Monday, December 26, 2011

Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries excerpt by Marshall Thornton

In Boystown, a collection of stories by Marshall Thornton, a former police officer turned private investigator, Nick Nowak is haunted by his abrupt departure from the department, as well as, the traumatic end of his relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty. In these three stories set in Chicago during the early eighties, Nick locates a missing young man for a mysterious client, solves a case of arson at a popular nightspot, and goes undercover to prove a dramatic suicide was actually murder. When he isn’t detecting, and sometimes when he is, Nick moves through a series of casual relationships. But his long suppressed romantic side surfaces when he meets Detective Bert Harker. Will he give love another chance? Or, will he continue to bury himself in the arms of strangers?

Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries
Publisher: Torquere Press (June 8, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1610402332
ISBN-13: 978-1610402330

Excerpt: (from Little Boy Fallen, the third story in the book)

Always be careful who you trick with. I should have that tattooed on my forehead so I can see it every morning when I shave.

The woman was waiting for me when I got to my office. She looked to be in her late forties, thick around the hips, busty. There was lot of red lipstick caked onto her lips, and her hair was done up in a way that had probably gotten a lot of attention during the Eisenhower administration. At first, I thought she was a patient of the dentist down the hall, but when I pulled my keys out and started to unlock the door, she came over.

“Are you Mr. Nowak?” she asked.

A few weeks shy of my thirty-third birthday, I didn’t much like being called 'mister' by anyone who wasn’t still in grammar school. “You can call me Nick.”

I opened the door and led her into my tiny office. The furniture was crammed together, and still I had room left over for a dead corn plant in one corner. The window was big, taking up most of the outer wall. Eight floors below was LaSalle Street. Across the way stood an ultra-modern, steel and glass building that was so tall it cut out most of my light.

“He said you were nice,” she commented, while making herself comfortable in my guest chair. She wore a red cloth coat with a white fox collar. Instead of a purse, she carried a photo album, clutching it tight to her chest.
I hung my suede jacket on the back of my door and pulled a box of Marlboros out of the pocket.

I decided not to ask who ‘he’ was. Not yet. Instead, I asked, “What’s your name, ma’am?”

“Helen Borlock.” I sat down at my desk and lit a cigarette while she talked. “He told me to come. He said you’d help. You can help, can’t you?”

“I don’t know if I can help,” I said honestly. “I don’t know why you’re here.”

She gave me a confused look, as though I should know why she was there. “Bobby told me to come. He said you’d help.”

“Bobby who?”

“Bobby Martin.”

I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Bobby Martin and said so.

“Bobby was my son’s roommate. One of them, I mean. There were four of them living there. Sweet boys, always laughing. The apartment is on Clark and Fullerton. They did it up nice. Every room a different color.”

I still hadn’t a clue who she was talking about.

Abruptly, she held out the photo album. “This is my Lenny.” To be polite, I took the album. “I never wanted to name him Leonard. My husband insisted. He’d had a friend, in the Marines. Wanted to name his son Leonard, after his friend. The friend died, you see.”

I flipped the album open. There was Helen with an infant. I was right. In her day, Helen had been a looker. I flipped a few pages and Lenny began to grow up. Looked like he was on his way to being a looker, too.

“What is it Bobby thought I could help you with?”

She glanced out the window like she suddenly needed to check the weather. It was overcast and threatening to rain or, worse, throw in one last snowstorm for the winter. After a little sigh, she said, “Three weeks ago, my son was murdered.”

“Mrs. Borlock, I’m a private investigator. I don’t investigate murders. The police do that.”

“They don’t care. Lenny is just another pervert to them.”

I waited a few moments, considering. I was telling her the truth. It wasn’t the kind of thing I did.

Or at least tried not to do. Mainly I did background checks, skip traces, once in a while a little surveillance. That was it. Murder was different. Yes, I used to be a policeman, but I’d only worked a beat. I’d never been a detective. In the nearly six years I spent on the job, when it came to murder I’d never done much more than secure a crime scene and make sure witnesses stayed put.

“Can you afford a private investigator?” I asked her.

“Yes. I always put a little aside for Lenny. Ever since he was a little boy.” She stared at her hands, which seemed particularly empty now that I was flipping through the photo album. “I used to think I’d give him the money on his wedding. He was sixteen when I figured out that was never going to happen, so for a while I thought I’d give him the money to go to college. But he was never book smart. Last couple of years, I’ve been waiting to see, did he maybe want to start a business or get a nice beau and buy a house.” Her voice turned bitter. “I should have given it to him. Should have let him spend it on whatever he wanted.”

She looked like she might break down, but fortunately she didn’t. I took the final drag off my cigarette and stubbed it out. Against my better judgment, I said, “Tell me what happened to Lenny.”

“Someone pushed him off the seventh floor of the atrium at Water Tower.”

That seemed pretty cut and dried. “Were there witnesses?”

“It was a little after ten in the morning.”

“No one saw him being pushed?”

She shook her head.

“So, how do you know he was pushed?”

Mrs. Borlock pursed her lips. Tears popped into her eyes and threatened to spill over onto her cheeks. “You’re going to tell me my boy killed himself, just like the police.”

“Right now, I’m not telling you anything. Right now, I’m asking questions. How do you know he was pushed?”

“I just know,” she spat. “I know Lenny. And he wouldn’t kill himself.”

“Why wouldn’t Lenny kill himself?” I was expecting a lame answer, like she’d raised him as a good Catholic, and, since it was against God’s law, he wouldn’t do it. But she didn’t say that. She said something completely different.

“Lenny was the happiest person I ever met.”

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Monday, December 19, 2011

SALVATION excerpt by Lloyd Meeker

In the short story Salvation by Lloyd Meeker, a closeted and deeply religious man is rescued from a life of torment in a surprising encounter with an angel.

Erotica Exotica: Tales of Sex, Magic, and the Supernatural, Richard
Labonté, ed.
Bold Strokes Books (October, 2011)
ISBN: 978-1-60282-570-3


The California synod he had traveled to attend had finished on a high and sacred note, but tonight William would dance for the devil. He stared at his reflection with disgust. He looked young, in a blond, Midwest collegiate way, even though he was 31. Fit, slender, just a little too pretty for comfort. Like Dorian Grey—a comely shell housing a deformed soul. He dismissed himself, turning away.

He’d searched the online guide for the place he could get to quickly tonight—must get to. Google maps had given him the street grid to memorize, and William was ready.

He was going out for a long walk, he’d told his elderly hosts, just to get a better feel for their neighborhood. He’d reassured them he would be perfectly fine on his own, and urged them not to wait up for him since they’d given him a key. Dear Mrs. Griffin had just looked up at him from her crossword and smiled, chirping out her usual goodbye. “Angels watch over you, dear.”

He almost jogged to the street corner and over to a thoroughfare, where he flagged down a cab and gave the driver the address. Adrenaline made his limbs taut and ready, his breathing quick, his senses electrified, acute, as if he were a jungle cat hunting its prey.

Hunting for abomination, he admitted without flinching. Phrasing it more nicely didn’t matter—he was already lost. His body was starving again for the sin that would send him to hell. He had prayed and struggled, but his flesh had beaten him yet again. There would be plenty of time for remorse later, for the too-familiar self-loathing and anguished repentance. Again. William sat in the cab, trembling, watching the passing streets as if they were breadcrumbs he was leaving behind in a darkening forest.

He felt serene even as his heart hammered in his chest; he had surrendered control to his body. He was a mere observer of his flesh, which like a drug addict was stealing him again to get its fix. He would have a drink or two first, make it easier to bear the shame. Temporarily.

The cab stopped. William paid, got out and started walking. Herndon Street would be the next intersection. Ten o'clock and the streets still radiated a sensuous warmth from the summer sun. The air was soft with promise, heavy and metallic, intoxicating. Like the taste of the gun barrel, months ago, he realized. This smoggy air had the same ugly sweetness to it.

But William had been a failure in suicide as well as a failure in faith. He’d really wanted to die that winter night back home in Minneapolis, but somehow couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. He’d paused when he imagined some angel had whispered to him to stop—that his particular road to hell would be paved not with good intentions or even his sins, but with his own brain tissue splattered across the bathroom wall. At the time he’d told himself the voice had been divine wisdom, but he knew deep down it had been mere cowardice—one more weakness to despise in himself. He’d sold the gun at a pawnshop the next day.

562 Herndon Street—he’d arrived. The website listing had promised this place had a dark room downstairs. His gut twisted and coiled. William knew with certainty who and what waited inside, beyond the battered black door only partly lit by the stylized neon phallus above it. The door may as well have been the hell-mouth for the morality play he’d produced back in seminary, inscribed with the grim words over its lintel: "FORSAKE ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE." Shaking with need and excitement, William entered.

He strode to the bar, quickly downed a scotch and then ordered a double before turning to check things out. He looked for the dark room. There, that must be it—behind those black strips of vinyl. Oh! William stopped breathing. The man standing next to the entrance… damnation had never looked so hot. William suppressed a snort at the perfect irony. He walked over to the curtain, pulled the strips aside and looked down into the abyss. The odor of amyl nitrate and male sex surged up, grabbed him by the throat. He coughed, and let go of the plastic as if seared by brimstone.

“It’s not as scary as all that,” rumbled a voice right behind William. “I can show you, if you want.” Damnation Man was standing so close that William could feel his body heat pushing through his shirt into his spine. He turned, and slowly backed away until he bumped against the wall. Damnation Man advanced, and then there was no escape. But William didn’t want escape. He stared at Damnation Man’s bearded face. He wore a conqueror’s smile–confident, enigmatic, ruthless. William looked down. The man was wearing heavy-soled black work boots, Levis and a snug white athletic undershirt. Dark hair curled over its neckline, and a brilliantly colored dragon clawed its way out from behind the cloth, winding across one shoulder. Handsome devil.

“Show me?” William swallowed. His voice was strangled, barely audible.

“Sure. I’ll show you anything you want to see,” the man whispered, raising the back of one hand to brush William’s chest, knuckles dragging down to his stomach, landing to hook heavily on his belt and pulling his hips forward. “What do you want, boy?”

Need so urgent it was almost nausea blocked William’s throat. His tongue flattened, pushed his mouth open, but no sound came out. He shuddered. With a brash honesty all its own, his hand reached out and grasped the denim-covered bulge in the dragon man's crotch. Oh, that sweet firmness, the mysterious softness, the wild, smoldering promise…

“Yeah, I’m gonna give you what you need, boy,” dragon man muttered, cocking his head toward the dark room. “Let’s go.” He turned and disappeared behind the curtain without looking back. William lurched to follow, down stairs he could barely see, keeping his eyes on a white athletic undershirt descending into the darkness in front of him. He angled away from the stairs, and stopped when the shirt stopped. William could barely make out Dragon Man leaning against the wall, unbuttoning his jeans.

