence may have been too much. A good lawyer knows that being inarguably correct is seldom the best way to convert others to your view: it only pisses people off.

"I told you, I don't want to talk about it." Denny snapped closed and turned aside.

"Denny," Alan tried gently, "you have plenty of money. You don't need to work--"

Denny whirled and jabbed a finger towards him. "Don't you try to tell me what I need! Until you've been here, you can't know, so don't try to think you do."

"All right," said Alan. "It was only a suggestion."

Denny stared off into the distance. "It's like that song 'Once you pass its borders, you can never return again.' I can't leave, Alan. If I leave, I can't come back. And if I'm not the name on the door, who am I?"

Alan swallowed. "All right. We stay."

At the pronoun, Denny gave him an odd look.

"All the same," Alan continued. "Kelli was sublime. Not an easy one to throw back."

Denny shrugged. "There'll be more. Women are like snowflakes." With his fingers he made delicate fluttering motions in the air.

Alan stopped to marvel at the poetic image from his friend who always surprised.

"You put 'em on your tongue, and they melt before your eyes." Denny jabbed out his tongue and waggled it in a most unappealing way.

Alan chuckled at being suckered in yet again.

"You won't miss her? I bet she was a tiger in bed," Alan said.

"No." Now Denny used his guess-if-I'm-lying face, although Alan could see through that one immediately at least fifty percent of the time. "But I wonder how much longer I have to find someone to grow old beside."

Denny took a drink. That turned out to be a bad idea, for the band around his forehead tightened some more. He stretched his facial muscles discreetly, before Alan noticed, but apparently he had not been discreet enough.

Alan pushed up and walked around to the back of Denny's chair. "I'm going to do something with you that I used to do only with my wife."

"If it's sexual, I'm not doing it out here."

"Why do you always presume that I'm trying to seduce you?"

Denny craned his neck around and responded with a "you know the answer" glare.

Alan cracked his knuckles and prepared to set flexed fingers against Denny's head. "Well, in any event, I'm not...specifically." He put finger pads to scalp and with deliberate pressure, began to massage.

Denny leaned back and allowed the headache to be soothed away. "That feels wonderful."

"You should see the rest of my repertoire. A very wise older woman once advised me, 'Never do anything with your hands that you can do with your mouth.'"

"Sounds like a good way to get fur balls."

Alan chuckled. "That's why I keep Vaseline at hand. For that amongst other things."

Denny groaned and tried not to notice as his penis thickened. "I don't care how good it feels. I'm not having sex with you."

"You're the one who's trying to make this sexual; sometimes a massage is just a massage. It says so in advertisements in the back of all the best gentlemen's magazines."

"See, there you go again." Denny jerked away. "I'm not giving you my head! You can just go get head somewhere else." He stuffed his cigar in his mouth and pretended to fume, but he felt infinitely better than he had before Alan had returned.

Alan chuckled and arranged himself back in his seat. His face clouded and seemed to change as some new thought rolled in. "Denny, when was the last time that you were touched in love?"

For a while, it seemed that Denny was going to answer.

"I don't remember," he said at last.

Alan reached out and touched his hand. "Yes, my friend, you do."


With temperatures reaching over one hundred for the second week in a row, Mayor Menino was calling for voluntary power reduction to prevent brown-outs. The building air conditioning had been reset to eighty, which was not improving tempers around CP&S. While most lawyers had accepted the prudence of working in shirt-sleeves, Paul refused to surrender his woolen three-piece, leaving him grumpier than ever--as if anyone could tell. Brad and Jeffrey were taking advantage of the tension to go to ground whenever possible. Even Denny was on the verge of conceding that Gore may have been right--as an actor, not as a Democrat, that is.

The good news is that the women were wearing tank tops and nearly see-though blouses.

And one day, Shirley even wore a skirt!

But not today. Today she was interviewing and touring a potential replacement for when Denise went out. She talked as she walked her down the hall to Brad's office. Turning a corner, her eyes widened as she espied movement out on the executive balcony.

Long experience cautioned that this was liable to be not a good thing. Not by a very long shot.

She processed the visual rapidly: Denny and Alan, both stripped to boxers, sprayed long streams at each other with matched M-16 sized water rifles as they dodged and ducked behind the chairs.

Shirley grabbed the new lawyer by the elbow and did a hasty pivot. "I forgot: Brad's in court this afternoon. Come this way, and let me show you the library." Filling her ear with details of 401Ks, she ushered her safely in the other direction.


Until Nimmo Bay, Alan hadn't been a huge fan of nature, but Denny had converted him. Truth be told, Alan almost invariably enjoyed any of the adventures Denny shanghaied him along on, although he tried to remember to make a point out of having to be persuaded. Like a dog playing tug of war with a chew toy, Denny seemed to take exponentially more pleasure in anything wrung from a battle, be it in the courtroom or out.

