Legal staff meetings might not be the best way to start the day, thought Alan, but they did have the silver-lining of making it likely that things would only get better from that point on. To perk things up, he tried to initiate an inappropriate game of footsie with Denny under the table, but Denny seemed utterly engrossed in the futile task of trying to balance two pencils against each other to make a sort of graphite lean-to in the space in front of him where, one time, a legal pad would have been.

Denny tucked his shoes under his chair, apparently oblivious to Alan's frisky well as anything else going on in the conference room.

"I'm going to need at least three associates on the Beavers' case," said Carl.

"Three?" Shirley looked over her tortoiseshell frames. "Are you sure?" she asked, but her tone said no, you don't.' "We're spread a little thin right now."

Alan raised his hand. "I'm in favor of being spread thin, thick or any body habitus in between. Except for certain anatomical regions which are much better presented thick, but which, fortunately, rise and thicken anew at each subsequent...spreading. Shirley, if you require proof of said thickening, simply name the time and place. I remain willing to. . . lay the evidence before you."

"Oh, please." Whitney rolled her eyes.

Shirley pressed her lips thin and tight.

Katie giggled.

Jerry looked perplexed.

Denny fidgeted with the pencils that he held in each fist. He'd already had plenty proof of Alan's willingness to be spread, and he wished this meeting would move on. He had better things to do. Although he wasn't sure exactly what they were.

Carl continued as if he hadn't heard a thing since Shirley last spoke. "Of course I'm sure. Beavers can afford the billing; if they can't, we don't need them as a client. Next item."

Shirley made a note. "Okay. Alan." She looked over to him. "Accounting says pay stubs mailed to your hotel address are being returned. You may not need them, but the firm needs a current address for you at all times. Take care of it today. And that should about conclude new business."

Denny's bored pencil twiddling seemed to be coming perilously close to sticking the eraser ends up his nostrils, a sure sign that it was time to wrap up the meeting. As Shirley had been through this with a three-year-old nephew and had no desire to repeat the four-hour emergency room experience, no matter how far health care had come since then, she skimmed over her notes with haste and, seeing noting uncovered, flipped the leather folder closed.

A loose page fell out. She picked it up and raised her brow in what Alan recognized as amusement and Denny recognized as meaning that she wanted him sexually. And probably in a very naughty way.

"Oh yes, one more thing: a walk-in client on the doorstep this morning. A wrongful termination case. Alan, since you seem to have made a niche for yourself in this sort of thing, I think this is up your alley."

"If you mean the wrongful termination cases I've faced with myself as the plaintiff, I remind you that I've only prevailed in one out of the two I've filed. I see the inevitable one at the end of my tenure here as the tie breaker." Alan smirked.

"And I'm sure we too are all on tenterhooks, but I was referring more to your work as an attorney--you do remember serving as an attorney as well, don't you?--Santas, smokers, Scientologists, UFO-sighters--"

"Pretty much any disenfranchised group, as long as it begins with 'S.'" Alan finished for her.

Shirley made a show of scanning the note again. "So close and yet so far. Apparently this one falls under 'N.' Perhaps Vanna will spot you a few back letters." She wrinkled her nose to him in a conspiratorial grin.

"Certainly. Let's just ignore the entire Civil Rights Act. Your own D.A.R. organization certainly has had fun doing the same over tea and finger sandwiches. That was 1964; this is now. What could they possibly have known? We've come a long way since then, baby." Alan drew a pointed breath after the last sardonically intoned word.

"You know, I wasn't one hundred per cent sure beforehand that we would accept this case, but your passionate speech convinced me." Shirley peered over her eyeglasses.

"If you think my passionate speech is arousing--"

"The case is yours." Shirley passed him the notes. "Good luck."

Denny stood. "We're done? Meeting adjourned." He banged the table with a pencil and turned to go.

Shirley stopped him with his name.

"What?" Denny turned.

She held out her hand. "My pencils, please."


He passed them back, nose buggers and all, and continued on the way out.

Shirley made a mental note: Next staff meeting she would either make sure Alan packed a diaper bag with Cheerios and toys, or she herself would bring crayons and some of those nifty activity placemats from the restaurant down the street.


Alan met Denny coming out of the bathroom. "Fly," he said.

"No. I canceled my trip to Hilton Head. Who knew the Red Sox would be back in the playoffs again?"

"No, your fly is--" Alan nodded discreetly down to the lower level Crane.

"Ooh!" Denny zipped with a flourish. When done, he grabbed Alan by the elbow and steered him down the hall. "Let's go. I'll walk with you to Personnel."

"No need. I'll have Clarence email the information."

"No bother. I like to go down there. See my people. Look over their shoulder."

"Denny Crane: the micro-manager?"

"Hell no. People who spend all day on computers have the best Internet porn."

"That's my Denny." Alan turned the corner and strode past the elevator--the elevator one needed to get to Personnel. Or Accounting. Or Payroll.

"Where're you going?" Denny asked as he planted himself in the hallway, as immovable as Paul Revere's tomb.

"To meet my client," said Alan. "I'll do the address change later."

"I'll make sure you get it right."

"I know your address."

Denny's look darkened and an ominous silence settled like the calm in the eye of a storm. "You're ashamed," he said with a note of certainty to his voice.

"I was planning on getting a post office box," Alan tried. "To avoid just this situation. The entire office knowing about and my post intermingling--without even the benefit of a" Alan made a hopeful face, but really, it was for the best that he hadn't staked his future on poker.

"You're ashamed," Denny repeated. "You're ashamed, and you don't want anyone to know!" With a stubby index finger, Denny jabbed him in the chest.


"You call me a homophobe, but at least I love myself, no matter what or who I'm having sex with. While you-- You're the one who can't face it. Who's the real homophobe here?" Denny's face fell into a kind of hurt confusion. He shook his head, turned his back and stalked off.

"Denny!" Alan called after him.

Behind him in the hallway, Clarence cleared his throat, and Alan jumped.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Shore. Ms. Schmidt told me to put that walk-in client in your office. He's waiting." Clarence's nervous shuffling made his own declarative seem more like a question.

"Oh, dear." Alan directed the words to Denny's retreating backside. With a brief acknowledgment to Clarence, he turned toward his own office while several paralegals watched the scene with undisguised curiosity.

Pacing in Alan's office was a heavy-set, middle-aged man several shades darker than Clarence. However, clad in jeans, a logo sweat shirt, diamond earrings approximately the size of Rhode Island and $400 running shoes, he lacked Clarence's certain sense of style.

Alan strode up and extended his right hand. "Alan Shore."