Spellbound, William approached to stand between the man’s splayed legs. Again, he reached down to grasp. This time he found the electrifying heat of silken skin, the scrape of pubic hair. William knelt in worship, his reverence ancient as a tribal drum. The scent of Dragon Man’s crotch was incense to carry away his devotion. Leaning forward, William filled his mouth with the man’s hardening cock, pushing back the soft mystery of foreskin with his lips. He reveled in the veined skin sliding, and the wild salt on his tongue was unspeakably sweet. He steadied himself against the man’s thigh, and reached to fondle his balls. They rolled heavy and slow in his hand, the most exquisite things on earth. In a frenzy of need, William dove forward, sucked and tongued and tasted and gagged.

“Hey! No teeth!” the Dragon Man commanded. He reached down and shoved a bottle against William’s nose. “You need to loosen up some, boy. Here.”

Stinging fumes broke the spell. Coughing out the man’s penis, William let go and stood, terrified. “No! No!” was all he could gasp. William bolted—up the stairs, out the hell-mouth, into the street.

Carrying the scent of popcorn, fast food, garbage and cigarettes, the soft night air curled around him, cooling his slimy lips, banishing the popper fumes. He stood rooted to the cement, panting, unable to think of what to do next. But he had escaped. Angels were indeed looking after him. Finally his feet came free and he began to walk.

A familiar harsh voice shamed him. What had he been doing in a bar like that? A man of God, caught in the devil's snare, risking everything now and forever for brief and sleazy pleasure. William shuddered, disgusted. He whispered a prayer of thanks and headed for Beach Avenue.

Bright light from behind a wall of glass flooded the palms in planters on the sidewalk ahead of him. Yes—safety, a decent hotel. William pushed through the revolving doors into garish, startling normalcy. So much light, clatter and chatter. No danger. So many people here, simply being normal. William headed for the bar. He needed something to calm him down, and to celebrate his deliverance.

A waiter with extravagant blond-streaked hair passed in front of him and smiled. “Good evening, sir,” he said, and moved on. William sighed. The waiter was obviously gay, but William didn’t mind. He was safe in this busy brightness. He sat and ordered scotch.

Oh, God. The handsome guitarist on the tiny stage had winked at him. William knew the wink had been for him, because his heart had begun to pound frantically again the moment their eyes had met. That smile meant new danger. Was there no such thing as safety? Transfixed, William sat and drank, hopeful, hopeless. When the set was over, the guitarist came over and sat without asking permission.

“Hi there, I’m Rafe,” he said in a voice as strong and gentle as his music had been. “What’s your name?”

“Uh, William.”

Rafe seemed to think something over for a moment. “Yes, William. Thank you for not lying to me.”

William recoiled, afraid and suspicious. “Lying? How could you possibly tell?”

“Oh, I can tell lots of things, William.” Rafe grinned like a farm boy whose hog had just won first prize at the county fair. He pushed shoulder-length auburn hair behind one ear. “F’r instance I can tell you’re one hurtin’ unit tonight, that’s for certain.”

“How on earth…” William began in protest, but stopped, held in the beauty of Rafe’s gaze.

“What can I say?” Rafe shrugged. “I got the Gift. Bothersome, sometimes, but I came to terms with it long, long ago.”

“Long ago? But you’re even younger than I am!”

Rafe laughed, a knowing, tender laugh, throwing his head back so the long hair escaped his ears and tumbled around his shoulders. “Well, maybe in some ways.” He shook his head. “Not so much in others”. He leaned forward, his flowing hair framing high cheekbones and coruscate eyes, eyes that bathed William in kindness. “I can lift your torment from you, if you want.”

William’s stomach convulsed as if to vomit. “What?” he gasped, swallowing hard. “What do you know about me, about what I’m feeling? You can’t possibly make a promise like that!”

Rafe shrugged and leaned back in the chair. “It’s part of the Gift. I’m a healer. I know exactly what you’re fightin’, bro. I can help.” He leaned forward again, patted William’s hand gently. “But you got to decide. You gotta decide if you really want to be free of that pain, no matter what.” Rafe stood, smiling down. “Tell you what—you sit here while I do my last set. If you’re still here when I finish in thirty minutes, you and I can go to my place, and I’ll heal you. That’s a solemn promise, guaranteed.”

William sat. Rafe’s music washed over him, playful, sweet, enchanting. When the waiter came around, he ordered water. He knew what he wanted, more than anything. He wanted his torment—and its cause—taken away.

Rafe popped the case latches shut on his guitar and came over to sit next to William, draping an arm around his shoulders. “You’re a good man, William. I can tell. Brave. Worthy of healing. Let’s go.”

William stood, tentative, looking for signs of menace in Rafe’s face.

“Naw, William. I for sure ain’t gonna hurt you. You have my solemn word on that.”

Blushing, William nodded, still unable to speak, and followed Rafe out into the sultry night.

They walked in silence for blocks. With alarm William realized he had lost his way, that the street grid he had carefully memorized was now useless. “Is it far? I mean, your place. Is it near?”

“Yup, we’re here,” Rafe chuckled, pointing ahead at a modest apartment block—white stucco, red tile and wrought iron, one of countless others like it, decently lit. They climbed stairs to the third floor, past big pots of bougainvillea, jasmine and bird of paradise. Rafe unlocked his door. “C’mon in, William. This is it.”

Inside the apartment, Rafe put down his case, took off his jacket and kicked off his shoes with a sigh. William stood just inside the door, mute, tense, ready to flee.

“I’m sorry, Will. My manners are plumb terrible. Don’t get enough visitors, I guess, to keep me in practice.” Rafe waved to the sparsely furnished living room. “Make yourself comfy! Would you like a glass of water? I don’t think I’m gonna offer you any booze. I want you clear-headed for the healing.”

“Water would be perfect, thanks.” William sat on the edge of the couch, and looked around, pretending his heart wasn’t beating like a madman’s drum.

“So tell me…” Rafe’s voice floated over from the open fridge. “When did you first have sex with a man?”

William jumped up from the couch, panicked. “What did you say?”

“Now you just set yourself back down, Will.” Rafe’s voice was friendly and firm—patient, as if explaining something to a child. “I told you I knew, didn’t I?” He came out of the kitchen, two tumblers of ice water in hand. “It’s all good—but I heal folks only when they want healing.” He shook his head in sad disbelief. “You’d be amazed how many people don’t really want healing, though. Most just want fixin’, and I surely ain’t no mechanic.”

William sat. He liked being called Will. Nobody ever had, until now. It sounded right to him. Real.

“So when was your first time?” Rafe asked, more gently this time, handing him one of the glasses.

“In seminary. Eleven years ago, now. One of my teachers.”

“Seminary, huh? Those people—sometimes I just…” Rafe shook his head and looked away, swallowing hard. He turned back to William. “The sex, though. You liked it?”

“They were the most wonderful, magical, moments of my life. Even though I knew it was a sin.”

“You loved him?”

“I adored him.”

“And then it got complicated.”

The burn of shame made his throat constrict. “Yes. Very.”

“And then he told you that it had to stop.”

“How did you know?” William stared at Rafe and took a long drink of ice water. “Yes.” He put down the empty glass, feeling lost. “He said that it was wrong and we had to stop seeing each other.”

“You were betrayed, bro.” Rafe sat beside William, holding his eyes with a fierce stare. “Do you want that wonderful magic back again? Without the pain?”

William’s answer caught in his throat. Sobbing, he dropped to his knees in front of Rafe. “Oh, Rafe—can you really make me normal? I’ve hoped and prayed so hard, wept, begged to be made whole! Can you really take this awful sickness from me?”

Rafe eased William off his lap, stood, then drew him up to face him. “Now listen to me, Will. This is real important. I said I could lift the torment from you. But the Good Lord made you the way you are. I’m surely not gonna try to undo what God has done—that’s plumb against my nature. Besides, you’re already just right the way you are. What you got in mind is gettin’ fixed accordin’ to some goofy ideas that just ain’t true. What I’m offerin’ you is true healing. The real McCoy.”

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Monday, December 12, 2011

A Body On Pine excerpt by Joseph R.G. DeMarco

In Joseph R.G. DeMarco's A Body On Pine, when Marco Fontana enters his friend's spa on Pine, he doesn't find the peaceful retreat he expected. Brad, the masseur, is missing. The spa is splattered with blood and a dead client lies sprawled on the floor. After a thorough search turns up more questions than answers, Marco calls the police. They find Brad's body a short distance from the spa and before long Marco understands that what appears to be a simple case of murder is anything but. The police want Marco off the case. However, when the body of a popular journalist is added to the death toll, Brad's case gets sidelined. Marco refuses to allow his friend's death to be ignored and convinces an overwhelmed young police detective to bring Marco into the hunt for the killer. He finds plenty to keep him busy. Abusive ex-boyfriends, stalker clients, politicians, scheming businessmen, and Eastern European mobsters swirl together in a dangerous mix which finds Marco in some of the most serious trouble he's encountered so far. Life at home doesn't stop for Marco, either. While he searches for Brad's killer, Marco's stripper troupe, StripGuyz, brings him face to face with a stripper's abusive boyfriend and, with Jean-Claude, a new member of the troupe who innocently comes between Marco and Anton, upsetting the fragile balance existing between them.

A Body On Pine
Lethe Press (2011)
ISBN: 978-1-59021-345-2


I tried forgetting Stinky and his sordid life as I climbed the steps to my office. Sometimes being a P.I. makes you feel as dirty as your clients. But, the Stankowitz case was over and done with. A long, hot shower would wash it all away.

Anton stood at the top of the stairs, arms folded across his broad chest, like a sentry on duty. Tall, blond, and square-jawed, he looked down at me and smiled. I hadn’t seen him much in the past three weeks since I’d been on stakeout and I felt happy at the sight of him. Anton is my right-hand when it comes to running StripGuyz, the male stripper troupe I own, so it was no surprise finding him outside my office at Bubbles, the bar we use as the troupe’s base. The strippers and my work as a P.I. bring in enough money to pay the bills but both jobs keep me running. Having Anton manage the dancers and their schedules makes a big difference.

“Marco! You’re early. Did you give up on Stinky?” Anton had dubbed my target “Stinky.” It was a name that fit.