Of course, hanging out in the wilds wasn't Denny's thing either--at least, not without having unwary animals to hunt and shoot. But he'd come over with a sudden desire to see the Perseid meteor shower, and so they'd made the trek away from the light pollution of the city--even spurring Denny's Nantucket house with the summer population boom-- over to the relatively unspoiled frontier of the Vineyard, for a weekend under the stars.

Denny's agent had found them a house with an ocean-view balcony off the master bedroom perfect for stargazing as well as their usual...whatever it was that they did. What they hadn't counted on was the continued heat wave with temperatures still in the eighties even after sundown. While the fuel-guzzling air-conditioner kept the inside climate comfortable--much to the expense of the global thermal balance--the great outdoors was where the meteors flew, and so carnal comforts were to be sacrificed to the greater glories of the mysteries of the universe for the evening.

The heat was a visceral thing, making fighting global warming seem not so much a pie-in-the-sky ideology as Sword of Damocles dangling over one's throat with the point closing in minute by minute. Stripped to his boxers-- with sweat rolling above, within and below the cotton--Alan plunked swizzle sticks laden with maraschino cherries into highball glasses full of ice, scotch and soda (approximately in that order), added a bendy straw, and carried them upstairs and out where Denny waited.

Apparently Denny had found his own way of cooling off. He had dragged the plush mattress cover from the master bedroom out onto the wooden planks of the balcony. Now he lay upon the downy pad, belly up, stark naked, a portable electric fan blowing across his middle. He stared up to the stars.

"I hope black fly season has passed," said Alan. "Although this would hard be the first time you've courted nibbles down there, it would undoubtedly be the least pleasant."

Denny gestured at the baseboards where a smattering of candles burned. "Citronella."

Alan blinked. "Good plan."

Denny patted the bedding beside himself.

Alan raised his eyebrows. Really?

"Only one fan. Don't read anything into this."

Alan set the glasses down and stretched out, thanking the powers that be for Denny's homophobia. Any other man might have found sharing cherry filled drinks, by candlelight, with another man, on fluffy makeshift bedding, by the ocean, under the stars, to be somewhat gay. However the irony was that so firmly rooted was Denny's homophobia, that it never even crossed his mind that anything he did could be described that way.

Alan did not in general believe in keeping secrets from Denny, but he thought that he might hang on to this one a little longer.

A meteor went by, and they directed their attention upward.

"See that cluster?" Denny pointed to a patch of twinkling white. "That looks like Victoria Principal."

"You can't see women in the stars."

"I can see naked women anywhere."

Alan chuckled. "Only one of many reasons to follow you where you lead."

Another meteor arced out, longer, nearly across the whole sky this time, and they followed it with their eyes until it burned out.

"What do you really think is out there, Denny?"

"Not you and not me; that's all that matters." Denny took a sip through the bendy straw.

"What do you think the women are like?"

"Green, naked, dancing women with dozens of tentacles instead of arms. Ooh!" Denny got a thought. "She could do the Schmidt and still have hands--I mean tentacles--free to play with my nipples. I wonder if the tentacles have suction cups," Denny mused as he fingered his nipples absently.

"What is this 'Schmidt' anyway?"

"It's like driving a stick shift. I can't tell you in words; I'd have to show you."

"Have at it. My stick remains available to you day or night."

"I'm not having sex with you." Denny glowered at him.

"Well if you're offering Shirley, purely as a teaching device..."

"Forget it; who started this anyway? We were looking at the stars. That one looks like Candice Bergen." Denny pointed up to another cluster. "Gorgeous woman."

Alan tilted his head and followed Denny's finger. "Ah, yes. I see her clavicle. Gorgeous woman indeed."


The wind whistled through the streets, and the building seemed to creak and groan out indistinguishable words.

"Tell me a ghost story," Alan said, settling in for their session.

"Uh-uh." Denny gave an emphatic shake of the head. "That's just one of your ploys. You'll end up saying it'll give you night terrors, then you'll want a sleepover, then you'll be in my bed, poking around my pumpkin patch."

"All the same," said Alan. He waited with an expectant not-quite smile.

Denny sighed. "Have you heard the one about the ghost with the wooden leg named Buckner?"

"I wonder what sex with a wooden-legged ghost would be like," Alan mused.

"Probably quite...spiritual." Denny appeared to be enjoying the thought.

Alan set down his glass with a thunk and stood. "So, sleepover?"

Denny groaned. "I knew it!"

"Oh, come on. It'll be fun. We can watch scary movies and eat Halloween candy that we extort out of small children on the way there."

"Separate beds." Denny stood as well.

