Monday, December 27, 2010

Butterfly's Child excerpt by Alan Chin

Alan Chin wrote about Butterfly's Child that, "A few years ago, while there was considerable controversy about gay couples adopting children in some southern states, I decided I needed to write something regarding gay-parented families. I wanted to make a statement that traditional, straight parents did not necessarily provide a better environment for children, and that gay couples could provide a stable, loving atmosphere where kids could flourish. This is a story I slowly, but assuredly fell in love with through the telling – mostly because of the kids."

While back in the West to attend his grandmother’s funeral, Cord Bridger uncovers two shocking revelations: his grandmother had a lesbian lover named Juanita, and he has a teenaged son named Kalin. Fate brings all three together, but to preserve his new family, Cord must leave his safe life in New York City behind to carve a living from the harsh ranch lands of Nevada.

To forge a life with Juanita and Kalin, Cord must first discover the dark secret burning a hole in Kalin’s heart. With the help of Tomeo, a handsome Japanese veterinarian, Cord travels a gut-wrenching road of triumphs and tragedies to insure his son will survive the sinister violence of his past. But as Tomeo becomes more than just a helpful friend to Cord, a new set of problems arise between Cord and Kalin that may threaten the happiness of them all.

Butterfly’s Child
Dreamspinner Press (December 3, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1615816585 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-1615816583
ASIN: B004EYT31A (ebook)


Jem sat on the edge of his bed wearing only his jockey shorts. He scrutinized Kalin, his older brother, who stood naked before a mirror hanging on the door, teasing his hair into spikes with a can of hairspray. The door, like everything in the mobile home, was made of aluminum and particleboard covered with a plastic veneer made to look like wood.

The window in their bedroom faced east and looked out onto the crooked rows of dusty trailers and a sprinkling of cactus in the OK Corral trailer park. The Nevada desert sun streamed through the red curtains, staining Jem’s jockey shorts a dried-blood color.

The cool thing about living in this choky trailer, Jem thought, was that he slept in the same bed with Kalin. Since moving here three weeks ago, he woke every morning to the feel of warm breath curling on the back of his neck and silky skin cocooning the length of his body. He would snuggle into his brother until Kalin woke and went to pee. That one advantage made coming here the best thing that had ever happened to him, and worth everything that came before.

When they’d lived in LA with Jack, who was Jem’s father but not Kalin’s, they’d had bunk beds. Jem slept on the top bunk, but on the nights his mother worked the late shift, Kalin made him sleep on the floor under his brother’s bed. Jem thought about those steamy nights he lay pressed to the floorboards, when the door would creak open and his father’s voice would cut through the darkness. He shut off the thought as a gust of wind rocked the trailer, hissing through tiny gaps in the aluminum window frame.

Jem studied his brother’s body, checking for any new changes that might have developed since yesterday. Amazingly enough, it did seem to alter day by day, sprouting taller while the outlines of his muscles became more defined. He had that pinched look, especially around the forehead, of a boy who had grown a great deal in a short time.

Kalin looked nothing like Jem or their mother. Lean as a broom handle, he had piercing blue eyes and hair so black it shone blue, like a raven’s wing in strong sunlight. Both Jem’s and their mother’s faces were soft and oval, with hair and eyes the color of the Jack Daniels she kept in the cupboard.

Jem winced as he zeroed in on the welts laid across his brother’s back, butt, and thighs. That was the worst part about moving here: Mr. Rickard, the school principal, had whipped his brother twice. Schools here had a different way of dealing with troublemakers, and although Kalin denied any wrongdoing, he had somehow gotten on the mean side of Mr. Rickard, as if Rickard had hated him even before they’d met.

The sparse patch of hair above Kalin’s penis seemed thicker than a week ago, as did the hair in his armpits. Jem’s mother had long ago told him that dirt particles got under the skin and became hair follicles, so when he was in the tub he needed to scrub everywhere or else he’d end up looking like his father, whose body resembled a gorilla. Kalin showered daily, but he obviously missed those three areas. It’s the shower. That never happened in LA when we took baths.

That was the other bad thing: this crummy trailer was too small to have a bathtub. He missed the fun of them bathing together.

Sounds sifted through the wall separating their bedroom from the bathroom—water splashed in the sink, the cabinet door squeaked, the whir of the hairdryer. He knew his mother would soon be ready.

Over those sounds, he heard a dog bark from three trailers away, the yappy one with camel-colored hair and a pug nose. Jem wished for the millionth time his mother would let him have a puppy, a Chocolate Labrador, maybe, or an Airedale. Something to keep him company while she worked and Kalin attended school. Her latest excuse was he would start kindergarten in the fall, after a one-year delay, and who would care for the dog while he was in class?

Jem eyed the welts on his brother’s butt again and hoped he could somehow avoid school altogether. His act had so far convinced his mother to keep him home. But now that he had turned seven the county authorities insisted he attend school, act or no act.

He tried not to stare, but his brother was eight years older, and Kalin had the added prestige of having played Little League. At least he did before they moved here.

Another sound floated across the mile of desert separating them from the highway—the throaty roar of eighteen-wheelers. They never seemed to stop in this town, the trucks or the cars, not for gas or a burger or any other damned thing. No one gave a lick about this dusty, nothing town.

Kalin caught him watching. They stared eye to eye via the reflection in the mirror. Kalin hesitated, offered a wan smile. A heartbeat later came the moment when Kalin could no longer look him in the eye. Kalin stepped to the dresser and slid open a drawer.

A bleached cow skull they had found by the highway stood on the dresser. Kalin had his stash of cigarettes hidden inside the skull. He had been smoking for three years, pilfering his mother’s Pall Malls at the rate of two or three per day. Above the skull, tacked to the wall beside Kalin’s Che Guevara poster, were five hawk feathers fanning out in a circle.

Kalin stepped into a pair of jockey shorts and tugged a T-shirt over his narrow shoulders. He tossed a white T-shirt to Jem.

Using grunts, squeaks, hand signs, and facial expressions—the language he and Kalin had created in LA—Jem told his brother he wanted the Luke Skywalker T-shirt.

Kalin tossed it to him. “Use real words when it’s only you and me, little brother. Save your act for the grownups.”

“Real words ain’t as much fun.”

“And don’t pick your nose.”

“But it’s clogged up.”

“Here’s a handkerchief, blow,” Kalin said.

“Pickin’s easier.”

“I don’t want no damned nosepick for a brother.”

“Well, I don’t want no bedwet for a brother.”

“Shut up,” Kalin said. “I’ve only done it once since we came here.” Kalin shoved Jem, the way boys roughhouse.

“I don’t mind,” Jem said while fighting back as best he could.

Kalin held his handkerchief under Jem’s nose for him to blow, then ran his fingers through Jem’s hair and rubbed.

The bathroom door creaked. Their mother’s voice filtered through the particleboard, telling them to hurry.

Jem heard the excited tones in her voice and her quick steps to the kitchen. She was all wound up, the way she got around any new man. He knew she expected Kalin’s father to attend the funeral.

“You think she’ll wear her red dress that shows off her titties?” Jem asked.

“No, little brother. Everybody wears black to a funeral.”


“To show how sad you feel.”

“I’m not sad. She was mean!”

“I know, little brother. But because she was my great-grandma, I gotta look all torn up, even if she didn’t like us. So we wear our Sunday clothes and act real sad.”

That’s good, Jem thought. If she can’t show off her titties then maybe we’re safe. No titties means no man coming to live with us. We can stay in this choky shoebox with its flimsy walls and fake wood, buried in this dusty, nothing town. Safe. If only I had a puppy.

Kalin pulled their white dress shirts and gray corduroy suits from the closet and laid them on the bed, then the white socks and sneakers from the chest of drawers.

“So what will she wear?”

“Her dark gray dress that shows off her butt.”

They both snickered as they dressed.

“Is your daddy gonna be there?” Jem said.

“Who knows. I don’t care either way.”

“You don’t want to see him?”

“No, little brother. He’s just another dickwad who didn’t stick around.”

“Tomeo ain’t no dickwad,” Jem mumbled. “I want him to marry Mama so he’ll be our daddy.”

“You’re so clueless. Tomeo isn’t the kind of man who marries women.”

“Because he’s too nice?”

“No, little brother. Because he likes dick.”

“Dick who?”

“Like I said, clueless.”

Jem only remembered living with his father at the apartment in East LA, but he knew that before he was born, his mother and Kalin lived in another trailer with Tony (the construction worker who put her in the hospital four times), and before that was Luke (who weighed over three hundred pounds because he drank two six packs of beer every night), and before that was Bob (who was now in jail for writing bad checks). There were others before them, but Kalin never talked about them because he was too young to know much. Kalin told him once that their mother was like a puppy who followed any swinging dick that strolled by.

“You think he’ll come live with us?” Jem couldn’t keep the fear out of his voice.

Kalin sat on the bed, slid his arm across Jem’s shoulder, and pulled him close.

“Don’t worry, little brother,” he whispered. “I’ll protect you. If he treats us bad, I’ll wait until he falls asleep and beat the piss out of him with my baseball bat.”


Kalin nodded, saying to hurry and dress. The tone in his voice made Jem think he was fibbing about not wanting to see his father, but he liked the idea of Kalin protecting him with his bat. If Southern California’s Little League had kept records, Jem had no doubt that Kalin would hold the all-time title for strikeouts. That was because Kalin swung the bat as hard and fast as he could at every ball.

Jem shimmied into his Star Wars T-shirt, reached up and ran the flat of his hand over the Luke Skywalker picture. The fabric’s coolness felt good, and Luke made him feel powerful. He often dreamed of running away to find new friends who’d teach him the Jedi way. Then he could battle his corrupt father and the evil empire. Kalin could be his R2D2. Yes, he knew that within his chest beat the heart of a Jedi. It was his most closely held secret. But he also knew Kalin wouldn’t go with him. Too old for Star Wars, Kalin was into Che Guevara and envisioned himself riding a motorcycle cross-country, overthrowing governments and being a hero. Every since Kalin had seen The Motorcycle Diaries, he had dreamed of being Che with the same fervor with which Jem longed to be Luke.

Jem slid into his dress shirt and buttoned it up. It smelled like the thrift shop they’d bought it in, mothballs and mildew. The corduroy pants and jacket had the same faint odor, but he liked the way the fabric felt against his palm.

Kalin laced up Jem’s sneakers, though Jem knew how to do it himself, and ran a comb through his hair, parting the long strands on one side to sweep across his forehead.

“Kalin, Jem,” their mother called.

Jem glanced in the mirror before opening the door. But rather than checking the way he looked, he sneaked a peek at Kalin, who looked defiant in his thrift store suit and clip-on tie. But what Jem zeroed in on was the unmistakable excitement in those blue eyes. He scanned the room in the glass, their cozy fake-wood hideaway, then summoned up his resolve, as if he were about to plunge into icy water. He opened the door and hurried down the narrow hallway.