“You know me better than that.” I reached the landing and every knotted muscle the stakeout had caused, tightened painfully. “Stinky is history.”

I took Anton in my arms and planted a kiss on his mouth. Surprised at first, he responded wrapping his arms around me and pressing me close. His warmth felt good and I wanted more but Anton had his rules and I had no choice. We stayed in each other’s arms a while, then he gently pulled back.

Turning toward the closed office door, he swung it open.

“The office is all yours.”

Walking into the small room, I felt liberated after the long stakeout. It wasn’t my regular office, which was bigger and lots more comfortable, but this one would do for now. I moved to the desk, dropped into the chair, and let out a sigh. The battered old desk chair felt like heaven after a couple of weeks bent behind a steering wheel or peering out the car’s window. Sam “Stinky” Stankowitz, the sex-addled whacko, slipped into more places more quickly than anyone I’d ever followed. I was right behind him every minute, watching, taking pictures, and making notes.

“So, you’re all finished with the Stankowitz case?”

“Stinky’s not gonna give his wife a problem ever again.”

“He’s not… um… you know…?” Anton paused. “…is he?”

“The slime ball is still alive. But once his wife gets my report, Stinky will probably want to be on a slab somewhere.” A sharp pain stabbed at my leg. Leaning down, I massaged my left calf which had a knot the size of Kansas. Grudgingly, the muscle relaxed. Eventually, it’d be back and with friends.

“Think you can lend a hand and massage a kink or two out of my shoulder?” I smiled then winced feeling the pain in my calf again.

Anton tossed me a sympathetic smile, moved behind me, and placed his hands on my shoulders. He gripped them gently at first and I leaned back and sighed.

“Feel good?” Slowly he began to press and squeeze until I felt an exquisite but painful relaxation of the muscles. “Got yourself all scrunched into knots.”

“F-feels…unh… feels great…,” I drew a sharp breath when he hit a particularly sore spot. “Ow…”

“Sorry, big boy…”

“No… Feels… feels great… yeah… yeah… do that again.” In seconds, my shoulder muscles turned from angry to blissful.

“Now that you’ve finished snooping and taking whoopee photos, you’re turning them over to his wife? Poor woman.” He gave me an extra hard squeeze to punctuate his remarks and I yelped. Anton knew the investigative drill but something about this aspect of P.I. work rankled him.

“Snooping is such an ugly word. I was gathering intel. Besides, Mrs. Stinky hired me and demanded color close-ups. She can have them. I’m glad I won’t have to see Stinky’s face again. I’ve had enough of him to last three lifetimes. I won’t miss the little porker.”

It’d be satisfying pulling Stankowitz out from under his rock, watching him blink in the sunshine. Satisfying but not much fun because everybody gets hurt. The wife, the kids, even Stinky himself, not that I had a speck of feeling for him.

Spying on cheating partners wasn’t my favorite kind of gig, too much pain and trouble. But those cases brought in the dough. Since I’d moved my investigative offices to a newer building, I needed better cash flow.

“Until he comes after you for destroying his marriage,” Anton said and massaged my shoulders more gently.

“Hey, he’s the one who destroyed his marriage.” I said. “When he decided to cheat on his wife with any and every man he could find, he made his marriage moot.”

“You just took pictures to illustrate Stinky’s drama.” Anton smirked.

“It pays the bills. Anyway, his wife deserves a good settlement when they divorce. She’ll have three kids to raise all on her own. Those illustrations will help her case. Stinky’s a chiropractor with money coming out of his ass.”

“I guess you know what you’re doing, Marco.” He gave my shoulders a few more gentle squeezes then stepped around to the front of the desk again.

“Guys like Stinky are slime. They want it all no matter who gets hurt. I’m helping him face reality.”

“Here’s some reality for you, boss man: there’s a truckload of things going on right here at Bubbles. Maybe you remember us? Weeks staked out in your old BMW made you forget your responsibilities here, right?” Anton affected a world weary look.

“Like?” I played innocent but knew full well what was coming.

“The Campaign Express is rumbling through Bubbles and you graciously agreed to co-host the event. Hot politicians trying to get the gay edge in the primary are gonna be all over you. After they crawl out the door, there’s the Amateur Competition.”

“I only recall promising to play with the politicians.” Stan, the bar’s owner, had roped me into doing the political event. With the primary a few weeks away, some candidates were visiting the bars on their “I Love Gays” tour. That’s what I called it. Love was the furthest thing from their devious political minds. Votes were what they craved. The sincerity behind their gay pub crawl wasn’t high but it was better than having them ignore us completely.

“You’re right, you didn’t promise to help with Amateur Night. I’ve already got a host lined up,” Anton said, a dazzling smile spreading across his face. “Good thing you put me in charge of scheduling and managing the guys. Especially since you spend so much time taking dirty pictures.” He winked at me. Anton was as good at keeping the schedule running smoothly as he was at managing the StripGuyz dancers.

“The politicians are all I can handle tonight. Three weeks tailing Stankowitcz was torture. I never realized how cramped my car is. There’s no way to get comfortable in that tin can.”

“You could find other kinds of cases.” Anton smiled innocently. “Or buy a bigger car.”

“Not complaining. But I’m looking forward to the massage I scheduled with Brad tomorrow.” I smiled thinking about Brad, who’d been my masseur for several years. I scheduled myself for a massage twice a month, which never actually happened twice a month because cases always got in the way. Not only was Brad a great masseur, he was a good friend who was never bothered by my quirky schedule and last minute cancellations. I intended to keep this appointment no matter what. My screamingly knotted muscles would never forgive me if I cancelled. As if to remind me, the arch of my right foot developed a painful spasm, curling my foot and making me cringe.

“Brad again, huh? Sounds like you’re getting more than a massage with him. I’ve known lots of masseurs. When they advertise a deep massage they’re not just talking pressure.”

“Jealous?” I winked at Anton who also knew Brad. “What happens at Brad’s spa stays at Brad’s spa. That’s what I always say.” I glanced at Anton and noticed a strange expression cross his face. “Don’t worry. Brad and I are as chaste together as you and I.”

“Why should I worry? You’re a free man, tiger.”

I didn’t comment. Those words were loaded and I wasn’t about to light that tinder box.

“Brad’s totally professional with me. Whatever he does with other clients, I don’t know and don’t care. All I want is a good massage and that’s what I get.”

“All I know is,” Anton said wistfully, “when you’re on his table, he gets to see more of you than I ever have.”

“Uh, correct me if I’m wrong, handsome, but I’m not the one holding out. Am I?” I looked up innocently. Anton wanted the whole package: monogamy, cozy nights at home, a white picket fence. Short of that, we could kiss and cuddle but that was all.

Settling down sounded so permanent but at the same time, appealing. Half of me wanted to dive right in but there were issues I needed to resolve and I refused to give Anton false hope. I had strong feelings for him but something stood in the way, something in me. Maybe I was a fool thinking he’d wait.

I kept having doubts, kept thinking about all the bad relationships I’d seen. I’d watched too many broken hearted guys trudge through my office. Did I want to create one more situation like that? Even more important, did I love him? Strong feelings aren’t love but maybe that’s how love starts. Anton was important to me, more than important. I needed to know if I loved him before I did anything. And before Anton decided to move on.

“Let’s not go there right now,” Anton said. “We’ve got politicians to coddle.”

“Who’s on the Campaign Express?” I asked.

“I think Stan has a list. He’ll fill you in.”

On my way out, I took Anton in my arms again, felt his muscular form relax against me. Our lips were about to touch when someone knocked on the door. As we slowly pulled apart, the door edged open.

“Anton? Oh! Pardon!” Jean-Claude, one of our newer dancers, stood in the doorway. The yellow office light brushed his wheat-colored hair giving him a sleepy-soft, seductive look. Tall, muscularly slender, with light brown eyes, Jean-Claude was a transplanted French-Canadian who’d started work a few months back. “Oh, desolĂ©. I will come back.” Jean-Claude’s French accent laced his words.

“Hold on, Jean-Claude. We’ve got to talk about the contest. Marco was just leaving,” Anton said. “He’s got politicians to meet.” Glancing first at me then at Jean-Claude, Anton’s demeanor shifted from wistful to welcoming.

“Right.” I moved toward the door. “Can’t keep the pols waiting. See you later?” I looked at Anton.

“I’ll be here,” he said. “If you need me, just call.”

“Will do.”

Jean-Claude moved into the office. Suddenly they were all business and I felt invisible.

“Try and have a good time, Marco.” Anton said over his shoulder. “I’ll be swamped with this contest. We’ve got a lot of wannabes coming in and…”

“You should pay this man more, Mr. Fontana.” Jean-Claude looked admiringly at Anton. “He works too much.”

Anton smiled at me. “See? Someone appreciates my work.”

The sound of manipulation clunked in the background as I watched him try to push me into a pay-raise corner.

“Times are tough, Jean-Claude. Anton knows how much I value what he does… and him. See you guys downstairs later?”

“Uh, I… I don’t think so, Marco,” Anton said. “Got a lot to do before the contest.”

“Me neither,” Jean-Claude said. “I’ll help Anton before I get ready to go onstage.”

“I’ll face the politicians myself, then.” I laughed.

Anton and Jean-Claude quickly got back to work. Anton obviously needed an assistant, especially since I wasn’t around enough, and Jean-Claude seemed more than willing. The way he looked at Anton, though, made me feel vaguely uneasy.

I closed the door, squared my shoulders, and got ready for the political parade downstairs. Stepping into the main bar, the music hit me like a jackhammer. People laughed and talked. An air of excitement suffused the place.

“Marco!” A short guy in an expensive gray silk suit, stuck out his hand. I had no idea who he was as we shook hands. “Hey, how are you?” I said noncommittally.

“You don’t remember me, do ya?” He winked at me. “I was involved in that case you handled in South Philly coupl’a years back. The one with the widow…?”

“Oh, right. Right!” I remembered everything now. Shorty was a deep pockets businessman who’d been helping out a boy toy he’d taken under his wing. I presumed he’d dug into those same pockets to back one of the candidates tonight. “How’s… um… your friend?”

“Y’know, I can’t remember his name either. We split a while back.” He didn’t seem bothered by the break-up. “I’m here supportin’ Nussbaum. Been in that seat a long time and I wanna keep him there.” He winked again.

“He’s got a tough young opponent, from what I hear.”

“That’s why I’m spreadin’ some cash around.”

“Gotcha,” I said and moved off into the crowd.

