Monday, May 17, 2010

Tourmaline: Volume I of the Greenlea Tales excerpt by E L Van Hine

In Tourmaline: Volume I of the Greenlea Tales by E L Van Hine, it's the summer of '84. 84 Down and out, closeted drifter Colson Grey stumbles into a down-low "men's club" owned by Ellery Cantrell, the orneriest, most flamboyant chief detective in the smallest, most backward county in rural Arizona. When Ellery recruits Colson to help him with a case embroiling the club, their sudden intimacy sparks the violent jealousy of Ellery's former lover and business partner Bill, and exposes the raw pain of their mutual isolation and their equally raw sexual need.

Tourmaline: Volume I of the Greenlea Tales" by E. L. Van Hine
Treshold Publishers/Zebratta Books (May, 2010)


Chapter 22

They lingered over dinner, Colson hardly paying attention to the delicious T-bone steak that seemed to fall off the bone and melt on his tongue. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since he had a top grade cut of meat, and the crush of his years of poverty seemed somehow lifted as his weird adventure in Tourmaline began to take on a pleasurable and even exciting turn. He knew this feeling, he recognized it, despite the intervening years since the summer he met Adam, that sense of falling effortlessly, resistlessly, into a secret, as yet unexplored world where everything seemed right and good, and he was free of all bonds. It was as though the dreary years of waiting, pining, hoping and fearing—had vanished, and he watched with sheer pleasure the varied expressions play across Ellery’s face as he talked about the Art Robbery of 1979 and how he had solved the case through nothing more exciting or inventive than doing research in old telephone books for an obscure listing for an out of business art dealer, who after losing his gallery, had taken to theft to reacquire his own original stock that had been liquidated at auction.

He listened, saying hardly a word, for a full hour, long past the applesauce, an extra order of biscuits, and fresh hot apple pie a la mode, Ellery’s speed at consuming his dinner not in the least slowed by the pace of his narrative, glancing from time to time a little closer to see whether Colson had at length gotten bored. Colson blinked suddenly, as he realized the story had ended and Ellery was looking at him silently.

“Whut?” he asked, suddenly self-conscious.

“Boy, you haven’t said a word. Have you perfected the art a sleeping with your eyes open with that innerested expression on your face?” Ellery asked, a half-smile on his lips.

“Uh no, it was just... inneresting is all.”

Ellery grinned, a wide, happy look. “At last, someone who hasn’t heard that tired ol’ tale a the art theft.”

“How’d you get the idea to look for an art dealer?”

“Well because, think of it like this. Who steals paintings? People who like pretty pictures? No. Most all the time—art thieves. Art thieves have got a list a what’s valuable, what they can dispose of, what won’t be too hot. You don’t steal the Whistler’s mother, for asample, because you can’t sell it ta anyone. You do steal anythin by O’Keefe or Wyeth because they are not always recognizable and a lot of em are on the market in auctions and all.”

“Sure, okay.” Colson tried to follow, even though Ellery’s point so far had eluded him.

“So an art thief would take the O’Keefe and the Wyeth because he’d get the same money for both, having gone to the trouble a breakin in. But who would break in, take one PARTICULAR Wyeth and leave another of higher value as well as two O’Keefes and a Bateman as well as some perfectly pawnable signed Ansel Adamses?”

“Uh... someone who wants only one particular paintin.”

“Right. Someone who may have at one time owned them an lost them due to misfortune.”


“Modus operandi, they call it. This was the modus operandi. An when we got down there ta see the old coot he had hung em all in his livin room, bold as brass!”

“Shit, Ellery. You musta enjoyed that.”

“Yeah well—that’s the only thing good happened that year, I’ll tell ya. The rest of it was Bill and makin Esteban leave town an all that shit we already covered.”

“Yeah,” Colson was still grinning, still feeling that racy high that comes of having an unexpected good time that he didn’t want to end.

“Well on that cheery note, you ready to go upstairs and solve the case a Wilson’s Missing Ring?”

Colson shrugged. “Sure.” He wanted to add that it was the company that made it enjoyable. He swallowed the compliment, telling himself to save it for a more private opportunity.

Ellery signalled with an impatient hand for the waitress, who appeared at his elbow like Tinkerbell lighting on a buttercup, and slapped down a pale green card. “Mark it ‘Brand Theft Investigation’ on the receipt if you will.”

