Monday, April 27, 2009

Self Preservation excerpt by Ethan Day

Davis always assumed they would wind up back together, until Jack calls and invites Davis to his wedding to Tadd Austin, a prominent architect in Chicago. Jack's only known Tadd for two weeks, so whatever Jack feels for Tadd couldn't possibly compare to what he shared with Davis. There's no way in hell Davis can stand by and watch the life he always expected to get back slip away to some guy Jack barely knows. Tadd Austin, indeed…more like Toad Ass-ton, Davis thinks.

With his best friend, fashion designer Deseree Wildwood in tow, Davis has to shed his sweet, guy-next-door persona, and re-vamp his image into a self-confident, hot piece of eye candy. He's going to the wedding with only one goal in mind: to do whatever it takes to win back Jack. The Toad is toast!

Once in Chicago, Davis discovers it isn't going to be as easy as he thought. Not only is Tadd very un-Toad-like, but a mysterious British playboy named Alex Parker manages to interject himself into the mix. Only true love will survive as the tug of war ensues in this Bermuda love triangle from hell.

Self Preservation
Publisher: Loose Id, LLC (2009)
ISBN: 978-1-59632-869-3


Davis jumped as someone ran a hand over his ass. He whirled around but couldn't tell who'd done it. Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, he returned to Deseree and Alex, who were laughing hysterically. Deseree handed Davis his cocktail.

"You have to come visit me the next time you're in New York," Deseree said to Alex.

"Darling, I will," Alex said, glancing up at Davis. "We can tear through the city being shamelessly decadent."

"I'm your gal," said Deseree.

Davis rolled his eyes and moved forward a step to make room for two men who stepped up to the bar laughing as they waited for the bartender.

"Exactly what is it you do, Alex?" Davis asked as Alex placed a hand on the small of his back.

"It's just like Tadd to throw himself a bachelor party like that," one guy said. "Have you ever been to a bachelor party where the mother-in-law was the main event? Where were the goddamn strippers?"

"Oh, she's here too," the other guy said in a can-you-believe-it tone.

"The mother-in-law?" the first guy said, as Davis looked at Deseree and frowned.

"It's sick, isn't it," the second guy said. "I really hate Tadd. Nothing bothers him. It's not natural…the fucking Boy Scout."

"Nothing except bad press, the vain prick," the first guy added, laughing as Davis smiled and chuckled to himself. "A nice fucking scandal in the tabloids would probably kill him."

The two men laughed, grabbed their drinks, and walked back into the crowd. Davis peeked over at Deseree, and they both smiled. Davis scanned the room and spotted Candace on the dance floor surrounded by shirtless, sweaty men, twirling and laughing.

"People can be so beastly," Alex said with a smile.

Davis took a sip from his now-lukewarm martini. "It's really quite disgusting."

"I think it's deliciously fun," Deseree said, clapping her hands and giggling.

Alex placed his hand on Deseree's knee. "You and I are going to get along famously."

"Time will tell," Deseree said with a wink.

"Deseree, since you're one of the few people who apparently knows Davis, perhaps you might tell me what one has to do to win his favor."

"You mean get in his pants?" Deseree asked, looking up and placing her hand on her chin. "Do you know any hit men?"

"Deseree, honestly," Davis said, shaking his head as he moved away from Alex and turned to face him. "Look, Alex, I'm sure you're a very sweet man…"

"Ouch," Alex said, placing a hand on his chest. "That one really hurt."

"I'm going to be perfectly honest with you."

"Darling, please," Alex said, groaning, "anything but that."

"You have something against honesty?" Davis asked, looking irritated.

"In my experience, nothing kills romance like the truth."

"Hear, hear," Deseree said, lifting her glass. "Cheers to the fantasy!"

"Well, brace yourself, buck-o," Davis said to Alex while shooting Deseree a disapproving look.

"Good Lord," Alex said, setting down his cocktail. "Buck-o…really? Who in the name of John Wayne still uses the word buck-o?"

Davis rolled his eyes, completely frustrated as he placed a hand on his hip. "I just don't want to lead you on."

"I don't mind, honestly."

Davis threw his hands in the air as Deseree giggled. He took a deep breath and pointed across the bar toward Jack and Tadd. "You see those two guys over there?"

"The two that are getting married?" Alex asked, raising an eyebrow. Jack noticed Davis pointing at him and waved, smiling.

Davis waved back with a big smile, putting his hand down and turning slightly red. He turned his attention back to Alex.

"That's Jack, he's my ex, and well…I'm here to get him back."

"Christ," Deseree said, looking at Davis in shock. "Why not go and announce it over the loud speaker."

Alex examined Davis with wide eyes. "You're here to break up the wedding?"

"Okay, it sounds worse when you say it," Davis said, scrunching up his face.