Jem loved his mother, but he didn’t trust her. He trusted no one but Kalin. No, perhaps Tomeo, too, although I don’t know Tomeo very well yet. He could be cheerful with his mother, but he would assume his usual manner, his act.

His mother sat at the table while she sipped at a cup of instant coffee and smoked a cigarette. “Good morning, little man. Don’t you look grown-up in your suit and tie. You both do. I’m so proud of you.” She drew on her cigarette and blew smoke toward the open doorway.

The room was stuffy with smoke. Jem noticed the spicy odor of marijuana lingering in the air. He also saw the shine in his mother’s eyes. It was okay, he thought, she only smoked when things got too nervous. Like the whiskey in the cupboard, she only took a little at a time to smooth things out. At least he’d never seen her in a sloppy condition.

As Kalin had predicted, she wore her dark gray dress that showed off her fanny. It also showed the bulge in her belly, and her long sleeves hid the needle marks on her forearms. Her hands and wrists showed, thin and elegant, with long tapered fingers and glossy nails. Her hair was pulled back and tied in a ponytail, accentuating her thin face, so thin she looked like Tomeo. In fact, if she had his slanted eyes, they could be brother and sister.

Her makeup was no heavier than usual, enough to hide the yellow bruises under her left eye that his father, Jack, had laid on her the night they left LA, and her smile seemed genuine for the first time since moving here. Jem had always thought she looked prettiest when she wore jeans, her pink polo shirt, and no makeup. Then she looked like a young mother. Her made-up look was not so nice.

She wore her good necklace and rings, not the phony Indian jewelry she made to sell to the tourist shops in Reno.

“Hurry and eat, boys. Tomeo will be here any minute.”

The refrigerator hummed. A fly thumped at the windowpane over the sink. The ash on her Pall Mall was about to fall, and Jem couldn’t keep from staring, waiting to see it break off and fall on the table, or the floor, or her lap. She never flicked her ashes into an ashtray; she let it burn down to the point it fell on its own. Then she would brush the smudge onto the floor from whatever surface it landed on.

Jem filled his bowl with cornflakes, scooped three spoonfuls of sugar onto the flakes, and then poured enough milk to cover it all. He dug in while Kalin filled his own bowl. Kalin didn’t use sugar or milk; he ate the flakes dry and then washed them down with a glass of milk.

“Now I want you boys to make me proud today,” she said. She ran her hand through Jem’s hair, and her smile widened. “No fighting and no tantrums. You hear me?”

They ignored her.

“Kalin, I want you to keep Jem under control. People don’t understand that he’s autistic, so don’t let him act up.”

“Ma,” Kalin said. “I keep telling you, he ain’t autistic. He just don’t trust people.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t he trust me? I’m his mother, for God sake. So you keep an eye on him.” She shook a finger at Kalin. “And if your daddy is there, you be respectful.”

Through the open doorway Jem heard the crunch of tires stopping on gravel.

“You promise me?” she said.

Kalin nodded.

“Jem,” she said. “I can see Luke Skywalker through your dress shirt. Go and change, sweetheart.”

He ignored her.

“Tell you what. If you change your T-shirt, I’ll ask Tomeo to stop and get a pizza after the service, and we can rent a video.”

He ignored her, still. He could feel her stiffen as she reached for the ashtray and stubbed out her Pall Mall. He expected her to yell or slam her fist on the tabletop. Because she was pregnant, Tomeo had explained, she was allowed these flare-ups. Both boys had to allow her, for now, to grow furious over nothing. It was a woman thing, he said.

To Jem’s surprise, she reached over and picked up a dry wishbone sitting on the counter, one from the KFC dinner they ate two nights ago. She held it out so that both boys could pinch a side, and told them to make a wish.

Jem closed his eyes and wished that they would make Tomeo their father and live in his apartment overlooking Main Street. He felt pressure on the bone. He opened his eyes and pulled. The bone bent and bent, then snapped, with Jem holding the larger piece. He cocked his head toward the open doorway and smiled while he waited to see Tomeo’s face.

His mother asked what he wished for as she lit another Pall Mall.

Using their secret language, he told Kalin he wished Tomeo would be their father. Kalin nodded in such a way that Jem knew he had wished for the same thing.

Kalin reached over and ruffled his hair.

“A puppy,” Kalin said. “He wished for a puppy.”
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Monday, December 20, 2010

The House in Birdgate Alley excerpt by Anel Viz

The novella The House in Birdgate Alley by Anel Viz is set in London, 1889. Dr. John Williams suspects somebody has been blackmailing one of his patients, Sir Hugh Cockburn. The same day, the body of a young man is found floating in the Thames. Mere coincidence, or is there a connection? Williams’ eccentric cousin, Cyril Fosterby, turns his mind to unraveling the mystery.

The House in Birdgate Alley
Silver Publishing (December 4, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-920468-51-4

Excerpt from chapter 6
[The Situation: The victim having been identified as a male prostitute, Fosterby enlists Johnny Rice, who works out of the same brothel as the murdered man, to help find the killer. In this scene, Dr. Williams questions Johnny about his homosexuality.]

“Ever since I can remember I always been attracted to gents.”

“Don’t you think girls are pretty?”

“Very pretty, some of ’em are. They just don’t do nothin’ fer me.”

“You’ve never…?”

“Never. An’ I ’ope I never do. Now, the gents, I can’t get enough o’ them. Whatta yer ’ave t’ say to that? I mean, as a medical man.”

“That something must have gone wrong with your upbringing, because it simply isn’t natural to feel the way you do. But as a friend, I’d say that you’re well suited to your line of work.”

Johnny laughed. “That I am!”

“Now, shall we leave it at that? This is not something that interests me.”

“Not even as a man o’ science?”

“Not even as a man of science. Scientific opinion is unanimous on the subject, so the matter is settled. I see no reason to delve into it further.”

“Mr. Fosterby, now, ’e delves into ev’rythin’.”

“Did he question you on the matter, Johnny?”

“’E did… a little. To ’elp ’im form an opinion about Sir Hugh an’ Nelly.”

“And what did he have to say?”

“’E didn’t. ’E listened. Would yer care t’ ’ear what I told ’im?”

“I. Would. Not.”

His spirits appeared to have sunk back to the level they were at when he’d arrived. “What is it, Johnny?” I asked kindly.

“Nothin’. It’s just… Yer know, it ain’t easy bein’ the way I am.”

“I don’t imagine it is.”

“I used to ’ate meself fer it. Still do sometimes. D’ yer think I’m wicked, Dr. Williams?”

“We all have our imperfections, Johnny. I’m not about to condemn a man for where he places his affections. A thief or a murderer, now, that’s different. Dishonesty of any sort, in fact. So, no, I wouldn’t call you wicked, not on account of that. On the other hand, prostituting yourself is disgraceful. A boy of your intelligence and abilities!”

“I’d give it up in an second if I found a man I could love an’ ’oo’d love me in return.”

“Buckham found one, or so you tell me. Yet he remained a renter.”

“First of all, I ain’t Nelly. An’ second, ’e an’ ’is baronet couldn’t live together. Not ever.”

“Is your situation all that different? Would you be able to, if you found a man to love?”

“It weren’t Nelly’s choice they couldn’t be together. Maybe if my gen’leman was a proper gen’leman and unmarried, he’d take me on as ’is manservant an’ nobody wouldn’t suspect what we was fer each other. Whattaya think o’ that idea?”

“You’d have to learn to speak proper English first.”

“’Ow ’ard ’d that be?”

I shook my head sadly. “Such dreams are futile. Society would never tolerate it. Think of that, Johnny.”

“No, it wouldn’t and it don’t, so we ’as t’ ’ide what we are, chaps like me. Ain’t that dishonesty of a sort? Would yer call that kind o’ dishonesty wicked, too?”

I remembered what the Cockburn boy had said in his rooms at Cambridge, that polite society doesn’t like to hear truths it chooses to ignore. That, too, I reflected, was dishonest. I fell silent. After a few minutes, he asked, “Yer look pensive, Willie.”

“I’m reflecting on what I said before about not condemning a man for whom he chooses to love. I would not have thought that a month ago, before I met you.”

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Idaho Battlegrounds excerpt by Sarah Black

In the novella Idaho Battlegrounds by Sarah Black, Sheriff Grady Sullivan returns to Canyon County, Idaho, after his second tour in Afghanistan to find his department in disorder and his authority undermined. He’s determined to restore discipline, but he soon finds himself fighting for his job. The bright spot in his life is kindred soul Edward Clayton. But Edward isn't just raising dairy cows, and Grady is soon pulled into Edward’s Underground Railroad for illegal kids.

As noble as Edward’s work is, it’s illegal, and Grady is suddenly faced with losing everything he’s worked for and everything that matters to him as he’s forced to choose between Edward and the work that has always defined him.

Idaho Battlegrounds
Dreamspinner (November 24, 2010)


“Unit 12, this is Base. Sheriff, I’ve got a message for you.”

Grady thumbed the button on the radio. “Base, 12. What’s doing, Sanchez?”

“All quiet on the western front. How was the council meeting?”

Grady thought about all the people who could be listening in to the sheriff’s department radio. “It is what it is, bud.” Civilian speak for the military’s FUBAR. He had listened to forty-five minutes of discussion about enforcing the assigned parking spots for city council members at City Hall. When Grady had finally had enough of the whining and complaints, he suggested they had more critical issues to discuss, and proposed repeat parking offenders be drawn and quartered during the Thursday evening concert series. The council members had not been amused. Grady thought he would have to work a little harder to curb his irritation with the people who funded his department.

“I got a message for you, Boss. Some dude said to tell you book club’s cancelled for tonight.”

Grady frowned at the radio. “10-4, Base. Out.” Cancelled? What the hell? Damn cheese farmer. Didn’t he know you don’t blow somebody off before the first date? He grabbed the radio again. “Sanchez, I’m taking lunch.”

“Boss, it’s ten thirty.”


“Um, nothing. Out.”

Sanchez was a good guy. They were in the same National Guard unit and had only been back from Afghanistan and out of uniform about six weeks. Sanchez had two babies at home, and to hear him tell it, there would be another bun in the oven any day now.

Grady drove his cruiser along one of the back roads in Canyon County, Idaho. This was farm country, full of hard-working people, and his job was to keep them safe. He turned onto the road that lead to Edward’s little dairy farm.

Edward Clayton had fifty fat Jersey cows, a ramshackle barn, a milking shed, a tiny creamery, and a run-down little house. They had met the week before at the library in Melba. After Edward had left, the librarian, Miss Middlesex, had given Grady the rest of the story. “I don’t know what that man’s doing here,” she’d said. “He used to be some big-shot lawyer with the ACLU. Does he strike you as the back-to-the earth type? I think he’s in hiding.”

