It's hard to believe that four years have passed since it happened. At the time, I was a 36-year-old MD working for the CDC's Infectious Disease Rapid Response Team (IDRRT). My team had been sent to El Paso, Texas to help treat and investigate the causes of a severe outbreak of cholera and typhus in the city. Evidence suggested that the outbreak started in Juarez on the Mexican side of the border and quickly spread to the American side. Cholera is generally associated with contaminated drinking water, and typhus is usually spread from person to person by lice. The outbreak in El Paso was very different in character. The epidemiological evidence strongly pointed to tainted drugs, particularly cocaine, as the source of this outbreak.
The ten members of our team had been in El Paso for four days, working around the clock to help the local medical personnel treat the rising number of victims. The day everything changed, we traveled across the border to meet with some Mexican government officials and physicians to see how the epidemic was being handled on their side and to determine, if possible, whether or not there was a possible drug connection with the cases on the Mexican side of the border.
Our team loaded into two black Chevy Suburbans driven by men employed by the hospital. We were met just across the border by a contingent of Mexican police in older SUV's that drove ahead and behind our Suburbans. The security had been deemed necessary because of the high level of drug cartel-related violence in Ciudad Juarez and because the Mexican MDs thought the initial cases were infected by contaminated IV drugs, which created a probable link between the cartels and the epidemic.
Our visit confirmed our suspicions that there was a strong drug-related connection. We loaded ourselves back into the Suburban's, collected our armed escorts, and headed back to the American side of the border. Once through the border check point and back on American soil, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Violence by the drug cartels was a growing problem in Ciudad Juarez. We continued toward the hospital and our temporary headquarters at a more leisurely pace.
We were passing down a fairly narrow city street when we were cut off by a panel truck. I was in the third seat of the second Suburban. As our convey screeched to a halt, I looked behind us and saw another panel van pull up blocking any retreat. I knew we were in trouble!
The doors of both panel vans opened, and men armed with AK 47s poured out. Just before the bullets started flying, I looked straight into the eyes of one of the gunmen and recognized him as one of the orderlies from the hospital in El Paso.
The Suburbans were riddled with bullets. I felt a pain in my side and in my right hand. I slumped to the floor of the SUV, slamming my head against something on the way down. My last thought before losing consciousness was that we were all dead.
But somehow I survived. My guess as to why I survived was that I was the only one in the very back of the Suburban, and, since I'd passed out, I was as motionless as the corpses of my colleagues. I was told later that most of the gunfire had been concentrated on the first two rows of seats.
I also learned later, that when the police and emergency personnel arrived, they thought everyone was dead. Eleven people slaughtered in the streets of El Paso! The police had worked the crime scene for a couple of hours before one of them heard my moans.
I was transported to the hospital, stabilized, and airlifted to Houston. At first, I had a constant stream of visitors, mostly in the form of Border Patrol, Homeland Security, Texas Rangers, ATF personnel, and FBI agents. I told my story countless times. Yes, I was certain of the identity of one of the gunmen. Yes, the IDRRT group had convincing evidence that tainted drugs were the source of the epidemic. No, I had no connection to any drug dealers or drug cartels. Gradually, the stream of official visitors trickled off. After a month, I was finally released from the hospital minus a foot or so of small intestine and with a right hand that was almost useless. The day after my release from the hospital, I boarded a plane to fly home to Atlanta.
Now that you know what happened to start the whole chain of events, I need to introduce myself properly. I'm Mitchell Palmer Wolf, known as Mitch, or sometimes just Wolf for short to my few friends. I was 36 years-old at the time, six foot two inches tall with a lean athletic build, dark brown hair, and blue-green eyes. I've got hairy legs, a moderate amount of hair on my chest, that spreads out over my pecs before narrowing to a line that runs down my stomach, then expands out in a thick pubic bush surrounding my circumcised penis, which is normally about five inches flaccid but grows to a respectable (at least I think so) seven and a half inches when erect.
