Monday, July 28, 2008
In this excerpt from the historical novella Hard and Fast by Erastes, Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn't particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him... As Geoffrey says himself: "I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own."
Hard & Fast (novella)
Speak Its Name
Linden Bay Romance (June 2008)
In which I meet the young lady my father has meant for me and I deflect my father from spoiling his own endeavors.
There are certain things expected of a third son. That one will not put oneself forward, that one will join the army, or the church, or the bar. That one will not, in an attempt to inherit and whatever the provocation, murder one's elder brothers and that one will, if at all possible in the circumstances of being a third son, marry well.
This is particularly important if one's family is wealthy, (but not titled), and one's brothers have married ladies who have increased the financial aspects of the line, but who have disappointed one's father in being, like him, rich but ignobly born. One is taught that one does not talk of the origin of such income. One's ancestors may have their portraits on painted walls and may well have been forced by circumstances to work for their subsistence but that same shameful toil enables their grandsons and further scions to live in comfort without ever having to mention such endeavors.
One is taught, from the nursery and all through one's schooldays, that one should be a gentleman above all things. To be a good shot, to honor one's parents, to do well for the school and to be gallant to the fairer sex. One is schooled to deal kindly with staff, and otherwise with bullies and cads. One is equipped for life.
But I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.
To say that I was shaken to discover this about myself, would be an understatement in the same vein as were I to airily state that the Taj Mahal was an attractive mausoleum or that Switzerland was a trifle undulating.
The sight of a curving cheek, a chestnut curl, a well turned ankle and a trim waist, these are all things that I expected to wake the first stirrings of Eros, and indeed they did; it is just that I did not think they would come from such a wholly unexpected direction.
You might, were I so injudicious to write this account down, raise an eyebrow, your quizzing glass and your voice. You might order me out of the club—blacken my name and drive me out of England and on to the continent—or you might ask me how this came to be. But would I answer you?
It was last spring, the first spring free of war—a soldier's spring—and London, though cold as h—, was still resplendent in red and white. It was, it seemed to me, as I drove through St James's with my father, as if London had draped itself in the colors of Victory, daring the Corsican to come again if he dared, to strike north and east—for London at least was ready for him should he dare. It was a glorious puff. I could not begrudge the city for its arrogance. We were all still living on borrowed glories.
We paused as a brougham pulled up beside us and my father, dressed in a jacket from an older bloodbath, raised his hat to the occupants. I followed suit.
"Colonel Chaloner." The lady within the carriage lowered her parasol and inclined her head in greeting.
"Lady Pelham. Wonderful morning, is it not? You know of my youngest, of course. Did well under Wellesley. Very proud." My father laughed at his own pun. "Geoffrey, may I introduce Lady Pelham and the Honorable Miss Emily Pelham, of whom I have spoken." His voice was fraught with inference. He paused and addressed the third occupant of the brougham. "If I knew your name, sir, I forgot it."
My eyes traveled with the introductions. The mother was a ship of the line, impressively wide in dark lavender. She seemed as if her timbers would creak in the slightest breeze. The young lady, suitably pink about the ears and cheeks, was as pretty as any of a hundred ladies out in the sunshine, all of them armed with large nets to catch whatever suitors had limped home from France. In these less selective times, a suitor who may have been sure to be rejected by many a young lady might now find himself acceptable if he came blessed with the full complement of arms, legs and facial features. I knew of Miss Pelham from my father's recommendations, although due to circumstances, I had not met her before. My father had expressed his views and I was under orders to fall in love where directed.
The dowager bent her head in response to my father and introduced the young man sitting beside her, dressed sombrely in black. "My nephew, Adam Heyward. After my brother of course." She sniffed into a black laced handkerchief. Her brother, I knew, had been gallantly crushed by his horse at Hougoumont.
The young man, given his curtain, rose and bowed, and as he did so I felt something stir within me. It seemed a little like concern—a similar lurch to the insides that I recalled feeling when my eldest brother's child rode his pony too fast. I was appreciative, I reasoned later, that perhaps that Lady Pelham's horses were restless and that by standing, the young man was in danger of being thrown out, for he did not seem at all steady on his feet. But I wondered at my approbation all the same and was only deflected in my reverie as I saw my father fairly bristling beside me. I should have been prepared for this, for as we had circled the park he had been making his usual tally of men not in uniform.
"Not all men had the opportunity..." I had said not ten minutes before, but it was as far as I had managed; my father's tirades on the slackness and abject cowardice (as he saw it) of a man who didn't offer himself up as cannon fodder was well known, particularly to me, as since my regiment had returned to the capital, I was the only son now left at home and the only audience to his lectures.
"Well they should have!" he had declaimed, far too loudly and drawing the ear of all in the vicinity. "Don't see how they have the gall to live in a country they're afraid—afraid, do you hear me?—of fightin' to protect! We've rid France of Boney. Let 'em go and live there!"
Banishing someone to the wilderness of France was, to my father, who rarely set foot further south than Canterbury, the most revolting punishment. To consider anyone happy to live in such a place was beyond his comprehension, and should anyone dare suggest that France did in fact have some qualities that he might enjoy, he would go puce in the face and appear in some danger of apoplexy. I may have served my time under fire, but I was not as brave to be positively foolhardy.