"Blow me," Alex said, looking Davis up and down. "You look so sweet and wholesome."

"Yeah, well, he was mine first, and… and…"

"Jolly good fun," Alex said, as a mischievous expression stole over his face.

"Huh?" Davis and Deseree asked at the same time.

"You little vixen, you should let me help."

"What?" Davis asked, looking at Alex suspiciously. "Why?"

"I have nothing better do," Alex said matter-of-factly, "and I'm gorgeous. Let's see if we can make him jealous?"

Davis sucked down the last of his martini. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"Oh come on, Davis," Deseree said, patting her hand on the bar. "He's cute. Can't we keep him?"

Davis watched the two of them as they looked up at him like two children who had been naughty but still wanted dessert. He tossed his arms into the air in a full-body shrug.

"He's looking right now," Alex said, getting off his bar stool as Davis turned to look. Alex placed his hands on each side of Davis's face and pressed his lips onto Davis's. He slowly moved his tongue into Davis's mouth. Davis tensed as he closed his eyes, and to his surprise he reciprocated, kissing him back. Alex's full lips covered his and Davis let out a tiny moan as Alex pushed farther into his mouth, massaging Davis's tongue with his. Davis placed his hands on Alex's hips to brace himself as his body began to tremble with chills running up his spine.

Jack stopped talking with the people around him and watched Alex and Davis from across the bar. Tadd looked at Jack and turned to see what Jack was staring at. Tadd rolled his eyes and looked back at Jack before turning his attention back to the group of people they were standing with. Jack excused himself from Tadd and the other men and headed toward Davis.

Davis felt a stirring between his legs as Alex pulled away slightly, looking into Davis's eyes. Alex smiled and gave him another soft kiss, lightly brushing his lips over Davis's. He reached down and gave Davis's ass a little squeeze before pulling away and sitting back down in his bar stool. Davis stood motionless for several seconds as Deseree looked up at him smiling.

"All right, now," Deseree said, slamming her hand onto the bar. "That's what I'm talkin' about."

"Why did you do that?" Davis asked, clearing his throat and trying to compose himself.

"I thought it might help," Alex said, shrugging, obviously pleased with himself, as he took a sip from his glass.

"Help who, you perv?" Davis asked, trying to sound indignant.

"I think it did," Deseree said as Jack came up behind Davis.
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Deadly Nightshade excerpt by Victor J Banis

Gay homicide detective Stanley pays his disapproving father a hospital visit, and finds himself falling in love with his straight cop partner, Tom. The first in a new mystery series including Deadly Wrong (excerpt 3/16/09).

Deadly Nightside
Publisher: MLR Press (January 3,2009)
ISBN-10: 193453174X
ISBN-13: 978-1934531747


His father was conscious. Stanley realized with a sense of guilt that he had rather been hoping he wouldn't be. He was propped up in bed, connected to an elaborate array of ominous looking tubes and cables. What appeared to be an entire wall of electronic equipment gave the room an eerie green glow.

He blinked when Stanley came into the room, seeming to have some difficulty at first recognizing him. You could see exactly when the truth dawned on him—followed a split second later by the predictable disappointment. He looked away without a word.

"Hey, Dad, how are you doing?" Stanley forced a grin and came to stand by the bed. His father closed his eyes.

"I'm going to sleep," he said in a petulant voice.

"Good idea," Stanley said. "Why don't you rest? I'll just stay here for a bit to see that you're okay."

"I'm fine. I don't need you watching over me." The eyes remained closed. "You go on home. Or wherever."

"Uh, Dad, it's like, three o'clock in the morning. I just drove up here from San Francisco. I guess I can hang around for a few minutes." Stanley pulled a chair over by the bed and sat in it.

The eyes opened then. They were yellowed and blood shot, and stared angrily at Stanley. "I never asked you to come," his father said. "I'd way rather see your sister. You know that."

"Yes, I do know that," Stanley snapped. "I also know that the reason you don't see her is because she doesn't want to see you. That's why she doesn't come, you stubborn old fart."

His father's lips tightened. He glared at Stanley in anger, but behind the anger, hurt cowered. He looked away again, staring at the blank whiteness of the wall.

"I'm sorry, Dad," Stanley said. He put a hand on his father's shoulder. "I shouldn't have…"

"Get the hell out of here." He shrugged Stanley's hand off.

Stanley sat for a moment longer, feeling frustrated and ashamed and wishing he knew how to make things better between them, wishing he could take back what he'd said in anger, but he couldn't. Words only went one way.

"Go on, I want to sleep."

Stanley sighed and got up, brushing an imaginary fleck of dust off his trousers. "I'll see you next week," he said.

"Don't bother."

Stanley started to reply, and held his words. Maybe by next week his father would have forgotten this whole conversation. It was maddening, the things he remembered, and the things he didn't.

