On their first wedding anniversary, Denny gave Alan twins. Marla and Sharla from Schenectady. He found them at a restaurant opening, dressed up as salt and pepper shakers, lovely girls, really, who thought Denny was funny, Alan sweet, and if they couldn’t name a single judge on the Supreme Court, well, that didn’t make them much different than most Americans, now did it?
Plus, they agreed to wear the costumes all night. Lovely girls.
On their second anniversary, Alan couldn’t resist. He gave Denny triplets. Jasmine, Belle, and Ariel from Chicago. He’d actually represented their mother when she came into the office asking for his help in pursuing child support for their little brother, a precocious young thing named Copper who kept trying to put the moves on Katie, much to Jerry’s chagrin. Alan took the case when the mother explained how the father was attempting to cut off all ties to his past now that he was making a bid for the Massachusetts state senate on the Republican ticket.
The only drawback was that, on the night of the anniversary, the daughters refused to don the costumes Alan had put them in during the trial. Denny didn’t mind, though. He dressed up in his Gaston costume and counted it good for all of them.
When their third anniversary rolled around, Alan very quickly realized he’d instigated a serious conundrum with his previous gift. A pattern had been set. If he knew anything at all about Denny Crane, it was that it would be physically impossible for the man not to one-up him. Not that he had anything against having sex with quadruplets, but the logistics in finding a set of four identical girls was mind-boggling. Denny would utilize every resource he had, go to any length, even fly to Antarctica, to make it happen.
Alan couldn’t even hope Denny would suffer from a memory lapse to forego such an endeavor. Those had been few and far between on the new drug protocol. Until this point, Alan had considered that an excellent development, but the forgetfulness did have the occasional convenience.
“Why don’t we go away for our anniversary this year?” Alan said casually one night, carefully keeping his gaze cast upward at the night skies. “Someplace warm. I think I’m in the mood for sunshine.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a plume of cigar smoke float on the slight evening breeze out over the railing. They had specifically rented office space with a veranda that gave them an unobstructed view of the city, and while Denny rarely did more than second chair these days, he spent almost as much time there as Alan did. Outside of becoming their own bosses, very little had changed since leaving Chang, Poole, and Schmidt. Oh, but what an important change that was.
“Florida,” Denny announced. “I’ve always wanted to fish during a hurricane. Gets the blood pumping.”
He tamped down his relief that Denny seemed to like the idea better than what he must’ve been planning. “You might have to wait a little longer for that. Hurricane season is over by December.”
“This year will be different. I can feel it in my bones.”
“Really? I wasn’t aware your bones were meteorological experts.”
“My bones are experts in all sorts of things. Just ask Shirley.”
“I suppose you could get lucky. There could be a tropical storm.”
“They could name it after me.” He took another puff. “Hurricane Denny. I like the sound of that.”
“So do I. Too bad they come up with the list of names before the season actually starts.”
“They’ll change it for us. And if they don’t, we’ll sue them.”
“On what grounds?”
Denny cast him a sideways glance, the devilish glint in his eye Alan had never been to resist. “On the grounds that I’m Denny Crane, of course.”
Nodding, Alan laughed. “Of course.”
* * *
“He shot me.”
Alan paused in mid-correction on the summation he was due to give the following day. Their neighbor, Cody Post, was an ex-football star, and half the reason Alan had agreed to buy the new condo right after he and Denny married. The size of a small house, Cody had agreed to keep an ear and eye out on Denny when Alan wasn’t around, just in case Denny had another of his lapses. By Alan’s reckoning, the only people who stood a chance at actually stopping Denny were a pretty girl or a man twice his size. In exchange, Alan helped Cody out of the occasional scrape when his wandering eye—he had both a penchant for in-the-closet college boys and an uncanny knack for finding ones with rich, homophobic fathers—got him in trouble. As the drugs held Denny’s disease at bay, Cody’s aid had proven unnecessary in the last year, so this sort of call took Alan completely aback.
“What do you mean, he shot you?” he demanded. “What happened?”
On the other end of the line, Cody cleared his throat. “Around eight, he started making all this noise. I swear, it sounded like the walls were going to come down. So I went over there, just like I have every other time. When he answered the door, he looked…weird. Like he didn’t know what he was doing. Where he was.”
Alan glanced at the clock. Quarter to midnight. Almost four hours ago. His stomach sank. He hated these episodes with every fiber of his being. The only positive was that they didn’t occur nearly as frequently as they used to. “And then?”