Grady didn’t know what the back-to-the earth type looked like. Compost under the fingernails? Maybe some loose alfalfa hay somewhere about their person? Edward was handsome, with long, slender fingers and a bony, elegant face. He had kind gray eyes, and Grady immediately wanted to see him in a silver-gray cashmere turtleneck. Or a cashmere robe, open at the neck. Grady spent all his time with men in uniform- Army National Guard, Sheriff’s Department. The high and tight was the haircut of choice. None of them had chestnut curls on the back of their necks, and Grady suspected this was the reason he kept reaching for those curls in his mind every time he closed his eyes.

He pulled into the farm, left his cruiser next to the house, and walked out to the barn. This time of day a busy farmer would be with his cows, or in the creamery making cheese. Most of the cows were already in the pasture next to the barn, their sweet brown faces turned up to the sun.

“I know you’re scared, but I’ll take care of you. Just take this in your mouth and suck on it a tiny bit.” Grady raised his eyebrows, watched Edward with the damp newborn calf in his lap. The baby was not interested in taking the bottle. He kept rooting around at Edward’s lap, covered now in a bright red apron with the words Curds and Whey in script.

“He’s looking for his mama, not some bony ACLU lawyer with a bottle.”

Edward looked up, and Grady felt a moment of dizziness, like he was falling into deep cool water. “I’m sorry about book club, Grady. I’ve had a death.”

“Cow, not human, right? Because I haven’t been informed of any human deaths.”

Edward gave him a crooked smile, hitched the baby up in his arms. “Cow,” he confirmed. “This baby’s mother died in childbirth, because I didn’t know what to do. And if I don’t get him to take his bottle, I’m going to lose him too.”

A woman came into the barn, drying her hands off on her apron. She had a worried, time-worn face, and she wore her thick dark hair bundled up at the nape of her neck. “Edward, there’s a Sheriff’s Department car at the house.”

Edward stood up quickly. “Mrs. Rodriguez.” Grady saw the alarm on her face, the quick blanch when she caught sight of him. “Sheriff Sullivan, this is Mrs. Rodriguez, my housekeeper. Temporary housekeeper. Emilia, this is Sheriff Grady Sullivan.”

Grady reached out and shook her hand. She was still pale, her dark eyes darting nervously from his face to his gun belt, and her hand was shaking slightly. “I’m sorry if I startled you. I just came to assist Edward in feeding the orphan.”

Mrs. Rodriguez and Edward studied him carefully from the tips of his polished black boots, up the knife creased khaki trousers, to the sturdy gun belt and the shiny badge pinned to his breast pocket. Edward was laughing, but Mrs. Rodriguez turned away with a sniff. “I hope whoever does your laundry knows how to get out milk stains,” she said, and she disappeared around the corner of the barn.

Grady shrugged. “I don’t think she likes my looks. Or maybe the cops are a little bit scarier wherever she’s from.”

Edward was next to him now, smelling of sweet buttermilk and smiling with those kind eyes. “Maybe we should have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy regarding the immigration status of my farm workers.”

Grady narrowed his eyes. “I am very familiar with that policy, being as I served four years on active duty in the Army. I would have to say such a policy sucks. But I don’t plan on rousting your temporary housekeeper. Whatever that means.”

“What are you doing out here, Grady?”

“I took my lunch break to come out here and kick your ass for blowing me off.”

“Your lunch break? Then the least I can do is feed you.” He put the little calf down in some straw.

Grady gestured to the door of the barn. Three pairs of brown eyes were peeking at him from around the corner of the big door. “Looks like you’ve got some more temporary housekeepers come to help.”

Edward gave him a look but waved the children in. The oldest was a girl, about eight, and she kept her two little brothers behind her. Edward gave her the bottle. “See if you can get the baby to take some of this milk,” he said, and when they left, the children were kneeling next to the calf, petting it and talking to it in soft Spanish voices.

Edward pushed open the door to the little creamery, and Grady followed him in. “How’re the elections going? Every time I go to town, seems like there’s a fight about to break out in the diner over the sheriff’s election. I’m not from around here, though, so nobody tells me anything.”

“I was elected six years ago,” Grady said, sliding onto a stool. Edward opened a big stainless Sub-Zero fridge and pulled out a couple of plates of cheese. “Then our National Guard unit was deployed to Afghanistan. We were gone with one thing or another for almost four years. About half of us were members of the unit. The ones that weren’t were left to run things. They hired some temp workers to fill in. When we came back, the maneuvering started. The temps claimed discrimination when the vets went back to their old jobs. There isn’t very much work out here, so the scramble for jobs was deadly serious, you know?”

“Did they do a good job while you were gone?”

Grady felt his jaw harden, and a muscle twitched along his temple. Edward had instincts like a shark. “No. They did not. The changes I’d made in the first two years disappeared, and the man chosen to be acting sheriff ran the county like an old fashioned mobster. Favors, threats, bribes. He’s managed to get a lot of people in debt to him or obligated to him in some way. And now he’s pulling in favors with both hands. I don’t know if he was counting on my not coming back, or maybe he thought I would come back too banged up to fight him. But I did come back, and I kicked his ass out of my chair and started to clean up.”

“That’s Devlin Barry?”

“Yeah. So he went back to his old job at dispatch and started shaking the trees. He convinced the city council to hold special elections, and he’s running for sheriff against me. He may win too. Maybe this place likes his way better than mine.”

“What’s your way?”

“I follow the rules. The laws. If they’re unfair, or unjust, the right thing to do is change them. There’re too many dangers to people when we live in the gray areas, adjusting the rules for every new situation. My job is the safety and security of the people of this county.”

Edward washed a bunch of red grapes in the sink and set them on one of the plates of cheese. “I think of the law as all gray areas, like it’s something alive, and it’s always evolving from this to that, depending on our understanding and interpretation. But that’s the way a lawyer is trained to see the law: open for interpretation. I get what you mean. For those charged with enforcing the law, you can’t waffle. The line you walk can’t change with every person.”

“What did you do with the ACLU?”

“GLBT rights projects and some immigrant rights.” He put a knife on one of the plates, and reached into a cabinet for a zip lock bag of crackers. “Try this fresh ricotta first,” he said, dipping the knife into a fluffy mound of white cheese. “I just made it this morning.”

Grady bit down into the cheese- it was light and sweet and rich, with a tiny hint of lemon. Like cheese ice cream.

“Hey, that’s good!”

“I’m going to toast a couple of pieces of bread,” Edward said. He slid one of the plates closer to Grady. “That hard cheese there, that’s Manchego. Usually it’s a sheep’s milk cheese, but I made this version with the cow’s milk. I really like it. So nutty and rich.”

Grady tasted a piece of the cheese, and then reached for another. Edward was right: nutty, salty, and rich, but mild at the same time. “That’s really good. I probably don’t have the vocabulary to describe it properly.”

“I’m a fairly new cheesehead myself.” Edward leaned across the counter, rested on his elbows, and took his sweet time watching Grady eat.

Grady popped a grape into his mouth and looked back. Edward was just the sort of man he kept hoping to find. Hoping, trying, being disappointed by. He had a long list now of the things he didn’t want in a friend—he didn’t want a drama queen. Jealous was out. He wanted a man, not a leech, not some pretty boy looking for an easy berth. And smart. He needed smart. He was a lot more lonely for someone to talk to than he was for someone to warm his bed. And he needed someone who would respect his job. Respect the work he did and understand he didn’t take his responsibilities lightly. “So what’s your story? Miss Middlesex at the library thinks you’re in hiding.”

Edward grinned and turned to pick up the toast. “What, from the mob? I’m from San Francisco. We do have the Lavender Mob out there, but I don’t think I’ve pissed off any of the old queens. Here, try some of this one.” He scooped some runny-looking cheese with a white rind onto a piece of toast and handed it over. “I’m more partial to the hard Italian cheeses myself, and the fresh soft ones, but lots of people like French-style cheese.”

It was ripe and tangy with a lingering smoothness. Grady was having a hard time choosing his favorites. Edward handed him a glass of water, and then turned away to put some coffee on. “Can you drink a cup? I usually take a break about this time of the morning to have some cheese and coffee and toast.”

“I can drink a cup,” Grady said. “So, what’s your story?”

Edward glanced at him, smiling. “I wasn’t trying to blow off your question. I just haven’t figured out how to describe what I’m doing out here without sounding like some sort of weirdo cow-milking flake!”

Grady cut off another little piece of the Manchego. “That’s really good. If you’re growing pot out on the back forty, you better tell me now.”

“I guess that wouldn’t look good with the sheriff’s elections, what, three weeks away? No, two weeks.”

“No, it wouldn’t.”

“I’m not growing pot. These cows eat everything that grows, and there isn’t a fence they can’t get through. You’ll never find livestock on a pot farm.”

“That’s a good tip, thanks,” Grady said. “Now stop fussing around and sit down.”

Edward slid a cup of coffee across the table and took a stool. Grady broke off a bunch of the grapes, put them on Edward’s plate, and scooted the cheese wedges across the counter. The coffee was rich and black, and just for a moment Grady took this memory, the smells of coffee and cheese and toast, the man’s beautiful face and elegant fingers, his smile, and he tucked it away in his heart. The way he felt right now, this moment, he might need to remember this one day when he was cold, or lonely, or in a tough spot.

“I felt like I was getting farther and farther all the time from things that were real.” Edward was toying with one of the pieces of toast. “I knew the work I was doing was important, but I was so very far away from seeing any change. I mean, you don’t close your computer down with a hearty sigh and think, there, I just saved somebody’s life. At least, I didn’t. I just wanted to get out of the law library and see some real people. Do some real work.”

Grady thought about this. “So you went from immigrant rights with the ACLU to a farm? Cheesemaking? I understand what you’re saying perfectly. And you can make a mean wheel of cheese.” He was silent for a moment, adding up the things that didn’t make sense. He glanced up, and Edward wasn’t meeting his eyes. There was a faint flush on his cheeks. “So how’s it going?”

Edward looked at him now. “It’s good. It’s work that feels real and strong and needs to be done.”

Grady wondered for a moment if he should just let it go. The man wasn’t talking about cows. But he was sitting here in his uniform eating Edward’s cheese, with a couple of little brown kids in the barn trying to feed the baby cow. “Edward, is there anything you need to tell me? Anything I should know? I promise I’m not the bad guy.”

Edward shook his head, reaching across the table with a grateful smile. “No, Grady. But thank you for asking.”

To purchase the ebook, click here

Monday, December 6, 2010

Out on the Net excerpt by Rick R. Reed

In Rick R. Reed's Out on the Net, Ray Tolliver has bad timing. Cold feet? It doesn’t get much worse than accepting you’re gay twenty minutes before your wedding to a woman, yet that’s just what happens.

Join Ray as he recounts in his blog the hilarious and touching events that lead him on a journey toward true love. Although he goes looking for love in all the wrong places, will he eventually find another man who wants more than just quick sex? A man who appreciates romance, hearts, and flowers? Or will he find that self-acceptance and bliss do not always go hand-in-hand?