The client studied him with suspicion, as if wary of joy buzzers or something even more nefarious behind the offer. Unusual behavior for someone who didn't know him yet, thought Alan. He considered himself highly accomplished in exuding that certain fiduciary charm which had become even more integral to the contemporary practice of law than had expensive suits and assistants who consider sexual harassment policy to be more suggestion than matter of law.

Finally the man took his hand and jerked it once. "Tyrell Witton," he said in a tone every bit as defensive as his posture was. "I've been fired, and I need a lawyer. You want my kind in here or not?"

"That depends," said Alan with equanimity. "You say you've been fired; can you still pay?"

"Of course I can pay! I ain't no charity case. I'm here on a matter of pride."

"Then please, have a seat. No extra charge." Alan waved to a chair and sat himself behind his desk.

Witton again surveyed him with uncertainty, not at all unusual for this stage of the interview, but as most people looking for help will do, faced with lingering silence, eventually he began to talk.

"Until three months ago, I worked for Street Seams."

"The clothing and accessory stores?"

"Yeah. I worked my way up from the floor of the Winter Street store to Director of Security for the whole franchise. I'm bonded; I've got a great work record, great reviews, inventory and register losses below industry average, bonuses every year. The staff liked me. The owners and management liked me. We hung out together. The owner, Damon Jones, he helped me get my kids into the Pritchard Academy.

"When I left work Saturday afternoon, everything was fine. I spent the rest of the weekend at home with my wife and kids watching Pay-Per-View and doing yard work.

"When I came in Monday morning, Damon was waiting for me. He fired me--said he was 'exercising an at-will termination option' of our contract. He handed me two weeks severance and a letter of recommendation, told me to have all my shit out of my office before the close of business, turned his back and left. I ain't heard from him or anyone else since."

Alan leaned forward across his desk. "Callous, I grant you, but under the terms of an at-will contract for a highly-compensated employee, quite legal."

"It's legal for them to fire me for their own reason or even for no reason. But they still can't fire me for the wrong reasons. I checked. Even with 'at will', you can't fire someone just because they decide they don't want blacks or Jews around--"

"Are you telling me you converted to Judaism that Sabbath?" Alan quipped. "Or is that a heck of a tan you got from the weekend of yard work?"

"No." Witton shut down and stared at the wall.

"So what became different?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all. That's my point. I'm the same as I've been for twelve years."

"Mr. Witton, you cannot have reached the position you have by being unintelligent or oblivious to cues of the motivations of others. You must have some idea what happened during that time to change someone's opinion of you so dramatically."

"They had the carpets cleaned."

"Pardon?" Alan blinked.

Witton sighed. "I'm careful about not mixing my personal and work lives."

"A laudable attitude. I myself am seriously considered trying that, but something always seems to come up."

"I don't leave personal items around, don't Websurf at work, don't get personal emails there, don't do Web chats--I know what goes through the server and how it can be traced. I don't make or take personal calls from the office phones, I don't..."

"Got it," said Alan. "But it would be more expedient to tell me about what you did do this one time."

He sighed again. "I didn't know it was there. I'd forgotten about it until I unboxed the stuff from my office and found it. I guess when they moved furniture to clean the carpets, it must have fallen out of a drawer or something."

"It?" Alan's patience was beginning to wear thin.

"More than a year ago, a personal email I printed out got mixed in with some work I'd taken home. I found it at the office the next day and didn't want to throw it out there, so I put it in a drawer to take with me when I left and destroy. I guess I forgot about it.

"The carpet crew must have found it and read it and told Damon."

"And the contents of the note?"

"A party."


Witton relaxed visibly. "Nah, man. I never have used, except for a few Bill Clinton rolls back in my younger days. But I was smart enough to inhale and not waste good money."

"Ah well, you'll never make President with financial policies like that."

When the silence dragged on past some critical point, Witton continued. "These parties...the men who came...they were...we were all members of-- or believers in-- NAMBLA. The email said something about that. It was a sort of invitation. Addressed to me."

"I take it that your name was more than 'sort of' on the note."

Grudgingly, Witton nodded.

Alan's eyebrows rose. "So you believe that the corporate offices felt this affiliation was somehow in conflict with your role in hauling naughty young men into your office for a disciplinary session with their smooth, bare bottoms tossed over your full and manly lap?"

Witton's hands clenched in his lap. "Something like that, I suppose." But he kept his cool.

"Hard to imagine, isn't it? I can see why you would rush to sue." It was bad enough that Alan so often saw fit to push the limits, but it so often seemed to be with larger and heavily muscled men.

Witton glared at him but added nothing else.

Alan rocked back in his chair. "Mr. Witton, you must realize that this is not protected under equal employment, nor is any judge going to be sympathetic with an admitted pedophile whose employer doesn't want him in a position of being alone with young people behind closed doors. This case cannot be won. My advice to you is to save your money for the best behavioral therapist that you can find, as my understanding is that your condition is both difficult and expensive to treat."

"But it's not right!" Witton protested. "I haven't done anything wrong. I've never touched a kid. Never bought a movie. Never owned a picture. Never pulled anything up on my computers. Never, because I know how easy it is to find that shit out, and I knew my life would be over if anyone did. Do you have any idea how hard it is fighting those kind of thoughts and urges and feelings your entire life? Do you have any idea? And what's the point if it's not going to do any one any good? I've lost everything: my career, my wife, my kids who I love more than anything--"

"I'll bet."

"STOP IT!" Witton stood up and roared. He slammed his hand down on Alan's desk so hard everything jumped and shifted. "I can't make you care; I can't make you take my case, but I can keep you from wasting my damn time. I won't bother asking if you're willing to help me; all I'm gonna ask is: does your firm want my money or not?"

"Since I have neither left the room nor deposited my breakfast on your shoes, you may assume that is still an open question."

Witton sank back down in his seat. "I know my feelings are wrong, Mr. Shore, but I've handled them in the best way I knew how. I've never bothered a child, never broken a sex law. That doesn't make what's in my head right, but that's only my head. Maybe not everything in your head is always right either, but adding a greater wrong to it don't fix it.

"They're wrong to fire me for private thoughts. Thoughts don't hurt nothing. What they did is real. It affected someone. Maybe more than just me. I mean, what does that say to not just me but everyone else who's fighting demons? Why does it matter? If your life is going to be ruined whether you do or don't why not do it and have a little fun before you kick? I mean, if in the eyes of the world, fantasy and reality are treated the same, why not make our little fantasies real? What's stopping it?"

"Mr. Witton, I will take your situation under advisement and get back with you within a few days." Alan stood, smoothing flat the front of his already smooth jacket and tie.

"The case is calendared for tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Alan blinked. "Nothing like waiting until the last minute. Let me guess: trouble finding a babysitter?"

"I had a lawyer. He quit," Witton blurted.

Alan sat back down again. "Perhaps you should tell me why. Surprises in court are almost never the lollipop and gumdrop kind."