“He tried shooing me away, but I pushed my way inside. That’s when I saw the suitcases.”
“Yeah, three of them. Right near the door. I asked Mr. Crane where he was going, and he told me it was none of my business. He said, me of all people should understand what it means when two men want some alone time. So I said, sure, of course, I do, but you told me you weren’t leaving until the weekend so who was he going to be alone with. That’s when he shot me. Well, first he said you’re the only man for him, and then he shot me. Since when is he shooting tranquilizers instead of those paint balls?”
“Since he must have bought some more when I took away the paint after the incident with Mrs. Grove’s Pekingese.” Closing the file, Alan tossed it into his briefcase before grabbing his coat. “I’m guessing when you woke up, he was gone?”
“Yep. And so were the suitcases. I’m sorry, Mr. Shore.”
“Not a problem, Cody. Thank you for letting me know.” He disconnected and immediately rang Jerry. He was so wrapped up in worrying about Denny, he couldn’t even bring himself to make a blue comment when Katie answered the phone. “Tell Jerry Denny’s on the loose. Check all the usual places.”
“This is Denny we’re talking about,” she said gently. “Shouldn’t we be checking the unusual places?”
“Leave those to me.”
* * *
No matter where Alan looked, Denny was nowhere to be found. The building's doorman claimed Denny had been alert and smiling when he’d come through the lobby. He’d even told the doorman not to bother getting him a taxi, that he’d get it himself, because the doorman had his arms full with a delivery that had just arrived. The police had no reports of anyone even remotely matching his description, the emergency rooms were having surprisingly light nights, and Shirley and Carl claimed they hadn’t heard from Denny in days. The only thing of note Alan discovered was that his Miami plane tickets had been canceled, but no airline would confirm or deny whether or not Denny had taken a flight somewhere else, no matter how much Alan threatened.
At six o’clock, with still no sign of Denny, he called Cody to doublecheck he hadn’t come home. Cody didn’t pick up.
Alan stared at the phone after he disconnected. A man who had been shot up with tranquilizers wouldn’t be out on the town at this hour of the morning. Something about this entire set-up didn’t smell right.
At the sound of the husky voice, Alan looked up. And up. And up. Standing in front of him, wearing thigh-high leather boots and a short leather trench belted at the waist, was a beautiful blonde who made Xena look like Marge Simpson.
When he didn’t speak right away, she arched an eyebrow. “I was under the impression you were quite articulate,” she said. “Was I misinformed?” Her full, ruby-red mouth slanted. “Does someone need to be punished?”
His pulse, which had finally begun to calm down, decided to take a sharp left turn at her lazily spoken words. “My apologies,” he managed to get out. “Yes, I’m Alan Shore. What can I do to you? For you, I mean.” Though, not really, and from the look in her eye, she knew it.
“I’m here to pick you up.” Turning slightly to the side, she gestured toward a sleek black Roadster parked on the curb behind her.
As tempting as it was… “I’m sorry, but what exactly is this about? You see, I’m in the middle of a situation at the moment—”
“I know. You’re looking for Denny Crane.”
The world narrowed down to just her. “How did you know that?”
“Because he told me.” She tilted her head. “Shall we?”
There was nothing to say to that, but, “We shall.”
He had no idea how she managed to fold her legs into the driver’s well, but two minutes later, she was roaring through the deserted Boston streets, the frigid air whipping past their ears. Questions abounded, but it was impossible to ask any of them right now. He was too busy gripping the door, silently vowing to throttle Denny if this turned out to be one massive joke.
She left the city behind, zooming past Quincy and straight into Duxbury. Here, she slowed down, but at the coast, she picked up speed again, bypassing home after sleeping home. At the tip of the peninsula, she finally pulled over, parking in front of a two-story home that faced the ocean. The front door opened, and three women filed out, all dressed exactly as his chauffeur. In fact, upon closer inspection, one of the trio was the spitting image of his hostess, while the other two…
Rage bubbled up inside him. “Denny!”
The other blonde Amazon held out a heavier overcoat, while the brunette twins at her side offered Scotch and a cigar. “Mr. Crane is waiting for you on the beach,” the other blonde said.
Alan snatched the coat away from her and slipped it on. “Oh, he is, is he?” He downed the Scotch rather than carry it out to enjoy with Denny. After the night he’d had, he damn well deserved it.