And what of Alice, Ray’s lovely, jilted fiancĂ©e? Will she find it in her heart to forgive the man who left her at the altar?

These questions and more are answered in this unique love story, told in the form of blog entries. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but you’ll come away from Out on the Net with a renewed appreciation for the power and difficulties of loving not only others, but yourself.

Out on the Net
Amber Allure (2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61124-017-7 (Electronic)


Blog Entry #2: An Explanation

Before I get any further into my little tale of woe, it’s only fair that I tell you a bit about myself, aside from the “about me” crap you can read to the right of this blog. First off, I am a gay man. I am thirty years old, now single, and as far as sex with men goes, I am still a virgin (if you discount the groping my next-door neighbor Keith and I did that one summer in the abandoned shack in the woods when we were twelve). I am considered good-looking by some, average by my own estimation. I am five feet ten inches tall and weigh 165 pounds. I have dark brown hair, green eyes, and an olive complexion I inherited from my mom, who is of Sicilian lineage. I work in an industrial pottery in the small Ohio River town where I live, seven a.m. to three p.m. every day. I use a hose to guide liquid clay into molds that eventually become things like vases, urns, and decorative decanters. I have a high school education and two years of community college. I have lived in my small town of 12,000 all of my life.

Why am I writing a blog? Why am I baring my soul on the Internet? To get attention? Because I’m a fool? Because I’m a frustrated writer? Well, all of those things have some validity and they play into my rationale. But the real reason I wanted to put this thing up for public consumption is really pretty selfless—I want to help other people like myself not make the same mistakes I have. So if you’re out there and reading this on your Mac or your PC, I want to help you. If you’re hiding from who you really are, I hope to shed some light on that person buried in the back of the closet. I want you to know that it might be hard to come out, but it’s not impossible.

And the air out here is actually a lot easier to breathe.

I want you to know that being gay is not a choice. I had once thought that. I thought if I dated girls, got married, and did all the things society told me I was supposed to do, I would be okay. Those dreams and fantasies I had about guys would fade away as I became more entrenched in the world everyone seems to consider “normal.” Ever heard the advice: ‘fake it ‘til you make it’? I did. I thought it would work for me.

It didn’t and doesn’t.

So if my little chronicle here of my painful odyssey out of the closet gives you some pause and maybe prevents you from making one wrong turn away from being who you really are, then maybe this blog isn’t such a bad idea.

It’s simple, really. We are all who we are. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’re religious? Hey, I can relate. I was brought up in the Church (and in my family “Church” means only one: Catholic) and know a little bit about guilt and “sinning in one’s heart.” But in spite of all the dogma I absorbed growing up, I still stick with the credo I saw on a bumper sticker a few days ago—“God loves everyone. No exceptions.”

And if God can love you, you can love yourself.
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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Bachelor Machine excerpt by M. Christian

The Bachelor Machine by M. Christian is a collection of eighteen science fiction erotica short stories. Men, women, hackers, derelicts, enforcers, hustlers, and whores in every combination inhabit the streets and beds and back alleys of Christian's imagination. This is erotic science fiction at its best. And now available in ebook format!

The Bachelor Machine
Circlet Press, Inc. (re-release July 27, 2010)


I almost lost my virginity at fifteen, but his batteries ran low.

He'd showed me the unit, zipped open tight jeans and flashed out the Long Thrust. State, top-of-the-line, implant augmentation. He'd had himself castrated for the best science had to offer. I wanted it. The instant I saw it, the polished, burnishing, gleam of it. I wanted it bad. Now. Hard. Fast.

My squat was old-wired 220 so its juice-pack couldn't take the flow. In playback, wet-memory, I see him--planes of his face dead in the cheap florescents, as he hunts in his bag for the adapter he didn't bring.

In the end, we lit expensive candles and he put his mouth on my cock.

His mouth was shocking wet, not like my dry hand or the spit sometimes to make it easier. It was too slippery, and too hot. I was blazing with shame and self pity, eyes fake closed and instead watching his head dip down. First a quick spray of over-the-counter anti-viral fog, then it was a wet test embrace on my cock, gentle kisses, then a wet socket over my cock.

Brent, friend of my dealer. I'd been taking longer to slip the black market yen, and taking the tiny plastic bags, just to watch him stand and pose: first time spotting was like that first time there in my squat. Thick leathers hiding old cop impact vest, skin-jeans slit to show off log legs, too-tight tee ("YANKEE IMPERIALIST VICTIM") paint on a stone-mason chest, face cragged and street-scarred but with museum planes. Eyes then on the street as they were in my recall of the squat--hidden and refrigerator cool behind convex mirrors of mandatory shades. He may have been handsome, might have made girls wet, boys hard--but I'd heard, and then he'd heard that I'd heard and there in that alley he zipped and flipped it out. Fuck, I wanted it in me right there.

I was smiling when he lifted from my hardening cock. Smiling back at his smiling face, at my smiling face reflected in his shades. We smiled at each other reflected over and over as he gently stroked my cock, kissing it, and sucking a mouthful of the ridged head (Momma thought cutting sanitary).

The squat was cold and my futon too fucking hard on my back. My jeans were bunched around my legs and my back was crooked funny against my pack. So I put my hand on his head and pushed myself down. So mature for that first time, so controlled from the burning pity and disappointment of that unit, dead and powerless between his legs.

Sloped down onto the futon, I let him suck my cock. The kisses got harder, his tongue began to play with the tip, that little hot hold in the end that sometimes felt like prickles and sometimes like warm steel. I was hard from his mouth there, from his hand gently holding and stroking, from his breath stirring the cool skin from my shaved balls and belly. I was deep inside, eyes really closed, letting his hands and mouth work me up and higher and harder.

My balls begin to swell and heat. Something in me wanted, and because, I guess, I let myself put a hand on the crotch of his hot jeans. He closed them on my fingers, trapping them in a denim vice as he made negative moans around my hard cock.

I let him suck more, letting myself burn deep and pissed and disappointed. I felt his teeth slide every inch across the skin of my shaft. I couldn't decide if it was on purpose or accident. And when I thought about it, anticipating it, or trying to block the hardness of his teeth it just added something to it. I was harder and harder.

I wanted something again, I could have what I really wanted but this would do--and from the heat of him on my cock I pushed a sweet little virginal "please" out. I opened my eyes and saw that I had slid myself down to his jeans. I could smell it, that sweet sting-smell of brand-new plastic and his sweat through the thin denim of his jeans. No negative this time. No refusal for the poor virgin boy. The sucking never stopped the teeth didn't glide (so I guessed he must be pretty fucking good at this), but the hands came out and slipped the jeans down.

Made in the best labs in Shadow Tokyo. Fucking pure lines--a curving, shining downward turning tusk of high-impact plastic nested into a shield of gleaming black chrome. I traced the inert row of decorative indicators that ran along the side of the shaft (as he sucked the head of my cock, just the head, stoking me wet and thumbing like a metronome beating against my balls and stomach), feeling their dimples, and wanting them to light. I kissed the dead head of his unit, tasting a lingering of lube from the last time he'd fucked with it (boy, girl, fist, unknown).

He was sucking so hard now--the coolness was gone, and all I could feel was his hot mouth sucking and licking and sometimes (there, there) the hard glide of those special teeth in that trained mouth. His fist was still pumping, and my stomach ached the good hurt of a rough jerk-off.

The head of his unit was a different plastic, something so close to skin I could see with half an eye the unit just a steep pole, an extension of his cock. The head was anatomically correct and lifelike.

I stoked it, wishing so hard that it was juiced up and likewise. I wanted it so bad. Wanted it in my own mouth, wanted to really taste that old lube down deep in my throat. Didn't know how to do it, natch--but knew I could I wanted it so bad. Laying there on the hard futon, smelling of years of mildew, I wanted my virgin ass to take this sweet machine. I wanted it. I could feel it--so hard and buzzing softly with all those marvelous features. Closing my eyes, I could feel it, a great background to his sucking sucking of me. Yeah, I felt it, laying there. Could imagine so perfect, crisp and clear as I raised my ass up to meet it. I closed my eyes and dreamed it--that first great touch of it against my asshole as I opened for it, swallowed it and felt the spasmic vibrators, the asymmetric rhythms, the neural stims all start to work on the inside of my asshole. I imagined him taking me deep and hard, only letting the Long Thrust (the Extension Deluxe Model with the Dynamic Action Features, coupled with the hottest Joy Buzzer software) do some of the fucking. My ass, I thought, would go all jelly, my cock would be, and was, steel. I could feel him slide it into me and out and in and something powerful would start in my ass and it would travel up my spine and out through my cock via my brain--just like they said in their ads on the net -- Fuck, fuck, fuck . . . I wanted it in my ass and I wanted it in my mouth--but the shaft stayed down, the head stayed slightly cold--like a hot-dog from a broken and cold vending machine.

Too late for the reality, I was lost in my fondling, his sucking, the beautiful cockness of the Long Thrust. I felt myself start, felt the rocket start to climb from balls to tip. I could feel the come start to shake and close my eyes. But I kept them open and stared: a Long Thrust Deluxe there, in the crotch of his hairy thighs. This was one--right in front of me. This was one.

Come jetted from the head of my cock, into his sprayed, disinfected mouth. The come was as hard and hurt as much as my fucking cock. My legs danced. He put his hand on my cold chest as he pumped, sucked and jumped his fist along my shaft. I came and coated his mouth with my stickiness.

I came, all wet and sticky, and all I could think of was Long Thrust between his legs--dead, cold and inert.

The End

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The City of Lovely Brothers excerpt by Anel Viz

The City of Lovely Brothers by Anel Viz is a family saga, the history of Caladelphia Ranch, jointly owned by four brothers, Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban Caldwell – how it grew and prospered, and how rivalry between the brothers led to its breaking up and decline. As the story evolves, it focuses on the love affair between the youngest brother, Caliban, who is lame, and Nick, one of their ranch hands, and how their relationship set the stage for the already open feud to explode and ultimately caused the demise of the ranch.

The City of Lovely Brothers
Silver Publishing (November 13, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-920468-66-8

Excerpt from Part I, Chapter 9: [Context: Callie, who lives with her husband in Wyoming, returns to the ranch when she learns her 13-year-old brother has broken his hip. Appalled at his condition, she insists on taking him to Billings, where he can be treated by a “city doctor”.]

Sister and brother set out for Billings the first thing in the morning. Darcie and Julia had stayed up all night preparing food for their journey, which they expected would take five days or more, for she would have to drive slowly. Had Caliban had his accident a few years later, they could have gone by train, but the railroad was still under construction. They slid the mattress with him on it onto the swing seat, and his brothers lifted it into the wagon.

