Thursday, February 28, 2008
The following excerpt is from "Deep Dish" by Marc Harshbarger. Remember when everyone was doing The Hustle, listening to the Captain & Tennille, watching Mary Richards make it after all, checking their emotions with mood rings, and collecting pet rocks? The swinging saga of "Deep Dish" turns back the clock to that groovy yesteryear of 1975 as it follows the misadventures of the Davenport and Haze families, who fall in and out of love and lust in one cliffhanging chapter after another.
Marc Harshbarger Publishing (August 2007)
After dessert . . .
. . . a tipsy Charlie Haze raises his half-empty glass of warm champagne to toast the happy couple.
"May Howard and Helen find as much happiness in their new life together as his dear mother and I have in ours.” He reaches down to kiss his wife’s hand, prompting everyone to utter an appropriate “Awww”.
“That’s sweet, dear, now sit down before you fall over,” says a smiling Charlotte, who is quite relieved that he didn’t belch.
Paying no attention to their cute display of old married affection is Cary Davenport, who is too preoccupied by the couple’s sexy son. While helping himself to a second piece of cake, he is disturbed to notice that he is not the only one in the room admiring Chandler (who keeps glancing at his watch for some mysterious reason). Both his twin brother Grant (who is quickly finishing the last bottle of champagne after probably realizing that he will never be as popular as his best friend Chandler) and his stepsister Delia (who is nervously chewing her fingernails while likely plotting her way into Chandler’s pants) are also watching the gorgeous young man.
“Charlotte, I think it’s time we be heading home,” Charlie then announces.
“Oh, so soon?” Abra Davenport’s obvious disappointment is silently echoed by Cary, who just wants to sit and stare at human perfection all night long.
Unfortunately, the object of his affection is already on his feet and saying his goodnights—“Thank you for a lovely evening, Mr. and Mrs. Davenport”—before dashing past the lovesick boy and out the front door.
Unable to verbally respond (Come back, Chandler! I’m not through lusting after you!) due to the last bite of cake in his mouth, Cary chokes and coughs and wishes he hadn’t had seconds as both Grant and Delia also bolt for the door. Since his brother has been drinking heavily all evening, their stepsister has a slight edge on reaching Chandler first until—
Abra’s voice draws her back like a magnet, allowing Grant to slip by her.
Delia turns around to face her stepmother and Mrs. Haze, who suddenly wants to see the maid of honor dress that she will be wearing the next day.
“Now, woman, now?” she wants to scream. “You had all evening to look at that ugly pink disaster! Why the hell now when I so desperately need to speak with your son!”
“Be a dear and go get it,” Abra orders the angry girl.
“No no, don’t bother. I’ll see it tomorrow when I’m sure it will look simply divine on you, Delia.”
The girl smiles and nods, knowing that it will look shitty on her as most maid of honor dresses do.
“And, Helen, you will be the most beautiful bride. I just wish your mother were here to see your happy day. She would’ve been so pleased at how well both her girls have turned out.”
Pushing back a blonde strand of hair from the girl’s face, Charlotte is suddenly so overwhelmed by how much Helen looks like her late mother that she almost bursts into tears, while an anxious Delia finally escapes, hoping her prayers that Chandler is still here have been answered.
Outside . . .
. . . the young Mr. Haze stands next to his Firebird with Grant, who is slightly swaying.
“Are you okay, buddy? You don’t look so well.”
“Okay, then I will see you later—”
Grant suddenly grabs Chandler’s arm: “Wait, I need to talk to you.”
“Not here. We can’t talk here.”
“How about I call you in the morning? We’ll talk then—”
Chandler tries to open his car door, but when Grant grips his arm tighter, he can see that his friend is on the verge of tears.
“Grant, what is it? What’s wrong?”
“CHANDLER!” As Delia’s voice pierces the air and Chandler turns to face her, Grant watches his opportunity to play To Tell the Truth fade away:
“Will the real Grant Davenport please stand up?” commands Garry Moore (the charismatic host of the popular TV game show) as panelists Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Bill Cullen anxiously await to see if they guessed correctly. But Grant is unable to stand up. He can’t move a muscle. And everyone is looking at him, including the two fake Grants on either side of him, who wish they could stand up and stretch their legs.
“Chandler, I need to talk to you.” Delia glares at her stepbrother. “Privately.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow, okay, buddy?”
Grant nods and staggers off to the veranda, where he finds Cary devouring yet another slice of cake. As he sits next to his identical twin (plus an extra hundred and fifty pounds), Grant realizes that, despite his displeasure with a fat version of himself walking around, at least God’s cruel joke (Cary) makes him think twice about having that second Twinkie.
Finishing his champagne, Grant wonders if another bottle would bring back Garry Moore and make Cary and the rest of his family disappear.
Finishing his third dessert, Cary wonders what Chandler and Delia are chatting about.
“You love me, baby, admit it.”
“I do love you, Delia—”
Oh sweet rapture! She feels their roller coaster ride of a relationship is finally reaching the top—
“But only as a friend.”
And then plunging down as that fucking word hits her smack in the face.
,br>“Where are you going?” she asks as he starts his car.
“I’ve got a date. See ya, De.”
And then the Firebird takes off into the night, leaving Delia to quickly brush away a single tear.
,br>“Now where is Chandler rushing off to in such a hurry?” inquires his father from the veranda.
“Leave him alone, Charlie, he’s got a date this evening—”
The three Davenport siblings all turn to look at Mrs. Haze, who continues:
“To study with that sweet little Sweeney girl.”
“Ginger?” says a surprised Delia.
“Yes, she and Chandler have been studying up a storm lately.”
Suddenly needing a drink real bad, Delia grabs Grant’s bottle only to discover it is empty.
“SHIT!” She throws the bottle on the front lawn and storms inside.
“Oh dear, I hope it wasn’t something I said,” says a concerned Charlotte.
“No no, Delia’s just not feeling herself today,” explains an embarrassed Abra.
“Looks to me like she is,” adds Bermuda, whose drunken honesty receives a nasty look from her daughter.
Later that night . . .
. . . at The Wild Iris (a popular bar on the corner of Halsted and Roscoe in Chicago), a contest is being held to pick this year’s Mr. Windy City, an important honor for some lucky young gay man (selected from twenty-one contestants), who is about to be crowned by the event’s fabulous co-hosts, Miss Sandy Beach and Miss Astoria Queens. The two gorgeous finalists now stand together on the small stage in their even smaller bathing suits (having been judged earlier this evening in suit and tie as well as casual attire) smiling out at the large enthusiastic crowd of mostly men.
“Now, Tori, before we announce our new Mr. Windy City, we should repeat what the lucky winner will receive.”
“Well, Sandy, he will win five hundred dollars cold hard cash!”
“And if that isn’t fabulous enough, he will also receive a weekend for two at Saugatuck Lodges in Michigan!”
“Maybe he’ll take me along. I’m free that weekend.”
“Honey, you’re free every weekend.”
“For a hot young hunk with a big wad of cash, you bet your sweet ass I am,” says Astoria with a wink to one of the many hot young hunks near the stage.”
“And now without further ado, our next Mr. Windy City is—” Miss Beach anxiously opens the envelope and shows it to Miss Queens, who squeals with delight, before revealing the winner.
The crowd goes wild over the shocked winner—an obvious favorite of all in attendance—as the two drag queens quickly put the banner of honor across his smooth sculptured chest (Astoria cannot resist giving his hard right nipple a little pinch), the sparkling silver tiara on his golden head of hair, and the award of a bronzed nude man (like an Oscar with genitalia) in his hand. They also leave big red lipstick prints on the gorgeous face of the new Mr. Windy City, who is obviously not a fifty-year-old father of three from Winnetka—and as the many bodies before him begin to dance to “The Hustle”, Charlie’s youngest son, Chandler, smiles on what may be the happiest night of his life.
“Let’s trip the light fantastic, baby!”
Miss Astoria Queens grabs the hand of the unhappy runner-up, Mr. Maleroom (who was sponsored by a local gay bathhouse), and he now momentarily forgets about his disappointing loss while dancing with the large drag queen. The young man finds himself mesmerized by the enormous red sequined breasts shaking before him—they certainly look real (even though he knows better), and being a confirmed trisexual (one who enjoys sleeping with everybody), he can still appreciate a nice set of knockers.
As for the winner, Chandler Haze, his gorgeous blue eyes are searching for a friend among the crowd.
He smiles upon seeing that familiar shock of red hair and adorable freckles.
And then their eyes meet.
Their hearts skip a beat.
Their throats suddenly go dry.
Their knees a little weak and wobbly.
Every silly cliché their mothers told them would happen when falling in love is now coming true—and both young men are happily embracing each wonderful feeling with open arms.