None of the politicians had arrived and it was getting late. I wondered who’d organized this whole thing. I found Stan yuckking it up with some patrons, waving his hands like an old helicopter. He loved owning Bubbles and the high profile it gave him.

“Ready for the Attack of the Politicians?” I asked.

“The Campaign Express, Marco. We gotta play the game. It’s not every day politicians come begging to gay voters.”

“Yeah, like we really matter,” said a guy I didn’t recognize. He rebalanced himself on his barstool and gulped his drink.

“Who’s supposed to be here?” I asked.

“Somebody named Nancy has a list, she’s organizing it. Far as I know, most of the heavy hitters like Terrabito, Kelley, Nussbaum, Clarke and some newbies. Nancy what’s’ername hinted some surprises might even show.”

“And I’m supposed to do what?” I asked. Stan knew my feelings about political soirees. I hoped he also knew how much he’d owe me after this event.

“Turn on the charm with Nancy. Help her introduce the big dogs to us regular slobs. Schmooze with them. Let ‘em see that gay people are real live voters, too. I’d do it but you’re a hell of a lot prettier and you know more people.”

“When’s this happening, Stan?”

“Right about now.” He glanced at his watch then peered at the entrance.

A tall, neatly coiffed man entered accompanied by a small, grandmotherly woman. Helen Bell was the State Representative for the district. One of the few politicians I almost trusted. She was running unopposed but never missed an opportunity to meet constituents.

Some well-dressed guys trooped through the doors one or two at a time. Too stiff and slick to be patrons. I had to admit, though, some political types were attractive, even hot. I’d could enjoy the eye candy and ignore the hot air.

“Who are these jokers? I don’t recognize any of them.” I nudged Stan who shrugged.

One suit after another entered gazing around tentatively. All of them dressed in clothes that cost more than I made in six months. The older ones looked like lost sugar daddies, the younger ones seemed ready to bolt. They wore their suits like armor, ready to fend off unwanted passes.

“I don’t know their names, Marco. Hell, I don’t even know their faces. I was countin’ on you…”

“Must be the advance team paving the way. Or staffers.”

“You’ll have to get their names, introduce them around. Where’s Nancy? I don’t see Nancy.” Stan shot glances all around then gave me a gentle shove in the direction of the nearest suit, a dark-haired number, wide-eyed and nervous.

I stuck out my hand. “Marco Fontana,” I said and smiled. His spicy cologne floated over the odor of stale beer but wasn’t overpowering.

“Josh Nolan.” He shook my hand. His palm was sweaty but his grip was firm.

“You’re running for…”

“Running? No… funny. No. I’m Senator Terrabito’s chief of staff. Got here ahead of him I guess. You haven’t seen him, have you? I didn’t get to the other bars. I thought he’d be here.” The words tumbled out with an edgy quality.

“Never been in a gay bar before?” I asked as soothingly as I could. “How about a drink? That’ll help.” I signaled the bartender.

“Th-thanks. And no, I haven’t ever been in a gay bar before.” Despite the slight edginess, his voice was like thick honey.

“It’s the same as any other bar except it’s different. If you know what I mean.”

The bartender slapped down a napkin. “What’ll it be?”

“How about a Long Island Iced Tea?” I winked at the bartender.

“That should do it.” Nolan seemed grateful for the suggestion.

“It’ll settle your nerves.” It’d more likely knock him for a loop. “On the house.”

The bartender gave me a knowing smile. I knew from experience just how the powerful drink could sneak up on you after a while. I was betting Nolan knew it, too. Maybe he wanted to loosen up for some reason. If he could stand after a couple of Long Island Iced Teas, he might even have a good time.

“Comin’ right up.” The bartender turned and got busy.

“Been a long day,” Nolan said. His eyes betrayed his attempt at seeming calm and nonchalant.

The bartender placed the drink on the bar and Nolan slipped him a five. Which raised him a few points in my book.

“When’s the Senator getting here?” I asked, trying to relax him.

“Truthfully,” Nolan glanced at his watch, then snatched his drink from the bar and took a long gulp. “I thought he’d be here by now. He said he had some business to clear up and would meet me here.”

“He’s not the only one who hasn’t shown,” said a stubby man who’d sidled up to us. His suit was as expensive as the others but looked like a cheap tablecloth marred by wrinkles and stains.

“Marco Fontana,” I said sticking out my hand again. “You are…”

“Stu Henderson, on the Governor’s staff.” He turned to Nolan. “How you doin’ Nolan? You’re lookin’ a little green around the gills.” He laughed, a sandpapery sound, and it seemed he’d already had more than the legal limit. “Don’t worry, kid. Anybody makes a pass at you, tell ‘em I’m your boyfriend.” He laughed louder this time.

Nolan said nothing, gulped more of his drink.
Open for Submissions: Mysterical-E

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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Model excerpt by Serena Yates

In The Model by Serena Yates, Alessandro, a famous fashion model with the perfect body, hopes to find love but people never look beyond his appearance. Is it possible to find someone interested in the man he is deep-down?

Off camera, Alessandro is Fabio Bonardi, a man tired of loneliness and drama. His modeling career is great, but in a world where image is everything, no one is as they seem. When the first wrinkle appears, it's time for Plan B. He wants to start a business and enlists Edwin Zachary to help. The shy financial consultant looks below the surface and connects with Fabio, surprising them both.

Not everyone is happy with this development. A mysterious stalker tries to drive Fabio and Edwin apart. Will he succeed? Or can they overcome the obstacles and build the lasting relationship they both so desperately want?

The Model is #6 in the Workplace Encounters series, standalone stories with the same theme of 'blue collar' workers and/or unusual jobs. Excerpts from The Elevator Mechanic, The Chauffeur, The Ship Engineer, The Carpenter and The Truck Driver will follow in ensuing weeks.

The Model
Silver Publishing
ISBN: 9781920502294


"What the fuck?" Fabio Bonardi stared at his image in abject horror. It may have been a fairly low quality hotel mirror and his eyes didn't quite want to open yet. But even at five in the morning he was awake enough to recognize a catastrophe when he saw it.

There, just below his right eye, was unmistakable evidence that he was getting old. Shit! Of all the things that could go wrong just before an early morning shoot, finding his first wrinkle was... hell, it wasn't even on the damned list! He closed his eyes. Maybe this was a nightmare. Surely, at twenty-eight, with the careful, not to say paranoid, way he took care of his skin, there was no way wrinkles would have a chance. Seconds later, not able to wait any longer despite his fear, he opened them again. Damn! The thing hadn't disappeared.

He bent forward and stretched his skin, hoping it might magically spring back into its previous un-wrinkled shape. Weren't Mediterranean genes supposed to help you look younger? Apparently, his luck had just run out. The wrinkle was still there and not even his otherwise blemish-free olive skin could hide it.

"Double fuck!" He hit the marble basin with enough force that pain raced up his arm. "Ouch." Talk about adding injury to insult. Or was that the other way around? He shook his head as he looked for his special moisturizer. It would have to do until Adair could work his magic. He was the best damned make-up artist in the whole business and almost reason enough to like coming to New York for a shoot. Almost.

Going through the motions of getting ready for a five-thirty pickup to the studio, he let his mind wander. He'd always known this day would come. Taking care of the money he made, carefully investing it so it would still be there once nobody wanted to hire him any longer, was second nature to him. He'd amassed a nice nest egg and it looked like it was time to use it to set Plan B into motion.

With a last admiring look at the figure he cut with his broad shoulders, narrow hips and long legs, he left the hotel bathroom to get dressed in client-supplied underwear, blue jeans, and one of his oldest and most comfortable sweatshirts. Packing only took a few minutes, because he only needed to make sure his stuff was in his carry-on bag, not think about what to take. He hated travelling with a lot of baggage, and he didn't need a big wardrobe when he posed for fashion shoots all day, only to return to the hotel late at night for a quick salad before he dropped into bed.

The glamour of modelling? A total myth. Inexperienced guys might fall for it, but he'd been at this for ten years now and knew better. Paris, Milan, and New York were good places to have on his resume, sure, but they weren't any more fun on his sort of schedule than Timbuktu or Hicksville, Tennessee would have been.

With the last shirt stuffed into the duffel, closely followed by his two bags of toiletries, he closed the luggage, picked it up, and left his room. He'd already checked his mail, updated his Facebook status, and sent a few tweets to fans who'd contacted him, so he was good to go. It was time to face today's music. He sighed as he waited for the elevator to make it to the twenty-second floor to pick him up. He was so hungry, but breakfast was out of the question. So were most other meals. He needed his figure to be perfect, now more than ever. He'd work out later in the day if he was lucky, and would allow himself some food, maybe a salad and some chicken, after that.

Checking out of the hotel consisted of dropping off his key card, the agency that had organized the shoot would take care of the bill. The cute little guy working at reception gave him a radiant smile and he grinned back. There was little harm in being friendly to someone he'd never see again and who couldn't bother him with any requests for an autograph, or his picture to be taken next to the famous Alessandro, his working name. He walked away with a little wave of his hand that made the receptionist blush redder than the plush crimson carpet on the floor of the hotel's entrance hall.

"Good morning, sir." The uniformed driver of the limo opened the door for him with the same cheerful efficiency as he'd shown the last two mornings. He was clearly more awake than Fabio.

"Morning." God, he needed coffee so badly. His head was going to kill him if he didn't get his next ration of caffeine soon. The coffee in his hotel room had been good, but only a start as far as he was concerned.

He entered the dark blue limo, sinking into the leather seats while the driver closed the door, slid behind the wheel, and made his way into the early morning traffic. At least Fabio was ranked high enough on the global list of top models to be given his own car, so he had another twenty minutes or so to close his eyes and doze.

No sleep would come.

He pulled his BlackBerry from his pocket and composed an e-mail to his personal assistant. Lisa lived in LA and hadn't come with him this time, since it was only a three-day shoot for an underwear manufacturer he'd worked for before. He hadn't expected to need her help during this trip. Now, he would put her in charge of researching financial and small business consultants. He knew what Plan B was, but he needed help with the details. Lisa was just the woman to find him what he needed.

"We're here, sir." The driver's voice returned him to reality and he nodded his thanks before leaving the car.

The chaos once he entered the huge open-space studio on the second floor was reassuringly familiar. He'd seen a few remodelled warehouses in his career, but this was one of the biggest. Instead of putting up separation walls to give different areas a separate identity and space, the architect had kept it all open, with only the occasional supporting wrought iron pillar to break up the space. There was a catering area to his right with tables stretching out along half the wall, the make-up and changing areas were in the back and included both corners, and there was a model rest area against the left wall. The corner to his left and most of the area in the center of the room was set up with various groupings of furniture, lighting screens, cameras, and assistants with notepads running around like headless chickens.

