Ennis got in the truck the next morning to head into town, butterflies flapping about in his stomach. On such an occasion, meaning one involving other people, he would usually have relied heavily on Jack. Jack was his voice, Jack was his public face, and Jack was his reassurance. Almos forty years old, bub, he said to himself. Bout time you did some shit on your own, huh?

The day before, he'd called Fred Trimble and asked if he could gather a few of their friends together to help maintain a steady two-man watch on the ranch overnight. They simply didn't have enough men on staff to keep such a schedule going while still conducting normal operations, especially during the calving. If he could just get one additional man per night, that would let him keep up a steady patrol. He was on his way to the church; he hoped Fred had been able to get at least ten.

He thought that might be possible. There was Fred himself, and Grant, and Gus. Paul and Roger, probably. Pastor Mike might even jump in. Rory and his son Deke would probably show up. That ought to be enough.

Ennis pulled up to the church and climbed out, taking a deep breath and gathering what little he had in the way of Jackless interpersonal skills. He went in the back entrance and down the stairs to the fellowship hall underneath the sanctuary, but when he reached the doorway he stopped dead and could go no further.

There were at least fifty men in there, sitting on chairs and milling around with cups of coffee in their hands.

Everyone turned to look at him. Fred, up near the coffeepot, gave a wave. Ennis couldn't seem to unstick his feet, nor shut his mouth, which was hanging awkwardly open. "Uh…Fred?"

"C'mon, Ennis. We've been waiting on you."

Ennis somehow managed to walk to the front. He ducked his head and spoke quietly to Fred. "This ain't all for patrollin at the ranch," he said.

"Sure is. Put the word out and got quite a response."

Ennis shook his head. "I cain't believe there's so many."

"Everyone's heard about the fire, and the threats," Fred said, low. "It ain't right, not in our town." Ennis was still speechless. "Well? You gonna give us walking papers, or what?"

"Oh, yeah. Guess so." Ennis cleared his throat and faced the men. Most of the faces were familiar, but a few were not or just barely so. Total strangers wanna help me n Jack's ranch? "Uh…I thank y'all for comin down ta help out. I ain't counted on so many…don't rightly know how ta set things up."

Grant jumped up like he'd been waiting for Ennis to give him a cue. He was holding a clipboard. "Well, Rod told me you did two shifts of two men each last night, right? So let's just keep on doing that, huh?" Ennis nodded. "Okay." Grant held up the clipboard. "I've written down the days, and Shift 1 and Shift 2, so you all come up and sign up for which one you want, hear?" General murmurings of assent. "That sit right by you, Ennis? I'll make a copy for you so you'll know who's out there."

"Sure enough," Ennis said. Everyone was getting up and crowding around Grant. Ennis took Fred's arm and drew him aside. "Fred…this is real good n all, but I don't know some a these fellas. What if them Forrester folks sent…I dunno, like a spy? Be a perfect cover, ta pretend ta keep watch and then start some shit."

"We thought of that, Ennis. I know you don't know everybody, but between me, Grant and Gus, we do. You trust us, then?" Ennis nodded. "Okay, then. Careful you don't get too paranoid, or we'll find you out there at the ranch boarding up the windows, hoarding rifles and stockpiling canned beans." He grinned, and Ennis couldn't help but smile back.

To Ennis's surprise, as men wrote their names on Grant's clipboard, a lot of them stopped over to say hello or introduce themselves, to his relief. He doubted an infiltrator would do as much. "Del Mar!" said a red-haired, hearty-looking man in his sixties. "Nice to meetcha! I'm Lars Borrickson, Rod's dad!"

Ennis shook the man's hand, seeing the resemblance. "Nice ta meet ya, Lars. Your son's a helluva guy."

"Told me about your troubles! Gutless bastards sneaking around starting trouble! Figured I'd come and lend a hand!" Ennis wondered if the man always spoke with exclamation points at the end of every sentence.

"Well, I surely appreciate that," he said.

"If any of them come sneaking around on my watch they'll be sorry! I may be an old fart but I still got some fight in me!" Lars finished, clapping Ennis on the shoulder hard enough to throw him off balance.

Man after man came up to say hello or introduce himself. Ennis was starting to feel like a one-man reception line. All he wanted to do was go home and get back to the calving, put his head down and not think about hostile gangs of homophobes, nor of the fact that at the end of what would surely be a long day, he would have to retire to a quiet, empty bedroom and sleep without Jack's strong arms around him and Jack's body entwined with his own.