“Excuse me,” says the new Mr. Windy City as he slowly makes his way through the sweaty, half-naked bodies of men all moving together to the intoxicating beat of “The Hustle”. Many offer congratulations with pats on the back and ass—and one daring soul even takes brief pleasure in fondling the front of his tight bathing suit. But he doesn’t mind. He doesn’t even seem to notice—as he only has eyes for one—a Mr. Matt Mahoney, whom he finally reaches.
They kiss before Matt congratulates his friend, Charlie (after being persuaded by Ginger to enter the contest, Chandler had panicked when they asked him his name—and out came ‘Charlie’. He immediately regretted this fib, but it was too late to tell the truth—everyone would think he was weird or ashamed. Only three people know his secret identity—Matt, Ginger and the person who now greets him).
“Hey, Mr. Haze—”
Matt is startled when an incredibly hunky guy in a tie-dyed tank top and cut-off denim shorts suddenly picks up Chandler in his arms.
“I’m so happy you won.”
Finishing his hug, the muscular Mary puts down the young man, who then introduces him:
“Tyler, this is Matt.”
“Catch you later, man,” says Tyler before he returns to his bartending job.
“He’s friendly,” Mr. Mahoney remarks with a twinge of jealousy.
“He’s a friend.”
“Just a friend?”
“Strictly platonic, I swear.” Chandler lightly touches Matt’s lips with his finger, and they smile at each other until Ginger comes up and hugs Mr. Haze.
“Congratulations, Mr. Windy City!”
“This place is swarming with cute guys.”
“Yes—and they all want to sleep with Warren Beatty and then tell you about it.”
“That very well may be, but you never know,” Miss Sweeney says as she scans the crowd. “There might be one who could be converted over to the dark side.”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Only one beer. Why?”
“You’re scaring me.”
“C’mon, there must be at least one bisexual in the bunch—besides my cousin.”
“Your cousin’s here?”
She points at the sexy young man in his skimpy swimsuit (now chatting with a cute guy at the bar).
“Mr. Maleroom is your cousin?”
“Yeah—I should go over and say hi, but he looks busy.”
“Well, we’re going to take off. Are you ready to go?”
“No—I think I’ll stick around here for awhile and see if there are any untapped opportunities worth exploring.”
“Will you be okay by yourself?”
“I certainly hope not, honey.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow.” Mr. Haze hugs the girl and whispers in her ear: “Thanks for everything.”
“You’re very welcome.”
“Happy hunting,” Chandler tells her before he takes Matt’s hand and leads him through the crowd.
“You boys behave yourselves, you hear,” Tyler tells them as they pass by the bar.
“We’ll try not to,” Chandler replies with a mischievous grin.
The beefy bartender then serves a drink to a curious Mr. Maleroom, who asks: “So, is the new reigning queen a friend of yours?”
“Strangers in the night?”
“Purely platonic. Why do you ask?”
“Just curious. Does he live here in the city?”
“I think he’s a suburban kid, but don’t ask me which one.”
“You won’t tell?”
“’Cause I don’t know. Any other questions, officer?”
The runner-up (and winner of a one-hundred dollar gift certificate from Marshall Field’s) smiles and shakes his head before looking back out at the crowd to decide which lucky guy will receive the pleasure of sucking his cock tonight.
Monday, February 25, 2008
The following is an excerpt from "The Ninth Man". "The Ninth Man" was technically the first book written for the Dick Hardesty Mystery series, before I had any idea it was going to be a series. However, it was originally put out as an e-book and was not issued in print until after "The Butcher's Son", which was actually intended as a prequel to "The Ninth Man."
The Ninth Man, by Dorien Grey
GLB Publishers (2001)
It's hard to remember, now, that there was a time not so
long ago when all it took to do whatever you wanted was to find
someone willing to do it with you--when the highest "wages of sin" you
might have to pay was a case of clap. It was a different time, and a
different world, and I miss it.
It was hotter than hell, the air conditioner hadn't worked
since the Titanic went down, and I was in no mood for the
bleached-blond queen who came swishing across the room toward me after
making an entrance that made me wonder whatever happened to Loretta
Young. There were times when I almost wished I had a few straight
clients, and this was one of those times. Still, I told myself, it
isn't the principle of the thing, it's the money.
I stood up and extended my hand. As I expected, the
proffered paw was limp and vaguely clammy.
"Mr. Rholfing." I made it a statement, not a question.
Clients, I've found, expect you to be decisive. Authoritative.
Butch. It's bullshit, but it works.
"Yes, Mr. Hardesty." Jesus, he sounded as nelly as he
looked. "I'm so glad you could see me." I felt his eyes giving my
entire body a radar scan.
He was wearing one of those cloying perfumes/colognes that
emanate an almost visible fog around the wearer.
"Have a chair," I said, indicating the one that would have
been upwind if there'd been any movement of air through the open
window, which there wasn't.
I sat down behind my desk and watched as Rholfing
fluttered down, with considerable butt-wiggling, and immediately
crossed his legs at the knee. He was dressed all in perma-starched
white, with a flaming yellow ascot which missed his hair color by
about eight shades. He looked like a butter-pecan ice cream cone with
delusions of grandeur. After the talcum had settled, I sat back in my
own chair and forced myself to stare directly at my prospective
client--mentally picturing a maraschino cherry and some chopped nuts
atop the carefully coifed curls.
Rholfing leaned forward, crossing his wrists on his
crossed knees, and said simply: "Someone has killed my lover."
Why me, Lord? Why do I get all the cracked marbles?
We stared at one another in silence for a moment or two
until I finally managed to remind myself that that's what I'm in
business for: to solve other people's mysteries.
"Any idea who?" I asked.
"How should I know?" he said, exasperated, his manicured
hands fluttering up a short distance from his knees, only to settle
"Well, at the risk of sounding a bit like a B movie," I
said, "isn't this a matter for the police?"
Rholfing stared at me as though I'd just farted in church.
"The police all but said that he committed suicide. The
police," he said finally, "eat shit. Somebody killed him."
The thought flashed through my mind that anyone sharing an
evening, let alone a life, with the character in front of me might
well be a candidate for suicide. "Exactly what makes you think he was
murdered?" I asked, choosing not to get into a long discussion of the
merits and flaws of law enforcement.
"Bobby was 27 years old, healthy as a horse--hung like
one, too--and never had a sick day in his life, unless you count
hangovers. Personally, I don't. And all of a sudden he's dead in
some cheap, tacky hotel room without a mark on him and the police
think it was suicide!"
"I assume there was an autopsy," I said. "What did they
say about that?"
"Oh, they said several things, none of which a lady cares
to repeat. The gist of it was that while it was perfectly all right
for a fruit like me to come down to the morgue to identify the body,
since I was neither a blood relative nor his legal guardian, I had no
right whatsoever to any information other than that he's dead--which
any fool could see, with him lying there on that fucking slab!"
"And that was it?"
Rholfing took a small white handkerchief from his shoulder
bag and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. He then carefully folded
it, returned it to the bag, zipped the bag shut, and re-creased the
already razor-sharp crease in his trousers with thumb and forefinger
before finally re-meeting my gaze.
"Not quite," he said. "Two of the burly cretins took me
into a small room and subtly asked me what my experience had been with
poisons. Poisons! Me! I was tempted to tell them to drop by some
afternoon for tea and I'd see what I could do, but I'd just had the
fumigators in. Me! Lucrezia Borgia! Can you imagine?"
As a matter of fact, I could.
"Now, I may be a fairy," he continued, smoothing down the
back of his hair with one hand, "but I certainly am not stupid! Their
refusing to tell me how he died in one breath and asking me about
poisons in the next was about as subtle as a lighted match on the
"Bobby was murdered. There's no question about it. And
knowing how the police in this city feel about faggots, the only was
anyone is going to find out who killed Bobby is for me to hire you.
You come..." he gave me a smile I'm sure he meant to be disarming, but
came across outright lecherous "...very highly recommended."
"Thanks," I said, awkwardly. I never did learn how to
accept compliments very well--even those without hooks in them. "Have
you spoken to Bobby's parents about this?" I asked.
"What parents?" Rholfing asked, haughtily. "He told me he
had a grandfather back in Utah somewhere, but he never mentioned
parents, if he ever had any."
"So can you tell me anything about Bobby that might help?" I asked.
"Well, he was a tramp--that much I know. He'd go home
with anything in pants. I told him I was going to get him his own
portable glory hole and put it out in the street in front of the
apartment. At least that way I'd know where he was all the time."
"Did the police say anything about drugs?"
Rholfing thought a moment, lips pursed, nose wrinkled,
brows knit, eyes looking upward at nothing. "I don't think so. Just
"Did he use drugs?" I asked.