Callie fretted the entire way to Billings. If they happened to come to a ranch or a camp for the men building the rail line in late afternoon or early evening, they would spend the night there, but Callie insisted on sleeping beside her brother in the wagon under a tarp. If there was no ranch or railroad camp, they passed the night on the open range on the side of the road. The nights were chilly, but they had taken plenty of blankets, and she slept pressed close to the boy to keep him warm, on his left side because of the brace on the right. Calvin had given her a rifle to protect them against Indians, which she thought ridiculous, but she was glad she had it because one night a wolf came after the horses.

The evening of the fifth day found them about twenty miles from Billings, so she pressed on and they arrived after midnight. Only the saloon was open. She stopped outside it and asked some drunks who were whooping it up in the street if there was a hospital, but she could not get an answer out of them, so she went inside and asked the saloonkeeper.

“The only hospital we got here’s the docs’ houses. We got two o’ them in town” he told her.

“Do any o’ them let patients stay there?”

“Doc Brewster might, and ’e got a surgery, too.”

“How do I get there?”

“He won’t like you waking him up this time o’ night.”

“My kid brother’s outside in the wagon, dying.”

If Doctor Brewster was put out, he did not let on. He had his sons carry Caliban into the surgery at the back of the house on the ground floor. “Let’s have a look,” he said, and removed the blankets. “What in tarnation is that?” he asked, pointing to the brace.

“A brace. Our doctor rigged it up for ’im.”

“That ain’t no brace, Ma’am; it’s a frame. Where’d he get his license, anyway? James, get me the saw, so I can get that damned thing off the boy and examine him properly.”

Doctor Brewster seemed to know what he was doing. “Broken hip, is it?” he said. “Looks bad, too. It’s a damn shame. Such a well-built, fine-looking lad. Is the pain bad?”

“I been giving him these,” Callie said, showing him the pills. “He took one just outside o’ town.”

“Well, at least that doctor of yours knows something.”

Caliban felt he would die of embarrassment lying naked on the table in front of a batch of strangers—Doctor Brewster, his wife, his two sons, and even his daughter, a girl a year or two older than Caliban whom the doctor was training to become a nurse. They talked about him as though he wasn’t there or couldn’t hear them. Except for Caleb, who shared a room with him, no one had seen him naked since he had learned to dress himself, and since his accident just about everyone had. That boys of thirteen tend to be very, if not excessively, modest had not occurred to Callie, and she had shown him off to the people who owned the ranches where they had stopped on their way to Billings, and also to some two dozen men building the railroad.

“Another day and he would’ve lost that leg,” Doctor Brewster said, “but I think I can save it. I can’t promise I will, but I can try. He won’t ever walk again, though, not unless I do more.”

“What more?” Callie asked.

“I’ll have to break the hip again and reset it. What do you say, boy? Shall I do it? It’s your leg. Are you up to it?”

That the doctor had acknowledged his presence and even asked his permission made Caliban feel like a human being again, though one who had been on display. He asked, “Will I be able to walk again?”

“There’s no way of telling, but unless I do, you won’t.”

“Then do it.”

“It’ll hurt, worse than it hurt the first time you broke it. A lot worse.”

“Do it. I don’t wanna be no cripple.”

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t be a cripple. I said you might be able to walk.”

Caliban could not imagine the kind of pain the doctor described, and it terrified him. He was not sure walking again was all that important to him, but he considered it his duty to assert his manhood after having been stared at by all and sundry, so he said, “Do it.”

“You should leave now,” the doctor told Callie. “This isn’t going to be a pretty sight, and it will take a few hours. Don’t worry, boy,” he said to Caliban. “You won’t be awake for all of it. You’ll probably faint dead away when I break it.”

“Can I stay here for the night?” Callie asked. “We just got into town.”

“There’s the hospital room. It has five beds in it, but there are sick men in three of them. Nothing contagious—railroad injuries—but one of them has gangrene. I was thinking I’d have to amputate it in the morning. I hope I can save yours, boy. It’s an awful thing, cutting off a man’s leg.”

“They have rooms over the saloon,” Mrs. Brewster said.

“If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to sit up in your parlor tonight. I won’t be able to sleep anyways.”

Mrs. Brewster showed Callie to the parlor. The daughter stayed to assist, and the sons to hold Caliban down. “I’m going to work on saving the leg first,” Callie heard the doctor say as she left the room. “That’s also going to hurt like hell, but nothing like when I get to work on that hip. I’d give you more of those pills if they would do any good, but they take at least an hour to work, and I don’t have any ether. I should have ordered more, what with all the accidents they have working on the new railroad. I just didn’t think of it.”

When he heard the women reach the foot of the stairs, Doctor Brewster turned to his sons and said, “James, get the whisky. A small bottle ought to do it.” He put his hand on Caliban’s hair and stroked it lovingly. “Have you ever tasted whisky, boy? I don’t imagine you have.”

“No, sir.”

“Well, you’re not going to like how it tastes. Men seldom do the first time they try it. They cough and sputter a lot, and everybody laughs, so they think it isn’t manly to say they don’t. My boys and I don’t drink the stuff ourselves—or they had better not—except as an anesthetic. But it’s a good thing you haven’t tried it. It’ll make you drunk quicker.”

Mrs. Brewster left Callie in the parlor and went to boil water. Then she returned to keep her company. For a while they heard nothing. Then Caliban started screaming.

“I know how hard this is on you,” Mrs. Brewster said. “I couldn’t stand it in the beginning, when I first married Jacob, and the people screaming weren’t even family. It’s something you get used to. Jacob hates it too, but it’s got to be done. You’ll see. Once it’s all over, he’ll treat your brother very gently.”

“I know. I heard what he said about the pills. How long will this go on?”

“I’d tell you if I knew, but I don’t know what he has to do. Maybe an hour or more.”

“Oh, my God. But I’m glad I found a physician as good as your husband.”

“Oh, Jacob’s the best. When he says he’ll try, like he did about saving the leg, he generally does it. But it’s going to be an ordeal. Are you sure you don’t want to get a room at the saloon? This isn’t the worst of it. Those screams will be bloodcurdling once he starts on the hip, and they’ll go on until the poor boy passes out. That could take as long as five minutes, maybe ten.”

“I’d rather be here.”

After half an hour, Callie could take no more, and she went to the saloon. Exhausted, she fell asleep almost immediately, despite her anxiety

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Caesar's Fall excerpt by Dorien Grey

In the newest Elliott Smith Mystery ,Caesar's Fall by Dorien Grey, Elliot has a new building to restore and his relationship with Steve is growing more serious. The last thing Elliott needs is someone else's problem. But when lottery millionaire Bruno Caesar moves into his building, he can't just ignore the man's pleas for help. Then - a mysterious death! And Elliott and John are once again searching for answers.

Caesar’s Fall
Publisher: Zumaya Boundless (October 27, 2010)
ISBN: 1936144085/978-1936144082


They arrived at Bruno's at eight-forty-five. As usual, the kitchen door was slightly ajar and the front door partially open. They walked in to find fifteen or twenty people already scattered around the living room, dining alcove, kitchen, and even in the hallway leading to the den and bedrooms. Elliott immediately spotted Cage, Ralph, Chaz, Bruno's "sensei" Clifford Blanton, and several other people he recognized as regulars at Bruno's parties.

But there were, as always, several people he had never seen before, and he again wondered where they came from.

Bruno and Ricky were standing by the dining room table, which had several wrapped gifts on it, talking with Paul and the as-always impeccably dressed Button.

Walking over to greet them and to wish Ricky a happy birthday, Elliott casually laid the envelope next to the other gifts. He'd not seen Rudy but assumed he was coming, and knowing Bruno was probably already worried about a possible confrontation, he didn't want to ask.

"Please," Bruno said, "go get a drink and something to eat."

Rolling the ice cubes around in the bottom of his glass, Button drained the last of his and said, "Allow me to show you the way. Excuse us, all."

As he turned toward the bar, two people Elliott didn't recognize but who had apparently just come in approached the table with an ornately wrapped gift.

He and Steve followed Button to the bar, pausing to exchange a few words with various other guests. Steve pointed out the large buffet spread out on a pair of tablecloth-covered card tables near the bar.

"My God, there's enough food there to feed the Sixth Fleet."

"We should be so lucky!" Button observed. While they waited for the bartender to finish making drinks for the man in front of them, he turned to Elliott and said, "It's none of my business, of course, but do I detect a hint of trouble in Paradise?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Bruno seems a little…on edge…tonight. Very unlike him. I really hope he and Ricky aren't having problems already. Bruno seems truly devoted to him, but you know how these young kids are."

"I'm sure it's nothing," Elliott said. "Everybody has an off day every now and then."

Button pursed his lips and looked from Elliott to Steve.

"I'm sure you're right," he said, but he did not sound totally convinced.

Paul came over to join them just as they were giving their drink orders to the bartender, and a moment later, Ricky also joined the group. Glancing toward the dining alcove and the gift table, Elliott saw no sign of Bruno.

"A very nice party, Ricky," Steve said.

Ricky grinned. "It is, isn't it? This is my first real birthday party ever! Of course, I don't know very many of the people here, but it's still nice."

"Interesting centerpiece," Steve said, indicating the buffet table where a circular flower arrangement surrounded an empty champagne bottle with a lit white candle dripping small rivulets of different colors over the bottle as it melted.

Blushing, Ricky said "Bruno did that for me. It's the first bottle of champagne we shared, and I kept it. I love it with the candle!"

Elliott smiled to himself when he detected the distinct aroma of Old Spice. Bruno's influence, he assumed.

"Where did Bruno disappear to?" Button asked, looking around the room.

"Rudy came in, and Bruno said he wanted to talk to him privately. I guess they went into the den."

That was quick, Elliott thought.

"Well, I wouldn't let you out of my sight for a second," Button said, laying his hand lightly on Ricky's arm. "A roving band of gypsies could come rushing in and just carry you off! Paul, where did we leave our gypsy costumes?"

* * *

Half an hour or so later, as a small circle of guests, including Ralph, Steve and Button, were talking about the Art Institute's new Modern Wing, Elliott noticed an angry-looking Rudy emerge from the hallway to Bruno's den. Motioning to an of-course-handsome young man with whom he had apparently come, he headed to the front door and left, his companion hurrying after him. A moment later, Bruno appeared, looking less than happy and, oblivious to Clifford Blanton's attempt to catch his attention as he passed, went directly to the bar.

Though Elliott hoped for a chance to talk privately with Bruno to see what had happened during his meeting with Rudy, the opportunity did not present itself. Immediately after getting his drink and speaking briefly to Ricky, Bruno withdrew to one corner of the room with Clifford Blanton for a long and apparently earnest discussion.