Probably he'd remember, Stanley thought, walking away. People always remembered the crud.

* * * * *

His father hadn't always hated him. Surely his memories of his childhood were of a happy family, father, mother, two beloved children. Everything changed when the mother died, in a car crash. His father had been driving, after probably one too many joint. Theirs had been an era of joints, and quite often, one too many of them.

Peter Korski had survived the accident. Wanda hadn't. She'd been thrown from the car—her seat belt unfastened—crushed between the car and an ill-placed tree, an instant death. Better, at least, Stanley thought, then what had happened to his father—because, surely, Peter Korski had begun dying then as well, a process still not complete, agonizingly drawn out. Sometimes, Stanley thought he clung to life the way he did so he could suffer longer.

He blamed himself, of course and, it seemed, in some odd way, he blamed his children, maybe for not being there, for not dying with her. Stanley had never understood it. Who could understand grief, grief laced with guilt? Whatever you did, whatever anyone did, it was almost certainly part of the fault, wasn't it? The whole world, and everything in it, in his father's eyes, had conspired to this awful fate that had befallen the woman they all loved.

Stanley knew Irene, his sister, suffered more from it, maybe just because she was a woman—necessarily, now, the woman of the house, a role she hadn't wanted, had no choice but to fill, and couldn't help being the usurper in doing so. A girl might want to be her mother, might even on some level dream of taking her mother's place. How could you not feel guilty when it happened like this? Did she ever, Stanley had wondered more than once, feel as if she had wished her mother's death on her?

Stanley, male like his father, had somehow been, like him, the loser, the living victim—until the day, that fateful day, when he'd told his father the truth about himself.

It had been one of those conversations that had started out innocently enough. A teen-aged Stanley had wanted to use the car. His father never drove it now except of sheer necessity. Probably, he blamed cars too, although this was a different one. He didn't seem to mind, though, Stanley's driving it.

"Big date?" he'd asked, with a wink and a man-to-man kind of grin.

"Sort of," Stanley had said. Man-to-man had always made him uncomfortable, even when he'd been a little boy. Even then, he knew the difference. By now, he was practicing it.

"Who is she? Anyone I know?'

'It's a he, actually," Stanley said, thinking, with a mix of relief and terror, that he had been given the opening he had long been looking for, to broach the subject that he knew sooner or later had to be broached.

"He? Big date? I hope you're not turning queer on me, son." A laugh that said, I don't seriously think so, but it's entered my thoughts a time or two, so put my mind at ease anyway, why don't you?

Followed by a long, long silence, so long, that Stanley needn't have bothered answering the question. The silence had done that for him.

"Actually, Dad…"

Up until then, from the time Mom had died, it had felt to Stanley like he and Irene were competing for Dad's attention. Later, looking back on that period in their lives, Stanley had the impression that they had been so caught up in their interpersonal turmoil, they had all but forgotten to grieve for the woman who died. They mourned, but it was more like they mourned for themselves and not for her.

After that, though, after Stanley had come out, Irene emerged as the clear winner in their unspoken competition for the most sympathy. His dad barely spoke to him again, hardly looked at him and then never with anything that might have been called affection.

But Irene discovered boys about that time, maybe just a little earlier than one might have expected, a quick succession of them. She was forever rushing to meet one or the other of them, flying out the door as if she were in a big hurry to be away. They hardly saw her. Stanley thought his Dad blamed him for that, too, as if he were the one driving her away.

The blame the senior Korski heaped upon his son wasn't altogether personal. He hated Stanley for being queer. That part of it was intensely personal. The rest of it, all that blame he ladled out, that was like the mashed potatoes to accompany the overcooked turkey when they tried to pretend it was Thanksgiving. Everybody got a spoonful, wanted or not.

It wasn't only Stanley, either. He blamed everybody. For everything. That was when he started retreating inside himself. Stanley saw it happening, he wanted to do something about it. But his father no longer let Stanley get close. "Inside himself" was someplace in particular that Peter Korski wouldn't let his son go. And if Irene noticed, any of this, she was too busy dashing out to be with those boys, to do anything.

So, Irene won, but they all three lost, too. Victims of victims.

* * * * *

"You lost the sling," Tom said when he saw him.

"It must have fallen off," Stanley said. Tom nodded, as if that made perfect sense. They didn't speak again until they were in the car. The Petaluma streets were empty. It took no more than a minute or two to reach the freeway. There was nearly always traffic on the I-5—at this time of night, mostly the big rigs.

"How'd it go?" Tom asked, fitting onto the interstate in the space between a couple of semis.

"Fine," Stanley said curtly.

They drove the rest of the way in silence, the headlights piercing the night. Even the semis thinned out, till they had long stretches of the highway to themselves. The rain had stopped, the clouds lifting.