Rholfing sighed. "No, thank God. That was one of his
good points--about his only one, come to think of it: he never got
mixed up with drugs. Oh, he'd smoke a joint now and then, but I guess
we all do, don't we?" He gave me a conspiratorial wink--the kind you
can see from the top row of the balcony--and that coy/lecherous smile
I didn't say anything for a moment (that's a bad habit I
have; when I don't have anything to say, I tend not to say
anything--bugs the shit out of a lot of people), and Rholfing sat
there looking more and more uncomfortable as the seconds dragged on.
He pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from God knows where and began
waving it gently back and forth beneath his chin. A tiny droplet of
perspiration crept from his hairline and meandered its way across his
Finally, he couldn't stand it. "Well? Will you take the case?"
"Okay," I said. "But I don't have much to go on." God!
Where had I heard that line before?
"Well, find something," Rholfing blurted, revealing the
rolled-steel interior behind that whipped-cream and lace facade.
"You're the big, strong detective. To the cops he's just another dead
fag, and good riddance--but nobody kills my lover and gets away with
it." He must have anticipated my next comment, because he hastened to
add: "Don't worry about the money. Daddy has five or six acres of
downtown Fort Worth, and he'll give me anything I want just for me to
stay the hell away from there."
I found myself in something of a quandary. I had--clichés
aside--very little to go on. Given Rholfing's account of the
circumstances of the death, however accurate or inaccurate they may
have been, and despite his denial of his lover's drug use, the obvious
assumption was that it was very likely a routine drug overdose. But
that's why people hire me in the first place; if they knew all the
answers, who'd need a detective? The police were notoriously
uncooperative in anything that smacked of homosexuality. And I wasn't
exactly in a position to pass up a potential client--particularly one
whose Daddy had five or six acres of downtown Fort Worth.
I thought of Tim Jackson, a sometime-trick and pretty
good friend of mine who works in the county coroner's office. I'd
never had the occasion to use his professional services, but maybe now
was the time.
"Okay, Mr. Rholfing; I'll check it out," I said. "But
don't expect miracles."
I thought he was going to leap across the desk and kiss me. Fortunately, he didn't.
"Now, about my fee..." I began, but he cut me off by
digging into his shoulder bag and coming up with five crisp, new $100
"Will this be enough? For a retinue, or whatever in hell
it is you call it?"
"Retainer, and it'll do just fine," I said, making a
conscious effort not to grab it out of his hand.
"You will call me, won't you?" he said, rising out of his
chair as graceful as a hot-air balloon and again giving me the radar
scan. "Even if you don't have anything to report, I'd appreciate your
keeping in... close...touch." He used one hand to adjust his shoulder
bag while the other made an inspection of the back of his shirt,
pulling and tugging at imaginary wrinkles. "Perhaps you could stop by
for a drink some evening?" He sounded like Delilah asking Samson to
stop by for a haircut. "You do have my name and address, don't you?"
I assured him I had written them down when he called for the
appointment, resisting the temptation to speculate that every tearoom
wall in town had his number. I rose and he, eyes glued to my crotch,
offered me a dead hand at the end of a limp wrist. I wasn't sure
whether I was supposed to kiss it or shake it, so I took the latter
course, and he turned on his little ballerina feet and swished to the
"Oh, there is one little thing," I called after him as his
hand reached for the knob. He turned quickly, eyes sparkling
"About your lover."
"Your lover. Bobby."
"Oh. Yes." He looked disappointed.
"It might help if I knew his last name."
"McDermott," he said over his shoulder as he opened the
door. "Bobby McDermott." And with that, he was gone.
I sat back down, leaned back in my chair, and put my
thumbnail between my teeth--a dumb habit, I'll admit, but that's the
kind of thing you do when you go from three packs of cigarettes a day
to nothing. I stared at the door for a minute, then pulled my thumb
out of my mouth, reached for a note pad, and wrote "Bobby McDermott."
Part of me felt slightly guilty for taking Rholfing's
money; one call to Tim Jackson should confirm that it was drugs and
give me whatever other information I might need to wrap the whole
It was five thirty; too late to reach Tim at the office
but, if I waited a few minutes, I could probably reach him at home.
Suddenly, I was looking at my crotch, and it was reminding me of how
long it had been since I'd seen Tim.
It was too hot to wait in the office, so I decided to go
down the street to Hughie's and have a drink. I could call Tim from
there. Thin wisps of Rholfing's cologne still hung in the air so,
cursing the broken air conditioner and hoping it wouldn't rain, I left
the window wide open as I closed the door behind me.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The police seem eager to write the attack off as a random mugging, but Killian was there and he knows better. With the help of the murdered boy’s father and his friends, Killian starts his own investigation. His search turns up hatred in small town America, and before it’s over, more people will be dead, and Killian’s life will be on the line again.
PD Publishing (2nd edition, 2007)
(This version has been rewritten since the original version, published in 2001.)
As usual, no hands went up. All of us who took Mr. Tatum's drama class knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. His reputation preceded him. Those who were serious about acting admired him for it. Everyone else thought he was a tyrant.
Personally, I adored him. Drama was my one escape. I did well enough in my other classes. In fact, I usually managed straight A's. Despite that—or maybe because of it—I didn't fit in. The group I hung out with was pretty popular, but somehow their popularity never rubbed off on me. I was just the hanger-on. No one ever noticed me. It wasn't like that in Drama though. In that room, or on stage, I shone. I could break away from my humdrum life and become someone else. I could lose myself in a part and, for a while at least, forget who I really was. The drama crowd actually respected me. Not that I was friends with any of them or anything, but they respected me. That was enough.
"Excellent," Mr. Tatum said, preparing to go on with his rehearsed spiel. Just then, the door opened and a head popped in.
"Yes?" Mr. Tatum snapped, somewhat annoyed at being interrupted.
The rest of the body came into view—and a nice body it was, I couldn't help but notice. I'd never seen him before so he must have been new. He was taller than I was, maybe close to six feet, and willowy thin. He had red-gold hair that seemed to stick up in every direction, and elfin features. In fact, he looked amazingly like an elf—even to his incredibly green eyes. I wondered if they were colored contacts. Then I wondered why I cared. Why was I so intrigued by this guy?
"My name is Seth," he announced. "Seth Connelly. I'm transferring into this class. Here's the paperwork."
He handed the teacher a file and looked around the room. He carried himself with an air of confidence. Not arrogance exactly, but not far from it. His eyes met mine and lingered. I looked away first.
After Mr. Tatum had mulled over the file's contents, he grudgingly admitted, "It appears this is all in order. Why don't you find a seat, Mr. Connelly, and we can continue with the class."
The new boy scanned the room and caught me staring at him again. I quickly glanced away, but it was too late. The next thing I knew, he was sitting down at the desk next to me. There were empty desks all over the room, but he had to choose the one beside me. Mr. Tatum picked up where he'd left off. I could feel Seth's eyes on me, but I refused to look over at him.
"Hi," he said after a few seconds. He extended his hand. "I'm Seth."
I gaped at him a moment before sliding my hand into his. "Killian."
He held on a bit longer than seemed necessary, then smiled at me before turning back towards Mr. Tatum.
My head was swimming and I suddenly felt warm all over. I wondered if I were coming down with something. I couldn't be attracted to Seth. He was a guy! I had to admit, though, I'd never felt like that before.
I tore my eyes away from him and tried to pay attention to Mr. Tatum, but they seemed to have developed a mind of their own. They kept finding their way back to Seth. I hoped like crazy that no one in the class noticed my sudden obsession.
Finally, the bell rang. I scooped up my books and headed for the door with my head down.
"Killian! Wait!" I heard Seth call.
I waited just outside the door for him to catch up, but didn't turn around.
"Hey." He came alongside me.
"Hey." What can I say? I'm a brilliant conversationalist. I started walking again.
"So look, I'm new here and I'm still getting lost. Think you could show me how to find my locker?"
"Yeah, sure," I mumbled, still not looking at him. "Where is it?"
He gave me his locker number and I led the way, neither of us speaking a word. I felt Seth studying me as we went. I thought I should say something to break the silence, but my brain seemed to have stopped functioning. I couldn't come up with anything that didn't sound stupid or dorky. The tension grew until finally he spoke up again.
"Killian. That's a different name. I don't think I've ever heard it before."
"It's Irish. My grandfather was from Ireland. He named me."
"Are you close to your grandfather?" Something in his voice made me look up at him for the first time since we'd left the classroom. He had a sense of sadness and loss about him that made me wonder where the question came from.
"No. He died when I was four. I don't really remember him."
I saw disappointment in his eyes. They were so expressive, every emotion laid bare as if you were looking directly into his soul.
"Why did you ask if we were close?"
"No reason. Just wondering." He glanced away, then looked back at me again. "I'm not close to my grandfather. I'm not close to most of my family these days."
I regarded him curiously. I'd been brought up with Southern manners, however, and it would have been a breech of etiquette to ask him to explain further.