Bruno returned to the main group for the opening of the presents and the cutting and serving of the birthday cake, after which the crowd began to thin out. At around eleven-thirty Elliott and Steve sought out Bruno and Ricky to express their thanks and say their goodbyes. Ricky thanked them profusely for the on-order book, and Bruno told Elliott he would call him soon. From the tone in his voice, Elliott gathered he meant very soon.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Tricks excerpt by Rick R. Reed

Tricks can mean many things: sex partners, deceptions, even magic. In Rick R. Reed searing love story, Tricks, it means all three. Arliss is a gorgeous young dancer at Tricks, the hottest club in Chicago's Boystown. Sean is the classic nerd, out of place in Tricks, but nursing his wounds from a recent break-up. When the two spy each other, magic blooms. But this opposites-attract tale does not run smooth. What happens when Arliss is approached by one of the biggest porn producers in the business? Can he make his dreams of stardom come true without throwing away the only real love he's ever known? And will this question even matter if the mysterious producers realize their dark intentions?

MLR Press (October, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-214-0 (print)
978-1-60820-215-7 (ebook)


Arliss had everything he needed right in front of him for that night's performance-hardhat, check, steel-toed boots, check, tool belt, check, black mesh thong with pouch for his rather prodigious endowment, big check. Yes, Arliss was just about ready for his turn on the stage at Tricks, located in Chicago's infamous Boystown neighborhood, at its epicenter on the corner of Belmont and Halsted. He also had before him a tall tumbler of Stoli vodka with just a whisper of cranberry juice cocktail in it for color, and a half-empty pack of Marlboro Ultralights. The latter two items helped the twenty-one-year-old calm himself before a performance, and the vodka in particular went a long way toward reducing backstage jitters.

He lit up a cigarette and regarded himself through the smoke. The lights in the crowded dressing room, which he shared with the other eight or so exotic dancers, were unforgiving. Fluorescent did little to hide any imperfections like rings under the eyes, reddened noses from too much partying, and, for those on their way out of the club, track marks on the arms. But Arliss didn't have to worry about signs of drug abuse showing up on his person. He had learned to just say no a long time ago, in a manner that he preferred not to dredge up, at least not now, when he was trying to put himself in a cheerful, high-energy mode.

The face that looked back at him was young, handsome, and vital. Arliss had a shock of white blond hair that stuck up in a manner reminiscent of rocker Billy Idol back in his glory days, before Arliss was even born. Both ears sported piercings-from one a single razor blade, cast in sterling, dangled; from the other, three hoops crawled up the side of his ear, growing smaller as they ascended. Arliss had full lips, sharp cheekbones, a cleft in his chin, and the most piercing ice blue eyes in the Midwest (or so he had been told). The only thing that marred his nearly perfect face was a gap between his front teeth, which he comforted himself by saying that the space gave him character. Cigarette clenched between his teeth, he struggled into his costume, ending by stuffing his dick into the pouch that protruded from his black thong. His member stuck out in such a way that invited grasping hands, which is what Arliss wanted, as long as there was cash in those hands to stuff the thong even more fully.

Attired in a costume that would make the construction worker from the Village People look demure, Arliss turned in front of the mirror to ensure he was the perfect fantasy specimen of pornographic machismo. He was grateful he had added the angel wing tattoo to his back and the snakes that twisted around each bicep. And the one on his chest, the tiny heart with the name "Helena" in it, always brought a lump to his throat-or a splash of bile to the back of it, depending on his mood and how forgiving he felt.

But now was not the time for being sentimental! Arliss was glad for the tattoos because they added a bit of manliness to his six-foot-two inch frame that held only 160 pounds in weight. He was what the older men at Tricks referred to as a twink and, thankfully, was a desirable commodity in some circles.

He set the cigarette down in a tin ashtray and took a swig of vodka. He could feel as much as hear the heavy bass of the techno music playing in the bar and knew that Antonio, a Puerto Rican dude with a shaved head and heavy stubble, was probably just about finished with his set, which meant his boxing ensemble cluttered the small stage.

Arliss would come out, dance briefly and flirtatiously with Antonio, and then have the stage to himself. He didn't know how he did it, night after night, but somehow he managed. He had always been the shyest boy in Ruskin, Florida, where he had grown up. If they could see me now... Well, if they could see me now, they'd probably still call me a fag and try to beat the crap out of me. Once again, my dear, now is not the time for sentimentality. He took another swig of vodka, draining the glass and feeling the warmth of the liquor as it spread through his chest and extremities. Show time!

Arliss hurried to the door that separated the cramped dressing room from the bar proper. Tricks didn't really have a stage, although the dancers liked to think of the bar upon which they danced as one. It was Friday night and, from the burble of conversation beneath the pounding beat, sounded as though they had a good crowd. He sucked in a breath, looked down at his perfectly smooth pale skin and six-pack abs and told himself he was gorgeous.

"Don't forget to smile, Toots! You always look like some gloomy Gus out there!" Leave it to Emmett Myers, owner of Tricks and Arliss' boss, to try and unsettle him just before he went on stage.

Arliss flashed the man a big, Farrah Fawcett smile. If the prissy older man with the pencil moustache recognized it as fake, he gave no indication.

"There! That's what they like to see! For heaven's sakes, you have to remember that if they think you're having a good time, they'll have a good time. And a good time means more money for all of us."

Arliss listened as the song wound down, morphing into yet another bass beat that signaled him it was time to stride out through the door, amble across the crowded room, ignore the covert feels and pinches he got as he made his way to the bar, and climb up on it to join Antonio in front of the crowd.

This moment, just before he went out, was always almost surreal. He felt as though he became someone else when he opened that door, or more properly, that his everyday world changed when he opened it. It was kind of like when Dorothy opened the door when she touched down in Oz and saw the color-filled Munchkinland, but instead of munchkins, his world was populated with bitter old queens, alcoholics, and trolls trying to put some oomph into their libidos by staring at boys young enough to be their sons.

"Get out there, gorgeous! Shake your groove thing!" Emmett cackled and placed a hand on Arliss' back to propel him forward. Just as much to get the hand off his back as to get to the stage, Arliss threw open the door, plastered on a big smile, threw his shoulders back and strode through the crowd, keeping his eye on the narrow strip of bar that would, for the next fifteen minutes, be his stage.

* * *

Sean didn't know what he was doing in Tricks. It was the kind of bar he never frequented. Hell, he rarely frequented any bars, period. He felt out of place among these older men, all of them leering at the strippers. He supposed he couldn't fault these men for coming here. The strippers, after all, were the bar's reason for being-providing "adult" entertainment...and to charge outrageously high prices for watered down cocktails.

I mean, really, eight dollars for a vodka and tonic? And the vodka wasn't even a call brand! Sean peered into the clear liquid, with its bubbles, slice of lime, and more than generous helping of ice cubes, and wondered again what could have possessed him to set foot inside this place. Tricks was a sleazy bar, a destination where he was certain the boys on stage probably made offstage deals with the clientele for more intimate, and less legal, behavior. It was the kind of place he and his friends once made fun of, painting the characters who frequented it with terms like "desperate" and "lecherous."

So what was he doing here? On a Friday night, no less, when other gay men his own age, thirty something, were on the prowl in countless other places on Halsted and further north, in the newer crop of bars in the neighborhood known as Andersonville.

He shook his head, knowing exactly what had brought him here. He stared morosely into his drink, the men around him hooting and catcalling as the next dancer hoisted himself up on the bar to begin his routine. The boy (to call him a man, really, would have been a stretch) was what was known in gay parlance as a twink. He barely looked old enough to drink, let alone wag his weenie at the patrons to a Lady GaGa beat. Was this kid really of legal age? Really? Sure, he had the requisite tattoos and piercings of a professional wrestler, and his smooth, almost hairless body was firm and well-defined, but Sean had to wonder what would compel someone so young to make his living in a way Sean had always thought of as demeaning.

And if what the kid's selling is demeaning, what does that make you? Sean preferred not to think about it. Just as he preferred not to think about Jerome, his accountant boyfriend who had just dumped him on Wednesday. He preferred not to recall that Jerome, his lover of three years, had responded to Sean's suggestion that they move in together with cliches. I need my space. I'm feeling suffocated. I think we should see other people. And worst of all-it's not you, it's me. Sure, Jerome. Knock yourself out. Even you don't believe that crap. I could see it in your eyes; those wonderful amber green eyes that could change from light to dark with your mood. You were just waiting for an opening, a way to break up with me. I gave it to you when I pressed you, telling you how my lease was up the following month and wouldn't it be so lovely if we moved in together. Um...apparently not. Sean was forced to come to the conclusion that could also couch itself in yet another cliche: he's just not that into you.

And so Sean, walking home from his job as a catalog copywriter for an automotive retailer this warm August night, had been drawn to the neon outside Tricks and the raucous sounds of male voices as he passed the bar. Oblivion, he thought, a little forgetfulness is just what I need. The bar, with its promise of cheap thrills, alcohol, and who knew what, was in the business of offering oblivion at a price. He had the money and he certainly had the motivation.

So he went inside, found a seat at the bar that had just been vacated by a man with a reddish beard, potbelly, and stained tank top, and ordered up the drink he currently nursed.

He didn't want to think about Jerome, about being rejected, about entering the "dating scene" again. He didn't want to think that, at thirty-seven, he was on the downhill slide to forty. He lifted his glass to his lips, took a long swallow, and signaled the bartender for a second one. It would take a lot of these to wipe out Jerome, if only for the night. And tomorrow? He would be right back where he started, except he'd probably be nursing an aching head and a nauseous stomach.

He knew he should just get up from the bar stool on legs that were still steady and head home to his apartment and his live-in lover-an overweight black and white cat named Bergamot who was always willing to pay attention to him when no one else seemed up to the task. He shook his head, imagining his lonely evening eating a Lean Cuisine, watching recorded episodes of Glee, Bergamot perched on the back of the couch.

It was enough to make him stay put and, simply for something to do, he turned his gaze to the boy on the bar, who was moving his hips suggestively, trying to make eye contact with everyone in the room all at once, and grinning like he was having the best time a boy could have this side of having an orgasm..

The boy was beautiful, Sean had to admit, in his own sordid, runaway sort of manner. His eyes were a piercing blue that somehow, when focused on Sean for the briefest of moments, made him feel he was the only guy in the room. But there was something otherworldly about him too, almost a glow, something that went far beyond his vitality and youth. It was as though he were performing to some inner music, something lurid and sexual to be sure, but far better than the tired disco crap, with its relentlessly repetitive beat with which he seemed to be forced to work.

Sean wondered what the kid thought about as he went through the motions of what could only loosely be defined as dancing. Did he really like being here? Why had he chosen this life over something with a more promising future, like college or some sort of employment that didn't involve shedding his clothes? Did he do it out of desperation? Was he on drugs? What kind of home had he come from?

Or was it that he was using to his best advantage what he had to work with? Sean had to admit-and the little man down below, the one between his legs, raised his purple head to agree-that the boy was sexy, extremely so. He had about him something that was at once alluring and needy: you wanted to take this boy in your arms and comfort him; you also wanted to fuck the shit out of him and slap his ass and whisper foul nothings in his ear as you thrust into him. Sean squirmed as his little man lengthened and thickened to his full size, which was actually about six and a half inches, and not the eight he claimed in various online profiles before he had met Jerome.