Tom found an oldies station on the radio. Janis, The Doors. Even Credence: Proud Mary. Stanley listened the way you do with old songs that you know so well you forget whether it's you or John Fogarty performing them.

After a while, Stanley felt some of the anger and the pain begin to drain out of him. Oddly, the silence between him and Tom wasn't awkward the way it had been in the beginning. He found it comforting; there was nothing angry or petulant about it. It was patient, understanding, one of those amicable silences that lets everyone settle into his own personal comfort zone before it asks anything of you.

They were curving down the hill that led to the Golden Gate when Stanley said, "Thanks for taking me. I'd have been a mess by myself."

For an answer, Tom took the cut-off that led to the parking area at the end of the bridge. Posted signs warned that the area was closed after dark but Tom parked along the drive and put the SFPD sign in the window in case any highway patrol came along.

"Come on," he said to a surprised Stanley. "This is where I come when things are bugging me."

They walked out onto the bridge and paused by the railing. Tom took a joint out of his pocket, lit it, puffed and handed it to Stanley. Stanley hesitated for a moment. He rarely smoked. It tended to make him silly.

Tom was watching him, though—weighing him, it looked like. Stanley took the joint, sucked in a big lungful of smoke, let it out slowly. Tom grunted. Stanley was glad after all that he had joined in. It was like they were bonding. The way cops did in the movies and books.

It was the hour between night and dawn. Even now, the lights of the city were still bright, sparkling on the ripples of the bay. Far below, black against black, a ship slid slowly under the bridge. A faint breeze blew saltwater breath in their faces. The sky above was washed clean, one huge cloud looking so full a pin might burst it, and a faint ghost of a moon still hovering overhead, pale, like silver that has been polished until it is worn thin.

"'A little silver slipper of a moon'," Stanley said.


"Oh, just a line from a play."

Tom looked searchingly at him. "You really like all that stuff, don't you?"


"Plays, poetry—I'll bet you like to hang out at art galleries."

"As a matter of fact, I do." Stanley's smile was a little embarrassed. "Too fruity for you, I guess."

They passed the joint back and forth. Tom considered Stanley's remark for a moment. "No," he said finally, actually looking up at the moon. "I don't know any of that shit. I'm just a dumb cop. It's kind of nice, to tell you the truth, knowing someone who does. I guess I could learn stuff from you."

"You're not dumb," Stanley said. Tom only grunted again.

The sun was almost up now, hurrying before the night changed its mind, the gray sky enameled with streaks of bronze and amber, the famous skyline silhouetted against them. The ocean was dark gray and green, like the verdigris one sees on old brass, and the headlands in the distance were smoke purple, flecked here and there with a dusty gold, as if a painter had just daubed at them with his brush. There were those little flecks of gold everywhere, really—gold gray, gold green, gold purple. A pair of early rising gulls called to one another, celebrating the day to come, or maybe jeering their layabed cousins.

Stanley had seen all this many times, but never before at this time, at this late night, early morning hour and not from the bridge. It was a spectacular sight. "It's beautiful," he said.

"I never get tired of it." Tom flicked the roach over the railing, a wink of red as it disappeared. He did the one-handed thing with a stick of gum. "The bridge, the hills, all of it. I come here when I need to quiet my mind down. I guess it's my kind of poetry."

Headlights brushed over them. A lone car, its windows down, went by headed for Marin, leaving little ribbons of Pretty Woman in its wake

Stanley glanced at Tom then, and he had a sudden, almost frightened realization of Tom's beauty. Oh, he'd known all along that he was good looking, sexy, hot—he just had not until now thought of the word "beauty" in connection with him.

But he was, though, as beautiful as any museum statue or great painting. Not just handsome, which all at once Stanley found too inadequate a word for that dark nest of curls that was his hair, for those brown eyes that glinted sometimes with gold and could turn as dark as thunderclouds in an instant; for the full lipped mouth—how he had loved kissing that, more than he would have dared admit—and the high cheekbones as if carved of marble. He felt his knees grow weak, and was unaware that he was staring until Tom glanced back at him, his expression puzzled.

"What?" he said, chewing.

Stanley felt something inside himself stir. He wanted to fling his arms about Tom, but he knew that he did not dare. He was afraid to speak, even, to shatter the spell. He took a tiny step closer, not quite close enough to touch, but close enough that he was sure he could feel the warmth of Tom's body. It made his breath quicken, and he had to cough into his hand to disguise his arousal.

He opened his mouth, fully meaning to say, "I love you."