He read the question in my eyes anyway. "Killian, I'm gay."
I stopped dead in my tracks.
"I think I can find it from here. Thanks, man. See ya around."
I watched him walk away, his shoulder slumped and head down. I'm not sure how long I stood rooted to the spot, maybe just a few seconds, maybe minutes. I was lost in thought and didn't care. The stream of people flowed around me but I didn't notice any of them.
I told Mom I was going for a walk and left. I had plenty of time on the fifteen-minute stroll to think about things—and I had a lot to think about. So much had happened in the last two weeks. I'd realized I was gay and admitted it to myself. I'd come out to one of the pastors at my church and to a new friend who was also gay. Then I'd alienated all my old friends, maybe for good. I had been kissed for the first time, and it was by a guy. I wondered briefly if it counted if you hit them afterwards, but decided it did. Then to top it all off, I'd found out that my mother was a real person after all—and I liked her. Who would have thought?
I wondered what Seth would add to my list that night. Would he kiss me again? Did I want him to? I wasn't sure. Part of me did, but part of me was scared too. I finally decided that if he did, I wouldn't stop him this time.
I was so lost in thought that I almost walked past the trail to the manmade fishpond sitting back in a copse. The forest was small but thick with lots of undergrowth and high weeds on either side of the narrow trail circling the tiny body of water. The pond itself was a murky green, fed by drainage ditches and rainfall. We'd had plenty of the latter so the water level was quite high. Although the town had built cutesy little arched bridges over the ditches, everything still looked rather seedy and creepy, even in the middle of the day. At night, it was downright frightening.
It was just at the edge of dusk, the time when it's hardest to see because the whole world looks like an old black-and-white movie with bad contrast. I didn't notice anybody near the pond, but I couldn't be sure, so I started to walk around it. Maybe I'd arrived before Seth.
As I began to cross the first bridge, I thought I saw something move on the far side of the pond. I paused and strained my eyes, but couldn't tell if I'd really seen it or if it was just a trick of the shadows. I picked up my pace as I got closer to the area where I thought I'd seen movement.
When I neared the spot, I called out in a hushed voice, "Seth?" If it is Seth, I thought, he'll never recognize my voice. I wasn't sure why I wasn't louder, but a sudden feeling of terror had crept over me. Goose bumps covered my arms and the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. I almost turned and ran. Then I told myself I was being stupid and kept walking. "Seth?" I called again in my new raspy voice.
Still no one answered me, so I thought maybe I'd imagined the whole thing. Just then, I saw a shape lying on the ground. I froze in my tracks. It looked disturbingly like a person. Could someone have had a heart attack? I wanted get out of there, but that seemed wrong if somebody was in need of help, so I reluctantly kept walking forward. I still wasn't close enough to see what it was when a sudden crashing sound came from the undergrowth. I spun around in time to see a figure explode out of the trees towards me with a feral snarl.
The figure slammed into me, cutting off my scream before it left my mouth. The impact sent the two of us rolling across the ground. It was human. I was sure of that much while we grappled. Fear gave me strength I didn't know I possessed as I tried desperately to get away, but my attacker seemed to have an equal source of inspiration. At first, I thought maybe it was Seth playing a sick joke. The ferocity of the grip quickly made that seem unlikely. I couldn't turn around to see, since my attacker now had me from behind in a tight hold.
One hand abruptly let go and the weight on top of me shifted. Before I could take advantage of that, the person raised an arm and quickly brought it down. I saw a metallic flash in the moonlight. It was a knife! Everything seemed to go in slow motion. I felt the impact of the knife in my side, and the air rushed out of me with an audible "oof." Almost instantly, a searing, paralyzing pain spread through my entire body, and I sensed my own warm blood gushing out.
I've been stabbed.
My brain registered what had happened in a kind of detached manner. It was difficult to accept. I wondered idly if this was what they called shock.
The fight had gone out of me and my attacker knew it. He let go of me with his other arm and yanked the knife out. I collapsed to the ground as he sat up over me, roughly flipping me onto my back. Though I tried to get a look at my assailant, the pain must have blinded me. I couldn't make out any facial features. The arm rose again, then stopped. I lay there staring helplessly up at the faceless monster above me, waiting for the knife to fall once more and finish me off. I could do nothing but whimper.
"Shit!" the person hissed. He lurched up and took off running.
What just happened?
I didn't move for a few seconds.
I'm still alive.
The thought was abstract. The pain was all I was really aware of. I was having difficulty breathing. With each breath, the knife pierced me again. When I struggled to sit up, agony flashed through my body and I felt myself blacking out.
I don't want to die.
Darkness surrounded me, but I fought back. Somehow, I managed to roll onto my side. With a little more effort, I got to my hands and knees. I pressed one hand tightly against the wound and tried to stand up. I almost collapsed again. My head was spinning too much. I could feel the blood pulsing between my fingers with every beat of my heart.
I wanted to scream, yet couldn't get enough air to cry, let alone call for help. I was also afraid my attacker would come back. Maybe he'd left me there to die and he'd come back to check. I looked around for help, but couldn't see over the weeds. Although I could glimpse the lights of nearby houses shining faintly among the trees, I knew my chances of getting through the underbrush in my condition were next to none. I was more likely to be found if I stayed on the trail. Sometimes people walked their dogs in the park.
The figure lying on the ground once again caught my attention. I could see that it was definitely a person. It looked like a man—at least he had short hair. He hadn't moved since I'd first noticed him. Maybe I had interrupted a mugging and the victim was just unconscious. Maybe I could wake the person up to get help.
I began to crawl towards the still figure. My progress was excruciatingly slow. Every movement brought a wave of intense agony. Nausea rolled over me in palpable waves and sweat ran down my face. My vision swam in and out. It was all I could do to stay conscious. Some detached part of my mind noted that my shirt was soaked with my own blood. I knew I was losing a lot, which probably explained why I was so lightheaded.
After what felt like an eternity, I reached the figure. He was lying on his side facing away from me. I grabbed his shoulder and rolled him towards me. As soon as the body fell flat on its back, I knew I wouldn't be waking him up. His throat had been slashed open, the gash angry and raw. It's amazing the little things you notice in a moment like that. I saw leaves and small pebbles stuck in the drying blood around the wound, and I wanted to brush them off. They looked unspeakably obscene, as if the gaping slit weren't obscene enough.
I felt the blackness swirling around me again and decided not to fight it this time. In the last second before I allowed it to overwhelm me, I looked at the face.
My last thought before succumbing to the void was, Oh God, not Seth.
Available online or get a signed copy directly from the author.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Quest (May 10, 2007)
To purchase IM from Amazon, click here.
LAKE SHORE DRIVE at night has its own excitement, especially when one is hurtling toward a rendezvous with an unknown destiny. On one side of my car, Lake Michigan bears silent witness to the streams of cars heading north and south, headlights like glowing insect eyes, piercing the night. The other side of the highway is crowded with high-rises, their glass, chrome and concrete rising into the night: hives of activity within, quiet sentinels without.
When did gay men turn into no-charge prostitutes? Has it always been this way?
Whatever. I’m also wearing a Bulls T-shirt, the sleeves cut off raggedly, the neck cut low.
I take a swig of the beer, letting its cold bitterness snake down my throat, and turn up the tape player. Ironic. Leonard Cohen is singing, “There Ain’t No Cure for Love.”
I press down on the gas; ahead is my exit: Irving Park Road.
When I arrive, I see the apartment is a red brick six flat, identical to others all over the city. I ring the buzzer, and the guy doesn’t even bother to ask who it is. No difference. We never exchanged names anyway.
Trudging up the stairs, waiting for the shotgun-cocking sound of a lock being turned, a chain sliding back into place. Someone waits to admit me. Someone I don’t even know.
A door opens above.
What waits upstairs?
I round the bend and I see him. Nothing like his description, but who expected different? I am nothing like what I told him. No matter. As long as you’re male and reasonably young and acceptable, you’re in.
The guy has a good body and his lips curl into a grin as I head toward him, dragging on my Marlboro. He’s wearing a pair of black bikini briefs. His moment of glory: this is what he’s worked for all those long hours at the gym. Finally, someone to appreciate the shaved and defined pecs, the smooth washboard belly, the bulging biceps that I just know he will somehow maneuver to flex for me.
But he’s much older than what I had expected. Mid-40s probably. His reddish-brown hair is thinning and the blue eyes are framed by crow’s feet (a bottle of “eye-revitalizing” cream is in his medicine cabinet, I bet). The goatee, a desperate ploy to make himself look younger and hip, is embarrassingly ineffective. A cougar tattoo snakes down one of his arms.
“How you doin’?” I exhale a cloud of smoke and pass him as he opens the door wider to admit me.
“Great. Now that you’re here.”