It seemed that Lady Pelham knew his views as well as I, for she looked anxiously from her nephew to my father. I spoke before my father could say anything further, gaining myself a grateful smile from that lady, a blush from Miss Pelham and a cool look from the young man in black. "I knew your brother well, Lady Pelham," I said. "A most gallant officer." In truth, Major Adam Heyward had been a drunkard and a bully, and his heroic charge into the French lines at Hougoumont had been caused by a bullet in his horse's rump. The matter had been hushed, (the bullet rumored to have come from his own brigade), and Major Heyward had posthumously received honors he could never have hoped to attain in life.
Lady Pelham was suitably touched, and in consequence invited us to their town house that evening to dine. My father was delighted, so much so that I was grateful to drop him at his club. His enthusiasm at the meeting, which I was soon to realise was hardly accidental, and his subsequent ebullience at the invitation was overwhelming, and without a word being spoken between myself and Miss Pelham, it appeared that I was already married and buying furniture for town and country.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
L.A. Heat excerpt by Pat Brown
This is the second excerpt from LA Heat by Pat Brown to be featured on this blog (the first excerpt was posted on February 4th, 2008) The story to date: Accused of several horrendous murders of young gay men, Chris was being investigated by David and his partner, Martinez. The growing attraction between Chris and David has thrown David for a loop. He doesn't want to admit it, but he finds it harder and harder to fight. This scene occurs after David finds proof that Chris is innocent of the murders. This is Chapter 18 and takes place at Chris's home in Silver Lake.
Bristlecone Pine Press - 1st Kindle edition (July 2, 2008)
Chris finally gave up and climbed to his feet; his bare toes curled away from the cold tile in the kitchen. He rinsed his wine glass in the sink and set it on the draining board, then washed his mouth out with tepid water from the tap.
He was halfway up the earth-tone tiled stairs when someone started pounding on his front door.
Chris turned on the atrium light. He peered outside, dancing from foot to foot; the tile cold compared to the promised warmth of his carpeted bedroom.
It was David.
He was leaning against the inner courtyard wall, his tie lying askew on his thick neck. His shirt looked like it had been unbuttoned, then done back up crooked. Dark hair peeked out from between buttons. He raised his hand to pound on the door again and nearly fell down the single stone step into the driveway.
David was drunk.
Opening the door carefully so as not to startle him, Chris waited for David to notice him. David tried to smile when he caught sight of him. It looked ghastly.
“Wasn’t sure you’d be home,” he said. “You’re just like me, always working... workaholic. Kind of a two.”
“You mean two of a kind?”
“Said that. You gonna let me in?”
David immediately wandered past him into the living room.
Chris hoped he wasn’t going to throw up or anything.
Chris went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. If ever someone needed coffee it was David. Whatever had possessed the guy to get drunk? More, whatever had possessed him to come here?
“The bathroom’s through there--” Chris came out to find David nowhere in sight. He heard a banging sound upstairs. “Shit.”
He took the stairs two at a time.
David was sitting on the edge of Chris’s bed, his tie off completely, his shirt open to the waist. His chest was covered with a thick mat of black hair that thinned out over the soft mound of his stomach.
He’d laid his gun belt over Chris’s armoire. The belt to his cotton pants were open, revealing boxers underneath.
“What are you doing?” Chris asked.
“Well, aren’t you gonna?”
“Going to what?” Chris watched the other man warily, unsure how he might react. Not sure what he was up to.
“Kiss me. I won’t stop you this time.”
Chris flushed. “No David, I’m not going to kiss you. I’m going to take you home.”
“Don’t wanna go home.”
“You have to,” Chris said, as if he were talking to a five- year-old. “You have to go to bed.”
“Go to bed here.” Awkwardly he patted the pillow beside him. “You can tuck me in.” He tried to leer, but it came out as a grimace.
“David, what are you doing? Simon will kill me -- I’m not supposed to talk to you--”
“Then don’t talk--” David reached for him. “Don’t you wanna take me to bed?”
“Jesus, David. What’s got into you? Aren’t you investigating me for this homicide?” What kind of trouble was David going to be in for this? Hell, what kind of trouble was he going to be in?
“Not anymore. Cleared you. Wrong person...”
Chris’s jaw dropped. “What? Since when?”
“S’afternoon. You were in Salt-Salt-Utah. You were in Utah when Jay was sliced.”
“Utah? That conference?” A wave of dizziness swept through him. “Jesus, I almost didn’t go,” he whispered. “I hate those things.”
“Good thing for you. Perfect alibi. Got the wrong guy . . . Not even your fingerprints . . . Martinez still wants you, though. Had a fight over that. My own partner . . . God, if he knew . . . ”
“Knew what, David?” Chris wanted to laugh aloud and jump up and down. He was off the hook. Then it clicked. “Martinez doesn’t know you’re gay, does he, David?”
David grimaced. “God, I hate that word.” He twisted around to look up at Chris and tried to leer again. “But I like you. Want to fuck? I want to fuck you.”
“Let’s get you home, okay?” Chris tried to wrestle him up, but it was like lifting a two-hundred-pound sack of sand. He couldn’t control the heavier man and David wouldn’t do a thing to help. Every time Chris got near him David groped his crotch. It didn’t help that Chris had a raging boner and David knew it.