What came out instead was, "I saw a flying saucer once. When I was twelve."
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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Academician excerpt by Edward C Patterson

"A bigger fool the world has never known than I - a coarse fellow with no business to clutch a brush and scribble. I only know the scrawl, because my master took pleasure in teaching me between my chores. Not many men are so cursed . . ." Thus begins the tale of Li K'ai-men as told by his faithful, but mischievous servant, K'u Ko-ling - a tale of 12th Century China, where state service meant a life long journey across a landscape of turmoil and bliss. A tale of sacrifice, love, war and duty - a fragile balance between rituals and passions. Here begins the legacy of the Jade Owl and its custodian as he holds true to his warrants. The Academician by Edward C Patterson is the first of four books in the Southern Swallow series, capturing the turbulence of the Sung Dynasty in transition. Spanning the silvery days under the Emperor Hui to the disasters that followed, The Academician is a slice of world events that should never have been forgotten.

The Academician
CreateSpace (March 4, 2009)
ISBN-10: 144149975X
ISBN-13: 978-1441499752


Chapter One

The Corpse of Pao Chin


A bigger fool the world has never known than I — a coarse fellow with no business to clutch a brush and scribble. I only know the scrawl, because my master took pleasure in teaching me between my chores. Not many men are so cursed by a scholar and saddled with the baggage of literary aspirations. Still, what I know, I know. What I have seen, I have seen; so what I scrawl is no more than a witness and a guess on how things grew along my path, which was his path after all. Now that he raises his spectral cup in the Dragon’s Pool with the Other, I can do little but sit on the riverbank, boiling the fish soft for my toothless repast and serve destiny with these recollections. Better men have managed it, so I am doomed to failure. So we begin with a flourish of the brush — with a big Nan and a giant Ya, my master’s pen name — Southern Swallow. Then, we commence with . . . an ending. In fact, without an ending, this story could not begin; and it began at Su-chou inside the Superintendent’s official residence.


A gadfly buzzed in the courtyard watching the Superintendent work. The place seemed deserted. While the city market hummed just over the Ya-men wall, the great official appeared engrossed in his industry — perusing memorials destined for his superior in Yang-chou, a critical eye, who examined every character for proper usage. Perusing every document, from petty requisition to execution warrants, served the Superintendent’s best interest, although the gadfly buzzed.

Xin Ch’u, the chief clerk of the Ya-men, took his ease in the doorway behind the sandalwood screen. It was stifling indoors, yet he knew that to make his presence known to the Superintendent would immediately enlist his aid on the papers at hand. It was better to stall here in semi-shade and watch the official toil. There would be plenty of tasks for Xin Ch’u’s staff, but why suffer the imposition now? Xin Ch’u’s several chins ran wet. His fan gave him scant relief. As he watched, he saw an inviting bowl of wine on the Superintendent’s desk. It would be tepid, and might even heat his blood, but Xin Ch’u longed for it. His own larder was far off, at least a quarter hour’s walk, so Xin Ch’u hoped that if he presented himself before his liege-lord that he could avert the tasks if not preempting some of the glorious wine. He fluttered his robes, airing his soaked vestment, and then prepared to enter the courtyard like a man lost in the summer heat.

Then, he heard the gadfly. So did the Superintendent, who gazed up from the scrolls. His brush outlined the fly’s trajectory as it buzzed about the desk, landing on the ink block. Xin Ch’u halted, still unseen by his lord. The Superintendent fluttered his hand across the block, his fingers flicking the air. He did this three times, and then rose slightly from his chair. He grasped his chest. He choked, and then sprawled across the desk. A slight man, he brought no harm to the desk.

Xin Ch’u observed these things calmly. He pressed forward slightly until he heard the gadfly’s buzz. It hovered over the Superintendent for a short spell before nestling in his ear, perhaps to sing a last song for His Excellency. A slight smile blossomed on Xin Ch’u’s lips. He walked around the desk, scanning the man and his workload. There was little doubt of the condition, but still if a mirror could be clouded, the guards must be summoned — the doctor would be fetched and the courtyard would fill with a plethora of assorted busybodies, all seeking news and . . . well, the spoils of death. That wouldn’t do, not for Xin Ch’u. He sneered at the Superintendent’s helpless form, and waited for a last ditched burble or fart. None came, so the chief clerk reached down for the glorious wine and drank the bowl dry.

“Dead,” Xin Ch’u said. “What a bother. Another one dead.” He looked about for more wine, but saw none. “At least this one has not left posterity to complicate things.”

Xin Ch’u was a hefty man— quite able to lift the Superintendent from the desk and carry him to a more dignified locale. However, the chief clerk’s instincts were focused on the importance of him being in charge. He poked around the table for various small riches — an ink plate, a fine brush and a lovely vermilion sealing pot. These quickly vanished beneath Xin Ch’u’s robes. He continued to probe, even to the Superintendent’s hair comb, when suddenly he spied something shiny. A silver ring on the dead man’s middle finger just beneath the gadfly that had rested on the knuckles and sucked on death. The ring was simply set with an emerald at its crest. It was a handsome reward for the clerk. A few twists and Xin Ch’u pulled the signet over the Superintendent’s long fingernails. It was heavy in the hand, much heavier than it appeared on the finger. The clerk slipped it on, and then quickly cast a glance about the courtyard assuring that no one watched. Safe. Xin Ch’u raised his hand to the fading light.