The apartment is small, crowded with “contemporary” furniture: a black leather grouping in the living room, chrome and glass tables, spare jagged-looking twig and dried flower arrangements. On the walls, Herb Ritts posters of absurdly pumped-up young men in various settings: a garage, on the seashore.
The guy leads me into the bedroom. Platform bed, comforter thrown back, striped sheets. The nightstand holds the tools of his true trade: a plastic cup full of condoms he probably never uses, a couple of little brown bottles filled with butyl nitrate, a leather cock ring, a metal cock ring, and a large pump bottle of Wet. On the lower shelf, a stack of neatly folded, but ragged, white towels.
A dresser faces the bed and atop it, a color TV and DVD combination. On the screen, a wildly muscled dark-haired guy tries to sit on one of those orange traffic cones. Amazingly, he’s beginning to succeed.
The guy drops the black briefs and sits on the bed. Hoarsely: “Why don’t you get undressed, man?”
“Why don’t you do it for me.”
Instant supplicant, he’s on his knees before me, working the buttons on my jeans. I’m sure his eyes are glistening. Already his breath is coming faster.
I push his hand away. “Hold on.” I lift the goateed face up to my own and look in his blue eyes, where nothing but desire and trust mingle. “I want you to lie down on the bed. Lie on your stomach.”
He gets up and does as he’s told. The half-moons of his ass practically glow in the darkness. A thin, whiter line disappears in his crack, where his thong was. The definition in his arms shows up perfectly as he raises his arms above his head to clutch the pillow.
His legs are parted, waiting.
“I just need to do something real quick. You stay right there.” I look back at him as I exit the room. “You’re a good boy, right? Do what you’re told?”
In the kitchen, I go quickly through the drawers until I find the one with the knives. For the first time, I get hard, and I think of the blood pumping, filling the spongy cavities.
The blood. Essence of life.
I strip down, leaving my clothes in a pile on the kitchen floor. I hope that I don’t bring any cockroaches home.
I hold the butcher knife I chose to my side, concealing it with my arm, and head back to the bedroom.
He still lies there, waiting and trustful, thinking he’s about to be penetrated.
And he is.
I move quickly to the bed and the guy is perfect: he closes his eyes, pulling the little brown bottle to his nose and inhaling deeply, for what seems like about 30 seconds in each nostril. Then he moves the little bottle to his mouth and inhales through that as well.
Just as I raise the knife, he turns to hand me the bottle of poppers. He sees the knife in my hand and for a moment, he doesn’t know what to think.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The confusion registers in his eyes, then it’s replaced by terror. He half sits up, scuttling to the other side of the bed. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing, man. Don’t get so excited. Can’t we just do a little fantasy scene here?” I smile and imbue that smile with kindness and a hint of mischief. I’m able to keep calm. I want him to be reassured. It will be so much easier to enter him if he’s relaxed.
Visibly, he grows calmer. His features relax, but a hint of wariness remains in his eyes.
“I kind of get into fantasy.” I let a small laugh escape, as if I am embarrassed by this admission. “Couldn’t we maybe pretend we’re doing a little force scene here? I want to rape you, man.”
He chews on his lower lip, and I notice he’s gone soft.
“Look, we don’t have to do this if you’re not into it.” I put the knife on the floor. “I just thought it would be kind of exciting.” I smirk. “Did you really think I’d hurt you?”
“Well, no, of course not.”
Of course he thinks I wouldn’t hurt him. I suppose that’s what everyone thinks.
Until someone does hurt them.
“Look, maybe we should just forget this. Not everybody is into the scene.” I laugh. “But it can be kind of fun.”
The guy’s thinking; I can see it. And I know I’ve got him now. He rolls back over on his stomach, hugging the pillow. “Sorry,” he says. “You just can’t be too careful these days. Know what I mean?”
He wiggles his ass at me. “Why don’t I pretend to be sleeping.”
“Perfect.” I pick up the knife and move toward him.
In the background, a guy on the screen moans and shouts: “Oh shit, man, I’m gonna come!”
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The following excerpt is from Winner Takes All by Laura Baumbach (available in the anthology Blood Claims, the second in the Blood Vampire series by Laura Baumbach, Angela Fiddler, and Jet Mykles). Two vampires face off in a deadly bet that has the winner claiming everything the loser owns – including the loser’s innocent, unaware offspring.
MLR Press (2/2008)
From the opposite direction Hunter had come there appeared a sleek, dark Mercedes barreling around the corner, tires screeching as the car swayed down the middle of the road.Looking over his shoulder, Malcolm watched as the car’s headlights suddenly veered and the car shot directly at him. The faces of the two street thugs that had passed earlier registered on him just before a solid mass struck him squarely in the chest.
With a muffled grunt, Malcolm flew off his feet and over the bench, and landed hard on the ground. Instinct took over, his arms locking around his attacker and both bodies rolled down the small sloping lawn to land at the base of a sturdy tree. Malcolm made sure he was the victor on top. Bits and pieces of the shattered bench flew through the air, then rained down and lay scattered in the grass around them.The car tires screeched again, roaring off into the night, a litany of foul curses and shouted threats in its wake.
Underneath his two hundred and fifty pounds of solid weight, a pair of wide hazel eyes stared up at him, panic evident in them. It took a second before he realized the air had been knocked out of the man under him, his weight preventing Hunter from taking in a much needed breath.He toyed with the idea of letting the man struggle, but Hunter’s distinctive, alluring scent, now laced with relief as well as a larger fear, overwhelmed him. It made Malcolm weak in the knees, slightly disoriented and hard as steel. Even now he could felt his swollen erection digging into Hunter’s thigh, hot, hard and eager. He knew Hunter could feel it, too.
Instead of rolling off and standing up, Malcolm tumbled onto his back, dragging Hunter along with him, until the human was laying stretched out over his chest, the man’s legs sprayed on either side of Malcolm’s hips. Hunter’s startled face hovering inches above his own. For an instant, he almost gave in to the compulsion to flick out his tongue and lick the silvery thread of scar tissue so close to his lips. One hand grasped the swell of Hunter’s ass cheek and other pressed between Hunter’s shoulder blades, pinning the man to him.Several rapid, startled breaths jiggled Hunter up and down, increasing the friction between their two bodies. Malcolm was inordinately pleased to detected a bulge of heat pressed into his lower abdomen as Hunter’s erection grew to a mild firmness with each deep, anxious breath and resulting body rub. Then the gasps eased and Hunter tried to slide off Malcolm, but the vampire wordlessly tightened his restraining hold. Hunter got the hint and ceased to resist.
"You okay?" He cautiously eyed Malcolm then hesitantly added, "Is this where we finally introduce ourselves?"Warm, minty breath laced with the smell of adrenaline and worry wafted off the human in layers that teased Malcolm’s senses and tantalized his already straining arousal.
The fear and worry weren’t direct at him – instead they were apparently for him. His eyes narrowed. He increased his grip to the point that Hunter grimaced, creating tiny lines of pain at the corners of his eyes that Malcolm ignored, inexplicably angered by the man’s concern.Voice harsh and low, he still couldn’t keep a current of disbelief out of it. "You attempted to protect me."
Blinking hard over a wide-eyed stare, Hunter invoked a Valley Girl duh! tone to his voice and answered, "Ah, yea-ah. Impending vehicular homicide makes me do silly things."Malcolm stared back in a neutral, cold gaze for several long, tense seconds. He could smell the fear in Hunter shift to be more personal now, but the man’s concerned gaze, fixed so very close to his own, didn’t show it. It remained steady and open despite Hunter’s instinctive awareness of the danger he was in.
He was so much like his father. Trusting past the point of good sense."It may not have been in your best interests to do so." His deep voice was deceptively soft but unerringly cold. When Hunter didn’t flinch, Malcolm pulled him up his chest another inch and whispered against Hunter’s parted mouth, "I am a danger to you." He felt the heat pressed into his abdomen jerk and grow, a swelling cock lengthening against him.
"Ah...well." A flash of pink tongue touched the parted lips hovering above his and the urge to wet them down with his own tongue was too much to resist. Malcolm entangled his hand in the man’s hair and held him in place as Hunter instinctively strained back.His gaze fell to Hunter’s mouth as he slowly ran his own tongue delicately over the trembling, silky strips of soft, full flesh. When he was done he pulled back and eased his hold on Hunter’s head. He found it intoxicating that Hunter didn’t draw away once he had his freedom to do so. Intoxicating, highly arousing and responsive.
Maybe the son wasn’t so much like the father after all."I kind of figured that might be a possibility." This time it was murmured, a stuttered grunt heavy with lust and excitement. The man’s heartbeat thundered in his chest, pounded against Malcolm’s still breast in a rhythm that matched the pulse hammering through the shaft buried against Malcolm’s abdomen.