I successfully navigated the Houston and Atlanta airports even with the constant stitch in my side from the abdominal surgery and my next-to-useless right hand. I grabbed my overnight bag from the baggage claim and caught a cab to my condo. I spent the next couple of days reorganizing the condo, catching up on my mail and bills, requesting an indefinite leave of absence from the CDC, and packing my two-year-old Honda Pilot. The packing job was slow and difficult, because of the brace on my right hand and my inability to really grasp anything. The next morning I headed north out of Atlanta on I-75. My destination was my Uncle Nathaniel's house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Driving wasn't all that difficult. The power steering made that easy. The shifter had a button on top that could be depressed with the outside edge of my hand, and then the shifter would move. Using the ignition key wasn't quite as easy. I had to use a pair of pliers to grasp the key and rotate it using almost my whole lower arm.
My uncle, Nathaniel Roberts Wolf, was the parent figure in my life. My father had always been more interested in expanding his businesses than in spending time with me. My mother had been his secretary. She had ambitions to be more than just a secretary. Within two years, my father was divorced from his first wife and married to my mother. When I came along, my father started spending more and more time in the office, and my mother was spending her time cultivating husband number two. Husband number two didn't want kids around, so I was sent off to boarding school.
I well remember the summer I turned nine. My mother, who was on a round-the-world cruise with husband number three, couldn't take me for the summer. My father was too busy with one of his business deals to have me tagging around for the summer. My father's solution to the problem was to convince his older brother Nathaniel to keep me for a few weeks. The "few" weeks turned out to be the entire summer.
That summer with Uncle Nathaniel and his friend, 'Uncle' Gustavo, turned my life around. Uncle Nathaniel was a professor of history at the University of Michigan. And at that time, both men were in their mid-fifties ‑ fit and active. My uncle had a two-story four bedroom Arts and Crafts style house in Ann Arbor and a three bedroom cottage on Clear Lake near Nowhere in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Don't laugh at the name Nowhere. Michigan is the state that has towns with names like Climax, Paradise, Hell, Intercourse, and Nowhere. Three days after I arrived at Uncle Nathaniel's house in Ann Arbor that first summer, he and I took the long drive from Ann Arbor to the top of the Lower Peninsula, crossed the Mackinac Bridge, then drove another 90 miles on U.S. Rte 2 through Manistique and on into the Hiawatha National forest before turning north again at the little cross roads village of Nowhere. Ten miles outside of Nowhere, we finally ended at the cabin. At first, I thought my old, foolish uncle had taken me to the end of the earth. Uncle Nathaniel taught me to swim that summer in the chilly waters of Clear Lake. I also learned how to paddle a canoe, the pleasures of long hikes, bird watching, the call of loons over the surface of the lake at sundown, the emotional majesty of classical music, and the power of words in good literature. 'Uncle' Gustavo arrived later in the summer; like Uncle Nathaniel, he was a professor at the University of Michigan, but unlike my uncle, Gustavo taught languages. That summer he started teaching me other languages like Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Russian. But what I really learned that summer was that Uncle Nathaniel and 'Uncle' Gustavo loved me. They became the parents I'd never really had.
Afterward, I spent every summer and school vacation with them until I started medical school. I had little contact with my real parents. My father died of a massive heart attack my first year in college, and by that time, my mother was passing herself off as being a good fifteen years younger than her actual age. An eighteen year old son would have been a little hard to explain to her target for husband number four.
I was twelve when I realized that Uncle Nathaniel and 'Uncle' Gustavo were lovers. Oh, I always knew they were great friends. They lived in separate houses in Ann Arbor, but they took trips together, and 'Uncle' Gustavo always spent six weeks or two months during the summer with us in Nowhere. They were always careful. There were three bedrooms in the cabin; one bedroom acted as an office and library. When 'Uncle' Gustavo came to visit, I slept out on the screened porch or on a cot in the office, and he took over my bedroom. Never once in three years did I see them emerge from the same bedroom in the morning.
I remember lying awake in my bed on the porch when suddenly, I just knew. I asked them about it during breakfast that next morning. They simply answered 'yes' to my question, then held hands across the table. That afternoon, 'Uncle' Gustavo moved his clothes into the master bedroom.