Grant pulled Ennis over to a group of three men he didn't know. "Ennis, I want you meet my cousin Bo and…"

Grant's introductions were interrupted by a loud crash from upstairs, followed by the sound of screeching tires. Everyone froze. "What the hell was that?" said Pastor Greenfield, his brow furrowing in concern. As one, the group headed for the stairs and pounded up to the sanctuary.

The first thing Ennis noticed was the breeze. There was a cold draft coming from somewhere…actually, from the gaping, jagged hole in one of the tall stained-glass windows that lined the sanctuary walls. "Motherfuckers threw a brick!" someone yelled, and sure enough, there was a brick wrapped in paper lying on the floor amidst the shards of broken glass.

Pastor Greenfield immediately started forward, but Grant held him back. "No, don't touch it! Sheriff'll want to get fingerprints or something." Grant pulled his gloves out of his back pocket and put them on while Greenfield went to the broken window and looked out. He shook his head, then slammed one fist against the wall in frustration.

"This is a house of God, you sons of bitches!" he yelled out the window, drawing a few nervous chuckles. Ennis felt like he'd turned to stone. This is on my head, he thought. Bastards broke a window in my damned church. Cause we're meetin here. Fuck me.

Grant had picked up the brick with gloved hands. He carefully unwrapped the paper from around the brick and unfolded it. His expression didn't change. "DIE, QUEER LOVERS," he read. Angry mutterings rose from the group. "Well, that sure is original. You fellas quakin in your boots yet?"

"Yeah, I'm gonna go home and hide under my fuckin bed," Gus grumbled.

"Pastor, I'm awful sorry bout this…" Ennis stammered as Mike rejoined the group. He held up a hand to forestall Ennis's apology.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Ennis."

"But…the window…"

"We're insured."

"I dunno, Mike," Grant said. "Does the church really have Asshole Insurance?"

Ennis snorted. "Wish there was such a thing. I'd be collectin a bundle roundabout now."

Jack was at the hospital by nine o'clock. He hadn't had the most restful of nights. He was already preoccupied by his mother's condition, and his concern for what was going on at home, and now he couldn't stop rehearsing what he might say to his father when they finally discussed what was to be done…whenever that might be.

And he hadn't gotten to talk to Ennis. He'd wanted to tell him about his mother's diagnosis, and the likelihood that he'd be here a good deal longer than a week, and hear his thoughts about what could be done for her after she was released from the hospital. More than anything, he'd just wanted to hear his voice. Hear that low, sexy half-mumbled voice and shut his eyes and imagine him sitting up in bed, maybe bare-chested, his glasses slid down on his nose, maybe reading that new Ludlum thriller, maybe just reading "Field & Stream."

He was stopped in the hospital corridor by Dr. Reeves, his mother's internist. "Mr. Twist, can I have a word?"

"Sure, doc." They stepped to the nurse's station.

"I just wanted to give you a heads-up that your mother's condition has worsened some overnight."

He frowned. "Worsened?"

"It's now clear that she does have a respiratory infection, and it'll likely get worse before it gets better. I've started her on antibiotics, and we ought to see some improvement by the evening. If we don't, there are other treatment options." Reeves seemed to read Jack's concern on his face. "Don't worry, we'll get her cleared up in no time."

Jack nodded. "There's still her Parkinson's…"

"Well, I don't want to start her on the Levodopa until we get this infection cleared up. I'm hoping we can start it in a few days." He hesitated. "But there is something else. I'm concerned about her environment after she checks out. I understand that your parents live up in Lightning Flat, on a ranch?"


"I'm worried that isn't the best place for her going forward. This kind of respiratory infection is generally indicative of the kind of chronic breathing problems that often plague people your mother's age, Mr. Twist. When that starts to happen, it's time to consider relocating."

"Like, to Arizona? No way they'd go that far."

Reeves chuckled. "Well, they don't have to go that far, but it'd be better to be in town, near medical help, in a house with better climate control and less irritants in the air such as you find on a ranch…dirt, pollens, hay, animal dander, that sort of thing."

Jack ran a hand through his hair. "I jus don't know what ta do, Doc. This is all happenin so sudden, and it ain't like they can just up n leave in a week's time."

"No, but…you might want to consider finding your mother some kind of temporary situation for when she's discharged, here in town where she can easily get to her followup appointments."

"Like a nursing home? I ain't puttin her in one a those places! Those are for folks who're dyin, or gettin ready to!"

"No, she doesn't need nearly that level of care, but there are several residential facilities designed specifically for seniors, where there is help available on-site but it isn't a full-time care situation."