"Well since you did choose to have that nice new HD screen installed in your bedroom instead of the living room--"

"Oh no!" Denny continued to argue as they walked out. "Last time you got pieces of caramel corn all through the sheets. I had to sleep in your sticky spot all night."

"Well, stay on your own side, then," Alan retorted. "That's what you get for being a bed hog."

"Trick or treat, girlfriends!" A plastic jack-o'-lantern full of Juicy Fruits slung over her wrist, Oprah waved goodnight at them as they continued to bicker their way down the hall.


From the caviar amuse-bouche, to the wild rice truffle gravy, to the saffron and scallop dressing, to the pumpkin pie with gold shavings sprinkled across the whipped cream rosettes, dinner had been a feast for eyes, nose and tongue. Inviting a handful of blue-chip clients made it a legitimate business expense, but the point was that it made the best Thanksgiving that money could buy for Crane, Poole and Schmidt attorneys with no place better to call family.

Which was either terribly touching or terribly sad--depending upon your point of view. Carl and Shirley disagreed on which it was, but had agreed to do so verbally only in the privacy of their home.

Stuffed to the gills, Denny and Alan waddled out onto the balcony. The after-dinner scotch they had enjoyed was several years older than the waitress, whom they would have liked to have enjoyed, and now they were badly in need of a big cigar and a little private time.

The sky was clear and cold--no snow yet this year--and the change snapped Alan out of his turkey-and-wine-induced lethargy as he stepped out into the chill and settled into his usual chair.

Alan watched as Denny cut, heated and lit cigars for both of them. He wore a new suit, as flawlessly tailored, as striking--and no doubt at least as expensive--as dozens of others he already owned, all in current fashion. But this fabric had a sheen to it that caught the eye with each body movement. It seemed to beckon to be touched.

It had been months now since either of them had sought out other escorts, and in a flash of balcony-inspired insight, Alan chanced to wonder if Denny had had it made just for him.

"For you," said Denny, leaning over to offer him a Cuban.

Alan ran two fingers along the fine silk weave of the sleeve before reaching the cigar. "Thank you." He popped the unlit end into his mouth and inhaled subtle flavor, musky and intoxicating. He felt himself begin to drift to his happy place.

"Nice suit," said Alan as Denny settled in beside him. "It feels...soft."

"It looks great," said Denny.

"You don't need a new suit for that."

Denny gave him an odd look, but Alan continued before he could interrupt.

"Denny, do you really need this much? There are so many with so little; do we really need all this?" Alan waved his palm past Denny's high four-digit suit and toward the dinner spread. "As we are thankful, might there not be some justice in redistributing the wealth just a bit?"

Denny jolted up and went to the balcony rail. Leaning on his smoking elbow, he stuffed his right hand deep in his pocket and stood with his back to Alan. Posed over his city, he answered into the distant night. "I'll be redistributing it all soon enough."

In an instant, the climate turned from crisp to chilling.

Alan pushed up and went to Denny's side. With his left hand, he fished palm flat into Denny's trouser pocket.

"Hey, hey, hey! Careful of my drumstick, there!" With a small jerk, Denny shifted ineffectually away.

"Sorry. My fingers are cold." His voice bland, Alan lied with expert ease. He readjusted a bit and clasped onto Denny's hand.

"Now what're you doing?" Denny griped.

"Being thankful." Alan looked away. With his free hand he continued to smoke.

Somewhat to his surprise, Denny's fingers curled around his.

A helicopter flew by, low and noisy, interrupting their thoughts.

Alan drew a deep breath and said, "Denny, make them wait. Make them wait a long time."

"Damn straight I will." Twiddling his cigar, Denny winked at him. "Denny Crane." He squeezed Alan's hand, and together they turned toward the Boston skyline again.


It's twelve noon on Christmas Eve, and Alan knows he's expected to get his current paramour something. He's narrowed it down to the five position Tantric Love Swing--guaranteed to treble her pleasure--or something out of the Tiffany's catalog. The deciding factors being that Tiffany's could overnight Fed-Ex, but he isn't sure that--being based almost solely on sex--their relationship is anywhere near intimate enough for jewelry.

He dislikes running the risk of being misconstrued.

He decides to delay the decision a little longer, closes his briefcase and goes looking for Denny.

He hasn't bought Denny a present. What Denny wants from him can't be boxed, wrapped or Fed-Exed. Presents of the material kind Denny buys himself; what Denny wants and needs is someone with whom to share them.

Alan strolls down the hall to a series of goodnights and see you Thursdays.


A snowball whizzes past his left ear, close enough to tingle, and thunders into the file cabinet, spraying icy particles about the hall.

"Trigger's sticky," Denny calls from the balcony, as if that makes for a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Alan sets down his briefcase on Denny's desk and wanders outside as Denny pivots the barrel of a snow cannon back over the railing towards an unsuspecting city.