“Brilliant,” he said. He sneered, gazing down at the man who was his overlord. “More brilliant than you were, Pao Chin. This is my reward for diligence. I had forgotten that you had such a treasure.” He had spied it once at court, but mostly it hid under robe sleeves, or bent to the angle of the brush. Xin Ch’u raised it higher. “Now, as I look at it in a better light and on a better finger, I will not think much of you, Pao Chin.” I do not think anyone will ever think much of this man, he thought. The Superintendent had been grafted on the scene. Everyone knew that the clerks ran the Ya-men, and everyone recognized that Xin Ch’u ran the clerks.

Someone was coming. Xin Ch’u slipped the ring from his finger and into the larder hidden beneath his robes. He assumed a pose of alarm. Less so when he saw it was his lieutenant, Mao Fei. Mao squinted as the sun’s Western decline now cut across the courtyard. He shaded his eyes, sniffing like a dog. He walked like a scarecrow if a scarecrow could walk.

“Xin Ch’u, is there anything amiss?”

Xin Ch’u sighed. “Nothing is amiss, Mao Fei. Pao Chin is dead, that is all.”

“The superintendent is dead?”

“Dead,” said the chief clerk.

Mao Fei circled the body. He prodded it with his fan as if he were waking the man from a late afternoon snooze. When Pao Chin failed to arise and dance the harvest fling, Mao Fei smiled. He may have even given a chuckle, but it was hard to tell with the man. He was as creaky as a hinge. “This is most inconvenient,” Mao Fei said. “Most inconvenient, indeed. But are you sure he’s dead?” He prodded some more, but was really looking for loot. His pouty, thin lips showed disappointment. He probably knew that if he had come upon Pao Chin as he collapsed over the desk, he would be more the richer and Xin Ch’u as barren as Mao-tien’s old ox.

“Most assuredly,” Xin Ch’u confirmed. “Pao Chin is dead.”

Mao Fei blinked. “But how did it happen?” He peered under the table. “Did he perform the death ritual?”

“Do you see any blood?”


“He was working, as he always has, and then there was a . . . gadfly.”

“Gadfly? He was killed by a gadfly?”

“I suppose so. I mean, he waved it away and must have strained his ch’i, because he just slumped across the desk.”

“And the fly?”

“Survived. I saw it on his . . . well, I saw it.”

“You let it live?”

Xin Ch’u shrugged. “I have done many things in service to this Ya-men. I shall not become the minister of fly swatting.”

He thought on this for a moment, and then began to chuckle, his chins shimmering in the golden light of sunset. Mao Fei cackled. It was a rare moment in the comraderie of these men. They had served in many capacities in this place — served many lords, but never considered being on insect patrol, until now. Alas, too late, because Pao Chin was dead.


Pao Chin is dead. Or I should say, was dead. Well, that would mean he is alive, but he is dead. I can most assuredly state that case. Pao Chin died and that is a good thing for this story, because without his death, my master would not have taken his place as the Superintendent of Su-chou. Timing is everything, or so I have been taught through this fateful existence I lead. With death comes vacancy. Vacancies must be filled — opportunities gained.

My master, the revered scholar Li K’ai-men, had just passed the regional examinations for office. He had attained the highest possible grade, a distinction aided with much vigilance by your humble servant, who filled his soup bowl and empty his piss pot during the interminable days he was pocketed in the examination cubby. But he did well. More than well. First place. He was marked to receive an immediate post, a position sufficiently grand for such an achievement. So Pao Chin’s end became . . . Li K’ai-men’s beginning.

I was a young pup then, attending my master’s every whim. What did I know? I, K’u Ko-ling, son of K’u Fei, a lowly son of the soil from Gui-lin. All I knew was what my master taught me. He showed me how to mix the ink, to prepare the brushes, to boil the soup, to pay the whoremistress, and . . . and I loved to spy on that. I could tell you much, and probably will, but everything in its time and place. Little did I know how much I would learn in service to a great scholar and a man of high governmental rank. I probably learned more than half of the piss-ant bumblefuck sons of scribblers that roam the land from town to town with petty services and warrants. I had warrants of my own. But all in time. Everything to its time and place.