The boy shed the tool belt he wore, letting it drop to the bar's surface with a thud, then the hard hat, finally swaying in nothing more than a black mesh thong and steel-toed boots. His legs were long, lean, and well-muscled, and like every other letch in the bar, Sean could not keep his eyes off the boy's member, which bounced around in front of him like a mini baseball bat, looking absurd and breathtakingly tantalizing at the same time. Sean didn't know whether to laugh or just open his mouth and drool. How big was that thing, anyway? This boy, Sean was sure, would not have to lie about having eight inches. From the basis of the flaccid member barely concealed, the boy could honestly claim all that...and maybe even more.

Sean felt heat rise to his face as he gulped at his drink, finding the tall glass contained only ice. Where was that bartender?

And now the boy was moving along the bar, smiling and squatting down with those same magnificent legs spread, exhorting the bar revelers to stuff his thong with dollar bills.

He had no shortage of takers. Sean wondered what he pulled in during an evening, in tips alone. The bills were testing the elastic of the thong's waistband and a few errant bills would slip to the stage; the boy would discreetly snatch them up and hold them in his hand as he made his way down this lascivious receiving line, letting the patrons dip their hands inside the thong to ensure that what he had on display was real. Sean assumed it was-no way to fake that. He also let them pat his ass, running their hands over its smooth contours. When Sean watched one guy wet his finger and slip it inside the boy's butt, he decided he'd had enough.

This wasn't for him. It never was.

He climbed down from the bar stool and headed into the summer night, perfumed with exhaust from the traffic, already heavy along Belmont and Halsted.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Murder in Times Square excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk

The main character in this excerpt from Mykola Dementiuk's Murder in Times Square thought all he wanted that weekend was some flirting, some excitement and a little sex on the side, but he was trapped when he walked into Connie’s arms. A young woman who happened to be not a lover, but a killer who used men like her empty bottles of booze, discarded as another was picked up and drained.

Murder in Times Square
Extasy Books (October 15, 2010)
ISBN: 978-1-55487-694-5


As usual, no matter the weather, 42nd Street was alive and crowded. The continuous movie arcades gave some shelter from the rain, which had let up somewhat, but people kept on coming onto 42nd Street. This was New York City and this was its playground, a real playground for adults… Ah, the story of sexual life in the Big Apple, it goes on and on…

I walked with Connie down 42nd Street, her dark-hosed legs drawing attention from the passersby and once more giving me a nice hard-on. Oh shit. I shook my head. Will probably cum before I can stick it in her.

Grant’s Bar was very crowded. It being a Sunday, all the seats and tables were filled with people, eating, drinking and laughing. I wondered where I would fit in. When she ordered drinks, we were standing at the crowded bar, but I didn’t want any. “Just a beer,” I said. She looked at me like I was losing it, but I didn’t care. Gin and tonics were her usual drinks now, which she paid from a bill she had separated from the bills she had left over from the other day. Good thing I hadn’t taken any of her money, but I didn’t say anything. After her red-faced response to Clem, it was obvious to what she’d been doing on the side. I shrugged. So what? I didn’t care, as long as I got mine.

We sipped our drinks, making small talk and gazing over the crowd, when someone called her name.

“Connie!” a high-pitched voice cried, “Miera! Where ‘ya been?”

It was an obvious Hispanic transvestite--as Miera means look here--who was making her way past the crowds, giggling, leering, but impatient to get to Connie and tell her the news. Not a bad looker at that. Nice hairdo and pretty made-up face, but the makeup couldn’t disguise the stubble that could be seen close up on her chin. Within a few more hours, she couldn’t pretend what she/he was. Still, my mouth was open as a few times as I saw the tops of her fake breasts peeking out.

“Cheeka! Where ‘ya been?” she squealed again. “Did you hear about Paco? Muerta! He got killed!”

I froze, like something had gone through me, but didn’t come out the other side.

“No!” Connie equally squealed. “Oh, my God, what happened?”

I nervously looked at Connie, but she had fallen into a Spanish conversation and held the drink to her lips, taking little sips. The Hispanic transvestite, Yvonne she called herself, talked with a lot of clicks and lisps, an over-exaggerated mimic of girlwannabe, but something I would’ve wanted if it had not been for this murder shit. But I was getting me in deeper with every minute that was passing and somehow I was losing it. I hadn’t fucked Connie yet--just the fleeting insertion at the subway station followed by a few jerk off sessions that had gotten me nothing. Now here was Yvonne, an obvious blowjob queen who was used to being treated like royalty and which I was more than willing to cater to her every whim. But that was before I had my, our, run-in with Paco. Jesus Christ! I glared at Connie. It’s not my fault but hers, the bitch!

Connie and Yvonne had their heads close together, talking low to each other and Yvonne was looking at me, her mouth open.

“I swear,” I heard Connie say, glancing at me. “I know, it doesn’t show, but he’s very dangerous.”

Connie nodded and Yvonne said nothing, just kept staring at me, her eyes widening. I smiled and a few times ran my tongue over my lips. Without a word to me, Yvonne slowly got up and went to rejoin her friends at a table not far from us.

I shrugged, “What’s with her?” I asked, sipping my beer and hoping I could see those false breasts again, but didn’t.

“Nothing,” Connie said, quickly finishing her drink. “Let’s get outta here.”

When I next looked at Yvonne and her transvestite friends, they were looking at me and rapidly talking. Connie said nothing so I shrugged and followed her out.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Anagama Fires excerpt by Sarah Black

Lucien Durand and Colin Ferguson have lived and loved as partners in life and art for more than twenty years. But happily ever after is never easy. Over time, Lucien begins to resent how Colin's work overshadows his own art, and their relationship falls apart. Colin leaves with nothing but a backpack, and Lucien goes on alone, getting some counseling, developing a practice in raku pottery, and waiting for what would happen next. He never expects that Colin will send his nephew James to train as a potter. With James staying in Lucien's home, a door will open between the former lovers, firing their hearts.

Anagama Fires
Dreamspinner Press (2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61581-577-7


Heap logs, and let the blaze laugh out! Robert Browning

Lucien dreamed of fire. They were in the last night of a five-night firing of the anagama kiln. Colin pulled the brick out of the spy hole, studied the bending cones. “Come on, boyo, put those young muscles to work. You think you can keep up with an old man like me?” And they were laughing, shoving splits of wood into the firebox with both hands. Then he was the fire, roaring though the kiln like a hungry dragon, reaching down to lick the pots, laying fire kisses on the melted glaze. He saw one of Colin’s big angels in the back of the kiln, the last piece before the flue. It looked ancient, rough, powerful, and he fled into its arms, touched the glaze with his fiery kiss, left ash on the edge of the wings, on the cheek. Then the angel was cracking, the glaze wildly crazed, the ceramic crumbling under the fire like shattered glass, and he tried to pull back, but it was too late, too late, and the angel fell to dust in his arms.

He opened his eyes, and the lingering traces of the dream disappeared in the gold and green warmth of a summer’s evening in the northern Rockies. Lucien brushed a trace of salt from his cheeks. Even after all this time, he cried when he dreamed of Colin.

He sat up in the porch swing and watched the man walking down the long dirt road toward his house. From the distance he looked like Colin, or maybe those were just memories stirred like dust from the dream. This was a young man with a backpack over one shoulder, wearing a worn denim jacket. A dog walked next to him, a golden retriever mix. Was he coming for the weekend Raku workshop? Lucien stood up, pulled on his boots. He hadn’t said anything about not bringing dogs to the workshop. It had never really come up before.

He stepped off the porch, walked out to meet him, and something in the way the man moved had anticipation and dread tightening the pit of his stomach. The man pulled off his ball cap, ran his fingers through a mop of black curls, and Lucien stopped in his tracks. “Who are you?”

“I’m sorry,” the man said, tucking his ball cap into the back pocket of his jeans. “About the dog, I mean. I couldn’t leave her alone right now.”

Lucien looked down at the golden. She was either very fat or close to…. “Is she about to have puppies?”

“I think so. I’m James. James Ferguson.”

Lucien held out his hand. James was young, and he didn’t have the hands of a potter, no rough callus or cracks on the palm from working with clay. “Who are you?”

“I’m his nephew.”

Lucien would have guessed nephew or son, though Colin had never been with a woman as far as he knew. This boy, James Ferguson, looked so much like Colin that Lucien found his eyes burning with unshed tears. Like him, but young. Black curls, pale skin with a sunburned nose, light blue eyes. He was taller than Colin, tall and broad across the chest, and very young. Colin had been forty-five when he left. This boy was probably twenty-five.

“What are you doing here, James?”

“I came for the raku workshop. I don’t have the money for the tuition. I thought I would ask you if I could work it off. Dishes or cutting wood or something.”

They both stared down at the dog. Lucien studied the long dirt road James had walked to get to the house. “Did you catch the bus into town?”

“Yeah. I just came off a fire lookout job up in the Cascades.”

“You don’t have any place to go, James?”

Lucien watched the muscles in his jaw tighten.

“I have a letter.”

They looked at each other for a moment, and Lucien could see, under the sun-touched skin and young muscles, that James looked tired and thirsty. Dusty and worn and frail. “Come on into the house,” he said. “Of course you’re welcome here.” He looked down at the dog, who was panting slightly but stayed at James’s side. “And the dog. We can probably find her a box or a blanket or something. What do they need?”

James shrugged, hitched the backpack over his shoulder again, and followed Lucien up the steps to the porch. “I’m not sure. I’ve never had puppies before. She can stay outside.” He pointed to the worn boards, and the dog curled up, her head on her paws. “Can we get her some water?”

“Of course.” He led the way into the kitchen, and James set his backpack down on one of the wooden kitchen chairs. Lucien reached into a cabinet and pulled out a big wide bowl with a bright blue and white glaze.

“We can just use plastic or something,” James said, watching him fill it with water at the sink.

Lucien handed him the bowl. “Plastic? In a potter’s house, there’re always lots of clay bowls. This will be fine.”

He pulled open the door to the fridge when James took the bowl of water out to the front porch. He was well stocked with food, because part of the weekend Raku workshop was lunch on Saturday and Sunday. He had a pot of beef stew too, left over from the day before. He pulled that out and dumped the cold stew into a pan, set it to heat over a low flame. When James came back into the kitchen, he said, “I think there’s enough stew here for you and the dog. What’s her name, by the way?”

“I don’t know. She’s not really my dog.” He pulled out a seat and sat down at the table. “Well, I guess she’s my dog now, but somebody dumped her. She was hanging around the campground. Waiting for her people to come back for her. I think they dumped her when she got pregnant.”

