No one slept in the Morgan house that night, except maybe the young girls. They had such a fascination with Freddy, but he was in no mood to entertain this evening. Alan was at his desk until one in the morning, refreshing the GPS page every fifteen minutes to make sure the signal was still there and hadn't moved.
Eric and Freddy sprawled on the couch and cat napped in front of the television. Connors had allowed them to stay over considering the circumstances. But Eric woke up at three o'clock in the morning to see Alan sprawled on his bed, so he slid in beside him.
Sunday had started off so well, and then this had to happen, Eric thought. If they got Beetle back tomorrow then perhaps Mr. Morgan would allow the rest of the week to progress as planned. The kidnapping wasn't the only crime they faced. It would certainly be another crime if Alan had to return to Greenwich right away.
They were just getting started, and Eric didn't mean sex, although that was part of it. There was an ache in his heart whenever their eyes met. Alan was looking to him for support in this family crisis instead of his parents. That was a statement of independence and…and love. Eric was sure Freddy was right, this was love.
Now all they needed was time to allow it to grow and become shared. It wasn't easy, and neither was getting admitted to the country club at seven o'clock the following morning. Eric didn't look his best because he'd slept little and was still wearing the same clothes he'd had on all day Sunday.
The club had a gate manned by security and Eric had to stop and explain his presence. He said his dad was coming in town and would probably have several of his golfing buddies along. The guard looked up the name Tolliver and interestingly enough his father was already a member. He should have known, but the guard waved him onwards.
Alan and Freddy were up and awaiting the arrival of the sketch artist from the State Police, but Eric knew they would be anxious if he was gone too long. He followed the signs for the marina and ended up in a parking lot beside the fairway near the sixth green of the golf course. The piers jutted out into the inlet and there had to be at least a hundred boats in the water. Third pier from the end, Eric told himself.
The yacht, or at least what he could see of it from where he stood, wasn't the biggest in the marina, but the deck stood almost six feet above the pier. Just as he had figured, the boat was nose in to the pier and so the name was on the back facing the inlet.
He wasn't planning to go anywhere near the boat and he was glad to have made that decision since there was a guard on the forward deck. He was too far away to get a clear look at the guy but he was probably one of the thugs Eric had seen at Playland.
The man seemed to have a pair of binoculars around his neck and was staring out at the golf course. If the guy turned and looked through the lenses he would easily spot Eric beside his car two hundred feet away, it was time to leave. But no sooner had Eric returned to the driver's seat when a Mercedes pulled into the lot and turned to park next to him.
The man behind the wheel was unfamiliar, short gray hair and beard, but his passenger was probably thug number two. Eric leaned over to retrieve his hoodie from the floor and turned his head away. Both men exited the car and headed down the sidewalk to the pier. A close call, he really did need to leave…now.
He was curious about the Mercedes and so as he pulled out he managed a look in the mirror and saw it had New Jersey plates. He would add that to the information they gave the cops. Eric was pretty sure this man was part of the scheme, this was the third man.
So the yacht's backside was facing the inlet and suddenly Eric knew how to get that name. He drove back out to the coastal highway and up towards the condo. It was going to be tight, but the telescope ought to fit across the back seat. He would need the tripod stand to hold the tube steady, but he would have to be careful. The telescope had cost his father almost two thousand dollars.
He found a luggage cart in the lobby and Eric wheeled it into the elevator. He had forgotten how heavy the telescope was but he ought to be able to move it by himself, and he did. Fifteen minutes later he had it loaded in the car and was on his way back into town. Now the only concern was where to set up.
The guy on guard would be the greatest danger. Half a mile, eight hundred eighty yards, that was pretty far but the guard's binoculars would easily reach across that distance. Eric crossed the bridge for the inlet and turned right. The neighborhood was quiet for a Monday morning, but it was Memorial Day and the parade was due to begin at eleven o'clock.
The water on this side of the inlet was dotted with individual short piers, some of them occupied with fishing boats owned by the townsfolk. The houses and their white picket fences were across the street and many of them were decorated with flags for the holiday. But a gas station sat on the inlet side and it was closed for the holiday. Eric pulled in behind the pumps and looked back across the inlet.