Witton looked at the corner. "I'm not lying when I said I've done nothing illegal. Never touched anyone under eighteen. Never owned anything myself. But at these parties they show movies. Movies of men and--" He swallowed.

"Their boys."

Witton nodded. "I've watched a lot of them. A whole lot. And got off on it. A whole lot. I figured it was the closest I would ever get. Kinda like a kid on a one of those reality rides at Disneyland, you know?"

"Please, don't." Alan held up a hand. To his surprise, the wave he choked down was genuine nausea. He had truly thought that he had grown immune to that sort of jolt, but it seemed that the charming and creative perversions of the human race could always be counted upon to continue to shock and awe.

"There's all kinds of witnesses to the parties. When my other lawyer found out about the movies, he said he would have fired me himself. So he did."

Witton looked Alan dead in the eye. "Look, I know you think I'm sick, and maybe I am, but I'm barely hanging on here. I've got no lower to go."

"Except jail."

"You're kidding me, right?" Witton scoffed. "You people throw scared little kids in with everyone else. Willing boys rejected by home and society scoping around for some big daddy to care for them and not just use their ass. You think I'm afraid of jail? Shit, man, sometimes I think jail was where I was meant to be."

Finally, Alan began to think that they may have some common ground after all.

Witton shook his head. "No, this here is rock bottom for me. Someone has to take a stand that life cares about the difference between fantasies and actions, or what's the point of anyone ever trying to do right? And then--the Thought Police--they win. They win, man, and those of us spinning our wheels trying to do right despite it all: we're hosed."

Alan stood again. "Mr. Witton, I will get back with you within the hour. I understand that time is of the essence. If, in the interim you are successful in retaining other counsel I would advise you to do so. I assure you, my feelings will not be hurt."

"You see anyone else lining up? I think I'll be free for your call." Witton managed a wry grin. This time Alan had no hand extended, so Witton tossed him a sideways nod, "Later." He ambled out into the hall.


"You'll have to grant me this: It does start with an 'N.'" Shirley grinned as she sauntered in and selected a different seat from the one still warm from Witton's visit.

"You knew." Alan looked up.

"What would the fun be of being the boss if one couldn't withhold a few plum details from time to time?"

"You know, Shirley, aside from your obscene insistence upon coming to work fully clothed day, you have never before offended me, but this case being 'up my alley'? Please tell me that wasn't an attempt at a third-grade euphemistic anatomical pun on your assumptions of any hobbies I may have in my free time." Alan reclined in his chair.

"I really did mean the wrongful termination action," said Shirley. "As for the rest, well, if anyone can persuade others to see and empathize with the common denominators that bind us as together as interdependent members of humanity despite our flaws and differences--even the grossly disturbing ones--it's you."

"Do we really want the Thought Police judging us on whims, our fantasies, our impulses?" Alan mused. "Shirley, there are terrible things inside my head. Not just the depraved, debased, blatantly misogynistic acts I would like to explore with not only you but essentially every woman I meet, but evil, cruel violent things. If you knew the extent of it, would you keep me here?"

"I don't know," said Shirley with an intensity that could not have been anything less than honest. "And wouldn't it be a much better world if none of us ever has to find out?"

"So you're telling me to take the case?"

She shook her head. "No. Crane, Poole and Schmidt has no particular interest in this individual client. I did come to offer you one iota of advice: do think twice before discussing this with Denny. We can easily afford to pass up this revenue. Defending Denny on a premeditated murder charge would be much more expensive, not to mention the exposure. Despite his antics with ducks, kneecaps, paint ball, and ... muskets, Denny is a crack shot when he's serious. I think we both know what his solution would be."

Shirley pushed up from the sofa and sauntered out again.

After taking all the time necessary to appreciate the splendid departing view of her derrière, Alan picked up the phone and dialed.

Alan knocked on Denny's door casement and stuck his head around the bend. In his time he'd seen some strange things in there--been a part of even more--but the sight of Denny in Clarice's (or was it Oprah's?) wig and wrap, inexpertly slathering a tube of Islander Coral lipstick in a giant O around his puckered lips was a new one even still.

"Something you want to get off your...bosoms?" Alan offered cheerfully. "Some long-suppressed gender identity issues perhaps?"

Denny closed the lipstick. Was that just mascara...or was it press-on false eyelashes that he wore? He gestured with the lipstick tube in Alan's direction. "I'm doing this for you."

"And, once again, I remain indebted to your largess in perpetuity. As obvious as I'm sure it is to our weekly viewers, could you perhaps remind me of how this display is for my benefit? Somehow it has slipped my mind." With one hand, Alan pressed tie to breastbone and waited.

"I was going to take you to lunch, but since you're ashamed to be seen with me, for your sake, I'm going incognizant." Denny pinched his cheeks and observed the result in his shaving mirror.


Denny shrugged.

"Well, that should make everything better," Alan quipped.

"Which earrings do you think?" Denny held up two pairs of equally garish clip-ons...the shading of both of which complemented lipstick, wrap, shirt and tie perfectly. Which, on second thought, shouldn't have surprised Alan at all.

"Not the hoops. You don't have the facial bone structure to pull them off."

"All the world's a critic." Denny winced as he struggled to fit a clip on his first lobe.

Alan helped himself to a seat on the sofa. He squirmed uncomfortably, changing positions several times, but finally he began to disclose. "Denny, after four and a half seasons together, not to mention our having taken up--" Alan waved a wrist in the air.


"--it cannot come as a surprise to you that I have some little quirks--"

"Little?" Denny scoffed as he fiddled with the second earbob. "Clowns, night terrors, word salad: You could put Sydney's kid through Harvard all by yourself."

"--including difficulties with intimacy, or at the very least, shall we say, with commitment?"

Denny groaned. "Not the old 'commitment' line! Not only is it the second oldest one in the book, but it doesn't work here, man! I'm seventy-six years old with mad cow: If fear of commitment's the problem, I'm a safer bet than a post office box lease!"

"That isn't funny," said Alan.

Denny seemed unfazed. "Can't change it; might as well have some fun with it while we're here. That's my motto. That and "Bend 'em over your desk and take 'em hard from behind.'" With one finger, he flipped the neck of the Denny Crane bobblehead that sat by his pencil cup.

Denny Crane Bobble wobbled.

Alan took a breath. "It's not that I am unwilling or unable to offer the whole of myself to you...for whatever that might be worth, but it's more that I am unwilling to allow myself to trust in the aspiration...the hope that someone might be willing to offer that much devotion to me, at least with the kind of permanence that accompanies the signing of legal documents.