They pointed him in the right direction and let him climb over the dune on his own. Sure enough, there, facing the pinking horizon, sat Denny in a deck chair, a cloud of smoke drifting from his lit cigar.
“Are you insane?” Alan stormed as he approached. “I can’t believe you set this all up. After everything—do you have any idea how worried I was about you?”
The smile Denny turned toward him was beatific. “I was counting on it. How else was I going to keep you busy all night so I could surprise you?”
“Not like this.” He refused to sit down. He was still too angry to give Denny the satisfaction. “Never about this, Denny. I even had Jerry and Katie looking for you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“You weren’t there.”
“No, but they were in on the plan. You might’ve asked them to look for me, but that doesn’t mean they did.”
His jaw dropped. “And Cody? Was he in on this, too?”
“Someone needed to put the scare in you.”
“So you didn’t shoot him. That was a lie.” He knew as soon as he said it, he was right. The one wrong detail of Cody’s story suddenly became glaringly clear. There was no way Denny could’ve managed to get out of the building with three suitcases without someone else’s help, and the doorman had been too busy.
“Have you seen the size of him?” Denny said. “He might be a fairy, but he’s got hands like hams. You don’t shoot someone like that unless you mean for them not to get back up.”
“How on earth did you convince him?”
“Easy. I bribed him with our Miami vacation. Do you have any idea how many nubile young men spend their holiday basking in the sun?”
Denny really had thought it all through. “I can’t believe you,” Alan muttered. “All of this, just to surprise me.”
That was the last straw. “No, Denny, it’s not happy. I don’t particularly find enjoyment wondering if you might be dead out there somewhere. Did you even stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, it might be better to fill me in on your plans before you decide that manipulating me into fearing every worst case scenario that has ever proposed itself is the way to go? No, you didn’t, because that would require you to remember for one second that this marriage is, and always has been, for both of our peace of mind. It’s not just about you. It’s about both of us.”
As he spoke, Denny’s smile faded. “I know that.”
“Do you? Do you, really?”
“Why else would I go to such lengths to show you how much you mean to me?” He swept an arm at the horizon. “This is all for you.”
Frowning, Alan followed his line of sight, but the water was unbroken, the burgeoning dawn still and silent. “I don’t get it.”
He obeyed without thinking, then chastised himself for the weakness.
Sinking back in his seat, Denny took a long drag on his cigar, his eyes on the distant sun. “I might not have ever told you this, but to me, our anniversary celebrates more than just the day we got married. It marks the first day I began to believe again that tomorrow would be another grand adventure. You gave me that when the mad cow tried to take it away.”
“Hear me out. We always mark the end of our adventures together, sitting under the stars. I love that. I do. Favorite part of my day. But our anniversary should be about welcoming the start of a new one. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Calm. Waiting. Where anything can happen. When I heard the weather forecast for today was supposed to be like this, I didn’t have a choice but to move everything up.” The gaze he leveled at Alan was solemn and sincere. “I’m sorry I scared you. I was so wrapped up in making this perfect for us, I didn’t think. And I should’ve.”
“No,” Alan said, and surprised himself by actually meaning it. “Because if you had thought ahead, you wouldn’t be you.” He turned toward the sliver of sun now peeking over the water. “You’re right. Anything can happen.”
“Did you see the twins?”
“Both. Works of art.”
“Not quadruplets, though. I still have you beat.”
“Do you know there are less than a hundred identical quadruplets in the whole world? I looked it up. So I decided to try a different angle. Two sets of twins who are sisters. One for me, one for you.”
“One of each, or do we each get a matching pair?”
“Whatever you want.”
“And the Trinity costumes?”
“Leather. Traditional gift for the third anniversary.”
The silence that wrapped around them now was comforting in its familiarity. Was he okay that Denny had scared him so badly? No, but he believed in Denny’s contrition, and a contrite Denny was a generous Denny, which meant Alan could very well wrangle time with all four girls if he played his cards right.
“I like how the clouds break as the sun comes up,” Alan mused. Denny’s romantic gesture, combined with Alan’s growing exhaustion, put him in a lyrical state of mind. “As if they understand they have to give way to whatever comes next.”
At his side, Denny harrumphed. Alan wasn’t sure if it was agreement or disdain. So he asked.
“What do you see in the clouds, Denny?”
He took his time responding. When he did, Alan could only laugh at how perfect his answer really was.