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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Monday, October 17, 2011

Beloved Pilgrim excerpt by Nan Hawthorne

"Why should I warn people about people who love and are devoted to each other?"

In Beloved Pilgrim, by Nan Hawthorne, Elisabeth is a young noblewoman who has chosen to live as a man and come to Constantinople as part of the Crusade of 1101. While staying in a highborn official’s villa, she has fallen in love with the servant assigned to her (though the woman does not realize Elisabeth’s sex). She learns that her nervousness around the young woman has gotten her dismissed and has gone looking for her in the Turkish sector outside the walls of the Sublime Port.

Beloved Pilgrim
Publisher: Shieldwall Books (February 27, 2011)
ISBN-10: 098339850X
ISBN-13: 978-0983398509


"Where can I find Maliha?" Elisabeth shouted.

The women stood clumped together staring, some weeping.

Elisabeth frantically surveyed them. "Maliha? Where can I find Maliha?"

"I am here," came a familiar voice from the door to a slanting shack. "What the hell do you think coming here?"

Elisabeth shot her eyes toward the sound. "Maliha! There you are! I came to find you!"

"Why? What would you want with me?"

The honey-colored eyes glared at her, full of affronted pride. If Elisabeth had despised the meekness and subservience, her heart pounded at the defiance and fire in those eyes. Her jaw dropped, she felt heat rise in her body, starting in her belly and creeping up. She strode to the woman. "Where can we be alone?" she spat through her teeth.

The honey eyes burned into her dark angry ones. They darted to the other women who were now chattering among themselves. "Come in here, away from those hens." Maliha led her through the flap over the entry and into darkness.

As she turned to face Elisabeth, she found herself clasped hard, strong hands biting into her upper arms. Her cry of protest was cut off as the knight's lips found hers in the darkness and pressed hard. Elisabeth's tongue forced its way into her mouth. She bit it.

Elisabeth jumped back, putting her hand to her mouth and tasting blood. "Why did you do that?"

"Why do you think? Do you think I should want you to force your way into my home and rape me?" Maliha punched her square in the chest. "You wanted me to stop being meek. Well, doesn't this please you, Excellency," she shot, with a sneer in her voice. She hauled off and slugged Elisabeth in the chest with both fists.

"Ow, that hurt!" Elisabeth exclaimed. Then she felt silly. Why should a knight cry out that a mere woman punched him in his chest. But the woman had connected with her nipples, which were already tender with her monthly flux.

She stood a moment, perplexed. Maliha had gone still. Elisabeth's eyes were adjusting and she could see the woman's head-covering had slipped askew, letting the long black hair loose on the right side of her head. Her impulse was to reach toward Maliha and take her into her arms. But instead the dark beauty came forward and placed herself there. The chin tipped up, the lips parted. Her own eyes wide, Elisabeth lowered her head and sank into a kiss of such poignant sweetness she thought she would swoon.

Maliha had had a sudden revelation. There was something about this knight, something that did not fit what she knew of men. The bearing was right but the look in the man's eyes was wrong. Men did not look with such intensity into a woman's eyes, she thought. The kiss had been hard but something was different there too. A man would force the kiss, devouring her. And then there was an odd sense of lumps on the knight's breast, even through the chain mail. Her mind raced back over their encounters in the past few days and certain things presented themselves in a new light. Could it be?

She decided to collect more information, and thus leaned into the man to invite him to kiss her. This time the kiss was softer, more sensual, and Maliha started to explore with her tongue. The feel was much like a ripe peach, soft, yielding, but ardent. It reminded Maliha of an exquisite night she had spent with a female cousin when they were still girls.

Maliha raised her arms and put them around the knight's neck. Elisabeth's own mailed arms slowly snaked around the soft yielding body in her arms. She felt Maliha press her body along her own. She could not think to wonder what had changed. Their tongues met in each other's mouths and sweetly slid across and under each other. She felt Maliha's tongue slide along inside her teeth. She felt as if the juices in her most private place were flowing out of her and down her britches.
(currently writing a M/M romance set in about 1860 America)
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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Russian Boy excerpt by Neil Plakcy

There are three Russian boys at the center of this sexy new novel, The Russian Boy by Neil Plakcy. Alexei Dubernin, the teenaged son of a Russian count longs to paint like his Impressionist idols. This desire brings him in contact with the Russian maestro Fyodor Luschenko in Nice, France, in 1912, as the Russian aristocracy celebrates its last few years of prosperity on the Riviera.