Most of the other models were already there, gossiping in the back and providing the ever-present buzz any shoot worth its name would create over time. They waited for their turn in make-up, and those who weren't online using various types of smart phone to stay in touch with their fans were drinking what must be vegetable juices and herbal teas. Most of them were sipping water and looked famished as they glared at the tempting doughnuts and Danishes on the long buffet table. None of that was for them, but the equipment guys, lighting people, and various clothing assistants all wanted to eat. Nobody cared what sort of cravings it created for the models.

Coffee was also available and Fabio made a beeline for it. At least it was good quality. Ian Cery, one of his favorite photographers, knew him and his preferences well and always made sure the juice of the gods was high quality. Never mind some health nuts said it was bad for the skin. He needed it almost more than to be wrinkle free, and that was saying something!

Where was Ian, anyway? Fabio shook his head. He was sure to appear at some point, the man was nothing if not professional. Fabio took a small cup of coffee and sank into one of the easy chairs in the waiting area at the back, sitting as far away from the other models as possible. None of them were in his league, so there was nothing to be gained by pretending to be friendly. That was all it could ever be between rivals who'd fight each other to the death to get the better shoot, the more famous photographer, or the more up and coming client. He snorted, quickly covering up the sound with a cough. Everything in the business was so damned artificial, it wasn't funny.

A few odd glances from the other models later, he had finished his coffee and started looking around to see where Adair might be lurking. After all, there was no point in facing Ian until Adair had seen to his newest disfigurement. That thought made him sit up.

Disfigurement? A wrinkle? Now that he was fully awake and caffeinated it suddenly seemed a little dramatic to be thinking that way. It wasn't as if he had a damned scar like that kid had got a few years back. What was his name? Kyle something? The poor guy had only been eighteen when he was in a horrible accident and he'd vanished from the scene faster than a photographer could press the releaser. Rumor had it that the damage to his face was extensive and he'd certainly never appeared on the cover of another magazine.

Fabio shuddered. Now, that was a real problem. He wasn’t quite there yet, thank God, but the writing was on the wall since his horrible discovery this morning. He couldn’t wait to hear from Lisa. Plan B had suddenly become a true priority.

“Ah, there you are.” Xavier, Ian’s newest assistant, smiled and showed off a row of perfect white teeth. “Adair wants you in make-up straight away. Your first session isn’t until eight, but they want to do some test shots with you at seven.”

“Sure.” Fabio rose from his chair and followed the little guy into the back section. Where did Adair find these eager little college kids? He went through them at an alarming rate, none quite good enough to stay on, but there was always the next one to take the fired one’s place. Maybe there was a nest of them somewhere around here. The thought made him chuckle just as he entered Adair’s domain.

“Someone is in a good mood today.” Adair stood with his hands on his hips, his jean shorts barely protecting his modesty and the hole-y T-shirt giving everyone who cared to look a great view of lots of upper-body skin. His hair was as unkempt as ever, but his eyeliner, mascara, and foundation were immaculate. The dusky rouge accentuated his steel gray eyes and the lip gloss was outrageously shiny. The man looked good enough to be on a magazine cover himself.

“Not really.” Fabio shook his head as he took a seat in front of the mirror. “Just no longer a totally foul one.”

“Oh? Tell me more.” Adair shook out a protective cape and placed it around Fabio’s shoulders. “We haven’t had any good gossip all morning.”

“Well, this one is highly confidential.” Fabio frowned at Adair, quickly smoothing his face back into a bland non-expression when Adair tsked at him. Right, he didn’t need even more wrinkles. “Top secret in fact!”

“Classified enough so you’d have to shoot me if anything leaked?” Adair looked delighted, eyes bright with joy. “I’ve always wanted to know one of those.”

“I bet.” Fabio sighed and sat back, trying to relax and failing abysmally.

So, tell me already.” Adair bent forward until one ear was at Fabio’s mouth. “Come on, I really want to know.”

Fabio shook his head.

“What?” Adair stood back up and pouted. “Not fair.”

Fabio silently pointed to the area below his eye where he knew the offending wrinkle to be. He couldn’t even bear to look at his face in the mirror. His looks were all he had. How the hell was he going to make significant money without them? He may have a plan for what to do next, but fuck if he knew whether it was going to work. He needed that appointment with the financial and business wizard as soon as possible. Yesterday would be good!

“No!” Adair’s gasp was loud enough for several of the assistants and other models to turn their head.

Fabio hid his face in his hands. More attention. So not what he needed. Normally he craved it, but not with a weakness like that exposed for all to see. Ridicule and bullying were sure to follow. He remembered those awful days in kindergarten when he was fat and ugly. The other kids had been merciless. His parents had shrugged and told him the other kids were right, he was a disgrace to the family. He’d almost starved himself to lose weight, but all they’d said was he shouldn’t have gotten fat in the first place. All of that had happened before he was ten, but he remembered it as if it had been yesterday.

“Honey, I am so sorry.” Adair had gone straight into his fluttering state. He rushed around the room to collect different products, some brushes and other tools of his trade, before he returned to Fabio. “I’ll make it go away, don’t you worry.”

“Permanently?” It was too much to hope for, but he suddenly wanted Adair to be a miracle worker.

“Sorry, sweetie, no can do.” Adair took Fabio’s chin in one hand and tilted his head this way and that. “I can hide it very effectively for a few more months, maybe, but only Botox or laser therapy or something similar can completely remove it.”

“Shit!” His voice was way too loud and a few grins were sent his way before the two other models being powdered looked away. Man, people are nosy around here.

“I agree.” Adair picked some foundation and started applying it across Fabio’s face. “It’ll be expensive, but it can be done.”

“No. Can’t do it.” He couldn’t even think about it without his stomach turning.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” Adair paused for a second before returning to his task. “They’re getting very good at this stuff.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. Well, not entirely.” He shook as goose bumps appeared across his body.

Adair just looked at him with his ‘come on, give it up’ expression and Fabio had no choice but to tell him. After all, he might still need the man’s advice to find a less invasive method for ‘ironing out’ this wrinkle.

“Well?” Adair stopped working and leaned back, making Fabio decidedly uncomfortable.

“I have a fear of needles…” Anything doctor or medical-related, in fact. He didn’t know what had caused it, but it had been this way ever since he could remember, so it must be due to something that happened when he was extremely young.

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry to hear that.” Adair squeezed his shoulder. “Have you tried therapy?”

Fabio nodded.

“It didn’t help?” Adair shook his head. “Must be really bad.”

Fabio nodded again. Even his wrinkle and its message about aging weren't scary enough to get him to revise his belief about the medical profession. He knew it was stupid, but he’d rather accept the wrinkles than subject himself to a doctor’s care.
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Blood Sacrifice excerpt by Rick R Reed

In Blood Sacrifice, Rick R Reed asks the question, "What would you give up for immortal life and love?" By day, Elise draws and paints, spilling out the horrific visions of her tortured mind. By night, she walks the streets, selling her body to the highest bidder. And then they come into her life: a trio of impossibly beautiful vampires: Terence, Maria, and Edward. When they encounter Elise, they set an explosive triangle in motion.

Terence wants to drain her blood. Maria just wants Elise . . . as lover and partner through eternity. And Edward, the most recently-converted, wants to prevent her from making the same mistake he made as a young abstract expressionist artist in 1950s Greenwich Village: sacrificing his artistic vision for immortal life. He is the only one of them still human enough to realize what an unholy trade this is.

This terrifying, erotic, suspenseful and richly romantic vampire tale will grip you in a vise of suspense that won't let go until the very last moment...when a shocking turn of events changes everything and demonstrates--truly--what love and sacrifice are all about. Blood Sacrifice is a new digital e-book version of In the Blood and contains exclusive restored material not included in the print edition.

Blood Sacrifice
Untreed Reads Publishing


Elise Groneman stares out the window, stomach roiling. What she has is like stage fright. She gets it every night, before she ventures out of her tiny Rogers Park studio apartment on Chicago’s far north side. It’s always been amazing to her that just a few minutes’ walk to the north is the suburb of Evanston and a different world; there, the streets are tree-lined and clean, the homes palatial, the condos upscale, the restaurants grand, and the stores exclusive. Affluence and culture preside. Yet here, on Greenview Street, one encounters abject poverty, crime, the detritus of urban desperation: tiny brightly-colored baggies, fast food wrappers, condoms, empty alcohol bottles, even pieces of clothing. The sidewalks are cracked, the grassy areas choked with weeds and garbage. Here in Rogers Park, the normal folks―the ones who travel on the el to work downtown every morning―stay inside, so as not to mingle with people like Elise, or the man outside her window right now, who’s screaming, “What the fuck do I care what you do, bitch? It ain’t no skin off my ass.” Elise glances out and sees the man is alone. A boy cruises by on a bicycle that’s too small for him. The bike is stolen; either that, or he’s a runner for some small time dealer, delivering and making collections. Sometimes, there aren’t many options for moving up the ladder.

But this neighborhood is all Elise can afford, and, unless she picks up more clientele soon, she may even be crowded out of this hovel she begrudgingly calls home. Once, she shared the place with someone else, but those days, for better or worse, are long behind her.

Elise moves to the window, attempting to obliterate memory by the simple act of staring outside. Dusk has fallen and the sky belies the earthbound life before her. The sun is setting, the sky deep violet, filtering down to tangerine and pink near the horizon. If she keeps her eyes trained on the riot of color and shape to the east, she can almost forget where she is.

But the denizens of Greenview Street make sure she stays reminded. They stroll the night in an attempt to escape the heat, the hot, moist air pressing in, smothering. They call to one another, using words she had barely heard, let alone used, back in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where she had grown up: nigga, motherfucka, homey. Fuck used as an adjective, verb, and ejaculation (but rarely, ironically, utilized in a sexual context). Snatches of music filter out from apartment windows. Cruising vehicles pass by, bass thumping hard enough to cause the glass in her windows to vibrate. She has picked up names of artists like Bow Wow, Def Soul, and Trick Daddy as she walks the streets. Elise puts a hand to the screen, testing the air. Will there ever be a breeze again? She wonders if her neighbors would recognize any of the names attached to the music she loves, names like Vivaldi, Smetana, Bach. Other music fills the street: arguments and professions of love shouted with equal force. Headlights illuminate the darkening night, which is also lit by the flare of a match here, neon there, and sodium vapor overall. The world glows orange, filling up not only the streets of the city, but the sky, blotting out the stars.