Chris rocked back on his heels. “You have to go home, David. You’re going to hate yourself in the morning if you don’t.”
“Wanted you to know. Not a suspect anymore.”
“Thank you, David. I appreciate that, you have no idea... but really, you have to go--”
“Sleep with me, Chris.”
“If you weren’t drunk, I’d be glad to, David.” Chris stroked his head, feeling the crisp hair curl under his fingers. “But you’d hate me in the morning. I’d hate me in the morning.”
“You probably think I’m some boring stick-in-the-mud rule follower.”
What could Chris say? David was a stickler for the rules. He wore his dress shirts buttoned up tight and never let his guard down. Chris wouldn’t necessarily say he was boring, but--
David cracked a yawn. He blinked at Chris. “I think I had too much.”
“Yeah, I think so,” Chris said gently. “You’re going to feel like shit tomorrow.”
“Sleep with me, Chris. I can’t stop thinking about you. Ever since you kissed me. Even when I was supposed to think of you as a suspect . . . ”
“Not tonight -- get some sleep now, okay, big guy?”
Chris thought he was going to argue some more, but his body went limp. Chris wrestled him under the covers, pulling the duvet up to his shoulders. He gave the slumbering man a light kiss on the cheek. Already his soft snores filled the bedroom.
Chris padded back downstairs to his office, where he pulled out the small futon bed he kept for out-of-town guests. He grabbed a blanket and a set of sheets from the linen closet and crawled under the covers around two o’clock in the morning.
He wished he wasn’t so damned noble. David might be a stick in the mud, but he was turning out to be one of the most complex men Chris had ever known. He was also sexy in a way Chris couldn’t begin to explain. He just knew he wanted to go upstairs and crawl in beside him and find out what being fucked by David Laine would be like.
A small sound awoke him. He looked up, blinking, to find David standing in the doorway staring down at him with flat, unreadable eyes. He was dressed again; even from the doorway Chris could smell the reek of alcohol coming off his clothes.
“How did I get here?”
“You don’t remember?” Chris sat up, glad he had decided to wear pajamas last night. Normally he slept naked, but that hadn’t seemed like a good idea with a drunk and overly amorous David in the house.
“If I remembered, would I ask?”
“You came banging on my door last night.”
“What time was that?”
“Around one o’clock.”
“My car’s not in the driveway.”
“I don’t know how you got here.” Chris shrugged. “You never said.”
Suspicion darkened David’s face. “Why didn’t you just send me home? There’s money in my wallet. You could have paid a cab.”
Chris bristled. “I tried to get you out of here. You refused to go. I had no choice but to put you to bed.” Chris untangled himself from the futon and stood. “Look, I’m going to make coffee. We can continue this discussion in the kitchen.”
David grabbed Chris’s arm. “What happened last night, Chris?”
Chris snatched his arm away. “You mean did I take advantage of you? Fuck you, David.”
Before he could respond, Chris shoved by him and stormed into the kitchen, where he banged around refilling the kettle and grinding coffee until his anger subsided.
David appeared in the kitchen doorway. He looked tired.
“I’m sorry, Chris,” he said. “That was uncalled for.”
“What’s this about a fight with Martinez?”
“I told you that? Sorry, that was just stupid.”
“You said I wasn’t a suspect anymore, but Martinez didn’t want to let it go. Is it because I’m gay?”
David winced. He rubbed his head. “Yeah, well Martinez has some problems with that.”
“Martinez is a narrow-minded bigot.” Big news there. David already knew that. He’s the guy who had to live with it. Chris banged around in the cupboard, producing two mugs for his efforts. “Where did you go last night?”
“Some bar up in La Canada. Country and western place. I don’t remember leaving. Next thing, I’m waking up in your bed, practically naked.”
“If you’d had your way, you’d have been completely naked. And I’d have been there with you.”
David blushed scarlet.
“Do me a big favor,” Chris said. “Next time you come over, do it sober. Then I won’t have to say no. I don’t want to say no. I don’t think you do either. Where does that leave us, David?”
“Maybe we need to talk.”
“That sounds like a good start--”
“Is that coffee ready?” David rubbed his forehead again. “I could really use some.”
Chris poured him a mug.
He sighed when he took his first sip. “Now I remember why I don’t do that.”
“Go on benders?”
“Right. Was I really bad?”
“Blotto. Totally and completely blotto. I’ve rarely seen anyone that stinking--”
“Okay, I get the picture.” David set his mug down and looked around the kitchen. “Where’s your phone? I have to call a cab.”
“Let me give you a ride. I still got my rental. It’s the least I can do after compromising you.”
“Compromising--” His eyes narrowed. “According to you, we didn’t do anything.”
“I can fix that soon enough.” Chris moved closer, grasped David’s powerful arms, and drew him down until their mouths touched. “How about this?”
The passion that had burst between them the first time was still there, untamed. David tasted of coffee and mint; he had clearly taken advantage of Chris’s mouthwash before he came downstairs. Chris groaned when David’s hands moved down to his ass and pressed their growing erections together, proving the lust was not one-sided.