Lucien spooned stew into a bowl, put it in front of James, and then got the bread out of the fridge and spread butter over a couple of slices. He set those down on a paper towel, poured a glass of milk. James turned to look at him. “Are you having anything?”

Lucien shook his head. “No, you go ahead. I’m not hungry.” His stomach was in knots. He fixed a small bowl of stew for the dog and took it out to her on the front porch. She raised her head and looked at him, soft golden brown eyes, and ran a pink tongue over his hand when he set the food down next to her.

When he went back into the house, James had finished eating and was washing his bowl in the sink. “There’s a spare bedroom down the hall on the left,” Lucien said. "We’ll have to share the bathroom.”

“I really appreciate it,” James said. “Just for the weekend, for the workshop. Then I’ll push on.”

“Are you a potter?”

He shook his head. “I studied printmaking in school, but I ran out of money, joined the Army. I got out seven months ago. I’ve been thinking about being a potter for a long time, but I wasn’t sure…. I mean, Uncle Colin’s a big deal, you know?”

“Yes, I know.”

“I wanted to see what I could do on my own. I talked to him about it. He told me to come to you.”

Lucien took a deep breath, felt his stomach knot up just a bit tighter. “Did he really? Where is he?”


“How nice for him.” James gave him a cautious look. “I think we should make a bed for the dog. She looks very close. I’ve got some straw out in the barn. You want to give me a hand?”

James nodded, followed him out the front door and around the back of the house to the old barn. The dog came along, and they walked together into the cool evening. The barn had clean straw in a couple of stalls, and the dog nosed around, went into one corner, and pushed some straw with her paws until she had a pile. She curled up on the straw, set her head on her paws. She was panting just a little still.

Lucien studied her. “This might be a safe place for her and the puppies. It won’t be long now. I’ve only got an old horse that stays in the back pasture and a goat. They won’t bother the puppies.” He looked at James, a quick smile lighting up his face. “They came with the place. The goat belongs to your Uncle Colin.”

A longhaired Angora goat peeked around the corner of the barn, then came in and sniffed at James’s leg. His long fleece was tangled with bits of grass and straw. Lucien tugged on one of his ears, and the goat nibbled on the edge of his belt. “I call him Dickhead,” he said, and James laughed out loud.

They walked back up to the house. The dog stayed in her little stall in the barn, but Dickhead followed them, looking for a snack. Lucien ignored him.

“What can I do to help you get ready?”

Lucien shrugged. “Most everything is done. People who come out for the workshops usually drive home or stay in town. Do you want to see the studio?”

“Very much,” James said. “And the anagama. Uncle Colin said it was the best kiln you ever built. How often do you fire it?”

“I don’t,” Lucien said, stuffing his hands down in the pockets of his jeans. “You can’t fire a wood-burning anagama kiln with just one person. I haven’t fired it since Colin left.”

James studied him. “That’s been over five years, right?”

“Yes. I have a raku kiln, gas fired. That’s what I do now. I guess Colin is still wood firing. Did he build a kiln in Thailand?”

“I’m not sure,” James said. “But I don’t think so.”

They walked back to the studio. It was a simple square building with a metal roof, and the raku kiln was in a semi-enclosed space next to it, covered with the same metal roof as the studio. The kiln was set at the front, with a couple of sooty metal trashcans with lids next to it. In the back, behind the barn, the anagama lay quietly, massive, covered in earth, the mound looking like a sleeping dragon. The door was bricked up and covered in adobe. Lucien hadn’t looked at it in a long time, but he could feel James’s interest in it, noticed some pieces of mud were flaking off the door, revealing the old rose firebrick underneath.

“The trashcans are for the workshop,” he said, lifting the lid on one of the cans. It was filled with sweet-smelling sawdust. “I get bags of this from the sawmills.” There were four black plastic trash bags along the wall. “We’ll use all of that this weekend.”

The raku kiln was round, with a ceramic fiber blanket sandwiched between metal mesh. Lucien reached for the overhead crank, turned it so the top half of the kiln lifted off the base. “You see how it works? We pull the pieces out at glaze melt, use the fire tongs to put them into reduction. I’m set up for sawdust or water. We can collect other material as well, like leaves and twigs from the forest.”

He pushed open the door to the studio. It was quiet inside, with the filtered soft gray light of early evening. “There’re a couple of kick wheels, and the glazing station is over here.” He pointed against the wall. The metal ware racks looked like they belonged in a bakery, but instead of loaves of bread, small cups and bowls were resting on the shelves. “Those are already bisqued and glazed. I’ll use them for demonstration this weekend. You know how the workshop goes?”

James shook his head.

“We’ll make some pots and practice firing the ones that are ready to go. Then Sunday we’ll bisque, glaze, and fire. Any pots that aren’t dry can be glazed and fired next weekend.”

“Is it okay for me to stay?”

Lucien turned to look at him. He looked so tired he was weaving on his feet. “Of course you can stay. James, your Uncle Colin and I bought this place together. When he left, he didn’t take anything with him other than a couple of pots. You can stay as long as you like.”

“I just wasn’t sure if there were any, you know, bad feelings.”

Lucien shook his head. “Not really, and nothing to do with you. Why don’t we go back to the house, and you can turn in early. You look dead on your feet.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ve got your letter in my backpack. I should have given it to you before.” James looked at him, ran a hand through his hair, and rubbed hard over his eyes. “So you know who I am.”

“You look just like him. I knew who you were as soon as I saw you walking up the road.”

James took a thick envelope out of his backpack, went yawning off to the shower. Lucien set it down on the dining room table, stared at it like it was a poison bug. He needed to make cobbler tonight. He had five firefighters from Sandpoint coming for the workshop tomorrow. Firefighters were raku fanatics, and they ate like horses. Now with James here, who also looked like he could put away some food, Lucien thought he ought to get a couple of pie pans full of fresh berry cobbler in the freezer. He could make up some hamburger patties too, make things simpler tomorrow. Oh, potato salad. He needed to get the potato salad made. He looked back at the letter on the table, then went to the cabinet over the sink and took down the bottle of tequila.

He had some orange juice in the fridge, and he poured a tall glass and added a healthy slug of tequila. Then he sat down at the table and opened the letter. It was two pages, and the second page was a legal document of some kind with an embossed seal at the bottom. Lucien felt his heart sink. Oh no. What now? He unfolded the letter.

Lucien, what do you think of this young boy I’ve sent your way? Has he grown up fine and strong? He wants to be a potter, so of course I thought to send him to you. I saw David Archer a couple of months ago. He said you’d had several pots bought by the museum in San Francisco, and some went to Minneapolis and some to New York! You have the hands of an angel, Lucien. But he also told me you’re still alone on your mountain. Why don’t you have a lover? Some strong and brave young potter to warm your bed? Maybe you and James will fall in love, like you and I did so long ago, with our hands in wet clay together, and you can stay on your mountain and not be lonely. Lucien, why haven’t you unpacked the kiln? It’s been five years. Don’t you think that’s long enough? I miss you very much some days. Colin

The second page was a legal document, sealed and notarized, saying that the sale of any pots and sculpture made by Colin Ferguson that were currently in the anagama kiln at Salmon River Pottery could be sold and the proceeds split equally between Lucien Durand and James Ferguson. Colin’s address, phone number, and e-mail were on the bottom of this page.

I miss you very much some days. He drank the glass of orange juice and tequila down. Yeah, and I miss you very much some days, too, you shit.

Four casseroles full of cobbler went into the freezer and about a gallon of potato salad into the fridge. He reminded himself that this was Colin’s usual game, and he did not have to play. Colin had thrown a line into the river? He was not going to rise to the bait. He was a clever trout, and would stay hidden in the rocks. Lucien took a couple of clean towels and put them on the dresser in the spare bedroom.

James was asleep, sprawled on his back with one arm flung out. He had ginger freckles on his nose and wicked-looking black whiskers coming up on his chin. His bare chest was covered in thick black hair. He was bigger than Colin by a couple of inches. And so young, so tender and young. Lucien wondered if he was in trouble. Was there something other than the urge to be a potter that had brought him out here? He had come from a fire lookout job, four months alone in a little cabin on a mountaintop in the Cascades. What had he done in the Army? Was he running from something?

And why would anyone bother to tell him? This was just like Colin, to decide to fix someone without bothering to check that anyone wanted to be fixed. Living with Colin was like living with a wasp loose in the house. He picked up the phone. The legal document Colin sent contained a phone number in Thailand. Colin sounded sleepy. Of course he had caller ID.

“Is this my dear Lucien, or does James need rescuing? I don’t know anyone else in the wilds of northern Idaho.”

“James is fine,” Lucien said. “He’s sleeping in the spare bedroom. And I ought to kick your butt.”

Colin laughed, and the warm sweet sound of it ran like honey down his spine. “What do you think of him, Lucien? Is he very handsome?”

“He looks just like you. But very young and very tired. What’s wrong? Is he in trouble? Do I have to guess?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong! He won’t tell me. You figure it out. Maybe he just needs a handsome older lover to guide his hands into clay.”

“Colin, for crying out loud….”

“It’s not like you have another lover. Why not, Lucien? What’s wrong?”

“How do you know I don’t have a lover? Did you bug the bedroom before you left?” Colin laughed again. “And you? Have a handsome young Thai houseboy to tend to your every need?”

“Yes, two houseboys. Their skin is so sweet, brown and fragrant as lemongrass. But they sleep with each other, not with an old man like me.” Lucien listened to him breathe. “Have you unpacked the kiln?”


“Why not?”

“I don’t want….”

“You don’t want my pots? Or anything I can give you? Then sell them and give James the money. He’s hungry, Lucien. He needs a stake. Not like you. You’ve made your name now, right? You don’t need anything from me?”

Lucien looked up. James was standing at the kitchen door in jeans and bare feet, watching him. He held out the phone. “It’s your uncle. He wants to talk to you.”

James took the phone, giving him a look that clearly said he knew he was being thrown to the wolves. “Hey, Uncle Colin. Yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, yeah, he looks fine, just….”

Lucien raised his eyebrows, watching James’s cheeks flush bright red.

“No, Uncle, I just meant…. Okay. Okay. Listen, I need to go check on the dog.” James gave him a pleading look, and Lucien took the phone back.

“What dog?”

“He brought a very pregnant dog with him. I left her out in the barn with the goat.”

There was a silence that stretched all the way to Thailand. “You still have the goat?”


“I thought you told me you killed my goat and roasted it in the backyard and ate it.”

“I might have exaggerated.”

Then Colin was whispering French in his ear, words of love that tickled like butterflies touching down on overheated skin. James stuck his head in the back door. “Hey, um, Lucien? Do you have some old towels or something?” His eyes looked ready to pop out of his head.

“How many puppies?”

“Six so far, but I don’t think she’s done.”

“I’ll be right there.” He turned back to the phone. “Did you hear that? You’re a grandfather.” And he hung up on Colin laughing in his ear.

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