"Denny, what in God's name--?"

"Present from Fritz," Denny says. "He might be a light in the lederhosen, limp-wristed, poo-pushing fairy, but he does know his weaponry."

"As long as we have our priorities straight," Alan interjects.

The dry humor zips past Denny without slowing down. "It's the Bushblazer 122mm with laser crosshair sight; automatic wind sheer correction; and anti-freeze, anti-jamming hopper. She's got operating specs down to forty below and a portable mount for ground or shoulder. She fires forty-five rounds a minute." Denny caresses the barrel like a lover. "Help me load her up."

"What?" Alan blinks.

"Ammo, man!" Bare-handed, Denny crams fistfuls of snow from the balcony railing into the hopper. "An army can't fight on flakes and crystals alone! We need ball-quality snow!"

"Out of curiosity, whom are we attacking?" Alan watches Denny scurry around, face flushed and eyes sparkling bright. At times like this, it is almost impossible to believe that the man is in his seventies.

Alan wavers from moment to moment on whether that's a good thing or a bad one.

"Girard, Peterson, Drake and Bloom." Denny gestures to a glass monstrosity of an office building across the way. "Never liked that firm. Bunch of constipated old bean counters. Get scooping!" Denny points to a large and yet untouched snow drift at the balcony's far edge.

"I consider myself more of a hands-off combatant: à la Rumsfeld." Alan saunters to his chair and picks up the waiting glass of amber delight. He takes a sip and makes a face. Too sugary, and is that...cinnamon?

Mulled cider. Hard and warm. 'Tis the season, Alan supposes. He drains half the glass: not bad once one's mouth is set for what to expect. Lots of apple with hints of cherry, oak, nutmeg and mace.

"Although I believe that Rumsfeld got a bum rap on many counts," Alan continues as he swirls the cocktail glass. "How better in times of combat to safeguard our nation's citizenry than to do as little as possible?"

But Denny's attention is elsewhere. "Oops," he says, apparently oblivious to the slur.

That cannot be a good "oops." Alan's eyes dart up from his glass.

A tenth floor window at Girard, Peterson, Drake and Bloom is MIA. Alan is fairly certain that it had been there when he'd stepped out.

"I predict that you're about to get a phone call," Alan says.

"Only if they catch me," Denny says, packing up the Bushblazer 122mm with laser crosshair sight; automatic wind sheer correction; and anti-freeze, anti-jamming hopper with operating specs down to forty below.

"Right." Alan helps to load it into the velvet-lined case. "It must have been that other guy. I saw him go that-a-way." Arm across his chest, Alan points an index finger down the balcony.

"Not enough snow here anyway," Denny mutters. "I've got five acres of lawn, and they're calling for eight inches tonight."

"Eight inches," Alan sighs. "How I love a man who knows exactly what I like and feeds it to me."

"You always have to go there," Denny complains. "Just when I was going to offer you cocoa with little marshmallows, aged Argentinean rib-eye, and a brand new Egyptian cotton feather duvet set."

Alan pretends to waffle. He isn't much for red meat, but flown in fresh and hand-rubbed like Denny orders it is always a treat. And he can call Tiffany's from there. He'll include a card to explain that sometimes jewelry is just a present so there won't be any misunderstanding later.

"Hot tub open?" Alan asks.

"For you, always."

"All right: I'm in," Alan says, as if there were ever any doubt. But a present isn't a present if it's too easily won, and this is Christmas Eve. Denny's present should be special.

"You know, eight inches is a lot out your way. We might get snowed in," Alan muses as they wend their way through Denny's office and toward the hall.

"We might. So what? I've got plenty of scotch, cocoa and pornography. This place can live without us for a day." Denny touches Alan on the back to try and usher him gently out the office door.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Alan asks.

"Oh! Right!" Denny drops the cannon case and claps his hands. He turns back into the office space. From his humidor, he draws a premium cigar, cuts it, and leaves it unlit in the ashtray beside a note to Santa. He pours a generous shot of Chivas into a cut crystal glass and eight dashes of the same into dessert bowls.

"Sorry guys: no carrots," he scrawls onto the bottom of the note.

Denny picks up his snow cannon and again joins Alan at the door.

Now Alan flips out the light, and homeward they head at last.

By the balcony doors hang two used and still aromatic women's stockings, each with a particular CP&S business card stapled to the band. Through the glass, an eerie glow appears. The bamboo border rustles and, though the sliding doors are closed and latched, the stockings suddenly blow and dance around. Below the card, a new name la bel appears on each: "Naughty."

The stockings droop and hang lower and then grow still, for now each toe is laden down by one solitary lump of coal.

The End...until next season