Jack considered this. "That might not be so bad. For the time bein, I mean."

"If I were you, I'd look into it."

Jack nodded. "I will. Thanks, Doc." He turned and went into his mother's room. She was half-reclined, holding up a magazine. She turned and smiled when he entered, but he could tell immediately that she was feeling worse. Her breathing had a labored quality that alarmed him.

"Mornin, Ma," he said, bending to kiss her forehead.

"Mornin, Jacky," she said. "Didja see my doc in the hall, there?"

"I did. He says you got yerself sick. I know the truth, though. Yer jus fakin, ain'tcha? Jus wanna lie on yer back and be waited on fer awhile, ya can't fool me."

"Oh, stop it," she said, swatting at him with the magazine.

"Brought ya somethin," he said, bringing out a small plastic bag from his coat pocket. He reached inside and withdrew a pack of playing cards. "Think you can still beat me at gin rummy?"

Grace got a mischievous little twinkle in her eye. "With one eye shut."

Liz sighed. "Want some popcorn?" Ennis grunted. "Is that 'no' or 'yes?'"



"Oh. I s'pose."

"Ennis, it's New Year's Eve. I know we have a lot on our minds, but let's at least have a beer and watch something with a lot of explosions in it."

Another grunt. Liz didn't really want popcorn anymore. She got up and flipped through the channels until she found a TV station airing "The Great Escape." She didn't much care for it, but it was one of Ennis's favorites so she left it on and went back to the couch. Ennis was still sitting there, arms crossed, unresponsive.

"So…who's out there now?" she asked.

"Uh…Rod's dad and Gus."

"It's kinda weird. I mean, we're in here and they're out there…like they're our bodyguards or something. I guess they are." Grunt. Liz sighed. "Would it kill you to say something? C'mon, Ennis, work with me, here. I know things are a bit pear-shaped right now, but Peter offered to take me dancing in Burlington and fill me full of champagne and I turned him down to hang out here with you."

Ennis cut his eyes briefly towards her, but she caught the slight crease of amusement at their corners. "Bad move, city gal."

"I'm starting to think so!"

"Fraid I ain't such good company."

She put her hand on his arm. "Ennis, I know you're tired and stressed out. Don't feel like you have to stay up on my account. You need your rest. You've been out in the barn all day."

He sighed, then let his arms fall to his sides and turned slightly towards her. "I am tired, Lizzie, but…aw, hell. I'm kinda hopin Jack'll call. Y'know."

"At midnight, you mean?"

He nodded. "I tried ta call him earlier but he wasn't in his room. Probly spending all the time with his ma that he can." He paused, staring at his hands. "I sure hate ta tell him about the fire, and what happened in town today. He's got enough ta worry about, I don't want him ta worry about what's goin on here anyway."

"I think that ship has sailed. He already knows about the postcard, so he'll be worrying anyway."

"A fella can only take so much, swee'pea."

She cocked her head. "You talking about Jack, or yourself?"

He smiled a little. "Both, I think."

By quarter to midnight, Ennis was starting to lose hope that Jack would call, but no sooner had the thought that he ought to just go to sleep passed through his mind than the phone rang. He picked it up before the first ring was over. "Hello?"

"Yeah, I'm lookin for a tall, handsome fella with brown eyes and a shy little smile? Kinda looks like Steve McQueen? Don't s'pose you got anythin like that just lyin around, do ya?"

Ennis couldn't help the grin that spread across his face at the sound of that voice, nor the warmth that eased his tense muscles. "Dunno. What price you offerin?"

Jack laughed. "How about a bottle a whiskey and the best blowjob you ever had?"

"Shit, who needs the whiskey?"

"How you doin, cowboy?"

"I'm hangin in there. You?"

"The same. Spent most a the day with Ma. She's got a respiratory infection, but by the time I left she was feelin better. They wanna start her on them drugs for the Parkinson's in a coupla days as long as her lungs is clear. I dunno, she cain't be too bad off, she beat the pants off me at gin rummy. How's the calvin?"

"Goin real good. Couple more days, I think." Ennis hesitated. "But that ain't the main thing. Jack…we've had more trouble here."

There was a pause, and Ennis could see Jack in his mind's eye, sitting up straighter, that hail-fellow-well-met grin falling from his face, getting serious. "What kinda trouble?"

"The other night? When we talked? Someone set fire ta the stables."

Silence. "What? What?"

"Now, we got it put out real fast, weren't much damage…"

"Was anyone hurt? The horses?" Jack's voice had taken on an urgent, edgy quality that made Ennis want to get up and walk around.