Luschenko paints an erotic portrait of Alexei, called Le Jeune Homme Russe, or The Russian Boy, which is received with scandal, then acclaim. Then, in the present day, the painting is stolen while being restored-- by another Russian boy, an art student in Paris named Dmitri Baranov.

Dmitri’s desperation to remain in Paris after his fellowship ends leads him into unsavory company, bringing him, and the painting, back to the Cote d’Azur, where someone is willing to stop at nothing-- including murder-- to possess this magnificent work of art.

Hard on Dmitri’s trail, and that of the painting, is his boyfriend, American art student Taylor Griffin, and Rowan McNair, a disgraced former professor of art history turned art detective. Partners change, affairs are begun and ended, and dead bodies appear with a disturbing regularity.

In alternating narrations, Alexei, Dmitri, Taylor and Rowan tell the story of the painting, its theft, and a series of love affairs between older men and their younger protégés. By turns sexy, dangerous and romantic, The Russian Boy is a story of love and art that spans the ages.

The Russian Boy
Amazon Kindle


The Restorer’s Studio
Paris, Friday night

By ten o’clock at night, as Dmitri Baranov was cleaning the floor of the painting studio at the Institute des Artistes in Paris, the building was deserted, the classrooms and studios dark. The cold winter air snuck in through the centuries-old walls, making Dmitri shiver as he scrubbed a stubborn spot of dried paint on the ancient marble floor.

Or perhaps he shivered because he realized this was the last studio he had to clean before … well, better not to think about it. Just do it.

The institute was housed in a rambling four-story building with mansard roofs and tall windows, located just off the Place Pigalle in Paris, a few blocks from Sacré Coeur. Through one tall window he could see the glowing spire of the Eiffel Tower. The Institute was halfway up the hill of Montmartre and during the day offered commanding views of the grimy streets and leafless plane trees that surrounded it. He loved Paris with all his heart, and he felt at home there in a way he had never felt back in Odessa.

When the marble shone in the sharp overhead light, he stood up and stretched his back. He was only twenty-two, but hours hunched over an easel during the day, then the effort to clean studios used by dozens of messy art students, wore him down.

It did not help that he was short and slim, either. At barely five feet six, he had to work twice as hard as a taller man might to reach paint splattered on the walls, use twice as many strokes to mop the floor. But he was strong and determined.

He carried his bucket down to the second floor, careful not to slosh any dirty water on the grand staircase. He emptied the bucket in a bathroom sink, then carried it, his mops and brushes, to the janitorial cabinet on the first floor. On an ordinary night, he left the building as soon as he had everything put away.

But that night, instead of turning and walking out the tall front door with the glass fanlight, he removed a long cardboard tube from the closet, carried it back to the grand staircase and climbed back up to the third floor. The central atrium was gloomy in the darkness, the only light coming from the skylight above. It didn’t matter; Dmitri had walked these stairs and corridors so often he didn’t need light.

He had been a student at the Institute des Artistes for nearly two years, studying under a fellowship from the Russian government that barely covered his tuition. But his fellowship would run out in May, and when it did he would lose this job. Without it, he couldn’t afford to stay in Paris. And he needed to. He had entered one of his paintings, a nude study of his boyfriend Taylor, in the Grand Concours, a highly prestigious citywide art show. His painting professor was one of the judges, and he had assured Dmitri that his painting was one of the most assured debuts he had ever seen. He was confident that when judging was complete in a month, Dmitri would win one of the top prizes, which came with a gallery show.

That would shoot him from impoverished student to recognized painter. But once the show’s results were announced, in about a month, it would still take perhaps until the end of the summer to sign with a gallery that would advance him money against the future sale of his paintings. He had to find enough money to stay in Paris through the summer, and the fat Russian, Yegor, had given him the chance to earn what he needed.