Chris murmured against his throat, “You sure you can’t stay? I could make you breakfast. Wash your clothes for you. Take you to bed and ravish you.”
David broke away, laughing shakily. “In that order?”
“Any order you like.”
“This is getting too complicated.”
“I can’t, Chris. Not now. Maybe not ever.”
“Is it your partner?”
“It’s everything. It’s who I am.”
“I don’t think I like who you are very much.”
“Sometimes neither do I.”
Chris stared at him for several seconds. David looked away.
“Fine,” Chris sighed. “Come on, let’s go find your wheels. Jesus, I hope you can remember where this place is.”
“A western bar in La Canada?” He shook his head. “This should be fun.”
Monday, July 21, 2008
The Rubens Gamble by Pat Brown excerpt from Men of Mystery: Homoerotic Tales of Intrigue and Suspens edited by Sean Meriwether & Greg Wharton
This excerpt is the opening to my story The Rubens Gamble by Pat Brown, published in the anthology Men of Mystery: Homoerotic Tales of Intrigue and Suspense edited by Sean Meriwether & Greg Wharton. The anthology was nominated for the Lambda award. for best anthology.
Men of Mystery: Homoerotic Tales of Intrigue and Suspense edited by Sean Meriwether & Greg Wharton
Publisher: Southern Tier Editions (May 14, 2007)
The Rubens Gamble
I was released in the morning, but it was late afternoon by the time I stepped through the iron gates of Crowhaven Minimum Security Prison for what I swear on my mother’s as yet unoccupied grave will be the last time.
There was no one to meet me. I hadn’t expected anyone. Any friends I might have had were long gone.
I clutched my oversized jacket -- I’d lost weight -- around my shoulders and faced the prospect of a two-mile walk into town. The thirty dollars in my pocket wouldn’t stretch to cover motel and cabfare and the fine state of Maine hadn’t see fit to make sure I got there safe.
A late afternoon squall struck. I turned the collar of my jacket up; I might as well have tried to stem Niagara.
The rain muffled the sound of the car. By the time I heard it, the bumper was on my ass and I nearly wound up in the mud-soaked ditch side-stepping it.
I swung around, freezing when I realized it was a custom-made Bentley limousine, and the guy stepping out of it was the best looking piece I’d seen since I last cruised Chelsea looking for dick.
He was around my age, mid to late twenties, clad head to foot in a deadly combination of leather and denim. He had spiky blond hair and his baby blue’s held mine. His mouth was the most fuckable thing about him. I could easily imagine stuffing my seven inches down it and my dick responded predictably.
Now you’re probably thinking, whoa, boy, a guy who just spent the last two years less a day incarcerated was getting it pretty regular. Well, non-consensual sex with a guy called Bubba never did appeal to me. And the hard core butt fuckers get sent up to Attica or the like anyway. Crowhaven was for the tamer, executive types who get caught borrowing company funds and socking it away in the Caymans. Most of them have wives who came for conjugal visits, so to say I hadn’t been getting any for a while is an understatement.
“Dmitri Alexandrovich Zalupkoff?” the hunk said, not tripping over the patronymic name my parents foisted on me.
Just the way he said it sent shivers of desire through me.
“Why don’t you come in out of the cold,” he said.
“What do you want?”
“I have been sent to ask a favor of you. Please.” He indicated the limo’s open door. “Let’s talk inside.”
I was going nowhere fast and the rain had picked up. If he didn’t care what my sodden clothes would do to that fancy upholstery, who was I to turn down a warm ride? Besides, I was curious. What kind of favor?
I slid onto the butter soft leather seat, shaking when rivulets of water shivered down my ribs.
My handsome rescuer adjusted something and a blast of heat washed over me. I sighed and leaned back, closing my eyes. When I reopened them, he was holding out his leather jacket.
“Take those off,” he said. “You will catch your death of pneumonia.”
He spoke with an old world courtliness I haven’t heard since I was last on the Continent. France to be exact. Picking up a commission for an Etruscan bronze I’d liberated from its former owner. Almost all that money went to pay the lawyer who had failed to keep me out of jail. The job that had landed me there hadn’t paid a dime. Hardly surprising, since I hadn’t delivered the goods.
I skimmed out of my clothes. His jacket smelled enticingly of his scent. I wrapped myself in it and inhaled.
“Who are you?”
“A man with a job offer.”
“Job offer,” I repeated. “What do you want?”
“It is not what I want, but what my employer wants.”
He waited. I realized he thought I should know the name. Torstead? It had a familiar ring, but...
“Torstead a cop?” Maybe they wanted me to rat out my last employer. “Sorry, like I told you guys the last time we talked, I don’t know nothing--”
His mouth twitched in a smile. “I am not with the police, Mr. Zalupkoff. Neither, I assure you, is my employer. He has a... business proposal he wishes to make.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Kyril.”
No last name. Go figure.
Again the enigmatic smile. “At one time.”
No trace of an accent, just that formal way of speaking that said English wasn’t his first language. I was intrigued.
The fact that he called it that rather than the repatriated St. Petersburg told me Kyril had been over here a while. Probably immigrated with his parents as a boy, which explained the lack of accent.