"No one got hurt, the horses are all fine, just slow down and lemme tell ya, okay?" He could hear Jack pacing. "Sit down, willya? Y'know you cain't listen when yer pacin like that." The pacing slowed, then stopped.

"Jesus Christ, Ennis…" He sounded pinched-off, like his throat was closing up.

"Rod n Cady had it damn near put out by the time the fire department got here. No one got hurt. Walter had the state police arson investigator, they got some good leads, everythin's under control." Ennis shut his eyes, then plunged ahead. "There's more, bud."

"There's more? What else could there be?"

"Well, me n Fred and some fellas got together at the church ta set up a night patrol around the place, y'know, in shifts and such with the hands. While we was there, somebody threw a brick through the church window. Had a note on it that said 'Die, Queer Lovers.'"

Jack was very quiet. "What happened to our good town, Ennis? What happened ta that place where it was okay for us ta be together?"

"I know, it's bad, but…"

"Bad? It's a fuckin nightmare come down on our heads, it's a damned siege! You're havin ta post guards at the ranch like we're behind enemy lines and not even our fuckin church is safe and…"

"Jack, just listen a second, willya?"

He heard Jack sigh again. "What?"

"I asked Fred ta round up a few fellas ta help patrol, right? I get ta the church…there was more'n fifty guys there, Jack. Some I knew, some I didn't. That many guys, all ready ta help us out."

"Really?" Jack said, sounding hopeful.

"Yeah, really. Two of 'em are out there right now, we got enough ta have patrols for three weeks without no one ever having ta take two shifts." Ennis realized he was gripping the handset so tightly that his knuckles were white; he eased up a little. "So yeah, there's some bad shit, but Walter's gonna figure it out and we still got friends. Maybe more'n we knew about. So I don't want you worryin' none."

Jack laughed bitterly at that. "No, why should I worry? Just cause my man and my ranch are under fuckin attack ain't no reason ta worry." He said nothing for a moment. "Fifty guys?"

"Yeah. More'n fifty."

"Damn." When he spoke again, Ennis could hear the smile in his voice. "Well shit, Ennis, it ain't like you ta look on the bright side like that. I'd'a thought you'd be too busy blamin yourself and broodin'."

"Well…guess I gotta be both you and me around here these days." They sat there, not speaking, just listening to each other's breathing. "Goddamn, but I wish you was here."

"Me, too. And I wish you was here."

"We just cain't catch no breaks, can we?"

"Never rains but it pours. It's just purely fuckin tragic that I gotta be way out here when you're havin trouble at home, and you gotta be out there when I got troubles here."

"No way round it. Ain't like we had a choice." Ennis shut his eyes and let his head fall back against the headboard. He waited, but Jack said nothing. "One of us gotta say it first, Jack."

"I know," Jack said, sounding low and defeated. "I don't wanna. Maybe if I don't say it it won't hafta be true."


"No, let me." He heard Jack sigh again, deep and mournful. "Ennis, ain't no way you can come out here with all that shit goin on."

Ennis kept his eyes closed, lightly thumping his head repeatedly against the headboard in frustration. "Yeah. Fuckin sucks. But yer right, no way in hell I'm gonna leave with things so fucked up."

"Damn, but I was lookin forward ta seein you."

Ennis suddenly felt like he might cry. He swallowed hard and pushed it down. "Me too, darlin."

"Wanted you ta meet my Ma. She's…aw, shit. She's such a peach, Ennis. She wants ta meet you, too. She said God bless you for makin me happy n such."

"Jus returnin the favor."

"Y'know what I did? I told her I was queer."

Ennis frowned. "Uh…didn't she already know that?"

"Well, yeah, but I never sat down and looked her in the eye and said it, y'know? Somethin about that felt good, felt strong. Like it weren't some kinda thing that everyone knew n nobody talked about no more, somethin ta keep in the broom closet like an old pair a galoshes."

"What'd she say, then?"

"She said she's glad I'm happy. And I am, y'know." Jack's voice took a sudden turn into fervent sincerity. "Even with her bein sick and fuckin bigots in the town and Bobby and all them ordinary worries on top…I ain't never thought I'd be this happy, and I am the fuckin luckiest sumbitch in the world cause I get ta be with the only person I ever loved in my whole sorry-ass life and if that means I gotta deal with burnin stables and assholes throwin bricks and my fuckin bastard of a father hatin my guts and God knows what else then I'll do it, cause it's more'n worth it." His words tumbled out in a rush, as if he'd been holding all of that inside, waiting for the right moment to spill it out of himself.