"Yet knowing this" — Malcolm touched his tongue to his teeth, soothing the ache growing in them as the barely detectable scent of fresh blood suddenly reached him — "you risked yourself for me."The scent of blood grew stronger. Hunter must have suffered an injury in the fall that was just now trickling to the surface from under his clothing. His blood scent was musky like a spring rainstorm on rich black soil clean and earthy, bold. Nothing like Malcolm had imagined. Yet another surprise from this human.
The night breeze rose higher, stirring the fallen leaves near them and carrying muted, distant voices."I find danger can be exciting." Shifting his hips, Hunter tried to ease his erection off Malcolm’s stomach to one side.
Malcolm didn’t stop him, surprised when he was relieved the sexual tension had lessened for the moment. This was too good to be over so fast.The restraining hold gone, Hunter used one arm to prop his upper body off Malcolm’s, but he didn’t make a move to stand up. His tone was firm, but still laced with an undeniable apprehension.
"And…" He stared down into Malcolm’s face, gaze searching the vampire’s features as if he‘d find there a reason for his own actions. "I’m not a person who watches while others get hurt without trying to do something to prevent it."He started to lick his lips again then paused, glanced at Malcolm’s mouth, and swallowed nervously, a self-conscious, strained look on his face. Malcolm could see the man battle to force his thoughts back to the topic at hand. "It’s kind of what I do."
Malcolm managed to deadpan, "Really? So you’re a superhero?"Hunter was silent for a full three seconds before he burst out laughing. He rolled off Malcolm and came to his feet, dusting dirt and dry leaves off his jacket and jeans. Hunter’s laughter was genuine, musical and hearty, delight audible in it and in the startled grin on his young, smooth face. He looked more beautiful than his father had ever been.
Malcolm rose up smoothly with grace that belied his large stature."Not exactly. I’m a photojournalist. Freelance. I document the world’s woes and the unfortunate people caught up in them. I try to bring media and world attention to people that need help."
"Ah. Even worse — a self-appointed savior." Malcolm mocked the righteous tone in Hunter’s voice and watched with satisfaction as the man’s eyes narrowed. He took advantage of his towering height and loomed menacingly over the smaller man. His actions caused a spike in the scent of lustful hormones from the smaller man. He dropped his voice to a husky, growling whisper, more threatening than any shout. "Who comes to your rescue when you are in danger?""No one so far." Boldly leaning toward Malcolm’s hulking presence, Hunter stared at the vampire’s mouth, nervously letting his tongue trace back and forth across his own quavering lower lip twice. He then locked gazes with Malcolm and quietly said, "But I’ve always had this dream that some freaking tall, broad-shouldered, steely-eyed warrior would materialize out of the dark and save my ass when I needed it most." He blinked hard several times, but kept his gaze on Malcolm. "Know anyone like that?"
Malcolm felt a twinge of something sharp and hot twist in his chest. This sensual human was beautiful, confusing, impulsive, and unpredictable. Malcolm wanted to taste his blood and drink from him, here and now, but the faraway voices from before were drawing closer and Malcolm had the sudden need to prolong this game, extend the claiming of his prize just a bit more."I might know someone." Malcolm reached out and ran his thumb over the eyebrow scar in what could only be described as a caress. Lust and the faint scents of pre-cum mixed with blood filled his nostrils and invaded his mind, shaking his iron control. Taking this prize would better than he had imagined. It was almost worth killing William to be able to claim it. "Why don’t we go someplace private and discuss it?"
Hunter drew back. He cast a glance at a trio of people approaching from the end of the block, taking in the destroyed bench and the deep tire marks in the dirt and grass. "I don’t feel like taking the time explaining this to the police right now."He backed away from Malcolm and hurried down the sidewalk, away from the new arrivals. "I was thinking someplace more public." Walking backward, the usual bouncing step in his restless stride and a flirtatious, sultry look in his eyes, he smiled at Malcolm. "For now. Coffee?"
Monday, February 11, 2008
The following is an excerpt from Lola Dances. Terry Murphy is a sissy—little, effeminate, the butt of jokes and the victim of abuse, he sticks out in the rough milieu of the gold mining camp like the proverbial sore thumb—until the day he stops at the local saloon to look for work…
MLR Press (March 2008)
"You can't leave just this minute," Willis said, obviously angry. "I've got a room full of miners out there, waiting for you to come on stage."
"Let them wait, what do I care," she said. "Old Jake is in a hurry, and I don't mean for him to go without me."
"And you're just leaving me in the lurch, is that how it is?"
"Listen, I'm sick of you. I'm sick of this saloon and this whole damn town. Old Jake's been saving up his dust, he's got a fortune, practically, and I mean to spend some of it for him. No more dirty mine camp for me, I'm going to live in the city and be a lady."
"Well, what about all this stuff?" Lem gestured at the racks of dresses and the dressing table littered with jars and bottles. "What am I supposed to do with it?"
Lizette laughed. "You can eat it, for all I care. All those cheap dresses? You think I could wear them in Frisco? This is what I'm taking." She picked up a small carpetbag from the chair. "Travels fastest who travels lightest, is what they say. Anything else I need, Jake can buy it for me when we get to Frisco."
"Listen, you," Willis said, but she didn't wait to hear him out.
"No, you listen. It's goodbye and good riddance." And with that, she threw open the back door and went out, slamming it after herself. From outside, they heard a man's voice say, "About time, I was fixin' to go without you."
"You ain't going nowhere without me, you old sugar," she said, and her laugh quickly faded.
"Good riddance is right," Willis said, staring at the door through which she had disappeared. "Damnation! I ought to have thrown the ungrateful bitch out on the street a long time ago." He turned, and saw Terry standing in the doorway. "What the hell are you looking at?" he demanded, "who are you?"
"I'm Terry Murphy. Brian's brother."
"The mean son-of-a-bitch? I didn't even know he had a brother, unlest it was Old Nick. Well, what do you want?"
"I came by," Terry stammered, "I'm looking for work. I thought, well, maybe I could get a job here, at The Dollar. Maybe you needed somebody."
Willis laughed mirthlessly. "You want a job? Why don't you put on one of those dresses and go out there and dance for those damn fool miners. That's what I need, sonny." He stormed out, muttering angrily to himself.
Alone in the dressing room, Terry glanced about. The room was untidy, the air heavy with cheap perfume. His eyes fell on the dressing table. It was littered with toiletries, shabby little pots of rouge and black for the eyebrows and lashes. He picked up a Spanish fan that lay there and snapped it open.
Back in the Bowery, in the dressing room at the theater, Rosaria had entertained her fellow dancers often with her fan. "In Spain, a señorita doesn't need words to tell a man what she wants to say, she can say it all with her fan," she told them.
Clicking the fan open and shut, Terry strolled to the rack of dresses that stood along one wall, the costumes Lizette had left behind.
Why don't you put on one of those dresses…Willis's words seemed to echo inside his head. He thought of that time as a child when he'd dressed as a girl, how different he'd felt. He took one of the dresses from the rack and held it up before himself and looked speculatively into the standing mirror. The dress was black, vaguely Spanish in style, and lavishly trimmed in ruffles.
Even at a glance, he could see it would fit perfectly.
* * * * *
He stopped inside the dressing room door and gaped in astonishment at the beautiful woman seated at the dressing table, scarcely able to believe what he saw. "Jesus H. Christ," he swore aloud. "It can't be, but…but it is, isn't it? It's…is it really you, Murphy?"
"Not any more," Terry said. "Not tonight. Tonight, I'm Lola Valdez. And I'm going to dance on your stage."
"You must be plumb loco. Do you have any idea what kind of men those are out there?"
"A pretty good idea."
"They'd kill you for fooling 'em like this."
"They won't know, if you don't tell them," Terry said. "Look at me, Mister Willis. If you didn't know, would you ever suspect?"
"You go out there and tell them there's a new entertainer just arrived in town tonight. Lola Valdez, you tell them, just back from a triumphant tour of the continent, where she danced for the crowned heads of Europe. And tonight, Lola dances for The Lucky Dollar Saloon."
"They'll string me up with you," Willis said, but after another long, hard look at the face in the mirror, he gulped and shook his head, and hurriedly disappeared out the door.
Terry followed him more slowly. He paused at the edge of the moth eaten curtain, peering past it at the crowded saloon. For just a moment, his legs felt like they would fail him.
"He's right," he told himself. "You must be crazy, Terry Murphy, to think you could get away with this."
There was a mirror tacked up just off stage. He looked at himself carefully in it. His hair hadn't been cut since he had come here, and by this time it naturally hung all the way down to his shoulders. He'd used Lizette's pins and a couple of Spanish combs to pin it up, and let the dark curls tumble down either side of his face.
He'd had to leave his glasses behind so he saw things through a faint myopic haze that, he did not realize until later, gave his glances a peculiar intensity. He had outlined his eyes to make them look even bigger and darkened his lashes. His mouth was painted a little fuller than it really was, and he'd made his complexion a bit lighter with powder, carefully not too much, and painted roses of rouge on his cheeks.