"A woman is born with a given supply of ova within her, but a bottomless cornucopia of emotion. In the converse, man is given an endless supply of spermatozoa, albeit a finite number breaks and recoveries within him. I am not a strong man, Denny. You of all people know that, and I have been broken before. Many times. I don't know how many more recoveries I have within me, and the prospect of testing the question over this kind of raging abyss panics me in a way I don't care to describe. I am asking you, in the name of friendship, not to push me past what terrifies me for a detail that by itself means nothing to you or to us."

"But that's part of the whole," said Denny. "I've given you my everything. I've done it without even thinking about it because-- well--" Denny let that thought, or lack thereof, trail off.

"Even if I could think about it, I wouldn't because that's the way love works. Being someone who's trustworthy is easy...if you want to be. Giving trust: that's the hardest part of giving your everything. I trust you not to...not to... Hell, I don't even know what I trust you not to do, but I do it. I do." Denny stared him in the eye. "I do it, because I love you. Even if it's not in the way I used to think. When I used to think.

"Sign the paper; don't sign the damn paper. I don't care where your damn mail goes. But the past three seasons have been something I never thought I'd have again in my life, and I want you to know that no matter what you decide, I still trust you with my hole...with my whole. With things--" he gestured over his costume, "--that I didn't even know I had within me to give." Denny turned toward the balcony doors as if that was that.

"Denny." Alan called to him with no response.

"Denny," Alan repeated with a modicum less patience. One of the less endearing oxymorons of Denny's persona was an odd tendency to become so wrapped up in himself that even his favorite name wouldn't call him back.

But with the look of sad acceptance on Denny's face, all irritation fell away, and Alan hastened to stand much too near, well within his personal space. Well within the sphere of influence of the $400/ounce Harrod's cologne as well as that certain scent of Denny himself.

Alan swallowed and mentally chanted to himself not to inhale. Too late. He oozed in closer and gulped in a bigger breath.

Denny smiled. He didn't spend $400 per ounce on cologne for nothing.

Alan swallowed again and stroked his hand along the curve of Denny's side. Down where Denny liked it. "Denny, as I look back on my life, there are tragically few things of which I am truly proud. You are one of the biggest."

"I usually am," said Denny, deadpan.

Alan's lips quirked up. He put both hands around Denny's midriff in what could only be described as a lover's embrace and slid in a little closer still. Now they stood touching middle to middle. Bumps to bumps. Persons passing by in the hallway and adjacent offices stopped to peer in the glass.

"I need you to realize something. It was never my intention for my own eccentricities or aberrations to impact upon you--except sexually, of course--but now it appears that they have. That makes me sad."

"Me too."

"Mm." Alan nodded. "You said that you believed me to be ashamed of being with you. Nothing could be further from the truth. My...shall we call them, 'special issues' are about me only. They have nothing to do with you. I am proud, very proud, to be known as your--"


"That too."

More people collected outside the glass walls. Most of them were on cell phones.

"And I am more that happy to demonstrate as much in with any one, in any place, at any time, my little 'special issues' notwithstanding." Alan wriggled his lips a little closer. They were all but brushing Denny's now.

"Here and now?" Denny asked.

"If you like." That cologne had to be made of porn star pheromones.

Pretty much everyone from three floors was gathered outside the glass.

"On your knees?" Denny made Groucho eyebrows into the air.

"If you like. But won't they just assume it's the making partner knighting ceremony?"

"Not when they see where I touch my sword." Denny licked his lips.

Alan grinned. For long seconds, neither moved.

"You should know, I never kiss first unless it's during a sex act," Alan finally volunteered.

"I never kiss first with someone I'm already sleeping with," said Denny. "Unless it's part of foreplay... or unless it's someone who doesn't like me and I think I won't get another shot."

"No chance of that here, bucko."

More seconds ticked by.

"But if we made it a sex act, you'd kiss me first?" Denny asked.

"Your lipstick would be mine for lunch," said Alan. "At least the first course."

"But then I'd miss lunch."

"Beggars. Choosers. Don't cry to me, mister."

"I'm pretty hungry." Denny considered. "I was thinking Jimmy's Diner."

"So, I guess our reputations are safe for today," said Alan with a flicker of an eye to the crowd pressed against the glasses. He took enough of a step back to smooth his tie.

"Safe as two snatches," said Denny.

"Say again?" Alan queried.

"The snatches on the beaches. The north-going one and south-going one." Denny made a vague hand gesture in the air.

"Sneetches?" Alan surmised.

"Whatever. You know. Those made up guys. They just...stayed there...together...belly to belly...for years...until they turned old and gray."

Mad cow, my ass, thought Alan. At that moment he seriously considered changing his no kissing first policy, but fortunately Denny had rolled on to another topic by then.

"So? Sex or lunch?" Denny asked. "I've got an erection. I could go either way."

"Lunch, I think," sighed Alan. "I've suddenly come over rather peckish for a nice, juicy pork loin."

"I was thinking beanie weenies. I like the way they pop in your mouth." Denny made fish motions with his lips.

"Ouch!" said Alan.

"What?" Denny blinked in confusion

Alan shook his head. "After you." He gestured to the office door.

They both stopped and stared down to their crotches.

Alan grabbed two file folders off Denny's desk. They each held one in front of their zippers. Elbow to elbow, they marched out into the hallway and straight through the middle of the gathered crowd.

Of course Carl and Shirley were at the forefront.

"How about them Red Sox?" Denny grinned and punched Carl in the arm. As he did, his file folder slipped revealing a World Series class Louisville Slugger ready, willing, and eager for a go at bat.

Jerry gave a hop and a squeak.

"Oh!" Katie squealed and covered her mouth with her fingertips.

Carl turned to Shirley and whispered, "You told me I was bigger!'

"I meant...collar size?" Shirley tried.

Clarence just shook his head at the average white man in the Oprah's wig and lipstick trying to be all that and failing.

Denny hoisted his file folder back up.

"You may be right about beanie weenies," said Alan, as they resumed their tracks down the hall.

"Now you've got me thinking pork loin," said Denny, as he licked his lips.


"Deal," said Denny.

"I like it when we share," Alan started.

"Not Shirley!" Denny waved his finger in the air for emphasis, and the file folder drooped again.

"One of these days I'm going to catch you in a slip," said Alan.

"They don't make enough mad cow for that." Denny strode off ahead, file folder proudly raised at a 90 degree angle in front.

They ended up waiting for the elevator with that red-headed lawyer. Denny never could remember her name. Since he'd found out that she was a lesbian it hadn't seemed to matter. Names were for convincing women you loved them long enough that they might have sex with you.

Denny did still wanted to see her naked, but you didn't need love for that, just the Internet. He figured lesbians still looked the same as other women. At least they did in the porno flicks. He was willing to take part in a large scale scientific study to figure it out if need be.