Ennis's chest felt tight. "Aw, darlin," he whispered.

"Happy New Year, Ennis," Jack said.

Ennis glanced at the clock to see that it was, indeed, midnight. "Same ta you. In two hours, anyhow."

"If I was there I'd be kissin you silly."

He smiled. "Like you'd'a waited for midnight ta start in on that."

"Probly not. We'd already be all naked and worn out from all the fuckin and I'd hafta drag my eyelids open just ta give you that midnight kiss before we both passed out from exhaustion after goin at each other fer hours at a time."

"That's one helluva imagination ya got there."

"You want me ta tell you what I been imaginin? I will, ya know. Tell ya every little bit. I bet I could get ya off from two time zones away."

"How many times I gotta tell ya I ain't gonna do no phone sex talk, Jack?"

"Why not? No one's listenin."

"Ain't the point. Jus…feels wrong."

"Betcha it'd feel like I was right there with ya."

"That's why it'd feel wrong. Might feel that way for a minute, but then it'd feel worse afterwards and you ain't really here. I'll wait till I see ya. Then you jus better look out."

"Lord knows when that'll be."

"Gotta take one day at a time, bud. It ain't like we're gonna have nothin ta do but sit around moonin over each other. We both got plenty ta do."

"Tomorrow I'm gonna start lookin into somewhere Ma can stay after she gets outta the hospital. I'll hafta go on back home and pick up more clothes and things for her. Probly stay a day or so, work on the old man."

"Say, bud…gimme the address a yer hotel." Jack read it off and Ennis copied it into the flyleaf of his book underneath the phone number.

"Why you want the address?"

"I was thinkin…why don't I send you a couple photo albums? That one with the red cover has a lot a pictures a Bobby in it, and the big brown one's got some a the ranch and us. Thought your Ma might like ta see em."

"Aw, that'd be great. She'd love ta see em. Why didn't I think ta bring those?"

"Well, you left in kind of a big-ass hurry."

"Awful sweet a you ta think a that, Ennis."

"I try'n be sweet now n then, just ta keep you guessin. I'll take em ta the post office tomorrow and send em overnight so you get em on the third, okay?"

"Dunno when I'm goin up north again. Probly not for a few days."

Ennis played with the phone cord, sensing the conversation coming to an end and wanting to stretch it out a little more. "Jack, I…think on ya a lot. All the time."

"Yeah?" There was that little smile in his voice again.

"Damn distractin, is what it is. Rod'll poke me and I'll a been jus standin there starin inta space thinkin on ya like some lovesick kid daydreamin about his sweetheart. He probly thinks I'm losin my marbles or somethin."

"Is that what I am?" Jack teased. "Yer sweetheart?"

Ennis felt himself flush with embarrassment. "Jus a fuckin figure a speech."

He chuckled. "Well, I been thinkin on ya too, sweetheart."

"You cut that out, now."

"Whatever you say…sweetheart."

"Don't make me give you a smack, you know I will." It was hard to sound gruff and irritable when he was smiling.

"You best get ta bed, Ennis. I know you been up n down with them calves, and all this trouble probly keepin you up. Cain't have ya getting sick."

"I aim ta sleep in tomorrow and no mistake." He sighed. "Well…g'night, darlin."

"G'night, Ennis."

"Call me tomorrow," he said, knowing that Jack would, anyway.

"Will do. Sleep tight."

"Bye." Ennis hung up with a sad sigh. Fuckin small-minded assholes, stirrin up trouble n keepin me here when all I wanna do is get on the next plane, get myself ta Gillette and kiss that man until he cain't breathe.

"What kinda paper, again?"

"The tractor-feed…yeah, that one, with the holes on the sides."

"What kinda fuckin paper is this? Looks like someone went nuts with the hole puncher."

"It goes in the printer. It's got wheels…no, get two." Liz turned back to the woman behind the counter. "Can I order that ink in bulk? I'm going through it pretty fast with all the invoices and such."

"I can order a couple of boxes just for you. Get ten percent off for that much."

"Oh, super."

"You know, they're starting to make special invoices that can go in the printer. Tractor-feed, like the blank paper."


"Yeah. Bring me in one of your regular invoices and I'll see if we can get some like them."

"I don't care if they're like them or not, if I could print them like that it'd be a whole lot easier than what I've been doing."