At the third floor, Dmitri veered off to the right, traveling down a long corridor without bothering to turn on any lights. At the end of the hall, he turned right, then made a quick left to a stairway door that led to the annex building where the private studios were.

He did not know this area as well; he only cleaned there once a month, while he mopped and swept the classroom studios daily. He climbed the stairs, then hesitated in front of the fire door to the fourth floor.

This was it, he thought. His last chance to back out. Crossing this threshold was making a choice, a deliberate one, to do whatever he had to do to stay in Paris and keep painting.

He pushed the door open into a small foyer, with four doors that led to small rooftop studios. The locks were old and simple; he didn’t evenuse his keys when he cleaned up there. All it took was a jiggle of the handle, a little pressure against the door, a slight lift, and the lock slipped.

He thought it was foolish that there were so often fabulous works of art up here, being restored, with so little security. But the Institute had focused on protecting only the exterior of the building with an alarm and a wrought-iron fence. He had overheard the director of the institute speak disparagingly about insurance companies, and how money should be spent in support of artists rather than in protecting them.

As the door swung open, he saw floor to ceiling windows that faced the back courtyard and washed the room in moonlight. Along the left wall, he saw the painting he had come for, an oil called The Russian Boy. His heart jumped at the sight of this painting, one he had studied in class. He was moved by the boy’s beauty, but more by the subtle emotion the painter had expressed through his technique.

He smiled at the irony—a Russian boy himself, he was liberating one of his countrymen from a sort of imprisonment, allowing the handsome, naked boy in the painting to live freely in France, just as he wanted to do himself.

At least he assumed that the painting would stay in France. He had no idea where it would end up after he handed it off to the fat, sweaty Russian who had hired him to take it. He just knew that it wouldn’t be going back to New York, where it had been hung on a museum wall.

He slipped on a pair of the rubber gloves he used for cleaning, pulled his Swiss Army knife from his pocket, and walked up to the painting. His fingers trembling, he lifted it from its easel and placed it faced down on a work table. He took a deep breath, steadied himself, and began to take the frame apart.

It was as if time stopped for him as he worked. He worshipped art, and it would devastate him if he did anything to damage such a beautiful piece. When he had removed everything holding the frame together, he lifted the pieces away, leaving the canvas flat, resting against the tabletop.

He rolled the canvas carefully and slid it into the tube, turning the plastic cap to seal it. He slipped his arm through the shoulder strap, slung the tube over his arm, and left the restorer’s studio.

On his way out, he used the knife to gouge out the inside of the ancient lock. He hoped that might deflect suspicion from him.

The theft wouldn’t be noticed until Monday, at the earliest, if the elderly restorer even came in to work that morning. By then, Dmitri would have handed the painting over to Yegor, and received his payment. He would protest his innocence to anyone who asked, and there would be no evidence to connect him to the theft.

He went back down to the first floor, punched the alarm code in by the front door, and then stepped out the door, closing it gently behind him. He tightened his scarf around his neck and hurried around the corner of the building before the exterior light winked off.

He stayed inside the tall wrought-iron fence and circled to the rear of the building. A year before, he had accidentally discovered that a window in an unused storage closet was not connected to the alarm system. He leaned the cardboard tube against the stone wall and wrapped his hand in his scarf. Then he used the butt of the folding knife to smash the window.

He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath until the window shattered without triggering the alarm. He took a couple of deep breaths and then slung the tube over his shoulder. He went back to the front of the building and let himself out the iron gate, locking it behind him with a heavy skeleton key.

The streets were narrow and dark. He started when a pigeon fluttered past him, almost in his face, and looked around nervously when he heard the pulse of a police siren blocks away. He was relieved when he reached the door to the dank, winding staircase up to the tiny, fifth-floor studio he shared with Taylor, an American student a year behind him at the Institute.

Taylor was already in bed, reading a textbook on Impressionism. He was six feet tall, blond and broad-shouldered, with a long, slim dick that was easily aroused.

They had met a year before, when Taylor began his fellowship at the Institute as Dmitri was entering the second year of his. There was an immediate attraction between them, and they’d gone to bed together the night of their first date, screwing each other behind a curtain in the living room of a rundown flat where Taylor was staying.