The small fishing boats bobbing in the water didn't provide any cover, neither did the short pier set up for refueling. The best place to set up his scope was right here in the gas station. Although that might attract attention from across the street it was the best he could do.
Across the inlet was the marina and Eric counted the piers once again. At this distance the yachts all looked the same. He opened the rear door and slid the tripod out of the car. If he stayed behind the gas pumps and the body of his car he would be pretty well hidden.
The telescope came next and he fitted it into the socket and fastened the clamp. He aimed the large scope in the general direction of the marina and then looked through the spotter scope. Whoa, even that made the yachts appear so much closer. Third from the end, and Eric focused the large scope.
Paradise Gambler, Atlantic City, New Jersey was painted across the transom in flowing script. Yes, that was it, and Eric felt elated. He raised the scope a fraction of an inch and looked across the rear deck of the yacht at the cockpit. Three men were standing there talking, drinking coffee and laughing about something.
It was time to pack up, and Eric slid the parts to his telescope back into the rear seat. It felt odd, Beetle was over there, the yacht was moored to the pier…he ought to just run to the cops right now. But what if the boy wasn't on board? They could have him hidden somewhere else.
Eric pulled out of the gas station and retraced his route back towards the beach and the Pierpont house. Alan and Freddy were sitting on the steps looking anxious.
"The kidnappers called right after you left," Alan said. "They want five million dollars by tomorrow at noon."
"What? How is your family supposed to come up with that much so fast?" Eric asked.
"The money isn't the issue."
"I know the name on that yacht…let's go look it up."
Freddy looked pleased. "You saw the name? How did you get that close?"
"I didn't, it was impossible to approach the pier so I used my telescope from across the inlet."
Alan laughed and they ran up the stairs to his room. The laptop was on and Alan quickly accessed the dot com with the name Marine Title.
"Paradise Gambler, Atlantic City, New Jersey," Eric said and Alan entered the words. A screen popped up with the specifications of the boat and registration. The owners name, home address and phone numbers were right there on the screen.
"I need my Dad…right now," Alan said. He leapt to his feet and was out the door.
"Martin J. Cushing…I wonder who that is?" Freddy said.
"Probably someone that Mr. Morgan knows," Eric replied.
Mr. Morgan, Granny and the State Police technician who had monitored the phone call all squeezed into Alan's bedroom.
"Marty Cushing, I should have known," Mr. Morgan said.
"You know this man?" The trooper asked.
"He was dismissed from the Central Bank of New York earlier this year for insider trading. I believe he's currently under indictment by the Feds. I didn't want to hire him in the first place so he's got a grudge against me."
"But why would he go after Beetle?" Granny asked.
"Quick money, he must be desperate at this point and I'm sure his lawyers are demanding payment."
"Do you know what he looks like?" Eric asked.
"Short gray hair, wide face, but he has a mustache and a beard," Morgan said.
Eric flashed back to the driver of the Mercedes. "Then he's here in the marina onboard that yacht, I saw him."
"I'm calling this in," the State trooper said.
Within the hour Detective Parker had arrived with six State Troopers dressed in plain clothes. It was getting to the point that the country club would probably be deserted because of the festivities in town, but that was just fine with Parker.
"The fewer people around the better," He said. Alan had shown him the GPS location on his laptop and one of the troopers was quite familiar with the marina. Parker called in the Farnham police to man their patrol boat and cut off any escape the kidnappers might try. They were going to surround the yacht just as the parade was going on.
Mr. Morgan had been on the phone with his secretary up in New York. She managed to pull up the company personnel records on her computer where she found a cell phone number for Cushing. If the man had the phone with him Parker would call it when the police were in place. It would be better for everyone if the kidnappers surrendered without a fight.
The hardest part was the waiting, and although Mrs. Morgan had laid out a brunch buffet on the kitchen counter no one seemed anxious to eat. The police had been gone for over an hour except for the technician who sat in his car out front and monitored his radio. At five minutes after eleven he burst through the front door and smiled.