“Sure enough, Deputy Cantrell. I hope everything was to your satisfaction.”

Ellery looked over at Colson, that twinkle of merriment glittering in his pale gray eyes. “What do you say, Grey?”

“Excellent vittles, ma’am, thank you.” He patted his stomach and gave the girl a faint smile, and she bobbed once and went off with Ellery’s credit card.

“That girl thinks yer cute,” Ellery said in a low voice.

“No she don’t.”

“Sure she does. She blushed. Yer so cute ya made ME blush.”

Colson blinked.

“I know I know. I won’t say another word.” Ellery gave Colson a lopsided grin and wiped it off in time for the girl to return with the slip for his signature.

“You have a nice night now,” she called after them as they rose from the table.

Now standing before the door of the Lincoln Suite, Ellery opened the door with a flourish of his hat to let Colson go in first, and it occurred to Colson with a rush of blood to his face, that Ellery was watching him walk in to the room, and he turned, looking over his shoulder. The look he saw there stopped his heart momentarily, and he felt blood pool in his extremities. Ellery took a step toward him, and stopped, then turned, putting his hand on the knob of the bathroom door.

“This the only bathroom?” Ellery asked, his voice echoing off the tile in the confined space, but his voice had become thick as though with emotion.

“Uh, yeah. I’ll look over by the TV and sofa.”

From the outset, Colson knew two things. First, that they were not going to find Wilson Brand’s ring in this suite, and second, that if Ellery gave him another heart-stopping look like that and was within touching distance, he would be apologizing to Adam tomorrow. Despite his certainty, he got down on all fours and began to comb his fingers through the dark carpet, alert for anything shiny. To his surprise, moments later he turned up what looked like an expensive diamond stickpin, and plopped it into the cleaned ashtray. “Found something that we ain’t lookin for,” he called, then got back down, exploring with his fingertips and eyes.

His heart was still hammering in his chest, and his mind began to wander, causing his body to stiffen up uncomfortably with a familiar lust. “Cut it out, boy. You ain’t no teenage boy in heat no more,” he chided himself. But there was no mistaking the chemistry between them at dinner, the sense of intimate camaraderie that was something far more than sexual attraction. It was joy of companionship, a leap in his heart that made him happy to know the man passing the evening with him.

“Ya found a stickpin!” Ellery reported with mock excitement. “Don’t see nothin exciting down this sink drain though.” He popped his head out of the bathroom, holding a small flashlight, and clicking it off. “You need light down there?”

“No, usin my hands, they see better,” Colson mumbled, looking up over the back of the sofa. “Nothin in there is there?”


“Well he was here by himself an was all over this place, even though he slept in that room there. So it could be anywheres,” Colson said, already discouraged.

“Yep, we know it is certainly anywhere.”

“I haven’t got a good feelin. But some lucky ol’ coot will be happy to get his stickpin back,” Colson said hopefully.

“I’m gonna check under the bed in here,” Ellery said, seeming to keep his mind firmly on the search, which made Colson doubt what he had seen in the doorway when Ellery followed him in. For that indelible moment, he had seen naked lust in those slate eyes, a lust that he could not only understand, but could respond to. Wanted to respond to. And yet... they were back at work, doing what they had come to do, and the thought occurred to Colson... it’s about the big picture. He knows how he feels, and he’s got to know how I feel, I blushed enough times at dinner ta give it away, but he’s here to do a job and he’s gonna do it even if his heart is tellin him somethin different. Something a player like Bill, or a kid like Gene or Pete—would never understand. Ellery had a job to do.

But Colson understood Ellery’s dogged determination, and his respect for the lone deputy increased many times over. He pulled himself to his feet, retracing the events of that night in his head, tryin got recall everywhere Pete had been, where he had thrown his clothes, combing his fingers through the strands of carpet until they were covered with little prickly nylon threads... and came up empty.

“Say Ellery,” he called into the bedroom from the doorway.

“Whassat?” Ellery poked his head up from under the double bed.

“You think about maybe postin a reward, maybe one a the help found it. If its gold it’s gotta be worth somethin.”

“Chances a theft are small. It was engraved with his name. I thought a that.”