My master, Li K’ai-men, was to be the Superintendent of Su-chou. What an honor that was. He would rule over an important district. First appointments are usually a shit-hole in An-hui or a cold, ball-chilling hut on the Yen border, but not for my master. He drew the bastard plum — Su-chou.
I think that Pao Chin’s death was for the best. The gods were good that day. I did not know the man, nor would he have known me. Yet, I feel so intimately grateful to him for passing on to his ancestors that I could swell with joy when I think of his life, long and healthy, fat and greasy, sated and mated until the end. Never was there such a well deserved or well timed
death as his.
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Monday, April 6, 2009

BASHED: A Love Story excerpt by Rick R Reed

Three haters. Two lovers. And a collision course with tragedy.

When Donald and Mark left the Brig that October night, they had no idea their lives and love were about to be shattered by fag bashers, intent on pain, and armed with ridicule, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat.

The cowardly hate crime leaves one half of a couple alone and haunted—literally and figuratively—by the memories and denied promise of new love.

BASHED, by Rick R Reed, charts the course of a journey from grief to hope, from death to life, and from hate to redemption. Come along on a trip that encompasses suspense, horror, and—ultimately—romance.

BASHED: A Love Story
Publisher: MLR Press (Mar 26, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-028-3(print)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-029-0(ebook)


The night had turned cold while they were in the Brig, one of Chicago's oldest and most infamous leather establishments. A strong wind out of the north had blown away the cloud cover that allowed the city of Chicago to retain a little Indian summer heat this late October night. With the wind, the temperature had plunged nearly twenty degrees, from a relatively balmy 62, down to the low forties. But the wind had also revealed a sprinkling of stars, visible even with the ambient light from downtown. And the moon had emerged, almost full, lending a silvery cast to North Clark Street.

Donald wrapped his arms around Mark as they headed south on Clark, toward the side street where they had left their car. Even with his chaps, biker jacket, and boots, Donald felt the chill bite into him, vicious. He couldn't imagine how Mark was faring, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans. He'd get his boy into leather one of these days! It was just past three a.m. and the far north side neighborhood called Andersonville, once the province of Swedes and working class folk, and now the home of yuppies and gays, was quiet. A lone taxi headed north up Clark, looking for fares. Someone even unsteadier on his feet came out of the adult bookstore ahead of them, blinking rapidly, and looking around, perhaps for more excitement than he had found in the bookstore. Donald thought that once upon a time, he could have been the sad, singular man emerging from an adult bookstore while the rest of the world slept, but things had changed since he had met Mark six months ago.

"I feel almost-almost-like we're the only two people on earth," Donald said to Mark, pulling him in close for a sloppy, beery kiss. When he pulled his mouth away, he flashed the crooked grin he knew entranced his boyfriend, and completed the thought with: "And that's fine by me."

Mark grinned back, then rubbed his upper arms. "It's not fine by me. Not when it's this frickin' cold! Let's get home!"

They wrapped their arms around each other to ward off the cold, much as they had done the night they had met, back in March, in the same leather bar. And once again, they were just a bit boozy and flushed with need for each other. Tonight, the weather outside may not have been as frigidly cold as it had been last winter, when they had first laid eyes upon each another, but the heat and electricity passing between them was still burning as brightly as that very first night.

Donald stopped again in the middle of the sidewalk, pulling Mark close and planting a kiss on his cheek. There was no one around and in this neighborhood, such displays really were nothing to worry about, Donald thought. Hell, most anyone they encountered would either be sympathetic or jealous. He nipped at Mark's earlobe and whispered, "I love you, you know that?" He paused to breathe in Mark's scent and to nuzzle his nose in Mark's blond curls.

And Mark stopped, right there in the middle of Clark Street, on an early Sunday morning, and placed his hands on Donald's shoulders, so he would stop walking and so he could look right back into Mark's penetrating stare. "And I love you, Donald." He gave a small grin and looked down at the ground for just a second, almost as if he was embarrassed and then said, "And I always will. This is a forever thing."

Donald felt a rush of warmth go through him at the exact same moment a harsh wind, full of chill and with the smell of dark water, glided east from over Lake Michigan. He pulled Mark close and kissed him full on the mouth, his tongue lifting Mark's and doing a little duel with it. Neither of them closed their eyes, preferring instead to stare into each other's rapt gazes. Just as they were breaking apart, they stiffened as the roar of a souped-up engine shattered the still of the night. The backfire issuing forth from the car's muffler made both men jump. They gave each other a quick glance, then laughed.

The car, an old maroon Duster that had been tricked out beyond good sense, taste, or fiscal responsibility, slowed across from the pair. Three shadowy figures moved inside. One of them rolled down a window and a young male face, pale and marred by acne, in the moon's light, emerged making a kissing sound, exaggerated and prolonged. Donald heard the other guys in the car laughing. He stiffened and felt a trickle of sweat roll into the small of his back, in spite of the chill in the air.

Just as suddenly as they had arrived, they roared off, leaving them in a wake of sour-smelling exhaust. But they did not leave without casting a parting shot out the window: "Fucking faggots!"