"They have your son safe and sound," He said.
Mrs. Morgan and Granny cried while Alan gave Eric a big hug. Freddy shook hands with Mr. Morgan while the girls seemed to finally find their appetites. They all walked out to the driveway to await Beetle's return.
Poor Beetle looked frazzled when Parker pulled into the driveway and let the boy out. He ran to hug his mother, and then looked up at Freddy's bandage. Freddy knelt down and Beetle ran into his arms.
"They hurt you…I saw that," Beetle said. "I was so worried about you, Freddy."
"I'm fine…just fine. We're all glad to have you back."
"I'm hungry," Beetle said.
Freddy stood up and took the boy's hand. "Then let's go eat," He said.
Parker stood in the driveway and explained how they had taken the kidnappers. Three of the troopers had walked across the golf course once one of them had shanked a ball into the parking lot where it rolled across the gravel and into the water beside the pier. The troopers followed the ball and stood beside the yacht looking down into the water.
It seems the thug on duty as guard had seen the ball disappear and laughed, telling them it was tough luck, they would never find it. Just as the troopers were arguing about how many stokes penalty this would cost the golfer Parker had pulled up in his car and took out his cell phone.
Cushing answered his phone and Parker told him to surrender, that the yacht was surrounded. He came out on the rear deck and saw the police patrol boat and immediately raised his arms. The guard on deck wasn't armed because they weren't expecting to be caught. The second thug was caught in the head sitting on the toilet.
"And there was Bartholomew tied to the bed in the master bedroom watching television when I walked in. What a kid, he gave me a big grin and asked if he could watch the rest of the movie…"
They all laughed, relieved that this was all over. Alan and his parents went back in the house while Parker had a few words with Eric and Freddy.
"You should have called me right away once you figured out who was involved," Parker said.
"I told him that," Freddy said. "But we were afraid you might think we were interfering with your investigation. Besides, we really didn't have that much to say until Eric got the name off the yacht and Alan found out the guy's name."
"I'm just glad you didn't go any further, they had guns on that boat," Parker said.
"So what happens to them?" Eric said.
"A long time in the Sussex prison, I imagine. It depends on if the Feds want to get involved. The District Attorney will have a whole list of charges against them. You guys will probably be asked to testify, especially you, Mr. Taylor. You saw the crime take place and are one of the victims. I hope you boys are prepared to stick around for a while."
"You mean we can't go home at the end of the season?" Freddy asked.
"You can, but you'll have to come back for court. Meantime, there will be lots of official people who will want to talk to you in the next month or two. Go back and enjoy your summer jobs. We'll know where to find you, and boys…thanks for your help."
"Yes, Sir," Eric and Freddy both replied. They shook hands with Parker and he left.
"The arcade opens in twenty minutes, are we ready for that?" Freddy asked.
"You bet, I need to do something normal," Eric said.
Normal is a relative term, and in this situation it seems there was going to be very little normal time over the next several weeks. Memorial Day in Farnham was a mob scene, and Mr. Connors looked relieved to see his two employees back to work.
Freddy still had the bandage so he was assigned office duty with Mrs. Connors. By early-afternoon the arcade was packed and the word about the kidnapping was making the rounds of the employees. Mr. Connors wasn't happy because it seems his wife had told her daughter-in-law the story once she heard it from Freddy. By four o'clock the local newspaper was on the scene and a television station from Dover had a truck on the street behind the arcade.
Eric was exhausted by the end of his shift and climbed the stairs to the dorm. Freddy was sitting in the office with a smile.
"I called Granny about fifteen minutes ago to ask about Beetle and she's the only one still awake. I guess that means we're off the hook for the night. Are you staying in?"
"Oh yeah, I have a date with my pillow," Eric said.
"No Alan this evening?"
Eric grinned. "We would only sleep together if I went over there. Not a very good impression on the parents."
"There's a big pot of vegetable soup in the kitchen. You need food before you sleep," Freddy said.