“Oh. Didn’t know.”

“Yeah. Got a description from Wilson before Bill got his comment in. Wilson and Esmerelda Brand somethin somethin 1966.”

“Shit, they been married a long time.”

“Yeah, and her old man’s got five hundred thousand head in eastern Montana on open range. Wilson’s got a lot to lose in a divorce.”

“Then he’s stupid hangin out with Pete.”

“Yep, another stupid ass, in a long line a stupid asses. Nothin under here.” Ellery straightened up, pressing a hand into his back and producing a dull crack. “Muscle spasm, dammit.”

Colson went over to him. You okay?” He put his hand on Ellery’s shoulder to help him sit, and Ellery sat down on the side of the bed, tilting slightly, balancing himself by straightening one leg and shifting.

“Press yer hand back here, right here, where it’s tight,” he directed, and Colson dug his hard fingers into the lean musculature of Ellery’s spine. Whip-thin, his muscles rock-hard from the nervous energy of almost constant motion. Colson dug in a little harder and Ellery let out a gasp. “There, right there, ow, that is ow in a good way.”

Colson moved his hand up, pressing as he went along, looking closely at the expression on Ellery’s face. Ellery glanced up and let out a low laugh.

“This isn’t exactly how I was picturing you touchin me.” He froze in place, then, and it took several long breaths for him to recover and remember what he was doing.

“Uh, sorry.”

“No, dammit, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t keep doin that to you. It doesn’t really endear you to me, it’s just causin you to panic every time. And for the record I really do have a spasm, got in a car wreck not too long before Bill and the Art Theft story and got a bad disc down there.”

“I know, I didn’t think you was makin it up,” Colson mumbled, his face a welter of confusion.

“Look, Colson, you are a sweet and dear man, and it gets my blood up when I look at you, okay? But I made a promise and maybe its time ta make another promise about suggestive remarks.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said, his mumble deepening into a stammer. “As long as... as long as there ain’t no one else around.”

Ellery tilted his chin and looked into up into Colson’s eyes. “You mean that?”

Colson nodded, not trusting his voice, his fingers still kneading the spasm that was now slowly responding to his hard fingers, relaxing his back, and Ellery was able to straighten a bit more.

“Feels better.” Ellery slid his hand up Colson’s arm to the elbow and then looked at him once more. “Thank you, Colson.”

Colson moved, then, the handful of inches between his face and Ellery’s, until he could feel the warmth of Ellery’s breath against his cheek, shifted slightly until their cheeks brushed, and his hand slid down the outside of the smooth black shirt, seeking his hand, finding it half open against his knee, and grasped it, clamping his own hand hard and pulling it, as though testing the willingness of the man who owned it to come to him, pulling it into the hard lump now straining against his fly.

“I do... want it,” Colson said, his voice a harsh, barely heard whisper.

And in answer, Ellery moved his lips against his cheek and toward his ear. “All right. Not here. We’ll go ta my house.” Colson nodded, wordless now, the die cast, his willingness to fight against himself unwound by the whispered pact of their new intimacy. Ellery brushed his knuckles meaningfully against Colson’s trapped erection and then pulled back his hand slowly, untangling it from that hard grip, letting his lips brush once more against Colson’s cheek before he spoke, this time more audibly. “Let’s make sure we finish lookin here before we give up. Then we got all night. Got to put in a night’s work. The big picture.”

“Right,” Colson said aloud, his voice a trembling sigh, and he spread his hands out on his knees to try to catch his breath, not daring to look up now that he had spoken his desire to a man in the light of day.

Ellery gave him a soft smile. “It’s alright. Come on.” He got up, fingers testing his back with tentative fingers, and began, more cautiously, to search the room with his flashlight. Colson pulled himself to his feet once more and headed for the bedroom he had slept in, his thoughts a million miles away from the discovery of a gold wedding band, his breathing labored, but his mind racing with that effortless, flying sensation that he had always associated with the sudden warmth of spring, the thin air in high country, and the ice cold trickle of meltwater meandering down the canyon. A magic that had been gone, a gutted wood fire burned to ash, and buried, now rekindled like a phoenix in an equally fierce blaze.

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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

very nice, the scene comes vividly to life - and I wanted to follow the guys to see what comes next - so to speak