Kyril picked up a phone and gave some low-voiced instructions to the driver. Minutes later we pulled into a strip mall containing a coin-operated Laundromat and a diner which featured a blue plate special for $3.99.
“Paul will take your clothes in to dry them.” Kyril handed me a soft green throw. “Cover yourself with this. I will get us coffee while we wait. Would you like something to eat?”
I was starving. Kyril took my order for corned beef on rye and a jumbo coffee and climbed out of the limo after I handed my clothes to the stoic driver.
The sandwich was ambrosia. Prison food might meet the daily food requirements but quality it’s not. I scarfed it back, even licking my fingers.
Kyril looked amused. “I did bring napkins.”
My face grew hot. “Sorry. It’s been a while since I had anything this good.”
“I could get you another--”
“No, that’s okay.”
He nodded and sank back beside me.
I took the napkin and cleaned my hands and face. Lying back against the soft leather seat, the heat and the food combined to make me sleepy. I cracked a yawn and didn’t have the strength to apologize.
I must have dozed. When I woke it was to find the car in motion and my clothes neatly folded beside me on the seat. Kyril’s dark eyes watched me.
I was all too aware of my erection under the blanket. So, it seemed was Kyril, judging by the way his gaze kept drifting over it.
“You are rested?”
“Where are we going?” I stole a glance out the window. Through the tinted glass I could make out the leafless forests slip by in the growing darkness. Black limbs dripped in the ongoing rain; it looked cold and desolate. I was glad for the warmth of the car.
“That, I’m afraid, is something you cannot yet know.”
As a bonus, an additional excerpt from LA Heat by Pat Brown will be posted on July 24th. The first excerpt was posted on February 4th, 2008.
Monday, July 14, 2008
A Cold Night’s Sleep is from the collection of stories, Rough Cut: Vincent Diamond Collected, by Vincent Diamond. These stories, “set in the Florida tourists don’t see, from the cheap motels of Tampa to the steamy small towns of central Florida, take us into the kind of lives not usually documented in fiction. These are men who know what it’s like to betray a lover—and to trust one," says author and editor, Neil Plakcy about the collection. In “A Cold Night’s Sleep,” an injured ex-con stumbles into Sandy Richter’s isolated cabin, and Sandy’s emotions and desires spark into a dangerous flame.
Rough Cut: Vincent Diamond Collected
Publisher: Lethe Press (May 1, 2008)
He’d taught himself to work left handed after the accident, and his sketches of herons, osprey, and hawks filled one wall of the cabin. He worked in pencil and chalk, and used the fused pinky and ring fingers of his right hand to shade, the sound of his scarred flesh loud against the paper. It was as close to relaxed as Sandy Richter ever got.
When the huge boom shook the little A-frame, it rattled the glasses on the shelves. Sandy grabbed his binoculars and headed for the observation balcony. Even in a blasting Florida thunderstorm, a lightning strike could start a fire, and any fire beyond a controlled burn wasn’t something he wanted to face. In the gray of the mid-afternoon, Sandy saw lashing rain, the oak trees swaying in the wind, clumps of Spanish moss ripped down from their branches. No smoke, no flames.
The lights flickered, and by the time Sandy got downstairs, the power was out completely. He made a quick check of the radio set; its battery would let him call the district office in Ocala if he needed to, but he wasn’t concerned. This early in January, on a Tuesday, no campers were booked into the small state park he rangered, and with the storm, he didn’t expect any drive-ups.
A deep, bass rumble of thunder echoed over the landscape. Then a hard whump of sound, more than thunder. Lightning cracked close by, so close that Marty, the little tuxedo cat he’d adopted a few months back, jumped from his napping spot on the sofa and scuttled under the bed.
“You big wussy. It’s just a thunderstorm!”
Marty offered no defense.
Sandy hauled in two days’ worth of logs and placed them with care in the firebox. Once it was drafting correctly, he set the fire screen in place and hooked it on both sides.
Just being careful.
He had the cabin door open to the wide porch. The breeze was cool as the thunderstorm moved away, and the cold front’s rains soaked into the earth. Sandy went back to his sketches, and Marty came out and settled on the desk.
Sandy was just thinking about some hot chocolate when Marty suddenly sat up, whiskers forward, ears high.
Three loud thumps from the porch. A tall man slammed across the deck and skidded to a stop outside Sandy’s front door.
He turned and faced the weather, hands wiping water off his bare skull. Sandy saw a fresh bruise on his left temple as pink-tinted water ran down his neck, blood from a bad cut over his eye. Mud dripped from his clothes.
Sandy rose in silence; his paper drifted to the floor, un-noticed.
His cop instincts pinged at him; even after two years away from the PD, he still assessed everyone like he had to write a field report later on. The stats came easily enough: mixed race or Hispanic, age thirty, six-foot-three, two hundred thirty pounds, heavy build, bald. The other man still faced away from him, and Sandy stood outside of kicking distance when he spoke. “Turn around.”
The man’s broad shoulders went rigid, his muscles tightening in his tank top. Sandy noticed the combat boots on his feet, the fatigues tucked into them. And that build came from hours on a weight bench—hours that only a prisoner had. Sandy smelled the rain and sweat that sluiced down his body.
The other man faced him slowly. They looked at each other, alert.