Alan also wanted to see her naked, but not because she was a lesbian, although that was an intriguing plus. Alan wanted to see everyone naked. Everyone. While he himself was fully clothed, of course. He thought then that he might conquer some sort of poorly understood elemental fear that had cemented within him during some Piagetian developmental stage.

As for sex, he had no interest in engaging in standard sex acts with her--although in general that was true with anyone by the what 90% of the population considered 'standard sex acts' to be. But she had that fine, pale skin indigenous to the northern redhead bookworm: barely, if ever, touched by the sun. What he most wanted to do was to finger paint replicas of Matisse onto the curving canvas of her naked body using some kind of edible media that was as mellow and subdued in colorimetric tones as it was flavorful and tasty when licked off.

Alan wondered if, as most senior partner, Denny was in a position to arrange this for him. He thought he'd ask for it for his next birthday. Either that or a pony.

The elevator doors parted, and the three stepped on.

"So, this is where you did it with Lorraine," Denny mused. "Right here." He nodded at the panel of buttons as he pressed the one for L.

"More...there," said Alan, gesturing to the side wall near where Matisse stood. "See that dark smudge vaguely in the shape of a bottom? I believe that is actually--"

Matisse lunged forward jabbed a manicured nail into the button for the very next floor--eleven. There wasn't much there: Real Estate Escrow and Probate.

"So, Lorraine or me: Who was better?" Denny asked.

"A gentleman never kisses and tells."

"I'm not asking about kissing. I'm asking about fornication. Who's better? It's an easy question."

"Uggh!" Her body language saying more than words ever could, Matisse slung her attaché case by both of their knees and stormed off towards the eleventh floor staircase.

"Was it something I said?" asked Denny?

"Perhaps she's claustrophobic," Alan offered.

The elevator resumed its downward course.

"So, who was better?" Denny persisted.

"Denny, that's apple and oranges."


"Wrong answer. You don't know anything about women, do you?"

"You're not a woman!" Alan laughed. "Which is, not so coincidentally, my precise point."

Denny waved him off. "Man woman: It doesn't matter. We all like to hear nice things about ourselves. Except you. But you're weird." the elevator door, the glowing numbers continued to fall.

"So," Denny continued. "Pretend we're both oranges. Round, plump, sweet, fleshy navel oranges." Denny held cupped palms out in front and bounced them as if he were fondling, well, you know. "Who would be better?"


"I really can't say." Alan sounded less patient with Denny's...peculiarities. "There are too many other confounding factors. Apple or orange, I've never had impulse sex with you in an elevator."

"Then eliminate the confounding factors." Denny stared him in the eye.


Suddenly there was a flurry of limbs, briefcases, and ridiculously overpriced Italian clothing. Alan thought to jam his thumb into the stop button mere seconds before the door was destined to slide open in front of the reception area noon rush crowd.

"Denny Crane!" someone said, and a briefcase hinge (amongst other things) popped with gusto.


Minutes later they both lounged against the carpeted elevator wall like a headboard. "Still want to get lunch?" asked Denny, as he tucked his junior partner back in.

"No thanks," Alan burped and patted his tie. "I'm suddenly...full. Perhaps just an after-dinner smoke."

"Good idea." Denny pulled his pocket humidor out of his breast pocket along with a cigar lighter. "Hold these." Then he reached down into his sock holster and drew out a Derringer.

Alan gaped "What in the world--?"

"Smoke detector." Denny took aim at the ceiling and fired. Bull's-eye! Denny took the humidor back, lit two cigars and passed one back to Alan.

"So, who's better?" Denny asked again as he exhaled a giant cloud.

"Denny Crane." Alan laughed.

"Damn straight." Denny stretched out his arms and let them fall as if to drape one around Alan's shoulders.

"Denny!" Alan called to him.

"Hmm?" Denny looked over.

"Wet spot." Alan nodded to a brand new stain between them on the carpeted wall. It was much less dark than the first.

"Thanks." Denny dropped his arm and kept to his own side of the elevator. "Remind me to call maintenance when we're done."

"We're not done?" Alan asked. "There will be questions asked about the elevator."

Denny shrugged. "My name on the door. Take your time."

"Hm." Alan dropped his cigar and reached once again for Denny's sweet blunt.

Done with his opening statement, Alan was making significant inroads into plans for previous counsel's witness list--mostly crossing people out-- when Denny swung in his office door. "Ready to go?"

Alan looked up from his notes. It was already dark outside, the lights of Back Bay twinkling outside his window. "I'm afraid it's going to be a long night for me. I'm in court tomorrow with a walk-up civil case. I have hours of last minute work to do."

Denny sat down on the love seat in front of the framed portrait of himself he'd given Alan last year. It was one of his favorites. He especially liked the way the green wardrobe accents brought out the highlights of his eyes.

"The pedophile?" Denny asked.

Alan raised his brows.

"My name. My doors. I hear things." Denny tapped over one ear. "Sometimes I even choose to remember them. I figure I have plenty of spare storage space."

"Far be it from me to argue."

"Wouldn't you prefer it if I just shot him?" Denny said. "We could get dinner at Delmonico's and be home in bed by nine. I have some new mocha latte massage oil I'm dying to try out."

Alan shook his head. "No good. There'd be a paper trail by now."

"You like this sicko?" Denny blinked at him. "Is this some kind of...gaybar bonding thing?"

"He repulses me."

"Why'd you take the case?"

Alan leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "Do you really believe it's a good idea to condone people being fired because of the private thoughts someone believes they harbor?"

Denny shrugged. "How the hell do you expect me to answer that? For three season-enders I've been on the verge of being fired for thoughts people believe I don't have."

"I don't," Alan declared. He leaned forward again and searched until he gathered Denny's gaze. "I believe that what separates man from beast is the ability to harness unacceptable urges and desires and use that energy for something positive. I believe that a man who is capable of such sublimation, albeit through daily recommitment and sheer force of will, is to be respected more-- not less-- than one to whom being good comes easily. For many of us being good is a constant struggle, Denny, and if there isn't to be a constant reward, then by God there should at least be the absence of castigation for what we have taken a stand and electively chosen to not do."

"He's gotten to you," Denny observed.

"Most deeply disturbed people do." Alan picked up pen again. "I will likely be quite some time. You go on home. I'll take a car service later."

Denny stood. "Nah. I'll wait for you. I'll order us in some Chinese. Take a break when you get hungry. You know where to find me." He pulled out a cigar and lighter and ambled back to the balcony.


Alan chuckled as he walked out into the brisk night air catching Denny with his mouth full. "When you said you were ordering Chinese, I was thinking in terms of edible goodies that come with too-salty sauces and cute little boxes with delicate handles."