East of her churn the cold waters of Lake Michigan, and Elise imagines its foam-flecked waves lapping at the shores. She’d like to pad down to the beach at the end of Birchwood Street, kick off her sandals and run across the sand and into the water, its cold obliterating and refreshing. She wishes she had the freedom, but east is not her path. Her way lies south, to Howard Street, purveyor of pawnshops and prostitution.

Her destination.

Elise turns to survey her cramped apartment. Near the ceiling, industrial green paint peels from the walls to reveal other coats of grimy paint no color describes. Metal-frame twin bed, sheets twisted and gray, damp from sweat and humidity. Next to that, Salvation Army-issue scarred oak table, small, with the remains of this night’s meal, a few apple peelings, a knife, and a glass half filled with pale tea, darkening in the dying light.

It’s a place no one would ever call home. Elise’s apartment is utilitarian, a place to work, to sleep, to eat. It’s little more than shelter.

The only sign of human habitation is her work: huge canvases mounted on easels, bits of heavy paper taped to her drawing board. Much of her work is done in charcoal and pencil, but the palette of grays and black remain constant, whether it’s a sketch or a completed painting. Her subject matter, too, is always the same, although the variety of choices she has to explore is endless. Elise likes to draw intensely detailed renderings of crime and accident scenes, aping the cold, clinical detachment one might find in a book of crime scene photographs. Here is a woman, slumped beside a corduroy recliner, a gunshot ripping away half of her head (the blood black in Elise’s rendering), beside her, a half-eaten chicken leg and the Tempo section of the Chicago Tribune, folded neatly and splattered with her gore. There’s a man lying beside a highway, the cars a fast-moving blurred river. His head has been severed from his body. On the wall she has masking-taped a nightmare in quick, staccato slashes: a young woman strangled and left to lie in the pristine environment of an upscale public washroom, clean, shiny ceramic tile, untarnished metal stalls. Another woman, looking bored, checks her lipstick in the mirror. Near Elise’s floor is a small, intricately detailed drawing done in charcoal: two lovers lie in a bed of gore, the aftermath―one presumes―of discovery of their union by a jealous lover. The woman has a sheet discreetly covering her up to the neck. The man lies splayed out in a paroxysm of agony. And why not? His offending penis has been slashed from his body. Is that it on the floor beside the bed, a smudge of black, nearly shapeless?

Where is all the color? Elise herself wonders as she dresses for the evening. Color has been leached out of her world; it is getting increasingly difficult to be able to remember what color was like and thus, increasingly difficult to duplicate its varied hues on paper or canvas. Color, it seems, is but a hazy memory out of her past.

Enough of art analysis, she thinks. It’s her days she has designated to her art. Nighttime is when she prepares for her other job, the occupation that keeps a roof over her head. The job which perhaps is responsible for stealing the color from her vision.

Enough! Enough! Enough! she thinks. Put the introspection behind you. It’s time now, time to become a creature of the night, an animal doing what it must to provide its own sustenance.

She rummages in the apartment’s lone closet, pulling out one of her “uniforms,” clothing that helps identify her occupation as much a mechanic’s jumpsuit, or a waitress’s ruffled apron and polyester dress.

Tonight, she dons a short black skirt bisected by a wide zipper ending in a big silver loop. Over her head, she pulls a white T-shirt, tying it just above her waist. In combination with the low-riding skirt, it perfectly frames her navel. Elise pulls the skin apart and plucks out a piece of lint. She completes her ensemble with dark seamed stockings and spike heels. These are the tools of the trade as much as the brushes, sticks of charcoal, and pencils littering her space.

Elise flips back her long whiskey-colored hair, and leans close to the mirror. She lines her lips with a shade of brown, then fills in with glossy crimson. Cheapens her green eyes with thick black kohl. Elise pulls her hair back, away from her damp neck, and up, pinning it all together with a silver barrette adorned with the smiling face of a skull. Pentagram earrings. Tonight a witch, creature of the night.
Then she turns, hand on doorknob. The night awaits: exhaust fumes, traffic, the chirping of cicadas.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Peripheral Son excerpt by Dorien Grey

In The Peripheral Son by Dorien Grey, Dick Hardesty investigates the disappearance of a freelance writer doing simultaneous exposes on both the boxing profession and construction unions. He finds himself handed a Gordian Knot, with no sword to cut it. A plethora of motives and suspects, and a dearth of solid evidence sorely test both Dick's skills and his patience.

The Peripheral Son
Zumaya Boundless (October 31, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1936144107
ISBN-13: 978-1936144105


Jonathan and Joshua got home around five-fifteen, and I'd already set the table and gotten things set out ready for dinner. After our customary group hug greeting, I went into the kitchen to take ice cubes and a Coke out of the refrigerator for our evening "cocktail." Joshua had raced into his room to start playing, and Jonathan followed me into the kitchen. Seeing the pork chops, box of instant potatoes, the bag of flour and the large iron skillet I'd set out, he looked at me quizzically.

"We're celebrating?" he asked. He knew pork chops, mashed potatoes, and gravy were my idea of the perfect meal, and due to his insistence that Joshua have an all inclusive, well-rounded diet, we didn't have it nearly enough to suit me.

"It's Chubby's birthday," I said, giving a head nod to Joshua's fish tank. Chubby was Joshua's favorite-of-the-moment goldfish which, thanks to the boy's favoritism when it came to being fed, was well on its way to becoming the size of a koi.

He gave me one of his condescending, raised eyebrow looks.

"Riiight. So how come you got home early?"

I handed him his Coke and started fixing my Manhattan. "Tell you about it when we sit down."

Those who think a private investigator's life is all drama and adventure think wrong. As a result, the bulk of my cases were not sufficiently interesting to talk much about, but I had mentioned Victor Koseva's disappearance to Jonathan when I first took the case. I started to fill him in during breaks in the evening news, and got as far as telling him about my meeting Gee Basino, but there were too many distractions, chief among them Joshua's loud protestations that he was starving.

Immediately after the news, we turned off the TV and got up to make dinner.

Another reason we didn't have pork chops, mashed potatoes, and gravy more often was because my penchant for wanting my pork chops crispy, which is to say nearly burnt, inevitably set off the smoke alarm. We used two skillets for the frying—one for my burnt offerings and one for Jonathan's and Joshua's chops. But I always made the gravy; salt and pepper and flour and water, poured into the pans and mixed with the drippings from the pork chops. Gourmet heaven!

* * *

We didn't have a chance to talk until after Joshua was safely tucked into bed. He still insisted we read to him every night even though his own reading skills were truly impressive for a five-year-old, and whichever of us was reading to him had to scoot up to sit beside him so he could watch as we moved our fingers along under the words we were reading.

"So," Jonathan said as we returned to the living room to sit on the couch, "tell me about this boxer. You think he and…Victor…had something going on? I don't imagine that would go over very well in the boxing world."

"I really have no idea what's going on or not going on between them…yet. But you're right; it could be the kiss of death for a boxer out to capture a title."

"But he's hot, you said. So he's probably gay."

I grinned. "Talk about leaping tall buildings in a single bound! There are hot straight guys, too."

"Yeah, but I'll bet this one's gay. And he and Victor are having an affair, and that big guy he's nailed to did something to Victor in order to break it up. Maybe he killed him!"

I reached out to lay my hand on his thigh. "Good logic, Dr. Watson. Whether it's accurate or not remains to be seen. And maybe you've been reading too many murder mysteries."

"Well, you'll figure it out."

"Thanks. I hope you're right."

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Junction X excerpt by Erastes

Set in the very English suburbia of 1962 where everyone has tidy front gardens and lace curtains, Junction X is the story of Edward Johnson, who ostensibly has the perfect life: A beautiful house, a great job, an attractive wife and two well-mannered children. The trouble is he’s been lying to himself all of his life. And first love, when it does come, hits him and hits him hard. Who is the object of his passion? The teenaged son of the new neighbours.

Edward’s world is about to go to hell.

Junction X
Cheyenne Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-937692-06-3 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-937692-07-0 (eBook)


One Tuesday I had an early meeting out of town, so I used the Bentley, though I didn’t enjoy driving the big car in and around London. By the time I came off the main road, my shoulders aching, I was glad to see the final roundabout at the end of the dual carriageway. As I turned into The Avenue, a leggy figure in a black blazer ran across the road in front of me, hurrying slightly as he heard the engine. It was Alec and, by the quick glance he gave the car as he scurried by, it was obvious that he’d seen me. I remember willing my foot onto the accelerator so I could drive by, but my feet were no longer under my control. Instead, I braked beside him and rolled down the window.

“Need a lift?”

He grinned, his teeth white in the dusk, and hurried around to the other side while I unlocked the door.


“I don’t make a habit of kerb crawling, you know.”

“I believe you.”

The ride was too short. In no time at all, we were pulling up outside our respective houses. “Thanks,” he said again, but he made no move to get out. His fingers moved restlessly over the handle of his briefcase, making a fist and then opening out to stroke the brown leather. Brown-white-brown went his knuckles and I couldn’t stop staring at them.

“You’ve got ink on your hand,” I said. “You’re late home.” I sounded like a schoolmaster.

“I’ve joined an evening club. Extra coaching.”

“Do you need it?”

“For Oxford I will.”

“Oh. I didn’t know. What subject?”


I didn’t say ‘Oh,’ again, like some kind of idiot, but I was surprised. I’d known a lot of mathematicians and they didn’t have faces like Alec’s. Mostly they looked like ferrets in corduroy.

“Where did you go?” he asked, twisting on the seat. I tried to will myself not to look at him, but I had my first lesson in the effects of Alec on my will power that evening. I learned that I didn’t have any. I turned and looked him full in the face and my stomach did that flipping thing again, leaping straight up and kicking me hard in the diaphragm. His new haircut had snipped away those recalcitrant white curls but the shortness around his ears suited him, brought his cheekbones into relief and accentuated the slenderness of his neck. His shirt was undone, his tie stuffed casually into his jacket pocket. I could see a glimpse of collarbone that made my breath burn. He wasn’t wearing anything beneath the thin white shirt that I could see. I knew I should feel uncomfortable even noticing that, but I didn’t, and I felt rebellion surge through me.

“Me? Uni?” He nodded, and his lips parted, which caused my groin to stir. I coughed and shifted uncomfortably. “I did Engineering at Queens.” I braced both hands against the steering wheel and pushed back against the seat.

“Not very useful, in your job.”

“That’s an understatement.” I shrugged. “But then I wasn’t expecting to be a wage slave. I was going to build things. Bridges. Airports.”