A brief grimace of a smile from the stranger. He held out one beefy hand. “Mitchell B.Tanner. And you?”
Sandy didn’t shake hands anymore so he just nodded. He saw Tanner glance down at his right hand. “That boom I heard, that was you?” Sandy asked.
“That storm came quick and to tell ya the truth—” he wiped some blood from his face and shrugged, “—I was dozing. I was out for a while after I hit. Listen, I’m sorry but I nailed one of your trees by the entrance sign. If can use your phone to call a wrecker, I’ll be on my way.”
“Sorry, but the phones are out, along with the power. It might be morning before they’re back online.”
”Well… Can I hang here until this rain quits?”
Another quick scan. Despite the hard edge to him, Sandy knew this man was no danger; he was just anxious to be on his way. The predatory body language and cold glint in his eyes would have frightened most other people but Sandy knew the type. After fourteen years on the force, he didn’t frighten easily himself.
“Sure, you stay here until the weather clears.” Sandy stopped, uncertain. What should he do next? Offer hospitality, yes, that was it. “How about some coffee or hot tea?”
Tanner smiled again, this time sincere. One of his upper canine teeth was markedly crooked, as if someone had punched him. “Yes, please, tea would be just great.”
Sandy turned away.
“Hey, wait. What’s your name, man?” Tanner stood with his left hand outstretched. A prison tattoo was inked in blue-black around his wrist, imperfect barbed wire. And that body— someone inside had that much time to spend in a weight room.
Must be on his way out of Raiford. Serious time, then.
Sandy shook his hand carefully. A lot of strength in the other’s grip but no flashy show of it. Tanner’s hand was cold.
Sandy had Tanner clean off his face at the kitchen sink, then looked at the cut over Tanner’s left eye.
“This isn’t too bad. Just keep it clean and covered for a couple of days.” Sandy had to work to concentrate on the wound itself, not Tanner’s broad shoulders or bull neck. He dabbed some Neosporin on Tanner’s dark skin and slicked down a bandage left over from kid’s summer camp; it had Darth Maul on it. He grinned. “You go out in public with a Star Wars band-aid on then you’re the bravest man on earth.”
Tanner grinned back. “Thanks, man. At least it stopped bleeding.”
He ate two servings of Sandy’s chicken and yellow rice dinner—reheated carefully over a propane burner out on the porch. Sandy had to smile.
“What’s so funny?” Tanner’s voice was deep, melodious.
“I can’t believe anyone being enthused about my cooking.”
Tanner shook his head and patted his belly. “Oh, man, this tastes great. You don’t know some of the shit I’ve had to eat in the past. Thanks. Really.”
“You’re welcome.” As Sandy said the words, he saw Tanner’s body shudder with cold. He looked more closely and noticed the tremor in the other’s hands and the pallor of his face. “You’re still cold. The water heater probably still has some hottish water. Why don’t you grab a shower, and I’ll find some sweats for you. Sorry ‘bout the bathroom door but I live here alone so I never bothered to fix it.”
Sandy led him through the bedroom area—the cabin was really one space, so it wasn’t a true room—and over to the bathroom. Sandy found him a clean washrag and a towel.
“Thanks, man, I am fuckin’ freezing.” Tanner tugged off his wet clothing with the casual aplomb of a man used to locker rooms and barracks.
The sight of Tanner grasped Sandy by the throat, as if it were a beast. He stepped back into the shadows for a moment, his gaze moving over Tanner’s body, fine as a sculpture in a museum.
The fire sent flickering light into the bathroom and bathed the other man in a golden glow. Sandy could see that Tanner’s caramel colored skin was evenly toned. He had extraordinary musculature, ripples of toned flesh on his belly, a deep chest, thick thighs balanced by the V of his broad shoulders. His penis hung low over his testicles, its flesh darker than the rest of him. He had curly black hair on his chest, legs and belly and it looked coarse. Thick eyebrows framed his heavy-featured face and balanced his full lips.
He is beautiful.
The thought un-nerved Sandy; he pushed it down, out of mind. What a waste of time to even think that way, now. But beneath his shirt, his belly warmed. That he had not even touched himself in over a year didn’t come to his conscious mind, but his body knew.
“These clothes will have to do,” he said as he placed them on the bathroom shelf. He could see Tanner’s outline behind the flimsy white shower curtain, and he made himself leave the room.
He went back to his sketch pad but only listened to the water from the bathroom, trying hard not to think about it running down Tanner’s body or Tanner’s hands and mouth on him. A few minutes later, Sandy rose to close the cabin’s front door against the now-cold night air.
Tanner stepped out of the steamy bathroom, his skin glinting with moisture. Sandy’s too-small T-shirt clung to his chest and the sweatpants band ended just below his calves. He grinned down at himself. “Whaddya think the guys from Queer Eye would say about this?”
“I think they’d cite you for a number of fashion violations.”
The other man’s eyes glowed at him in the dim light of the cabin, sending sparks of silvery tremors into him.
Stop it. You’re imagining things.
Sandy moved to the fireplace and prodded it carefully into bright flame once more. He squatted back on his haunches. He heard Tanner sigh loudly.
“Sorry if this is too forward or offends you, but man, I gotta ask. What happened to your hand?”