"Eh--" Denny wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The woman with her legs around his neck wore only jet black hair down to her ass and fire-engine red stiletto heels. He pinched her well-defined hipbone, and she giggled. "Sounds about right," said Denny. "I saved you some," he offered cheerfully, gesturing to a second woman dressed exactly the same.

"No thank you. MSG leaves me feeling bloated and moody. I don't want to risk it with a trial in the morning." Alan settled into his usual chair quite content to watch.

"Suit yourself," said Denny. "Ming, Ling: It was my pleasure, as always." From his wallet lying on the table, Denny paid them as they dropped tailored tank dresses of gold and rich silk brocade over their heads, smiled nodding goodbyes and left.

Alan passed Denny the obligatory glass of scotch and settled back in his chair, waiting for the day to fall away.

"You sure you're not hungry?" Denny pressed. "I've got some snacks in my cabinet."

Images of drawers full of naked midgets with legs spread rolled through Alan's mind, and he laughed. "No thanks; I'll hold out until we get home."

"Suit yourself." Denny licked his lips, and Alan had a sudden hankering for Chinese.

He consoled himself with a generous swallow of scotch instead.

"You know what I miss most about our moving in together?" Denny asked. "That we can't have sleepovers anymore."

"Of course we do. We have them almost every night. You're on the left; I'm on the right. My pajamas are under your pillow; your condoms are under mine."

"That's not a sleepover; that's domesticity," Denny argued. "It's like you can't have an affair with your mistress--"

"Wife," Alan corrected.

Denny shot him an annoyed glance. "--or you can't tickle yourself. It only counts if it's naughty. It's not 'naughty' anymore."

"I can be naughty," said Alan.

"That's just what I mean," said Denny. "Everyone expects it from you, so now that we're us, they expect it from us.

"Do you think our relationship is losing some of its freshness?" Denny asked as he stood up to leave.

Alan regarded Denny in his $3000 jacket, his immaculately pressed shirt, his shiny patent leather shoes, his bleached white socks with a pistol in the holster and his candy-striped boxers which made an unexpected but attractive match with his similarly striped tie. "Never!" he declared as they locked arms and marched through his office on the way to the car. "Where did you leave your pants anyway?"

"Don't remember," said Denny. "I hope they had fun. Maybe we should place an ad."

"It could be an interesting way to meet other swingers with forty-four inch waist," said Alan.

Witton had his cell phone to his ear as Alan walked him down the hallway to the courtroom. "I'm trying to get my wife to come down, but she still won't take my calls," he explained as he flipped the RAZR closed.

"Women!" said Alan with an exaggerated roll of his head. "A wacky bunch. Whoever is to guess what they'll do or why?"

"Do you think it would help to have some friends here?" Witton asked. "A show of support. There are some guys I could call..."

"I think not," said Alan. "The bailiffs get testy with bubble gum on the floor, paper airplanes tossed about and so forth. It's not the image we want to project." Alan pulled the handle to the courtroom door, and with a cavalier sweep, gestured for Witton to precede him in.

Witton seemed about to protest as they took seats in the gallery, but the point was moot as Judge Atkinson immediately took the bench, and they were the first case called.

Alan motioned Witton before the bar and to the right. He stood and buttoned his jacket as he was called upon to open.

"On the surface this case is a simple one, Your Honor. As you will see in the filings before you, the basic facts are uncontested. My client performed work for the defendant that at least satisfied the contractual obligations and was compensated as agreed. On or about September 17, 2007, the defendant made a unilateral decision to exercise the at-will termination option and did so providing contractually stipulated severance.

"We do not dispute that the defendant has the right to terminate employment--even though it be the livelihood of long term employees at a whim or caprice or even a message from little green aliens inside his head. That's what it means to be the boss. That's the American way. We have no problem with that, and I hope that no other contracted employees sitting here in this courtroom today do either. We also choose not to dispute the indubitable legal pawing through by a third party of all personal items my client left locked in his private office over the weekend, as we concede that there is some precedent to allow that--although we do hope that everyone in this courtroom who maintains an office at a workplace has made sure that no one has planted any possibly incriminating evidence or weapons used in crime sprees since they last checked."

"Objection." Counsel for the defendant rose to a bored half-stand.

"Mr. Shore," the judge reprimanded. "Opening statements are generally utilized to describe what the case will be about, not what it will not be about."

"Of course, Your Honor. We are here as my client's employment--his ability to support himself--has been terminated in bad faith. Subsequent to this fuzzy gray area search and seizure, a scrap of waste paper was presented to Mr. Jones by an outside third party, without any context, and then interpreted in a negative light, resulting in my client being fired based on what very well may have been a false impression. My client was given no recourse or opportunity to protect his Creator endowed rights.

"The defendant--Mr. Jones--as you will have read in your filings, states essentially 'who cares?' He's the boss. It's my way or the highway. He can fire anyone whenever he likes for any reason or for no reason.

"That's almost true. He can fire anyone for no reason. But he can't fire someone for a wrong reason. Part and parcel with the privileges and income of being the boss come responsibilities for the livelihoods of others. If you decide to fire someone for whatever reason, you need to make sure that you have that whatever reason correct first."

Alan undid his long-suffering button and sat back down.

The defense counsel rose. "First of all, I'd like to thank Mr. Shore for making my case for me. That's very considerate. Something one doesn't see often these days. I'll speak with him afterward about how we should split my fee; that's only fair.

"He's right; we don't owe Mr. Witton any explanation. Both parties agreed to at-will employment. Mr. Witton was free to leave at any time with no reason and two weeks notice or forfeiting two weeks pay in lieu of notice, but he chose not to. Mr. Jones was free to let him go at any time with two weeks severance pay, and he chose to. After twelve years of a generous salary and perks, we understand that Mr. Witton is unhappy, but that doesn't make it a matter for the courts. At-will contracts are a two-edged sword. People who aren't willing to risk the edge going against them shouldn't sign. We don't owe him an explanation, or anything more than he has already received." Counsel resumed his seat.

Judge Atkinson knitted her brow. "You may not owe the plaintiff an explanation, Counsel, but you do owe one to this court. There are several specific protections under which if your client fired this man, you've got a problem."

Defense counsel rose. "I promise Your Honor, my client knew the plaintiff was black long before the seventeenth of September and has no problem with it."

She looked at him like a woman looks at her next ex-husband.

Counsel sat back down.

"Who's got this note?" Atkinson asked.

Alan's eyes darted to Witton. He nodded.

"We do, Your Honor." Alan half rose.

"I want to see it."

Witton dug into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of copy paper.


Alan carried it up to the bench.

Witton's eyes flew wide. She spun on Witton. "This is evidence you brought in hopes of getting your job back?"