Within a month they had found the studio and moved in together. It was tiny as a closet, barely large enough for their double bed and a rickety wardrobe they shared. Taylor thought it was romantic, living like that, but Dmitri had seen the way the wealthy lived and he longed for space and luxury.

“You’re late,” Taylor said in French, closing the book and setting it on the floor next to the bed. “Lot of mess to clean up?” Dmitri’s English was limited, and Taylor’s Russian non-existent, so they spoke to each other in the language they had in common.

“Yes, much work.” He considered himself lucky to have the job. Other students at the Institute waited tables, moved furniture, or worked outdoors in the cold Parisian winter, freezing their fingers sometimes so that they had trouble holding brushes in painting class.

His job was indoors, and there was no commuting time between class and work, no need to pay a Metro fare or waste time on buses or trains. He often rescued nearly-new brushes with a few bristles missing, and not-quite-empty tubes of paint, from the trash. On a good day, he found a discarded energy bar that had slipped under a table, or a half-empty bottle of Evian water, to supplement his meager food budget.

He placed the cardboard tube against the wall, and then began peeling his clothes off.The room was cold, and he wanted to huddle under the covers and warm up next to his boyfriend.

“What’s in the tube?” Taylor asked.

“Just canvas.” Taylor had been in the Café SiSi when Yegor approached Dmitri, and he’d been vehemently opposed to any contact with the fat Russian. But Taylor had the luxury of morality. If he needed money, he could call his mother in the US, while Dmitri wouldn’t waste the cost of a call on his alcoholic mother—if she was even still alive. He hadn’t spoken to her since he left Odessa two years before.

“What kind of canvas?” Taylor asked.

Dmitri could tell his boyfriend was suspicious. There was one way to short-circuit this conversation. He kicked off his shoes, then dropped his jeans and peeled off his briefs. “Forget about canvas. Let’s fuck.”

He pulled the covers back; Taylor was naked beneath them, and Dmitri hopped into the bed next to him, pressing his mouth to Taylor’s. With his lips open, he snaked his tongue into Taylor’s mouth, rubbing his nose against Taylor’s.

Beneath him, he felt Taylor’s body reacting to his own. Taylor kissed back, his own tongue dueling with Dmitri’s. His cock rose and pressed against Dmitri’s abdomen.

Taylor reached down and grabbed Dmitri’s erect cock, stroking it roughly up and down as they kissed. Because Dmitri was so much smaller, he was almost always on top, Taylor below him like a pile of Christmas presents just waiting to be enjoyed.

Dmitri grabbed Taylor’s cock just as roughly, squeezing it until Taylor shuddered and winced under him. They both enjoyed this kind of rough and tumble love, though sometimes Taylor complained that he wanted to take things slower. Dmitri didn’t care; to him, sex was a power struggle, the chance to vanquish a stronger man by appealing to his deepest needs.

He gnawed on Taylor’s lower lip, inhaling his lover’s breath, which tasted like stale wine. Taylor reached up and pinched Dmitri’s left nipple, and Dmitri squirmed at the roughness, but loved it. It made his dick even harder.

Each of them jerked the other as they kissed. It was a fast and furious kind of lovemaking, a way to release the sexual energy that accumulated in them both. Taylor began to whimper and squirm as his body tensed, then he ejaculated into Dmitri’s hand.

That was enough to send Dmitri over the top, too, and he came on Taylor’s hand and his belly. He wiped his hand on Taylor’s chest, then sunk down on top of him, their sweat and cum mingling together. “Clean up on aisle seven,” Taylor mumbled in English, one of those strange expressions Dmitri, with his limited command of the language, could never figure out.

Though he enjoyed sex with Taylor, Dmitri did not respect him. His American boyfriend was too commercial in his art—and Dmitri didn’t just think that because Taylor always sold more paintings, for more money, to the tourists. He, Dmitri, had the greater artistic soul. Taylor was a cute boy with a dick and an ass, and it worked out that they shared expenses and got along so well sexually. But it wasn’t love.