They each had some of the soup and then went to bed. The noise downstairs was horrendous as was the clatter of people out on the boardwalk. Despite all that they were both quickly asleep and Eric didn't awaken until dawn lit their window.
He felt refreshed and pulled on his running shorts. There was a lot to think about on his morning jog, not the least of which was the much awaited Wednesday off. Eric took the stairs and walked out to the boardwalk to begin his stretching exercises. The best surprise was finding Alan out there getting ready to run.
They ran down the beach to the dunes where Eric stopped and led Alan into the pines. They kissed and hugged until they were breathless, but it wasn't from the exercise. Eric was afraid to ask, but Alan seemed to sense the trepidation.
"I have some news…I'm staying here for the rest of the summer thanks to Detective Parker telling my father they might have further questions to ask."
Eric smiled. "I have you for the summer?"
"Yup…the only good thing to come out of this whole mess. The parents are still leaving…only not until next Sunday. It seems Beetle insists on seeing Freddy perform again before they go.
"Poor Freddy, he's going to face a lot of fame that has nothing to do with his magic. A reporter stopped by the house last night and Granny spoke to the woman. She declared Freddy to be the hero of the occasion and that will be all over the papers today."
"The Farnham paper?" Eric asked.
"Oh no, the papers all over the place. The kidnapping is big news."
"I just hope they leave my name out of it," Eric said.
"They will, we're both still minors, only Freddy is the adult."
"That's what I said, but he'll muddle through. Shall we finish our run?"
"Yeah, what time do you have to be home?" Eric asked.
"Can't stay out too long, they might get worried. I told my dad we would run and then I would be home," Alan said.
"We can do that, what are you doing for breakfast?" Eric asked.
Alan helped Eric carry the telescope back up to the condo before they stripped and fell on the bed. The place was familiar…the activity just as well planned and executed as it was this past Sunday.
"We have to get back…Oh, and I believe Granny would like to invite you to dinner this evening…can you handle that?"
"I couldn't make it until after six-thirty."
"That's fine, it won't be fancy."
Eric leaned in for another kiss and then pulled his head back. Their eyes locked, both of them filled with the emotions of the moment.
"I…I love you," Alan said. "I've never felt like this before."
"I thought I was in love before, but I was wrong, it was just infatuation. Now I love a handsome young man who lives three hundred miles away, and when the summer is over it's going to hurt. I love you too, Alan…how are we going to stand the pain?"
"I'm counting on Granny to solve that problem," Alan said. "You don't really know my grandmother very well, but she lives fairly close to you in Georgetown."
"Nope, Washington D.C…just down the road from Bethesda. You probably know the neighborhood fairly well; she's just around the corner from the Dumbarton House. "
"Oh wow, that is quite a neighborhood," Eric said. "But how does that help us."
"She wants to encourage our friendship…says she has a plan."
"That's sweet…you don't think she knows about us, do you?"
"Nope…it's too soon for the big reveal."
The ride back to Playland was interrupted only by Eric detouring to drop Alan off. They smiled at one another, planning to meet up later and talk. Eric drove himself down into the middle of town, fed a few quarters in the parking meter and walked into the Daisy Chain for breakfast.
There was a definite buzz in the place, but no one knew who he was. Eric ordered his usual breakfast and spread the Bulletin out on the table. He looked down at the photo of Freddy on the front page. The article related many of the facts, got some things wrong as usual, but made no mention of the family involved or Eric Tolliver.
The reporter did mention the Pierpont name and quoted Granny in a few places regarding Freddy's heroics. Poor Freddy, it would now be a long summer for him with all that fame. Or maybe not, the girls would definitely love to go out with a hero if that's what Freddy wanted.
Playland was a little quieter today since many families had been in town for the holiday weekend and then gone home. Farnham attracted people from all over Maryland, lower Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Most of them came to stay a week. It was rare to see the same faces for the whole summer, but there were a few.
Eric and Freddy did their best to give the customers the Connor's renowned experience. The crew this summer was a bunch of hard working young people…well, most of them. Eric rotated away from the elephant ride and was going to man the bumper cars for the week. A dirtier job, but he enjoyed watching kids crash and bash their way around the circular floor. Dirty it was, he had to change his clothes during the lunch break.