You had different dreams.” His voice had changed, and when I looked at him again, he’d turned away and was looking out of the off-side window.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I lied. “I shouldn’t have been surprised that life included a wife and family. Life generally does. It’s not as if I thought I was going to be Isembard Kingdom Brunel.”

The words were out of my mouth before the old dream hit me hard. I had. I had wanted to be Isembard Kingdom Brunel. I realised that I hadn’t admitted that to myself for a long time. I wondered where my life had gone.

“Or anyone like that,” I ended, lamely, wishing I hadn’t said Brunel’s name, wishing I hadn’t tainted Alec with my failed ambition.

He was silent for a while and then said, “Yeah—you’re right. Thanks for the lift.” He opened the door, dropped a leg into the road and waited for a car to pass.

My chest got that tight feeling again and I caught hold of his right arm. “Alec,” I said. He turned to me with an expression that looked like the children on Christmas morning, and I was still too stupid to read it. “I’ve been thinking. There’s the toy fair in Aliston on Sunday the fourteenth.”

He pulled his leg back in and shut the door. “Yeah, I know. Dad can’t go. He has to work.”

“The twins might want to.” I couldn’t help but smile. It seemed conspiratorial. Secret plans being made in a Bentley. It was worthy of Bond.

He grinned a little, the corner of his mouth quirking up. “Would they?”


“No golf?”

“Of course not. Not if they wanted to go somewhere else.” I made myself sound like Super-Dad, and with that, Alec and I were back to that easy banter. It seemed natural, and I enjoyed talking to him so much, that I hardly cared anymore that he was half my age. It was addictive; I’d not had this with anyone else, not with Valerie, not even with Phil. I wanted more of it.

“I’d like that.” He got out, then stuck his head back into the car and said, “Thanks.”

I think that was the first time that we weren’t awkward with each other. From then on—apart from a few rare notable exceptions—the way we spoke was almost intuitive, sometimes not even needing to finish sentences, or questions.

I sat and watched him walk down the path to his front door, my knuckles whitening as I gripped the steering wheel. I knew then what I was, how I felt and what was wrong-not-wrong with me. For about thirty whole seconds, I didn’t bloody care. My blood was on fire and my skin tingled. I was warm and complete. I felt like a boy who’d just asked the girl of his dreams out on the best date he could afford.

Thirty perfect seconds. Then the real world crept back and the colours bleached a little. Elation is a bubble that lasts for tiny tiny moments but leaves something of its memory in scents and sounds so that later, when you need that boost, you can close your eyes and remember happiness.

Gay Historical Fiction
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Monday, November 7, 2011

On the Prowl excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk

Take a walk on the wide side with this brand-new novelette, On the Prowl by Mykola Dementiuk, the Lambda Award winner for Best Bisexual Fiction for Times Square! If you like your queer erotica with a taste of the darker parts of life in the Big Apple, then this is a book that will stay with you for a long-long time. A sexual adventure with a large dash of Latino spice, ON THE PROWL is packed with wild, gender-bending characters looking for a good time ... and something more.

On The Prowl
Sizzler Editions (October 1, 2011)
ISBN 9781615089031


Then I saw him, walking towards me on the overpass and about to enter the park. He held a cigarette in one uplifted hand while he clutched his pack with the other. There was a flitting of his eyes when he passed me by and I was certain he puckered his lips as he teasingly sauntered away. I was halfway on the overpass when I turned, gazed at his curvy bottom and sped right after him.

He was a beautiful dark-skinned feminine Hispanic man, in his twenties, the tight clothes showing off his elegant body. His longish hair certainly looked feminine though worn by a male. And he had a nice bulge in his crotch that signified only one gender to me, he was a certainly a male, all else was meaningless.

Ever since I was young I have always been attracted to males, their bodies meant one thing, to gel with mine, in frantic impatient release, which signified a state of explosive ejaculation. Two men cuming at each other was simply divine. I longed for it and sought it out everywhere I went but, of course, never got it in return. Over the years, a few meaningless shared masturbations in dim lighted Times Square movie theaters were all I was given, from which I always fled afterwards, very ashamed as if I had done something wrong.

I was only a few steps behind him when he turned and hungrily looked at me, blinking his eyes.

"Aye, mira, you scared me," he lisped, faking an alarm which wasn't there – Mira, being a common Hispanic word which meant look but in the common usage could mean anything. He had turned back a few times as he walked, his eyes gazing at me as if meant to say, Mira, can't you hurry up?

I smiled. "You shouldn't be scared of little old me, I'm only after one thing, your dick."

And I tried to grab the bulge at his crotch but she protected herself by turning out of my way.

"Fresh," he said, looking about. "Someone might see."

I shrugged. "Oh, let them, there's never anyone here. Anyway, I don't care. I want you." I tried putting my arms around her but again she pushed herself out of the way. I was right behind her, trying to grab her ass again.

"Mira, stop it, I mean it!"

I paused as she continued walking across the handball courts in the direction of the river then turned to look at me, a wink and glint were in her eyes. What was I supposed to do? I again rubbed my hard crotch and went after her.

I caught up to her and expected another angry refusal but she was shaking her head and trying to adjust her pants.

"Mira, I hate pants, don't you?" she said, twisting the pants at her torso, "Always going the wrong way."

"You should take them off," I said, winking an eye at her. "But the tight pants fit you perfectly, shows off your crotch." I put my hands at her waist and drew her closer to me. Her arms were uplifted and we looked at each other, our lips meeting in an open-mouthed kiss. I felt her tongue lashing against mine as she suddenly shivered, squirmed and doubled over. She broke from me, out of breath.

"Aye, mira, what you do to me?" she said looking down.

I gazed down at her legs in the light colored pants she had on, a large spreading stain was at her crotch; it was obvious she had just cum.

"Oh, my," I leered at her, rubbing my wet mouth. "Naughty, naughty but also very lovely." I winked at her and again tried putting my arms around her but again she pushed me off.

"Mira, no!" she said...
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Monday, October 31, 2011

Caregiver excerpt by Rick R Reed

This excerpt is from Rick R Reed’s latest work, the AIDS-era love story, CAREGIVER. The story is autobiographical in many ways (drawn from his own experiences in 1991 as an AIDS buddy in Tampa, FL). In this scene, the main character, Dan, goes into a public health clinic to get the results of his own HIV test.

It’s 1991, and Dan Calzolaio has just moved to Florida with his lover, Mark, having fled Chicago and Mark’s addictions to begin a new life on the Gulf Coast. Volunteering for the Tampa AIDS Alliance is just one part of that new beginning, and that’s how Dan meets his new buddy, Adam.

Adam Schmidt is not at all what Dan expected. The guy is an original—witty, wry, and sarcastic with a fondness for a smart black dress, Barbra Streisand, and a good mai tai. Adam doesn’t let his imminent death get him down, even through a downward spiral that sees him thrown in jail.

Each step of Adam’s journey teaches Dan new lessons about strength and resilience, but it’s Adam’s lover, Sullivan, to whom Dan feels an almost irresistible pull. Dan knows the attraction isn’t right, even after he dumps his cheating, drug-abusing boyfriend. But then Adam passes away, and it leaves Sullivan and Dan both alone to see if they can turn their love for Adam into something whole and real for each other.

Dreamspinner Press (October 24, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61372-208-4 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61372-209-1 (ebook)


A guy about Dan’s own age in T-shirt and jeans came out from behind a door and looked around the waiting room. He spotted Dan and came over to him. Dan recalled the dark-haired man had checked him in when he arrived at the clinic. Dan thought he said his name was Carlos. Carlos leaned down close to Dan and said softly, “The counselor will see you now.”

Dan stood on unsteady legs, wondering why Carlos had bothered to make the trip into the waiting room just to tell him it was his turn to be seen. Calm down. They probably just do that to respect your privacy. It doesn’t mean he was softening the blow of what’s to come.

Dan followed the man back to a warren of small exam rooms and offices. Carlos gestured to one of them. “You can go in and have a seat. Becky will be in to see you in just a minute.”

Dan nodded, his stomach churning and a splash of acid rising to the back of his throat. This was the big moment. It could be life defining. Or death defining, depending on how the results went.

Dan sat after Carlos closed the door, glad there were no mirrors in the room because he was certain the glass would have thrown back the reflection of a man with a pasty white complexion, slick with sweat.

Dan feared he would throw up.

Becky came into the room. She reminded him of his mother, slightly overweight, with permed dark brown hair, and oversized glasses. She looked about fifty and there was a kind aspect to her demeanor that made Dan paradoxically at ease and on guard.

She looked down at his file and then up at him, smiling.

What would she say? How would she put it?

Dan felt himself grow faint.

“Dan. I’m sorry, but your test came back positive for HIV antibodies.”

Dan felt as though he would drop to the floor. He had expected this, knew it was coming, yet it was no easier to bear. His life was over. When would he start getting sick? When would the first ailment make its deadly appearance? Which infection would it be? How long would it take before AIDS extinguished his light?

He searched for words to put in his mouth, but it seemed as though the connection between his brain and his mouth had been severed. He could only stare, slack-jawed, at the motherly woman.

“I’m sorry, honey. But this doesn’t have to be bad news. They are coming up with new treatments all the time! No worries! Before you even get sick, I’m sure they’ll have something for you.” Becky laughed. “You’ll die of old age before that old AIDS monster gets you!” she laughed again.

“Are you sure?” Dan sputtered.

“Sure I’m sure! You’re gonna be just fine! You’ll see.”

“No. I mean, are you sure about the results?”

“Oh yeah, honey. The test doesn’t lie. You’re gay, right?”

Dan nodded, numb.

“And you know what gay stands for, doncha?”

Dan put a hand to his mouth to stifle the wave of hysterical laughter threatening to burst from his lips. He knew what she was going to say.

“Got AIDS yet?” Becky slapped the desk, laughing and Dan joined her, laughing until his sides ached, until tears poured from his eyes. The pair paused in the hilarity for a moment, looked at one another, and started laughing all over again.

“Mr. Calzolaio? Mr. Calzolaio, are you all right?” Becky leaned over him, concern radiating from her warm brown eyes.

Dan shook his head and the room came back into focus. He realized he had slipped away for a moment, maybe even fainted.

“Yes, yes. I think so. I’ve just been so nervous about this.” He looked up into Becky’s face.

“Let me get you some water.”

He grabbed her arm before she left the office. “No. I don’t need water. I need to know. Did you just tell me I was infected?”