Other than his face and neck, there wasn't much skin to be seen. He'd put on a trio of red petticoats under the black dress, and cinched it all at the waist with a gold chain. The skirt came down far enough to cover his stockinged legs but managed nevertheless to offer glimpses of scarlet ruffles when he walked. There were more ruffles that hid most of his bodice as well, and he had pinned a flowery lace shawl around his shoulders, that screened the rest of it while the glimpses of flesh showing through it created the illusion that they were was more to be seen than there actually was.
If someone who knew him, and especially someone who had any reason to suspect, looked closely enough, they might recognize him. But, who knew him here? Hardly anyone. He had almost never come into town, and then only briefly. They wouldn't be seeing him up close, either, but from a distance, and as they had said more than once in their dance classes back in the states, distance lends enchantment. Besides, there was no reason for anyone to suspect, to think he was anyone but who Willis was announcing to them at this very moment: Lola Valdez.
Willis came offstage, looked at Terry and, with a nervous grin, shook his head in wonder. "Go on, get our fucking necks wrung for us, if you're going to do it," he said.
Still, Terry hesitated, until someone in the saloon yelled, "Well, where the hell is she?" and someone else echoed, "Let's get her out here, then, and see what those crowned heads were so het up about."
No, Terry told himself. I'm not crazy. I can do this. And I'm not Terry Murphy, either. I'm Lola Valdez.
And the moment he stepped out past the curtain, strolled to center stage, sashaying and making the ruffled skirt and the petticoats swish and sway with each step he took, that was who he became, and Terry Murphy was left behind in the wings.
Lola held the Spanish fan before her face and gazed out at the men over the top of it, smiling with her eyes as Rosaria had demonstrated for them, her gaze sweeping the room. It was a gesture that said, "I find you very attractive," and her huge, dark eyes, just slightly out of focus, conveyed that message to every man in the packed room.
Something happened that had never before happened at The Lucky Dollar. The room went silent, a thunderous silence. No one spoke. Even the slap, slap slap of the cards at the poker tables went still. A hundred mouths hung open, a hundred pair of eyes were suddenly riveted on the little figure standing before them.
"Like a rose, suddenly appearing in the filth of that dirty room," one of them would put it later, a description that would be long remembered by many.
It lasted half a minute, that eerie silence—a full minute, longer yet. You could almost hear the seconds tick by until Lola took the satin skirt between her fingers and lifted it ever so slowly, ever so slightly, offering more flashes of scarlet petticoat and one slender ankle—even an inch or two, but no more than that, of net clad calf.
She gave the fan a quick, sudden snap, revealing her face in full for the first time, and smiled, brightly—and there was not a man in the room who wouldn't have sworn afterward that the smile was aimed directly and personally at him.
Pandemonium erupted. Male voices bawled like cattle in lightning, boots stomped, fists pounded on tables—so much noise that the very rafters shook and you half feared the roof might collapse, the building fall in on itself from all the noise and commotion.
Lola took a single step, rolled her shoulders. The silence fell again, as completely as before, as quickly as the noise had exploded.
She hardly knew afterward what she did. She was aware of the pianist banging out something on the piano, trying to follow the rhythm of Lola's dancing feet, the notes nothing more than a discordant jangle.
No one cared. No one heard them. There was attention for nothing but that slim-waisted figure twirling about on the stage, tossing her fan, flashing her ankles, laughing and winking and weaving in hellish abandon. When she spun about, they saw more womanly leg than it was possible for a man to see anywhere outside of Belle Blessing's whorehouse, and these legs were shapelier by far than any to be seen there. The mining camps didn't generally get the prettiest women. Certainly, here, none as pretty as this.
At first, they watched in a stunned, almost disbelieving silence, but then men began to cheer and clap, and now they were throwing money onto the stage, vying with one another to see who could throw the most: coins, paper money, even and increasingly, little bags of gold dust.
Lola rewarded them by dancing still faster, with ever greater abandon, until the stage was littered with tributes to her spell and she could hardly step without bringing her slippered foot down on piles of money or bags of gold.
Finally, she leapt into the air, gave a final spin, and sank in a weary heap to the floor of the stage, panting from exertion.
"She's fainted," someone shouted from the audience and there was a shifting of many feet and a scraping of chairs being pushed back.
At once, Terry sat up and scrambled to his feet, knowing that he dared not let them rush to the stage to help him.
He smiled out at the audience and curtseyed, and again there was that roar of approval, and finally, for the first time in his life, Terry knew love, felt it sweep over him in great waves from those cheering, shouting, clapping men—all their loneliness, all the grubbiness of their lives in this dismal place, their affection and desire, their excitement, coalesced into a great bubble of happiness that enveloped Terry and that it almost seemed he could float away in.
There was movement about the room, and no doubt some of them would have charged right up onto the stage, but Willis had the good sense to quickly whisk the curtain closed, and the last glimpse the miners had of Lola Valdez was the kiss she blew to them.
Terry quickly scooped up the money strewn across the stage, making a pouch out of his skirt to hold it, and ran for the dressing room. He had barely gotten there when Willis followed him in. The saloon owner was grinning from ear to ear, showing his blackened teeth, his face flushed with excitement.
"By God, you did it," he cried, dancing a jig. "You did it. I can't believe it. The toughest, orneriest men this side of creation, and you had them eating out of your hand."
"Yes," Terry said, sinking into a chair and looking at himself in the mirror. But it was not himself he saw, not the sissy boy whom others taunted or used for their pleasure, not the unwanted orphan, the butt of a lifetime of jokes. He saw someone beautiful, someone very much wanted, someone who brought happiness and pleasure to all who beheld.
He saw Lola Valdez.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
When a net of antagonistic relationships and inner battles encroaches upon him, the consequences of Mikey’s uncompromising pursuit emerge in thrilling tragedy, leaving him having to fight for all he holds dear, and in the only way he knows how. Within a plot thick with the flesh of individual struggle, a backbone of page-turning tension carries Mikey’s plight through the charcoal grey London which rubs itself so close to his skin, entrapping him in a dark kaleidoscope of sex and crime.
Flame Books ( 2007)
available from http://www.flamebooks.com/product.asp?prodId=32
February - The Beginning
Late as usual, I’d clattered along the magnolia hallway of our overcrowded flat, finding Paul still in the kitchen. He gave me a dirty grin from next to the dishwasher, which wasn’t surprising since I’d spent a couple of hours the previous night giving him a good time. I’d then spent fifteen minutes that morning trying to shower the smell of it off my skin. Not one of my best decisions ever, but it kept the rent low. Joe, our landlord and Paul’s lover, wasn’t there, of course. He was out wheeling and dealing with a load of artie types in Italy, lucky bastard, but if he knew what went on he’d … he’d … well, I didn’t know what he’d do but it wouldn’t be good.
‘Hey there, Mikey. How’s tricks?’ Paul stood up, his gut swelling the belt of his chinos, and his round face lined with sweat in spite of the cold. Looking at him made me glad for my own slim build and narrow features, not to mention my full head of dark hair compared to his receding hairline.
He gazed at me for a moment as if expecting something else, but I’d never been much of a one for chatting to men I’d slept with. Besides, I hated being called Mikey. It reminded me of home, but I wouldn’t tell him that. It might give him too much power.
‘Enjoy last night then?’ he said at last, pulling at his ear-lobe.
I shrugged, ‘Sure. It was fine.’
‘More than fine, don’t you think? That’s understating it, isn’t it? It was bloody marvellous and you know it.’
It was far too early in the day to cope with enthusiasm and, in any case, it hadn’t set my blood on fire. Paul’s repertoire of sexual moves could be counted as less than the colours in the rainbow and like the rainbow they were always in the same order.
‘Yeah,’ he went on as the sound of kids yelling burst in from the street outside. ‘The thing about you is you’re so bloody good at it. God knows where you learn that stuff from. Do you know what?’
With his last question, he faced me, his grin turning sly.
‘What?’ I said, though I wasn’t interested in the answer.
‘You’ve done this before, haven’t you?’
I laughed. What had he thought? That I’d never done it at all? That one glimpse of the solid flesh and wispy black hair of my fellow lodger had swept me over the edge into sexual activity? ‘Sure, yeah, I was Mr Catholic Priest when I turned up here.’
‘No, not like that, Mikey,’ he folded his arms and pursed his lips. ‘I mean for money. You’ve done this before for money, haven’t you?’
‘Don’t be stupid. I don’t do it for money with you.’
‘You call paying less rent to Joe because I’m paying the extra not doing it for cash?’