Donald shook his head, glancing over at Mark, whose young face was creased with worry. "Don't let shit like that get to you. They're idiots. And chicken's pretty easy to call names at people from a speeding car." The pair continued south. Up ahead, they needed to turn and head east to make their way to the little side street where they had parked Donald's Prius. The street could usually be counted on for a spot, even on a busy Saturday night. Donald thought that it was more the fact that the street was hard to get to than the fact that it ran along the northern border of St. Boniface Cemetery that made it such a good parking bet.

"I know. They're just a bunch of assholes," Mark said as they continued east. Donald could feel the defeat and fear in his voice. He hoped the hotrod homophobes hadn't broken the spell of their night. Because Mark was much younger, he hadn't been exposed to some of the same ridicule and taunting Donald had, growing up in the late sixties and seventies.

Donald bit his lower lip, suddenly feeling all the shame and embarrassment he had once associated with being gay rise up again. It never really disappears, does it? His face felt flushed and a curious mixture of emotions warred within him. First, there was the shame, which he chastised himself for, but still couldn't stop the little inner voice that scolded him for the public displays of affection, even on an early Sunday morning and in a part of town that was very gay. Second, there was a more recent, more reasonable voice that was enraged, and asked, "How dare they?" This voice was ready to chase after the speeding car, shouting epithets right back at the cowards who hid behind the car's macho posturing and tinted glass. And the final voice, the other half of the fight or flee duo, just wanted to grab Mark's hand and run back to the car, jump inside, and make sure all the doors were locked before roaring off into the night themselves. Thank God they had a secure garage to park in at home.

"Yeah...assholes," Donald whispered, then spoke up, "I need to be getting you home, young man, it's way past your bedtime." Donald quickened his pace so that Mark would match his step and tried not to let the name-calling weigh too heavily on the evening. He was pissed about how a mood could be so easily shattered, especially by some more-than-likely suburban rubes that were not entitled to it. Fuck them! He wished he could make the mood come back, but not now, not with the "fucking faggots" still ringing fresh in his ears.

Maybe when they got home, Donald could put things to right. No maybe about it! He would light candles, open a bottle of wine, put on some trance music and urge Mark over to the couch. He would undress him slowly, gliding his strong hands over every inch of Mark's silky skin as he exposed it. He could already taste Mark's lips and the clean heat of his mouth.

They were almost to their car when they both tensed, slowing, as they heard the growling muffler of a car behind them. Donald closed his eyes, thinking, Oh God, please not again. Not them. They both stopped for just an instant. Donald didn't have to look back to know who was in the loudly idling car behind them. His heart began to thud in his chest and he resisted an impulse to simply grab Mark's hand and run the three or four feet it would take them to get to the car. But such a sissy maneuver was probably just the kind of thing those assholes would take particular delight in seeing. And the hot pursuit of a couple of scared queers would be the perfect capper to a boring night.

Donald spoke quietly, out of the corner of his mouth. "Let's just walk to the car. Don't look back. Don't even give them the satisfaction we're aware of them. We both know who it is. But to look back will just open the door to more shit."

Mark kept apace. "Right." His voice was clipped and Donald could pick up on the fear and tension in it.

Behind them, they heard the kissing sound again, over the beat of some heavy metal music, the bass throbbing hard enough to shake the car's frame. "Hey boys!" a falsetto voice, mocking, rang out through the autumn night. Donald wanted to freeze in his spot and could tell Mark did, too, by the way he tensed, unmoving. But Donald had enough presence of mind to keep moving forward, slowly, cautiously, the way one would back away from a lion about to pounce. No sudden moves. No eye contact. Donald had to remind himself to breathe.

A wolf whistle cut through the night air. "Hey if you guys are gonna suck some dick tonight, can we get in on the action?" The car's passengers erupted with laughter.

Donald dug in his tight-fitting Levis for his keys. His hand was trembling. His stomach was churning. He wished they had left much earlier. He wished they had parked on busier, more brightly-lit Clark Street. He wished they had taken a cab. He wished he had left his leather gear at home, just for tonight. He managed to grasp the keys just as they arrived at the car. Mark hurried around to the passenger side. When Donald met Mark's gaze, he saw that the younger man's eyes were bright with fear. He mouthed the word, "Hurry" to Donald.

The sound of car doors slamming behind them made Donald's hands shake so badly, he dropped the keys into the gravel by the side of the road. "Fuck," he whispered. They were off busy Clark now, and the side street was dark. Empty. He couldn't see where the keys had fallen. He could see where they should logically be, but of course, that's not where they were.

Mark said, in a tense voice, "Hurry up, Donald."

Donald didn't have to look behind him to know that the car's occupants were no longer in the Duster and were getting closer. Each slam of a car door caused his heart to beat a little faster, his breath to quicken.

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