Both of them supplemented their income by drawing and painting outside SacréCoeur, just a few blocks away through the steep, narrow streets of Montmartre, and selling their work to tourists.

People thought Dmitri cute and charming, and they liked the way his heavy Russian accent colored his French. He flirted with young women—and a few men, too, usually older ones. He made the middle-aged parents think of him as a son. With his mop of dark curls and cherubic face, he was a great contrast to Taylor, who worked next to him.

Taylor had an innocent American quality, and handled all transactions that needed English language skills. Dmitri could speak a little English—enough to negotiate a price, for example—but he preferred to leave the business to Taylor.

Next to him in bed, he heard Taylor drift into sleep, his slow, rhythmic breathing mixing with the creaks and groans as the old building settled around them. Dmitri himself was just dozing as the ring of the disposable cell phone that Yegor had given him startled both of them with its shrill tone.

“What the fuck?” Taylor groaned in English, as Dmitri scrambled out of bed and searched for the phone in his discarded pants.

“Allo?” Dmitri said, finding the phone.

“There has been a change of plan,” Yegor said in Russian. “I must leave Paris immediately. You will have to bring the painting to me in Nice.”


“Yes. Write this down. The Bar Les Sables, 18 Rue du Vieux Fort. It’s in the old part of the city. Be there Sunday afternoon.”

Dmitri tried to argue, but the phone went dead in his hand.

“Who was that?” Taylor asked in French, sitting up in the bed, his blond hair and pale skin shimmering in the light from the dormer window.

“Nothing. Wrong number.”

“Don’t lie to me, Dmitri. You don’t even have a phone. Where did you get that one?”

“Don’t bother yourself.” Dmitri felt dirty and sticky, from the sex and his work and the theft. There wouldn’t be any hot water until morning, but maybe he could take a cold shower in the stall one floor down.

“It was that Russian guy, wasn’t it?” Taylor asked. “Yegor. The one who came up to you in Bar SiSi.The one who wanted you to steal the painting. The Russian Boy.”

“You don’t know my life,” Dmitri snapped. “I can’t go back to Odessa when fellowship runs out. I won’t.”

“I told you, we’ll find a way to work it out,” Taylor said. “All it takes is for one gallery to accept some paintings from either of us, and we’ll have our start.”

Taylor was a skilled mimic—he could paint in the Parisian streetscape style of Maurice Utrillo, or with the Impressionist flair of Claude Monet. He painted the church in the watery light of Frederick Constable and the dark shadows of Edward Hopper. The tourists ate it up, often buying several canvases in different styles.

Dmitri could only paint in his own manner, heavily influenced by the German expressionists like Edvard Munch and Kathe Kollwitz. His pictures were not as much in demand as Taylor’s, but both of them knew that Dmitri was the more talented. Not that Taylor was a hack; he had a perceptive eye and excellent technique. But he had yet to find his true artistic voice, which was why he painted in imitation of the masters.

“You go back to America when your fellowship finishes. You paint your boring commercial paintings and make pots of money. And I am in Odessa struggling to paint from my heart and shivering in lousy shithole like this one.”

“You did it, didn’t you?” Taylor nodded toward the cardboard tube. “You stole the painting for Yegor. And that was him on the phone.”

“Like I say, do not bother yourself.” It was as if the future had opened up for him in a flash of lightning, and he knew that his relationship with Taylor was over. He got down on his hands and knees and pulled his cheap suitcase out from under the bed. Then he began throwing clothes and art supplies into it.

“Where are you going in the middle of the night?” Taylor asked. “Nice? Is that what you were talking about on the phone?”

“I leave. That’s all.” As Taylor sat on the bed, Dmitri finished packing, threw his clothes back on, and stalked out the door.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

The Thought Collector excerpt by Anel Viz

In the short story "The Thought Collector" by Anel Viz, a man's mind goes blank, because the person sitting next to him on the park bench has "collected his thoughts". That night an odd, mousy-looking fellow tells him they have met before and are both mole men ... "Don't you remember?" He can't; his memories belong to the thought collector.