And they were the first people I told when I realized I was gay. I was fourteen and away at prep school when I came to the realization that I was a heck of a lot more interested in some of my male classmates than I was in trying to make time with any of the girls in the school. That weekend, I called them and told them.
So, it felt like I'd arrived at my childhood home when I pulled my Honda into Uncle Nathaniel's driveway in mid-afternoon the day after leaving Atlanta. When I'd left Atlanta, spring was in its full glory. Dogwood, redbud, azaleas, tulips. Quite a show. Mid-April in Ann Arbor was a little different. The grass was trying to turn green, and the daffodils were on display in every yard up and down the street. The trees, however, wouldn't be fully leafed for several more weeks.
Uncle Nathaniel met me at the door and wrapped me in a hug. As I followed him into the house, I noticed that he was thinner and more stooped than the last time I'd seen him. He was 81, and now looked it. He was semi-retired, but still an active scholar, and taught one graduate seminar each semester. Gustavo had died of cancer two years earlier.
We settled into chairs in the living room and chatted. I was glad to see that while age was wearing at his body, his mind and sense of humor were as lively as ever. After nearly an hour of conversation, I mentioned that I should begin unpacking my stuff from the Pilot.
Nathaniel smiled and made a hand motion indicating that I should stay seated. The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile. "Don't worry about the unpacking. I'll ask Jeremy to bring all that in when he gets home."
The smile was broader. "He's my housekeeper-caregiver-driver."
"Oh, for about six months now. He's a former student. He's very bright, very broke, and just as cute as he can be. Oh, don't give me that look. Jeremy's only an employee and companion. I'll always miss Gustavo, but it's nice to have someone to talk to other than myself. At my age, if you talk to yourself too often, they put you in a home. You'll like him. He's quite good-looking and hung like a horse."
It was my turn to smile. "And just how do you know how he's hung?"
"Well, sometimes he does the housework in the nude. I think he's got a little bit of the exhibitionist in him."
As if on cue, the door opened and a very handsome, very fit-looking young man walked in with an armful of groceries.
He paused in the hallway and said, "You must be Mitch. Let me put these groceries in the kitchen, and then I'll come in and shake your hand."
I heard the sound of the groceries being placed on the counter, and then Jeremy returned, extending his hand as he approached. "I'm Jeremy Van Horn. Prof. Wolf has told me so much about you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
His handshake was firm and dry. I could see why my uncle liked having Jeremy around. He was a real hunky-looking blond with big dimples when he smiled. "Well, I'll have to tell you a few stories about Uncle Nathaniel to even the score."
He chuckled. "I'd like that. Prof. Wolf has really helped me out, but I'd like to get some 'dirt' on him - just let me get dinner started first."
Uncle Nathaniel broke in, "Just follow the recipe in the notebook, Jeremy. Then when you get a chance, join us here for drinks. Give Mitch some of the Clan McLachlan that's in the back of the liquor cabinet."
Jeremy nodded and left the room.
For the next two weeks, I enjoyed the time with my uncle. We talked a lot. Uncle Nathaniel talked mostly about how much he missed Gustavo, about the things they used to do, and about the good times when all three of us were at the cabin or on trips. I talked about my job . . . maybe it was my former job. After all, who needed a one-handed physician on the rapid response team? We talked a little about the shootings in Mexico and about my nightmares that resulted from the incident.
I also got to know Jeremy Van Horn, and I understood why my uncle was so fond of him. He was really a sweet kid, who seemed to care very much about my uncle's well-being. Jeremy drove him to doctor's appointments, on shopping trips, and for long rides in Uncle Nathaniel's big black Cadillac DTS to see the budding of spring in Ann Arbor and surrounding farm land. He did almost all the cooking, but Uncle Nathaniel selected the menus and instructed Jeremy on the proper table settings and wines to accompany the meals. Jeremy also did all the laundry and housecleaning. And yes, some of the times he did those chores in the nude. My uncle was right, the young man was, indeed, hung like a horse. He'd been raised on a farm in western Michigan, but had been disowned by his family when he came out to them. He worked his way through a history major at Michigan on student loans and as a go-go dancer at a gay dive outside of Pontiac. He'd met Uncle Nathaniel when he took my uncle's graduate seminar. At the moment, he was a part-time lecturer in history at one of the local community colleges while trying to pay down the debt from his student loans.