Ennis came up with an armload of paper and envelopes. "Okay. What else?" Liz saw him look past her and frown. She turned to see a sheriff's deputy she didn't know walk in, looking around with purpose. He spotted them and hurried over. "Jesus, what now?" Ennis muttered. "Howdy, Brad. What's up?"

"Ennis, uh…you better come outside with me."

Liz followed them out, nearly colliding with Ennis as he stopped directly in front of her. "Motherfuckers," he spat. Liz looked around him to see their truck, sitting on four flat tires.

"Slashed," the deputy said. "How long you been in there?"

"I dunno. Fifteen minutes?"

"Pretty damn brazen to do this in broad daylight where anyone might have seen." Ennis started towards the truck but the deputy held him back. "No, don't touch it. Might be able to get fingerprints. Can you guys get a ride home?"

Liz nodded. "I'll call Peter. The office is just a few blocks away."

By the time Peter came walking up, still in his white doctor's coat and looking anxious, there were two more deputies on the scene. Given the pattern of vandalism and harrassment they'd been experiencing, this was a good deal more important than a garden-variety tire-slashing. One of the deputies was canvassing the area, looking for witnesses, and another was dusting the truck for prints. "I can't believe this," Peter said, joining them on the sidewalk. "They did this out here in the open? Ballsy."

"Stupid, more like," Liz said. "Someone has to have seen something. They must be pissed off that the ranch is being guarded now to pull a stunt like this."

Peter turned towards her, his jaw set. "Liz, I really think you ought to come stay with me until all this has blown over."

Ennis nodded. "I been sayin that all along."

"I'm not leaving!" she exclaimed. "I won't leave Ennis there alone."

"Honey, he won't be alone. There's always two men on patrol, and besides, Ennis can take care of himself."

"And because I'm a woman, naturally I can't."

"I didn't say that."

"You might as well have! I refuse to run from these fuckers like a scared little girl, Peter. I am staying right where I am."

"What if they get even more pissed off and try something worse? What if they find a way to get to the house?"

Liz took a deep breath, hating what she was about to say, even more so for its truth. "And if someone wants to come after me, you really think I'd safer with you than with Ennis?"

"Aw, Lizzie, that ain't fair," Ennis said. Peter just looked hurt.

"No, it isn't. Peter…I'm sorry, sweetie, but…you're a doctor. You don't even own a gun."

"The point isn't that I'm some gladiator to protect you, the point is you'll be in less danger at my house than at the ranch." He paused. "And I do so own a gun. It's…somewhere…"

"I'm with Peter on this."

"No one's asking you, Ennis!"

"It's my fuckin house! I said from the start you oughta stay at the doc's!"

"I will not be shoved off like some swooning damsel in distress because someone slashed the truck's tires!"

"I only want you to be safe!" Peter exclaimed.

"No, you only want to get me under your roof and keep me there, which is what you've been after for months!" Liz burst out. Peter's face slammed shut and she immediately regretted it.

"I'm sorry my concern is so offensive to you, Liz." He glanced at Ennis. "I have to get back to my patients. I'm sure one of these deputies can give you a lift home." He turned and strode back down the street.

Liz watched him go until he rounded the corner, her stomach rolling. She turned and found Ennis eyeing her, one eyebrow cocked. "Don't give me that eyebrow," she muttered.

"Nice goin there. Learn that in Cosmo, huh?"

"Do I butt in when you and Jack fight?"

Ennis blinked. "Is that some kinda trick question?"

"Okay, so I butt in. Don't feel you have to return the favor."

He shrugged. "Have it your way, city gal."

Jack sat in his hotel room the next morning, a notepad before him. It was labeled "Housing for Ma." Other than that, it was blank, and had remained so for the last half hour as he pored through the yellow pages. He'd found nursing homes, he'd found apartments, he'd found something called "assisted living," God only knew what the hell that was and how much assistance was involved in the living. He didn't even know what part of town these places were in, if it was nice, what was nearby, or anything.

He knew what he had to do. He'd known from the time he'd sat down. He'd just been hoping to avoid it. Just pick someplace and go there. Check it out. He didn't have that kind of time. He felt bad enough being away from his mother this long, he wanted to get to the hospital as soon as he could, and pretty soon he'd have to head north…

Jack opened his address book and stared at the phone, willing a better idea to pop into his head. None did. The bottom line was that he couldn't justify ignoring such a valuable source of information just because he was uncomfortable with it.

He picked up the handset, took a deep breath, and dialed. Part of him hoped no one would answer, but she did answer, on the third ring.

He shut his eyes. "Alma? This is Jack."