Becky looked at him, cocking her head in confusion. “No, honey, that’s not what I said at all.” She hurried back around to the other side of the desk and sat. “I said just the opposite. You’re negative, sweetheart. But your ELISA test did come back positive the first time.”

Dan felt like the floor was coming out from under him once again.

“And when we ran the test a second time, it came back positive again, so we sent it for the Western Blot and that came back negative. That happens sometimes…but you’re okay.” She opened a drawer and handed him a pamphlet. “That explains how the testing works. But if the Western Blot is negative, you’re not infected.”

“You’re sure?”

Becky nodded. “You were worried about this, huh?”

Dan wanted to laugh again. “Yeah, a little bit.”

“Have you been exposed?” Becky peered at him from over the top of her glasses.

“No.” He paused, thinking. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Well, I need to tell you—there is what they call a window period, when you could be infected, but the tests don’t yet pick up on the antibodies.” She made sure Dan met her gaze and continued. “That’s why you need to make sure you play very safe.” She reached in the same drawer from which she had taken the pamphlet and pulled out a handful of condoms, setting them down in front of Dan. The bright metallic wrappers made him think she was offering him candy. “Don’t take any risks and make sure you come back in six months and get tested again, just to be certain. Okay?”

Dan thought he would abstain from any sex for the next six months—maybe forever. He stuffed the rubbers into his pocket anyway and stood.

“You gonna be all right?”

“Yeah. I’ll be fine. Thank you.” Dan left the office, feeling curiously numb and relieved all at once. A part of his heart ached because he knew this scene had played out so differently for Adam.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

The Canals of Mars excerpt by Victor J Banis

Two men come together in an enchanted cottage, one of them old and one of them scarred –and begin to see one another and their lives in a different way. The eye is a wonderful thing, but only love can see the truth.

Canals of Mars
MLR Press (August, 2011)
ISBN# 978-1-60820-429-8


Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but ugly is there for everyone to see. I can afford to speak so flippantly on the subject, since I was, and I say it in all modesty, beautiful indeed.

The operative word there, of course, is, was. Was, before a vial exploded in the lab, and turned that beautiful face into a road map of Mars. In the novels, in the movies, this is where the handsome plastic surgeon rushes to the rescue, and by the next chapter-reel, I am Joan Crawford all over again, and on my way to becoming Mrs. Surgeon. Or, in my gay instance, Mister and Mister Surgeon.

Cut. First off, he was older than the hills and singularly unattractive. And, he was already married and blatantly heterosexual. Don't get me wrong: I have no objections to heterosexuals, so long as they aren't too obvious. And, hell, if he had been able to make me lovely again, I'd have murdered her, had the change, and gone after the old codger regardless.

Three operations later, however, the mirror still showed me the surface of Mars. The craters had shrunk somewhat, and the canals had shifted, but it was still Mars. I balked at going under the knife a fourth time.

"No, it won't be a dramatic improvement," he said when I questioned him.

"In other words, I’m still going to look like something brought back up half eaten," I asked, and the tone in which he assured me that I would look better told me that "better" still was not going to be very good.

Which was where we left it. Notwithstanding the pleasure of lying abed in a hospital—there is nothing quite like the personal touch of your own bedpan, is there—and all that delicious food, I promised I would get back to him, without specifying in which life.

When you are damaged, as I was, they give you lots of money, as if that would compensate for what I had lost. I was grateful, though, that I did not have to work. Not because I am all that fond of lying about vegetating, but because I did not have to face all those slipping-away eyes that I was sure to encounter.

There were not many places one could go, however, without the same problem. Jason threw in the towel and was gone. Jason who loved "the soul of me," who loved me "through and through," was through. I told myself, "good riddance," he was too shallow to be of much use as a lover, and I tried to not to think that I had mostly been just about as shallow most of my life. I definitely tried not to remember that I loved the bastard.

I am fortunate that I am comfortable with my own company, as many are not, and there is a certain bitter comfort in wallowing in self-pity. That wears thin, though, after a while, and the walls of my little apartment seemed to shrink inward with each passing day. So, when Douglas called me, to say he was going to spend a month or two at his cottage on the shore, and would I like to come along, I jumped at the chance. I might not have in the past. I had always understood that Douglas was in love with me—whatever that meant. Jason had been in love with me, too, he said, and what had that amounted to? Who knew what "love" was? I didn't.

In the past, I might have wondered at Douglas' intentions, getting me all alone in that little cottage of his. He was Jason's friend. I liked him well enough on the few occasions when I had met him, and he was a lovely person—just not my type. Not as old as that surgeon, probably, but, really, too old for my tastes, sixty if he was a day, maybe more. I didn't really know. Anyway, what difference does a number make? There comes a point when you're just old, doesn't there? Though I have to admit, if you weren't hung up on age, he was a youthful looking sixty whatever.

They say it's an ill wind, however. With the face I now had, I did not have to worry about whether it was only my beauty that men were after.

I will give him credit. He was one of the few, the first, maybe, since the accident, who did not flinch when he saw me. He even managed to look me straight in the face, and not quickly avert his eyes.

"Pretty awful, isn't it?" I said. He had come out to help me bring my bags in.

He smiled. "I've seen worse," he said. "I used to work in a burn center."

"I hope that wasn't meant to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside," I said, following him up the wide, shallow steps to the front door.

"No, I've got martinis waiting. That's their job."

They failed, however. All they did was lower the barriers I had so carefully raised. The martinis, and Douglas. He was an elegant man, suave and distinguished. He was also thoughtful and gentle; I hadn't known that about him before. Of course, I had never been alone at his beach cottage with him. Never, really, been alone with him at all.

He talked of all sorts of things, movies and people we both knew and recipes and the shore and the weather and, when I could bear it no longer and the tears began to stream down my cheeks, he stopped talking and just held me. He didn't try to tell me it would be okay. He didn't try to tell me that I was still beautiful. He did not swear it would all get better, or somehow magically go away, or any of the stupid, insensitive things that others had said that had only made me feel worse. He didn't even chide me when I blubbered about the canals of Mars.

He just held me and gently kissed my cheek; not even the good one. He kissed the one that was scarred, kissed Mars' canals as if they were the most natural things on this planet. He was the first person since the accident with the courage to put his lips to my flesh; the first, even, to put his arms around me. Jason had tried, and had paled and turned away before his lips touched me, and said with a sob, as if it were his heart breaking, "I can't, I just can't." Then he left.

Douglas only held me and kissed my cheek, and when the tears stopped at last, he took me upstairs and tucked me into my bed like a little child, and brought me a cup of hot chocolate, and made me drink it, and sat and held my hand until I fell asleep.


Evenings, he fixed us martinis and I got into the habit of preparing dinner. I had cooked in the past, but I had gotten away from it. I found now that I enjoyed it. I took unexpected pleasure in fixing the things he liked, the way he liked them. Nothing too fancy: steaks or lobster or burgers on the grill, and when it turned out we both actually loved it, the tuna casserole that Jason had always turned his nose up at. The one with potato chips. I caught Douglas licking the salt off the chips and smacked his hand with the spatula. Later, though, I tried it myself when he wasn't looking, and he caught me at it and smacked my hand.

"I was in the hospital for eight weeks," I told him petulantly. "You're not supposed to hit someone when they're recovering from surgery."

"Bullshit," he said, and offered me a chip to lick. He wasn't always elegant.

We ate sometimes on the terrace when it was warm enough, and at the kitchen table when it wasn't, and some evenings it was cool enough for a fire in the fireplace and we ate in front of it. There was no television, but he had a radio and a stereo, and somehow he had managed to stock a shelf with most of my favorite music. Sometimes he sat beside me, and he would shyly put his arm around me, and I would lean against him and put my head on his shoulder while we listened to music together, and watched the fire. We didn't talk much, but the silence was comfortable. Always, when he said good night, he kissed my cheek. The bad one.

After a week, when he started to turn away from me at my bedroom door, I said, "You don't have to go to your own room."

It took him a moment to realize what I meant. "Are you sure?" he said, uncertain and hopeful all at the same time.

"I'm sure."

I would have turned the lights out, but he wouldn't have it. "Do you have any idea how long I've dreamed of seeing you like this?" he asked. "I never thought I'd be so lucky."

I was naked by this time. He looked me up and down with undisguised pleasure while he undressed. That part of me, at least, was still fine. I was glad, for his sake as well as my own. He deserved beauty. I turned the bad cheek away.

He was naked too now, seemingly unembarrassed by his old man's body. He dropped on to the bed beside me.

"That was when I was beautiful," I said. "And please don't say, 'you still are.'"

"You still are," he said.

Without thinking, I put a hand to my face. "The canals of Mars?" I said.

"Where I shall swim in ecstasy," he said and kissed the scars. I watched and listened and felt carefully with all my senses for some hint of reluctance, of disgust or even discomfort, but if he felt any, he disguised it completely.

He took hold of my hand and rubbed it across the pouch of his belly, where he had thickened about the waist. "If you'll overlook this," he said, and leaned over to kiss my lips.


It was good sex. Not great, but good. Of course, sex had been a solitary pastime for me since the accident. Jack off and think of Jason, think of Jason and jack off. Maybe at this point in time, anybody would have made it seem good. I don't know. I don't think so. I suppose that is one of the advantages of age, though: practice makes you, if not perfect, pretty adept. He was. He made love to me. I had never experienced that before. Lots of sex, none hotter than with Jason, but no one had ever made love to me. It was nice. I kissed him when it was over, and kissing him, actually forgot about how I looked. He stayed the night in my bed. I slept comfortably in the crook of his arm.

I realized when I woke in the morning that I had forgotten, too, how old he was.


After that, we slept together every night. He could not have been more tender, more loving, and I stirred myself to be as good as I could be for him as well. It got better, our sex. I wanted it to, and it did, it got very much better. I stopped jacking off remembering Jason. I didn't stop remembering Jason, but I stopped jacking off, remembering him. Stopped jacking off altogether, to tell the truth. Who had anything left to shoot, the way we were going at it? He was insatiable. The old goat. It was flattering. Exhausting, but flattering.

One night when we finished, he rolled on his back with a gasp and said, "If you keep it up like that, you're going to kill me. I'm an old man, remember?"

"You're not so old," I said. And, to my surprise, I meant it. I'd been to bed with men forty years his junior who weren't the lover he was. Or, maybe they were. What I really mean is, that I hadn't gotten the pleasure, the same kind of pleasure, from them that I did from him. Maybe that was in part the pleasure that I was giving. I had never thought of it like that before: taking pleasure in giving it. I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to please him. When I did, and he made it quite obvious that I did, it made me happy too.

That was a new one for me.

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