While I enjoyed the first few weeks with my uncle, I began to feel that I needed to get away by myself. The nightmares about Mexico were becoming more frequent, and my anxiety about my future was growing. I felt that I needed to be by myself to work through those issues. Uncle Nathaniel suggested that I go up to the cabin. So, the first week in May, Jeremy helped me load everything back into my Honda Pilot, and I hit the road again.
While spring had started to transform Ann Arbor, the season retreated back toward late winter as I drove north. Eight hours after leaving the flowers and tender young leaves coming out on the trees in southern Michigan, I arrived at the cabin to a landscape devoid of fresh leaves and spring flowers. In fact, I was in the midst of a snowstorm.
The cabin had been built in the late mid-50's. Nathaniel and Gustavo bought it from the original owners in 1968. Originally, it had an open kitchen-dining-living area with three bedrooms and one bath heated by a single oil fueled stove in the living area. The walls and ceilings were all knotty pine paneling. The furnishings were rustic Adirondack-style pieces. Comfortable and serviceable. The front of the cabin had a screened porch and faced the lake, which lay about twenty yards away. Uncle Nathaniel and 'Uncle' Gustavo had done some major renovations about seven or eight years previously. While keeping the rustic nature of most of the cabin, they'd modernized the kitchen, insulated the walls, and built an addition on the side of the cabin that enlarged the master bedroom, added a master bathroom and a utility room which contained a new propane furnace and water heater. The inside of the cabin was already warm and toasty. When I'd decided to come up, Uncle Nathaniel called Jake's Property Services, the security/maintenance company that watched the cabin to have the propane tank filled and the furnace, water heater, and well pump turned on.
I unloaded the SUV . . . it was a struggle without Jeremy's help. My right hand was getting a little better, but I was still wearing a brace and couldn't grasp or lift anything very heavy with it. Jeremy had packed sandwiches and beers for dinner, and some sweet rolls and ground coffee for breakfast. The next day, I would have to make a trip into Escanaba to stock up on groceries and other supplies. I put away some of my gear and clothing, got sheets and towels from the storage bins, made the bed in the master bedroom, opened the window a crack to enjoy the clean and crisp night air, and crawled under the covers.
I was asleep in no time.
The wolf loped along following the scent of the deer. His sense of smell told him the deer was a buck. The buck was afraid. Good. The hunt would be more fun if the buck started running. The wolf didn't want the buck for food. He'd eaten his fill earlier in the evening. This was for the sport of a chase.
Suddenly, a new scent registered. Man scent. The wolf stopped and sniffed the cold night air. He followed the scent plume to the cabin by the lake. The man was there, and this was new. He hadn't sensed this man before. There had been man scent at the cabin before, but those men had come and gone during the day. This man was in the cabin at night.
No lights came from the cabin. He sniffed the air again. He moved noiselessly to the slightly open window. Male. Full-grown. Not completely healthy. Asleep, but in some pain. The wolf could tell all that from the scent molecules carried out of the room through the open window to his sensitive nose.
He walked around the cottage. A large gray vehicle stood near the cabin's back door. The wolf sniffed at the vehicle and the tires. Lots of different scents. Strong scent of the sleeping man, but also scents from his travels.
The wolf lifted his leg and marked the front tire before melting back into the woods.
He would be back.
I woke before sunrise the next morning. The snow had stopped sometime during the night. I got dressed, made coffee and ate two of the sweet rolls that Jeremy had packed for me. I checked my i-Pad. Good, I had a signal. I'd been afraid that my cell phone and computer wouldn't work. I chuckled with the thought that technology was reaching into all corners of the planet, even into Nowhere.
After catching up on the news and email, I tackled the job of stowing the rest of my clothes and gear in the cabin. With that job done, I pulled on a pair of boots and headed out the door.