Sandy tugged his right shirt sleeve down; even in summer, he wore long sleeves. He bent his head low, fighting for control of his voice before he replied. He didn’t face Tanner. “We were executing a search warrant at a drug house and I threw a flashbang that ignited some painting supplies. The house was old, all wood, and it went up in about twelve minutes.”
“You were a cop?”
“Yeah, ‘til two years ago.”
“Not exactly. I was certified as partially disabled but they offered me desk duty and I said no.”
“How did you get burned?”
“I told you. The house went up.”
“So…. Why didn’t you just leave the house?”
Sandy swung around to look at Tanner, ready to snap at him; the anger was so easy—still. But the other man’s face wasn’t hostile, merely curious, and his brown eyes were soft.
How strange that it felt safe to tell the truth to this stranger when he hadn’t been able to tell the department psychologist or his parents. Or even Gil.
“There were kids in the house.”
“And you tried to get them out?”
“I was responsible. The fire was my fault.”
Lieutenant Walker swearing at him, pulling at his gear. “Get the fuck out! Get out! Get out!” The thunk of his team’s footfalls as they tore down the stairs. The smoke, rancid and awful, chemical smoke when the paint thinner blew and the cheap plastic paneling began to melt off the walls around him.
The children screaming.
“There were three kids upstairs. I had to get them out.”
Tanner sat down on the floor, his back against the sofa. “What did you do?”
Sandy rubbed his face with both hands, hating the paper-y sound that his scars made on his skin. His throat was dry. “I got the little girls out the bathroom window. They were older, they could take the drop. But the boy was only about three, I couldn’t risk it and I couldn’t fit through the window myself ….”
“And I grabbed him and just ran for it. Down the stairs, through the flames. The bottom half of the stairs were already gone but I couldn’t see it in the smoke and I fell. When I hit and rolled, he slipped away from me, and I couldn’t find him. He was screaming, and I couldn’t find him. The fire had me by then, it was on my arm, snapping at me like a rabid dog, and I tried to find him. I tried.”
Sandy’s gaze swung back to the flames behind the fire screen.
I couldn’t find him. So help me, I tried.
He bent over and pressed his forehead to the warm bricks.
When he felt Tanner’s hand on his back, he surprised himself. He didn’t jerk away, he just lay there. He couldn’t find the energy to push himself up.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Escaping into the fantasy of his books when he’s not working in the general store, Ethan Keller has lived a sheltered life in his mother’s boarding house. One day, an enigmatic cowboy passing through the small Texas town takes an immediate liking to the shy seventeen-year-old. Ethan is intrigued by the attention, and the cowboy eventually charms him into signing on to a 900-mile cattle drive. Ethan soon finds that his feelings for this cowboy run deeper than just friendship. He never knew that this kind of love even existed; and now for the two of them to make a life together in the untamed west, they must face nearly insurmountable odds if they are to survive.
The following excerpt from The Filly by Mark R Probst is from early in the story just after Miss Peet, the schoolmarm and good friend to Ethan, devises a plan to get herself introduced to Ethan’s new friend Travis. Her scheme involves having Ethan invite Travis to supper at his house, where she will drop by unexpectedly.
Cheyenne Publishing (October 2007)
The plan went off without a hitch. The next day Ethan stopped by the ranch and invited Travis to supper. Travis was extremely pleased and gratefully accepted, suspecting nothing out of the ordinary, but by Friday evening Ethan was even more nervous about the whole affair. He imagined Miss Peet bursting in the door, lurching into Travis’s lap and dropping broad hints about love and babies. At 6:05 there was a knock on the door. Ethan, dressed in his best Sunday suit and bowtie, answered the door. Travis looked fine as ever, his brown trousers and yellow cotton shirt neatly pressed. Ophelia was in the kitchen putting the final touches on the roast mutton. Mr. Pendegast and Mr. Ponce were playing a game of chess in the drawing room and Mr. Baker and Willie hadn’t come out for supper yet. Ethan made the formal introductions and led Travis into the kitchen to meet his mother.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Keller,” Travis said with a little bow. “The supper smells absolutely heavenly.”
“Why thank you, Travis,” she said, with an approving smile. “Just make yourself at home. Supper will be ready shortly.”
They went back into the drawing room and sat down to wait for supper.
“This is a very nice boarding house,” Travis said. “Are all the rooms occupied?”
“All except one. Mine.”
“Whenever there’s a vacant room, I get it. Otherwise I get kicked up to the loft.”
Travis gave a little chuckle. Willie came out of his bedroom to see if supper was ready.
“Travis, this is my brother, Willie. Willie, this is Travis Cain.”
“A pleasure to meet you Willie.” Travis extended his hand. Willie shook it and mumbled, “Much obliged.” Willie had washed up for supper but was still wearing his work clothes. Obviously it didn’t occur to him that it was customary to dress for supper when you had a guest.
They had just begun the meal when a knock interrupted them. Ophelia feigned curiosity. “I wonder who that could be?” Willie went to answer the door and retuned being followed by none other that Miss Peet herself. She entered the room lugging a big mantel clock.
“Why hello, Clara! Come right in.” Ophelia stood up and approached her.