Eric was heading for the stairs just after six o'clock when he saw Freddy by the side door talking to several girls, the same ones they had spoken with the other night. He felt a little guilty about ditching them, but then he seriously wasn't going to sit there while they smoked pot. Eric showered and was back in the room when Freddy returned.
"That girl Valerie wants to go out with me tonight," Freddy said.
"Is it real interest or just hero worship?" Eric asked.
"I'm no hero, you know that. I'm going to take her out to dinner so we can talk."
"The drugstore sells extra-large condoms."
"Good to know, but I don't think I'll need them any time soon. She won't be eighteen until next month. Are you meeting Alan?"
"Yeah…and I better go. We can talk about our dates later. Have fun," Eric said.
Alan had been right; the dinner was Pierpont casual. That meant steaks on the grill cooked by Mr. Morgan and a large spread of salads and assorted vegetables. The dining table was set with eight places with Beetle in the middle and Alan on the other side of his brother.
The boy didn't seem any worse off for the horrible experience of the past two days.
"The cops took my watch," Beetle said, holding up his arm so Eric could see it was missing. "They said it was evidence."
"I think you were pretty brave," Eric said.
"I wasn't scared…it was all pretty boring," Beetle said.
Eric looked up and saw Alan roll his eyes and smile.
"So what is Freddy doing tonight?" Beetle asked.
"He's on a date with a girl named Valerie," Eric said.
"I hope he gets his balls back," Alan said and Beetle broke up laughing.
"Alan, we do not talk like that at the table," His mother said.
"I apologize…I meant his golf balls."
Granny had been quiet for most of the meal, but now she patted her lips with a napkin and glanced down the table at Alan.
"I have decided that Alan should come live with me this next school year," She said. "I assume that means he will attend Bethesda Prep with Eric and I have no objections."
Mrs. Morgan looked across the table at her son. "I thought you were happy at Brunswick…was I wrong?"
"It's an okay school, Mom, but I'm tired of being a boarder. I don't really have any close friends there," Alan said.
His mother smiled. "I understand, friends are important."
"What about me? Does my opinion count?" Beetle said.
"You can have my room," Alan said.
"Really? That's totally cool."
Everyone laughed at how easily Beetle capitulated, but they knew he would miss his big brother. Eric did his best not to show the excitement he felt. Alan would be his…and he could spend every weekend…
"What do you think about this, Eric," Mr. Morgan asked.
"I'll appreciate having another close friend, and we can always use the help on the lacrosse field. Alan might even get to take my position if I get injured."
"If I don't steal it before then," Alan said.
"You're welcome to try, but then wait until we come up against Kings Point…you'll wish you hadn't."
"We had six guys get knocked out the last time we played them," Eric said, and then he smiled. "But we still won."
"Team sports…the best training in the world for a businessman," Mr. Morgan said. "I remember my rugby days in college…"
"Not now, dear…we don't need to hear about all that blood and gore at the dinner table," Mrs. Morgan said.
Beetle leaned over towards his father and whispered a little too loudly. "You can tell me all about it later on." Alan and Eric laughed.
It wasn't until later, after the dinner when Eric excused himself and Alan walked him out to the gate.
"Your Granny sure knows how to arrange things. Did you know about any of this?"
"I didn't know it was a sure thing, but I figured that's what she had in mind," Alan said. "I assure you, she usually gets her way in the family."
"I was just stunned," Eric said. "You'll be a most welcome addition to the team."
"I'm not doing this for the team, Eric. There isn't anything at Brunswick for me except an education, but this way I won't have to do it alone."
Eric smiled. "You sure you didn't manipulate this? First a summer at the beach and then changing schools. I suppose I should be flattered."
"Love is a team sport, too. You'll need to remember that," Alan said.
There was a kiss in the shadows beside the gate and Eric took off for the boardwalk back to Playland. How different life was going to become. They had the rest of the summer to explore what love meant, and tomorrow was Wednesday. Eric laughed…this was only the first week.