"Never mind. Don't answer that," Judge Atkinson said. "Mr. Jones, come up here and take the stand." She waited for him to be sworn in.

"Have you ever seen this note before?" Alan asked.

"Yes, Ma'am. One of the carpet cleaners said he found it moving Tyrell's desk."

"Did you read it?"


"Did you believe it?"

Jones shrugged.

"Answer verbally," Atkinson directed.

"I dunno."

"Before you saw this note, had you any suspicion Tyrell Jones may have harbored...leanings for young boys?"

"Nah, never."

"Did you ask him if about it before you fired him?"


"You just walked up to a man you've known and called friend for twelve years and fired him because of a piece of old paper that a cleaning service member says he found on the floor while moving things?"

"What would be the point, man?" Jones leaned forward in the box. "Somebody who'd do some sick shit like that, say I ask him if it's true that he gets off on little boys and say he says 'no.' So now what? I should say okay and let him in the back with the next kid who stuffs a nine dollar T-shirt down his shorts?"

"How about instead of asking your employee, asking your friend?" said Alan.

Jones writhed uncomfortably. "I wanted to, man, but my business is kids. And that's some sick ass shit."

"So, did you ever even consider that it might not be true? It might be a mistake, a plant? An email he intercepted because of the same first name as the intended recipient? A letter a disgruntled shoplifter printed up for revenge at being caught? Did you ever even consider for second that the heinous things you were attributing to this man might not be true."

"They were," said Jones.

"That isn't what I asked. Did you consider it?"

"No. He told me later it's all true.

Alan turned his back on Jones and walked back to his seat.

"Mr. Shore, I'll need to hear directly from your client on this matter," said Judge Atkinson.

Rising, Alan pressed his tie to torso. "I'm not sure that's anywhere in the Massachusetts code."

She smiled--not in a benign manner. "Never said it was. I can rule against you now if you like, or you can put your client's black ass up in my witness box, and we can see where this suit might go."

With a sweep of his arm, Alan gestured a path for Witton.

"Mr. Witton, is this your email?" Defense counsel waved it in his face.

"I think so. I printed out something like that about three years ago."

"So you don't believe it was planted? You do believe it was addressed to you? This is the kind of party you would go to? You do agree with the last line 'Come out all NAMBLA supporters. We must support each other?'"

"Objection!" Alan sprang to his feet. "I'm running short of fingers on which to count the simultaneous questions. I'm sure others must be having trouble as well."

"It's okay," said Witton. "Yes to all of them. Yes. But I never touched a kid. Those movie parties were my safety valve. It got it out of me. It made sure I'd never-- I'd--

"I've never broken a law or molested a minor," he said. "And it ain't right to fire me because he got in his head that some old email made him think that I might. It ain't right. That ain't justice." Witton shook his head and looked to the ground.

The rest of the questioning wasn't pretty, but all good things come to an end. All painful things as well. At last Atkinson called for the plaintiff's side to close.

Alan stood up and buttoned his jacket. "We stipulate to everything that everyone is thinking about my client. He is a sick, disgusting individual who deserves to be thrown in jail the first time he so much as steps over the line. We hope that someone follows him around every second of his life from here on out just looking for that first indiscretion, at which point he should be not only hauled off and imprisoned but publicly humiliated, flogged, tarred and feathered, castrated without anesthesia--"

"Wait a--" Witton started.

Alan stepped on his foot. It was not a gentle nudge.

"We stipulate to all that," Alan continued. "But here's the thing, Your Honor: virtually to a person Americans--including the vast majority of pedophiles themselves agree that--pedophilia is wrong, that it should not be tolerated. It's a 'gimme' social issue. We don't need the courts to decide it for us. But do we want this to become a nation where anything that is opposed to something bad is good--no matter how bad the opposition is? Are we willing to swallow a spider to catch a fly no matter if it leads to swallowing that ultimate horse? Mr. Jones fired Mr. Witton not because he discovered him to be a pedophile, but because he discovered a piece of paper that put in his mind the idea that he might possibly be one.

"I believe Your Honor has an ex-husband with whom she is on less than amicable terms. How would it be if he were to plant a piece of piece of paper in your office reading, 'Had a blast with you at the party. Paris, Lindsay and Hilton have nothing on you--especially on X. Next time, see if you can get some Jamaican. There's nothing like it this side of the Orient. Signed Marion B.'?

"And what if he were to drop it not where you were to find it, but where a member of the cleaning crew was. A member with a cousin who works on the set of Dateline? And what if that piece were to run without any input from you at all? Is this really the kind of society we want?

"My client was not fired for what he was found out to have done wrong off the job or even what he was found out to have thought wrong unrelated to his job but for what somebody thought that he might possibly have once thought wrong unrelated to his job.

"Is this the kind of country we want to live in; that kind of county that people's lives can be destroyed in a moment based on the McCarthian mob mentality of a hot button media issue with no defense or recourse whatsoever? Is it? Do you? Do you really?"

Alan blinked and waited.

"Hypothetically, Mr. Shore, if I were to find in favor of your client, what would your remedy be?" asked the judge. "You've already stipulated that exactly what his former employer feared is true, so I am certainly not going to order that he be rehired. And please don't insult this court by suggesting that he be given monetary compensation for wanting to have sex with little boys but being moral enough to refrain."

"Of course not!" said Alan, even sounding highly offended. "That's what disability benefits are for. I believe it qualifies as a legitimate mental illness under the DSM IV-R--"

"Objection," counsel for the defense muttered.

"You and the two hundred million working American paying for pedophiles collecting medical disability, I'm sure," said Alan.

But Alan hastened to add, "I would hope that as we leave here today that at least a few of the cameras that were pointed at my client as we entered would be pointed at the man who had been found guilty of the more hidden injustice. An injustice that may not make them want to vomit and as thus are even a more insidious danger to the lifestyle they enjoy is a group like NAMBLA that is eschewed even at gay pride parades.

"Or perhaps Your Honor may order the defendant to attend a seminar on employment law or to pay a token fine to an apropos legal charity. Again, no one, no one needs a reminder that sex crimes against the most vulnerable are heinous and deplorable. But perhaps there is an argument for a reminder that other equally important civil liberties not be taken away in our hasty 'me too' trample to avow and attest how despicable we find the media darling spotlighted offense of the moment." Alan unbuttoned his jacket and sat down.

Counsel for the defense stood up and made a show of looking at his Tag Heuer. "Since many of us are hoping to eat lunch in the very near future, I'm sure no one wants to hear me reiterate the details of this case." He forced a tight and clearly manufactured smile. "I'll keep it simple. All terms of a legal contract have been kept by both sides. One party chose to exercise the at-will termination clause, and the other party is unhappy at being fired, but there is no dispute of law or salient fact. Unhappiness with a job ending is not a matter for the courts; it's is a matter for the plaintiff and the 'help wanted' section of the Globe." He sat back down and flashed a set of perfect cosmetically whitened teeth for the cameras.