I noticed the tracks right away. Some really large dog had circled my SUV a couple of times and urinated on the left front tire. There weren't many year-round residents in the vicinity, so I wondered where the dog was from.
Around mid-day, I set out for the thirty-some mile trip to Escanaba for groceries and other essentials, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Gladstone was the closest town of any size, but Uncle Nathaniel had always preferred to shop in Escanaba, so I just followed that pattern.
I maneuvered the grocery cart around Super One Foods. I hadn't been in that store in years, and everything was in a different place. I was at the meat counter trying to decide between two packages of pork chops when a voice said, "The ones on the left are fresher."
I looked up and into a beautiful set of gray-green eyes. "Uh . . . how can you be sure?"
The man smiled; damn, he was handsome. A little taller than me. Dressed in jeans, work boots, and a flannel shirt over a dark blue tee shirt, with a little tuft of chest hair peeking out of at the neck. He looked fit and trim. Nice package showing in the jeans. Good chance he was going commando. He had dark brown hair with some traces of gray at the temples. His hair was just a little on the longish side. It appeared to be the kind of hair that could be combed into place with fingers or a good shake of the head. He had a stubble that was one or two days old, which was very attractive on him. But it was those amazing gray-green eyes that really got my motor running.
He smiled. White teeth. Dimples. I almost creamed my pants. "They look a little fresher to me . . . check the date."
Sure enough, the ones in my right hand were fresher. I placed them in my nearly full cart. "Thanks."
He wheeled his cart away and disappeared down the canned vegetables' aisle. I watched him go. Great ass in those jeans! Woof!
I finished the rest of my shopping, although I had major attention problems. I kept remembering the guy's smile, his amazing eyes, and that taut jeans-clad ass.
I headed toward the checkout isles. I estimated the length of the line for each aisle and made my choice. My mystery man slid into the same aisle right behind me.
I swallowed hard and turned toward him. "Thanks for the advice on the meat."
He smiled again. "You're welcome again. Looks like you're stocking up."
"Yeah, no one has been at the place for a while, so I had a long list."
"Are you here in town?"
"No, I'm staying over in Nowhere."
"That's where I live." He stuck out his hand, "I'm Wyatt Johnson."
I reflexedly started to extend my right hand, but caught myself and held out my left. "Nice to meet you, Wyatt; I'm Mitch Wolf."
Another smile, then a nod toward my right hand, "How much longer in the brace? What happened, if you don't mind my asking?"
I paused for a moment before answering. "I'm not sure. It may be a while." I didn't answer the part about the source of my injury.
"Sorry to hear that. Are you heading back to Nowhere from here? Would you have time for some lunch?"
My cock twinged. "Thanks. Lunch sounds like a good idea, and I'd enjoy the company." I'd also welcome the chance to continue to look at those amazing eyes.
We chatted in the check-out line while the clerk ran up our tabs, then wheeled our carts out into the parking lot. My Pilot was nearer the store, so we agreed to meet for lunch at the Culver's, and he headed farther out in the lot to his vehicle.
At lunch, I learned that Wyatt was 38 and single. He'd grown up on a ranch in Wyoming. His elder brother had inherited the ranch after their father's death, and Wyatt had decided to strike out on his own. He was a wildlife photographer and graphic artist with some moderate success, especially with his photographs. His house and studio were at the other end of Clear Lake from me. I told Wyatt that I was currently on leave from my job in Atlanta while I recovered from 'an accident,' And he didn't ask for details. He seemed to sense that I didn't want to discuss much about my job and the reason I was in Upper Michigan, so he didn't ask questions. I appreciated that. At the end of our lunch, we agreed to car pool for groceries the next week. We exchanged phone numbers, shook hands again, and separated.
I think I smiled all the way back to the cottage. I thought/hoped Wyatt was gay. Even if he wasn't gay, it would be nice to have someone to talk to every once in a while. One thing was sure. Gay or straight, he was certainly easy to look at. Man, it had been a long time since I'd had any real friends outside of work.