The Thought Collector
Silver Publishing 2011
ISBN: 9781920484620


We'd been talking for barely ten minutes when he said it. For reasons which will soon become abundantly clear, I cannot remember what we were talking about. I suppose, when you get right down to it, we had been talking about nothing, one of those idle conversations that pop up between two people who happen to be sharing a park bench. The topic doesn't matter; what matters is that as far as I remember, what he said did not in any way follow from what we were talking about. Out of the blue he up and says in the most matter-of-fact tone imaginable, "You know, I'd really like to have sex with you."

He caught me totally unprepared. It had never occurred to me to chat him up, nor had I thought he was hitting on me. I didn't know how to respond. Sex with a stranger—what gay man hasn't done it one time or another in his life? But you always have some clue. I didn't exactly hesitate; rather, I discovered that my mind had simply gone blank.

"So? How about it?"

"Just give me a moment to collect my thoughts."

"Take your time."

This was not a cruisy park. I'd come to read my newspaper, not to look for sex, and I had no clue what could have prompted his remark. Sex with him was about the last thing I had on my mind, so he couldn't have been reading it, could he? He put it so bluntly, too. It sounded more like an observation than a proposition, not at all your typical pick-up line, and he delivered his follow-up question just as noncommittally, as if it were all the same to him. What do you make of a person like that? I could detect nothing sinister in his manner, but one does have to be careful.

He was pleasant enough and not bad looking, a few years older than myself. Not what I'd call my type, but what the hell? As they say, if he had the place, I had the time. Under different circumstances I might have gone to bed with him. (I'm only speculating on how I would have assessed the situation. As I said, my mind went blank, and I just sat there.)

"So what do you think?"

"I don't think. I'm trying to collect my thoughts, but it's as if I didn't have a thought in my head."

"That's because I collected them for you."

"You what?"

"Collected your thoughts. It's sort of a hobby. I collect thoughts."

"You collected my thoughts? You collected MY thoughts?"


"I want them back!"

"Sorry, finders keeps. Besides, I can't give them back. I threw them out, all except that bit about the moles. I may hang on to that. The rest was all rubbish, a bunch of pseudo-intellectual gibberish that had nothing to do with me."

Moles? What kind of moles? — spies? skin blemishes? little burrowing animals? And weren't they also something from high school chemistry that had to do with weight or mass or some other measurement? Whatever I might have been thinking, it sounded too trivial to bother insisting he return it, even on principle. He'd probably made it all up, anyway.

"It was very rude of you," he went on, "letting your mind wander like that."

"You go picking my brain — no, pickpocketing my brain—and you accuse me of rudeness?"

"Oh come now! Lots of people are willing to share their thoughts."

"This isn't sharing. This is theft!"

"Well, if that's how you're going to be about it. Here." He reached into his pocket and handed me a coin.

"What's that?"

"A penny. For your thoughts."

"This is outrageous!"

"You're not going to ask for more, are you? I already told you what I think they're worth."

"Who are you, anyway? I demand you show me some identification! I've half a mind to sue you for theft of intellectual property, and I will, too!"

"Intellectual? Really now, isn't that an exaggeration? Besides, I've paid you. Just for your thoughts, mind you. I don't pay for sex. Nor do I ask to be paid."

"You take away my thoughts, rob me of the very essence of my personality, and you expect me to go to bed with you?"

"Why not? You're in the perfect frame of mind for it. Not calm perhaps, but collected. And without a lot of trivial, self-indulgent thoughts to get in the way,
you can become one with your body. It will be a tantric experience."

"For me maybe, not for you."

"For me too. I haven't a thought in my head. That's why I have to collect them."

"You mean you throw everybody's thoughts away?"

"Yes. I hardly ever come across a thought worth keeping. Unlike most collectors, I hate clutter. It's amazing, the nonsense that goes through most people's heads."

"You… you're nothing but a psychic voyeur!"

"Admit it. You're intrigued."

"I admit nothing of the sort!"

"There you go letting your intellect take over. You're resisting me."

"You're damn straight I'm resisting you!"

"You shouldn't, you know. Not if you want the sex to be good."

"What sex?"

"The sex we're going to have together."

I stared at him, but couldn't stare him down. He just returned my gaze, not even blinking. I got up and walked away.

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