No, I didn’t as a matter of fact. Paul may have thought he was making me into a real-life rent boy in downtown Hackney, if you could call a twenty-four year old a boy, but it didn’t count until you held the notes in your fist. Everyone knew that. But still, there were streets where I lived, and beyond, the East End for one, maybe Soho on a good day, which knew the shape of my stride and the colour of my flesh.
‘Mikey?’ Paul prompted.
‘Just leave it.’
‘Getting too close, am I?’
This was stupid so I turned to go, but with a sudden shift in mood, which I should have been used to, he grabbed my arm so hard I almost cried out.
‘Cut the crap,’ he whispered dangerously close to my ear so that the air around us crackled. ‘I know what you’ve been up to, I hear rumours …’
‘What? In those bars you go to?’
He twisted my arm again. ‘Shut up. I think you should be more careful, you know. Joe wouldn’t like knowing how you make your money when you can’t sell that bloody art of yours – if art’s what you call it. Scribbling's more the word, isn't it? Anyway, you’d be out of here faster than you could say Picasso. Maybe you should be even nicer to me just to make sure you don’t end up on the streets, Mikey. For real.’
And with a final twist of my arm which made it feel as if it might burn for ever, he shoved me away, set the dishwasher to start and swaggered out of the kitchen.
I sat down. My blood was drumming in my head and I had to take several deep breaths to stifle the feeling of wanting to be sick, all the while listening to the sound of the shower being turned on and Paul’s usual tuneless singing. I’d only been here six months but all the signs said it was time to go. But where? I knew nobody and each time I did a flit, the next flatshare was always worse than the last. In some way or other. At least Joe’s place was clean, though the company he kept did nothing for me. The thought of being “nicer” to Paul didn’t fill me with any great happiness and anyway what he’d accused me of was unfair. Sometimes I needed cash, and sex was the best way to get it. It didn’t make me a hooker. Just someone wanting to survive. Maybe I’d have to be more careful next time.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Alyson Books (July, 2006)
"You ought to know that, you had your men drag me out of
there just now."
"It's for the record. Don't worry, your lawyer will get to hear the
whole thing once he gets here."
Chris sighed "I work for DataTEK Systems, in Studio City, on
"And how long have you worked there, sir?"
"And what exactly do you do at DataTEK Systems?"
Something niggled into Chris's mind. Martinez was being too
nice. What was up? "What is it you people think I did? I'm telling
you right now, you're wrong—"
"Don't worry about that right now." As well as recording the
conversation, Martinez took notes. "Demanding job?"
"It can be . . . "
"What sort of hours you keep in a job like that?"
"I'm on call," Chris said. "Someone wants me, they call."
"Doesn't leave much time for a social life." Martinez's muddy
brown eyes met Chris's, measuring, weighing. "Or girlfriends."
Chris cracked a smile. "Sorry, wrong sex. Didn't we do this
"I'm gay, remember? I have boyfriends."
Without changing expression Martinez scribbled something
down. "Got one now?"
"Playing the field?"
"You could say that." Chris thought of David and wondered if
this guy even had a clue about his partner. "You didn't bring me
down here to ask about my work habits or my bedroom partners,
so what is it, detective?"
Instead of answering, Martinez fished around in the briefcase
and withdrew four eight-by-ten glossy photographs, which he
dropped on the table between them.
"Know this man?"
"What the fuck?"
He shoved the pictures back but Martinez held them in place.
"Take another look. You recognize this man?"
"No—" Then Chris realized to his horror he did. It was Bobby.
"Oh, my God."
Martinez leaned forward, his swarthy face flat, his eyes like a
shark's, unmoving, watching, dissecting. "You do recognize him.
Who is he? Give me a name."
Chris looked away. "His name was Bobby."
"I don't know." Chris refused to look at the images. He stared at
a stain on the green wall behind Martinez. "He never gave me his
"What was your relationship to this Bobby?"
"We were . . . friends."
"Friends? But you don't know his last name? How long did you
"We'd only met a couple of times."
"Where did you meet?"
"Why all the questions?" Chris tried to glare at the fat cop.
"What happened to him? Who did that?"
"Where did you meet Bobby?"
"What difference does it make?"
"The Nosh Pit." Chris was beginning to feel afraid. Goose
bumps crowded the bare skin of his arms. The knot at the base
of his head began to resolve into a pounding headache. "What is
going on here?"
"Where is this Nosh Pit?"
"Hyperion. In Silver Lake."
"What do you think?"
"I think you better answer my questions," Martinez snapped.
"Before things go bad for you."
"What does that mean? Is that a threat?"
"When did you last see this Bobby?"
"I don't remember."
the skin of his knuckles. He found himself staring at his distorted
image in the mirrored glass. Who was watching from the other
side? "We had a couple of drinks at the Pit. I never saw him again."
"Did he get into your vehicle?"
"Did he enter your vehicle that night?"
"Sure," Chris said. "He wanted me to take him home . . . to my
place. I didn't want to. We argued. He got out and I never saw him
"What did you do while you were in the vehicle?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did you solicit him for sex?"
"No, it wasn't like that."
"What was it like then, sir?"
Chris rubbed the back of his neck, startled to find it was damp
with sweat. Suddenly he'd had enough of this fat, overbearing cop.
"So we fooled around," he said. "This is the twenty-first century,
right? Hell, according to Clinton it isn't even sex."
"Are you saying you and Bobby engaged in fellatio?"
God, what a stupid word. "Shit, we were just fooling around.
End of story."
"Except it's not the end of the story, is it, Mr. Bellamere." Martinez
pulled out a bulging handful of colored eight-by-tens. He threw
the pictures down on the table in front of Chris. "Want to have
another look at your handiwork, Mr. Bellamere?"
Chris glanced down at the images as they came to rest atop the
cigarette burns and knife work that adorned the battered table. He
was expecting more images of Bobby for him to I.D., but what he
saw made his flesh flash ice cold and his stomach roll over.
"What'd he do, Bellamere?" Martinez was over the table, in
his face, screaming. "Look at you wrong? Say the wrong thing to
It was Bobby. No mistaking that. But these images showed a
Bobby who had been hideously abused, his skin flayed and ripped
off his once gorgeous body. A circlet of blood ringed his neck and
in one image it looked like he was on his stomach, and the gaping
wound between his legs made Chris lose it.
He threw himself away from the table. Away from the images.
His hand went to his mouth, but it was like stemming a flood with
straw. Vomit spattered all over his legs.
Distantly he thought he heard Martinez yell, "Hijo de puto. You
Then the door swung open and he looked up through a blur of
tears to see David enter the room.
"Put those away. Shut that tape off."
Someone else entered the room and there was a whispered
conversation that Chris couldn't make out. The next thing he
knew someone was guiding him out of the room, away from his
own stink. Almost immediately they turned into another room, a
washroom. The door closed and he was guided to the sink.
"Do you want a drink of water? Coffee?"
It was David. He brushed by Chris and turned on the taps.
Chris blinked up at him. He took the damp paper towels that
were handed to him.
"Here," David said. "Clean yourself up."
Chris forced himself to focus on David. He clutched the towels
in one hand.
"How could you let him do that to me?"
"I'll take that to mean you don't want a drink. Okay, can you
answer some more questions?"
"More questions? Are you fucking nuts?"
David perched on the sink and Chris nearly screamed when he
pulled out his notepad.
"Tell me what happened after Bobby and you entered your
"You want a blow by blow account?" Chris snarled. "I'm sitting
here with fucking puke all over me and you want to know about
my sex life? Rent a video like everybody else does."
"Like the kind Bobby made?"
"How the hell did you know about that—"
"If you had looked closely at those pictures Martinez threw at
you, you would have seen a strip of film around the deceased's
neck. It was a porno loop, starring one Bobby Starrz."
"His stage name. His real name was Robert Allen Dvorak."
"And what does any of this have to do with me?"
"You are so far the last person to have seen him alive."
"And you think I had something to do with that?"
"Where were you Tuesday morning?"
"Jesus, if I'd known I was going to need an alibi—"
"Yes?" David leaned forward. "What would you have done, Mr.
"I'd have done something to be noticed. Maybe dance naked on
my front lawn so the neighbors could tell you I was home. Would
that have made you happy?"
"What time would you have felt compelled to create this alibi?"
Chris opened his mouth to retort, then closed it. His skin grew
clammy. "You're trying to trick me, aren't you? Anything I say is
going to incriminate me now, isn't it?"
"Do you feel you're incriminating yourself, Chris? Is there
something you'd like to tell me?" David's voice was gentle, almost
hypnotic. "You can talk to me, you know."
Chris's mouth hung open. Finally he pulled away from David,
holding his arms wrapped around his chest.
"You really think I killed him, don't you?" he whispered. "My
God, what kind of monster do you think I am?"
"Talk to me, Chris. We can work this out."
"Fuck you, David." Chris was still whispering. He staggered
backward. "I'm not saying another word to you without my