“Hello, Ophelia, Mr. Pendegast, Mr. Ponce, Willie, Mr. Baker, Ethan.” There was a clatter of discarded forks and scraping of chairs as the men all stood and returned the greeting.
“And I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to this handsome stranger,” she continued.
“Oh dear me, I’m so sorry!” Ophelia said. “Clara, this is Travis Cain, and Travis let me introduce you to Miss Clara Peet, our schoolmarm.”
“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”
“Why the pleasure’s all mine, Mr. Cain.”
“Please call me Travis, ma’am. Nobody calls me Mr. Cain.”
“I will, Travis, and you may call me Clara. Oh dear, I’ve come at the most inopportune time. You’re all just sitting down to supper. I had brought this mantel clock for Mr. Pendegast to fix. It seems to have quit working and he is so handy with mechanical things.” Ethan knew for a fact that clock had not been working for at least a year.
“I’ll take a look at it right after supper, Miss Peet.” Mr. Pendegast’s face glowed a healthy, damp shade of red from the compliment.
“Please, Clara, join us for supper,” Ophelia said. “There’s plenty to go around.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t impose! I’ll just be on my way.”
“Clara I insist, you must join us.”
“Well, if you insist.”
Ophelia got her a plate out of the cupboard and Ethan took her coat and pulled up a chair for her.
“Oh, Ophelia, this supper looks simply scrumptious! You are such a fine cook! My, oh my, what a layout this is. Are you enjoying your supper Travis?”
“Yes ma’am. It’s quite delicious.”
“So I take it you are a new boarder here?”
“Oh no. I’m just a guest.”
“Of whom are you a guest?” she asked coyly.
“I’m a friend of Ethan’s.”
“Really!” she said. “Ethan was one of my finest pupils. As you know I’m the schoolteacher here in town, and Ethan and I have remained close even though he’s completed school. I’m surprised he never mentioned you.”
Ethan barely kept his jaw from dropping. After the initial shock, he thought better of her. At least the deception protected him.
“And what is it you do for a living, Travis?”
Ethan reddened. Was she ever going to let him have a bite? The poor guy’s fork had been hovering for the last three questions.
“I’m a cowhand,” he answered. “Or as we are commonly called around here, a vaquero. I generally go from ranch to ranch wherever help is needed. I’ve been on quite a few cattle drives in my life. Currently I’m working as a ranch hand at the Haywood Ranch. We are leaving in about three weeks to move the Haywood herd north to Cheyenne in the Wyoming territory.” Seizing the opportunity, Travis took a big bite of food.
“Fascinating!” Miss Peet said, “but isn’t it dangerous out there in the unsettled territories? I mean with all the savage Indians and all?”
Travis tried to chew his food quickly. Ophelia shifted in her chair a bit. Once he finally managed to swallow, he answered. “Well actually the trail is pretty well established now. There’s very little Indian resistance. This particular route we are using is the Goodnight-Loving trail. They call it that because that was the names of the fellas who started it. Back then, maybe ten or eleven years ago, it was very dangerous. It was nine hundred miles of wild country. The Comanches lived there and they attacked the cowboys for invading their territory. In fact Mr. Loving was killed by Indians on their second cattle drive.”
“Oh, my,” Miss Peet said with great concern. “That’s just terrible. You are so very brave to make that trip.”
“Well, as I said it’s much safer now. I very much enjoy traveling the country. I love the outdoors and nature.”
“As do I!” Miss Peet said enthusiastically. “I’m a great lover of the outdoors.”
That was certainly stretching the truth to the breaking point. Miss Peet hated the trips even to San Antonio.
Travis brightened. “There’s nothing more peaceful than roaming this beautiful country and sleeping underneath the stars.”
“But certainly, you intend to settle down somewhere, eventually? Perhaps get married and raise a family?”
“Someday I’d like to build a ranch, and raise horses.”
Ophelia spoke up. “Clara, why don’t you let Travis finish his supper? It’s going to get cold.”
Willie jumped up and brushed the crumbs off his lap.
“I’m heading out,” he said to Ophelia. “I got stuff to do. I probably won’t be back tonight, so don’t wait up for me. And don’t worry.”
Ophelia looked like she was about to protest, but held herself back in front of the guests. “Don’t you at least want your dessert?”
“I’m in a hurry. I’ll just take it with me.”
She went to the kitchen and brought him back a piece of pie wrapped in a napkin.
“I’ll just take a look at that clock now,” Mr. Pendegast said as he got up from the table.
“Oh yes, I would so appreciate it if you could fix it. I don’t know what could have happened to it.” Miss Peet turned her attention back to Travis. “A horse ranch. That does sound quite charming. Where might you decide to build this ranch?”
“Oh, I don’t know really. I’ve always thought Colorado was a beautiful place, or maybe New Mexico. I’ve been all over this country, and it’s really hard to decide where I’d like to end up.”
“Well wherever it is, I’m sure the lucky lady you choose will be so happy to cook and clean for you.”
Ethan had just about all he could take. “Ma, if I could be excused, I’d like to go out and see Cleo.”
“Sure, honey. Go right ahead.”
“I’ll go with you,” Travis said, jumping up. Miss Peet looked a little bit startled, like she had just been slapped in the face. But Travis took no notice of her and he and Ethan escaped outside.