The judge looked between the tables. "Thank you, Counsel. I am ready to rule."


Alan ambled through Denny's office and out on to the balcony. Although it was barely two in the afternoon, Denny was there. Drinking scotch.

"I hear that you lost your case," said Denny, staring out over the Boston skyline. His city.

Alan accepted a cigar but ignored the nearby shot glass, already filled. "Not a surprise. Even on a prima facie basis, the termination was clearly valid. It was cleanly drafted and executed at-will employment contract. There was no cause of action. However just and morally correct, my argument had no legal merits."

"Told ya you should have let me shoot him; bullets are cheap."

"So apparently is human life, if your personal and private fantasies are sufficiently distasteful to the current media fed passions of the huddled masses."

Denny gave him a strange look. Three quarters of a century of experience and still he couldn't understand Democrats.

"Still," Alan continued, "I don't consider it a total loss. The judge ruled it a good-faith filing and dismissed the abuse of process counterclaim and the defenses motion for costs."

"Not bad for a pedophile case," Denny muttered.

"The 'case' was named 'Tyrell Sitton.'" Alan blew smoke into the distance.

Denny just shook his head.

"An entire throw-away class of people that by popular consensus is fair game for anyone to denigrate, abuse, castigate in any way that they care to with no reprisal: Is that really what you want for your Walden America?" Alan asked with all sincerity.

"It's not a matter of what I want: it's what we've always had. Blacks, Polish, Jews: Before your pedophile, we had them. We just did what came naturally. If we can't change human nature, at least we should discriminate against groups that people aren't born into so people can decide for themselves if they want to be crapped on by the rest of the county."

"A choice? Like pedophiles?" Alan asked.

"Gays, smokers, fatties, New Orleans Saints fans: all of that." Denny sipped.

Alan blinked at him for several seconds. "Sometimes, Denny, the scope of your broad-mindedness astounds even me."

"Denny Crane: They broke the mould," Denny agreed cheerfully.

Alan picked up the scotch glass, and for a bit, they both sipped in silence.

"Doesn't it ever worry you?" Alan asked, at last. "That one day Carl might just decide that he doesn't want--" Alan made a limp-wristed wave in the air.

"Flamingos." Denny supplied his euphemism of choice.

"--on the front lines of the firm, and just march in here with Shirley and effectively terminate us both?"

"Carl's not homophobic," said Denny. "I've had sex with him."

"You've had sex with Carl--?" Alan boggled and leaned toward Denny with unabashed interest.

"Well, not only with Carl," Denny backpedaled. "There were others on the bed."

"Ah." Now a more plausible scenario began to coalesce in Alan's mind.

"About a half dozen Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. One of them high-kicked a little too high, something moved, and my tongue slipped. I'm pretty sure it hit Carl's--" Denny stalled.

"Sack." Alan filled in.

"That too." Denny popped his cigar between his lips and made exaggerated mouthing gestures.

"Oh." The picture in Alan's mind changed again.

"So, is that what gay is?" asked Denny, out of nowhere.

"Pardon?" Alan asked. The question seemed to drag him back from miles away.

"Your client. The one who wants to ball little boys. If we've.... If I've.... Does that make me like him?" Denny stared directly into Alan's eyes in that most disconcerting way that said that any lie you chose to tell would be for your own comfort level and not for his.

"I don't even know if he has homosexual leanings. The issue never arose." Alan shifted in his chair.

"If he wants to bone little boys up the poop hole, he sure isn't Jerry Falwell."

Alan raised his brow and leaned forward as if preparing to disagree.

Denny made a wry face. "You know what I mean. Don't go all Gracie Jane on me."

"My understanding is that it's far more about the 'little' than the 'boy.' In any event, I don't think there is any particular way to be gay. " Alan slipped into lecture mode. "Some time ago, I went to a Gloria Steinham talk--"

Denny did a double take.

"It was back in my feminist days," Alan explained. "At one point she made an aside remark that she was sixty years old, and an audience member--no doubt hoping to get lucky--shouted out, 'You don't look sixty.' She replied, 'Of course I do. I have to; I am sixty. Before today you were just unaware of what sixty looked like,' to a wave of uproarious applause.

"Like sixty, gay isn't any one way of being or doing or acting. It's a number of people, all different, and it's about the love and whom you love. And in this world, surely love can't be wrong."

"That sounds about like the crap that NAMBLA spreads," Denny observed through his eerily not-so-mad cow.

Alan paused. "It's about loving someone in the way they yearn to be loved, not in the way you yearn to love them."

"Is that what we do?" Denny asked.

"I try," said Alan, with more sincerity than any man not on that balcony had heard from him in recent years.

"Hmm." Denny grunted with a nod and looked away before one of them broke down and did

Just as the moment got to be almost too much for either of them, Brian, the clerk from Family Law came swishing down the hallway singing something from Evita in a god-awful falsetto.

"Gay." They both it pronounced together then popped cigars back into their mouths.

"You know what I'd like to do tonight?" asked Denny as he tongued his Montecristo.

"Probably," said Alan. "But having you describe it to me in delicious detail is part of the fun, so by all means, do tell."

"A non-sleepover."

"What?" Alan laughed.

"Not just go home. I want to do something...wicked!" Denny licked his lips.

"A hotel?" Alan suggested. "Honeymoon suite. Jacuzzi. Majik fingers. Rotating pink heart bed under a mirrored ceiling with equally stomach-churning pink champagne."

"Nah. It's the third millennium. No one even blinks at two men in a hotel room anymore."

"A lamplit alleyway with random passersby commenting in disgust that we should get a hotel room?"

"No. I'm old. My knees don't do well in the cold air. My penis either."

"Right," said Alan. His eyes roved around.

"What?" said Denny. "I know that look."

"Carl had that new suede sofa imported from Spain. It looks...expensive. And cushy. Easy on the knees. And isn't he in Cleveland today?"

Denny's eyes widened. "Are you thinking--?"

"A little early yet. Not quite non-sleepover time. We might have to stay... " Alan licked his lips. "Up."

"Ooh! Shirley might catch us!"

They exchanged a look. "I'll get the keys," Denny said. They drained their drinks in one gulp.

As they trotted down the hall together, Denny asked, "For dinner, I was thinking either Italian or Indian. You have a preference?"

"Not Indian. My anus always burns the morning after."

"Italian it is then." Denny paused as he clicked open the door to Carl's office with his master key. "We are talking as in delivery food for dinner, right?"

"Either way," Alan said, with an ambiguously lascivious lick of the lips.

They made a beeline for the sofa.